To check up on the state of your heart you must lie back
with your tits out so a warm-handed stranger-
technician can run a small device across your ribs
like a barcode scanner. She seems not to see your skin,
is only concerned with looking beneath it. You want to ask her,
What is it that makes me different
from others who’ve lain here, does my heart hide deeper
in my chest, do my nipples watch you cock-eyed, disturbingly,
am I more beautiful than 50% of others or.
On a black-and-white screen there’s something grainy
and pulsing, trapped in a wedge frame
like an embryo, unheard. This is your heart, twitching.
Watching it you can’t tell what from what, all you know is
the image is moving and you are alive. What a miracle
of existence, you now understand, to have a life inside you
and you want to clutch the technician and rejoice.
Now you can hear it, too, your heart—thumping, muffled,
like listening with your ear pressed up against a wall,
the white-noise hiss of the ocean trapped behind.
But that’s not ocean, not white noise,
it’s blood noise. That’s blood pumping through your heart
to your veins. You hear it through a wall
of veins, bones, fat, flesh, skin keeping all this life inside you
like one big intricate loving dam.
If you were to map your poetry reading history, what books would act as key co-ordinates?
Formatively, I was a music-obsessed teen, so the liner notes of the angsty ’90s: Kristin Hersh, Tori Amos, R.E.M.. Patti Smith. Before that: the poems of Leonard Cohen and Pam Ayres. More recent inspirations: Jenny Bornholdt’s Miss New Zealand; Geoff Cochrane; Kim Addonizio’s What Is This Thing Called Love; Louise Glück’s Vita Nova; random editions of Sport; A Hole is to Dig by Ruth Krauss and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Online poetry journals, including Sweet Mammalian, Starling, Turbine/Kapohau. The Poetry Foundation website. And most recently: essa ranapiri’s incredible Twitter thread of great NZ poems.
What do you want your poems to do?
I guess I want them to be intellectual exercises that end up appearing thoroughly non-intellectual. I want them to be approachable, definitely messy and imperfect, a bit funny but completely heartfelt without being gross? At least, that’s what I want them to “be”. What I want them to do is … reassure awkward readers that we’ve all been there and it’s cool, don’t worry about it.
Which poem in your selection particularly falls into place. Why?
“To check up on the state of your heart you must lie back” is one of those rare poems that burst out of me in one sitting (having been rolled around my brain for a day or so) and didn’t change significantly after that. An earlier version was published in Ika and two years later only a few words have changed. I wish I knew why some poems come out easily, it’s much more efficient. I am typically the world’s most painfully slow and fussy writer … more of a deleter.
There is no blueprint for writing poems. What might act as a poem trigger for you?
Standing in the shower. Brushing my teeth. Trying to write a different poem. Reading fiction. Going for a walk. Restless nights. Pretending to be someone else. Deadlines.
If you were reviewing your entry poems, what three words would characterise their allure?
Familiar, surprising, dorky
You are going to read together at the Auckland Writers Festival. If you could pick a dream team of poets to read – who would we see?
HRH Selina Tusitala Marsh as MC because I want her to be everywhere at all times. Some of the finest new, super-young poets like Tayi Tibble, Nina Powles and Freya Sadgrove – I’d ask the Starling eds to organize that bit. With interludes from Faith Wilson, Coco Solid, Hera Lindsay Bird, Chris Tse and Fleur Adcock. With a surprise VIP encore from Margaret Mahy during a round of whisky.
Jane Arthur was born in New Plymouth and lives in Wellington with her partner, baby and dogs. She has worked in the book industry for over 15 years as a bookseller and editor, and is a founder of the New Zealand children’s literature website The Sapling. She has a Master’s in Creative Writing from the IIML at Victoria University, where her supervisor was Cliff Fell, a 2017 Sarah Broom Poetry Prize finalist. She also has a Diploma in Publishing from Whitireia Polytech and a Master’s in English Literature from Auckland University. Her poems have appeared in journals including Sport, Turbine, Ika, and Sweet Mammalian.
The four finalists will read from their work at the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize event at the Auckland Writers Festival on Sunday 20 May, 3.15-4.15pm.
Sarah Broom Poetry Prize page.