A poet who knows her craft
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, mending a sock Hole, which take on deeper meanings — linking the wider world of experience with the minute. McQueen 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, song-like poem that speaks to the emotions. Read one and you’ll know what I mean.
In the pantoum To a 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 21 October 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.