Tag Archives: Bernadette Hall

Poetry Shelf Friday talk spot: Bernadette Hall on Mister Hamilton’s Library

 

Mister Hamilton’s Library

 

The cat is curled on the poet’s lap. It’s very happy there. It licks its paw and rubs its ear with it. Scrinches up its eyes. He’s talking poetry again, the poet. He’s testing some of the lines he’s written. Tasting them, listening to the music. ‘For many years I lived in Southland. / In fact I am from Southland. / Some people say my speech is slow. / I say it’s deliberate, just.’   ( from the poem, Plainsong’. )  ‘My lawn’s a rocket, / a multinational bearded lip bound by corsets. / It wrote the Bible and Mickey mouse / but being modest always blushes green.’    ( from the poem, ‘Sixties relic surveys his lawn’.) The cat’s name is on the cover of the book. It’s the title. Mister Hamilton. Yet there’s no reference to the cat inside the book. Nor is its name mentioned again within the pages.  People ask the poet, ‘Why is your book called “Mister Hamilton?”‘ And he replies ‘It’s the name of my cat. And I love my cat.’

When the poet dies, hundreds and hundreds of books are found in his house, in bookshelves, in cupboards, under the bed, in boxes in the garage. Dante is there and Yannis Ritsos, Francis Ponge, Pablo Neruda, Frank O’Hara. Along with R.A.K. Mason, Bill Manhire, Cilla McQueen and Peter Olds. His friends miss the sound of his voice. They remember ‘the ‘slow’ reflections  – ‘the kind that imply the presence of a companion, and a habit of conversation.’ (quote: Ian Wedde) The way he made poetry ‘ visible and desirable in his very being.’ (quote: Bernadette Hall. ) The cat remembers the comfort of the poet’s lap, the sound of his voice. The playfulness of all those pages turning. Finally the poet’s books are dispersed among those who will love them. Some, water-stained and mouldy, have had to be destroyed. The bulk of them, however, are out there, doing work that’s timeless and important, refreshing the way we talk to each other.

 

Bernadette Hall

 

Mister Hamilton by John Dickson (1944 – 2017). Published by Auckland University Press, 2016. All quotations are taken from this book.

Auckland University Press page

 

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Bernadette Hall is an award-winning writer who has published ten poetry collections and edited several poetry anthologies (including for Joanna Margaret Paul and Lorna Staveley Anker). Her latest book, Maukatere, Floating mountain, with artwork by Rachel O’Neill, was published by Seraph Press in 2016. In 2015 she was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry, and in 2017 she was invested as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature. She lives in Hurunui, Canterbury.

 

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Poetry Shelf poses a question to poets: Why write poetry?

 

This is an occasional series where I invite a group of poets to respond to the same question. First up: Why write poetry? I selected this question because a number of writers have mused upon the place of poetry when facing catastrophes that devastate our human roots. I pondered that question. I then asked myself why I have written poetry for decades regardless of whether it is published or applauded. It is what I love to do. It is my way of making music and feeling and translating and being happy no matter the life challenges. I also feel poetry is thriving in Aotearoa; at all ages, in multiple forms and in myriad places, many of us are drawn to write poems.

 

Albert Wendt

I write poetry because I can’t stop doing it: it demands that I do it, and it is ‘language’ that I feel most passionately about. When I’ve deliberately tried not to write poetry, I’ve ended up feeling unfinished, incomplete. When the poetry is shaping itself well in my tongue and throat, I feel healed, and healing.

 

Emer Lyons

I talk too much. A male Irish poet visited last year and said my poetry had none of the “jerkiness” of my personality. In writing poetry I find silence and the ability to give that silence space. After drinks with two men from the university last week, the one I had just met sent me a message on Twitter to ask me if I, like him, had Borderline Personality Disorder. Speaking in non sequiturs is not nearly as convincing as writing in them. As women, there are expectations about how we should speak, how we should take up space, how we should be more silent, more stable. Writing poetry is a minor release from social constraints, and the voluntary application of others. I can bind my breasts and write sonnets. On the page, I can be enough.

 

Erik Kennedy

I write poetry for the same reason that architects draw up concepts for floating cities: 1) to see what a better future might look like before it is possible, 2) to make the blueprints of progress public so that others can avoid making the mistakes that I have.

 

Therese Lloyd

Poetry remains mysterious to me. It’s such a strange beast and to be honest, sometimes I wish I had been bitten by the fiction bug instead. But I’ve been writing poetry for a long time. I think the first poem I ever wrote was when I was about 6. The poem was about fireworks and I remember the last line was “beautiful but dangerous”. Even at 6 years old I had a dark turn of mind! It may be a total cliché, but for me, poetry is a way to figure out how I feel about something. Writing poetry, especially that first thrilling draft, is an exercise in bravery. I love the feeling of having only the slightest inkling of what might appear on the page, and then to be surprised (sometimes pleasantly) by the string of lines that emerge.

Why write poetry? Because it’s confounding and liberating in turn. Because, as Anne Carson so famously says:

It is the task of a lifetime. You can never know enough, never work enough, never use the infinitives and participles oddly enough, never impede the movement harshly enough, never leave the mind quickly enough.

 

Michele Leggott

Why write poetry? To sound distance and make coastal profiles, to travel light and lift darkness. I go back to what I wrote about these and other calibrations: A family is a series of intersecting arcs, some boat-shaped, others vaults or canopies, still others vapour trails behind a mountain or light refracted through water. None is enclosed, all are in motion, springing away from one another or folding themselves around some spectral inverse of the shape they make against sea or sky.

 

essa may ranapiri

I write poetry because I love what poetry can be and can do. With poetry you can create these rather dense language objects that have the ability to confront many realities very quickly without sacrificing complexity. It is a space where I feel the English language can be at its most decolonised and queer and wonderful. And it also a space I feel most comfortable exploring the language of my tīpuna te reo Māori, a language I have only really just started learning. Poetry’s capacity for fragmentation and error, gives me permission to try out who I am and who I want to be. It also encourages in me a radical imagination about the society we live in and the societies that we could live in. A poem can be built in a day and take years to understand, it can both encapsulate and be the moment. A poem can give people who are marginalised a space to really embody their voice, make the air vibrate with their wairua, and in so doing provide an opportunity for community for those that struggle to find it wherever they are.

 

Bernadette Hall:

Why write poetry? Why not write poetry? Why should a poem choose you to be its vehicle? ‘Poetry is a terminal activity, taking place out near the end of things’ wrote John Berryman in a review article in 1959. I feel a great excitement when I read his words. An enchantment.  Since childhood, I have been immersed in language that’s not my own. In fact it’s dead. Or so the old school rhymes used to say about it, about Latin. And every now and then, a kind of ‘speech’ would emerge, in my native tongue, English, well out of the range of my everyday talking, things I would write down on paper. Secrets. Janet Frame has been quoted apparently as saying that her writing wasn’t her. Which would give you a huge amount of freedom, wouldn’t it, that embracing and distancing at the same time.  Berryman went on to say of poetry, ‘And it aims …at the reformation of the poet, as prayer does.’  The re-formation. No wonder I’m hooked.

 

Cilla McQueen

It seems healthy for thoughts to have an outlet into the real world.

Thinking is in the poem and is the poem.

You attend to the material and the spiritual. You perceive humanity, see inside yourself and other people, listen to the language of insight, catch words from the deep layers of consciousness.

Writing something down in concentrated form is mental exercise. The elastic syntax inside language asks for attention and skill so that it can be used with subtlety, to contain many shades of meaning and feeling.

Writing is a pleasure. Whether it ends up as a poem or not doesn’t really matter.

Words can unblock. The complete absorption in writing, in silent concentration, can provide a psychic release. A poem both releases energy and generates it.

The act of writing can be a refuge and comfort, also a way of talking things out in order to understand. The page is always listening, a patient companion in times of solitude or loneliness.

Don’t know what I’d do without it. I’ve spent most of my writing life thinking about poetry, but am still wary of defining it (this is part of its charm).

 

 

Albert Wendt has published many novels, collections of poetry and short stories, and edited numerous anthologies. In 2018, along with four others, he was recognised as a New Zealand Icon at a medallion ceremony for his significant contribution to the Arts.

Emer Lyons is an Irish writer who has had poetry and fiction published in journals such as TurbineLondon GripThe New Zealand Poetry Society AnthologySouthwordThe Spinoff and Queen Mob’s Tea House. She has appeared on shortlists for the Fish Poetry Competition, the Bridport Poetry Prize, the takahé short story competition, The Collinson’s short story prize and her chapbook Throwing Shapes was long-listed for the Munster Literature Fool For Poetry competition in 2017. Last year she was the recipient of the inaugural University of Otago City of Literature scholarship and is a creative/critical PhD candidate in contemporary queer poetry.

Erik Kennedy is the author of Twenty-Six Factitions (Cold Hub Press, 2017) and There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (Victoria University Press, 2018), and he selected the poetry for Queen Mob’s Teahouse: Teh Book (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2019). Originally from New Jersey, he lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime is shortlisted for the 2019 Ockham and New Zealand Book Awards – he will be appearing at the Auckland Writers Festival in May.

Therese Lloyd is the author of the chapbook many things happened (Pania Press, 2006), Other Animals (VUP, 2013) and The Facts (VUP, 2018). The Facts has been shortlisted for the 2019 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards and she will be appearing at the Auckland Writers Festival in May.

Michele Leggott has published eight collections of poetry, most recently Vanishing Points (Auckland University Press) and has edited and co-edited a number of anthologies including the poetry of Robin Hyde.She was the inaugural Poet Laureate (2007-9) under National Library administration and in 2013 received the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry. She founded the New Zealand Electronic zPoetry Centre and is professor of English at the University of Auckland. She recently contributed the introduction to Verses, a collection of poetry by Lola Ridge (Quale Press).

essa may ranapiri is a poet from kirikiriroa, Aotearoa and are part of the local writing group Puku. rir |Liv.id. They have been published in many journals in print and online, most recently in Best New Zealand Poems 2018. Their first collection of poetry ransack is being published by Victoria University Press in July 2019.

Bernadette Hall lives in a renovated bach at Amberley Beach in the Hurunui, North Canterbury. She has published ten collections of poetry, the most recent being Life & Customs (VUP 2013) and Maukatere, floating mountain (Seraph Press 2016). In 2015 shereceived the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry. In 2016 she was invested as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature.  In 2017 she joined with three other Christchurch writers to inaugurate He Kōrero Pukapuka, a book club which meets weekly at the Christchurch Men’s Prison.

Cilla McQueen is a poet, teacher and artist; her multiple honours and awards include a Fulbright Visiting Writer’s Fellowship 1985,three New Zealand Book Awards 1983, 1989, 1991; an Hon.LittD Otago 2008, and the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry 2010. She was the National Library New Zealand Poet Laureate 2009 -11.  Recent works include The Radio Room (Otago University Press 2010), In A Slant Light (Otago University Press, 2016), and poeta: selected and new poems (Otago University Press, 2018).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf ANZAC poem: celebrating Lorna Staveley Anker, NZ’s first woman war poet

 

Ellen’s Vigil

 

Benjamin Isaac Tom

Passchendaele Ypres and Somme

        three ovals float

        on the cold wall

plastered whiter

         than their bones,

young, khaki’d

         their bud-tender eyes

         premonition filled.

 

Ellen,

Her three boys gone,

      transplanted seventy years

      from Lurgan’s linen

no longer counts crops

      in season

but digs diligently, delicately,

      digs down

              further down

      her spade searching

              her garden for

      three lost sons

      Thomas Isaac and Ben.

 

Lorna Staveley Anker

 

from Ellen’s Vigil Griffin Press, 1996

(The poem also appeared in The Judas Tree, 2013 and is published with kind permission from the Lorna Staveley Anker Estate)

 

 

I discovered the poetry of Lorna Staveley Anker in The Judas Tree, a selection edited by Bernadette Hall  (2013, Canterbury University Press). The collection claims Lorna as New Zealand’s first woman war poet. She was born in Ōtautahi, Christchurch in 1914 and died in 2000. Her father died of throat cancer when she was two and her mother took in boarders to survive. Three of Lorna’s uncles were killed in WWI and her mother, Elizabeth suffered terribly. From childhood Lorna endured a lifetime of crippling nightmares, night terrors. She married Ralph Price Anker, a student she met at teachers’ college; they had four children and adopted a fifth. Lorna began writing and publishing in the 1960s, but her first collection, My Streetlamp Dances, did not appear until 1986. Two further collections appeared in her lifetime: From a Particular Stave (1993) and Ellen’s Vigil (1996). I so loved the posthumous volume, The Judas Tree, I reviewed the book on my blog. 

Shortly after the review appeared, Lorna’s daughter, Denny, sent me a copy of Ellen’s Vigil and again the poetry resonated. Much later I found myself in the Turnbull Library doing research for Wild Honey and listening to various audio tapes. I was completely captivated by an interview between Lorna and Susan Fowke (from the Gaylene Preston Productions Women in World War Two oral history archive managed by Judith Fyfe).

There were many occasions when I was profoundly moved in the Turnbull and this was one of them. I was writing a book that engaged with the work of almost 200 poets and that required a very different focus to a book that considered a single poet or perhaps even ten. However sometimes a particular poet held my attention; I got lost in the maze and astonishments of unpublished writing, letters, interviews, diaries, scrapbooks. In Lorna’s case, to hear the poet speak was a special thing indeed. Gaylene has kindly given me permission to share some gems from Lorna on being a poet but I do encourage you to explore the oral history archive Gaylene has helped assemble.

 

 

Lorna’s father sometimes wrote poetry, ‘particularly couplets’ for her mother and her mother ‘s meals ‘were a poem’: ‘she’d pickle nasturtiums and we’d have caper sauce with our mutton’. I can just picture the kitchen: ‘The shelves in the pantry would be shiny with rows and rows of goods.’

The poem ‘Ellen’s Vigil’ stems from the time Lorna’s grandmother went digging for her war-dead sons in her garden. Lorna said in the interview that her grandmother was ‘grandmother to all mothers and wives who had lost their beloved men – she was a symbol for me.’ Knowing this amplifies the ‘buried’ grief. Lorna had lived with her grandmother and grandfather for a period from 1921; her grandmother, we hear, had favoured imagination rather than ‘strict discipline techniques’.

Lorna suffered from an eye defect which hindered her reading but at the age of 52 she began writing: she said it was strange to have a slim reading history when then, at the age of 52, ‘out burst all this language and poetry’. In her introduction to The Judas Tree Bernadette muses on events that perhaps prompted Lorna’s poetry writing in the 1960s (the death of her son Staveley aged 21 and the fact his daughter was adopted out by the birth mother) and the way she began publishing after the death of her beloved husband (1983).

She recounts an incident where her poetry was rejected as middle-class rubbish: ‘I came home and I wrote out of indignation and rejection, passion, fury, disbelief, and it was the mildest poem the most restrained tender poignant poem about the death of affection’. Writing was often a physical thing for Lorna: ‘a fusing in my head’, ‘a rush of blood’.

Lorna shared a number of things on being a poet that stuck with me. She didn’t call herself poetic ‘but being poetic means you have a different print out’, and when you write poetry ‘your mind is going sideways’.

Lorna’s family helped publish her collections while Pat White, David Howard and james Norcliffe offered help and assistance with her debut collection. Two of her poems were published in Kiwi & Emu (1989) while Lauris Edmond selected her essay, ‘Has the Kaiser Won?’ for Women in Wartime (1986).

I recommend taking timeout in the archives and listening to the interview, tracking down Lorna’s individual collections and perusing the book that Bernadette assembled with such love and care. To return to the poetry with her autobiography, to remember the impact of war upon her well being and later her writing, to consider the way words flooded out when she was older rather than younger, is to enrich reading pathways through her work.

 

From my review of The Judas Tree

Lorna’s poems reflect a mind that engaged with the world acutely, wittily, compassionately. There is a plainness to the language in that similes and metaphors are sidestepped for nouns and verbs. These are poems of observation, attention, reaction, opinion, experience. The starting point might be the most slender of moments — and the poetry opens out from there, surprisingly, wonderfully.

In the first section (and indeed the largest section), war makes its presence felt; from the pain of departures, to the pain of the wounded, to the ache of loss. At times Lorna filters a poem through the eyes of her young self (for example, trying to make sense of Armistice Day). At times a concrete detail makes the poem more poignant (‘her spade searching/ her garden for/ her three lost sons’). In ‘Arie’s Tale’ the detail that renders the pain sharper is the ‘tyreless rims.’ In this poem the dead are carried away on a bicycle that makes such a clatter it is the hardest thing to bear (‘He felt it wasn’t respectful/ to his customers’). Lorna’s war poems stretch in all directions — they never forget the life that goes on and they never forget the heartbreak and loss that are etched indelibly. One of my favourite poems, ‘V.E.Day … and Neenish Tarts,’ moves beautifully between these two opposing but entwined forces. From the darkness of battle (now over), the poem moves to the grandmother dancing on the bed (as warm flesh weaves/ pink circles/ under a nightgown’; and from there to ‘Let’s have Neenish tarts for tea’ (this is cause for celebration). This first section of the book is a terrific addition to New Zealand war poetry because it casts a light on women at war (even when they remain in the kitchen).

 

‘Vision of Escape’, a poem by Lorna

Canterbury University Press author page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday Poem by Bernadette Hall

 

 

from a sonnet sequence called  Fancy Dancing

 

vii.

Drowning is painless, or so they say, when we die

we’ll look as though we’re sleeping. How many thousands

and thousands are sleeping now in the swollen waters

of the Mediterranean? It’s enough to break your heart.

Maggie dropped in for a drink after work

the other day. Tears in the street. I’ve given her

our mother’s lovely little blue Limoges plate.

We talked about the grandfather we’d never met,

Alexander, thrown out of the family for some reason

we are left to imagine. I found him earlier this year,

lying all on his own in an unmarked grave  in Ashburton.

You can drown in loneliness, it seems, just like in water.

We’ll put up a stone with his name on it, such a small gesture.

 

 

©Bernadette Hall

 

Bernadette Hall lives in a renovated bach at Amberley Beach in the Hurunui, North Canterbury. She has published ten collections of poetry, the most recent being Life & Customs (VUP 2013) and Maukatere, floating mountain (Seraph Press 2016). In 2015 shereceived the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry. In 2016 she was invested as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature.  In 2017 she joined with three other Christchurch writers to inaugurate He Kōrero Pukapuka, a book club which meets weekly at the Christchurch Men’s Prison.

 

 

Poetry Shelf The Summer Season: Poets pick poems – Bernadette Hall picks Anne Kennedy

 

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©Anne Kennedy, The Darling North, Anne Kennedy, Auckland University Press, 2012.

 

 

 

Bernadette Hall comments on the poem:

 

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I first read these lines in 2012. Anne Kennedy’s book had just come out. I read the lines and I fell in love with them. I held onto the poem that held onto them as if it was a life-raft. Every time I read that poem, Hello Kitty, Goodbye Piccadilly, (and I read it often) I have the same feeling of home-coming. The thinking is within the same territory I’m fixated on: the tension between the dream places, the places of beginning, of origin, the places that arise from myth. And the materiality of here and now, the stuff that arises from star dust just as our world does and everything including us within it.

On the one hand there’s the ancient dreaming, the naming and the renaming of myth and ritual. Of religion and philosophy. The stuff of the mind, the soul and the imagination. The stuff of desire. And then there’s the solid ground beneath our feet. There’s a collision here surely. How are we to shape a language that it is capacious and mobile and courageous  enough to handle collision and complexity?

It’s an ancient curiosity, this, to ask the existential questions : unde? whence? quo? whither? cur? why? Philosophers and theologians are the professionals. But so often their thinking has been disembodied. Maybe it was up to poets to explore the connective tissue between concrete and abstract, to make new alliances between thought and matter. The body, the mind, the heart, the soul. How serviceable the old language was. But how are we to reveal ourselves to ourselves today?

The framework of Hello KittyGoodbye Picadilly  is the shift from New Zealand with its theatre of memories to Hawai’i. It’s a move north, away from the cold wind – ‘you wish you had gathered it up / and kept it in a suitcase’ – to a Pacific ‘Paradise’. The kind of place the French sailors with Marion du Fresne thought they’d found in Tahiti. But then they went on and found a Pacific ‘Hell’ when they landed in the Bay of Islands in 1772. (I’m fresh from reading Joanna Orwin’s marvellous novel ‘Collision’ that explores these things with spectacular success.)

What I love about the poem is that it arises out of uncertainty, out of questioning. Out of a sense of what’s missing.

There are those repeated lines, the repeated negatives : ‘I don’t have Hawai’iki’    ‘I don’t have Heaven’. Isn’t this the Socratic method, using negatives to slash away the debris and then see what’s left standing? ‘In Paradise you will sit for a long time / looking at everything as if for the first time / and you will understand.’ So we’re back to the very beginning, in need of language, in need of thinking. But then ‘You wonder in passing / about your body, its whereabouts’. And there’s the female body, the human body, the body, not as something corruptible but as an equal.

Maybe memory is the cache where everything holds together, where everything lasts:

 

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Almost at the very end of the poem there’s a recounting of losses:

 

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And my heart turns over. I guess these lines just get richer as I age. As the whole question of getting up and leaving the room becomes more present. How is this to be done?

There’s a scene in J. M Coetzee’s novel ‘ Elizabeth Costello’ where the aged academic finds herself at the gates of what we might call heaven.  She has to face judges there, she has to answer difficult questions. Her life as a writer, a life spent of making up things, is under scrutiny.

‘Is childhood on the Dulgannon another of your stories, Mrs Costello? Along with the frogs and the rain from heaven?’

‘The river exists. The frogs exist. I exist. What more do you want?’

Indeed, what?

The final move in the poem is from loss to uplift.  Once again it’s repetition that’s the key turning in the lock, multiplying the ways to enter the text:

 

 

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I love this kind of thing. The depth and the nourishment I find here. The way Anne Kennedy’s writing, like that of Coetzee, opens up new rooms in my head and in my heart.

Bernadette Hall

 

 

Bernadette Hall lives at Amberley Beach in the Hurunui, North Canterbury. She has published 10 collections of poetry, the most recent being Life & Customs VUP 2013 and Maukatere, floating mountain, Seraph Press, 2016. The latter includes drawings by the Wellington artist, Rachel O’Neill. In 2015, Bernadette received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry. And in 2017, she was invested as a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her Services to Literature.

Two Poet Members of the NZ Order of Merit, with thanks

 

 

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a snippet of my veggie garden going wild

 

It was a bit of shock getting a letter inviting me to accept a New Year’s Honour (Member of NZ Order of Merit). Like Eileen Duggan I felt a bit flabbergasted, embarrassed and touched by the invitation. I was busy reading my way through Eileen’s archives when I got the letter – which seemed slightly uncanny as I was reading her thoughts on her Queen’s Honour along with poetry, books and New Zealand.

I do want to thank everyone in New Zealand who supports poetry: all the poets, publishers, readers, booksellers, festival organisers, media, reviewers and children poetry fans.

It is a special honour and I am grateful.

 

And I am so delighted to see the very wonderful Bernadette Hall also honoured.

Helen Rickerby’s Seraph Press published poetry books by both Bernadette and I in 2016, coincidentally.

 

Best wishes for a fabulous year of poetry in 2017.

 

 

 

 

A week of poems: Bernadette Hall’s ‘This for the end of a year’

 

 

 

This for the end of a year

        from a chorus of short-tongued alpine bees

 

Let us give thanks for the flushes and zones of colour

in the herb-field, for the alpine genera,

the wire rush and the tangle fern, the sheep sorrel

and the cats-ear, the gentians and the astelias and everything

that grows under the edge of a melting snow-bank.

 

Let us give thanks for the cranesbill geranium and

the mouse ear  myositis, for the ranunculus (little frog mouth,

little friend), for the feathered myrrh of the nival zone,

for the bog moss in the tarn,

for all that is and all that has been and all that is to come.

 

It is for us to keep our courage firm,

to nurse our appointed pain,

to await ‘that which springs ablaze of itself. ’

 

 

©Bernadette Hall

(first published under a different title in Life & Customs VUP 2013)

 

 

 

 

 

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