Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Jar of Balloons or The Uncooked Rice by Matthew Yeager

Have you ever had a haircut so bad
you cried? When you open the drawer
after having poured yourself a bowl of cereal,
do you reach for a small or large
spoon? How conscious are you of your
posture? Will you agree to let a lover
use your tooth brush? Which chemicals'
smells do you like? During which phase
of life did you acquire the bulk of your
friends? Have you ever quit a bad job
emphatically, ripped off a uniform or apron,
thrown the balled-up cloth at a superior,
then stomped off? Grey or gray? Who ...

Go to Sixth Finch, Summer 2009, to read the rest of the poem.

                                                                 Editor: Sarah Jane Barnett

The reason I haven't posted the entirety of Yeager's poem is because it is long. And I don't mean long as in it has many parts, or long like a narrative poem, but long like the Great Wall of China. I was introduced to the poem by writers Ashleigh Young and Tim Upperton, who dared me to read it. So I did, in just over an hour.

Being made solely of personal questions, the poem is unrelentingly about you. It places the reader as its focus through the act of being read. Yeager's line breaks mid-question create a pace that leads into the next question. "When making a shooting- / yourself gesture, do you do the gun barrel / with two fingers or one?" he asks. "Do you insert / the finger-gun into your mouth or press it / to your temple?" When reading the questions it is hard not to think of the answer (I use two fingers and press it to my temple). Questions bounce off each other and come together to make strange suggestions. They unsettle. It's like staring into a mirror for too long. Then they keep on going.

The poem inspires many responses, the two most common, I'm guessing, are over stimulation and boredom. It has also inspired bloggers to answer Yeager's questions, which one could argue is a vain task. In saying that, Ward's Words, saw the question form of Yeager's poem as a request to the reader to answer the questions, which he did in full. It's an interesting interpretation.

So all there is to do now is read the poem. I dare you.

Reproduced on The Tuesday Poem Hub with permission.
Sarah Jane Barnett is this week's Tuesday Poem editor. She is a writer and reviewer who lives in Wellington, New Zealand. At the moment Sarah is halfway through a PhD in Creative writing, with a focus on ecopoetics. Her first collection of poetry, A Man Runs into a Woman, is due to come out this year from Hue & Cry Press

Once you have enjoyed "A Jar of Balloons or The Uncooked Rice", take some time to enjoy the other poems posted this week by members of the Tuesday Poem community. You will find them all listed in the sidebar.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Kiss by Rachel Bush

This morning my dad said
Who’s moved my bloody cellphone?
Christ why can’t people leave my things alone.
There was just the two of us.
I said I never even touched your cellphone and my dad said
Where the hell is the bloody thing? Oh forget it.
Get yourself dressed. I’ve got to get to work.
Aren’t you dressed yet? Then he didn’t talk
till he dropped me at my mum’s and he said

by Rachel Bush from Nice Pretty Things and others 
Published by Victoria University Press
Used with the permission of Victoria University Press

                                                            Editor: Emma McCleary

I don't write poetry and we should probably all be glad for that. However, what I like in a poem  is observations of the everyday, which Kiss has in spades. I'm hugely admiring of people who can take a seemingly normal activity - something that would otherwise be overlooked - and write it down in a way that's instantly recognisable to us all.

I also really like that although this Dad is a bit fraught he's clearly a good Dad - he's frustrated but there's no aggression in the poem. There's a particular kind of way a strung out father speaks and this poem captures that perfectly. My own Dad used to use this tone when we was wallpapering; muttering to yourself and using the word 'bloody' is really at the core of it all.

Emma McCleary is Web Editor at Booksellers NZ. She loves buying books from her local bookshop and reading - currently Stonemouth by Iain Banks (labouring through) and most recently The Forrests by Emily Perkins.

When she's not putting stuff on the internet, she runs her craft empire, Emma Makes.

After reading the hub poem try out all the other Tuesday Poems in the sidebar where our 31 Tuesday Poets reside. 

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/.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

VA Hospital Confessional by Brian Turner

Each night is different. Each night the same.
Sometimes I pull the trigger. Sometimes I don’t.

When I pull the trigger, he often just stands there,
gesturing, as if saying, Aren’t you ashamed?

When I don’t, he douses himself
in gasoline, drowns himself in fire.

A dog barks in the night’s illuminated green landscape
and the platoon sergeant orders me to shoot it.

Some nights I twitch and jerk in my sleep.
My lover has learned to face away.

She closes her eyes when I fuck her. I imagine
she’s far away and we don’t use the word love.

When she sleeps, helicopters
come in low over the date palms.

Men are bound on their knees, shivering
in the animal stall, long before dawn.

I whisper into their ears, saying,
Howlwin? Howlwin? Meaning, Mortars? Mortars?

Howl wind, motherfucker? Howl wind?
The milk cow stares with its huge brown eyes.

The milk cow wants to know
how I can do this to another human being.

I check the haystack in the corner
for a weapons cache. I check the sewage sump.

I tell no one, but sometimes late at night
I uncover rifles and bullets within me.

Other nights I drive through Baghdad.
Firebaugh. Bakersfield. Kettleman City.

Some nights I’m up in the hatch, shooting
a controlled pair into someone’s radiator.

Some nights I hear a woman screaming.
Others I shoot the crashing car.

When the boy brings us a platter of fruit,
I mistake cantaloupe for a human skull.

Sometimes the gunman fires into the house.
Sometimes the gunman fires at me.

Every night it’s different.
Every night the same.

Some nights I pull the trigger.
Some nights I burn him alive.

© Brian Turner

From Phantom Noise by Brian Turner (Bloodaxe Books, 2010)
Distributed in Australia & New Zealand by John Reed Book Distribution.

Reproduced on The Tuesday Poem Hub with permission.
                                                                                   Editor: Helen Lowe

On January 24, I featured US poet Brian Turner's AB Negative (The Surgeon's Poem) as the Tuesday Poem selection on my own blog. 

I had first heard Brian in 2009, as part of a radio documentary on contemporary war poetry. The poem read in that documentary was AB Negative (The Surgeon's Poem), which was why I featured it in January. 

I felt, both on first hearing and subsequent reading, that it had the element I most look for in writing of any kind, which is what I call 'heart." In the poem I heard the note that I believe resonates in all great art and reaches out to the listener, the reader, or the viewer: that depiction of what NZ poet, Dr Glenn Colquhoun, has described as the "ache" of our human condition. 

Part of that depiction may be gritty reality, another part may be compassionboth qualities that I found in Brian Turner's first collection Here, Bullet, a series of poems written during his service with the 3rd Stryker Brigade in Iraq. As I noted on January 24: "...the poems observe, record, note, but make no judgments outside of the personal—leaving the reader to make up his or her own mind on the subject of this war, its brutality and its human cost." In this sense, it's, "...war poetry in the tradition of the First World War poet, Wilfrid Owen, who wrote: 'My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.'"  

Brian Turner's second collection, Phantom Noise, is still war poetry, but this is no longer the poetry of the combat zone but of its aftermath, that return to civilian life where the experiences of war, even when the individual tries to keep them locked down, still bleed into everyday life so that in the poem At Lowe's Home Improvement Center, 

"... standing in aisle 16 ...
 I bust a 50 pound box of double-headed nails  
open ... their oily bright shanks 
and diamond points like firing pins 
from M-4s and M-16s." 

Again, there are many powerful and moving poems in Phantom Noise, but two epitomise the collection for meperhaps appropriately given they are also its first and last poems: VA Hospital Confessional, which I have featured today, and The One Square Inch Project. 

For me, VA Hospital Confessional is all about the memories bleeding through:

"I tell no one, but sometimes late at night
 I uncover rifles and bullets within me"


"Other nights I drive through Baghdad.
 Firebaugh. Bakersfield. Kettleman City." 

The landscapes of war are bleeding into those of home. But this is also a poem about emotional disconnection, perhaps most tellingly encapsulated in the lines:

"She closes her eyes when I fuck her. I imagine
 she's far away and we don't use the word love."

Here the sexual act epitomises a world conceived as "subject" and "object", "self" and "other", one in which "I" fuck "her." Like war and killing, sex is separated out from love, becoming something which is done to the "other."

"Every night," the poem tells us, "it's different." But also: "Every night the same."                       

"Some nights I pull the trigger. 
Some nights I burn him alive."

Raw, brutal, powerful stuff—but also full of Yeats' "terrible beauty." Some of that terrible beauty may lie in "night's illuminated green landscape" of war, but I feel, with Wilfrid Owen, that the poetry is in the pity. 

And that other poem, the The One Square Inch Project? The key to why I feel it rightly completes this collection lies in the final stanza:

............................................." ...When I return to California, 
to my life with its many engines – I find myself changed
 ............ ...when gifted with this silence, motions have more 
of a dance to them, like fish in schools of hunger, once 
flashing in sunlight, now turning in shadow." 

Lovely lines in and of themselves, but just as the fish turn—now in sunlight, now in shadow—we are left with a sense that a return to wholeness may be possible. At the very least, amidst the gift of silence, there may be a turning away from that terrible gulf that splits the world into "self" and "other." 

About the Poet:
Brian Turner served for seven years in the US Army. He was an infantry team leader for a year in Iraq, from November 2003, with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. In 1999-2000 he was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina with the 10th Mountain Division. Born in 1967, he received an MFA from the University of Oregon and lived abroad in South Korea for a year before joining the army. His poetry was included in the Voices in Wartime Anthology published in conjunction with a feature-length documentary film. 

His collection Here, Bullet (Bloodaxe Books, 2007) was first published in the US by Alice James Books in 2005, where it has earned Turner nine major literary awards, including a 2006 Lannan Literary Fellowship and a 2007 NEA Literature Fellowship in Poetry. In 2009 he was given an Amy Lowell Traveling Fellowship. His second collection, Phantom Noise, is published by Alice James Books in the US and by Bloodaxe Books in the UK. It was shortlisted for the 2010 T S Eliot Prize. 

To read more about the poet and Phantom Noise you may also enjoy the following article that appeared in The Guardian newspaper in October 2010: "Brian Turner, words of war." 
When you've read Brian Turner, check out the other Tuesday Poems in the sidebar.

About the Editor: 
This week's editor, Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, and interviewer, hosting a regular poetry feature for Women on Air, Plains 96.9 FM. She is the current Ursula Bethell Writer-in-Residence at the University of Canterbury and has recently launched her third novel The Gathering of the Lost, the second novel in the The Wall of Night series. The first-in-series, The Heir of Night is currently shortlisted for the Gemmell Morningstar Award. Helen posts every day on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog and you can also follow her on Twitter: @helenl0we.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Fey by Helen Lowe

your door
stands open still
at dusk, your light
a moth's antenna
shadowed lawn

bare feet rustle
in last year's
leaf drift, a wind
through naked trees

you say
you will hang
a cricket cage
above your lintel,
burn apple wood
in the grate –
dance, the circle
of your skirt
the moon's dark face

I ride
a rocking horse
with patchwork eyes,
through your door
to the cold-stone hearth –
of dervish footsteps
hurdy-gurdy trees

© Helen Lowe  Highly Commended, Takahe National Poetry Competition 2008 -  published in Takahe 68, December 2009, and posted with permission here

                                                              Editor, Alicia Ponder

I was first introduced to Helen's work through her novel 'Thornspell', and I remember being particularly impressed by the lyricism of her language, along with her obvious love for romance, myth and fairytale.  A very powerful combination - especially in a poet - so of course when I found she was a member of the Tuesday Poem group I was instantly drawn to her poems.  With pieces ranging from Haiku to works inspired by Homer's Odyssey, each has its own unique voice, its own soul, and its own story to tell.  

I remember seeing Fey when it was blogged in December 2011, and it sent me straight back to my misspent youth - where anything was possible and there were fairies at the end of the garden.  (Not to mention the besom on the front porch that could only confirm that my mother was indeed a witch.)  But Fey is somewhat more sophisticated than a piece of childhood wonder.  It begins with an open door at night - your open door - placing you as the reader open to all the possibilities of an open door - camaraderie and danger - hand in hand.

And then...

                                your light
                                a moth's antenna
                                shadowed lawn

Helen Lowe
Such a beautiful picture.  Soft. Welcoming.  But more than that.  While being a stunning image of light across grass at first glance -  the moths antenna is also a hint of something slightly alien or "other" that is about to creep into the narrative.  (Not to mention the rather subtle nod to the creatures that belong to the dark - but yet are drawn to the light.) Now I'm sure I could continue to dissecting the rest of the poem - and leave the severed pieces bloody on the page - while undoubtedly proving irrevocably that I've missed the entire point.   I think that would be a bad idea.  So the only other thing I'll note is how I love the picture of "hurdy-gurdy trees" I have in my head, and suggest you check to make sure 

                                your door
                                stands open still
                                at dusk...

Thanks Helen.  Lovely work  I look forward to more. 

Helen Lowe is an active member of New Zealand's poetry scene.  She is a member of the New Zealand Poetry Society, hosts a monthly poetry feature for Women on Air, Plains 96.9 FM, and of course is a member of the Tuesday Poetry group with her blog. She is also the winner of numerous awards which can be found on her website. Her third novel The Gathering of the Lost , the second novel in The Wall of Night series, is just out. 

When you've read and enjoyed Fey check out the other Tuesday Poets' offerings in the sidebar - the range will astonish you. 

This week's Tuesday Poem editor Alicia Ponder is better known for her children's stories.  She has been published in Australia and New Zealand and her short story "Frankie and the Netball Clone" was recently nominated for Best Short Story in the 2012 Sir Julius Vogel Awards.  Her poetry can be found on her blog An Affliction of Poetry