Cover Design
Rita Angus, Storm

Detail, courtesy of the
estate of Rita Angus.

Vivid Familiar

Victoria University Press, 2009


A book of journeys, at its centre a long narrative poem, ‘Feathers and Wax’ (a nod to the flight of Daedalus and Icarus from Crete) in which a housebound poet is taken away by an airship that arrives at her kitchen window.

Other poems examine notions of distance and belonging, dislocation and restraint. They speak of the immigration of the early European settlers of New Zealand who replaced storms at home for equally harsh storms in their land of scape; and the present-day ‘pilgrimages’ to locations of ancestral origin that mark New Zealanders as a much travelled people.

Illuminating these explorations, are the ‘vivid familiars’ that anchor identity and sustain roving spirits.



He leant against the mizzen
mast of the Beagle and watched
them streaming far out to sea
from South America: frail insects
leaving without a clear reason
beyond the call of the hour
or an awareness of spectacle.
Did he wonder if, dampened
by a rain forest’s tunneled
leaves and net tents, they sought
the bright saps of Africa
and stored grains of Europe,
and foresee their demise in a thunderstorm?
Or did he entertain the fantastic proposition
that, bewitched by intrepid winds,
they would reach relict sedges and turfs
on the rim of the heaving Pacific?


A New Zealand Listener Best Book of 2009:

‘Precision of language; intimately tactile attention to detail; sensual flourishes; allusiveness – these are the things that make de Montalk’s poetry such a pleasure. Her collection’s first section explores the hopeful projections and intractable realities of the colonialist; the extraordinary second section is one long poem, Feathers and Wax, in which she imagines herself rapt away from everyday life for a magical mystery tour on an aluminium-clad blimp with a mysterious pilot and ‘decidedly unorthodox crew.’
Guy Somerset, ‘Books of the Year’, New Zealand Listener, 12 December 2009.

‘... even when taking a holiday from plain sense, de Montalk continues to grip us, as everywhere in this volume, with the probing intelligence and nervous energy of her language.’
Hugh Roberts, ‘Now, voyager’, NZ Listener, 26 September 2009.

‘ ... a writer unafraid to use her intellect to approach themes that enthrall her. [...] The long, central poem, “Feathers and Wax” [...] transcends the nuts and bolts of story and reaches towards the sublime.’
Paula Green, ‘Notions of Belonging’, Weekend Herald, 16 May 2009.

‘She keeps her form going and she does what she does best. She gives the reader glorious, contagious, memorable compact poems. [...] Dark intoxicating poems duck and weave between multilayered thoughts, confounding expectations – but always retaining a cheeky, charming commonsense. [...] De Montalk is enlightened and it comes through in her poems.’
Hamesh Wyatt, Otago Daily Times, 16 May 2009.

‘ ... the language is often used sparely, to exquisite effect: “Creeks swam/or evaporated; The children licked jam spoons/so that nothing was lost.” The best of these are poems in their own right: “See how happy you are/Stirred/With a long spoon.” Remarkable characters emerge throughout the book; all are elusive. [...] I was left with an appetite for more.’
Abby Cunnane, ‘Can I Have Some More?’ Capital Times, 15—21 April 2009.

‘A real tour de force.’
Peter Dornauf, ‘Tree Theme Takes Root’, Waikato Times, 16 October 2009.

‘I’ve already been caught intoning lines from ‘Consultation’ not quietly enough. [...] Now I truly must get around to reading The Fountain of Tears.’
B.K. Drinkwater, ‘Vivid Familiar’, Salient, 30 March 2009.

‘[de Montalk] employs the orator’s rather than the singer’s art [...] In some poems the voice is edged with an impish sparkle or even a hint of defiance. In the colonial poems the same declarative quality is made to sound faintly archaic, evoking a period persona, while admitting a cool hindsight; no small feat of what Bakhtin called “double—voiced” utterance, the duet between writer and character conducted with a remarkable economy of means. [...] The centerpiece of the collection is ‘Feathers and Wax’, which is not just another updated Icarus, but a tour de force the fabulist’s art. [...] The poem is enchanting, an exuberant fantasy [...] a world experienced from the “aerostat” as pure perception, almost without reference. There is exaltation and impish humour, and esoteric learning deployed with a light touch – the ingredients of many of the poems, but in different proportions.’
Janet Hughes, ‘Stitches in Time’, New Zealand Books, Summer, 2009.