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.

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1 comment:

Claire Beynon said...

Altogether gorgeous! Thank you, Claire, Mary-Jane, Greg and your unforgettable congregation of jugs.