In December 2004, poet and playwright Bernadette Hall spent two weeks in the Antarctic on an Antarctica New Zealand Fellowship and in 2006 she was Writer in Residence at Victoria. Her poems are inspired by a wide geographical scope, including Antartica, Wellington, London and Europe, and a wide time-scape, encompassing poems set in the 1960s and others set in colonial New Zealand.
The eponymous The Ponies unfolds laconically, micro-fiction in poetic form, as a snow cave is constructed. “Jofe’s a surveyor. He’s already found/ the perfect spot, right there in front of Erebus./ He asks us if we’d like to give him a hand.” There are moments of whimsical humour – “Jofe dives in like a meerkat, kicks up buckets of slush” – and fun – “ Then we all squish ourselves in laughing ourselves silly.” This ‘Boys’ Own Adventure’ is undercut by cruel non-fiction: “Outside, the ponies lie dead in the snow.”
Contemporary catastrophe is also considered in ‘How We All Died With Her in the London Bombing’. The safety of Shelley’s New Zealand past is evoked – “the Kelston girl who sat for hours, head in a book,/ beside the Waitemata harbour” – then contrasted with darker images of water: “In Auckland there’s rain and the augury of thunder”. And in London’s underground, “Passengers are swimming in the exploded dark.”
‘The White Dress’ contains comforting and sensual images: “How the skin loves to be touched,/…creamy hand-washed shawls,/… the white dress/…the flounces, so lovely, so European.” However, the menacing colour of Te Keepa “in his scarlet jacket, watching” is the last word on the intended permanence or “land title” of the colonial project.
These are merely three of The Ponies: beautifully written, suspenseful journeys into sorrow and danger.