This Paper Boat
“I didn’t know anything about / the past except / for what the past has left me.” The strongest poems in this collection are the series which imagine the experiences of the poet’s parents in Singapore, China and New Zealand. The strong emotion that Kan unearths avoids the sentimentality usual in such enterprises by tending to slip into ethnographic or historical or scientific matter-of-factness at just the right moments (some of these pieces are written, appropriately, in paragraph form), and the splicing of the experiences and words of Iris Wilkinson/Robin Hyde with threads personal to Kan’s family adds an extra suppleness to these poems. Occasionally Kan walks an uneasy line between too light a touch and too heavy, and I wonder about the inclusion of an italicised sequence in the latter half of the book, but generally Kan is revealed as an subtly gifted and serious poet.
This Paper Boat follows the author as he traces his own history through the lives and written fragments of Iris Wilkinson (aka Robin Hyde), his parents, and their parents, while examining the public and private rituals of institutions ranging from the military to the medical, and of communities, families and individuals. Stumbling again and again across irreparable fractures in identity and material, time and space, the author discovers a world driven by its incompleteness and constructability towards hope and forgiveness.
In these poems, rich in understatedly beautiful imagery, two authors, their families and their many ghosts navigate oceans, forests, gardens and houses in New Zealand, Singapore, China, and in dreams.
Poetry Finalist - Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2017.
Gregory Kan is a writer based in Auckland. His first manuscript, a series of poems, was shortlisted for the Kathleen Grattan Poetry Prize in 2013. Kan's most recent series of poems, 'A holding apart of air', features in the catalogue for the exhibition what is a life? by the painter Kim Pieters, at the Adam Art Gallery, Wellington, and his work is featured or forthcoming in literary journals such as brief, Hue & Cry, otoliths, Percutio, Sport and Turbine. Kan was also featured in - and gave the name to - Paper Boat: Moments in the Life of a Book (video.lumiere.net.nz/paper-boat/), a short film directed by Alex Mitcalfe Wilson.