Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"Anna God Remembers" by Eileen Moeller


Anna God Remembers

the time she followed in
her father’s footsteps,
tiptoeing through the night
behind him as he left for the barn.

She was only two years old but she remembers
how the front door locked behind her
and he went off to do the milking,
not even seeing her standing there
in her little coat and rubber boots.

She remembers singing to herself
as she curled up on the front porch
to get out of the wind.

But her mother never heard her over the wailing.
The rest she only knows from stories:
how she froze like a porcelain doll there,
on a night that dipped to eight below.

(Her mother always cried at the part
where she found Anna blue as skim milk,
and drove her to the hospital,
dead and stiff on the back seat.
Anna would cry too, over how
the Doctors swore and wept and pleaded,
thawing her out, coaxing her heart into beating again).

It’s fuzzy, but Anna remembers
being startled awake by warm hands
kneading her arms and legs,
and the voices saying: Come on, open your eyes.

Once in awhile she dreams she is her father again:
dozing in the straw against the kindly beasts,
warm as a newborn calf.

© Eileen Moeller

First published in Firefly, Brightly Burning, Grayson Books, USA, 2015

Featured on the Tuesday Poem blog with permission

Editor: Helen Lowe

One of the very great pleasures in being part of a community like The Tuesday Poem blog arises when one of our fellow poets brings out a new book of poetry – which presents not only the opportunity to celebrate with them, but also to enjoy a new body of work.

Today, I am delighted to feature Anna God Remembers from our own Eileen Moeller's recently released book of poetry, Firefly, Brightly Burning, published by Grayson Books.

Firefly, Brightly Burning comprises a number of poetic sequences, one of which features the fictional Anna God. It's too easy, in an age of often intensely personal poetry, to overlook that it is also a form of fiction, and that the point of view character central to a poem is frequently not the poet. The creation of poetic characters such as Anna God helps sustain this vital aspect of the poetic tradition.

Last week, I featured an outstanding example of a narrative poem, Robert Browning's My Last Duchess. In this case, both the 'story' and the character development were encompassed in one poem. Sometimes, however, the narrative arc and understanding of character are explored and developed through a sequence of poems, as is the case with Eileen Moeller's Anna God.

I was particularly taken with the poem I have chosen to feature, Anna God Remembers, because of the power of the subject matter and the vivid picture the poem paints. As readers, we are part of the moment: the all-too-believable scenario of a two-year-old being locked out of the house, having followed her father out into the winter weather, and he, meanwhile:

"...not even seeing her standing there
in her little coat and rubber boots."

while later :

"...her mother never heard her over the wailing" [of the wind]

or how:

"the Doctors swore and wept and pleaded,
thawing her out, coaxing her heart into beating again..."

Like most good poems, it will only speak to the reader if the whole holds together – which Anna God Remembers undoubtedly does. Nonetheless, there are also some fine poetic moments within the poem, including the clever use of repetition around 'remembers' and with images such as:

"Her mother always cried at the part
where she found Anna blue as skim milk"

building on the earlier fact that her father "went off to do the milking."

I hope that you will enjoy the whole that is Anna God Remembers as much as I did on first and also subsequent readings. I also hope you will check out Firefly, Brightly Burning further – starting with another of Eileen's poems, Wind, which I have featured on my own blog today. Wind is a companion to Anna God Remembers, but also highlights the range of Eileen Moeller's poetry.

You may also find out more by going to the Grayson Books site; just click on the book title: Firefly, Brightly Burning

Eileen Moeller was born in 1950 and grew up in Paterson, New Jersey, where she had poems published in her high school and college literary magazines. After starting a family, she earned an M.A. in Creative Writing from Syracuse University, where she taught in the undergraduate writing program for many years. She also did storytelling and ran creative writing workshops throughout Central New York. Her poems have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies in the United States and England, in online journals, in self-help and spiritual books/blogs, and on her own blog, And So I Sing: Poems And Iconography. Three poems were set to music in 2011, by contemporary composer, Dale Trumbore for a CD titled Snow White Turns Sixty. She has also been the recipient of The Dorothy Damon and The Allen Ginsberg Awards. She currently lives in southern New Jersey with her husband, Charles.

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's fourth novel, Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night Series, Book Three) is forthcoming in January 2016. She posts regularly on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog and is also active on Twitter: @helenl0we

In addition to today's feature 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, July 21, 2015

"My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning, 1812 - 1889

My Last Duchess


That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will ‘t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Frà Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps
Over my Lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat”; such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart . . . how shall I say? . . . too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men—good; but thanked
Somehow . . . I know not how . . . as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
—E’en then would be some stooping; and I chuse
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will ‘t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your Master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, Sir! Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me.

by Robert Browning, 1812 - 1889

Editor: Helen Lowe

My Last Duchess has long been one of my favourite poems. It is a fine example of a narrative poem,  i.e. one that tells a story, but also of dramatic monologue, where the character of the Duke and his relationship to his last Duchess are subtly expanded through the length of the poem.  The poem is also significant for the way in which it exposes the Duke’s character, without commentary – particularly the chilling way in which the Duke reduces his wife to an object, like any of his other works of art, together with the implication that he has had her murdered for smiling at those other than him. In terms of poetic technique, My Last Duchess is also a masterly example of using end rhyme, i.e. it is written in rhyming couplets while still managing to sound like conversational speech. A master work at a number of levels.

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 "My Last Duchess," 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, July 14, 2015

At Koukourarata/Port Levy by John O'Connor

with Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, Helen Jacobs & Mark Pirie, June 3 2001

we parked the car by the memorial
to Taawao, the Ngapuhi missionary

which greets you as you arrive
on the final flat that horseshoes

round the bay to the wharf &
a collection of sheds & boatsheds --

it was full tide, a spring tide,
the water foreshortening the hills by

a myth or 2. we were too close
yet close enough to see. somebody

wisecracked about the gullibility
of biography -- or biographers -- as

an afterthought to thinking that
Mick Stimpson -- "Dirty Mick" -- had

humped his load of fish past here
many a time, as we turned back

& walked together towards the
cemetery beyond the gum tree

just off road, 2 gates
& you're there -- standing above the bay.

& I'd never seen the bay
so beautiful, in the winter air

smoke rising & the magpies
absent, for once, there weren't

even the usual sheep in the grave-
yard that had so disturbed

my American guest a few months before.
just Stimpson's grave at Port Levy

a bare headstone that as you say
may or may not be above the right

person. Alistair, you also said
that the mistakes don't matter

& quoted Auden on Yeats who
hadn't died in the depths of winter

but in Spain, sunny Spain, &
as we left the spot the Maori

kids ran after us, playing &
also visiting the graves, who

stopped by the gate before leaving
& washed their hands & flicked

the drops away. I
latched the gate and followed

you all downhill. & the kid
who asked were we old --

a naïve & unexpected question
which I liked & you replied to --

you later said she was the spirit
of the place. she had come

from the creek that cuts the road
& afterward went back to the

smoky yard of a Maori family's
home or bach. how do you

end a poem like this without
saying that all poems are about

love & death -- as you had?

Published with permission of HeadworX Publishers

This post today is to honour the passing of one of Christchurch and Canterbury's poetic identities, John O'Connor. John died suddenly on 12 May 2015.

John O'Connor founded the poetry magazine, plainwraps, in 1989. He has been an occasional editor of Spin, Takahe and the NZ Poetry Society's annual anthology. He was co-founder of Sudden Valley Press and Poets Group and was co-editor of the Canterbury Poets Combined Presses. He was on the committee of the Canterbury Poets Collective for twelve years, five of those as Chair.

John's many poetry collections include Laying Autumn's Dust (Line Print, 1983), Citizen of No Mean City (Concept Publishing, 1985), As It Is (Sudden Valley Press, 1997), A Particular Context (Sudden Valley Press, 1999), Working Voices (with Eric Mould) (Hallard Press, 2003), Parts of the Moon: Selected Haiku (Post Pressed, 2007), Cornelius & Co: Collected Working Class Verse (Post Pressed, 2010), Bright the Harvest Moon (Poets Group, 2011), Aspects of Reality (HeadworX, 2013) and Whistling in the Dark (HeadworX, 2014).

Monday, July 6, 2015

Sangan River Meditations: Spring, by Susan Musgrave

What I most want is to spring out of this personality,
then to sit apart from that leaping.
I've lived too long where I can be reached.
Rumi  "Unseen Rain"

In another life, this place was my home.
I feel the rising of a forgotten  knowledge
like a spring from hidden aquifers under the earth.

To glimpse your own nature is to come home
like the rainfall that turns to mist before touching the earth
then rises once again to praise the sky.

a young eagle lights
on a gravel bar.  How effortlessly
the rain drips from the eaves.

A moment ago I heard
a raven speak: feed me,
stay away, come over here,
pay attention!  Imagine!  Up
until that moment the ravens
and I had not been on speaking terms.

I wash lettuce in the river
separating the leaves to make sure
no dirt clings to the unearthed root.

Later, a simple meal of alder-smoked
salmon, and hard bread I baked over
a week ago.  Later still I return to the river
with empty hands.

From the bridge I watch
the pure moving of the bird
over the bank where two children
pick the blue lupines I planted
that have since grown wild.  I see
the raptor swoop, then change
his mind and disappear, think
how boundless is the pure
wind circling our lives.

Paul's home from the hospital:
who would've guessed he could beat
lung cancer!  Already he's up
making deals, vying to buy
my old Toyota for parts when I've
driven her into the ground.

At low tide he would take me
to the places no one knew;  he knew
I loved those blue-violet mussel shells,
their hairlike bonds.  Driving home
along the beach I turned once
at White Creek to see a wisp
of white cloud spiraling into the sky
over the dome of Tow Hill,
just as if, I remember feeling,
a spirit were leaving a body.

Our cat is up the tree again;  I hear her cry
over the lonely tattering of prayer flags
worn to transparency by the wind.  I try
tempting her down with heart minced the way
she likes it, still warm from the gutted
body of the deer.  I build a bridge
from our roof to the end of her branch
so she can pad across and I can rescue her.

But no, it's as if she clings to the high
dying hemlock because she has
something she wants me to see.
Later, with the moon rising I climb back
onto our roof with my flashlight, her eyes
two shiny plum pits summoning me.  She
is happy now that I have come just to sit
patiently and watch from this height
the river empty into the sea.

Perhaps this is all
I have left to do

bow to the plum blossoms
in all those ancient love poems

loosely translated from the Chinese.

'Spring', an extract from Sangan River Meditations
by Susan Musgrave
from Origami Dove published by McClelland & Stewart

I met Susan Musgrave when I was in British Columbia recently on a research trip.  She's one of Canada's leading poets, with 14 previous collections, as well as prose books.  Origami Dove, published in 2011, was a finalist in the Governor General's awards and individual poems in it have also won awards.

Susan lives mainly on the islands of Haida Gwaii, off Canada's north west coast.  It's remote and wild. People there try to live off the land and the sea, foraging for food.  There are deer, salmon, crabs, halibut, clams, and a whole range of fruits and salads all there for the taking. Chickens scratch in the back yard and small veggie plots are wired against the wildlife.  Susan, who believes it's incredibly important that we know how to feed ourselves in an uncertain world, has recently gone vegetarian - unable not to imagine a pair of brown eyes looking at her out of the pot whenever she cooks a meat dish.  She makes all her own preserves, bread and yogurt.

Susan has had a very unusual life and her poetry reflects that. Married for over 20 years, she spent many of them alone while her husband served a sentence for bank robbery. He too is a writer. Susan owns one of the quirkiest bed and breakfasts in the whole of British Columbia - it's like staying in a museum. I slept in The Retreat, famous for Margaret Atwood's stay there.

Susan's poetry is as unconventional as the poet, and it's a very unusual collection, containing several long sequences.  There are surprising contrasts - swings from contemplative rhythms to 'in your face' passages, and - as one reviewer commented - 'enough tragedy to break your heart'.  I particularly love the Sangan River Meditations, and also Heroines, a hard-edged, unsentimental series of poems, which was commissioned for a documentary about the lives of six prostitutes, addicted to heroin, and which won several awards. A poem from Heroines is featured on my own blog today.

Origami Dove is published by McLelland & Stewart

Today's poem has been chosen by Kathleen Jones. She is a biographer, novelist and poet who lives mainly in England but sometimes in Italy.  She blogs at 'A Writer's Life', is often to be found wasting time on Facebook, and Tweets incognito as @kathyferber 

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