Scoop Review of Books

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Poem of the Week: LAST POST by Mary Cresswell

From: Nearest and Dearest, Steele Roberts. $20.nearest


First we took Manhattan
then we took Berlin
We sang of free love, Mao and Marx
and nitroglycerin.

But now the terrorists are brown
our ponytails are grey
There is no place for us in town
so we have marched away.

Today we recite the RMA
while whacking fenceposts in:
next week we’ll hit Taihape
– and how about Levin?


  1. Scott, 8. July 2009, 9:37

    This is verse, certainly, but is it poetry? Serious question.

  2. Richard Quinn, 11. July 2009, 0:40

    Not if Scott,
    says it’s not.

  3. Ross Brighton, 11. July 2009, 2:47

    It depends what definition of poetry one subscribes to. If it is common usage, then yes.

    Whether or not it’s good poetry is another question entirely.

    I wonder what poor old Leonard Cohen would think about this.

  4. Scott, 14. July 2009, 11:28

    Well, the question is whether verse and poetry are the same thing. Cresswell’s piece rhymes and is organised into lines and stanzas, so it can be characterised as verse. Then again, so can the jingles we hear everyday on the radio advertising corn flakes and shampoo. Are they poetry, too? How about the lyrics of a Whitney Houston song? Is Whitney a poet?

    I think that poet is distinguished by the fact that she or he treats language as a sensuous material full of nuances and possibilities, rather than as merely the medium for the communication of meaning. Anthony Burgess once defined poetry as ‘the maximum exploitation of words’. Where the author of a computer manual or a jingle writer will aim to communicate one meaning as simply as possible, a poet (who can work in either verse lines or prose sentences) will explore the hidden recesses of the words, and sound the minor as well as the major chords of language. The result will be an interpretive space which readers can enter, and where they can dialogue with the author. Can we read Cresswell’s poem more than once, without exhausting the rewards it offers us?

    It is now more than ninety years since modernists like Ezra Pound and TS Eliot declared war on outmoded and trite poetic forms and called for poetry to be ‘at least as well-written as prose’: it is depressing, then, that Creswell’s doggerel is being collected into books by a serious New Zealand publisher like Steele Roberts. Cresswell is actually worse than the late Victorian and Georgian versifiers that Pound and Eliot had in their sights, because she doesn’t even bring an understanding of traditional meter to her confections. At least the likes of Swinburne and Housman knew how to write skillfully using traditional stress patterns. Creswell simply puts rhymes on the ends of free verse lines.

  5. Ross Brighton, 24. July 2009, 15:51

    Yeah, It’s the same problem as the shortlived “New Formalist” movement in the states.
    But I’m reluctant to police what is/isn’t poetry on the basis of whether it is good or not, or in terms of taste – as people like Billy Collins, no matter how bad, or disturbing (see “Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes – Misogyny at its worst) his work may be, is still going to fit the common usage definition of poetry more that someone like Tony Green or Caroline Bergvall.

  6. Ross Brighton, 30. July 2009, 0:51

    also – I’m not familiar with the poet in question, and wonder if this is a one-off thing, or for a special purpose? Bernadette Hall has some little verses in her new book (launched next week), and Steven Oliver published a book of rhymes, jokes and satire. And then there’s Allen Curnow’s second life as Whim-Wham.

  7. Denise, 11. August 2009, 11:57

    I think she’s hilarious. I love the way she references popular culture. I ‘m going to buy her book.

  8. susan, 7. July 2010, 14:57

    I wonder what poor old Leonard Cohen would think about this.

    I hope she credits Cohen-

    uggh-leave cohen outta ya lines women-