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Author: Chris Price
Publisher: Auckland University Press
The cover of Chris Price’s new collection of poetry, Beside Herself, features an illustration of a mask by Leo Bensemann, frowning slightly in its disembodied state, floating alone on the page. The poems in this collection can be read as a series of masks, and in them Price inhabits many voices and personas: from a man on the wrong side of a paternity test, to a medieval man called Churl, to Hamlet. She suggests in a teasing, conversational series of epigraphs, “oh to be someone else for once,” (Georg Buchner: Leonce and Lena), which is answered by Frederick Seidel’s, “but we are someone else. We’re born that way.” Or to phrase it in Price’s words, at the end of her poem “Abandoned Hamlet”: “I am every character. Every every character.”
The voices in this book are strikingly varied, but they all ring with Price’s dark humour, and are executed with care and gravity. The title suggests a multiplicity of selves, with Price acting as both speaker and onlooker, or perhaps a ventriloquist of sorts. You never see her lips move, but the book speaks. The poems in this collection feel alive—swinging between comedy and tragedy. The word black recurs so often in this collection, Price said she was considering naming it The Black Book: but, comedy is tinged with unease, and grief has a punchline.
Beside Herself is vital and surprising, and at times alarming. There is a wonderful sense of recklessness, but Price is a writer at the height of her craft, and her poetry carries no excess baggage. As she says in “Wrecker’s Song”: “All of my best lines are accidents / you cannot generate an accident. / You can only put yourself / in harm’s way.”