Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Quail Flat, 1960 by Kerry Popplewell

    for Brian

Five of us slept that night on the stone floor
of an old cob hut, close by the Clarence River –
our ears ringing still from the silence
of high screes, our eyes still burning
from hot snow, the bright shimmer of bugloss
and briar rose on the parched valley flats.

When I woke, cold, in that monochrome time
before colour seeps in, I saw you sprawled
quite motionless, eyes closed. Rough stubble
darkened planes of shadow on your face.
You could have been a nameless casualty,
you looked so spent, so vulnerable and young.

But you weren't called upon to fight and die
at twenty, under unfamiliar stars.
The sun came up. We took the river route,
then climbed a pass that led us down
to adulthood – terrain as yet empty,
brilliant as sea-dazzle; as sun-strike.

Published with the permission of the poet and the publisher.
Editor: Keith Westwater

The poem

"Quail Flat, 1960" was published in Kerry's first collection, Leaving the Tableland (Steele Roberts, 2010).

Kerry writes of this poem: In 1960 I was in a party of five on a University tramping club trip to the Kaikoura Ranges.  After climbing Mount Tapuaenuku on Christmas Day, we crossed Muzzle Saddle and dropped down to the Bluff Homestead on the Clarence River where we were treated to soft beds and rabbit stew. The next day we crossed the Clarence and went upstream to spend a night at Quail Flat before coming out over the Seaward Kaikoura Range.  The person addressed in the poem is still a close friend.

This poem is typical of Kerry's excellent writing - well-structured, with language that evokes feelings, emotions and memory, and based in the physical world of her tramping experiences. On the surface, this poem describes a memory from a tramp she was on with five others many years previously. Following the overnight interlude from what must have been a hard climb, Kerry (there is no doubt that she is the narrator) wakes to observe one of her companions who is still asleep. His vulnerability and youth reminds her of her parents' generation (perhaps) who, at his age, weren't quite so fortunate, because they were called upon to fight overseas. In the last stanza, when the tramp begins again, the party seems to still be undertaking their journey in the physical landscape, but with a surprising twist they "then climbed a pass that led us down/to adulthood – terrain as yet empty,". I was impressed with this re-framing of the tramp to focus on what youth feel when the bright future lies ahead. I also enjoyed the descriptive writing set in the Kaikouras and the Clarence.

The poet

Apart from four years while studying at the University of Chicago, Kerry Popplewell has lived in Wellington all her adult life. Despite this, she grew up in Hawke’s Bay and thinks of the Kaweka and Ruahine ranges as her home territory. Since she stopped teaching over ten years ago, her poems have appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies. This first (2010) collection would have happened sooner had she not been distracted by grandchildren and her interest in tramping.


I had the good fortune to share a writing class with Kerry in 2003. The class was taken by Dinah Hawken and was for a paper called "Writing the Landscape".

After you've read this week's Tuesday Poem, please check out some of the other poems offered by the Tuesday Poets who appear 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'.


Jennifer Compton said...

oh yes, good choice

Sarah Jane Barnett said...

This is lovely. Thank you for posting!

Helen Lowe said...

I enjoyed this poem when I first read Kerry's "Leaving The Tableland" collection and it's great to have the opportunity to reacquaint myself with it again today.

Thomas Olivera said...

great work....I got inspiration from this blog...thank you!

Mark said...

Nice piece. Touches the heart, causes you to think. www.mark-poems.blogspot.co.uk