Avoiding the plain language loop

by David Eggleton / 25 July, 2009
Sam Sampson's words engage in an acrobatic tumbling across the page.

Around Auckland, the swallow, swooping low over the water, is a speedy flier in pursuit of small insects on the wing. It's a bird that makes a frequent appearance in Sam Sampson's Everything Talks, a finalist for best first book of poetry at the 2009 Montana New Zealand Book Awards, and its flight path is a fitting image for the delicate dance of syllables in which Sampson's poems specialise.

His words and phrases gather themselves, take wing and then engage in a kind of acrobatic tumbling across the page. His is a poetry of pauses, turns, leaps and dives. It's all about where the stress falls, the music of verbal cadences, the weave of sonic counterpoint. He returns poetry to its primal function as ecstatic utterance: words are miraculous things, rich in resonances and echoes.

Style-wise, this poet's influences stem from the American "Language" school of poetry, whose exemplars include Louis Zukofsky and Charles Bernstein. Unrepentant experimentalists given to pushing the envelope of form, they create poetry that's hyper-aware of its constituent parts, its building blocks of sounds and images and patterns. As Sampson tells us in Geographic Tongue, he seeks to "avoid the plain language loop".

Sampson's favourite habitat is the Waitakere Ranges, the outer reaches of the Manukau Harbour and the beaches of Auckland's wild west coast: indeed, if everything is talking, it's talking along the coastline. Gazing westward, ear cocked, offers this poet opportunities for meditation, for contemplation, for rapture. But if he's tuned into voices on the ether, he's tuned into a signal that keeps cutting out, leaving snippets, hip-hop sound collages that can read like out-takes from the writing of William S Burroughs - the cut-up sentences of Nova Express or The Ticket That Exploded, devoted to a fragmentary stream of consciousness.

Yet at the same time there's something mesmerising, even dazzling, about Sampson's artful open-endedness, with its encouragement of a kind of endless circuit of re-reading or re-hearing - "the sun detonated; constellations torching the surface wake ..." The book is a thing of acoustics and harmonics, and its song lines are tracing a personal history and testament, even if a delight in verbal music sometimes becomes a polysyllabic garble that resembles the bubbling of surf, or bird squawk snatched by the wind.

But though you may need to keep a dictionary handy, it's not a prerequisite to understand all the references to get the poem. The mellifluous lyricism of his fragments encourages you to relax into them like a network of perceptions, a hammock of language swaying gently in a summer sea breeze.

MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

How should New Zealand tackle rising tensions in Asia-Pacific and Europe?
83284 2017-11-18 00:00:00Z World

How should New Zealand tackle rising tensions in A…

by Robert Patman

It's time for the big powers to get over their great power rivalries when it comes to international disputes in the 21st century. But what can NZ do?

Read more
Richard Evans: The historian who took on a Holocaust-denier
83242 2017-11-18 00:00:00Z Profiles

Richard Evans: The historian who took on a Holocau…

by Diana Wichtel

When Holocaust denier David Irving addressed the judge in his libel case as “mein Führer”, expert witness Richard Evans couldn’t believe his ears.

Read more
A book of required reading in our time of terror
83277 2017-11-18 00:00:00Z Books

A book of required reading in our time of terror

by Catherine Woulfe

Kamila Shamsie's new novel Home Again is about the beguiling pull of violent causes.

Read more
Memory check-up: The clinics helping pre-dementia sufferers
80411 2017-11-18 00:00:00Z Health

Memory check-up: The clinics helping pre-dementia …

by Donna Chisholm

A nationwide study of memory loss and pre-dementia has good news for one of its first recruits, Graeme Newton

Read more
Whole grain diets could reduce the risk of bowel cancer
83269 2017-11-18 00:00:00Z Nutrition

Whole grain diets could reduce the risk of bowel c…

by Jennifer Bowden

There’s good news and bad about New Zealand’s second-biggest cancer killer.

Read more
7 personal questions for cartoonist Tom Scott
83303 2017-11-17 14:33:23Z Profiles

7 personal questions for cartoonist Tom Scott

by Clare de Lore

Cartoonist, political columnist, playwright and film-maker Tom Scott marks his 70th birthday with the release of Drawn Out: A Seriously Funny Memoir.

Read more
The disappearance of Jim Donnelly: 'There are more questions than answers'
83250 2017-11-17 06:37:31Z Crime

The disappearance of Jim Donnelly: 'There are more…

by Paloma Migone

On Monday June 21, 2004, Jim Donnelly signed into work as usual. Thirteen years later, he still hasn't signed out.

Read more
Auckland rates increase: 'It's a good time to be selling'
83248 2017-11-17 06:27:23Z Property

Auckland rates increase: 'It's a good time to be s…

by RNZ

Homeowners in one of Auckland's cheaper suburbs could find themselves out of pocket when their next rates bill arrives in the mail.

Read more