David Eggleton reads ‘Heraldry’ from Time of the Icebergs (Otago University Press 2011). This poetry performance video was recorded live by musician and film-maker Richard C. Wallis on July 10, 2020 in Waikouaiti, Otago.
A Note on ‘Heraldry’
In the 1940s, while living in New Zealand, the novelist wrote of yesterday’s newspapers flapping like hooked flounder in the gutters — as if alive, but grotesque and surreal. That’s one starting point for this poem, the days when the heraldry of the printed newspaper brought messages and proclamations to the towns and farms. My poem “Heraldry’ is a kind of bricolage, assembling assorted emblems and badges of contemporary nationhood into patterns that might be hyperbolic headlines or vatic pronouncements.
In the 1960s, the North Shore poet Kendrick Smithyman characterised poetry as ‘ a way of saying’, meaning that poetry is stylised utterance, a tranced vocalising first and foremost. And so the herald, like a town crier, or street corner preacher, or any stand and deliver blowhard really, has an aspect of the orating poet.
As the poet in this video, I take my authority from its chanted measure, its off-beat rhymes, its curious images. Voicing this poem, I am the hoarse whisperer of poetic observations caught in bright sunlight, an almost transparent medium, and fluttering like a drab moth in pursuit of some elusive scent. Like a no-budget imitation version of an urbane David Attenborough or a gesticulating David Bellamy, David Eggleton delivers his dramatic monologue to camera while advancing through a mock-wilderness of vegetation and trying not to slip down any conjured-up rabbit hole: ‘Not I, but some child born in a marvellous year will learn the trick of standing upright here.’
I am deep in the cactus and prowling down the side of a house in rural North Otago, all the while orating as if I have indeed found rich pickings in the discarded totems and tokens of Kiwiana, while distant bird song burbles its native wood-notes wild and a chainsaw revs up.
This poem appeared in my collection Time of the Icebergs (Otago University Press 2011), and has also featured as a Phantom Billstickers Poster Poem.
David Eggleton is a Dunedin-based writer, critic and poet. His most recent collection of poetry is Edgeland and Other Poems, with artwork by James Robinson, published by Otago University Press in 2018. He is the current Aotearoa New Zealand Poet Laureate.