The imagery may be dark, but the effect of a Kiwi’s debut book of poems is largely comic.
The introductory poem in Hera Lindsay Bird’s eponymous debut contains the lines “You might think this book is ironic/But to me, it is deeply sentimental”. Though the overall balance tips towards irony, this collection of 21 relatively long, garrulous poems manages to embrace both these qualities, and does so in a manner that is constantly playful and exuberant. The distinct sense arises that no line has been agonised over – they have all come raw and unadulterated from unrestrained creative thought.
One of the most impressive qualities of these poems is their continual willingness to abandon control: to pile up similes, overstate things, repeat themselves. Although the stated “official theme” is “You get in love and then you die!”, and the imagery is often dark – coffins, caskets, black candles, the heart “a black salt lick” – the effect is largely comic. Somewhere about halfway during my first reading, I found myself laughing until it hurt.
Like any comic performance, this collection has climaxes and lulls. The more successful poems home in on a topic, build up through a series of digressions and finish with something like a punchline – or at least a satisfying conclusion. Monica, Bisexuality and Everything Is Wrong are standout examples. Other poems wind up less effectively. The final poem, Pain Imperatives, is filled with the diverting metaphors and similes characteristic of the book, but finishes quite suddenly. I would have preferred such an unabashedly flamboyant collection to end with a bang.
HERA LINDSAY BIRD, by Hera Lindsay Bird (Victoria University Press, $25)
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