Swordfish . . . Far Hotel
That’s me up there cast in plaster
above the wide window
of a coastal pub’s vista bar.
I am the trophy of some forgotten fisherman.
Cigarette smoke fogs my vision
but I still see that day the trophy of my life was taken.
Again I feel. I feel the hook deep within me catch
I feel my anger whip
I feel the tackle tighten
I feel my guts explode
I feel the rainbow strength of colours in me leap
I feel the sky like a mirror smashing
I feel the sun across my dorsal fin get torn
I feel the waves beneath me again and again split open
I feel the blood in the protein church of my heart begin to chant
I feel the hook in my brain burning
I feel the trace against my jawbone cut
I feel time tight as a nylon line almost breaking
I feel the great poem of my life and I know that it is ending.
©Bob Orr Valparaiso Auckland University Press, 2002.
I found myself hesitating between two very different poems I could choose, Janet Charman’s “pin unpin pin unpin pin,” which so vividly recalls the intensity of new motherhood, or Bob Orr’s Hemingwayesque fishing poem, “Swordfish…Far Hotel,” told from the point of view of the fish, now caught and cast in plaster. My reason for choosing the fishing poem is the experience I had of reading it out loud once at a National Poetry Day event at Te Papa, and feeling myself caught on the line of the poem just as it describes the fish caught on the fishing line. It is an extraordinarily taut and powerful poem and reading it was one of the great poetry experiences of my life. It can be found in Bob Orr’s 2002 collection Valparaiso, which is full of favourite poems of mine, including “Eternity” (“Eternity is the traffic lights at Huntly…”), “Remembering Akhmatova,” and “Friday Night…Alhambra Bar,” amongst others.
If we weren’t limited to New Zealand poems, I’d choose “Viewless Wings,” by Mark Ford, the poem which best captures the “lyric strangeness” that Alex Hollis and Simon Gennard have been talking about as what poetry is for, and what poetry needs. It is the poem I would most wish to have written myself, and now am looking for some way to write past.
Anna Jackson lives in Island Bay, Wellington, lectures at Victoria University, and has published six collections of poetry, most recently I, Clodia (AUP, 2014). With Helen Rickerby and Angelina Sbroma she quite often runs conferences and other events for talking and thinking about writing, this year a conference on Poetry and the Essay.