I read Simone Kaho’s debut Lucky Punch in two sittings. An unconventional form of story, it is more a blur of feeling, mood and stark observation, interwoven in a collection of prose poetry – and it is beguiling.
Beginning with childhood, Kaho took me on a journey. Each page, each poem, moved me through time. The narrator details what feel like intimate memories, overspilling into each other, sometimes only moments between, sometimes days or weeks. She shares brief snapshots, fleeting thoughts of a child-like innocence, watching the world move and morph.
Later, come realizations of the deeper, more broken parts of herself. Her memories are simultaneously a colorful, vibrant recollection of a precise thing or thought, and a wave of loose-ended reflections.
Speckled through Kaho’s poems, I found absolute gems – descriptions so original, personal and vivid I was taken to the moments she describes. From the poem OAK, “A psychedelic spin through mosquitos” references a tire swing, in NURSE she writes vulnerably, “I am the best at night when people who outshine me have gone to bed”.
I found a poignancy in Kaho’s words, a grounding, which holds Lucky Punch in a very real place – Auckland, New Zealand. Kaho has Tongan ancestry, a characteristic that permeates some of the poems leading insight into the mash of cultures that comes from having moved somewhere culturally different at a young age. Without pointing at it directly, it’s just there, a part of the author. This sense of grounding is supported by a realist, almost skeptical undertone. Things are described as they are, without beautifying them for the sake of poetry. I like this approach, particularly in HELLO, where the characters swimming can “slice the water, or float effortlessly like white bread”. Though I suppose floating white bread has its own, different kind of beauty.
There is an honest, raw quality to Kaho’s writing. A defiant spirit that feels deeply personal and very true. Her work feels very alive, and for all the darkness, the realness, there is a magic, playfulness in the way she writes. For example, even though the statement in HELP is of a more serious tone, the scenario is cheerful and childish;
“Henry stops on the footpath to flip door beetles back onto their legs and carry lost worms from the pavement to the dirt, but he won’t give a homeless person a dollar. He says this is because people are smarter than bugs; they can figure out which way is up.”
The skeleton of this book if you like, is a love story, but the bones that lay thereafter seek to stir the world that the love lived in, the swirling ‘ness’ that surrounds all of us, influencing everything that we do and think. Lucky Punch is a beautiful clash of sweet joyous memories and the smoky, aching ones that make this journey so bitter-sweet.
Perhaps for me, the best quality of this book is its ability to share feeling. The images created and the events remembered evoke and record potent emotions, despite their allusive nature when it comes to capturing them with words.