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This review is taken from PN Review 176, Volume 33 Number 6, July - August 2007.

THE LYRE-BIRD'S NEST GREGORY O'BRIEN, News of the Swimmer Reaches Shore: A Guide to French Usage (Carcanet) £18.95

Greg O'Brien is a New Zealand poet of translucent meditations that curl from the moving plane, twist, and reconnect to form Möbius strips of endlessly circulating enigma. An example is 'Menton' reproduced on page 123: The morning a leaf/Went missing/From the Orange Festival tree - She rotated her reflection/In a mirror/That also served as a / Tray, her hairpin/A small boat/Tossing homewards. He is married to Jenny Bornholdt, another crafter of brittle epiphanies. Together they edited The Colour of Distance (2005), a literary sampler of New Zealand impressions of France, and those of French visitors to New Zealand, including Paul Gauguin, Blaise Cendrars, and Jacques Derrida. In another life Greg is a writer and curator of art exhibitions. Set alongside the earlier compilation, in its way a curated exposition of two cultures facing one another from opposite sides of the mirror, News of the Swimmer reads as the booklet of a self-curated, stand-alone installation of memories and reflections on the parenthood of South Pacific culture, put together from scrapbooks of a family stay at Menton where Jenny Bornholdt passed the summer of 2003 as recipient of a Katherine Mansfield Fellowship.

For a poet to write in prose at such length is a serious business. The casual style is deceptive. Non-native readers may see the present volume as a lyre-bird's nest, a fragile courtship offering decorated with a random assortment of purloined treasures, mostly blue. To others ...


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