Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable. Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away. Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance - Carl Sandburg..........Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one's soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself, but with its subject - John Keats .........Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge - William Wordsworth ..........Poets utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand - Plato .........No man was ever yet a great poet, without being at the same time a profound philosopher. For poetry is the blossom and the fragrance of all human knowledge, human thoughts, human passions, emotions, language - Samuel Taylor Coleridge .........One demands two things of a poem. Firstly, it must be a well-made verbal object that does honor to the language in which it is written. Secondly, it must say something significant about a reality common to us all, but perceived from a unique perspective. What the poet says has never been said before, but, once he has said it, his readers recognize its validity for themselves - W. H. Auden ...........Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash - Leonard Cohen .........There is a pleasure in poetic pains which only poets know - William Cowper .........Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood -T. S. Eliot ..........Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason - Novalis...........He who draws noble delights from sentiments of poetry is a true poet, though he has never written a line in all his life - George Sand .........A poem is never finished, only abandoned - Paul Valery ........A poet is a bird of unearthly excellence, who escapes from his celestial realm arrives in this world warbling. If we do not cherish him, he spreads his wings and flies back into his homeland - Kahlil Gibran.............Poetry should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance - John Keats..........To be a poet is a condition, not a profession - Robert Frost........A poem is true if it hangs together. Information points to something else. A poem points to nothing but itself - E. M. Forster.........Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo - Don Marquis...........Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things - T. S. Eliot ..........You can tear a poem apart to see what makes it tick. You're back with the mystery of having been moved by words. The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash or thunder in - Dylan Thomas .........Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words - Paul Engle......... There is not a joy the world can give like that it takes away! Lord Byron

Your Secret Life: Poems by Harry Ricketts

By Gillian Bickley


It used to be said that there was no need to worry what people would say about you, after you left Hong Kong. You would be forgotten before the ship sailed out of the harbour.

Harry Ricketts taught in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Hong Kong in the 1970's and his early book, People Like Us, published in Hong Kong by Eurasia Publishing in 1977, was reviewed then, by the present writer, in The Asia Magazine.

Ricketts was a third-culture kid, brought up in Hong Kong, Malaysia and England. Since 1981 he has lived in New Zealand, where he teaches literature in English and creative non-fiction at Victoria University of Wellington. Much of his writing from New Zealand has been published by presses there, with scant distribution in Hong Kong, but his biography of Rudyard Kipling, The Unforgiving Minute (1999), was published in London by Chatto & Windus.

Of his poetry, the Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature states: "Ricketts' best are either deftly satiric 'light verse' ... or wry commentaries on the perplexities of love, marriage or parenthood." Your Secret Life – his first full-length poetry collection since his selected writings, Nothing to Declare (1998) – is consistent with this description.

The poems are conversational, mainly short, but packed with observation and understanding. "Retro" is a good example: "'The two of us just grew apart,' / you say quietly, sick at heart;/ careful not to wonder whether/ you just never grew together."

As the publisher says, "his subjects include the secrets and lies we tell ourselves and the underrated rewards of failure and loss". "Don't begrudge your blunders, / screw-ups, A minor blues", / Ricketts writes in "The necessity of failure". "Nothing's wasted; failure makes sense."

The poems refer to the New Zealand countryside with its flora and fauna and New Zealand life, with its parochialism, its literary competition and tragedies: "In Wellington, in Wellington, / the cake is rather small; / and everyone who wants a crumb / must practise how to crawl.//" ("After Glover") He presents family and personal lives, strongly imprinted by this environment.

As presented in these poems, Ricketts' emotional life is coloured by his expatriation. Cricket and the classics of English and European Literature are as vividly present as New Zealand writing, sights, scenes and personalities.

A section of four Hong Kong poems reveals how a sense of history also provides him with an emotional space to inhabit. "Repulse Bay Hotel, Hong Kong" reads: "Soon, they say, this elegant façade / will exist only in photos: for some, // a shard of post-imperial tristesse; / for others, more colonial scar-tissue. // But here this morning on the quiet verandah, . . . //…// you find yourself shuddering suddenly / to think of all those, gwai-lo and Chinese, // who have sat, like you, watching / distant flame-trees scarlet out of green."

Another piece of local wisdom used to be that people who retire away from Hong Kong do not live long after wrenching themselves away from the stimulus Hong Kong provides. Ricketts is probably still several years shy of retirement. Nevertheless, it is good to know that there is life after Hong Kong. And that Hong Kong can still be part of that life, even if only in the imagination.

Your Secret Life is available in Hong Kong through Proverse Hong Kong at www.geocities.com/proversehk/harryricketts

HeadworX Publishers HK$138.00

pbk 80 pages ISBN 0-476-10130-0




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