Monday, July 23, 2007

'Immense generosity'?! Has he ever tried to get me to buy a round?

Nevertheless, I'm grateful to Michael Steven for this over-generous review of the book Titus launched in April. Michael is writing for brief, which is a (mostly) offline publication, so I think I can get away with pre-empting him here.

Scott Hamilton, To the Moon, in Seven Easy Steps, Titus Books, Auckland, 2007
The late Allen Curnow once described a poem as ‘what a poet makes when he is passionately interested in something else’. In Scott Hamilton’s debut collection, To The Moon, In Seven Easy Steps, it is evident his interests are both varied and extensive.

Readers of brief, and the reactionary zine Salt, will already be familiar with his unique brand of poetic prescription. A doctoral research candidate at the University of Auckland, an ardent and unrepentant Marx scholar, he has devised a methodology that deals specifically in mytho-factual constructions, wrought from the annals of New Zealand history.

Whether he is contemplating the probability of lunar travel, writing a diary of an academic sabbatical to Hull, relaying a mate’s hilarious train ride, or lesser known but important aspects of the Maori Land Wars, here is a poet intent on dismantling the rigid demarcation between poetry and prose. This is demonstrated most effectively in the longer pieces of the collection:

Every time I raise the spoon to my mouth, I defeat the gravity of the entire earth. No human hands support me and, since the first time, I have felt no fear. It is as though an unseen power raises my from the breakfast table.

Now I sit at my desk. The earth rolls at my feet. The earth rolls at my feet, like a friendly dog. I sit at my desk, composing a poem. Every word I put down is a deletion…

(from 'Ivor 9/6' in 'Ukania! An Academic Adventure')

The train pushes out of the station, pushes through
thickets of gorse and cutty grass, comes back into
the sunshine outside Hellabys. Good old Hellabys
slaughter house. Across the aisle Mrs Cousins has
already closed her window, and is thinking about
holding her nose. I’m thinking about the pie I ate
at Papakura station – I ate it quickly because it was
only half-warm, and because there was no cheese
to hide the taste of the mince, of the cheap meat.

(from 'Terminator!')

This is a poetry inflected with genuine yet understated concerns. His subject matter is rendered more potent and immediate by not resorting to romanticism or unnecessary abstraction. Like his hero, Kendrick Smithyman, he has learnt to achieve this through the development of a careful and controlled use of anecdotal irony:

Space must be filled: the sky must be subdued
under rubble, or clay, or tinned chemicals.
Parliament ought to look into it.

(from 'Notes in a Mining Town')

To lock his door, knock on it. Knock as hard or as softly as you like: by the time the patient has jumped off the bowl, hopped across his cell, pulled his trousers up and tugged at the handle the room will be secure against your entry. He will be safe, and so will you. Sickness only comes with contact.

(from 'The Cure')

At the centre of this collection is a ficto-biographic account of heteronymic poet and minister, Reverend Roger Rountree, who could be considered as a lower-antipodean homage to James McAuley and Harold Stewart’s Ern Malley, or the many creations of Fernando Pessoa. Hamilton has discovered, or, more aptly, created an undersung and forgotten voice of post-colonial letters, charting his intellectual and spiritual development against the defining events of the early to mid 20th century:

The strife of the ‘30s surely contributed to the major mental breakdown Rountree suffered in 1935. Resigning from his Ministry, he would spend months on end at the hilltop sanotorium at Maungakawa, in the middle Waikato.

(from ‘The Archive Is Open’)

Attempting to publish his poetry and polemical writings, often without success, Rountree corresponds with R.A.K Mason, submits to the leading literary journals of the time, and spends considerable amounts of time in psychiatric institutions.

Scott Hamilton is a writer of immense generosity, a keenly acute observer who delights in the minutia that lesser poets would usually neglect. The extent of his research serves to make creations such as Rountree (real or imagined) ultimately more believable. To the Moon, In Seven Easy Steps, heralds the arrival of a unique voice and long-overdue initiative in New Zealand poetry.

Michael Steven


Blogger Skyler said...

You have captured the essence of the book and the man well! A considered, well written review of an excellent book ( I know I'm biased!).

11:16 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hear you swapped him your copy of Oppen's 'Primitive' for this favourable review...

9:35 am  
Blogger Richard Taylor said...

Scott Hamilton is major NZ poet. He initiated SALT and as helped myself and quite number of other writers - but he is definitely a poet of real significance in NZ. He writes with knowledge and a great imagination.

He has been very critical in his "postmodern", rebellious, pre-political times - but these days he is more open to many styles of writing which has enriched his own work while keeping the surreal-real aspects and the politics is inherent and philosophic rather than didactic.

In his book - while it is also (prose) "poetry" of kind - the New Zealand Wars are covered brilliantly - especially the times of Te Kooti etc

12:47 am  

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