Actions & Travels is a new and extraordinary resource book from esteemed New Zealand poet, Anna Jackon, on the hows and the whys of some of the great poetry throughout history. Bringing together contemporary poetry and layering it over some of the timeless classics and explaining just what is happening in the art form, helps readers to better see, feel and understand the magic that is the world of poetry.
Jackson, herself a particularly effective user of the English language and creator of some of New Zealand’s finest poetry of recent times, knows a thing or two about poetry. As Associate Professor of English Literature at Victoria University she brings poetry to life through her selection of canonical texts and modern verse to, as paraphrased from her website, suggest some of the qualities to look for, or find, in poetry. Qualities like Simplicity & Resonance (Chapter 1); Concision, Composition & The Image (Chapter 3) and Argument & Conversation (Chapter 6). Each of which she explores, explains and provides evidence of in many many poems from New Zealand around the world.
There are some familiar names in the selection of work chosen, from Keats’ Odes to the oft-fear-inducing Shakespearean Sonnets, through to modern Kiwi masters like Manhire and Baxter. In a world where canonical writers are increasingly seen as relics of a best-forgotten past, Jackson shows the importance of the thread of the poetic form dating back to their time, contextualising it, and then drawing the required links with our modern world. It is masterful in its observance.
As a teacher of English, this text is an incredibly helpful resource for myself, and my students alike. To have the ideas and ramblings that sit in a reader’s head so deftly and clearly explained on the page is a thing of beauty. It reinvigorates one’s appreciation for the art form. Her breakdown of Tayi Tibble’s Identity Politics, for example, is a wonderfully logical and yet emotionally considerate understanding of the poem.
For lovers of writing poetry, there are also very effective creative writing prompts based upon the poems in the collection that will lead to composition. Another magic addition for the classroom, or poetry enthusiast.
This year, Jackson will no doubt be putting some of her own analysis to the test as she accepts the Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship to write in a studio in the centre of Wellington. Hopefully this will generate not only another novel or novella from the process, but perhaps a new collection of poetry also.
It’s hard to contain the level of enthusiasm in the promotion of Actions & Travels. It is accessible, yet superbly researched; straightforward, yet deeply based in emotional connectivity. As a reader of poetry, this is only going to serve to enhance the experience, and for those who do not currently know the idyllic state that one can be transported to through the reading of poetry (as with the appreciation of any art form), they can find an entry point through the explanations this book.
Reviewer: Chris Reed
Auckland University Press