Tuesday, June 24, 2014

'Chemotherapy' by Mary McCallum and 'In the corner of my mind, a boy' by Frankie McMillan

Chemotherapy by Mary McCallum

who knew she was there
hidden inside that thing that turns
her girl upside down and inside out
(poison, really, a small inefficient
killing field) let loose in a body still
young enough to smell of milk
in the morning, one the mother must
return to sit beside and stand over    
to stroke the soft cheek, catch the soft
vomit, be steel to all that softness — a shield —
and, when called upon, to scream
like a banshee         yet, for the most part,
sits beside is all she can do, hands in lap

but running the spellcheck just now
over the girl’s story — all those
words, sharp teeth biting at the last
of life’s full belly — there she is! mother
over and over:  the unexpected heart
of the matter, with key on one side,
and happy on the other

© Mary McCallum

In the corner of my mind, a boy by Frankie McMillan

This morning watching people in the street
I remembered the book I’d forgotten to write –  
The Boy Who Lived In A Wardrobe
which I promptly changed to
The Boy in the Wardrobe, this meant
it could be flash fiction as living implies
a day’s activities which in the case of the boy
would normally be kicking a ball
around the overgrown tennis court, or finding
a lost bird in the hedge
then there is the business of eating, licking fingers
washing and scrubbed knees all of which
are impractical in the dim wardrobe smelling
of furs and the indecision of shoes
and though I can present the child however
I wish a chance encounter might be best
say, a glimpse through a key hole 
to where a small boy sits 
playing with his fingers in what would be
my parents' wardrobe, the cotton dresses
falling on his shoulders
my father’s trousers a stack of chimneys
which brings me back to the parade of people –  
how they walk towards deeds   
they never knew they had within them

©Frankie McMillan, previously published in Sport

Poems posted with permission by the authors.
Editor: Michelle Elvy

I chose to share poems by Mary McCallum and Frankie McMillan today because they have just completed their tasks as judges for the 2014 National Flash Fiction Day competition, and this is a wonderful way to honour and thank these two individuals for their talents and efforts. NFFD prize-givings occurred simultaneously on Sunday, June 22, in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch -- and Mary attended the Wellington celebration while Frankie was at the Christchurch event.  

Besides being many other things -- publisher, editor, novelist, poet and generally enthusiastic supporter of many literary endeavours -- Mary is, of course, co-founder of Tuesday Poem as well. I got to know Frankie's writing from her poetry first, then from her flash fiction which won last year's National Flash Fiction Day competition -- whose title 'In the nick of time, a deer' should be noted here for its parallel rhythm to the poem posted today -- and then I was pleased to read it much more closely as I reviewed stacks of stories for the forthcoming Flash Fiction International (W. W. Norton, 2015), for which Frankie's story 'Truthful Lies' was selected for inclusion. This year, we were excited that both Frankie and Mary agreed to judge the NFFD  competition and present awards on Sunday. 

From the judges' astute commentary on the winning 2014 stories, readers can see how Mary and Frankie went about selecting the winners for this year's competition. And their poems featured here today demonstrate poetry that tells stories, stories that are poetic. 

In  'Chemotherapy', I particularly admire the opening lines, how we are plunged right into the middle of this story, with the uncertainty of 'who knew she was there' balanced by the details that show a constancy and a presence all along -- in the milk, in the soft moments, in the screams -- and then the ending with the attention to detail and care of spellchecking every letter, every small moment on the page and in her daughter's life. This poem is inspired by Mary's association and friendship with Jan, the mother of Harriet Rowland, who wrote The Book of Hat, which Mary's Makaro Press published earlier this year. It's an extraordinary story, and Mary's poem is a subtle tribute to a complicated mother-daughter relationship, full of love and even joy in the face of life and death. 

'In the corner of my mind, a boy' is similarly a glimpse at a life -- only this time it's the imaginative life in/of the mind of a writer, contemplating all the possibilities and small details of this boy whom we can see briefly but fully through a very few words on the page. I love how Frankie plays with the idea of poetry and flash here -- very compelling for me. And how we see the boy through the keyhole -- that is the very way writers of excellent flash may think about bringing a full story to realisation. It's a glimpse, a small moment of light through which we may see activity or thought or history or even dresses and trousers, gently swaying against each other. And the ending says it all -- how poetry and flash hold such tremendous energy and potential, like the parade of people that Frankie comes back to:

how they walk towards deeds   
they never knew they had within them

These poems reveal a fine line between poetry and storytelling, and finely tuned writing. Thank you, Mary and Frankie, for sharing your talents!

After you've read this week's Tuesday Poem, please check out some of the other poems offered by the Tuesday Poets who appear in the sidebar.


Mary McCallum (centre in the photo, with other Wellington writers from the NFFD celebration) is an award-winning poet and fiction writer with a children’s book Dappled Annie and the Tigrish newly published by Gecko Press. Her novel, The Blue, was published in 2007, reprinted twice in 2008 and translated into Hebrew in 2009. The Blue won the New Zealand Society of Authors Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction and the Readers’ Choice Award at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards. She has won and been nominated for key awards and bursaries, including the Lillian Ida Smith Award in 2004. Her fiction and poetry have been published in a variety of literary journals.
Mary is a recent convert to flash fiction which she sees as a terrific hybrid of poetry and fiction. She placed third in the 2013 National Flash Fiction Day competition. She earns her living as a freelance writer and tutor, is the co-curator of online Tuesday Poem, and has recently started up a niche publisher Mākaro Press. She lives in Wellington with her family.

Frankie McMillan (far left in the photo, with the other Canterbury writers from the NFFD celebration) is a short story writer and poet. Her short story collection, The Bag Lady’s Picnic and other stories, was published by Shoal Bay Press. In 2005 she was awarded the CNZ Todd Bursary. In 2008 and 2009 her work was selected for the Best NZ Fiction anthologies. Many of her stories have also been broadcast on radio. In 2013 she was the winner of the National Flash Fiction Day award.
McMillan is also an award-winning poet. Her poetry collection, Dressing for the Cannibals, was published in 2009 and in that same year she won the NZ Poetry Society International competition. Recent poetry appears in TurbineJaamLandfallTroutSnorkelSportThe London GripShenandoah and Best NZ poems 2012, and her work will appear in the upcoming Flash Fiction International  (W. W. Norton, 2015).  This year she is the co-recipient of the Ursula Bethell writing residency at Canterbury University. Her next book of poetry, There Are No Horses in Heaven, is to be published by CUP in early 2015.

This week's editor, Michelle Elvy, is a writer, editor and manuscript assessor based in the Bay of Islands but currently in Indonesia aboard her sailboat, her home of more than ten years. She edits at Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short FictionBlue Five Notebook and Awkword Paper Cut, where she curates a monthly column, Writers on Writing (which recently featured Tuesday Poets Harvey Molloy and PS Cottier She is also Associate Editor for the forthcoming Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton, 2015) and co-ordinator of National Flash Fiction Day. Her poetry, fiction, travel writing, creative non-fiction and reviews have been published most recently or are forthcoming in Eastbourne: An AnthologyHtml GiantIkaJAAMJMWWPANK, Takahe and 2014: A Year of Stories.  


Helen McKinlay said...

These are two very special poems written by two women who each have an intuitive understanding of the child within the adult and the adult things children should never have to deal with. Than you for posting them together Michelle.

Helen Lowe said...

My only "complaint" is that each poem deserves to standalone in the spotlight, because in their very different ways they show such depth and insight, one from the 'heart', the other from the imagination.

Thank you so much for bringing them both to us, Michelle, and to you, mary and Frankie ofr your wonderful Flash Fiction work.