Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Ten poems about clouds

A while ago the world seemed unbearably bleak and dark, and whenever the world seems bleak and dark, an idea unexpectedly falls into my head like rescue remedy. I had bought a bundle of UK poem booklets that came with an envelopes from the wonderful McLeods Bookshop in Palmerston North on my Wild Honey tour. Each featured ten poems on a theme and I loved the idea of sending one to someone just when they needed a poem boost (The Women’s Bookshop in Auckland stocks them I see). My rescue remedy was to host a season of themes over autumn and winter – with me picking poems but also inviting some poets to send poems and suggestions. The response has been overwhelming. Rescue remedy de luxe!

I wanted the presence of the theme to range from subtle to loud so I struggled over the preposition in the title. It might be a poem after or towards or with or from or by or under or hinting at a theme. Not necessarily about! It might simply be a single word resonating. A cameo appearance. I had 15 themes, but Alison Wong suggested ‘Light’, and Hinemoana Baker suggested ‘Land’, so 17 poetry themes will be appearing over the coming months.

If this had been for a print anthology, I would have spent several years reading and selecting, going to libraries, bookshops, agonising, agonising, agonising. But my rescue-remedy plan meant staying at home and returning to my vast New Zealand poetry collection which as you can imagine after Wild Honey is rich in women’s books. I felt like I wanted to do a whole book on each theme so many poems sung out.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to my rescue remedy. It means a lot. You cannot imagine what a delight it has been to return to books I have loved over the past decades and to savour new poems sent me. To feel poetry work its magic.

Ten poems about clouds

The Sky

The sky thinks it is a flock of birds.

Then it thinks it is a cloud.

It also thinks it is widespread words.

Sometimes it looks up at the stars,

imagining other skies,

and sometimes down at the water

where it thinks it sees more stars.

At such times it believes itself to be a god.

But no such luck, poor sky! Soon enough

it is saying hello sir and madam

what a nice day it’s turning out to be

and can you perhaps spare a dollar,

thank you, thank you kindly. The sky

can still hold a small cloud in its hands.

Today it does so, and it rains.

It held our old home that way, too,

awkward and vertical and cold –

the snow caught fire as each day died.

But yes, it is safer here on the flat.

A man comes by with coal in a wheelbarrow,

muttering, muttering. He wants

to sell us warmth, his feet don’t leave the ground.

We think that we will always miss the sky.

It says look up whenever we look down.

Bill Manhire

from Wow, Victoria University Press, 2020

The Sky as a Metaphor for Everything


We can’t tell if the sky
is clinging


to night or happy
to welcome this new morning—


everything in this existence
wrapped up and encapsulated


in the changing colours and
how we constantly remark on clouds’


silly, ever-shifting shapes,
how fast they travel, and so on.


Truthfully, we hate
how light always wins


in the sky, in rooms,
in movies where it’s a stand-in


for goodness—
but never in our real lives.


Though our eyes do adjust
eventually, and we get by—


like the sun rising
in the morning in the sky.

Jane Arthur

from Craven Victoria University Press

Clouds

roll

south of the volcanoes.

You cut mushroom gills

soft as moth wings

that fluttering in the belly.

Bread rising on the water tank,

look out to patchy light

on the hills — moving.

Try to forget the names

of everything and call

them out new like rain

dropping on lava.

Steam born and gone

in the same instant.

A thought of one

you still look up to see

isn’t there.

Morgan Bach

in JAAM 33, 2015

Long White Clouds

all anyone ever does around here is / grow weed and stare / into burnt-

out houses / into the rabbit hole / into the cards / into the skin /

and roll their cars / their eyes / their r’s / their cigarettes / and kick

snow / kick rugby balls / kick each other / kick bad habits / only to

find another / like an eel / in the creek / in the backyard / in the

dark / in winter / and try to kill it on the rocks / chase the girls /

in a shed / a bathtub / a bed / with wet fingers / eyes / tongues /

and T-shirts / from spilled beer / spilled cum / spilled blood / spilled

secrets / bad boys / with bad skin / bad tattoos / and bad reputations /

because here / all anyone ever does is / swear / across their hearts /

at referees / at other drivers / taking to the road / cos all anyone

ever wants around here is / out / of home / of the closet / of the

relationship / of the sixth-storey window / open it / to the cold / to

the clouds / to the sky / cos all anyone ever does around here is / dive /

Tayi Tibble

from Poūkahangatus, Victoria University Press, 2018, picked by Amy Brown

Spelling Out Goodbye

“This doesn’t seem to be working,” he said quietly, “Perhaps we should try it another way. “Like this!” He split his shoes, laughed all the way to the top of the roof. “The plane will be coming soon,” he said, “Before that, would you help me out and make me a cheese sandwich?”

“Cheese,” said she, “Of course.” She clattered off like a train carriage. When she returned he was snuggled up on the nearest cloud with his breath spelling out hello goodbye. He left his pocketknife in his pocket, stuffed stars by hand into black-eyed plastic bags. He said catch as he floated them down to her. 

Johanna Aitchison

in Miss Dust, Seraph Press, 2015

Couple

(after Magritte)

The couple with clouds in their heads

are just outlines cut into a wall

so what you’re seeing is what’s behind

on cloudy days it’s clouds

on rainy days water.

Tusiata Avia

in Wild Dogs under My Skirt, Victoria University Press, 2004

I had never seen you so open

Crumpled on the couch saying 

seventh of the seventh

you seemed to be between 

trying to get up and sinking further.

A soft redness about you

and a kind of shift somewhere,

to dreams, or clouds,

not things we usually have been 

to each other. 

Later, you folded the card sent from the office

inside his cap that served

on the deck of a warship in Korea.

Kept it beside you for weeks

until one day it was gone.

Wes Lee

appeared in The New Zealand Poetry Society Anthology 2020

Weather

Winter rain beats on the windows;

there is cloud-hidden snow

on the hills.

In our space, built for the elderly,

warm air encloses thoughts

of long ago:

the coal range, pots of soup

and rain.

Helen Jacobs

from A Habit of Writing, The Cuba Press, 2020

Reflections (clouds)

dawn               the sky is splattered

by my juicy mandarin,

the sea                        a mirror

of tears soon to fall.

watching —

we capture the skyline,

grey lines folding like pursed lips.

wrapped in thick ash and two woven wings,

the sun sets a foot on our city

one eye blending

across            an open sea.

E Wen Wong

Baba Yaga

Lyall Bay is often the scene

of tempests, everything pelted

with salt water, rust spreading

like ill humour. The police

are often patrolling in Lyall Bay.

When the cumulonimbus sit like fat

white cauldrons steaming with cirrus,

look our for brush strokes-

someone’s been sweeping the sky

clean as linoleum after an accident.

Amy Brown

from The Propaganda Poster Girl, Victoria University Press, 2008

Johanna Aitchison has published three collections of poems, Miss Dust (2015), a long girl ago (2007), and Oh My God I’m Flying (199). She was the 2019 Mark Strand Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference (Tennessee) in 2019; and her poetry has been published in New Zealand, the U.S., and Japan. Her poem “Miss Dust in a Motel Room” is forthcoming in Landfall 241.

Jane Arthur lives in Wellington, where she is the co-owner and manager of a small independent bookshop. Her debut poetry collection, Craven, won the Jessie Mackay Award (Best First Book) at the 2020 Ockham NZ Book Awards.

Tusiata Avia is an internationally acclaimed poet, performer and children’s author. She has published 4 collections of poetry, 3 children’s books and her play ‘Wild Dogs Under My Skirt’ had its off-Broadway debut in NYC, where it took out The Fringe Encore Series 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year. Most recently Tusiata was awarded a 2020 Arts Foundation Laureate and a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts.

Morgan Bach is a poet recently returned to her home town of Wellington, where she also works as a bookseller.

Amy Brown is a writer and teacher from Hawkes Bay. She has taught Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne (where she gained her PhD), and Literature and Philosophy at the Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School. She has also published a series of four children’s novels, and three poetry collections. Her latest book, Neon Daze, a verse journal of early motherhood, was included in The Saturday Paper’s Best Books of 2019. She is currently taking leave from teaching to write a novel.

Helen Jacobs, aged 92, was born in Pātea and wrote her first poem nearly fifty years ago in response to a TV programme on nuclear war, publishing her first collection of poetry in 1984 and becoming actively involved with the poetry community in Christchurch for many years. She adopted the name Helen Jacobs to keep her writing separate from her life as local body politician, environmental activist and art advocate Elaine Jakobsson. Helen lives in a retirement village with the art she has collected over the years and a balcony of pot plants, delighted the world continues to offer her things to write about.

Wes Lee lives in Paekakariki. Her latest poetry collection, By the Lapels, was launched in Wellington (Steele Roberts Aotearoa, 2019). Her work has appeared in Best New Zealand Poems, Poetry London, Turbine, Poetry New Zealand, Westerly, The Stinging Fly, Landfall, The New Zealand Listener, Australian Poetry Journal, among others. She has won a number of awards for her writing, including, The BNZ Katherine Mansfield Literary Award. Most recently she was awarded the Poetry New Zealand Prize 2019 by Massey University Press, and shortlisted for The Inaugural NZSA Laura Solomon Cuba Press Prize 2021.

Bill Manhire founded the creative writing programme at Victoria University of Wellington, which a little over 20 years ago became the International Institute of Modern Letters. His new book Wow is published by Victoria University Press in New Zealand and Carcanet in the UK.

Tayi Tibble (Te Whānau ā Apanui/Ngāti Porou) was born in 1995 and lives in Wellington. Her first book Poūkahangatus won the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry in 2019. Her new collection Rangikura will be published in June by Victoria University Press.

E Wen Wong is a first-year Law and Science student at the University of Canterbury. She was the winner of the 2020 National Schools Poetry Award.

3 thoughts on “Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Ten poems about clouds

  1. Pingback: Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Twelve poems about ice | NZ Poetry Shelf

  2. Pingback: Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Ten poems about dreaming | NZ Poetry Shelf

  3. Pingback: Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Eleven poems about the moon | NZ Poetry Shelf

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