Deeper mean­ing in poems by Kiwi poet

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The Ra­dio Room by Cilla McQueen re­viewed by Ju­dith McKin­non, Hast­ings Dis­trict Li­braries

Cilla McQueen is one of New Zealand’s most highly-re­garded poets, with nu­mer­ous awards to her credit.

These in­clude the NZ Book Awards for Po­etry three times, as well as be­ing the Poet Lau­re­ate for 2009-11. And when you read her po­etry, you dis­cover a poet who truly knows her craft, who en­joys ex­plor­ing the mean­ing, mu­sic and emo­tive power of words through a va­ri­ety of forms.

One of her more re­cent vol­umes, The Ra­dio Room, brings you into Cilla’s world, par­tic­u­larly the South Otago land­scape, with poems about fog, rock and sea, the space be­tween the tides. In this land­scape are el­e­ments of sci­ence and ma­chin­ery — Foveaux Ex­press evokes the ferry’s diesel smells, the oiled levers and con­nects them with the mak­ing of poems (Po­etry takes you apart, Puts you to­gether again).

There are poems of in­ti­mate home­li­ness, A Cup of Tea and mend­ing a sock, Hole which take on deeper mean­ings — link­ing the wider world of ex­pe­ri­ence with the minute. Cilla clearly en­joys the play­ful­ness of po­etry, the twists of mean­ing that oc­cur when you turn words and phrases in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, as in Poem for ex­am­ple.

Among my favourite poems are the pan­toums. This form is made up of sev­eral four-line stan­zas with a struc­ture of re­peated lines that loops through the verses. The re­sult is a beau­ti­ful, song­like poem that speaks to the emo­tions. Read one and you’ll know what I mean.

In the pan­toum Toa Baby, the gifts be­stowed — a ban­quet in a crust of bread, a bright fire in a piece of coal, etc. — cir­cling through the poem give a sense of bene­dic­tion that is warm and lov­ing. With Pas­sion Pan­toum, the rhythm of the form be­comes rol­lick­ing and breath­less — fan­ning the flames of wild de­sire, head over heels and flip­ping our lids. It’s a won­der­ful blend of form and mean­ing.

What I love about this col­lec­tion is there are poems that soon be­come favourites to en­joy again and again, while oth­ers you ex­plore over time, al­low­ing their mean­ing to fil­ter through. Cou­pled with il­lus­tra­tions by the au­thor, pen­cil and char­coal draw­ings, and quirky ef­fects with ty­pog­ra­phy, this is a slim vol­ume that packs so much within its cov­ers.

■ Cilla McQueen will be tak­ing part in Poem­lines: com­ing home on Sun­day, Oc­to­ber 21 at 7pm at the Blyth Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre, Iona Col­lege. This is a Read­ers and Writ­ers event and part of the Hawke’s Bay Arts Fes­ti­val. For more in­for­ma­tion visit www.hast­ingsli­ or phone 8715000.

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