Book cover for The Dangerous Country of Love and Marriage by Amy Leigh Wicks

Amy Leigh Wicks
The Dangerous Country of Love and Marriage
(AUP, 2019)

Response by Briana Jamieson

Buy from Auckland University Press

We used to picnic
along the highway—honey,
goat’s cheese, a hunk of bread
or apple fritters from the farmstand
still hot and sticky in the cold new air
that is the beginning of everything dying.

I first sat down to read The Dangerous Country of Love and Marriage on New Year’s Eve, under the shade of a large tree. The air was warm and the lawn was scattered with flowers. Each poem I read ended with fresh and satisfying stanzas, full of beautiful descriptions.

Valleys, oceans, crumbling earth, slices of tomato, milk, the presence of something ethereal, the absence of something wild.

Amy Leigh Wicks’ poems sweep through emotions and landscapes smoothly, taking the reader on a journey. We get led into realms of the mind, heavy with reflection, and then are greeted with light breaths of air, as though we have sat down to chat with a friend about their deepest feelings and grief, and then all of a sudden, with a cheerful smile, they give us a piece of cake.

At the market, a crate of oranges
reminds me of you: ridiculous

The book travels between locations; England, America, Plimmerton, Kaikoura, with each third of the book shifting in tone as the location changes. The first section feels like a far away dreamscape of the past, the second section feels playful and familiar, the third section feels heavier, laced through with reflections on marriage, religion and an awareness of the landscape breaking apart.

New World
is receiving shipments of milk in convoys, stacked
in the cooler with a markered note ‘1 2L for
each family please.’ The sun makes fairies of dust
shining through the window, floating above the fresh pressed
news stacked near the checkout beside a mound
of clearance lollies.

I read a few of the poems out loud. There is a beautiful rhythm to these poems and they work well being spoken. One of the poems I enjoyed reading aloud was First Night in Aotearoa. It reminded me of staying at a DOC campsite, sitting under a wooden cooking shelter at night, with a few other campers around and the wilderness surrounding us. I got swept up in the dark, wet and moody scene being described and then all of a sudden the poem ended with a playful change in tone. Here are the first and last stanzas:

I am sitting at a stone table
there is a fire behind me
and a candle before me and
it is raining all around and the papers
on the table are soaking wet
with black ink bleeding through.
 
...and then the horse
turns into me and then I become
a Grecian urn, but before I can see what
will happen to the urn, one of the women
grabs my wrist and I wake, and it is dark,
and what do you think it means?

The sadness and unfamiliarity in some of the poems is well balanced with humor and the familiar in other poems. After heavier poems there is often something lighthearted to relieve the tension – this seems like a special talent of Amy’s, this contrast and balance.

After reading this book I felt like picking out all of my favourite poems and stanzas (the moments of beauty, the soft humor) and putting them together in their own little collection. Something safe and warm for me to dip in and out of when I feel like a moment of inspiration, without coming across the deeper trauma present in many other poems. To read this book is to experience a whole story, all the highs and lows of life. What if a book were to be made collecting together all the highs? Or all the moments of beauty (even the sad ones)?

I will end with a stanza I enjoyed that felt sad, beautiful and cathartic all at the
same time:

We are floating on the water
when the sun comes up slowly, heavily—
we are drifting further and further from dry land.

 

 

Briana Jamieson is an artist, writer, curator and publisher based in Wellington.