Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ode to Chocolate by Barbara Crooker

I hate milk chocolate, don't want clouds
of cream diluting the dark night sky,
don't want pralines or raisins, rubble
in this smooth plateau. I like my coffee
black, my beer from Germany, wine
from Burgundy, the darker, the better.
I like my heroes complicated and brooding,
James Dean in oiled leather, leaning
on a motorcycle. You know the color.

Oh, chocolate! From the spice bazaars
of Africa, hulled in mills, beaten,
pressed in bars. The cold slab of a cave's
interior, when all the stars
have gone to sleep.

Chocolate strolls up to the microphone
and plays jazz at midnight, the low slow
notes of a bass clarinet. Chocolate saunters
down the runway, slouches in quaint
boutiques; its style is je ne sais quoi.
Chocolate stays up late and gambles,
likes roulette. Always bets
on the noir.

"Ode to Chocolate" by Barbara Crooker, from More. © C&R Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission

                                           Editor: Kathleen Jones

Since Janis Freegard’s post about her poetry in the new Iron collection of humorous verse, I’ve been thinking of the way we always seem to value ‘serious’ poems more than humorous ones in critical terms and often anthologise them as children’s poetry or talk about ‘light’ verse. This is rather sad, because a lot of wonderful poetry remains neglected.   So I decided to post something at the un-serious end of the spectrum this week and I hope you don’t think I’m too frivolous!

More: PoemsI chose ‘Ode to Chocolate’ because I needed cheering up and I love chocolate - always reach for it when I’m down, but it has to be dark ...... I think the poem somehow gets the essence of the taste of chocolate onto the page - as well as its sensuality and how it makes you feel. Which is quite an achievement. There aren’t too many good poems about food - Pablo Neruda’s ‘Ode to Salt’ perhaps.  There’s also a wonderful poem about eating an avocado - but I couldn’t track it down.

Barbara Crooker is one of the older American poets - a late starter in the publishing stakes, who has won a considerable number of awards for her poetry. She’s an accomplished technician, though I sometimes find her poems just a bit too ‘cosy’ for my taste. I was tempted to post ‘Meditation in Mid October’ because it isn’t and it fitted the season, but thought that the subject, the approaching death of a friend, was just a little bleak.

It has been a challenge for me to read Barbara’s poetry - one that has taken me out of my comfort zone for a number of reasons, one of them being that her work - though not overtly religious, seems to rise organically from deeply held beliefs which are anathema to me. But being a Humanist has never stopped me loving the poetry of John Donne, or T.S. Eliot, or Gerard Manley Hopkins. Then I realised that, when it came to modern poetry, I was choosing the work of poets as I would friends - because we’d got lots in common and understood each other, and this isn’t always a good thing. Being among strangers with different opinions is challenging and very stimulating.

So, last year I set myself the task of reading a new poet every month, and I’ve become aware that there are hundreds and hundreds of poets out there in the world - many of them really good poets - whose work is completely unknown to me. In England we read poetry in a little bubble - mainly British or Irish - some European in translation - some international ‘greats’ like Pablo Neruda or Les Murray - but we rarely interact with the ordinary, everyday poetry of other countries.

Most contemporary Australian, New Zealand, Canadian or American poets are unread here. That, I think, is one of the best things about the Tuesday Poem blog - it can provide a link between islands of culture and showcase poetry that comes from very different directions.

Kathleen Jones is this week's Tuesday Poem editor. She lives in England's Lake District but divides her time between the UK, NZ and Italy. She has published ten books including six biographies and a collection of poetry. Her latest biography, ˜Katherine Mansfield: The Storyteller' was published by Penguin NZ in August. Kathleen is currently a Royal Literary Fund Fellow. She blogs here

For more Tuesday Poems, click on the Tuesday Poets in the sidebar. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Time of the Giants by Anne Kennedy


Moss picked her way
over the mosaic of strange things away from his bed and
buttoned herself out the door
while he was in the bathroom without saying goodbye.
Why? Because
goodbye seemed like an apple i.e. needing a lot of
She walked along the street feeling new-born, stretched
to let in light.
The bark on the trees was rougher in the palms of her hands.
She carried
his weight in her backpack, his words as loose change
in her purse
his essence in a thermos for comfort and emergencies.
She noticed
she could see sideways. Cars approaching. The ghost
that she always knew
lived in the passage. I knew it. As a child rasping to bed
she'd open her eyes
as wide as possible to let in all the possible light
and the ghost in
but the moment she felt it passing (not dying, passing
as ghosts do)
she'd blink and the ghost would be gone. The others
(the living, Mum, Dad etc)
in the light of the living room as if etched on a jug
would call out
See? It was nothing, there is no ghost and look back
at the TV.
Now Moss is wide open and the ghost
is physical
you can reach out and touch it like this table this chair.

While she was out
a furniture truck came and moved her into his body.
In her room you can see
the marks on the wall where the furniture stood for so many
years. Years.

I first started reading Anne Kennedy's poetry while researching long narrative poems in New Zealand poetry. “Read Kennedy,” other writers told me so I went to the library and took out The Time of The Giants (2005), Kennedy's second collection of poetry. The Giants is a long narrative poem set over 114 pages and eighteen sections or chapters. Each chapter is itself split into sections and the resulting structure resembles of the fractal growth of a fern frond: the long form is a stem from which branches of poems grow.

The poem follows Moss, a young woman giant, who is trying to hide her substantial size from her lover Paul, a normal sized man. The poem/section above is part of chapter nine and occurs just after Moss and Paul have spent their first night together. Of the book Kennedy has written, “[it] reconfigures myth in a contemporary setting. As the descendent of Irish immigrants to Aotearoa/New Zealand, I am interested in where and how diasporas find us today.” The poem does feel like a modern day myth that is lyrical, funny, and quietly satirical of modern etiquette. It also does an excellent job of balancing the imagery and tone of a myth with a contemporary setting and voice. According to the NZ Book Council, Kennedy was once a piano teacher and a music librarian which explains her attention to sound and the alternating long / short line form that repeats its rhythm and ties the poem together. Another extract from the poem can be found here.

As well as poetry Anne Kennedy also writes fiction, autobiography and screenplays, and is the co-editor for the online journal Trout. She has collected a fair few awards such as the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Short Story Award, the ICI Award and Kennedy was also the Literary Fellow at the University of Auckland. She lives in Honolulu and is an Assistant Professor at the University of Hawai'i.

This week's Tuesday Poem editor is Sarah Jane Barnett, a writer and reviewer living in Wellington. Sarah is currently working on a creative PhD at Massey University that looks at the way the human/nonhuman relationship is portrayed in contemporary poetry. You can check out her blog at http://theredroom.org.

For more Tuesday Poems from the rest of the Tuesday Poem community browse our live blog roll in the sidebar – if the header says ‘Tuesday poem’ you know there’s a poem in there somewhere!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Compasses: A Triptych by Nancy Mattson


Blake drew Newton naked, every muscle
tense, seated on a rock, hunched over
the paper world unscrolling at his feet,
inscribing limits with his compasses
like God in Milton’s paradise.


Rodchenko photographs his wife,
Stepanova, working at her table,
a pair of compasses in one hand,
thumb and forefinger twirling the pivot,
eyes intent on the interlocking spheres
of her textile design. The universe
is new from skin to sky. Hand-rolled,
a cigarette rests on her bottom lip.
The ash drops, she smiles and blows it away.
Seed fluff, time flake, off to the past.

This is no lady painter of aquarelles,
she’s a maid’s daughter, Varvara Stepanova,
calls herself ‘Varst’ and she can do anything:
boil pitch or potatoes, build sets for plays,
shoot billiards, dance tangos, make zaum
poems in syllables, grunts and blobs of paint.

Varst is sewing canvas overalls,
her fingertips tough as thimbles. Bites the needle,
spits a smoke ring through its eye, pulls
a thread into a V, cuts and knots it.

Varst sneers at fine art,
slaps the heads off chrysanthemums,
uses her brain like a weapon, wages war
on the object, publishes manifestos, critiques
all ‘isms’ and the artists who deliver them,
writes in her journal with a steel nib,
nails their quirks and egos.

Rodchenko snaps the circle in groups, pairs
and singles, but his wife is his favourite
subject. Never object. She gazes away
from the lens as she points a blade,
arm-length, at six of her collages.

Her self-portrait mocks the easel: forehead
a cross-hatch in blue paint, mouth a scowl
of black X’s. She caricatures herself,
her husband too, as clowns
with elbows and pantaloons.


Never since John Donne has it been so true
as it is with this pair who stride
with equal steps into the Revolution:
If they be two, they are two so
as stiff twin compasses are two.

© Nancy Mattson

First published in Artemis (United Kingdom). Republished on the Tuesday Poem Hub with the permission of the poet.

About the Poem:

"Compasses" is inspired by photographs of Stepanova by her husband, Rodchenko, as well as by her own art and excerpts from her journal – all in Amazons of the Avant-Garde, eds. Bowlt & Drutt, London, Royal Academy of Arts, 1999. I was transfixed by the early 20th century Russian women artists in that exhibition and have nearly completed a book about them and their milieu. To my great surprise, my Finnish great-aunt who emigrated to Soviet Karelia in the 1930s, and was lost in 1939, has now popped up in the poems, insisting that her voice be heard. —Nancy Mattson

About Nancy Mattson:
Nancy Mattson is an ex-patriate Canadian poet, now resident in London. I met Nancy Mattson in 2008, when she and her husband, Mike Bartholomew-Biggs, also a poet, were resident in Christchurch for several months and appeared as guest poets as part of the Canterbury Poets' Collective annual Autumn Season of Poetry Readings at Madras Cafe Bookshop.

At that time, Nancy was already working on her forthcoming collection, working title Finns and Amazons, of which Compasses: A Triptych forms part—and was particularly struck by both the poem's emotional power and also by the strength of the historical narrative, translated into the personal portrait of Varst, Vavara Stepanova, and Rodchenko.

Nancy began writing poetry in 1977 after completing her MA in English Literature at the University of Alberta. Her poetry, non-fiction and reviews have been published in Canada, the US, the UK, Ireland and Finland in magazines, anthologies, the odd scholarly journal, a printed encyclopaedia and a couple of parish newsletters.

In 1982 she edited and co-authored a history book which provided the inspiration for her first collection, Maria Breaks Her Silence (Regina: Coteau, 1989), based on the life of a 19th century Finnish woman who emigrated to Canada. This was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for best first book of poetry in Canada. Adapted for the stage as Lye Soap and Dancing Cows, it was also broadcast on CBC Radio.

Her second full collection is Writing with Mercury (Hexham: Flambard, 2006), with cover art by Elaine Kowalsky. Nancy is also one of five poets featured in the anthology, Take Five 06, edited by John Lucas (Nottingham: Shoestring, 2006). The poems in these two volumes are set in contemporary England, Canada, Finland and Italy and use memory, myth, history and family stories to create a rich linguistic and cultural texture.

Nancy is pleased to be one of 20 writers selected by Dr. Beth L. Virtanen to appear in Finnish North American Literature in English: A Concise Anthology (Edwin Mellen Press, 2009) and her work has appeared in many other anthologies.


This week's Tuesday Poem editor Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, interviewer and lover of story from Christchurch New Zealand. Her first novel, Thornspell, is published by Knopf, USA and her second The Heir of Night is just out with HarperCollins, USA, and Little, Brown in AU/NZ. Helen has also had both poetry and short fiction published, broadcast and anthologized in New Zealand, Australia and the United States.

For More Tuesday Blog Poems from the rest of the Tuesday Poem community browse our live blog roll in the sidebar – if the header says ‘Tuesday poem’ you know there’s a poem in there somewhere!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Two Photographs by Geoffrey Lehmann

by Geoffrey Lehmann

My sister took two photographs I love,
Both indoor colour shots with yellow filter,
Of father tinkering with a radio
Glittering with tiny lights upon a table.
Wrapped in a hairy old brown dressing-gown
In heavy yellow light he sits and listens
To ancient earphones plugged into the set,
And in the next he has the earphones off,
And sits, a puzzled frown upon his forehead,
A man of seventy with kindly lines
Upon his weathered face, a youngster trying
To probe the age-old whistling of the ether,
The moans and crackles of the distant stars.
How young your face, old man, how young the hand
Of love that made the camera shutter click.

I came across this poem in the 1970s when I was teaching at Melbourne State College (it’s in the old Penguin ‘Australian Voices’ anthology, which is full of treasures). I’ve frequently returned to the poem over the years, always delighting in the way it captures and develops its imagery with such emotional precision and immediacy. And this year I contacted Geoffrey Lehmann to ask for permission to use it on the Tuesday Poem blog. He wrote back saying this:-
“I'm glad you like ‘Two Photographs’. You mention coming across it in the 1970s, which means you came across the correct version. When I prepared a "Collected Poems" (1997) I rewrote a lot of poems, usually improving them considerably, so much so that my editor whom I had asked to compare the old and new versions gave up comparing them. But I wrecked ‘Two Photographs’ by leaving out the last two lines. Sometimes one can get too precious and afraid of frank emotion and this was such an occasion.”
And a day later, when I was still thinking about what he’d said, and rather shocked at the idea of publishing the poem without its utterly necessary last two lines, Geoffrey Lehmann wrote to me again.
“I’ve just taken another look at the revised 1997 version and the opening is better than the 1970’s version which overdoes the use of the word “love” which should have been saved up to the end. I've now combined both versions, the opening of the 1997 version and the end of the 1970s version to get what I think is the right balance. If it is of any interest please feel free to use both of these emails. The photographs were slides as the later version states. My sister died 4 years ago and I have a collection of her slides of family members which were quite remarkable in their naturalness.  
The version with this email is therefore the definitive version and not likely to change.”

So here is the final, revised, definitive and author-approved version of the poem. He’s right, of course: I was unwilling at first to give up allegiance to the 1970 version, but this one does work better.

by Geoffrey Lehmann

My sister took two slides with yellow filter,
Of father tinkering with a radio
Glittering with tiny lights upon a table.
Wrapped in a hairy old brown dressing-gown
In heavy yellow light he sits and listens
To ancient earphones plugged into the set,
And in the next he has the earphones off,
And sits, a puzzled frown upon his forehead,
A man of seventy with kindly lines
Upon his weathered face, a youngster trying
To probe the age-old whistling of the ether,
The moans and crackles of the distant stars.
How young your face, old man, how young the hand
Of love that made the camera shutter click.

Geoffrey Lehman is currently completing a 1,100 page anthology for the University of New South Wales Press (‘Australian Poetry since 1788’) but when he’s finished that he’s going to look for the slides that inspired the poem. And if he finds them, he’s promised to send me digitised versions of them. I’ll let you know ...

This week’s Tuesday Poem editor is Belinda Hollyer, a New Zealand writer and anthologist living in London. She doesn’t write poetry – she thinks it’s far too difficult – but details of her other publications can be found on her website and blog (where her Tuesday Poems reside.)

For more Tuesday Poems from the rest of the Tuesday Poem community browse our live blog roll in the sidebar – if the header says ‘Tuesday poem’ you know there’s a poem in there somewhere!