And so it is by Vincent O’Sullivan

(VUP, 2016)

Review by Helen Vivienne Fletcher

And so it is features poems showcasing the everyday but with a quirky slant.

Across 75 poems, esteemed New Zealand poet, Vincent O’Sullivan, gives us scenes such as a woman trying to free a bee trapped in a spider’s web, a girl daydreaming while transcribing her father’s poems, and a man looking at a photo of a poet and his dog, imagining what the dog’s life may have been like. Each of the poems is unique — single moments, not thematically linked — yet the collection is cohesive, the poems resting comfortably next to each other.

O’Sullivan finds both humour and poignance in the everyday. Quiet moments are presented simply, allowing the reader space to find their own meanings in them.

Many of the poems have a strong narrative base, some telling stories from a first-person perspective — presumably O’Sullivan’s own — others told from the point of view of characters known only by pronouns. O’Sullivan uses a deft touch to introduce these characters, giving details such as ‘This woman who’s the quiet one / in any group of women …’ (“Knowing what it’s about”). The minimal but significant details given make these characters feel both familiar and unique. In this, O’Sullivan seems to hold up our neighbours, friends, and acquaintances for examination, while telling us something new about them.

There is also a strong sense of place in many of the poems, in particular, a strong sense of New Zealand. O’Sullivan illustrates the surroundings beautifully, without the poems becoming overly laden with description. For example, lines such as,

and when I run a licked finger
along a broad leaf on a tree
with orange death berries…
(“Simple enough to get there”)

will have those familiar with New Zealand’s native Karaka trees instantly calling to mind the image of the poisonous fruit. These descriptions are woven seamlessly into the stories, so as to create the mental picture without disrupting the narrative of the poem.

Humour features in many of the poems, both in the situations presented, and in O’Sullivan’s keen observation of moments and the details within them. He also uses some of the pieces to poke fun at poetry itself. For example, in “The less than genuine article”, he complains about poems that end lines with ‘the’… while ending multiple lines in exactly this way.

Although Auden did it, I still don’t like it when ‘the’
comes in at the end of a line, the awkwardness
as if one walks from a room and leaves a question
returned to as the mood takes one, ‘The
idea of it,’ the pendant in me objects,
(“The less than genuine article”)

Similarly, in “The decent man confirms”, he uses an extended metaphor to express a character’s displeasure at metaphors.

He hated metaphor the way a child on what’s meant
to be summer vacation wakes during a storm
to find the tent’s blown off-kilter and he’s breathing
walls of battered canvas. As if deluge
turned suddenly stiff and he’s gulping by the yard.
(“The decent man confirms”)

This tongue-in-cheek theme of highlighting and critiquing poetic devices adds humour for those already comfortable with poetry, while also making the pieces — and by extension, poetry in general — accessible to those less familiar with the genre. Because of this, And so it is can be enjoyed not only by lovers of poetry, but also by those generally more wary of verse.

  • And so it is was longlisted for the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.