Tuesday, May 15, 2012

From 'Postcards' by Helen Heath

iv. Greek for Travellers

How much for this peach?
I would like a room.

What time does the bus go?
I would like a ticket to Stavros.

What a lovely day.
I am in pain.

Where is the police station?
I want to wash clothes.

v. The landing

The truth about stones is some fit in your palm,
some you lay your palms upon.

If you press a stone with your finger
your finger is also pressed by the stone.

If you pull a stone on a rope
the stone pulls you back.

If you carry a stone in your pocket
you can smooth it with your thumb.

I collect pebbles form Ithaca
and intend to bring them home.

vi. Up the hill

The truth about raindrops is
they are not shaped like tears.

As raindrops fall they become balls,
burger buns, parachutes, then doughnuts.

Rain is only sad in wet places,
others greet it with euphoria.

Water is containment and travel,
it worries at earth and stone.

Things do smell better after rain, like
wild oregano up the hill from Vathy.


A week or so ago Helen Heath, local poet, friend and Tuesday-poet-on sabbatical, launched Graft, her debut full-length collection which has been published by Victoria University Press. (I published a wee chapbook of her work, Watching for Smoke, a couple of years ago.) I love Helen’s work, and knew I wanted to feature a poem from Graft, but choosing which was a really hard job. There are so many I like, and I also wanted to try to somehow show the breadth of this collection. But obviously not one single poem can manage to show the variety of a collection, so I hope you’ll follow some of my helpful links below that will take you to some of Helen’s other poems.

It was also hard to choose an individual poem because even though they are self-contained, once you’ve read them in the context of the book, where the poems are finely woven together with connections and resonances within and between, it seems hard to take them out of that environment.

Finally, after reading through the collection a couple of times, I chose these extracts from ‘Postcards’, a long multi-part poem from the centre of the collection. Similarly, I feel funny about removing these from their context as part of a longer piece, but I like them a lot and think they also contain many of the themes and interests of Helen’s poetry, and this collection.

In this sequence the narrator is visiting Greece, seeking something (in the sequence that follows – 'Graft', we learn more about what that is). In ‘iv. Greek for Travellers’ we get phrases as if from a phrase book – and, as humans do, we join things up to make a story. The sharp-eyed humour mixed/contrasting with deep and sometimes painful feeling is a combination you’ll find quite frequently in Helen’s work.

‘v. The landing’ begins with the phrase ‘The truth about…’ which is a recurring phrase in this collection, one I find really appealing. Science and empirical study is a major interest in this collection, especially in the first of the three sections which contains a number of poems about scientists such as Isaac Newton, Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin and Galileo Galilei. Also the third and final section begins with the poem ‘Making tea in the universe’, which manages to combine the big bang with making a cup of tea. I love the images and observations about the stones – there’s a empirical objective preciseness about them, while also being tactile and emotional. And, of course, metaphorical. And beautiful.

‘vi. Up the hill’ continues the scientific explanations – what you think you see is not what you see. Raindrops are not the shape of tear drops (I learned this recently from some science programme which had ultra-slowed-down footage, so I know it’s true), they are round. But what is scientifically true is also exciting, maybe even more exciting. Explaining something isn’t explaining it away.

I think ‘the truth’ that the poems keep speaking of, though, isn’t just scientific truth. It’s poetic truth and emotional truth and experiential truth, and in this collection you’ll find truths of many kinds. Many of the poems are much more narrative than these ones, and many deal with very real and raw things, such as death, love, family and the experience of being a Hutt girl (as also a former Hutt girl, who did indeed scuff my way around in ugg boots for a while a very long time ago, I was excited to see a clutch of ‘Hutt girl’ poems at the end of Graft). I have so much to say about this book, and I really haven't done it justice, but I think I’ll stop here. For now.

Helen Heath has just started working on a PhD in creative writing at Victoria University of Wellington, where she has previously completed an MA. In her doctorate she is looking at the intersect between people and technology. She won the inaugural ScienceTeller Poetry Award in 2011 for her poem ‘Making Tea in the Universe’. She blogs at helenheath.com.

Here’s some links to more of her poetry:
'Night's magic'
'Making tea in the universe'
And, a particular favourite of mine, 'Spilt'

And now I hope you'll make some more poetic discoveries by clicking some of the links to other Tuesday Poems in the sidebar.

Helen Rickerby is a Wellington poet, having escaped many years ago from the Hutt (Upper rather than Lower), though she can still see the Hutt Valley from her lounge window. She publishes books as Seraph Press and is co-managing editor of JAAM magazine. She’s had two collections and a hand-bound chapbook of her own poetry published, including My Iron Spine (Headworx, 2008). She blogs at http://wingedink.blogspot.com/.


Elizabeth Welsh said...

These work so well in this order, despite being 'taken out' of the original cycle. I loved the objectivity of the first two lines of 'Up the hill' and how this was followed so closely by that joyous analogy of raindrops as burger buns, doughnuts. Wonderful stuff! Thanks Helen & Helen :)

Mary McCallum said...

I was so excited to see your post this morning, Helen - as I had, as you know, posted Helen Heath's Tight on my blog. Your insights I always treasure because you combine the precise with the feeling of things -- the same way Helen H does, must be something in the name.

This is the sort of thing I mean: 'I love the images and observations about the stones – there’s a empirical objective preciseness about them, while also being tactile and emotional. And, of course, metaphorical. And beautiful.'

Thank you Helens-squared.

Helen Lowe said...

"The truth about raindrops is
they are not shaped like tears."

I love these small vignettes of poetry--the postcards--that all add up to something more...

Michelle Elvy said...

I love these sharp observations and short notes. Like a postcard, this leaves me wanting more... and so you've done a great thing here, sharing this with us, leading us to more. the opening lines made me chuckle. I particularly liked all the stonework in v. The Landing. I also enjoyed the discussion of why you like Heath's poetry. Glad to find this here this week. Will have to have a good long look at Graft. Thank you!

Penelope said...

I love the paratactic sentences in 'iv. Greek for Travellers', and the way they make a kind of sense.

Helen McKinlay said...

Thanks for this Helen and Helen. So many ideas that one feels are old friends...
the stones for touching the raindrops
the herbs. rain being special in dry places. Little cameos of delight.
and what is it about Greek words that
they have such music?

Jennifer Compton said...

now i want to go to greece

lillyanne said...

I've only just caught up with this poem and I absolutely love it. Thanks very much for the introduction.