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. 


Mary McCallum said...

Three stunning poems and a stunning write-up, thank you Renee. All three are so beautifully controlled in their movement and language choices and all three are about annihalation and do something interesting read together. A great way to start poetry week. You're a star!

Cattyrox said...

Loved all three of these poems and loved also the idea that 'lost things are less lost if they are found again in poetry.' Thank you!

Claire Beynon said...

I agree, Renee - these three poems, the poets + you doth a fine constellation make.
Thank you!