Review: Roll & Break

Reviewed by Erica Stretton

Roll & Break is a collection full of surprises, and a celebration of the beaches at the heart of our Aotearoa life.

The sea lives at the heart of Adrienne Jansen’s latest collection, Roll & Break, bringing its essential force to Tītahi Bay, where these poems are set. The rich, sandy setting, with its sparkling facets—history, community, imagination, culture—combine in each poem, an experience not unlike being immersed in the sea, supported by salt but buffeted by waves, warmed by the sun and abraded by sand grains.

Some 31 poems make up the collection. Beginning with a woman on the edge in Travelling Light — ‘she is travelling / on a sheet of grey light’ — the poems segue through Van Gogh’s possible painting of the beach, to a refugee staggering out of the water, to a reflection on today’s million-dollar housing, to the World Wars and a family’s history in the 1800s. Each brings its own surprises to the page and shows another face of Tītahi Bay as home.

The last poem takes us wistfully back to the sea and our needs. In And the sea – ‘I need to lie on the soft sand… the sea connects us.’ Throughout Roll & Break we are reminded life is a continuous journey and that community and setting connect us to others in more ways than we know.

What if?

There is a sound of wet fabric dragging.

He shapes up out of the mist like darkness.

You see his face first. His black skin.

His jeans, heavy with water, scrape on stones.

He turns out his pockets. The Mediterranean

pours out of them.

Then he has nothing.

He stumbles. You rush forward,

grabbing his sleeve. It’s almost empty,

the arm barely there.

You have both staggered into the sea.

Waves are sucking at his feet, at your boots,

there is no solid ground. You must get out.

There is another sound. A splintery line,

shreds of children, t-shirts slapped against their rib cages,

shorts clinging to hip bones, slivers of wood in their hair.

Their bony feet slip and clatter.

They hold each other

as though they are all going down.

The man in front of you straightens.

Water pours from his body.

The children behind him stumble and stop.

‘You!’ he shouts, into your face.

‘You in those boots!

What do you know about fear?’

Reviewed by Erica Stretton