23 November 2009

Book Review: Watching For Smoke, by Helen Heath

Sometimes, you can judge a book by its cover.

Paekakariki poet Helen Heath's chapbook Watching for Smoke, recently published by Seraph Press and available from Seraph Press or on Etsy, is a beautiful package both inside and out, with its card cover featuring an inserted knitting needle and its coloured and textured end-papers.

The epigraph to Watching for Smoke is:

Family is a waiting fuse
watching for smoke.

Family is the subject of these poems: partners, children, parents, seen from the point of view of a daughter, a lover, a parent. Parents are ambiguously loved figures, sometimes too close, sometimes too far away, their lives brought into perspective by their daughter's giving birth to and caring for children of her own:

The hills are my father
with a shotgun
as I write you a letter. ("Evidence")

my mother's brow, her heavy lids,
there, in my new daughter.
I am home now and she will leave me. ("Homing")

I enjoyed the precision of the language and the viewpoint in these poems. The language is subtle, appropriate to the subject matter, well chosen. And the viewpoint is equally precise: each poem takes a stance, while not denying the right of other stances to exist.

"How We Disappear" both ends and summarises the chapbook, its nine short stanzas thumbnails of a woman's life moving through time. I think it's the best poem in "Watching for Smoke", but I enjoyed each of the eleven poems, and only one, "Infallible Father", did not quite possess the satisfying completeness which is a hallmark of the other ten.

You've probably gathered by now that I like "Watching for Smoke" a lot. It has been produced in a limited edition of 100 hand-bound copies. There are copies still available. I recommend that you get one soon, and watch out for Helen Heath's first full collection when it appears.


Helen Rickerby said...

Thanks for your great review Tim! I'm glad you like the book. It's also going to be available (any day now) at Unity Books in Wellington, and people could also order it through their local bookshop (the ISBN is 978-0-473-15379-3).

harvey molloy said...

I like the book and so did the book club at school: I took in Helen's book as an example of a chapbook. The book stands up to multiple readings: it's focused and direct