When I received Luminescent in the post I was very excited. Not just because I love post (who doesn’t love post?), but because I am both a particular fan of poetry and of zines. While these individual chapbooks are professionally published, they still have the handmade, lo-fi feel that makes zines intimate, something special. This collection is no exception.
In a beautiful deep blue cover, patterned with a constellation, are five booklets, each with a different title, each containing a collection of poems. Now what makes these zines so special, is that each one is anchored to the life of a New Zealand woman. Loosely, the poet Nina Powles (Girls of the Drift), weaves her own thoughts and personal experiences with those of each of her subjects. Sometimes in direct relation to real events or real places, sometimes in a more speculative coloring. I found this deeply intriguing.
At the end of each collection there is a short summary of how the poems were inspired. Powles uses newspaper articles, quotes and images throughout the collections to create a strong grounding in what these women achieved, who they were, when and where they lived (or died). Pretty cool huh? But what I enjoyed most about this work is that it is an empathetic collection, where often the poet is imagining what the characters were thinking or feeling, detailing what they went through.
In Sunflowers, Powles writes, “In the Winter of 1910 she walked into a room with high ceilings”. This small delicate detail pulled me straight into the shoes of the woman in focus. Our poet then follows this with “[…]I hear the echo of her footsteps”. This dual approach becomes a visceral binding to both author and subject. I found this a wonderfully effective and compelling way to contemplate another person's life and work.
I love the concept behind this collection, the presentation and especially Powles’ beautiful and original phrasing. She describes a collapsing star as seen by one character; “until finally they are dark mouths that drink light and eat moons”. I mean... just wow. For me this is so emotive, so visual, so telling yet simple. And her subjects are equally fascinating.
The poems create powerful yet ghost-like portraits of the five women. For me this sparked a growing curiosity to find out more about them. I suspect this is one of Powles' primary aims. Partly to pay homage to their experiences and achievements, partly to inspire the reader to research, delve deeper, and partly as her own personal exploration of the discovery and living memories of these astonishing women. She invites us to contemplate our own existence in relation to theirs, in doing so herself. It’s impossible not to.
If the shimmering threads of our lives unravel after we die, Nina Powles has sought to re-capture a few, threading them with hers into something new, something living. By reading this collection, we re-thread them into our own lives, thus carrying the spark on. It really is a contemplative, interactive piece of writing, and by asking engagement of its readers Luminescent keeps alight five brilliantly interesting souls. I finished it feeling inspired by the subjects and by this talented author that had roused so much from me.
Muser tip: Take a few moments to read this sample from the collection and then order a copy of these beautiful zines for yourself using the "read it" link below.