Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Two Lips Went Shopping by Lizz Murphy

Two huge lips went shopping
on a pogo stick
for a red satin handbag
coordinated in colour
with their cupid’s bow

'Two Lips Went Shopping' - title poem from Two Lips Went Shopping by Lizz Murphy (Spinifex Press 2000) republished with permission from the publisher.

The poem was previously published in Blast. The book was the outcome of a 1998 ACT Creative Arts Fellowship for Literature from the ACT Government.

Editor: P.S. Cottier

I love this little poem.  It insinuates itself into the brain and jumps up and down there.  

The image of two huge lips on a pogo stick raises problems for the literal minded.  How do they balance?  How do they jump up and down?    

These are obviously fashion-conscious lips who like a co-ordinated wardrobe.  I love the way that the slightly old-fashioned expression 'cupid's bow' is given new life through the earlier reference to satin.  We see the top of red lips and a real red bow; where one ends and the other starts is impossible to say.  Of course, cupid's bow refers to a bow for shooting arrows, but I defy anyone to read the poem and not to think of a bow tied around a present or a pony-tail.

Spin the poem on its side and it even looks a bit like a pogo stick jumping up and down, powered by a rather erratic rider.

There is a lot in these five lines, and indeed, Lizz Murphy is something of an advocate for the shorter poem.  Along with fellow poet, Kathy Kituai, she is holding a number of readings emphasising the shorter poem, at which members of the public can read their works.  I attended one of these readings, and about thirty people were there, at a library, in the afternoon. This is a good number and a credit to the organisers.  No Small Thing is the title of the series of readings, indicating both how much oomph a shorter poem can deliver and how difficult it can be to create memorable short poetry.  Lizz is notable for the number of readings she organises in the greater Canberra area.  I include Binalong, where she makes her home, in that literary/geographical area.

Oomph gets no oomphier than that image of two lips on a pogo stick though!  I am so glad that the two lips were not early converts to on-line shopping, and therefore had made their purchases at home.  Although I do wonder how they purchased the pogo stick that they are using in the poem to go shopping...sometimes the desire to construct a narrative is a curse, isn't it?  Perhaps it's wiser just to enjoy the image.

Thank you to Spinifex Press and to Lizz Murphy for allowing me to send this poetic kiss out into the world.  

Lizz Murphy was Highly Commended in the Blake Poetry Prize and a finalist in the UK’s Aesthetica Poetry Competition in 2013. Her awards include the 2011 Rosemary Dobson Poetry Prize (co-winner), a CAPO Singapore Airlines Travel Award, 1998 Creative Arts Fellowship for Literature and the 1994 Anutech Poetry Prize. She has published 12 books. Her seven poetry titles include Portraits and Six Hundred Dollars (PressPress), Walk the Wildly (Picaro Press), Stop Your Cryin (Island) and Two Lips Went Shopping (Spinifex Press). She is widely published in Australian journals with poems also published in Canada, China, England, India, Ireland, Poland and the USA. Lizz was born in Ireland and has lived in Binalong NSW for a long time. She occasionally blogs.

This week's editor, P.S. Cottier, lives in Canberra.  She recently edited The Stars Like Sand:  Australian Speculative Poetry with Tim Jones, and will be the facilitator for an on-line course on speculative poetry offered by Australian Poetry in September.  She has blogged at pscottier.com since 1523 AD.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

News from the Island by Tracey Sullivan

I met the weaver today
scalloping burnished gold
onto tamed hanks of lacebark,
porous and sunbleached
tissue thin strips of lathed bone.
He was cold, the weaver,
but he talked sunnily enough
of commissions and 
traditional uses for the bark 
- bandages and summer cloaks -
as spring sun sparkled crisply 
on the bay.
He gave me news of the cloak
I coveted
everyday last summer.
Visited. Lusted after. Loved.
I knew its rightful home
was here
on the too white walls
of the newly painted shack.
Black falls spiked with red
the wayward beauty 
of a waterfall, or hair.
And then it was gone
- to Olive.
And my heart learns again 
the consequence of uncertainty
the outcome of inaction
and the opposites of those.  

© Tracey Sullivan

Published with the permission of the poet

Editor: Claire Beynon

Tracey Sullivan is a New Zealand poet currently living in the Netherlands. Her work has appeared in print and digital form in New Zealand and on radio in the Netherlands. In 2012 a chapbook of her poetry, "a place on earth", was published in Singapore by Math Paper Press. She is currently working on a full collection. The internet is a remarkable tool with the ability to link people from all corners of the globe, often in surprising ways. Tuesday Poem is evidence aplenty of this! Tracey and I were introduced online via a mutual friend and while we've not yet met in person I have been fortunate to spend three nights in the 'newly painted shack' she references in today's featured poem. The shack is a magical place set amongst native bush on Waiheke Island, a forty minute ferry ride from Auckland. I can see why the place calls her; a shell-encrusted pathway leads through a forest of tree ferns and trunk-hugging fungi to the cottage. Night times are a call-and-answer conversation between silence and sound, insects and air. Pukeko fossick on the wooden deck at dusk. After dark, the balcony's lichen constellations shine. Tracey's writing is vivid and adventurous, intimate and contemplative. On the one hand she invites us to observe from a distance and on the other, to come right on in. Look through both ends of the telescope, she seems to be saying. Bold notes echo and dissipate across familiar and unfamiliar landscapes. I was especially moved by one of Tracey's recent poems, 'Spiegel Im Spiegel', whose title was borrowed from Estonian composer Arvo Pärt's composition of the same name. (I learned this week that this poem was highly commended in this year's New Zealand International Poetry Competition - the judge was our 'own' Tim Jones!).  Affection and restraint are woven through Tracey's 'News from the Island'. She is - and, by proxy, we are - both the observer and participant in this story. She offers us a portrait of master weaver Te Ao Marama Ngarimo and, too, a glimpse of his creative process, the outcome of which is a cloak whose 'wayward beauty' she 'coveted everyday last summer'. I found myself intrigued by details inferred as well as stated in this poem - the weaver's relationship with the natural world, for example, and the integrity of his chosen materials. Cloaks are garments of ceremonial importance as well as mantles of status and protection. The weaver was 'cold'; we are not told his age but might not 'old' be implied here? Certainly, his creative competence implies a man of maturity, mana and experience. It seems to me the word 'omissions' is cleverly embedded in the lines 'he talked sunnily enough/of commissions and/traditional uses for the bark', the more so after we've read the poem through to its closing stanza where we find the writer simultaneously challenged and at ease with her questions. It seems she holds both the weaver's skill and her own deliberations with similar affection. And who is Olive? A name and word I love, Olive evokes for me images as various and far apart as New Zealand's bellbird, Popeye's beloved and the garden of Gethsemane.  A day or two ago, Tracey sent me the following paragraph -"For me this poem is about finding a path, often between opposites, finding balance, making sense of loss and longing. The poem is full of contrasts: warmth and cold, presence and loss, external and internal, wildness/passion and the constructive taming of those. The literal story is of a change meeting with the Waiheke-based artist Te Ao Marama Ngarimo, whose work I admire. He worked as we spoke. I was struck by the time-consuming preparation of natural materials, the meticulous detail that goes into his weaving and how much life, passion and love is reflected in the finished work. I have spent quite a lot of time on Waiheke Island over the last few years. I am never ready to leave. It is part of the balancing act. The need to walk between pragmatism, judgement, decisiveness, and desire, emotion, connection. Making mistakes sometimes. Finding the path as you go."Yes. Thank you, Tracey, for agreeing to be this week's featured poet. TP readers can enjoy more of Tracey's poems on the Blackmail Press and Whitireia Polytech sites.

This week's editor Claire Beynon is an artist, writer and independent researcher. She is the founder and curator of a global arts initiative titled Many as One. Her studio website is being given a major and long-overdue overhaul. She blogs here

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Another Exile Paints a Spring Portrait of Katherine Mansfield by Riemke Ensing

(for Eric McCormick)

There are all these lines
without words telling you a whole
story.  The portrait is a yellow table
a gingko leaf shaped fan you think
might smell of sandalwood, a paperweight
some flying sheets of paper and a Chinese
vase of ‘yellow-grey, 2 blues and brown’ [guess who]
curving itself round mountains and the wide open
branches of trees looking up river.  Also an apple
halved, on a plate with knife and rose.  Maybe
there’s a cat asleep beside the blue cup.  Certainly
a teapot (and you fill in the cake from the corner shop).
Everything is luminous and shines.  Green
makes a slight impression on the wind
flowing in the way sky runs
through the open window snaring the light
on a jug of jonquils catching fire
at the edge of spring.

And there’s your still-life portrait [yes, you’ve got it,
landscape in a figure.                                                   Frances Hodgkins]

© Riemke Ensing
from The K.M. File and Other Poems with Katherine Mansfield

Published with the permission of the poet
Editor:  Kathleen Jones

I keep coming across writers and poets who’ve become fascinated by Katherine Mansfield.  K.M’s life story, her diaries and letters, her work and the way she wrote (so lucidly and powerfully) about it, somehow catch the writerly imagination. New Zealand poet Riemke Ensing, my most recent discovery, is one of those who has entered into a dialogue with Mansfield in poetry.

Katherine Mansfield is the ultimate ‘writers’ writer’ - there is always some aspect of her life and work we can connect with.  For Riemke Ensing it’s the aspect of exile.  Riemke was born in the Netherlands and came to New Zealand in 1951, where she taught English Literature at the University of Auckland.  Her collection, The K.M. File and Other Poems with Katherine Mansfield is one of six collections of poetry.  It was published back in 1993 with art-work by Margaret Lando-Bartlett and Judith Haswell and it should really be re-issued because of its importance to Mansfield aficionados.

This poem takes me straight to Mansfield’s account of being in John Fergusson’s studio - her descriptions of the china, the way the light fell across the room, all the colours, but it is actually a dialogue with one of Frances Hodgkins’ still-life portraits.  Frances Hodgkin was one of New Zealand’s first notable painters - a contemporary of Katherine Mansfield who also came to England in order to develop her art, became part of the modernist movement and died in 1947.  There’s no evidence that the two women ever connected, though their paths crossed on several occasions in London and France.

Drafts of the poems are included as illustrations
I love the way the poem builds up allusions and images, inviting you to guess the answer to the question posed at the beginning.  What are all these lines and words leading to?

Academic Lucy McAllister wrote in an essay that she considered the poems in this collection ‘ to have a playful and cryptic purpose like a cross word puzzle’, and she chose the ‘Spring Portrait’ as a particular example of this style.
The poet describes in detail a painting: "The portrait is a yellow table / a ginko leaf shaped fan you think / might smell of sandalwood...". Ensing is specific about shape, smell and particularly colour: "a Chinese / vase of 'yellow-grey, 2 blues and brown'". The use of italics (point to the text) should signal to the reader that this phrase contains key information. In the margin is a parenthesised "guess who". This is a challenge from the poet: she knows the identity of the artist. Is the reader able to deduce the painter's identity from the references to specific style and colour?

The theme of a puzzle or game is continued until the final couplet. This does not directly answer the riddle: it is a riddle in itself. In a matter-of-fact tone Ensing states "And there's your still-life portrait / landscape in a figure". This juxtaposes four types of painting as one and reverses the usual relation of "Figure in a Landscape". However, the italicised "still-life portrait" is the crucial "signal" for the reader to look at the notes in the margin. It is here that the answer lies: "(yes, you've got it Frances Hodgkins)". In effect the poet has described Hodgkins's painting style without directly stating the artist's name.’

So the poem manages to include both Mansfield and Hodgkins - it’s describing the portrait by Hodgkins in words that reference Mansfield. There’s a sense of longing in the last lines - the jonquils refer to Katherine Mansfield’s exile in the south of France among fields of those blossoms - the imagined familiar landscape - the cat curled up beside the blue cup (Wingley?), and the nostalgia for a sky that ‘runs through the window’. Mansfield was often homesick for the New Zealand landscape.

You can hear Riemke read this poem (and others) at the New Zealand sound archivethough - sadly - it seems you have to purchase the cd if you can't visit the library.

Renee Liang interviewed Riemke Ensing for The Tuesday Poem in 2012 and you can read it by clicking here. 

Photograph of Riemke Ensing: copyright James Ensing-Trussell

This week's editor Kathleen Jones is an English poet, novelist and biographer living in exile in Italy. Her most recent collection of poetry 'Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21' is published by Templar Poetry in the UK. She is also the biographer of Katherine Mansfield, published by Penguin NZ and EUP. Kathleen blogs at 'A Writer's Life'. 

Please take time to browse the sidebar where the other Tuesday Poets have an eclectic selection of poetry and ideas waiting for your enjoyment.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Cracked by Johanna Emeney

In this drought
a crack has worked its way
up or down our lounge wall -

a crinkle
to a hairline
to a mad jaw of a thing.

The builder talks of settling,
waiting for a change in the weather,
giving it a few days,

and you are fine
with putting panic on hold
for a rainy day,

while I'm on a fault line,
looking up past the picture
you have hung to hide it,

pulling out the settee
to see how much worse
it is tonight,

until the cross-hatch
of buckled tape
and seamed board

look too much
like a mistake
or a torn page.

When wrinkles
spread across ceilings
and doors swell shut

so I have to tug and sweat
to get out,
I expect you to be there

on the other side.

First published in Trout (17).
Reprinted here with the kind permission of the poet.

Editor: Elizabeth Welsh.

I discovered Johanna's poem 'Cracked' in Trout 17, the Home Spaces issue published in 2012. It is the opening poem of this superb issue and it drew me in and kept me coming back to it over the last couple of months (it niggled!) - the seemingly calm domestic scene of a lounge with a growing crack traversing and growing slowly up/down the wall. There's something about the casual conversational tone between the 'I' and 'you', the slight edge of sharpness, of hysteria that blooms, the scrabbling behind furniture and the masking with paintings to allay or confirm fears. It's paced so deftly, so carefully. The startling image of the crack and the differing reactions to it pulse quietly and build to the final image of the 'I' tugging and sweating at a swollen, unflinching door. Sometimes there are final lines that I genuinely wish I had written, and Johanna's poem is a perfect instance of that, bringing the poem to a whole new level of complexity and depth and love: 'I expect you to be there on the other side'.

When I chatted to Johanna about sharing her poem, she very generously offered an autobiographical glimpse into 'Cracked': 'Cracked is, in many ways, a love poem. Its occasion was the large cracks that started appearing in our house because of the mercurial weather of Auckland over the past couple of years, coupled with the poor clay soil of rural Coatesville, where we live. One crack in particular appeared directly above the sofa on which my husband and I sit. The fissure got larger and larger over a period of months. It was positioned directly between us when we sat in our habitual places, and became the cause of much hilarity and ironic joking about portents and omens. Our reactions to the house's movement were opposite, and reflective of our personalities: I panicked and brooded. My husband was calm and unfazed. The poem explores these attitudes (and, of course, amplifies them!)'.

Johanna Emeney is a New Zealand poet and teacher. She spent fourteen years in England, during which she attended Cambridge University and taught English Literature at public and private schools. In 2006, she returned to Auckland with her husband, David. Jo is currently studying towards her PhD at Massey University, where she also tutors on the Level One Creative Writing course. In addition, she enjoys working with her friend Rosalind Ali at the Michael King Writers' Centre, delivering the Young Writers' Programme to talent senior school students, and the New Kiwi Voices workshops for migrant youth, supported by Auckland Council. 'Cracked' comes from her book Apple & Tree, published by Cape Catley in 2011.

This week's editor, Elizabeth Welsh, is a poet and academic editor. Originally from Auckland, she has made London her home for the past three years. She runs the online poetry magazine The Typewriter and is currently working on her first poetry collection. She blogs about all manner of literary, travelling and everyday bits & bobs at small marks.

Do take a short morning tea break to check out all the other poets and poems along the sidebar from the rest of the talented Tuesday Poem community.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Cloudmother by Siobhan Harvey

When a child starts school, so too the parents:
this is a truth Cloudmother can’t escape.

Here are others – when a teacher favours a child,
so too the parents; when a classmate befriends a child,

so too the parents; when a label owns a child,
so too the parents. The mother most of all.

The handwriting lessons that failed to prepare her for life;
the teachers who saw careers in computers not art or poetry;

the years she spent invisibly circling the schoolyard:
the institutional past Cloudmother thought she’d shed

returns. What follows are a sleepless night and a waking
to a trick of the light that breaks across the harbour

and makes sea and sky one, their limpidity fusing
into image and duplicate, a lone kawau observing all.

When Cloudmother escorts her son to class, everything
he is yet to bear and be pained by unfurls in her

like a hailstorm. Drear mornings of multiplication
when Cloudboy’s eyes float outside to nimbostrati dark

and static as the wings of dead wasps or caged starlings;
lunchtimes of lonely drifting around the playground

when reaching out towards faint cirrostrati refracted
into halo phenomena is easier than making a friend;

afternoons reading Gulliver’s Travels to restless pyrocumuli,
behold an Island in the Air, inhabited by Men who were able to raise,

or sink, or put it into Progressive Motion….”: Cloudmother sees
these will precipitate her son’s future, just as they will

birth times before the bell when parents gather to gossip
and she’ll race to places where only Cloudboy can find her.

Later classmates will rain their mothers’ whispers upon Cloudboy
until they condense icily in the air he and Cloudmother occupy:

cold spells about junk food turning Cloudboy into a freak;
cold spells about the mother turning Cloudboy into a freak.

Published with the permission of the poet.
Editor: Helen McKinlay

Cover Image - Cloudboy the book

Siobhan Harvey's comments:  

'Cloudmother' is one of the key poems in Cloudboy. Its first line - When a child starts school, so too the parents - was the phrase which began the entire journey towards drafting, redrafting and completing the collection, and indeed its companion creative non-fiction essay, 'A Boy Called Cloud' (which was Highly Commended in 2013 Landfall Essay Prize, at the same time as the collection was selected for the 2013 Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry). For all parents of children at school, irrespective of whether your child, like Cloudboy, has Autism Spectrum Disorder, that line has an undeniable and resonant truth to it. More than its authenticity, though, the line offered me a poetic realisation: the ability to map out the journey of child and mother through those early, fraught years at school; to build a narrative, a quest for knowledge and academic sanctuary for both mother and unconventional offspring besieged by an education system which demands conformity above all else.

When so much of this collection needed to rest upon the child, their visions, inspirations, hardships and liberations, 'Cloudmother' also enabled me to give a parental presence to the collection, to contextualise the child's difference within the protective, treasured care the parent has, the parent who wants only her son to be accepted and nurtured at school with the same understanding she shows him at home. The poem's final couplet was indeed inspired by the retorts many of my son's former peers said to him in the schoolyard; even though he rarely ate 'junk food' (the one rule in my house is: "No MacDonald's") and has never played or owned an Xbox, the parents at my son's former school clearly felt a need to explain away my son's difference to their children in the only ways they knew how: to blame my son for having a mother who was, in their eyes, failing him as a parent.

Siobhan Harvey -  Cloudboy’s Mother

Editor Helen McKinlay comments:

Looking at the book Cloudboy as a whole, I find that the way Siobhan enters into her son’s world of clouds and writes his story is celebratory and magical. This is a work of poetical genius and a gift to New Zealand literature. It is also of tremendous experiential value as an educational resource, not only to parents and those with an interest in autism, but to all those who are responsible for the care and development of children. We learn best from those like Siobhan, who have the courage to be emotionally honest and open. There were times when I found these poems and their companion essay, A Boy Called Cloud, heart searing. The book itself is a story, a mythology of Cloudmother and Cloudboy. As such it is celestial, but full of adventure, conflict and a feeling of two heroes coming home.

Imagination is more important than knowledge – Albert Einstein – front pages Cloudboy

Imagination and resilience are two qualities which I wish most for all children. Imagination is how we perceive our path through this world. Resilience is the skill we use to deal with challenges and catastrophes. The imagination helps us design the frameworks of values, beliefs and common sense behaviours which build resilience. We need supportive family, friends, teachers and community, to help us in this. Many of those who deride others do so from fear, caused by lack of these qualities.

It’s clear that imagination helped Cloudboy and Cloudmother find the resilience to deal with their own unique challenges and came to the point where Siobhan could write:

Looking at the sky and everything in and below it afresh, I knew Cloudboy would be alright because he had me at his side to watch over and protect him, and I had him at my side to teach me the special insights and perspectives he carried inside him.’ (extract from  A Boy Called Cloud)

A Boy Called Cloud ( the essay) tells of Siobhan's journey for answers to help her son. I highly recommend that you read this work. It's informative, honest and very moving.
Please click here.

Cloudboy has already graced the New Zealand bestseller lists, an awesome result for a poetry book. It can be obtained online from Otago University Press. 

Thank you for being my guest on this week's Tuesday Poem Hub, Siobhan. It's been a delight.

Siobhan Harvey is a poet and nonfiction author. Cloudboy, her new poetry collection, (Otago University Press, 2014) won the 2013 Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry. It was launched at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival on Friday 16th May. Other works include Lost Relatives (Steele Roberts, 2011), Words Chosen Carefully: New Zealand Writers In Conversation (Cape Catley, 2010) and Our Own Kind: 100 New Zealand Poems about Animals (Random House NZ, 2009). Additionally, she was runner up in 2012 Dorothy Porter Poetry Prize (Aus) and the 2012 Kevin Ireland Poetry Competition. 
For her creative non fiction, she received a Highly Commended in the 2013 Landfall Essay Prize for A Boy Called Cloud and was runner up in the 2011 Landfall Essay Competition. Between 2006 and 2013 she co-ordinated New Zealand's National Poetry Day. She has been a guest writer at literary festivals in Australia, Indonesia, the UK and New Zealand. She has a Poet's Page on The Poetry Archive (UK), co-directed by Sir Andrew Motion.  
Editor's Note. Siobhan is a member of the New Zealand Book Council and is available to speak and give workshops as a writer in schools to all ages above five. What a great resource person she is.!

This week's editor, Helen McKinlay, is a children's author, known for her bestselling Grandma series (Harper Collins NZ). Her poetry has been published in a wide variety of magazines and anthologies in New Zealand and internationally as well as online. While in Christchurch she set up Poetry for Pudding, a live poets group for all ages and stages. She is now based in the Top of the South Island New Zealand. You can read about her work on her own blog gurglewords, where she is to be found most Tuesdays.

Please take time to browse the sidebar where the other Tuesday Poets have an eclectic selection of poetry and ideas waiting for your enjoyment.