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Thicket by Anna Jackson review

With the title Thicket, one might expect Anna Jackson’s fifth poetry collection to examine landscape, that New Zealand hobby horse. Instead, the title is a springboard into a rich, allegorical terrain comprising storytelling, family and feminism, which, thicket-like, have theoretical impenetrability for the poet.

Like a tangle of plants, Thickets poems build relationships, mainly between the book, Jackson’s previous collections and her customary themes, icons and characters. From a gas leak (titular motif of an earlier Jackson book) in Basement to the mythologising of self and whanau (cornerstone of Jackson’s oeuvre) in Speaking as One of the Billiard Balls and It was an Honour, John, Thicket’s nod to the preceding corpus of work is entwined with its storytelling. Here Jackson is strongest, darkest and tersest in her neo-fairy tales, Red Riding Hood’s Mother, The Fish and I and Hansel in the House.

Of course, mythmaking muddles truth. Thicket’s other dominant concern is perception: how, trapped by conjectural density, the poet-heroine sees clearly. Jackson’s best use of symbolism to view troubling issues lucidly occurs in poems like Wondering How to See It and Stand Too Close. In Giving Up, though, a poem about potatoes but inspired by colonial misogyny, this allegorical interplay between theorem and clarity can itself become quite opaque. That’s when the Notes prove indispensable.

“I am mother, daughter, sister, sister-in-law, friend, niece, cousin, granddaughter, and also reader. The stories I tell and am told translate and are translated through stories I read, in the newspaper, in the library, in prose and poetry,” Jackson once wrote. In Thicket, she isn’t so much writing a new collection as another page in an ongoing familiar, familial story. Inventive, satisfying stuff.

THICKET, by Anna Jackson (AUP, $24.99).

Siobhan Harvey is author of the recently released poetry collection
Lost Relatives.