This is a fascinating anthology that has been very well put together by Mark Pirie. It’s divided into various categories and nearly all of them contain poetry of considerable merit and reflect an impressive ability to use words in a balanced and provocative way.
However, before I get into more detail, I should mention that I do have some trouble with the Parodies section. There seems to be an awful lot of them and they can become a little tiresome. I presume at one period they were rather popular but some times it’s rather difficult for this reader to find the humour there. Accepting that the fault may be mine, then, I do experience a real unease at white men trying to write like they imagine a West Indian speaks. I suppose these particular parodies were of their time – rather like rickets or the lack of good medical facilities. Sometimes, I guess, the past should stay there.
The rest of the anthology is, as I said, rather wonderful and I especially want to draw your attention to the Watchers and Listeners section which begins with the almost inevitable poem about war and cricket – “A Time Will Come” by Arnold Wall which envisages boys
Born in the days of evil chance
Who never knew sport or easy days
But played their game in the fields of France
It’s a lovely poem reflecting how once the rhythm of cricket is re-established, the memory of war and loss will always be there. It won’t hurt us to remember that today. A similar mood is created by “Around the Cenotaph” by Peter Olds with it’s mood of tranquility as the writer watches the “women cricketers” and mulls over the growth of the lime trees around the cenotaph as the years pass. There the similarities end as he introduces a “deranged, out-of-it young man” who attempts to cut the tree down with an axe. The sudden introduction of violence jars the reader and we realise that years after the War violence is still here but it’s a different kind of violence; more irrational and, somehow, more troubling.
Like all good poetry it’s not just the words that are important but the spaces between and behind the words-the spaces that lead us to ask all sort of questions. Consider Jenny Powell’s “Under Cover”. It’s a haunting poem about, I think, a father and daughter watching cricket at Carisbrook, a routine that took place every Christmas.
How it must have seemed that we hadn’t a care
In the world, our sole concern the Plunket
Shield coming south
Instinctively we know that isn’t true. There’s something a little uneasy and troubling though we are never told what it is. It’s a fine poem of mood and contradiction with a lovely balance in the words the poet uses and the rhythm she creates. There are poems of crafted description like Harry Rickett’s “Kelburn Park” or Pat Wilson’s “Cricket at Ilford” both creating moods that wash over you when reading them and make you realise and appreciate the various moods of cricket, especially the grounds and settings it is played on.
Sometimes the poems make you wince as they touch a nerve, even if it needs to be touched. In “A Woman Watching Cricket”, Elizabeth Smither neatly skewers the sexism that she recognises in the game. No women will commentate on the game she suggests. Their job is:
….to see and
and applaud in the right places
Many other poems deal with death and passing – and I wonder if the writing on any other sport is so redolent with this theme. There are many examples of this in the anthology – a sense of ending for players and crowd members alike. Do make sure you read “My Elderly Father Watches Television” by Geoff Cochrane. It won’t take you long and it is so worth the effort.
One could go on but I would like to make three final points. Firstly, this anthology reflects the depth of poetic talent there is in New Zealand. There aren’t many duds (rare for any anthology!) and some of the poetry is impressive in its marriage of structure, language, and theme. Secondly, the anthology allows us to see the role that cricket plays, and has played, in the lives of New Zealanders. Some of what we read isn’t nice and pleasant. It can be raw and unsettling but so can life. These poems don’t offer the neutrality of cricket statistics – a point beautifully made in Mark Piries’ poem “Legacies and Cold Stats” – but rather the emotions bound up with living, and dying. Finally, it’s worth stressing that the book is well laid out with an informative introduction by Mark Pirie, together with a helpful index of writers at the end. The foreword by Don Neely is a worthy celebration of the game and is a fine complement to this excellent anthology.
If you don’t really like poetry but like cricket; buy it! It will change your mind.
If you like poetry but think cricket is like watching paint dry; buy it! It might just change your mind.