Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Birthday Poem by Kendrick Smithyman

rather small goat was kneedeep in a paddock.
The paddock entirely was fescue/rye/and clover green.
Also, bushes were there, which are good
for nibbling. Also, for hiding behind.

This small goat was white, like nothing but promise.
She didn't always come when they called her
home, she had her reasons. Families
are like that. Sometimes she came - not announced
through a fence or over a fence - just to see
what was going on. She was, after all, family.

So, I make her, this little ivory would-be nanny,
stand out in a falling dark, twitching her ears,
pricking her lively scut,
at sounds of party
and whether or no she is
at the table she's with them otherwise,
wishing most birthday wishes and that
all manner of things (as surely they will) go well.

This poem is found within the highly recommended pages of Kendrick Smithyman's Selected Poems, published in 1989 by Auckland University Press. It is reprinted here with the kind permission of the copyright holder, Margaret Edgcumbe.

Editor: Elizabeth Welsh.

I first encountered New Zealand poet Kendrick Smithyman's writing five years ago when I enrolled in a 'New Zealand poetry' paper, taught by Peter Simpson, during my Masters at Auckland University. I had no clue who Kendrick Smithyman was, or what his poetry was like, but I did that thing that students often do (and which, incidentally, has driven me crazy since, teaching at University myself) - I liked the sound of it and so committed six months of my year and my degree to learning about him.

It feels rather foolish now to admit such a 'stumbling upon' an author, but I often find, particularly with poets, that this haphazard way is often the best. I found a poet that I loved, such is the way. I spent weeks in the special collections part of the Auckland University library looking over Smithyman's visions and revisions of his work (constant editor and tinker, that he was), intrigued by his dedication and constant belief in Paul Valery's dictum, 'A poem is never finished; it is only abandoned'.

As you can imagine, it took me some time to decide which poem to post this week as the lucky Editor of the Tuesday Poem hub. I was sorely tempted to post 'Communicating' or 'Walk Past Those Houses on a Sunday Morning' - both iconic pieces of New Zealand verse - but instead I opted for a slightly less well known, but, to me, infinitely endearing poem about birthdays and a goat. I must admit, I had a slightly selfish aim in mind, given that this lucky Tuesday is my birthday.

Please click on this link provided and visit the incredible online resource of Kendrick Smithyman's works - Smithyman Online. It boasts the Collected Works 1943-1995, edited and with notes from Margaret Edgcumbe and Peter Simpson, as well as a chronology, reviews, etc. It is a veritable treasure trove!

Elizabeth Welsh the editor of this week's Tuesday Poem. Elizabeth is an academic editor, Katherine Mansfield scholar and poet. For more information about her, please visit her blog.

For more Tuesday Poems, please check out the other blogs in the sidebar where Tuesday Poets post poems by others they admire or poems by themselves. Either way, it's a treasure trove.                      


Helen Lowe said...


I feel ashamed to admit that I, too, had not encountered Kendrick Smithyman before today, but I loved the whimsicality of this poem, not least because of the way he so accurately captures 'goats I have known.' I shall be following your link to discover more of his work.

Orchid said...


lillyanne said...

Thanks a thousand times for this, Elizabeth. Smithyman taught me for a whole year (in Std 4) and unsurprisingly I've been very interested in his poetry since I began to understand it (a few years after Std 4). But I didn't know this one, and I didn't know the site. Thanks to you, I know them both now!

Mary McCallum said...

Yes, a revelation this little goat poem, and the wider wonders of Smithyman. After I read it the first time, Elizabeth, I went walking and saw at least six goats beside the walking track down by the sea including one very lively little white one. I like the way the poem moves - in small and large leaps like a goat on a hillside - especially the 'this' on its own leaping to the next line. I also very much white being like 'promise'.

Mary McCallum said...

*very much like white being like 'promise'.

Ben Hur said...

This is not really about the Tuesday Poem which is excellent, but about one of our fellow TP contributors, Tim Jones.

In case you haven't seen it check out this interview with Tim about his tour and other things: