Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Kirsti Whalen: Brave Like

an excerpt

Gaffer toe inside lake water. Not cold in there. Is not. Like. Imagined. Run, he say. Little eel snap snapping at your toes. Water like mud and thick too. Shallow but. Out. Out, Love Little. Out for it. Little run, Little One. Little One, his name for me.

But we are West. Rules snap snapping. This the other side. East of home and West of an older one. Western Springs. Springs cut with digger and. Birds. Brought here, I think. Nested in. They’re big anyway. Those eels. Those. Churning. Bolstered by old bread languid in mud water. They. Cut slip slither grease like under he nail. Don’t.

Not running.

Angry. I think he is. And it is only yet the flash of a green morning. Jetlag made early us. I. Reckless Little. Loves me. Loves me. Cover concern with sticking plaster disinterest. Cover sweaty water echo with black swan long neck saunter.   

Who gives a shit, say he.

Tongue (he) spars with the wet soft cowlick of sixty-cent cone. Breakfast.

I do.

I do. I do want this, I do, so I tuck toes back into grass shoes stepping. Baby, I call him. Like movie star lover. Trying to fit this. Love. He’s not Baby though. Boy. Fiancé. Mine. Man. But. We push. Each other into smallest selves. Contain that. We match in five feet and seven. We want to be bigger so he wrapped a finger. Bruised a knee. Stitch he, to Little. Say Love. Say Love. Love like gravy boats, bed sheets and matrimony.

On coast cut black with iron ice cream is four dollar thin chocolate blank tongue. Like, say Boy. Say love. I ask. Say love. Asking gets to be like begging when asking for. Love. Nestle old car into park by old dunes. Is familiar. Is. Diaphragm muscle tuck and click like CPR dummy. Flack there. In that chest wide open. Breathe it. That. Torn scar of sea. Oxidize. Your skin. Your shucked feet. Black on this sand.    

Boy, he go walking, t-shirt pulled from small body, skin pale sunless. Brother me so freckled they join like tan or aerial light over Indian city. Crowded. Thrumming. I have flown there, across that choice of sky. Very good at running I am. Very accomplished. Have been all places, most of them.

Brother me said. Before. And after we lost the first one and after I ran: sometimes, we do what has worked for us in the past. You. Run.

He stays. His lover gentle and golden beside him. Her hair like switches in this Wester coast wind.

While you’ve been gone, begin she.

Brother me mute her hand with his. Say he to me, there is no such thing as gone. Always. Always catches you.  
My face a saltlick for dull tongues.

Is. Not. Salt. Say I. Is wind. Is spray flung back from ocean.

Take Brother me hand up. Because gently. Gently still he is brother. Little small self inside there still want. Him to yes me. Hand (he). Is not like. Imagined. Warm. Palm is question mark, both are. They ask together.

Published here with permission.
Editor: Saradha Koirala

Kirsti Whalen was announced Runner-up for the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize on Sunday at the Auckland Writers Festival. She read this excerpt from a longer prose poem at the event and told us it was partly inspired by Eimear McBride's 'A Girl is a Half-formed Thing'. Read aloud, the language play and voice take on a life of their own and Kirsti, who initially admitted to nerves, transforms as she performs - seeming to care deeply about every word she's used here; every piece of punctuation. I especially like the lines "Rules snap snapping" as Kirsti herself snaps at the "rules" of poetry in this piece and "love like gravy boats" delights me. There's risk and boldness in this work, but Kirsti has total command over this seemingly runaway language. Lines like "Her hair like switches in this Wester coast wind." and "Diaphragm muscle tuck and click like CPR dummy." are perfect in both imagery and sound.

As well as this piece, Kirsti read a poem imagining the relationship her mother apparently had with Tim Finn in their younger days. Despite the humourous introduction, the poem was filled with poignant images - "pushing up daisy chains" - and Kirsti spoke of understanding someone's past loves as a way to bring them back; keep them near.

The inaugural Sarah Broom Poetry Prize commemorates the life of poet Sarah Broom, who passed away just over a year ago. Kirsti was named one of three finalists along with established poets Emma Neale and C.K Stead, who was the overall winner. The head judge was Sam Hunt - a personal friend of Sarah's - and judging was aided by Paula Green and Sarah Ross.

The judges said of Kirsti's work: Kirsti is a fresh young voice on the poetry horizon line. Her submission indicates she has an astonishing ear for the way sounds soar on a line, the way they dip and fall. Her syntax is bold and on the move, but she is unafraid of neither simplicity nor silent beats. The poems take you into the heart of family from a mother’s x-rays to kitchen dinners to a grandmother’s quince trees. Each poem is brought alive to a startling degree with sensual detail, electric connections, canny ellipsis, judicious repetition. It is a voice that feels original, that is willing to take risks and that exudes a love of writing in every nook and cranny.

Kirsti studies Creative Writing at Manukau Institute under the tutelage of Robert Sullivan and Eleanor Catton. She has written and read poetry since she was a child, and has won both the Katherine Mansfield Young Writers Award and the Bell Gully National Secondary Schools Poetry Award. She has published poems in various journals.

This week's editor, Saradha Koirala, is a poet and teacher from Wellington.


Michelle Elvy said...

Fabulous to come back to Tuesday Poem after a few weeks of missing our posts and find this by Kirsty Whalen. That 'rules snap snapping' is marvellous, yes, and I really like the discussion you've included here, both your own and the judges' comments from the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize comp. Wonderful language in this piece, and the rhythms are so unexpected -- smooth here, sharp there.

Thank you for sharing! I see I'm not the only one who missed this last week. I hope others will find their way back here too -- it's worth it.

Mark said...

I like this it's different. Clever, esp 'torn scar of sea'.www.mark-poems.blogspot.co.uk