Liveability - Reviewed by Margaret Austin | Regional News Connecting Wellington


Written by: Claire Orchard

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

The word ‘sustainability’, with its myriad connotations, was the mantra for the Helen Clark years. ‘Relatability’ has come into fashion recently. And now we have ‘liveability’ – as interpreted by poet Claire Orchard. I’m not a fan of one-word titles, but this one – Liveability – offers the writer an opportunity to exploit the term to the full in the interests of poetic recollection.

For a bunch of recollections it largely is. There are worse things recalls “Christmas day in a four berth caravan”, Uncle Jim and his record player, Grease and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Then we have Summers were longer then with “the warm, rough concrete / of the netball court / rising up to kiss me hard”. Nostalgia pervades other poems in the form of car aerials, skivvies, long drops, tree houses, and derelict one-room schoolhouses. I was particularly touched by Where duty lies with its celebration of a Sunday school award for “punctual attendance and good behaviour”. Ah, those were the days.

The physical aspects of liveability emerge in later poems. December describes a longing for Vancouver, despite or perhaps because of the cold. Railway hotel comfort and nostalgia is wistfully recollected in Heartland – there’s an original kauri staircase and double-hung windows. And the book’s cover is surely referenced in Room, where we are given cause to envy fine furnishings and careful lighting.

Results sorted by relevance is an exercise in the academic and the esoteric. It’s composed from selected titles held by Massey University’s library, confesses the poet. Is this what a writer resorts to when desperate for a subject to inspire? Orchard is certainly stretching her theme here.

All is forgiven by the two poems I liked best. After the wistfulness that characterises much of this collection, we get a welcome modern woman’s complaint about the man in her life. You could sell your lyrics will make some of us sigh with recognition at the final line: “You might get out of here alive. You can drive the getaway car.” And Chipping away since 1893 says it all.

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