Books

Pam Brown (ed.)
Minarets 11

Minarets is a New Zealand/Aotearoa-based journal dedicated to the publication of poetry from the Pacific region – “while sea-levels still permit”, as the journal qualifies. This latest issue is guest edited by the Australian poet Pam Brown, whose introduction pays tribute to an aesthetic of “the minimal, the fragmentary, the acerbic, the complex, the indefinite and the conceptual”. These qualities are in line with Brown’s own poetry as well as the poems she has selected as editor. However, after a year of Covid-19 social restrictions and with global warming becoming more alarming by the day, I found myself wanting poetry that was less about performing difficulty than about forging connections. This suggests how poetry must remain dynamically alert to its times rather than bound to some abstract aesthetic ideal, especially one that may have passed its use-by date. That’s not to say, though, that I didn’t find engaging poetry here.

While many of the poems in this issue of Minarets are made up of unpunctuated non sequiturs and embrace impenetrability as a virtue, there are also poems that are aesthetically surprising and demonstrate an interest in communicating. In Jake Goetz’s “Parched”, for example, we read about how “coughing phlegm into the / kitchen sink the mind / falls back into the body / that each day of work / almost makes you forget”. That body, returned to its vulnerability, becomes aware of the drought-stricken land – “a continent cracking like / a belt of brown leather” – and of trains, like “long steel rivers”, carrying water to coalmines.

Michael Farrell’s “Fate”, one of his absurdist but resonant thought experiments, is typically appealing. It begins: “Down at the frog pond someone was imitating the frogs faithfully.” Because no one understands the intentions of the frog imitator or “wants to know that frogs even exist”, the frog imitator is arrested and imprisoned. The poem ends with the swamp being drained, presented as an act of authoritarian censorship.

The standout poem for me, though, was “Sugar Jars” by the New Zealand/Aotearoa poet Ruby Solly, who uses a surrealist poetics of association to evoke summer and a family tradition of trapping wasps with sugar-syrup traps. The summer is so hot “even the dust was sticky”. The wasps “come to drink / / then drown / / with their mouths full / / of sugar”. This poem, maximalist rather than minimalist in its imagery, rich with a love of language, aims to trap readers, and does.

Maria Takolander

Compound Press, 84pp, $20

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 13, 2021 as "Pam Brown (ed.), Minarets 11".

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Reviewer: Maria Takolander