Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Map (you give me) by Stephen Bett

You point out
places & it's
like doors

filled w/

So caught in
the frame

Dead ends
dark glass

You are so
open to me,
place a
new spaces
a map
of my need

Editor: Orchid Tierney

Stephen Bett's works are characteristically sharp and superficially simple. Yet they mask a sincere emotion which, in subsequent readings, grows deeper with intensity. Brevity yields nuances, words become packed with unsaid dialogue, lines are meant to be read 'in between.'

That being said, the layers within the poems are wonderfully subtle. It's true that I have little patience for works where the skeleton is even remotely obvious. If I go to a restaurant, I don't want to be served the ingredients of my meal.

Minimalist poetry makes its own rules to convey meaning but any successful poem should read beyond the printed word. My personal obsession with semiotics, cultural signs and their processes which adapt and form meaning, made me fall in, like, love at first sight with Stephen's work. I spent hours pouring over his book Track this trying to understand how he melded particular nuances to words that normally yielded none.

At the time, I assumed the faint linear structure of the collection imposed a vague, connect-the-dots memory where subsequent poems rode on the metaphors that preceeded them. Although several months on, I'm not so sure that line of reasoning is correct. The one thing I do understand of his work is this gut feeling: the hallmark of authentic poetry is the ability to inspire a determined thought process and - 'I wish I could I write like that!'

Stephen Bett is an insanely prolific Canadian poet of eleven poetry collections which include 'S PLIT' (Ekstasis Editions, 2009) and 'Trader Poets' (Frog Hollow Press, 2003). A new edition of his humourous spoof on the softcore porn industry, 'Extreme Positions' is due for release shortly. The Map (you give me) appears in the collection, 'Track This: A Book Of Relationship,' published by BlazeVOX [books], 2010, and is reproduced with permission.

Do check out the Tuesday Poem sidebar. Every Tuesday, our 30 poets post poems they've written or have selected by other writers, ranging from Sappho to Baxter to Hass.

This week's editor, Orchid Tierney, is an Auckland-based writer. She graduated from the Masters of Creative Writing Program at Auckland University in 2009, and edits Rem Magazine. Her website: www.orchidtierney.com.

Curator's Note: Next week, we celebrate the first birthday of the Tuesday Poem with a communal poem written by each of the poets line by line over the week ... drop in and watch the poem unfold.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rembrandt's Late Self-Portraits by Elizabeth Jennings

You are confronted with yourself. Each year

The pouches fill, the skin is uglier.

You give it all unflinchingly. You stare

Into yourself, beyond. Your brush’s care

Runs with self-knowledge. Here

Is a humility at one with craft.

There is no arrogance. Pride is apart

From this self-scrutiny. You make light drift

The way you want. Your face is bruised and hurt

But there is still love left.

Love of the art and others. To the last

Experiment went on. You stared beyond

Your age, the times. You also plucked the past

And tempered it. Self-portraits understand,

And old age can divest,

With truthful changes, us of fear of death.

Look, a new anguish. There, the bloated nose,

The sadness and the joy. To paint’s to breathe,

And all the darknesses are dared. You chose

What each must reckon with.

From ‘Collected Poems’ Carcanet, 1987, © Elizabeth Jennings 1987, and used by kind permission of David Higham Associates.

TP Editor: Belinda Hollyer

Elizabeth Jennings (1926 – 2001) was a poet of great emotional intensity and acuity. Sometimes the effects of these qualities are almost unbearably honest – the Rembrandt poem, above, comes close to that for me – and are always supported by a faultless technique, as well as by what seems a wonderful inevitability of logic and imagery.

Her obituary in The Guardian quotes something she said about clarity: “Only one thing must be cast out, and that is the vague. Only true clarity reaches to the heights and the depths of human, and more than human, understanding.” Her own poetic achievements both echo and celebrate that.

Jennings was – and still is – a much-anthologised poet, and works such as ‘Delay’ and ‘One Flesh’ are the ones most people will know. I chose the Rembrandt poem because it seems to me to go straight to the heart of our fear of the real, dark, hugeness of death and decay, as well as of the challenges of art.

I can't find a really good picture of Elizabeth Jennings. There's one I've heard of (but not seen: it may be apocryphal) taken when she had just received her CBE in 1992, in which she stands glowing with pleasure and wearing a low-slung beret, short tweed skirt and striped socks above tennis shoes. I love the idea of that photo: utterly at ease with herself, and utterly happy.

Belinda Hollyer is this week's Tuesday Poem editor. She is a New Zealand writer living in London - a children’s author and anthologist - and she blogs at www.belindahollyer.com/blog.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A week of it by Dinah Hawken

It is dark.
and dark again.

It is so.

It is something.
It is really something.

Small, beyond, becalmed
so be-all and end-all.

It is fine.
It is all that blue can be.

So be it.
It is too good to be true.

Are the odds against it?
If only it had another name
like so.

It’s alright. It comes along
in its own time, in the be-all without the end-all.

When it’s miserable
I fancy the o
in so.

So. It is this.
This is it.

Dinah Hawken
Dinah Hawken was born in Hawera in 1943 and now lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She is the author of five books - It Has No Sound and Is Blue, which won the 1987 Commonwealth Poetry Prize for 'Best First Time Published Poet', Small Stories of Devotion; Water, Leaves, Stones and Oh There You Are Tui (2001).

I feel privileged to have had a preview of Dinah’s forthcoming (6th) book - The leaf-ride. If you want to read more one of her poems "365 x 30" is at Best New Zealand Poems 2001.

Dinah has such a light touch yet her poems are substantial. There is a remarkable range of poems in The leaf-ride as it travels along in its ‘down-welling, up-welling drift’: poems that range from the power of a single word to the horror of violence to the joy of a newborn child.

Helen Heath is this week's Tuesday Poem editor, she blogs at helenheath.com. and lives in the seaside village of Paekākāriki, on New Zealand's Kapiti Coast. She completed an MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University in 2009. Her poetry has been published in many journals in New Zealand and Australia. Most recently she’s had a chap-book of poems published by Seraph Press called Watching for Smoke (2009). Currently she is working on a full-length book of poems.

For more Tuesday Poems, click on the Tuesday Poets in the sidebar.

Curator Note: A week of it, it's been indeed. Tuesday Poem sends its condolences to the people of Japan following the devastating earthquake and tsunami. Tuesday Poet Janis Freegard's post expresses this with a haiku.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

This New Place by Robert McGonigal

For Rose's baby

Body as Road Map

Body sees the 'you are here' sign,
then finds alleyways
and highways, which connect
the limbs and torso.

An inner guide helps body
explore, create meaning,
detour round slips.

Along these routes,
body seeks a dwelling
and to be nourished.

Body as Telephone

Body answers
a ringing from the pelvis.
It wants to spend all day,
wires connected
with other phones.

Often body sits by itself
an unanswered siren,
or it pushes buttons
for operator instructions.

Soon body learns
which numbers to dial
and which to leave on hold.

Body as a Somebody

Body is very pleased
with itself. This body
knows exactly where it's headed.
Legs stride
over the open ground,
arms reach far.

But some days,
eyes gaze out the window.
Fingers stretch,
tap the windowpane,
how they long to explore
the contours
of the fantail in the plum tree.

Body as Racetrack

Adrenalin circuits
the body in anger,
to sweat out
knots in the system.

Later, as it cools
a stillness ensues.
This is the end of the contest.
A time for bodies
in flow with each other
to rub two sticks together.

Body as Electronics

A wise touch on the crown:
this is the edge
between form
and the void.

Body knows how
thought-forms jolt
and tingle. As it
unplugs from these
the spine above the head
distils a higher voltage.

Body as Walking Stick

Body looks down the goat track
towards the next domain,
lit up by silver hair.

Before it goes
it reveals the meaning of

chiselled-out etches
on the skin.

These will support
other bodies who walk here.

TP Editor : Janis Freegard

I've chosen this poem in memory of its author, Robert McGonigal, a fine poet and a friend of mine who died far too young. Rob and I met in Greg O'Brien's poetry workshop at Victoria University in 2001 and kept in touch afterwards, occasionally swapping poems for feedback. 'This New Place', originally published in Turbine, is my favourite of Rob's poems.

Rob lived in Edinburgh for some time. I last saw him in 2006, when I was visiting family in South Shields (in the North-East of England) with my partner, Peter. We arranged to meet Rob in Berwick, on the border of Scotland and England, a sort of halfway point none of us had been to before. The three of us spent a lovely, happy day together, exploring the town, stopping for lunch in a little pub and walking along the old town wall.

It was always a treat to get a poem in an email from Rob. I hoped I'd be reading his poetry for many years to come. He was a talented writer and a lovely, gentle young man who is sadly missed and fondly remembered. Thanks to his family for permission to repost this poem.

Janis Freegard's first solo collection, 'Kingdom Animalia: The Escapades of Linnaeus' will be published by Auckland University Press in May. She has appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, and won the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award for short fiction in 2001. She lives in Wellington, New Zealand, and blogs at http://janisfreegard.wordpress.com/ and http://janisfreegard.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Excerpt from 15 Flower World Variations - Jerome Rothenberg

         with the body of a fawn
                   under a cholla flower
standing there
         to rub your antlers
turning where you stand to rub
         your antler
                  in the flower world
the dawn
         there in its light
                  under a cholla flower
standing there
         to rub your antlers
                  bending turning where you stand
to rub your antlers
                  with the body of a fawn
under a cholla flower
         standing there
                  to rub your antlers
         turning where you stand to rub
                   your antlers

The 15 Flower World Variations (Membrane Press, 1984) are derived from Yaqui Deer Dance songs by poet-translator-anthologist Jerome Rothenbergusing literal translations by Carleton Wilder et al. 
The full work can be found at the wonderful Ubuweb ethnopoetics site. 

Rothenberg's work has been called "anthology-assemblages." He identified with both the twentieth-century avant garde and with tribal poetry. The poems here are a literary manifestation of Yaqui (northern Mexican) cosmology. 

The Yaqui conception of the world is considerably different from that of their Mexican and United States neighbors. For example, the world (in Yaqui, anía) is composed of five separate worlds: the desert wilderness world, the mystical world, the flower world, the dream world, and the night world. Much Yaqui ritual is centered upon perfecting these worlds and eliminating the harm that has been done to them, especially by people (source)

Recently, I have had the privilege of reading the poetry of both Caroline Goodwin and Robert Hass, whose attention to the natural world I found refreshing but also sort of out of place in modern life -- which may explain the former. 

Hass laments 'the declining value we ascribe to the natural world', and assigns a duty to poets to correct this. Tuesday Poem thrives on contemporary poetry but it's hard not to appreciate the variational verse that carries this poem, and for me it resonates with the idea of nature as part of a diurnal cycle that constantly turns on itself.

Bernadette Keating is the editor of this week's Tuesday Poem. She is currently studying towards a postgraduate diploma in art history at Victoria University. She also writes poetry and occasionally blogs about writing and art. Bernadette lives in Wellington, New Zealand.

Curator's Note: One week after the earthquake that devastated Christchurch, it is good to be reminded of the beauty of the natural world - as evoked in the Rothenberg work - as well as its terrors. All Tuesday Poets living in the area (and the families of Tuesday Poets living there) are safe and well despite coping with hardships as the city continues to recover the dead and get back on its feet. All our thoughts are with you, Christchurch.