Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Outpost, by Lindsay Pope

March, 1941.

The coast is a scribble. Stars are stored in a
wooden box on my shelf. It is more black than
white here. Like algebra but colder.

The hut’s walls are a ghetto of mice. Those I
catch become whiskers of smoke in the firebox.

I attend to the scratching radio.

This is not my dream.

July, 1942.

The short days are long here. Morse code
stutters in my aerial.

Every door of the home of the wind has been
thrown open. An albatross turns the world on
a dip of its wing. It has learnt the axioms of the

Mice crawl in the pockets of my sleep.

I wake, clutching a stick of chalk. Each day a
tally mark.

December, 1943.

The mice have all but disappeared.

Clouds, black as slate, are heavy with names.
They fall upon my roof clutching ash.

On short wave the radio coughs all night long.

I have lost the frequency.

(Published with the permission of the poet and the publisher)

A pleasurable discovery
I became aware of Lindsay Pope's writing only recently, when I bought a copy of Headwinds, (Submarine, an imprint of Makaro Press, 2014), whilst lunchtime bookstore browsing. Most of Headwinds' poems are as rich with metaphor and sparse with verbiage as Outpost is.

According to the publisher, the poems are "the story of a man living ‘on the lower cheek of the world where the tears fall and turn to ice’ who is simultaneously muser and maverick" and "Lindsay Pope’s combination of the domestic and the wild, of fables and personal disclosures, has created a beguiling first collection."

The poem
Of the many appealing poems, Outpost interested me for this post because of its skillful use of poetic technique and its subject matter. Pope, a former mathematics teacher, sprinkles the poem with maths metaphors and similes which startle the reader: "Like algebra but colder" and "It has learnt from the axioms of the air." Mice crawl through the poem like static and disappear off the page. But references to radio, morse code, and aerials also point to context.

When I asked Lindsay to comment on the poem's setting, he replied "Outpost is the imagined diary entries of a Coastwatcher stationed in Auckland Island's Carnley Harbour during WWII".

I had sensed the Coastwatcher aspect from my first reading, but was aware only of their stationing in Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, so the appearance of an albatross threw me. According to some research which I then carried out, a secret five-year wartime programme of coast-watching stations was established on New Zealand's more distant and intermittently inhabited subantarctic islands. In the poem, Pope's narrative captures the isolation and virtual imprisonment of the coast watcher - '"each day is a tally mark" - and his slow erosion of sanity in the ambiguous last line: "I have lost the frequency". Considering the Auckland Island Coastwatchers didn't sight a single enemy ship in their five years of scanning the sea, I am not surprised.

The poet

Other than through his poems, Pope is reticent about his past. His very spare biography in Headwinds states "Lindsay Pope was born in Dunedin and lives in Nelson. His poetry has appeared in publications and online literary journals, in New Zealand and overseas."

Although Pope eschews social media, he did give a blog interview in 2012. The interviewer was Victoria University MA classmate, Ashleigh Young. During the interview, the following revealing exchange took place:

Young: Your work is often surreal and heavily metaphorical, as in your poem "Outpost": “Stars are stored in a wooden box on my shelf. It is more black than white here. Like algebra but colder.” And within this world is often a totally singular speaker, someone experiencing a necessary isolation: “The short days are long here. Morse code stutters in my aerial.” What is it about the experience of isolation that you keep coming back to in your writing?
Pope: I think I self-isolate. My personal history is one of betraying a great love. I find myself unable to trust myself to love fully again. Hence “I am more alone than together”.

The book

Headwinds may be purchased at Unity and other good independent bookstores, and online at www.makaropress.co.nz.

The Editor
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'.

For Tuesday Poem poets and more Tuesday Poems, check out the links in the sidebar to the left.


Kathleen Jones said...

I love the imagery in this poem. Thanks for posting Keith.

Lily said...

I love this poem for the simple lines that speak as if they are sitting next to me - the images and sounds dancing right in front of my eyes. Thank you!

Jennifer Compton said...

great stuff

Catherine said...

This is a new poet for me, fantastic to discover this beautiful imagery

سعودي نايس said...

nice very nice i liket

Sandeep Khosla said...

Nice poem I like this.i too write poems on my blog ownmyviews.blogspot.com.

sandeep khosla said...

Love your poems