Bird Murder by Stephanie Lash

(Makaro Press, 2014)

Review by Keith Nunes

This book is a wondrous read! A type of novella in verse – a threaded storyline that involves gothic murder and heroic birds written in five stanzas of three lines to each page. It has a plot that involves an investigation and a climactic end. But where some long poems written as stories lose their impact with variable and sometimes inadequate poetry, Bird Murder holds to a quality line throughout. It’s charming and lyrical and even educational and profound.

The book’s language is entertaining and rich and hints at dark undertones and sinister plots – there’s much going on under the surface. Although it is made up of poems in the same strict form there’s plenty of variety with line lengths changing and short stabs replaced by longer running lines. The tone of the poems varies, with playfulness and intrigue rubbing shoulders. A unique collection, Bird Murder is nourishing and rewarding.

One of the poems, ‘Bird Room’, sets the scene:

After the money, in their house of wonderful coloured stones
Mr and Mrs Cockatrice sit in the front room; the bird room
Their house is called The Good Ship

The heart of the room: two huia in a bell jar
Cockatrice has so many; has them all, all bought and sold
With money they used to be

Brown-eyed, honeyeater, Mrs Cockatrice
Looks at the journals all day
She hums to herself but won’t be told she does it

Mr C is in disgrace from the bank
He clasps his hands on his stomach and picks the lint
Off his grey tweed and sighs and clasps his hands

The gas bill, the gas bill
He mutters this and sundries. Out the window
A stone angel points straight at the red sea, which boils

In ‘Tableau mourant’, Lash tells of what’s going on just below the surface:

A still bird is so grotesque.
Pegged at the apex of a breath, forever.
Cockatrice looks like a leering dentist.

The clock’s pendulum reflected
in hundreds of glass-droplet eyes
that he dusts himself.

He tells them all his troubles.
Arsenic crystallising under plumage.
Scores of lives, perching and on the wing.

He coos and preens at them.
They hate him.
A creak of a wire skeleton,

they use their last smear of residual energy
to shrink from his revolving feathers.
Stretching and suspiring, an empty ticking.

Stefanie Lash completed her MA at the IIML, where she put together a collection of poems called President Brie. Her poetry has previously appeared in Takahe, Turbine, Sport and Poetry NZ. She’s an archivist who lives in Wellington.

‘Bird Murder’, along with ‘Heart Absolutely I Can’ by Michael Harlow and ‘Cinema’ by Helen Rickerby, have been launched as the Hoopla series by Wellington’s Makaro Press, celebrating its first year in the publishing business.