Back when I first started this blog (which was actually in 2008), it had nothing to do with social justice or feminism or politics.
It was horrifyingly naiive (please, do us both a favour and don’t read the early posts because you’ll be as embarrassed as I am). I wrote vainly about three things: shoes, cats, and books.
These are all still things I love. At the time, I had just started my first real job and I was jubilantly casting off the mantle of student life in order to invest very carefully in… well, shoes, cats, and books. The posts carry on to become stuff about my travels, many incidences of my ridiculous love life, and a lot of poetry – not just mine, but anything I was reading.
Which is what I want to do today. Poetry, though not something I do or discuss as much as I would like, is an essential part of me. It’s how my breath works, it’s how my heart beats. It’s in every small pocket that isn’t occupied by distraction, it’s a small round white stone I keep one finger on. It’s every bone in my spine. Yes, I feel strongly about poetry.
I’m lucky enough to have met some wonderful poets in the last few years, including the indubitable Stefanie Lash. Recently I was gifted a copy of Stef’s debut collection, Bird murder.
You’re probably going to think I’m biased. After all, a friend of mine wrote this and I adore poetry so why would I not wax lyrical about it?
Here’s the thing. I’m not disingenuous. And here’s the other thing. I know poetry. I’ve studied it and I’ve read it and I’ve written so much it’s become almost a weight – there’s a suitcase under my bed that tells a painful story. I’m not an impartial or expert voice, no. But I want to say up front I’m not writing this because I’m Stef’s friend. I’m writing it because the book is fucking good.
As Helen Rickerby says over at Tuesday Poems, ‘I’ve never read anything quite like it.’
bird murder is a haunting mystery set in a rich gothic landscape. It is quintessentially New Zealand, displaying an archivist’s depth of knowledge – and love for – our fraught history.
The story is revealed one verse at a time, building a swelling jigsaw of danger and deceit. Characters slip in and out, a gentrified house breathes gently around them, taxidermied birds watch with cold eyes filled with hostile satisfaction.
Here is how it begins.
‘A tenant in the attic’
Have you ever smelled freshly smoke glass,
smoked glass or smoked paper,
the kind that seismographs use?
That was the smell of the place I came to.
The balustrades were carved in white wood:
coniferous trees and extinct animals,
and all the ceilings had masks in each corner,
the canoes that people take to the dead places.
Blue fires burned in every room.
I had the heart of winter when I came there,
grey fingers and hands weighting up each lung.
Every foot I placed left a pool, a print,
not a print of my making. The flagstones
were white too and
wept salt, hardly, and cold fell, every corner.
– From Bird murder, by Stefanie Lash, published as part of the Makaro Press Hoopla Series. Get a copy now.