Smartest Buttercup in the World
Mt Cook Lily
You cup rain in your leaves
(sometimes a tramper will drink from you)
when the rocks heat up
you close each underside shutter
so as not to lose a drop
– there’s a whole brain inside your leaves –
opening below, closing above.
Tall as a small tree and what a flower you make:
pearl set off by your intelligent leaves
more brilliant than snow –
you do not melt in the day but hold sway
in the lethal alpine terrain
born of rock dust and the furnace summers
and the deep-minus winters.
They called you a lily but you are
buttercup; they put your portrait on postcards
and stamps and the side of planes –
fame has not gone to your head,
you are an altitude above it all
– the largest buttercup in the world
the smartest buttercup in the world.
©Rhian Gallagher, Freda du Faur: Southern Alps 1909 -1913 (Otakou Press, 2016)
Note from Laurence: Dunedin-based poet Rhian Gallagher was selected for the 2016 Printer in Residence programme run by the University of Otago’s Otakou Press. Rhian produced a suite of poems based on Australian mountaineer Freda du Faur, the first woman to reach the summit of Aoraki/Mount Cook, in December 1910. She was not the first female mountaineer in New Zealand but she was young and single and this created problems because she lacked a husband or chaperone – and therefore spent days and nights alone in the company of her male guides. Freda may have been a ‘lady’ climber but she was also the greatest amateur mountaineer in this country during the summer seasons she spent at Cook, and she became famous.
‘The Smartest Buttercup’ – the opening poem in Rhian’s collection – has also faced problems with identity, representation and fame. Called the Mt Cook Lily by most, this buttercup grows in the alpine regions and has adapted a unique way of surviving the freezing cold and summer heat. Anyone walking up the Hooker Valley in early summer will know the Mount Cook Buttercup: it’s a beautiful flower that stands its ground.
Laurence Fearnley lives in Dunedin. In 2016 she was the recipient of the Janet Frame Memorial Award and the NZSA Auckland Museum Grant and she is currently researching and writing a book of essays and stories based on landscape and scent, divided into top notes, heart notes and base notes. For the past year she has also been co-editing an anthology of New Zealand mountaineering writing with Paul Hersey. This work has been generously funded by the Friends of the Hocken Collections and will include non-fiction, archival material, fiction and poetry and will be published by Otago University Press in 2018.
Rhian Gallagher first collection, Salt Water Creek (Enitharmon Press, 2003), was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for First Collection. Her second collection, Shift, (Auckland University Press 2011; Enitharmon Press, UK, 2012) won the 2012 New Zealand Post Book Award for Poetry. Gallagher’s most recent work Freda: Freda Du Faur, Southern Alps, 1909-1913 was produced in collaboration with printer Sarah M. Smith and printmaker Lynn Taylor (Otakou Press 2016).