Book Review: Working the Tang, by Nicola Easthope

A new and much appreciated review from Susannah Whaley – big thanks!

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_working_the_tang.jpgKāpiti Coast dweller Nicola Easthope’s second collection, Working the Tang, plays on the word Tang’s multi-layered meanings. In Old Norse it is a spit of land, as well as the point of a knife and the place where the sharp piece is inserted into the handle; in Middle English it is a serpent’s tongue believed to sting; in the Orkney Islands it is the seaweed growing on the rocks above low tide, and ‘wirkin’ the tang’ refers to the eighteenth-century kelp-burning industry. Easthope says it is ‘the salt in the ocean winds’ and ‘the pressures and flavours that sharpen my writing’.

The book cover shows us two women, warmly wrapped in headscarves and long skirts, in what seems to be a hostile and chilly landscape. Stare at the picture and you can almost feel the cold, smell the smoke of the fire they tend and…

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‘Fresh Quotidian’ at Wardini’s Bookshop – April ’19

“Marty’s collection takes you back to the child, to mother and father, and to country life and in doing so you travel through sumptuous lines and layers. This is no rose-tinted memoir — you get grit and you get open views, you get life’s awkwardness and you get empathy.” Paula Green on ‘Horse with Hat’, NZ Poetry Shelf.

“From (Emily’s) collection, I got a sense of a person holding on to life carefully, aware of life’s fragility and complexity: ‘I smile like a madonna / I am nothing like a boulder.’ It is also a voice of deep self-awareness and offers a fresh examination of quotidian absurdity, daily indignity. This is a very humane, relatable book.”  Helen Lehndorf on ‘The Lonely Nude’, Booksellers NZ.

Emily, me and Marty

So there I was in the funky-magic bookshop of Wardini’s in Napier on a bright autumn Tuesday evening, sitting between two star-hot, award-winning Hawke’s Bay poets – Marty Smith and Emily Dobson – and someone (Marty) says we were there to celebrate my new book! One of those out-of-teacherbody experiences, I tell you. The (small but perfectly stocked) place was packed! People (two) spilled up the staircase! Sitting in the front row was my old flatmate, SMP, from turn-of-the-millenium, Montgomery-in-the-mist, Karori West days, anchoring me with her Moroccan yellow leather jacket and matching shoes. I was glad to go first, so that after, I could thoroughly relax into the gem-song of Marty and Emily’s readings and not anxiously change my mind about my ‘set list’.

I read a few Orkney poems, Cook and climate crisis poems, and the Bowie dream one because it features The Cabana in Napier. Emily read her deft, funny and vividly tender poems with titles like “I have come simply”, “Joke: What can be held without touching?” and her young daughter’s celebratory, “Thea’s Vagina Song”. I may have whooped. I’m off to buy both of her collections. Marty read poems of rural life and death, haunting and honouring , exquisitely crafted in “A mile here, a mile there”, “The Homestead”, “The Only Lady Photographer”, and more. She even had an encore request (from me, with much enthusing from another woman in the crowd) for “Agnus Dei”.

We wrapped up the evening with a Q&A, where someone asked us if the sound or meaning of the words comes first when we’re writing, and we agreed, both. For me, a poem usually comes from a potent, all-consuming thought+feeling that sounds like slow elephants at some distance, gradually gathering speed towards me, thundering for attention. Other times, it’s a quieter sensory observation of the quotidian – salt on the washing line; children in a swimming lesson.

Ngā mihi ki Ngāti Kahungunu o Te Matau-a-Māui – thanks for having us. Huge thanks to Lou and Gareth Ward, our terrific Wardini’s hosts, for organising, promoting and buying in our books for this occasion. Thanks to the audience for coming – c20 lovely people on a Tuesday night is blimmin’ wonderful! Thanks to Mary McCallum and The Cuba Press for the great poster design, online promo, and for publishing my book in the first place. XX