After Hours Trading & The Flying Squad… Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, (Carbide Press 2021)
I first met Jeffrey a lifetime ago when he emailed me to say there was a spelling mistake in an essay I’d written. I was totally disbelieving. Me? A spelling mistake? But he was right.
He was also, I discovered, a poet, a writer of memoir, and an adjunct Fellow at the University of Canterbury. We have communicated spasmodically since that first email. You’ll probably have read his memoir The Lost Pilot, about his father who survived a kamikaze mission in WW2 and how Jeffrey met up with the family of the pilot killed on that mission.
His poetry has received wide acclaim and its not hard to see why. After Hours Trading, the first part of his latest collection – Pakeha Moteatea – Southern Shanties, is a series of voices, Miner’s voices, remembering the mines, the town, the people – the ones who fitted in and the ones who didn’t. It’s the language that got me. Straight to the heart – these phrases, these words, so evocative, funny, suspicious of strangers especially ones who want to tell them how to live…
don’t know who these pricks think they are
coming down here
fucking us about
…and another voice…
I’ve done my dash
They can have the pit
But I’ll tell you this much for free
If I had my time again
I’d still not
What struck me immediately, what drew me in, what draws me back again and again to this collection is the voices. These are poems made for saying aloud – words are the Main Players, they’re the Chorus, the Scene Shifters and they’re also the Witnesses, the Observers nodding silently or shaking their heads…
Walter Nash was here
all the way from Kidderminster
old Christian Socialist
sat on a seat where the Railways bus
stopped outside the Post Office…
In The Mist …there’s a poem to Neruda, one about Blake, a mouse writes of Mandela, Mandela writes of a mouse…there’s one to a dog…
Keo te whakaako au I taku kuri
I am teaching my dog Maori
Nobody will object
outside the supermarket
When I tie Tiaki to the bike stand
And bark, ‘E noho!’
‘Enoho, what a lovely name!’
one will say..
and this from… In 1972…
Your loaves of prison bread
in me rise up, these hidden
never tended scars that bleed..
…and from The handpiece
For Jack Gilbert
I was a Lister handpiece once, my philosophy was simple, ‘bend and sweat’. I was at one with the sheep at my mercy, words were curses, work my thinking.
By this I learned the grammar of my skin. A body was all I would ever need. The sweat was me, the air, the shining light, a bleating chorus standing white in pens to be shorn of meaning, huddled
together, sentences strung in the mouth of a language dying
at birth. Like them, I trust the tally clerk, the man who counts: if words won’t make a house that stands, we’re naked in the dark.
Tino pai, Jeffrey, tino pai…