Poems Niederngasse Issue 84 - January 2008

Book Review by Keith Nunes

Kapka Kassabova

Geography for the Lost

Auckland University Press

Stimulating and subtly unnerving, this taut collection of poems by Kapka Kassabova is the best of her four books of poetry to date. Bulgarian by birth, Kassabova has lived in New Zealand and is now living in Edinburgh, Scotland. This collection creates a sense of movement and estrangement by focusing on torn and tender lives around the globe.

There are pieces that evoke the modern age with its twisted pressure on fragile lives and then there is a soaring work like Roman Whore Blues that tells of life in early Britannia. This is the end of worldLife here is brutish, cold and sad, In my dance trunks, with my callused feet/I am the centurions' favourite meat

Her straight-forward, honest language lays a stable foundation but it's her stunning images which push you off-beam. Sleeping in the Alps is moving. My father's breath is like a cave/of dripping stalactites and echo/My mother sleeps and in her dreams/the worst is happening, again.

Kassabova's European background (her family left Bulgaria when she was 16) has left its mark. She delves into the lives of those in political turmoil and, for example in Theresa Goes Home, brings home to all of us the wretched state of some countries. Savagery, like love, lives in the detailsTheresa walks along a dusty road, The baby kicks inside her, Twelve militia thugs arrive/She doesn't die from it, not now.

In another work she brings to life an Argentine DJ who has a troubled relationship and moves to Brazil where he continues to stay in contact with the narrator who coincidentally is also emotionally troubled. The two form a bond across the miles and this gives them both strength in disheartening times.

An unchained vagabond myself, the sense of displacement that drifts through these poems touched me deeply and created enough of a link to contact Kassabova by email. She was delighted that I felt so strongly about the poems and wished me the best of luck with my writing. Pleasing to me is that she is about to launch into another novel - her third. Reconnaissance won the 2000 Commonwealth Writer's Prize for Asia-Pacific.  She also writes travel guides. 

Bio information:  Kapka Kassabova

Keith Nunes is a former newspaper journalist and has travelled the world and seen too much. He now writes poetry and reviews and lives in rural New Zealand with a menagerie. email: kwn@ihug.co.nz