Tuesday, July 2, 2013

planchette by James Norcliffe

at night the rats
are bigger than rats

they race back and forth
like typewriters
across the lath and plaster

like good little rats
they have taken their poison
and now grow large with thirst

where are their pretty girlfriends
or love, the magician?

cannot one of these
offer them solace or slake?

oh qwerty they clatter
oh qwerty qwerty

as the night grows hard round them
desperate in their scrabble

and the stars
set like teeth

Editor: Keith Westwater

The poem

planchette first appeared in Psychopoetica 64 (UK) in 2000 and then in Landfall 201 in 2001 and in the New Delta Review (USA) in 2002. It was subsequently included in Contemporary Poets In Performance ed Jack Ross & Jan Kemp Auckland University Press in 2007 and in Nurse To The Imagination Ed Lawrence Jones Otago University Press in 2008.

This poem appeals to me on several levels. Initially, it had me searching for a thesaurus, as I didn't know that the title referred to a triangular-shaped scribble board mounted on two castors with a pencil mounted in the third corner. When lightly touched, it traces 'writing' with its movement. And, if I hadn't been tripping down to earthquake-ravaged Christchurch for the now nearly last three years, I wouldn't have known what 'lath and plaster' is - a type of ceiling construction prevalent in older Canterbury houses. So, with my education complete, I was able to relate to the poem my own relatively recent experience with poisoning rats in our ceiling. I had heard the same sounds that James describes in the extended typewriting metaphor he has used through this tight, taut poem with language that strikes home like a laser.

The poet


The New Zealand Book Council states that "James Norcliffe is a poet, fiction writer and educator. He has written collections of poetry and short stories, and several books for young adults. His writing has been featured in journals and anthologies, and he has also worked widely as an editor. Norcliffe has won awards and prizes, and has been the recipient of key fellowships, including the 2006 Fellowship at the University of Iowa."

The Council's biographical notes then go on to quote more extensively from The Oxford Companion To New Zealand Literature and provide additional information about James' writing career and impressive number of achievements.

James has published six collections of poetry, more recently Rat Tickling (Sudden Valley), Along Blueskin  Road (CUP) and Villon in Millerton (AUP).  His latest collections are: Shadow Play (Proverse), which was a finalist in the 2011 Proverse International Writing Prize and includes a CD of the poems; a book of selected poems, Packing a Bag for Mars (Clerestory Press), which is a collection for younger readers with writing prompts and illustrations by Jenny Cooper; and a new novel for young readers Felix and the Red Rats which has just been released by Longacre Press/Random House.

James lives at Church Bay near Christchurch and more about him can be found on his blog.

Two degrees of separation

I met James socially (once) through a mutual friend about 20 years ago, well before I started writing poetry, then re-met him again (through the same mutual friend) in 2011, a few years after I had been knocked on the head by the muse. It was only then I began to appreciate the quality, breadth and depth of James' literary work (see above). Since then, I have intermittently sought his advice on poetry-writing so now also greatly appreciate his sagacity and counsel which he has given unstintingly.

planchette is published on Tuesday Poem with permission. After you've read it do check out the other poems in the sidebar.

This week's  editor, Keith Westwater lives in Lower Hutt, New Zealand. His debut collection Tongues of Ash (IP, 2011) was awarded 'Best First Book' in the publisher's IP Picks competition. More of his poetry can be found on his blog 'Some place else'.


Mary McCallum said...

A poem powered by stunning metaphor and sounds that resonates with me, both a reluctant bush rat poisoner and onetime owner of two domestic rats. I both respect and fear these creatures. The way the rats are 'typing' their way across the ceiling in the poem is inspired. Makes me think, amongst other things, of the fabulous children's book The Rats of Nimh and the moment when the rats spoke and the humans heard them.... Thank you, James, for the poem and Keith for introducing James and the poem to the TP readers - and explaining so much.

Mary C said...

This is a wonderful poem. Querty indeed!

Claire Beynon said...

Keith, you have chosen one of my favourite James Norcliffe poems - thank you!

'oh qwerty they clatter
oh qwerty qwerty

as the night grows hard round them
desperate in their scrabble

and the stars
set like teeth'

Jealous? Okay, yes, just a little! Thanks to you both.

Anonymous said...

Source - I

She is the source. I can know she is
the great source
on which everyone thought. When in the field
the clover was sought, or in silence
the night was awaited,
or somewhere on the peace of the earth
the warping of time was heard ---
each one thought on the source. It was a
secret and peaceful flow.
A miraculous thing which happened

No one spoke of her, because
she was immense. But everyone knew her
as the teat. As the goatskin.
Something smiled within us.

My sisters were smoothly becoming
women. My father read.
An acceptance of the clover smiled
inside me, a very chaste finding.
It was the source.

I loved her, painfully and quietly.
The moon was forming
with a subtle hint of ferocity,
and the apple took a beginning of

Today sex has drawn itself. The thought
has been lost and reborn.
Today I know permanently that she
is the source.

Herberto Helder

Jennifer Compton said...

oui - ja

Ben Hur said...

I really enjoy James' work. It is often quirky and humorous and always thought-provoking.

Also, I learnt something through the details of the poem's biography. I see it has been published in UK, USA and NZ.

I've always been lead to believe that a poem or story has a very limited life. Once published, you can't offer it to someone else. But, AHA, perhaps you can give it another life if you offer it to other countries.

Keith Westwater said...

Thanks Mary, Claire, Unknown, Jennifer and Ben for your comments.

Michelle Elvy said...

Wonderful poem -- that clattering noise of rats, if you've known it in your own home (behind the old plaster walls, yes -- we had a very old house in Baltimore before coming to NZ), is unforgettable and this poem captures so much. I love the sparse and targeted images and sounds in this. And the ending -- which Claire quotes here too -- marvellous!

Penelope said...

In one sense, the poem is about writing, isn't it...Ideas squirming around like rats, jiggling out into writing.

In another, it's about casual cruelty we inflict on animals that cause any inconvenience, and the poem is giving a kind of voice to their pain, even if it can not be properly articulated, or translated into words.

Love the word scrabble near qwerty...did anyone else think of the game and the tiles?

Thanks for posting this one Keith.

Urdu Shayari said...

this is too good