Friday, June 26, 2015

Elizabeth Morton Reviews Recent NZ Poetry Titles

Song of the Ghost in the Machine
Roger Horrocks:
Victoria University Press
$25.00

Roger Horrocks is on a walk - a sort of cerebral pilgrimage, each stride a revelation. Stepping out on a morning constitutional, Horrocks walks us through the wonders of mind and body and world. ‘I celebrate myself, and sing myself’ writes Whitman in his ‘Song of Myself’. But Horrocks’ song is in a different key. ‘Self’ is excised and ‘consciousness’ implanted. This is a poem that goes beyond the confessional. Here we see the subject as embodied, and embedded in a world-system.

Nothing is too big for this poem – It will tussle with evolution and God, neurophysiology and artificial intelligence. At times, we are a Chihuahua picking fights with bigger mutts. At times we are Aunty Maude name-dropping at the cocktail party. At times we are that excruciating first-year in the front row of the lecture hall. Somehow, though, it’s worthwhile. We’ve bitten off more than we can chew but, boy, it tastes good.

‘Song of the Ghost in the Machine’ is a poem that talks big, but is still happy to take you to the Three Dollar Shop, walk you down an ‘ordinary street’, or kill time in a nursing home. It is at once smart and sentimental. A child is swept away from his mother by a crowd. An adolescent keeps ‘his cargo of darkness to himself’. There is a testimony of ‘anxieties, mistakes and regrets’. This poem snatches at matters of physics and metaphysics, but most of all it explores what it is to be human, with the vulnerability that entails.

Horrocks feeds us one long poem, in chapters. Each chapter is bookended with quotes pertinent to the topic at hand. He has pickpocketed from Nietzsche, Neil Young, Rilke and Damasio. Every body is an authority on the Ghost of consciousness, and the ‘dated equipment’ in which it resides – philosophers, musicians, scientists, poets and even the Pope.

But this is no dry philosophical dissertation, nor does it assume to be a manual of the soul. There is music here, and warmth, with some wonderful lines:

‘Sometimes the subject, often the object, always
the verb, we struggle to grasp the whole untidy
grammar of our existence, a sentence as long as the world’

‘Song of the Ghost in the Machine’ takes the risk of ‘sounding earnest and adolescent’, but presents something with a profound sincerity and curiosity. This is a poem that is willing to be a bit intense, to chew the cud while strolling through the suburbs. 

The Glass Rooster – Janis Freegard:

Auckland University Press
$24.99
Grab your knapsack. Pack for all conditions. Janis Freegard wants to be your travel companion, and she has a cross-country junket in mind. ‘The Glass Rooster’ takes you through forests and oceans, deserts and space, all the while chaperoned by the eponymous bird who ‘was nothing if not well-travelled’. An unlikely tour guide, perhaps, but he will strut and call and pose for photographs like the best of them.
Our trip is comprised of eight sections, each introduced by a triolet, a French poem of eight, sometimes repeated, lines. The occasional intrusion of this formal style breaks with the frenzied tempo of our travels. They are the resting places, with constraints that allow us to take in the view and catch our breath, with dawdling lines like ‘The world is an orange  and the sun. / Today that’s all there is and all I need’.
The world Freegard transports us through is tenanted by all breeds of people, creatures and tree-things. There is a sense that life-force pervades all things, and that everything has a story to rattle off. The lichen chatter about their preferred dwelling places, and offer the tourist a drink. Love causes rock to crumble. Earth stares at astronauts through its ‘one blue eye’. We are navigating a world that doesn’t privilege the human being.  
The poetry itself is a variegated throng, with shape poems and prose poems and poetic sequences. The language is lovely, and dips in and out of the lexicons of the spaces we inhabit. In the forest there is the lichen ‘pseudocyphellaria’ and in space we meet ‘tau neutrinos, electron neutrinos, muon neutrinos’. Freegard’s poetry is a museum of things, but at times she turns the camera on the sightseers and gallery-hoppers:
‘From each corner of the gallery ceiling, video cameras
record the visitors’ reactions’
This is poetry with ants in its pants. It will take you down roads less travelled, cart you to places on the outskirts of your comfort zone, plunge you subterranean, deliver you to the Sphinx. But within the whirlwind is a splendour of imagery, and humour, and nostalgia and an overwhelming question:
What is the purpose of my journey?
The journey is the purpose of the journey’.

About the reviewer: 

Elizabeth Morton is a poet and sometimes student. She has a keen interest in neuroscience. In her free time she collects obscure words in supermarket bags. She is a promiscuous reader, but her chief love is poetry. Her own poetry has been published in Poetry NZTakaheJAAMBlackmail Press, Meniscus and Shot Glass Journal, amongst other places. In 2013 she was winner of the New Voices, Emerging Poets competition. She has also been a runner-up twice in the annual Takahe Poetry Competition.

3 comments:

Tim Paul said...

It is lovely to read your excellent reviews while currently at the opposite side of the world, Liz.

I'm particularly intrigued by Roger Horrocks' poem and must see if I can find a copy here in old 'blighty. I've been listening to another poet, David Whyte, via his recorded conversation entitled What To Remember On Waking , which explores themes of 'the conversational nature of reality' and how we navigate our relationships with the world - our work, our other halves, ourselves. I wonder if you know his work, and if so whether you think it has anything in common with Roger's poem?

Am I correct in thinking that Roger was formerly Professor of Film Studies at Auckland University?

If so, wonderful to see him branching out in his retirement. He was an excellent lecturer.

I really enjoyed reading your review, keep up the good work Liz.

Best Tim Paul

Elizabeth Morton said...

Hello Tim, and thank you so much for the comment. I'm glad you enjoyed them.

You've sent me on an internet treasure-hunt, chasing down David Whyte (who, admittedly, is new to me). Thank you for that. I'm going to have an explore of his 'What to Remember On Waking' and get back to you. Always super to be introduced to new poet-folks. His subject matter sounds intriguing. Cheers!

Yes, you're right... Roger was founder of the Department of Film, Television and Media Studies at Auckland University. That is very cool that you had him as your lecturer!

Roger's poem ostensibly emerged during a year or so of contemplative walks... Oh, the power of peripatetic musings, eh?

Best in your neck-of-the-woods and thanks again!

Liz

Elizabeth Morton said...

Hello Tim, and thank you so much for the comment. I'm glad you enjoyed them.

You've sent me on an internet treasure-hunt, chasing down David Whyte (who, admittedly, is new to me). Thank you for that. I'm going to have an explore of his 'What to Remember On Waking' and get back to you. Always super to be introduced to new poet-folks. His subject matter sounds intriguing. Cheers!

Yes, you're right... Roger was founder of the Department of Film, Television and Media Studies at Auckland University. That is very cool that you had him as your lecturer!

Roger's poem ostensibly emerged during a year or so of contemplative walks... Oh, the power of peripatetic musings, eh?

Best in your neck-of-the-woods and thanks again!

Liz