Tuesday Poem: The XYZ of Happiness by Mary McCallum

What makes us happy?  Is it an individual thing or is there a common thread for us all?  These are the questions these poems try to answer.  Mary McCallum is a New Zealand author, poet and publisher. Her first novel The Blue was an award winner, as was her children's book Dappled Annie and the Tigrish. She is also a prize-winning poet, founder of the Tuesday Poem network and she runs the innovative Makaro Press in Wellington.  Mary's collection of poems, The XYZ of Happiness, has been eagerly awaited!  This week is New Zealand's National Poetry Day, so I thought it was an appropriate time to review it.

Happiness comes in many forms - the colour yellow, gardens, a dog chasing a rabbit, familiar landscapes, family relationships, shy hellebores, music, cooking, the small simple things and the big events - love and survival.  Mary draws characters with a novelist's skill; her mother with an armful of hydrangeas, Natalie, humming with life like a hive of bees, Beth, the nurse who has bad feet and a pink Fimo name badge.

The poems look backward and forwards through the whole adventure of life . . . 'We were/ whole galaxies back then - roiling, roaring, blazing in our skin'.   Happiness and the sheer joy of living pervade the poetry.  This is from 'Things they don't tell you on Food TV':

. . . . sun blooming in a bowl, and spooning
yoghurt and honey into a hungry mouth
on whitewashed steps with a turquoise sea

and a donkey crowing and someone calling
kalimera into the bleaching light is just like
scooping up the sun and eating it.

But the collection doesn't avoid the big questions that cast shade over all of us. At the heart of the collection is a series of poems written to Harriet Rowland who died from cancer aged just 20.  Makaro Press published Harriet's searingly honest extracts from the blog she wrote about her journey from diagnosis to death in 'The Book of Hat' just before she died. Mary acknowledges that Hat "in her short fireburst of a life, showed me quite simply and clearly the XYZ of happiness".

Among the thoughtful and the profound poems are little gems of delight, like the Pink T-shirt.

At a time when so many of us are depressed about the economic, political and ecological situation of  the world, this collection is a blast of sunshine in a sometimes very grey landscape!

The XYZ of Happiness by Mary McCallum
Makaro Press

The XYZ of Happiness
Mary McCallum
Makaro Press


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