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March 15, 2004 | by  | in Books | [ssba]


Wild is “in its natural state…passionate… violent…feisty…unrefined…angry”. Wild is Anne French’s sixth collection of poetry. The dictionary definition of its title on the back cover, presumably to reveal a little about the book’s content and the poet’s intent, can seem cute and pretentious until its evidence becomes relevant in the poetry. The definition can be applied to French’s subject, style and voice quite accurately.

As with her previous collections, French has divided Wild into “chapters”, giving the work accessibility and structure. ‘Seeking the Wild’, the first section, focuses on recognizing one’s origin and belonging to a place or time. French uses delicious images, observation and storytelling to draw comparisons and find differences between her time and her ancestors’, and between England and New Zealand. At times her voice echoes Fleur Adcock, especially in ‘Down House’, which has ostensible similarities to Adcock’s ‘The Chiffonier’.

There’s a pastoral nostalgia about ‘Seeking the Wild’ that gains strength in the following section, ‘Gone’, as French concentrates on more personal subject matter. Memories of exploring England for the first time with, a husband now in the past tense, are interspersed with literary allusion and colourful detail. This gilding is stripped back in ‘Evanescent’, the section that tries to undress poetry so that it is no more than an emotional equation.

French’s mounting argument, about the inadequacy of words and equations to sufficiently summarise human surroundings and situations is completed in the final section, ‘The meaning of the Word’. In a curious paradox, ‘Acute’, about a chiropractor and ‘Struck’, presumably about her father, show French using language with an astonishing precision that questions the validity of her argument.

In commenting on sexual politics her candidness is at times drowned in emotion. At the higher notes French’s otherwise precise and creative voice appears to falter into cliché – “The red blood beating and beating/ through the chambers of my eager heart”. However, these intervals of gushiness are insignificant in the book as a whole. Wild’s musicality, variegation and unabashed accessibility make it a satisfying collection to devour in one sitting or dip into at leisure. The generous imagery and unusual language – jism, melisma and susurration – create a balance of comforting familiarity and curious alienation. At $31.99, Wild is exactly the sort of Mother’s Day present that makes me feel like a virtuous daughter; it’s an attractive book with a William Hodges painting on the cover and a pleasant layout on the inside, and it’s an engaging read.

Anne French
Auckland University Press, $31.99


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