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.

Latest

Trump's stolen slogan and the campaign advisor who did his bidding
100401 2018-12-13 00:00:00Z World

Trump's stolen slogan and the campaign advisor who…

by Emma Land

If you thought Donald Trump came up with the slogan "Make America Great Again," you’d be mistaken.

Read more
Big Little Lies author Liane Moriarty on how life became stranger than fiction
100261 2018-12-13 00:00:00Z Profiles

Big Little Lies author Liane Moriarty on how life …

by Diana Wichtel

When Liane Moriarty was summoned to meet Nicole Kidman in a Sydney cafe, the Hollywood star made it clear she was serious about optioning the book.

Read more
Dear Oliver: A son's poignant tribute to his mother
93895 2018-12-13 00:00:00Z Books

Dear Oliver: A son's poignant tribute to his mothe…

by Peter Wells

A reminder that nothing can really prepare us for the death of a beloved parent.

Read more
Big Little Lies author does it again in Nine Perfect Strangers
100041 2018-12-13 00:00:00Z Books

Big Little Lies author does it again in Nine Perfe…

by Catherine Woulfe

The new book by Liane Moriarty can induce cravings despite its health retreat setting.

Read more
Barbershop confidential: Nelson's Man Cave offers more than just haircuts
99534 2018-12-13 00:00:00Z Psychology

Barbershop confidential: Nelson's Man Cave offers …

by Fiona Terry

In Nelson, there’s a place where modern “cavemen” can go to be groomed, chill out to music, and find someone to tell their troubles to.

Read more
The Listener's 50 Best Champagnes of 2018
100190 2018-12-13 00:00:00Z Wine

The Listener's 50 Best Champagnes of 2018

by Michael Cooper

Celebrate the festive season with sparkling wines from Central Otago to Champagne, priced from $10 to $125.

Read more
Win a double pass to Vice, the new Dick Cheney movie
100368 2018-12-12 10:44:10Z Win

Win a double pass to Vice, the new Dick Cheney mov…

by The Listener

Oscar-winning writer-director Adam McKay brings his trademark wit to the true story of US Vice President Dick Cheney in Vice.

Read more
End of an era: Auckland's independent film library Videon to shut its doors
100360 2018-12-12 10:00:59Z Small business

End of an era: Auckland's independent film library…

by Alex Blackwood

An iconic Auckland store is closing.

Read more