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September 18, 2006 | by  | in Books | [ssba]

After the Dance

Better known, perhaps, as an actor and as the writer and director of Redial, a short film that was in the Venice Film Festival in 2002, Michele Amas completed her MA in Creative Writing at Victoria University last year, and was awarded the Adam Prize for best portfolio. After the Dance is the result of last year’s work, and is Amas’ first book.

The title refers to a poem about waiting outside a school hall, to pick up a daughter after a dance; a mundane, family affair, made magical with fairytale imagery and repetition, the shadows accentuated, the boys becoming wolves. This liminal place between the domestic and the dangerous is present throughout Amas’ work. She has taken the enchanted element of Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife, which worked so well, and made it her own.

You could split the poems in this collection into three groups: those about the poet, those about the poet’s daughter, and those about the poet’s grandparents. ‘The Caversham Project’, a three part poem about the Dunedin suburb of Caversham, where Amas’ grandparents lived for sixty years, finds its strength in history. “Charlie would cycle home to Caversham his mind full of the ins and outs and implications of New Zealand’s first potato crisp being developed in Dunedin,” is an example of the gentle humour and precise detail present in these poems. However, they are not my favourite part of the book; it may be a question of taste, but I much prefer the poems that are in the present day and which fully involve the poet. ‘Daughter’, which you may have read online at ‘Best New Zealand Poems’, is particularly strong, using repetition and cunning line breaks to riff on the old saying “get off my back”. This results in a stunningly honest account of how fraught mother/daughter relationships can be, and how warm.

Humour is, throughout the book, a quiet presence, popping up unexpectedly during poems about the death of parents, the effects of divorce and parental love. Compartmentalising Amas’ poems like this makes them appear heavy, but I assure you, they’re not. As Bernadette Hall notes on the back cover, this work is “alive with sparkly wit and good humour”.



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