Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Song by Peter Bland

The old Chinese lady
who lives next door
lays out her washing
on a red-tiled roof
as if she were back
in her childhood home.

She sings to herself
a song with long pauses,
a song passed on
full of comings and goings
like the sea on
a calm day when
it drifts in exhausted.

It's a song with no real
end or beginning. One
we still hear
even in the pauses
as she stoops
to water her money-tree
or reaches heavenwards
to collect her washing.


                                                   Editor Jeffrey Paparoa Holman

Yorkshire Godwit
Peter Bland at the launch of Coming Ashore  August 2011

We don’t have many godwits homing to New Zealand from Yorkshire, except for Peter Bland, a bird of poetic passage and many migrations between here and there since his first long journey south on an immigrant ship in 1954, bearing his precious copy of T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock.

Peter Bland has been fattening himself on these feeding grounds ever since, and enriching us with eleven collections of poetry on the way, as well as co-founding Downstage Theatre and acting in local film. Now 77 years old and a widower mourning his lost love, Beryl, he is back amongst us, living in Auckland and our most recent recipient of the NZ$60,000 Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry.

He deserves it, richly: and to celebrate, we have his latest collection, Coming Ashore, launched last week in Wellington by Steele Roberts. I was asked to speak to the book on the night: a rich collection of elegy and history, and sharply-observed images of the inner and outer life of the poet through his bicultural world views.

This poem, “Song”, is one of my favourites, of many choice pieces here: the viewing persona observes a next door neighbour, a Chinese woman, quite elderly it seems, singing as she hangs out her washing. In 21 carefully crafted and understated lines, Peter Bland brings her to life: the song, the strange quality of otherness and the keening for home its sounds evoke, “full of comings and goings/like the sea on/a calm day when/it drifts in exhausted”.

She sings as she waters her money tree, she sings as she looks up to heaven hanging the washing: here is an immigrant captured in print, somewhere between life and death: “It's a song with no real/end or beginning. One/we still hear/even in the pauses/as she stoops/to water her money-tree/or reaches heavenwards/to collect her washing.”

There is no moral, nor strain: simply the pellucid poise of the best of the ancient Chinese poets he so admires, the emotional ache that we can feel in the final lines of Ezra Pound’s “The River Merchant’s Wife”: “If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,/Please let me know beforehand,/ And I will come out to meet you /As far as Cho-fu-Sa.”

Bland is at one with his subject here because he has stood on similar ground: the immigrant, the man of two worlds with two sets of voices in his head, those from a childhood home, and those from New Zealand streets. This is why he can give her back to us with such simplicity and depth – but only a life of dedication to his craft can help us a little way in explaining the power of his art.

This poem is published with the permission of Steele Roberts and you can find Coming Ashore here. When you've absorbed "Song", take yourself into the right hand sidebar and discover up to 30 poems from the Tuesday Poets linked to this blog.

This week's editor Jeffrey Paparoa Holman is currently on leave from Tuesday Poem while he is writer in residence at Hamilton University in NZ's central North Island. Our thanks to him for his post on Peter Bland. Jeffrey is a poet and academic who normally resides in Christchurch and blogs here. His last post was an earthquake poem. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Butterfly, by Rhian Gallager

We entered a year of slow burn
I stole a line from her eyes
She wrote by hand return

The body awoke to the act of yearn
Moisture met the heat of July
We entered a year of slow burn

A door ajar, could yield or close firm
From colleague to intimate ally
She wrote by hand, I wrote in return

Disclosure inched by turn
A long striptease of send and reply
We entered a year of slow burn

Shining and wild were in
Our lines, barely disguised
She wrote by hand in return

All grew from a pact of adjourn
Overwintering, waiting a sign in the sky
Fused on a year of slow burn
Word at the start became touch in return.

(c) Rhian Gallagher

About the Poem:
"Butterfly", first published in Poetrix, will be included in Rhian Gallagher's second collection of poetry, Shift (forthcoming from Auckland University Press.) "Butterfly" follows the form of the villanelle, although it reflects the contemporary trend of allowing variation in the wording of the refrain.

I believe this poem is representative of Rhian's work in terms of the beauty and delicacy of the writing, a delicacy that nonetheless enhances both the emotional depth of the poem and also the adherence to a demanding form.

I have revisited Rhian's first collection, Salt Water Creek, on several occasions now, enjoying the juxtaposition of intellect, interior reflection, and often profound emotion that characterises her work—and very much look forward to the publication of Shift next month.

"Butterfly" is reproduced here with the permission of Rhian Gallagher.

About the Poet:
Rhian Gallagher’s first poetry collection, Salt Water Creek (Enitharmon Press, London, 2003) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for First Collection. Gallagher received the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award in 2008. Auckland University Press is publishing her second collection of poetry, Shift, in September 2011. Gallagher is also the author of a non-fiction book, Feeling for Daylight: The Photographs of Jack Adamson, (South Canterbury Museum, 2010).

Helen Lowe is this week's Tuesday Poem editor and a regular contributor to the Tuesday Poem community. A novelist as well as a poet, Helen's first novel, Thornspell (Knopf) is published in the US, while her second The Heir of Night, (HarperCollins, US; Little, Brown, UK) is also available internationally and recently debuted in The Netherlands, as Kind van de Nacht. She is currently working on her third novel.

Once you have enjoyed "Butterfly" do take some time to enjoy the other poems posted by members of the Tuesday Poem community for this week. You will find them all listed in the right-hand sidebar.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Shetland Ponies, Haast Beach by Tim Jones

Forest and sea have had their way
with memory. A few houses — silent,
locked — remain. Between car and beach,

a field of Shetland ponies, already
calling her by name. But I'm
facing inland, bush not far beyond,

mountains piled like thunderheads
across the morning light. Was this
our house, or this, or this now empty field?

For eighteen months, we lived here
while they built the road. I was two, then four.
What I have are barely memories:

my mother at the washing line. My father's
longed-for homeward stride. Grader drivers
lifting me onto their knees to ride.

Work done, we drove away, the new highway
bearing our fortunes south, over spilling streams,
across the Main Divide. Now I'm back, reclaiming

what may be reclaimed. The forest
has no answers. The sea lies past the ponies.
"Look," she says, "they're eating from my hand."

 Editor: Alicia Ponder

From the soon to be released collection Men Briefly Explained, I found Tim Jones' Shetland Ponies, Haast Beach instantly compelling. It's the first stanza deliberately filled with contemplative pauses - echoing those empty spaces of memories from a long-forgotten past - and the lovely shape in the way the poem moves between the present and the past, with glimpses of these, as if from a car window on a long journey to a pivotal destination. The poem as a whole has a real feeling of reclaimed memories in a solid and imperative now.  

Tim Jones is a poet, author and editor, and Men Briefly Explained will be his third solo collection of poetry, out in October.  I'm looking forward to hearing him read from it at a launch event at Rona Gallery, the bookshop my family owns in Eastbourne (Friday October 28, 6 pm), and at other venues around the country.  

Tim's support of New Zealand poets and poetry has been amazing, he was highly instrumental, along with co-editor Mark Pirie, in creating and keeping alive the dream of "Voyagers" a highly esteemed collection of New Zealand Science Fiction poetry and a real boost for many NZ Poets.  He also recently edited the Australian and New Zealand Speculative Poetry Collection in the second issue of Eye to the Telescope, published online here by the Science Fiction Poetry Association.  
Tim is a Tuesday poet who lives in Wellington NZ, and blogs at Tim Jones: Books in the Trees.  Some of his books can be found on his blog, including the short story collection Transported longlisted for the 2008 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.

Alicia Ponder is this week's Tuesday Poem editor.  She lives in Eastbourne, and loves poetry, and writing for children.  She is the co-author of two art books, and is published in New Zealand and Australia .  She blogs here at an Affliction of Poetry.  

After you've read the hub poem, try out some of the Tuesday Poem posts in the sidebar. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Envelope by Anna Jackson

I stick a stamp on an envelope.
It is a lake, a little glassy, and a mountain, behind the lake.
A little bit of lake is left behind on my tongue.

I would not like to be a fish in that lake.
A little bit of me would always be going missing.
I would always be leaving the lake for the mountain.

And now, it is several days later.
I am waiting for a reply.
Then I see that the stamp is still attached to me.

So that explains my demonic energy lately!
That explains how I rose so high so fast,
what everyone means when they refer to my depth.

But where am I being sent?
And when I arrive, who will open me?
Roughly, with a finger, or gently, with a knife?

                                                    Editor: Robert Sullivan

I selected this poem because it is from a brilliant new collection, Thicket (AUP). Anna Jackson is influenced by Russian poetic traditions following the Bolshevik revolution (although its declared influence is Virgil), and so she often informs her writing with an edgy danger, in this instance contrasting the roughness of fingers with the genteel ‘knife'.

Without wishing to explain the poem, I admire the several figurative transformations: the narrator into an envelope, the lake into saliva on the narrator’s tongue in which a fish struggles. Later in the collection there is a poem called “The Fish and I” reminding me about its many internal cross-references, as well as to other poetics.

"Envelope" is published on Tuesday Poem with Anna Jackson's permission.

There is another of her Thicket poems and more about her here on  Tuesday Poem. 

To read more Tuesday Poems, look in the sidebar where up to 30 poets from NZ, Australia, the UK, the US and Italy post poems by themselves and others they admire. The poems go up all through a Tuesday - in the southern and northern hemispheres.

This week's Tuesday Poem editor is poet Robert Sullivan of Maori (Ngā Puhi, Kai Tahu) and Galway Irish descent. He has won awards for his poetry, children's writing and editing. His most recent poetry collections:  Cassino City of Martyrs (Huia) and Shout Ha! to the Sky (Salt Publishing, UK). 

Robert co-edited NZ Book Award finalist Whetu Moana: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English with Albert Wendt and Reina Whaitiri. He heads Creative Writing at the Manukau Institute of Technology in Auckland, and  blogs here

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Wild Bees by John Griffin

A death wind swished across your open book
and dusted from its dusty leaves and colophon
the spores that gather in spines and gutters,
that swarm when agitated like motes in sunlight
like mites metamorphosing into seething bees
that set the silence humming, throbbing.

What comes alive in the shimmering shafts,
dancing and lemniscating, constructs infinity
inside a geometry of longing and there too
within its tessellations order hypnotises
disorder and draws out the unctuous drones
till they abandon their myrmidonian binging.

Veined wings made of water lift water’s weight
and flap water’s freight improbably into flight
where it hovers now before the portals of pollen
and fans antigens, powder-down and dander
with such a busy buzz the glassine scales intensify
the air, evaporate the dew and vaporize your tears.

The hive in the eaves was built out of absence,
or rather vacancy was its invitation — the colony knew
and soon occupied the silence with circadian rhythms
and you let them even welcoming the palpitations
they brought to things as a sign of life's affirmation,
and risk should their styli be more apt to sting you.

These insects could raise you out of yourself
and air-condition that claustrophobic infirmary
where sickness had you jailed — Delphic bees
pollinating your mind’s imponderables
with thoughts of correlatives beyond itself —
they could even alchemise your tears to gold:

Each swag has a scarab that the bees bear back
to their Omphalos — the Greeks already knew
and named your girls and the Egyptians before them
put onyx amulets in the woven skeps of dreams
so that the soul might harvest its cosmic course
towards that place where Ra drops honey from the sun.

Published with the permission of John Griffin

This week's editor: Zireaux

Poets are not people. And a good poem abandons all biography. I know almost nothing about John Griffin, whether he's attended schools, programs, workshops, written chapbooks or crap-books, published in lit-mags or shit-rags, or whether he's won any awards (I do hope he hasn't; my estimation of him might diminish).

But I know this poem. I know its instrument, its styli, if you will. I know that what we have here is a genuine work of art -- heroic, honey-tender, precisely beautiful -- created by a genuine poet.

We can talk about the remarkable combination of form and flow in "The Wild Bees," the six stanzas, six sentences, the six-sided honeycomb cell; the fluid phrasing -- "draw out the unctuous drones," "powder-down and dander," "pollinate...the imponderables.'

We can talk about the images, the conceit, the subject matter; how the bees, after all, as teardrops-come-to-life, flapping "water's freight improbably into flight" (lovely stuff, so very bee-like and palpable), are but messengers, workers, drones in the creation of Griffin's poetic unguent. Or how "The Wild Bees" is really a kind of love poem, an offering of soma or salve, a nectar meant to soothe the pain of a writer (a writer-goddess in this case) to whom, or perhaps with whom, the poet is responding.

Rather, what we must talk about -- even more than the sweet affection -- is what the poem demands of us: Not the meaning so much, but the language. Now let me speak softly here, a whisper, lest our real poets, quietly toiling away at beauties in the background, be distracted from their craft:

The poet must have faith in the design of language. In the structure, the honeycomb, the tessellation. "The geometry of longing." In vocabulary. Yes, vocabulary.

From spores to motes, mites, bees, scarabs, from death to golden tears and honey sun (bees were once thought to spring, like maggots, from the dead), from colophon to "seething bees" and "shimmering shafts" -- beauty is in the careful, coordinated, construction of words out of the swarm. And sure, it can be dangerous to "lemniscate" without a permit -- Griffin is no novice (he's waggle-dancing with his bees!) -- but don't be afraid to mingle with myrmidons, or let the bees sting your lips.

And you (exclamatory whisper!), O peddlers of minimalism, hucksters of haiku, I request you keep your smokey spiritualism away from the hive. Can you not hear the growing clamor of the i-Clones, the Fad-Pads, the X-Cubes and MeTubes, the Factor Xs, the Super 3-D Cinema-Plexes? Why should we submit to the blog-fog, the vapors of vacancy (stay calm, my voice!), when language can reach -- or better, ride, fly, however improbably, like Dante's Beatrice (Dante being the CGI animator of his day), to the place where Ra drops honey from the sun, on the powerful, jewel-encrusted Griffin-wings of language?

-- Zireaux


For more information about former Tuesday Poet John Griffin (who lives in Ireland, by the way), visit his website.

You'll find information about Zireaux, as well as his latest verse and commentary, at www.ImmortalMuse.com.

We do hope you'll take some time to enjoy the other Tuesday Poem posts this week, listed in the right-hand sidebar.