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Reviewed by Remy Rusk
Opening sentence
“last night I locked eyes / with a possum / its gaze moon-dark / and gleaming / through the bedroom window / it trying to get in / me trying to get out” -“soulmates”
Lead Dodd’s Past Lives is an intriguing exploration of the human condition and how the past interacts with who we are in the present. This collection finds beauty in the mundane, imbuing it with deeper meaning. There are times where the work resonates indescribably, but you can’t pin-point why. There is music in these words; I’ve found the last lines of each poem playing on repeat in my head. Leah Dodd packs so much emotion into the last few words of each poem, even if you don't connect to the subject matter of a particular poem on the surface, you will feel a connection by the end. In addition to the strong endings of each poem, the titles are also excellent. My favorites are “all the leaves are brown and my heart is a cage-free egg” and “I am the ghost of the IKEA futon couch”. I love the contrast between the very wordy poems with simple titles like “spawning season", and the short poems with long titles like “how to astral project in a rental bathroom”.

“Tips for lockdown wellness” was incredible. I can feel myself there.

“let your body know / there is no tiger /
hold yourself close / say I am safe /
even if the tiger / has let himself in /
and is drinking / all the milk in the fridge /
then / all the water in the tap /
tell yourself / I am safe”
- “Tips for lockdown wellness”

We all had our tigers in lockdown, and it takes a lot of courage to fight them when there's nowhere to run. The use of the children’s story The Tiger Who Came to Tea as a way of representing darker themes created a juxtaposition between something familiar from childhood and dealing with adult demons, which made the poem very powerful. So many times while reading I had to stop and watch the trees outside my bedroom window sway in the wind and appreciate the birds coming and going. I often felt that the words could see right through me, underneath my skin and into the unknown void of my soul. I cried at the mundane, I laughed at the grotesque. Past Lives will know you better than you know yourself.

“Guided Hypnosis” pulled a flavor of disgust out of me that I didn’t know I could produce. The idea that we are connected to the past through our own vomit is equal parts disturbing and wonderful. It made me think of how the water flowing through our bodies today is the same water consumed by the dinosaurs; the past is constantly mixing with the present and meddling with the future.

To me, “ilovekeats69” speaks to the reality that the early days of the internet are long gone. We are entering a new age of mindless overconsumption that is entirely devoid of the magic of the early internet. The 2000's internet is trapped in the prison of nostalgia, the hours of exploration on Club Penguin are gone, as is the game itself. Spending time on the internet used to be pleasing and calm, “as if bathing in the warmth of unearthing lost treasure.” It was a place of easy discovery and hundreds of small adventures everyday. Now the magic is gone, replaced with doom scrolling and thumbnails clamoring for attention. I wonder if gen alpha will ever feel the magic we did.

I do have a few criticisms of this collection, but I think most boil down to personal taste. I found myself having to open google a lot to look up the references I didn’t get, and I didn’t really enjoy reading Past Lives until about nine poems in. It might just be that the first few poems didn’t connect with me personally, but it felt like it took a long time for them to all feel connected to each other. Initially it felt random, like the poems had nothing in common. While the use of white/blank space in lines can be used to make the individual words in a poem more impactful, I found that the technique was a bit overused and started to lose its effect on me. Because Past Lives is a collection of poems, and the use of blank space is a technique Dodd uses a lot, after a while it was a device that started to lose its impact.

I agreed wholeheartedly with the sentiment of “800 SEA ORCA”, “cow fund” had me longing for companionship I didn’t know I was missing, and “this night’s a write-off” put to words the silent struggle I had while writing this review:

“Nothing good will come from feeling /
too inspired /
only fingers that type quicker /
than the ideas come /

the poor ideas left back-straggling / and out of breath / saying
oh my god / please / just stop for a bit / we are actually trying to /
tell you / something cool”

- “this night’s a write-off”

Past Lives is interesting, and at times brilliant. Definitely worth a read if you’re interested in reading poetry that elevates everyday experiences.

- Remy is 16 and lives in Wellington.
Publisher: Te Herenga Waka University Press
ISBN: 9781776920686
Publication: 2023
Ages: 14+
Themes: Poetry, Realism.