Tuesday, August 31, 2010

'The Moonmen' by Anna Livesey

On the last night the moonmen came.
We woke at an unaccustomed time and knelt by the window.
The moonmen pushed lines out in front of them,
they marked off their territories with orange markers.
The moonmen made a regular thud thud like a generator.
They walked in spaces we were used to seeing cordoned off.
It was a strange light the moonmen moved in -
a greeny glow they brought themselves, a glow that reflected
off their white suits and off the shiny visors curving stiffly
across the front of their heads.
We were leaving in the morning and so we said
'the moonmen need not concern us', and
'we will pack up the kitchen and say goodbye to the cat'.
Still, it was a funny thing they came at just that time -
I thought perhaps they were acting something out for us
while we crouched below the windowsill
and our knees grew tired and stiff.

From 'the moonmen' (VUP, 2010)

This poem has such a strong sense of mystery, but remains grounded in the real world with references to the cat, kitchen and windowsill - the solid reality that protects the poet from the 'green glow' and deliberate yet dream-like motions of the moonmen. I don't know what's happened here - it could be as simple as roadworks or as devastating as nuclear war - but the image of the crouched observers and their apparent relief at the presence of the moonmen (are they here by coincidence or necessity?) is such a perfect note to end on.

Anna Livesey's first collection of poetry, Good Luck, was published by VUP in 2003.

This week's editor is Wellington poet and teacher Saradha Koirala whose first collection Wit of the Staircase (Steele Roberts) was published in 2009. Saradha has a Nepali father and Kiwi mother who, she says, encouraged her to get out of sticky situations with wordplay and well-timed wit. 

Visit her blog, and then take time to visit the other Tuesday Poets on our live blog roll. 

This poem is published with the author's permission. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

'Time' by Ursula Bethell

‘Established’ is a good word, much used in garden books,
‘The plant, when established’ . . .
Oh, become established quickly, quickly, garden
For I am fugitive, I am very fugitive – – –

Those that come after me will gather these roses,
And watch, as I do now, the white wistaria
Burst, in the sunshine, from its pale green sheath.

Planned. Planted. Established. Then neglected,
Till at last the loiterer by the gate will wonder
At the old, old cottage, the old wooden cottage,
And say ‘One might build here, the view is glorious;
This must have been a pretty garden once.’

From a Garden in the Antipodes (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1929)

This poem is very representative of Ursula Bethell, (1874-1945), New Zealand’s foremost garden poet. She knew first-hand the enjoyment and satisfaction of digging the soil, of cultivating and tending to plants. But it was more than practical or aesthetic. Her interest was driven by a sense of the enormity of time and space. Her poems have the backdrop of the sublime. She stops gardening work every now and then to look at the mountains, serene and timeless, backdrop to her labour.

A contemporary, D’Arcy Cresswell, said, ‘New Zealand poetry wasn’t truly discovered until [she], "very earnestly digging”, raised her head to look at the mountains.’ For a brief spell – ten years - the serenity and comfort of Rise Cottage on the Port Hills above Christchurch inspired Bethell to create many fine poems.

Cresswell’s comment must be seen in the context of the time (late 1920s). Most of her contemporaries tended to the sentimental or bombastic nationalism. Unlike many of her generation she searched for meaning and identity in New Zealand. The tensions between her English origins and her antipodean existence were resolved by her stewardship of her small spot of soil. Unfortunately, when her companion, Effie Pollen, suddenly died, her ‘small fond human enclosure’ was destroyed and her poetic voice became silent.

The poem is aptly titled ‘Time’, which has been a poetic theme down the decades. Sometimes it’s the enemy. Keats’ ‘when I have fears that I may cease to be’ springs to mind. But he’s a Romantic. Bethell’s a convinced Christian. Unlike Baxter or Hopkins her poems are not about spiritual wrestling. They rest in a certainty I envy but do not possess. Time is usually approached metaphorically. The rise and fall of nations is one way. More common is the human life span – Shakespeare’s seven ages of man from ‘As You Like It’ from ‘mewling and puking infant’ to adult who procreates, plans, works hopes, prays and fights before the person fades away ‘sans teeth, sans eyes, sans everything’. 

This process makes room for new generations – the continuity of the species, the rule of nature. The seasons are another obvious measurement of time. Bethell in this poem uses the garden to present the passage of time. I love the use of the word ‘fugitive’. It’s so apt. It puts us in our place. Then the lovely ‘ripeness is all’ of the white wisteria in the sunshine. And so to the abandonment and the suggestion that someone else will restart and remodel the garden. All in good time!

Is this a New Zealand poem? I think the last line indicates it is. It’s a pioneering land – deserted houses and gardens. It’s also a very Canterbury poem representing the values of my upbringing. Time has moved on since Bethell wrote it; but it still rings bells in my soul.

More on Bethell here

This week's editor Harvey McQueen is a New Zealand poet and memoirist whose work - including This Piece of Earth: A Life in My NZ Garden (Awa Press) - often focuses on domestic life and the pleasures of a garden. He is also the editor of innovative poetry anthologies. A retired teacher, Harvey blogs regularly including a poem every Tuesday.  

More poems from our Tuesday Poets are in the live blog roll in the sidebar. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"The Astounding Circus of Dr. Tourette" by Heather Davis

The urge to tic—they say it’s like an itch.
I try to imagine this, to be you for one
involuntary moment, forever
suppressing, tamping down, betrayed
by neural pathways. It’s always
eye blink, hand twitch, ghostly
falsetto in the throat, that random soundtrack.
I see how it becomes
a circus in here
but you can’t charge admission
to the strangers who stare, the bosses
who wonder, the mothers as they
pull their children back for fear
something may be catching. At least
you don’t curse out of turn, hurl
insults without cause though I know
you want to and would be
wonderful at it. Not so long ago,
we would have called a priest
to exorcise your demons
or asked for the shining
shock therapy machine. Both
would fail. I am only beginning
to understand what this
possession must be like and already
I feel singled out, unbearably eccentric.
Pretending to be you, I’m like
the bearded lady, resigned
to her stage, who’s learned
to take comfort in the antics of monkeys,
and in the shocking boom
of the human cannonball, who
revels in the backstage benders of clowns
as they wash away their sadness, who’s come
to love her own exact and beautiful
separation from the crowd.

In this wonderful poem, Heather Davis lets us enter the mind of compassion. As readers we alternately step inside and outside the skin of an exotic other, attempting to understand, as the speaker does, what it feels like to "be you for one/ involuntary movement", to have "strangers who stare"," bosses who wonder". Through the intimacy of Davis's well chosen imagery, we grow strangely accustomed to, and even excited by this new "circus" life, becoming "like/ the bearded lady" whose wisdom and self-acceptance leave us with a deeper understanding of the pain and joy that coexist in that "exact and beautiful/separation".

Heather Lynne Davis earned a B.A. in English from Hollins University and an M.A. in creative writing from Syracuse University. She attended the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets, and is a winner of the 1991 Hayden Carruth Poetry Prize at Syracuse University, a Larry Neal Writer’s Award, and the 2007 Arlington County Moving Words Poetry Contest. She is the author of The Lost Tribe of Us, which won the 2007 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Cream City Review, Poet Lore, Puerto del Sol, and Sonora Review, among others. She lives in Front Royal, Virginia with her husband, the poet José Padua, and their daughter. With her husband she writes a blog about post-city life in small-town America called Shenandoah Breakdown. Her book is available at Main Street Rag Press

“The Astounding Circus of Dr. Tourette” is published on Tuesday Poem with permission. Eileen Moeller is a poet from Philadelphia, Pa. Visit her Tuesday Poem on her blog And So I Sing: Poems and Iconography, and the other Tuesday poets using our blog list.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"Driving Home from Elizabethtown," Bert Stern

"Driving Home from Elizabethtown" 

At the top of Spruce Hill,
just before the highway
plunges into the valley,
the wide sweep of mountains
gathers me in to its shadow
and silence,  holds me,
until I am ready to fall
with the turnings of poplar
and oak. Through the windshield,
even the thin rain that takes on
gold light from the sun in its falling
is fuel for the burning.

by Bert Stern, from Steerage, published by and available from Ibbetson Street Press, Somerville, MA.

     Bert is Milligan Professor Emeritus at Wabash College and chief editor, retired, at Hilton Publishing. He and his wife, the poet Tam Lin Neville, co-edit a small press that publishes book by poets over sixty. He has taught at a program for folks on probation in the Boston area for the last ten years.
     His essays and poems have appeared many places. His critical study, Wallace Stevens: Art of Uncertainty, was published by the University of Michigan Press in 1965.
     Aside from all this and much more, he's a good conversationalist.

I have been waiting to post this poem when my turn came because I am truly not the least bit interested in reading descriptions of countryside, the outsides or interiors of houses or of clothing. But I found the spare use of what Bert noted outside of the car was so compelling interwoven into an intense inner dialogue that even I couldn't ignore it. 

I'm going to risk adding a long second poem because it gives an idea that my diagnosis that he's a good conversationalist is correct.

Hot Food

Back in a then so long ago there was nothing to look back to
and the long ride to Charley's farm in Ontario was an adventure,
we were happy in the car, Mother singing songs of longing
that she looked back to from when she was a child in the war,
and the long, long roads a-winding pointed to the peace
we had now, there in the car, before the new war came on,
and Daddy happy driving, getting lost to see what he could see,
though we'd all beg him to go by the map, and my sister and I happy
to see them happy so we'd sing along, oh, Keep the home fires
burning, while our hearts are yearning, for the feeling,
not knowing yet what people longed for in long wars, but free,
on the road, and though I'd sometimes get car sick my mother
would give me a lemon to suck on and then I'd be okay, back then
I'd see road signs that called out, Eat or Hot Food, and because
we'd never stop, hot food seemed to me mysterious, particular,
food that I'd never eaten but naturally yearned for.

Later, on another time, driving through the night
     to the City from Buffalo
with Gita Nonni in a four-door convertible in December
     without a heater
and only a blanket over our laps to keep us warm and singing I can't
remember what but probably the lovely songs Susanne Bloch
sang to her lute, or songs the Wobblies sang, I learned that hot food
was open turkey sandwiches with mashed potatoes and delicious
floury gravy, hold the over-cooked peas. We'd had our own war by 
then, and after that war came new hot foods, pizza, egg foo yung,
    vegetables cooked right.
But it isn't the food I am trying to get at as much as time, time that
has carried me past so many shoals and rapids, so many songs and
     tears and wrongs,
so many sweetnesses and Look!-We-have-come-throughs
to this Now, lavish with the so-much-to-look-back-to.

Poems published with permission from the author.

Melissa Shook is this week's editor on Tuesday Poem. She is a photographer, filmmaker and poet who lives in Boston, US. Visit her blog here and the links to the other Tuesday Poets are in the live blog roll in the sidebar. 

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

‘Love at Livebait’ by Gillian Clarke

for lmtiaz and Simon

That time she stepped out of the rain
into the restaurant, and suddenly I knew.
Beautiful in her black coat,
her scarf that shocking pink
of fuchsia, geranium, wild campion,
and he at the table, his eyes her mirror.

She said she didn't know then –
but the light in her knew,
and the diners, the cutlery, the city,
the waiter filling our glasses with a soft
lloc-lloc and an updance of bubbles,
and the fish in their cradles of ice,
oceans in their eyes,

and all the colours of light in a single diamond
sliding down the window to merge with another.
Later, saying goodnight in the street,
they turned together into the city and the rain.
On the pavement one fish scale winked,
like a moon lighting half the planet.


Gillian Clarke is a Welsh poet, playwright, editor and translator, and one of the most important figures in contemporary Welsh poetry. She was also my tutor on the MPhil at the University of Glamorgan.

She's best known for her poems about the natural world, war, and womanhood. I chose this poem from her most recent collection, A Recipe for Water, to show another side of Gillian's work. A love poem for someone else's love, and set in a city landscape. To me it still speaks unmistakably in her voice: that final image of the fishscale, and that disquieting image of a moon lighting only ‘half the planet’.

A love poem with a twist. And a poet who deserves to be better known.

‘Love at Livebait’ is published on Tuesday Poem with permission of the author, Gillian Clarke.

This week's Tuesday Poem editor, Joanna Preston, is an award-winning Tasmanaut poet who lives in Christchurch. Her collection The Summer King has just won the prestigious Mary Gilmore Prize in Australia (see Tuesday Poem sidebar.) Visit her Tuesday Poem - another poem by Gillian Clarke - and then check out the other Tuesday Poets using our blog list.