Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Noise by Lee Posna

a Sargasso of monologues that were all attracted to the noise
– Clive James

As the Great Pacific Garbage
Patch, gyre of voyaged plastic
Irkutsks and chemical sludge, most
fecund upper section and sunniest
of a deep pelagic cylinder
sea myriad thousand cubic miles
big with bright anchovies
is one lens on a century

so this rose window—
arabesque brass tracery
to which myriad million ultra-lived
hours added meaning-
ful shards of greens creams Algiers
Tibets sapphires of Amritsars of
garnets—is another: changed
light is the poem. 

Posted with permission from Lee Posna
Editor this week: Sarah Jane Barnett

I remember when Lee and I first started exchanging work. He sent me a link to some of his poems online. I was just about to go for a run (cap on, ear plugs in), but stopped to take a look. Half an hour later I was in tears after reading a long and incredible poem about the relationship between a son and his dead father. Lee is one of the most thoughtful and thought provoking poets I know. Behind each poem exists a depth of knowledge, which creates a genuine and strong voice. 

‘The Noise’ is the third of a series of ekphrastic poems based on the stained glass windows of an imaginary cathedral in consecration of the 20th Century. The first two can be found here and here. I chose this poem for its keen attention to language (it has a great mouth feel) and for those killer last lines. 

Lee Posna grew up in New Jersey and emigrated to NZ in 2008. He’s very happy to be part of the Wellington writing community. His chapbook Arboretum is being released by Compound Press this month. 


Sarah Jane Barnett is a writer, tutor and book review who lives in Wellington. Her first collection of poems, A Man Runs into a Woman (Hue & Cry Press) was a finalist in the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards. She blogs at theredroom.org.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Untitled by Ema Saikō

Yabase Shichoku planted a thousand cherry trees on Mt Kinshō and asked friends for poems; I was one of them.

Making flowers your life, keeping your pleasure unchanged,
a thousand, ten thousand clusters you've managed to plant.
Planting flowers and not loving them is like not planting them;
loving flowers and not regretting them[1] is like not loving them.
Loving them, we nurture greed; regretting them, melancholy;
these sentiments are confusing and clog the mind.
Protecting beauty with golden bells is such trouble to take;
a single petal flying away breaks my heart into smithereens.
Getting drunk under the bloom, unthinking, can't be surpassed,
profiting from enjoying the peak of spring as best one can.
Fresh sake in gold-lacquered tubs, the east wind gentle,
birds call above, below, the mild light slow to wane.
Come night, there'll be no need to light silver lamps;
the clear moon will illuminate this fragrant view.
Mountain cherries on the whole mountain, just transplanted,
I've learned to enjoy them with everyone else.

[1] That is, when the flowers scatter and fall.

from Breeze Through Bamboo, by Hiroaki Sato. Copyright © 1998 Columbia University Press. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

This week's editor is Janis Freegard.

I chose this poem because I've been enjoying reading Saikō's work recently. This poem is a good example of her themes: her appreciation for nature, her observations of daily life, the pleasures of travel and sake, and taking an active part in the poetry community. Japanese poems of her era are often descriptive - noticing the moment. But this is also a reflective and philsophical poem - if you don't love what you've planted, you might as well not bother. It can be taken as a suggestion for how to write and how to live our lives as much as it is a poem about cherry trees.

There is inevitably something that gets "lost in translation" however good that translation is. Reading this in English, we can't hear the sounds of the original and no doubt miss many associations and nuances. But we would miss so much more if poems from other places and times were not translated.

Note: it is not uncommon for kanshi of Saikō's time to be headed with a note concerning the circumstances of writing the poem rather than a title per se.

I first heard of Ema Saikō when New Pacific Studio offered an Ema Saikō Poetry Fellowship, which I was fortunate enough to receive - three weeks in an idyllic setting with nothing to think about but poetry. By then I'd been reading her work and learning more about her life. 'Conversations' with Saikō over a pot of Japanese silvertip oolong started to work their way into what I was writing.

(Ema Saikō is pictured at bottom right)

Ema Saikō (1787 - 1861) was a Japanese poet and artist who was a noted writer of kanshi - poetry in the classical Chinese style. Kanshi offered the flexibility to write longer works with a greater range of subject matter than the traditional Japanese tanka and haiku forms. Saikō did not marry or have children, but dedicated her life to art and poetry. Saikō is a pen name, as was common for Japanese poets of the time. It means 'delicate scent' and is from a poem by Tu Fu which refers to the scent of bamboo when a breeze blows through it. Saikō was also an accomplished artist, with bamboo as a favourite subject.

Hiroaki Sato, Saiko's translator, is a Japanese poet and translator. He lives in the United States and received the PEN Translation prize in 1982.

Janis Freegard is the author of The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider (Anomalous Press, 2013) and Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus (Auckland University Press, 2011) and co-author of AUP New Poets 3. She lives in Wellington. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Villon in Millerton by James Norcliffe

for Leicester Kyle 

a plank bed in a gully 
and a woman there with 
a buckled mouth my hand 
plunged deep in her pigfern 

turpentine and tea-tree 
the sour-smoke smell 
of damp coal in the scuttle 
and flat beer on the bench 

once I stood so tall on 
a stolen Triumph 
       my hair streamed behind 
like a thousand freedoms 

now I stand two miles 
above flatlanders 
screaming so loudly 
no one can hear me 

earthbound beneath 
a high ocean of air 
I am a poisoned stream 
full of slippery words 
sliding underneath a broken 
bridge’s collapsed members 

her body is heavy and overgrown 
her laughter is desperate 
already my sons have gone 
there is nothing for me here 

I am tired of the chipped Formica 
and its clouds of blood 
I am tired of stainless steel 

and its bleary reflections 
I am sick of the Feltex floors 
which stick to my feet 
the broken glass and crushed cans 
the rain the water the strangled drains 

my mind is a mixed miasma of 
smoke gathered on the ceiling  
cut through by angle iron and 
the jangling chords of a rusty guitar 

and I am tired of screechy voices 
of brotherhood and sisterhood 
I just want to curl like a frond 
of bracken into the silence of love 

Posted with permission from James Norcliffe

Editor this week: Harvey Molloy
I’ve chosen the first two sections of James Norcliffe’s poem for this week’s Tuesday 
Poem because I want to share my appreciation of longer, more challenging poems. 
‘Villon in Millerton’ is a long poem composed of six sections in which the fifteenth 
century troubadour Villon, exiled from France for his crimes, hides out the West Coast 
town of Millerton.  Villon—who has been translated into English by Rossetti  and 
Pound—is perhaps best known for his 'Ballade des dames du temps jadis'  (Ballad of 
yesterday's women) which ends with the line "Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?" ("Where 
are the snows of yesteryear?") and for the imaginary wills (bequeathing his soul, his stolen 
wine, his love, etc) of his Testaments. Sure, I had heard of Villon before reading James’ 
poem, but it was this poem that led me to read more of Villon and to learn more about 
his life, as well as to the life and work of the poet Leicester Kyle.  Long poems are still a 
great form of social memory. 

The opening stanza makes me reel as I am caught in Villon’s giddy, violent swagger.  The 
brutal objectification of ‘the woman’ (who may or may not be real or who may or may 
not be ‘the bush’) coupled with the perfect adjective of ‘buckled’ flows in the alliterative 
melody and ps and bs and the subtle assonance of ‘u’s .  The unadorned, exhilarating 
wild energy of this persona hooks me into the poem as we end the first section with a 
note of tenderness: ‘her laughter is desperate’.  A bad boy; yes, but Villon is surely no 
unfeeling monster. 

Norcliffe's Villon is the Kiwi man alone: "tired of screechy voices/of brotherhood and 
sisterhood"; he’s "tired of chipped Formica" and "sick of the Feltex floors." He's in exile 
from domestic life and on the run from the cops. Employing the imaginary wills of 
Villon's Testament, later in the poem he bequeaths a “thundering yellow fart” to the 
helicopters, “astigmatism arthritis” to the cops and the “crock of shit that is the past” to 
the future. Like Vincent O'Sullivan, Norcliffe has a great ear for New Zealand English and 
like O'Sullivan Norcliffe's poetry combines intellectual concerns with visceral impact.  It's 
a staggeringly good poem: bitter, humorous, middle-aged and angry.  The man alone 
myth ends with a wrecked kitchen, a failed encounter with ‘the woman’ (papatuanuku?) 
and memories of road trips past.  Yet the poem raises a question of the Kiwi bloke ‘man 
alone’ mythos: what does the loss of the bush man mean for how we view and treat the 
wilderness? It’s all very well to point out the sexist pitfalls and traps of the notion of the 
good keen man—fair enough, too—but what’s lost in the rush to buy formica and stainless 
steel?  Or is the persona’s resistance to domestication merely a bubbling, immature hostility? a residual masculine violence? There’s a lot to consider here. 


New Zealand writer James Norcliffe has published eight collections of poetry, most recently Along Blueskin Road, Villon in Millerton, and Shadow Play, and several award-winning fantasy novels for young people. He publishes poetry widely internationally and regularly reads at festivals and occasions throughout NZ and overseas most recently at the XX International Poetry Festival in Medellin, Colombia in 2010 and the Trois-Rivieres International Poetry Festival in Quebec in 2012. Recent work has appeared in Gargoyle, The Cincinnati Review, Fourteen Hills and Spillway. With Siobhan Harvey and Harry Ricketts he has edited the new Essential New Zealand Poems anthology to be released by Godwit /Random House in August.

Harvey Molloy is a Wellington-based poet.

Be sure to check out the other poems shared by Tuesday Poem members. Scroll down the left-hand sidebar and click on the links there to see what poems others are reading and reviewing this week. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Symbols that make up the breaking girl by Helen Rickerby

First comes feet, on tippy tippy
toe — a stretching, a reaching
for approval, perfection, a cracking
a creaking, a split and a snap, but nothing
that a good length of tape and some newly broken
in shoes can’t fix, shoes with the insides torn
out like an inquisition, then beaten and slashed
little dancers, little digits, they carry her away

The next, a cliché, but an oldy and a goody, because
she has to see her self, her reflection, to know
that she is real, that she exists, to give her something
to examine, to correct; her mother is

a mirror, her mirror is her mother, and what
have they to say to each other?
good girl, sweet girl, look what I have given
and given and given, just like me only this time better
a double, a dark doppelgänger who moves

just out of synch, just out of time, who will not
be tied down, who is flying up
right into her face, looking in the glass
a mirrored triptych, this one multi-faceted, this one
has fallen down and smashed to pieces, fragments
everywhere, splitting apart

The hallways are labyrinthine
she is Ariadne, Theseus, she is the minotaur
and the walls are closing in, sucking out all the air
in the apartment, where there is no living
room, at the school, where there is no resting
place, no cosy chairs, no comfort, only corridors
to wait in, floors to sit on, concrete and stairways to carry

her between heaven and hell, hell and heaven

A door can mean privacy, or entrance: a way in, a way
out, a way inside; a bathroom means
a closed door, a sanctuary, asylum, no one
to watch but the mirror, a secret place, a hungry need
a shutting, a barring, a tunnel into the abyss, or

into the true self, or selves, or really are we all just
a collection of random strangers, who have barely
even met, who have nothing to say to each other
as they mingle awkwardly at that posh soirée, that dive of a bar

Nails must be clipped, fingers and toes, try to keep
insides from seeping out, leaping out, oozing
and pushing out, but she can’t, her skin is too thin
her stomach too tight and before she knows it
there’s blood everywhere, it’s always

her own, she’s tearing and scratching, cracking and
splitting, fingers and toes, these unravelling girls
with their Snow White mouths
can’t they keep themselves together?

Shoulders are places for cares to settle, places to carry
heavy objects or other people, but shoulders are places
for wings to grow, and wings mean freedom, mean
flying away from here, mean looking down from up high
and all the little people, little things, shrunk

to insignificance; but then, a clipping, a snapping
and a falling from great height, poor
sweet girl, she’s got no chance

In the first, and in the last, there is the dance
of joy, of control, she can’t let go
she can’t let loose, she can’t let
her hair flow out behind her as she spins

her dance of life, dance of death, dancing
her negotiations, avoidances, eludations
in the club, under strobe lights, dark
and light, black and white, where a dance
can never be perfect, but even here

she has her red shoes on, yes, it’s this old story
over again, because she won’t stop dancing
can’t stop dancing, as long as she has feet
as long as she has legs, as long as they will carry her 

Editor: Mary McCallum
posted here with permission of the poet

Cinema (Hoopla series, Mākaro Press 2014) is a book I'm very proud of and 'Symbols' is one of my favourites in the collection. I am Cinema's editor and publisher so I know the collection well - working with Helen Rickerby and Paul (the other part of our two-person publishing house) and designer Bill to create not just Helen's book but a whole new series called HOOPLA. (Designer Helen Reynolds created the fabulous eye-through-the-lens cover drawing for Helen's book.) 

HOOPLA is a dream I've had for a while - a series that leads readers to poetry because of the quality of the poets, the attraction of a series with three poets launching at once, the vivid and pocketable design, and the strong themes. 

Our 2014 release in this series is: 
Helen Rickerby's Cinema, Bird Murder – by first-time poet Stefanie Lash (theme: crime) – and Heart absolutely I can by established poet and Lauris Edmond Memorial Award-winner Michael Harlow (theme: love.) 

For the poets, I see the series as supportive and stimulating. For a publisher, it's a great idea because printing three poets at once leads to some useful cost savings and cross-overs in publicity.

As far as the support thing goes: Bookshops are often choosing to stock the set of three books rather than only taking one, which means if they want Michael Harlow because he just won the Lauris Edmond prize, Stefanie and Helen get a look in too (and good numbers :). Similarly, Helen and Stef attracted punters to our Pledgeme campaign to raise money to print Hoopla because they're more emersed in the social media/crowd-funding world than Michael is. Michael took info about Hoopla to a poetry event he attended in Nicaragua. The launch saw a range of poets and those who love poetry turning up to support the Hoopla threesome with supporters of one poet happily going off with a book by another poet, or the whole set... 
Hoopla High Tea with L-R publishers Paul Stewart & Mary McCallum,
poets Michael Harlow, Helen Rickerby & Stefanie Lash,
and PledgeMe supporter Ann Cunninghame. 
Back to Helen's poem 'Symbols that make up the breaking girl'. It is one of the poems where Helen lets loose - and how I love the way it sprawls and leaps and runs ... smart and rhythmic and contemporary, while linked to fairytale and the stuff of story. Best thing to do: read it aloud. Then read the whole book. 
Now forgive me for using the book blurb here but it does the job. 'The poems in Cinema look at the personal through the lens of the camera and the world of cinema through unfiltered eye. Meet the boy who learns to kiss from action movies, the girl made up of symbols and the direction with the aesthetic of the sniper on the roof.' 
Ah yes, that symbol girl – who can forget her! There is so much packed into Helen's book - as her launcher Anna Jackson said: 'It is like the tardis.' A very beautiful RED tardis which I just know will travel far.  Congrats to Helen, and to Stef and to Michael. And forgive me a publisher's indulgence here on Tuesday Poem. 

Helen Rickerby is a poet, editor and publisher who lives in Wellington. She has published 3.5 collections of poetry including Cinema which is available at all good bookstores and by emailing makaropress@gmail.com. She is co-managing editor of JAAM and runs boutique poetry publisher Seraph Press. 

Do check out the other poems in the sidebar - rich pickings. 

This week's editor is Mary McCallum – co-curator of Tuesday Poem, she is also a writer of fiction and poetry and has just published a children's novel with Gecko Press called Dappled Annie and the Tigrish. She is a publisher with Mākaro Press. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Three plus one: four poems for a birthday

I was born the day my mother stopped being pregnant
           a full-baked warm wetness taking its first breath
flame flickering, a miniature torch; a moth fluttering
against the pane, the porch. She held: a curved moon-nail,
thistle-like lock, darkened milk; and the clarinetist curled
slow circles around the moon

the crack of eggs, the weight of flour, chocolate powder
             look with your eyes not your fingers
no matter how blue the cake, as enticing
as fields of broccoli under chocolate snow, smoke-wisped
dreams mummified in molten wax, and then the wish –
clenched and secret

In the starkness of the candlelight, I hold your shadow-
            contoured face in delicious stasis
a moment captured on un-stretched canvas, spread 
on your garage floor, when birthdays were as simple as
ice cream and jelly, butterfly cakes and fairy bread
the candles were extinguished, the parcels passed
scraping marzipan from Christmas memories

The fork poised like a promise – a series of pigtail-framed
              balloon-cheeks in the yellow flamelight
(each year: 365 ingredients whirled around in the mixer,
its new shape given over to rising, a sweet rebirth).
We watch the cake explode in flames

 TP is three plus one. Whoopee! Yippee! Pass the Sally Lunn!


Today marks the fourth birthday of Tuesday Poem. 
The series began on April 13 2010 after a casual start with a bunch of poems on Mary McCallum's blog O Audacious BookFrom there, the group migrated to this site and grew in contributors and mission. Each week a different Tuesday Poet takes a turn at editing the main page here -- selecting a poem, getting permission to run it, and writing up a response. A personal choice and response each week, and many more opportunities to share poetry at members' blogs as well (see sidebar, left). 

We celebrate poetry every week, but birthdays are special because each year in March/ April we build something collaboratively in one giant poetry celebration. Each of our 'birthday poems' has been unique in its blend of voices and rhythms. In 2011, the first birthday saw an ode to Tyr in honour of Tuesdays and the way we celebrate poetry; in 2012 we wrote a collaborative poem line-by-line, each poet building on the previous poet's cadence and image; last year, we chose a jazzy riff as our theme, with participating poets contributing entire stanzas to a poem that unfolded over weeks in rhythm, repetition and syncopation. 

This year, we tried something a little different. We asked contributing poets to send a line that included something about either birthdays or food or both, and to send the line blind -- that is, without seeing any other contributions. We gathered the lines one by one and rearranged them into a whole. We tried several different approaches but we finally settled on four small verses, each creating something special. It was much much harder than we imagined when we set out to paste these lines together -- how to fit blue cake with a clarinetist's curls, or fairy bread with the explosion of candles? In the end, these four vignettes fitted together to form what feels like a whole and including a birth and a light, a cake and a secret, a moment and a memory, and anticipation and celebration.

We hope you are as delighted as we are with how this experiment turned out. What fun to have such rich images to work with. What a pleasure to glue pieces together and watch this poetry page take shape -- this line moved from there to here; this image matched with this sound. 

I should also add the note that only one of the three editors working on this birthday poem knew the identity of the poets submitting, so it's a special birthday surprise as well to see who has contributed such delicious morsels to this sweet feast. Thank you all!  

-Michelle Elvy, TP Hub sub-editor, with Mary McCallum and Claire Beynon

Participating poets, in the order their lines appear (but not in the order they submitted)
TORCH: Rethable Masilo, Renee Liang, Michelle Elvy, Elizabeth Welsh, Claire Beynon
WISH: Mary McCallum, Harvey Molloy, T. Clear, P S Cottier, Helen McKinlay, Catherine Bateson
SHADOW: Andrew Bell, Saradha Koirala, Catherine Fitchett, Janis Freegard, Tim Jones
EXPLOSION: Kathleen Ferber, Helen Rickerby, Eileen Moeller, A J Ponder, Keith Westwater