Monthly Archives: February 2020

Poetry Shelf poem festival: Wonder

 

IMG_4404.jpg

 

 

Gregory Kan wrote a terrific article for Verb Festival on writing his book-length poem Under Glass (longlisted for 2020 Ockham New Book Awards). It prompted me to choose ‘wonder’ for my February poem festival. I love Under Glass and picked Gregory to read at my Poetry Live Session at the Wellington Writers Festival in March. He talked about writing trauma yet resisting the need to make a spectacle of it. He also spoke of  ‘an increasing drive and demand for the narratives of women, Queer and Trans people, people of colour, immigrants, refugees, etc., etc.’ but that we don’t need tokenism. Pronouns and symbols, things, the paths we follow as readers, wonder, love, empathy – these are open, mobile, able to be reformed, replenished in the form of a poem. Alienness and alienated are two different experiences:

 

I think everyone experiences alienness, i.e. encountering something in the world that one finds alien. To me, alienness is the experience and feeling of one’s internal models of reality being exceeded and/or disrupted. And I don’t think alienness always needs to be framed negatively. It is also a condition of the most beautiful things in the world, such as empathy, love and wonder. All these experiences that begin in the encounter of the unknown. Impossible gaps and impossible bridges. The beauty and terror and noise of being in a jungle.

But not everyone experiences being alienated. Those who are particularly privileged stand at the centre of their respective worlds, and may not often experience what it’s like to be on the other side of those borders. I wanted the text to be able to invoke, at times, the sensation of being outside, even in the places that we find most comfortable and familiar.

Gregory Kan

 

Poetry is wonder. So is science, dance, music, mathematics, sport, growing things, cooking things, the landscape, sky, crashing ocean, having a family, breathing clean air and watching the sun rise.  These things fill me with awe, they challenge, raise questions, leave me lost for words, curious. I witness beauty and I marvel. But I also witness tragedy ignorance violence hatred greed and I wonder. I wonder at humanity. Poetry is a place of retreat when I don’t quite understand, when something puzzles, when something astonishes. Poems set me wandering, with skin pricking, with uplift. Reading and writing poems can be transcendental, like experiencing a rush of utter well being. I completely agree with Reihana Robinson that poetry can fill children with wonder – and that that carries on to adulthood!

 

 

A festival of poems: wonder

 

 

 

 

Their own mind was a kind of wunderkammer, and they kept themselves in the smallest box of all. A parrot with a bird’s keen eye for colour and flash, its memory of jungle and the blue infinite. How eloquently they decorated the tiny space, a slow but relentless process of removal. First one object disappeared and then another. But they were still there, the last to leave, curating their beautiful absence.

 

*A place where a collection of curiosities or rarities is exhibited

 

Alison Glenny

 

 

 

I think the beginning of anything

is always a secret.

I love myself when my mind is fucking the hinges of events.

 

Gregory Kan

 

 

The Houses  II

 

On the asphalt a gas light pools: a child looks out

Swinging against the slotted fence and grey,

And eats the three nasturtium seeds: all day

She kept them in her pocket for the doubt

They might be poison, as her sisters say.

But now their delicate, dubious taste can sting

Her tongue curled: snails’ horns curl: they drop and cling

On round nasturtium leaves, green-saucered here.

 

Now she has evening all her own; the hot

Cream scent of cabbage palms, trying to flood out

Like man’s love, or the Blessed Sacrament:

Sunset peaks over her, a copper net,

Wind like God’s breath goes past her in a shout:

Behind this street shine houses that are not,

Playmates she loves, or loved: but then forgot.

 

Robin Hyde

from ‘The Houses’ in Houses by the Sea and the Later Poems of Robin Hyde, ed Gloria Rawlinson, Caxton Press 1952

 

 

 

Poem to my nearest galaxy

 

Yes, I had forsaken curiosity, let it

dull. Now, a most delicate bell,

it chimes as if a monk at meditation’s

end gently tapped the brass, a call

 

to wake. Stirred. Beguiled.

Not simply interested. Agog. The stars

above (if they’re above) recede

in an ever expanding universe

 

and here by your side at midnight

I’m startled childish by wonder.

Galaxies? Infinite question, red-shift

reply. But you, you helped me remember.

 

Sue Wootton

from The Yield  (Otago University Press, 2017)

 

 

 

Wonder

 

Is one

of my core values.

 

It sits in the twelfth

House of Soul Growth

and the Unconscious.

 

Wonder might end

the marriage.

 

Wonder is the Shotover

Moonlight mountain

marathon trail

 

each step pushed

on by the destiny

toe edging its way

along the barren

ridge line

and what the Bible knows:

 

That mountains

and marriages

are earthed scaffolding

for Atua

seeded in the lava ash

of Pouliuli

sown in the rays

of Ra

grown under

the cratered cracks

of Mahina

where thigh-splitting

Va lies supine

between us

watching the woman

coming to the end

of herself

at 2000 metres elevation

at the 41st kilometre

after the seventh and final

water station

 

when each step

is a leap

towards or away from

an infinite love.

 

Selina Tusitala Marsh

 

 

 

                                                Dance of Sina

 

You are a tiny flutter, a marigold on water

flung out calling the dead. You are the Tūī

across four winds, an armour of feathers

bone and light soaring over mountains

climbing the day.

 

You are the core, spilling seeds deepest

blue, head first into soul. You are blood

woven into silk piercing night to sun. You

are a child. A child at sea anchored on your

mother’s lips.

 

Coral holding the shore, fingers caressing Tāmaki

river. Young girl breaking into woman unfurling

on the Waitematā. You are Sina, sung from

the bones of ancestors, always swimming

towards the sun.

 

Kim Meredith

 

 

What to say and how to be *

Lively eyes lively eyes lively eyes
Square as a box white hair on top
Darrin is thinking HARD about Hiroshima

His teacher has set an
Assignment. It is August 6 three days
until Fat Man dropped on Nagasaki

History is such a funny idea

The fact of men and maybe women men and
maybe women in tiny offices and laboratories
scattered in some other continent
scheme a burning up of people
A burning up of people

And so Darrin writes

All Japan is waiting for
WONDER WOMAN
in your star tights

She is craven she is the last twig
on the cliff-face the last air before
going under that final fast car of rescue
Get away get away sinking wreck
punctured lifeboat wretched sickness

Her grace betraying comic perfection

as if a child could stroke her arm
and be imbued with safety and love

Darrin is wishing for WONDER WOMAN
in her star tights

to catch the falling weapon
in her saving arms like a baby
an infant who is truly a Little Boy

To save all children from

a brief but never-ending childhood
To save schools and satchels and bentos
and laces from ashes more ashes

To save shy smiles and perfectly
folded ‘kerchiefs
Ah! The etching of dark shadows

Shadows fall on Darrin’s classroom

35 small years after Enola Gay rose up
from Tinian amid floodlights and cameras
to fly into history

this funny thing called history
counting a quiet 43 seconds

Tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick

 

* As a teacher of 11 to 13 years olds at one period in my life I loved the way poetry exploded in the hands and hearts of children who otherwise may have been overlooked in classroom chaos.

 

Reihana Robinson

(First published as ‘After the fall or the power of reading’
in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal Hong Kong)

 

 

 

Fireflies

 

Last summer I sat amongst a swarm of fireflies while night fell into place around me. I wanted to know if one firefly could ever fly far enough from the rest to see the pulse of their collective light. But there was no one to ask. I raised my arm and held my fingers outstretched towards them but the movement caused them to disappear in a flickering panic—

just as I imagine she might have walked every night to a spot in the bush, not far from the house, where there is a mossy bank riddled with holes and crevices and inside those crevices there are clusters of glow worms, pinpricks of bluegreen light, brightening as her eyes adjust to the dark. She reaches out to touch them and the lights extinguish so suddenly she is not sure they were even there at all.

 

Nina Mingya Powles

from Whale Fall a chapbook in Luminescent (Seraph Press, 2017). This chapbook focuses on Betty Guard (1814 – 1870) who arrived in Aotearoa as a 15 year-old-bride and was the first Pākehā woman to settle in the South Island.

 

 

 

Cambridge Trilogy

 

KETTLE’S YARD

 

The kingdom will have its own colours,

and the unfashioned light will let itself be mastered

in a bottomless, Brancusi pool.

Metal refined by its own thinking force

retains that mercury peril,

continues

to reflect the furious pleasure

of a man being listened to, the one who explains,

art become epiphenomenon of explanation,

a nuclear residue cheaper to tame,

grace nostalgia

strident, even here

where the Gaudier-Brzeska

holds the uncomfortable end of her posture,

sinews bright in the light nursery,

and light in the pits

and mistakes.

 

 

JESUS GREEN

 

The kingdom will have its own spices

whose fore-scent is the privilege of a retriever

lifting her nose at last from the carcass.

When assorted corvids take her place

I will not whisper any of their names

to the tutelar of the college.

The blue

roman candle advance of liberated students,

crossing the moat, appear from this distance

to embarrass the jogger,

the avenue

of plane trees a parlour

for homeless

who paddle through bugs like playing a harp,

plucking and smoking at once,

labour given lightness by caution.

I follow the sun down the darkening aisles

as if it were criminal.

The wind is animal with cannabis.

 

 

ST. MARY THE LESS

 

 

The kingdom will have its own currency.

I cannot see any from the pew,

but I know the rivers of this country

sing with cancelled sterling.

Like silver under water

mercy

will flicker through the feeling

of the reader

infinitesimally warming the air

until all of our salvos begin with forgive me.

We pray today

in a national rope

for the brokenness of what we do

here

in memory, pray

the discordances

of an amateur choir perform that brokenness better

than harmony, pray like the nonagenarians

cough

and infants bray

from the back

the Angelus domini.

 

Steven Toussaint

from Lay Studies Victoria University Press, 2019

 

 

 

The Good Husbandwoman’s Alphabet 

 

When people fall in love with love

they fling themselves in the abyss

Marina Tsvetaeva (translated by. Elaine Feinstein)  

     

 

(Animals)

 

Languages we never learn to speak,

although in books they taught us how to read:

tiger, tapir, timber wolf—T was all of these—

each a name in which I find myself again,

I, who see him coming from the hill.

Now I turn the barbecue to ‘full’.

     

(Bridle)

 

These words: throat-lash, brow-band, bit—

how a horse gets broken in.

Each night I am unbridled.

Never try to understand a marriage.

It’s beyond the wonder of all but the finest

gentlemen: how the bridle’s said to fit the bride.

 

(Cattle)

 

Heedless ones who never knew

their names, the oxen were unyoked in

Happy Valley, where the years will pass

easy as eels in a creek. I was of the alphabet they made,

slipping across the wet grass at night—

eel among the cattle, gone in a scribble of water.
(Dog)

 

No one knows but the dog—

dog-sense, dog’s-chance, dog’s life.

So why should I care if he has changed

His name—for if he reads, he must read backwards.

I is what I am. No more or less. So, go on,

say what you will—but go and spread the word.

   

(Earth)

 

Consider the earth he works up rich beneath the plough,

or a tilth of crumbly soil—

didn’t Virgil say these were best for corn?

‘Earth yields to us its bread, each cartload

drawn into the barn by slow-

moving oxen.’

 

(Fires)

 

Even when the fire was lit, I knew that

sex would never be the thing.

Say that this is true—

an alphabet of husbandry might burn in other ways.

G would be for glimpses of this,

even as he flared beneath my skin.

 

(Glimpse)

 

I will make myself absolutely clear—

whatever glimpses you gain of me,

as string of letters, or random word, it was

nothing would ever be easy. Believe me when I say,

to be the good husbandwoman, I tried at every turn

to turn myself into any other thing.

     

(Husbandry)

 

Only when he’d love and

care for all the animals on this, my farm;

only when he could name and

number all the cravings of my body—only in such

fidelity would he learn to play their song, though

even then, I’d keep an eye on him.

 

(Information)

 

Something’s trying to tell me that

something’s going on. Oh yes.

This morning at sunrise he woke me with his

‘old ways’—then laid them on the floor.

He placed them where the sun’s first beams would alight

on them and opened the blue window.

 

(Jump-cut)

 

Whenever he wanted anything,

I recited this, my alphabet to him.

Fevers of words fastened in the needy

evening of his brow, a projection of

letters that flicker in this jump-cut to his eyes,

lifting his eyelids silent as a rose.

 

(Knowing)

 

In the first glimmer of knowing that

nothing will come of nothing,

life was all we could make

of those swiftly passing days: I was the golden

violin that he would touch into

echoes­, as the echoes gathered us in.

 

(Lovers)

 

Whisper it once more in my ear. Oh, that

I would have you hold me still,

tenderly touching me into my skin:

how is it that we render our souls to

love’s fine place, in the rivery light of this:

oh, the pillow and the kiss.

 

(Money)

 

Vouchsafe for me these days of

eminence, though in my bag lies nothing but

a worn-out empty purse. Oh,

nothing will come of the nothing that

declines with each transaction. Oh,

I stared back at the checkout girl. And oh I

     

(Nothing)

 

waited for the earth to take me in,

as though this were the

nub of it all, the rub of the nothing

that plies between the echo and its

testament to what I pledge to you,

out of the hills, and echoing over again.

 

(Over)

 

My name is this: the day that passeth over.

Ancient in the making, now it will be broken over.

Keepsake, my heart, oh will you ever make it over?

Easeful now, I wake when the night is over.

Ashes in the wind: and then its fragrances blew over.

Carry me, sir, carry me on, into the going over.

 

(Providence)

 

Apple-blossom drifting down the creek.

Still the rooster wants to crow, though

evening’s almost here.

Forgo these things, though fate or commonplace

ordain us with this dream—our conveyance into

rapture, or the idea that provides.

 

(Quotidian)

                                                             

As though this were the remedy for everything—

delight indeed will arise

unto these indigo-tinted skies;

latitude will restore us to the brightness of

the sun, to the spindle of this dreaming

earth that turns for everyone.

 

(Release)

 

Release me into the somewhere of the dream—

you will remember where, when you were

brother to me.

Unhook me from the steely world of

tractors, sheep-shit, shearing shed—

I am the one who has already gone into the giddy now.

 

(Sky)

 

Cherish the way you held me in your arms—you, he . . .

as usual I confuse the one with the other,

nattering my way through the rain, seeking out

the tarradiddle, the silver-tongue that touched

me once with truth: my good husband was

a pillar whose love could hold earth and sky apart.

 

(Tarantella)

 

Knowledge is this, with the heart in mind:

everything you ever did can always be undone.

Absolution never is never quite complete.

Cast yourself in the spider’s web:

a day would come and then the dust would settle.

Some days we would dance the wildest dance.

 

(Underworld)

 

Easier by far to see where the stars let out.

Friday. And then he said he really came from

Orion’s belt, the buckle star: Epsilon Orionis.

Riding in the hills that afternoon, he declared another name—

Alnilam . . . O you of the three Maries, I said. And then,

declare that name again . . .

 

(Vespers)

 

Usually at around this time it comes to this:

leaves in the poplars start to rustle,

the Empyrean gives forth its heron to the roost.

Except for this, the evenings are ordinary.

Round here they say the poplars are a kind of a people, too.

You’ll believe it when you hear the heron speak.

 

(Whisper)

 

It was thus that I came to quietude.

Came into the silence

and the redress of the mind. For

no one thinks to ask

of me what the horses say,

nor guide them on the way, although . . .

 

(Exhale)

 

Let me take you back to when

you first could take this in, this breath that is

my husbandman and this my

alphabet—and I, oh I whose breathing

knew of each his suck and sigh of life, each eddy in the

ebb and flow, wherein I now exhale.

 

(Yet)

 

a day would come when he would be gone.

Commend to me to these last things: a rustic table,

a bowl of fruit, the music-box that sang

‘Sally is my sweetest heart’. As though the mountains might

exalt his name, even as he flees through

falling shadows and the warbler’s plaintive voice.

 

(Zero)

 

Oh and only when the last of words is

ruled and underlined, only when you see the

love that learns itself again,

only when you find the text that declines into the

vertical, will you read in its acrostic that

everything is this: the sweetest of the nothings that are love.

 

Cliff Fell  (Last Leaf Press, 2014)

 

 

 

 

The contributors

 

Cliff Fell is the author of three books of poetry. The Good Husbandwoman’s Alphabet came out in 2014, published as a chapbook by Last Leaf Press, with illustrations by Fiona Johnstone and photographs by Ivan Rogers.

Alison Glenny‘s Antarctic-themed collection of prose poems and fragments, The Farewell Tourist, was published by Otago University Press in 2018. In 2019 she was, with Lawrence Patchett, a recipient of an Ursula Bethell writing residency at the University of Canterbury. She currently lives in Kāpiti.

Robin Hyde (Iris Guiver Wilkinson) (1906–1939) was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and moved to Wellington with her family in 1907. She was a poet, novelist and journalist. She worked for the Dominion before becoming Lady Editor at the Wanganui Chronicle, and subsequently the New Zealand Observer. She published three poetry collections (and one posthumously), along with two anthologies of her work (edited by Lydia Wevers and subsequently Michele Leggott).

Gregory Kan’s latest collection Under Glass was longlisted for the Ockham NZ Book Awards 2020.

Selina Tusitala Marsh (ONZM, FNZRS), former NZ Poet Laureate, is a Pasifika Poet-Scholar and graphic mini-memoirist. She is an Associate Professor at the University of Auckland and lives on Waiheke Island.

Kim Meredith (Samoan, Tokelauan, and Portuguese descent). Her poetry and short stories are founded on reclaiming space for the female narrative and have been published in Aotearoa, Hawaii and Mexico. She has collaborated extensively with partner Kingsley Spargo performing to audiences in New Zealand and China. She is co-producing an upcoming album on spoken word and soundscapes ‘Swimming Toward the Sun’ due for release later this year.

‘Dance of Sina’ was written for her daughter Courtney Sina. Courtney was named after her maternal grandmother Rita Sina. Rita Sina was named after her paternal grandmother Sina le pua (Sina the flower). There was a sense of awe and wonder about Sina, continuing her journey down the family line. This beautiful and incredible creature daring to push boundaries and seeking out her own path.

Reihana Robinson:  2019 highlights included poetry readings for Mākaro Press with Jo Thorpe and Elizabeth Welsh (including Poetry Live in Auckland and the Fringe in Wellington), as well as reading at Lounge Poetry at Auckland University and with the remarkable Bob Orr at Carson’s in Thames. Reihana is working on her next collection tentatively titled ‘Grassfire’ but may end up with the title ‘NO’.

Steven Toussaint is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the IIML and is currently studying philosophical theology at Cambridge. He has been a Grimshaw Sargeson Fellow and is the author of poetry collection The Bellfounder and the chapbook Fiddlehead. His new collection, Lay Studies, is longlisted for the 2020 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Sue Wootton lives in Dunedin. Her most recent publications are her novel, Strip, which was longlisted in the 2017 Ockham NZ Book Awards, and her poetry collection, The Yield, which was a finalist in these awards in 2018. She will travel to Menton, France, later this year as the 2020 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellow.

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Poets needed for an Auckland Performance Poetry Walk

The Urban Walking Festival is seeking poets to perform at a poetry walk through Takapuna responding to its literary history.

The walk will start at Frank Sargesson’s house on Esmonde Rd and finish at the Soap Box in Killarney Park.

Writers along the route include Janet Frame, Karl Wolfskehl and Bruce Mason. We will stop at 38 Hurstmere, a open air community space that speaks to the urban change in Takapuna and the Soap Box, a sculpture as platform created in response to women’s suffrage.

We are looking for 6 performance poets to create poems responding to these sites. The poems will be performed by the poets on the day. We are also interested in publishing the poems as posters at 38 Hurstmere.

 

Participant Fee: $150

Walk Date: 9 May, 2 – 4pm

Applications close midnight, 19 March

For more about Takapuna’s literary history download heritage walks

How to apply

Email melissa@melissalaing.com with:

Your name

A contact number

Links to previous performances and published poems

Which site or writer you’d like to perform in response to

If you have a connection to Takapuna

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf summer reading: Sport 47

 

I’m not angry—I’m just writing

a new book, thrusting my hands

into the dying earth

until I have enough coffins to burn

for warmth. I finger the jars of teeth

buried for luck. I pocket the coins.

 

Chris Tse from ‘It’s a metaphor’

 

 

Hard to believe we are moving into a change of season and here I am still celebrating books from 2019 in my summer reading. Sport 47 appeared last year and was much loved on social media. I can see why.

The editor is Tayi Tibble – her debut collection Pōukahangatus won the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry in the 2019 Ockham NZ Book Awards. Apparently this is her debut in Sport, it’s as editor and she has done a cracking job. The eye-popping cover by Miriama Grace-Smith is the perfect hook for the ear-popping, heart-sizzling, mind-flipping content. I love the different effects on me as reader. It’s a shake-up, it’s balm, music, politics, self exposure, and I love love love it.

So many poets thrilled (I want to follow up on some of these that are new to me): Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor, Hana Pera Aoake, Airini Beautrais, Vanessa Crofskey, Sam Duckor-Jones, Eliana Gray, Rebecca Hawkes, Nicole Titihuia Hawkins, Joy Holley, Talia Marshall, Fardowsa Mohamed, Aiwa Pooamorn, Meg Prasad, Ruby Solly, Anne Marie Te Whiu, Chris Tse, Eefa Yasir Jauhary.

Apart from the exquisite blast of poetry, two other features stood out: Tayi’s introduction and Anahera Gildea’s conversation with Patricia Grace.

Reading Tayi’s deeply personal intro reminded me there are neither wrongs nor rights when it comes to poetry. Heart and mind are active ingredients, writing and speaking from one’s experience and choices will never be redundant. It is ok to embrace confidence. I was especially moved by the importance Tayi gifted the writers and mentors that preceded her. In Tayi’s case: ‘a wise tohunga (my mum)’. And women writers, especially and above all Māori writers. If you haven’t yet read this glorious piece of writing, hunt it down now. Hold it to your heart.

The second treasure is the warm, generous, insightful conversation between Anahera and Patricia. It travels deep into reading and writing, into reading, writing and facing challenges and epiphanies (and everything in between) as a writer who is Māori. If you haven’t yet read this glorious piece of writing, hunt it down now. Hold it to your heart.

essa may ranapiri’s tribute to their kuia is luminous with love.

There is a blinding scene (excuse the pun as blinds do get spotted) in Anne-Marie Te Whiu’s ‘hood/ie’. I held my breath as I read.

Ash Davida Jane’s ‘hot bodies’ is poetry with the thermostat turned up. Wow!

Sam Duckor-Jones’s ‘Night’ and ‘Gut Health’ and are visual and sound triumphs.

I can’t get the last line of Eliana Gray’s poem (which is a version of the title) out of my head: ‘You’ve got to write like your life depends on it.’ That’s exactly how I feel sometimes.

The whole book is just glorious.

We are all the better for Sport 47 arriving in the world. Sport 48 must be just around the corner!

 

VUP Sport 47 page

 

Screen Shot 2020-02-27 at 3.57.37 PM.png

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Jordan Hamel reads ‘Tammy the Briscoes Lady Plans my Funeral’

 

9780995122932.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

Jordan Hamel reads ‘Tammy the Briscoes Lady Plans my Funeral’ (published in the Poetry NZ Yearbook 2020)

 

 

Jordan Hamel is a Pōneke-based poet and performer. He was the 2018 New Zealand Poetry Slam champion and competed at the World Poetry Slam Championships in 2019. He has poems published or forthcoming in Sport, takahē, Poetry NZ Yearbook 2020, Mimicry, Mayhem, Queen Mob’s Teahouse and elsewhere.

 

Poetry NZ 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: my emails!

 

Last year after ten years in this house we got some screens on windows to keep the mozzies out. Wow! A cool house even in this string of hot days. It took us over a decade to do this simple miracle task.

It has taken me even longer to realise I need to check my junk mail folder. I have just discovered a swag of emails that arrived there in February (crikey how long have I been sending emails? I hate to think how many I have missed and not responded to).

I always answer emails from adults and children so if you have sent me one and got no reply please do resend.

 

Paula Green

Poetry Shelf interviews Heidi North

We-Are-Tiny-cover-web.jpg

We are tiny beneath the light, Heidi North, The Cuba Press, 2019

 

 

Muscle memory

 

I don’t know how to let you go

into a future where you don’t turn

as if by muscle memory, as if by heart

to take my hand

I can still feel the beat under your palm

the dry square next to your thumb

crescent moons rise on your fingernails

the tiny red freckle sparking up

 

Heidi North, from We are tiny beneath the light,

 

 

 

 

Heidi 2019.jpeg

 

Heidi North has won awards for both her poems and short stories, including an international Irish prize, and has published work in local and overseas journals. She was the New Zealand fellow in the Shanghai International Writers programme in 2016. She was awarded the Hatchette/NZSA mentorship to work on a novel and has a MA in Creative Writing from the University of Auckland. Her debut poetry collection Possiblity of Flight was published by Mākaro Press in 2015. U2 chose ‘Piha Beach, two years on’ from her new collection We are tiny beneath the light to screen at its Joshua Tree Stadium concerts in New Zealand. I find her poetry both economical and rich in effect, the self-exposure moving, the gaps equally significant.

 

 

Paula: I loved your debut collection Possibility of Flight. How do you look back upon that book?

Heidi: Oh thank you, that’s very kind of you to say. While I think there are things I would change if I published that collection today, I will always be fond of Possibility of Flight. It feels like a first book to me, in that I’d been working on some of those poems for a long time – some 10 years, so it felt so good to get them out there. This next book is quite different because it covers a relatively short space of time and I knew it didn’t have to contain the whole world. So they’re different collections. Possibility of Flight spans childhood, and leaving New Zealand to go on an OE to London, and ends with getting married and having a baby. Saying this, I realise you could read We Are Tiny Beneath the Light as a sequel of sorts.

 

 

Paula: Your new collection, with its evocation of both pain and joy, charts the end of a marriage. How difficult was it translating the private experience in poetic form and allowing it to go public? Does poetry aid the hard-to-say?

Heidi: I think that if I’d set down to write a book solely about the end of my marriage I would never have done it, but by working through the creative process and shaping the collection with my excellent editor and publisher, Mary McCallum at The Cuba Press, I allowed myself to be more vulnerable and go deeper, to strip away the poems that weren’t adding to this story, add in some more that did, and I let it become more of a narrative collection, which I think makes it stronger. I didn’t want people to think I was self-indulgent, and I didn’t want people to find it depressing. To counter that, I focused on the craft, and the book as its own entity, separate to me, and I hope that’s come through. But of course, there was a large part of me that was nervous to publish it – there is no escaping that this is an intense, personal book and I knew it was a risk. But yes, in general I think poetry aids the hard to say, and forces an honesty on ourselves as writer and reader that is at once liberating and terrifying. That’s the thrill of a poem.

 

There were three red apples

on the tree for weeks

and only today did you brave

the undercurrent of weeds

to find steady ground

to stand on to pick them.

 

from ‘Autumn’

 

 

Paula: Things matter gloriously in your poems. A window, dust, a rose, old photos, the sky resonate profoundly as I read and affect the way I inhabit a poem as reader. Were there particular things that you kept returning to? That were essential poem aides.

Heidi: There weren’t conscious things, but focusing on details, everyday things, is a way of dealing with the impossible. Poetry is a form of paying attention and slowing down. I use it to force to me do so, anyway – both when reading and writing poetry. When I think of myself writing this book, I have a sense of me grappling with the poems, they’re alive, wild and slippery, and I’m trying to button them down with concrete things rather than let them escape and run with the wind.

 

Paula: The three-section structure works well as you move from a specific place through despair and rupture to repair and joy. What effect did you want for the reader?

Heidi: I wanted to make sure I didn’t leave the reader in despair! Both because that’s an awful reading experience, and because that’s the truth of this story. I hoped to take the reader on a journey and that they would find grief and solace and joy in it, too. Because that’s the juxtaposition of life, isn’t it?

 

Paula: What are key things when you write a poem? When you read a poem?

Heidi: There’s the language, the musicality and muscularity of it. I want the poem to look right on the page. I spent a long time on that, the silence of a space, the punctuation – I could spend days on punctuation and how the words knit together – and I want to be startled and surprised with imagery. And I want all of this to come together with a clarity that feels like magic – I want to hear what the poem is singing and hear it ringing out clear. I don’t want the note the poem is sounding to be muddied with layers of complexity or cleverness for the sake of it. This is what I love reading in poetry and what I’m always aiming for.

 

The trouble

 

He’s wrapped his arms in muslin gauze

broken bird wings pressed close to his chest.

We pass without pecking

at the dried blood.

He’s been doing the washing in the communal machine.

He’s been doing a lot of that lately.

 

Heidi North

 

Paula: Did you read any poetry books that captured you as you wrote this collection?

Heidi: When I’m actively writing or editing poetry, I tend to stay away from reading too many other poets as it can influence me too much, but I came across Anne Michaels (she was at the Auckland Writers Festival in 2019) and when I heard her read I knew I needed to read more. She is an incredible poet and writer. Her collection, All We Saw, is so bold and unapologetically seeped in loss, and reading it gave me the courage to let We Are Tiny Beneath the Light be what it is – short, intense and quite raw. I often listen to music while I’m writing, often the same song over and over. For my first collection, Possibility of Flight, the song for that book is ‘England’ by The National and that was clear early on. This book took me longer to find the exact song, but in the end it is ‘Skin’ (live version) by Rag’n’Bone man.

 

Paula: Yes Anne Michaels was a festival highlight. I read all her books before she came and also especially loved All We Saw.

We Are Tiny Beneath the Light must have been a challenge. What kind of writing challenges do you see next?

Heidi: I have two novels kicking around and I think it’s time to finish them. One of them is a light-hearted novel about two sisters embarking on their OE to London and the other researched while I was in Shanghai on the Shanghai Writing Program in 2016, and wrote the bulk of while completing my Master’s at University of Auckland in 2017,  with the inspirational Paula Morris. It’s the story of a runaway bride from Auckland who goes back to the last place she remembers being happy – Shanghai – after running out her wedding. Perhaps 2020 is the year to finish both of them!

 

From the top we survey our domain

the sand, the sea, those hills –

for an instant each soft blade

of tussock is picked out in brilliant sunshine

the world sharpened by tiny shadows

from ‘Burst’

 

 

 

Heidi North reads ‘The chickens’ from We are tiny beneath the light

 

The Cuba Press author page