Category Archives: NZ poems

Poetry Shelf fascinations: Tony Beyer’s Friday Prayers

 

the moon’s reflected path on water

leads only to the moon

from ‘Island time’ Friday Prayers Cold Hub Press, 2019

 

 

For some poets poetry is a form of contemplation – a bridge to the unreachable sublime, a way of achieving inner equilibrium, even stillness amidst the arrival of words – regardless of the boundaries you push, regardless of pressing issues or wayward circumstances. Writing and reading poetry can be rewardingly untethered – a way to activate cells, to follow trails with only the haziest of maps.

For some of us poetry is something as both readers and writers we cannot do without. For me poetry is my anchor, my flotation device, my equilibrium.

This year has produced a glorious crop of poetry published in Aotearoa, some of which has been reviewed elsewhere and some which has not. I have over 30 books on my shelf I am dead keen to share over summer.

I have picked out Tony Beyer’s Friday Prayers and the chapbook fills me with joy. Everything washes to the side and I am there with the words on the page, the trails and bridges that lead beyond the font and white paper to how we live our lives, how we absorb the world.

This is a human-rich view: there’s a ghost city under Christchurch, the possibility of wisdom, broken buildings, daily chores, the chives planted, sheets on the line, a poem wending its mysterious way into being.

This is a human-rich view: ‘Crusade’ replays a rugby game with breathless momentum until full time.  The final kick though is the polemical question for the pack of gladiators and supporters.  How far does our respect and empathy go when it comes to the currency of a word?

 

so is Sam Whitelock

taking it on the chin

a gladiator

the Crusaders

threatened with losing their name

did it proud

 

The collection’s title poem, ‘Friday prayers’, is a response to the Christchurch massacre – it opens its arms wide. Its explicit call to how we proceed underlines how little bad behaviours born out of indifference or ignorance count and are ‘not small’. The last page makes me weep.

 

I know I

and those I love

living and dead

have done these things

and it must cease

children in my classroom

eagerly anticipated

the before and after

feasts of Eid

and wrote stories about them

the blood on the mosque floor

is human blood

like that of Christ

or of countless

helpless bystanders

everything we love

songs prayers

our children’s faces

and their children’s

gone in a gunshot

 

 

Tony’s book moves in multiple directions, traversing everyday experience with both heart and insight while facing catastrophic events both politically and personally. The overall effect is one of sublime fluency. I read this book and I am tipped into a state of profound contemplation and I am glad of it. Thank you.

 

Cold Hub Press author page

Tony’s previous collection Anchor Stone was a finalist in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for Poetry (Cold Hub Press 2018). He lives in Taranaki.

 

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Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Jenny Bornholdt’s ‘Crossing’

 

Crossing

 

Driving across town

she feels plain

and botanical.

 

At a crossing

there’s a man

with a cake, girl

with a tune.

Four young people

wheel a bed,

headed for a house

where a young woman

might read, love a man/some

men, might hold their bodies

close and welcome some parts

of those bodies

into hers.

 

Years later

she might see these men

in suits and on television and

many years later

might pass one, a house painter,

as she drives to buy

paint, for heaven’s sake.

 

Now, nearing sixty,

this woman loves her husband

ferociously.

When she turns the compost

and finds the flat wrinkled body

of a mouse,

she remembers the time

he rang her in Scotland

to say he’d seen one in the pile

and what should he do?

 

She shovels the remains

of the mouse with the rest

of the compost to beneath

the blossom, which bows

low and graceful over neglect,

which abounds, as it does,

wonderfully, in the garden of the

southern house they move to

for a time.

 

He’s up to his ears

in sadness, both of them aghast

at landscape. Being asthmatic

he is immediately attractive

to animals – at the lake

a fox terrier pup takes shelter

under his chest as he lies down

on a towel after a swim.

In the kitchen a mouse

bumps into his foot. Drama

in the house! Not for the first

time. These were rooms

of costume, scenery,

leading ladies and men

on the front terrace, leaning

on architect Ernst Plischke’s rail,

stone warm underfoot, snowed

mountains as backdrop

while the deep, broad river passed

below them, always

on its way.

 

Jenny Bornholdt, from Lost and Somewhere Else, Victoria University Press, 2019

 

 

Jenny Bornholdt is the author of many poetry collections, including The Rocky Shore (Montana New Zealand Book Award for Poetry winner, 2009) and Selected Poems (2016). She has edited several notable anthologies including Short Poems of New Zealand (2018).

Victoria University Press author page

 

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Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Alison Glenny picks Rachel O’Neill’s ‘The Kafka Divers’

 

 

 

 

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Note from Alison:

 

The Kafka Divers comes from One Human in Height, the debut collection by poet, artist and film-maker Rachel O’Neill.  Published by Hue & Cry Press in 2013, the book contains a number of candidates for ‘classic poem’, including some that have been anthologised elswhere. I’ve chosen The Kafka Divers because I admire how much it fits into a small space, and because reading it always makes me smile.

The Kafka Divers is a prose poem – that deceptively simple form which is really a chameleon, with a sneaky ability to impersonate more apparently informational/straightforward kinds of prose. The poem’s style evokes taxonomy, a form of classificatory and descriptive writing associated with the natural sciences. It’s a genre with its own distinct language and way of looking at the world, which the author, who identifies as queer and non-binary, appropriates for her own purposes.

The poem invents a new thing – a plant called the Kafka Diver. At least it seems to be a plant, although it could be other things as well. A young person with a sense of isolation for instance, or even a poem that immerses its readers and draws them into its faintly ‘reptilian’ interior, an experience from which they will emerge after a period of time unscathed, if not unchanged.

I was curious about whether any particular model (field guide? botany lecture?) prompted The Kafka Divers, so I asked Rachel if she could comment on the poem’s origin. She replied that at the time she wrote it she was reading anthologies of nature, garden, and landscape writing published in the 1950s that she kept in her bathroom, and added:

‘In the anthology excerpts there is an exultation of the human longingly observing the non-human, yet the distinction between human and non-human collapses in the entanglement of gaze, mystery and desire, and in the tensions around whether order and/or chaos dictates attention and preference. I think The Kafka Divers taps into the whole mutual yet fragile (and potentially queer and erotic) performance of looking and being seen, bringing to the fore queer circuits of desire.’

In The Kafka Divers the potential for fascination to undermine the separation between observer and observed is figured as literal engulfment – the act of ‘diving in’.  But a sense of ambiguous or permeable boundaries is also conveyed by the description of the Kafka Diver as a kind of hairy plant/umbrella/reptile assemblage, with a human (and very queer) capacity to succumb to loneliness/isolation, learn patience, or startle strangers with its singular appearance.

A similar ambiguity surrounds the roles of host and visitor, hospitality and predation, the description of ‘diving in’, which makes it unclear who (or perhaps both) or these actors is the ‘Diver’, and the relating of their encounter, with its alternating shocks of disappearing and emergence, creepiness and delight, horror and comedy.

You could argue that the coexistence of these contrasting emotional possibilities, whose resolution is left to the attention and preference of the reader, is signalled by the plant/poem’s title. After all, ‘Kafkaesque’ is a term we use to evoke the kind of bizarre and disturbing world in which a man might conceivably wake to discover he is an insect – the human subject turned, by a mysterious act of identification, into an ‘object’. But if the name ‘Kafka’ evokes a somewhat nightmarish state in which humans can lose their humanity or be subjected to inexplicable persecution, ‘Diver’ has connotations of commitment, courage, strength and grace. As Rachel comments,

‘I . . . set about to queer observational details and centred everything in Aotearoa, while still recruiting Kafka – though in the poem I question what might be perceived as Kafkaesque/nightmarish, so what ‘nightmarish’ might look like from a queer perspective.’

Read queerly, The Kafka Divers turns what might have been a horror tale of abduction in the sub-alpine zone of Aotearoa into a fable about the quiet or even ‘secretive’ triumph of connection over loneliness, hairiness, and a sub-prime position.

For me, another pleasure provided by the form the poem uses to explore issues of seeing and being seen is its reminder that histories of queer identifications (like those of other minorities) are entangled with the classifying gaze of science – whether sexology, medicine, psychiatry, or biology – approaches that have characteristically viewed queerness as, at best, a puzzle to be explained (‘gay gene’ anyone?) and at its most damaging, an aberration to be condemned or ‘cured’. In this sense the poem’s queering of perspective includes the suggestion that viewing human sexuality through the same set of field glasses used to study other species has the potential not only to reinforce stigma, but to open an Aladdin’s cave of specialisations and oddness, whose diversity and utopic potential remind me of Bruce Bagemihl’s concept of ‘biological exuberance’:

‘an affirmation of life’s vitality and infinite possibilities. . . at once primordial and furturistic; in which gender is kaleidoscopic, sexualities are multiple, and the categories of male and female are fluid . . A world, in short, exactly like the one we inhabit.’

 

References:

Bagemihl, Bruce: Biological Exuberance: animal homosexuality and natural diversity (1999) Profile Books, p 262.

O’Neill, Rachel: email

 

 

Alison Glenny’s Antarctic-themed collection of prose poems and fragments, The Farewell Tourist, was published by Otago University Press in 2018.

Rachel O’Neill (pronouns: she / her / hers / they / them / theirs) is a Pākehā Non-binary queer filmmaker, writer and artist who was raised in the Waikato and is now based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Aotearoa. Their debut book, One Human in Height (Hue & Cry Press) was published in 2013.

 

Hue & Cry Press author page

 

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Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: James Brown’s ‘Lesson’

 

Lesson

When was the last time you
washed a green apple – peeling
off the irksome sticker ­– and
quartered it on a chopping board?

Then sliced the quartered cores out
with two fine v-cuts
and threw them onto the lawn
for the birds? Then cut the quarters

into eighths and passed the eighths
around, eating two yourself
– the sharp fresh taste sweeter
than you’d expected?

  

James Brown

 

 

James Brown’s Selected Poems will be published by VUP in 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Hebe Kearney’s ‘Clytemnestra Takes a Bath’

 

Clytemnestra Takes a Bath

 

Woman — cast your tyrannical spell upon the water,

heart of red dwarf star, fizzing wonder,

and to the seething foam pour your oils, aromatic offerings,

libations of rose petals. Let candles blaze in the dark,

a ring of ensnaring flame.

 

Woman — run the bath red,

drop by crimson drop, let the red tide flow

unsheathe the cold steel, let it slide in long strokes

and when it nicks it oozes,

draw it quick down beneath the scarlet waters,

and keep it there.

 

Woman — I know you,

you own the distant scream or two of flesh

dragged against white marble,

the sound behind the door of a call:

in another life, you betrayed a kingdom of nothing,

wrenched off an eagle’s wings, sprayed its black blood wide,

assumed the form of a snake.

 

Clytemnestra — in this life, relax;

the day is beginning.

Untangle the net of your dressing gown from the bathroom floor,

wrap your blushed flesh in silk,

apply a plaster to that bright-ooze, shaving cut,

and let the crimson bathwater all the way out.

Breathe deep, dry off, moisturise.

Fish the rose petals from the teeth of the bathtub’s drain

with your hands.

 

Hebe Kearney

 

Hebe Kearney is from Christchurch but now calls Auckland her home. She is currently studying to complete her Honours in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Auckland. She couldn’t stop writing poems if she tried, and her work has appeared in Starling, The Three Lamps and Oscen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Jane Arthur’s ‘Situation’

 

Situation

 

Kākā have been screaming across the sky.

I’ve been thinking up jokes to tell myself.

One of the dogs pisses on the floor as soon as I leave the room.

The other dog follows me around the house.

There are a lot of dogs in the neighbourhood.

I am sure they know how to behave.

They don’t bark so much.

I’ve been preoccupied with what others think again.

I’ve been trying not to let people down.

Nights are not long enough.

Lately there’s been more sun than I would’ve expected.

I keep the weather report open in its own tab and check it often.

The internet has most of the answers I’m looking for.

Some of my questions come up at inconvenient times.

Some are just hard to explain.

Like, when people say ‘I want you inside me’

do they sometimes mean cannibalism?

Or that they want to inject your fluids into their veins?

Or do they only ever mean something plainly sexual?

Don’t laugh, it’s not always obvious, and

sometimes desire can make us hungry or violent.

Maybe healthy emotional behaviour wasn’t modelled to us as children.

So we bite. We draw blood. We take things that aren’t ours, I don’t know.

 

Jane Arthur, Craven, Victoria University Press, 2019

 

 

 

Jane Arthur was the recipient of the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize in 2018, judged by Eileen Myles. She has worked in the book industry for over fifteen years as a bookseller and editor, and has a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the IIML at Victoria University of Wellington. Born in New Plymouth, she lives in Wellington with her family. Her first poetry collection, Craven, was published in September 2019 by Victoria University Press.

Victoria University Press page

 

 

 

 

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Poetry Shelf: a mother poem from Louise Wrightson

 

 

 

Mother

1

Mother, the dark is coming

 

from beyond the sea.

 

It is moving above the waves,

 

over the driftwood

 

on the sand, winding through

 

the mist-covered land.

 

 

I will stay with you.

 

I will hold your hand.

 

2

Mother, when I was young

 

and afraid of the night,

 

you bought me a light

 

and sat by my bed.

 

You said that the dark

 

could be my friend.

 

 

I will stay near you.

 

Stay here until the end.

 

 

3

Mother, I remember how

 

we waited on the lawn

 

that night until the dark

 

dissolved into colours

 

and the scary shapes

 

were familiar and clear.

 

 

I will stay beside you.

 

There is nothing to fear.

 

4

Mother, the dark is here.

 

It is only a shadow

 

that covers your body

 

and you are the light

 

within its shape—the flame.

 

You burn so brightly!

 

 

Now, I hold your hand.

 

Now, I call your name.

 

 

 

 

                                                            Louise Wrightson—October 2019

 

Louise Wrightson has an MA with Distinction in Creative Writing from the IIML (The International Institute of Modern Letters) Victoria University, Wellington. She lives and writes near Otari-Wilton’s Bush, a 100-hectare reserve of regenerating forest. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies and journals.