Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fly Boy

Before the blog – the first rose of summer in our garden has burst into bloom from its bud. One sole Leander flower proclaims summer’s almost here.

Being in the Tuesday Poets group is sort of belonging to a new family. I say partially, the very voluntary nature of the participation gives an extra spin. But one learns foibles, hopes and habits, grumps and dislikes of a number of people brought together by a common purpose. Often the dislikes are shown by silence rather than dissent. Of course, we each apply our own template as we look at other’s poems.

I’ve enjoyed the poems posted on the site by Jeffrey Paparoa Holman. There’s a working class twist to his verse that appeals, but it is more than that, he has a way with words that shows a poet’s reflection and consideration. He’s established his own burrow.

I’d probably have bought ‘Fly Boy’ the latest volume of his poems anyway without the incentive of belonging to the group. The striking cover shows a Sunderland flying boat over a dimpled ocean. That appealed. The British symbols on the warplane aroused nostalgia.

But before I began to read the heresy flashed across my mind, ‘what do I say if I don’t like them.’ ‘Nothing!’ said Jiminy Cricket the ever-present observer of my actions, conscience is too strong a word. I need not have worried. I like them and have no hesitation in commending them.

The reason for my doubt was my technological illiteracy. As a boy I was interested in what things did – not how they worked. Cars and cameras have their enthusiasts. I use them, enjoy them but don’t worry or think about their ‘innards’. Planes are the same. But there’s a difference, which Holman has exposed.

As hinted above, the Second World War was formative in my development. It was there in my childhood larger than an elephant in the room. Words like radar lurked on the airwaves. And prominent on and in radio, film, newspaper and comic were terms like Spitfire, Messersschmitt and Flying Fortress. I didn’t know or heed the make of tanks. The royal navy had lost its glamour. Planes had not.- they were the future They were the winning of the conflict. That was my war.

The war concluded, ‘the fangs/ of battle shone in film and books.’ Flight dominated the newsreels. Words like Vulcan and Fokkers Friendship entered our vocabulary. Words like Tiger Moth had already been well-established.

Holman’s war-time love of books about planes struck an unexpected chord. The Icarus dream of soaring high about the earth is planted deep in our psyche. I found myself responding and understanding. ‘I kicked the chooks and clambered in.’ ‘Brownings blazing, black iron crosses, smoke and murder.’ Holman’s humanity appeals. He can be victor. He can also be victim as enemy fire rakes his craft. This was how it was presented, black and white and simple. Kill and be killed. The odds are on both. I live now in a contradictory world – in the 1940s it was more simple.

From his books he knew ‘the shape and the shadow/ cast on my heart by everything in there that flew.’ The excitement of the boy shows in the verse of a man. ‘off by heart I was flying solo/ through all those worlds of sheer excitement.’. Doodle-bugs spooked Nanny, ‘she talked bombs to me till the day she died.’ The intimacy is contagious.

That was only the first part of the collection. The second called ‘Fly Past’ has a photo of a Sunderland over an uncompleted Auckland Harbour Bridge. ‘The white weight/ of the bird-boat dropping on Hobsonville.’ The fly boy’s growing up. The aerial combat over Germany he realised was ‘skyways of slaughter’. ‘Heaven/ is tumbling as hell to earth.’ These two lines are from a very effective poem called ‘Nightfighter’. The whole section ends ‘We/ need to ask them but never do, what/ it was like to hover above the earth – and die?’

The third section is flight of a different sort. Birds! There is a poem to ‘Piwakawaka’ which I would have loved to have included in “These I Have Loved’ had it been available. It captures the essence of fantail ‘feather box of tricks on/ springs’. The joy of the bird and its antics. Indeed, this whole section is jam-packed with goodies, ending in the powerful last poem ‘Call me Icarus’.

It’s in the final section ‘Flight Path’ that the collection soars to fresh heights. Holman has taken possession of a poetic form that allows him full range to his voice and interests. It’s very difficult, indeed almost impossible to summarise. The photo shows a Sunderland over a Pacific island, bits of coconut studded earth scattered across miles of ocean. It’s over this route that the godwits fly, ‘burning fat fresh from the estuary/ down to the bone.’

Holman shuttles between California and New Zealand, newscaster Wendy Petrie and Executed German theologian Dietrich Bonhoffer, ‘all of knowledge/ resides in light’. Each reading reveals extra complexities. And the godwits carry the sense of a return to Aotearoa; and grounding. And yet – they do not stay, they’ll fly away again, earth-bound humanity reaching for the stars. I put down the volume and look at our new lovely little rose. I’m at home again, enriched by Holman’s enthusiasm, rapture, questioning, explanation. His volume is an example of why I like poetry and poets who make it. .


  1. Fantastic review, Harvey, and how thrilling for Jeffrey - I will certainly pick this one up and have a look. The planes fascinate me, birds too. Love the piwakawaka poem... I wonder if we should have a spot on the TP hub to display new books?

  2. This is the kind of review we hope for - one where the book has found a reader, not just a paid stock agent who is good at drafting off the lambs that go to the works, and those that don't.
    I'm just so delighted that you enjoyed the poems, Harvey. Why not have a spot to display new books?

  3. I really enjoyed this review Harvey. Despite being a visitor of Mary's blog I actually found this whilst looking for a flight connected book for my husband (he's a paraglider pilot). Flight is an inspiration for us both. So, thanks.