Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Travelling at Night: Kathryn Hunt

Often I have stood under the falling sky
dark with its plentitude of stars
and listened as my father called them out,
Orion and the seven sisters of the Pleiades;
Antares, huge and crimson in its dying.

The only star I know for sure
from all my father's lessons
is the North Star, cardinal star of every wanderer,
and beyond that single blaze it's all a guess.

Now he shuffled between his frailties,
his sideways gimp from falling off a horse,
the raspy draw from years of smoking,
his stubborn, hillocked laborer's hands
still seeking out their tools. It's the simple bones
beneath the sun-burnt skin,
the missing finger on the right,
I'll miss the most among my
multitude of longings.

"Let's go outside," he says.
"I want to show you something."
We turn our faces toward the sky.

Editor: T Clear

I've long enjoyed Kathryn Hunt's work, beginning ten+ years ago when she joined my writing group. There exists in her work an elegance and richness that defies her unadorned use of language. In this poem, especially, we are asked to examine the close-at-hand details of a life lived in intimate contact with the earth -- from "his sideways gimp" to "the missing finger" -- while at the same time standing in awe of the greater vault of the nighttime sky and the profound mysteries it offers. It's a modern and yet age old interpretation of Blake, where he impels us to "Hold infinity in the palm of your hand."


Please visit my blog here for another poem by Kathryn Hunt.

Kathryn Hunt is an American writer and filmmaker and makes her home in Port Townsend, Washington. Her stories and poems have appeared in Rattle, The Sun, Willow Springs, Crab Orchard Review, and Open Spaces, among other magazines. She is a director and producer of documentary films, including Take This Heart, a feature-length documentary that was honored with the Anna Quindlen Award for Excellence in Journalism. She has recently completed a memoir, The Province of Leaves. When she's not at her desk she can be found in her garden, trying to stay ahead of the weeds and the deer.

This week's editor, T. Clear, hails from Seattle, US. She is a founder of Floating Bridge Press, and her work has been widely published. Currently she manages production and shipping for a Seattle glass artist. She is enamored of blue flowers, cats, Ireland, slow food, her multitude of sisters and her two sons.

For more Tuesday Poems enter the sidebar where Tuesday Poets post poems by themselves or poets they have selected.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

home to you by Michele Amas

one husband lost
playing a game
of tennis serving
or returning his heart
just quit and in this queue
for coffee his wife I can't ignore
so order pay hug hold
apologise for Christmas
being just around the corner
but this was not the one
I had arranged to meet
find a table, wait for another
wife, one who wishes
her husband dead
in as many words
one whose husband's
heart just quit
on her so
hug hold apologise
for this first Christmas
alone, too many tears
in this Olive café
my arms are branches
reaching for home
in a Christmas rush
gratitude and fear
green and red
I want to ditch the car
feel my legs walk
home to you
feel my heart pound
home to you
and when I'm home to you
lovepraisefuck you
like you're the Son of God

                                                                                   Editor: Mary McCallum

Michele Amas is an award-winning poet and actor who lives in Wellington but recently enjoyed a year-long stint in Menton, France, as the partner of a recipient of the Katherine Mansfield Prize: playwright Ken Duncum.

It's not the first time the KM has netted two writers for the price of one. Michele says she took a lot of notes but didn't feel the need (pressure?) to write poems while she hung out in the citrus heat of the South of France.

Back home in NZ, she started writing again and entered the inaugural Caselberg Poetry Prize, joining me in hitting the right spot with Judge Bernadette Hall and scooping a prize. It was - and still is - a surreal moment for me.

Bernadette's judge's report is a marvellous piece of writing about poetry and what makes a winning poem:

It’s as if I’ve been invited into a series of small rooms, 237 of them, and it’s up to me to choose the ones in which I’d like to set up house for a while.
Some rooms are plush, some are spare; some are draped in funereal black; some are like confessional boxes; in others people and creatures, rivers and trees dance and sing even though the walls are a bit wonky and there’s an odd knocking in the antiquated plumbing. My favourite rooms, a whole clutch of them, are fresh and surprising. They’re well built, there’s flair and imaginative energy in their making. The world looks replenished through their windows.

Yes! That's it - replenished. And on Michele's poem: 
‘home to you’ by Michele Amas, is wicked, there’s no doubt about that. It’s also elegant and quick and clever. You have to be alert as you’re jumped from line to line. Above all it’s an audacious love poem, circling, gathering, exploding in that unforgettable last line.
'home to you' was written after Michele rushed home with her heart pumping. She needed (her words) to get it down on the page as much as the woman in the poem needed to 'lovepraisefuck' the man she loves.  And oh! the reader feels it. Reading 'home to you' is what I imagine bungy-jumping to be - the vertical rush, things colliding/blurring (such bliss as this: 'playing a game/of tennis serving/or returning his heart'), the adrenalin, the bloody marvellous ending.

By the end I am breathless and renewed, and in awe of Michele's audacity with both our language and our hearts.

You can find the Caselberg Poetry Prize results, poems and judge's report here.

Do check out Michele's Daughter - chosen for the Best NZ Poems website and now in the 'Best of the Best NZ Poems' (the book) out now. And Orphans posted on my blog last year.

Michele has an MA in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters (2005), she won the Adam Prize that year for the manuscript of her collection After the Dance which, published by VUP, was nominated for the Jessie McKay Best First Book of Poetry Award and the Prize in Modern Letters. Michele also won the Wellington sonnet award 2008 and is an award-winning actor.

'home to you' is posted on Tuesday Poem with permission from the poet. Do check out the poems written and selected by our team of Tuesday Poets in the right-hand sidebar. If a post says 'Tuesday Poem' click to read.

Mary McCallum is co-curator of the Tuesday Poem, a poet and novelist. She completed an MA in Creative Writing at the IIML the same year as Michele Amas (2005), lives in Wellington with her family, and when she's not writing, she's teaching creative writing at Massey University and working as a bookseller. Her blog is here

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
and towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
but limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
but someone still was yelling out and stumbling
and flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
as under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
behind the wagon that we flung him in,
and watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
his hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
if you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
- my friend, you would not tell with such high zest
to children ardent for some desperate glory,
the old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
pro patria mori.

For the title and last two lines of the poem, Wilfred Owen was inspired by Horace Odes III.ii.13: “Sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country.” '

'Five-Nines' were gas shells.
Editor: Andrew Bell

Like many people, I suffered a sense of disquiet at the recent news of Osama Bin Laden’s death at the hands of US Navy Seals in Pakistan. Most people do not dispute that Bin Laden had masterminded some terrible atrocities, but the manner of his death and the scenes of jubilation on the streets of America only served to fuel a sense of unease that the victor had acting with no more morality than the victim. 

So I think Wilfred Owen’s poem serves as a timely and timeless reminder that acts of war are not glorious and that patriotism can be a dangerous tool in the hands of those with agendas to serve.

Wellington writer and academic, Harry Ricketts, has recently published an interesting book, Strange Meetings (Chatto & Windus), about the War Poets, reviewed here by Andrew Motion.

This week's editor is Andrew M. Bell, a poet from Otautahi/Christchurch who loves poetry, writing, his family and surfing, in no particular order. Recently, he has developed a new love for flushing toilets, unlumpy roads and stable ground.

For lots of other stimulating poems, check out the Tuesday Poets in the sidebar.

Note: The poem is in the public domain, and the two images are used according to the conditions of the Wilfred Owen collection, namely for educational, non-commercial purposes. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Push by David Gregory

He has found the green door at last,
in a faded, jaded street.
And, slightly askew, it reflects
the slant of his memories.

Behind it, there might be a childhood,
if he could only reach the handle,
and against the glass
(the sunlit blood of stained glass roses)
there is the shadow of his father.

And the hallway builds back
into those small rooms.
In that one the faces turned
like flowers to the sun of her entrance.

That beautiful woman who spilt his love
easily as tea, and he only 
the second best china.

But listen, there is his mother singing,
and a chorus of relatives rehearsing
their relatively small disagreements.

How much? He asks the scrap-yard dealer.
Well, the man says,
these things don’t come cheap.


                                                    Guest Editor James Norcliffe

Push is the title poem of NZ poet David Gregory’s 2008 collection (Black Doris Press). He is a stalwart of the Christchurch poetry scene, most obviously in his involvement with the Canterbury Poets’ Collective organised readings each year and his work (with John O’Connor) with Sudden Valley Press and Poets’ Group publications. He publishes relatively sparingly, unfortunately. 

Doors and childhood are presiding themes of David’s work, so in many ways Push can be seen as an archetypal poem.  The “green door” of the opening line references, of course, the famous fifties song. In that song, you’ll remember, laughter, fun, and mystery were available to the initiates on one side of the green door; but the singer on the other side found only exclusion.  

David Gregory
When the poet finds the green door at last in a scrap yard, “in a faded, jaded street” it offers only the “slant of memories” and these are painful: the shadow of his father, the beautiful woman who spilt his love, the chorus of disagreeing relatives. Moreover, whatever possibilities this disembodied door offers, they are only contingent - “if he could only reach the handle” there might be a childhood to return to. Note the modal verb.

Instead of a welcome, the poet must reconstruct the world beyond this “slightly askew” portal. In the final three lines David reveals that the door is in fact in a scrap yard and available for purchase although he is told by the dealer that these things don’t come cheap...

It’s a neat resolution and typical of David’s technique: investing the demotic, the throwaway, with a significance and resonance built up previously. I like this poem a lot. Like so many of his poems it presents itself as a small narrative, but typically, it withholds as much as it gives. The poet hides behind the lamppost of the third person, a point of view that, paradoxically, allows for greater intimacy.

Note the craft and care with word choice; the street, in the context of the green door, is jaded – a word freighted with both greenness and disillusion. There is the detail of local colour: the stained glass roses, the second best china. These swift brush strokes summon up a time and place efficiently and are of course the kind of glittering details memory provides.

Above all, there is in this poem the playfulness always in David’s best workat odds with the wistfulness; and as always in his best poems, these temper each other. It is a tightrope strategy. A misstep one way could plunge the poem into wordplay for wordplay’s sake; a misstep the other could land the poem in sentimentality. In Push that David negotiates the tension beautifully.

In addition to Push, David's books include Always Arriving (1997) and Frame of Mind (1999), both Sudden Valley Press. The covers of all three books feature doors. His work also features in the Aotearoa NZ Poetry Archive.

This week's guest editor is poet, fiction writer and educator James Norcliffe of Christchurch, NZ. His most recent poetry collection is Villon In Millerton (Auckland University Press, 2007). Last year James was invited to read at the XX International Poetry Festival in Medellin (Colombia) and this year has been invited to read at the Trois Rivieres International Poetry Festival in Quebec. 

The Loblolly Boy and the Sorcerer (Longacre/Random), the follow-up to 2009’s award-winning YA novel The Loblolly Boy, has just been released. James has a rudimentary website : http://jamesnorcliffe.com/ He has lived for extended periods in Brunei Darussalam and China.

Thanks James! 

Check out the poems in the sidebar written and selected by our regular Tuesday Poets from NZ, the UK, the US and Australia. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Three Poems By Hayden Carruth

Little Citizen, Little Survivor

A brown rat has taken up residence with me.
A little brown rat with pinkish ears and lovely
almond-shaped eyes. He and his wife live
in the woodpile by my back door, and they are
so equal I cannot tell which is which when they
poke their noses out of the crevices among
the sticks of firewood and then venture farther
in search of sunflower seeds spilled from the feeder.
I can't tell you, my friend, how glad I am to see them.
I haven't seen a fox for years, or a mink, or
a fisher cat, or an eagle, or a porcupine, I haven't
seen any of my old company of the woods
and the fields, we who used to live in such
close affection and admiration. Well, I remember
when the coons would tap on my window, when
the ravens would speak to me from the edge of their
little precipice. Where are they now? Everyone knows.
Gone. Scattered in this terrible dispersal. But at least
the brown rat that most people so revile and fear
and castigate has brought his wife to live with me
again. Welcome, little citizen, little survivor.
Lend me your presence, and I will lend you mine.

from Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey, Copper Canyon Press, 1996


Sometimes we don’t say anything. Sometimes
we sit on the deck and stare at the masses of
goldenrod where the garden used to be
and watch the color change form day to day,
the high yellow turning to mustard and at last
to tarnish. Starlings flitter in the branches
of the dead hornbeam by the fence. And are these
therefore the procedures of defeat? Why am I
saying all this to you anyway since you already
know it? But of course we always tell
each other what we already know. What else?
It’s the way love is in a late stage of the world.

from Collected Shorter Poems, Copper Canyon Press, 1992

The Minute Difference Between Birds And Leaves

She lay unmoving a moment longer, silver thighs
Still splayed, breasts tilted apart so that the bones
Of her chest showed like interlocked fingers while she looked outward
To moonlight and gleaming, billowing trees,
And then she turned on her side and said —
But he did not hear
The words flutter down on him, touching, tickling
With little brittle feet, pecking the meal
Of his arms and belly, the golden grain; he heard rather
The unspoken that is always eloquent, her few pleas,
Echoes very distant behind the lanterns of his eyes.
He rose then, scattering words, and went to the window shivering.
Cold boards fed the hunger in his feet. He looked at the trees
In silver frost, leaves falling, severing themselves and falling,
Their silence falling in moonlight, falling all night without wind,
Mouths falling
searching the whole body of earth with their kisses.

from A Green Mountain Idyll - Poems For Hayden Carruth, Longhouse Publishers& Booksellers, 2002

Editor: Eileen Moeller

It is impossible to represent Hayden Carruth's enormous body of work here, but I've chosen three poems that seem to capture his generous spirit, and his gift for magnifying, and making sense of, the ordinary moment.

Born in Connecticut, Hayden died in New York State on October 2, 2008, having dedicated most of his eighty-seven years to poetry. He was my teacher at Syracuse University, and my most beloved "poetry father". He was a master of poetics, who regularly received and edited manuscripts sent by his many literary friends, including seasoned poets like Galway Kinnell and Adrienne Rich.

I thought of him as heroic in his dedication to poetry, in his sensitivity, in his constant push against meaninglessness, and in his honesty about the demons that plagued him. His poems speak in the voice(s) of the American Northeast. They evoke a love of the local, of nature, of ordinary people, of the intimacy of everyday human interaction; they convey an open-heartedness and a lust for experience that makes me want to live more deeply.

I can hear his deep voice in all of the poems here, his lilting New England accent. I love the conversational tone of these, the way it offsets their exquisite imagery, the tension between the natural and the craft.

Permission pending for use of the three poems, more on Hayden here, and a list of his poetry publications:
  • The Crow and the Heart, 1946-1959, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1959.
  • In Memoriam: G. V. C., privately printed, 1960.
  • Journey to a Known Place (long poem), New Directions (New York, NY), 1961.
  • The Norfolk Poems: 1 June to 1 September 1961, Prairie Press (Iowa City, IA), 1962.
  • North Winter, Prairie Press (Iowa City, IA), 1964.
  • Nothing for Tigers; Poems, 1959-1964, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1965.
  • Contra Mortem (long poem), Crow's Mark Press (Johnson, VT), 1967.
  • (Contributor) Where Is Vietnam?: American Poets Respond, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 1967.
  • For You: Poems, New Directions (New York, NY), 1970.
  • The Clay Hill Anthology, Prairie Press, 1970.
  • From Snow and Rock, from Chaos: Poems, 1965-1972, New Directions (New York, NY), 1973.
  • Dark World, Kayak (Santa Cruz, CA), 1974.
  • The Bloomingdale Papers, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1975.
  • Loneliness: An Outburst of Hexasyllables, Janus Press (Rogue River, OR), 1976.
  • Aura, Janus Press (Rogue River, OR), 1977.
  • Brothers, I Loved You All, Sheep Meadow (New York, NY), 1978.
  • Almanach du Printemps Vivarois, Nadja, 1979.
  • The Mythology of Dark and Light, Tamarack (Madison, WI), 1982.
  • The Sleeping Beauty, Harper (New York, NY), 1983, revised edition, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1990.
  • If You Call This Cry a Song, Countryman Press (Woodstock, VT), 1983.
  • Asphalt Georgics, New Directions (New York, NY), 1985.
  • Lighter than Air Craft, edited by John Wheatcroft, Press Alley, 1985.
  • The Oldest Killed Lake in North America, Salt-Works Press, 1985.
  • Mother, Tamarack Press, 1985.
  • The Selected Poetry of Hayden Carruth, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1986.
  • Sonnets, Press Alley, 1989.
  • Tell Me Again How the White Heron Rises and Flies across the Nacreous River at Twilight toward the Distant Islands, New Directions (New York, NY), 1989.
  • Collected Shorter Poems, 1946-1991, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1992.
  • Collected Longer Poems, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1993.
  • Selected Essays and Reviews, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1995.
  • Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey: Poems, 1991-1995, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1996.
  • Doctor Jazz: Poems, 1996-2000, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 2001.

This week's editor is US poet, Eileen Moeller, who lives in Philadelphia. Visit her Tuesday Poem on her blog and go to the sidebar for a host of other Tuesday Poems posted today.