Tuesday, May 26, 2015

How They Came To Privatise The Night by Maria McMillan

It began with shadows
Our dark selves
Small nights we carry with us
Stretched and shrunk
Rushed into corners

Striding into the sky
Like the Chinese lovers
Whose bridge is the Milky Way –
Distance was nothing to them
Or waiting seven years.

Clearly of private benefit
They said: The shade they offer.
The company. The sense of self.
Hitherto pricing has not reflected
Their true value.


Dusk was much the same.
A wilful resistance
To applying the forces
Of the market.
The stillness.

The nuances of colour.
The way mountains seem closer
And the white houses
On the hills of the city
Shine like angels.


Then night.
By the time we heard
The sun had slipped between
the South Island and the sea.
Gone like music at a party
You are walking away from.
Night was a business.

The government maintains
A regulatory role.
At the end of every street
Yellow jacketed officers collect tariffs.
They watch for you.

Watering the garden
In the coolness.
Talking in quiet voices
On the porch
Inside the kids dream.

Letting the cat in and out.
Opening the curtain to sneak
A glimpse of the orange
Mouth of moon.

Functions are contracted out –
Absence of light.
Comfort to the weary.
Frost. Fear. Astronomy.
Navigation. Romance.

The dark profusions of freesias
Letting go of themselves.

From Maria McMillan's collection Tree Space, Victoria University Press, 2014. Reprinted here with the kind permission of the poet.

Tuesday Poem Editor: Tim Jones.

Maria says:

I wrote this poem in the thick of researching, writing about and campaigning about water privatisation. It horrifies me that water, the source of all life, and a human necessity has become a focus for neoliberalist attention. It no more belongs in the marketplace than night does. The language in the poem is lifted almost directly from the language used by those promoting the commodification of residential water in New Zealand.

I heard Maria read this poem at the Poets for Peace event I organised earlier this year. Many fine poems were read by the poets who took part, but this one struck me as a really effective piece of political poetry. I find it difficult to write political poems without turning them into a harangue, but by using the night as a metaphor, Maria has created a poem that is fascinating and illusory, yet also an effective poetic protest.

Maria McMillan is a Kapiti based writer who was born and bred in a Christchurch house full of books and with a view of the mountains. She is the author of the poetry sequence The Rope Walk, Seraph Press, 2013 and Tree Space, Victoria University Press, 2014. More poems and Maria's blog can be found at http://mariamcmillan.weebly.com/

This week's editor is Tim Jones, whose own recent books include 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), and with P.S. Cottier, he co-edited The Stars Like Sand: Speculative Australian Poetry (IP, 2014).

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Albert Park by Alice Miller

I hear the sea how we come back                                claiming to be altered when    
the painting of the barracks shows                  once we were never    
live in what’s                           now owned by us, round trees curled
down to hear                           your thoughts starred
bold but let’s walk unscripted             to the bar where we sang
when we knew where we were                      where the baby grand played
her high chalked notes and we                                     cried ourselves to water

(Shared with permission. Previously published in  IKA 2, Manakau Institute of Technology.)

Alice Miller was a finalist for this year's Sarah Broom Poetry Prize, the winner of which was announced on Sunday at the Auckland Writers Festival. 'Albert Park' was part of her submission for this.

I had all the best intentions in the world to attend the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize event at the festival and to visit Albert Park in between times, but festivals can be crazy places. However, I was delighted Alice gave us this poem and although I initially thought of the wonderful Albert Park in central Auckland - the curled trees and being framed by water - I also like the generic name of the park that you could find anywhere in the world. Alice Miller is a universal presence herself, having lived and written in New Zealand, North America and Europe.

The line breaks intrigue me and I'm inclined to read them in several different ways as they curl about the page like the leaves and branches implied. The lines also create a sense of movement - the "unscripted walk" to the bar perhaps, the sea or the claim of having been altered as "we" return. 

The "round trees curled / down to hear / your thoughts" echoes so clearly a Charles Simic poem I love, 'Evening Walk' that I can't escape marrying the "high chalked notes" and crying at the end of Miller's poem to the sound of nightbirds like lost children at the end of Simic's. "Once we were never" is an absolute truth of this poem, again evoking the "other evening strolling ahead" in Simic's world. The past is just so damn present.
'Albert Park' is dynamic and subtle. I urge you to read it again.

Alice Miller is a poet, essayist, short story writer and playwright. Her first book The Limits was published by Auckland University Press and Shearsman in 2014. She has been the Grimshaw Sargeson Fellow, a Visiting Writer at Massey University, and a resident at the Michael King Centre. These days she calls Vienna home.


This week's Tuesday Poem was selected by Saradha Koirala, a teacher and poet based in Wellington. 

Check out the other Tuesday Poems in the sidebar to the left.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Love Poem in Allelujah

Here are the things I would hand you –

the smell of roses and something peppery.
the small warmth of sweat.

keys that interrupt                  still 
   you used to touch tentatively
                   child gentle and wild.

Saying you are beautiful is not the whole truth.
You are beautiful and ugly.

teenagers climb            wide
on a trunk of pohutukawa

I am drinking mango and ginger tea.

Your hair is hay/ a mane/ a serpent
when we fuck it tangles down like jungle vines.
It is sparrow brown,
Rapunzel, it is a nest.

at the next table              a water jug 
a slice of orange is a goldfish
a girl that says           ‘I have no idea what I am doing’.

Dance hall palm trees wash against dirty boys in checkered shirts,
Cigarettes, pens, ginger beer
the plasterwork elegant and dated
you and she are oddly athenian.

Saying I am beautiful is not the whole truth.
You haven’t seen the ugly in me yet.

A sparrow chirps slow love to late afternoon light.

I would hand you
     blue hydrangea in a paint jar
   on a window sill.
You would hand me your quiet.
salty hours rising between us like gospel.

(Shared with permission, previously published in Blackmail Press 34.)

I first came across Tulia Thompson when she sent in an expression of interest for a conference I was organising about biographical poetry, and so I Googled her, and found her wonderful and intelligent blog: https://tuliathompson.wordpress.com/. At the conference she organised and chaired a panel of three talented Pacific poets: Karlo Mila, Teresia Teaiwa and Leilani Tamu, which was one of my highlights. Tulia is a poet herself, among other things, and I wanted to share one of her poems here.

For me, a decent love poem needs to have some of the complexity, some of the salt of real love for it to be believable to me. That's what attracts me about this poem - it's a love poem, it's full of joy and sensuality, but it's not simple. Love isn't simple. It's roses and pepper, it's beautiful and ugly, it's a sparrow's song and silence.

Another thing I love about this poem is the specificity of the details; not just the trunk of a tree, but a pohutukawa tree, the blue hydrangea in a paint jar.

But most of all I love the beautiful tension it creates between these two people, the narrator and the beloved, like a spring or a tug, like the jungle vines of the beloved's hair.


Tulia in a Fijian rainforest
Tulia Thompson, is of Fijian, Tongan and Pakeha descent. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Auckland. She is published in Niu Voices: Contemporary Pacific Fiction 1, Blackmail Press and Overland (forthcoming). Her young adult novel Josefa and the Vu was published by Huia in 2007. She blogs about social justice at www.tuliathompson.wordpress.com.

This week's poem was selected by Helen Rickerby, 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.

And check out the other Tuesday Poems in the side-bar to the left.

Monday, May 4, 2015

'Taken' by Jo Bell

When a thief kisses you, count your teeth.’ – Yiddish proverb

Let’s just say it was complete surrender.
The wanted word is visceral; the usual
exchange of fluids doesn’t quite compare.
He closed his eyes and tilted back his head
and he was mine, as naked as a worm.
He yielded like a sapling to the axe.

Humility is not an asset in my trade, but
such an ecstasy of loss brought out
the best in me, at last.  I stripped.
His willingness unmanned me; such a glut
of giving.   It was hard to take but oh,
I took it, breath for breath and blow for blow.

I got up with the sun; gobsmacked, lovestruck.
My keys were missing.  All the doors were locked.

© Jo Bell
Kith’, published by Nine Arches Press 2015
Click here to hear Jo reading her poetry on Sound Cloud.

Jo Bell is great on love – the reality and absurdity of it rather than the romance;  the pain and the pleasure of it. One of my favourite poems is called ‘Your Helens and my Jonathans’ and deals with the baggage we bring with us to new relationships, going to bed ‘Just you and me/and everyone we’ve ever slept with.’  Jo writes that her poetry 'straddles the border between literary and performance'.  There is a lot of humour in her poetry, of the wry, understated, northern variety, and the lines have a certain 'grace' in the way they dance off the tongue and echo in the mind long after you've finished reading.

There’s also a wealth of images.  I love her description of ice ‘thick as bottle bottoms’, the old standing stones of ancient Britain ‘frank as knuckle dusters/on each ridge’, and the narrow boat, lifted out of her natural element, in dry dock –  ‘A welded tongue; she’s fluent wet / and dumbstruck dry’.

The title poem ‘Kith’ explores the meaning of the word, ‘made scant by frequent use’, little used now except in the expression ‘Kith and Kin’.  It is part of Jo’s northern identity ‘the Northern tongue behind my teeth’, and gives a tribal sense of belonging; ‘Something I can recognise/something that recognises me’.  That attachment – both to places and people – and the loss of those attachments, is at the root of many of the poems in the collection. There’s a clear sense of history, of the long genetic thread that has us all tethered to the ancients under their  bronze age barrows on those bare uplands. ‘Their names and mine will pass like rain/ but I am buried in them, they in me:/ their  soil will cling to me a little when I fall’.

Jo is a northerner -  born in Sheffield, UK,  she went on to become an industrial archaeologist.  After winning several major poetry prizes she was appointed as the UK’s Canal Laureate and she lives on a narrow boat.

What better recommendation than Carol Ann Duffy - ‘Jo Bell is one of the most exciting poets now writing and no time is wasted in the company of her work’.  I’ll second that!

I’m sharing another of Jo’s poems ‘The Shipwright’s Love Song’ on my own blog this week - click here to read it. 

Jo reading from Kith at the London Book Fair
Jo also blogs at The Bell Jar
and you can find her on Facebook too, where she ran the very successful '52' online workshop.

Kathleen Jones is an English poet, biographer and fiction writer who blogs at 'A Writer's Life'.  Her most recent collection of poetry is 'Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21', published by Templar Poetry. 

Be sure to click on the link on the sidebar to check out what the other Tuesday Poets are getting up to!