I’m reading Kerry Popplewell’s ‘Leaving the Tableland’ her first book of poems. From the moment I read the first poem I was hooked. Called ‘Acclimitisation’ it begins by describing Ursula Bethell gardening and ends
‘this conglomerate place
where, aping each other’s call
blackbird and tui give chase.’
That describes our garden too. The next poem about harvesting potatoes leads to reflections about her Irish ancestors and their back-breaking labours. On Anzac Day 2004 thinning carrots she meditates upon her young great-uncle who died in the First World War. This is how most of my poems work – present to past, immediate to general. So many contact points. I too loved reading The Master, was blown away by the Rosalie Gasgoine exhibition, was awestruck in the Uffizi Gallery, saw the Queen in 1953 and that production of The Cherry Orchard.
Another poem recalls the Second World War. The man overseas looking at a photograph. The wife at home in Paihatua waiting like Penelope. The child
‘I was five when my father came home
When he tried to hug me, I hid.’
I especially liked ‘A Photograph of William Atwood’s Bullock Team, 1857.'
‘The steamship’s standing
well out to sea
while the bullock team waits
a black silhouette
on Wairau beach
near the end of the day.’
There’s a gentle strength in her poems. She’s good on family, warts and all, tragedy and future generations. But she really comes into her own in the last section – tramping poems set in New Zealand and Australia. Her passion for the outback and the high country shines through with a compelling intensity. Glover imagined what it was like. Popplewell experiences it. The cameraderie, the loss of companions, the sense of wonder and weariness – experiences that convey to those of us who have only been amateur trampers what it’s like to be a dedicated one.
'Up on top, wind's the dictator.'