TABLE TALK by Kevin Ireland

( Cape Catley, pb, $24.99)

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Reviewed by MARK BROATCH, Sunday Star Times 20/0/2009 Words from the heart can heal life's wounds

Reviewed by TERRY LOCKE, English in Aotearoa, September 2009

Kevin Ireland has been around the tracks and is only the second recipient of the Prime Minister's Award for Poetry (after Hone Tuwhare). This is his eighteenth book of poems (if we include the 1987 Selected Poems ). I had the pleasure of hearing Ireland read (from How To Survive the Morning ) at this year's Auckland Readers' and Writer's Festival. I make this remark because there is a distinct Ireland voice that, I think, needs to be heard (or imagined to be heard). Ireland was born in 1933, so I suggest that if you haven't actually heard him read, you imagine a voice that is crusty around the edges, warm but with a sardonic edge.

This book is called Table Talk. The dust jacket will tell you that these 57 poems are in the form of a conversation between friends. Well, that's true up to a point, except that Ireland 's is the steady hand that is writing the script. 'A comic performance' comes from the second block of poems in this book - Particulars - which is imbued with a love interest which should be hugely reassuring to anyone imagining a sexually sterile septuagenarian existence.

What's in it for the world?

That's the first question she asks.

has it got anything going for it

apart from pleasures and risks?

 

It makes the world safer,

is what I quickly think to say.

It will take your mind off conflict,

and etcetera and so-and-so.

 
So, yes, this is dialogue of sorts. It is plain, deceptively offhand and richly colloquial and artful its rhythms and half-rhymes. There is something else here that you'll find typical of this collection, and that is the sense of the historical context as inexorable backdrop. The political is always personal in Ireland 's poetry and often sent up for its banalities. It concludes:

I'm not too sure, she tells me.

I'm swayed one way then another.

Well, why not give it a go, I urge.

It's no weight, no bother.

 

What is it called? she asks.

I say there's nothing at all to fear,

we can give it any old name

we might care to, or dare.

 

All right, she agrees,

I'll give it a go just one time

if you describe it out loud. So I do,

and she laughs all the way home.

The poem is a nice example of Ireland 's use of form. He's a master of course. You'll find highly formal, rhymed poems here in strict metre and often with short, two-foot lines (e.g. 'What Is This Thing Called Love?').