Monday, March 28, 2011

Tuesday Poem - man with children by Ross Donlon

man with children

suddenly on my garden wall
a child's frowning face
her arms folded waiting

then a burst of jigsaw words
but about her hat
her black and orange hat and lost

oh well I say looking up and out no adult
where did you leave your hat where was it?
but no at the slow man a cat a lost cat

saturday afternoon with radio sport
talking to a welcome stranger child
the street and front yards empty

oh he'll come home for his dinner the cat
but now a second child scrambling up so
two cross puppets hanging on and puffing

a small girl and her smaller snuffling brother
reporter faces stern with breaking news no
the cat was there pointing near and nowhere

we all three look but all is innocent of cats
then a woman enters centre stage opposite
looks across I wave my spade say hi

call my name gabble black and orange
and of the children who came like the past
too far to shout four of my own

she looks away and down the street
makes a waving motion like sowing grain
I shoo my hands to make them fly

but later the sun and the sport disappearing
small steps scramble up shout found him
then run across the border road to safety

Ross Donlon lives in Castlemaine and runs the excellent Castlemaine readings in the Guildford Pub. They are a treat and a half and the open readers compete with a keen edge for the Castlemaine Cup. Which is always an egg cup and is sometimes of stunning incongruity. I have seen a Barbie egg cup handed out and I have seen it accepted with due gravity. These readings are tons of fun, packed to the rafters, and the standard of poetry is out there somewhere in the stratosphere. Ross is very inclusive and when funds allow he flies in poets from all over Australia. It's a hub for poetry, or a crux, or a choke point, or even, maybe a grand convergence.
But there is a lot more to Ross than this event which he husbands along. He's a poet. Sometimes his work is droll, and sometimes he essays more troubling subjects. I like his angles. I like his attention to craft. I find his work attractive.
One of his most attractive poems is The Blue Dressing Gown which recently won the Wenlock Festival Poetry Prize in the UK and Ross will be appearing at the festival in May. I hope to be able to post it here later in the year.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tuesday Poem - Jun by Johanna Aitchison


one of the coldest things i did in japan was walk across the finger boards
of the green onion café and sit down on a bar stool and speak my lines
(including one super-polite word which i read from the back of my hand)

one of the most linguistically difficult things i did in japan was to memorise
how to say in japanese i am so sorry to hear about your son jun dying and
here is 3000 yen for flowers for his grave

one of the saddest things i did in japan was teach to jun’s photo on his empty
desk i asked the students to count the students in the class the students said
do we count jun

This poem has been haunting me since the terrible events in Japan. So Johanna has kindly allowed me to post it and share it.
I was running a loose sort of poetry night at Barista in Palmerston North while I was Visiting Literary Artist at Massey University last year. And Johanna came along which was great. Very cool poet girl that she is. She had spent three years teaching English in a Japanese fishing village so one of the first poems she read to us was Jun. Oh we liked it. We liked it very much. I suggested she enter it for the NZ Poetry Society competition because I was sure Viv Plumb would like it. And guess what, Viv Plumb did like it and it won. So that was all very cool.
When I say we liked the poem, of course we liked it feelingly. It is about a terrible loss and how to find the words to express your sorrow for the loss, and how to make a gesture which is appropriate, and then how to continue on living with that loss.

Johanna's second book – a long girl ago – was published by Victoria University Press.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tuesday Poem - Everything Is For A Very Short Time by Jennifer Compton

Everything Is For A Very Short Time
                       The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse
                      Edited by Ian Wedde and Harvey McQueen

There is no question of regret - I write hastily, in the shadow of my hand –
we left off loving - I'm not good I'm not peaceful I'm not wise – collapsing
out of Heaven – good intentions - other disappointments - such an ecstasy
of bewildered weeping – we had to be terrible news – in these terrible times.
Nothing innocent lasts long – the tragic scent of violets – in a broken vase -
her face moves like the face of a thief at the window – her face unclenches
like a fist – yes, the cold has come again – with a diffident explanation.
Theology and a patchwork absolute – the bare longing of the imagination -
treacherous as an avalanche poised above – and the white snake dead too -
the translucent hyperboles of art – saying Bravo Bravo to the Invisible -
eyes lit up by eager, cruel fires – as the taniwha is raised up from its den -
prodded into stuttering rage – his gnarled his dazzling his stubborn heart -
where the visions start – among immortal things – and all this in fidelity
to death - the iron bells toll – my story comes to its end. But picture me.

Cento from – Mary Ursula Bethell, Michael Harlow, Meg Campbell, Brian Turner,
Ian Wedde, Bill Manhire, Hilaire Kirkland, Allen Curnow, Tuini Ngāwai (Translation
by Kumeroa Ngoingoi Pēwhairangi), Tony Beyer, A.R.D. Fairburn, Christina Beer,
Elizabeth Nannestad, Sam Hunt, K.O. Arvidson, Denis Glover, Heather McPherson,
Murray Edmond, Alistair Campbell, Fleur Adcock, C.K. Stead, Janet Frame, Keith
Sinclair, Waikato (Translation by Margaret Orbell), M.K. Joseph, Kevin Ireland,
Charles Brasch, Vincent O'Sullivan, James K. Baxter, David Mitchell, Keri Hulme.

I am an absolute fusser I know but I felt quite devastated when this poem was published in the recent Poetry NZ and the layout was a dog's breakfast. Layout, the picture on the page, means a lot to me. But thank heavens for Tuesday Poem and I have redress.
Cento comes from the Latin word meaning patchwork quilt, and I like to write them from time to time when I am feeling inchoate. And because I live in Australia most of the time I like to dwell sometimes in the familiarity of the canon of NZ poetry. I spent hours reading through the book. It was a refreshment.
I also notice now that the book was co-edited by Harvey McQueen, who was a Tuesday Poet, who I didn't get a chance to know because he died soon after I joined. Vale Harvey. I loved browsing the book and taking what I wanted from it to tell my own story.    

Monday, March 7, 2011

Tuesday Poem - Mitsubishi Moments by Chris Wallace-Crabbe

     Mitsubishi Moments

     At peak of summer
the paddocks have all turned blonde
     like Toorak mothers.

     Those flying foxes
object to the horrid phrase,
     Bats in the belfry.

     Humans are not quite
the full sixpence, but can still
     flatter, flirt and charm.

     Presence absorbs them
and they do self-expression
     at outdoor cafés.

     With large speaking eyes
she hinted she was part of
     these exciting times.

     Like avenue elms
green political leaders
     turn out all the same:

     one learned from Stalin
the strong magic of changing
     municipal names.

     The migrant from Prague
trundles in his wheely bin
     past the limp yucca.

This poem is from Telling A Hawk From A Handsaw published by Carcenet Press in 2008.

This is a cracker of a book, and has a reproduction on the cover of a detail from an intriguing painting by Kristin Headlam. Chris is a fine reader with stage presence and I have made several reasonably energetic efforts to hear him. Chris was born in Melbourne and you do see him around the scene quite a bit. Which is great because he is a nice guy with it. He's an Emeritus Professor and is now the chair of the newly-formed Australian Poetry Ltd. I picked this poem because I liked its clarity and melancholy wit. It's funny, I think, in a sad sort of way. With Chris's work you don't have to ponder the craftmanship – that's a given. For NZ readers, Toorak is more or less Remuera.