Thursday, February 18, 2016

This Paper Boat - Gregory Kan - Auckland University Press

This Paper Boat follows the author as he traces his own history through the lives and written fragments of Iris Wilkinson (aka Robin Hyde), of his parents and their parents. He explores old territories of Robin Hyde’s, still dripping with the past – the tide pool at Island Bay with its shrimp and driftwood, the garden at Laloma with its crushed lemon leaves. He listens to the stories of his parents and their parents, the eels and milk, frangipani trees, drains and barbed wire of their childhoods. He remembers a jungle of his own; he searches for ghosts in the water. While stumbling across irreparable fractures between worlds, the author uncovers the permission to have beautiful and imperfect plans.
The collection flows forwards beautifully like Ping's river, with each poem running into the next like a continuing narrative running onmany different time lines.  In it there's a potted history of Kan's , as he moves back into his own past and those of his parents - travelling between Singapore and New Zealand. The poems explore early 20th century New Zealand  Robin Hyde, and delve into her life at times but don't break the flow of Kan’s poetry and instead, integrate seamlessly into the writing.  It's that alone that makes it all a pleasant read.  "Outside the square of land you last appeared on / seventy-five years ago, I pretend to busy / my phone. I am / taking in the way Wellington had to force itself / upwards to meet you."  "Walking / through
Wilton’s Bush a few days ago I was / disoriented when I cut my hand on a thorny, / overhanging branch. I realised I had no gloves. / No camouflage paint on my face, no equipment / vest, no rifle around my neck, no ammunition, / no water, no signal set, no platoon, no rank." These different pasts all reflect on the present for Kan, and even with his own past self there seems to be a certain amount of separation that is used to examine the present.  Wellingtonians will totally get this, too.
These poems run every direction from emails to blog text.  Modern and ancient and in that sense have a freshness at a time when poetry has a soundbite expenditure for singular event.  Robyn Hide was always a literary figure I found a bit pretentious.  As an academic, in my early years, I struggled to understand why she was famous or revered. Then again, I never understood McCahon either.  But on face value Kan's work is intriguing and challenging.  That's enough, I think.