Tuesday, September 2, 2014

candle by Hinemoana Baker


By the time I reach the basket of rose petals
held by the young girl with the green sash
there are none left. Still, she holds
the basket out to me

like an air steward offering sweets
in the last fifteen minutes of the flight.
I breathe in the smoke
of myrrh from the censer
and breathe it out towards your photograph.

If this were a waltz it might go something like:
in space sound don’t travel and everyone floats
won’t somebody light my candles

It would be sung in the voice you sang in
when you sang Johnny Cash
and there would be a visual element, of course
a silent film of a free diver
frogging down from the sparkling surface
to the place where the very water
becomes the sinking anchor tied to your feet.


The stone with a muka rope
tied through a single chiseled hole
the one we’ll give a name to when it washes up
a thousand years later in the shape
of an island white with gulls.


We wrote words on pieces of paper and stuck them to our foreheads.
My mouth was on the plastic tap sticking out of the plastic bag.
Later I used my lips to free the sound of an insect from you.
I miss you (buzz). Pass me your lighter.

When I opened the door there was a cake on the front porch.
Someone had made patterns of waves in the off-white icing.
A single word in capital letters sang itself in chocolate.

Oh where is the cradle and where is the crime
Won’t somebody light my candles
There’s fire in the chapel and ice in the rhyme
Won’t somebody light my candles


Is it possible to perform this word? To own this word?
To kick this word once in the face and want to do it again?
Is it something one can acquire, like land or collectibles?

Oh yes, yes it is a veritable killer whale of a word
creamy and foamy in its black and white propensities
and its refusal to speak English.


I am trying to leave you behind, my love
I am trying to leave you behind

The boat was a mouth, the word was a whale,
the moon was a flying fish, the swoop of a letter.
I miss you, it’s like a cave in this mouth.
It’s a terrible saxophone solo.
It’s what passes for a lie down.


from ‘waha | mouth’, Victoria University Press, 2014, posted here with the permission of the author

editor: Mary McCallum

waha | mouth
Hinemoana Baker's collection, launched last month is already being reprinted. An astonishing fact for a book of poetry in this country. It must surely make her a bestselling poet which is so rare as to be almost an oxymoron. And this wonderful woman who lives on the New Zealand's Kapiti Coast is not just a poet on the page but a poet of the mouth – a wonderful reader of her work, and a singer, too. waha | mouth – perfect. 

'candle' is Hinemoana's favourite in the collection. I asked her to send me her favourite and this is the one that arrived in my inbox not long after midnight. I'd been remiss in not contacting her earlier and in not buying the book – what was I thinking? I waited too long and the first print run simply sold out. An exciting thing to happen, and a tribute to the wonders of this wonder woman. 

In this poem, 'candle', is a mouth: a mouth that is a boat, that hauls in or rides alongside words as big as whales, that has in its recesses a cave of grief for a former lover who's died. A mouth that – with this person still alive and breathing – did it all: breathed, sang, named things, drank wine from a plastic tap, had sex, ate cake, smoked. And now I guess, blows out a candle – or lights one? – and tries to rest. 

It's so hard to write the poem of grief or absence, to make it approachable and fresh, and not to push the reader too hard to feel the deep upwelling ugly thing. 'candle' is powerful for its restraint and its ranging unexpectedness. For its cavernous, versatile waha that does everything except cry. I am hanging out for the whole collection now. Find it here.

Hinemoana Baker
credit: hinemoana.co.nz
Hinemoana – she of the top hat – is the current writer in residence at Victoria University of Wellington's International Institute of Modern Letters. She publishes and performs, has released 5 CDs of her music and poetry,  edited an anthology and teaches creative writing. Hinemoana is descended from Ngāi Tahu in the South Island, and Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa and Ngāti Ati Awa in the North. 

Her first book of poetry, mātuhi | needle, was co-published in New Zealand and the US in 2004. Actor, writer and artist Viggo Mortensen's publishing house Perceval Press co-published the book, which features paintings of Ngāi Tahu artist Jenny Rendell. Her second book of poems: kōiwi kōiwi | bone bone was published by VUP in 2010.

Hinemoana's first album, puāwai (Jayrem Records 2004) was a finalist for the NZ Music Awards and the APRA Silver Scrolls Māori Language Award. More on Hinemoana and her music and poetry publications here. And you can hear her singing ...

When you've read 'candle' please head into the sidebar to find a host of other wonderful poems by the thirty poets who are Tuesday Poets. They're poems either selected or written by them.

This week's editor Mary McCallum is a publisher with the new Wellington publishing house Mākaro Press which publishes poetry as part of its annual Hoopla series as well as individual titles. Mary is a poet herself, a novelist and children's writer. Her most recent book is 'Dappled Annie and the Tigrish' (Gecko Press 2014). 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Baobab Tree by Rachel Sawaya

You know he is there, standing
in a field, like all the others,
but he is not like them.
The children do not eat his leaves,
or sugar coat his pulpy fruit.
His trunk has not been stripped
by women hoping to calm
a fever. He cannot soothe you.
He can only hold you after
your last shred is torn away.

You were told anyone can visit him,
as long as they are respectful.
You let your blue bike fall into the furrows
and do not lean it on his girth.

You stand back and you can see
the knobbly places
where he might have grown
his freckled flesh over the bones
of young mothers,
dead in childbirth
or of dwarves,

to rest in the ground.

You step to the left.
A pale jumble is revealed
in his patulous maw. One sliver so tiny
it can only be an unborn finger.
Cradled, safe inside
his kind, woody womb.

Poem published with permission of  Rachel Sawaya
Editor: Andrew M. Bell

This poem won the Takahe 2012 Poetry Competition. The judge of that competition, Kerrin P. Sharpe, said of this poem: This is a sustained and mysterious poem which draws you into its mystery. I found myself being drawn into an African setting, perhaps along with others crowding round me, to witness the tree’s mysterious influence.”

I was immediately captivated by this poem when I read it in Takahe. Rachel paints a really vivid picture of this tree. I've never travelled to Africa, but these trees also grow in northern parts of Australia. For those readers unfamiliar with this tree, a magnificent example would look like this:

whereas the one described in this poem probably looks more like this:

or this perhaps:

You can interpret from the poem that this tree is special. It is venerable because of its age and it has attained a spiritual significance. This tree is not used like the others because of the power it emanates so, although it is not a pragmatic or utilitarian tree, "He can only hold you after your last shred is torn away."

For me the wonderful lines, "You let your blue bike fall into the furrows/and do not lean it on his girth" evoke the image of a child standing in wonderment and awe looking up at the tree.

I love the idea that this old tree is spreading and growing over the dead, reclaiming them into the natural world. And the tree, unlike humans, is not judgemental, but forgiving and it gives final resting place to "young mothers,/dead in childbirth/or of dwarves,/forbidden/to rest in the ground."

And I'm sure, poets being the word collectors that they are, like me, you will love the use of the word: "patulous".

Rachel's poem is so well-executed that like the child standing before the ancient baobab, I am in awe of its power and beauty.

Rachel has provided me with this short and very modest bio:

Rachel Sawaya is a New Zealand author and poet. She has won a few competitions and been published several times. She has a Masters of Creative Writing from Victoria University as well as sundry other degrees and diplomas. She tends to move around a lot. 

But I would like to add:

Rachel Sawaya won the Biggs Poetry Prize in 2011. She has been published in magazines such as Sport and Poetry New Zealand, and has self-published a YA novella under the pen name Joey Deleen.

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 publications are Aotearoa Sunrise, a short story collection, and Clawed Rains, a poetry collection. He is about to release his second poetry collection, Green Gecko Dreaming, before the end of this month.

Andrew lives in Christchurch and loves to surf. More of Andrew’s poetry can be found at Bigger Than Ben Hur. Or check out his website at: www.biggerthanbenhurproductions.com

Please take the time to read some of the other fabulous poems posted by the other Tuesday Poets in the sidebar to your left.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

lost and found on the b train in winter by Walter Bjorkman

i first heard the rumble, felt the roar, before i was born
in my mother’s own cave, on her doctor’s way
i first saw the white porcelain straps, felt the frayed straw seats
smelled the wet drying wool before i was one year of age
record snow the christmas eve three months before my birth
then every month thereafter – i rode the rails in that womb
while dirt-crusted plowed snowdrifts piled to the sky
and were covered anew, freshened again
bread factory aromas ran down from the street
the sugary candy factory ones too, the car would
rise and emerge into the light, a city-wide roller coaster ride
coney island began at the train platform edge
a distant cousin lived in an apartment above a store
the el curving just outside his window, near ebbets field
eyes wide at the gaps in the stairs, big enough i could fall through
my father’s hand safely protecting the climb
first neck nuzzles and thigh grabs after ice skating in the city
in the car-end lone double seat, our semi-private room
midnight heads on shoulders, pretending to be tired
while our hands began their moves
i now dream of dark browns, grey and black shadows
dashing, darting through vertical steel pillars, deep in this cave
avoiding screeching blue-sparks from across third rails
my mother holding our hands, safely leading the way

to my father, waiting on the platform across and above

Posted with permission from Walter Bjorkman.
Editor this week: Michelle Elvy

Interview with the poet

This poem opens Walter Bjorkman's new poetry collection, and sets the tone for the group of poems he presents in Strand. I decided the best way to tackle Bjorkman's poetry here was to talk with him directly. So I asked him a few questions and he was kind enough to provide not only his poem but a few more words and images  as well...

ME: Walter, I admire your new collection's opening poem  ‘lost and found on the b train in winter’ very much. It feels like a deeply personal poem, beginning with the mother and ending with the father. Can you tell us more about this poem and why it begins the collection? How does it set the stage – or, better put, mood of your poetry?

WB: Thank you, Michelle. I feel that almost all of my poetry is personal, or at least the poems that I write now. b train is a decade old, and really was the first one in which I broke away from writing poems just for the sake of writing, and put myself wholly into. I had not written poetry since the mid-sixties to the early seventies; those efforts addressed the requisite youthful world angst, and though highly personal, and some quite good, they were riddled with classical references and language that was not my real voice. When I returned to poetry in the late nineties, I at first did mostly descriptive poems, with my occasional personal insight. So this poem was the dividing line between then and what I do now and feel for that reason it was a fit to start the collection.

As to the mother/father transition, you are correct, that was intentional. As background, my dad died when I was nine, and the dream sequence at the end was a recurring dream I had for some years throughout my teens. So much of city life centred on the subways, so it was a natural setting.

ME: The poem ‘driveby’ (the second poem, previously published in Word Riot) strikes me for the simplicity of the moment, especially after the complexities of the opening poem. Can you share where this poem came from?

WB: This poem was written after I returned from a ride, perhaps the third time in two weeks, where on a lonely country road next to an open field, I passed by a very strange person who just stood there looking down the road as I approached, and as I got near, ran into the field and waved his arms to the sky, then fell down to the ground. After the third time I started wondering what it was all about and came up with this scenario, where of course I am writing about what might have led me to be this person.

ME: I hear Dylan in your poems – here and elsewhere. Tell us how music has influenced the way you hear poetry, and the way you write it.

WB: Having played guitar for 48 years now, it is innate. Whether I am writing lyric, narrative, free verse or prose poetry, I want the words to flow in a way that the reader will not stumble or pause over the words. Unless I want them to.

I also grew up listening to music when poetry, in the modern sense, was first infused into folk and rock & roll – Dylan above all, but others like Eric Anderson, Joni Mitchell, et al, so it was just a natural thing. Allen Ginsberg, on first hearing Dylan’s music, wrote, “I heard ‘Hard Rain’  and wept. Because it seemed that the torch had been passed to another generation, from earlier bohemian, and Beat illumination.” I was part and parcel of that generation, and although I was studying the masters from all movements back to Classic Greek through to the Beats, I could not read or write without the music of poetry, the poetry of music, in my inspiration.

ME: Warblers, starlings, magpies. Why do birds play such a central role in your poetry?

WB: Although a child of the city, I have spent thousands of nights in the country. Even in the city, I always seemed to become more aware when birds were around. They are harbingers, Greek Chorus, life affirmers and life critics. They are descendants of the greatest animals to roam the earth. All parts of nature can ‘talk’ to me in their own way, but none as much as they.

ME: Driving and motion seem to be two themes inherent in your work – themes that are, for me, deeply American. Do you agree that there is something about your poetry that captures something intrinsically American?

WB: Of course. Although first generation, and exposed to immigrant traditions at home and church as a kid,  I had the full American experience. My parents wanted me to grow up American, and, growing up in post WWII Brooklyn, I lived through and participated in the turmoil of the sixties in the USA, and all what followed to this present day.  Cars became the ultimate freedom, the means to motion and exploration. Outside of a summer at age ten in Sweden and Norway, and some Caribbean adventures, all my traveling has been in the US – I have been in 47 of the 48 contiguous states and all southern Canadian Provinces. I could not help absorb, and as a result it is reflected in my poetry.

ME: In the last poem – ‘beachcomber’s dirge’ – there’s a sharp sense of loss, and possibly regret. There’s a glance to the past – an echo, as the poem notes. Tell us how this poem found its place as the last in the collection. And how it reaches back to the opening poem and creates the complementary book-end.

WB: I ended the collection with beachcomber’s dirge because of the subject – knowing each year and day I will eventually be coming to my own end. There is some regret in there, but I feel it is more melancholia. I feel it is one of my best, and I wanted the reader to feel some closure, as the naturalist does in this poem. Life to me is a series of loss and gain, and, as Richard Manuel once said, “I just want to break even.”

Thank you, Walter Bjorkman, for the words and images. 


Walter Bjorkman is a writer, photographer, book & web designer and editor from Brooklyn, NY, now residing in the foothills of the Adirondacks. His works have appeared in Word Riot, Scrambler, Pirene’s Fountain, Poets & Artists, THIS Literary Magazine, Connotation Press, Blue Fifth Review, Foliate Oak, Wilderness House Literary Review, A-Minor, Blue Print Review, Metazen and many others. His collection of short stories, Elsie's World, was published in January 2011 and can be purchased on Amazon hereHis poetry chapbook, Strand, is both available from estore here, or Amazon here.

Michelle Elvy lives and works as a writer, editor and manuscript assessor based in New Zealand and currently sailing in SE Asia. She edits at Blue Five Notebook, Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction and Awkword Paper Cut, where she also curates a monthly column, Writers on Writing. She is also Associate Editor for the forthcoming Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton, 2015). Her poetry, prose, nonfiction and reviews can be found in various print and online journals and anthologies. More at michelleelvy.comGlow Worm and Momo, her home of eleven years.