Tuesday, January 27, 2015

matthew 11:28-30 by Hamish Petersen


Job. He wrote, “Why did I not perish at birth?”
“Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter
of soul?”
and I ask why He gave me breath and life.
“But man dies and is laid low”
“At least there is hope for a tree”


Tell me about light and life.
The same light that hides
That light seen but not touched
and like punching under water
leaves a thirst.
That life which leaves me, my soul back broke. Like I’m struck
at the ankle - left inch deep, unmoving, maybe shaking
shuddering. and then you can kick me.


Jesus told me his burden was light.

As he hung from it, hands pierced, thorns through the scalp,
he tells Matthew “my yoke is easy and my burden is light”.

Someone else told me it’s hard to keep your head up in the
You’re my rain and I’m looking for a thumb because my jaw is
Heavy with your eyes,
But heavy with your blindness
Heavy with your expectations that I will become what I am
meant to be
But still that I am nothing.

Jesus also told me that the spirit is willing but the body is
So what I say here means nothing If I don’t carry the yoke of
these words.

His burden was a hole in each hand, a crown on the head
and a tomb.

So if he could carry his yoke

I don’t need that thumb.
I can carry mine.

Posted with the permission of the poet
Editor this week: Andrew M. Bell

Hamish Petersen is a young poet whom I saw and heard reading as a Guest Reader at the Canterbury Poets Collective Spring Reading season 2014. I was immediately struck by the forcefulness, passion and conviction that Hamish conveyed when reading his work. Hamish is definitely a poet whose style is rooted in the oral tradition of poetry and his poetry possesses a potent extra dimension when read aloud.

When I watched him reading his work, I was fascinated by the way he really "inhabited" the poem so that he drew the audience in until they were tightly focused on his words, following him closely, almost like they were the poet's pillion passengers.

Although Hamish is a young poet with much life experience ahead of him, I feel that he has already forged a fairly mature voice which he applies to subject matter which is not easily pigeonholed.

In the poem above, I enjoy how Hamish uses punctuation in an unusual fashion so that it catches the reader off guard and often works in arresting interplay with the imagery. Some of Hamish's imagery catches me unawares, surprises me, and I love that. I keep returning again and again to that wonderful triplet in the second stanza: "That light seen but not touched/and like punching under water/leaves a thirst."

Hamish Petersen is still staking out the ground on his poetic journey, but I think he shows great promise and that we will be hearing a lot more from him in the future.

Hamish Petersen, the runner-up in the 2012 CETA Poetry Slam, has performed his poetry at the Pallet Pavillion Mid-Winter Market in Christchurch in 2013 and was a Guest Reader in the Canterbury Poets Collective Readers Series Spring 2014. Hamish also self-published a 20-page Chapbook of his poetry in 2013, entitled i am not a poet.

This week’s editor, Andrew M. Bell, writes poetry, short fiction, plays, screenplays and non-fiction. His work has been published and broadcast in New Zealand/Aotearoa, Australia, England, Israel and USA. His most recent publication is Green Gecko Dreaming, a poetry collection. Andrew lives in Christchurch and loves to surf. Some of Andrew’s poetry can be read at Bigger Than Ben Hur. His website is: www.biggerthanbenhurproductions.com

Please see the sidebar to the left for other Tuesday Poets' contributions this week. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

'Imagine a Woman Behind Razor Wire, Glimpsed' by James Owens, with art by Cheryl Dodds

Railroad Diary, Istanbul 2012 -- by Cheryl Dodds
A long time ago, when we lived in the sky….
But no, we never lived in the sky.
We invented that because of pain,
because desire tortures even the dirt and stones into division,
into definition fracture power solitude wall razor wire.
(But pleasure is also real. Joy is real. One autumn day, my wife
climbed a fence and stole from a farmer’s disregarded field,
knotty tart small apples burnished by the wind and the sun,
and she gave me one, though I watched her eat and tasted her mouth, instead.
Not everyone remembers that such things are possible, since they often happen only once.)
“Razor wire” is a slang term. Did you know that?
Industry professionals call it “barbed tape,”
which has a reassuring tone,
something your father would carry in his toolbox.
If no one beats you, how do you know who you are?
I insist on saying this plainly, without art:
if you remember joy, you should tell it
speak it
write it.
Once I found someone’s voice lying on the ground,
a little puddle or puzzle of utterances, desperate
and wet and confused by having been cut or torn from a warm throat.
I brushed it off, and it huddled against the inside of my hand,
nuzzling for safety. I held it to my ear,
and it was like the sea shouting in the vast rooms of a shell,
but not like that, at all.
Imagine a woman standing behind razor wire,
glimpsed, as you pass to your easy life.
This poem is not the gift of a woman’s voice.
See how external I have remained, despite certain maneuvers
that I hoped would bring me closer?
This poem is white noise leaning into silence.

Some gestures toward commentary on Cheryl Dodds’s "Railroad Diary, Istanbul, 2012":
1. My initial reaction to Cheryl Dodds’s extraordinary photograph was the thought, this forbids speech. The voice is caged. Not “the woman is caged” but her voice. Then there was long silence, while I wondered what I meant by that. I’m still not quite sure, though the poem makes little forays in that direction.
2. Geometry is a power here, and even if geometry is inevitably symbolic of tragic-historical forces adumbrated in the photograph’s title, in the woman’s dress, in the intrusion of “Western” repressive measures of control (razor wire) into what could have been a peaceful “Eastern” scene, still it is line and plane, as if drained of detail to reveal underlying structure, sky and wall and roof’s edge and drastic perspective that forces the human figure into one narrow corner of this near-abstract composition. She is held at this distance. She cannot come forward. We cannot go toward her. We cannot hear her speak, though this is what I desired.
3. Does it matter very much whether the woman is trapped inside the wall or outside? Either way, it is division that is heartbreaking, though division is also the birth of desire. (Underneath the writing of the poem, though unspoken inside it, is the likely etymology of “paradise” in Persian as something like “place enclosed by walls,” the sacred as set apart, the desirable as distanced. What, then, does it mean to stand outside of a prison?)
4. In a world supersaturated with images, including images from this photographed woman’s part of the world, images whose narrative we tend to consider transparently understandable, it is of great value to be reminded of the silenced voice that would speak outside of our expectations, the surface of the image that rejects our wish to hear (understand, empathize), the voice an object of desire like the luminous fruit in the now-long-forbidden garden. (Oh, but these fragments don’t say what I wanted to say.)

Copyright James Owens. Posted with  permission by the poet. 

First published at Blue Five Notebook in the December 2014 year-end issue, in which the editors asked poets and fiction writers to contribute works based on a piece of art or photography. Other ekphrastic works can also be found in this issue, here
JAMES OWENS has published two books of poems – An Hour is the Doorway (Black Lawrence Press) and Frost Lights a Thin Flame (Mayapple Press). His poems reviews, translations, and photographs appear widely in literary journals, including recent or upcoming publications in Superstition ReviewValparaiso Poetry ReviewPoetry Ireland ReviewThe Cresset, and The Stinging Fly. He lives in central Indiana and northern Ontario. 

CHERYL DODDS was co-editor/publisher for Urban Spaghetti, a literary arts journal. Her artwork has taken the form of mixed media, graphite drawings, photography, painting, woodcuts and multimedia as well as a few conceptual art projects. More of her work is online at AbsoluteArts.
MICHELLE ELVY, TP Hub Editor, is a writer, editor and manuscript assessor based in the Bay of Islands but currently in SE Asia. She edits at Flash Frontier and Blue Five Notebook. She is also an associate editor for the forthcoming Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton, 2015) and co-ordinator of New Zealand's National Flash Fiction Day, More at michelleelvy.com (editing),  Glow Worm (poetry and fiction) and SV Momo (sailing).

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

No Coward Soul is Mine by Emily Brontë

No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world's storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heaven's glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from Fear.
O God within my breast,
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life - that in me hast rest,
As I - Undying Life - have power in Thee!
Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men's hearts, unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,
To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thine infinity;
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of immortality.
With wide-embracing love
Thy Spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears
Though Earth and moon were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou wert left alone,
Every Existence would exist in Thee.
There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou - Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.
I defy anyone who has read Wuthering Heights not to see a young woman roaming around the moors while writing that poem.  And what a brave poem it is!  So far from the sugary images of Christmas that many of us are now being force fed, like unfortunate French geese suffering gavage.
Indeed, the poem seems almost not to be confined within any one religion, but to be a unique vision of the writer's direct, unmediated relationship with God. There are references to a 'steadfast rock', but the human attempt to describe that rock seems best achieved by verbs: 'Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears'.
In that relationship with God, the poet is not confined by gender, place or time, and the radical  aspects of the poem's language seem to strain towards conveying this.  'Faith shines equal'.  Of course, the human world does not allow such freedom, then, when Brontë was writing, or now.  And the need to convey meaning ensures that even this poem is an aspect of a community, but it is as much a prayer as directed towards any reader.  Note that death is a 'he', but God is simply Thou throughout.  It is a terrifyingly intimate revelation, and a poem that I feel privileged to read, again and again.

This is the last Tuesday Poem for 2014, so I get to wish everyone a wonderful end of year and a joyous Christmas for those who celebrate it.
Let's hope for a more peaceful and inclusive 2015.

Editor P.S. Cottier blogs at pscottier.com

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Being here, by Vincent O'Sullivan, New Zealand Poet Laureate

It has to be a thin world surely if you ask for
an emblem at every turn, if you cannot see bees
arcing and mining the soft decaying galaxies
of the laden apricot tree without wanting
symbols – which of course are manifold – symbols
of so much else? What’s amiss with simply the huddle
and glut of bees, with those fuzzed globes
by the hundred and the clipped out sky
beyond them and the leaves that are black
if you angle the sun directly behind them,
being themselves, for themselves? I hold out
my palms like the opened pages of a book
and you pile apricots on them stacked three
deep, we ask just who can we give them to
round here who hasn’t had their whack of apricots
as it is? And I let my hands tilt and the plastic
bag that you hold rustles and plumps with their
rush, I hold one back and bite into it and its
taste is the taste of the colour exactly, and this
hour precisely, and memory I expect is storing
for an afternoon far removed from here
when the warm furred almost weightlessness
of the fruit I hold might very well be a symbol
of what’s lost and we keep wanting, which after
all is to crave the real, the branches cutting
across the sun, your standing there while I tell you,
‘Come on, you have to try one!’, and you do,
and the clamour of bees goes on above us, ‘This
will do’, both of us saying, ‘like this, being here!’

From Further Convictions Pending: Poems 1998–2008 by Vincent O’Sullivan. Posted with permission. I chose this poem for its great sense of being in the moment and its laid back feeling of summer's best, an ideal way to approach the 'silly' season.
Further Conviction Pending
Further Convictions Pending

This week's Editor, Helen McKinlay continues; 'on a sunny October day in Takaka, the first for a while and therefore not a day to expect a good audience, Vincent O’Sullivan, New Zealand’s Poet Laureate, spoke to a full and attentive house...the best the librarian could remember for a poet. Vincent had no need for a microphone. He read the poem above and some love poems. He read us a story from Families (Victoria University Press 2014) his latest book of short stories. We were enthralled and amused and, I felt, in a strange way comforted.'

Vincent O'Sullivan
'I think that was his ability to talk to us and with us rather than above us. He also demystified poetry, which is exactly what a poet laureate should do. Listening to Vincent speak, I was impressed at the way he encouraged poets to write according to their own beliefs and values and trust in their own style. I thought more about some of his ideas and had some of my own I wanted to run by him and Vincent readily agreed to join me in a discussion for this page. You can read the results below.'


HELEN: To me it takes a lot of courage to be authentic in what one writes but it is that authenticity that gets the message across to the readers. I think most 'good' poets have that quality, that sense of being faithful to one’s own beliefs and values, free from peer pressure.

VINCENT: Yes, 'authentic' can be a troubling word, in that one person's authenticity may well be another's 'sincerity', which we know is a word that rightly unsettles critical discussion. At the moment, when as writers and readers we're under constant pressure of just too much information – numerous blogs and gossip sites, too much advice, too much clamour with vested interests, perhaps the hardest thing is to keep one's head, if not above, at least out of range of much of it. That's what for me authenticity comes down to – trusting your own voice, not because you think it superior, but because that is the only honest thing you can do – take the responsibility for what you write and think, without an eye to pleasing some other standard than your own, or letting your ear be captured by the most 'advantageous' clamour or clique. Poets graze with a herd only at their peril. As Chekov said, more or less, there's no such thing as a 'team' when it comes to writing. Nor is it a beauty contest. You don't have to sashay for the judges. Readers may go along with your own take on 'authentic' or dismiss it. That's not your business as a writer, which is to get language, form, the rest of it, 'lined up' with what can be said, without compromising oneself. It's about the most we can hope for.


HELEN: Writing in the first person gives an immediacy and an intimacy to the poem which allows the reader to experience an event for themselves. It seems to me that use of the “I” word is still frowned upon by many. Perhaps it’s a leftover from the days of ‘letter’ writing when too many “I”s implied an obsession with oneself.
You yourself mentioned the fact that poetry written in the first person is often assumed to be true, whereas fiction is not. This, you said applied to your own poetry, i.e. a love poem by you was not necessarily about you.

VINCENT: Yes, it still surprises me how difficult it can be for some readers to accept that the ‘I’ of the poem is not necessarily autobiographical. We seldom assume that with a short story or a novel, yet in poetry the first person can be as much a fiction as it can in prose. As Evelyn Waugh neatly put it of his own fiction, ‘I am not I, you are not he nor she, they are not they.’ Whatever else it is, any kind of writing is ‘made up’.

Us,  then, Vincent's latest poetry collection
and Poetry winner of  NZ Post Book Awards 2014


HELEN: So many people angst about the meaning of a poem as if it were compulsory that they give an immediate analysis of what the poet meant. It worried me too once but now I find it easy to enjoy a poem without being able to pin down its meaning. Such things as the sounds of the words and the rhythm, matter just as much. I like to think that a reader has space to use their own imagination and thus extend the meaning of the work.

VINCENT: Some very good poets, like Robert Graves, insist that the least a poem should do is to make good prose sense. Others think quite the contrary – Wallace Stevens’ remark, for example, that ‘poetry should resist the intelligence almost successfully.’ The overarching fact of poetry is that it offers a swathe of possibilities, from total clarity to the most elusive symbolism. There’s no obligation to admire every kind of poetry, and there’ll always be enough of what we do care for us not to fret about what we don’t.


HELEN: It seems to me that poets talk about narrative in poetry but not so much story. You said that story is what drives your poetry. And yet a poem based on a story can often end up as poetic prose and at that stage we reach the discussion about what makes a poem a poem. 

VINCENT: Once we have written a couple of lines, we are engaged with a narrative whether we like it or not. Even in what we might consider the purest lyric, there is a dramatically ‘staged’ voice, and so the fragment of a story, if not a completed one. What I mean by ‘story drives my poetry’ is that we can’t get out of the language we use, out of context, away from situation. And that’s a story.


HELEN: One of the most popular questions for writers apart from where do you get your inspiration from is the one: 'How many hours a day do you work?' Your own comment on inspiration, incidentally, was not to wait for it just get on with writing. In my experience writing isn’t just about sitting down with a pen and putting words to paper or on the computer, for so many hours a day. One needs to get out and about give it a break. My mind then clarifies, comes up with better ideas, works on its own.  

VINCENT: Almost anything one says is likely to be a generalisation, and so immediately suspect. Every writer’s way of working is likely to be distinctive to him or her, and I’m hesitant to say much about this side of being a writer. Until the poem or whatever is actually completed or published, to talk about it isn’t much more than chatter.
         Vincent with his tokotoko matua the laureate's talking stick.
Photo by Mark Beatty, National Library NZ.

HELEN: You have a reputation for being a hard worker…you certainly have a large output. Stephen Stratford quotes you as saying, "I see myself as someone who buggers around a lot. I can go for weeks without writing a line, then work hard for a week or so.”

VINCENT: I meant it’s important to have time when the business of writing doesn’t matter. Life’s bigger than that. And yes, like many writers I suppose, I’d prefer to be lazy, but you don’t quite have the choice.


HELEN: Your answers to the above questions all enforce the importance of freedom to a poet, that sense of being faithful to one’s own beliefs and values, the personal authenticity. The poet and writer Annie Dillard once said There is always the temptation in life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for years on end. It is all so self-conscious, so apparently moral. But I won't have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous ... more extravagant and bright. We are ... raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.’ 

It is sad that many poets have been imprisoned for espousing the same ideals but I must admit that I was startled when I read the words ‘I miss pure evil’ the first line of your poem Freedom (Us, then 2013) which continues;
‘I miss the hiss when glaring iron goes dunk into water.
I miss God…’
This poem bought up many thoughts for me, among them, isn’t there enough evil without missing it? Is he giving us a wake up call? And then I refocused on the title…FREEDOM.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, ‘Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility' (an oft-quoted phrase). 'For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.' It is this concept, that makes your line ‘I miss pure evil’ in relation to freedom, so interesting. You could be talking about the freedom which comes from redemption, or the Rasputin like need to sin in order to be forgiven. And then there is the concept of original sin. Or as American singer Don Henley said, ‘in the old days, words like sin and Satan had a moral certitude. Today, they're replaced with self-help jargon, words like dysfunction and antisocial behaviour, discouraging any responsibility for one's actions.’

VINCENT: New Zealanders, for all our self-flattery about being independent and the rest of it, can be pretty timid souls, and to say anything too directly can rattle our assumptions about ourselves. We don’t like being uncomfortable, we don’t like being thrown into responsibility, hence a soothing political blandness, as we well know, immediately appeals to us. What I was getting at in that poem is that if we sign away our conceptions of good and evil, this can lead to a fairly colourless or deluding life. It doesn’t mean one has to embrace absolutes, but it does mean deciding where one’s boundaries reside. I dislike our easy ‘middle of the road’ sloppiness about certain issues because taking a considered stand isn’t always ‘nice’ or agreeable.

HELEN: Yes what you say is true. It isn't always 'nice' or agreeable. But sometimes it's worth the risk. Thank you Vincent for joining me in this short discussion. This extract from your poem 'Puritan Sunday' (Us,  then, 2013) seems an appropriate way to finish

                ‘if the shelves in the kitchen are to be
arranged with the labels always neatly printed,
both myrrh and arsenic forbidden substances,
the glass-case locked with its glinty sequins,
the Coronation clackers, the sentimental
mementoes grubbed with thumbs,
                                            then count me out.

Editor's Note: Vincent shares another poem today which I have posted on my blog gurglewords. 'Not included in the footnotes' is a wonderful poem, full of humour, which illustrates what Vincent has said himself, that Catholicism was part of his upbringing, one of his main environmental influences. 
I am very appreciative of the time Vincent has spent on the above topics and the careful consideration he has given each one. Thank you for that Vincent and for sharing your wonderful poetry with us. May the next year of your laureate bring you much pleasure! 

Biography Books Interviews and Commentaries:
Vincent O'Sullivan has publications in most branches of literature, from short stories to poetry, to biography, to plays and novels. He is also the recipients of many awards. His NZ Book Council page here gives a comprehensive list. Below are a selection of other useful websites for those who want to know more.

Vincent's Poet Laureate Blog: As Poet Laureate he keeps a blog, one which features other poets (‘I’m not one to write about myself.’) go here to read it.
Biography and books: go to Victoria University Press
Human interest article by Stephen Stratford:  go here
Live interviews
1.Kathryn Ryan talks to Vincent on Radio New Zealand National, about his work and life and also, Requiem for the Fallen, his collaboration with NZ composer Ross Harris, written for the centenary of the  First World War.
2. Arts on Sunday with Lynn Freeman. On Radio New Zealand National.Vincent discusses his collection of poems, Us, then, and how his move to Dunedin has found its way into his writing. 
1. Go to  Victoria University Press for a number of mini reviews of his poetry.
2. Go to the The Poetry Archive an initiative of the British Arts Council for an in depth commentary.
3. Go here for the Listener Review of Us, then, Vincent's last book of poems.

This week's editor Helen McKinlay is a published poet and children's author who lives in the top of the South Island, New Zealand. She blogs at gurglewords.

Please check out the rich variety of offerings from other Tuesday Poets in the left hand sidebar. And do have an enjoyable and relaxing festive season and a Happy New Year.