Everything is here except Elvis

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‘Everything is Here’ by Rob Hack

 

I really like the profile on the Escalator Press website that says this about the poet…

Rob has lived in Paekakariki  since 2005, after a third attempt to live across the ditch. He has been an insurance salesman, greenkeeper , builder, personal trainer, gym owner, factory hand, gardener, shop assistant etc and currently works as a handyman, to buy second-hand poetry books, and petrol so he can visit his grandchildren each week.

There’s a nice anarchy here, the poet as an insurance salesman, which grabbed my attention immediately. And then there is the interesting fact that Rob was born in Invercargill but spent his childhood in Niue. It’s hard to imagine such a striking shift in landscape and indeed, the landscape is preeminent in his poems.

 

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Everything is Here’ is the title of his collection, a series of poems. The poetry is freighted with an emotional energy connected to family, milieu, place, and displacement. It speaks to a New Zealand childhood that I recognise. The poem ‘Canons Creek Four Square’ could easily be my home town of Richmond, but then there is disconcerting twist, the poet as an outsider.  The boy from Niue sent by his Mum to buy a tin of peaches. Innocuous, but powerful and nicely underplayed where racism is mollified with a lifesaver lolly.

The collection resonates with a spiritual thread from one sea to another across the Pacific and as far as Europe. It is a poetic memoir traversing connections to the two sides of his family.  They are snapshots into a life, or lifestyle, at times cinematic, but often leaving the reader wanting to know more. An example is a poem ‘High Noon in Avarua’ which feels like a second-hand local myth retold, handed down, and turned into a poem. And yet I wanted more, I felt I’d only glimpsed ‘Te Kope, the adopted son of the late Nui Manu’. At times, I was reminded at times of Tusiata Avia’s ‘Wild Dogs Under My Skirt’. ‘Blue Laws’ a list poem with fines for misdemeanours including, my favourite ‘If a man cries at the funeral of an unrelated woman $10.00’.

Another poem I really enjoyed with a fabulous long title is ‘James Cook couldn’t land and Elvis never sang on Niue’… which ends with a great three lines

Dad said, Elvis would’ve come to Niue

if he saw your mother dance

but he’d have to leave his hips at the door.

The poems have warmth and humour, they are easy but not light, warm and heart-warming. There is darkness written lightly.  Rob is a true bard. I’ve heard him read now twice (the first time at open mike at the Writers Symposium at the National Library) and then at Litcrawl. He has a strong presence as a performer and these poems lend themselves to the oral tradition. They have an anecdotal conversational air about them.

 

Naked in Tokyo

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It was our first trip to Japan this September. We had planned a trip back on 2011 but the tsunami hit and we felt it was wrong to be a tourist in a country so stricken. On that occasion we made a detour to Cuba, a rather lengthy detour, but unforgettable.

But, the time had come. We were visiting our son in Seoul and Japan is a near neighbour, so it was long overdue. We had ten days which is not long, but long enough to plan an exciting and eventful time. Hubby plotted our course, booked the bullet trains and we managed to cram in Tokyo, Nikko (home of the three wise monkeys), Hiroshima and Kyoto (a highlight).

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In Tokyo we tried to do everything that we’d read about. Hubby got up at 4 am to ‘do’ the famous fish market. He left me sleeping and grabbed a cab. Shortly after I had snibbed the lock on the hotel door and fallen into a deep sleep, he returned with a crash and a bang, trying to break down the door. Alas, only the first 100 people who turn up on time are admitted to the market. In spite of his early (as he thought) departure for this event, it wasn’t early enough – it was a Saturday and everyone was there waiting – no bribes taken – just the first 100 in the queue.

We conquered the metro. How easy it is with both the Japanese scripts plural (goodness, and I tell my ESOL students English is difficult) and the English equivalent, easily read and understood. Not only is the metro fast and efficient, it is startlingly clean. We found the Shibuya Crossing made famous by the movie ‘Lost in Translation’. It was fun to cross with all the crazy tourists now perpetuating the myth or reality of this crossing being the busiest on the planet. I have to say, a week or so later, I was in Hongdae and Insadong over Chuseok, in Korea and I’m certain both places were even more crowded that the Shibuya Crossing.

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We then, naturally, had to watch a rerun of ‘Lost in Translation’ and to our dismay, saw just how racist and jaded the movie appears, in retrospect. The Japanese characters have stereotypical bit-parts and Tokyo, the city itself doesn’t get to really flaunt its stuff enough.

I was dead keen to see the crazy fashion on Harajuku Street but alas, although we trawled the side streets and followed our map, the extreme street fashion I was hoping to photograph didn’t eventuate. Too we visited the National Museum and I was most eager to view the netsuke collection (having read the memoir of Edmund de Waal ‘The Hare with Amber Eyes’).

All this is leading to telling you about my being naked in Tokyo. I’ve always wanted to go to a public bathhouse and naturally Japan seemed like the best place to do this. We read up about the various bath houses and found one on our on-line Lonely Planet guide. It was in a rather ugly shopping mall but we were told to overlook this, because it was a really good bathhouse, the perfect place to experience Onsen.

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And it was. Hubby went one way and I went the other. Into the public bathhouse. It was the first time I’ve been naked in public among so many strangers and yet it was simply the loveliest most normal and beautiful thing. What a pity I had to wait until I was in my sixties to experience this.

I might well have been the only non-local, but I can’t confirm this, as once you are there, and naked there is an extraordinary kind of privacy that pervades. I was surrounded by absolute beauty. I will confess to initial shyness and discomfort. This led to me entering the main bathhouse and heading straight towards a small shallow pool in the shape of a semi-circle above which was a TV screen. I headed there because it was empty of people and sat down. It was very shallow and it wasn’t long before I realised I was sitting in a foot bathing pool. Alone, self-conscious, I began to giggle. I looked over at the big pools where the grown-ups were and I lifted myself with dignity from the paddling pool crossed the wet stone floor and descended a ladder into a deep bath with water jets and serious bathers, some chatting, some just luxuriating and one person seriously washing with great care.

I saw what looked like perhaps a grandmother with her granddaughter, young women in their teens, older woman like myself, the whole cross spectrum of naked female beauty in all its dignified glory. But the thing that struck me most was the absolute lack of self-consciousness and complete naturalness in nudity. I compared it to my preconceived ideas of say a nudist camp with mixed genders, which to me seems a bit comedic. Instead, this felt like a celebration of womanhood. I hesitate to add this, but bush was in abundance, beautiful undressed womanhood. No tattoos or piercings are allowed. I wonder if that will change with time, but without being judgmental, I kind of liked the idea. Both my sons have tattoos, so they would be turned away.

Now I’m back home in New Zealand and I’ve thought about what it would be like to go to a local bathhouse here in my own community. I feel all the old barriers rising to tell me it would be awful, embarrassing, and uncomfortable. I wonder was it because I was anonymously naked in Japan that I felt so comfortable, and that no one knew me, or was there some ancient ritual that the bathhouse routines have rendered into the atmosphere, changing what would normally be a socially uncomfortable experience for me, into something very beautiful.

Book Reviews and all that jazz

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I was tickled pink as they say when Graham Beattie invited me to be a guest reviewer on his literary blog.   I belong to three book clubs and read quite a bit I guess (mostly I always tell myself, as a way of catching up).   You see, many of my super-smart book club friends grew up on a diet of books and they can quote from childhood memories, books they’ve read several times.   In this regard, I am way behind, apart from recalling the cover of my ‘School Friend’ annuals.   Yes, my family always gave books for Christmas and birthday, so I cannot complain, and my parents were regular library users.   Mum read detective stories and Dad loved Barry Crump or Hori and the Half Gallon Jar.  The local library was part of my landscape tucked as it was inside the brick council building that also housed the local cinema.   On Anzac Day, this very same building was where we gathered to pay homage to Gallipoli, The Somme and other legendary battles (in our house, the battle of the bottle).

The librarian was a serious but kindly woman who peered down over spectacles and used a long pencil with a rubber stamp attached to mark the library card and stamp the book, so you knew when to return it.   There was a certain smell of polished floors and stacks of books and the odour of silence and shuffle that is impossible to rekindle.    Libraries nowadays lack the holiness of our public library lodged in-between the Council Chambers and the Cinema.

I was a regular at the Cinema, and if movies could have been withdrawn like library books back then, I’m sure I’d have been one of the biggest borrowers.   Movies were my entertainment.   When other kids went to the beach on a hot Saturday, I queued for the matinée.   The Wednesday double-feature was for grown-ups, but if a really good movie was showing, my parents might agree that I could go on a week-night.   I recall watching Rin Tin Tin and Woman Obsessed as a double-feature one Wednesday school night and my Dad waiting outside after to walk me home in the dark.

It was outside the library one evening that we stood on the eve of a particularly important local body election when one Mayor was ousted and half the town stood with us while my Dad slipped behind the Doctor’s surgery (a small stucco building that still stands) to take a leak as we waited for the announcement.   Back then, local body politics were deemed as important as national elections and the Right or the Left were on either side of the street so to speak.   We were dyed in the wool Labour supporters with Tory neighbours in a working-class street that included two chemists, a builder (my Dad), a butcher, a baker, two school teachers, and eventually, a Prime Minister (but I’d long left home by then).

My sister was always way ahead of me.   She was ahead of many of her contemporaries too in small-town New Zealand; reading Shakespeare alongside more salacious banned books, collecting art books, drinking illicit Cona coffee in a candle-lit dive on the main street with red checked table cloths, where candles dripped wax down Chianti bottles.   Oh yes, she was way ahead of me, as I fled out the door weekdays to six am mass to keep my soul from the devil.

So, catching up, I call it.

And now I am writing to defend my style of reviewing.  Not that I’ve actually been asked to defend it (yet…).   But I’ve been thinking about reviews and the more academic point of view, that the “I” in the review should be absent.   Well of course, as you can tell from this preamble, leaving me, out of anything is going to be a challenge.  I make no excuses.   I read blogs and I write one and I’ve yet to find a blog that isn’t really about its creator, no matter how well written, researched, diverse, or interesting … their passion for the material, the topic, their desire to have you engage with them in a debate, discussion or dream.   Or, their desire for a voice, or just plain self-promotion…  Yep, that too.

I am not an academic book reviewer.   When I read a book, I bring my life experience as a woman, mother, wife, book clubber, writer, and my ego (oh yes, that most definitely).  I bring my opinions, my prejudice, my bias, my passion and my ignorance.    We all of us bring this to any book we open to read.    Hopefully, when we close the book we have perhaps lost some of our ignorance and ignited more of our passion, reduced or informed our prejudice/bias so that we recognise it and all of that jazz and more… we have perhaps fuelled our desire to read more, or to write better (better than we have been writing, as opposed to better than the writer we just read – because usually as a writer, I am mostly humbled and awed when I read).

Anyway, this is just an unplanned rant that I plan to post, about book reviews and why I feel no need to attempt to take the “I” or the “me” out of my reviews.    Not everyone will want to read my opinion or even care why I like or dislike a book and in this I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes (framed and on a shelf in my office) about writing – by Brian Joseph Epstein – and here is the link.

And a link to some of my book reviews.