Wreck of the Jeanne Gougy, Colin Pink
Illustrated by Daniel Goodwin
Paekakariki Press, 2021 £12.50
The power of poetry
How I love a narrative poem, and ‘Wreck of the Jeanne Gougy’, the title piece, is a great one! Colin Pink dives right in, takes your breath from the start:
The clog of it;
Water a stone in the throat;
The gasp of it — outbursting
Oh God no not again!
The sweep and sway of it; the world tilting
Power of it, turning up to down, down to up.
The childish jostle of it, barging in
Again and again, extinguishing air and light.
Some of the poem’s power comes from the imagery — of the senses, the strong similes and metaphors, and the emphatic repetition (especially the heart-thumping ‘Oh God no not again!’ which comes around over and over). The layout of its fourteen stanzas gives an edge to the tension. Sometimes words run over into lines below, like the waves which keep on rolling, the ‘sweep’ of water through the boat.
'Wreck' reminds me of the power of poetry to grab us, take us somewhere other, pull us into the moment. We’re in the heart of this tragedy. Re-readings don’t dim the impact even though the last stanza explains what's happening. Daniel Goodwin’s woodcut, with its strong modernist feel, graces the front cover: I love it!
‘Breakfast with the Birds 1934’, a very different poem to ‘Wreck’, responds in sonnet form to an artwork (Gabriele Münter’s Das Frühstück der Vögel 1934). Goodwin’s woodcut illustration again keeps drawing the eye. The first part sets the scene. Then there’s a pause in the ‘turn’:
And everything not of this moment evaporates;
you watch and wait; the birds watch and wait;
and the world holds its breath as long as it takes.
It ends with three sensory lines:
The thrum of the real, the hardness of the table,
the transparency of the window glass, and on
your tongue the peculiar flavour of this instant.
There's a stillness, a gentleness here. The last line makes me linger awhile, gazing at the illustration, thinking of painting, poem, woodcut ... and this.