Poetry Shelf Winter Season: Anne Kennedy off-piste

 

Die die, live live
1.

A puff of air
like a lover’s
sweet speech
bubble, blue
as sky. A brown
horizon turning
fast into tomorrow
and tomorrow, etc.
Mud and leather
and a man
who runs like rubber
drawn from itself
over mud
born from
its muddy
mother field.
A kick-off
and the howl of
a moon’s dog.
They kick
the tender thing and kick and kick the tender thing
and wail and sing.
Five-nil to them.
Fuck. And fuck
the conversion
too. More
points for them.
The ball sings.
The wind
sings a hymn
down the Saint
Patrick’s Day
parade-length
of field
and the wind
blows the ball
where it shouldn’t
go. You have to
hope these idiots
grasp softness
the idea of it
its air and
innocence.
Twelve-nil to
the other side.
Conversion? No.
A rose blooms.
The fullback
there he goes
into a scrum. He’s
in the scrum
for his girlfriend
the girl he loves.
A torn ear a red rose the love-song of the fullback
a big man a
fucking giant
look at him
run. A lot of blood.
He runs for the
invisible woman.
He’s a moving tree
a flowering
tree. The Aussie
should be sin-binned.
Oh. He is.
Penalty. Twelve-
three. Tenderness
and the terrible
wind-sound
necessary for
play. They kick the tender thing and kick and kick
the tender thing
and wail and sing.
A man jumps
to his feet
throwing the hand
of his girl into
the sky. He flails
and beseeches.
Go go go go go!
It’s her envoi.
A guttural
call Moss has
never heard before
coming from
here and here
a beating on
the edge of seagull
i.e. clarinet.
There’s a rolling
maul, players
scragging faces
with sprigs. The referee
runs and blood
runs like tears.
Penalty. Twelve-six.
Go man boot
the groaning
air cradle it
as your child.
Don’t fucking
drop it idiot.
A moan goes up.
It rests in
the bodied
stadium staying
there, living on
among the people
as damage.
They kick the tender thing and kick and kick the tender thing
and wail and sing.
Rain starts. Good
for the home team
(used to it).
The visitors gnash
their teeth. Mud
sprays men
into fossils
memento mori.
They’re covered
in the game
head to foot.
Outrageous penalty
fifteen-six. Fuck.
A scrum in mud
and more rain.
The field is
ankle-glass
sometimes shattered as a dance once seen moved in water
a splish and trail
like scarves.
Half time
(FW).

2.

The land shaved
of trees made
useful by
its nakedness
and water. Men
stand as if cattle
mirrored at
a trough. A whistle
like a cast
in a roving
eye roving
over the field.
The men swarm
towards the ball
flicking earth
and sky.
The Centre’s
butchering
down the field
as a lion hunts
prey in the late
afternoon.
As a boy he
loved animals.
Off-side. Fuck.
Blood and
sweat and blood
and the crack
of bones. They kick the tender thing and kick and kick
the tender thing
and wail and sing
and wail and sing.
A man is carried
off by St John’s
Ambulance. Ah well
Fifteen-eleven
but missed the
conversion the
egg. Another
kick-off and
before long
a line-out whatever
that is. A player
hurling himself
into infinity
running and falling
and not caring
his body everything
and nothing
hovering
on the brink of
his death, death
of a small
nation. He is
a carcass
or palace. He’s carried off by St John’s Ambulance.
But there’s a penalty.
Fifteen-fourteen.
They kick
the tender thing
and kick and kick
the tender thing
and wail and sing.
Howl and a face
coated in the season
and the game
is a season
imperative
compulsory
gone again and
a girl who walks into a woman. And rain drums length
of rain
drumming.
It’s late
and the sun dips
below the cap
of cloud touching
the heads of
the crowd limning
a moment blue.
They kick
the tender thing
and kick and kick
the tender thing
and wail and sing.
On the field
blood squelches
underfoot.
Twenty-fourteen.
Paul weeps
on her shoulder.
They’ve lost.
If they’d won
there’d be
just the same
weeping like a
well a stream
or cataract. She holds his bones under her hands
his back
where wings
might once
have been.
A good man
full of tenderness
giant i.e. a lot of
tenderness.
The small mercy
of no conversion.
A minute to go.
A man runs
down the field
like a doctor
in a field hospital.
A try to us!
Forty seconds
to go. The
half-back
lines up the
wet egg
of the universe
and after some
deliberation kicks
the tender thing.
And wails.
And sings.
Converted.
The sun sinks
The whistle blows.
They won!
(i.e. We won
apparently)
Paul and his mates
leap to their feet.
Hell we won.
They leap one
by one. Fintan
leaps to his feet.
Look even
Forest is leaping
to his feet. Moss
carried away with
the win and
Paul weeping
and giants leaping
and without thinking
she stands.
She looks down
at the long body
her old favourite.
And glances up
at the great giant
there beside her
a head taller
(no matter, he will
soon go away now
the game is over
and there is just
Finnegans Wake
to read or whatever
tall tale it was).
Light from
the tall lamp casts the giant shadow of the girl over Paul.
He is bathed
in a quick new
coolness, as
dusk falls suddenly
in the Tropics
and feels it
and stares up
at the girl and
backs and backs
(the love song
of the full-back).

© Anne Kennedy from The Time of the Giants (Auckland University Press, 2005)

 

 

Author note: Writing poetry at all was a jumping of the tracks for me, and although my prose was ‘poetic’ and my poems prosey, the change still felt enormous, like doing something other than writing. (I still think of it as not really writing, more arranging.) Boiled down, the change to poetry for me was to do with noticing the cool juxtaposition between freedom of language (a poetry reader is more likely to make leaps with you), and the restraint of form that is always there on the page in front of you.

The poem here (which I call my ‘rugby poem’) is from a verse novel, The Time of the Giants. It represents for me a few realizations. The first is the power of line breaks. They are marvellous things! Always have been, but with this poem I began to regard them anew, not just aurally, but visually – as a means to isolate words like stones in a Japanese garden.

With Giants I also realized I wanted to use a quite honed three-act structure to tell the story. In this poem, I knowingly brought together the whole cast at the end of Act III.

But why use this form to tell this part of the story? (I ask myself.) Because it’s fast, and the narrative is on full-throttle at this point; and because I wanted it to be high-energy like a pre-match haka, and a bit funny, and the line-breaks are ludicrous. (When you think about too much, all line breaks are ludicrous.)

 

Anne Kennedy‘s last book was the novel, The Last Days of the National Costume. Among other awards she has won the NZ Post Book Award for Poetry and the Montana Book Award for Poetry. In 2016 she was writer in residence at the IIML. Anne teaches creative writing at Manukau Institute of Technology.

 

From Paula: For Poetry Shelf’s Winter Season, I invited 12 poets to pick one of their own poems that marks a shift in direction, that is outside the usual tracks of their poetry, that moves out of character, that nudges comfort zones of writing. It might be subject matter, style, form, approach, tone, effect, motivation, borrowings, revelation, invention, experimentation, exclusions, inclusions, melody …. anything!

 

 

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