Edited by Harvey McQueen
Godwit/RH, $34.95 | Reviewed by Simon Sweetman

I HATE GARDENING. Hate it! I used to fight and argue over mowing the family lawn when I was at school. Flash forward to my own time as a home-owner and I have finally discovered the joys of round-up. That’s my one all-purpose mowing and gardening tool. If you’re in my garden, bug or not, you will be sprayed.

I also have something of a dislike – rather than an all-out hatred – for a lot of New Zealand poetry. Don’t get me wrong we have some amazing word-sculptors living here. Some of my favourite poems were written in New Zealand – by New Zealanders. But there’s a cloying feel to so many New Zealand poetry anthologies.

So, with those two caveats announced – I am the perfect person to review a book of poems about gardening written by New Zealand poets, right? It’s a match made in heaven...

Harvey McQueen’s intention is good and his aim is strong – many of our literary big guns are here: Janet Frame, Katherine Mansfield, Charles Brasch, Brian Turner, Fleur Adcock, Jenny Bornholdt, Lauris Edmond – to name a few. Also nice to see the inclusion of Sam Hunt, so often frowned on by the literati, but a man who has done more (actively) for the promotion of poetry as a lifestyle-choice and art-form than anyone else I can name from this country. His “typically Sam” poem, Drunkard’s Garden has Mr Hunt leaving gardens behind – as he has done with people and towns,
       Like any man who moves
       to other parts, we leave
       our gardens after us.
       Others move in to them.
       They tend them; call them home.
       I’ve left my share
       of gardens. Like lovers.

There are plenty of other recognisable names – so often anthologised and included in New Zealand selections: Albert Wendt, Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, Robin Hyde, Tony Beyer, Rachel McAlpine and Kevin Ireland (again just to name a few).

The impenetrable poetry of CK Stead once again baffles me (“murmur mormorio susurration...”) but despite my lack of interest in the subject matter on every third or fourth page I managed to find lines to enjoy. My favourite poem in this book comes from Marcel Currin. For And Against Gardening never seems pretentious even when announcing “the fragrant breath of weeds/dying”. I was instantly put in to the poem with the opening line (always a good thing), “Humming, you clip the world into shape” (a more impressive feat given my opening statements regarding poetry; and yet I’m still there – understanding that zone of contentment). The poem goes on to describe the way the gardener/poet will
       pluck raised eyebrows
       slap naughty fingers.
       Your slice of garden
       will behave”.

I got the feeling with that poem – and often, if not with whole poems, then at least with moments within the poems – that anyone who loves gardening would identify with (and enjoy) these words. Which, logically, is the idea behind this smart wee book. But I never expected to enjoy these poems as much as I did. I won’t be buying any new garden utensils – I’ll be sticking with the weed-sprays and bug-killers. But I might dip back in to this book for a round-up of a different kind.

Gil Handy’s lovely photographs and illustrations help the shape and design of the book – making it a cute option as a gift-book.