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Ambient Terror reviewed in New Zealand Poetry Yearbook 2018

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.

Ambient Terror  – a forthcoming review from Takahē

Takahē magazine and Shelley Chappell have kindly given permission for this review by Shelley to appear in advance of publication in the forthcoming issue 92 of Takahē.

Victor Billot is a Dunedin writer of poetry and short stories, also known for his work as a parliamentary candidate. A publicist for Otago University Press, he also sidelines as a vocalist for post punk band, Alpha Plan. Ambient Terror is his third collection of poetry, launched at the Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival in May 2017. Continue reading

Ambient Terror on Landfall Review Online

An insightful and generous review of Ambient Terror by Piet Nieuwland, alongside reviews of the great Peter Olds and Auckland poet Shane Hollands. Nice to be in such company.

“[A] rolling, blustering word-river of nanobytes, phrase chunks, alliterations and acrobatic satirical loops, held together by number-eight wire rhyme – great fun . . . 
My favourite poems in this collection have a distinctive urgency and rhythm and frequently use strong rhyme that drives them along. It is easy to imagine Billot on stage, performing them with energy and enthusiasm, whether it’s ‘Ghost beat’, ‘FVEY’ or ‘The oversharing economy’. The more time I spend with them, the more they infiltrate . . .” 

A tickle and a whack from the critics?

A mixed review for Ambient Terror by Nicholas Reid this week who feels the book is suited more to a live environment.

“Billot in his collection Ambient Terror practises poetry as provocation, as direct social, political and historical commentary, as satire and as protest . . . if I were at a poetry evening in a pub or city bar, I think I would enjoy listening to Victor Billot reading his poetry.”

“But here’s my problem (and, dare I say it, the problem of most performance poetry). Once you see such poems in cold print on the page, they often fall apart. Their populist rhetoric, their tricks and their political appeals lack nuance or (in many cases) craft.”

We appreciate all views and reviews positive, negative or wavering – make up your own mind by reading some of the poems on this site.