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you're so pretty when you're unfaithful to me
David Howard  

Launch notes by Paula Green


When Ron Holloway bequeathed his press and archives to the University of Auckland Alan Loney and Peter Simpson started The Holloway Press. The Press has gone onto publish beautifully crafted books by some of our very best poets so a huge congratulations to Peter for his editorial role and Tara McLeod for design and printing.

As a poet, the book as object is important to me (casting my eye over David’s books on my shelves I believe it is important to David too). All elements come into play: the paper, font, design, smell, the book held in the hand.

David’s new book, You’re So Pretty When You’re Unfaithful to Me (that provocative title is a line from The Pixies) is a treasure from the paper to the design to the feel.

David is a prolific poet and last year saw the release of The Incomplete Poems which he has said was thirty-five years in the making. The ‘in’ of incomplete is a sign of more poems to come and that the poems themselves are organic and open to other versions – indeed one of them is the first long poem in You’re So Pretty.

I have always been intrigued by the word ‘pyrotechnics’ on David’s CV – and have wondered if this is a fitting analogy for his poetry. Fireworks are a spectacle of colour, fizz, bang and explosion for the senses that are short-lived. I see little ripplings of language in David’s poetry, but unlike a fireworks display his poetry endures as The Incomplete Poems attests.

David has described this new collection as revisiting punk Christchurch in the 1970s and 198os along with his collaborator artist, Peter Hansom. You get the punk flavour with the pop stars that stroll through the poems: Blondie, Police, Malcolm McLaren, Pink Floyd. This presence conjures up the flavour of a particular time and place beautifully.

These new poems talk to each other – there are the pop stars visiting and revisiting, there is both mother and father, caught in a poignant line, here and there.

At times it is like the poet is telling a story but not like a narrator getting down to the bare bones of action. The poet’s restless eye and intellect is absorbing the world – moving through place and time accumulating a thousand-and-one minutae.

The first poem is called ‘The Whole of Boredom.’ I am drawn to the punning ‘whole/hole’ where the writer is not seeking to fill it with words but to build a spider’s web (to borrow an image from David) that is both complex and dazzling. The web, a sticky thread upon which snares and hooks tufts of melody, personal admission, recollection, invention, intimacy, musings, subtle turns of reality, love,  darkness, provocations.

Unlike some poets that hold a hand up and place obstacles in your reading path, David draws you in nearer. Yes, there are challenges, but there are also vulnerabilities. There is the puzzle of Allen Curnow’s ‘The Skeleton of the Great Moa in the Canterbury Museum’ haunting the poem. When David repeats the last line of the Curnow poem he shifts the tense to the present (we are doing this trick of standing upright) and the past (we have done this trick). David also eliminates Curnow’s ‘here’ as if to say the ‘here’ is in these poems – in the reading and in the writing.

Peter Ransom’s gorgeous images are a perfect fit. Like the poems, they represent subtle turns of reality – almost surreal, but no NOT surreal.

So congratulations David, Peter and the Holloway team on this fine arrival.

Paula Green
Going West

   September 2012