in a slant light — a poet’s memoir
by Cilla McQueen (Otago University Press, $35)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington
My pen’s a wand I dip into magic liquid –
memories stream out like bubbles on a breath
Cilla McQueen: Poet Laureate, Burns Fellow, Honorary Doctor of Letters, Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement – put these and her other awards in a list and we could make a “found poem” for McQueen. But her work is her own and this memoir not only tells her stories but is filled with poesy and, occasionally, shopping lists.
Diary-keeping forms the basis of much of this memoir – as with earlier poems – and we are led gracefully through the waves of her life as she sails through both rough and smooth waters. Some of us can identify with some of her young memories: I, too, am from a time when “Books and radios are all”. Childhood naughtiness was sometimes worth the adults’ disapproval — I share her pleasure at pulling out the neighbour’s seedlings one by one to hear the sound of each plant’s withdrawal; the “prickly tobacco scent in Dad’s tweed sportscoat”. And:
In the large lead shoe X-ray machine
at the back of the shoe shop, our skeletal
feet appeared at the press of a button.