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Avoid for Ruth Life is not a dream. Careful! Careful! Careful! ‘The city that does not sleep’ New Age mystics. Wave-particle physics. Federico Garcia Lorca, that all-night talker. The law. The rot inside the apple core. All dawdlers. Power walkers. Tattoo parlours. Death metal concerts. Poetry readings that go on for hours. Cigarettes. White-singleted men in bedsits. Responsibilities. Provincial cities. Representation on committees. Bad sex. Rainforest decks. Sunday best. Other people’s crises. Lychees. Waste of breath. At all costs, avoid death. Too much sun. Too much of one thing. Wagner’s Ring. Paintings of cows at eventide. Cows in formaldehyde. Sentimentality and cynicism. Literary criticism. Impartiality. Anyone with a knife. The good life. ~ Valediction Goodbye, bagel, table for one. Coffee, cigarette. Warmth of the sun. Goodbye, sparrow. Goodbye, speckled hen. Goodbye, tomorrow. Goodbye, remember when. Goodbye pepper, goodbye, salt. Goodbye, sour and bitter things. And honey. Malt. Goodbye whiskey, cabernet, beer. Goodbye, Christmas. Goodbye, New Year. Goodbye mortgage, taxes, and bills, renovator’s makeover, rotten windowsills, lovers, hatreds, kid pen-pal from Mumbai. Old body that I’ve come to know. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye. Tim Upperton (from The night we ate the baby, Haunui Press, 2014) Tailfeather On that note, I’ll conclude this 15 week Tiki Tour of New Zealand poetry—a rare opportunity to redirect some literary traffic eastwards, back across the Pacific. American voices have been heard in New Zealand for decades now—and their influence is everywhere to be felt in our contemporary poetry. Yet most American readers and writers don’t know much at all about New Zealand and its poetry. (A rare exception: Robert Creeley married a girl from Dunedin and used to drop by nearly often enough for us to claim him as a New Zealand poet.) For anyone wanting to explore antipodean poetry a little further, a good starting place is the ‘Best New Zealand Poetry’ website (administered by Chris Price and the Institute of Modern Letters)—an annual on-line publication inspired by the ‘Best American Poetry’ anthologies: The site features such indispensable poets as James K. Baxter, Allen Curnow, Ian Wedde, Janet Frame, C. K. Stead, Keri Hulme, Geoff Cochrane, Kate Camp, Ashleigh Young and virtually all of the NZ poets featured on the present site over the past 15 weeks. Among the anthologies in print, I can wholeheartedly recommend Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets, ed. Andrew Johnston and Robyn Marsack (VUP & Carcanet, UK, 2008) and The best of the best New Zealand Poems (ed. Bill Manhire and Damien Wilkins, VUP 2012). For a wider view of the nation’s literature, the 1200 page compendium The AUP Anthology of New Zealand Literature (ed. Jane Stafford and Mark Williams, 2012) is—remarkably, given its size—sparky, enticing, energising and brilliant. Also worth a close look: Essential New Zealand Poems (ed. Siobhan Harvey, Harry Ricketts and James Norcliffe), 99 ways into New Zealand poetry (ed. Harry Ricketts and Paula Green), the periodicals Landfall, Sport, Hue & Cry, and the on-line journals: trout ( and turbine ( Many thanks to all the poets... Continue reading
Posted Sep 28, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Four poems from 'Puna Wai Korero--an anthology of Maori poetry in English' The launching in Auckland this week of a major anthology of Maori poetry (in English) is cause for celebration and, hopefully, vigorous discussion. In their 400 page compendium, editors Reina Whaitiri and Robert Sullivan have surveyed a rich, wide-ranging, lyrical, often politicised and much mythologised poetic landscape. Purposeful, sometimes argumentative, and nearly always bedrocked in immediate experience, Maori poetry--as portrayed here--keeps returning to fundamental relationships: between individuals, family, community, tribe and nation. The book contains laments and valedictions, ancestral meditations, conversations with mythical figures and, tellingly, a number of poems addressing the greatest Maori poet to date, Hone Tuwhare (1922--2008). 'Through language and ideas, through stories and shared experiences, we discover and rediscover what it is to be Maori,' the editors state in their introduction. 'Te korero te kai a te rangatira---and may we continue to be well fed.' Haiku (1) Stop your snivelling creek­bed: come rain hail and flood­water laugh again (Hone Tuwhare, 1970) ~ Restoring the ancestral house Old walls creak amid mason­bee hum through cracked timbers sun splinters ricochet from the one good eye of the tekoteko supine upon the floor And I . . . ladder perched hand poised tentatively to trace aged scrolls of clays blue­black and white and kōkōwai adornments on the ribs of the ancestral house let the master craftsman return from the loosened tukutuku panel to guide the untutored hand The shadows move and the house is full grey mounds humped upon the whāriki sleeping a child slurps upon his mother’s nipple in the corner muffled lover shufflings and the old men snoring But only spiders people the house they and the marauding mason­bee are the spinners of tales and the long night singing no child no lovers and the old men stare faded photographs morose in their warped frames drunk against the wall And I . . . ladder shaking and shiny acrylic and cement for the dry rot in the tekoteko’s back. (Katerina Mataira, 1996) ~ For my father in prison, 1965 Doing time my father would have needed time to do this To build a table made from matchsticks, our only family heirloom Matchstick upon matchstick held together with some kind of glue Just like the brick building which held him Yes, that’s it stone upon black stone which kept him captive He entered through the heavily bolted steel door they held open And when he emerged he had a matchstick table and was very quiet Each matchstick represented a fragment of his life Each fragment was there outside him, set in a glue and he was a shell (Michael O'Leary, 1985) ~ Honda waka Today I surrendered the life of my Honda City to a wrecker in Penrose for $30. I bought it seven years ago for $6000. It has rust in the lower sills, rust around the side windows – on the WOF inspection sheet it says: ‘this car has bad and a lot of... Continue reading
Posted Sep 21, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Seven short poems of landscape and love Homing In Here again. Dark’s falling. Stand on the corner of the verandah in the glass cold clear night, looking out to emerald and ruby harbour lights: too sharp to stay out long, enough just to greet the bones lying on the moon and two fishing boats homing in. Cilla McQueen (from Homing In, 1982; Axis,poems and drawings, 2001) ~ meditation on blue sudden spears of Agapanthus open blue on grey Pohutukawa with the violence of love in a quiet life Joanna Margaret Paul (from like love poems / selected poems, 2006) ~ Hitching alone for the first time I took a bus to the outskirts of the town I grew up in. It was so flat. The Southern Alps blared at me like a car radio. It was drizzling but auspicious. Five rides and three hours to get seventy kilometres. But I got dropped at the corner, things bounding in me like rabbits. And there, there was Sarah, on the daffodil farm. All that space. Hours yet of daylight. How well I would live. Maria McMillan (from Tree Space, 2014) ~ Jungle Be Gentle Nothing decipherable under the bath-blue lights of the office building Nothing to eat at the Thai Cuban fusion lunch bar No one to tell about the sadness of late evening meetings or the bus driver’s rage at the door that won’t shut We have not all been thinking about tigers but today I heard someone say ‘I think I would give my life for a tiger’ I would give my life for tigers Therese Lloyd (from Other Animals, 2013) ~ Light and shade On one side of the tree Lightning never struck. Ancient birds sat in the branches No wind could lift their feathers. On the other side Black leaves smoked. Birds flew close, perched Then fell to the ground like fruit. Frances Samuel (from Sleeping on Horseback, 2014) ~ Lyric Who cares if her hemline is too long her silk skirt too light her colours too lovely a lyric is like water and water is walked alongside, and loved. Dinah Hawken (from Water, Leaves, Stones, 1995) ~ Kahlei: My Beloved deep within the Tonga Trench I hear you whisper to me for blood ties us back to Tungua that place where our ola shells gather in the black lacquered pools of your eyes Leilani Tamu (from The Art of Excavation, 2014) Acknowledgements and thanks to the publishers of the books from which these poems were taken: Victoria University Press, John McIndoe/Otago University Press and Anahera. The drawing is by the editor.) Continue reading
Posted Sep 14, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Always on the cards I haven’t been to Karachi. I’ve imagined it though. I know they have problems there, and marriages arranged by dealers, much as cricket matches might be arranged. I know there are streets more colourful than I’m likely to comprehend. There are beautiful children with eyes no tourist’s camera could resist, beautiful hungry children. But that’s by the bye. I’m trying to find some way to think of being dead, and it seems not too absurd to consider it merely a place I’ve never arrived at, but when I’m there, all I’m used to goes on back here as it does, this minute if you like, a car-horn jammed in a garage round the corner, the heater I’m anxious if it’s been turned off, a book with a bookmark’s lolling leather tongue. It’s a matter of travel, to put it blandly. Have you been dead lately? I imagine someone saying, and answering, No, but I still intend to, as I hope to visit Karachi. -- Vincent O’Sullivan Current New Zealand Poet Laureate, Vincent O’Sullivan is author of two novels, a biography of writer John Mulgan, and numerous collections of stories and poetry. He is also a playwright and, not surprisingly, his verse is often theatrical in its use of personae and dialogue, its dramatic entrances and exits. ‘Always on the cards’—which unfolds like a dramatic monologue—is from O’Sullivan’s latest collection Us, then (Victoria University Press 2013). As well as dissecting family and social relationships, O’Sullivan’s poems have a rare capacity to take on fads and lapses in the national character. Notably in this regard, his latest book includes a meditation on director Peter Jackson’s filmic recasting of New Zealand as Middle Earth. In the ensuing kitsch-fest, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit have been subsumed holus-bolus into the popular national self-image, aided and enthusiastically abetted by the tourism board and a score of souvenir-touting operators. O’Sullivan’s observations on the present state of cultural confusion are worth quoting in full: This time in 3-D The usual spilling of ten thousand orcs, the magic swords, dismembered stacks, a warg’s head bouncing the Southern Alps. A grey unspeakably boring wizard making his Baden-Powell speeches on keeping order in the Shire, serving the cause of peaceable hobbits and shining, pure- fabricked, waterfall-elegant elves. I yearn for a piece of human flesh stabbing the dear life at another piece. I want us as we’ve always been. I want Reality for God’s sake, the way it was trickily made! Continue reading
Posted Sep 8, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
slow reader the reports always said she was conscientious but must learn to work faster so she outran the reading laboratory got through tan to aqua and was safe at last from the speed tests it was a valuable lesson the letters dropped softly into place making voices sing or whisper there was so much to keep track of kerning Times Roman with a sable-haired brush serifs echoing celestial geometry hours of work for one or two words about time she learned space and what lies between compelling body and soul light and air song and dance big letters flying from keyboard to screen at a touch marvellous sarabande starry gavotte freehand the camber but understand weight and measure the way feet walk in the world and hands turn pages that take them out of it again and the copula its even-handedness its tying of one thing to another so that both spin along the causeway expanding possibilities a non-rival good an open source a site for sore eyes quick in its exchange slow to forget the illuminations psst! pssssssss sssssssst! pssssssssssssssst! poem as event tied to the smallest detail cut from the flying vista Alentejo Pontchartrain beyond the river is where we want to go Ponte Littorio shimmering into della Libertà that kind of hope that kind of day that one beside you offering an arm in the dark Michele Leggott Author of eight collections of poetry, Michele Leggott (born in Stratford, Taranaki, in 1956) is a Professor of English at the University of Auckland, from where she co-ordinates the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre ( A graduate of the University of British Columbia, Leggott wrote her PhD on the poetry of Louis Zukovsky (her dissertation was subsequently published as Reading Zukofsky’s "80 Flowers" in 1989). Leggott's poetry, since the 1980s, has been shaped by an intense scrutiny of Zukofsky and other recent North American poets, and by her later immersion in the work of pioneering generations of New Zealand woman poets such as Robin Hyde, Mary Stanley and Eileen Duggan. Her writing has retained the kind of taut, allusive musicality which would have appealed to Zukofsky while adopting, increasingly, the personal register and lyricism of Hyde and others. Teeming with incidents and details from the life of the mind, self and family (past and present), Leggott's poems are like preludes and fugues played upon the surfaces of the everyday. 'slow reader' is from her 2009 collection, Mirabile Dictu. Her most recent collection, Heartland, appeared from Auckland University Press this year. Further information: Continue reading
Posted Sep 1, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
The Old Dog A slipping away on this still day. Autumn in the warmth that is the wood of things. A comfort in the old dog, like a rug. Spiders get busy in the sun, knitting a past. We write poems for dead fathers, for all that dies, for all that dies by our hand. A distant music, cars on the road. Even birdsong, interrupted, the eternal trump. The vein is open to the heart, unsuspecting as ever. A heaviness comes upon ... upon me. This heaviness, just wood to build the sky, just sky to mask our deceptions. I am building a great tower: the wood in which all good things have gone. Tom Weston. Born in 1958, Tom Weston is a poet, solicitor and, most recently, a judge. In the latter capacity, he has served around the islands of the South Pacific as well as in Christchurch, where he lives (and where he remained during and after the devastation of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes). Weston has published four poetry collections, of which The Ambigious Companion (1996) and Naming the Mind Like Trees (2004) are illustrated by one of Australasia's most inventive painters, Joanna Braithwaite. 'The old dog' is taken from his most recent book, Only one question (Steele Roberts, 2014)—a collection of poems which, he says, 'came into existence pre-earthquake but have been shaped and moulded post-earthquake'. Bearing in mind his profession, Weston's judgements on the world are commendably open-ended, elliptical and never tautological. With their many registers of voice (supplied by a lively cast of walk-on characters), the poems occupy a social space—equal parts courtroom, suburban street corner, outrigger canoe and drawing room facing the Southern Alps. further information about Tom Weston:,%20Tom Continue reading
Posted Aug 24, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
The Language of the Future For Catherine In the language of the future today will always be today and the moments will sparkle like bearings. There will always be enough time to get things done because there will always be enough hours in the day. Countries will be divided up into hexagons, and every hexagon will be occupied by a new idea. Everywhere will be connected directly with everywhere else by the infallible laws of perspective. Straight lines will flow into straight lines across the golden fields, across the golden fields melting into the golden cities. Gold will grow on vines. In the future, language will also grow on a vine, and everything we say will be understood. People will be able to speak their minds, so that the world will seem at first astonishing and then strangely quiet. Some will begin to choose their words carefully, but most will come to regard communication with a lengthening suspicion, so that eventually the sounds themselves will be granted independence —and then held accountable. As such, in the language of the future the revelations of the new freedoms will be the property of everyone and nobody. Breasts will become a universal validating standard and fat people will be made illegal. Cars will finally be included in the Bill of Rights and granted protection from pedestrians and other forms of visual pollution. The emancipation of signs will be the speed of change. For in the future, brain retention will decrease but thought-count will expand, so that poking out one’s tongue will be just the tip of the iceberg. And although the space separating words from everything else will have ceased to be, research will continue and a distant descendant of Henry James will discover a way of measuring exactly the spaces between words. Mapping will begin, and the first settlers will arrive and gaze straight through all that lies before them into whatever will be. With the new discoveries the insides of language will be found to be made up of trillions of interconnecting spheres. Thus, the insides of many things will come to be similarly constructed, so that when a man inserts his opinion into a woman, her insides too will glisten with spheres, which will whirr and retract and increase slightly in temperature. Teenagers courting in parents’ cars will no longer do donuts, but will do spheres, and, as the verbs decline, their rear-vision mirrors will display the past like kinetic sculpture. Babies will start to be born with wheels, making it easier to get around. Within the language of the future everything will be different and instantly recognisable. We will touch our golden bodies together and they will touch their golden bodies together, and so on and so on. But there will still be the stories for we will always have the need to be guided by voices. ‘Listen,’ they already whisper, ‘under the bushes, under the stars, a cool hand talks silently, love …’ James Brown Anyone called James... Continue reading
Posted Aug 17, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Since David Eggleton's 'Painting Mount Taranaki' first appeared in the The Penguin Book of New Zealand Poetry in 1985, it has been one of the most discussed and deconstructed poems in the country's literary history. The poem is a meditation on Mount Taranaki (formerly known as Mount Egmont)--a Mount Fuji-like pyramidal volcano in the North Island, popularised on teatowels, biscuit tins and postcards for well over a century. Eggleton's poem is revisionist in character and volcanic in its gusto; it takes the reader on a break-neck tour of the farming province that wraps around three sides of the iconic mountain. Channeling Allen Ginsberg's 'Howl', the poem sweeps up ancient history, colonialism, consumerism and mass culture in a blaze of surreal observation and soulful invocation. While William Wordworth also figures in the pre-history of this poem, Eggleton's emotions are never quite 'recollected in tranquility'--his poems tend to be hyperactive, satirical and with equal parts euphoria and righteous anger. ‘Painting Mount Taranaki’ Mainly I was led to them, the casinos of aluminium, by the gift of eyebright, whose hollow core contained a vision of the coast and on it the cone shape, like a pile of drenched wheat, of Mount Taranaki. In a world covered in silica and chucked-up alkathene, fibrolite, aluminium it is just a peak surrounded on three sides by water. For the Soviets, holding down a floor of the Los Angeles Hilton is a forbidden progression of the open society. So, to the French, whose own symbol is an ageing Brigitte Bardot, the mountain, just the same, could be a logo for the butter they’ve no-noed, dismissing a country’s living tannery with a sniff: the hides of rain-slicked cows only acceptable in the corner of a page by Frank Sargeson. Corrupt innocence, a young brain, prodded Techtones, featureless Features, a shot Texan burgerbar, the list is endless but not one story seems complete on its own, even tying up the numbered dots proves less efficient than you might at first think and, anyway, this absurd reductionist format is one which can only begin to hint at the complex underlying reality. Gossamer threads in air, truck belting down the drive, irresistible wind urging on the silver mist threads over the split, cheap graves and into green Norfolk pines. During the Vietnam War Against Imperialist Aggression I was schooled in classrooms near Mangere International Airport as venerable millennium temples blew into millions of fragments in lovely orange and black negatives—in a variation on a theme a close study of the status of stainless, chrome, plastic superheroes revealed wild discrepancies. Over the various eye-witness accounts whirred the blades of gunships trailing and corpses surfed by on an extravaganza of black Coke. Later, as I put down another batch of jungle juice, I began to learn that Man cannot live on home-baked bread and granola alone. So much up, I moved closer under the mountain until I stood inside a convention of car dealers in an Inglewood hotel. Young and hopelessly flippant, I... Continue reading
Posted Aug 10, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
miriama i. On crossing the border, I always change my name. A simple precaution & you to guard my back Maheno, Monte Cristo, Waianakarua, Mt Misery & all the wildflowers I am heavy with loot & disappointment, heading south again down the soft underbelly of the island, shedding skins like coke cans on the Kilmog & already the rain. ii. You are waiting, with or without my blessing, in a blue room of pictures torn from magazines: Mother Teresa, Athena's sandaled Victory, a sequoia forest, an avocado pear, gazelles, two babies in a bath with a chimp, Ayers Rock by sunset, Hare Krishnas in their old gold, mud pools, a street kid. You have a bruise on your cheek. iii. 'Sit down & I'll tell you a story. At Moeraki in the old days lived a prophet, Kiri Mahi Nahina, who taught all the people that Tiki had made them, not Io. Te Wera, the warrior, struck him down with his taiaha. Plugged his eyes, ears, nose, mouth, anus with moss to contain the heresy. Then he & his warriors ate him.' iv. Nothing is high, nothing is low, nothing is hidden. This is the song, Miriama, you sing, doublestopping on my heart strings. Bernadette Hall Written with characteristic amounts of both tenderness and toughness, Bernadette Hall's 'miriama' is a paean to friendship, going places together and shared history. While postcard-like fragments of memory and past events hint at darker realities, it is the intimacy and lyricism of the poem's voice that prevail--the writer and Miriama in heartfeld conversation. As Vincent O'Sullivan has written, Hall's poems are 'the work of a questing, generous, civilised mind, one that quite knows what its values are, and that says so in ways that are definingly unique'. Born in Alexandra, Central Otago, in 1945, Bernadette Hall lives at Amberley Beach, just north of Christchurch. A graduate in classics from Otago University, she is also a playwright, editor and has produced memorable collaborations with visual artist Kathryn Madill. Since the publication in 2004 of The Merino Princess; selected poems (from which 'miriama' is taken), she has produced The Ponies (2007), The Lustre Jug (2009) and Life & Customs (2013), all from Victoria University Press. Continue reading
Posted Aug 4, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Beginnings Guthrie-Smith in New Zealand 1885 Who am I? What am I doing here alone with 3000 sheep? I'm turning their bones into grass. Later I'll turn grass back into sheep. I buy only the old and the lame. They eat anything--bush, bracken, gorse. Dead, they melt into one green fleece. Who am I? I know the Lord's my shepherd as I am theirs--but this is the nineteenth century; Darwin is God's First Mate. I must keep my own log, full of facts if not love. I own 10,000 acres and one dark lake. On the seventh day those jaws don't stop. Who am I? I am the one sheep that must not get lost. So I name names--rocks, flowers, fish: knowing this place I learn to know myself. I survive. The land becomes my meat and tallow. I light my own lamps. I hold back the dark with the blood of my lambs. Peter Bland In 'Beginnings' Peter Bland revisits the life of an important colonial figure, W. H. Guthrie-Smith (1862-1940), who settled in New Zealand as a young man and leased a massive sheep-station called Tutira in the Hawkes Bay region. In 1921 Guthrie-Smith published Tutira--the story of a New Zealand sheep station, which went on to become a classic of New Zealand literature. Bland uses the figure of Guthrie-Smith to make some wry remarks about the changing face of 19th century New Zealand with its new covenant of Christianity, enlightened thinking, taxonomy and sheep-farming. (For much of the 20th century, the nation boasted about having ten sheep for every human inhabitant.). Peter Bland was born in North Yorkshire, England, in 1934. Arriving in Wellington, aged 20, he studied at Victoria University; during the 1950s and 60s he was a key figure, with James K. Baxter, Alistair Campbell and Louis Johnson, in the Wellington Group. Since the 1970s, he has oscillated between Northern and Southern Hemispheres--and is presently based in Auckland. Not surprisingly, given the geographical shifts of his adult life, he continues to cast an incisive writerly eye over such matters as immigration, the expatriate condition and cultural identity, all handled with his characteristic wit, fellow feeling and tenderness (the latter quality is also much in evidence in his many poems about family). 'Beginnings' was included in Bland's Selected Poems (Carcanet, UK, 1998) and also appeared in his Collected Poems (Steele Roberts, NZ, 2012); his two most recent collections of poetry are Breath Dances (2013) and Hunting Elephants (2014). Peter Bland is also well known as a theatre and film actor in both New Zealand and England. Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
The sea question The sea asks 'How is your life now?' It does so obliquely, changing colour. It is never the same on any two visits. It is never the same in any particular Only in generalities, tide and such matters Wave height and suction, pebbles that rattle. It doesn't presume to wear a white coat But it questions you like a psychologist As you walk beside it on its long couch. Elizabeth Smither New Zealand poetry has often engaged with the ocean--not surprisingly given that only one seventeenth of New Zealand is made up of dry land; the remainder of the nation's territory has the waters of the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea washing over it. While sea-poems tend to be soulful, often turbulent, excursions into the natural world and the human condition, Elizabeth Smither's 'The sea question' renegotiates the human/marine relationship. The lightness and lyricism of her imagined exchange has few precursors in New Zealand littoral poetry. With humanity laid out on a 'long couch' being counselled by the ocean, the poem acknowledges the sea not only as a natural resouce but also as a repository of wisdom. Maybe the ocean can restore humanity's well-being, if only we listen to what it has to say? Born in 1941, Elizabeth Smither lives in New Plymouth, in a small house looking out across the Tasman. Her poems are precise, exquisite miniatures--they bring to mind the vignettes of Elizabethan painter Nicholas Hilliard or the lute-songs of John Dowland. In their capacity to be, at once, heartfelt and oblique, they hark back to one of her favourite poets, Emily Dickinson. Elizabeth Smither's selected poems, The Tudor Style, was published in 1993; her most recent collection is The Blue Coat (Auckland University Press 2013). She has also published novels, short stories and non-fiction, all in the 'Elizabethan' manner. Further information: Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Burial For Joe Now the grandsons have a job they can do. Are they paint or shadow? There is something of the swan about them. Are there birds on the horizon? Clouds of black rise from their shovels, perhaps believers, or sandflies or grains of sand. Clouds of alphabet, impossibly sad faces and someone struggling up out of them with a guitar. Perhaps this is Christ himself. There are black crowds and white crowds. A man with his ear pressed to a cold mirror. Are those squalls, or a cling of tiny black mussels on rock sharp little barnacles? In the sky there are muscular men holding each other or they are holding a baby or they are holding each other as they would a baby. They walk and wheel away. New ones take their place, dust devils, the earth is sand here. An older couple like Roman numerals in volkswagen green cardigans. Spilled cream or cordial a day later. This is the face of an old man held in his own hands. The floor is so cold it could be old cocoa. This is a naked man trying to squat a naked man trying to get up from squatting. This is people gathered, beast-like, their bent heads have leaves for ears. Hinemoana Baker Born in 1968, Hinemoana Baker is a prodigiously gifted singer/songwriter/poet of Maori and European descent. Written in memory of a family member, ‘Burial’ draws its almost calligraphic imagery from Colin McCahon's littoral painting Walk (Series C) (1973)--a frieze-like evocation of Muriwai Beach, near Auckland. McCahon's painting, accompanied by some responses by other New Zealand poets, can be found here: The final line of Baker's poem alludes to the Maori tradition whereby the family of the deceased wear tightly woven wreaths of kawakawa leaves around their heads. She has made numerous recordings and written three collections of poetry, most recently waha / mouth (Victoria University Press, 2014)--further information go here. Her first collection, matuhi / needle (co-published in the United States by actor Viggo Mortensen’s Perceval Press in 2004) contains one of the most succinct sporting poems ever written in New Zealand: Referee he needs to let the game go he needs to go back to Townsville he needs to know we didn’t drive seven hours to listen to him play his whistle. Continue reading
Posted Jul 13, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Illustration (c) Sarah Maxey Juliet That's the boy, she'll say, that's the boy in you - sitting on some bench, or beach gazing into the same maddening distance. It's the boy in her, she says, that likes the girl in you. Ah, to be a person, that's hard enough. Sleep now. Get some sleep, that's the boy. -- Andrew Johnston 'Juliet' is from Andrew Johnston's most recent book, Do You Read Me? (2013), a collaboration with typographer/artist Sarah Maxey. Comprising 26 poems with accompanying pictures, one for each of the alphabet call signs, the collection offers an inventive and sonorous ensemble of colour-bands, sound-waves, patterns of thought and voice. It also contains a memorable meditation on that dubious New Zealand invention from the 1980s, the bungee: 'It was on the bungee jump / I was introduced to / the art of oscillation / ... it was on the bungee jump / my smile became a frown.' Born 1963, in Upper Hutt, New Zealand, Andrew Johnston has lived in France since 1997. He has published five collections of poetry and, in 2009, co-edited with Robyn Marsack Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poems (Carcanet/Victoria University Press). In 2004 he founded The Page, a site devoted to on-line literature, reviews and poetry, which he edited until 2009. (The site continues under the lively stewardship of John McAuliffe and others at the Centre for New Writing, Manchester University.) Johnston's double-sestina, 'The Sunflower', is deservedly considered one of the best New Zealand poems of recent years (it can be read in full here. More poems, essays and other material: Continue reading
Posted Jul 6, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
A Life Blighted by Pythons waiting at the bus-stop all I can think about is how my hovercraft is full of eels but it’s not, of course it’s not my hovercraft is practically empty my eels are few in fact they’re not eels at all but a netload of whitebait and it isn’t even a hovercraft I've never owned a hovercraft in my life I wouldn’t know what to do with one it’s not even a dinghy it’s a reusable eco-friendly shopping bag and they’re definitely not eels and not even whitebait the truth is, I've never been whitebaiting they’re just vegetables and I only have one thing to say: your eels my hovercraft now, baby, now -- Janis Freegard Based in Wellington, New Zealand, Janis Freegard has a background in botany and the natural sciences--territories her poems are intent on celebrating, excavating, reconfiguring and subverting. 'A Life Blighted by Pythons' is from her first collection, Kingdom Animalia, published by Auckland University Press in 2011. Within the zoo-like enclosure of that book, she collects and catalogues numerous species, inspired by the Swedish naturalist and 'Father of Taxonomy', Carolus Linnaeus (1707-78), about whom Freegard writes on her blog. Like the most interesting bestiaries of past eras, her poems tell us more about the human condition than they do about the natural world of which humanity is a part. What exactly is going on in Freegard's 'blighted life'? A Freudian psychologist would have a field day with her ensemble of snakes and hovercraft. Is the poem propelled by love or lust or neurosis? Or is it simply the product of a hyperactive imagination? For the record, there are no species of snakes living in the wild in New Zealand, although there are a great many eels. And there are no public hovercrafts; the only examples are in the service of eccentric millionaires. Continue reading
Posted Jun 29, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
2008 (c) Ed Swinden Hotel Emergencies The fire alarm sound: is given as a howling sound. Do not use the lifts. The optimism sound: is given as the sound of a man brushing his teeth. Do not go to bed. The respectability sound: is given as a familiar honking sound. Do not run, do not sing. The dearly-departed sound: is given as a rumble in the bones. Do not enter the coffin. The afterlife sound: is given as the music of the spheres. It will not reconstruct. The bordello sound: is given as a small child screaming. Do not turn on the light. The accident sound: is given as an ambulance sound. You can hear it coming closer, do not crowd the footpaths. The execution sound: is given as the sound of prayer. Oh be cautious, do not stand too near or you will surely hear: the machinegun sound, the weeping mother sound, the agony sound, the dying child sound: whose voice is already drowned by the approaching helicopter sound: which is given as the dead flower sound, the warlord sound, the hunting and fleeing and clattering sound, the amputation sound, the bloodbath sound, the sound of the President quietly addressing his dinner; now he places his knife and fork together (a polite and tidy sound) before addressing the nation and making a just and necessary war sound: which is given as a freedom sound (do not cherish memory): which is given as a security sound: which is given as a prisoner sound: which is given again as a war sound: which is a torture sound and a watchtower sound and a firing sound: which is given as a Timor sound: which is given as a decapitation sound (do not think you will not gasp tomorrow): which is given as a Darfur sound: which is given as a Dachau sound: which is given as a dry river- bed sound, as a wind in the poplars sound: which is given again as an angry god sound: which is here as a Muslim sound: which is here as a Christian sound: which is here as a Jewish sound: which is here as a merciful god sound: which is here as a praying sound; which is here as a kneeling sound: which is here as a scripture sound: which is here as a black-wing sound: as a dark-cloud sound: as a black-ash sound: which is given as a howling sound: which is given as a fire alarm sound: which is given late at night, calling you from your bed (do not use the lifts): which is given as a burning sound, no, as a human sound, as a heartbeat sound: which is given as a sound beyond sound: which is given as the sound of many weeping: which is given as an entirely familiar sound, a sound like no other, up there high in the smoke above the stars Bill Manhire ~ Bill Manhire's Selected Poems appeared earlier this year from Carcanet (UK)... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Gregory O'Brien is now following The Typepad Team
Jun 22, 2014