Thursday 20 May 2021 11:24am
The title of James Norcliffe’s tenth poetry collection points deftly to the way it conveys big emotions without cracking a smile or shedding a tear. In Deadpan, Norcliffe writes in an alert, compassionate yet sceptical voice.
The book’s first section, ‘Poor Yorick’, shares the thoughts of an introspective narrator as he contends with the travails of later life. ‘In his hospital pyjamas’, Yorick is by turns cheerful and beset by loss, laughing and weeping, comparing the stages of life (and death). The following sections – ‘Scan’, ‘Trumpet Vine’, ‘Telegraph Road’ and ‘Travellers in a small Ford’ – reach around to mine experience in a world where ‘nothing lasts’; not childhood, place nor identity.
An appropriate response to this ephemeral world is to embrace ambiguity, uncertainty, absurdity and surrealism. ‘Deadpan,’ writes the author in his introductory essay, ‘is the porter in Macbeth pausing to take a piss while there is that urgent banging at the gate. It is Buster Keaton standing unmoved as the building crashes down on top of him. It is my poker-faced Yorkshire grandfather playing two little dicky birds sitting on the wall.’
These poems are concise and contained, using supple, precise language and a gleam of dry and mordant wit. Deadpan is the work of a mature and technically astute poet who is one of New Zealand’s leading writers.
JAMES NORCLIFFE has published nine collections of poetry, most recently Dark Days at the Oxygen Café. He is the award-winning writer of 11 novels for for children and young people, including the YA fantasy The Loblolly Boy, which made the USSBY list of best foreign children’s books published in the USA. He has a long-time association with Takahē magazine and the Canterbury Poets’ Collective, and is an editor for the online journal Flash Frontier. He has edited anthologies of poetry and the annual ReDraft anthologies of writing by young people, and has co-edited major poetry and short fiction anthologies, most recently Bonsai (with Michelle Elvy & Frankie McMillan). He has been awarded the Burns Fellowship, the Iowa International Writers Programme residency, the University of Otago College of Education Creative New Zealand Fellowship for Children’s Writing, and most recently the Randell Cottage Residency in Wellington. With Bernadette Hall, he was presented with a Press Literary Liaisons Honour Award for lasting contribution to literature in the South Island.
'Norcliffe is always mature, delightful and unashamedly positive. Deadpan shows the finer detail of his craftsmanship.'
– Hamesh Wyatt
Paperback, 100 pp, ISBN 9781988531755 , $27.50