Monday, December 27, 2010

Review by J.R.McRae - "Letters from the Asylum", poetry by John Knight

Review by J.R.McRae

I generally read collections of poetry randomly. This gives me, I feel, better access to the variant moods of the poet. If you like, I feel I am looking over his/her shoulder unexpected and capturing something extra, something they may not have imagined was about to break lose from their verse.

Look at this will you…
Pages 74 and 75 …the juxtaposition is something alone to mull over!

On facing pages we have the ultimate still life, a dead swaggy with all the irony of the ‘life’ his death is giving –

“white ants built a nest in his head.”

And the opposite page is “affirmation” with its powerful and wryly inspirational second last line -

“Maybe it’s time to send flowers to yourself,“

Here is something more than poetry, it is the mirror our words create in themselves, between themselves and up to us.

Let’s jump to John’s remembrances of his parents. Poor souls who love to give us life and then try… all their lives to live up to our expectations, live down our excesses.

Remembrances ”Seventy-Three Years” Page 21
and the wedding portrait’s
due formality can’t hide his chin, her smile,
their hope.

Only a child can censor a parent’s wedding photo and comment with a soft, sly touch. Then there are the death watch poems. The angst is gone, a sad humour remains. They are his parents. He has forgiven them. Now he stands beside them and slowly notes the last details of their existence…. It is almost excruciating.

“blind worm and greedy time’s decay” Page 20

1979 Oliver William Knight

I scraped the stubborn blade
across my father’s face
at his request. My sister’s hair
fell on his chest. My mother
held his hand and willed him life.
‘I want to wee,’ he whispered half-asleep.

1993 Blanche Marybelle Thirza Knight

Blind worm and greedy time’s decay
may waste that shrivelled womb and foul
the withered breast. Where I once sucked,
and on the arm that cradled me
vile cankers spread. But the raven hair
you shook out for his pleasuring
endures, and the plain ring on your finger.

Let’s travel on.

Pulped Fiction [P. 26] is a series of awfully pointedly observed images, pinned together to and irony and build to a painful insight – the sort that makes you stop mid laugh and cry.

The last lines sum it up perfectly –

… And last week, when I sent flowers
to the woman I love, her brother’s dog bit the delivery boy.
Is the universe trying to tell me something?

On the opposite page [P. 27] is one of the most beautiful and poignant poems I have ever read on suicide, “The People You Leave Behind”. I can’t pick out just one image. They are all inextricably linked and carry the reader like a gradually building wave towards the crash onshore.

Pages 32 and 33 are experimental verse – shaped and extravaganced. Do they work? I think so. They are John playing at being John – a sort of dress rehearsal for the main act.

Where will we go now…. We’ll have a “meeting in the op shop of desire” … [Page 46] What are titles for – to say more. They introduce, sum up and are the neon lit ad enticing us into their dark underground. This title does it well.

The poem flits like a moth in dark places looking for the deadly candle light.
“The trick is not to get yourself... deleted.”
Along the way, we play with rhyme schemes to emphasis the rhythm in this dance macabre.

War poems, replete with headlined images and the harsh economy of words that only works when too much is too much, these are terse yet tender. These are voyeur and would be peace worker trying to do their bit. The four stark poems on pages 64 to 65 are must read.

Philosophising on life and everything else is best done succinctly. John achieves this, reflecting on the sad state of politics in “The Day After”
“we woke up sad and sorry
but the sun was still there.”
[page 84] and everything else [page 85] in “there is a light”. “I have given my days blindly” and “now the Earth beckons…”

A perfect ending to the collection is not on page 94 but on page 90, “peace”.
I love every line of this little gem, so I reproduce it entire –

this house has
peace in its
timber, the slow
blowfly hums
peace, the pines
and the clean sky
echo peace, the
kingfisher calls
peace and the
water breaking on
the flat sand

Taupo Bay
Tai Tokerau

As this is likely, alas, to be John’s final collection, I have added some excerpts from his ‘Introduction”.
Extracts: [Page 11] For the greater part of my adult life, I have experienced recurrent
severe depression — in the clinical as well as the popular sense of the
term — alternating with shorter periods of considerable exhilaration.

The association of depression with creativity is not uncommon,
and a substantial number of artists and thinkers are said to have been
affected by it.

My own experience suggests that it is in the shift from one state to the
other (either manic or depressive) that creativity finds purchase;

And on “the process of writing” [Page 14]
there comes a time, if the work is to have its own
veridicality, its own conviction, when it starts to speak back to me
so to speak. It assumes an independent existence, and tells me what
it will be. [Page 15] Out of it I seek to … assert an identity—this person, John Knight—and thus discover, uncover, recover an essential me.

Letters from the Asylum, Sudden Valley Press, Christchurch, NZ, 2009 ISBN 978-0-9582091-9-9 by John Knight

Availability: From John Knight, 38 Suncroft St., Mt Gravatt, 4122. $20.00 including postage within Australia. $A20 plus $5 p&p overseas, payment by paypal or direct deposit.


alberta ross said...

hi - pop round to my place for a suprise

Anonymous said...

Thanks Alberta! :)