Meeting Miss Dust

I am always hesitant to review a collection as complex as this. I’m by no means a qualified reviewer. I just love poetry. There’s a lot to love about Miss Dust.

Miss Dust is Johanna Aitchison’s third poetry collection. I went to the Wellington launch a couple of weeks ago. She looked like the poetry version of a rock star.


Generally when I’m reading a new poetry book, I read the whole thing in one sitting (which is totally inadvisable) and then I go back and read it all again piece by piece. There’s a song by Edie Brickell with some lyrics that came to mind when I was reading Miss Dust.

I’m not aware of too many things /

I know what I know if you know what I mean.

Choke me in the shallow water /

before I get too deep

I guess what I mean is, I got deep real quick. I kind of tried to stick my toes into Miss Dust, but it wasn’t possible. I wasn’t being choked, not at all, but I was simultaneously flooded and… on the beach naked.

Published by Seraph Press, Miss Dust is ‘a playful and twisty two-part harmony’ which is ‘inventive, and frequently surreal.’

The first half of the book follows Miss Dust: ‘mother, child, teacher, cheater, lover, liver, dreamer, enthusiastic coffee drinker and a multi-faceted anti-hero.’ At the launch, Johanna she said that Miss Dust started off as her, but quickly became a her own character.

The poems in the second half ‘cover a range of topics, from love and death, to natural disasters, relationships, violence and didymo.’

I am one of those people who was taught to ‘tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it.’ (Billy Collins). I love the way poems sound, but I am constantly searching for meaning. Sometimes that gets in the way of poem.

If we go back to the flooded/on the beach naked – what I mean is, I was inundated by beautiful, sometimes painful imagery, and I was trying to grasp it, but I felt like I wasn’t in the water with everyone else. I was standing on the beach alone. This isn’t an unfamiliar feeling for me, because my search for meaning often makes me feel like I have failed if I don’t “understand” a poem.

This is of course kind of a fruitless endeavour, because it can be argued that, as with all art pieces, there isn’t “one true meaning” and trying to pin one on a poem can just ruin it entirely.

Am I trying to to write a disclaimer for my ignorance? I don’t know.

Anyway, even though I felt like a lot of Miss Dust was too complex for me, I think it’s a fantastic collection, and there’s a couple of pieces that stood out for me.


‘Miss Dust has a baby’


His fingers make her heart.

His skull is the most wonderful thing she’s ever.

And also ‘Jun’, which was one of the poems Johanna read at the launch. It is about a boy she met when teaching in Japan who died. Johanna had to give condolences to his parents. A difficult situation, with particular foreign language required. ‘Jun’ is a poem about that situation. It’s very tender.

(I also very much liked ‘Sex poem’ which is probably a bit too much of much to print here),

Johanna is heading off to the US to attend the prestigious Iowa international writing workshop.  The workshop has over 30 participants from countries ranging from Togo to South Korea.

Miss Dust is published by Seraph Press, a boutique publishing company run by Wellington poet Helen Rickerby. You can get a copy here.