Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dear Sweet Jenner

Lynn Jenner’s first book of poetry (Dear Sweet Harry, AUP 2010) really is something that is more than the sum of its parts. It is one of those books that you can’t put down and read from cover to cover wanting to find out what happens and not so much what happens next, just what happens.

It centres around Harry Houdini and his life or at least the fictional representation of his life. There are letters, prose chunks and traditional lyric poems about Harry as well as Mata Hari and a whole bunch of poems that are more about Lynn’s personal stories or stories of New Zealand.

This might give the feeling of something cobbled together (like most first books of poetry?) - what does NZ Railways have to do with Harry Houdini? And I suspect in some ways the book did evolve that way, but through form and voice and changes in pitch it all comes together as a complete book. It has that look about it too, that it has been crafted with a wholeness in mind.

The result of this is that some of the poems seem to be there as linkers or to flesh out the story a little. Some of the letters felt a bit like this. And one could argue whether this is a weakness or a strength having these. I think that in this case, the book is better for it.

And on the flip-side there are some beautiful poems that are amazing in their own right and don’t need the book around it to dish out their goodies. The title poem, Dear Sweet Harry, was one of these. The rhythm and tone is wonderful and perfectly handled.

This book is cerebral without being a know-it-all, it is thoughtful yet plainly spoken, it sort of sets its gaze on you in a questioning way, without ever offering its opinion. A quiet surefootedness. A feeling not unlike you get when talking to Lynn in herself.

This is a lovely book that comes together as a whole and has some wonderful poems in it. It deserves all the praise it is getting right now.
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