Bree Huntley studied literature with Brian Boyd at the University of Auckland. After several years studying and working abroad, she recently returned to Auckland where she works as a lawyer and enjoys writing fiction and poetry.
She agreed to share with us the sestina below, inspired by Nabokov's "strong opinions" that still linger in her mind.
When I’m bored I sometimes like to play this game
I call “What would Nabokov think?” Of the acrylic nose
Affixed to the wall of this gallery
In this case. Previously: an ad for milk, a shade
Of lipstick, a friend’s book of poems. His views are distinctly,
Unmistakably his own—it’s fun to take on his character.
“This snout,” he might say, “lacks the character
Of the fugitive one in Gogol’s wonderful game
Of signs and symbols—so obviously, so distinctly
That of Major Kovalyov. Note that this nose
Is poreless, hairless, a single flat shade
Of apricot, sleek as the marble floors of this gallery.
The little white index card the gallery
Has placed beside it sheds no light. Just a character
Sketch of the artiste, one Maud M. Shade,
Deceased. Perhaps it’s all a subtle game:
To evoke the freakish body to which the nose
Was once attached? Monochrome, spaniel-shiny, distinctly
Slippery, like a bar of Pears’ soap.” I think it’s distinctly
Possible that every single work in this gallery
Would revolt Nabokov. Yes, he’d be wrinkling his nose,
Making a moue of disgust, like his cruellest character
Watching two shapely ladies playing a game
Of tennis. In matters of art, he was an absolutist. No shade
And light. He despised the canvas daubed with a single shade
Of blue or ecru, the sculpture resembling nothing more distinctly
Than scrap metal. “Art is a game,” he’d say, “and there is no game
Without rules. This here is all gloss and dross; a gallery
Of Americontempo bluff-by-numbers guff—without character,
Without charm, without inspiration. Nose
Around and you’ll only find more of the same. This nose
Is just the beginning (though it haunts me like a shade).”
How I envy the ardor of his rants, the unwavering character
Of his opinions; rarely have I expressed a thought distinctly
My own. Maybe I should be judging the works in this gallery
For myself. Part of me thinks that this game
Is distinctly unhealthy, that I’m cowering in the shade
Cast by his character. But why speak from the peanut gallery
When I have the game? No one beats N at narrating a nose.