Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Brian Turner – an unpublished poem and a new book

 

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

 

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

where everything

seems as close to perfection

as you will ever need.

from ‘Place’

 

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

 

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