If ‘Everything moves everything else’ can perception ever be static?
Using the many varied poetic forms in her fifth collection, Islander, Lynn Davidson travels between her native New Zealand and Scotland. Fifty poems, divided into five sections, explore our relationship with the ever-shifting physical environment and its impact on our internal landscape.
In ‘Ancient Light’, and throughout the collection, Davidson explores how light
makes the space in which vision
and conveys through surprising imagery, how the persistent movement of light changes our vision, revealing and concealing, connecting past and present. Light,
from the first voyage, the first great aloneness,
falls in shaking ribbons on cars.
‘My Stair’ connects light and language in metaphor to convey the narrator’s difficulty in coming to terms with her father’s death;
My father’s heart is failing, he fills up
with fluid, (like an empty bus fills up with light?)
Abstract, intangible and relentless in its movement, Davidson explores how time affects our perspective:
Time goes slower in the sea
and faster in the mountains.
From the urgency of the dying man in ‘Interislander’ to the ‘slow daylights’ that ‘shunt time’ and ‘whole eras’ in ‘The Desert Man’, these poems examine our physical and mental response to time, each moment independent in its experience.
‘Distillery’ assures that we are inextricably linked to the land as ‘the peasant’s body deep in the peat’ grounds us ‘deeper still’, the alliteration pushing us into the earth as we read. Yet in ‘All Nations Park’ ‘We think we stand apart’ from the physical forces that breed and bury us but ‘Loom’ implores the reader through the isolation of
Stop pushing the rock away with your feet [.]
‘Wherever I am’ confirms, with its varying rhythm and unobtrusive assonance, the perpetual and imperceptible shifting of the earth while we continually move in body and mind, our physical and mental perspectives ever changing and at the mercy of surrounding nature;
but that’s us, so up and down,
drumming up memory and rites of passage
over this shifting underlay
of mica schist and limestone.
Interestingly in ‘Moorland Estate’ there is subtlety in the pace of change, as Davidson captures twenty-seven years in seven stanzas and demonstrates how slowly transformation occurs:
I walk behind her back to the house
where in the courtyard peacocks
drag or fan their tails
both twenty seven years ago, and now.
While rituals remain visibly unchanged within this crumbling estate, the poet’s commentary on the aging body of the ‘kindly’ Fiona, is poignant;
The trembling arc over the bath before you ease
the frightened, muscly creature in.
Change as painful inevitability is evident throughout these poems. In ‘Leaving Wellington’ the poet describes how her children have ‘assembled all the solid things of the world’ by simply ‘naming them’ yet as adults they ‘composed two empty rooms by leaving home’. External movements impact internal landscapes.
Throughout the collection Davidson’s use of poetic repetition enhances her challenge of static viewpoint. Playing with word placement, structure and reoccurrence of themes, the poet shows how a change of context can also result in change of perception.
Still, and after all this
We call light
And especially when it goes out,
We call it.
Each section of Islander offers a different view of our sense of belonging, each prompts a response from our own unique position, as solitary islanders, shaped by the giants of nature this poetry honours. While Davidson successfully explores the natural forces that impact on our internal landscape, Islander draws no conclusions as to whether we live at odds or in harmony with earth’s great rhythms. However, the poet leaves no doubt of the permeance of perspective:
Just do me this favour,
stop divvying up past and future
here and not-here
or there’ll be no vantage point
that isn’t just a trick
(‘Who am I again? Are you lost again?’)