Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Oh Dirty River by Helen Lehndorf

The town where I grew up
was small, ugly and smelled
like burning blood.

Most of the dads and 
a lot of the mums and
heaps of the big brothers and sisters 

worked at the Freezing Works.

Thousands of cows and sheep 
and even a few hundred pigs 
would get trucked in, slaughtered,
chopped up and packaged 
in cling film each day.

The burning-blood smell 
came from the incinerator
where they would burn
the bits left over.
Though, some of it got pumped 

right into the river
which ran through the town.

In our town, 
people called the works
‘The University’ 

because it was where most of us
ended up going after we left school.
People also used to
call our town ‘Lavender City’ 
because of the burned-flesh stink.
So you can’t say
we didn’t have a sense of humour.

Yeah. You could make a joke 
about it. But only if you’re
from there, eh?

Otherwise, you’re just
getting smart.

Editor: Tim Jones

Credit note: "Oh Dirty River" was first published in Kaupapa: New Zealand poets, world issues, edited by Hinemoana Baker and Maria McMillan (Te Whanga-nui-a-Tara: Development Resource Centre, 2007), and is included in Helen Lehndorf's poetry collection The Comforter (Wellington: Seraph Press, 2011). "Oh Dirty River" is reproduced by permission of the author, Helen Lehndorf, and the publisher, Seraph Press.

Tim says: I like "Oh Dirty River" for a number of reasons, one of which is autobiographical: I spent part of my childhood in another freezing works town, Mataura. My Dad worked at the New Zealand Paper Mills plant which was directly across the Mataura River from the freezing works, and that smell of burned flesh Helen describes in this poem was all too familiar to me as I walked or biked to visit him.

A few years later, I had a Varsity holiday job that involved measuring the paper mill's effluent stream. That took me down to the riverbank, where, opposite me, I could see the blood-rich, blood-red untreated freezing works effluent that burst from the cliff on which the freezing works stood and plumed into the river, adding a red stain to the multi-coloured stains produced by the paper mill. There were some very large eels in that river.

But I also love Helen's poem because it catches both the matter-of-factness of life in a small town that makes its living from the death of thousands of animals, and the half-proud defensiveness of anyone who's grown up in such a town and heard it mocked by the rest of the country. It may be a dump, we think to ourselves - but it's our dump.

After you have read "Oh Dirty River", check out the other Tuesday Poems in the sidebar!

Tim Jones is a Wellington author, poet, editor and anthologist. His most recent book is poetry collection Men Briefly Explained (IP, 2011). He is currently, with P.S. Cottier, co-editing The Stars Like Sand, an anthology of Australian speculative poetry that is due for publication in 2014. You can find out more on Tim's blog Books in the Trees.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Palmy by Jennifer Compton

Some injudicious thoughts about this city. Nothing else can be written.
I perch in my flat on top of the Square at that dullest hour before dawn,
wreathed in Happy by Clinique For Men from Farmers in the Plaza.
I lurk in the mirrored department of luxury and when the girls go off
to mend their hair and drink tea I spray at random. I love perfume
but don't want to smell the same night after night as the bed warms.
The gay club across the yard has spilled the revellers out into the street.
Their music woke me up, the old tunes I remember like 'Dancing Queen.'
I've had the best time ever! - as the barman dumps bottles in the skip.
So now it is just me and the night, and you, and soon the big old moon
riding the clouds of gathering light behind the glass in my high window. 
This used to be all forest, not so long ago, and I could tell by the sorrow
that haunts the wide, flat roads, that seeps out of the sense of openness,
something is missing, something is wrenched askew, as the river runs.
The wind blows through, in rolling gusts, baffled, and almost angry.
The wind is searching for the Papaioea Forest. How beautiful it was.  
Tonight, behind the necklace of glittering lights below, is the darkness
which is the hills. Upon them, when it is light, like many crucifixions,
the wind farm. Then the long, ungainly arms swoop and seem to bless.
I will admit, to you, that I have found Palmerston North disconcerting.
It is the only word which fits, and I have rummaged the Thesaurus.
The thing that throws me most onto the wrong foot and unnerves me
is that I think the father of my first grandchild must be Rangitāne.
He is adopted, doesn't know his kin, nobody we know looks like him.
But here I see his way of walking up ahead of me in Rangitikei Street, 
and then the gesture of his hand at the wheel of a car as I cross now,
or he is stooping in a shop door, fitting tiles. His very particular smile.
He has cousins living here. But the link is broken, everything is lost.
We don't know them and  they don't know us. There's no way back.
It's a secret we can't unravel. And soon I will be gone. Meanwhile
the wind searches out the last of the autumn roses and shakes them. 

from THIS CITY by Jennifer Compton (Otago University Press 2011)  

Editor - Mary McCallum

I launched the collection This City in Wellington two years ago. I'd met Jennifer Compton back in 2008 when she was the Randell Cottage writer in residence and been following her career ever since. We claim her as a New Zealand poet and she took the six month stint in the historic Thorndon cottage as a kiwi (the other six months a French writer moves in), but she's lived in Australia since 1972.

When I met Jen she was living in rural Wingello in New South Wales, but she has since moved to Melbourne. She is one of those artists with a foot planted on both sides of the Tasman - publishing poetry, plays and short fiction here from the age of 15 and winning some of our top awards including the Katherine Mansfield Award for short fiction (1997) and the Kathleen Grattan Award (2010); and publishing and performing her poetry and writing plays in Australia, where she's won the Robert Harris Poetry Prize (1995).  A true trans-Tasman writer, then. Or as poet Joanna Preston would say, a Tasmanaut.

The Kathleen Grattan Award was for a whole collection of poems - which led to publication of This Citya book divided into three parts: Italy, New Zealand and Australia. Jen has also been an actively contributing Tuesday Poet ever since she got her blog up and running and continues to support Australian and New Zealand writers through that medium as well as through the many poetry events she takes part in.

Apart from the Randell, Jen has been writer in residence in other exotic distant spots including Rome and Bogliasco ... and Palmerston North (2010). I stayed with her for a night in the breeze-block apartment in Palmy that was her home for three months. She'd embraced the place - a Visiting Artist, no less - with enough time and money to write, and lots to look upon from those high white walls. She also ran to two hot water bottles for a Wellington poet not used to the cool Palmy nights.

In her usual generous fashion, Jen hosted a regular Tuesday poetry evening at a local cafe. She simply announced she'd be hanging out there if poets wanted to turn up, and she'd sit at a table in the corner and knit and do crosswords and write poems until the other poets came along - and if they didn't, she kept knitting, writing poems etc.

One day local writer Johanna Aitchison came to the cafe with a poem called Jun which, with Jennifer's encouragement, went on to beat 621 other entries to win the 2010 NZ Poetry Society Competition. Elsewhere in the city, there was a reading of Jen's play The Third Age by a local theatre troupe.

It wasn't all plain knitting. While in Palmy, Jen missed the birth of her precious first grandchild, which explains why her mind went where it did in Palmy.

I think this poem is an audacious piece of work and a hugely satisfying read for the huge, at times, eccentric swoops it takes - like the Quixotic arms of the wind farm. From a whiff of perfume to the lie of the land - from the past living in the present and, the tentative secret joy of that, or not, and therefore a roaming grief - and some fantastic images that have stayed with me since I first heard Palmy read, especially the absent trees, the baffled winds, the benevolent wind farms ...

Tonight, behind the necklace of glittering lights below, is the darkness
which is the hills. Upon them, when it is light, like many crucifixions,
the wind farm. Then the long, ungainly arms swoop and seem to bless.
I will admit, to you, that I have found Palmerston North disconcerting.

Hah! Don't we all. And yet, in Jennifer Compton's hands, glittering too.

This City is a book to savour. Kathleen Grattan judge, Vincent O'Sullivan says that Jennifer's collection, 'sustains a questing, warmly sceptical mind's engagement with wherever it is, whatever it takes in, and carries the constant drive to say it right.' I like that scepticism and warmth and the way the poet searches and probes... and I very much like the playfulness.

More on Jennifer Compton here. And some fabulous notebooks of hers.

And after you've read Palmy, do check out the other poets in the sidebar!

This week's editor, Mary McCallum is the founder and co-curator of Tuesday Poem with Claire Beynon and blogs at O Audacious Book. She has published a novel The Blue, a chapbook The Tenderness of Light and is publishing a children's novel in 2014. Mary has also just started up Makaro Press in Wellington which has a small number of projects on the go including some poetry. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Some Last Things by Sam Rasnake

So many words to say now he'll never say though
he feels their weight in silence, though he needs
their meanings, he knows he won't find them,

still they bite at his tongue  –  what he once questioned
he knows for fact, what he once believed, he's long since
forgotten or dreamed away  – if you whisper your truths,

they'll disappear, he'd say, so he never whispers them   
and when he does speak, his voice is the wild thud
of trees falling, oceans from here in cool shimmers

of rain, in the hot curl of asphalt, in all the time needed
though there's so little now to do, and he's prayed deep
into the hole of his aching, but that's not how it ends   

in a hush, in the beetle's scratching at the baseboard,
a bullfrog's croaking from the dark rocks in his pond,
his cane leaning against the opened window

first published 2012 at fwriction: review 

Editor: Michelle Elvy

I've come to appreciate Sam Rasnake's poetry over the last several years, and this poem, to me, exemplifies the way he balances the personal and the universal. I asked him about this, and I'm pleased to put his response here, in full. Like Rasnake's poetry, his commentary is both thoughtful and truthful. 

ELVY One of the things I always admire in your poetry is that you seem to achieve a specificity of place and mood with a more universal appeal to intellect and emotion. I wonder if you can comment on this, the way it  captures specific details but also contains elements of language and humanity that reach a wide audience. How do you balance the specifics with the universality of poetry -- both of which are, perhaps, vital?

RASNAKEIn my work the balance is already in place when the poem begins to take shape in its voice stage, which is always in the beginning. I say my lines before I write them.  The sound of the lines, syntax, and phrasing is how the poem arrives.  Voice is the foundation. If I’m true to the voice in listening to the beginning stage of each poem, the work will be more personal. The more personal the work, the more universal the scope. That is, of course, if I’m allowing the work to be what is intended – what the work is, and not what I may want it to be or even what I think it should be. 

'Truth' in my writing, at least as I understand it, is not in factual information. That doesn’t interest me at all, so that is one of the reasons why the works find me as they do. The writing finds me. I do not find it, nor do I search for it. There are certainly emotional, psychological, and spiritual truths that are far more vital than mere facts. For example, the truth in “Some Last Things” is not bound by factual detail even though the specifics in the poem are image-driven. I think the poem is quite visual. The closing lines  --

in a hush, in the beetle’s scratching at the baseboard,
a bullfrog’s croaking from the dark rocks in his pond,
his cane leaning against the opened window

--   are true in the poem though they only brush against the facts in my life. The opened window at the end is based on the real window in my parents’ den that is above a pond my father built beside the house, but the window has never been opened since that room was built. The frogs can still be heard and are always present in their enemy stance against the coy and goldfish that live in the pond. The beetle’s scratching is a striking metaphor that I never heard there but was necessary to the closing of the poem.  That line is the finishing touch to the poem’s dark tone. My father who loved to work with wood made his own canes.  He leaned his canes throughout his house, but never placed one against the wall below that specific window.  But, there’s an emotional truth in placing the cane against the den window that is more real and true to the poem than if another wall – an actual moment in his or my life -- had been used. My favorite part of this poem is that final line.  In the line, the cane is already in place, but its silence in resting there must show the quiet tap of the cane’s handle touching wood. That sound is outside the poem though it certainly impacts the poem.

I wrote this poem before my father died.  He struggled against bone cancer for several years. My connection to the poem is envisioning the silence of his death which I knew was coming. Maybe that is the reason the poem ends with the sounds taking place and the action of a cane’s leaning – forever in the poem – against the window.

Thinking about that closing image just now, I feel a sense of relief. The moment is not closed, but is open to me, and will remain so. That, most likely, is the reason the poem came to me in the first place. I’m glad I listened. I like very little of my work, but this poem is one of the few satisfactory writing moments I’ve ever had.

Sam Rasnake’s works, receiving five nominations for the Pushcart Prize, have appeared in OCHO, WigleafBig Muddy,Literal Latté, Poem, Pebble Lake Review, Poets/Artists, New World Writing, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature,Santa Fe Literary Review, as well as the anthologies MiPOesias Companion 2012, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Best of the Web 2009, LUMMOX 2012, Flash Fiction Fridays, BOXCAR Poetry Review Anthology 2, Deep River Apartments, The Lost Children, and Dogzplot Flash Fiction 2011. 

Rasnake is the author of Necessary Motions (Sow’s Ear Press, 1998), Religions of the Blood (Pudding House Press, 1998), Lessons in Morphology (GOSS183, 2010) and Inside a Broken Clock (Finishing Line Press, 2010).  His latest collection, Cinéma Vérité, is forthcoming from A Minor Press later in 2013. 

Rasnake is chapbook editor for Sow’s Ear Poetry Review and has served as a judge for the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize, University of California, Berkeley, and from 2001-2010 was editor of Blue Fifth Review. Since 2011, Rasnake has edited, along with Michelle Elvy, the Blue Five Notebook Series from Bluefifth Review.

Once you've read Sam Rasnake, climb aboard the other Tuesday Poets in the sidebar.
The Tuesday Poem editor this week is Michelle Elvy. You can find Michelle this month in the mosh pit at FLASH MOB 2013 (one day left to submit, folks!), or more formally offering assistance at New Zealand's National Flash Fiction Day, or enjoying poetry and flash at Blue Five Notebook and Flash Frontier. You can also find her at Glow Worm.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Untitled (If You Have Linen Women) by Robin Hyde

If you have linen women, raspberry women
Red and thick of the mouth, with dock-leaf women
(Little light foxy spores – mind them, such women,)
If you have green grape women, flour-bin women,
Amber-in-forest, wild-mint-scented women,
Trey-bit in church or drudging kit-bag women,
Little sad bedraggled wind-has-weazened-one women,
White bean women, perhaps anemone women.
And harp-like facing the starlight women,
Young Bronzey Plumage, what will you do with women?

If you have poppy women, moth-due women
Tinkering wings in the dark... thin alley women
Lit with their scared, bruised eyes, (watch them, such women

Editor: Janis Freegard

I came across this fragment of a poem while browsing through Young Knowledge: The Poems of Robin Hyde, edited and introduced by Michele Leggott  (Auckland University Press, 2003).  I love the richness of the language she uses, the sounds and the building rhythm.  I'm curious to know how she might have finished it.

While a great deal of Hyde’s work is complete, and collected, it got me thinking about how much of literature survives through fragments – the works of Sappho, for example.  A tantalising sliver of a poem can leave us wondering about the whole, the turns it might have taken, the feelings it might have evoked.  In this case, we get the start of the journey, but not the final destination.

Robin Hyde is the pseudonym of Iris Wilkinson (1906–39), a major New Zealand writer of poetry, fiction and journalism.  She was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and brought to Wellington as a baby.  She also travelled to Australia, China and England as an adult. 

Her first book of poetry, The Desolate Star, was published in 1929. She also published the novels Passport to Hell (1936), Check To Your King (1936), Wednesday's Children (1937), Nor the Years Condemn (1938), and The Godwits Fly (1938).

When you've read Robin Hyde's poem get your teeth into the sidebar for up to thirty more poems from our Tuesday Poets.

The Tuesday Poem editor this week is Janis Freegard, author of the poetry collection Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus (AUP, 2011) and a chapbook The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider (Anomalous Press, 2013), and co-author of AUP New Poets 3 (2008).  She blogs at janisfreegard.com