One of the best things about preparing to teach classes is the amount of reading that I get to do. Am required to do, in fact. I imagine it’s something like being the menu tester at a superb restaurant, or a product quality inspector at a very good chocolate factory, somewhere in Belgium, say, where they such things very very seriously. (The best possible chocolate. The most luscious cream. Essence of rose, essence of violet, just the right amount of liqueur. And sold in stores that look for all the world like high-end jewellery boutiques, with elegant window displays of maybe half a dozen delectable morsels arranged on waterfalls of silk … you have to ring a buzzer to be let in. Willy Wonka was for kids: we’re talking chocolate for grownups.) (It’s possible that this is a hallucination, brought on by discussing Belgian chocolates whilest not actually having Belgian chocolates …)
Ahem. What I was getting to is that that is what my current job feels like. Or at least feels like right at this exact moment. I’ve just finished a class looking at the poetry of Tusiata Avia (and if you haven’t read Fale Aitu | Spirit House yet, go. Seriously. Go right now. It’s that good. And intense), and for this weekend – and by enormous contrast – I’m luxuriating in Anna Jackson.
I’d forgotten just how much I love her poetry. She read for the CPC last year, and I snaffled a copy of Pasture and Flock from her and tried not to fan-girl too much. (Not very successfully, I fear. Sorry Anna!)
The Pastoral Kitchen was one of the very first “slim volumes” of NZ poetry I ever bought (single author, as opposed to anthologies), and re-reading it I can still feel the mix of surprise and delight and bafflement and curiosity and wonder that I felt then. I don’t know that I can describe her poems, other than to say they zip all over the place like fireflies, and leave these deft, delicate trails of light behind them imprinted for a moment on your mental retina. They’re usually quirky, often funny, almost always talkative and light, but even the slightest of them feel like important parts of a whole when you read them in context. But there are also loads of poems that work beautifully on their own, that give you something profound and moving and utterly unexpected, poems that make you stop and blink and focus and linger, just savouring them. Poems you can taste for hours afterwards.
But here’s the problem. How in the name of all that is holy – and, frankly, in the names of a number of things that are distinctly more profane – am I going to select just six poems to put in front of my students this weekend?!