Kismet by Jo Patti
Jo Patti’s poems are direct and evocative. I enjoy this style of poetry – the style of poetry that tells us stories we can understand, that communicate on their first reading. I don’t mean to say that these are not poems of literary merit. They are finely crafted, with phrases that sing. They take us inside the author’s head, usher us in, and show us her experiences of the good and bad of humanity. The stunning cover photograph of the curves and lines of a red rockface is suggestive of dance and movement. At first I thought that’s what I was looking at – a dancer, her lush crimson scarves twisting and falling around her. Like the cover, what’s inside is elegant with substance.
The title is just one word gracefully written on the cover in a neutral white. Kismet. It means fate, fortune, an unavoidable destiny. It’s a tantalising title for a collection of poems which clatter with moments. Perhaps a moment is the key to destiny? The poems are grounded in a moment of time and memory by being attached to a place, often both a city and a country, though one poem is simply labelled ‘Planet Earth’. Some of these moments have the tenor of personal experience, like the poem ‘For My Grandmother’:
For their benefit.
You humour them by smiling, taking pills
you know will only stall
your sought for peace
your seeking silence.
Others centre on the destinies of others, like ‘Mabel’s Tears’, which recalls the stolen generations of Aboriginal children. Patti notes it was ‘Inspired by the stories told to me by Neville Buchanan about his life as an aboriginal man of the Gumbaynggirr people’:
Sun was rising in the sky
with steady, stately grace.
Little girl was looking up
with wonder on her face.
Kookaburras laughed and screeched
a warning to the child.
She turned around in time to see
her father going wild.
The immediacy of certain phrases made me catch my breath:
I drifted and woke
to the sound of rain
like cellophane crumpled
on my window, it runs down
But the poem to make the most impact on a New Zealand reader will likely be the very last, ‘Ambush.’ The place it is attributed to is Wellington, New Zealand. This poem speaks to very recent events and concerns in our country. Patti writes about a ‘wheezing spectre’, a demon, coughing up ‘the blood of bigotry’: ‘it creeps / like an epidemic infecting hearts, / … slashing anywhere it smells love.’ It is the muezzin who stands up to it:
The muezzin is joined by rabbis,
clever men and women,
by shaman, by acolytes, by nuns,
The multitude is an army.
The spectre is surrounded.
They foil the menacing demon
with their silent unity
Jo Patti has lived and worked all over the world. These poems are her personal response to a diverse range of experiences, and draw the reader into a conversation which gives a sense of her perspective on life and people, and a sense of their randomness and beauty. The reader is left with plenty to think about.
Reviewer: Susannah Whaley
Di Angelo Publications