Monday, November 24, 2014

Introduction, by Airini Beautrais

Neil, you were six weeks dead
when I was born, the last hours
of 1982. Almost thirty years
have gone by since then.

Driving through Whanganui,
I can't get my head around the streets.
Parallel to the river, or perpendicular?
The map in my mind is a map of the past,

probably never accurate to begin with.
The river has this kink in it, difficult
to align to. I often drive around that bend,
the place you left off from,

and I squirm in my seat, making room.
My second son will be born soon.
Therefore future. Therefore past,
all our skins and skins.

Muddied time, a crackle in transmission.
The concrete monolith unsettles me,
the empty park and its monuments,
its blank spaces of grass.

All the dark histories of this corner
of earth, where you placed your chequer
on the board. Here are some knot
in the network, some holes in the net.

(Published with the permission of the poet)

Last week (18th November) was the 32nd anniversary of Neil Roberts' death.  It was also the week Whanganui-based poet Airini Beautrais launched her latest collection, Dear Neil Roberts (Victoria University Press).  Neil Roberts was a punk anarchist who blew himself up outside the Wanganui Computer Centre (the building that housed New Zealand's national police computer).  Airini's collection is partly about Neil - how his friends saw him, how the media saw him, the political context of his action - but it's also very much about her own life and her reaction to hearing about what Neil did.

'Introduction', I think, captures the essence of the book very well.  Airini Beautrais has approached her topic with a great deal of thought and sensitivity. I knew Neil back in the day, and I'm pleased people are still talking, reading and thinking about what he did.  I also think this is a very fine book of well-crafted poems and definitely recommend it.

With respect to the form of the poems, Airini says, "Dear Neil Roberts is written in quatrains. The form seemed to fit, and I began to write to the four-line stanza. It is not an arbitrary lineation of what would otherwise be prose. It is full of rhyme and off-rhyme, and there is a poem in there with a set rhyme scheme and accentual meter. I have become really interested in form and I want to play around more with received forms. This is a matter of inner compulsion rather than any specific reactionary stance in regard to poetry."

Airini Beautrais (right) lives in Whanganui. Dear Neil Roberts is her third book of poetry. She is currently working on a PhD on the subject of narrative in contemporary Antipodean poetry.

This week's editor is Wellington-based poet Janis Freegard, who is the author of Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus and The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider.  She recently interviewed Airini Beautrais about Dear Neil Roberts on her blog.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Outpost, by Lindsay Pope

March, 1941.

The coast is a scribble. Stars are stored in a
wooden box on my shelf. It is more black than
white here. Like algebra but colder.

The hut’s walls are a ghetto of mice. Those I
catch become whiskers of smoke in the firebox.

I attend to the scratching radio.

This is not my dream.

July, 1942.

The short days are long here. Morse code
stutters in my aerial.

Every door of the home of the wind has been
thrown open. An albatross turns the world on
a dip of its wing. It has learnt the axioms of the

Mice crawl in the pockets of my sleep.

I wake, clutching a stick of chalk. Each day a
tally mark.

December, 1943.

The mice have all but disappeared.

Clouds, black as slate, are heavy with names.
They fall upon my roof clutching ash.

On short wave the radio coughs all night long.

I have lost the frequency.

(Published with the permission of the poet and the publisher)

A pleasurable discovery
I became aware of Lindsay Pope's writing only recently, when I bought a copy of Headwinds, (Submarine, an imprint of Makaro Press, 2014), whilst lunchtime bookstore browsing. Most of Headwinds' poems are as rich with metaphor and sparse with verbiage as Outpost is.

According to the publisher, the poems are "the story of a man living ‘on the lower cheek of the world where the tears fall and turn to ice’ who is simultaneously muser and maverick" and "Lindsay Pope’s combination of the domestic and the wild, of fables and personal disclosures, has created a beguiling first collection."

The poem
Of the many appealing poems, Outpost interested me for this post because of its skillful use of poetic technique and its subject matter. Pope, a former mathematics teacher, sprinkles the poem with maths metaphors and similes which startle the reader: "Like algebra but colder" and "It has learnt from the axioms of the air." Mice crawl through the poem like static and disappear off the page. But references to radio, morse code, and aerials also point to context.

When I asked Lindsay to comment on the poem's setting, he replied "Outpost is the imagined diary entries of a Coastwatcher stationed in Auckland Island's Carnley Harbour during WWII".

I had sensed the Coastwatcher aspect from my first reading, but was aware only of their stationing in Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, so the appearance of an albatross threw me. According to some research which I then carried out, a secret five-year wartime programme of coast-watching stations was established on New Zealand's more distant and intermittently inhabited subantarctic islands. In the poem, Pope's narrative captures the isolation and virtual imprisonment of the coast watcher - '"each day is a tally mark" - and his slow erosion of sanity in the ambiguous last line: "I have lost the frequency". Considering the Auckland Island Coastwatchers didn't sight a single enemy ship in their five years of scanning the sea, I am not surprised.

The poet

Other than through his poems, Pope is reticent about his past. His very spare biography in Headwinds states "Lindsay Pope was born in Dunedin and lives in Nelson. His poetry has appeared in publications and online literary journals, in New Zealand and overseas."

Although Pope eschews social media, he did give a blog interview in 2012. The interviewer was Victoria University MA classmate, Ashleigh Young. During the interview, the following revealing exchange took place:

Young: Your work is often surreal and heavily metaphorical, as in your poem "Outpost": “Stars are stored in a wooden box on my shelf. It is more black than white here. Like algebra but colder.” And within this world is often a totally singular speaker, someone experiencing a necessary isolation: “The short days are long here. Morse code stutters in my aerial.” What is it about the experience of isolation that you keep coming back to in your writing?
Pope: I think I self-isolate. My personal history is one of betraying a great love. I find myself unable to trust myself to love fully again. Hence “I am more alone than together”.

The book

Headwinds may be purchased at Unity and other good independent bookstores, and online at

The Editor
This week's editor, Keith Westwater, lives in Lower Hutt, New Zealand. His debut collection,
Tongues of Ash (IP, 2011), was awarded 'Best First Book' in the publisher's IP Picks competition.
More of his poetry can be found on his blog 'Some place else'.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

You are nocturnal but I am an insomniac, by Ruth Corkill

At first I thought it might be comforting,
another body breathing in the dark
smelling spiced, content to be awake
reading in the little dome of light
from your night stand that leaves
my side rich in shapes and shadows.

I am heavy on the mattress
head cricked to one side to stare
at the dry pages and harsh hands.
You give me smiles and stroke my hair
sometimes make honey drinks or tea
bring back kitchen crumbs on your feet.

The morning seems to lull you gently
sinking into airy sheets and pastel sounds.
You fall asleep before I leave.

Last time I was the Tuesday Poem editor I chose a poem by James Norcliffe, a well-established poet whose poetry I’ve read many times over the years. This time I’ve chosen Ruth Corkill, a new poet and fiction writer. I first read Ruth’s work when I was lucky enough to edit JAAM31 last year and then we met at the JAAM launch and chatted about poetry and quantum mechanics—Ruth is highly versatile as she’s a writer, an actor and a physicist. Ruth sent over a batch of poems and I’ve chosen this one for its intimacy and understated sense of disquiet.

Poetry can serve to express our most personal feelings and misgivings—here the poet addresses a sleeping partner. They have entered into a new phase of their time together as the ‘at first’ of expectation gives way to the reality of their out-of-synch sleep patterns. These expectations appear to be modest as she—if indeed the persona here is a she—would be ‘content’ to lie in the shadow of her partner’s lamp. The stoniness of ‘cricked’, ‘stare’, ‘dry pages’ and ‘harsh hands’ is counterpointed by the acts of bringing honey drinks and hair stroking. But are these acts half-hearted or perhaps even condescending?

The poem raises an interesting question: how do we behave in bed when we are reading next to our partner? Both my wife and I are creatures of habit and there’s an unspoken agreement between us about when the light has to go off. The notion of staying awake all night while someone else reads is frankly horrific. No amount of back rubs, hot drinks, or hair-stroking could possibly compensate. It seems intolerable, especially given that he—or she—will be sleeping when morning breaks with its wonderful synaesthesia of ‘pastel sounds.’ That final ‘leaves’ in the last line hints of the end of their shared sleepless nights.

The form of the poem--two stanzas of six lines with a final three line stanza—along with the rhyme of ‘stare’, ‘hair’; the gentle alliteration of ‘kitchen crumbs’, ‘light’, ‘little’, ‘lull’ and the assonance of ‘tea’ and ‘feet’ all add to the poem’s song-like quality. I hope that you like the poem as much as I do. This poem is published here with the author's permission.

Biographical Note:
Ruth Corkill
Ruth Corkill is a physicist in New Zealand working on computer models and analysis for a geomagnetism research team. She has just returned from three months studying poetry and fiction at The Iowa Writers Workshop Summer Graduate Program and she has a Minor in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters in Wellington. Her work has recently appeared or is upcoming in New Welsh Review, Natural Bridge, The Feminist Wire, Hue and Cry, Poetry 24, The Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology, The Listener, JAAM, Salient, and Landfall. Her story 'Monkey' was Highly Commended in this year's HISSAC Annual Short Story Competition.

Harvey’s Bio:
Harvey Molloy’s poetry has appeared in Best New Zealand Poems, Blackmail Press, Brief, Enamel, Hue and Cry, Jaam, Lancashire Life, Landfall, The Lumière Reader, NZ Listener, Poetry New Zealand, Snorkel and Takahe. His first book of poems, Moonshot, was published by Steele Roberts in 2008. He has also published non-fiction work on Asperger Syndrome, and is the co-author, with Latika Vasil, of the book Asperger Syndrome, Adolescence, and Identity: Looking Beyond the Label. He is a reviewer for Landfall and New Zealand Books and was the 2013 poetry editor of Jaam magazine. Harvey was born in Lancashire, England, and emigrated to New Zealand with his family as a teenager. He lives and teaches in Wellington.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Here we give thanks (after Gregory O’Brien) by Mary-Jane Duffy

Because the jugs spring
from the mind of Mary (or is it the angel?)

visible over the hills
of the promising land, we begin

to gather them to us.
Now they crouch

in the kitchen light—a crowd
of well wishers that pitch

and list in the weather of the house.
A tall jug reassures

a woman ‘on the brink
of something’; another

buzzes lips between the sighs
and lows of the percussion

section. One has a handle
so generous it may

run the cup over.
Ah, little congregation of jugs

how you pout
over pregnant bellies.

Who is the father?
Elsewhere jugs

live beside the hills,
the lamp, the tau cross,

the kumara pit. A speech
bubble appears. We guess

at its finely crafted message
not wanting to assume the obvious.

Here we give thanks (after Gregory O’Brien) is one of my favourite discoveries of 2014. I wrongly but indulgently pretend that Mary-Jane might have written it actually for me. She didn’t. But each couplet unfolds into an image that satisfies some of my longest-held and deepest interests.

To me, images and words have always been inextricable and I’m often frustrated by an inability to articulate precisely how (inter)semiotics play out in the mind. But this poem helps sooth that dilemma from the title to the last lovely couplet. (writer and painter) Gregory O’Brien’s very name might be one way to articulate the marriage of word and image, so there’s the promising start.

Religious imagery (another ongoing obsession) continues with ‘the mind of Mary (or is it the angel?)’ and flows beautifully into the landscape. So I think of Colin McCahon. And then the domesticity of a kitchen, the softly growing noise of ‘buzzes’ and ‘percussion’, the comforting gathering of jugs and light in a house surrounded by weather (as I write this, the wind is whirling outrageously over the southern coast). And finally a speech bubble appears – a singular metaphor for word as image, voice as image. By the end of the poem the completed picture is so warm, fertile and painterly that I want to leave it as that – an image full of potential, not wanting to try to interpret it any further and assume my interpretations are final, just as the poet instructs. Much better to allow this poem/painting to be re-read over again.

I’m delighted that Mary-Jane Duffy is part of a session in LitCrawl that I, at first quite nervously, created, called ‘A single hurt colour’. The title of the session is from Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein, a brilliant example of the potential of word as image. I was nervous in approaching writers who I felt were writing in a way that to me is ingenious like Stein – art and fiction, art and non-fiction and fiction speak to each other – and who I hoped would want to give substance and life to a session I selfishly had to include in the programme but had no idea would pan out … Thankfully Mary-Jane agreed to be part of ‘A single hurt colour’ along with Mark Amery and Megan Dunn. Together they are exploring those lines between word and images, non-fiction and fiction at The Young among the work of Iain Cheesman and Robert Cherry.

Mary-Jane Duffy is a writer and art curator. Her recent freelance writing and editing work includes poetry, essays on artists for the Real Art Road Show Trust, and work for Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand on Screen, and an exhibition on the history of Surf Lifesaving in New Zealand. She has a wide background in art exhibition and gallery management, as well as art historical research. Millionaires’ Shortbread, poems by Mary-Jane Duffy, Mary Cresswell, Mary Macpherson and Kerry Hines, was published by University of Otago Press. Mary-Jane has a BA and an MA in Art History (Canterbury). She is currently working on her own collection of poems.

This week’s guest editor, Claire Mabey, is co-director of LitCrawl Wellington. LitCrawl brings words to the streets of Wellington on Saturday 15 November starting at 6 pm. ‘A single hurt colour’ is one of 14 sessions that celebrate Wellington and New Zealand’s vibrant and diverse literary community. All sessions focus on the performance of writing and on bringing listeners together in some of Wellingtons best-loved venues.

For more Tuesday Poems, check out the links in the sidebar to the left.