Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Twelve poems about knitting

I have always knitted but never very often and never very well. I have a winter cardigan that has been on the go for years and I need help to get it working again. When I was young I knitted a very complicated black jersey. I completed it and it felt like a work of art with its intricate and sublime stitching and hard-to-see-as-you-knit colour. But before I ever put it on, my dog Woody ripped it to shreds. I have never managed to finish anything since. Perhaps this winter I will see if I can find the bag with the grey wool and hope the moths haven’t shredded the cardigan.

I love knitting because it is soothing, because crafting things is a joy, and we can produce things that are of the greatest comfort. (Although at AWF 2021, Brian Turner talked about his grandmother knitting him childhood jerseys he never really liked!) I love the way you can lose yourself in the clicketty clack rhythm, or if you are skilled, you can read and look elsewhere as you knit. But knitting is a metaphor for so much more. Writing a poem is a form of knitting. Relationships and family life are forms of knitting. Telling a story. Living. Loving. Existing.

I am grateful to all the poets and publishers who continue to support my season of themes. These poems are not so about knitting, but have a knitting presence in varying degrees. Ha! I think reading is a form of knitting too! Happy knitting!

Twelve poems about knitting

Lockdown knitting

I hit on knitting for something to do

in the gloom, I get restless,

this end of the room is dim

and outside the window, the sun

burns down on browned-out plants

holding onto the dry clay bank,

relentless blue behind.

What Paul watches all day long.

Smoking for something to do.

He raises his eyebrows ridiculously

as I pull the thread of last year loose,

wants to know what I’m doing.

I say it stops me from chatter.

We say little bits from time to time

it’s peaceful, his coffin

on the dining room table

…32, 34, 36… I’m casting on the front

a dark ship riding into the room

light falling in behind

through the potted palms

in the little courtyard.

I’m halfway up the rib

on announcement day; it’s grim.

Paul says if no one can come

and no one can go,

just chuck him in his car

and straight in the ground.

We take the back seat out.

I knit and wait and watch

at the foot of the bed

and I’m not sure of the pattern:

a black square in the middle

that no one knows how to do.    

Marty Smith

Berthe

Reflection on Berthe Morisot’s ‘Young Woman Knitting’

There you sit

where you’re put,

painted feverishly

into place.

Did you mark

the woman who

made you

in a thousand

strokes of pastel

oils? Do you notice

the way your hands,

held up to their task

seem to merge, blend

with the pale-pinkness

of your gown,

how your edges,

ill-defined,

threaten to dissolve

into the background,

so that you would

disappear in a haze

of smoke

and the smell of

burning wool?

Know all that as you sit

fixed at your task,

but also note that she –

your creator –

set your head, your shoulders

against the green-grey

of the water. So that we

might see you,

defined, so that you might

tip back,

fall,

feel your head caught by the water

and your hair trail in the waves.

Rose Peoples

knitting a poem

I’m knitting this poem

                               for you. knit 1 purl 2.

found the pattern

in an old drawer

fraying at the seams. knit 1 purl 2.

I’m tatting together

a crochet

to keep us warm. p2sso.

cabling

a colourful coverall

to contain love. p2sso.

no slip-stitched

tangle here, k2tog.

only this

inter/twined/applique

taut to the touch. k2tog.

I’m knitting this poem

                             for you. knit 1 purl 2.

ribbing together

a cardigan of care

we can don

anytime our world

unravels. knit 1 purl 2.

I’ve sewn up

this poem

for you. bind off.

Vaughan Rapatahana

Skein                                                                                                             

having three sons

to see through winter

in a house

with one fireplace

our mother was an

expert knitter

turning out identical

triplets of jerseys

almost continuously

or like Penelope

seated at her loom

she unravelled then

reconstructed frayed elbows

ragged seams and cuffs

hands moving

one over the other

in the firelight

with love

Tony Beyer

Calling

We let the string sleep slack between our houses

hours, days, years, until one of us tugs.

Then, lifted and pulled taut, we speak. Buzz

words coming down the line. A baked bean can

for trumpet and for conch. Our voices echo sound,

plumbing the marks. On my lips, your name, a manner

of holding you and what you spell. Something like

kin and kinship, something like kind; something like

affection being the grounding stitch of love, which,

purl to plain and slip-one-pass-one-over, knits

our kith. Peculiar patterns we make

with our yarn, shaped to what blows through and what’s

prevailing. Rambunctious winds, or fretful. These times

you are bent beneath a howling. I am picking up

the string to make a steady tether for your heart.

For thy heart. Dear friend, I’m thinking of thee.

Sue Wootton

from The Yield, Otago University Press, 2017

My Mother Spinning

Sit too close

& the spinning bob cools you.

Leave the room

& the foot pedal beats

on a raw nerve.

Leave the house

& a thread of wool follows.

Peter Olds

(picked by Richard Langston)

For my parents

You were meant to die at home

suddenly, one of you stepping in from a walk

to find the other on the floor inside.

Then one of you in the garden

splayed on the earth and

the other in the earth already so

it’s like you fell to them.

That’s not how you went.

Things were more difficult than that.

We still talk, or –

to use the language of crossing over –

communicate.

Newly chaste.

Awfully polite.

Shy ministers of the invisible continent.

To cover the quiet moments

I start to knit a hat, and

in deep times,

like a Victorian daughter,

I rest my knitting on my lap.

We have about a hundred stitches to let go

of Alzheimer’s and stroke

and pick up the daily walks down the goat track

to the beach, you two

ahead of me,

towels slung around your shoulders,

your bare feet finding their own way down

the steep clay path. 

Lynn Davidson

from Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2020, Lynn reads ‘For My Parents’ here

Purl 

Side by side

we purl the fine, cream wool.

The baby pushes and glides

beneath your elbows, your fingers

tense with ribbing.

I pick up your slipped stitches,

pass the needles back and forth.

Our tiny singlets grow.

Outside it is afternoon,

the sky paling and snow

clumped on Ben Lomond.

Jillian Sullivan

from Parallel, Steele Roberts. 2014

The Pattern of Memoir

In the days before synthetics from China,

women knitted. My Brownie teacher taught me

at seven, words or wool, anyone can master it.

First, the unravelling of elusive, possibly false

strands of memory.

 

Next, you settle into long days, row after row,

hoping for a garment approximating truth,

knowing anything re-knitted is always a little

uneven, a compromise at best. I make no mention

of the casting off.

 

The way your hands finding nothing

to do now, start searching for trouble again,

unearthing that old thing in the back

of the wardrobe just itching for a make-over,

a whole new life.

In the days before synthetics from China,

women knitted. My Brownie teacher taught me

at seven, words or wool, anyone can master it.

First, the unravelling of elusive, possibly false

strands of memory.

Diane Brown

From Every Now and Then I Have Another Child, Otago University Press, 2020

KNITTING

P l e x i s P e r i p l e x i s


Stooped sore with the shells and soaps of gift-giving, the midnight-baked koulouria
and sesame, the red eggs of the resurrection, a map, a compass
shoulder-sloped with the southerly through the crack in the dining stained-glass,
the dawn frosts on the lawn and the knitting mum prudently started:


so you’ll be able to trace your way back, my mikroula, my thesaurus, so you won’t get lost,
fall, be eaten whole, wander for days in bad company, catch cold, worry; so you’ll have
something to fly from Yiayia’s yard with the pots, the tiles dusted-clean, the shed with my
clothes by the tree


I squeeze on and through; down the rows, losing rows; reach down from
the overhead locker, pull out needles and threads and start looping.

Vana Manasiadis

from Ithaca Island Bay Leaves: A Mythistorima, Seraph Press, 2009

coming undone

lists of names unspooling, not dead

but extinct, never-coming-again

owl, quail, snipe, wren

and I’m on my knees, weeding the lettuces

a blackbird hops, watches, drawn by the freshly turned earth

he’s wary he knows what species I am –

the one whose jersey’s unravelling

leopard, rhino, wolf, ibex

and strands of blue wool

unstitch behind me,

snag on blackberry barbs

and break

penguin, dolphin, sea-lion

and above me, gulls on lifting wind

bring salt-tanged keening

shearwater, petrel, albatross

and a cuff of my jersey flops down, hobbles

my hand on the trowel; I re-roll the sleeve

and my dangling hem has gathered dried sepals dropped

by camellias, that rustle, click like a small-clawed cortege

piopio, huia, bat

and I stare at my trowel as if I don’t know

what to do with it.

Carolyn McCurdie

very fine lace knitting

this is a picture of my house

wallpaper silvery with birch trees

covering the workbook

the stories and the pictures

red and yellow blue and blue-green

the smiling suns

jack in the box on the window sill

see Sweetie run

the high shelf in the toyshop

I want to be a ship

the umbrella poem

the oak tree and its acorns

the blue eyes that wouldn’t

the bar of chocolate and our mother at a high window

angelic openings in the calendar

circus elephants on the road at Waitara

hot black sand and the donkey rides at Ngāmotu

but we came ashore after the others

Mama still pale and no baby sister

though we begged her to tell us

when we might see her again

hush darlings she said

look at the tents and the lovely black sand

we will camp out until there is a house for us

but that house burned down right away

and Papa had no watch

or any instruments to make drawings with

and all of us felt sad

because the ship had gone

perhaps with our baby sister hidden somewhere inside

crying to us but we couldn’t hear

now Papa must cut the Sugar Loaf line

now Mama must tell us a new story

and when the earth shakes and the rats run across our blankets

we will not think of her

our sister outside in the dark

beside the rivers and wells

that wait to drown children less wary than us

when my mother was a girl

she thought all grown men had to go to jail

and feared to find her father one day

among the figures working in the prison gardens across the river

under the watchful eye of Marsland Hill

how did she know

afternoon sun slanting through eucalypts

stream curving or carving the valley that divides

here from there, us from them

now from then

or not at all

how did she know

that her grandfather was locked up

for three months pending trial

for the attempted murder of his wife and child

on the farm at the top of Maude Road

and that she, our great grandmother

would drop the charges, needing him

at home and claiming he would often shoot at her

going down the road, for target practice

he was cautioned against excessive drinking and released

to lose the farm and start over

as a teacher in country schools

how did my mother know

that her father, a young man in a country town

was put in the lock-up for two weeks in the year before the war

for sending indecent literature to the girl who jilted him

two postcards and a photograph

he is named but she is not

in the police report that went to the local paper

he was in the second draft

leaving for Palmerston North

dark hair brown eyes five foot seven

oblique scar on left forearm

August 1914

We were too small to remember

the trouble that took Papa to prison

for losing all his money

were we there too we ask Mama

did you take us did we all live in prison for a while

she will tell us only

that it wasn’t so bad

that everyone helped out and soon

he was home again I cannot now recall

how long we were away

but I was glad enough to leave that place

though I was not in favour of the long voyage

to the other side of the world

and dreaded confinement at sea

Well that is another story

now your father ties off his lines

for the company and remembers Cornish hills

Somerset hills and Devon hills under his pencil

he sees the nature path in the valley of the Huatoki

and knows it will take him to slopes covered in red and white pine

rimu and kahikatea

where a house may be built or brought

on land bought with remittances from England

the small child in the big photo

dark hair dark eyes pixie face

is my mother’s sister

they share a middle name

the child in the photo could be a year old

she is holding onto a stool with baby fingers

her feet are bare and she wears a dress

of soft white wool knitted by my grandmother

in whose bedroom the photo hangs

above the treadle sewing machine we are pumping hard

for the noise it makes up and down up and down

up and down and we are never told to stop or be quiet

we know the child in the photo died long ago

before she had time to become my mother’s sister

but we never ask our grandmother

about the very fine lace knitting

of the photo that hangs in her room

when at last we go looking for

the child who would have been our aunt

the trail is cold the dates stones or tears

Date of death: 20 September 1923

Place of death: Stewart Karitane Home Wanganui

Cause or causes of death: Gastroenteritis 2 1/2 Months, Exhaustion

Age and date of birth: 19 Months, Not Recorded

Place of birth: Stratford

Date of burial or cremation: 21 September 1923

Place of burial or cremation: Kopuatama Cemetery

we see our grandfather thrashing the Dodge

between Stratford and Whanganui

and the journey home with the little daughter

he will bury next day at Kopuatama

was our grandmother there

in the car at the Karitane Home at the graveside

the two and a half months of sickness

the birth of a second child

our Uncle Jack

8 July 1923

up and down up and down up and down

noise to cover a heartbeat under soft white wool

I look upon these letters and do not like to destroy them

they are a house of memory and when I read

I am my mother on deck at last

searching for a ripple on the flat Pacific Ocean

I am my father making delicate waves

around each of the Sugar Loaves on the map going to London

I am my brother in a choir of breakers

that bring his body to the landing place

I am my sister in the boat

outside the orbit of the moon and the orbit of the sun

I am my sister a bell-shaped skirt

between ship and shore

I am my sister painting a rock arch

that became fill for the breakwater

I am my sister exhausted

by travelling and the house to clear

I am my sister writing poems

that lie between the thin pages of letters

I am my sister singing

ship to shore choir of breakers alpine meadow

I am myself on the other side of nowhere

waiting for a knock on the door

my mother is taking a photo

of herself and our baby sister

in the mirror on the wall of silvery grey birches

it’s summer and she has propped the baby

between pillows in the armchair

holds the Box Brownie still

leans over the back of the chair smiling

into the mirror

she and her baby by themselves

reflected in silvery light

not for a moment aware of the child

whose passing long ago

mirrors to the day

the arrival of our sister

whose middle name my mother took

from the light of Clair de Lune

and so the daughter library

remakes itself and is not lost

though great libraries burn and cities fall

always there is someone

making copies or packing boxes

writing on the back of a painting or a photo

always there is someone

awake in the frosty dark

hearing the trains roll through and imagining

lying under the stars at Whakaahurangi

face to the sky on the shoulder of the mountain

between worlds and mirror light

***

Michele Leggott

Tony Beyer lives and writes in Taranaki. Recent poems have appeared online in Hamilton Stone ReviewMolly Bloom and Otoliths.

Diane Brown is a novelist, memoirist, and poet who runs Creative Writing Dunedin, teaching fiction, memoir and poetry. She has published eight books: two collections of poetry – Before the Divorce We Go To Disneyland, (Jessie Mackay Award Best First Book of Poetry, 1997) Tandem Press 1997 and Learning to Lie Together, Godwit, 2004; two novels, If The Tongue Fits, Tandem Press, 1999 and Eight Stages of Grace, Vintage, 2002—a verse novel which was a finalist in the Montana Book Awards, 2003. Also, a travel memoir, Liars and Lovers, Vintage, 2004; and a prose/poetic travel memoir; Here Comes Another.

Lynn Davidson’s latest poetry collection Islander is published by Shearsman Books and Victoria University Press. She had a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2013 and a Bothy Project Residency at Inshriach Bothy in the Cairngorms in 2016.  In 2011 she was Visiting Artist at Massey University. She won the Poetry New Zealand Poetry Award, 2020 and is the 2021 Randell Cottage Writer in Residence. Lynn has a doctorate in creative writing and teaches creative writing. She recently returned to New Zealand after four years living and writing in Edinburgh. 

Michele Leggott was the first New Zealand Poet Laureate 2007–09 under the administration of the National Library. She received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry in 2013. Her collections include Mirabile Dictu (2009), Heartland (2014), and Vanishing Points (2017), all from Auckland University Press. She cofounded the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (NZEPC) with Brian Flaherty at the University of Auckland where she is Professor of English. Michele’s latest collection Mezzaluna: Selected Poems appeared in 2020 (Auckland University Press).

Vana Manasiadis is Greek-New Zealand poet and translator born in Te Whanganui-a-Tara and based in Tāmaki Makaurau after many years living in Kirihi Greece.  She is 2021 Ursula Bethell Writer-in-Residence at Te Whare Wanaga o Waitaha Canterbury University. Her most recent book is The Grief Almanac: A Sequel. 

Carolyn McCurdie is a Dunedin writer, mainly of poetry and fiction. Her collection, Bones in the Octagon was published by Makaro Press in 2015.

Peter Olds was born in Christchurch, 1944. His mother was a born knitter. All her life she spun and knitted. His Selected Poems was published in 2014 by Cold Hub Press.

Rose Peoples is from Te Awakairangi/Lower Hutt. She is a student at Victoria University and, having finished her law degree last year, decided that the logical next step was to embark upon a Masters in Literature. She is a bookseller at Good Books. Her work has previously appeared in Cordite, Mimicry and Starling.

Vaughan Rapatahana (Te Ātiawa) commutes between homes in Hong Kong, Philippines, and Aotearoa New Zealand. He is widely published across several genre in both his main languages, te reo Māori and English and his work has been translated into Bahasa Malaysia, Italian, French, Mandarin, Romanian, Spanish. Additionally, he has lived and worked for several years in the Republic of Nauru, PR China, Brunei Darussalam, and the Middle East.

Marty Smith spent 2020 writing poems and an essay for her friend Paul, who died in lockdown in April. Now she’s working on her racing project, following riders, trainers and ground staff through the seasons at the Hastings racecourse as they work with their horses.Marty spent lockdown as one of a small team given dispensation from Cranford Hospice to give end-of-life care to their friend, Paul. He does not make it to the end of the extra five days. Nearly. So close. Poem and audio, ‘My Lights for Paul’. VERB Essay: ‘I hope to make six good friends before I die’ (for Paul).

Jillian Sullivan lives in the Ida Valley, Central Otago. Her thirteen published books include creative non-fiction, novels and short stories.  Once the drummer in a women’s indie pop band, she’s now grandmother, natural builder and environmentalist. Her awards include the Juncture Memoir Award in America, and the Kathleen Grattan prize for poetry.  Her latest book is the collection of essays, Map for the Heart- Ida Valley Essays (Otago University Press 2020). 

Sue Wootton lives in Ōtepoti-Dunedin, and works as the publisher at Otago University Press. ‘Calling’ won the 2015 takahē international poetry competition.

 

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11 thoughts on “Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Twelve poems about knitting

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