Edited by Siobhan Harvey
JAAM Publishing Collective, $16 | Reviewed by Amy Brown

LITERARY journals often have a title or tagline, such as “new New Zealand writing”, “the garden party” or “open house”, which suggests a cohering theme for the collection. JAAM 25 doesn’t use this device. In the introduction, Siobhan Harvey, the editor, lets quotations from Novalis and Charles Simic help her reach a loose definition of what poetry (and, indeed, fiction) might be. Novalis says, “Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason”, and Simic calls it “an orphan of silence”. Much of the work Harvey has chosen for this collection could be seen to fall under these rather poetic definitions.

Reading cover to cover, JAAM 25’s trajectory appears to weave between female and male voices, which delve into “family” and less domestic relationships. Art, travel, landscape, and folktale: these creep in too, as metaphors or vehicles for more personal subjects. Often linked by a word or phrase which puns in the different contexts, Harvey has ordered her chosen poems and pieces of short fiction well. While there are echoes of subject and style, these aren’t laboured. The connections are more playfully focussed on specific language.

I particularly liked the connection between Alexandra Fraser’s poem, ‘Twenty Week Scan’, which ends with the lines “you gasp your first breath/ and look at me with/ the bluest of eyes”, and Kapka Kassabova’s ‘You cry for them every thirty years’, which begins: “You cry for them every thirty years./ The first time, at the kindergarten,/ alone with strange kids and your fears.” Both poems are about the link between parent and child, or child and parent; both are strong and resonant, and placing them adjacent enriches the effect.

Similarly, the juxtaposition of Sarah Jane Barnett’s satisfyingly long narrative poem, ‘Grandmother’, with Kirsten Warner’s equally generous poem, ‘Homing Pigeon’, works, effortlessly, to the benefit of both. Barnett’s closing lines, comparing her grandmother’s waving hand to “a small pigeon/ against a brick-red sky”, are followed by Warner’s opening line, “You don’t see her/ but she sees you/ from her overhead wires”. The combination of metaphor and personification, comparing woman to pigeon and pigeon to woman, have the desirable effect of momentarily confusing the two subjects.

Other highlights from the collection are Craig Cliff’s short story, ‘Christo Redentor’, a characteristically funny and true portrait of an obsessive English literature tutor; Richard Reeve’s ambitious and refreshingly unconfessional poem, ‘The Occupation of Tiberius’; Anna Rugis’ poetry – rhythm-driven and lacking punctuation yet still controlled on the page; and Jill Chan’s perfectly stark love poem titled, ‘I’ve Said This Before’.

JAAM isn’t the glossiest, most attractive New Zealand journal; this is no insult to Peter Schwartz’s striking images, which are featured on the front cover and in the internals, more an objection to the flimsy paper stock and slightly distracting font (the full stops are tiny crosses). It is, however, a consistently well-edited forum for the work of both established New Zealand writers and promising newcomers.