SAFETY MATCHES: poems by Arthur Amon
Reviewed by Patricia Donnelly

          words squawk
           they leap

            they cannot settle’

            (truly twice about you I cannot speak the same sentence)

More than most poets, Arthur Amon is a word player.  The games may take the form of misquotation, allusion or sheer invention but the great thing is that the reader is involved from the outset.
There are 52 poems in the book, varying form three lines (strange house) to six pages (13 ways of looking at a cockroach).  An indication that what you see is what you get is found on the contents page: ‘errant knight’ for instance, or ‘mental floss’ – not to mention ‘the snails of Grey Lynn’,  ‘things not to write about’ or ‘we had a dead horse in our ceiling’.
In his acknowledgements, the poet mentions that “people and events depicted” are real – not just cats and dogs but mynahs, centipedes, maggots and of course cockroaches.  There is also a very real McDonald’s with a ‘weird old entrance…

                                    what a grandiose grand entrance
                                                what a grander of a gander of a grandma

                                                                        of an entrance

                                                                        it’s a funnel

                                                it’s a tunnel

                                    it’s a jingle

                        it’s a jungle

            a funnel tunnel jingle jungle jangle of an entrance’

                                                                        (we sat there in McDonalds, you and I)

Among the games I mentioned allusion, by which I mean not just misquotation but a substitution of like sounds in a familiar pattern: ‘come to my arms / thou gleamish girl’ (Refugee Appeal); ‘the four jokers / of my apocalypse’ (genetic engineering) ‘my dam is busted / my bank is rupt / the chickens are home to boot’ (when one hug is the world).
As for the title:  the work MATCH includes the definition ‘to treat as an equal’ (the poet assumes that our imagination will rise to his invention).  The word SAFETY includes, ‘unlikely to cause hurt’ – but don’t count on it.  This, despite appearances, is emphatically not a book of humorous poems.  It is more a case of…

                                    that piano piece
                                                where everything comes together

                                                            the discords and the harmonies
balancing like oceans

                                                and every word scores a 50-point bonus’

                                                                                                (what I wish for you)

Poems of the exploration of being, opening doors and unexpected windows.  Not forgetting the 50-point bonus for those readers who love words and their manipulation.

Safety Matches
Poems by Arthur Amon
small print 2002
Review by Mike Riddell

Strike a Light

The latest volume of poems from Arthur Amon sneaks up on you like a prowling cat, continually tangling its claws playfully in the fabric of your imagination. There is little point in trying to remain aloof. You find yourself drawn into the game, teasing and taunting the metaphors, while occasionally a quick sharp simile slices the skin, reminding you that there is lithe animal menace at hand.

Amon is always fun, whether it's the 'gentle rain from heaven' of maggots testifying to the dead horse in the ceiling, or the 'persimmonious' reworking of Williams' famous poem 'This is just to say' as 'Jo's phone message'. As a poet, he never forgets his first duty of entertainment - the court jester with a love of ridicule, transcendence and the dance of meaning. There is always the sense of his own enjoyment, to which we are invited and from which we drink.

If a single word could carry this collection, it would have to be 'delight'. There is an irrepressible joy bubbling up from the heart of these poems, which is impossible to resist. Amon loves words, and his devotion to them allows us to get seduced a little as well. Heaven restores a cat's plundered testicles, 'motoring his pouncer'. A wedding is fanfared as 'the spring of our discotheque'. Always there is movement and energy; a constant verbal jig with phrases whirling and nouns skittering.

But it would be a pleasant mistake to skate the surface of these poems. They contain rifts and chasms - the dark shadows of caves with gloomy interiors. Amon is aware that 'words / are a gin trap; / jagged metal tearing through one leg, / pain like a loaf of bread / rising up through the body'. His use of the phrase 'this howling sorrow, this thing departed' is that of a craftsman in 'Villain (-elle)'. And the pain and pathos in 'like a small fish, you were drawn to the light' is just far enough off-screen to be overwhelming: 'in time the ginger-ale / goes flat in my fridge / and the neighbour's dog howls a frozen wind / no life is left in the kitchen'.

The title 'Safety Matches' comes from the poem 'training', with its aching lament for the love searched for but never found: 'no face flames / with a striking smile'. But in this collection, Amon has definitely scraped the head of his own creative talent along the rough strip of human experience. It has struck a spark, briefly flaring into a pool of light which beggars the darkness. Here is a major and maturing talent, not to be ignored.

Some Snippets
(Excerpts from "13 ways of looking at Arthur Amon)

Live performance style review by Ross Millar
Village Stage Area Head
Parachute Music Festival 2002-2003

Busts your guts with laughter
then rips out your entrails
as he scorches your social conscience.

Mind twisting, soul searching
Sometimes just plain weird
Always funny.

I heard
Arthur live.
I will never look at a cockroach the same way again.

Passers-by stop to listen
standing bemused
held captive by wonder
storing images to replay at a later date.

Poetry is an art, performance poetry is another art.

Arthur delivers the best of both. I have seen passers by stop to listen to the aural feast that Arthur serves with relish. Loud outbursts of laughter are common. But beware - this guy has a social conscience, and is likely to prick. Like prophets of old, Arthur is often disturbing, and his voice will lead us to rethink and repent.

Brenda Liddiard and Mark Laurent

“We have worked together with Arthur Amon several times.  He has a true gift for writing and performing poetry that is very original, always thought provoking, and often extremely humorous.  His exquisite timing and engaging personality make Arthur’s readings a rich and satisfying experience.

Arthur Amon Alive

A.J. Bell

The live poetic nerve is seldom tickled for me these days, but that all got shot to hell last week at a performance by local Grey Lynn poet Arthur Amon. The guy has a delivery and voice that leaves you on that fragile edge of laughter and profound seriousness. He had the Temple Bar audience in moments of bewitching quiet as his rhythm would build with wonderfully graphic poems about the politics of Grey Lynn life and then collapse into irony with a key turn of phrase allowing the bar to explode into laughter. That same irony is evident in his new book of poems entitled ‘Safety Matches’.

‘Safety Matches’ is Amon’s second book of published poems and showcases a unique New Zealand voice, original in its description of domestic New Zealand minutiae and their relationship to ever-present universal themes. Whether that be well known Grey Lynn resident Dave Dobbyn’s nightly encounter with a family of snails or the beautifully romantic ode to (?) Gwenitauri. Apart from being witty and expansive in his style the man is quite simply very clever with words. ‘Safety Matches’ is exceptional reading material, but it’s Amon’s crafted performance skills that make his slightly askew vision of New Zealand a refreshing delight to encounter. My poetic nerves tell me this is one voice to watch out for.

Dave White: English teacher

12 July 2002

To Whom It May Concern:

Arthur Amon has been a welcome and valued guest in my English classes at St Peter’s College in Auckland in 2001 and 2002.   As an ex-teacher himself Arthur is confident in choosing a great variety of poems, setting the right tone for the class (as teacher directed), and can relate and communicate well on a student’s level of understanding.

In my experience, his number of ‘quirky’ humorous pieces tend to disarm students with a resistance to poetry initially, and they tend to enjoy the rest of the presentation, and the more demanding, serious themed poems.  Arthur’s presentation is not dramatic or hyped but entirely engaging and can hold student’s attention.

Arthur has done 2 sessions for me.  One time he presented his poetry for the school in a lecture theatre style where three junior classes were invited (on a Friday last period!).  The class was for 50 minutes.  To his credit, Arthur won most of the demanding audience over mostly with the force of his poetry and delivery, and with a past teacher’s sense of pace (and pause and stare of course).  Arthur introduced the poems, sometimes making comment in regard to language features, and also allowed students the chance to question – which they enjoyed.  Another time, Arthur had a 30 student class which had worked with a number of his pieces before his arrival in the classroom.  Again the students enjoyed having a ‘real poet’ in their midst and were able to be challenged and inspired by Arthur being there to discuss his work.

I would recommend Arthur and his companion poems as complimentary to any teaching program and with any level of student (yr 9 –13).  He is flexible and could accommodate any request of an English Department or individual teacher.