Tuesday, October 28, 2014

'No rough verses' from I, Clodia, by Anna Jackson

No rough verses, but like a surf‐tossed sailor
wielding wisely his gaff‐rigged fore‐and‐aft sail,
so shall I keep your favourite of Greek metres
to steer my way free of your storm of curses.
What I owe you – these claims you make are madness –
but to counter them one by one in order:
first, consider, what we owe Aphrodite –
your voyage here, as plunder of my husband,
your change of plans, your brother left unaided,
none of this can be laid as charges on me,
all was fated, and I merely received you.
Oh, I loved you, and being loved by me did
you not take more than you could ever give me?
Your ‘exile’ here – to live in Rome is living,
I don’t see you, in thrall to me no longer,
rushing back to your farmhouse in Verona, or
setting sail to do business in Bithynia.
Had you stayed put, a poet of the provinces,
not one person would know your name – or care to.

'No rough verses' is from Anna Jackson's about-to-be-published sixth collection of poetry, I, Clodia, and Other Portraits (Auckland University Press). More specifically, it's from the first section of that book, a long a sequence of poems - 'I, Clodia' - which takes as its subject and narrator one Clodia Metelli, an ancient Roman woman who was (almost certainly) the lover of the poet Catullus.

I didn't know much about Catullus or his poetry - which doesn't take away from the enjoyment of the sequence as far as I'm concerned (it contains everything you need to know to in the way of facts). But if you know anything much about Catullus, you'll know that he wrote a celebrated series of poems to his lover 'Lesbia' (Clodia), many of which were in reply to her poems. But his poems have survived, while hers (like a lot of women's history) are lost to us. One of the things Anna is doing in this ambitious work is to reconstruct the woman's side of this story, and to breathe life into the vibrant, quick-witted, not always likeable but rather admirable character of Clodia. As the AUP blurb says 'Jackson honours and subverts her source material in lines that are a marvel of ventriloquism.'

It was difficult to decide which poem from this sequence to share, partly because they are written to be read together. I chose this one because I think it can stand alone, but also because I'm really drawn to the strong rhythm, which I especially noticed in the first lines - don't you just feel like you're being tossed about by the waves, 'like a surf-tossed sailor'? Like several poems in this sequence that use tight forms and metre, this one is in hendecasyllables, which Anna tells me was one that the Romans adapted from the Greeks, and which was the form Catullus used most often. In English it isn't a flowing, natural rhythm, like iambic pentametre, which makes it well-suited to this boat lurching, to this proud, hurt narrator spitting out her bitterness at her lover, with whom she has such an up and down (and up and down) relationship.

Anna also let me know that this poem borrows from the play Medea, by Greek playwright Euripides, where Jason (of the golden fleece) tries to justify his abandonment of Medea (his wife, who had helped him nick the golden fleece). While not necessary to know, it adds another layer of richness to the poem. And these are really rich poems, which are just crying out for in-depth study.

I, Clodia fits with my strong interest in both narrative poetry and biographical poetry. The second half of this new collection continues with an interest in portraiture, but with shorter, more 'modern' poems, including some of my favourites of Anna's recent work, such as 'Sabina, and the chain of friendship' and the 'Pretty Photographer' poems. And some poems I haven't read yet, and which I'm rather excited about meeting.

For more Tuesday poems, check out the sidebar on the left.

Anna Jackson teaches English at Victoria University of Wellington. Her sixth collection of poetry, I, Clodia, and Other Portraits, will be launched in November. Two of her previous collections, Thicket (2011) and The Pastoral Kitchen (2001), were shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Awards. She has also published short fiction and academic books, and is part of the team (along with me) that is organising Truth or Beauty, Poetry and Biography - a conference about biographical poetry - in November.

This week's editor, Helen Rickerby, is 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.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

This is the way the world ends by Helen Rickerby

This story is about remembering
and forgetting

Not knowing where you are
or if it's real

But you can die with a martini in your hand


The girl in pink, skating towards you
has an automatic weapon
behind her back

and this drug will take you to Jesus
if Jesus is a chorus-
line of short-skirt nurses


There is too much sun in California
for shadows


There are other people
in this story:

the bride and groom who laughed themselves to death

the boy who lost hope

the pirate soldier, the man with two souls

the porn stars, the family

the whole city

the whole world


This is an apocalypse 

in an ice cream truck


Twiddling his fingers
While LA burns

'He's going to die,' says one blonde, sadly
'There's nothing we can do,' says the other

as they dance cheek-to-cheek
hand in manicured hand

There's nothing they can do

from Cinema (2014, Makaro Press Hoopla series). Reprinted here with the kind permission of the poet and the publisher.
Editor: Andrew M. Bell.

One of the benefits of being a Tuesday Poet is that you enter into a family of excellent poets, a family that extends across the world thanks to the wonderful world of the world-wide web.

This is how I came to be introduced to the work of Helen Rickerby. Helen has even read her poetry in Vienna - how cool is that!

The poem above is from Helen's latest collection, Cinema, which (Shameless Plug Alert) is well worth acquiring. I could have posted any of the fine poems in Cinema, but this poem has an enigmatic quality that really appeals to me. I don't know if I'd be so bold as to say I "understand" it, but I do "get it". Sometimes understanding a poem is less important to me than absorbing the poem. And I kept coming back to this poem.

It might be (as Basil Fawlty would say) "stating the bleeding' obvious", but this poem is very cinematic. It moves through a number of arresting images like the frames of a film. The images put the reader in mind of a spy/thriller noir film, but it has a sense of being very modern and up-to-the-minute. And because "There is too much sun in California/ for shadows", we might have to invent a colour version of the noir genre. Perhaps this poem represents a spy/thriller "couleur" film.

What more can I say? I love the boldness, the freshness of this poem and the humour. "This is an apocalypse/in an ice cream truck" makes me smile every time I read it.

Helen Rickerby is 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.

This week’s editor, Andrew M. Bell, writes poetry, short fiction, plays, screenplays and non-fiction. His work has been published and broadcast in New Zealand/Aotearoa, Australia, England, Israel and USA. His most recent publications are Aotearoa Sunrise, a short story collection, and Clawed Rains, a poetry collection.

Andrew lives in Christchurch with his wife and two sons and loves to surf.  He is about to “drop” (as they say in the music industry) a new poetry collection soon called Green Gecko Dreaming.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Lines excerpted from Bentleyisms: by Nelson Bentley

Quick acts of thievery are essential in this business.

Without poetic vision there is no love.

Everyone should write an outhouse poem.

Poets invent the language. There would be no language if it weren't for us. People would just go around grunting.

One extra word can ruin a whole poem.

Visualize your metaphor!

Avoid self-pity like the plague.

Support onamatopoeia.

There's no such thing as a cliché image — any more than there's a cliché maple tree. You don't walk by a maple tree and say "Oh God, there's another maple tree!"

Being against rhyme or villanelles is about like coming out against symmetrical trees.

Taking a chance is a very important thing. In literary magazines you'll find hundreds of poems that are overly cautious. What you need is reckless abandon balanced by a fine sense of phrasing.

Critics have a terrible fear of laughing.

It's not easy to fit a giraffe into a villanelle.

The bad kinds of pathetic fallacies are the ones where the sun is giggling and chuckling and waving hello and eating ham sandwiches. All amateur poets have a ghastly tendency to anthropomorphize everything It's like Walt Disney everywhere.

You should be an all-out romantic to listen to much Chopin. You should be dying of tuberculosis.

Every time I deliver a long speech against fragmented sentences, I compel fourteen more people to start using them.

What this world needs is fewer important poems.

Roethke's last words to me: Beefeater all right?

©  Sean Bentley, with whose permission this is reproduced.

The "Bentleyisms", "straight from the lips of Nelson", were collected by members of Nelson Bentley's poetry workshop at the University of Washington in Seattle, from 1978-81. Born in Elm, Michigan in 1918, Nelson Bentley was a poet and professor at the University of Washington from 1952 until his death in 1990.
I first encountered Nelson in 1974, at a summer writing seminar at Cornish College of the Arts. At the impressionable age of 17, I had no idea the impact this man would have on my life. As one of the dozen or so high school students in the room, I sat in awe as this gregarious man brought in a different poet every day to read to us from his/her work, and talk about the writer's life. Those two weeks made poetry real for me, began to build the foundation of a life with poetry at the center, something unfeasible to even imagine prior to this.
At college, I went on to study with Nelson, met my husband in one of his classes, and we named a son after him. 
For many of us, these "Bentleyisms" became the mantras we repeated to ourselves in the long solitary hours of writing, when the rejection slips seemed to far outnumber the acceptances, when this business of writing poetry began to feel superfluous. Because of Nelson Bentley, we kept going. We wrote poetry. And we published it.
Sitting in his workshop was at once an entertainment and an illumination. His terrific sense of humor, and his kindness, were foremost. If the only thing he could find that worked in a poem was the placement of a comma, by god, he found that comma, and pointed it out. He impelled us to go out into the world and live everyday lives: get married, go to church, have kids, do good work — whatever it is we needed to do: do it. And keep writing. And keep sending work out to magazines.
Over his 37-year university career (without a single break or sabbatical), 20,000 students came under his tutelage. I recall him telling us that the number of his current and former students who had gone on to publish was something of a record among university professors. To encourage us, every quarter he typed up a lengthy, many-page list of literary magazines, and instructed us in the protocols of submitting work. I can still see the purplish-blue ink of the ditto machine, the single-spaced lines. Nelson was a co-founder of one of those magazines on his list — Poetry Northwest — which exists today (with only a 3 year hiatus in its 55 years) as a leading publisher of contemporary poetry.
Nelson Bentley is the author of nine collections of poetry, including Divertimento, The Lost Works of Nelson Bentley, which I had the honor to publish in 2002 with Floating Bridge Press. He was a recipient of two Hopwood Awards at the University of Michigan, a Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of Washington, and a Washington State Governor's Award for Service to the Arts. As well as Poetry Northwest, he co-founded Seattle Review, and was a poetry editor for The Seattle Times. He hosted the long-running Castalia Reading Series at the University of Washington, as well as series on KUOW radio and KCTS television.

Here he is in his office — a welcoming presence always, despite the ever-looming stacks of papers.

This week's editor, T. Clear, is a founder of Seattle's Floating Bridge Press. She has been writing and publishing for nearly forty years; her work has appeared in many journals and magazines, including Poetry Northwest, Cascadia Review, Fine Madness, Poetry Atlanta, Cirque Journal, The Moth and Switched-On Gutenberg. She can be found blogging here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Johnny by John O'Connor

               He travelled the length of the country
giving concerts for penguins

tickets were free - or koha.

The trick was to get them early /
"Give me the chick till the age of seven

& I'll give you the bird!!" he'd say.

Arrhh /
most nights the mosh-pit filled quickly

the eggs were incubated by DOC & CNZ.

as the events were of national insignificance

the media were ecstatic /

they shouted / "A W E S O M E !" the penguins agreed

& came in their thousands across

shark-infested seas.
Years later he recalled it with a sigh when

he and John Campbell learned to reminisce.

They could never get past a gig on
the Auckland Islands

where the band had wept openly

as a Prime Minister's Award was given
to a ship-wrecked professor for a life-time's study of synecdoche

               & alliteration in the love poetry of Johnny Devlin.

from Aspects of Reality (HeadworX, 2013). Reprinted here with the kind permission of the poet and the publisher.

Tuesday Poem Hub Editor: Tim Jones.

I've recently finished and enjoyed John O'Connor's Aspects of Reality, and this poem particularly appealed to me. I like the way it accretes the details of Johnny Devlin's brief but remarkable career as the "New Zealand Elvis" with the arcana of the New Zealand conservation estate.

Johnny Devlin may not be widely known now, but in his heyday he did indeed have a similar effect on New Zealand as Elvis did in the United States. As his Wikipedia entry notes:

Graham Dent was an employee of the Kerridge Organisation which operated a string of theatres and cinemas throughout the country. Dent had been responsible for making the Rock Around the Clock movie successful in the cinemas. He was promoted to manage a new cinema in the Auckland suburb of Point Chevalier. On Sunday afternoons he ran concerts for the local youth club and talent quests. Recognising Devlin's potential, he organised a concert there. With its success he approached his boss, Robert Kerridge, about the possibility of using their theatre chain to promote a national tour. After some initial doubt, his boss agreed to a two-week tour with extensions if successful.
Dave Dunningham left the management to Phil Warren, so Phil and Graham put together a schedule. Bob Paris and his band weren't keen on going on the road, so a new backing band had to be put together. Dent asked multi-instrumentalist Claude Papesch if he could put a band together. Claude was a sixteen-year-old blind musician, who was a regular at the Point Chevalier youth club. Papesch recruited guitarist Peter Bazely, bassist Keith Graham and drummer Tony Hopkins. Together they became the Devils, one of New Zealand's first truly rock'n'roll bands.
The tour kicked of at Wellington on 21 November 1958. Over the next two weeks he performed for close to 20,000 ecstatic fans in Wellington, Palmerston North,MastertonNapier, Gisbourne and Tauranga. The press raved and chaos broke out at every performance. The shows exceeded everyone's expectations, with New Zealand having never seen anything remotely like it.

According to Wikipedia, Johnny Devlin is still performing in Australia.

John O'Connor: John O'Connor's poetry has been widely published and is represented in Essential New Zealand Poems (2000) and Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page (2014) and other anthologies. His haiku have been internationally anthologized and translated into eight languages. In 1997 he received an Honorary Diploma, "for contribution to world haiku", from the Croatian Haiku Association and in 2001 a Museum of Haiku Literature Award, Tokyo, for "best of issue" in Frogpond International, a special issue of Haiku Society of America's periodical, Frogpond, featuring haiku selected from 52 countries and language communities. In 2000 his fifth book of poems, A Particular Context, was voted one of the best five books of New Zealand poetry of the 1990s by members of the New Zealand Poetry Society. He was co-winner of the Open Section of the NZPS International Poetry Competition in 1998 and outright winner of both the Open and the Haiku sections of the same competition in 2006. (thanks to HeadworX for the bio)

This week's editor is Tim Jones, who in addition to co-editing The Stars Like Sand with P.S. Cottier, is author of books including poetry collection Men Briefly Explained (IP, 2011) and short story collection Transported (Random House, 2008). With Mark Pirie, he co-edited Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand (IP, 2009).