Bullet Hole Riddle by Miriam Barr
16th Jan 2015
Bullet Hole Riddle, by New Zealand poet Miriam Barr, is a meticulous and triumphant new collection. Each tightly crafted poem sits within the narrative arc of a young woman’s growth through the complexity of consent and assault; a journey to “make sense of an unwanted history.”
The collection is timely in light of the recent sexual violence headlines dominating New Zealand’s media. A group of young men, self-styled the ‘Roast Busters,’ are alleged to have intoxicated and assaulted a number of teenage girls, though no charges have been laid.
Barr speaks to the burgeoning gender discourse that brings such horrific events to the forefront of the public psyche. Bullet Hole Riddle finds a place alongside authors Patricia Lockwood, Eimear McBride and essayist Leslie Jamison. Barr speaks to the burgeoning gender discourse that brings such horrific events to the forefront of the public psyche. Bullet Hole Riddle finds a place alongside authors Patricia Lockwood, Eimear McBride and essayist Leslie Jamison. It also draws to mind Selima Hill’s award-winning collection Bunny, which chronicles a young girl in a twilit, shadowy and sexualised path to womanhood.
There are a number of spectacular pieces in Barr’s collection, but the standout is Observer effect. Its power is its elegance: it speaks to a thousand blog posts and feminist op-eds but reaches beyond, to the subtlety of a truth behind a movement. Also worthy of note is the imagery of Waves; “I am becoming a smooth pebble / or a mellowed-sleek piece / of broken glass… One day I will be softened / back to an embryo…”
The first section of the book features a number of recurrent motifs. Though verging on repetitive, it does stir a sense of urgency upon reflection and re-reading. Images shuffle shoulder-to-shoulder, clamoring in their furious need to be told. The frequently mentioned mouth that had “forgotten / the shape that ‘no’ makes” finds its place at the book’s centre as a visceral silence.
The Riddle – the final section of the work – strides towards a positive close. The language finds a less surreal, more confessional tone than the opening two thirds. It rings of the reclamation of self. The narrative grows, encompassing other women, other stories. There is a window here, for the reader to enter the work. The final poem, Exchange, offers the idea of the volume as a communal dream.
This collection is well worth the seven years it took to write. Barr has a confident, vibrant voice whose performance background has lent the work an understated yet theatrical flair.
Too often books by performance poets fade on the page. Miriam Barr’s first collection, however, has placed her firmly in the cream of today’s most exciting publishing poets. Bullet Hole Riddle is a brave, resilient story of a terror made mundane by notions of gender. It demands to be read.