Poetry Shelf favourites: Dinah Hawken from ‘The Harbour Poems’

From The Harbour Poems

The harbour is hallucinating. It is rising
above itself, halfway up the great
blue hills. Every leaf of the kohuhu
is shining. Cicadas, this must be the day
of all days, the one around which
all the others are bound to gather.

The blue agapanthus, the yellow fennel, the white
butterfly, the blue harbour, the golden grass,
the white verandah post, the blue hills, the yellow
leaves, the white clouds, the blue
book, the yellow envelope, the white paper.
Here is the green verb, releasing everything.

Imagine behind these lines dozens and dozens
of tiny seed-heads whispering. They are a field
of mauve flowers. What they say is inexplicable
to us because they speak another language, not this one
written from left to right across them, made up of
distinct and very subtle, ready-to-burgeon sounds.

Dinah Hawken
from Small Stories of Devotion, Victoria University Press (Te Herenga Waka Press), 1991

Note on Poem

‘The harbour poems’ come from my second book of poetry, Small Stories of Devotion. It’s a book I’m very fond of, not least because the book itself is a beautiful shape, on beautiful paper and with unique images by the New Zealand artist Julia Morison. It is also a unique book in my poetry backlist since it is a narrative made up of mostly prose poems, and prose poetry in 1991 was unusual on our shelves. Looking back 30 years I see it is the book amongst my collections with the most faith in the imagery of dreams, and with my preoccupation with the Sumerian myth of Inanna, one of the earliest stories ever written. The epilogue of the book contains 36 6-line poems and it is the first three, written above Wellington harbour, I have included here.

Dinah Hawken lives in Paekakariki and her ninth collection of poems, Sea-light, was published by Te Herenga Waka University Press in 2021.

Poetry Shelf Favourites is an ongoing series where a poet chooses a poem from their own backlist and writes an accompanying note.

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