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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 19. 3rd August 1972



Drawing of a baby

Last year, with considerable blarings and trumpetings, a little press started publication in Dunedin. In the short span of time since then this press has produced four books of poetry, a couple of broadsheets, and a literary magazine. To set the seal on this not inconsiderable achievement Trevor Reeves has now printed and published a volume of his own poetry.

Trevor Reeves has two styles of composition. One is a lighthumoured artificing with letters and words. He calls these creations 'concretes', as distinct from poetry. Stones shows another more serious Reeves. The poetry in this volume is, by contrast, restrained. There is even something wholesome and oldfashioned in it:

The evening's breath is tending day
as water washing the sand
wind whispers swell silver dawn
above compelling land
O for the light deepening in arches
the thrust in swirling darkness
to hold in warm embrace
my world immersed embalmed in peace

Reeves does not explore the human condition. Instead he conducts a painstaking description of objects and events, either of nature or domestic life, frequently finishing with some bland statement of attitude that other poets would be more likely to take as a starting point:

and her mother
are somewhere,
making up thin cow's milk
and the man has come
to stop the road leaking;
everything is flowing again
without being stained
by the earth

everyone is growing up

we are going to become old
without moaning

The wholesome feeling about his poems comes from the events Reeves concentrates on. Rambles in the countryside, Christmas at home with the family, the value and nature of 'love'; this is the material that he fashions. Nowhere is there mention of war, of violence, of the city, of alienation, of drugs, or of any deeply felt human relations. Reeves seems to be living in an oasis remote from the troubles and hangups of modern living. I cannot entirely remove from my mind the absurd picture of a righteous country squire, living a circumscribed but honest and satisfying existence.

Reeve's poetry has many limitations. His major flaw, apart from the elegant aloofness of his themes from modern existence, is that many poems are overwrought. The exquisiteness of the scene, instead of being conveyed by a few accurate brushstrokes, occasionally dominates the entire painting:

the sudden summer snow
topples under a fresh breath
untangling silt
to soft patterns
in the valley.

But this is rather a fault of the school of writing to which this poetry belongs, a school led by people like Curnow and Fairburn. Given the limitations of this romantic / descriptive style, Trevor Reeves wins many points. Though not as precise as Sam Hunt in his descriptions his imagination and humour are certainly greater. His sense of humour appears in poems such as Grimace:

The years have condemned their own passions
never forget that day bowed
grinding brush and soft polish
when you put fresh cream in your coiffure
and stirred yourself gently...

or Ressurexit:

and the stone
rolled away
and farmer brown's dog
howling at the frozen glow
of he
who moved uprightly out
into the children's and
the weepers air
bore in
and tore flesh
and he
lashed back
with his still bloody feet
then tore off
into the distant
and who followed?
a number of notebook-toting teetotallers

In his best poems the very stylised, unassuming, flat writing becomes honed to a masterfully controlled expression. The Fall shows Reeves at his best, and is worth quoting in full:

and they told
how Bela Bartok
leant his ear out
of his top story
nu york hotel
to listen to the
traffic sounds
and the dance hall
down the street
too far
and he fell out
glorying in the greatest
glissandi that man alone
had ever created
finishing on a diminished
as all his things do
rather mysteriously

Finally, I must comment on the standard of Bill MacKay's illustrations. The idea of having books of poetry illustrated is commendable especially when the drawing are of the standard shown in this volume. In fact the whole quality of production is excellent, in particular considering the limitations of working part-time on a secondhand press. Trevor Reeves should certainly be proud of this little volume.