Sunday, October 13, 2013

Rob O’Neill on David Herkt

After a year off, the Sunday Star-Times short story awards have returned, and today the finalists in the open category were announced: Angela Barnett, David Herkt and Faith Oxenbridge. The winner (and winners in other categories) will be announced on 3 November.

In the meantime, here is the 69th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote, a review by Rob O’Neill of David Herkt’s poetry collection The Body of Man, from the June 1995 issue: 

David Herkt, a New Zealand-born poet now living in Melboume, is in dazzling form in the prize-winning opening sequence of The Body Of Man (Hazard, $24.95, ISBN 0908790732). “Satires”, at once a gay parody of the Henry Miller style and a kind of homage to it, is shocking and exhilarating and driven by one of the most sexually forceful and amoral narrative voices I’ve encountered anywhere.
By comparison, “Hooded In Darkness” is dense and unsatisfying and “Neolithic” more studied but marred by some awkward rhythms, as in the first section of “Fatherless Children”. “Notes From A Plague Year”, an intense poetic diary of the progress of HIV/Aids through a loved one and through society, marks a return to a kind of narrative voice that made “Satires” so compelling. Here the voice is anguished and the imagery of sex and death inseparable: “& so the moment/ which has always shouted out beginning/ now also calls the end”.
Herkt is inventive and versatile, using a wide variety of styles and structures (songs, telegrams, letters, bordered commentaries) and the cumulative resonances of one poem against another to convey his meanings.
There is a definite progression in this collection from the stridency of “Satires”, first published in 1988, to the more circumspect, melancholy later sections which also appear to have been written more recently, after the experience of illness and death.

David Herkt recently contributed this excellent profile of singer Allison Durbin to Audioculture, “the noisy library of New Zealand music”.

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