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This review is taken from PN Review 252, Volume 46 Number 4, March - April 2020.

Cover of Lost and Somewhere Else
MaitreyabandhuDuck Three Ways
Jenny Bornholdt, Lost and Somewhere Else (Victoria University Press) $25
What do we expect from a poem? Not much, judging by the paucity of serious poetry readers (as opposed to Instagram liker and trend-followers). It was Michael Donaghy, I think, who said that reading a poem was like meeting a stranger at a party. What he wanted from both was good company: rapport, engaging conversation, a laugh. No-one wants to be buttonholed by a religious bore, an over-earnest liberal or a ranting politician. Reading New Zealand poet Jenny Bornholdt’s Selected Poems (in sumptuous UVP hardback) I met a woman I’d like to bump into at a party or sit next to on a train. She is excellent company: unpretentious, witty, moving, and, for the most part, short. Her poems talk about a world that those of us fortunate enough to be able to buy a book of poetry can recognise, in a way that gives it a little corona of light.

A reader new to Bornholdt’s work could do no better than start with her 2008 collection The Rocky Shore, effectively a book-length autobiographical poem where humour, everydayness, love and pain – her father’s death, its effect on her sons, her health problems – mingle and mix. I’d call it a major achievement if that didn’t sound so terribly grand next to lines so seemingly casual.

The two questions that interested W.H. Auden about a poem were firstly the technical question of ‘Here is a verbal contraption. How does it work?’ and, secondly, the broadly moral question of ‘What kind of guy inhabits this poem? What is his notion of the good life and the good place?’. ...


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