Comments for the launch of No Joke by Mark Pirie
It was my pleasure to publish Mark Pirie's first book of poems,
Shoot, in 1999. Of the seven books, Sudden Valley put out
that year Shoot was arguably the most energetic, and it
was certainly the one to showcase the author with the most
No Joke shows us some of that development. Like Shoot, it is not the entire Mark Pirie. Yet in contrast to Shoot - which centres around camera angles, cinema terminology and so on - No Joke takes us more deeply into what we might term the psychology of popular culture. By that I mean that these poems subvert standard readings in the same way that some movies and sit-coms subvert standard viewings. We see it now in shows like Just Shoot Me, as we saw it once in the silent movies: a girl is tied to the rails, the train is whistling and grinding towards her, she cannot free herself! but HE arrives in the nick of time and saves her - "My Hero."
Of course it was never meant to be taken literally, or seriously, yet neither was it meant to be laughed at. Rather we laugh with it, and we are moved by it.
There are, then, clear elements of simplification, exaggeration and empathy in this approach - which is also the approach of No Joke. And to my knowledge Mark Pirie is the only New Zealand poet who has made this territory his own. There is a good chance he is the only poet to do so anywhere else as well.
But that's Mark. He doesn't have mental barriers, and … it more often leads him and us to something that is fresh and energetic, something as unfettered by received opinion as it is grounded in liberal/humanist values.
I cannot think of a young poet in this country with more to offer than Mark Pirie - which isn't to minimise the considerable talents of his contemporaries, but it is to identify a poet whose work I re-read with growing pleasure and admiration.
John O'Connor, Christchurch, 2001
John O'Connor is a New Zealand poet and small press poetry publisher with Sudden Valley Press. He is a leading exponent of the haiku form recognised internationally. He helps organise the Canterbury Poets Collective readings in Christchurch.