Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Papatoetoe Poems by Tony Beyer

1 Early Days

the billy that rang empty
on its hook against the gate post
last thing at night
was full of the colour of starlight at dawn

2 Originals

them kumaras is really gallopin now
Mr Kilgour in braces and hobnail boots
he'd stamp and click on the path
like a horse modestly skittish in its stall

when he came over to use our phone
party line 796D
he shouted as if he believed
a hollow and not altogether reliable tube
connected him with his son in Henderson

there was also the backward boy opposite
whose face became more anxious
left behind in the childhood we all shared

and Errol you could never get a straight answer from
a wigwam for a goose's bridle he'd say
or we had one but the wheels fell off

3 Archipelago

in the sunday school tableau of iniquity
someone has eaten too many honey and banana sandwiches
and someone is copying someone else's homework

the angel of the lord
disappointed by the accommodation industry in Gomorrah
smirks to one side in a bedsheet

4 Task

the lawn
divided in three
for each to mow his share

smallest in front
but awkward
round the shrubs

the middle clear
except for the clothesline
which paspalum fringed

the rest secluded
leading to recklessness
among fruit trees

parts of the world
that if I don't remember
won't have been

5 Neighbourhood

not that I want the bottlebrush shrubs
the since defunct council planted on our verges
not to have grown

nor that the houses whose owners' names
I knew by heart a generation ago
need to be renamed

but that someone should notice
like me in passing

6 The Headstones

calm pasture for cattle
and the constantly unfolding
episode of the motorway

this detached green fingertip
of the absorbed borough
presses into estuarine mud

lettered in dry uprights
everyone's best attempt
at what can't be said too often
every love second love word love is love

7 The Rec

a line of poplars
thrashing as the wind comes on
individual gestures within
an encompassing choreography

boys walk to the crease
in their first creams
in their padded gloves so much better
than the rubber-spiked ones we wore

I nearly lost teeth here
over the other side by the school
misreading a rising ball
from my brother when he was fast

8 Address

loose metal at the roadside
signed by footprints and hooves
and the turning curves
of audibly sprung cars

thick flap of the upright
white wooden letter box
through which I still receive
indecipherable mail in dreams

(Published with the permission of the poet)


I came across Papatoetoe Poems a few years ago now and was attracted by the title, as I too had spent some of my boyhood years growing up in this South Auckland suburb. In those days of the late 1950s and early 1960s, Papatoetoe was on the margins of Auckland's march south and wasn't yet connected by housing development to Manurewa. What is now Manukau City and Wiri was mostly dairy farms. Some of the major highways that today connect South Auckland to Auckland's airport were then narrow and partly-gravelled roads and I used to deliver the Auckland Star to Papatoetoe houses which lined them.

Recently, when I started into a poetry-memoir project of my own, I remembered Tony's Papatoetoe Poems, fossicked on the Web until I found them, and decided to ask Tony for permission to post the sequence on Tuesday Poem.

The Poems

I wasn't quite sure what I was going to find when I started reading the poems, other than reconnections with shared past places. What I also found were images that resonated with me - the words on the headstones in this detached green fingertip, and loose metal at the road-side/signed by footprints and hooves, and a line of poplars/thrashing as the wind comes on.

Tony's ability to evoke through his writing a universal New Zealand 1950s suburbia through these particular Papatoetoe instances impressed me - the billy left out for milk, the telephone party line, the paspalum fringing the clothesline, the boy across the road who was left behind in the childhood we all shared.

There is also a nod to the existential nature of memories in the lines - parts of the world/that if I don't remember/won't have been, which I am particularly taken with, as I am with the powerful concluding lines of the last poem Address: thick flap of the upright/white wooden letter box/through which I still receive/indecipherable dreams.

The published Papatoetoe Poems

According to Tony, Papatoetoe Poems has an interesting publishing history, appearing first in Poetry NZ 16 in March 1998 and then in his book The Century (HeadworX, 1998). Bernie Gadd selected it for the (then) Manukau City Libraries website anthology subsequently published as Manukau in Poetry (Hallard Press, 2004). It was also included it in Dream Boat: selected poems (HeadworX, 2007).

The Poet

Tony Beyer Tony is a long-standing New Zealand poet. He was born in Auckland in 1948 and although he left there "finally" in 1971, he still regards himself as a native South Aucklander. He currently lives in New Plymouth (again) and is working full-time as an English teacher.

He has had published 15 collections of his poetry (the first in 1971) in New Zealand and Australia. Works, other than those just mentioned, include Dancing Bear (Melaleuca Press, Australia),  and Electric Yachts (Puriri Press, Auckland). He has also edited the journal Poetry Aotearoa (Picaro Press, Sydney), a bi-annual selection of contemporary New Zealand poetry for Australian readers. His most recent work is Great South Road and South Side (Puriri Press, 2013).

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'.

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sugarloaf hill by Bill Sutton

I like to start my morning walks
earlier in late summer
before the Hawke’s Bay heat engine
gets going
          and the flies start up.

There are people already
some with dogs...
we smile and exchange
handfuls of words.

Scratches in the dirt
like some post-modernist
literary text
signify a rabbit

and I see the ragwort
is making a comeback
from spraying and insects...

It’s cool at the top...
I sit for a minute
to look around
grateful for the quiet

a cluster of houses
is colonising
the Hawke’s Bay hills
                    like German wasps

and a small plane zizzes
through the sky
carrying its cargo
back to Wellington.

On my way down
I see the bunny –
a small one,
dead already

engrossed in making
a meal for maggots.
My friend Vicky
would be mortified

but I say... what about the flies?
like developers
          they deserve a chance.

From Bill Sutton's collection Jabberwocky, Steele Roberts, 2014. Reprinted here with the kind permission of the poet.

Tuesday Poem Editor: Tim Jones.

Cover: Rainman, Leonard Lambert, 2013

Bill Sutton says: Since I returned to live in Napier, every week I've climbed at least one of the three hills around Taradale, for exercise and to catch up with the seasonal changes.

Tim Jones says: Hawkes Bay Live Poets were kind enough to invite me to be their guest reader in May 2015 - a trip I greatly enjoyed. Bill was my generous host, and before the reading he tested out my calf muscles with a climb up Sugarloaf Hill so he could show me nearby Taradale, Napier a little further away, and the wide expanse of the Bay.

I had no idea he had written a poem about Sugarloaf Hill, so when I got home and started reading his collection Jabberwocky, I was excited to see such a fine poem about a place I had visited so recently.

I first met Bill when I attended the 2013 National Poetry Conference in Havelock North. This year's conference in in Wellington - I hope you can make it!

Bill Sutton lives in Napier. Previously a DSIR scientist, senior policy analyst and Labour MP, he grew up on a South Canterbury farm and in 2013 organised a national poetry conference in Hawke’s Bay. His poetry collection Jabberwocky (2014) is available from Steele Roberts.

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). His poem "Kraken" won second prize in the Interstellar Award for Speculative Poetry 2015.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Grave secrets by Helen Bascand

If you should bury me,
as I have requested
with my hands clasped,
bury me wearing this bird
on a fine chain,

if my grave
should be uncovered
in a thousand years,
a wise man might say

Here we have
the bones of an elderly woman,
well, she would have been elderly
in her day.

From the evidence
of the spinal column, we can deduce
she carried heavy loads & the bones
of the hands indicate hard labour.

There is advanced
degeneration of the phalanges.
Early writings suggest
this was a common affliction.

But what is
of peculiar interest in this grave
is the small wrought bird.
It is silver & beautifully worked.

It has fallen into the chest cavity
but I think we can safely imagine
it was placed between her hands –
wings to carry a soul into eternity?

My gap eyes & unhinged jaw
will not reveal the day we bought it;
the way you wrapped it in my hand
& kissed my fingers closed;
the way we made love
with the silver chain around my neck

wings pressed between us.

Published with the permission of Steele Roberts Publishers

I thought that this week I would like to honour one of the stalwarts of Christchurch's, Canterbury's and New Zealand's poetry scenes, Helen Bascand, who recently passed away on 27 April 2015.

I hope that no readers will think my choice of poem by Helen morbid, given her recent death, but I think this poem is beautiful and it has a very hopeful thread running through it. It speaks of a life well led, full and pleasurable, rich and robust with many pleasant memories of love and beauty. I think this poem captures Helen's voice so well because her poetry was laden with beauty and grace.

I have often seen and heard Helen read her work at the Canterbury Poetry Collective's regular poetry seasons and her work was always received with great appreciation.

I cannot profess to have known Helen well, but she always struck me as a gracious, elegant person who knew her own mind and was a perceptive observer of human nature and the natural world as well. She took great pride in crafting writing that would stand the test of time and weather any passing literary fashions. She was renown both here and overseas as a mistress of the haiku form.

Her absence will be keenly felt at future Canterbury Poetry Collective readings and her passing will rend a tear in the fabric of contemporary New Zealand poetry.

Helen wrote poetry for many years, but applied herself more intensively to the craft from the 1980s onward. In the 1990s, Helen developed a keen interest in writing haiku and she won the haiku section of the New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition in 2000. Her work appears in listening to the rain, an anthology of haiku and haibun published in 2002.

Her poetry has also appeared in The Press, Bravado, JAAM, Kokako, The Listener, Takahe, SPIN, Printout and in overseas periodicals such as Famous Reporter and Poetrix (Australia), Still (England) and Frogpond (USA). Her work has also appeared in many anthologies including Voiceprints 2; Throwing the Words; Half Light and Half Wind; Something between breaths; All Together Now; Big Sky; My Garden, My Paradise and the Canadian anthology, Rose Haiku for Flower Lovers.

Helen published two collections of her poetry: Windows on the Morning Side (Sudden Valley Press, 2001) and Into the Vanishing Point (Steele Roberts Publishers, 2007).

Helen was also closely associated with The Small White Teapot Haiku Group for many years.

RIP Helen Bascand. I hope you were buried with your bird on a silver chain.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Implausible Birds

Implausible Birds

by K. Robinson

The sort of vase described in
Ian McEwan's novel, Atonement.
A gift. A curse on me self-cast. A Sino-sin 
I signed with my intent, and all Verdun's 
exploding wealth now written in my skin;
my brain forever battered by those guns. 

Or was it a theft? Sometimes a man concussed 
would seem quite sound, so peaceful in repose. 
Inside - a soupy mess, his bones like dust 
dispersed by wind and in a river froze. 

Not so a vase. It's either cracked, uncracked. 
Cursed, uncursed. It has two states alone. 
I kept it whole. Its faculties intact. 
So what accounts this impulse to atone? 

The fact I stole? Or lied? Or that I killed 
a man who tried to stop me? I fear the scene  
that haunts my shelf - those Chinese chaps in frilled 
Chinoiserie. The birds of aquamarine. 

The lips of gold. That I preserved a thing 
which should have died. Gilded, implausible birds, 
enamelled curves, polished for a Polish king 
by German arcanists. But here's what's most absurd: 

It wasn't the wealth I wanted. It was - the ideal
A delicately painted past to cleanse 
a mind's decapitated truth. To heal  
the shattered self. To seal a happy end. 

Yet in those interlacing leaves, those men 
of quietness, that lone unravished bird,  
I see the way the artist's brush, this pen, 
to fix one world, must leave another blurred.

"Implausible Birds" is published here with permission from the author.

Editor: Zireaux

Not long before Australia heard the Siren call of Gallipoli, a federal undertaker was busy preparing a capital city that could entomb, memorialise, grow festivals of flowers upon the country’s war dead. They called the city Canberra.

It was two years before the outbreak of World War I when Australia’s Minister of Home Affairs, King O’Malley, held a series of conventions, committees, negotiations, referendums, and finally an international competition (with King himself supreme adjudicator) to design Canberra. The criteria? Gardens, ornamental waters, a sense of grandeur, and most of all, “symbols of nationalism.” Thus was my place of residence sprayed with the poeticide of an ideal, rendering it more or less artistically sterile for the next 100 years.

Canberra today is so painted and powdered, so primped in the finery of cultural vanity (visit the National Library Cafe, my reader, and hear the fancy people talk of “aboriginal affairs”) that the city was recently judged the “best place in the world to live” by the OECD. The OECD analysed 10 metrics in all - from income levels to safety to civic engagement and the environment. It must have overlooked Canberra’s $1 billion dollar asbestos scandal, or its pervasive high-class drug scene, its zombified job market, landlord cronyism, or some of the most unaffordable and poorly built homes on the planet. Its metrics didn’t include culture or diversity or immigration or art. And certainly not poetry. 

I say this affectionately, as a loyal resident, a faithful Canberra-phile. I’m holding up the mirror here, after all, not for the Emperor to examine his hideous nose, his triple-chin, the venal pallor from jaundiced internal organs. But rather, I want him to see, over his stately shoulder, the magical mischief-making of the servant children in the doorway — a band of unknown, uncertified, unrecognised waiflings. Poets. Youth. Youthful poets. They stop their enchanting play the moment the pompous old fellow turns around.

All this brings me to “Implausible Birds,” the work of a young Canberra poet which recently won a commendation in an ACT poetry competition. The poem appears to be a response to Ian McEwen’s remarkable novel, Atonement. The title, "Implausible Birds," is lifted directly from a description of the painted birds on an exquisite, beautifully-crafted, time-traveling vase that serves as a kind of cynosure to McEwan’s exquisite, beautifully-crafted, time-traveling story.  

In the novel we’re told the vase, with its "painted Chinese figures, ornate plants and implausible birds," was a family heirloom. It belonged to a deceased uncle who received it during World War I as a gift from the grateful inhabitants of a French town he had helped evacuate. So goes, anyway, the family legend. But “Implausible Birds,” the poem, questions the plausibility of this perhaps too fine and feathery story of war-time heroics (the uncle had written the tale in a letter home). The poet resurrects that uncle, inhabits his head, lets him reconsider the events. Was it really a gift? Maybe he stole it. Maybe he even killed for it. And if so, why would he do that? 

The answer: ’It wasn’t the wealth I wanted. It was - the ideal.’ 

King O’Malley, Canberra’s founding fraudster, was of that same generation. He would have appreciated that ideal - that desire for a fixed and cleansing perfection, an enamelled city with lips of gold and ceremonies to honour the dead (however implausible the depiction). Not a delicate vase for him, however - Cold Pastoral! - but monuments of cement that needn’t be protected or loved or kept unbroken through family affection; and so the parliamentary triangle brands it ideology amidst the beauty of Canberra’s hills today.

But the poets keep coming. Through Time’s unfolding accident precision is regained. Sharp, untamed, poetic visions scuttle through the cracks, as ants through the prolapsed soil of their nests. Blue-tongued lizards. The yellow plumage of the Cockatoos. The red-and-grey regalia of the Gang-gangs. And even a teenage poet in a city of such polished grandeur, of such purposeful geometry, can look beyond Gallipoli’s obscuring monolith and sense a single cracked and shell-shocked mind from a century before. 

As for Ms. Robinson's poetic future, my advice: Either stay and look more intently at Canberra than anyone has looked before. Or throw yourself to the traveling winds as soon as you can, never to return.
For more sharp, untamed, poetic visions, be sure to visit some of the posts in the sidebar. More information about Zireaux and his work can be found at www.ImmortalMuse.com.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Chernobyl Wedding, 1986 by Naomi Guttman

Chernobyl Wedding, 1986

They’d always believed the world would end
in a bright blast, then blankness –
not malignant pinpricks, invisible,
not toxins salting eccentric winds.

A bright blast, then blankness
would deliver them of adulthood,
not toxins salting eccentric winds,
not a seep, a spill, a pox on all gardens.

Delivered to adulthood’s mansion,
hidden in ligatures of love
while seeps, spills, poxes amassed,
they tuned their ears to shuttle and string.

They his in ligatures of love:
veiled, Ari circled seven times her groom,
tuning her ear to shuttle and string.
Together they smashed the wineglass underfoot.

Veiled, Ari circled seven times her groom,
wrapping him in a shell of blessings.
They smashed the wineglass underfoot
to remember the temple that burned and fell.

Though they dwelt in a shell of blessings,
still sorrow reached its damp fingers –
a reminder of temples burning, falling,
low chairs, torn sleeves, unwashed hair.

Sorrow still reached its damp fingers,
and an arsenal of poisons prepared to lick them.
The low chair, torn sleeve, unwashed hair
waited at the top of the stairs.

Arsenals of poison prepare to lick them,
malignant pinpricks invisible.
At the top of the stairs it waits:
the end of belief in the world.

from The Banquet of Donny & Ari: scenes from the opera

Editor: Eileen Moeller

Selecting a single poem from this wonderful novella in verse, by Canadian poet Naomi Guttman, was no easy matter. There are so many rich pieces, and they run the gamut from narrative, to lyric, from free verse to form, all the way to prose poem. And as in any fictional work, they shift point of view. I chose this pantoum from the Prologue because it foreshadows the trajectory of a long marriage, that survives life’s difficult events, whether personal or worldwide, but not without a price.

We become fond of the Backuses and their two children. They are characters with substance: intelligent and artistic. Ari (like Ariadne) is a weaver, attuned to what’s happening to the earth, in love with its offerings, but worried about the way humans are harming it. She recycles, gardens, eats little meat, and plies her craft to communicate her concerns to others. Donny (like Dionysus) is a sensualist, he feasts, and he aims high as a musician, professor, and choir master. He is in the throes of staging the opera, Orfeo, and so immersed in the mythic he tells them as bedtime stories.

This couple are grounded in every day life, but are also archetypes of the feminine and masculine who disappoint one another, who embody the struggle to understand one another The family are forced to face the death of Ari’s mother, and the way grief can separate. They drift apart, have flirtations, get lost in their work, and come back together nevertheless. In the end, Ari sees her husband for who is, but still hopes for more. The poem “In Praise of Uxoriousness” reminds me of one of the Songs of Solomon, in its erotic longing, and its hope for his continued attentions.

It’s a wonderful book, delicious in its language, rich in imagery and emotion, that can be browsed through, as one would do with any book of poems. However, I recommend reading it cover to cover, which brings a deeper engagement with the characters, and reveals more of the warp and weft of human experience.

Naomi Guttman was born in Montreal, where she attended Concordia University. Her book Reasons for Winter won the A.M. Klein Award for Poetry and was short listed for The League of Canadian Poets’ Pat Lowther Memorial Award.  She has received grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, the Artist's Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and has been a resident at Yaddo and the Chateau de Lavigny. Wet Apples, White Blood, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press, was co-winner of the Adirondack Center for Writers’ Best Book of Poems for 2007. Her novella-in-verse, The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera, was published by Brick Books in 2015. Guttman teaches English and creative writing at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York.

This week's editor is US poet, Eileen Moeller, who lives in New Jersey, near Philadelphia. Visit her Tuesday Poem on her blog and go to the sidebar for a host of other Tuesday Poems posted today.