Author Archives: Paula Green

Poetry Shelf talk spot: Tim Upperton on hidden lives

 

A lifted stone

Much is hidden from us. Behind the smooth, painted and plastered lining of the walls of my living-room, where I sit and write, less than a metre away from me, creatures are stirring, and have their secret life. Sometimes I hear the dry scuttle of a mouse, but other, smaller creatures – woodlice, whitetail spiders, click beetles, ants – these creatures are silent, and seldom reveal themselves. Occasionally I notice a daddy-long-legs swaying slightly in the corner of the ceiling, or, in the early hours, as I trudge to the bathroom, a solitary chocolate-coloured cockroach spreadeagled on the wall, stunned by the light. The borer chews a hole in the skirting board, with only a little brown dust to show for its industry. I imagine it deep in the wood, nestled like a rabbit in its burrow, its scrap of life ticking.

When I was a child I was obsessed with these hidden lives. I would carefully remove the pale, pupating huhu grubs that lay buried in rotting stumps like pharaohs in their tombs, and keep them in jars of damp sawdust until they emerged as winged beetles, still white and frail-looking, their long antennae testing the air. I would turn over planks of wood to see what lived under them, brown beetles, black, shiny, soft-bellied spiders with white egg-sacs, grey hump-backed slugs, orange slimy flatworms. On the windswept beach where my family camped each summer, I would crouch on the reef at low tide, the sea a distant, uneven roar, like traffic, and I would lift the weed-encrusted stones in the rockpools to expose the creatures that teemed underneath. Glassy shrimp, almost invisible, would dart backwards. Brown cockabullies would flash past the cautiously retreating hermit crabs. Anemones would wave their thin arms among the inert kina and cushion starfish. It seemed very strange to me that all these creatures coexisted under the stone, as in a darkened house, in a kind of dormancy, until I lifted the roof and the light fell upon them.

Now, as I turn on the tap to fill the kettle, I hear a gurgling in the plumbing, and I remember the water-supply at the street has been turned off for some hours as contractors are digging a trench for the installation of fibre-optic cable. The cable – really many cables bundled together, each insulated in bright blue sheathing – lies along the grass berm, but soon it will be buried and I will never see it again. Beneath the ground it will ferry data between my computer and the world beyond. The water is back on, and in a sort of convulsion it bursts from the tap, orange with rust, and flecked with clots of green-black algae. And this has always been there, the flakes of rust and the algae, inside the pipe that leads to the tap – if I look closely, I can see a rind of green algae at the spout, surviving despite the chlorine-treated water that rushes through it every day. It has been there the whole time, the outside of the tap is gleaming chrome but this belies what it is like inside, where no light shines, where rust collects and algae grows.

My eldest child, an adult now, writes poems. His poems are sometimes enigmatic, they evoke a feeling, a mood, but I don’t always understand them. I want to, perhaps out of a desire to understand him. It’s as if the poems might reveal to me something about him that is hidden, as if they are a stone that might be lifted. But it’s no good me asking what they mean. He just shrugs and grins. We both know the strangeness of poetry, the impossibility of paraphrase, it’s what makes us come back, to read the same short poem again. There it is, the poem, on the white page with nowhere to hide, yet concealing some of itself. And this is true of all the poems I love most. I memorise these poems, even as they withhold their meanings, to take them into myself. They feel a part of me, just as my liver and kidneys and heart are parts of me, hidden inside my body, working in ways I don’t understand to help me live.

 

Tim Upperton

(excerpt from a longer work that will be published in a collection of essays, Strong Words, by Otago University Press)

 

Tim’s second poetry collection, The Night We Ate The Baby, was an Ockham New Zealand Book Awards finalist in 2016. He won the Caselberg International Poetry Competition in 2012 and again in 2013. His poems have been published widely here and overseas, and are anthologised in The Best of Best New Zealand Poems (2011), Villanelles (2012), Essential New Zealand Poems (2014), Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century (2014), and Bonsai (2018).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Joan Fleming’s ‘Imprints of Water’

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Joan Fleming is the author of two books of poetry, The Same as Yes and Failed Love Poems (both with Victoria University Press), and her third book is forthcoming with Cordite Press in 2019. She has recently completed a PhD in ethnopoetics at Monash University, a project which arose out of deep family ties and ongoing relationships with Warlpiri families in Central Australia. Her honours include the Biggs Poetry Prize, a Creative New Zealand writing fellowship, an Australian Postgraduate Award, the Verge Prize for Poetry, and the Harri Jones Memorial Prize from the Hunter Writers Centre.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Nicola Easthope on J. C. Sturm’s ‘Grieving, 1972’

 

 

 

Grieving, 1972

                  for Jim 

You — bugger

you — arsehole

you — stinking shithouse

 

Dying

  without me

Leaving

  me stranded

 

Having

  to keep on

Living

  without you

 

Knowing

  I’ll never

See you

  again

 

You bastard —

You bloody bastard you —

 

© J. C. Sturm, Dedications, Steele Roberts, 1996

 

 

I was in Opunake for a couple of nights camping in January, and as we passed Taranaki maunga on the way there, I remembered it was the tūrangawaewae of poet and fiction writer, Jacqueline (J.C.) Sturm.

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It’s something of a regret that we never crossed paths, despite both living on the Kāpiti Coast in the same early 2000s. I would have liked to thank her for this unforgettable poem, for the permission she gives herself – and, unwittingly, any poet who’s ever been silenced – to directly accuse, to swear, to rage and ache (I imagine from a west coast clifftop, face into the southerly wind whipping up volcanic blacksand)… in this case, at her loved, lionized, rogue husband, for dying without her.

There are so many layers here – her mantle of anger in the first, brilliant, versatile stanza, to the intimate, broken heart of the poem, and back to the cursing, in an emphatic finale. Such a satisfying poem.

‘Grieving, 1972’ has a companion in ‘And again, 1989’ – here, Sturm returns to the subject of her grief, but now the pain has significantly lessened, maybe almost gone. May it be so.

In celebration of the life and work of Jacqueline Sturm, let’s seek out copies of Dedications and Postscripts again; open their pages to the fresh air.

 

Nicola Easthope, 20 February 2019

 

 

And again, 1989

for Jim

It is all so different now.

I cannot swear

With such conviction

Nor do I thirst

So savagely for blood,

Anybody’s blood,

Or recompense

At anyone’s expense.

 

The trail is too old

Too cold

To follow as I used to

Taking directions from friends

And the not so friendly

(You were seen there

Doing that with them

The day before the day — )

 

Searching, combing

The landscape of my mind

Over and over again,

Desperate to find

The reason for your going

Or just to hear,

Still lingering

On the listening wind,

An echo of your voice.

 

Nor do I dream any more

Of finding that small

Very ordinary house

And those nervous strangers

Showing me where

You lay down

The last time.

 

It is all so different

Except, of course

You are there

 And I am still here

Waiting,

And only God knows

(I do not ask to be told)

When, in his good time

This too will be different.

 

© J. C. Sturm, Dedications, Steele Roberts, 1996

 

J. C. Sturm (Jacqueline Cecilia) (1927–2009), of Taranaki iwi, Parihaka and Whakatōhea descent, was born in Opunake and is thought to be the first Māori woman to graduate with an MA from a New Zealand university (First Class Hons, Philosophy, Victoria University of Wellington). She initially wrote short fiction, and her work was the first by a Māori to appear in an anthology. Her debut poetry collection, Dedications (Steele Roberts, 1996), received an Honour Award at the 1997 Montana New Zealand Book Awards and she published further collections of poetry and short stories. Her poetry appeared in a number of anthologies and journals. Her collection, Postscripts (Steele Roberts, 2000), includes images by her son John Baxter. She received an honorary doctorate from Victoria University of Wellington, worked as a librarian, was married to James K Baxter and had two children.

Poems published with kind permission from the estate of J. C. Sturm.

 

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cover by John Baxter

 

Te Ara page on J. C. Sturm by Paul Millar

NZ Book Council page

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf New Poetry: Landfall 236 is a beauty

 

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We have a wealth of literary journals (online and hard copy) at the moment that draw upon diverse communities and regions and that underline the fact poetry is currently piping hot in Aotearoa. Pick up a journal and you will find emerging voices, our poetry elders and everything in between – and that is as it should be. Loud quiet political personal inventive funny heartbreaking groundbreaking traditional mesmerising …. the list is endless when it comes to local poetry.

Landfall offers poetry, prose, reviews and artwork and comes out of Otago University Press with Emma Neale the current editor. It  boosts its poetry review section by posting a bunch on line at the beginning of every month, and hosts the annual Landfall essay competition and the Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize.

The latest issue is a hit with me on the poetry front because there is a pleasing diversity of voice and style, and a number of poems that have stuck to me like glue, and that I have shared with others.

 

But first the essays. The Landfall Essay competition is always on my annual must-read list. Emma selected the 2019 winning entries. In her introduction she talked about the way the best essays might be self-essays but also move beyond that to the gritty or glittery challenges of the world. I always think of an essay as a testing ground for ideas and at times a testing ground for how you convey those ideas which is why I love to read them. Essays can generate contagious feelings; but again, how that feeling is stitched into the writing gets tested. Emma’s introduction made me want to get back to an essay I have been working on for a year or so but, more importantly, read the winning entries.

Alice Miller’s winning essay, ‘The Great Ending’, closes in on the year 1918, on a false armistice and on Armistice Day. She juxtaposes events and anecdotes gleaned from newspaper cuttings and books and produces one of the best end paragraphs I have read in ages. A glorious read. I mused upon a future little handbook of essays that offer a selection of collaged years and a re-invigoration of history.  Susan Wardell’s runner-up essay, ‘Shining Through the Skull’, is equally captivating. After reading Emma’s notes I was really keen to read the other placed essays.

Landfall has always promoted local poetry. Emma has selected an exquisitely contoured mix. On this occasion I find I am drawn to poems featuring various kinds of migration, movement  and intimacies.

In Harry Rickett’s standout poem, ‘Pink Blanket’, the poet greets his 92-year-old mother and tries to tell her of his trip to India but she only (seemingly?) pays attention to her bared knee. This is the power of poetry – it takes you to a moment and makes you feel its intimacy. It felt like age as a form of migration.

 

I replace the blanket, try camels,

horses, donkeys, dogs, finally

an old photo of my long-dead father,

taken by her. ‘Do you know who

this is?’ She shakes her head.

She refolds the pink blanket,

exposes her bare left knee,

gives me a nose-crinkling grin.

 

Aiwa Pooamorn’s ‘A Thai-Chinese Stay-at-Home Mother gets Political’ gets both political,  personal and utterly topical in a must-read kind of way. Home is both movement and necessary anchor.

I’m as Thai as Pad Thai noodles

invented to be the national dish

by military dictator Phibun

when actually it’s quite Chinese

all to create the myth

of a homogeneous monoculture

Thailand the land of smiles

pledge allegiance to

chaat (the Thai nation state)

satsana (the Buddhist religion)

phramahakesat (the demi-god King)

 

Siobhan Harvey’s ‘Someone Other than Yourself’ moves out from the sharp point of her migration from the UK, in a poem that completely unsettled me with its slender but potent admissions and wavery pronoun. The writing is sure-footed, the images clear, and the overall effect strange, intimate, puzzling. This is the kind of poem that adheres. I tried to select a piece to quote but the poem needs to stay together as if taking a bit out is a form of damage.

Landfall issue is rich in poetry that leaves its traces upon you in diverse ways: poems by essa may ranapiri, Tusiata Avia, Jodie Dalgleish, Elizabeth Kirkby-McLeod, Trevor Hayes, Helen Yong, Jane Arthur, Michael Mintrom, Jessica Le Bas, Richard Reeve do just that.

A bonus: In June 2017 a poem, ‘StreetNOISE’, attached to a building in Moray Place, closed down Dunedin’s central business district. The bomb squad was called, a court case ensure but charges were dropped. Justin Spiers offers seven images of the poet, artist and musician, L.$.D. Fascinating.

Plus David Eggleton’s picks for the Caselberg Trust prize, loads of fiction and reviews to get your reading teeth or heart into (so to speak).

 

Well worth a subscription I reckon.

 

 

Nominations are now welcome for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement

Creative New Zealand is inviting nominations for writers who have made an outstanding contribution to New Zealand literature in the categories of non-fiction, poetry or fiction. Writers can also nominate themselves. $60,000 is awarded in each genre.

Those nominated must be New Zealand citizens or residents.

This year Creative New Zealand has improved the process for nomination and selection to give greater transparency and accuracy of information. Nominators must now include a statement of up to 500 words about why they are nominating a writer.

The nominations are assessed by an external panel of literary experts who then forward their recommendations to the Arts Council of Creative New Zealand for approval.

The awards are presented by the Prime Minister in a formal ceremony later in the year.

In 2018 poet, publisher and librettist Michael Harlow received the award for Poetry, critic, curator and poet Wystan Curnow for Non-Fiction, and dramatist and fiction writer Renée for Fiction.

As Renée says, “Shine a light e hoa, nominate a writer for this amazing award.”

See the full list of previous winners

Nominations close on Friday, 26 April at 5pm.

Nominate a writer now

For media enquiries, please contact:

Kimberley Brady
Senior Communications and Advocacy Adviser
Ph: 04 473 9738
kimberley.brady@creativenz.govt.nz

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Emma Shi’s ‘he called me darling’

 

 

he called me darling

 

after the earth stopped spinning, so did the birds and the sky and the sea. the seasons stayed in place, stuck in time, and the birds stopped following their patterns of flight. instead, they started to settle in entire trees at a time, watching everyone who walked past. each bird wore a plume of white on their chest and they sang songs every morning. and i would let them land on my bare arms when i passed, their claws pressing against my own beating veins.

 

it was summer forever. i spent every day outside, sending kisses to the birds and you. each morning, the sun hung the clouds up onto the sky and made sure that each cloud was perfectly still. they stayed the same puffy white, never to be grey again. and the stars spilled paint around them so that the sky was the same endless shade of blue. it was a blue that spoke of infinity even if we weren’t a part of it. and you would drive me to all the beaches we could find, threading our lives around the shoreline.

 

in this new summer, it was impossible to drown. the ocean was just as still as the clouds. we swam through seas that felt no waves, that seemed to have never experienced the feeling of rip tides. every time i felt like i was being pulled underwater, the ocean would lift me back up. we could have stayed there forever, floating safely in expanses that i used to be afraid of, kissing and tasting saltwater.

 

late one night, you were driving me home. the blue of day had already phased back into a dark navy hours ago, but i didn’t want to leave yet. so you decided to take us back to one of our beaches. it was the middle of the night and we were the only source of movement. the headlights of your car revealed the edges of the beach, but the light wasn’t enough to show the true colours of the sand. because of that, everything looked grey. i didn’t know if i could have found the sea if i had stepped out and onto that new earth. in the distance, the moonlight reflected off the ocean when it hushed. and all at once, it reminded me of a different time, another summer. you called me darling and i swear if those birds were there with me on that night, they would have sung with joy. still, when time had passed and you started to drive us away from the sea, i felt a lump in my throat. i paused for a moment, then swallowed it down. i knew it wasn’t the real goodbye yet. but it lingered.

 

it had been summer for months when the birds started whispering things in my ear. and i whispered back to them, what are you trying to say? their eyes flickered from me to you and back again. you were looking out at the ocean, almost as still as the frozen waves. but when you noticed me staring, you turned and smiled. there was a little patch of red on the side of your neck from one time when we stayed at the beach for too long, and we fell asleep under your favourite star. i smiled within that blurry space, that incoherent moment where we had been together for millennia. then i turned my head to the sky. and i knew that i was lucky.

 

when all the flowers that spring gave us finally fell, the wind whirled them into vortexes and rushed them together so that it all looked like snow. white petals landed in my hair and the bees mistook me for flowers, rubbing against my skin only to feel the rough edges of human touch. i would have to get used to the empty spaces, our detached strings. and until those delicate petals stopped reminding me of the sunshine, i would have to avert my eyes from the birds and the songs that they sang like honeyed grace, whispering distant memories of summer.

 

 

©Emma Shi

 

 

 

Emma Shi was the winner of the National Schools Poetry Award 2013 and the Poetry NZ Prize 2017. She has also been published in literary journals such as Landfall and Starling. Emma writes here.