Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fisherman by Brian Turner

When the fisherman found
he could no longer row his dinghy
the tide went out with his heart,

and when I asked him what he felt
about that, he said he didn’t know
where to start. You’ll have to…

he said, but didn’t complete
the sentence about a sentence
because he’d already said it all.

By Brian Turner from Just This (page 40)
Winner of the 2010 New Zealand Post Book Award for Poetry
Used with the permission of Victoria University Press

I love the utter quiet despair in this poem. I find that if you really listen and pay attention to the world then it’s often the small, the quiet and the unassuming people and things that have the most impact. This is especially heightened in cities where bigger, faster, louder, more, seems to be prized.

The end of 2009/start of 2010 for me was a particularly grief-stricken time and this poem sums up exactly how that felt. This poem has a hollowing feel, a poignant sense of loss, and something that I too felt couldn’t completely be explained by words when people asked, “How are you?”

There must be many on the West Coast, reeling from the Pike River mining disaster, who feel exactly this.

The unfinished completeness of the fisherman’s sentence reminds me of a fantastic part in Janet Frame’s autobiography (possibly An Angel at my Table), when her father paints a picture of some dogs but leaves the eyes unfinished. This is seen by a young Frame as a symbol of her father’s – and family’s – circumstance at the time.

Read more about Brian Turner here. And do check out the other Tuesday Poems in the live blog roll in the sidebar.

Emma McCleary is this week's Tuesday Poem editor. Emma has recently started as the Web Editor at Booksellers New Zealand. It’s her job to help support bookshops across New Zealand, regularly post book news, encourage staff to tweet on the @booksellersnz account and compile Bookseller’s weekly member newsletter The Read.

When she’s not at work, Emma blogs about her life in Featherston, runs her craft empire Emma Makes and is a printmaker.

Tuesday Poem acknowledges the terrible losses felt by the families of the Pike River Miners


AJ Ponder said...

I really like what you said about quiet desperation. It made me go and look back on the poem in a whole new light.

Elizabeth Welsh said...

I love the inadequacy of speech in the face of grief that the poem throws to light. Thank you for posting this Emma!

Harvey Molloy said...

A great poem from a great book.

Mary McCallum said...

Thank you, Emma, for this poem. It has decided me - I have to buy the book now. 'The tide went out with his heart' resonates with such a deep sadness. Your commentary is a wonderful way in to the poem too.

Tim Jones said...

That's a fine and most appropriate poem to post, Emma - the understatement seems especially appropriate.

Melissa Green said...

Yes, Mary, the line 'the tide went out' said everything about grief. Thank you, Emma, for this lovely, quiet, utterly despairing poem.

Emma said...

Thank you for all your comments. We're lucky at work (Booksellers) to have shelves of really great books. This one was particularly good. Emma.

T. said...

The brevity exhibited in this poem only works to reinforce the inadequacy of language in the face of grief.

Nice to learn about the New Zealand Brian Turner. The American Brian Turner can be found here: