Monday, August 19, 2013

Tuesday Poem - Cut Your Cloth by Jennifer Compton

Cut Your Cloth

Take up the scissors, the fingers of your right hand know
where to find them, how to work them. Like that! And that!
Cut the air in two. Crunch the blades with your expertise.
Like a little song of emptiness, find the snip snip that makes
a snarl. Now what was it you were about to do, my friend?

The cloth is streaming off the loom with a shudder and thud
and I know the way the women stand back, I have seen them,
watching, deftly, their big soft hands unflexed on their bellies.
They shift from foot to foot on the long shift, and hum under
the roaring thunder of machines making material and stuff.

I have seen a brisk woman seize a bolt of cloth in a shop
and hurl it on the counter so it unfurls like an omen exact
to the lip, put out one sharp hand to stop the flutter and
measure with both arms what you might want. A yard.
Or more. Sometimes she rips it for you and it screams.

Sometimes she cuts it with a slick kerplunk, kerplunk.
I have seen a woman, dreamy and dismayed by plenty,
listen to the crackle of the taffeta, the purr of velveteen,
hat awry, unable to begin, picking at a cuticle inchoately
as if her hands, and her scissors, are useless things.

I am in a rush to get things sorted out before I head off to the Queensland Poetry Festival, so this Tuesday I am taking the easy way out and posting an older poem of mine that was in Barefoot - (Picaro Press 2010.) 


Monday, August 12, 2013

Tuesday Poem - Opal by Judy Johnson


Perhaps against no other gem has the bigotry of
superstitious ignorance so prevailed as against the
wonderful opal
            — Isadore Kozminsky, The Magic and Science of Jewels and Stones.

The names could be those of pedigree stallions:
Tabasheer, Menilite
                     Harlequin, Contra Luz.

With reds like rubble on fire
or a pair of pink-silk ballet shoes

across a stone floor 
                     by their ribbons.

The blue-greens are half air, half ocean
the eyes of knowing tom cats
          peeking from inside an aurora australis.

The gem in my ring is dying
                   through my neglect.

Composed of a measure of water
opals must be worn habitually 

so they might feast
                   replenishing themselves

on sweaty fingers
          or the nape of a neck.

They need natural light
to show their true colours.

That is all they are, really:
thirst and ball-bearing tricks
                    of reflection, refraction.

My sister, on her deathbed insisted
I inherit the ring to prove
                               our family legend wrong:     

that from that point on
no death would follow
          each instance
                     of its being worn.

I took possession to appease her
but have had to invent
        my own rules of engagement

as I did with boys all those years ago.

First date, external touches
         of the closed velvet case.

                     Second date
a cautious lifting of the lid.

I can’t or won’t
                    go all the way.           

The opal in my ring is dying:
         losing the potency of its colours
                                         becoming crazed.

How can I blame it for wanting to thrive?                           

The multicoloured eye
in the fairytale oval mirror
                             of its gold setting

mocks me as frigid, or glares
a chromatic challenge

or glints in the visual pheromones
of seduction:  
                    bedroom light on jigsaw colour.

It aches for me to pick it up, slip it slowly
past the tip of my finger

        all the way down the length of the shaft.

Only then would we really
                                           know each other.

And tomorrow, we could walk together in the sun.

         It’s dangerous, staring into the box too long
                   knowing my opal ring
                               has already forgotten my sister.
        Knowing that if I reach out
                   and do this one small thing
                               in return, it promises to love me
                                                                  and ever.

New book out from Judy Johson courtesy of Walleah Press in Tasmania!

I heard Judy read this poem up in Newcastle and it really got to me and I was astonished when Judy told me it had never found a good home in a magazine or journal before it was tucked away into the book. But that can happen to even the most well-endowed of poems, they go out and about but they just don’t catch someone’s eye. They are read after midnight at the end of a long run of reading, or they get tucked under the in tray and don’t get read at all, or just as the editor sits to read them the window cleaner arrives, or someone rings with a thorny question, or it’s lunchtime. And that’s that. They don’t get picked up.


Monday, August 5, 2013

Tuesday Poem - Polemic by Emma Neale


This poem knows a couple of kids.
It wants to go into their homes
and put in insulation, double-glazed windows,
leave a week’s worth of groceries, exterminate the rats,
fix the dripping taps, make the adults come clean, off the drugs,
give them someone who can be stuffed to listen,
pull up all the old neural pathways, lay down fresh trails
so the ancient pain that flares and drives the hand to lash
is stayed, and so their hands are stayed,
and patience comes to them like visitations
of renovating (what-shall-we-call-it-if-we-won’t-call-it-holy?) light.

This poem wants to offer steady work, self-worth,
to sober up the violent drunks,
to unsuffer the little children to come unto misery.

This poem wants to dismantle the conditions
that gave a certain someone the nutrition, genetics, education,
marriage, employment, control over their own fertility and childcare
that empowered them to be a certain someone who mucks around with poems.

This poem wants to radicalise itself
rip itself up and start again.

This poem wants to be an historic poem
that needs footnotes and extensive scholarly apparatus
because very soon after its final draft
the concepts of inequality, domestic violence, child abuse and global recession
meet their gorgeous obsolescence.

But, ah, this poem also wants to be Rilke’s archaic torso of Apollo;
ache, deeply unfashionable ache,
what of the urge to forge something beautiful?

Pause here to lift your eyes
to a magnolia
outside an office block
that extends its broad green leaves
to a sudden winter squall of light
as if with mouth and palms held open
to taste the drought split its own dry peel
in a sweet wash of rain…

But of course this poem can only see that
on a full stomach and a history of love.

This poem wants to regenerate fragmented communities.
This poem wants to make the streets safe for a woman to walk
with her eyes on her feet and her head full of inchoate song after dark.

This poem has put the children first:
they’re bathed and fed and now in bed, and that’s political.

This poem has gone for a walk to clear its head
and that’s political.

This poem has agreed to sex with someone it loves
even though it’s tired and anxious and frankly not that interested
and that’s political.

This poem was nearly beaten up when it stopped to write a line of itself
in the light of a street lamp and some crazy, wired, disenfranchised, drop-out driver
thought it was to take down its license plate number
and that’s political.

This poem tells lies now and then for effect
which might be aesthetic but it’s also political.

This poem had some of its lines revised
while its husband cooked dinner and its mother-in-law watched the kids
and that’s political.

This poem would achieve wider circulation
if published in a North American literary journal
than if published in its country of origin
and that’s political.

This poem hasn’t had the time, the training, nor does it have the ability
to learn the latest neuroscience or subatomic physics
and that’s political.

This poem wants to talk higher taxes even if it’s an election year
and whaddaya know, that’s political.

This poem is a poem; it comes from an era
when people still hold out hope for the poem
and that’s political.

This poem agitates.

This poem wants to be all things to all people.
This poem is inherently impossible.

What does this poem want?
When does it want it?
What does this poem want?
When does it want it?

 This redoubtable poem was the star of the latest issue of Landfall IMHO. I love a bit of well-crafted polemic LOL. No, seriously, but – I was very taken with it indeed and I am delighted Emma gave me permission to share it with you. In case you don’t invest in Landfall, which is worth investing in. It seems to be getting better and better. I haven't met Emma yet, although we are Facebook friends, but we have a link. Her book The Truth Garden won the Kathleen Grattan Award and was published by Otago University Press the year after my book This City got the nod. 

Emma Neale has published five novels and three collections of poetry. She has also edited three anthologies: Creative Juices (HarperCollins, 2001), Best New Zealand Poems 2004 and Swings and Roundabouts: Poems on Parenthood (Godwit, 2007). Her poetry has appeared in UK, Australian and New Zealand periodicals, and extracts of her work have appeared in North American literary publications such as Bat City Review, the Harvard Review, and the website Poetry Daily. A past recipient of the Creative New Zealand/Todd New Writers' Bursary, she was awarded the inaugural NZSA/Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature, and is the 2012 Robert Burns Fellow at the University of Otago. Her most recent novel, Fosterling, is shortlisted for the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Emma Neale’s blog.

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