Nationality: New Zealander. Born: Jennifer Mary Bornholdt, Lower Hutt, 1 November 1960. Education: Victoria University, Wellington, 1981–84, B.A. in English literature 1984. Family: Married Gregory O'Brien in 1994. Career: Bookseller, Unity Books, Wellington, 1989–92. Since 1992 copywriter, Haines Recruitment Advertising, Wellington. Address: c/o Victoria University Press, P.O. Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand.
This Big Face. Wellington, Victoria University Press, 1988.
Moving House. Wellington, Victoria University Press, 1989.
Waiting Shelter. Wellington, Victoria University Press, 1991.
How We Met. Wellington, Victoria University Press, 1995.
Miss New Zealand: Selected Poems. Wellington, Victoria University Press, 1997.*
Critical Studies: By Elizabeth Caffin, in Landfall, 44(2), June 1990; by Margaret Mahy, in Landfall, 46(3), September 1992.* * *
Jenny Bornholdt has begun to accumulate a body of work that is recognizably her own. Her first book, This Big Face, shows her experimenting with two kinds of writing: sensitive, intimate lyrics and more outgoing dramatic dialogues, prose poems, and playlets, almost multimedia performance pieces. Both types, however, are informed by sharp observation and precise description of feeling and event.
Here are the first lines from "Breath":
Your warm breath
mists up my skin
like glass …
The conceit conveys the intimacy of the moment and also delicately hints at a coolness on the part of the speaker. There is a sense of fragility and risk in the third line, which leads on to
quick, finger in the message
write me a note of
I have forgotten already
what we are doing here,
why we lie this close
breathing each other's
breath this way
The medium (the misted glass) requires there to be "the message" that might help her recover the passion that is "forgotten already." Although this is a slight poem and the tension perhaps dissipates toward the end, it illustrates where Bornholdt's strengths lie.
It is with some assurance that Bornholdt tackles the challenge of the longer sequence in the title poem of Waiting Shelter and in "We will, we do," an exploration of family and origins and of the tension between New Zealand, where she was born, and her European heritage. In the shorter lyrics she continues to pursue her own individual vision: "You approach the world/with open arms and hope/it wants you. Hope to be/asked in to sit amongst the/fine furniture &//Here it is./Here's the world on a good/day, turned slightly/away, but this is no/offence, merely the sun was/in its eyes&" ("The Visit").
Bornholdt's collection How We Met opens with a set of eighteen poems whose titles are those of Estonian folk songs, for example, "My sister, my little cricket"; "Urging her into the boat"; "My mouth was singing/My heart was worrying." In the last the poem is merely a gloss on the title: "O deceptive mouth/covering up/for the heart like that." In several of these new poems the folk element combines with a surrealism that touched some of the earlier poems. In others she establishes a nicely judged balance of the passionate and the dispassionate, as in "Praising the cook":
They say the sexual impulse
is like a fiery horse.
When you break an egg
into the frying pan
it sounds like distant hooves
crossing a dusty plain.
Bornholdt's published volumes are interesting, if uneven, and it is clear that she enjoys her writing and wants her reader to experience and enjoy the world she creates. Not all of her poems work, but as a collection they show us a young writer with a feel for words, the patterns they make, and the resonances they strike.