“Swings and Roundabouts: Poems On Parenthood” Revisited

Shortly after the publication of Swings and Roundabouts: Poems on Parenthood (which you can buy online from Fishpond or New Zealand Books Abroad), I gave my initial thoughts on the book, but said that I wouldn’t review it because I have a poem in it.

Well, I changed my mind. I’ve completed reading Swings and Roundabouts over the past two weeks, and though I’ll leave my own poem Coverage to speak for itself, I want to reiterate what a good book this is.

It’s true that Swings and Roundabouts is likely to speak most strongly to parents, but these poems are strong as poems, not just as aspects of parenthood. After an excellent introduction by editor (and parent) Emma Neale, the book is organised in chronological order, starting with pregnancy and ending with the deaths of children and parents – though the tone of this final section is not morbid. The poems are interspersed with quirky and enjoyable photos by Mark Smith.

This is predominantly an Australasian anthology, but it also includes poems by Sylvia Plath, Sharon Olds and Louise Gl├╝ck. In her introduction, Emma Neale suggests that Lauris Edmond could be regarded as the local poet laureate of childhood, and she has five poems here. Many well-known New Zealand poets are represented.

There are hardly any poems I don’t like, but poems that especially stand out include “Helpless” and “Yellow Plastic Ducks” by Graham Lindsay, “The Vending Machine” by Anna Jackson, “35/10” by Sharon Olds, “Your Secret Life” and “Your Secret Life 2” by Harry Ricketts, “It Allows a Portrait in Line Scan at Fifteen” by Les Murray (and yes, the title does make perfect sense, and is very moving, in the context of the poem), “Festive Lentils” by James Norcliffe, “Stay in Touch” by Laurice Gilbert, and “The Names” by Lauris Edmond.

But if I had to choose just one poem from this book, it would be “Child” by Sylvia Plath: small, vivid, memorable.

Like a child, like this book.

Reviews Roundup

I posted a while back on the first two reviews of my poetry collection All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens. Several more reviews have now come in, and my fantasy novel Anarya’s Secret has received its first review, which you can read in the Earthdawn Live Journal.

All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens reviews

In the New Zealand Herald’s Canvas magazine on 8 March, Graham Brazier gave favourable reviews to both All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens and Johanna Aitchison’s A Long Girl Ago. Despite insisting on describing me as a young poet (well, I look young, but I have this really dodgy portrait hanging in the attic), Graham said some very nice things about the book, describing it as a standout among the recent flood of local poetry publications, and saying “each poem stands on its own merit, a polar opposite of its predecessor”. Given that Graham is the lead singer of New Zealand band Hello Sailor, it’s perhaps not surprising that he draws particular attention to “New Live Dates”, my poem about an aging rock star strutting his stuff one more time.

In Poetry New Zealand 36, Owen Bullock describes the book as “a second collection from this wry and insightful Wellington poet”. He focuses on those poems in the book which incorporate some reference to the rich and famous, such as “Fitness” and “Oprah Relents”, saying that “the results can produce a zen-like, frozen look at the ridiculous in life”.

In Bravado 12, Michael Lee is kind enough to say that the last line of the opening poem in the book, “Elfland”, makes his scalp tingle.He also notes the varied subject matter, and gives some extracts from his favourite poems in the book, concluding by saying that the book “gives us Tim Jones’s lively, poet’s mind”.

In the March issue of a fine line, the New Zealand Poetry Society newsletter, Joanna Preston is less keen: she calls the collection “uneven”, and particularly dislikes “Oprah Relents”. On the other hand, she does like “First Light” and several other poems, so it’s not all bad news.

So, three very good reviews and one less good one: that’s not too bad a ratio.

I’ll add links under “Sample Poems” on the left to those of the poems mentioned in this post that are available online. And here’s “Oprah Relents” – see what you think.

Oprah Relents

Oprah relents
allowing us food and water.

Her guards look on
as we wash off the grime.

The symphony of severed heads
demands a new movement.

In fifteen minutes
we go live.

This poem was first published in the New Zealand Listener, 2 July 2005, p. 42, and republished in All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens.