Wreck of the Jeanne Gougy, Colin Pink
[Illustrated by Daniel Goodwin]
Paekakariki Press, 2021 £12.50
Death and love
In this slim but rich, letterpress-printed pamphlet, Colin Pink doesn’t shy away from the big themes, notably love and death. Indeed, in ‘Thanatos and Eros’, Death himself knocks on the door and warns about ‘a confidence trickster, known as / Eros’.
At first glance, death would seem to be the stronger force. The title poem describes vividly how a trawler once foundered in a storm with the loss of most of the crew. Death is inflicted violently, and figured as a predator:
The sea is a lion’s paw, playing with its prey
Before gulping it down, crushed between implacable
Jaws that effortlessly chew up metal
And flesh and spits out the bones it can’t digest.
The finality of the disaster is underlined by Daniel Goodwin’s monochrome woodcut of a row of coffins on the quay. (The illustrator deserves to be commended for his work throughout.)
In other poems, death may result from the natural force of the Covid pandemic, or from human agency — for example through the cruelty of Nazi judges and executioners or the cold ingenuity of weapon designers.
Among the disasters and horrors of the world, though, love somehow finds a way through. In the accomplished sonnet ‘Pont des Arts’, the padlocks that lovers traditionally fasten to the bridge in Paris may turn into an symbol of restriction:
How many regret passion’s hasty clasp,
wish they hadn’t thrown away the key?
But a love will survive and grow, if it’s flexible, unlike the hard steel:
Bend with the wind, flex apart and back,
that way the sapling of love won’t snap.
Using the triolet form in his final poems, Pink returns to the fragility (versus the durability) of love. Still, love always has a chance of enduring. ‘Dancers’, addressed to a partner, offers a daringly hopeful view that love may lead to eternity, even in a perilous world:
Hold out your hand and place it in mine
And we shall dance together for all time
Cunningly snatch bliss from the abyss