Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Marco Polo by Ali Alizadeh

Marco Polo

Maybe it’s the natural
extension of immigration.  Maybe

it’s the awesome travel
bugs, making my wife’s feet

uncommonly itchy.   I’m not
surprised, at any rate, to hear

the paediatrician’s nickname
for our son. ‘Marco Polo’ suits

his - in utero - trajectory
along the Silk Road, from

Kublai Khan’s Forbidden City
to the snow-covered stones of a caravanserai

in central Turkey.  Not to mention
the Australian interregnum

where ultrasound scans
revealed his sex.  But our Marco

probably won’t pen a Travels
as he won’t know the other

of unending expedition, say,
cherished waterways of Venice, in short

a concrete home.  Are we monstrous
parents?  Why have we conceived

and delivered a life into the world
in transition?  If held to account

by a solicitous young man
with my eyes (and my wife’s better

eyebrows) one day, accused
of depriving him of his deserved

comforts of sedentary genesis
(motherland, mother tongue

two ebullient grandmothers, etc)
I can only offer an image: removing

picture frames, tribal ornaments
from the hooks; clearing the drawers

of wrinkled notepads with withered ideas
and perforated socks; tearing

the hooks off the walls.  And then
the bright outline of the picture frames

vacated on the otherwise drab
dust-darkened surface of the wall.  It’s this

record of the passage of time
the contrast between the original

preserved shade and colour
and the rest (ditto our lives) dog-eared

by mould, sunlight, scratches
of nature and accidents.  It’s this

visible discrepancy between
what we were and what we’ve become,

the possibility to uncover
and see it.  The nomads treasure

wisdom; the reality of aging
towards death.  You see, Marco

- I’ll tell him - if we can see
death looming, like a dark island

on the navigator’s horizon
then we won’t be shocked when

time’s run out.  This means
a life without our primal fear.  That’s why

we travel.

© Ali Alizadeh
from Ashes in the Air (University of Queensland Press)
Reproduced with permission

Editor: Kathleen Jones (UK)

Ali Alizadeh was born in Tehran in 1976 and migrated to Australia in 1991.  He graduated with Honours in Creative Arts from Griffith University, Gold Coast and holds a PhD in Professional Writing from Deakin University, Melbourne.  He has taught at universities in Australia, China, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, and has also worked as street performer, hair-wrapper, and delivery driver.  He is a writer of poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, drama and literary criticism and this is his sixth book.  He lives with his wife and son.

I love this poem - the elongated shape, like a journey, and the progression of thought.  Instability, repression and conflict have brought a flow of refugees from the Middle East across the globe, and it shows no sign of slowing down as the area becomes increasingly turbulent.  A sense of belonging is very strong in human beings - knowing where and who you come from helps us to know who we are. Giving birth to a child in a foreign country, realising that the child is never going to know their grandmothers, or the everyday details of the lives their parents have left, is a strange experience.

In the poem Ali Alizadeh confronts the questions he feels his son may one day ask.  Why?  Why did you leave and deprive me of my cultural heritage?  In return the poet presents the child with the images of hurried departure - seizing possessions, tearing even the hooks from the walls.  Hooks attach us to places, to material things.  The emigrant must leave them all behind.  But then he tells his son that it is death, the primal fear, ‘looming, like a dark island’ that is the real reason for the transit across the globe to live in a foreign country. ‘This means/a life without our primal fear.  That’s why/we travel.’

'Marco Polo' comes from the collection Ashes in the Air, published by Queensland University Press.  The collection covers a wide range of subject matter - much of it hard-hitting and political; cultural contrasts, the History of the Veil, Sky Burial (for John Kinsella), and personal poems that recall an ‘archaeology of suffering’ as well as the ecstatic joy of new landscapes and relationships - love ...

‘we flew from the profane towards a paradise
and earthly constellations, stirred by something
like the love that moves the sun and the other stars’. [My Divine Comedy]

Emigrants and refugees are nomads, often by force rather than by choice - a life of 'unending expedition'.  The loss of the Motherland creates a hunger, an empty gap between 'what we were and what we've become'.  But being a nomad also presents opportunities and a richness of experience.  As Ali writes in the poem, 'The nomads treasure wisdom'.

But that wisdom is hard-won.  In Ali Alizadeh's poem 'The Suspect' he describes what it feels like to be 'the other'.  In Iran

'I was an "apostate", principal's term for
the boy who failed Koran Studies and wrote

an essay on Leonardo da Vinci.'

But in the west, he is someone who makes other people nervous, '. . .   shackled to a passport

etched with Born in Tehran.  There I was
suspected of perfidy to the Faith, an Infidel

-wannabe.  Over here I am suspected
of terror.'

There is a bleakness about the conclusion, that someone with a Middle Eastern passport, and an interest in Western ideas and literature, can find themselves between 'the Islamic Republic's

Evin Prison, pliers pinching their finger
-nails;  or sleep-deprived and hooded indefinitely

in the dark solitaries of Guantanamo Bay.' 

'Ashes in the Air' is a brilliant, unique, collection.

Kathleen Jones is a poet, novelist and biographer, living between Italy and England.  She spent almost a decade living in the Middle East, where she began to be interested in its literary traditions, and to realise what it's like to be nomadic. Her latest collection 'Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21', published by Templar is about belonging and departure.  She blogs at A Writer’s Life and her website can be found at www.kathleenjones.co.uk

Please take a look at all the contributions in the sidebar and read what the other Tuesday Poets are posting. 

If you liked this post, you might like the memoir, by Marjane Satrapi, called 'Persepolis'

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Early Growth by Rachel O'Neill

At her party the boy runs best with the hard-boiled egg. During
the obstacle course she meets him at the bird feeder on top of
which raisins are scattered. ‘I’m a bird,’ she nibbles and the boy
really does bob and nod. Later he says, ‘we’re twins, and I can
telepathically read the thoughts in your head,’ at which point she
makes a dent in his leg. It’s spring. Sometimes she hears an animal
cry as it comes out of its tent, or what’s it called? The uterus. It’s
taken from its mother and put on the teat. After the birthday cake
the kids run around, they bleat, skitter and find their feet. They
start to count the exposed growth rings on a tree stump, loops as
fine as hairs. One father keeps calling these the inseparable years.

Poem published with permission.
Editor: Sarah Jane Barnett 

Rachel O'Neill
Photo Credit: Kim Lesch
Rachel O’Neill is a writer, visual artist and editor based in Paekākāriki on the Kapiti Coast. Her writing has appeared in a range of publications, including Best New Zealand Poems 2011, Paper Radio, the inaugural The Long and the Short of It competition book published by Sport and Unity Books, and issues of Turbine, JAAM, and Brief. She completed a conjoint degree in English and Sculpture at the University of Auckland (2005) and a Masters in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern letters (2008). Her debut collection, One Human in Height, will be released by Hue & Cry Press this year. O'Neill also blogs at Little Disturbances.

"Early Growth" was selected for Best New Zealand Poems 2011. Of the poem, O’Neill said: ‘If my memory is correct, children's birthday parties in 1980s rural New Zealand were the kind of epic affairs that disturbed the myth that the country is not very populated. It seemed like every man, woman and child came to some of my parties. My mother put eggs on spoons and we ran as fast as we could without dropping them. There was also an unusual game that involved completing an obstacle course involving giant outdoor furniture.

In the poem there is an entanglement of child and adult point of view. It mirrors the way we humans can easily be confused by certain transitions, say from a sense of new life to experiencing more complex feelings around what new life might mean.’

What made me want to share this poem was my personal response. My son turned two in July, and the first two years of his life seem to have happened in seconds. I know; the sentiment's cliche! Still, the image of the "rings on a tree stump," which the father then calls "these the inseparable years," perfectly evokes the way childhood tumbles away. While this reading is somewhat different to the interpretation given by O'Neill, I think it speaks to, as she states, the "complex feelings" that life creates.

This week's editor Sarah Jane Barnett is a writer and reviewer who lives in Wellington. Her first collection of poems, A Man Runs into a Woman, was published by Hue & Cry Press in 2012, and has been shortlisted for best poetry collection of the year in the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards. She blogs at theredroom.org

When you've read Early Growth, do try some of the other Tuesday Poems out there. Check out the sidebar. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Grass by Jill Jones

Empty girl I was, so far inside, grass didn't know me
It was something unbending, only light seemed to touch
But so long as I could smell the sea, so long as salt
I had extrications, music, that fire, phase & beat
And all around the world went off, banners & avenues, cruelties
Now it's come one, come all, a kind of sassy hoedown
The grass is going, it cracks & withers sadly, almost infinitely
But I'm becoming younger as my dead drugs strangle each-to-each
I go out with skin mixes, cantos & some fear rocking
I stand or fall but now I can feel that region's joy, the bones

from Broken/Open, Salt Publishing, 2005 published with permission

Editor: Catherine Bateson

Jill Jones, an award-winning Australian poet, has published seven full-length books of poetry including Ash is Here, So are Stars (Walleah Press, 2012), Dark Bright Doors (Wakefield Press, 2010), and Broken/Open (Salt, 2005). A new book, The Beautiful Anxiety, is due from Puncher and Wattmann in late 2013. Her work is represented in a number of major anthologies including the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature and The Penguin Anthology of Australian Poetry.

I really love and admire this poem. It richly skirts narrative moving the narrator from fragmented yearning to a more complete self-knowledge which acknowledges both personal history and the unknown. One of the things about Jones's work that I've always enjoyed is her ability to change register and insert an unexpected, and sometimes salty, vernacular into the formal structure. '....come one, come all, a kind of sassy hoedown' does this here and the internal rhyme and rhythm of 'come one, come all' with 'I stand or fall' a few lines later works beautifully.

If you want to read more poems by Jill Jones, you can find some here. Thank you, Jill, for Grass.

Catherine Bateson is an Australian poet and writer for children and young adults. She is currently on a residency in Paris, funded by the Australian Council for the Arts. Her latest children's book, Star, was published last year by Omnibus Books. Her latest collection of poetry, Marriage for Beginners, John Leonard Press, came out in 2009.

After you've read Grass, try some of the other Tuesday Poems in the sidebar by or chosen by our Tuesday Poets. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Where, by Paula Morris

Where are you from, I ask the waiter.
He is from Brazil, Poland, Florence.
Sometimes he is from Mexico, and I
say: so is my nephew’s fiancée.

In Auckland the taxi driver who lives in
Henderson is from Afghanistan. There are
forty of them there, he says. They love it, but
they have to make their own bread.

In New York the taxi driver is from Pakistan.
He asks me where I’m from, and wants to
talk cricket. His dream, he says, is to live
with his brother in Bradford.

In Auckland the dentist is from Brazil. In
Sheffield the café owner is from Auckland.
In London our waiter is from Glasgow.
In Glasgow our waiter is from Melbourne, like

my doctor in Iowa City, the nose specialist,
who leans over me on the operating table.
Where are you from, he asks me.
I tell him Auckland. Good on ya, he says.

Sometimes in Auckland the taxi driver is
from Auckland. He is not from anywhere
but there. If he’s old enough, I tell him my
dream, bringing back the trams.

Thanks to Paula Morris whose poem 
is posted with her permission

Editor Renee Liang

Paula Morris is a fiction writer of English and Maori descent. Born in Auckland, New Zealand, she's studied and worked in a number of places - York, Manchester, London, New York, Wellington, Iowa City, New Orleans, Glasgow - and is currently Fiction Writer-in-Residence at the University of Sheffield.

Her most recent novel, Rangatira, won the fiction categories of the 2012 New Zealand Post Book Awards and the Nga Kupu Ora Maori Book Awards, and was published in German in 2012 by Walde+Graf. Her short story collection, Forbidden Cities, was a regional finalist in the 2009 Commonwealth Prize. She's also the author of YA mystery novels set in haunted cities around the world (published by Scholastic US) and a forthcoming children's book, Hene and the Burning Harbour. 

Paula is well-known here as a fiction writer, but I’ve also long admired her insightful and intelligent literary interviewing, on show most years at the Auckland Writer’s and Reader’s Festival. It was on her trip home for this that I persuaded her to teach on a writing course for migrant women I run, New Kiwi Women Write Their Stories. This is a four-week ‘fast and furious’ tour through poetry, fiction, editing and performance, and the women are invited to contribute to an anthology at the end, launched (with afternoon tea of course!) as the finale.

A number of well-known writers have been tutors, and they are invited to be in the anthology too. Imagine my pleasure and surprise when Paula sent me the poem above. This poem, which starts with the familiar phrase (to many) “Where are you from,” is packed full of witty detail: the taxi driver who talks about making bread, the nose specialist in Iowa who uses the iconic Australian phrase, “Good on ya.” But the apparently random list is in fact carefully constructed. Everyone, it seems, is from somewhere else. Everyone has multiple allegiances, multiple identities.

In Paula’s poem, the speaker starts by asking the question, but then is in turn asked as she moves around the world. This is a scenario common to us nomadic Kiwis. In fact the answer to that question, “Where are you from,” might well be, “It depends on where I am.” The last verse of Paula’s poem suggests, however, that not all of us are comfortable with the notion of shifting geographies: “He is not from anywhere/but there.”

One of the things I enjoy most about this poem is its cheerful delight, the innocent curiosity with which the question is asked. In the world of the poem, asking where someone is from is a way of connecting. It leads to further opening up and maybe even a exchange: cricket, a dream of trams. I’m going to succumb to temptation and offer a poem I wrote in 2006, ‘From Where’. This is an altogether darker poem, sparked when a camera-toting man stopped me as I was walking in the Auckland Domain (my home turf since student days). To some of us born in NZ, the question “Where are you from,” seems to carry an insinuation of “you don’t belong.” It’s an often daily reminder that we ‘look different’. And yet the way the question is asked (very kindly) means we can’t respond with anything other than polite, as-vague-as-we-can-make-it, murmurings. (Which I did, then went home and wrote this poem.)

I’d love to say that seven years later there is no longer any need to write poems like this; unfortunately I still get asked the same question, and I still feel like I’m being questioned on my right to live at home! My reaction changes, however, as soon as I travel. I find it intriguing that Paula and I responded so differently to the same question. Below, her answers to some questions I sent her; and then, my poem.

What sparked this poem? 
I guess the spark for the poem was my incredible nosiness about where people are from; I'm always asking everyone, including shop assistants and receptionists and people I meet on the tram. (They have trams in Sheffield!) I think I can get away with it, because I'm 'foreign' as well - even in New Zealand, because I don't live there. The material seemed to lend itself to a poem because of its compressed form, so I could play with the juxtapositions a bit. Also, the compression of a poem works because often I get little more than a name of a place from someone: these are often announcements rather than discussions, like the one on the operating table in Iowa!

You're more commonly known as a prose writer, but the confidence of this poem suggests you write poetry quite often. Are you a closet poet? 
Yes, I'm a poet on the sly. The very sly, as I don't have much confidence in my poetry. I still sound like a prose writer, I think. Often I write in syllabic meter to try to constrain my lines more, or to demand more of the word choices. I like the playfulness that's possible in a poem, and also the chance to write about things I see/experience directly, which I can't do in my fiction. 'Where' is the first poem I've had published as an adult, you know, apart from a parodic villanelle (called 'Billanelle') written for Bill Manhire's 60th-birthday book. My very first publication as a child was a poem in the primary school magazine. It was about Guy Fawkes. It began 'Guy Fawkes was an Englishman/He though the government was wrong' and ended with 'And they hanged him.' That's all I remember. Clearly I was a prose writer even back then, and obsessed with history ...

How do you choose what to write about? 
I don't think I choose what to write, exactly, whatever I'm doing. Something comes bubbling up, and won't go away. Sometimes it's a case of a connection or intersections, a few things coming together. A while ago I visited the ruins of Pontefract Castle, where Richard II was killed, and I was thinking about it for a while. Then there was a bad car accident nearby that made national news here in the UK, and it seemed as though these two things were related, tangentially. Place is always important in my fiction, and clearly the interest translates.

From where
by Renee Liang

where are you from
she asked
licking fat cream from the tips
of perfect manicures

and I said
actually I live just around the corner.

no really she said
looking in her handbag for lip gloss
where are you from

and I said
from here
as if I didn’t know what she meant
the first time.

From here?
she said
one perfect eyebrow raised
as if she wanted to redo her eyeliner

and I said

and I knew
the next question.

oh she said
oh where are your parents from then
and I wanted to say

but I knew she wouldn’t believe me
so I said

and I could see her summing me up
origami eyelids
golded skin
straight black hair
flat chest

I could see her
breathing in

in relief.