Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pascale Petit: Fauverie - Emmanuel

In the last days, after all he said
and didn't say, his iron tongue
resting in the open bell of his mouth,
the belfry of his face asleep,
I climbed the spiral steps of the tower -
up the steep steps of the bell cage, to the bourdon
the great bumblebee, Emmanuel.
I stared at that bronze weight, the voice of Paris,
as if it was my father's voice
and I had climbed up his spine,
all thirteen tons of copper and tin,
the clapper half a ton of exorcised iron.
I washed the outside with holy oil for the sick,
the inside with chrism.  Let all badness
be banished when he rings.  Let the powers of the air
tremble - the hail and lightning
that fell from his tongue on our last days together.
I made the sign of the cross.  His note
was F sharp, the hum
deep enough to reverberate through the rest of my life.
I stood upright in him
I placed the myrrh inside his mouth, incense
smoking like a last cigarette.
I praised him.  I assembled the priests.
I mourned his death.
Storm clouds dispersed.  Thunderbolts scattered.
I tolled in Sabbaths.  I raised
my father's life to its hoists and rang him until I was deaf.
I proclaimed peace after bloodshed.

© Pascale Petit

This is one of the poems from Pascale Petit's newly published collection Fauverie, from Seren Books. Emmanuel is the big bell that hangs in the south tower of Notre Dame in Paris and the poem, like others in this collection, concerns the death of a father and the powerful pull of a great city, as well as memories that are going to 'reverberate through a life'.   But things are not exactly as they seem.

The Fauverie is the big cat house in the Jardin des Plantes zoo in Paris - a city portrayed in these poems as ‘savage as the Amazon’.  At the centre of the collection is the big Jaguar, Aramis, beautiful, wild and dangerous in every cell of his powerful body. And there is also the poet’s father, now weak and dying, but still able to arouse turbulent emotions and painful memories.  There is ambivalence and ambiguity in everything - ‘ferocity and grace’ exist side by side - the wild can be both savage and seductive. Humans are also animals.

There is a direct reference, in the title of this collection, to Fauve painters who used raw colour straight from the tube and were regarded as 'the wild beasts of art'.  Pascale Petit was also a visual artist and she is fascinated by the idea of ‘wild beast poetry’ that looks at the primitive and the spiritual at the same time.  Fauverie follows, and references, her second collection, The Zoo Father, published 13 years ago.  The poet is now less angry and more compassionate than she was when her father died, but still unflinching and much more complex.

Pascale’s father is also Paris - a city that is, for the poet, both full of pain and full of joy.  This is transformative poetry which comes from what Les Murray called Pascale Petit’s ‘powerful mythic imagination’.  The poems are informed by a deep knowledge of art, mythology and psychology, though you don’t need to understand any of the references in order to understand the poetry. The sub-text is exactly that. But there is a keen sense of danger. Every line is liminal - you walk precariously on the edge between worlds, on the thresholds of different visions. The dictionary defines liminality as: ‘the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete.’

Here Liminality is the right word, because the great beauty of these poems is the power that they have to disturb and disorientate the reader.  We feel the destructive strength of Aramis, marvel at his beauty; we are pierced by the poet’s grief for her dying father, revolted by the way human beings kill and consume other animals, by the way they treat each other.  Who is the predator?  Who is the prey? This is poetry that is going to change the way you look at things.

The collection tells a story - beginning with the arrival of a letter,

‘Never before has a letter been so heavy,
growing to two metres in my room,
the address, the phone number, then the numbness,
I know you must be surprised, it says,
but I will die soon and want to make contact.’

And then the meeting between estranged father and daughter, described in 'Kissing a Jaguar'

The first meeting was like I’d had
Virola snuff blown up my nostrils.
Alone with my father
in a room he called ‘la jungle’.

Back in her hotel room the poet ‘retches all night’, but next morning is up and walking the streets of Paris

All paths lead to the Fauverie
and this is where I come to, again and again,

to where Aramis has stars for a coat
and his mouth is a sky-gate
the jaguar shaman climbs through.

There is incredible cruelty in the poems - a darkness that reveals childhood traumas.  For me one of the most horrific poems was Pate de Foie Gras, which describes the conditions where ducks and geese are force-fed, ‘broken beaks/torn throats, maggots in neck wounds’ and spend their lives waiting in fear, but also in hunger, for the moment when the ‘gavage’ will be thrust down their throats.  But the whole is constructed as a metaphor for the childhood memory of being made to eat Pate de Foie ‘part cooked, a whole lobe’; when the farmer clasps the neck of the bird,  it is the small girl who is being force-fed.

Much of the darkness in the poems is expressed in food - a milk fed piglet (cochon de lait) sawn in half and wrapped in cling-film for sale in the market, (Grenelle Market 1).  In another, the child who has been locked in the cellar comes up for air in the food market where ‘The counters smelled of raw light/ of butchering and fiesta.’  One of the most horrific is ‘Ortolan’.  Apparently Francois Mitterand’s last meal was an Ortolan and the poet imagines her father eating one before he dies, the small bird drowned in Armagnac, grilled and eaten whole.  In the poem Blackbird, the poet, locked in the cellar as a punishment as a small child, is personified as a bird.

Pascale Petit was born in Paris, where her mother lived, but partly brought up by her grandmother in Wales.  She has always been very open about her parent’s abusive treatment, which included being locked in a cellar regularly as a punishment. The suffering of animals becomes a metaphor for the suffering of the child.  In Paris the plates are piled high with ‘lambs’ tongues’, but it’s only when the poet, older now, has come to the safety of Wales that she can allow herself to ‘hear their bleats’.

The connections between her childhood traumas and the preoccupation with the animals of the Fauverie, and particularly Aramis, are very clear.  In Self-Portrait with King Vultures (N’Golo and Margot), there is comfort;

. . .  I am the Vulture-Father,
I eat death, N’Golo whispers, I eat grief.

The connection is more explicit in the poem Le Sang des Betes, where the poet is in a train;

My carriage moves on, past the dangerous
work of the mind

as it sorts through memories -
those that must
and must not be remembered

except as flashes from the train-tracks
of history,

or only confronted in animal form.

Pascale admits the ‘element of the supernatural’ in her work, attributing it to her Welsh grandmother’s influence.  This collection is further exploration of the way that childhood trauma can be transformed into art, which was so carefully probed in What the Water Gave Me - Pascale’s collection of poetry around the life and work of Frida Kahlo. Pascale, who studied at the Royal College of Art and was at first a sculptor, clearly identified with Frida’s ability to make great art out of suffering.  But this is definitely not ‘art as therapy’, nor is it about taming savagery or the healing of wounds – it is the transformation of ugliness into beauty and vulnerability into power using words and images.

In a recent interview (available online here)  Pascale talks about her work and in particular ‘writing the personal’. (6.34 minutes in)

‘It is very hard to write personal and painful subjects in poems ... I don’t feel that I have a choice... That’s what I need to write ... I don’t think my work is just about autobiography, what I’m really interested in is investigation’  particularly ‘exploration into what we call good and evil’.  Her ‘difficult’ and abusive parents gave her intense material.  Travelling to the Amazon as an adult artist gave her new ways of looking at it.
‘I want to take my parents into that rainforest place . . . and try to see what there is about them that’s good and what’s bad and why and to try to make them somehow beautiful - the amazon is beautiful as well as ‘a green hell’.   ‘People have an extraordinary mythology ....  Putting my parents in that kind of context ... gives them a new light.’

Fauverie, published by Seren Books, Sept 2014

It's National Poetry Day in the UK this week.  Pascale Petit will be reading at London Zoo Library, Regent’s Park, on October 4th with Fiona Sampson, Ruth Padel and Niall Campbell.  1-2 pm. 

This week's editor is Kathleen Jones, an English poet, novelist and biographer who lives in Italy.  Her first full collection is Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21, published by Templar, and her biographical subjects include Katherine Mansfield, Christina Rossetti and Norman Nicholson. She blogs regularly at 'A Writer's Life' and you can find her books at www.kathleenjones.co.uk 

If you've enjoyed this poem, please take a look at the sidebar and check out what the other Tuesday Poets are posting. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

'Poroporoaki to the Lord My God: weaving the Via Dolorosa' by Anahera Gildea

Ekphrasis in response to Walk (Series C) by Colin McCahon

I.      Bro, I noticed the absence of korowai at your tangi

II.     I have made you this kahu-kurī. A taonga
         for the Ngā Mōkai peoples and their descendants.
         I have just now taken it off the line and
         folded it with the sun still fresh on its limbs.

III.    The unsteady warps and welts of this cloak have caused
         the tāniko along the bottom to crack the horizon.
         But Muriwai nurtures the embers of our iwi, and this korowai will
         take on the spirits of every great leader and warrior who walks it.

IV.    The kahu-kurī were the war cloaks of chiefs.

V.     This sackcloth taonga will be your anchor now,
         (let go the weight of humanity on your black cross)
         it will cast threads from the living all the way
         to Manawatawhi – where you’ll take your last look.

VI.    And you will recognise that
         a black line separates the milk of the sky, sheepish and shrouded,
         from the knuckled gravel, where you took your first fall.
         It was expected, bro. No shame in trying to carry that tau alone,

VII.   no shame in taking direction – we are all sinners here.

VIII.  If you follow the next break in the horizon
         You may think it’s an invitation to walk out into the wet cold ocean
         and lose your breath underwater.
         It is not.

IX.    Instead look to where the sky has taken up tone
         long and arid, clouds formed from my fists,
         arguing with our tūpuna in there.
         They don’t want you to know

X.     that we do fall off; into the blackout, where the shade has been drawn.

XI.    Your ancestors and I worked that jute, brother,
         to get it to bleed like that
         with your open shores, your wounds unhealed:
         Te One Rangatira.

XII.   Here we both are, man,
         kneeling at the foot of all this white,
         at the beach broken by Christ already,
         facing the grief;

XIII.  I expect to see your tiny boat out there on the crooked horizon.

XIV.   Sometimes it is enough
         to sit and look out.
         Other times you have to walk
         across bone, stone and shell. 

Walk (Series C) in minature

I came across this poem while typesetting the 32nd issue of JAAM literary magazine, the contents of which have been selected by this issue's guest editor, Dunedin writer Sue Wootton. The loose theme of the issue is ‘Shorelines’, and the poems, stories, creative non-fiction pieces and photographs in the issue deal with that theme in a variety of literal and non-literal ways.

The cover of JAAM 32
Sue has selected many amazing pieces for JAAM 32, but this poem is the one that has struck me the most. When trying to explain to my partner what this poem was, and why I loved it, I got really emotional in ways I didn’t expect. Not only is this a powerful poem, but it is so interconnected with other powerful stories and powerful art by powerful artists. 

Standing on its own, it’s weaving the story of Christ – specifically the Stations of the Cross (also known as Via Dolorosa – the way of sorrows) – into a Māori cultural framework. It feels both contemporary and ancient, and as well as mixing times and places, it mixes between formal and informal language, and between English and Māori, just as it is weaving Western and Māori culture.

But this poem is also enriched by other powerful connections. As the subtitle says, iIt is an ekphrasis (a work of art in response to another work of art) in response to a series of paintings by Colin McCahon: Walk (series C), 1973. Colin McCahon is justly, in my opinion, one of New Zealand’s most celebrated artists. I can understand why people might not like his work – it isn’t ‘pretty’ and it moved further into abstraction throughout his career, but it never strayed from meaning. 

I first remember coming across his work at university. One of his giant ‘I AM’ paintings (Gate III, 1970) used to hang in the foyer to one of the lecture theatre blocks I frequented ( it’s since been moved downtown to Rutherford House). Part of its power is in its size – it’s enormous! I never fail to feel something every time I see it. (As a wee aside, I don’t think I quite appreciated it at the time, but the university art collection, which they hang around the campus, are amazing. You get an education in New Zealand art history just by wandering around, just by living with them.) 

So, for me, a reference to a McCahon painting is going to give a poem a bit of added feeling. Especially this work, Walk (Series C), which I had recently come upon in a piece I was editing about New Zealand painting for Te Ara (my day job). I suggest you go and have a look at a reproduction of this painting over here on Te Papa’s website: http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/object/657795. Make sure you zoom in on the painting, so you can see each section. On one level, it’s a series of fairly abstract depictions of a beach – Muriwai, on Auckland’s wild west coast (also the setting for Gildea’s poem). Slightly deeper, it’s referencing the Stations of the Cross (as is Gildea’s poem). But yet another layer to Walk (Series C) is that it’s also about poet James K. Baxter, who had died the year befor McCahon painted this work. The two had been friends but had fallen out or become estranged. Both were Pākehā, but they shared an interest in Māori and Māori culture

The Te Papa website describes the painting as follows:

In Walk (Series C) McCahon journeys along Muriwai Beach in dialogue with his friend, perhaps recounting the shared events of their lives, perhaps seeking reconciliation. This walk runs parallel to another: in Maori belief, the spirits of the departed travel up the west coast towards Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga), from where they leap off the land to begin their final journey to the afterlife. As McCahon wrote to Peter McLeavey about the painting, ‘The Christian “walk” and the Maori “walk” have a lot in common.’ Drawing on personal and particular events in his own life, McCahon used them to address big themes in his art — themes of life and death, time and loss, Christian and Maori spirituality, history and place.

This connection with Baxter adds another layer of resonance to Gildea’s poem for me. Baxter’s poems, especially the later, rawer poems, are some of my most-loved poems. I am reminded of Baxter’s religious/political poem ‘The Māori Jesus’ which, like ‘Poroporoaki, brings Christ into the Māori world. And I feel there is something of the plain-speaking of Baxter’s later work. 

I’m by no means an expert in te reo – the Māori language – but for people reading this outside of New Zealand, and even some here, I thought a few translations might be helpful: A poroporoaki is a spoken farewell to the dead at a tangi (which is a funeral, but literally means to cry). A korowai is a cloak, and a kahu-kurī is a cloak made from the skin of a kurī – a Polynesian dog. Taonga means treasure. Nga Mōkai was what James K. Baxter called the people who came to live at his community at Jerusalem on the Whanganui River – he translated it as ‘the fatherless’. Tāniko are decorative woven borders on a cloak. Manawatāwhi is one of the Three Kings Islands, north-west of the tip of New Zealand. Tūpuna are ancestors. Te One Rangatira is another name for Muriwai, but literally means ‘the chiefly beach’, which is appropriate for a beach the Christ is walking on – or James K. Baxter for that matter, who in his own way was a leader for many.

When I sent a draft of this to Anahera, I wanted to her to check my definitions, particularly for tau, which I had translated as anchor – one of its meanings – because that echoed the first line in section V. I was on the right track, but I want to paraphrase and quote some of Anahera’s reply, because I think it gives beautiful insight into all the work that just one little word can do in poetry. All the layers and resonances that just a single three-letter word can have.

She said that in his paintings McCahon's often uses what is known as the Tau cross - that is the cross that looks like a capital T rather than a lower case t (as he does in Walk (Series C) to divide sections I and II). It is thought by some that Christ was crucified on a Tau cross, and it became an especially important symbol for Saint Francis and the Franciscans. You can read more about that here: http://www.thefranciscanfriars.org/taucross. She goes on to say:

The word also has meaning in Māori and I was using it to refer to the weight of an anchor and playing with the notion that it also means 'rest' – as in whakatau – which is a ceremony meaning to 'make calm'. I was taught that it originally specifically referred to the bringing in of the waka – and to make calm the sea – to bring it to rest.

There's so much more I could say about this poem, but I guess what I’ve basically been trying to say is that these layers on layers of things that mean something, especially to me, things which already have their own emotional and intellectual resonances, make Gildea’s already strong poem even stronger. And I’m really glad to have the opportunity, both here and with JAAM, to be involved in sharing it more widely.

Anahera Gildea
Anahera Gildea (Ngāti Raukawa-ki-te-Tonga) is a writer and mother who lives in Wellington. She is currently enrolled at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University and is working on her first novel.

This week’s Tuesday Poem editor is Helen Rickerby, a poet and publisher from Wellington. She has published four collections of poetry – her most recent, Cinema, was published by Mākaro Press in March. She runs Seraph Press, a boutique publishing company with 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 and has a day job as a web editor.

And, now you're hopefully in the mood for more poetry. Good news! You can find more Tuesday Poems by clicking on the links in the sidebar.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

SS Ventnor by Chris Tse

kawe mate

The departed       cargo            
thought doomed

to forgetful waters

instead finds its way
to open shores

         rescued by the people of the land.

te rerenga wairua

There is no reason to leave
the dead                 in such a state

the once-lost must find
their way upon             a bright line.

Death is the common ground       
when acknowledged with respect

gratitude           and the offering of joss.



And so the once-lost are salvaged
and laid to rest

among spiritual kin and tender ancestors

to be ghosts who only speak
              when spoken to

with no choice        in the path they are set upon. 

Chris Tse

This is a poem which draws you in by its grace and power.  Even if you were unfamiliar with the story of the SS Ventnor - a ship wrecked off the Hokianga coastline in 1902 while carrying the coffins of 499 Chinese men back home to their families - the themes of death, memory and redemption hit home.  Tse, as he does elsewhere in his debut collection
-->How To Be Dead In A Year Of Snakes, exhibits an assured lightness of touch.  Thoughts drifting like his words come to rest delicately in corners of the mind. Like the bones they invoke, they are found by locals and taken home.

The dead men lost on the Ventnor - who rest to this day in the Hokianga - were not New Zealanders.  They were Chinese, coming to New Zealand to work in much the same mindset that modern fly-in fly-out workers have. They were here only to work and to bring fortune home to their families. They did not expect to die here. But given the harshness of their existence, many ran out of time, luck, money or all three. The Chinese believed strongly that if you were unable to make it home, you failed in your duty to your ancestors and your descendants.  Without a home and with no-one to feed your spirit, you were doomed to wander forever as a 'hungry ghost.'  Thus the Cheong Sing Tong Association was formed by surviving Chinese, to exhume and transport the bones of those who had died far away from family.  The SS Ventnor was the second such charter ship to depart for China.

Beginning each stanza with a Maori phrase, Tse weaves through the narrative of what happened next. After the Ventnor sank, all the coffins and the lives of 13 crewmen lost, some of the coffins floated ashore.  They were found by local Maori who recognised them as human remains and buried them in their own urupa (cemeteries). Kawe Mate refers to spiritual repatriation, the taking of memories and images home to family; te rerenga wairua is the place, at the very tip of Northland (Cape Reinga) where the spirits leap into the ocean, taking one last look back at the land they are leaving; karakia is prayer. In using these terms, Tse declares the universality of our cultural beliefs: "death is the common ground." To die is to be claimed by your loved ones. Without family, without a place to 'land', you might as well have never existed.  But Tse touches on notes of hope. Stranded in a foreign land, others can take the place of family.

With its evocation of family memory and duty, this poem frames the rest of the poems in Tse's collection, which are about the murder of Joe Kum Yung, a Chinese man gunned down in cold blood to prove a racist point.  Despite the heavy material, Tse's work is not without hope.  As he told me in this interview,
"The story is concerned with death and murder, but I didn't want to be trapped by or preoccupied with the heaviness that can come with that territory. I wanted to focus on Joe Kum Yung's search for light. It was important to me that the book carry a sense of hope, despite the life he had lived."

I remember the moment I first came across Chris' poetry online. I did a double take.  Chris Tse was the name of the first guy that I fell deeply and tragically in love with, and in four years of dating he'd never mentioned being a poet. After some frantic googling to ascertain that Chris Tse was not Chris Tse, I contacted him with the rather awkward message, "Hey, like your stuff. I used to date a guy with your name. Are you related?" 

Luckily, he was not, and we became good friends.  I've never teased him about being from Lower Hutt and he's always been polite about the fact I'm from Auckland. He's helped out with my plays (a friend who drags couches around Wellington in the middle of the night is a friend for life) and I've checked out his manuscripts.  I've always found his work exciting, an all-too-rare male Chinese Kiwi voice (although like me he hates being pigeonholed with a neat description like the one I've just used.)  I was stoked when I became one of the first people to receive a copy of his new book, which is launched next week - all invited.

How to be dead in a year of snakes

By Chris Tse

To be launched by Chris Price.
5:30 pm, Monday 22 September 2014
Vic Books, 1 Kelburn Parade, Kelburn, Wellington

This week's editor is Renee Liang.
Renee, a second-generation Chinese Kiwi, is a poet, playwright, paediatrician, medical researcher and fiction writer. She organises community arts events such as New Kiwi Women Write, a writing workshop series for migrant women in association with Auckland Council. She is a regular contributor to The Big Idea, a website linking NZ's arts community. Renee has been published in a number of journals and anthologies, has produced three chapbooks of poetry and has written, produced and toured three plays: Lantern, The Bone Feeder and The First Asian AB. She is currently working on Paper Boats, a play about the journeys of Chinese-Kiwi women. Website:www.chinglish-renee.blogspot.com.

When you've read 'SS Ventnor' please head into the sidebar to find a host of other wonderful poems by the thirty poets who are Tuesday Poets. They're poems either selected or written by them.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Southbank by Petra White



When the system crashes, and the screens,
and palm-hugged
beaches that saved them,
crinkle out
the office tilts like a ship.
Small murmurs
of surprise, voices like children
who’d been playing in the shade,
shocked by sunlight,
flurry and subside.
The thermostat
shudders its seasons
of freeze and sweat;
furry square windows
seal in the boredom (a little man,
I’ve begun to suspect,
tweaks the levels each hour).

The quiet settles, doing nothing
settles, the sister of work.

The mind rises from its bubble,
and eyes unscrew from their
mid-screen float.
You rise and walk down the hall
like someone freed:
the woman who comes early
to work late sits darkly in her glass
as if waiting for a traffic light
to change, or an eclipse
in which nothing
is remembered, to end.

Time with nothing to smother it
creeps up like a mist from the river
and cuddles the office friendships,
emails caught mid-send, the million strands
of life rich as Pompeii.
Three women whisper in the kitchen.
Somebody laughs, someone else
cracks his finger joints.
Nobody stands and declares
All this was a dream, well, thank you, I’m off now!
Why should they? Over there a man,
pacing in his pod, has a deadline
as real to him as his wife.

So it starts again, you slip back
to your chair, the hard-drives
rev up in chorus, their
engines mingling with the rise-again joy
of humans working
with our without-purpose:
happy if we remember
whatever ten minutes before
fulfilled and/or consumed us.


time into money
that flits through our hands
faster than a solitary wren, faster than time;
houses, children, cars, dogs –
the self’s empire of proof,
menagerie of power, I am here.
Our time sold not hired,
our names as simulacra
show us up in our absence
on semi-partitions, brass-plated.
We forget, like monks, and serve
an abstract we must
not care too much for.

A prison of light, it dissolves
in the mind as you fork
home through traffic,
each former workplace that had you once
a sketchy edifice of neon,
you can’t quite remember
what was I there?
Our little day is rounded with
a commute and a sleep
a spend and a keep.


I am pleased to announce that Wayne Loy
    joins the Networks &
Infrastructure Team to give cover
    until Jill returns
from maternity leave. Wayne reports
    to me alongside
Jill, April, and Tarquin Dobrowski
   (in Sydney). Many
of you know Wayne already in his
    contract capacity;
I’m sure you’ll agree that he’s proved both
    able and helpful.
I welcome him to the team and ask
    your patience while he
learns many facets of his new role.


Out there they are bombed-to-nothing,
filed to one-sidedness, starved,
ejected by outrageous floods,
earthquakes with no sense
of timing or propriety,
but often a preference
for children in rickety schools.
Ears press down to speaking debris.
Is work a ‘necessary evil’?
Office workers lose approximately
two hours daily
reading news websites, ebaying,
chewing up email, fending off
fidgety distracted colleagues, scoffing
pink and yellow cupcakes.


Following on from the death of Bob Smithson
last Monday, Smithson employees world-
wide have been escalating messages of
sympathy, prayers and condolences, all of which
are moving and on a global basis I thank you personally.

Aptly described by one employee as ‘an icon of integrity, leadership,
philanthropy and business acumen’, Bob Smithson will be
sadly missed. The family are currently progressing options
for a public honouring of Bob. A nine-minute webcast
of the funeral will stream to your inboxes on Thursday.


The receptionist
who chills everyone is suddenly
being terribly nice, baking cakes, everyone
is suspicious –


What privilege
to put on a suit, walk upright –
since childhood
shaping ourselves
to be in the world: flourish up and work,
as the parents, the toaster,
house not falling down,
the family itself spun whole by years
of making, desires tamed and made to flow
in single file.
Each day a threat
by human rage,
a mother in the garden
smashing the family pottery –
and Heidegger said
only when things break down do we begin to see.


The paramedics come into the cafe –
jaunty in their blue and red uniforms, their solid black
police boots. Two espresso, their phones on the table,
antennae like the half-listening ear of a dog, they
dangle from the emergency that hasn’t
yet happened, that is less than a hum in fine air, she
with bright auburn hair, laughing.
He sits back, arms folded, legs outstretched like a man
who has the whole morning newspaper before him.


Skill tugs at the muscles, drives
the bones, the mind keen,
the child perfecting her scales,
blocking the din.

The child understands the adults,
ignores them, thinks she is innocent,
making herself. She reads
the dictionary, the bible,
dinnerplates of language,
at school dwarfs herself
with long words.
Priggish, pigeon-toed,
she walks her book in the schoolyard, stalks
blind through netball.

The thing we work for (rarely
work for its own sake) vanishes;
work persists, then too is lost:
the black hole of energy burns
through hands and minds.

A heaven somewhere,
a palm tree, a beach, a child, an apartment,
the quiet hum of one’s power
of being that flexes around days,
carries futures, saying
world is made for me as I make it:
small enough to garden by hand, large
enough to outscope me,
for I must not lose surprise: this illusion
I with my labour can sustain.


Elevators dim-lit, dark-polished all day
by a woman from Bosnia, cheerful as Sisyphus,

who greets you with a suicidal smile, her trolley
of rank cleaning products makes her sneeze,

fills her eyes with red wires; she apologises, grins.
She scales her never-done job, a moonwalker

trailing her cargo through the semi-mirrored
obsidian tangle of offices, herself glowing back at her.

You ride up with her, pin-prick halogen lights,
mirrored walls you vanish into, she polishes.


Through a fifth-floor window you can watch
the new tallest building in Melbourne being built
one gold brick at a time.

The city sprawls
in late-mid-morning, the workers
housed inside their work: time
is everywhere engaged.

The office a portal,
point of stillness from which the world extends;
a kind of sublime.

On the seventh floor the company director
muses on his monthly
email to all staff.
Three slabs of sky behind him, he faces
the fourth wall.
The football season is upon us
and business too progresses . . .

I went to a reading of young poets (under 35) here in Melbourne at the
Wheeler Centre to celebrate the John Leonard Press book Young Poets 
An Australian Anthology. And I heard some excellent work. Of course 
I invested in the book too. And then I read more excellent work. I hope 
to get permission from some of the other poets to post their poems, but 
to begin with here is Petra White.

Petra White was born in Adelaide in 1975, and lives in Melbourne, where she works
in a government department and is studying for a Master of Public Policy and
Management. Her first book of poetry, The Incoming Tide, was shortlisted for the
Queensland Premier’s Prize and the ACT Poetry Prize.
The Simplified World was shortlisted for the 2011 Judith Wright Prize in the A.C.T
Awards; and was shortlisted also for the John Bray Prize in the 2011 Adelaide Festival
Awards for Literature. Her most recent book A Hunger, was published in August 2014.
The Simplified World also shared the annual Grace Leven Prize for Poetry for 2010
with two other books, Patience, Mutiny by L K Holt and Phantom Limb by David
Musgrave, all of them published by JLP. In the Prize’s distinguished sixty-four-year
history, this is the first time that three books have been honoured together.

Jennifer Compton is this week's editor. She blogs at stillcraic. Jennifer was born in 
Wellington, New Zealand, but now lives in Melbourne, Australia. Her book Now 
You Shall Know will be out soon with Five Islands Press.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

candle by Hinemoana Baker


By the time I reach the basket of rose petals
held by the young girl with the green sash
there are none left. Still, she holds
the basket out to me

like an air steward offering sweets
in the last fifteen minutes of the flight.
I breathe in the smoke
of myrrh from the censer
and breathe it out towards your photograph.

If this were a waltz it might go something like:
in space sound don’t travel and everyone floats
won’t somebody light my candles

It would be sung in the voice you sang in
when you sang Johnny Cash
and there would be a visual element, of course
a silent film of a free diver
frogging down from the sparkling surface
to the place where the very water
becomes the sinking anchor tied to your feet.


The stone with a muka rope
tied through a single chiseled hole
the one we’ll give a name to when it washes up
a thousand years later in the shape
of an island white with gulls.


We wrote words on pieces of paper and stuck them to our foreheads.
My mouth was on the plastic tap sticking out of the plastic bag.
Later I used my lips to free the sound of an insect from you.
I miss you (buzz). Pass me your lighter.

When I opened the door there was a cake on the front porch.
Someone had made patterns of waves in the off-white icing.
A single word in capital letters sang itself in chocolate.

Oh where is the cradle and where is the crime
Won’t somebody light my candles
There’s fire in the chapel and ice in the rhyme
Won’t somebody light my candles


Is it possible to perform this word? To own this word?
To kick this word once in the face and want to do it again?
Is it something one can acquire, like land or collectibles?

Oh yes, yes it is a veritable killer whale of a word
creamy and foamy in its black and white propensities
and its refusal to speak English.


I am trying to leave you behind, my love
I am trying to leave you behind

The boat was a mouth, the word was a whale,
the moon was a flying fish, the swoop of a letter.
I miss you, it’s like a cave in this mouth.
It’s a terrible saxophone solo.
It’s what passes for a lie down.


from ‘waha | mouth’, Victoria University Press, 2014, posted here with the permission of the author

editor: Mary McCallum

waha | mouth
Hinemoana Baker's collection, launched last month is already being reprinted. An astonishing fact for a book of poetry in this country. It must surely make her a bestselling poet which is so rare as to be almost an oxymoron. And this wonderful woman who lives on the New Zealand's Kapiti Coast is not just a poet on the page but a poet of the mouth – a wonderful reader of her work, and a singer, too. waha | mouth – perfect. 

'candle' is Hinemoana's favourite in the collection. I asked her to send me her favourite and this is the one that arrived in my inbox not long after midnight. I'd been remiss in not contacting her earlier and in not buying the book – what was I thinking? I waited too long and the first print run simply sold out. An exciting thing to happen, and a tribute to the wonders of this wonder woman. 

In this poem, 'candle', is a mouth: a mouth that is a boat, that hauls in or rides alongside words as big as whales, that has in its recesses a cave of grief for a former lover who's died. A mouth that – with this person still alive and breathing – did it all: breathed, sang, named things, drank wine from a plastic tap, had sex, ate cake, smoked. And now I guess, blows out a candle – or lights one? – and tries to rest. 

It's so hard to write the poem of grief or absence, to make it approachable and fresh, and not to push the reader too hard to feel the deep upwelling ugly thing. 'candle' is powerful for its restraint and its ranging unexpectedness. For its cavernous, versatile waha that does everything except cry. I am hanging out for the whole collection now. Find it here.

Hinemoana Baker
credit: hinemoana.co.nz
Hinemoana – she of the top hat – is the current writer in residence at Victoria University of Wellington's International Institute of Modern Letters. She publishes and performs, has released 5 CDs of her music and poetry,  edited an anthology and teaches creative writing. Hinemoana is descended from Ngāi Tahu in the South Island, and Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa and Ngāti Ati Awa in the North. 

Her first book of poetry, mātuhi | needle, was co-published in New Zealand and the US in 2004. Actor, writer and artist Viggo Mortensen's publishing house Perceval Press co-published the book, which features paintings of Ngāi Tahu artist Jenny Rendell. Her second book of poems: kōiwi kōiwi | bone bone was published by VUP in 2010.

Hinemoana's first album, puāwai (Jayrem Records 2004) was a finalist for the NZ Music Awards and the APRA Silver Scrolls Māori Language Award. More on Hinemoana and her music and poetry publications here. And you can hear her singing ...

When you've read 'candle' please head into the sidebar to find a host of other wonderful poems by the thirty poets who are Tuesday Poets. They're poems either selected or written by them.

This week's editor Mary McCallum is a publisher with the new Wellington publishing house Mākaro Press which publishes poetry as part of its annual Hoopla series as well as individual titles. Mary is a poet herself, a novelist and children's writer. Her most recent book is 'Dappled Annie and the Tigrish' (Gecko Press 2014).