Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"One story and the other" by Sarah Broom, 1972 - 2013

My stomach churns like stormwater
running to the sea

and in the wake of the storm
I am strewn with debris.


When you look at me
with that innocent face,
as artless as the full moon,
as simple as the round
of cream at the top
of those old glass bottles –

then I forget
your other side,
the veiled moon,
the averted head,
the shuttered eyes.


This afternoon the harbour
was still and sultry

only the white butterflies
carried on their dance,
their frantic, balletic pairings

everything else was overcome

but then when I swam
in the too warm sea
the current was strong –
twenty seconds on my back,
staring at the clouds,
and the jetty was a good
long swim away –

twenty minutes
and I’d have crossed the bar.


I could not see the open sea
because two headlands were in the way.
One was near and one was far.


And it is true that there is always one story
and the other:

the moon with its two faces;

the lash of the storm and its relenting;

the fever grip of the days that pass
thick and fast among stumbling feet
and soft jammy mouths,
and the slow inner breath,
a room expanding and shrinking
like a paper lantern, its ivory coolness
swinging through the dark;

the harbour with its come-hither looks,
its nests and whispered secrets,
the tug and sigh and doze of tides

and then the open sea –
you knew I would return to it –

the open sea
of which, in fact, we know nothing.

Only that it pitches, rocks and keens

and agitates
in our dreams.
© Sarah Broom, 2013
From: Gleam by Sarah Broom, Auckland University Press, 2013
Reproduced on The Tuesday Poem Hub with permission.

My first encounter with Sarah's poetry was in 2010, when I read and loved her first collection, Tigers at Awhitu (Auckland Universty Press, NZ; Carcanet, UK.) News of her death earlier this year was a great sadness to me, and although I looked forward to the publication of her second collection, Gleam (Auckland Universty Press) in August, I still felt deep regret that the poet would no longer be with us and part of all that release of a book means.

In her obituary for Sarah, written for Carcanet, Sarah’s UK publisher, Selina Guinness wrote:  Gleam … is a collection written in extremis, and contains some of the most beautiful and startling poems about dying I have ever read.”

I agree that Gleam is very much a testament to Sarah's long illness and dying. I also feel that when you look at a poem like One Story and the other it is a poem that is as much about life as about death, and also about the "being here" that encompasses both. In this sense, I believe the poem offers a key to the collection. The sea is a constant companion throughout Gleam: its myriad voices, its constant change and yet its immutability. I feel it is no accident that the poem both begins and ends with the sea, although there is also a still heart to the poem, contained within the many unfolding boxes of moon, tide, "the fever grip of days":
… the slow inner breath,
a room expanding and shrinking
like a paper lantern, its ivory coolness
swinging through the dark …
Reading Gleam, I was put in mind of the AS Byatt quote:

'Think of this – that the writer wrote alone, and the reader read alone, and they were alone with each other.'

Sarah and I never met in person although we emailed, and talked once on the phone. But when I sat down with Gleam and read poems like One story and the other in particular, in that space I did indeed feel like we were alone together, with a friend speaking to me from every line.
Sarah Broom’s first poetry collection, Tigers at Awhitu, was published by Auckland University Press (AUP) in 2010, and simultaneously by Carcanet Press in the UK.  She also wrote Contemporary British and Irish Poetry: An Introduction, which was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2006.  Her second collection, Gleam, was published by Auckland University Press in August 2013. To hear Sarah read from and discuss Tigers at Awhitu, click on the following Scottish Poetry Library podcast interview: Sarah Broom.

Sarah died on April 18, 2013, after a five year illness with lung cancer. She is survived by her husband and three children.

Today's editor, Helen Lowe, is a novelist, poet and interviewer whose work has been published, broadcast and anthologized in New Zealand and internationally. Her first novel Thornspell, (Knopf) was published to critical praise in 2008, and in 2012 The Heir Of Night, won the David Gemmell Morningstar Award. Helen posts every day on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog and can also be found on Twitter: @helenl0we
In addition to One story and the other, be sure to check out the wonderful poems featured by the other Tuesday Poets, using our blog roll to the left of this posting.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Biography of Mr Carrot (Daucus carota) by Frankie McMillan

Our family was large; when we met
we embraced six hundred times 

for a long while I was inseparable
from my cousin

but such is life
you learn to let go of things

not meant for you
Marcel Proust wrote to Celine 

ten times in the hope
of boeufs - carottes  

and while I’m dropping names
there’s Vincenzo Campi’s

painting where I lie
in the arms of my brothers

but not my cousin
Daucus pastinaca 

remind him, if you see him
of the market carts pushed

through the streets of Paris 
the cry of traders   

the small history of our grandmothers

Frankie McMillan is a Christchurch short story writer and poet. Her publications include ‘The Bag Lady’s Picnic and other stories’ and a collection of poetry, ‘Dressing for the Cannibals’. Recent short stories have been selected for Best New Zealand Fiction, Vintage, 2008 and 2009. Her poetry has been published widely in NZ and overseas and her work selected for Best NZ Poems, 2012. Awards include the CNZ Todd Bursary in 2005, winner of the NZPS competition in 2009 and the NZ Flash Fiction competition in 2013. Frankie is the co-recipient of the 2014 Ursula Bethell Residency at the University of Canterbury. 

I have always enjoyed reading Frankie McMillan's poetry or, better yet, hearing her read it at poetry readings around Christchurch. Frankie's poetic take on the world around her appeals to me as it is a bit left of centre and comes from a unique poetic perspective all her own. Frankie is obviously widely-read and well-read as many of her poems, such as this one, contain erudition and arcane knowledge. There is a lot of information packed into a fairly short poem leaving the reader to scurry off and track down sources to her many references. For instance, is Frankie having a sly joke in her reference to "Marcel Proust wrote to Celine/ten times in the hope/of boeufs - carottes" given Proust's well-known sexuality? And who is this cousin of the carrot hiding behind its scientific Latin name?

The Biography of Mr Carrot is published on Tuesday Poem with permission.  

Today's editor, Andrew M. Bell, is a poet from New Zealand/Aotearoa. Visit his Tuesday Poem blog at www.aotearoasunrise.blogspot.com and be sure to check out the wonderful poems by the other Tuesday Poets using our blog roll to the left of this posting.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What I Should Have Done, by Joyce Ellen Davis

Joyce Ellen Davis
Like most of my favourite contemporary poets, I met Joyce Ellen Davis online. Thank God for the Internet, I feel like saying. I believe it was when I asked her for the publication of one or some of her poems among the pages of Canopic Jar, the literary magazine I co-edit with Phil Rice. She did send me poems, as she has agreed today for me to share one of her poems on this forum. Joyce blogs at Plodding Taurus and has several books out, among them Pepek The Assassin, from which this poem originates.

Joyce's poetry, I remember saying to someone years ago, takes a hold of the reader and doesn't let go. Some poets do that to me, and in the end I have to shut the book or turn off whatever screen I was reading from, in order to better assimilate the poem.

Since I first met her poetry, these many years ago, I have followed her as best as I could, and have been grateful for the blog she runs because once in a while she drops something there. She's on Facebook as well, and if you visit her page you will immediately be struck by her love of life. Not the life she maintains by breathing in and out, I wouldn't know about that, but universe life, the wonder, the possibilities, the endless possibilities, and closer home, insects and other small, cute animals. It comes through that she is in love with existence. And who's to say that this energy is not from the background or the fodder of what she writes about so well; or, even, that it's not from the finished pictures that she paints and says to the world?

I have opted for the poem What I Should Have Done, one of my personal favourites, and one that I feel has to be read again and again, like so many others by so many other poets! Joyce is busy writing a novel as I type this... that energy, again. Thank you for letting me share your poem, Joyce now and before.
Posted with permission
Editor: Rethabile Masilo

What I Should Have Done

I should have cut a hole in the ceiling
to let my prayers out, words
like smoke from incense pots,
unable to rise above that bloody altar.
Look: here is where you should have slept,
your ear only an inch above my heart.
See: this field of stars above the watchtower
that we might have counted, bye and bye.
Now the sky is full of dark matter,
and though I were rich as Herod,
the baby-killer of Bethlehem
(who was richer than Caesar), I can
not get you back, even though
I would rub salt upon your infant body
and powder you with mustard seeds,
and wrap you up with swaddling bands
embroidered with your genealogies.
Here is the singing bird I'd give you,
the pony, here the toy soldiers,
their cannons in flames.
Here angels play, out of sight
lest they terrify us, though we lie
prostrate, trembling on the ground,
we eaters of entrails, we breakers of bones.
The first to bring an offering
and the first to be offered,
like a burning ram, I continue
to follow your lead
like Nahshon followed Moses, loving him
too much, walking out before him into the sea,
walking out until the water was
all the way up to his nose
before the sea finally parted.
~by Joyce Ellen Davis 

This week's editor Rethabile Masilo is a Mosotho poet who enjoys reading and writing. He lives in Paris, France, with his wife and two children. Rethabile is self-employed and works in language-teaching. He says he has been writing for a good while, learning through trial and error and picking up lots of sounds by reading and re-reading the poems that he likes. He is the author of Things That Are Silent (Pindrop Press, 2012).

Rethabile was born in 1961 in Lesotho and left his country with his parents and siblings to go into exile in 1980. He moved through The Republic of South Africa (very short stay, on account of the weight of Apartheid), Kenya and The United States of America, before settling in France in 1987. He blogs at PoƩfrika and co-edits with Phil Rice the literary magazine Canopic Jar.

After reading Joyce Ellen Davis's poem, do check out the rest of the Tuesday Poets in the sidebar. Thank you.