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Listening In: Poet Lynley Edmeades questions the nature of language

Three years ago, reading Lynley Edmeades’ debut collection, As the Verb Tenses, I decided that the three things of most interest to her were time, memory and, especially, language. Listening In confirms this view.

Often witty, sometimes satirical, but always analytical, the poems of Listening In question the nature of language and our assumptions about it.

Their complexity creeps up on you.

First come poems playing straightforward grammatical or punctuation tricks: Nodding is Soft, a poem with full stops in the middle of sentences; a poem consisting of questions without question marks, Where Would You Like to Sit; a poem made up of present participles, Things to Do with Day; and a poem that directly interrogates language, Are You a Proper Noun?

But these are really the hors d’oeuvres, as later poems follow a linguistic pattern but show how it relates to the everyday world. Les Voisins, one of Edmeades’ best, is a “list” poem, accounting one by one for people in a neighbourhood, and, in doing so, bringing that neighbourhood to life.

The Dubious Structural Expressiveness of Arnaut Daniel matches English words with the sounds of an ancient foreign poem, and in the process shows how untranslatable poetry really is.

Then we get to the sharp satire: Speetch, Again America Great Make and Ask a Woman are essentially takedowns of the speech patterns of John Key, Donald Trump and Margaret Thatcher. Cruel but very funny – like most real satire.

LISTENING IN, by Lynley Edmeades (Otago University Press, $27.50)

This article was first published in the January 25, 2020 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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