In the Middle of Nowhere
On a late winter morning when driving east towards Ranfurly
pale grey fog’s smothering most of the land from Wedderburn
to Naseby, Kyeburn, Kokonga, Waipiata, Hamilton’s, Patearoa
and beyond. And I’m thinking how often we’re told we live
in the middle of nowhere: that nowadays people everywhere
are categorised, seen as somewheres, anywheres, or nowheres,
and that, in particular, this place is empty, needs more people.
So it goes. In ‘Furl’ I shop at the corner Four Square, pluck
some cash from a money machine, buy a long black and two
thick egg and chive sandwiches at the E-Café, fill up with gas
at the garage and set off homewards. Then, when re-entering
the Ida Valley and emerging into sharp sunlight, and wondering,
yet again, whether what is ever present always feels burdened
by the past, everywhere one looks – north south east and west –
bulky hills and shining mountains glisten with heavy snow.
And, oddly perhaps, so-called nowhere’s nowhere to be found.
Brian Turner was born in Dunedin in 1944. His debut collection Ladders of Rain (1978) won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize. He has published a number of collections including Just This which won the NZ Post Book Award for Poetry in 2010. He has received the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry (2009) and was NZ Poet Laureate (2003-5). He lives in Central Otago.
In April Victoria University Press published Brian’s Selected Poems, a hardback treasury of poetry that gains life from southern skies and soil, and so much more. When I am longing to retreat to the beauty of the south, I find refuge in one of Brian’s poems. The economy on the line, the exquisite images, the braided rhythms. Read a poem and your feet are in the current of a gleaming river, your eyes fixed on a purple gold horizon line.
Once in a while
you may come across a place
seems as close to perfection
as you will ever need.
Yet the joy of reading the Selected Poems is also in the diverse subject matter: the acerbic political bite when he considers a world under threat, the love poems, poems of his mother and his father, the elegies, the humour, the storms, the seasons. In ‘The mixing bowl’ the mother is kneading, she feeds her son cakes and scones, along with ‘a rough and tart / unstinting love’. The final stanzas catch my heart:
But I did not know
it would be so hard
to watch her grow,
enfeebled, toward oblivion,
her hands and face
yellow as floury
butter, her arms
white as gentled flour.
I love ‘In Ladbroke Grove’: a woman in a London cafe is surprised he is writer because she didn’t ‘know there were any in New Zealand.’ When she asked where New Zealand was ‘he refused to answer that because too many know anyway’. Ha!
I emailed Brain earlier in the year to see if had any new poems -and he said he had hundreds. ‘In the middle of nowhere’ is one of them – a Turner taste before you read the glorious Selected Poems. His poetry might carry you to the middle of nowhere (a fiction of course!) but his poems are rich in the sumptuous experience of somewhere. His poetry somewhere is vital, humane, illuminating. His Selected Poems is an essential volume for me and I want to keep quoting poems to you because they are so rewarding. Instead I recommend you pack the book in your bag and take time out for a Turner retreat.
The dead do
sing in us, in
us and through
us, and to themselves
under their mounds of earth
swelling in the sun, or in their
ashes that shine
as they depart on the wind.
from ‘After’ for Grahame
Victoria University Press page