Some Things to Place in a Coffin
The proximity of death can be noticed not so much in our thinking about death as in the effect it has on the qualities of our thinking about everything else. Why is it that some particulars, either small details of the present or instances from often far in the past, unexpectedly present themselves with a clarity and a grain that familiarity has robbed us of the capacity to see or has prevented us from noticing? Or is it that the intensity of this nothingness bends the light as it drags everything towards it, uprooting these particulars from their quotidian sockets and causing them to be seen with strange clarity as they are drawn towards a point of dissolution, whereas other particulars are shucked of urgency and released into a new inconsequence. In the face of that of which the mind cannot conceive the senses speak with urgency, we experience simultaneously a grasping and a relinquishment, a change in contrast and in texture, if we may call them that, a new sense of purpose indistinguishable from resignation. In this book, Bill Manhire’s first collection in seven years, language dances as death presses at it from behind, agency flees into objects, images draw themselves together on the brink of their own dissolution, small things become final containers for the large. Wearing his art so lightly as at times to resemble artlessness, Manhire tests the strengths of finer and finer threads to very subtle effect. The book is arranged in four sections: firstly a set of poems through the progression of which poetry itself is pared away and memories grasped with the effect of grasping at water, drawing us through a beauty indistinguishable from sadness, a thinness like the distinct threads of gauze that remain after the pile has been worn off fabric. Each line marks the move towards silence: There is a thin, high scraping./ Then no noise of any sort at all. The second section was commissioned to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme and is an achingly beautiful sequence about loss at simultaneously the most specific and most universal scales. The third section is more linguistically playful, sometimes almost desperately so, and includes some pieces with the texture of songs, textures in which chasms open up to underlying voids, and also the title poem, written as an elegy to Manhire’s friend Ralphe Hotere. In the fourth section, ‘Falseweed’, small particles of poetry, dissolved already into the medium which bears them towards silence, converge and recombine in unexpected ways, squeaking out most affectingly before being redissolved. The final poem ‘The Lake’ is a farewell to language and to poetry and to the resisting of the pull to dissolution: Rapture. Quiet canoe. / I am defeated, done with speaking.
Bill Manhire's first new collection of poems for seven years takes its title from his elegy for his close friend the painter Ralph Hotere, who died in 2013. At its heart is the sequence 'Known Unto God', commissioned by the BBC for the centenary of the Battle of the Somme in 2016. These are poems of memory and mortality, which are also full of like and jokes and good tunes. Some Things to Place in a Coffin is published simultaneously with Tell Me My Name, Bill Manhire's new poetry + photographs + CD collaboration with composer Norman Meehan, singer Hannah Griffin and photographer Peter Peryer.
Bill Manhire was born in Invercargill in 1946 and educated at the Universities of Otago and London. For many years he taught at Victoria University, where he founded the International Institute of Modern Letters, which is home to New Zealand's leading creative writing program. He is now Emeritus Professor of English and Creative Writing at Victoria, and was recently UNESCO Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. He lives in Wellington, New Zealand. Bill is best known as a poet. He received the Prime Minister's Award for poetry in 2007. In 1997 he was made New Zealand's inaugural Poet Laureate. In 2005 he was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit and in in the same year was named an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate. He holds an honorary Doctorate of Literature from the University of Otago and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. Bill is especially well known for his collaborative work: in particular with the artist Ralph Hotere; with the physicist Sir Paul Callaghan; and with the composer Norman Meehan. Bill's work with Norman Meehan has led to the publication of the albums Buddhist Rain and Making Baby Float, and the book + album These Rough Notes.