Generation Kitchen by Richard Reeve

Generation Kitchen. Richard Reeve (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2015). ISBN 9781877578922. RRP $25. 64pp.

Reviewed by Molly Crighton


There is no facet of the mundane that escapes the poet’s mythologising lens in Richard Reeves’ Generation Kitchen. In his surgical and almost Ginsbergian way, he takes Dunedin, nature, and nostalgia, then distils them into dense, labyrinthine poems.

The collection opens with “Generation Kitchen,” the proem and title piece of the collection. Its imagery and suffocation is indicative of the quality of poems to follow:

The cooking rock divulges secret blood:
a crude that spoils to harden where the cut
is speaking to the sun, its haggard smile

Nature and the climate are explored in many of the poems in this collection. In “The Factory,” for example, the city takes on the role of some great industrial machine that is ‘puking, evolving, beyond nature, truth or right— / wrapped in its bacterial cloak, the city’s quiet bulimia.’ However, though industrialisation is the constant dark enemy that crops up throughout the poems, Reeve keeps room for quiet moments of nostalgia or appreciation:

After the gorge, stopping to buy ice creams, we take to the chairs,
warmed by the sun, as if there were nothing in it to worry
melting ice caps.
(“After the Hearing”)

One particularly beautiful poem recounts the brief, transient meeting between a diver and an octopus. Reeve manages to avoid personifying the octopus too much, letting it simply exist within its strange bestiality:

Honorary vertebrate,
back-tracker sifting through
territory unshaken
by the shopper’s roar

The octopus is both ‘gangly restaurateur,’ ‘dotted chemise,’ and ‘cloudy moon.’ Reeve’s talent for distilling natural life into a lattice of words is revealed again in the following poem, “Moki Dokey,” where he uses alliteration to great visual effect:

Scissor-tail, arrow, seam.
The shining streak,
just-passing-through sleek
scholarship of swim.

In this poem, the snorkeller is ‘gloved in neoprene,” and the moki fish is

an eye
flashed like a secret
in a busy market.

Interspersed between shorter, observational poems are longer poems that are like spun zoetropes of imagery. In “Sunshed,” there is ‘the ratio of sunshed / that Roman poets knew…whoever has an eye to dress up stars,’ and ‘the light reveals an innocence in loss.’ The longest poem in the collection, “District”, uses this technique and rhyme to create a poem that is a rant against cynicism, against Hell itself:

He digs at his own ore. Do not feel sorry
for souls like him to whom a rope was tossed
yet each rejected, certain greed can feed
the master and the servant at one cost.

If a ‘generation kitchen’ is the site of geologically engineered oil production, then Reeve’s collection is as dense, powerful, and destructive as its namesake.

Originally from Wiltshire, Molly Crighton has lived in Dunedin for over a decade. She currently studies English at the University of Otago.

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