Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Surface, by Peter Munro

Swept among seas that walk downwind,
beaks and feathers wheel to hook and pick.
Skimming low, fulmars heel and spin
speed.  Their twines knot the world to its quick.
I learn to listen with my skin.
Gusts kiss me, whispering their cold.
Caressed in tempos that whitecaps kick,
rust scours my vessel, fills her holds.
She presses into a surface nicked
by birds feeding where salt unfolds.

Fulmars chitter.  Kittiwakes yelp.
White streaks the backs of waves as if scars.
Whipped sinuously, like bull kelp
waving down current when the flood spars
with land or the ebbing sea whelps
tide pools upon dried out shorelines,
white betrays the gale where each gust tars
the surface.  I learn to read signs,
brushed scrollwork rolling out so far
meanings merge where whitecaps align.

My trawl leaves the surface behind.
The net descends from the broken backs
of seas through currents the moon aligned
in layers, sinking from black to black.
I tow her where my eyes are blind.
I listen as her sonars call
to my vessel, sending pings and clacks.
A granite outcrop snags her crawl,
strikes her dumb as chains and footgear wrack.
Among fins and gills, silence falls.

Thanks to Seattle poet Peter Munro whose poem 
is posted with his permission. 

—Editor: T Clear

When I asked Peter Munro to send me a poem, I knew that he was up in the vast north on a fishing boat doing research, and thought it a marvelous opportunity to give this post one of the things that I love to do when reading poetry — to place the poet in a landscape relevant to what is being composed. In my humble opinion, this particular landscape is high drama with a bit of the romantic involved. (Although I'm dead certain that Peter would deny any aspect of the romantic notion.)

Over the past few months, at at open mic that I attend, I've listened to Peter read, in sequence, "chapters" of a 31-page poem titled The Baptism of Mack MacListon. After the first few times I heard him read this, I gave up trying to follow the narrative, and instead gave in to the spectacular music of it. At once it's like listening to Debussy blended with Nine Inch Nails. He gave me a hard copy of it a month ago, and I'm slowly making my way through - the music as present on the page as when experienced in a purely auditory fashion.

I also asked Peter to send some words, in addition to his poem, on his location - and he came through, generously. Without further commentary, from the Gulf of Alaska, here's Peter Munro:

My calling is poetry.  However, I am fortunate to have a second calling that allows me to make up for income deficits in the poetry biz.  In my day job, I am a research fisheries biologist.  I love the work.  I am part of a team that contributes to the stewardship of commercially important fish stocks in the Gulf of Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, and the Bering Sea.  Specifically, we contract with small trawlers to carry teams of researchers out to sea and conduct research fishing according to statistical protocols.  We use our catches to estimate populations of bottom fish such as cod, halibut, flounder, and rockfish.

I was working on this poem when T. Clear asked me to send her a piece to use in Tuesday Poem.  When this poem comes out, I will be nearing the end of a fifty day trip in the Gulf of Alaska, working in the latter two-thirds of a seventy-five day survey that stretches from Dutch Harbor, in the Aleutian Islands, to Ketchikan, in Southeast Alaska.  We send the trawl down to the bottom 5 to 7 times a day.  It takes about an hour to fish then one to three hours to process each catch into data plus additional time for managing data, tending to fishing gear, and making fishing decisions with the captain.

Once the vessel’s crew have dumped the catch into our sorting table, we more or less do everything else by bending our backs, hoisting and shoving a lot of 30 kilogram baskets of fish.  We sort by species, weigh, count, dissect to determine sex ratios, measure lengths, take certain body parts for determining the age, and then conduct a number of other special, more one-off projects.  It is slimy, bloody work.  The crew numbers three on deck working with us and the scientific party numbers six.  We all put our noses into the muck dumped from the cod-end and tease each other till the work is done.

The boat is the F/V Sea Storm, a 123-foot, house-forward, steel trawler built by MARCO in Seattle in 1980, christened as the Doña Genoveva.  She is one of the most beautiful vessels in the North Pacific, though definitely on the small side by modern standards.  Her lines are derived from old-school Norwegian shipwrights, translated through the western combination design developed on the left coast of the USA after engines began to displace sail, and that came into flower during the king crab boom of the 1970s.  She would be too expensive to build today, requiring far too much cold-rolling of steel to produce the curves.  But she rides like a champion, a sweet motion that seems to be completely predictable; no sudden lurches or surprise throws.  Her skipper swears she can take any weather, even though only 123 feet.

Truly the Sea Storm is old school: she was built for fishing, with living-on by humans being a Norwegian afterthought.  The quarters are crammed far, far forward.  I’m living in a room with three other guys with less than a meter between our two stacks of bunks.  We can’t all four stand in the room at the same time, much less get dressed or open a locker.  One of the women in our field party bunks with the cook and the open door to the galley and all the conversations bellowed there over the sound of the main and the generators.  The other woman in our party has her “own” stateroom, smaller than a closet, but it’s where we work up our data so she isn’t really able to be there except after we’ve all gone to bed.  There are twelve people on the boat and a total of ten places to sit down, including the captain’s and pilot’s chairs up in the wheelhouse.

To work on poems, I get up at 4 in the morning, since most of the rest of our company stays in their bunks until 6.  Net goes in the water at 7.  We try to work hard enough to be too tired to notice or care that none of us can sit down without touching another person (usually a being we wouldn’t be inclined to touch at all and especially not this much).  I won’t mention the smell other than to remind you of fresh water rations and weeks of sweat, pollock blood, cod intestines, arrowtooth flounder slime, and shortspine thornyhead scales.  Every day I shrug into my foul weather gear, tromp out on deck, breast up to the sorting table, start slugging fish, and marvel that I’m getting paid to do this beautiful work (said without irony).

The skipper says to mention the fresh fish.  (I have written this in the galley and simply cannot ignore editorial input from my shipmates.)  We do get to eat fresh fish: spot shrimp for lunch today.

The skipper has also grumped at me that there are eleven places to sit down, not ten.  Those eleven seats still feel more like five.

I’ve blithered on this long about research fishing because I love it.  However, poetry is my real gig.  Please visit my web site: www.munropoetry.com

When I’m not at sea I live in a bedroom community to Seattle, Washington, USA, with my wife and our two sons.

This week's editor, T. Clear, manages a glass art business in Seattle, producing and shipping work for galleries and gift shops all across the U.S. She has been publishing her work for over 30 years, and her first book-length manuscript, Dusk, is forthcoming from Floating Bridge Press in 2014.     

When you've emerged from the sea-blown world of Peter Munro, please do check out the poems from our thirty Tuesday Poets in the sidebar.   

Copyright details in the sidebar.                                                                                                                                                     

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tika by Saradha Koirala

Goodbye takes the form of a blessing.
My family press tika on our foreheads
rupees into my palm.

Mountain-high through time and air
the red paint dries, the rice grains fall
leaving a trail that could surely lead us home.

But sometimes you can't tell what you've seen
until you close your eyes
and the imprint reveals

an inverted world of darkened brights
and a pale sky
a halo around the ones I'll miss.

Tika stayed with us for each part of the journey
and at last we were hurrying
to our final connection.

Back home I find red smudges on my notebook
like gilt edges of a Bible
indelible tika

staining my most sacred things.

Editor: Harvey Molloy

'Tika' is the final poem from Saradha Koirala's magnificent second book of poems Tear Water TeaIn India and Nepal a tika is a blessing received at the end of a puja ('worship'); the person performing the puja places their forefinger into the dye and makes a single red vertical mark on the recipient’s forehead.  During the puja, offerings are made of light, scent, flowers, rice, and sweets.

I have lived in an Indian family for over twenty-five years and know that to assume that puja is just about 'religion', 'belief', 'worship' -- all very conceptual, very intellectual, and quite slippery, especially in Hinduism and Buddhism  -- is  to miss the event of Tika; Tika marks a passage or transition.  Something is about to change, to journey to become something else and  'Goodbye takes the form of a blessing.' That wonderful line also resonates with me because I share with Saradha, and my wife Latika, and with many others, the 'Goodbye' at the heart of the immigrant experience.  Our families are elsewhere, to visit them is to arrive finally at goodbye as we return to our homes elsewhere.

Saradha's poems often include the experience of a complication.  The visitors leave, the tika drying on their foreheads, but the possibility of remaining lost, even abandoned, without any chance of return comes  through in that ambiguous could surely, with all its German märchen hints of Hansel and Gretel left in the woods. It's not would  nor will.  There's an uncertainty after leave-taking as loved ones pass into memory and it's only in this memory that a recognition can take place: 'But sometimes you can't tell what you've seen.'  'Tell' necessitates the work of poetry -- all of Tear Water Tea remains committed to a sustained reflection on experience. 

How does one measure courage in poetry?  It's a difficult question.  One sign of courage is to remain true, though not unyielding to reflection, to the sense, perhaps even the hunch, of an experience and its value or significance.  This courage means not by necessity or habit adopting a mask (although it’s all a mask in the same way that drama is all characters) or to remove the intensity of the significance through ironic distance (unless irony is integral to the sense or hunch).  

Writing this I am struck by the many words I have at my disposal to name literary tropes and rhetorical figures and the less specific words I find for the special, the unique, the marvellous, the miraculous, the fortuitous, the valued, the spiritual, the 'souled', the sacred: the experience of unique moments that confer value and which are somehow part of a vastness.  The experience of tika lingers and stains the present through memory and this staining is now a hallmark of the 'sacred things.'  The image of the gilded pages of the Bible is both courageous and perfect: the stain is on the edge or margin of sacred things and is bound in some mysterious way with writing and belief. I don’t belong to any religion but I have a hunch that one of the great taboos for many poets of today is faith. 

Zen aficionados might urge us to just live in the moment but Saradha’s poetry suggests that an appreciation of our own experience is not immediately apparent but rather requires memory, reflection, perhaps even the act of writing, to make sense.  Saradha’s work is both personal and thoughtful—there’s much to discover with each reading.

The Poet

Saradha Koirala lives, writes and works in Wellington, New Zealand, and is of Nepali and Pākehā descent. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters and her poetry has been published in The Listener, broadsheet nz, Hue & Cry, Turbine, Sport and Lumiere Reader. She is also a Tuesday Poet who blogs here and her book is available here. 

This week's editor, Harvey Molloy, is a writer and teacher who lives in Wellington. His first book of poems, Moonshot, was published by Steele Roberts in 2008.  He is the current poetry editor of Jaam magazine.

When you've read and enjoyed Tika - do check out the other Tuesday Poems in the sidebar. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Garage by Robert Gray

In one of the side streets
of a small hot town
off the highway

we saw the garage,
its white boards peeling
among fronds and palings.

The sun had cut a blaze
off the day. The petrol pump
was from the sixties

of human scale
and humanoid appearance
it had a presence,

seemed the attendant
of our adventures on the road,
the doorman of our chances.

We pulled in, for nostalgia,
onto concrete. From where
did that thing's almost

avoidable sense of
sacrifice, or remorse,
arise? One felt it

as though a line
in the hand, drifted far off
somewhere, unweighted.

Who was this, in faded
cream outfit, with badge,
expressionless small head,

and rubbery hose laid
on the breast, dutifully
or out of diffidence?

Were arms being shown, and in
servitude or consent?
The stoic discomforts,

suggests a rebellion.
Elusively, such feelings
are wafted through us, but how

interpret them? A person
relied upon and yet
dangerous. Was this

another, or oneself?
Were we familiars of something
never to be known? I looked

down a blank street, of pines,
lightpoles, old houses
in shady yards, where it made

a genuflection, in approaching
the gentian-coloured hills;
then at the long workshop, a dim

barn, or empty corridor,
in the galaxy, with somewhere
far along it one star

crackling and bursting.
Then at the greasy
dog, in its narrow shade;

and at the old bowser—
a sense still proclaimed but
ungrasped, though everything

lay open. Someone shouted
acknowledgement, so we sat
quietly. The light

had become an interest
of this place, pronounced
in contrast with the peculiar

matt blackness of sump-oil
that was soaked widely
on earth, gravel, and cement—

an obscurity as opaque
as the heart's, which was keeping on
with its tunnelling there.

Editor: Jennifer Compton

Robert Gray is an Australian poet I always intended to get round to and read deeply and tick off my list, but somehow I never did. It wasn't until I read his translucent prose memoir – The Land I Came Through Last (Giramondo 2008) – that I was fired up to tackle his body of work. And luckily Cumulus (John Leonard Press 2012), his Collected Poems, had just been published so I had a handy volume for the task. I say task, because I had got the idea into my head that he was a 'difficult' poet. I was so wrong! He is the very antithesis of 'difficult' although no one would ever describe him as 'easy'.

I was on the train travelling from my home in Carrum into Flinders Street, and I was reading Cumulus, and, as we hit Mordialloc, I lifted my head and looked out through the train window, up at the sky and the light from the sea mirrored up in the sky, and fell into an abundant meditative state. I didn't want to read any more for the moment, but I held the book as if it was a psychometric object.

I chose this poem to post without fully understanding why I chose this one out of all of them. I thought that maybe it was because of the word 'bowser' which I haven't heard being used for a long time. I never stopped to wonder as a child why that was the word for a machine that dispensed petrol, so was delighted to find out quite recently that it was named after the inventor of the first gasoline pump, Sylvanus F. Bowser. But as I was typing the poem up I recalled (and it is strange how you have to recall something that has animated most of your life) how fearful and suspicious of cars I have always been. 

For instance, I have never learned to drive. I have never owned a car, or used a bowser. I would rather walk, or ride a bike, or use public transport that get in a car. A car is my last resort. Cities that have areas that don't privilege cars delight me. And of course, there is now a global consciousness that makes my stand against cars much more reputable than it has been in the past. I chose this poem before recent events in Lac-Mégantic, and because I am posting it now, my appreciation of the theme of the poem has been considerably sharpened.

Robert Gray was born in 1945 on the north coast of New South Wales. He lives in Sydney, where he has worked in journalism, advertising, as a buyer for bookshops, and more recently as an occasional teacher of literature.

Since 1970 he has published eight books of poetry and six selected editions of his work. For these he has won most of the prizes and literary awards available to a poet in this country, including the Australia Council’s Emeritus Award in 2011. He is also the author of a prize-winning prose memoir, The Land I Came Through Last.

When a landscape is sparsely populated, the eye is favoured over the ear. Robert Gray spent his childhood in the brilliant coastal spaces of the mid-North Coast of New South Wales, and he has spent his life looking at things, and in searching for the words for them.

Take time to read more poets searching for the words for things, in the sidebar - as Tuesday Poets, we post a poem we admire or have written on a Tuesday.

This week's editor, Jennifer Compton, was born in Wellington, emigrated to Australia in the early 70s and lives now in Melbourne. She is an award-winning playwright and poet, with 'Barefoot' shortlisted for the John Bray Poetry Award in 2012 and 'This City' (Otago University Press 2011) the winner of the Kathleen Grattan Award in NZ.  She has also been awarded a number of residencies including one at the Randell Cottage in Wellington, and blogs here. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The night I pierced my own belly button by Maria McMillan

Can’t wait to get out
of this hole of a town
she said. For years
we’d been planning
our escape. Had compiled
a list of compulsory
adventures involving
our own brilliant selves
and various disposable
sidekicks in locations
ranging from the giant
aquarium tank in
downtown Monterey
to a moonlit bridge
in Vietnam arched like a
bony cat’s back, to mountains
with names only we knew.

Our mothers, who were sisters,
would look from her to me
and sigh, letting breath out
slowly through the gaps
between their teeth like they’d
been forced to eat something
horrible. Emily
had a blonde bob, perfect
as a politician’s. Eyebrows
plucked exactly so they
lined up with the edges
of her eyes. Skinny.
They kept us close
hoping she would rub off on me.

C’mon, she said, our parents were out
she’d called a taxi. I’ll
do your make-up – like
it was another game or dare,
and when I wouldn't gave me
her practised lopsided smile
like I was a kid putting off
the inevitable. Really,
it’s nothing and left smelling
young and sweet looking
like a favourite daughter.

I was alone. Took
the biggest needle I
could find, poured boiling
water over it. It was
like getting into a
river on a hot day,
the pain, it was like laughing
until you couldn't stop

Everything folded tight
in a moment, hidden
in the seam of a dusty
pocket. Emily. Our mothers
out with their husbands.
Being eleven, being told
why I couldn’t wear shorts.
The bulbous staring eye
of a giant orange fish.
How I’d known
sterilising the needle
wouldn’t stop the pus but
I’d done it anyway.

Editor: Saradha Koirala

The night I pierced my own belly button is from Maria McMillan's much anticipated first collection 'The Rope Walk' published by Seraph Press and is reprinted here with permission. 

I have never pierced my own belly button, but I have definitely laughed until I couldn't stop. What strikes me about this poem is the disconnect between the fantasy of leaving  - "Can’t wait to get out/ of this hole of a town" - and the ultimate desire to be alone. When Emily leaves "smelling/ young and sweet looking/ like a favourite daughter." a space is created for the speaker of the poem to attempt something much more daring. The last lines, "I’d known / sterilising the needle / wouldn’t stop the pus but / I’d done it anyway." is a fantastic ending for this poem and a metaphor I'm left pondering.

Maria has described 'The Rope Walk' as "intergenerational persona poetry sequences that feature aerial performers, 19th century ropemakers and gloomy mountain cribs." Characters reoccur throughout the sequence and a story is woven across generations. The poems are about grieving, moving on and being bound to family and place. The books too are hand-bound - a limited edition of 150 hand-numbered copies - with a letterpress-printed cover designed and printed by Joe Buchanan. It will be launched this weekend.

Maria has studied politics, trained as a librarian and has a long history as an activist. Originally from Christchurch, she now lives in Wellington with her partner and daughters. She blogs at http://mariamcmillan.weebly.com.

Do check out the poems in the sidebar when you've read about Maria and her fine poem.

This week's editor, Saradha Koirala, lives in Wellington and teaches in Porirua. Her second collection of poetry, Tear Water Tea, will be available this month from Steele Roberts Ltd and all good bookshops.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

planchette by James Norcliffe

at night the rats
are bigger than rats

they race back and forth
like typewriters
across the lath and plaster

like good little rats
they have taken their poison
and now grow large with thirst

where are their pretty girlfriends
or love, the magician?

cannot one of these
offer them solace or slake?

oh qwerty they clatter
oh qwerty qwerty

as the night grows hard round them
desperate in their scrabble

and the stars
set like teeth

Editor: Keith Westwater

The poem

planchette first appeared in Psychopoetica 64 (UK) in 2000 and then in Landfall 201 in 2001 and in the New Delta Review (USA) in 2002. It was subsequently included in Contemporary Poets In Performance ed Jack Ross & Jan Kemp Auckland University Press in 2007 and in Nurse To The Imagination Ed Lawrence Jones Otago University Press in 2008.

This poem appeals to me on several levels. Initially, it had me searching for a thesaurus, as I didn't know that the title referred to a triangular-shaped scribble board mounted on two castors with a pencil mounted in the third corner. When lightly touched, it traces 'writing' with its movement. And, if I hadn't been tripping down to earthquake-ravaged Christchurch for the now nearly last three years, I wouldn't have known what 'lath and plaster' is - a type of ceiling construction prevalent in older Canterbury houses. So, with my education complete, I was able to relate to the poem my own relatively recent experience with poisoning rats in our ceiling. I had heard the same sounds that James describes in the extended typewriting metaphor he has used through this tight, taut poem with language that strikes home like a laser.

The poet


The New Zealand Book Council states that "James Norcliffe is a poet, fiction writer and educator. He has written collections of poetry and short stories, and several books for young adults. His writing has been featured in journals and anthologies, and he has also worked widely as an editor. Norcliffe has won awards and prizes, and has been the recipient of key fellowships, including the 2006 Fellowship at the University of Iowa."

The Council's biographical notes then go on to quote more extensively from The Oxford Companion To New Zealand Literature and provide additional information about James' writing career and impressive number of achievements.

James has published six collections of poetry, more recently Rat Tickling (Sudden Valley), Along Blueskin  Road (CUP) and Villon in Millerton (AUP).  His latest collections are: Shadow Play (Proverse), which was a finalist in the 2011 Proverse International Writing Prize and includes a CD of the poems; a book of selected poems, Packing a Bag for Mars (Clerestory Press), which is a collection for younger readers with writing prompts and illustrations by Jenny Cooper; and a new novel for young readers Felix and the Red Rats which has just been released by Longacre Press/Random House.

James lives at Church Bay near Christchurch and more about him can be found on his blog.

Two degrees of separation

I met James socially (once) through a mutual friend about 20 years ago, well before I started writing poetry, then re-met him again (through the same mutual friend) in 2011, a few years after I had been knocked on the head by the muse. It was only then I began to appreciate the quality, breadth and depth of James' literary work (see above). Since then, I have intermittently sought his advice on poetry-writing so now also greatly appreciate his sagacity and counsel which he has given unstintingly.

planchette is published on Tuesday Poem with permission. After you've read it do check out the other poems in the sidebar.

This week's  editor, Keith Westwater lives in Lower Hutt, New Zealand. His debut collection Tongues of Ash (IP, 2011) was awarded 'Best First Book' in the publisher's IP Picks competition. More of his poetry can be found on his blog 'Some place else'.