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.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

No time like the '80s/ No future by Airini Beautrais

from Dear Neil Roberts

In 1989, my dad gets knocked off his motorbike.
He gets a court summons, to testify against the driver.
Because she is brown, and my dad has decided
the justice system is racist, he rips up the summons.

(A few weeks earlier, a housebreaker (brown)
who happened to be a father of six,
was shot dead by a neighbour (white)
who was let off).

Dad rips up his summons on the Holmes show.
It is very exciting. Reporters come to our house.
I put on my best hair-tie, the one with a white gauze flower,
and my siblings and I roll around the floor on camera.

After it screens, the phone calls start.
‘I’m going to drop a bomb on your house,’
a weirdo tells my mother.
And another weirdo, or possibly the same one

is going to rape, torture and murder
my sister and I (aged four and six).
Like Holmes used to say,
‘Those were our people today.’

It is the end of a dark decade. One that began
with sport and politics shouldn’t mix
with the Red Squad, chanting:
Root more, eat more, drink more piss.

Ronald Reagan was thinking neutron. It was illegal
for men to make love to each other. American warships
were being officially welcomed in our harbours,
and unofficially welcomed by rabble rousers

my parents included, paddling out in kayak
and mullet boat. They lived their lives
as if there wasn’t a madman on the trigger
although there was – in fact, there were several.

The Russians flying jets into British airspace,
and the British flying theirs in circles around them,
like some bizarre avian courtship, a dance of death.
‘You’d seen films about Hiroshima,’ my dad says,

‘100 000 people being incinerated.’ Did you think
nuclear war was a definite possibility? ‘Oh, shit yes.
And you’d ask yourself, what would you do, if they bombed Auckland?
Would you run away, or run towards it?’

What went through Reagan’s head, as he shifted
from butt-cheek to butt-cheek? Or Thatcher’s? Brezhnev’s?
We’ll never know. My mother hangs up the phone.
My father stops riding a motorbike. They live their lives.

We aren’t allowed water pistols. They give us balloons
which read ‘I want to grow up not blow up.’
We sew a patchwork peace flag,
‘Tutira mai nga iwi.’

In 1990, on Hiroshima Day, we dig a hole in the sand,
put a kauri tree in. We throw some flowers,
like there aren’t new wars unfolding,
although there are.

Editor: Helen Rickerby

I came upon this poem in the latest issue of JAAM, which is only just back from the printers. I had a sneak preview while proofreading the issue, and this poem is one of my favourite in the issue. It resonates with me especially because I remember that time. I'm a little older than Airini, and so presumably remember more of the 1980s, but I very much recognise the things she's saying. The madmen with their fingers on the triggers - the constant threat of nuclear war.

I love this poem, not only for its story, its narrative, but also for the poemness of it. The difference the line breaks make, the spare intensity of the language. I also love the hope. I'm a sucker for hope. In the midst of the 'dark decade' her parents have been bringing up children, living their lives, planting trees.

Airini says of this poem: 'In writing a long poem in response to anarchist bomber Neil Roberts, I kept coming back to the characterisation of the 1980s as a time of impending human doom. The incidents related in this poem are taken from my own life, and in relating these I hoped to reflect a sliver of New Zealand society at the time. My parents were involved in the 1981 anti-tour protests, and clearly the scars from that time hadn't faded by the end of the decade. I was interested in the way my parents integrated child-rearing and political activism. I don't know how I would explain to a small child what "I want to grow up not blow up" means.'

The theme of JAAM 31 is 'the 2013 issue'. Contributors were asked to think about what the 2013 issues are. Many of the pieces that have made it into the pages are, like this poem, about that past, and learning from the past. We humans don't always seem that good at learning from the past.

Airini (and Felix)
Airini Beautrais lives in Whanganui. She is the author of two collections of poetry, Secret Heart and Western Line, both published by Victoria University Press. She is currently working on a PhD in creative writing, on the subject of narrative poetry. 'No time like the ‘80s/ No future' is from a long narrative poem, Dear Neil Roberts, written during 2012, reflecting on an incident that happened 30 years earlier, around the time the author was born. Neil was a 22-year-old punk anarchist who blew himself up outside Wairere House, Whanganui, the building which housed the police computer system. It is believed that Neil’s act was a symbolic protest against the growing authority of the state and its intrusion into the lives of ordinary people.

This week's editor is Helen Rickerby, whose new poetry collection, Cinema, will be published by Makaro Press early next year. Her previous two-and-a-half poetry collections are My Iron Spine (HeadworX, 2008) and Abstract Internal Furniture (HeadworX, 2001), and her poem sequence Heading North, which was  published in a hand-bound hardback edition by Kilmog Press in 2010. She runs Seraph Press, a boutique publishing company that has a growing reputation for publishing high-quality poetry books, and she is co-managing editor of JAAM literary journal. She blogs irregularly at wingedink.blogspot.com.

Do check out some of the other Tuesday poets and poems that you'll find on the sidebar on the left.