On the occasion of Rumpelstiltskin Blues
(Steele Roberts, Aotearoa / New Zealand, 2017)
I have been given special powers today – I am authorised to launch a book. By speaking to you, it shall be done.
Many people make a book, and when launching a book it is worth considering the role of an author in the creation of its contents. A book of poetry is a distillation. The author is not the cooper, the bottler, or distributor. The author could be considered to be the distiller: careful, attentive, precise, blending the mash, crafting the brew. But I prefer to think of the poet as the barrel.
The barrel is the vessel into which experiences of world are combined. They mix for a time and then, ladle by ladle, flagon by flagon, they are dispensed. What emerges from the barrel is not what went in – things returning are changed, more intense, refined and pungent.
These wee drams of literature penetrate our senses, and can taste sweet like Priyanka (7) responds in my workbook, or sharp like To Ida, or fill the nose with peaty confrontation of death in Like Natalie and Nat King Cole.
Out of the barrel come these morsels. But what is left behind? The barrel for sure, but is it the same? A whisky barrel darkens with age. Sediments and solvents penetrate its inner hide and enter its structure. Stains form so deeply that the shadows on the surface belie emotional icebergs. The barrel that situated this distillation is changed forever by the experiential leachate it has encapsulated. Charmingly, the part of malt whisky lost into the atmosphere from a barrel is called “the angel’s share.” By creating Rumpelstiltskin Blues the author may be closer than the rest of us to the divine.
This book should come with a warning: “Not all of this is fiction.” Some real things are here, some true events and emotions. When you taste the warm love of Anzac Day is Usha’s Birthday, it’s real. When you drink confusion from the cup of the dutiful son in embrance, it is real. Is An untrue poem fake news or expert camouflage? And there is one for me in here too, one whose depth of sincerity I’ve only been capable of swallowing since looking into the eyes of my own son Alexander.
As you take in these poems, they will change you, maybe for a moment, maybe longer. They may add to, or dissolve, the stains of your own barrel. Congratulations to the publisher, the editor, the printer and the barrel. By the powers and authorities vested in me, I declare Rumpelstiltskin Blues launched.