time to sing before the dark

Helen Bascand

time to sing
before the dark

The Caxton Press, December 2018
paperback, 240mm x 170mm
94 pp
ISBN: 978 0 473 45128 8
rrp: $24.95

Flight, song, darkness and light, history, fable and furniture.
From the botanist to the birdcage, from rescue to ruin,
Helen Bascand’s fifth poetry collection charts a shifting, tilting world
with her customary elegance, wit and intelligence.

“These are wonderful poems, deceptive at times and almost conversations, albeit serious conversations leavened with a wicked wit. They puzzle at myth, at art and at the very nature of language and its inadequacies to express what can often only be felt. There is stillness here too, craft, balance and resonance. Above all, and shining throughout, there is a clear-eyed emotional intelligence, coupled with a well-honed poetic sensibility that fashions poems that linger, poems that demand our complete attention, poems to be thankful for.”
– James Norcliffe.

Helen Bascand was a stalwart of the Canterbury poetry scene – a long-time member of Airing Cupboard Women Poets, one of the founders of the Small White Teapot Haiku Group, and the author of four previous poetry collections. She was working on the poems of time to sing before the dark when she died in 2015, and the task of editing and assembling the collection was completed by her friend and literary executor, poet Joanna Preston.
(To read Joanna’s “Afterword” for the book, click here. To read “Editing Helen Bascand”, the original essay Joanna wrote about the process for the New Zealand Poetry Society’s magazine, a fine line, click here.)


Susannah Whaley, writing for The Reader, praised the poems’ “knack of making memories come alive …  illuminated by their mythic origins, but they read fluently without this knowledge, speaking on a human level. There is a sense of rebellion simmering, especially in the poems which treat on women … Perhaps why I found the collection so comforting was its appearance of simplicity, its elegant truths. … At the same time, it would be a mistake to call these poems simple. There are the wild moments which take breath away.”


Briar Wood, for Landfall Review Online, noted that “locations are deliberately blurred, indistinct, allowing the reader to identify with the experience rather than the place. Yet they are also, at times unapologetically, poems of surprising detail. … the voice is gentle but steely, soothing where there is lurking loss and sadness; poems mostly whistled and sung against the ravages of raptors and fitting testaments to an observant life well lived.”


Tim Jones, reviewing for takahe, called the poems “Skilled, precise, calm, humane, memorious. The work of a well-stocked mind with many years of thought, experience and compassion behind it. Serious. Intelligent. Controlled. … The rewards are many. Seriousness doesn’t preclude touches of dry humour … the everyday both emphasises and undercuts the profound.”


To purchase:

time to sing before the dark is available from good bookstores, direct from The Caxton Press or from the editor. ($24.95 including postage within New Zealand.)

To purchase from Caxton, please email libby at caxton dot co dot nz (replacing at and dot with the usual symbols). To purchase from the editor, please use the contact form below.