new zealand electronic poetry centre

Paula Green



All Heart

Bernadette Hall

From a review of Cookhouse by Paula Green published in New Zealand Books (Dec 1998): 8

So, it’s spring. Everything in the garden is seething and zingy. It is time to plant seeds of basil and blue cornflowers, to read recipe books for their edible language. Or better still, to read the poems of Paula Green in her luscious and beautifully designed first collection, Cookhouse.

As the title suggests, this is a convivial book, rooted firmly in the earth, its sour/sweetness; its sprawl. These tensions are well caught in the segment of Michael Hight’s art work, ‘Partial Landscape,’ shown on the front cover. A section of geometric kitchen tiles scarred and smudgy with the spillages of day-to-day living. Other drawings play with images suggested by the poems: the FAT WILD HEART, the heart as a raspberry, the heart as a tomato, the heart as a weather vane. In both text and drawings there is a refreshing energy:

the poet measures the heart

the gift of a daughter

the whiffs of other writers

take moonlight reading

down a genealogy of women

we who have sat bolt upright

boils herself sweet

simmers herself acid

This, a self-reflexive ‘found’ poem made up of segments and themes from the book, serves as a programmatic note on the back cover. It is a clear statement of Green’s obsessions and her stance, particularly in her sense of community and of integration, and in her optimism – ‘my life is pressed and draughty’ works through to ‘little by little the spinning wet returns / the pavement the rhythm the wild life alight’ (‘fish and chips at Waihi Beach’).

Most of the poems in this collection (and here I mean the 46 pages that make up the first section, the main menu) would not, I suspect, survive as discrete pieces. Rather they work in together to make a strong, coherent statement in which there is mobility and a subtle control.

I was impressed by the assurance and poise of this new writer. She knows where she stands, with whom she is aligned. In little afternoon-tea poems, she chats away with Virginia Woolf, Dinah Hawken, Michele Leggott, Anne Kennedy, sharing with them what I can only call a religious attitude. Feminist theology, if you like. Or a reworking of ancient myths like the Garden of Eden or Paradise, fashioning a fresh language with which to clothe old insights.

Instinctively using familiar religious iconography such as the mother and child, the broken bread, the shared meal, the washing of hands, Paula Green brings to our attention the sacred that indwells in the common, the profane. She uses gorgeous language: ‘you were born / my dream / I roll out the crush / between now and evening’ and:

we feast upon urgent winds

coiling the lustre

of photograph albums

scrapbooks to explain

each cluster of name

face and spilt kiss

the old wind moving

a grammar of cold

everything billows

across our shaken lawn

(‘celebrating three birthdays with my daughter and her parents’)

Making poems which ‘[caress] the musical ear’ can be a risky business. And working against the occasional over-blown phrase like ‘the damp-veined lark of a day,’ Green adds a little acid to her collection by the use of antithesis and by the inclusion of ‘listing the breathless women’ – a construct of nine segments which focus on an elderly woman’s dying. She ends by swinging back to the celebratory, ‘a configuration of love,’ a four-page, richly worded, baroque love song, studded with Italian phrases, words flung loosely over the page like the nuts and flowers thrown at a Roman wedding.

©Bernadette Hall

Last updated 24 August, 2005