Scoop Review of Books

Archive for September, 2016

‘death on every page’

Salt River Songs
by Sam Hunt (Potton & Burton, $24.99)
Reviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana

Salt-River-Songs_cvrColin Hogg, a longtime comrade of Sam, writes in his Introduction that, ‘There is a lot of death in this collection of new poems by my friend Sam Hunt. It’s easier to count the poems here that don’t deal with the great destroyer than it is to point to the ones that do.’ Tika tau kōrero Colin: I fully concur. I do not think that I have ever encountered such a poetic fixation with so much Death previously, except perhaps in the work of Emily Dickinson.

It is when Hogg, later in his rollicking intro’ states, ‘There might be a lot to do with death in this collection, but there is also something even bigger – a sense of timeless wonder … There is so much love of life in these words,’ I am by no means anywhere near as certain. I don’t glean this pastoral romance.

The older Sam does not celebrate or illuminate or – concomitantly – seem to enjoy anything much in life, anywhere near as much as the younger more ebullient-in-verse Sam. Now, never get me wrong here: Sam Hunt is and always will be one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s greatest poets/poet-minstrels. But in this book, there is just too much – for me, anyway – obsession with dead acquaintances, his own deceased parents, much more than anything else the prospect of his own demise – in/about/through and into DEATH pallbearer-ing itself across the pages. Jesus Christ on a camel, Hunt writes as much himself here –

Talking of my new book
a friend remarks
there’s death on every page…

death lurking and leering
each turn of the page…

Death is there – sure

As is life – what little
I can recall right now.
The poems say so too.
[from Both Boots (p. 69.)]

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Almost Getting Away With Murder

The Black Widow
by Lee-Anne Cartier (Penguin, $38)
Reviewed by Judith Morrell Nathan

BlackWidow-001Lee-Anne Cartier is the sister of the Christchurch man found to have been murdered by his wife, Helen Milner, after an initial assumption by police that his death, in 2009, was suicide. The case created a lot of interest when it eventually came to court four years later and was one of New Zealand’s most publicised murder trials. The fact that this book is listed in the top ten for sales and that New Zealand on Air is funding a movie shows there is still much interest.

Cartier reached her conclusions early on, as she found discrepancies in what her sister-in-law was telling her. This book explains how, over a period of years with frequent visits to Christchurch from Queensland, where she lived, Cartier persuaded the police to undertake further investigations and change their minds. With admirable persistence, she questioned neighbours, workmates and members of the extended family, checked texts and emails, and repeatedly reported Milner’s inconsistent stories and unusual behaviour to the police. She confided in many people over the years, often finding they shared her opinion. She pays tribute to a number of people without whose help her quest would not have succeeded.

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Nō Tāu Manawa

Fale Aitu | Spirit House
by Tusiata Avia (Victoria University Press, $25)
‘Reviewed’ by Vaughan Rapatahana

Fale-Aitu_Spirit_House_webfa’afetai Tusiata, fa’afetai,
you’ve swerved & served us a masterclass corpus
through graft
of tears & fears.

Palestine, New York, Mangere;
street-smart & worldly,
you spill your guts, you bare/bear your soul;
Christchurch, Samoa, Africa;
eerie images rash throughout this weft —
dead people, lost babies, past heroes;
rape, mayhem – they’re just a shot away
missiles, earthquake – they’re just a block away
& as for the atua,
you really have to pray.

tālofa lava Tusiata, tālofa
kia ora mō tēnei pukapuka iti o ngā whiti
ka nui te pai,
nō tāu manawa.
found verse, prose bricks, unattached pronouns;
powerful & experimental,
you angry your past, you pain your hurt;
cathartic, erratic, erotic;
hoodoo voodoo magic wafting a spell —
inequality, iniquity, insanity;
marginalization, victimization – they’re here today
dispossession, violence – they’re near today
& as for the aitu,
they really never go away. Read more »

Wellington’s Architectural Jewel

Futuna: Life of a Building
Edited by Nick Bevin and Gregory O’Brien (Victoria University Press, $50)
Reviewed by Max Rashbrooke

Futuna_CoverWhenever people ask me about Wellington’s best sights, I always say, without hesitation: you should go and see Futuna Chapel. Almost no-one has heard of it, yet apart from Ian Athfield’s house, it’s the only modern building in the capital that can make my heart sing. It’s also a building that, in its architecture and its history, speaks to both the best and the worst of the New Zealand character.

Futuna, nestled among Karori’s backstreets, was built in 1961 as part of a Marist retreat centre. The Marists wanted a standard chapel: what they got from its architect, John Scott, is nothing short of extraordinary. He designed the brothers a building that, from the outside, soars into the sky, its sharply sloping, triangular roofs proclaiming a Modernist take on the Gothic buttress.

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