Today I bring you an exciting review but first I was lucky enough to attend the book launch on Tuesday for this and it was great. Held at my favourite bookstore Unity Books and hosted by the publisher Victoria University Press who always publish top-notch books! It was a fun and interesting double launch featuring two debuts. Of course, there was Oscar’s book of poetry, but also Essayist and The Spinoff writer Madison Hamill launched her debut book Specimen.
There were nibbles and drinks as people milled around while a few cheeky people (i.e. me) grabbed author signatures beforehand to avoid standing in queues. I was delighted to run into the amazing Alison Evans who was visiting from Melbourne. I tried not to gush about their book Highway bodies too much but I fear I may have failed. It was great to hear from each of the authors reading from their books selections of their choosing. I really enjoyed both the poems Oscar read which made me glad I picked up the book. Madison Hamill’s work was poignant and funny all at the same time and had me wishing I had picked up her book as well, but on my wishlist it went.
The dead should come back changed, or what’s the point?
Why do you hide your head beneath the bedclothes?
Doesn’t everyone name themselves?
Is your house a bottle? Are you trapped in there?
Isn’t it nice to be this close to someone?
Can we go back to our notes? Please?
Urgent, witty and unnervingly beautiful, Oscar Upperton’s first collection takes familiar language and makes it uncanny. Suns detach. The ocean climbs a mast. Someone forgets where their haunted house is. These poems are vitally human and consoling; they reframe the ordinary as something to yearn for.
Oscar Upperton was born in Christchurch in 1991, and grew up in Whangārei and Palmerston North. He now lives in Wellington. In 2019 he was awarded the Creative New Zealand Louis Johnson New Writer’s Bursary. His work has featured in Sport, The Spinoff, Metro and Best New Zealand Poems.
I find books of poetry difficult to write about because they are collections of various pieces of work that can be hard to judge as a whole. That is definitely the case here. This book has some of my new favourite poems, including the titular poem New Transgender Blockbusters, which just makes me nod and think amen as if it were a prayer being sent out into the greater world.
Other poems in this collection I read and I just can’t get a grasp of, they slip through my mind and I stare at the page feeling extremely stupid. I must say that some of this is because I have a very pedestrian taste in poetry and some of these are very intelligent poems I know are saying something deep but I am unable to unravel that meaning myself.
There is a great variety of poems and styles within these pages and I am sure that great poetry aficionados would adore this collection. Overall despite a few poems that left me wishing I understood them more, this collection hit me in my heart leaving me wishing it was longer and there were more within the pages.
I will leave you with this poem, which is one of my favourites and one that Oscar read at the launch.
Someone is dying tonight.Door against the cold – Oscar Upperton
Someone always in. A life springs up,
then fold together. White rocks,
a last drink, black umbrella.
Mum brings in wood, two under each arm.
She could have carried us like that.
Across the street, in moonlight,
she squints at something.
The dead should come back changed,
or what’s the point? The beach cools,
she hums. Hand over hand,
the stacks of kindling.
The waves flicker, the harbour’s brewing.
The ship is a sort of dark undoing.
I give New Transgender Blockbusters:
New Transgender Blockbusters by Oscar Upperton was published on 3 March 2020 by Victoria University Press. You can purchase your own copy at Mighty Ape, Booktopia, Unity Books, Victoria University Press, or wherever you like to purchase books.