Gregory Kan is a curious beast. He’s a web developer and systems engineer who writes beautiful poetry that has nothing to do with his work and everything to do with what it is to be alive. His first manuscript, an early incarnation of This Paper Boat, was shortlisted for the Kathleen Grattan Poetry Prize (a big deal) in 2013.
This collection sees Kan trace his history through the history of others – the recollections of his parents and grandparents and the writings of Robin Hyde, who appears as ‘I’ – and finds him torn between two worlds. He searches and stumbles through knowns and unknowns, home and faraway countries, fractures between history and now, and explorations of the past in the present.
Kan’s short narrative poems don’t seem to give much at first but they grow on you, seeping inward and working through the white space on the page to bring life to ghosts. And there’s a lot of white space here. Nothing is crowded and the words are allowed to breathe, your mind allowed to wander as the words do their work in you. There’s a simplicity to Kan’s poems. They’re short stories really, but there’s a depth to discover that will move you, make you smile, give you goose bumps; you’ll catch yourself pondering phrases and themes long after you’ve put the book down (I read this before bed and had the most wonderful and vivid dreams).
This Paper Boat takes us on a journey, voyaging through New Zealand, Singapore and China but more importantly through the heart. The author shows us that beautiful and imperfect plans are okay really, that things don’t always turn out as you think they should but they really do, that people are so different yet vastly human. Breathe in Kan’s words, inhale the beauty and meaning, and exhale into the white space.