Kate Camp (2017) “The Internet of Things,” Review by Liz McSkeane

Kate Camp (2017) “The Internet of Things,”
Wellington: Victoria University Press,
ISBN 978 -1-77656 -106.  NZ$25.00 + $10 P& P from  http://vup.victoria.ac.nz/the-internet-of-things/

Kate Camp Turas Press
Kate Camp’s fifth collection

Kate Camp is an award-winning New Zealand poet whose sixth collection, “The Internet of Things,” is an arresting fusion of the everyday and the numinous. The title is mischievous, for the internet we encounter in Camp’s realm is not the world wide web of search engines and social media, but the interconnections of memories, desires and regret, murmured to the reader as though speaking quietly to an intimate friend. And the ‘things’ are not the high-tech appliances that will soon fill our smart homes – robots to clean the windows, fridges to monitor our diet. Rather, they are the artefacts of a simpler time and place, evoked in the cover photograph of John Lennon’s family kitchen, stacked with old oven and enamel pots and pans of a familiar, comforting past.

The title poem sets the scene with its evocation of a beloved time that is gone: “working ports/rust and containers/ the way unwieldy ships move across the water.” This opening sonnet glides effortlessly through a remembered visit to the family home of the Beatles, in particular John Lennon’s aunt Mimi, “that difficult woman/unfolding her camp bed in the dining room.” There are yearnings here and regret at the tendency of humans “always to wish for the wrong thing.” We are stumbling through a fairy tale, not quite blindly but perhaps mesmerised, as in the later poems, resigned to the boredom of bad choices made, when “You fall into disaster with the dull familiarity of the snake.” The collection at the outset creates a sense of predictability, where making “bad choices” is not only inevitable but “exceptionally boring.”

One aspect of Kate Camp’s gift is to make the familiar strange, melding the mundane and the mythic. A gathering of friends, ephemeral yet caught in memory, recalls the trick a friend played at the end of a game of badminton with four shuttlecocks “all at once/they flew from the racquet as magician’s doves/to the net where they hung, white in the dusk;” a poached egg at breakfast “for disappointed hopes and poached eggs/go hand in hand;” and yes, a new-fangled item, an electric car which startles the reader as much as it seems to bemuse the writer, along with the “surprisingly large swans.” And the joy of recognition in a Rembrandt “And there they are!” is not for the sublime alchemy of the master’s “cross-hatched lines /of shade” or the “world of depth/of leaves and branches” that they evoke but for “The slippers of St. Jerome/like those white towelling freebies from a hotel.” In the poet’s idiosyncratic vision, the most eye-catching feature of the saint’s companion lion is his “two or three sweet whiskers.” Though in the next poem, which ventures an interpretation of the same painting, she wonders “what would stop him turning from his post/and taking Jerome in his mouth like a joint of meat…” The everyday, the familiar, may be comfortable and comforting, but it still has the power to devour you.

The sense of resignation that opens the book does not last. Instead, it gives way to wry musings on the uncertainties that lurk under the surface of the web of what-might-have-beens: “This would be cherry blossom time/if there were any cherry trees here/if there were any blossoms.” And the internet we readers know, the one we use to do searches and shopping, is not completely absent. It is “out there somewhere/full of abandoned carts.” A glorious image of forsaken supermarket trolleys, clattering around in cyberspace.

In the final poem, “Antimony,” the predictable and the uncertain are fused: the poet is a woman on the prow of a ship, finally rooted in the “reckoning point” of an eternal present, where she sees “everything in front of me/and everything behind me” . It is a satisfying ending to the ebb and flow of memory and feeling. The tension of this simultaneous backward and forward movement is conveyed in the poet’s subtle craft: lines long and stately, interspersed with staccato phrases and rhythm; assonance, rhyme and half-rhyme an invisible scaffold, holding the spider’s web of this internet of things together in quiet, slow-burning harmony.

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