On a barren hexagon of land he builds her a house. He grades and stakes it for the concrete pour. He hauls great limbs of pine that cut his hands and strain his back until the frame rises like a mighty saguaro cactus filling with rain. One evening there is a fat cloud of bees. They hum like worn out machines and rising canals. They hum into his empty spaces. He starts to sheath the frame, and each morning walks the skin of the house, cigarette in hand. He taps the hollows and listens for a riff of wings.
Sarah Jane Barnett, loving mother, in a playful moment with son, Sam, aged two.
Sarah Jane Barnett, serious poet, as she appears on the cover of her poetry collection, A Man Runs Into A Woman.
When the literary journal, Hue & Cry, crowd-sourced the funding on Pledge Me to publish Sarah's debut poetry collection, I was keen to support a fellow poet, especially a fellow Tuesday Poet, so I chipped in and, when the book was published, I received my own personally autographed copy. Before I'd even got to the poems, I was pretty excited by the fire-engine red cover with its bold white title. I love the colour red. It's a no-nonsense colour which takes no prisoners.
I had some familiarity with Sarah's work through her posts on Tuesday Poem, but reading A Man Runs Into A Woman elevated my appreciation of her work to a whole new level. I found the poems in her collection fresh and engaging and bursting with imaginative energy.
To include a section of poems based on the experiences and testimonies of prisoners on Death Row was a bold and original idea and I felt Sarah achieved great empathy and insight in these poems. She also shone a very humane light on a subject that most people would rather ignore. She put a human face on an inhuman practice.
I am delighted, but not altogether surprised, that Sarah's magnificent debut collection is a Finalist in the Poetry section of the New Zealand Post Book Awards. You can also vote for her in the People's Choice Award here:
But remember to do so by Sunday 18th August.
I could have chosen any one of the poems in Sarah's collection, but I chose "Bees" because I think it demonstrates Sarah's skill at painting a big picture with only a few lines. I apologise for using an overworked image, but a poem like "Bees" is like a pebble generating an expanding circle of ripples on the water. Our imaginations work out from the poem through questions and suppositions. I also enjoy how Sarah often places images in juxtaposition that surprise the reader with their incongruity and yet just seem to work so well in a completely unforced way. When she writes of the way the bees "hum like worn out machines and rising canals", it makes the reader view the world in a fresh and exciting way.
Sarah is up against some seasoned campaigners for the Poetry Award, but my money is on Sarah to win. Go, Sarah!!!