Graham Reid | | 3 min read
As these two slim,
hand-printed, limited edition volumes confirm, the necessaries of the
poetic writer are observation and considered contemplation, and the
words are vehicles which realise them. And for the photographer,
close observation and an eye that edits intuitively come before the
shutter opens and closes.
poet and curator O'Brien has had a two decade-long association with
London-based photographer Mahr, most recently when he was working on
his insightful series of essays about her late husband, the expat New
Zealand artist Graham Percy, in his excellent book A
Micronaut in the Wide World.
Two Walk in Edinburgh
has eight of her black'n'white photographs taken during a visit to
the city with Percy when he was ailing. They are beautifully printed
alongside short poems and prose by O'Brien whose responses are to the
images rather than Edinburgh (we glean this from the line “a city
where one has never been”).
But they are more
than that. That usefully inclusive but non-specific plural “we”
and the more ambiguous “you” are the thematic glue here (“We
knocked on the outer shell/of this world/and were finally/let in”)
as O'Brien's measured words allude to the passage of time (clocks and
time in three pieces, death in others) and focused moments which
begin thoughts leading to considering the infinite.
dying are the custodians of/ the living, each/in the other's place.
We are with them/as they are/with us, walking” he writes alongside
Mahr's photograph of three decorative butterflies – those fragile
and ephemeral creatures – fixed on a bleak block wall.
equally captures the fleeting (a pocket watch like a pendulum,
seemingly frozen in its swing) or the closely observed (a brush on
some stairs, the pages of an old book of dates and memoranda open in
a breeze). Taken together the images and words act as counterpoint or
complements to each other. A slim, thoughtful collection which speaks
Writer/musician Bill Direen's Devonport diary – written but also we might guess,
refined, during his stay in an old house on Mt Victoria while on a
CNZ Literary Fellowship last year – is more problematic.
The short entries
have him initially exploring the place and space he finds himself in
after years in the South Island, Paris and Berlin (the local terrain
familiar to many Aucklanders so some observations are hardly resonant
with insight). But there is dry humour (trouble with fire alarms,
small irritations) and once he is settled his thoughts become more
A turning point
comes when he quotes from a 2006 notebook where he wrote of having
decided 12 years previous to concentrate on short pieces which
“amount to 'moments' of writing”. Ambition took him to novels but
five years ago he was back at that place, as he is again on these
pages of 'moments'.
Some entries come
loaded with meanings, especially after that first Christchurch quake
in September: “Comb the low-tide for lines that can still tell. Or
whisper. Climb on slabs as the stacks and slabs topple. Climb and
climb. Hear nothing as the man-made crumbles to the south. Hear
nothing. And mad-made”
At other times he
grapples with the writing process (“I am beginning to see what
Matisse meant when he said never to repeat a line. To go over a line
is to destroy it.”) or simply enjoys the changing weather, ferries
on the harbour and the company of friends.
The last entry,
written on the pier, reads, “Able to say, as my gaze retracts and
falls upon the bannistered rail ahead of me, still as I am, before
the ceaseless movement of wave, and wind . . . able to say, 'I am me,
follows a brief, artfully distilled fiction in which a son returns
from self-imposed exile, back to Devonport, to sell the family villa
he grew up in “whose beauty was a wonder he dared not bruise with
And you feel Direen has arrived also.
TWO WALK IN EDINBURGH
Photographs by Mari Mahr, Poems by Gregory O'Brien
(Holloway Press limited edition, 90 copies) $225
DEVONPORT: A DIARY
by Bill Direen
(Signalman's House/Holloway Press, limited edition, 100 copies) $100