Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Digging in the garden after dark by Pat White

for Seamus Heaney

this morning the blade bites clean
through soil turning up, on the way
worms, spiders and a surfeit of others
at work in the everlasting dark

the news is it is your turn to spend
some time with them, nothing is ended
changing places perhaps, but ritual
recognises impact on those left behind

bespectacled vultures might pick over
the life’s efforts, determine what’s
worth keeping according to the canon,
they lack access to secret conversations

the way your word entered the heart
of the matter, those books taken off
shelves the last few days, good grief
able to remind any of us, how whispering

remnants of your digging for lines, has
somehow entered as a knife would
clean, deep and permanent, parting
resistance between the shoulders

to enter the body somewhere
between truth and aspiration, to say
again with all the precision of hope
that liturgy for the fearful heart

be not afraid, don’t be afraid


posted with permission from the poet 
Editor: Mary McCallum

After Seamus Heaney died last month, after all the quotes from his poems on Facebook - some I'd never read before - others I had, after cradling that last book of his - baby heavy in its cream cover, after thinking of the Beowulf, after listening to my poet friends tell me how much they loved Heaney and realising he was a secret I hadn't shared, after the shock of the thought of a poet gone who one day I thought I'd hear read - talk to perhaps, after all of that, I received an email from my author friend Pat White - whose book on writer Peter Hooper I am to publish soon.

I didn't notice the subject line for Pat's email. Instead, I opened it, and all it said was this:
Pat White

One of my mainstays really

hope the day goes well for you

I glanced down, and there was a poem attached. So I downloaded it, read its quietness and digging and earth and worms, and liked the way it was like Pat talking. He is after all a man of the soil - a farmer once on New Zealand's West Coast who now grows olives in the Wairarapa, has worked in libraries and bookshops, painted pictures and published poems and written an excellent book called How the Land Lies: of longing and belonging (VUP) in 2010. 

The land, you see. Pat knows about that. And we've dug a garden, once, him and I when he was writer in residence at Randell Cottage in Wellington. We planted potatoes (I think) and other useful things. Then, after thinking about Pat and his poetry and the Wairarapa soil and the pleasures of digging in the dark, I read the subject line of the email: 'Seamus Heaney'. Realised then Pat wasn't just writing about himself here, but  about that singular Irish poet, and how that poet had shown him how to dig - not earth, but wormy words.

The digging in Seamus' poems always felt like real digging, a splitting and turning back of the earth in all its damp, wormy shininess, and there was awe for the dark health there and the shine on the spade, and an innocence, too, about what to look for and how long to look at it, and when to start work on the words to tuck it down and make it something. Seamus Heaney worked at poetry for roughly half a century. May he rest in peace, and thanks, Pat, for the poem.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

From Digging by Seamus Heaney

When you've listened to Seamus and read Pat, look to the Tuesday Poem sidebar where 30 poets reside, posting poems by themselves and others they admire every Tuesday.

 This week's editor, Mary McCallum, has published writing which includes poetry, a novel The Blue, and (soon) a children's novel with Gecko Press. She also teaches creative writing and owns a small press called Makaro. She lives in Eastbourne, New Zealand. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

January Begins by Carolyn McCurdie

For New Year I wish you
Janus, the god who looks forward
and back, till his pupils dilate, intoxication
of distance. On your calendar it’s his month.
Here is the photo he hangs on your wall:
salt caravans in Niger,
from a paraglider, so high that camels
seem strung as if notes on scribbled staves of song.
On the horizon, a thin sprinkle like fire-blackened grain:
another caravan. One way with millet to trade, the return journey
with salt. They follow the line of the sand dunes, begin
in autumn, stop
before summer rains.
Those little blips are human beings, commas, apostrophes, keeping the line.

My wish for you: Janus, the god of transition. Here, in the last
islands of human arrival, the ancient
journeys belong to birds. When autumn comes, you’ll stand
on the beach to watch
shearwaters, day after day, low to the ocean, wings tipping the spray and the rocks
of the headlands.
They loop the Pacific, come back in spring.

The birds, the camels, doodle, meander,
embellish the lines on the mental map.

Janus, the god who lays out
mental maps. With a thumb nail he flattens
the folds. The paraglider delights him, the long
view, the old is the new.  He sings its audacity.
When you first learned to balance, unsteady, surprised,
this was the song that he gave you.

Since then, self-mutilation
of bumper-to-bumper, the queues in the customs hall.
Still he sings it, insists, on your calendar,
through the letters of your name, till you play it in your finger bones
like crystals of sunlight
that quiver down dunes, till you push out from the beach, dance it
in the arches of your feet as they brace
on wet slanted wood, on the slow-rising heft
of water. As they take one step.

Around and around it comes back. Can you hear it
that song? Yes. The intoxication
of song.
After rain, and when the wind shifts to nor’ west.

I wish this for you: Janus, who unlocks
the doors and tells you, the world, the wide shining world
is open. Go through.

'January Begins' was first published in Poetry NZ vol 46 and is posted here with the poet's permission.
Editor: Claire Beynon

George Steinmetz | Camel Shadows

Reading Carolyn McCurdie's poetry, I experience a kind of 'lift-off' as if my feet are no longer touching ground. Her words transport me to a world entirely 'other', her poet's landscape and sensibility at once intimate, restrained, vast, dramatic and original. Carolyn has a way of capturing the expansiveness of the whole - the overview - whilst simultaneously zooming in to her subjects with metronomic measure and penetrating accuracy. An air of enquiry, of 'scrupulous kindness', seem ever-present. Her poems open readers to encounters with place, persons, concepts and considerations that are spatial and sensory, reverent and relevant. And her poems are beautiful - compassionate and graceful in their engagement with life's subtler realities. Carolyn brings tenderness and light to themes that might elsewhere be cloaked in darkness or weighted by human frailty; our common, uncommon story.

About January Begins, Carolyn writes, "One of the things my sister gave me at Christmas 2011 was a calendar in which the January photograph was the one in the poem of camels in Niger. It was taken by 'National Geographic' photographer George Steinmetz from a motorised paraglider. It bewitched me and the poem seemed to arise quite straightforwardly from that. Then, quite a while after completing the poem, I began to understand other things about it.  In June 2011 my mother had died, aged 91, at the end of a life that had been diminishing for some time. I had been her carer for 11 years. Turned one way, I can hear in the poem that I am speaking to her. Turn it another way, and she is speaking to me."

I am struck by the way January Begins carries the hushed notes of Carolyn's conversation with her mother whilst at the same time speaking (or so it seems to me) into the heart of our current global situation. Whether or not she intended this, I find myself challenged to move with the poet as she transitions from the personal to the universal, from the private sentiments exchanged in her home to dialogue of a global nature and scale. In a flash, she takes us from the image in the calendar to the paraglider, 'so high that camels seem strung as if notes on scribbled staves of song'; desert expanse and coastal landscape are drawn together as if by sleight of hand, juxtaposed in bold language and plain sight; we find ourselves considering the possibility distance and death might be no more than a matter of perception, catch a glimpse of ourselves and our world as coordinates on the same map or - perhaps -  as two voices capable of music, harmony, collaboration.

Sharing airspace with her paraglider, we are granted a moment or two in which to witness ourselves and our planet from up close and at a distance - an opportunity to consider and come home to some new understanding of features and fractures, barrenness and riches. For me, the second and fifth stanzas seem especially suggestive of this ---  

My wish for you: Janus, the god of transition. Here, in the last
islands of human arrival, the ancient
journeys belong to birds. When autumn comes, you’ll stand
on the beach to watch


like crystals of sunlight
that quiver down dunes, till you push out from the beach, dance it
in the arches of your feet as they brace
on wet slanted wood, on the slow-rising heft
of water. As they take one step.

The poem's final stanza brings us and this conversation full circle. The poet addresses her mother with tender, permission-giving urgency and at the same time issues us all with an invitation.

I wish this for you: Janus, who unlocks
the doors and tells you, the world, the wide shining world
is open. Go through.

Carolyn McCurdie lives in Dunedin, New Zealand, in a sun-filled house that looks out on hills, bush and farm land - a 40 minute walk to the city centre. She has been writing poetry for approximately ten years. Her poems have been published widely in print and on-line. After the Art Gallery was highly commended in the Caselberg Trust International Poetry Competition 2011 (judge: James Brown) and Making up the Spare Beds for the Brothers Grimm won first place in the NZ Poetry Society's 2013 International Poetry Competition. In his judge's report Vincent O'Sullivan wrote, ". . . Only a very good poet writes lines as effectively as that. Or so direct and elusive at the same time. In one sense, everything is so in place. Shift focus a little, everything carries threat. And that sense of apparent domestic order - there are cracks, stains, puzzles, that don't allow us to believe a word of it, even as we cannot rationally say why. All we are aware of is where the poem entirely directs us - the world is not as we see it, even when it is."

In addition to poetry, Carolyn writes short stories for adults (in 1998 she won the Lilian Ida Smith Award for these) and fiction for children. Her compelling fantasy novel The Unquiet was published in 2006 by Longacre Press Ltd. Penelope Todd, writer and founding director of Rosa Mira Books describes Carolyn as 'a writer of quiet power'. Yes.  A writer of poise, potency and presence, too. 

In her reply to my letter expressing my wish for her to be this week's featured Tuesday Poet, Carolyn mentioned she'd be away at the time January Begins was posted. "In a few weeks I leave for what is, at the age of 66, my first big overseas adventure. I am using money that Mum left me. Part of the plan is to visit the London street where she grew up, and then on to Glasgow to stand in the street that was my father's home. Circles. . . "

Indeed! Safe and stimulating travels to you, Carolyn. 

Please visit Carolyn's page on the New Zealand Society of Authors website - www.authors.org.nz - and for more of her poems, visit Deep South www.otago.ac.nz/deepsouth 

To enjoy another week's selection of fine Tuesday Poems, please click on the links on the side bar. 

This week's editor, Claire Beynon, is an artist, writer and independent researcher based in Dunedin, New Zealand. She blogs here and here. Her website is aging gracelessly and is sorely in need of an update.

News for all interested poets  |  CASELBERG POETRY PRIZE 2013 

Entries for the Caselberg Prize (First Prize NZ$500) will be welcomed between 1 October and 31 December 2013. For more information please go to www.caselbergtrust.org

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Poem For The Innocents by Geoffrey Philp

A killing moon peeks through leaves
of trumpet trees in full bloom
for Lent, their barks crisscrossed
by wild strokes of a machete
when my son tried to help me weed
our garden, overrun with dandelions,
branches, leaves, a bounty of seed
and thorns, side by side, under clusters
of suns bursting through the branches.

Shadows flicker across the wall upstairs,
over Buzz Lightyear's grin, Mr. Potato
Head's sigh, and under a map
dotted with cities that fill his dreams.

What promises will I make
when I climb the stairs
before he falls asleep to the noise
of the television with cluster
bombs blooming in the sky
over Baghdad? What comfort
can I give him as I draw the sheets
over his shoulders, kiss his forehead,
when he worries that if he closes his eyes,
his Aunt Batsheva, half a world away,
will not rise from her bed in Gan Yavne,
thirty-seven miles west of Ramah
where Rachel wept for her children
and refused to be comforted.

The map over his bed now frightens
him, and I cannot convince him,
despite the miles and miles of oceans
and deserts, that the machete
under his bed will not make him safer,
any more than the sacrifice of innocents
will save us, for he knows,
he knows, somewhere
between the Tigris and Euphrates,
a wave of steel races toward Babylon.

~ posted with the permission of the author

Editor: Rethabile Masilo

Geoffrey Philp
I "met" Geoffrey Philp many years ago, and fell in love with his poetry. I think perhaps the first of his poems I
read was Easy Skanking. 'Skanking' is a sort of rhythmic dance performed to reggae music or ska, and with that I suppose you've guessed that the poet or the poem is related to Jamaica.

What I like indeed in the poems and writing of Mr Philp is precisely the rhythm, this beat that comes up without announcing its presence, like a simple communication between African djembe drums or Sioux smoke signals. I cannot deny that I also immensely like their skank talk about difficult subjects such as politics, oppression and liberty. Which inevitably brings up another name: Bob Marley.

My poet sister, Michelle McGrane, has a post on Geoffrey's latest collection, Dub Wise; it includes several other poems and links (Amazon, Geoffrey's blog, etc). Geoffrey Philp is also out, among other things, to have Marcus Garvey exonerated by President Obama.
What promises will I make
when I climb the stairs
These words have always reminded me of my own father. I don't know whether he thought them, but our experience as a family attaches me to them, and to the whole poem, in which a parent suffers over a view given to their child by the world. My own experience as a kid is of politics at table and at school and in prayer. I have personally tried to write poems about that very experience, some of it violent. After reading and rereading A Poem For The Innocents, I found myself writing more poems about the same experience I'd had as a kid, on top of those I'd already written, using some of the same feelings, but getting fresh strength from Geoffrey's poem.

Geoffrey Philp has written a children's book, Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories, a novel, called Benjamin, My Son, books of short stories, Uncle Obadiah and the Alien as well as the more recent Who's Your Daddy, and five poetry collections, among them Exodus and Other Poems, Florida Bound, hurricane center, xango music, Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas, as well as Dub Wise. He blogs at http://geoffreyphilp.blogspot.com and teaches English at Miami Dade College.
Here are three more links to visit:
1. An interview with the poet
2. Google
3. Bachata
As for me, I am a poet from Lesotho and live in Paris, France. I'm happy to be part of this poetry family. I have one book out (Things That Are Silent) and am working on a second one. It is all very exciting. Rethabile Masilo. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Matangi Tai by Sia Figiel

A wind has just blown through Malaetoa
But it ain't no ordinary wind
It is a wind that that has woken me up
Calling me from Mesa, Arizona
Sia, wake up
Wake up sis
How can you still sleep at this early hour?
Didn't you hear me back in May
When these motherfuckers came at me with patons...
And fists
In front of a grocery store
And I'm just there minding my own
Jumped by mens in uniforms
Supposedly here to protect us
To serve and to protect
Das was on the side of da cars dey drive
SIs, even da judge says I don't deserve protec-shun
Threw my ass in jail on the count of mental problems
Mental problems my az
Couldn't find the Ocean in dis here landscape
Dis here desert
Searching for it all 37 years of my life sis
But gotta tell you man
I'm tired
Tired of looking
Tired of always looking out the corner of my eye to catch a wave in this heat
This desert
This purple mountain majesty of A-Me-ri-Caaaaaa!
Just stopped by to say Ofa atu
I gotsa go sis
Epeli and them dudes calling me from Pulotu
I gotsa go
But e! Keep listening to dat SEAL song you laig listening to
And keep rocking 'em bikinis and show em sis
Show em the salt
Showe em that while dey might taste salt in a lake out here
Dere's a whole motherfuckin' ocean where you and I was born
And I going back there
Going back to my roots, yeah, yeah
Reggae Music and water
Is all this brown assed nigger is axing fo'
P.S: Don't go inciting no violence now sis
I know you and that heart of yours
I can see your salt already boilin' girl
But eh, fink of da mens Martin Luther King Jr.
And Mahatma Ghandi
And taste me in your ocean girl.
Is what I axe.
Peace Out

Fa'anoanoa (Melancholy)
by Sia Figiel 

Poem posted with permission.
Author's comment:
Before Matangi Tai was to be buried in Mesa, Arizona, the National Tongan American Association held a peace march for him. Several people spoke: Bishops, Family Members, Singers, Community Members and myself. I had been asked the night before the march to write this poem. It was August 2013.

When I submitted the poem to the president, Mrs. Fahina Passi, a fantastic woman, she told me to tone it down. I understood it was in regard to the word 'motherfucker' in the poem, which I knew stood out like a sore thumb in a Tongan gathering ... it would, too, in a Samoan context.

But when I got there that night and felt the spirit of Matangi Tai and the thickness of grief in the air, I explained to the audience how my poem came about. I also told them that I apologised for offending anyone, and that if my words should offend anyone, to throw them towards an uninhabited island, where they will offend no one. BUT tonight, I will insult Matangi Tai and his memory if I don't read the poem I wrote for him in its entirety. I did read it and it turned out to be the right thing to do as Tongans (the young generation) came up and embraced me afterwards. So did older Tongans who said it was 'powerful'.

Editor Helen McKinlay:
Matangi Tai died in jail a few days after his arrest and imprisonment in Mesa, Arizona. For more information see here. Sia wrote the poem in August this year. The dignity and love which encircles the poem and the tragedy of Matanga Tai, are an example to all.

I am always looking for poetry which speaks of the indigenous origins of the poet. Poetry which springs from the poet’s deep love for their homeland; its culture, its beliefs and its values.  Poetry which sometimes bears the scars of conflict, but never bears a grudge…poetry which makes us laugh from the belly and cry from the heart. A few weeks back I found such a poem: Songs of the fat brown woman, and began a search for the poet.

On the way I discovered an amazing woman, Sia Figiel, a single mum with two boys, an aunty of seven, an award-winning novelist and poet, a performance artist, (the first Pacific Islander to read and perform at the Shakespeare Globe Theatre), an academic with two degrees in liberal arts and history, and a visual artist. Her paintings have been exhibited in Leipzig and Berlin, Germany, where she held an artist's studio and lived for three years from 1991-94. Oh, and did I mention she teaches Polynesian Dance and Culture?

Sia is also a health activist and a self-proclaimed Rainbow Warrior of Maleatoa.  'A rainbow warrior,' explains Sia, 'is someone who has decided to take charge of their life, by becoming more proactive in their own healing or in the healing of close and dear ones who are suffering from Diabesity (diabetes and obesity). Malaetoa means a resting place for warriors.' Her Facebook page is called 'Sia Figiel has diabetes. Diabetes doesn’t have Her'. Sia is successfully fighting diabetes and its causes on a daily basis She has lost over 45 kilos in the last year!
Sia Figiel

Sia says,
As a writer and as a public figure, I hid my diabetes from the public. I was ashamed to admit that I had been diagnosed as I felt it a sign of weakness. That I had lost control. However, as the years went by, and more and more family, loved ones and young people kept dying from diabesity-related complications, I felt that I could no longer stay silent about these killer diseases. That I had to speak up. I had to act.
To read more of Sia’s inspiring story go here.

My emails circled the South Pacific and introduced me to a variety of lovely people, before I finally managed to contact Sia with an invitation to be guest on the Tuesday Poem hub. She was finishing a new novel but somehow found time to say yes and provide a poem, as well as answering all my questions. Thank you for the incredible journey, Sia, and welcome to the Tuesday Poem Blog. Thanks to those who helped me find you.

Where we once belonged (1996), Pasifika Press won the Best First Book award in the South East Asia/South Pacific region of the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1997.
Two other novels,
Girl in the Moon Circle (1996) (Institute of Pacific Studies) and They Who Do Not Grieve (1999), Kaya Press 2003.
To a Young Artist in Contemplation (1998), is a prose poetry collection.
Terenesia, is a collaborative CD of performance poetry with the poet Dr Teresia Teaiwa.

Sia Figiel, who wrote the novel “Where We Once Belonged” (1996), is 29 and she is now the next phase in Pacific writing in English. The novel is a beautiful mix of satire and parody. It is a pastiche of styles; she breaks into poetry, straight sequences of it, and I think that is where we are heading. That is where my work has been heading....she will influence our literature for many years to come.  Maualaivao Professor, Sir Albert Wendt.
Sia's new novel Headless is written from the perspective of a gay Samoan man who attends a two-year writing program at Stanford University. It is in this class that he starts writing stories of his family which chronicle his family's life history, and - in particular - the historical connections between Samoa, American Samoa and the United States since 1900 to present. The expected publishing date is DECEMBER and the publisher is LITTLE ISLAND PRESS NZ.
Fa'anoanoa II
by Sia Figiel

BIOGRAPHY: Sia Figiel was born in Western Samoa and raised in the villages of Matautu Tai, Tanugamanono and Vaivase, the roots of her literary work. As a teenager, she came to New Zealand to finish her schooling. Sia is acknowledged as Samoa's first contemporary woman writer. Well known as a performance poet, she is a frequent guest at literary festivals.

Her work is translated into German, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Catalan, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish. Her writer’s residencies include the University of Hawaii, the University of Technology, Sydney, the University of the South Pacific, Laucala Campus Fiji, and the Catalan Ministry of Arts and Culture, Barcelona Spain. 

She was the Distinguished Visiting Writer at the University of Hawaii, Manoa Department of English, and was appointed the Arthur Lynn Andrews Visiting Professor of Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, an honour also given to Professor Albert Wendt. 

During a decade spent in American Samoa, Ms. Figiel was a Senior Policy Advisor to Congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin and worked with high school students in Pago Pago, until moving to America a year ago. She is now living in Utah, where she will be a language and culture consultant to MANA Academy which opens in September 2013.

This week's editor is Helen McKinlay. Helen is a poet and children's author at present living in the 'Top of the South' (Island), New Zealand. She blogs at gurglewords

Before you leave, check out the rich offerings from other Tuesday Poets in the left hand side bar.