Excerpt from Neon Daze
8th December 2016
A friend warned me months ago
that my baby would start to smell
of other people – perfumes, creams,
colognes, sweat – your baby’s head
will press against strangers’ throats
and décolletage, held close and warm.
Sure enough I recognised the musky,
woody scent of our family friend in his hair
and skin yesterday long after she’d left.
Babies are olfactory creatures, happiest
emanating their own or their parents’
odour. We squirt Johnson’s shampoo
under the running tap for the manuka
sweetness it leaves behind his ears.
Now, he is strapped against me and
I am afraid the sunscreen on my chest
will distract from the baked tussock,
sandy fragrance fresh and familiar
as a wave , blue and white as the baby’s
eyes. We walk along Ocean Beach towards
Cape Kidnappers, which is only ever a haze
of coast in the distance, past macrocarpas,
painted black in the Dick Frizzell print
on my parents’ bedroom wall. We walk and
the baby’s sleeping cheek sticks to my skin.
 To Wave
To move to and fro, from the Old Norse vagr meaning billowing water. Waves, Robin, look! I told him today, both of us squinting into the glare of the mid-morning horizon, paddling along the edge of the Bass Strait. His right hand lifted and twisted back and forth, to and fro at the breakers.
I am wavering between then and now. This is our third time at Skene’s Creek. The first was the first weekend away with my partner – my first conventional weekend away with any partner. He booked a cabin whose view from the bedroom window was dense and private with eucalypts and which was all sea and sky from the balcony, where I sat typing away at my thesis with a beer while he barbecued us fresh fish. I had about $36 in my bank account then and was both luxuriating in and anxious about the incongruity of this experience. In the spa bath we sucked each other’s toes and played lavishly with the jets. The photos I took were all of us – our feet the same size and sandy, only distinguishable by my red nail polish; him on the swing, a joyful blur of beard and beer.
The second time we came to this beach we stayed at the same cabin, but the weather was miserable. I photographed the food we made and the special bottle of wine we drank and my partner’s back as he walked away from me in his red jacket along the deserted beach. We brought our yoga mats and held postures together while rain hung white in the trees, obscuring the sea. I had just got my period for the twelfth time of hoping it wouldn’t come and was allowing myself to drink the wine, which tasted of nothing. We still didn’t know why I wasn’t getting pregnant, or how to fix it, or how lucky we would be when the weeks of injections started.
This time we are staying in a family’s beach house. I move the bowls of shells and driftwood ornaments to higher ground. My partner blocks the steps from the deck to the wild garden with three chairs. We coax our toddler to not use the length of timber dowel locking the sliding door in place to drum on the glass coffee table. We find empty snail shells, stones of all varieties and point at the sulphur-yellow underside of the wings of the cockatoos, which shriek en masse as they fly. I photograph the baby in the hammock, the baby in the sea, the baby scooping sand into his bucket; his face is always behind a broad-brimmed sunhat patterned with leaves. After seven, when Robin is asleep, we play quiet games of Scrabble and Monopoly at the outdoor table, drinking wine and eating chocolate to keep warm. On every visit I’ve forgotten how cold the beach gets at night and pack inadequately. This time I bring socks but no shoes, and many T-shirts but no heavy jersey. Like an eighteen-month-old I wear socks and sandals and eccentric layers. To warm up after swimming in the sea, we all shower together. I show Robin how I wash my face by closing my eyes and dipping my head under the stream. Nick demonstrates how he washes his face, carefully with a flannel. We both applaud when Robin’s wet eyelashes open and he smiles.
9th December 2016
There are creases in the back
of my father’s tanned neck, like
Hemingway’s old man. He spends
two hours longer than usual out
in his boat, trying to catch enough
kahawai for our dinner. It is filleted,
barbecued and served with a Persian
marinade from a cookbook I gave
my mother two Christmases ago.
The recipe calls for dried rose petals.
She laid them out in the sun (and
later microwave, to speed the process)
herself, picked from her own garden.
She lets the baby take handfuls
of petals off the aging bunch in
the dining room. He scatters them
romantically across the floorboards.
Later, I find one still clutched, bruised
perfumed and bright as blood in his fist.
Amy Brown lives in Melbourne, where she teaches literature and philosophy. Her first poetry collection, The Propaganda Poster Girl (Victoria University Press, 2008), was shortlisted for a Montana New Zealand Book Award in 2009. Her next work of poetry, The Odour of Sanctity (Victoria University Press, 2013) was the creative component of a PhD on contemporary epic poetry. Her next book, Neon Daze, will be released by Victoria University Press in 2019.
Social media is rightly coming under scrutiny. Jacinda Ardern told Cashmere High School students that social media can be used for good. Yes. We can do this while the government and other agencies work hard to eliminate the bad.
The Spin Off and Pantograph Punch have posted excellent material over the past week or so – material that helps find avenues into understanding and new lights. Thank you.
This was one example. A poem amidst the diverse voices they have offered.
see Mohamed Hassan’s poem here
A few words about some poems I’ve found helpful
In dark times it seems inappropriate to make any claims for the efficacy of poetry, or any art form, in effecting social and political change. It might also seem too soon or too difficult, or impossible, to express an immediate response to violent and traumatic events through words. But there are also innumerable instances of poetry being a vehicle or outlet at times of heightened emotion: funerals, commemorations, public events, tragedies. The artwork, or the poem, is not a solution to a problem, or a proposal for a better world, but a way of comprehending or addressing an issue. Some of the poems by New Zealand poets I come back to time and time again were written in the twentieth century in response to the nuclear threat. Like Dinah Hawken’s sequence ‘Writing Home:’
. . . The U.S has gone obsessively
ahead with another nuclear test. Crudely, profanely
they gave it a name. ‘Mighty Oak.’ Do they truly believe
they are doing something beautiful?
Or Hone Tuwhare’s ‘No Ordinary Sun’:
Tree let your arms fall:
raise them not sharply in supplication
to the bright enhaloed cloud.
Over the last week I have been thinking a lot about the poems and the music I have found comfort in during times of deep distress. I have struggled to make it through, and make sense of, the entirety of Ezra Pound’s Cantos. However, during a period of trauma in my own life I read and re-read Canto 116. These lines in particular stand out:
I have brought the great ball of crystal;
Who can lift it?
Can you enter the great acorn of light?
But the beauty is not the madness
Tho’ my errors and wrecks lie about me.
And I am not a demigod,
I cannot make it cohere.
If love be not in the house there is nothing.
Why turn to such a complicated and politically conflicted poet as Pound, and why the Cantos, which has been described as a ‘fascist epic’, when looking for threads of humanity? Because there in those lines is the recognition of failure to comprehend or to put pieces together: ‘I cannot make it cohere.’ And the inescapable reminder ‘If love be not in the house there is nothing.’
Or there is another great American long poem, Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, which constantly reaches out to the community, nation and world around the speaker. What a weird, and nowadays odd-sounding, piece of writing Song of Myself is. And yet it’s full of passages that are profoundly comforting, like:
I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-wash’d babe, and am not contain’d between my hat and boots,
And peruse manifold objects, no two alike and every one good,
The earth good and the stars good, and their adjuncts all good.
How can we think of the earth and stars as ‘good’ in a time like this? But how useful, not to be contained between one’s hat and boots: to invoke the communal spirit.
Or, perhaps conceived more in reference to the natural environment, but also relevant to human concerns, is Gerald Manley Hopkins’s ‘God’s Grandeur’, which even in bouts of committed atheism I’ve deeply loved:
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –
In similar vein is Philip Larkin’s poem ‘The Trees.’ I’ve been thinking of this one in particular this last week, because I saw it painted on a wall last time I was in Christchurch, in October of last year. Tim Upperton and I had gone to Christchurch for a poetry reading Tim was involved in. We walked around town and found Tim’s old house, and looked at all the pop-up gardens that people have planted in the spaces left by the quakes. There’s something about community gardens I find always raises my spirits. The idea of people growing something together goes against all antisocial tendencies. There’s also something subversive about planting shared, not-for-profit vegetables in an area traditionally kept aside for commerce. On a corrugated iron wall adjoining a plot of raised beds and worm farms somebody had painted, in big splashy letters, in test-pot colours, Larkin’s poem. Larkin is another poet it seems odd to turn to for solace. A lot of his poems have the opposite effect. Perhaps the simple force of ‘The Trees’ comes in part from a contrast with the poems that surround it. If Larkin’s collected poems were all about trees coming into leaf and other such subjects it might sound naff. But a darkness creeps into the poem in the first stanza:
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
And it goes on, and ends, and the poem painter’s letters got bigger and bigger towards the last line:
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.
This must have seemed pertinent to the person who painted it, making a communal space in the wake of the earthquakes. Like the other poems I’ve quoted, it doesn’t give us an answer. It gives the reader a place to rest. In discussions of poetry and politics, people often quote W.H. Auden’s line from ‘In Memory of W.B. Yeats’, ‘For poetry makes nothing happen’. As is often the way with popular quotes, the next bit gets sidelined, but it’s the good bit:
. . . it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.
Airini Beautrais grew up in Auckland and Whanganui. She studied ecological science and creative writing at Victoria University of Wellington, and worked for several years as a science teacher. Her first book Secret Heart (VUP, 2006) was named Best First Book of Poetry in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards 2007; it was followed by Western Line (VUP, 2011), Dear Neil Roberts (VUP, 2014) and Flow: Whanganui River Poems (VUP, 2017). She lives in Whanganui.
VUP warmly invites you to the launch of
Night as Day
by Nikki-Lee Birdsey
at Unity Books, 57 Willis St, Wellington
on Tuesday 9 April, 6pm–7.30pm
Night as Day will be launched by Anna Smaill.
This letter from Stephen Wainwright Chief Executive – Pou Whakahaere Creative NZ
extends an open invitation to create beautiful things #CreateAroha
Poetry can play a part.
Kia ora tātou katoa
As – Salaam – Alaikum
The hate, gun violence and crimes directed against the faithful at the Masjid al Noor and Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch have left us bewildered, feeling vulnerable, struck to the core. We have had to accept that an act of terrorism has been inflicted on our people and our national innocence has been lost. We are hurt; we are grieving.
Our thoughts are with the affected Muslim families, and their communities in Christchurch, in Aotearoa and around the world. We hold dear the people of Christchurch, who have already endured so much but have responded with warmth and love, and acknowledge that our country is in mourning. In time, this tragedy will be marked by formal commemorations.
Right now though, we are feeling raw or numb. It’s not a situation we are familiar with or could prepare for, and people are thinking about how to respond. Some are finding a way.
You may have seen some beautiful examples of creative expression in the past few days, including Wellington artist Ruby Jones’ image “This is your home and you should have been safe here”, Māori artist Akoni Pakinga’s tribute to the Muslim community “Kotahitanga”, a beautiful collection of poems “I keep walking”, and the many other examples outside mosques and in public spaces. Just this morning we heard renowned novelist Witi Ihimaera’s heartfelt karakia for Christchurch.
These are reminders of the power of the arts and the impact creative expression can have on our individual and collective wellbeing. Turn to your creative skills. Take comfort from them. Share them if you think it would help others.
We invite you to share words, images, videos of your creative expression and related events using the hashtag #CreateAroha. We, in turn, will share them on our social media platforms. Nothing is too small or too big. I see each creative expression as a thread denoting dignity and mana, woven into a digital korowai to nourish and protect us, and demonstrate our unity, in solidarity against hatred.
While discussion and debate continue about the roles these platforms play in spreading hate, let’s fill them with positivity.
In time, our country’s artists and creatives will express their response to this tragedy through major works. These too will help us reflect and grapple with this difficult kaupapa. To grieve. To make sense of our fractured world. To come to terms with what has happened. To challenge. To push for a better future.
Professor Peter O’Connor put it beautifully when talking about the role of the arts in healing traumatised communities, and particularly children, on Radio NZ: “I would hope in the coming days that we make beautiful things in defiance of the acts of ugliness that were created on Friday. Every time we make something beautiful, either as individuals or as communities, we act in defiance. We reject the hate of Friday.”
The deeper extremist agenda is to divide and conquer, and pull us apart so that we lose faith in our shared humanity. Let’s instead embrace what unifies us. Let’s embrace this necessary work together. We need to make every effort to be part of a community that stands up for diversity and tolerance, where unity and peace are the norm.
Mā te kotahitanga e whai kaha ai tātau
In unity, there is strength
Chief Executive – Pou Whakahaere
Kia ora organisers, poets, librarians, teachers, book clubs, creatives and lovers of poetry.
It is with heavy hearts we contact you in the wake of such terrible events. We can only hope you are determined, like us, to promote and rejoice in ALL New Zealand voices, louder than ever. As poet, Paula Green says, “poetry connects us to human experience, to how we live and love and mourn. It is a window, it is a balm and it is an eye-opener. This is a time to reach out and make connections, to listen.”
Welcome to Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day, 23 August 2019. Registrations are open.
Returning 2018 organisers: Last year was huge – let’s do it again!
To those returning after a break: Welcome back.
To the newcomers: Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day is an annual celebration of the power of poetry – in all its manifestations. Open to all ages, it is a chance to make poetry accessible, inclusive, and to showcase how extraordinary it can be. Events, activities or competitions can be large or small, from handing out free poems, making a Poet-Tree, or chalking on pavements, to larger-scale events such as workshops, readings with guest poets and book launches. At every level, Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day is a chance to make poetry soar.
Registrations and applications for seed-funding remain open until 5pm, Wednesday 22 May 2019.
Visit our website for more information on how to register and/or apply for seed-funding, how to run an event, and for general guidelines and templates here.
Or you can follow this link straight to our …
Registration Form 2019
We look forward to unleashing the power of poetry across Aotearoa and beyond on Friday, 23 August 2019.
If you have any queries, reply on a separate thread to: National Administrator | Jacqui Hammond | email@example.com. Otherwise we look forward to receiving your registration!
More of Us, edited by Adrienne Jansen with Clare Arnot, Danushka Devinda and Wesley Hollis, Landing Press 2019
46 writers from 29 countries, all now living in New Zealand, award-winning poets and high school students
The journey of football
In Lebanon my brother and I
used to play football on the street.
There were shops on the right
and houses on the left.
The shops were a dairy, Express (fast coffee),
a farouge that sold alive and dead chickens.
The houses were old, full of Syrian families.
We passed the ball between each other,
wasting time because the days were long.
The sun was shining with no cloud,
the birds were standing on the trees,
their heads were darting, but they were singing.
Then I joined them and started to sing,
‘I believe I can fly’.
I feel nervous, scared,
happy and strong.
I hear the whistle
and we are all running
to get the ball.
We are running like hedgehogs
to score a goal.
It starts to rain,
the wind bashes you back
if you try to run forward.
It is raining so hard
our clothes are all wet.
The grass is muddy and slippery.
I can see people falling.
It is cold, but it gives me a very good feeling.
It makes me forget everything hurting,
it makes me forget all the sad moments.
It makes me live here in this moment.
Mohammad El Fares
Mohammed: I’ve been in New Zealand for two years and I love playing
football. My high school teachers say I’m a very friendly
student who gets on well with everyone, and I’m happy
When we came here
I didn’t know how to sleep
in Aokautere’s silence,
the hush of darkness
was something I didn’t know
how to touch.
My childhood had been a field
of people. They didn’t feature
in our photo albums or come
round for tea. Instead they made
a clatter, rumble, shuttle, rush
just outside the window.
Kirsten le Harivel
Kirsten: I am a writer, programme manager and mother based on
the Kāpiti Coast. I was born in Scotland and am of Scottish,
English and French descent. I have an MA in Creative
Writing from Victoria University and run the annual
Kahini Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat and Kāpiti Workshop Series.
Landing Press page
Landing Press is a small cooperative press based in Wellington that focuses mainly on poetry.
I am listening to poet and journalist, Mohamed Hassan, on National Radio, and his short video piece on the terror attack (you can find this on his Facebook page), and again his poems, because local poets are sharing links to them on social media. Like everyone he is lost for words, lost in the way words stretch and struggle at a time of such human catastrophe. And like so many Aotearoa Muslims he speaks.
This week my blog has faltered, my normal blog features have stalled – my internet was down all day yesterday but, more than that enforced silence, my blog felt numb mute wrong.
When such an inhuman ignorant incomprehensible event wounds the hearts of communities, of a country, it is hard to know how to continue. Many journalists and media platforms are bringing us Muslim voices, are questioning how media questions and presents a terror attack – its terrible effects, its deep-reaching context and the ongoing issues, a desire for unity.
We are what we speak.
Poetry is such a little thing, a little drop in the massive seas of human endeavour – yet like stories – poetry connects us to human experience, to how we live and love and mourn. It is a window, it is a balm and it is an eye-opener.
This is a time to reach out and make connections, to listen.
Mohamed Hassan ‘The Muslim Women Who Raised Me’
Mohamed Hassan ‘(un)LEARNING My Name ⁄ Spoken Word’
Mohamed Hassan ‘Secrets of the Sea – (for Alan Kurdi)’
You can also listen to Mohamed at Radio NZ’s ‘Public Enemy’s’ series: This series looks at the growing Muslim communities in the United States, Australia and New Zealand, and how elections, counter-terrorism policies, war and xenophobia have impacted their lives.
In this episode, Mohamed Hassan looks at how the events of 9/11 kicked off an ‘us versus them’ attitude around Muslims in the West.
He speaks to Muslims living in the United States and in New Zealand and gets their perspective.
Heard this again the other night and it is essential listening.
Mohamed Hassan is a poet and journalist from Auckland, and co-founder of the Waxed Poetic Revival.