By Annie Villiers and John Z Robinson
Longacre Press, NZ$30 | Reviewed by Sarah Jane Barnett

THE OTAGO Rail Trail is the first New Zealand rail trail to be dedicated to cyclists and walkers. Its 150km length cuts through some of the most memorable scenery in New Zealand, a landscape that is already well represented in art and literature.

Last year my parents biked the Otago Rail Trail, my father wanting to relive his childhood of milk bars and train trips, my mother her first experiences of New Zealand. When they returned excited and victorious, ignoring my subtle protests, I was treated to a slide-show of photographs – expansive skies, two figures posed in helmets beside Wedderburn, my mother with her hands raised above her head as she flew down the final slope.

I was interested to see how Villiers’ poetry and Robinson’s paintings in Parallel Lines (the pair rode the trail in a collaborative tribute of ‘paint and words’) would echo or dismiss my parents experience, and those of artists and writers who have been before.

Robinson is a Dunedin trained artist who, despite being a ‘reluctant traveller’, is a regular on the rail trail. Parallel Lines features twenty three of Robinson’s acrylic collages that sit alongside Villier’s poems. I was not immediately taken with Robinson’s vision of Otago. His style of collage is not well suited to Central’s crisp lines. Robinson captures this clarity in Towards Omakau – Winter’s Day and Towards Lauder but some of the later works present themselves as hazy, both in terms of subject and tone.

Villiers is a veteran rider who has obviously gained a lot of pleasure from her experiences on the rail trail and her poetry is celebratory and descriptive. Classical and metaphysical references can be found throughout her work: Zion, angels, ghosts, Icarus, Orion and Pluto. Her attachment to the area is laid out in Invisible Mending,

        This is the place where souls come
        To be mended.

It is clear the poet believes this to be a magical place. At times Villiers poems achieve the rhythm of cycling and are at their best when dwelling on the natural elements or engaging the reader in humour such as with ‘Southerly’.

When thinking of Central it is hard not to return to Grahame Sydney’s wild and lonely, magic realism. His work, Rozzie at Pisa, lets the viewer fall into themes of distance and isolation, of difficult human existence within a dominant landscape. Parallel Lines does not achieve this depth, possibly being hampered by each artist’s preconceptions and attachment to the area.

The history of the area does not surface through either art or poetry and the natural world appears pliant. That may be the case for current riders but the original gold-rush miners or settlers would have had a different experience. This book has no grime and grime was needed. In saying that the page for Wedderburn lives up to expectations. Robinson relegates the iconic station off to the right, hardly a feature; in the background a caravan is mournful against dark green bush. In central frame the subject, a dash of grey, person-shaped paper, looks attentive and vulnerable. Villiers words echo his image,

        Listen:
        the measure of life itself
        is here

This book would be a good gift for rail trail riders or as an alternative guide book to the area. My parents can expect to receive it in their mailbox soon.