Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Conceptual Art by Holly Iglesias

An act of recovery, they say in curatorial tones, archiving the mundane, rooting through the baggage of inmates deposited long ago for safekeeping, anonymity the new caché, a hunger for narrative free of consequence. Within a small strapped case, the single shirt, carefully starched, his winter drawers and the geography text once memorized to win a ribbon that Mother tacked to the parlor wall, boasting of her genius boy. Before he began drooling in church, tweezing the hairs from his forearm, singing to himself as he walked to the foundry after a breakfast of oats and beans and splashing his cheeks with her cologne. Before he began seeing things that weren't there and begged her for stories in Polish to soothe his fears, his grief for uncles buried in an old world and the clumsy name no one in town could pronounce. He lived out the balance of his days in gray pants and black shoes, took meals at six, twelve and six and dug graves when told to. His single pleasure, if you dare call it that, the school book, a quiet, solid thing upon his lap each afternoon, his fingers as smooth as the pages, patting it, stroking it, to calm the seas roiling between its covers.

Editor: Susan T. Landry

I am drawn to prose poetry. I am not sure why; maybe it is because I trust that the linear configuration will deliver me a story in a tidy package. Surely, a story lies inside, as surely as a fortune resides within a fortune cookie. Other cookies may have their rewards, it is true; but, reliably, it is the fortune cookie that will divulge a treasure. Like prose.

I know better; I've read some supremely fine story telling in traditional skittering-all-over-the-page poems. But push comes to shove, I'll take a prose poem. I discovered Holly Iglesias on a prose poem ramble, and just in case you haven't had the pleasure, I'm here to introduce you to her.

"Conceptual Art" was written after Holly Iglesias heard a radio report about an exhibit of suitcases and other belongings of patients, objects that remained behind in a mental institution that was being demolished.

It is not necessary to know the historical stimulus for this prose poem. When I first read this poem, I was completely engaged by the clean visual language, and imagined a stark stage setting against which a mysterious and sad story unfolded. It was only later, when I corresponded with Holly, that I realized I had seen the traveling version of this show, at a branch of the NY Public Library, when I lived in the city, in 2007.

Holly Iglesias, PhD, teaches at University of North Carolina-Asheville and has published several books of her own poems as well as a critical study of prose poems, Boxing Inside the Box: Women's Prose Poetry. She received a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts, for 2011.

"Conceptual Art" was first published in the journal Bloom, vol. 1, no.2, Summer 2004, and subsequently in Iglesias' book Angles of Approach, by White Pine Press, 2010. Holly Iglesias has graciously permitted Tuesday Poem to publish her poem here.

Susan T. Landry, of the United States, writes poetry and prose with a particular interest in memoir. She lives in Maine, works from home as a medical manuscript editor, and writes in her blog, Twisted Knickers, as part of her ongoing quest to explore all available avenues of procrastination. Please do visit our other Tuesday Poets, listed in the column on the right.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

To a Cockroach, Aotearoa 2011 by Siobhan Harvey

I imagine you brighter than butterfly, winged
dancer of Indian summer, or lodestar, death-
headed dazzler of rainforest. But here,
you’re more dull fabric, threading together,
interstitially, brown Porchester Street staties
and sienna walled Princes Wharf apartments.
Great leveller wherever, you carry your whakapapa
like an exoskeleton: head, thorax, abdomen, memories
of ancestors who fought for Gaba Tepe, landed at
Poverty Bay, navigated Kupe’s constellations and,
with tuatara- and weta-like fortitude, felt earth made
electric by Carnosaurs voracious dash. Now, at twilight,
you’ve turned to us, ravening, antediluvian, bone fractured us,
who tend you with aerosols or rolled-up newspapers
even when you’re sharing your wardrobe, food, home.
But there are moments when light falls upon you,
perhaps during December’s late afternoons,
the breath of the land reaching out to us across
the ledges of open windows, when we pause, remember,
feel the heavy weight of our spines, the lethargy in
our skeletons, our psyches’ loneliness and doubts,
and so we stop, release our grip upon the fine-print
or liberate index fingers from the aerosol nozzle
and allow you and your mokopuna to carry on.

© Siobhan Harvey

Editor: Harvey Molloy

Siobhan Harvey is the author of the poetry collection Lost Relatives (Steele Roberts, 2011), the book of literary criticism Words Chosen Carefully: New Zealand Writers in Discussion (Cape Catley, 2010), aand is editor of the anthology, Our Own Kind: 100 New Zealand Poems about Animals (Random House NZ, 2009).

Her poems have been published in magazines in New Zealand, Australia, UK, Europe and US, and anthologies in New Zealand and the UK. She's the poetry editor of Takahe, Coordinator of National Poetry Day in New Zealand, was runner up in the 2011 Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems (NZ), and nominated for the 2011 Pushcart Prize for poetry (US). More here and here

In this poem, Siobhan begins with her imagination—it’s not the cockroach itself or even her experience of the cockroach but rather how she imagines the cockroach: not as a pest or a repugnant bug but as a glorious dancer. When you think about it we never leave the poet’s head—this is all an act of imagination.

I love that Siobhan explores the consequences of action without reflection—an automatic, unthinking, speedy grab for the bug spray with no pause for reverie or contemplation. The poem ends with empathy: all animals have a family and an ancestry; all animals want to live. We really do share that in common with cockroaches.

Whose world is it anyway? We humans think it's all ours—but look at the strange unexpected reversal of conventional thinking in “who tend you with aerosols or rolled-up newspapers/ even when you’re sharing your wardrobe, food, home.” It’s their world too; their house, their home. A good poem can shake how we frame our world.

For more Tuesday Poems, enter the sidebar. If a post says 'Tuesday Poem' click to read - we are a community of  thirty poets from NZ, Australia, the UK and the US.

This week's editor, Harvey Molloy, is a Wellington teacher who has published poems in a range of NZ journals and periodicals, and overseas. His first book of poems, Moonshot, was published by Steele Roberts in 2008, and he is working on his second. Harvey is also the co-author of the book Asperger Syndrome, Adolescence, and Identity: Looking Beyond the Label. He blogs here

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Yippee by James Norcliffe

When the podiatrists escaped we immediately set up roadblocks. But they were apparently wise to us and kept to the footpaths. Somewhat unfairly, too, they must have been wearing orthotics with rich crepes soles, which allowed them, well after dark, to ripple right past our defences in a distinctly crepuscular manner and make for the safety of the park.

In this way the podiatrists taught us the meaning of frustration.

There was no way, especially in the darkness, that we could retrieve the podiatrists from the park. The powerful sequoias hid and comforted even the bravest of them in a scent of turpentine, made sharp by the moonlight, whereas the more timid lay pressed into the gaultheria where they were wrapped about with wintergreen.

We could do nothing. We did joke that the iron railings around the park meant that the podiatrists had simply caged themselves in, but we were equally aware that the railings with their fearsome spikes kept us out just as effectively.

In this way the podiatrists taught us the meaning of irony.

All night the podiatrists hid there, out of sight, out of reach, but not out of hearing, and eventually safety overcame them and they grew cocky and footloose and realising our powerlessness began to cry Yippee! Yippee!

Thus the podiatrists taught us the meaning of scorn.

We could almost have tolerated this had it not been for the uncomfortable realisation that somehow in the night tinea had been set loose. We could feel it burning and insinuating itself all over our feet, between our toes. Burning and burning. Itching fearsomely.

And all the while the podiatrists, behind the iron rails and hidden in the dangling embrace of the redwoods, cried Yippee! Yippee!

As the burning sensation all but overcame us it seemed almost as though we could hear the tinea joining in the chorus: Yippee! Yippee! in tiny subsonic harmonies.

When dawn broke we were in a really bad way, jumping from foot to itchy foot. The light, perversely, had made the podiatrists even cockier, more sure of themselves. They broke free of the shaggy trunks, the perfumed ground cover and sported, gambolled. They flaunted their tubes of fungicide. They played touch rugby with them, flinging the crème of our desire from player to player, coming at times infuriatingly close to the railings. Every so often one would cry Yippee! as if unable to help it. Would leap into the air clapping his crepe soles.

In this way the podiatrists taught us the meaning of hate.

                                         Editor: Andrew M. Bell

I heard James Norcliffe read this prose poem at a book launch organised by 'Gap Filler' a few months ago. 'Gap Filler' is a wonderful group that sprung up like a colourful, sweet-scented flower from the rubble and dust of the Christchurch earthquakes. Its members organise a wide variety of artistic events on the vacant sites of demolished buildings in order to boost the morale of the Christchurch citizenry.

James was one of the guest readers and, as the audience sat on wooden school chairs on the now rubble-strewn former site of 'The Herbal Dispensary', he read this poem from an improvised stage with a backdrop of a display refrigerator of the type found in dairies, now unplugged and filled with books to exchange. The tragi-comic setting seemed to match the Monty Pythonish absurdity of James' poem perfectly.

I have heard James read a number of times and I always enjoy the subversive, mischievous humour that runs through many of his poems. James is an experienced reader of his and other's poetry so his dry and droll delivery enlivens and enhances the poem. I love the way the poem is layered with a series of "punchlines" that build to a perfect ending.

James Norcliffe has published six collections of poetry, most recently Villon in Millerton (AUP 2007). A new collection, Shadow Play, is currently a finalist in the Proverse International Writing Prize. He has also written a number of fantasy novels for children including The Loblolly Boy which won the junior fiction award at the NZ Post Children's Book Awards in 2010, its sequel The Loblolly and the Sorcerer (2011) and a new novel The Enchanted Flute (2012). 

James Norcliffe lives in Church Bay, Lyttelton Harbour, and teaches in the Foundation Studies Division of Lincoln University. “Yippee” was first published 2002 in Gargoyle 41 in the US and in Sport in NZ and collected in Along Blueskin Road (Canterbury University Press, 2004).

"Yippee" is published with permission.

The editor this week, Andrew M. Bell, lives in 'The City that Never Sleeps Soundly', Christchurch (NZ). He was chuffed when one of his short stories, 'It's Only Rock'n'Roll', was Highly Commended by judge, Owen Marshall, in the 2011 Katherine Mansfield Award. This helped to feed his delusion that literary fame and staggering riches must be just around the corner. His recent poetry collection is 'Clawed Rains', in which the title poem attempts the seemingly impossible task of marrying a litany of global disasters to the understated but sublime performance of actor, Claude Rains, in 'Casablanca'. He blogs here

Do read the Tuesday Poem contributions in the right sidebar - our up to 30 poets post poems by themselves and others they admire. Some gems in there...                                             

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wadestown, by Bill Nelson

There is a hand asleep
under a heavy hip bone.
There is memory of love,
a pip and soft bruises.

I'm not sure how we fit
but it seems this dead hand
is my hand, this angular
body is your body.

All night we lie this way
and I am jerked awake
by a bird I can hardly
remember. I pull out

my lifeless arm and drape it
over your shoulder. It’s okay,
you say, as if I have asked
an impossible question.

In a few moments the numb
goes and you drift off
and I'm not sure you ever were
actually here. The blood returns

to my fingers, along with
the sticky branches of a
spring wind tapping
its slow code into the wall.

                                         Editor, Saradha Koirala

So much and so little happens in this poem. I love the mystery surrounding who is really present, played out in the dead hand coming back to life. Sleep and memory intermingle and I especially like the lines “I am jerked awake / by a bird I can hardly/ remember”, as they link so perfectly the two elements working together here: a definite, palpable physicality of body parts and the intangible, inexplicability of not quite speaking, not quite remembering; a “slow code” tapped out by something solid.

Bill Nelson seems to be a favourite of Tuesday Poets, having previously appeared here and here. In 2009 he won the Biggs Poetry Prize for best MA poetry portfolio at the IIML and has had writing published in Hue & Cry, Sport, The Lumière Reader, Blackmail Press, 4th Floor and Swamp.

I have only recently met Bill but look forward to reading more of his poetry, in which he seems to be able to turn the gritty truth into something much more surprising, more elusive.

Wadestown is published with permission. 

This week's editor, Saradha Koirala, is a Wellington poet. Her first collection wit of the staircase was published by Steele Roberts in 2009. Her work has also appeared in literary magazines including Hue & Cry, Sport, broadsheet and The Listener. When she's not teaching at a local secondary school, Saradha is working on her second book.

For more Tuesday Poems from our Tuesday Poets and others they admire - look into the right hand sidebar. When it says 'Tuesday Poem' in the title, click to enter.