Tuesday, February 24, 2015

“Container” by Fiona Apple

I was screaming into the canyon
At the moment of my death.
The echo I created
Outlasted my last breath.

My voice it made an avalanche
And buried a man I never knew.
And when he died his widowed bride
Met your daddy and they made you.

I have only one thing to do and that's
To be the wave that I am and then
Sink back into the ocean.

Sink back into the o-
Sink back into the ocean.
Sink back into the o-
Sink back into the ocean.


This week's Editor: Zireaux

“Speak, speak, I charge thee, speak" — this is Horatio, in Hamlet, imploring the ghost of Hamlet’s father not just to make some noise, to simply howl or to growl say (which would be astonishing enough), but rather to speak, to say something intelligible. More than any apparition, it's words that bring a ghost to life.

And yet, Hamlet’s father aside, they rarely make good orators, these clumsy, techno-challenged spectres and their speech impediments; rapping on tables, sending codes through flashlights and will-'o-the-wisps, playing alphabet games on ouija boards, making reverse recordings of their glossolalia on old LPs. But how else should it be? Speaking in tongues, or through mediums, offers a solution for those without tongues or bodies of their own. Divested of form, of density, what larynx can produce a voice? What brain suggests a syntax to the whims of the dead?

With her song “Container,” Fiona Apple produces the voice of a ghost — brilliantly, beautifully, but most importantly, poetically. Through lyrics, through words. It’s a wave, that voice. It rises and recedes, rages and calms. Apple starts with a tremor in her tone. Note the metrical structure here, the eerie, plaintive trimeter of the first quatrain — with its trochaic howling words, “SCREAMINGing,” “CANyon,” “MOment.” Then she belts the “echo” like no other singer, in no other song. The line becomes pure sound, pure mantra. The avalanche, meanwhile, seems completely out of place for an ocean-born ghost, but that’s the thing: This is a ghost voice. A vibration. It ripples and tsunamis through space, from sea to shining snow-top. There’s a oneness here, between language and sound, poet and phantom.

The first quatrain swells and solidifies into the event-driven physicality of the second, which is sturdy iambic tetrameter, re-enforced with the “died”/“bride” girders of internal rhyme. Note the echo-effect of line five, with its ricocheting ictus in the canyon of iambs — my VOICE, it MADE, an AVaLANCH. Apple bounces back and forth. The literary device here — “My voice, it made,” “my abc, it xyz’d” — is called dislocation,* whereby the pronoun emphasises the noun by echoing it.

And it’s the echo, the ripple, the great wave of sound that becomes physical and powerful; that causes the avalanche, that causes the death of a stranger and a child to be born. The reference to “daddy” is intimate, child-friendly.

“Containers,” I should point out, is the opening theme song of a TV series called “The Affair,” which just finished its first season on Showtime. The song lends the show a haunting artistic key with which “The Affair” never quite harmonises. Not for lack of trying. One of the show’s two main characters, Alison, insists that her dead son is still present in the world. “He’s watching us,” she says. “He’s caring for us every day.” If this is true — and at one point, yes, as Alison attempts to drown herself in the ocean, we hear the voice of a little boy shouting from the shore — if true, it’s definitely not something we want a main character to tell us.

Rather, we need to hear the ghost-voice for ourselves — which brings us back to Apple’s poem. We’re now at the third stanza, a tercet, in which the first two lines, still holding the dimensions of the previous stanza, start to tremble and collapse:

I have only one thing to do and that's
To be the wave that I am and then

This is pure abstraction, pure searching, wavy, echolocation. It’s barely English. The five-lettered “thing” is the longest of the 18 words that flail about and say nothing. Beautiful, poetic ghost-speak. There’s a very soft, ghostly, syllabic rhyme in the enjambment — “and that’s” / “and then” — which Apple deftly stresses through the rhythm and tone of her voice, before the whole thing slams into the spondee of the original trimeter: “SINK BACK into the Ocean.” From the howling trochees of “SCREAMing,” “MOment,” “CANyon” we end with another, softer, more surrendering and mournful one: “Ocean.”

One of the most beautiful themes in poetry (which circles just beyond the black hole tug of a trope) is that of the passively almighty. The powerfully weak. The noisy unnoticed. A kind of stop-motion perspective in which things that appear silent and still and locked in eternity — the ocean, the dead, the ancient rocks of Australia (see that greatest of ghost stories, Picnic at Hanging Rock) — can rise up, knock us over, overwhelm our world with their substance. Apple’s poem contains that kind of substance. It dislocates our sense of control over our lives; and makes us stop and listen in wonder.


This week's editor, Zireaux, lives in Canberra, Australia. His most recent novel, A Charlatan's Orbit, is available on Kindle and in paperback on Amazon. (If you can't afford the Kindle version, contact Zireaux.com, mention "Tuesday Poem," and you'll receive a free gift version). His poetry, commentary, stories, novels and other writings are available at Immortalmuse.com.

* Dupriez, B. and Halsall, A.W., A Dictionary of Literary Devices: Gradus, A-Z, University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division, October 30, 1991; and later referenced in Huddleston, R. and Pullum G,, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Cambridge University Press, April 15, 2002.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

From Pen Pal by Sugar Magnolia Wilson

Hellooo. How are you?

I’ve only just started
witchcraft so this letter
includes some of my hairs.

My two guinea pigs had
million dollar babies –

two lots of babies.

Mum says they have the
eyeless ways of newborns.

Friday and I’m sitting
in the quad under the
acacia tree.

The bell has rung
and I’m waiting for
Mum or Dad to pick me up.

No one has come. It is

Did I tell you? I owe $1.50 to
the school canteen.

Mum says I don’t feed
them often enough but
I do.

My lips are in a terrible way –
they are so fannyish

when I am older they
will droop.

Everything gets older.

With my third eye I sense
my little guinea pigs are

some kind of
life-ish trouble.

P.S. Did I tell you

in July a meteorite fell?

Blue flashes in the
field it

still glows in the
rain sometimes.

But that doesn’t mean nuffink –
it still sucks shit to
live in the bush.

It said: Spell for apology

Return to your thankfulness as 
we all may go blind somewhere
down the road. 

The new moon’s eyeless ways. 

During a yellow October 
an old book, a few lavender seeds. 

Place between and bring the 
palms of paper together.


bury in the woods
beneath the light bounced 
off the moon. 


your heart glow 
so red
when it rains.


Tomorrow mum goes
to the Mexican clinic.

I feel like a cagey fox in a
field where there are no
delicious babies to eat.

Maybe it’s because I am
waiting for dinner – it seems to
take so long these days.

Yesterday Mum crashed the
car. I didn’t know till
they drove past me on the road
and stopped.

It was really strange – Mum and
Dad looked like two people
who didn’t know me.

You know in the movie how
Sarah and Bud acted when they
first started going round?

Well, a sad version of that,
like it was just
them on the planet.

For a while I felt as if my
head was underwater and
I was looking up at them
through layers of old branches

or like a boat out and tangled
in the mangroves

getting farther and
farther away.

Pen Pal, by Sugar Magnolia Wilson (or Magnolia, as she is generally known), is a rather twisty sequence of poems, in the voice of a young, not-so-sweet, not-so-innocent, and actually very real girl. There’s definitely a narrative running through the sequence, but (or, and), like the best narrative poetry (or maybe narratives in general), story isn’t the only thing that’s going on, as I hope you can see from these extracts.

It was hard to choose which sections to share here, but I chose these three from different parts of the poem, as they give a bit of an idea of the range. The first part sets it all up, and then I had to include one of the gorgeous spells, and I find section 10 so haunting. I hope you will love it too.

The 15-part Pen Pal sequence was the first publication from the new Cats and Spaghetti Press, which is run by fantastic poet Emma Barnes and fabulous novelist and short-story writer Pip Adam. (Emma, Pip and Magnolia all live in Aro Valley, as do I and quite a few other writers. We are challenging Paekakariki in the most-writers-per-square-inch challenge.)

Emma and Pip have decided to do this publishing thing their own way, and Pen Pal isn’t a book so much as a fold-out wonder, with its elegant embossed metallic-pink cover, to the ‘pages’, which you can open out completely, or read in a more book-like fashion. The reverse side of the paper has an illustration of a cat and meteor (which both feature in the poem) by Julie Jeon, who also did the design.

Cats and Spaghetti also didn't release their first publication in the usual way - there was a launch, but no sales: the limited edition booklet was given away. This sadly means that there are no more available, but Emma has kindly sent along a pdf, which means that you can read the whole poem and get a bit of a sense of what it looks like: Pen Pal PDF.

Cats and Spaghetti’s second publication was the online journal Rejectamenta, which published work that had previously been rejected by other journals, along with their (real or made-up) rejection letters. And I'm really interested to see what they will do next.

Sugar Magnolia Wilson is from a valley called Fern Flat in the Far North of New Zealand. She completed her MA in creative writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington in 2012. She has had work published in New Zealand literary journals such as JAAM, Turbine and Minarets. In 2014 she, along with Hannah Mettner and Morgan Bach, started the new journal Sweet Mammalian. You can read more of Magnolia’s poetry online in Turbine 12, Turbine 13 and Shenandoah.

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 2014. 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 is currently indulging her interest in biographical poetry (about which she recently co-organised a conference at Victoria University of Wellington) by writing prose poetry about George Eliot.

Check out more Tuesday poems in the sidebar.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"Breathing You In" by David Gregory

From up here it looked
as if the harbour’s lungs inhaled
the fog in through the headlands;
light as breathing, concrete coloured,
it set in for the day, giving us each a bubble vision
containing what little we know,
and out beyond the garden’s edge;
all life arrested.

There was a fog of the familiar
such that I could not see
all of the changes underway
between you and me.

But then the sun splashed down,
rinsing the hills, draining the fog to seaward.
Across the water, your house was sun-washed.

I thought I might see you there again,
the last of the mist upon your lashes,
each tiny world a globe
in which anything is possible.

© David Gregory, September 2014
Featured on The Tuesday Poem Hub with permission.

Editor: Helen Lowe

David Gregory was a guest reader for the 2014 Canterbury Poets' Collective Spring Reading Season and although I have been familiar with David's work for a number of years now, listening, I was struck again by the quiet elegance of his poetry and his formidable "way with words." 

I had a difficult task selecting a poem to feature on the Hub today for much the same reasons – but believe Breathing You In displays both quiet elegance and a formidable way with words "in spades." From the assurance of the opening image: 

"From up here it looked
as if the harbour’s lungs inhaled
the fog in through the headlands"

we are drawn into the landscape of the poem, which takes us from the fog and the harbour heads to the "garden's edge" where we also encounter the "fog of the familiar" which obscures:

"all of the changes underway
between you and me.".

Breathing You In is a poem of juxtapositions, with fog that is both "light as breathing", yet also holds the weight of being "concrete coloured." It is also a poem of subtle repetition, from the "bubble vision" of the first stanza to the:

"last of the mist upon your lashes,
each tiny world a globe"

So, too, the landscape of the poem also takes us from the large (the fog settling in for the day), to the small (each globe of the mist upon lashes) but then springboards us back into something large again:

"...each tiny world a globe
 in which anything is possible."

This is poetry of the everyday, apparently unassuming, that leads us, step by assured step, into an awareness of something larger. It's also a poem of considerable emotional strength, but one in which every emotional brushstroke is delicate, understated... And therein, I believe, lies its power, from:

"...I could not see
all of the changes underway
between you and me.


"Across the water, your house was sun-washed.

I thought I might see you there again..."

As readers, we are not sure whether such a "seeing again" will occur or not – but the poem allows us to feel the possibility that it may: we take that step back into the larger universe of hope, offered by the concluding stanza and line: "in which anything is possible."

Quiet, elegant, assured: this is also the poetry of alchemy, where the everyday is transmuted into a more transcendant experience. I am so pleased that David has allowed me to share both the poem, and the delight it evoked in me as a reader, with you today.

David Gregory has had three books published in New Zealand, Always Arriving and Frame of Mind, both by Sudden Valley Press and Push by Black Doris Press. His poetry has appeared in a goodly number of publications and anthologies and he has performed his work here and in the UK. He is an active member of the Canterbury Poets Collective, which organises regular readings, designed to give new writers a performance platform and to expose them to good poets in the form of guest readers. David has been involved with this for over 15 years. He has also been involved in an editorial capacity with the production of over 30 high quality titles for Voice Prints and Sudden Valley Press.

Today's editor, Helen Lowe, is a novelist, poet and interviewer whose work has been published, broadcast and anthologized in New Zealand and internationally. Her first novel, Thornspell, was published to critical praise in 2008, and her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Helen posts regularly on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog and is also active on Twitter: @helenl0we

In addition to "Breathing You In", be sure to check out the wonderful poems featured by the other Tuesday Poets, using our blog roll to the left of this posting.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Like a Butterfly by Jennifer Compton

The half a walnut
in the bowl of mixed nuts
is exactly — Like a butterfly.

A moth flies in the open door
alights and palpates
to the right of the screen.

The wings beat — yes yes yes.
That is what you said.
Like a butterfly. Like.

now you are privy to
a thousand thousand things.

You have found the door
into the intricate labyrinth
where the olds live.

Welcome. Oh welcome.
To where everything is
like something else.

Not that we didn't want you
to find us out
but ...

no pressure, just be
for a little longer

This is one of the poems from Jennifer Compton's new collection,  Now You Shall Know  published by Five Islands Press. The book will be launched at Melbourne's Collected Work's Bookshop by Geoffrey Lehmann Thursday 5th February at 6.00 pm. 

Jennifer is, of course, a Tuesday Poem poet who has introduced readers to many exciting contemporary voices in poetry, particularly in Australian poetry, on her blog, Stillcraic. I first came across Jennifer's work in 1994 or 1995 when I read it in Cordite - which was then published as a hard copy broadsheet. It was the day after a three day Australian Poetry Festival held at Stonnington and I was on a bus going to Leongatha. I should have been poetry-ed out, but I opened Cordite and there was her direct, passionate but laconic voice. I was bowled over. 

What I like about this poem from her latest book is how a  moment is  observed, chronicled and understood in such a writerly way. It's a reminder to pay attention. This week, you can read another of Jennifer's poems, 'Lost Property' on my blog.

Jennifer Compton is a poet, short fiction writer and an award-winning playwright. Recent works include, Parker & Quink,  Ginninderra Press in 2004, Barefoot, Picaro Press, 2010 and This City, Otago University Press in July 2011. Barefoot was shortlisted for the John Bray Poetry Award at the Adelaide Festival and This City and won the Kathleen Grattan Award in New Zealand. Check out Stillcraic for her weekly poem post.

Catherine Bateson is a poet and novelist for children and young adults and she is also a partner in a publishing and editing services business, Tyle&Bateson Publishing. She is Melbourne-based.