The writer Laura Solomon has written a very generous review of Ambient Terror for the just released Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2018.
Published by Massey University Press and edited by Jack Ross, the revamped magazine also features a wide range of work from New Zealand poets including a substantial feature on the work of Alastair Paterson, and a very wide range of established and less known poets, along with reviews and essays.
I’ve reproduced the review in full below (as you don’t get your tyres pumped up like this everyday), but I urge readers to purchase a copy of the Yearbook.
Ambient Terror is an excellent collection from the talented Victor Billot. He has his finger right on the zeitgeist, and accurately portrays the spirit of our times for New Zealanders. As the title would suggest, a feeling of unease pervades the poems, and they paint a realistic, if sometimes depressing, picture of life in twenty-first-century New Zealand.
There are some great comic moments, such as when the Prince of Darkness attends a Work and Income interview, although this poem also carries a serious message. Some poems are quietly moving, such as when Billot writes about a child who may be his son in ‘A Boy’, and the haunting final poem ‘Song of the Sea’ where the narrator intones:
The wind is blowing all night long
And from its thread it sews a song
You once were here, but now you have gone
The wind is blowing all night long.
The smart and enjoyable ‘FVEY’ is about the invasion of privacy in a digital age, and ends with the lines ‘Everything about you analysed, scrutinised and known.’
But just for now we’ll let you keep your unspoken thoughts your own.
A sense of fighting off the darkness and of the poet exploring various hells comes through in these poems. ‘New Seasons of the Blue Fields’ contains the line ‘sorrow flows through the streets like a river’, and in ‘Economics’ he ‘drives onwards, down the tributaries and channels of the Underworld.’
Familiar scenes from New Zealand life are depicted in poems such as ‘Westport Race Day’, where people place bets on horses named Southern Sky, Our Lad and No Regrets, or ‘Port Chalmers’, where the channel lights ‘wink the way home in a cheery salute of green and red’.
Teenage life is portrayed, too, in poems such as ‘Quantum Decoherence at a Bailter Space Gig’, where the narrator has his ‘neural networks reformatted’ and feels his life changed by the gig. In ‘Teenage Pissup on the Kaikoura Coast’ the poet heads north for New Year’s Eve fuelled by screwdrivers and Camel cigarettes, parties through the night, and in the morning drives into the rising sun in search of breakfast, which is found at the Kekerengu tearooms.
‘Trial By Fire’ is an eerie number which could be about the poet’s art or maybe just about getting through life in one piece. Perhaps the narrator is being ironic when he says ‘It is your choice, your decision’. He is put to trial by various subjects: water, disorder, ice, knife, blood, kisses, mirror, flood, number, winter and glimmer of hope. It seems these trials will go on forever as the poem ends with the line ‘trial from now until the end of the road’.
Victor Billot is a very gifted poet who deserves to be widely read; his audience his reward for depicting New Zealand life so well and having the courage to explore the infernal realms.