Aleksandra Lane

Birds of Clay

ISBN: 9780864737588


NZ Listener top 100 pick, 2012.

This striking first collection (in English) mixes powerful lyrics, Serbian proverbs and literary experiments, and moves from the Balkan wars to New Zealand.

Birds of Clay flies from the northern to the southern hemisphere, bringing with it a suitcase full of edgy Balkan politics and surrealism. Aleksandra Lane is no fly-by-night writer in exile, though: while vividly remembering where they’ve come from, her words are busy putting down roots and tasting the soil on this side of the planet.  They occupy the bittersweet zone between crossfire and desire, and have their sights trained on the moments when passion and compassion fall short of their target. Poignant and fierce, these are poems that surprise at every turn. – CHRIS PRICE

Birds of Clay is Aleksandra Lane’s first book in English, after two published in Serbian. Aleks moved to New Zealand in 1996, and completed her MA in Creative Writing at Victoria University’s Institute of Modern Letters in 2010, receiving the Biggs Poetry Prize. Her poems have been published in Jacket2, Sport, Turbine, Takahe, Snorkel, Side Stream and Swamp. She lives in Wellington and is studying for a PhD in English at Massey University.

'Lane’s themes, from a lesser poet, would have been a prime target for cliché: war, family, intimacy and its failures, cultural fragmentation, memory. Instead, showing the intellectual maturity of a poet with two published books (in her native Serbian), a startling freshness of language and a gaze untainted by sentimentality, she turns her material into pure gold.' - NZ Listener

This is a sharp and skilfully crafted collection. There is a rich smorgasbord of form in here: a clever villanelle (‘Knife’); a sparkling constellation of concrete poems (‘Another Legendary Sky’); prose poems (‘dead Pixel’); list poems (‘Unabridged’); found poems (‘There Are No Ghosts in America’). Lane knows what she is doing, but does it with a light hand, making nothing feel mannered or contrived. Time and Place are manipulated like the folds of a Japanese fan: sometimes it’s open, sometimes it’s closed. There is a flick and suddenly the reader is transported from Serbia to Wellington, from childhood to old age. And back again. The entire section 'Birds of Clay' is set in a town in Serbia and a life is told in tiny prose-poem snippets like freeze-frame, jerky filmstock. A series of images/sense impressions flickers before the reader’s eyes and the story is told. There are absolute killer poetic phrases too numerous to mention. Some excellent ones are “…her fur gathers in the corners of the room”, “…sun veneer”, “…his mouth is now shut pitch black”, “…the we are not in line line”. Lane has some remarkable usages of words, which i suspect is a benefit of being multi-lingual. “he stamps on the plastic bottles to make them submit to recycling…” is a pearler. Particularly elegant is “… something yellow insists on smelling of Spring”. i love the “submit” and the “insists”, both excellent and unusual selections and usages of words. The survival of the trauma of war is a persistent theme, as is the feeling of displacement of emigration. This is a satisfying and intelligent collection which invites several readings in order to penetrate its many levels. - Natasha Dennerstein, A Fine Line