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May 19, 2008 | by  | in Books | [ssba]

New Poetry

Amy Brown, The Propaganda Poster
Girl, (VUP, Wellington, 2008).

Amy Brown’s first collection of poetry, The Propaganda Poster Girl, is a clearly written rest stop for a weary student, and, as imagined in the poem ‘Brain’, a petrol station for the brain. A creative writing MA graduate, the Biggs Prize-winning poet deals with family, travel, love and most importantly the art and act of writing.

Part I is a window opened into the interior of Brown’s psyche without being overbearingly—how else to put it?— emo. Descriptions of family members, accounts of time spent on a not-always friendly Lyall Bay Beach, and a game of beach cricket with a boyfriend provide backdrops to the poet’s own internal struggles with writing and the past. Dark images creep in unexpectedly: a dead mouse, looming male silhouettes and a sinister Mr Whippy song.

The poems of Part II vividly explore the sights and emotions experienced by the poet as she travelled through Asia. The attitudes of locals, her students, and other travellers obviously had a huge impact, and Brown’s culture shock is most finely detailed in ‘Address Sestina’, comparing the changing concerns of her neighbours.

Part III is more serious in tone and each poem requires closer reading than any in the earlier sections. The poetry is more abstract and is varied in topic; the chapter does not have a central theme. Here are the poems that really stand out, especially ‘A Room of Your Own’ (an ode to the lonely independence of flatting), ‘Siamang’ (a beautifully constructed image of a gibbon), and finally, the topically sobering ‘The Face’.

The Propaganda Poster Girl collection is genuine and thought provoking. As a break from the dredge of essay writing it is enjoyably refreshing. The poetry’s bold imagery and flowing rhythm brought me back to take a closer look at what lies beneath its, at times unsettling, floral surface.


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Comments (4)

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  1. Scissors says:

    I read some of this. It was dreadful. The usual Manhire rubberstamped drivel, with no rhyme, rhythym or passion. Just milk-and-watery poetry, the bland thoughts of your typical young female middle-class pakeha. No wonder no one reads poetry any more.

  2. mighty boosh says:

    Most Middle class pakeha females aren’t as bad you think. And we are not entirely bland.

    Maybe she just sucks for a completely unrelated reason.

  3. I dissent.

    I only got a chance to read a few of the poems before passing the book on, but I was struck precisely by the fact that this wasn’t just milk and water: there’s a subtle sort of muscle in Brown’s work, and an imagination that lets her deal with the ordinary without becoming bland.

    Maybe this wasn’t the kind of poetry you were looking for, Scissors. But just because “The Propaganda Poster Girl” isn’t full of the big, thumping, Romantic poems you imply you prefer, I wouldn’t in ten thousand years call it dreadful.

    And if someone can please tell me what “Manhire rubberstamped drivel” is, I’d much appreciate it. I keep hearing about these Manhire clones everyone is bemoaning these days when they don’t have any substantive criticisms of the writers they’re supposedly talking about, but I’ve never been able to identify the characteristics for myself.

    Oh, and Mighty Boosh, if you don’t have anything intelligent to say, please shut up.

    With love,
    BK Drinkwater.

  4. M.M says:

    Having read an awful lot of ‘awful’ poetry in my time, I can without a doubt say that this book does not fit that description. Although on the surface, admittedly, the topics Brown explores may appear to be mundane, the beauty of this work lies in the execution. It does not try too hard but still leaves a marked imprint on the reader. I would say that this is a book to be proud of – unassuming yet powerful.

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