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Anne Kennedy: The Darling North - review

Anne Kennedy: The Darling North - review

Anne Kennedy The Darling North

The Darling North

By Anne Kennedy
 

Reviewed by Rachel O’Neill.

Three famous fairytales get a contemporary do-up in Anne Kennedy’s latest book of poems, The Darling North. In “Case 1: The Pinkish Wine”, Little Red Riding Hood is peeved that life is so stingy with body doubles. What a difference a spare sister would make, sharing the burden of a mother who worries over wolves — or “paedophiles”, as the girl in red sagely corrects her. Euphemism is out for the millennial generation.

The Darling North is rich in humour and shows off Kennedy’s knack for narrative and pace, as well as her adept way of realising character and voice. While it offers less of a prolonged narrative thrill than did her second collection, the book-length sequence The Time of the Giants, it works to extend the potential of narrative poetry to carry big questions, doing on the page what a persuasive and energetic orator can do standing in front of her audience.

The result is a nuanced collection that draws on the poet’s inner life, local history, storybook and historical personages, family life — and language, with its powers of overstatement and understatement, if not always certainty.

What is startling about this collection is the way the poet lays her interests and obsessions one over the other like transparencies. We pass through multiple landscapes — Hokianga, rural, semi-coastal New Zealand and Hawaii — and many kinds of emotional and intellectual experiences — the challenges of relationships, of really seeing landscape, of articulating the place one calls home. If memory is neither the equivalent of experience nor even a reliable stand-in, she asks, what does it mean to express oneself through remembered experience?

The narrative voice is not fixed, but comes to points of understanding and then relents in the face of new questions, begins again, finds new uncertainties and sources of strength:

All night (it seems) I walk
in the disused landscape. At one point it rains again
and I am drenched, slippery as if newborn.
I’m not, of course, I’m recycled, derivative —
my long immigrant upper lip, my blue postal-worker eyes,
white skin caught occasionally in the moonlight,
face flipped open like a passport.

The Darling North, from the hand of a masterful narrative poet, offers an intimate and marvellous reading experience.

This review appeared in the July/August 2012 issue of Metro.

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