The black-and-white photo goes back
to '67. Taken around Christmas. Perhaps a Sunday
drive out from Gore. A bit of a breeze parts Nana's perm,
her own steady caution holding down hands
that shine below the folded-back cuffs
of her bri-nylon cardigan.
Grandad's road-worker's hands lie relaxed
over the roof of the car, taking ownership
of its dim-blue. Both of them
caught by me at fourteen, when I press
the slow shutter of my Brownie box camera
with a pronounced click. Just a moment ago.
Kay McKenzie Cooke, a country girl again.
I love this poem, so much. It captures familiar scenes, people I almost know ... from my childhood. And Kay's descriptions seem better than a photograph because I know the way her Grandfather's road-worker hands would have looked on the roof of his car. I saw my Grandfather make that same gesture, so many times, back when I didn't know I was even looking ... or remembering.
3 sets of Kay McKenzie Cooke's beautiful poetry books have arrived in time for my 'Home & Away' Photography exhibition, soon to be mounted here in the New Zealand Shop, Antwerp.
Kay has signed and written a small message in 6 of her books, the other 10 came straight from the publisher ... hot off the press and her new poems are just delighting this New Zealand girl so far from home.
The new collection is titled, Born to a Red-Headed Woman, and the Otago University Press tells the story of it more fluently than I can: Using the extraordinary capacity of music to revive the places and people from our pasts, this poetic memoir springs from over 50 song titles or song lines and spans more than four decades.
Laconic, wry, subtly philosophical, Kay McKenzie Cooke’s new collection carries us from her rural Southland girlhood in the 1950s and 60s to the bitter pressures of adopting out her baby as a teenager in the 1970s, and to her present as grandmother, mother, wife and author. A plain-spoken honesty, a sensitivity to the natural world, a gentle humour, a deep sense of how the richness of our relationships lodges in ordinary rituals and routines: all combine in a quietly moving autobiography.
Born to a Red-Headed Woman is documentary, vivid, ever grounded in the workaday detail of farming, the changing decades, family, city life and job. Yet at times the language peels right back to the tender nerve of major, formative losses.
If Cooke’s observations of the daily are the simple melodic lines that seem to coast on the surface, beneath that runs a rich bass line of meditation on time, on meaning, how to live a life true to oneself, and to familial love.
I love Kay's poems. Not the least because they take me home.