Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Afternoon with Simon by Ashleigh Young

A reflection fills the rain
on the window: it’s Simon, proffering his lunch-taker
filled with gold almonds: almondos he calls them.
His eyes have the shine of all good editors’ eyes:
polished by finding.
I drop my pen, reach over, trailing red
crossed-out fingers:
I have been attacked by a man-eating grammar.
My eyes have been prised from my head
by looking.
Simon studies the lines of rain and eventually
starts talking, beginning each sentence with ‘I suppose’
because he is too hospitable not to leave room
to agree with somebody else
and he also really does suppose:
sometimes assuming that all this is true, sometimes only
imagining it to be so.

We clear a spot amidst the books that nobody
in this country will read. We are the international
editorial team: ours is the great city of color
and Mom and ‘You betcha
circled by ocean, not sea.
We make our talk up
like newspaper shelters in the street: strange at first
and lifting at the edges, soon becoming part
of the city’s furniture.

Simon, too, has a voice that lacks volume.
When people catch wind of it
they interrupt to save him
the trouble. Well, their cars go faster. But, goddammit,
he has things to say; like
if in doubt, laugh
even if doing so will offend someone
because the odds are you will offend them even more
if they think you are serious –
which in the current climate is the no. 1 risk –
or they will not notice you and will tramp right through your house.
In conversation, a quiet-voiced person
needs plenty of space, needs flags to wave, needs
a moat filled with deep water.

Through our window, a giant Dan Carter
stands there in his undies. Imagine having
that confidence – to wear yourself
like you were an expensive set of clothes.

Simon does lunges
in his homemade trousers.
I ask what he is doing but he doesn’t hear;
he’s partially deaf, sometimes partial to being deaf
and I suppose I would have more friends
like Simon if the other people didn’t catch the half-things I say.
This is a job where so many words go forth heroically
only to fall through a rotten board in the floor.
But it does not matter that crucial parts have been lost.
I used to say nothing and now I am talking;
used to live nowhere and now I am eating
gold almonds in the afternoon, with shelter.

                                                            Guest Editor: Tim Upperton

Ashleigh Young is a New Zealand writer currently living in London and blogging at eyelashroaming. She is well-known for her creative nonfiction works (or “pieces”, “sketches”, “things”, as she called them in a Booknotes article): she won the Adam Foundation Prize in 2009 for her essay collection, Can You Tolerate This? (the title essay can be read here), and her essay, “Wolf Man”, won the Landfall Essay Competition the same year. She is perhaps not so well-known for her poems, despite their regular appearance in our off- and on-line literary magazines (Sport, Turbine, Best New Zealand Poems). 

Her poem, “Certain Trees”, is the final poem in The Best of the Best New Zealand Poems, and was singled out by Sam Hunt as the best of them – the best of the best of the best. 

There’s not much I can add to that, except to say that Ashleigh Young’s voice is, I think, unique – in both the essays and the poems, I hear its distinctive, individual tone of engaged enquiry, a curiosity about the world that suspends judgement while still reaching tentative conclusions. It wonders where things are going, and follows them, and the reader can’t help but wonder and follow too.

I’ve chosen “Afternoon with Simon” as it typifies her strengths. The poem appears to meander through a not particularly busy afternoon, and it’s not until the end that we realise how acute the observation is. I find this poem extraordinarily humane, and I feel richer for reading it.

Tim Upperton lives in Palmerston North, New Zealand. His poems have appeared in various places including Agni, Landfall, New Zealand Books, Sport, Turbine, and The Best of Best New Zealand Poems. His collection A House on Fire (Steele Roberts) was published in 2009. 

Thanks Tim! Now do take time to check out the poets in the sidebar including Melissa Green at the bottom of the list because her blog isn't updating on the blog roll. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Poems for National Poetry Day (NZ)

from The Radio Room by Cilla McQueen (Otago University Press 2010)

About The Fog

Damp sea-fog lay like a sheep on my journal
outside all night on the table,
turned radiant blue ink to turquoise wash
through which the permanent horizons stared
twenty-eight pages empty.
                                                Of vanished thoughts here
and there word-slivers, blots in the gutter, bled edges;
some legible sentences in ballpoint.

As if by tears
                        lost the death of my mother,
the reunion with my tokotoko at Matahiwi,
Orepuki Hopupu ho nengenenge matangi rau
at hand beside me now, ribboned, knotty, sleek,

Washed away, goes without saying, language
absorbed by a fog to dissolve in the sun.

from The Mirror of Simple Annihilated Souls by Kate Camp (VUP 2010)

When things get broken we recount their history

On blue and orange lino tiles
triangles of the tulip glass

of the four I bought
from a tent
by the underground city
two with cracks
were nestled in newspaper.

The stallholders
of Turkey
do not love me
after all.

One by one
I am smashing

the knickknacks
of the past.

To smithereens I blow

the family of owls
and tragically the tiny glass
hand-painted flowers
we drank from
through baby teeth.

When the house was burgled
they broke the mirror tile
saw there a picture
of themselves.

There is all the time in the world
to regret
when something is falling

coffee pours up
from the cup

the plate turns
its soft food
towards the floor.

An earthquake
would be
an explosion
of memory

blasting open
and syrup.

from Mauri Ola – Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English (Whetu Moana II), a poem by Alohi Ae’a (Hawaii), collection edited by Albert Wendt, Reina Whaitiri and Robert Sullivan (AUP 2010)


I dream that you stand beneath the night
sky, watching the stars. You track
their movements, as the dome of the earth swings
overhead. The star you seek rises

and there, as it breaks the horizon, you turn. Face
Tahiti. The wind is silent at this moment. I turn
in bed; the air is cool.

Such small things keep us together. I work
the sennit of our love, roll it between
my fingers. Next week, I will help you lash
the masts. In the open ocean, the ropes we pull

will keep this canoe together. It will rise
and fall with wind and wave and storm. You go
with it. I remain here.

You sit at Moa’iki under the full bright
of a distant moon.  At Waikīkī, moonlight
makes little difference – yet here I am at Queen’s,
watching the waves swell dark

against a grey horizon. I catch my breath – see
the shower of light falling, falling. I find the handful
of constellations that I know. Grip them in my mind.

Nine a.m. Sunday morning, Dolphins spin
far offshore. I see their bellies flash silver. You
want to reach out and touch them, strike the sleek pulse
of their sides. What does all that smoothness

remind you of? What are you thinking as the wind
catches in the sails? How is it that I can hear your voice,
echoing across the distant channels?
                                                            Editor Renee Liang

This week, we celebrate New Zealand's upcoming National Poetry Day (July 22) with not one, but three poems.  I’ve chosen those which called to me the most, from the pages of the shortlisted books for the poetry section of the 2011 NZ Post National Book Awards. It’s a purely personal pick, and quite possibly I would have picked a different bunch on a different day. Looking at them now I’m amazed at how much they resonate with each other. The books (all remarkable collections) are so varied in mood and theme.

The Radio Room by Cilla McQueen is a work held together by the delicate strands of space and time. Traversing geographical and ideological boundaries, the poems remind me of sketches in a day journal, some quick impressions, others much more detailed, worked and returned to.  Behind it all is Cilla’s forthwright and direct voice, offering personal events as a microcosm of universal experience.

Kate Camp’s The Mirror of Simple Annihilated Souls is a much more intellectual work, basing itself on a found text (the first Mirror of Simple Annihilated Souls, an early 14th century work of Christian mysticism by Marguerite Porete) and extending this as a lens on the present time and place.  She manages to take a medieval European work and make it modern, and in some ways quite “Kiwi”.

Mauri Ola – Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English (Whetu Moana II) edited by Albert Wendt, Reina Whaitiri and Robert Sullivan, is possibly best described as a treasury of the Pacific voice.  The work selected covers poets throughout Polynesia, including many emerging and established voices in Aotearoa. Many of the poems deal with the discovery or claiming of identity, or the facets of daily experience that make up a culture.  There’s a fair amount of anger as well as humour, but overriding it all is a joy in finding expression.

So what have I chosen?  Three poems that all, in the different voices of their writers, deal with the loss of loved ones through the physical remembrance of objects. Cilla’s poem, evoking the loss of a journal, the favourite tool of this writer, but with a wry hope in the closing line that maybe the words will have gone to a better place.

Kate’s poem which weaves objects bought on OE with childhood items and which in its closing stanzas refers to the small but significant losses a natural disaster like an earthquake can bring.  Somehow, I find her simple inventory of objects more poignant than all the news images of broken buildings. And Alohi Ae’a’ (a Hawaiian writer) who so beautifully uses the metaphor of a boat to sail across space and time to join her loved one.

I’m in Christchurch at the moment and walk to work every day past buildings that are broken, that symbolize loss, yet by their loss remind us of the important links to the past.  I think that’s why I like these poems – they rebuild in words the lost objects, acting as both commemoration and reconstruction. Lost things are less lost if they are found again in poetry.

The winner of the NZ Book Award for poetry will be announced on National Poetry Day. After you've read the selected poems here, look into the Tuesday Poets on the live blog roll to the right, many of whom will be celebrating Poetry Day.

This week's Tuesday Poem editor is Renee Liang, an Auckland poet, playwright and paediatrician. Some of her poetry can be found on her blog Chinglish, and her new play FAAB is on in Auckland and Wellington in September and October. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Erstwhile by Chris Wallace-Crabbe

Your girlfriend rang me up today,
your former girlfriend,
no, that isn't right
the present friend of all that once was you;
your fetch or
what remains in the little photographs:
a boy in black-and-white
riding a horse into the scrub
or, freckled, reading out of doors,
both times T-shirted,
your hair a thick, dark bowl-cut,
my erstwhile son.

Oh yes, she rang today,
had taken somebody out to see your grave
by the forked white trunk,
and we were sad together
on the phone, for a hard while
thinking of you, long gone now. Hence.
Where? Where are you?
In poor fact I can never come to grasp
the meaning of it all, supposing
that to be what religion's all about.
The loss remains behind
like never being well.

Chris Wallace-Crabbe

                                                    Editor: Jennifer Compton

I find I don’t need to see anything much about this poem by esteemed elder of the Australian poetry scene, Chris Wallace-Crabbe. It is elegantly explicit all on its own account. It has charm, it is triste, and it is tough. It is as honest a poem as a poem can be, I think. I do appreciate honesty, in poetry.

Chris Wallace-Crabbe is an Emeritus Professor at the Australian Centre, University of Melbourne and chair of the newly-formed Australian Poetry Ltd.  More on Chris
here at the Poetry Archive which says of his poetry:

Frequently set in Melbourne, the poems explore the dissolution of modern life and an ongoing search for joy that he believes all humans experience.

And another of his poems is here. 

Jennifer Compton is Tuesday Poem editor this week. Born in Wellington and living in Melbourne, Jennifer recently won NZ's prestigious Kathleen Grattan Award with her manuscript 'This City', which will published by Otago University Press next week and launched in Wellington on Monday July 18 by Tuesday Poem curator Mary McCallum. On her own blog, Jen has posted one of the poems from 'This City.'

After reading Erstwhile, check out more Tuesday Poems in the right sidebar. Next week, Tuesday Poem celebrates National Poetry Day with poems from all three poetry finalists in the NZ Book Awards. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cloud Silence by Graham Lindsay

There has always been

under this tree, looking up

the harbour valley
over rush-studded
paddocks glistening

after rain.
And I’m the first

                           you want to say
you saw the hills

                            it seemed like home
ladders of sunlight leaned
against clouds, then the clouds marched
seawards like ranks of ghost soldiers.
The point is

to stop writing. Stop
using language to protect
yourself from the full

implications of the world – the world says
Look at me, I dare you to
I dare you to see.
                            You tilt your head

back and look up
at the tree.
A ray peers

into the room
of your eye….


Why is our art so introverted?
It doesn’t mean a thing

to the seagull or sun
the clouds don’t understand
a word

their language is silence
and movement and colour.

Here on the face of it – there
behind a mask. This far
above ground

                          in 360o cinemas
as the present rolls

                                          Guest Editor: David Howard

Graham Lindsay 
Portrait by Keith Nicolson 
‘One of the themes is communication, so there's hope after all.’ – New Zealand poet Graham Lindsay, 27 June 2011

Poets don’t come from nowhere; sometimes they stay there. Whatever critics think, if they think, the best poets wear their origins like hand-me-down clothes, comfortably. Michele Leggott has Susan Howe. Graham Lindsay has George Oppen, who wrote in his notebook: ‘…meaning is the instant of meaning – and this means that we write to find what we believe.’ 

I read to find what (but also who) I believe. My admiring reservations about ‘Cloud silence’ hold me in a vital dialogue with it. I still argue with the predictable if precise ringing of the pastoral Angelus (‘looking up/ the harbour valley/ over rush-studded/ paddocks glistening/ after rain’) and with the stand-up personification of ‘the world [that] says Look at me, I dare you to/ I dare you to see.’ 
I’ve heard these lines out loud. They take a leap of faith off the page. The audience doubles up as Graham foregrounds the implications of what is, after all, a wilful world before enquiring: ‘Why is our art so introverted?’ 

published by AUP
I’m grateful that he is not afraid to move through the register of a preacher – one with that childlike amalgam of curiosity and humour we usually call wonder. I suspect writers are either faint-hearted or excessively ironic, and possibly both, if they believe that readers don’t want to be preached to. Readers demonstrably want to be preached to; they don’t only want to be preached to. 

In an interview with Jack Ross (February 1998), Graham acknowledges: ‘I have this sense of people, and things generally, being manifestations of an eternal upwelling – and of writing as well being a manifestation of it. And I feel that if you are able to be in a place where you can achieve this coincidence between your self and that place, you can almost have something spoken through you. I don’t mean that literally; I mean it figuratively.’ 

When I hear this latter-day Alberto Caiero then I feel that his close reading of the world out there animates the world in here by means of a descriptive language so particular (‘rush-studded’) it seems antipathetic to rhetoric yet audaciously rehabilitates it. Juxtaposed, his fragments of apprehension generate

Still glowing twenty years after it was started, The Subject is one of the most charged poetry collections to appear in New Zealand; it holds bright sparks like ‘Context of words’, ‘’Voyeurs’, ‘Wave to the Image’, ‘Picnic on a clifftop’, ‘Backwater’ and ‘Cloud silence’. This far.

More on Graham Lindsay here

Born in Christchurch (1959), David Howard co-founded Takahe magazine (1989) and the Canterbury Poets Collective (1990). He spent his professional life as a pyrotechnics supervisor whose clients included the All Blacks, Janet Jackson and Metallica. In 2003 he retired to Purakanui in order to write. 

David was the inaugural recipient of the New Zealand Society of Authors Mid-Career Writer's Award (2009) for a body of poetry that was subsequently collected in The Incomplete Poems (Cold Hub Press, 2011). His poetry has been translated into Dutch, German, Italian, Slovene and Spanish.

Tuesday Poem thanks David Howard for his contribution as guest editor. After you've read Cloud Silence, enter the right sidebar for more Tuesday Poems written and selected by poets from NZ, Australia, UK and US. Nau mai haere mai! Welcome!