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AUP New Poets 5

The fifth book of new poets to be published by Auckland University Press, is the latest in a series that began twenty years ago in 1999 and has featured such now familiar names as Anna Jackson, Sarah Quigley and Chris Tse.

This latest volume brings together the voices of three young women; Carolyn DeCarlo, Sophie van Waardenberg and Rebecca Hawkes. They have small similarities in style but most of all they are characterised by their freshness. With that freshness comes the pleasure of reading and re-reading, looking deep into the words and images that they throw in front of the reader.

These poems are excellent, they are deep and lyrical, entertaining and very thought provoking.

Let me say a bit about each one in turn. Carolyn DeCarlo’s collection is called Winer Swimmers. There are twenty-three poems and five of them are called Winter Swimmers – these are scattered through the collection with nothing to distinguish one from another.

I was very impressed with the simplicity of words alongside the layers of meaning. The poem ‘Castel Point’ is a good example:

Sperm whales

are distinguishable

by the crashing sound

they make

on the surface.

We sit on the cliff

eating hot cross buns

and waiting for

the whales to breath.

What will we do with ourselves

this afternoon

and the day after that,

and the next thirty years?

I will wake up next to you

and keep waking up

next to you.

Sophie van Waardenberg’s collection of twenty-one poems is called ‘does a potato have a heart?’ Her poems are denser, with longer lines and often longer titles such as ‘do not blame me for loving the 2003 file love, actually’. One of my particular favourites is called ‘I don’t remember inviting you’. This verse was a gem:

“go away, well well away, take yourself through my doors

and back into the sun. my body has had its funding cut

and is making you redundant. be offended, or don’t. fly

to france, to california. tell me about it abstractly…”

The poems are more cosmopolitan, better travelled, from a discourse on the ripeness of avocados in London supermarkets, to Switzerland and the floating flower market of Amsterdam.

Rebecca Hawkes has twenty-one poems in the book, called ‘Softcore coldsores’. This is the only one of the three sections that does not have a correspondingly titled poem. Hawkes’ poems stood out from the other two, having more of their own distinct personality. They are darker, more earthy and visceral, perhaps in part because they look back at time spent living on a farm. For example, in ’Dairy queen’ they milk the sick cows last, their udders sore and swollen with mastitis, then this:

“their milk comes out mixed with blood

the safe lurid pink of a strawberry milkshake

frothing into a bucket

it looks so gross

but so sweet”

One line I loved emerged from ‘Primal scream practice’:

“the closest I can come to winning the lottery

is seeing my suitcase come first around the airport conveyor belt”

Perhaps darkest and most difficult to unpackage was the poem called ‘Grooming’, where a daughter takes on the persona of werewolf, constantly needing to be shorn of hair. Because the poem begins with talk of dogs and wolves, we might think that werewolf is a dog, but then we begin to suspect she might be a girl:

“and then her mother fussing on the balcony

to shave the dense mane tufting from her

shoulders, her back, the contours of her face.”

And finally:

“Werewolf lopes to the bus stop with her lunchbox of rare steak

and Mother sweeps soft curls from the veranda, scopes wet thickets

of hair from the bathtub, fills a black rubbish bag,

which she slings into her room

onto a pile of others like it,”

Reviewer: Marcus Hobson

Published by Auckland University Press, RRP 29.99

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