Scoop Review of Books

Archive for December, 2016

Pacific Slavers

The Stolen Island: Searching for ‘Ata

by Scott Hamilton (BWB Texts, paper $14.99; e-book $4.99)

Reviewed by Michael Horowitz

stolen_island_coverLocated even further south than temperate Noumea, Tonga’s tiny island of ‘Ata might have become the jewel of the kingdom’s burgeoning tourist industry. Imagine a Tongan resort that would not only be mild in winter, but pleasant in summer.

Alas, it was not to be. As Scott Hamilton poignantly describes in his concise account, Stolen Island, an Australian whaler anchored offshore in June 1863 … tricked nearly half the island’s over 300 inhabitants to come aboard to trade … then locked the exits and delivered them to a slave ship bound for Peru. Shortly after their arrival in port, the Peruvian government enforced its abolition of slavery and ordered all captured islanders, including Tahitians and Tongans, repatriated. Yet the prisoners were again betrayed: this time by being labelled a medical threat by the captain of the returning vessel and dumped on remote Cocos island, where all but 38 perished. Finally in November, a Peruvian warship brought survivors to the seaside village of Paita, where the descendants of some ‘Atans may possibly carry on today.

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No pretence. No bullshit. Fine poem.

Mister Hamilton
by John Dickson (Auckland U Press, $24.99)
Reviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana

Mister_Hamilton_coverJohn Dickson doesn’t publish much; never has. Indeed, this new collection is his first such in 18 years. As he wryly and dryly states,

I’ve published two slim volumes, and spent all
My time working on the next.
(from Wasp p.67)

Bit of a curate’s egg this one, but that would be an unfair overall assessment, as the less tasty pieces are actually few and far between; mainly sporadically encountered when the poet waxes meta-proletariat and/or pops in name-drops and/or overwrites into lengthy banalities such as in Sixties relic surveys his lawn (pp. 57-63), which for me doesn’t work, even given the furrowed rows of fescue, fescue, fescue shaped poem at the end of the saga, eh. Nor does the equally-as-lengthy The persistence of football results on Bealey Ave (pp. 14- 20); despite many clever-dick wordplays like our now goebeelised world and the usual one size fits all prop agenda. Too bloody loooong, mate. Something else (pp. 41-45) is also a bit awry – a sort drug and doom stream-of-consciousness prosody that belies and – worse – defies the poet’s defined aim on page 75, ‘…an opportunity to turn…speech into verse.’

Because Dickson writes much better than those selected examples much of his way through this book; when he hits his straps as a hard-bitten Southern man and feeds us clear, cogent and concise granite chunks of whimsy, irony, drollness. Such as in the winning economy of Veteran of a war one side won (p. 21), which is an excellent poem, here reproduced in full.

Veteran of a war one side won
My luck. Just my luck.
Twenty vacant seats
and he sits by me.
All the way in.
he mumbles to himself
his high-pitched toneless voice
wavering through his lips
like short wave static.
When the bus stops
he stops
silenced by the sounds
only he can hear
the silent artillery shells
that still phase him out.
My luck. His fate.

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Species of Spaces

Extraordinary Anywhere: Essays on Place from Aotearoa New Zealand
Edited by Ingrid Horrocks and Cherie Lacey (Victoria U Press, $40)
Reviewed by Max Rashbrooke

EA_DustJacket_CoverOnly___45275.1462421528.1280.1280When I was coming to the end of my six-year stint in London, British people would often say to me, ‘I quite understand why you’d go back to New Zealand – I mean, the landscape, it’s so beautiful, why wouldn’t you?’ Because they were often just making polite conversation, I didn’t bother correcting them, but in fact that was hardly the reason I was returning.

The New Zealand landscape undoubtedly is very beautiful, but so is the British one, and my attachment to this country is much more about some particular places, and the memories and emotions that in them combine, than it is about the landscape as a whole.

So I welcome the decision by Ingrid Horrocks and Cherie Lacey, the editors of Extraordinary Anywhere, to focus their collection of place-based essays on “the obsession, fascination, wonder and often intense unease experienced in relation to particular spots in this country … how lives are actually lived in very specific places, and how these lives – and places – have changed over time”. This gets us away from that banal discussion about the New Zealand landscape and ‘what it means to us’, a discussion that has long since ceased to be interesting, if ever it was. I also welcome the fact that the essays, as you’d expect in this day and age, largely reject the idea of a fixed landscape: they are alive to the way that places are constructed in our imagination, the way that they are constantly coming into being, creating their meaning by acting as the nodes of all kinds of movements, relationships, connections.

Some of the book’s strongest essays are in the first section, ‘Any place might be extraordinary if only we knew it’. Ashleigh Young’s essay ‘The Te Kuiti Underground’ is a meditation, both sad and funny, about the way that the desire to escape a small town can live alongside a fierce pride in, and knowledge of, that place, while Tony Ballantyne turns his decades-long familiarity with a South Dunedin chip shop into a lens on the economic collapse of its surrounding suburbs.
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