This is your real name. Elizabeth Morton (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2020). ISBN 9781988531922. RRP $27.50. 72pp.
Reviewed by Molly Crighton
There are striking and lyrical juxtapositions everywhere in Elizabeth Morton’s writing. Morton contrasts the industrial and the pastoral, as well as the urban and the spiritual. But beneath that lies poetry that is deeply personal: ‘Some days I don’t know whether I’d save the whole of Yemen or my dog’ (“Ethics for a millennial homebody”). There is poetry about despair, and about how unprepared we are if everything were to fall apart: ‘When the pistol fires, nobody knows in which direction to run’ (“Gap”). And there is poetry about archaeology of the self, about digging for your real name through mythology and politics and modernity. Poetry that asks you to ‘bring the thing you cannot touch’.
I loved this book. The word choice and style of writing was powerful and raw, even without carefully crafted meanings. This is poetry for people who walk at night just to exist in liminal spaces. My favourite poem in the collection was “Maze”, not only for the way it summed up the book’s dark core of disillusionment from nature, but also because of the tender way that nature is conveyed at its most bestial: ‘He could smell bull on the tongues of lilies’.
That said, the poems did vary on occasion. Some stood out because they were particularly exceptional, such as “Ethics for a millennial homebody” and “Notes”. While others, though not bad, could have been cut from the selection without the whole book losing its power. Some poems in the collection ended up saying what had already been explored, but in a better way.
There is a satisfying cyclic quality to the collection as a whole. The very first poem, “Untouch”, identifies a kind of self-anonymity, particularly through its last line: ‘This is my real name. The thing I cannot touch’. However, the last poem “Notes” seems to be set in the transient night garden that crops up sporadically throughout the collection. At the end of the book, the reader is asked to ‘Bring the thing you cannot touch’. It is as though reading through the collection is a journey, and only at the end can we finally put down that great untouchable thing.
This isn’t a book to be read in one sitting, as the imagery is strong and at times overwhelming in its potency: ‘when i park up i want the wardens to witness / me in pieces. and throw the pieces to the dogs’ (“i have one or two regrets &”). However, the collection as a whole has a holistic, rounded ending that lends something beautiful and necessary.
To describe This is not your real name as a weed in a garden of flowers is in no way an insult. It is to say, here is writing that knows how to survive.
Originally from Wiltshire, Molly Crighton has lived in Dunedin for over a decade. She currently studies English at the University of Otago.