I like being offered a wine match and I thought why not also a poetry match. And not only for meals but anything, in fact one of my first poetry enterprises was writing poems for Minnie Cooper shoes. The poem went in the shoe boxes with the shoes in question, and I got a free pair of shoes as payment. For the Yona Lee exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery my poetry match would be Paula Green’s “After Modernism” –
After Modernism I walked to the shops
to buy a loaf of bread and a bottle of milk
with the leaffrocked wind in my hair
and the waterlogged tyre in my ear
and the backblock road in my eye
and the woebegone fog in my nose
and the forgetmenot paper in my hand
and the slipknot word on my cheek
and the crisscrossed sign on my thigh
and the defrosted pronoun on my brow.
I saw a flowerpot that looked a lot like gorse
gorse that looked a lot like barleycorn
barleycorn that looked a lot like a harpsichord
a harpsichord that looked a lot like a hobbyhorse.
The Yona Lee exhibition, “An Arrangement for Five Rooms,” responds to the invitation to make a site-specific installation for the gallery and to Yona’s interest in the gallery hand-rails which seemed such an unlikely interest to me I wondered if she was being wilfully perverse. But I was instantly charmed by the installation itself, the hand-railings taking off into playful structures, elaborating themselves into climbing frames, sliding in and out of rooms, offering buttons to push as on a bus, in case you might want to get off, reclining themselves into bunk beds, with a Narnia-like lantern welcoming you in to the installation at the very beginning. It is at once Modernist in its clean, tubular lines and emphasis on form, and Post-modern in its elaborations, allusions and playfulness, not paring a vision back to essentials in a Modernist manner but taking a formal detail and letting it go wild. “After Modernism” offers a similar play on Modernist patterning and Modernist form, taking the Modernist emphasis on the image as the essential element of poetry and letting it loose into a Post-modern frolic, that still retains something of the gleaming, tubular aesthetic of Imagism. It is a poem that is constructed around movement, that moves from wind to tyre to road to fog and onwards the way Yona Lee’s handrails move around the corners of rooms and up and down and across and sideways into new constructions, and, like “An Arrangement for Five Rooms,” I find it both funny and beautiful, somehow in the same sort of way.