full circle

The circularity of life is an amazing thing. A couple of days ago we received a gift from Emma Smith and Michael Steven - a thesis completion, Christmas and New Years present in one. The gift was a collection of poems by Joanna Margaret Paul (1945-2003) called Imogen. I have been looking for a copy of this elusive book for 17 years, not only because it is a beautiful example of Alan Loney's Hawk Press design, but because this book represents the beginning of my writing life.
After the loss of my son Reuben in 1992 I found myself in a desolate and directionless state, so I enrolled in a paper on New Zealand literature at Auckland University. My tutor was Witi Ihimaera and he was a warm and encouraging teacher. For our first assignment he gave us five poems and asked us to select one and write a short essay about it. I chose this untitled poem by Joanna Margaret Paul.
I was drawn to the shape of the poem, the repetition of words and the way that the words reduced down line by line and then grew again to create both figure and void on the page. When I found a library copy of the book which has this poem at its centre, I realised that the collection was a tribute to Joanna's infant daughter Imogen Rose who died from a heart condition at nine months of age.

In light of my own experience I felt that I was somehow meant to choose this poem. Through the process of writing about it I learned how Joanna channelled her grief into art in order to understand the nature of loss. The work of painter Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) furnished her with the vocabulary she needed and the poem speaks of the quiet simplicity of Morandi's still-life compositions, where groups of objects part the background space. Joanna's poem is the textual equivalent of a Morandi painting with the composition of her words and phrases expressing ideas about presence and absence, and revealing that creativity itself can fill the vacuum of loss and sorrow.
Giorgio Morandi Still Life (1961) oil on canvas, Museo Morandi, Bologna
Joanna Margaret Paul Untitled (still life with roses) 1994, watercolour
This first piece of writing started me on a long journey of study that led to an MA thesis on femininity and maternity in Gretchen Albrecht's shaped abstract paintings and finally to a five year investigation of the psychology of pretended parenthood in relation to Rita Angus's imaginary daughter Rutu. Now that I've arrived at the end point I can see that my motivation has always been about understanding the condition of childlessness and the realisation that motherhood and maternity should not only be considered in terms of flesh and blood offspring, but can be expanded to include creativity in a much broader sense.

I dedicated my PhD thesis to Reuben who was there with me at the beginning of my studies and to Jack who is here with me at the end. The gift of Imogen from Michael and Emma has brought me full circle and it also closes the circle and makes way for a new one to open. It's a great feeling.


Meliors Simms said…
A beautiful, moving response to the gift, the book, the poem. Thank you, and also for your book I received today: also beautiful and moving.
Beautiful post. Wonderful poem. Ah the neklace! Great stuff B!!!
Carol said…
Meliors has said it exactly - a beautifully written post and very moving. Your writing is wonderful.
Giovanni said…
At the cost of sounding unoriginal... this was a lovely, moving post.

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