Keel & Drift by Adrienne Jansen

Keel & Drift. Adrienne Jansen (Wellington: Landing Press, 2016). ISBN 9780473362515. RRP $22. 82pp.

Reviewed by Roisin Kenny


Adrienne Jansen excels in conveying the beauty of the mundane and the strangeness found in familiarity. Keel & Drift is playful and well crafted, digging into smaller moments that are imbued with meaning. The poems provide wise counsel on carrying a knife, the pleasures of surfing, the inspirations discovered in old photographs, the small delights mined while sitting in a waiting room, and much more. Jansen has the ability to render small snapshots and look at frozen moments within a larger picture, and this transforms everyday experiences into singular miracles. Jansen sums up this theme in the foreword of her book – ‘It’s about standing still for a moment, paying attention, and then discovering something’, she writes. ‘It might not be deep and meaningful; it might just be a different way of looking at the world.’

Poems, such as the five page long “Local”, weave through different stories. The piece understands domesticity well, telling stories we already know but showing them in ‘a different way’, as Jansen states. “Local” dedicates a verse to the simple spirit of humanity, a constant theme throughout the book:

The man with the Zimmer frame
is seventy years older
than the kid beside him
who keeps one hand
lightly on his elbow.
With his other hand
the kid is texting
sorry busy

Throughout the collection, Jansen retains a narrative thread — thin, barely there, but noticeable. She makes parallels and connections to other poems, such as the motif of water spilling over your knees, seen in “Picnic, 1854” and “Tea Party”. Jansen also connects three poems through a single object in “Why did you leave your cello on the train?”, “The cellist and the guard”, and “Plain song”. Here, she personifies the Kiwi spirit of community and the rural solidarity of New Zealand society. By doing so, she explores the threads that tie us all together, whether they be of history, community, culture, or the sharing of culture. Jansen brings together people of all backgrounds, producing everyday portraiture within the space of a page. Keel & Drift is, at its core, about connection.

In parts, Jansen sets aside time to reflect on a personal and individual moment. I think this is where Keel & Drift shines, where moments and actions are performed without an audience. “Autism” is one of these poems, which takes a brief snapshot of a personal moment, a reflection in the chaos:

She laughs.
She tosses the water
from each bowl
into the air.
It spirals up,
explodes into rain
and falls to the ground.

Keel & Drift is poetry about small, everyday miracles, but it is beautifully alert and aware of the world around it. The detail and insight into often insignificant moments turns the book into a domestic artwork, with Jansen’s steady style lovingly rendering these moments.

Keel & Drift is not a grand cathedral or a spotlight stage, and it does not need to be. It is a patchwork quilt of every small memory — good, bad, and everything else in between.

Roisin Kenny is completing her final year of high school. She can either be found holed up in the library, or inside one of her various empty notebooks.

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