Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Conch Trumpet - David Eggleton

David Eggleton is a Dunedinite and author of 6 previous books of poetry and short fiction.  He's tackled many topics before but this one is the most ambitious.  The Conch is an ancient Maori symbol of heraldry.  A loudhaler from the past and a metaphor for now.  He uses it to call to the scattered tribes of Aoteaoa - the anciet tangata whenua and the recent arrival; those with guilt of iperialism and those withthe ambitions of commerce and betterment.  But these are not poems that always explore possible melding of cultures.  Instead they begin to  tread on the familar territories of land, home and sea. Every Kiwi knows about this.  In that sense I was a little disappointed.

But Eggleton does a wonderful job of exploring the natual world and the spiritual world whilst nodding to other things later on.  His collection compresses history, the majesty of a harbour or a mountain or lake or river and occasional political satire,  He connects with Maori lore and legent many times connecting the complacency of discarded kelp, for instance with the ancestry of birds like the Petrel (in Ode to The Beach Wrecked Petrel) or the juztaposition of mountains and the eternal changing weather (in Cloud Piercer).  On that latter poem there are beautiful lines such as "On winter's serrated-edge glints/ snow's teeth, talons, feather-slick tints/ Nothing loath, prowled by air's current,/ great alps bulk above canopy."  These are the best moments, they conjour up for me those icons of sweeping mountainscapes from a helicopter at 1000 feet up.  Eggleton covers many subjects in this slim volume and not all of these are natural.  Towards the end politics and the state of the world bleed in.  There's an oddly creepy poem about the death of Gaddafi, for ezample.  And another that talks of modern day terrorism in today's life.  The lines "Praise be to the internet, now my mind is a search engine"  The terrorism he speaks of is more about the climate of info-fear.  He's almost saying if knowledge is power then when is there to much power?  What happens when we all know everything?  Is it better to be a little ignorant, if only to retain a little sketicism of the knowledgable among us!  He continues on with the best lines of the book: " ...humming under flags of convenience, seen through Google Glass smoked darkly."  

It's a collection that starts with the natural and ends up with the contrived.  It should work.  But I wonder.  If I could cut this book into two and select the later poems about potilics and social comment (New Zild Book Awards Considered as a Five-Horse Race, for example.  C'mon the title says it all - doesn't it Ellie Catton?), then I'd be happy.  Eggleton is clearly a better poet than I am a reader.  So, instead of dismissing the parts of this collection that I can't find comfort with I'm determined to re-read.  Like a cryptic crossword you need to think and ponder some of these awhile before giving up.  In the age of instant gratification Eggleton is a challenge worth taking.