The Dangerous Country of Love and Marriage by Amy Leigh Wicks
This collection of 62 poems covers a great deal of life, in verses that can be a short as two lines or as long as whole pages dense with prose. You never quite know what to expect. The collection is also wide ranging, as Amy Leigh Wicks moves from her native North America all the way to Wellington. On the way we pass through London, Paris and a bleak Northumbria. For Kiwi readers we have two perspectives; one looking at someone growing up on the other side of the world and then hearing their view of our own little country with all its quirks and foibles.
I like the way this collection surprises you. A poem will suddenly flare up in front of the reader, full of raw emotions, brimming with sentiment. The first to do this is ‘Canticle I’, a reaction to a man in a bar and to their subsequent visit to the cinema. “His coat smells like diesel and pine and soap” is quickly followed by these wonderful lines:
“He sits at the old wooden table under a gas lamp,
And blood types out a rhythm in my throat.
The only way I can think to slow
My breathing is to picture him asleep
In my arms, night after night after night.”
A canticle is a Latin word for a song, and there are four of these scattered through the collection – numbered one to four. You will also find Log No and Psalm numbers one to four. I think you could join these little sets together and read them as one, rather than tackling the whole book start to finish. They will expose further meanings and discoveries for the reader.
One thing that the author has certainly done is to embrace the Māori language and customs. Where the poems ‘turn Kiwi’, about a third of the way through, we have a poem called ‘Mihimihi’ combining the traditional pepiha and whakapapa in which ancestral mountains and rivers are named. This is done with the Māori on the left and a translation with comments down the right. This allows the poet to reflect and question, ‘Which river is mine?’. We cleverly combine Māori tradition to include the Catskill mountains, New York and the river Hudson. Directly after this transition piece comes a poem called ‘First night in Aotearoa”. The transition of country and feelings is not easy or straightforward.
A few pages later is a piece which feels like reading a student guidebook about just how bad you will feel in a strange land:
“… you may expect feelings
of doubt, anxiety or apathy to accompany
the usual sadness, discomfort and hesitation,”
But it is not all doom and gloom because there are solutions too:
“…many feelings of isolation and
confusion come from a lack of healthy interactions
with local people and customs. Smile often. Maintain
ties to your culture, heritage and traditions
while creating new relationships and participating
in new customs…”
I found myself wondering about the relationships I was reading about and how much the words were telling me the true history of Amy Leigh Wicks and how much was ‘writing’. I don’t think I have considered that very much when reading poetry, as so often this is something we take as a given, true facts and feelings from the poet. As though the trend for creative non-fiction has not reached the world of poets yet. So why did I feel like I was prying into Amy’s relationships, with the motorbike riding husband she brought with her from America, and then this (new?) protagonist who makes them a bed from old shipping pallets?
“Other nights, my mind
wanders dark alleys
while I lay beside him
in this bed he made for us
and I wonder what happens
if I cant find my way back?
There a great deal more to discover in this collection. I have barely scratched the surface. These poems will make you think and reflect, make you want to know more.
Reviewer: Marcus Hobson
Auckland University Press RRP $25