(Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2016). ISBN 9781776560714. RRP: $25. Paperback. 112 pages.
If you have any interest in Hera Lindsay Bird’s self-titled debut collection, realistically, you’ve already read it. So, if we’re being honest, you’re only going to be reading this review to (a) find someone who agrees with your thoughts on it, or (b) find someone who doesn’t. So, buckle up, buttercup.
Hera has serious skillz. Yes, skill to the degree that it requires a z on the end. Her imagery, her similes, make me wish I had a brilliant simile to compare them to. Quite possibly this entire review should just be a list of delicious similes and images:
Like a metal detector detecting another metal detector. …
So hard we break sports, leaving the conveners of the Olympics
with a generous redundancy package
(“Ways of Making Love”)
I am the suspicious circumstances
surrounding your death
If you are a shape-shifting wizard
I am the shape you are shifting into
If you are a fast-moving cloud
I am an entire field of deer
(“If You Are an Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh”)
You have to drag your heart across the room like a heavy chair.
Like a haunted board game
pried from the rubble of an archaeological dig site
You roll the dice & bats come flooding out your heart
(“Love Comes Back”)
Between the plastic sheets of a lobotomy table
because writing poetry about fucking
when you could be fucking
is the last refuge of the stupid.
(“Ways of Making Love”)
Yes. I did just randomly throw down lines from her poems. It’s the right thing to do. You know that your eyes just did little jumps for joy when you read those.
Despite how the media in general responded to her collection, Hera isn’t the first poet to write about sex, or even the first female poet to do so. She’s not the first to be blunt and outrageous. She’s not the first to mention body parts (although she does seem to have kicked off a minor trend amongst young female poets to throw random genitalia into poems; please, stop it — make the genitalia count for something). She does write some rather wonderful words, and if you don’t snort-laugh at some point during some of her poems, well, then I’d suggest you may be suffering from extreme uptightness and you should consult with a medical professional at your earliest convenience.
Undoubtedly, Hera has hit onto a cultural nerve. Or a cult of nerves. Do I suspect that the viral nature of “Keats…” had more to do with people tittering to themselves (and, obviously, tittering to/with their friends) about a poem — a poem!! — that involves fucking, repeatedly, with poetic names from high school scattered throughout? Yes. Is the page gobbling “Mirror Traps” lost on me? Completely.
Despite the truly gasp-worthy similes, overall the poems don’t stick with me. There are definitely amusements that I feel the need to read aloud to others. There are statements that strike a chord: ‘Some people are meant to hate forever /and other people are meant to have appropriate reactions’ (“Hate”). But when I close the pages, the poems stay inside the book. They don’t wiggle their way into my heart like weevils into bags of rice. The opening poem/introduction, “Write A Book”, by far comes closest to weevil-ness, but the rest are fleeting delights with some beautifully crafted lines. And I am someone who likes to find new weevils to place in my heart. And yes, I know, not everyone reads poetry to encourage the introduction of weevils, although I don’t understand why not.
If you like/love Hera’s poetry, then nothing I say will make you see it any differently. You’ll possibly snort and call me old, or ignorant, or stupid. Or you might never read this. If you haven’t read Hera’s work, then I’m not sure I’ll convince you to. But I will offer you this tiny weevil, from “Write A Book”:
I wrote this book, and it is sentimental
Because I don’t have a right-sized reaction to the world
To write a book is not a right-sized reaction
To put all your bad thoughts on paper
And make someone else pay for them
(“Write A Book”)
First published in a fine line (New Zealand Poetry Society magazine) (2019)