A literary road between past and present
‘Peat' by Lynn Jenner a literary road between the past and the present
Otago University Press Media Release FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 17 JULY 2019
Peat is an unconventional text: an intelligent and beautifully refracted work that is haunting, fearless and utterly compelling.
The point of departure is Lynn Jenner’s study of the Kāpiti Expressway, built between 2013 and 2017 and passing, at its nearest point, about a kilometre from her own house. Jenner queries this Road of National Significance. How did it come to be built? What is its character? Who will win and who will lose from its construction? What will be its impact on the local environment?
‘When I decided to write about a road I knew it would not be easy,’ says Jenner. ‘Something about roads is the opposite of humanism, empathy, humour and whimsy, and these are my usual stock in trade.’
Peat is also the record of the engagement of one life with another. Jenner decides a fellow writer with different sensibilities might help her think about the natural world the road traverses. The New Zealand poet, editor, nature-lover, art collector and philanthropist Charles Brasch (1909–1973) is her choice. The poet offers different ways of thinking that help her understand these contemporary events.
‘I looked for a writer who felt connected to Aotearoa New Zealand’s land and trees and rivers. One of the features of Brasch’s ideas was a commitment to the quality of the future.’
She reads and reflects on Brasch’s memoir and writings, learning about the context of his family and New Zealand in the 1940s–60s, a counterpoint to her engagement with the official handouts about the new Expressway, and the voices of people in her local community talking about the road. Peat is non-fiction, made up of essays and poems.
The Expressway traverses land which is either sand dunes or peat swamps, which were a huge technical challenge to building a road whose long-term success is not certain.
Peat is an archive of what has gone before. ‘I like the idea of turning over the top layer of time and looking at the time just past,’ Jenner says. ‘There is plenty of knowledge there, if we choose to look.’
Lynn Jenner is a writer and teacher of writing. She lives on the Kāpiti coast north of Wellington. Her first book, Dear Sweet Harry (AUP 2010), won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Prize for Best First Book of Poetry. Her second book, Lost and Gone Away (AUP 2015), was shortlisted in the non-fiction category of the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards in 2016. Lynn has a PhD in creative writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University.
I can think of no other
piece of New Zealand writing that is really like Jenner’s
seemingly casual, but carefully constructed engagement of
one life with another, with its play of enduring values
against the grain of immediate contemporary experience. –
... intriguing and thought provoking; a cornucopia of literary history, biography, memoir, politics, community activism and stimulating ideas. Such an unlikely juxtaposition of subjects shouldn’t work but it does! – Mandy Hager