The kōrero series is a collection of picture books made for grown-ups. They’re designed to showcase leading New Zealand writers and artists working together in a collaborative and dynamic way. Maeve Hughes reviews Shining Land, the second book of the series.
Looking for Robin Hyde
Paula Morris and Haru Sameshima
Massey University Press, November 2020
If eighty years after you died a writer and a photographer were to do a road trip plotting the places you’d lived in your life, what would the documentation look like? What would have happened to the buildings where you did your most important work, met your partners and made your children? Shining Land is the latest book from the kōrero series and sends writer, Paula Morris, and photographer, Haru Sameshima, on a road trip of the places from which writer Robin Hyde (1906-1939) stepped into the world.
The most beautiful photos in the book are the ones which show the discontinuity between our time and hers. The layers of paint and crayon scribbled over old chipped skirting and wallpaper. The photos are not small old black and white prints. They have not been found in old albums documenting a blurry past. They are fresh and taken with an eye that looks thoughtfully at the things that have changed amidst the things that haven’t.
Of the things that have not changed, between us and Robin Hyde, we have mountains and oceans. Sameshima captures great gasps of these views locating us broadly and undeniably in the New Zealand landscape. Of the things that have changed we can see the force of the years that have continued to push themselves into these landscapes. We see the stripped porches of the Queen Mary Hospital no longer a place for residents. We see the commercial carpet covering the disused rooms of the lodge Hyde spent years in. These rooms feel like empty classrooms yet something lingers in their shape that alights a connection to Hyde. The stairs she climbed every day to write in the attic of her lodge are still there and when Morris climbs them she writes: “Something about the attic excites us both: it seems alive with Hyde, or perhaps we feel close to her in this plain space; the shape would have been familiar to her, the quiet” (55).
Shining Land : pp. 48–49 Rangitoto ki te Tonga D’Urville Island and Te Aumiti French Pass, from French Pass Road, 2020. Photography by Haru Sameshima.
Morris’ writing is appropriately personal in response to Hyde’s own. It takes a familiar tone with the reader as she talks about the places from Hyde’s life that she visits. There is room for both authors in this book. The conversation flows easily between the two with Morris fluently quoting Hyde’s own words at the crux of each issue. Hyde does not feel like a stranger to us but rather a friend of a friend. Morris does not shy away from the subject of Hyde’s death. To shy away from death in a life like Hyde’s would be to ignore vast and important landmarks of it. She acknowledges the deaths which are important parts of Hyde’s life, her first baby, her jump into a harbour, the deaths she saw at war, as well as what simple details can be said of her final actions.
There are places that Hyde lived in which are now no longer a part of our landscape. Hyde spent a month in Whangaroa Harbour living in a shack among the mangroves. When Morris visits nearly a hundred years later “It’s impossible to identify the tongue of land where Hyde stayed. It may be paddock now” (64). Even the landscape has changed, folded under the weight of time and churned out new shapes. No one can expect to be remembered by the land which they lived in. Throughout the book there are photos of war memorials; man's attempt to set remembering in stone.
Shining Land demonstrates how Hyde is most clearly remembered through her own words. The ones she wrote of and by herself in her own time. As Sameshima’s photos show, her voice does not echo out of the places from which it once spoke. Those places are now filled with their own sounds. Instead Morris guides our minds to meet Hyde’s, safely set aside in the words which she wrote.
Thanks to Massey University Press we have two copies of Shining Land to give away.
Enter the competition here.
Shining Land : p. 40 Whanganui River view from Somme Parade, 2020. p. 13 Detail of the attic door, the ‘Lodge’, building 55, Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland, 2020. p. 32 Medical bottles display, Porirua Hospital Museum, 2020. Photography by Haru Sameshima.