Pasture and Flock New and Selected Poems by Anna Jackson
Updated: Mar 19, 2018
I feel that I must start by mentioning the cover, its stark black and white trees and hens and just a tiny drop of red for the hen’s combs, the title and the authors name. Very bold and very pleasing, rather like the poems themselves.
Anna Jackson’s new book ‘Pasture and Flock’ is divided into three parts. The first two are a medley of pieces selected from her earlier works, while the last consists of new material. Part one is made up of six sequences, small runs of poems strung together. We encounter the Russian poet Mayakovsky, we talk with Dante through several layers of hell, we picnic, find a glass leak, God and a lift door, and finally hear about Clodia, a patrician woman from Ancient Rome well known for her scandalous behaviour. All of these sequences contain some little gems. I particularly liked the frozen bottom of hell where, below your feet, figures are sealed in ice. These are the ‘traitors to their calling’ the artists who gave up painting and the poets who were too busy teaching.
With the second section also pulling work from previous collections, some of those earlier protagonists pop up again. It is common to find yourself returning to previous thoughts and subjects throughout the book. In one case a simile hops from one poem to another as Sarah’s red hair is described as being ‘as red as the beak of a takahē’ and then in the next poem we have the tussock eating takahē “its beak a red exclamation mark,”. I enjoyed these words and ideas spilling from one poem to another.
In the poem ‘Unknown unknown’ Jackson perfectly caught the creeping doubt we have about how much, or little, we know about people:
“any more than the poet’s biographer,
revealing everything he’s told,
accounting for contradictions
in accounts, gaps in the paper trail,
can know where the poet goes at night
when even his wife, lying beside him
in the dark, can’t know where he goes
in the privacy of his mind;”
In part two there is a short series of poems about a female photographer; The pretty photographer, The photographer’s hallway, The photographer in the Library, and The photographer’s Olympics. Four poems over six pages open a window on the life of the photographer, tell us so much about her; likes and dislikes, daily life. I love the feelings that I am left with. Happy to have known her briefly, wishing that I could meet her and talk about the pictures in her hall.
There are 25 poems in the final section. Classical references to Horace and Sappho, James K Baxter and barnacles, hens and the ever present ghosts which lurk everywhere in this collection. I loved ‘Aline, waiting her turn’ about a young poet “hunched in her hoodie”, waiting for an old poet on stage to finish her performance. The old poet says “no one is old until it happens” and,
“that makes the young poet grimace,
because you are old, it has happened and long
ago she thinks, waiting to take her place.”
And one final poem that caught my fancy was called ‘Office Pastoral’. There are certainly not many poems about the joys of working in an office block, but I liked this one. Observing from the building opposite, like watching a theatre performance where the lifts keep opening and closing “releasing new performers”.
Reviewer: Marcus Hobson
Auckland University Press, RRP $34.99