The Hill of Wool, Jenny Bornholdt (VUP, 2011)
Here is an image of the painting that appears on the cover of The Hill of Wool. It is a painting by by Johanna Pegler, 'Webb Street'. Johanna seems interested in the texture of planar surfaces, like ruts on a grassy hillside, choppy harbours, driftwood covered beaches, stuff like that. They are kind of decadent and driven in their obsession with these kind of details, to the detriment of other things in the paintings, like in this one the sheep and trees seem almost secondary against the harsh beauty of the hill. There aren't as important as the hill itself.
And why am I talking about a painting when this is supposed to be about a poetry book? Mainly because I think there are some parallels here between Pegler and Bornholdt.
At first glance the poems here seem like realist paintings, the things in the poem relate to real things in life. Like in 'Winter' where the family is on a skiing trip, but the focus is not on the objects but on the language about the objects, the snow, the names of ski runs:
(apologies, but some of the formatting is removed by this blog website. Grrr!)
As the bus winds up
the children practise
their snow vocabulary:
At night, a quiet
moves out from the trees
to shadow us
down the road.
This poem intrigues me, partly because it seems almost perfectly formed (you'll have to buy the book to read the first half of the poem I'm afraid) and because there is this mysterious, silent horse at the end, an anti-horse of sorts, it stands in for something else, the you-know-what. A light-hearted take on a metaphor staple, but also with an underlying weight, where one thing stands in for another, where the horse is the snow and the snow is the horse and that is more important than the horse or the snow on their own as 'real' things.
Horses feature in this book in a few of my favourite poems. Especially in 'Poem About a Horse' which is again perfectly formed and a beautifully witty example of the 'imagination poem' where we know the things in this poem aren't real, they are stated as memories or hopes, and are evoked so evocatively we can't help but believe in them, we see them in the reality of the poem:
[...] Yaks could be good. The yaks
you heard about from the nice young man who sold you
your phone-the global roaming one. His uncle
was a yak farmer who lived next door to an Amish
community. In exchange for the wool they helped him
build his house-big so the yaks could come
inside. Tables and chairs were nailed to the floor
so the animals wouldn't knock them over
as they wandered about the kitchen. Yes
a yak could be good. [...]
The other thing I love about this poem and the reason it is more successful than some of the others I think is the length of the lines and exuberance of the voice and sentences. This poem is far less clipped and controlled as some others and the poem is all the better for it. The voice of is much stronger and comes through in a really delightful way. This poem is like a conversation, one where we are drawn into the voice as much as the images and the story. I was wondering why that appeals to me so much and I think part of it is Bornholdt's register, which is some ways is much like my own. It is the ordinary words that interest her, ordinary language, which has its own natural, subtle and beautiful rhythms, in a way that using a word like 'recliner' instead of 'chair' would break. The words themselves aren't waving flags, saying look at me, how great I am. It's the sentences the rhythm that is more important here. And for that reason, I think the longer lines, more complete sentences work better I think. They allow the real power of the words to come to the fore, a the voice to be strong and entertaining.
The book covers a lot of other territory of course, there are bunch of poems about the poet's mother and father. Children run down the halls of many of the poems and language, memory and imagination drift through many. Like in 'Memory':
They say to make a house. You can pretend
the rooms are there and in them store fast
memories so they stay whole, more than just a tremor
or a sense of something past. To do this, send
the years upstairs and down. Build shelves to last.
Evict the fact that sometimes we forget to remember.
I read a comic by Sarah Laing the other day on memory. She talked about 'The Rats of NIMH', a book I had completely forgotten about, but now that I remember being read it as a child how much I loved it and how it was so rich in imagery, the fields, the place where the rats lived. It is an amazing book. I can't believe I had completely forgotten about it. But that is how memory works. Little mines to be discovered I guess, and by discovering you are essentially reimagining them.