Nowhere Nearer by Alice Miller
There are 33 poems in this short collection, each one is slightly opaque, its meaning not quite visible on the first reading. We are constantly challenged to read again more slowly, to unpick the meaning and spend longer amid the powerful images the words create. The more you read these poems, the more they come to life.
Among the pages we encounter numerous foreign cities; Vienna appears several times, Amsterdam and the USA pop up and there are nods to Miller’s New Zealand origins with mention of waka and Pelorus Sound. Characters like Sigmund Freud and Eva Braun remind us that Miller is currently living and working in Germany. Sometimes I felt I glimpsed the poet inside the words and something made me feel that she was unhappy, perhaps solitary lines like “Since you left me I walk around here a lot” and “No one’s skin on mine” in the poem ‘How to Remember’. Also in that poem is a wonderful verse that haunted me with imagery:
On a picture I took of the path
that was empty
after a deer had crossed it:
thunder like airplanes; deer
prints like the rattle of dice; fog strewn
like cotton through mills;
leaves shiny as shoe soles.
Each simile soft, anachronistic.
The poem ‘Fourteen Mistakes’ left a lasting memory. It starts with a quote from Razumikhin, a dunked character in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, “You never reach any truth without making fourteen mistakes”. Fourteen numbered fragments follow, some only three lines long, but together forming a whole life. Here are three that I found particularly poinient:
How we moved to new cities
and wrote our addresses in loose font
on the back of every envelope from
every drawer in every office we visited from Auckland to
Brooklyn to Hackney
and spoke our names
only with accents formed
in locales we’d lately visited
so no one could guess what we were
And when an architect asked
to build a garden inside us
we pried ourselves open and let him in
until we were filled with paths and gates
we did not own the maps for
And when we realised the architect had left for good
how proud we were still to’ve been
an acciaccatura to his chord
The word acciaccatura had me reaching for the dictionary – it is a musical term meaning a grace note that is performed as quickly as possible before the essential note of a melody.
This is certainly not a collection to rush through, but one that deserves time to mature. Each poem demands to be revisited, read and re-read, until clarity or new meaning float to the surface. For example, the last three lines of the opening poem ‘Saving’ have deep hidden meaning and emotion:
what I am failing to say
is that some of the moments we cling to most
are the futures we never let happen.
Reviewer: Marcus Hobson
Auckland University Press, RRP $24.99