Staines’ self-published ‘travelogue’ offers a fantastically skewed picture of New Zealand through a staccato progression of poems (including distinct urban and natural scenes, character portraits and mini-narratives) from Te Kao, north of Auckland, progressively southwards to Bluff.
I doubt that Tourism New Zealand would recommend Staines’ depiction of Aotearoa to would-be tourists. The road to Gore is not always clean and green but, frequently, positively bloodstained. The poetry’s bizarre violence is at its most effective when attributed to the hypocritically moralistic. When one animal advocate, for example, overhears a ‘cowboy’ state, “sheep is just mutton on legs”, he sticks a pencil into the cowboy’s chest “til he felt the lead / snap against the spine”.
Also, unlike the ‘Pure’ campaign – which is unsatisfying for Kiwis because it promotes an absence – Staines’ New Zealand is dynamic, gritty, abundant and culturally diverse. We encounter vagrants, amputees, skinheads, an altruistic Ukrainian, a ‘militant hippy Cantonese greengrocer’, and a multitude of madmen with various compulsions.
Staines’ manic, dynamic, style is at its best in poems like ‘the voice of Foxton’. He captures and entertainingly exaggerates the earnest devotion to bizarre identities and activities that undermine small-town New Zealand’s dull reputation.
At times the attempt to jam poems full of New Zealand’s many disparate actual and imagined elements, and the occasional use of over-elaborate diction, don’t allow the reader to form an image or establish a mood. Aaron Frater’s accompanying sketchy illustrations often exacerbate the incongruity of some poems by too literally representing too many aspects of Staines’ imagery.
One of the most successful poems, ‘Saturday afternoon in Kawakawa’, is more simple, personal, and – ironically – surprising. After trying on sunglasses at Mitre 10 and visiting a Vietnamese bakery, the speaker and their companion ‘inevitably / pash’ (which is such a great New Zealandism that my spell-check doesn’t recognise it). There is nothing inevitable about any of these activities – they don’t stop at a sunglasses store or a French bakery – yet it is these unexpected details that make the poem such a lucid representation of both a New Zealand town, and of the speaker’s infatuation.
Although not always successful, The Slow Road to Gore’s detailed representations, vibrancy and strangeness offer enjoyment from plenty of readings.
Third Eye Novelty Editions