Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Speaking of the Balloonist by Janis Freegard

he had a balloon for a head
so to start with I didn’t trust him
his lips made rubber sounds when he spoke

he always rode a bicycle
and I was concerned his head might catch
in the spokes of his wheels and burst
(this never happened)

he dressed formally
immaculately turned out in trilbies
with pheasant feathers on the side
and bespoke suits
I wondered if he had to be
periodically reinflated
like the economy

he was well-spoken, the richness of his consonants
and globularity of his vowels
a constant source of pleasure

I got to know him a little
through my work at the academy
he was old as a vampire, he told me
and had spent time in the speakeasies
of Prohibition America
drinking bathtub gin and playing the trumpet

he stood for mayor in the last election
for days driving up and down my street
announcing himself through a red loudspeaker
I told him I’d vote for him
but when it came down to it
I didn’t vote at all
I meant to but I didn’t get around to it in time
then it was too late
I have failed democracy and don’t deserve it

someone accused me of trying to make him laugh
I can assure you that was never my intent
I have always been serious about this stuff
I have always spoken the truth
(I am not smiling)

this is how we shape each other: with every word we speak
once, while we were smoking opium together
I had the urge to undo the little knot at the nape of his neck
and blow and blow until we were both cloud-high
at times I look back and wish I’d done it
in the way we regret what we failed to do
more than anything we ever did
I aspire to be free of regrets
and console myself with the promise
that next time such an opportunity presents itself
I will seize that balloon with both hands
and will not be stopped

Answers to FAQs

1.     it was blue
2.     with a slight Estonian accent
3.     only in the beginning, then it faded somewhat

© Janis Freegard

Thank you to Auckland University Press and Janis Freegard for permission to publish Speaking of the Balloonist. This poem is from her latest book The Glass Rooster.

Editor, Helen McKinlay: 

The Glass Rooster is divided into eight echo-systems, yes echo, not eco as one might expect from someone with a degree in botany. A magical play on the eco systems of science and a new way of looking at the world as a group of systems which echo each other in multitudinous ways.
Janis’s personal echo-systems range through The Damp Places, Forest, Cityscape, and The Alpine Zone to Space, Home and Garden, the Underground and In the Desert and demonstrate her feeling for the interconnectedness of all things, animal, vegetable, mineral and beyond.

Within each of her systems the poems reverberate the main theme. For example, in The Alpine Zones, the poems encompass a sense of high places. So in Speaking of the Balloonist, we read 'I had the urge to undo the little knot at the nape of his neck and blow and blow until we were both cloud-high…' and in the poem Dimorphism, ‘If, for example, the heart were a vegetable sheep, settled on the flanks of some southern mountain… it would know to keep growing smug and corpulent leading the good life harking at kea.’ And then there is the love poem where, the lover says, ‘I am inflated like a giant zeppelin and am no longer able to remain on the ground’.

The book entrances with poems which tell stories both true and imaginary, filled with rich imagery, sharp observation and the sheer joy of living. The mystical figure of the glass rooster, watches over all and sums up as the book progresses. In the poem Neutrinos, the rooster says ‘Hen we are the children of stars, we are made from the same substance, let me take you through galaxies, oh I will show you such things…’ For me these lines are the essential ingredients of the book.

Janis at launch of her first poetry book,
Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus
Science and Imagination: I believe that imagination is the vital tool which helps us to survive in our environment and plan for the future. It needs to be encouraged in children and fostered throughout our lives. I found out not so long ago that the great scientist, Einstein agreed with me in this for he said: 

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

In Janis’s writing, science and imagination balance each other, allowing her to stretch the borders of known reality with credibility and to stride confidently into a poem with a statement such as ‘he had a balloon for a head.’  

I believe that to achieve this balance a writer needs to be well grounded in their own life as a writer. I asked Janis to make comment on how she achieves this: 

In order to carve out writing time, I work a nine-day fortnight, with every second Friday as a writing day. Apart from the obvious benefits of financial security, there are a number of reasons I like having a “day job”: I feel I can make a social contribution (not that writing doesn’t do that too), I have another source for feeling I've achieved or completed something, and then there’s the social contact. I like having a group of people to say hello to every day and enjoy the occasional pot of tea with. When I’m writing, I like to break up the day with a walk, a visit to a café or a browse around an art gallery. Walking’s great because you get a change of scene, oxygen flowing and hopefully some fresh ideas. Writing is so much about being “inside your head”, it’s good to do something physical and out of doors.

Exciting to note that on the night Janis launched The Glass Rooster, (Auckland University Press, 2015) she also launched her first novel, The Year of Falling  (Makaro Press, 2015)
Janis at her double book launch
It is such a pleasure for me to post Janis and her wonderful book here today especially since she is a fellow member of the Tuesday Poem community. Thank you Janis for being my guest. I hope you enjoyed this post. -- Helen McKinlay

Janis Freegard was born in South Shields, England, but has lived in New Zealand most of her life. She has degrees in Botany and Public Policy. Her books include 'The Glass Rooster' (Auckland University Press, 2015), 'The Year of Falling' (Makaro Press, 2015), 'Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus' (Auckland University Press, 2011) and 'The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider' (Anomalous Press, 2013). She is also the co-author of AUP New Poets 3 (Auckland University Press, 2008). She has won several prizes for short stories, including the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in many journals and anthologies and several of her stories have been broadcast on radio.  You can go to Janis's website here.

Other Useful Links:
  •  Article in Wairarapa Times re Janis's Ema Saiko Residency
  •  Review of The Glass Rooster on Beattie's Book Blog by Elizabeth Morton
  •  Janis's excellent author site on Amazon...includes updates on the books and a radio interview

Helen McKinlay is this week's Tuesday Poem editor. She is the author of the bestselling 'Grandma' books including Grandma Joins the All Blacks. She is also a published poet who lives in the top of the South Island NZ and blogs regularly on her own blog gurglewords. 

In addition to today's feature be sure to check out the wonderful poems featured by other Tuesday Poets, using our blog roll to the left of this posting.


Charles & Eileen said...

I love the poem! I especially like the way the speaker turns from the narrative, in the last stanza, and toward the confessional, philosophical mode. It takes what starts out as a delightful, whimsical fiction to a deeper meaning. Wholly satisfying! Helen's review is wonderful as well. I am intrigued by the book's categories, and want very much to experience them. Thanks!

Jennifer Compton said...


Claire Beynon said...

Yes, wow! To everything here. Janis. Helen. The Balloonist. The spokes of his wheels, his bespoke suit. The way we regret what we failed to do more than anything we ever did. All of it. Thank you!

Helen McKinlay said...

Thanks for your comments Eileen Jen and Claire. Eileen I like the way you describe the change in the poem's mood...very helpful thank you. Jen and Claire...yes 'Balloon Man' definitely has the wow factor.Wouldn't you just love to meet him!

Helen Lowe said...

Another fabulous poem from Janis, and commentary from Helen McKinlay--go the Tuesday poem! (Throws cap into the air!)

Penelope said...

I love the FAQs, where the questions being answered are unclear. Truly an enticing poem.

Helen McKinlay said...

Thanks Penelope and Taranjeet.
Yes I agree Penelope the FAQs are a great finishing touch.
Good luck with your poetry Taranjeet.