Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"One story and the other" by Sarah Broom, 1972 - 2013

My stomach churns like stormwater
running to the sea

and in the wake of the storm
I am strewn with debris.


When you look at me
with that innocent face,
as artless as the full moon,
as simple as the round
of cream at the top
of those old glass bottles –

then I forget
your other side,
the veiled moon,
the averted head,
the shuttered eyes.


This afternoon the harbour
was still and sultry

only the white butterflies
carried on their dance,
their frantic, balletic pairings

everything else was overcome

but then when I swam
in the too warm sea
the current was strong –
twenty seconds on my back,
staring at the clouds,
and the jetty was a good
long swim away –

twenty minutes
and I’d have crossed the bar.


I could not see the open sea
because two headlands were in the way.
One was near and one was far.


And it is true that there is always one story
and the other:

the moon with its two faces;

the lash of the storm and its relenting;

the fever grip of the days that pass
thick and fast among stumbling feet
and soft jammy mouths,
and the slow inner breath,
a room expanding and shrinking
like a paper lantern, its ivory coolness
swinging through the dark;

the harbour with its come-hither looks,
its nests and whispered secrets,
the tug and sigh and doze of tides

and then the open sea –
you knew I would return to it –

the open sea
of which, in fact, we know nothing.

Only that it pitches, rocks and keens

and agitates
in our dreams.
© Sarah Broom, 2013
From: Gleam by Sarah Broom, Auckland University Press, 2013
Reproduced on The Tuesday Poem Hub with permission.

My first encounter with Sarah's poetry was in 2010, when I read and loved her first collection, Tigers at Awhitu (Auckland Universty Press, NZ; Carcanet, UK.) News of her death earlier this year was a great sadness to me, and although I looked forward to the publication of her second collection, Gleam (Auckland Universty Press) in August, I still felt deep regret that the poet would no longer be with us and part of all that release of a book means.

In her obituary for Sarah, written for Carcanet, Sarah’s UK publisher, Selina Guinness wrote:  Gleam … is a collection written in extremis, and contains some of the most beautiful and startling poems about dying I have ever read.”

I agree that Gleam is very much a testament to Sarah's long illness and dying. I also feel that when you look at a poem like One Story and the other it is a poem that is as much about life as about death, and also about the "being here" that encompasses both. In this sense, I believe the poem offers a key to the collection. The sea is a constant companion throughout Gleam: its myriad voices, its constant change and yet its immutability. I feel it is no accident that the poem both begins and ends with the sea, although there is also a still heart to the poem, contained within the many unfolding boxes of moon, tide, "the fever grip of days":
… the slow inner breath,
a room expanding and shrinking
like a paper lantern, its ivory coolness
swinging through the dark …
Reading Gleam, I was put in mind of the AS Byatt quote:

'Think of this – that the writer wrote alone, and the reader read alone, and they were alone with each other.'

Sarah and I never met in person although we emailed, and talked once on the phone. But when I sat down with Gleam and read poems like One story and the other in particular, in that space I did indeed feel like we were alone together, with a friend speaking to me from every line.
Sarah Broom’s first poetry collection, Tigers at Awhitu, was published by Auckland University Press (AUP) in 2010, and simultaneously by Carcanet Press in the UK.  She also wrote Contemporary British and Irish Poetry: An Introduction, which was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2006.  Her second collection, Gleam, was published by Auckland University Press in August 2013. To hear Sarah read from and discuss Tigers at Awhitu, click on the following Scottish Poetry Library podcast interview: Sarah Broom.

Sarah died on April 18, 2013, after a five year illness with lung cancer. She is survived by her husband and three children.

Today's editor, Helen Lowe, is a novelist, poet and interviewer whose work has been published, broadcast and anthologized in New Zealand and internationally. Her first novel Thornspell, (Knopf) was published to critical praise in 2008, and in 2012 The Heir Of Night, won the David Gemmell Morningstar Award. Helen posts every day on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog and can also be found on Twitter: @helenl0we
In addition to One story and the other, be sure to check out the wonderful poems featured by the other Tuesday Poets, using our blog roll to the left of this posting.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Biography of Mr Carrot (Daucus carota) by Frankie McMillan

Our family was large; when we met
we embraced six hundred times 

for a long while I was inseparable
from my cousin

but such is life
you learn to let go of things

not meant for you
Marcel Proust wrote to Celine 

ten times in the hope
of boeufs - carottes  

and while I’m dropping names
there’s Vincenzo Campi’s

painting where I lie
in the arms of my brothers

but not my cousin
Daucus pastinaca 

remind him, if you see him
of the market carts pushed

through the streets of Paris 
the cry of traders   

the small history of our grandmothers

Frankie McMillan is a Christchurch short story writer and poet. Her publications include ‘The Bag Lady’s Picnic and other stories’ and a collection of poetry, ‘Dressing for the Cannibals’. Recent short stories have been selected for Best New Zealand Fiction, Vintage, 2008 and 2009. Her poetry has been published widely in NZ and overseas and her work selected for Best NZ Poems, 2012. Awards include the CNZ Todd Bursary in 2005, winner of the NZPS competition in 2009 and the NZ Flash Fiction competition in 2013. Frankie is the co-recipient of the 2014 Ursula Bethell Residency at the University of Canterbury. 

I have always enjoyed reading Frankie McMillan's poetry or, better yet, hearing her read it at poetry readings around Christchurch. Frankie's poetic take on the world around her appeals to me as it is a bit left of centre and comes from a unique poetic perspective all her own. Frankie is obviously widely-read and well-read as many of her poems, such as this one, contain erudition and arcane knowledge. There is a lot of information packed into a fairly short poem leaving the reader to scurry off and track down sources to her many references. For instance, is Frankie having a sly joke in her reference to "Marcel Proust wrote to Celine/ten times in the hope/of boeufs - carottes" given Proust's well-known sexuality? And who is this cousin of the carrot hiding behind its scientific Latin name?

The Biography of Mr Carrot is published on Tuesday Poem with permission.  

Today's editor, Andrew M. Bell, is a poet from New Zealand/Aotearoa. Visit his Tuesday Poem blog at www.aotearoasunrise.blogspot.com and be sure to check out the wonderful poems by the other Tuesday Poets using our blog roll to the left of this posting.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What I Should Have Done, by Joyce Ellen Davis

Joyce Ellen Davis
Like most of my favourite contemporary poets, I met Joyce Ellen Davis online. Thank God for the Internet, I feel like saying. I believe it was when I asked her for the publication of one or some of her poems among the pages of Canopic Jar, the literary magazine I co-edit with Phil Rice. She did send me poems, as she has agreed today for me to share one of her poems on this forum. Joyce blogs at Plodding Taurus and has several books out, among them Pepek The Assassin, from which this poem originates.

Joyce's poetry, I remember saying to someone years ago, takes a hold of the reader and doesn't let go. Some poets do that to me, and in the end I have to shut the book or turn off whatever screen I was reading from, in order to better assimilate the poem.

Since I first met her poetry, these many years ago, I have followed her as best as I could, and have been grateful for the blog she runs because once in a while she drops something there. She's on Facebook as well, and if you visit her page you will immediately be struck by her love of life. Not the life she maintains by breathing in and out, I wouldn't know about that, but universe life, the wonder, the possibilities, the endless possibilities, and closer home, insects and other small, cute animals. It comes through that she is in love with existence. And who's to say that this energy is not from the background or the fodder of what she writes about so well; or, even, that it's not from the finished pictures that she paints and says to the world?

I have opted for the poem What I Should Have Done, one of my personal favourites, and one that I feel has to be read again and again, like so many others by so many other poets! Joyce is busy writing a novel as I type this... that energy, again. Thank you for letting me share your poem, Joyce now and before.
Posted with permission
Editor: Rethabile Masilo

What I Should Have Done

I should have cut a hole in the ceiling
to let my prayers out, words
like smoke from incense pots,
unable to rise above that bloody altar.
Look: here is where you should have slept,
your ear only an inch above my heart.
See: this field of stars above the watchtower
that we might have counted, bye and bye.
Now the sky is full of dark matter,
and though I were rich as Herod,
the baby-killer of Bethlehem
(who was richer than Caesar), I can
not get you back, even though
I would rub salt upon your infant body
and powder you with mustard seeds,
and wrap you up with swaddling bands
embroidered with your genealogies.
Here is the singing bird I'd give you,
the pony, here the toy soldiers,
their cannons in flames.
Here angels play, out of sight
lest they terrify us, though we lie
prostrate, trembling on the ground,
we eaters of entrails, we breakers of bones.
The first to bring an offering
and the first to be offered,
like a burning ram, I continue
to follow your lead
like Nahshon followed Moses, loving him
too much, walking out before him into the sea,
walking out until the water was
all the way up to his nose
before the sea finally parted.
~by Joyce Ellen Davis 

This week's editor Rethabile Masilo is a Mosotho poet who enjoys reading and writing. He lives in Paris, France, with his wife and two children. Rethabile is self-employed and works in language-teaching. He says he has been writing for a good while, learning through trial and error and picking up lots of sounds by reading and re-reading the poems that he likes. He is the author of Things That Are Silent (Pindrop Press, 2012).

Rethabile was born in 1961 in Lesotho and left his country with his parents and siblings to go into exile in 1980. He moved through The Republic of South Africa (very short stay, on account of the weight of Apartheid), Kenya and The United States of America, before settling in France in 1987. He blogs at Poéfrika and co-edits with Phil Rice the literary magazine Canopic Jar.

After reading Joyce Ellen Davis's poem, do check out the rest of the Tuesday Poets in the sidebar. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tuesday Poem: Afastina by Grace Teuila Evelyn Taylor

for Selina & Tusiata
Hey Afakasi
can your palangi hands do the brown siva?
can you Sāmoa siva a show and tell?
Island Monarchs
rebirth a longing for butterfly belongings
I used to hide unknown in their shame
Awkward siva
is my show and tell
I inherited this landscape of cultural monarchs
they whisper stories of missed belongings
white is my shame
for I am, Afakasi
Can you tell?
bowing to tulou for unsighted monarchs
claiming five senses for a sense of belongings
poetry to disguise the shame
speak Afakasi
let your words do the siva
She was known as a wanderer, before a butterfly monarch
black veins on wings atlas her belongings
casting aside her shame
she reclaimed this name Afakasi
dancing a sacred siva
the stories of taboo she can tell
Carving new belongings
no game of shame
she displays a whole Afakasi
quietly siva
share and tell
fluttering on the wings of monarchs
What is so shame
about being Afakasi?
beautifully awkward colourless siva
is the truth of how we tell
cultural monarchs
of newly carved belongings
So shame on the lies they tell
you; Afakasi are modern monarchs
stretch your siva wide, cast your belongings

Posted with permission
Editor: Robert Sullivan.
'Afastina' appears in Grace Taylor’s enormously satisfying debut poetry collection Afakasi Speaks, which was recently launched in Auckland and Wellington. The collection explores the poet’s Samoan and English heritage in an engaging, socially connected poetic. The poet is a co-founder of the South Auckland Poets Collective, and the Rising Voices youth poetry slam. She has also performed her work in the United States, and nationally.

The book is published by innovative Hawaiian publisher Ala Press. There will be a launch in Honolulu in December. Here is a link to the Amazon site for readers interested in purchasing the collection.

This week's editor, Robert Sullivan, is of Nga Puhi, Kai Tahu and Irish descent, and is a poet and academic. He has lived and worked in Hawai'i but teaches now at the School of Creative Writing MIT, Auckland. His most recent book is Cassino: City of Martyrs (Huia 2010). He blogs at Manu Korero: Talking Birds. 

After you've read and enjoyed Afastina, check out the sidebar for a cornucopia of poems chosen by our Tuesday Poets

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"Pigs" by Les Murray

Us all on sore cement was we.
Not warmed then with glares. Not glutting mush
under that pole the lightning's tied to.
No farrow-shit in milk to make us randy.
Us back in cool god-shit. We ate crisp.
We nosed up good rank in the tunnelled bush.
Us all fuckers then. And Big, huh? Tusked
the balls-biting dog and gutsed him wet.
Us shoved down the soft cement of rivers.
Us snored the earth hollow, filled farrow, grunted.
Never stopped growing. We sloughed, we soughed
and balked no weird till the high ridgebacks was us
with weight-buried hooves.  Or bristly, with milk.
Us never knowed like slitting nor hose-biff then.
Nor the terrible sheet-cutting screams up ahead.
The burnt water kicking.  This gone-already feeling
here in no place with our heads on upside down.

Translations from the Natural World, 1992.

Reprinted with permission.

Les Murray. Photograph by Adam Hollingworth.

Writing is easy, much too easy; too much like speech, which is biological, manipulative, almost always boring. Rise up, pens, mute implements of ink! Shy chauffeurs of thought! If only the uncomplaining keyboards, the pixel-pickers and sparing partners to our pummeling fingers – if only they’d demand some gratuity from their masters. A minimum wage, oblations, Obamacare. Then maybe writers (and by writers, of course, I don’t mean poets) would choose their words more carefully and stop fogging up literature's windscreen with their blather!

Which is to say that poetry, real poetry, is a streak of clarity, a sharp flash of colour -- fire-fangled feathers -- through writing's condensation.

So we gasp at the freshness; but there's a problem, too. After such a long drive, the flash of beauty makes us pull over even when we’re late for an engagement ("or what feels like an engagement" as the poet Marrianne Moore once quipped when an audience member left midway through her reading). Sometimes, with some poets, a Syliva Plath or Stephen Crane, or even novelists such as Harper Lee or the terribly under-appreciated Joan Lindsay, the sightseeing is simple -- a well-paved rest stop with a gorgeous vista, a scenic drive around a lake. “Stop, Retire, Admire” (Aussies know well the motherly “Stop, Revive, Survive” signs that nag us on long country roads); then it’s back in the car, away we go.

But with others, the great literary artists -- and Les Murray belongs firmly in this group -- we look around and wonder where we've come. Not just a trailhead with enticing markers: "Buladelah-Taree (200 lines ahead via Bunyah)” or “Bingham’s Ghost,” “Darrambawli Paddock,” “Coolongolook,” (Mark Twain delighted in such names when his visited here in 1897), but a different country, with different laws of time, physics, social behavior (including a sort of working class craving for splendour that Murray calls “sprawl”), and where the animals are talking, the Land-Rovers and Harleys are singing, the “daylight moon” is hanging above camp kettles, sleepouts, cadjiput trees, and look at the “glitter bombs” in the sky over there – 

a rocket that wriggled up and shot
darkness with parasols of brilliants
and a peewee descant on a flung bit.

Days pass, a week or two, centuries. The country absorbs you; and the next thing you know, the librarian at the National Library is retrieving your books before you even reach the counter, without even viewing your library card, finding the titles not by your name, but by Murray’s.

Speaking of libraries, the ACT/Canberra library system, I discovered, doesn’t hold a single copy of Murray’s magnum opus, Freddy Neptune, which is a bit like landing in Alice Springs and finding no Uluru. Of course, if that ever happened, if Uluru disappeared, the monument would still live on in Murray’s poem, “Inside Ayer’s Rock;” and thus we have the inherent irony of being a poet of Murray’s make: A self-described “dreamy fat hillbilly kid” (he outgrew neither his baby-fat nor his baby-ear for language), Murray is both the offspring of Australia, a spectacle of nature – even more a poet of the soil than Steinbeck or Faulkner – and, at the same time, too often neglected by it. He once threatened to have his poems removed from the curriculum of Sydney University when a professor there (her name vindictively published in his essay “On Being Subject Matter”) refused to help him find even the most menial job on campus. 

Yes, even bards-of-the-soil are subject to the pangs of hunger and despair.

Endangered species, these untainted, natural born poets. Critically so; while receiving what often seems a fraction of the national preservation efforts dealt to such threatened species as Australia’s Orange-Bellied Parrot or the Southern Corroboree Frog. Perhaps this helps explain the current fascination with bulky page-churners, from Catton’s Luminaries to Tarts’ The Goldfinch to Halberg’s City on Fire (each more than 750 pages). The staying power of enormity. In an ocean of minnows, it’s the whales -- the Ulurus -- that most often earn our protective embrace. Murray was always large and strong, both poetically and physically (he was known to get out of his car and lift up the back wheels to adjust the angle of his parking). When he flies to Europe he becomes the 747 that’s carrying him (see his poems “The International Terminal” or “Touchdown”). Falstaffian fat. Girth and mirth. And not just acreage, but distance in time; a lengthy lineage, with ancestral voices echoing from the Scottish highlands.

Still, even so, it’s hard to imagine that such a poet (scarred and dentally-damaged fortooth!) would survive today’s American climate, where the arts are magnificent but manufactured; where the land is dry of the dreams that once fed the rural poor; and where word artists are tossed aside by the dust-winds of capital, or incarcerated in the Iowa Writer's Workshop,* or pressed into Hollywood chain-gangs, the labor camps of university intellectualism, the gulags of television writing teams. Time to do stand-up, start a business, become an Internet drone or founder of Twitter. I think of Wendell Berry as perhaps the last soil-sprouted poet America will ever know – a statement which offers good fertilizer for new ones (this entire paragraph should spawn a revolution). Even E.B White, if we’re thinking of farm-fed genius, tilled his language in Manhattan, a vocabulary so unlike the gritty grammar of Murray’s country.

The pigs in "Pigs" are no Wilburs.
Which brings us nicely to our “Pigs.” White’s famous porcine hero, Wilbur, is saved from slaughter by his naive lovability (that’s “some pig!"); not to mention a spider that can spell and a young girl named Fern. The foul and the frightening made adorable. Orwell, meanwhile, abused the poor pig by dressing it up as Stalin. Ted Hughes restored some of the pigness of pigs in “View of the Pig” (“They eat cinders, dead cats”), but it’s Murray who, with what’s been called his “dreaming mind” – a controlled dream, like Poe’s “fancies” -- turns us for a moment into pigs ourselves. He’s done this with many other animals: lizards, bats, echidnas, wagtails, molluscs and so forth, not to mention a botanical garden of plant specimens (see Translations from the Natural World). Right from the snorting, iambic assonance of the first line, “Pigs” speaks in a universal dream-music (what Murray calls an “English-language cynghanedd”) -- a rank, earthy lyricism and muddiness to be split by “sheet-cutting screams up ahead.”

“Bristly, with milk” is very much the texture of Murray’s wilderness, of his lyrical style; and when I think of the schoolyard teasing he endured over his weight, “tusking / the ball-biting dogs” seems very much a Murrayan approach to any endeavor. “And Big, huh?“ Yes, definitely big. Big as a country. As Australia. Big as a language. And most of all, big as a poet who’s been true to his art – the sort of poet to whom cement feels soft compared to the indignities of being cut and hosed down by writers, academics, people with too many words and nothing to say. That “gone-already feeling” of living in penniless posterity. To be spit and twisted upside down and celebrated only in death.


*Today, after writing this sentence comparing writing workshops to prisons, I discovered in the New York Review of Books a review by Diana Johnson of Mark McGurl’s The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing. McGurl, according to Johnson, not only suggests that “prison narratives also function as metaphors for the creative writing class itself,” but he’s much more ruthless, evocative and accurate than I am, referring to such creative writing programs as "collective specular sodomy." 

This week's editor, Zireaux, is the author of several novels and works of poetry. He writes poetry, book reviews and commentary on literature at the website ImmortalMuse.com

You can check out some of the other Tuesday poets and poems via the sidebar on the left.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I hear you singing in the next room by Helen Rickerby

I hear you singing in the next room

It is more than not being alone

We cook together and eat
from      blue bowls

Sometimes I am the wise one
                         sometimes you

The night we met, we both
kissed the same boy

You write ‘I love you’ in the condensation
        on the window

I lead you into luxury and indolence

We walk to the zoo and promise the animals

We draw a magic circle around ourselves

It is more than not being alone, it is being together

I hear you singing in the next room

Posted with permission.
Editor: Janis Freegard

I love this poem, from Helen Rickerby's second collection, My Iron Spine.  You get a glimpse into a whole relationship through just a few well-chosen details. The poem has a sweetness and simplicity about it, but with sounds, colours and actions that make it come alive: the lover singing in the next room, the blue bowls, the trip to the zoo.  There is a real sense of two people wrapped up in each other, their love being greater than the sum of the individuals. 

There's a musicality about the poem too.  I especially like the line about "luxury and indolence".  I also like the way it circles back at the end, to the singing in the next room.  But this time, we hear the singing with a deeper understanding.

Helen Rickerby is the author of My Iron Spine (HeadworX, 2008), Abstract Internal Furniture (HeadworX, 2001), and the poem sequence Heading North, which was  published in a hand-bound hardback edition by Kilmog Press in 2010She also runs the wonderful Seraph Press - a boutique publishing company with a growing reputation for publishing high-quality poetry books - and is co-managing editor of the literary magazine JAAM.

Helen's latest poetry collection, Cinema, will be published by Makaro Press early next year. She blogs irregularly at wingedink.blogspot.com.

This week's editor, Janis Freegard, is the author of the chapbook The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider (Anomalous Press, US, 2013) and the collection Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus (Auckland University Press, 2011), and is co-author of AUP New Poets 3 (Auckland University Press, 2008).  She lives in Wellington, New Zealand.

You can check out some of the other Tuesday poets and poems via the sidebar on the left.