Sunday, May 31, 2009

Fiona Farrell

The last day of May. There’s a sparse layer of hail on the lawn, there is the odd flurry of snow and four rose bushes still have blooms. Crazy weather.

Poets often write about their craft. Fiona Farrell, one of our most versatile writers, spent six months on a writing fellowship in Ireland at Donoughmore. The poems that arose from her experience there are striking. They were published in the volume The Pop-Up Book of Invasions. In particular I like this one about how the poet turns the flop of failure into a myth. Homer ensured we do not see Hector as just a loser. Neither were the old warrior chiefs or the 1916 revolutionaries of Ireland. Fiona adds a further feminist dimension to such myths.


The poet always wins
or the blind singer.

Butcher’s shambles in
dust by the city wall or
spilled on office floor,
deals wrought behind
veneer while bullets
pierce the bronze wings
of angels. One two three

Small arguments at
kitchen tables, doors
slamming on never.
Small hatreds small
betrayals small deaths
in smoke and falling
stone. Days that fade
to shouting.

No sign of victory in
the guts. A bloody mess.

Then the poet comes and
sees in the flop of failure
the outlines of some old
hero whom another poet
made from grunt and stab
on some muddy hill. And
there’s that girl again, in
her buttoned coat, waiting
at the prison gate till her
husband dies.

She is listening for the
sound of bullets piercing
cotton shirt and snuggling
into lung and heart.
One two three.

And that’s how
the song
will start.

I greatly enjoyed her last two novels, Book Book and Mr Allbones’ Ferrets. Book Book reflected the reading of the period of my life - I related to it very easily. The publisher described Allbones as ‘an historical, pastoral, satirical, scientifical, romance with mustelids.’ I found it an absorbing read. So it was with anticipation I started reading her latest, Limestone. Ian Sharp in this morning’s paper said it was one of the best recent New Zealand novels. From what I’ve read so far I would not disagree. Indeed, I’m finding it difficult to stop reading it. I love the sense of time her opening chapter conveys.

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