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Kona MacPhee
Perfect Blue
Bloodaxe £7.95
Review by Catherine Woodward


Kona MacPhee’s Perfect Blue is unlike anything I’ve recently read, it is a brilliant demonstration of how simple good poetry can be, so simple that good poets can miss such methods entirely and completely over reach them.

Perfect Blue is a rare gem of a collection, firstly because it is so eclectic. The poems appear to have no central theme; we fly through death, war, family, memories, nature and dazzling shows of MacPhee’s inventive muscle. She has denied the current style of chronicling single subjects in various forms and instead has indulged in multiple fancies, tackling anything that demands a poem of itself. This gives Perfect Blue a delicious sense of freedom and good-natured adventure which is only made greater by Macphee’s further denial of subjectivity.

Reading this collection I realised that the subjective voice and the subjective way of seeing has a tendency to take over the entire world of a poem or collection without really being heard. Subjects of poems are often filtered through a subjective point of view, or the ‘I’ of the poem, and it can read so naturally that it’s not always easy to notice the intrusion straight off. Perfect Blue is frequently characterised by a queer silence which I realised was the absence of this intrusive I. Coupling this with the indiscriminate variety of her collection MacPhee gives the impression of a vast and colourful existence, a good-humoured, insightful, frequently dark but flourishing world outside of any poetic tunnel vision.

I was also greatly impressed by MacPhee’s imagination. The whole of Perfect Blue seems to be a battle against limitations on thought and feeling; in her Book of Diseases section, where she prescribes for herself the theme of diseases, her train of thought balloons into an unexpected exploration of characters, histories and possibilities. MacPhee doesn’t bind herself by her themes, she allows them to guide her into the huge world and even beyond it into wild imaginings. Reading these poems is like realising a joy that you didn’t even know you were missing.

MacPhee’s style though, while greatly impressive in the above respects, does leave itself open to criticism and argument. Often in Perfect Blue MacPhee looses the thread of a poem in a deluge of words and images that spiral into one another so rapidly that it is hard to tell both where you’ve come from and how you got there. ‘Can such a day-star brave/the midnight sky whose glaring spectral eyes/seethe down the invert shrinkage of a telescope,/or does he sleep all clouded in hedgerows’/straight-line rays of green restraint to roads/that sling his low kin cockeyed in the gutter?’ (Pheasant and astronomers). A reader will find that they want to throw themselves into the freedom and discovery of MacPhee’s poetry but these sorts of stumbling blocks are littered about the book, stilting the flow of otherwise dazzling poems. I can’t say however, that this is an entirely negative quirk, it is a certain oddball characteristic which, once removed, may leave MacPhee’s poems lacking some of their vitality and strangeness. So too with her sporadic use of colloquialisms and familiar speech among soaring lyricism and deep subject matter -‘it’s fortunate for us things move at measured pace/ down here, and tend to linger where we drop them; thus, objects that would waltz away in zero-G/their glinting arms extended, waving last goodbyes…’ (The short answer). It is hard to decide whether this ought to fit or not but either way it is not a terribly quarrelsome technique to use.

In all though I would say it was better to joy in these mistakes or quirks as much as the rest of Perfect Blue, this collection inspires a wonderful, fresh feeling and has been simply but inspirationally crafted.



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