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Rose



 The above notice invited people to the launch of Rose Collins' lovely book My Thoughts are All of Swimming. It was a warm occasion and hard to believe that Rose has been lost to us for over a year last month.




My thoughts are all of swimming

 

the tide is a thing that moves

lean and sometimes hungry

for sand, silt or grit

the foam and the form of it

and you, mirrored there against the hills

your hands under me as I hang

on the rippled hide

of water, dear life

 

it won’t be long now until I’m back in the sea.

 

When we returned from our overseas holiday last year, we discovered that  Governor’s Bay’s impossibly long jetty had finally been repaired after sustaining earthquake damage during the Canterbury earthquakes more than a decade ago. It was such a pleasure to once again walk the its length, and it was a moving surprise to find that a stainless steel plaque had been secured on a rail at the end of the jetty. It was a simple plaque with the words of this poem and had been attached in memory of their author, Rose Collins, who died in May, last year.

Rose was raised in Governor’s Bay, and after she married she remained in the bay with her husband and two children. Tragically, Rose’s life was cut short by cancer just as the wider world was beginning to recognise her formidable powers as a poet. Her first collection My Thoughts are all of Swimming deservedly won the inaugural John O’Connor Prize for an unpublished manuscript and was published by Sudden Valley Press not long before her death a few months later. Of the book, the judge, Elizabeth Smither, said inter alia: “This highly accomplished, beautifully ordered collection of consistently stunning poems, ranges from the wide-lensed beginning to a focus on the particular, from crater to soup bowl.’

 I was so privileged, that for a number of years Rose was a member of a small critique group I was also part of. We met monthly to work through the new poems  we shared with each other. Rose’s poems, though, were inevitably fully formed and beyond criticism, really. It was apparent to all of us that we had a significant poet among us, one whose work could one day be an important part of Aotearoa New Zealand’s literary heritage.

The title poem was one Rose considered highly. At her funeral, a recording of her reading the piece was played and when just recently the second printing of her book was launched at the Otoromiro Hotel in Governor’s Bay, this was poem I  asked to read.

It’s not difficult to see why. It is a haunting poem; though short, it is perfectly encapsulated. There is not a word nor an image wasted. I have described it as edgy, mysterious, brave, and beautiful. Like so many of the poems in the collection it is imbued with the bay and the hills Rose loved. The crater, Elizabeth referenced above is of course Te Whakaraupō, Lyttelton Harbour.

To gloss the poem, to tease out all of its ambiguities and layers, would be almost an impertinence.

It has to be said, though, the circumstances of its composition – that Rose put the poem together in the knowledge of her terminal condition – adds so much piquancy and such a frisson, that the poem has an emotional charge that shakes the reader each time it is read: edgy, mysterious, brave, and beautiful.

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