Tuesday, April 28, 2015

In Carbondale by Cliff Fell

Consider the glue 
that holds all this together,
be it the cold light 
of the diamond in the mine, 
the gold in its seam 
below the forest
or the shale oil reserves 
of the Arctic Circle—
each in its way a party hat
that pays homage 
to DJ culture
or signals the slow 
corruption of thought. 
But right from the start 
let it be said 
that to our knowledge 
the art of the oil slick 
has not yet been 
seen in the highest places.
But it is spring, 
or it will be tomorrow, 
so this will go viral 
on totally nothing. 
Get out among the birds,
behind the weather 
and collaborate.
It’s what you must do.
Let me know. 
At least we might try 
to advance your case, 
however tight things are 
with juice or money. 
Jump on the bandwagon,
get the company 
involved again, 
their logo on the solar 
panels. After all,
you’re only asking 
for five thousand bucks. That’s how 
you have to think—
on the backs of everyone.
Text me a promise. 
Text me the text 
to be read in your presence. 
Text me the radiance 
of the white light 
as you set out on its storyline, 
the plot that says 
you almost became 
a miner again  
as you sang the ‘Days of ’49’. 
If only you’d known 
you were mining yourself. 
Unlucky, not to recognise
the mind’s own form.
Now you will wander 
among the hungry ghosts
or in the lower realm 
of the animals. 
You will feel sad
as the fog descends, 
as the world becomes 
indistinct and you move on
in your ceaseless 
roaming the streets 
like a latter-day saint,
or a Prospero 
with his gang 
of Ariels and Calibans.
Well, if I had to, sir,
most surely I would do it all again.
I’d go down among 
the lower animals
on that Saturday night floor,
I’d go with them crazy
from bar to bar
dressed to kill in a hoodie
or off-the-shoulder 
down and dirty 
in the sweat and lights.
Well, are you not of a piece, sir?
Wouldn’t you want to move
to whatever it takes—
an old calypso tune,
the insistent riff
of power chords,
or the pluck of her Venus hyper tines,
and all of it cranked up 
into full reverb
and touching us
with a tempo
that feeds the skull
this thump of drum and bass.

Author's note:

‘In Carbondale’ was first published earlier this year in Phantom Billstickers Café Reader Vol. 5 but unfortunately, due to a proofing error for which I take full responsibility, it was missing three lines. While that probably did little harm to the poem, I appreciate having the opportunity to publish the full version it in its entirety.

The title of the poem references a line from Bob Dylan’s 2012 song, ‘Duquesne Whistle’. Within the poem, there is a further reference to a poem, ‘The Days of ’49’ by the 19th century Californian poet Joaquin Miller, which is now more familiar as a folk-song. Dylan recorded it for his 1969 album, Self Portrait. As for the rest of my poem, much of the first half was derived from notes scribbled down as I listened to various speakers holding forth during a rather tedious official meeting. The second half draws on images from The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

There's a kind of poetry I love which I think of as speculative or errant. The poem takes me on a walk with an idea. It goes off—like a dog pulling the reader on a lead as it follows scents in the language. These poems are full of possibilities, chance encounters, echoes of the familiar and they tend to be longer than short lyrical poems as their adventure is not concerned with a singular experience or memory. 'In Carbondale' is such a poem. It begins with a confident 'consider this' which promises a flash of insight, but we soon find that we’re offered advice on how to speak the only real jargon that carries currency in today's New Zealand: the slick language of business and self-marketing. There’s a swagger in the voice advising us on how to speak the lingua franca of the funding proposal or job application. But then could this voice be mocking our own proposals?

We can read the title of the poem as not just functioning as a proper noun referring to the town of Carbondale, Illinois, but as an kind of epithet for all life on Earth. Like all life we're all primarily in Carbondale—our bodies, our world—but in the second half of the poem we find ourselves to be a post-Carbondale ghost. In the Tibetan Bardo Thodol the voice of the shaman hopes to steer the disoriented spirit of the newly dead past the perils posed by the recently deceased’s unleased unconscious fears which manifest as demons. Now the adventure begins as the voice becomes a shamanic guide steering through all the nightmare hallucinations and projections—the angels and demons of late petro-capitalism which are so neatly captured by those long gone Saturday night-Sunday morning dancefloors we once loved. And who would not want to go back again to those heady days and leave fresh wine-stained carbon footprints on the sticky floor? But that revenant hunger is both trap and desperation, the destroyer of worlds, dressed to kill and drill in a hoodie. In other words that hunger is nothing other than us. There’s no promise of liberation; no easy tips on reaching enlightenment or favourable rebirth. But there is a chance of a choice in the poem’s final question and the lives to come depend on our answer. Wonderful.

Cliff Fell is the author of three books of poems, the latest of which, The Good Husbandwoman's Alphabet, was published by Last Leaf Press in 2014.

This week's editor, Harvey Molloy, is a writer and teacher who lives in Wellington. His first book of poems, Moonshot, was published by Steele Roberts in 2008. His poetry has appeared in many New Zealand publications including Best New Zealand Poems, Blackmail Press, Brief, JAAM, Landfall, NZ Listener, Poetry New Zealand, Snorkel and Takahe. He was the poetry editor for JAAM 31.

For more Tuesday Poems, check out the side bar to the left.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The quiet life at Glenfinnan (1877, Runs 458/468) by Robynanne Milford

...........................              By the East Matukituki in a shieling picket fenced with currants gooseberries, oats and ducks, Mrs MacPherson, her heirlings, and
Forty walls of deadfall water incessant cascade drowning
lip-sound. Inside and out avalanching ice, thousand-foot roars
into cauldron scoured, reverberates unseen
Duncan’s gone on
government work  
rumbles round and round       vibrates rocky
land resounds in every cup of tea. Constant cannon crack 
that He   I search from the roof   and aye the ever river 
boil of boulders     big as Bank of England         thunder bank
to bank. Riflecrack of trees snow-snapped  wet airs cloth-stiffs
on a line furious hissing
must  be   going mad beneath
Blackpeak serrations
shriek of a winding-up norwester
wild pasture rabbit-savaged. ........ thwack and blizzard
Is he crossing yet
            the sudden rise my four bairns and nary
an adult voice
 screaming shingle-roil the little one drowned
here, I fear the ever river deafness descends with the darkness is
he crossing now            watch from the roof the garden is
struggling for butter
 deafness descends                  Some18
months ere               I eyed another

Miss Moreland. You must come in
iceavalanchesleetsnow and the rain-rain drizzle to deluge
watersfalling and the windwhistle shriek-shake
of timbers lifting, river roil and
Forty walls of dreadful waters

© Robynanne Milford, 2015
*Miss Maud Moreland early tourist


Featured on The Tuesday Poem Hub with permission.

Editor: Helen Lowe

In last year's Canterbury Poets' Spring Reading Season, I very much enjoyed the poems read by guest, Robynanne Milford – many if not all of which were drawn from her (then forthcoming) poetry collection, Aspiring Light (Pukeko Publications), which was launched last Sunday, 19 April.

The focus of Aspiring Light is on the Wanaka area of Otago. In particular, the poems highlight "characters who shaped, explored, named and pioneered the area" throughout its history. In her cover quote for the collection, poet Bernadette Hall, observes that Wanaka is: 

"A place of myth and mystery, where suffering has scoured many a soul, but where dreams may still come true."

In choosing a poem to feature today, I felt that The quiet life at Glenfinnan//1877 Runs 458/ 468 exemplified the pioneering narrative that Bernadette alludes to. The poem records the harshness of an environment where people were dwarfed by both the terrain and the elements:

................."Forty walls of deadfall water incessant cascade drowning
lip-sound. Inside and out avalanching ice, thousand-foot roars
into cauldron scoured, reverberates unseen ..."

The overwhelming presence of nature is juxtaposed with the material highlighted in italics within the poem, which records the response of those, such as Mrs MacPherson and her children, seeking to survive its harshness:
"Duncan’s gone on government work...//...must  be   going mad...//...my four bairns and nary an adult voice ...  the little one drowned here..."

On first hearing, then subsequently reading the poem, I felt it captured the experience of pioneers, but most particularly pioneering women, in an authentic and powerful way. And the physical form of the poem, where the initial "block" effect of the text reflects the physicality of the landscape in the area (in which the mountains do indeed rise like sheer walls), in combination with the subsequent, more staccato and almost "distracted" (i.e. "overwhelmed") narrative voice, both work together to reinforce the poem's story.

But what I love most is the way the experience of "woman alone" within this overpowering landscape resolves into the normalcy of:

"Miss Moreland. You must come in"

– belying the fact that Miss Moreland is the first fellow adult Mrs MacPherson has spoken with in eighteen months. But for me, as reader, it is this note of "normalcy" that grounds the poem and in so doing, really makes it work – as work it undoubtedly does.
Robynanne Milford is a Christchurch poet and former general practitioner, ground-breaking in the medical care of sexual abuse survivors. Aspiring Light is her third book of
poetry, the first being Songcatcher in 2009, the second Grieve Hopefully in 2012.  In 2010 she was runner up in the International Manuwatu Poetry for Performance competition. Her poetry has been published in Landfall, takahē, Poetry NZ, Catalyst, The Press,Voice Print Three, and in anthologies Crest to Crest, Roses and Razorblades and In this Bitter Season.

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 "The quiet life at Glenfinnan", be sure to check out the wonderful poems featured by the other Tuesday Poets, using our blog roll to the left of this posting.