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Cilla McQueen. Axis: Poems and Drawings.

Dunedin, N.Z. University of Otago Press (ISBS, distr.). 2001. 143 pages, ill. NZ$39.95. ISBN 1-877276-06-5

AXIS IS POET and artist Cilia McQueen's own choice of poems and drawings from the past twenty years. She was born in Birmingham, England, in 1949 but emigrated to New Zealand as a child of four. Her roots go back five generations to the now-deserted St. Kilda archipelago in the Outer Hebrides, one hundred miles off the west coast of Scotland. Her family settled in the South Island east-coast harbor city of Dunedin, New Zealand, where there is a beach suburb also called St. Kilda and the Scots influence is paramount. Her mother's ancestry is English, interwoven with Irish and Welsh. So McQueen's background is strongly Celtic.

The Celts in New Zealand have always had a strong affinity with the indigenous Maori, in the sense of identity with natural land forms, a spiritual mythology which permeates their arts, and a oneness with sea and sky. McQueen had a partnership of several years with a celebrated Maori artist in a settlement near the mouth of Dunedin's harbor. Now she lives alone (except for her cats) at Bluff, the southernmost point of mainland New Zealand, overlooking the turbulent but richly endowed waters of Foveaux Strait. Her old house, not greatly furnished with modern creature comforts, is at one with the landscape, the sea, and the climate--often chilly, windy, and raw but capable of sometime warmth and softness.

To comprehend her surroundings is to visualize the texts of much of her poetry. She pares down description even so, and metaphor is established with such subtlety that theme arises and conclusions may be drawn almost before the reader realizes it.
 Yet there are times and places such as

 on this lichen-covered relic in the sun
 above the sea and Aramoana that I discover

 both space and an anchor to the earth,
 an invisible grid of reliable perspective

 amid an expanding universe of
 thistledown. Times like these I call it

 balancing at the interface, tiptoe on
 a point between the world and dream.


("Rock Poem, Carey's Bay")

McQueen is not a poet of nature isolated from the world, however. She grew up with a brother who was keenly interested in physics and astronomy, so that these sciences offer her metaphors and phrases used in unusual contexts. In describing a free-fall parachutist, she writes: "suicide jump / into the afterglow of the big bang / where the quasars drill out to infinite distance / he's falling / into the simple first light" ("That's Incredible").

McQueen uses her myopia to relate near and far as parallels to the world around her and her poetic and emotional apprehensions. In "Mrs Mooney's Corner" she writes in both close and distant focus: "Mrs Mooney is dead now. / Before she died she gave me / her boomerang, / engraved with the words: / `Jesus Christ said, "I will come again"'." Sensitive drawings and musical sound-scapes complement the poems.
Margaret Christensen
Masterton, N.Z.
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Author:Christensen, Margaret
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2002
Words:493
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