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.


Michelle Elvy said...

Oh, I really like this stroll through history. Feels nostalgic but not sentimental. Lovely balance of words and images. Connects me to a place I did not know in the 50s -- and does it so well! Thanks for sharing!

Ben Hur said...

Thanks for posting this, Keith. It evokes beautifully a time that, for better or worse, has faded into history and which can now only be recreated in living memory.