The Conch Trumpet (2015)

Jack Ross, ed.: Poetry NZ Yearbook 2 [Issue #50] (November 2015)


David Eggleton. The Conch Trumpet. ISBN 978-1-877578-93-9. Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2015. RRP $25. 122 pp.

David Eggleton: The Conch Trumpet (2015)

Once in a blue moon,
everyone grows older, if you need something
to cry on, here’s my shoulder.
[“Syzygy,” p.28]
The blurb to his book proclaims David Eggleton’s intention to call to the “scattered tribes of contemporary New Zealand.” Having duly called to them, though, what does he actually have to say? The lines above illustrate his dilemma.

They exemplify Eggleton’s characteristic serio-comic register: his disconcertingly pat rhymes, offsetting the deep emotionalism of the words itself. What, indeed, is there to say? We do all get older – “if you need something / to cry on, here’s my shoulder.”

Melancholy and a pervasive sense of loss seem to set the tone here. “On Recrudescence of Waterfalls After All-Night Rain,” for instance, begins:
Before the movies they had waterfalls
and concludes with the less-than-encouraging evocation:
wet with glitter
mined as popcorn additive for Lord of the Rings. [p.36]
What, indeed, can be found which is not fake or (at least) falsely represented in such a landscape?
The early writers echoed one another
to haul narratives of settlement into being,
as if cramming more sail on good ship Rhapsody.
‘Mount Cook, greenstone country, middle island’,
was ‘stupendous’, ‘precipitous’, ‘gigantic’ –
the sublime defined by extremes: peaks, troughs,
breathtaking gulfs, gulps of cold illumination.
[“Wilderness,” p.51]
It was all a device for promoting one’s sense of ownership of all this “nameless nothingness,” Eggleton explains: “a found blank wilderness they would remake.”

Such denunciations of the “South Island myth” and its landgrabbing corollaries are, mind you, fairly familiar to most of us by now. The poem concludes more teasingly, though – at the end of a list of such landmark namers as Charles Torlesse, Thomas Cass, Charlotte Godley, and Lady Barker – with a reference to the “nowhere of Erewhon.”
Thus Samuel Butler looked up to stony limits,
went searching for paydirt in magnetic ore:
‘At every shingle bed we came to … we lay down
and gazed into the pebbles with all our eyes.’
It’s not that Butler is seen here (by Eggleton, at any rate) as any exception to this rule of plundering a landscape through the language one chooses to describe it. It’s more that these lines point at the larger truth of Erewhon the satire (rather than the placename): one must be somewhere to imagine nowhere – but the point of imagining nowhere is to look back on that somewhere. If you continue to gaze “into the pebbles” with all your eyes, who’s to say what strange visions might result? Mineral wealth of some sort, no doubt, but perhaps not in the usual sense.

Elsewhere in his book, Eggleton expresses a certain healthy scepticism about any and all attempts to own [= express] truisms about landscape:
Bogans, cashed-up, await gentrification,
seeking a personal tutor in Enzed Lit.
[“Sound and Fury,” p.82]
More to the point, the mediascape he is (we are) forced to inhabit now encompasses a world-wide banality:
Praise be to internet, now my mind is a search engine:
a web-headed weave around humanity
every which way which babbles of conformity,
and of dissenters in each departure lounge.
[“The Age of Terror,” p. 119]
When clicking on a Facebook “like” icon constitutes the extent of your political conformity or dissent, it might be seen to make little difference what else you do or say: “There are unknown knowns, and then there are the drones.”

It is, to be sure, a chilling vision Eggleton paints, and any attempts to valorise it or make it sound cool seem distinctly beside the point. “Let’s face it,” a young hijab-wearing media commentator said the other day on Al Jazeera, “right now stories about Syrian refugees pouring into Europe are sexy.” There was scorn in her voice, but the language she was forced to use somehow belied it.

David Eggleton’s latest book reminds us what time of day it is: perhaps as close to midnight as any of us has ever been.


Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2 [Issue #50]. ISSN 0114-5770 (2014): 257-59.

[669 wds]

Poetry NZ Yearbook 2 (2015)

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