Transporting the reader over oceans, Maia Armistead
September 10, 2020
AUP New Poets 6 stars the work of Ben Kemp, Vanessa Crofsky, and Chris Stewart, three unique poets who display the diversity and freshness of current New Zealand poetry. Despite their differences, these three collections can be read seamlessly together, with Kemp, Crofsky, and Stewart all commenting on common threads such as identity and memory. These themes are made unique by the tangible differences in form and setting that permeate each poet’s works, making AUP New Poets 6 a journey that jumps from Japan, to New Zealand, from fire-lit memories to poems scrawled on post-it notes, all displaying the exciting and complex new era of Kiwi poetry.
Ben Kemp’s collection The Monks Who Tend the Garden with Tiny Scissors is sweeping yet intimate. It sets his experiences gained while living in Japan alongside New Zealand culture, studying the similarities and differences between the two places. In Juni-Gatsu (December) Kemp writes
‘I enter the arteries of Tokyo…
With ears open…
Listening for you
The Te Arai…
& the sound of oranges growing.’
Just as the title of his collection suggests, Kemp’s poetry is delicate and finely paced, with his stanzas artfully arranged in a way that portrays the clear and intimate gaze through which he views the world. The Monks Who Tend the Garden with Tiny Scissors is an example of the scope of current New Zealand poetry, and will take you from the foreign colours of Japan to the persisting familiarity of home.
Vanessa Crofsky experiments with form and structure in her modern collection Shopping List of Small Violences. Her use of a wide range of mediums makes her poetry visceral and interactive, enhanced by her thematic focus on issues such as identity, womanhood, and a disconnect from self and culture. Crofsky’s poetry is unapologetic in its honesty and its confrontation of difficult topics. From family planning to the anxiety of bathing suits, Crofsky approaches every new idea and feeling head on and without fear. In Glory Be to Family Planning Crofsky writes
‘Watch me consume pauses
Like glasses of water
Then ask if I love him
Then ask if I’m sure’
In Shopping List of Small Violences, Crofsky takes advantage of the pauses in her prose, and leaves space for the reader to consider their own relationship with their identity through her intimate sharing of experiences.
While Crofsky’s poetry looks inward at the struggle of self and identity, Chris Stewart in his collection Gravity looks outward at his experiences with family and parenthood. In dealing with a topic common to so many people, Stewart creates an atmosphere that is wholly unique and specific to him, and makes simple memories, such as bathing a child or baby waking up in the night, into something sensual and magical. The imagery in his poetry is vivid and colourful. In his poem embers he writes
‘The first time we bathed
Our daughter in the lounge
It was dark except for the fireplace
She lay between us and flickered’
In his collection Stewart lets us be spectators to his own personal experiences, made more beautiful by his powerful use of language and imagery. He shows that sometimes poetry is about turning the mundane into something other-worldly and alluring, and this is what makes Gravity such an exciting read.
Each of the 3 poets featured in AUP New Poets 6 showcases their individual experiences that have shaped them as writers, transporting the reader over oceans, between cultures, from living rooms to swimming pools to the streets of Japan. Despite its grand scope, this edition of AUP New Poets is clearly rooted in New Zealand culture, and promises an exciting future for Kiwi poetry, with something to please every kind of reader.
- Maia Armistead is 17 and is a student at Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu