Expatriate Kiwi poet Jan Kemp's latest collection, Tripstones, is a beautiful piece of bookmaking as well as making an important statement about her poetic identity.
The central image here is the Stolperstein, the stumbling block, the stone that trips you up when you least expect it.
Stolperstein with 27th January ribbon
[photograph: Jan Kemp]
Here's Jan's own picture of the Stolperstein she discovered in her own (new) hometown, Kronberg im Taunus. As she herself explains in the note at the back of the book:
A Stolperstein is a small square burnished brass plaque about 12cm x 12 cm set flush with the walkway paving in many German towns, villages and cities - gold against grey - so that you might notice one shining underfoot. You 'stumble' upon it, and then perhaps look down and read the inscription engraved on it, the name of a murdered victim of the Holocaust who lived in a nearby building.The poems, too, drawn from the last thirty years of her writing life, from The Other Hemisphere (1991) to Black Ice & the Love Planet (2020), seem to be those she wishes us to be stopped by, to stumble over, not to be able to move on from too rapidly.
They range widely in theme and content, mind you. From the evocative local imagery of "Swimming" (which you can hear the author reading here), dated from Waiake Beach, Torbay, 2004 - just a few miles down the road from where I live:
Nothing reduces you to your skin like the sea:
cold plunge into reality,
a tongue already salty
& all that power
self-propelling you through our other element,
every pummelling second,
as your mind slips on the (no wonder)
Madonna-blue beach wrap of the sky.
To the Alice in Wonderland-like restrictions of 'Golden Week' in Kyoto:
Giants in yukatas,
a 4-tatami-mat room,
we bend far to unroll beds
open, half-open, close, re-open
the double sequence of glass
bamboo, paper square-framed doors,
duck, enter a garden.
To her new Heimat in Germany ('The Kiwi in me' - joint English / German reading available here):
I've swapped Tane Mahuta
for two mighty Eiben,
the woods for the sea -
tui, tuatara for
but the Kiwi stays me.
Increasingly the new poems need glossaries, peppered as they are with German terms. Did you know a Rotkehlchen was a robin redbreast and an Eidechse a lizard? I knew that Eiben were yew trees, but the linguistic realm inhabited by her more recent work does seem to presuppose a reader equally familiar with the particularities of New Zealand and German discourse.
Clearly this isn't an accidental choice. When you go international, you can go bland and unitone: an idiom suited for the airport bookshop; or, alternatively, you can cherish the peculiarities of your own idiolect.
Characteristically, this is the choice that Jan has made, something which fits with her life-long fascination with the spoken word, the sound of a particular poet reading a particular poem at one precise time - the reason she worked so hard for so many years on the Waiata (1974) and Aotearoa New Zealand (2002-2004) Poetry Sound Archives, as well as on our three published anthologies of work from those collections (2006-2008).
After all, as the first of the poems I quote from above concludes:
The straight line, the centrist discourse, doesn't exist - except in the abstractions we're invited so vociferously to inhabit and believe in - but, unprovably yet demonstrably, 'you do'.The straightest line imaginable
just over the breakers
visibly separating the two
Yet, can you hold
a handful of salt water
to prove it
for just one moment
before you go?
This is a lovely and thought-provoking collection from a poet who's been making a contribution to our literature for almost half a century. Judging from the poems here, she's still going strong!
Poetry NZ 48 (2014)
The book has been published by John Denny of Puriri Press in a limited edition of 50 copies. Most of these have already been sold or distributed to friends, but there are still a very few copies for sale. John Denny adds that:
People wanting a copy should contact me first to make sure there are some still available (firstname.lastname@example.org), in which case I'll confirm and send them an invoice. The price is $NZ50 plus $5.90 pack & post.As you can see from the sample pages included in this post, it's a lovely piece of printing: on sumptuous paper, with a handprinted cover, and all the things we collectors cherish so much in a small-press book.
[NB: As of Sunday, 25th October, this edition is officially
so from now on you'll have to consult it in a public collection near you!]