As the Verb Tenses. Lynley Edmeades (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2016). ISBN 9781927322253. RRP $25. 64pp.
Reviewed by Alex Lister
As the Verb Tenses is Lynley Edmeades’s first complete collection of work. In it, Edmeades manages to capture specific feelings that have names that sit on the tip of your tongue, but never actually manage to become words. These feelings are often lost through time, but here she suspends these emotions between ink and paper, carefully woven into poetic tapestries of everyday experiences.
There is nostalgia in her work, a longing look to the past to settle the chaos of the present. And there is an elegance in the simple memories that Edmeades chooses to draw upon for inspiration. One piece that stands out as representing this is “Faute de Mieux”. Each stanza is a new experience within the same conservation with an old friend. Their discussion is trivial, but their friendship is good. The last few lines demonstrate this well:
There must be a word for that, a friend
Said to me recently. We were talking about words,
a dictionary open in her sun-bleached hands.
For what? I asked. For that feeling we get
when we feel so inflated by friendship,
we doubt language could say it.
(“Faute de Mieux”)
A recurring theme of Edmeades’s work is that they are in transit, with people coming and going, like memories of the past and moments of the present. It reminds me of when memories come to the front of your mind as if in a daydream, playing like a zoetrope, spinning fast. Blurry at first, but vivid and enjoyable.
This is the strength of Edmeades’s work, the ability to keep you stuck to her words, but in your own world, all at the same time. Edmeades’s work is deeply personal, not only for herself but also for the reader. In reading her words, you see places and people that are distinctly hers, but it is not a stretch to attach yourself to them. As much as it is human connection that drives Edmeades’s inspiration, it is this connection that keeps you reading.
While connection is an important theme, I think it would be a disservice to Edmeades if I did not mention her personal experiences. It is her rare talent of keeping herself within a moment, and seeing the strands that connect them back to her past, which really makes this collection so outstanding. To simultaneously put these thoughts, feelings, and experiences so eloquently — from her mind to pen and paper — is nothing short of incredible.
There is no chore in reading Edmeades’s work, no labour in consuming each page. In short, As the Verb Tenses is an absolute pleasure to read. To find a collection so wonderfully crafted is a rare treat, and I cannot recommend Edmeades’s work enough. I could go on about this incredible debut, but I doubt that language could do it justice. Therefore, I hope you get to experience it for yourself.
Alex Lister is a postgraduate student at Otago who writes poetry as an escape from uni work, writing on the themes of nature, connectivity and the distinctly human.