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Author: Hera Lindsay Bird
Publisher: Victoria University Press
I don’t think it’s right to hate people
It’s just that I don’t care
To wake each day in a snakeskin negligee
and light myself on fire with such ethical behaviours
(from the poem, “Hate”).
I’ll be the first to admit that poetry intimidates and confounds me. These feelings can mostly be attributed to Alfred Lord Tennyson and T. S. Eliot, the old guard of university english courses, and are largely unfair to poetry. When I was sent a copy of Wellington writer Hera Lindsay Bird’s self-titled debut, I was hesitant and a pinch of anxious, not feeling up to the task of writing about a collection of poetry.
Thankfully, reading the poem “Monica”, which discusses Monica Gellar from Friends as well as the tenuous nature of romantic relationships, set me at ease: What kind of a name for a show was F.R.I.E.N.D.S / When two of them were related / And the rest of them just fucked for ten seasons? / Maybe their fucking was secondary to their friendship / … It just doesn’t seem emotionally realistic. Many of Bird’s poems feel like this—a conversation that you can participate in, or eavesdrop on, as you see fit.
Bird features on the cover of the book, perched in a bright yellow raincoat on summer grass, her shadow before her. At odds with the title, we can’t see her face—her head is turned away from the camera, concealing even as she reveals. And this is a revealing book, with poems such as “Having Sex in a Field in 2013”, “Bisexuality”, and “Having Already Walked Out On Everyone I Ever Said I Loved”. Despite a modern aesthetic, Bird likes to toy with the antiquated and the fantastical, with mentions of Nostradamus, velvet birdbaths, a post-apocalyptic petting zoo, and ancient Egyptian pharaohs. It’s the kind of juxtaposition that you might be skeptical about, until you read it and it works, in a weird yet pleasing way. Like a demented nursery rhyme, perhaps.
With her unique style and form, Bird is stirring things up in our small New Zealand literary scene and clearly enjoying herself. In “Keats is Dead So Fuck Me From Behind” poetry stalwart Bill Manhire gets a shout out: Eat my pussy from behind / Bill Manhire’s not getting any younger. It’s subversive, wry, and more than a little bit vulgar—in short, the things that make modern poetry fresh and exciting. Hera Lindsay Bird clearly marks Hera Lindsay Bird as one to watch closely.
An interview with Hera Lindsay Bird
What was your process for writing Hera Lindsay Bird?
Most of the poetry in this book is a disparate collection of things I’ve been working on over the last four years. It wasn’t written with a collection in mind, although Victoria University Press had expressed interest in publishing my MA thesis. It took me about four years to write twenty poems. It took me four years to have enough happen to me.
Where does your love for ellipses come from?
They came from my favourite poet, Chelsey Minnis! Her first book Zirconia is almost all ellipses. I stole them from her and I can’t think without them now. I’m always trailing off vacantly at the end of all my sentences, and her book gave me permission to emulate that on the page. I love extravagant and useless punctuation. Besides, there are some sentences better left unfinished…
Who are the authors or poets who have made the biggest impression on you?
Poets Chelsey Minnis, Mark Leidner, Dorothea Lasky, and Frank O’Hara have been most important for this particular book, but Shirley Jackson, P. G.Wodehouse, George Saunders, Lorrie Moore, J.D Salinger, and Tove Jansson have been huge influences too. I read primarily for jokes and the occasional murder on a train, but I don’t think my love of Agatha Christie is very present in my poetry.
As it’s the women’s issue, who are some women authors or poets that everyone should read?
Everyone mentioned above, but I would also add Fran Ross, Fran Lebowitz, Patricia Highsmith, Sheila Heti, Louise Fitzhugh, Nancy Mitford, Muriel Spark, Mallory Ortberg, and Mary Ruefle. I don’t think everyone should read them though. I don’t think anyone should read anything. I don’t want to be another used car salesman for the arts. If you like TV better, good for you.
Favourite thing about being a poet in New Zealand?
Sometimes Vincent O’Sullivan lets me use his private golf course on the weekends.
Least favourite thing about being a poet in New Zealand?
He makes me carry his clubs around.
When can we expect Hera Lindsay Bird—The Sequel?
2 Hera 2 Bird is coming out late next year, and I’ve already started work on Hera Lindsay Bird: Tokyo Drift.
I have no idea if there will be another poetry collection. At this stage I have no idea what another collection would even look like. I’d like to write a detective series set in a nursing home, or maybe just get really into unsolved mysteries of the ancient world. I don’t want to make a career out of all my bad feelings. I don’t get paid enough for that.