Tuesday, July 14, 2015

At Koukourarata/Port Levy by John O'Connor

with Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, Helen Jacobs & Mark Pirie, June 3 2001

we parked the car by the memorial
to Taawao, the Ngapuhi missionary

which greets you as you arrive
on the final flat that horseshoes

round the bay to the wharf &
a collection of sheds & boatsheds --

it was full tide, a spring tide,
the water foreshortening the hills by

a myth or 2. we were too close
yet close enough to see. somebody

wisecracked about the gullibility
of biography -- or biographers -- as

an afterthought to thinking that
Mick Stimpson -- "Dirty Mick" -- had

humped his load of fish past here
many a time, as we turned back

& walked together towards the
cemetery beyond the gum tree

just off road, 2 gates
& you're there -- standing above the bay.

& I'd never seen the bay
so beautiful, in the winter air

smoke rising & the magpies
absent, for once, there weren't

even the usual sheep in the grave-
yard that had so disturbed

my American guest a few months before.
just Stimpson's grave at Port Levy

a bare headstone that as you say
may or may not be above the right

person. Alistair, you also said
that the mistakes don't matter

& quoted Auden on Yeats who
hadn't died in the depths of winter

but in Spain, sunny Spain, &
as we left the spot the Maori

kids ran after us, playing &
also visiting the graves, who

stopped by the gate before leaving
& washed their hands & flicked

the drops away. I
latched the gate and followed

you all downhill. & the kid
who asked were we old --

a naïve & unexpected question
which I liked & you replied to --

you later said she was the spirit
of the place. she had come

from the creek that cuts the road
& afterward went back to the

smoky yard of a Maori family's
home or bach. how do you

end a poem like this without
saying that all poems are about

love & death -- as you had?

Published with permission of HeadworX Publishers

This post today is to honour the passing of one of Christchurch and Canterbury's poetic identities, John O'Connor. John died suddenly on 12 May 2015.

John O'Connor founded the poetry magazine, plainwraps, in 1989. He has been an occasional editor of Spin, Takahe and the NZ Poetry Society's annual anthology. He was co-founder of Sudden Valley Press and Poets Group and was co-editor of the Canterbury Poets Combined Presses. He was on the committee of the Canterbury Poets Collective for twelve years, five of those as Chair.

John's many poetry collections include Laying Autumn's Dust (Line Print, 1983), Citizen of No Mean City (Concept Publishing, 1985), As It Is (Sudden Valley Press, 1997), A Particular Context (Sudden Valley Press, 1999), Working Voices (with Eric Mould) (Hallard Press, 2003), Parts of the Moon: Selected Haiku (Post Pressed, 2007), Cornelius & Co: Collected Working Class Verse (Post Pressed, 2010), Bright the Harvest Moon (Poets Group, 2011), Aspects of Reality (HeadworX, 2013) and Whistling in the Dark (HeadworX, 2014).


Claire Beynon said...

Thank you, Andrew, for this treasure. No need for eavesdropping here - John's intimate, conversational tone invites us, the reader, right in.

Helen McKinlay said...

This fills me with such nostalgia for Christchurch and its coastline and its poets. Such sparse clear writing...with so much meaning and John's humour illuminating all. Thanks for posting this in memory of John Andrew.

Rob Allan said...

This is a lovely evocation of John in place with friends and poets. What a good choice. Rob Allan.

Jennifer Compton said...

vale john

Helen Lowe said...

This is a great choice, Andrew -- vintage O'Connor.

Jen Long said...

Loved the rich,gentle,visual imagery. Thanks.