Tag Archives: Bob Orr

Poetry Shelf review: Bob Orr’s One Hundred Poems and a Year

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Bob Orr, One Hundred Poems and a Year Steele Roberts, 2018

 

 

Consider this book of mine

as if it were a rucksack

 

containing what you might need

if you were to step outside your door.

 

There are poems heavily knitted

as fisherman’s jerseys

 

in case you should find yourself

all at sea.  (…)

 

from ‘Rucksack

 

Bob Orr was born in the Waikato. He worked as a seafarer on Waitematā Harbour for 38 years and now lives in a cottage on the Thames Coast. In 2016 he received the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Poetry and in 2017 was the Writer in Residence at the University of Waikato where he wrote most of One Hundred Poems and a Year, his ninth collection.

The book looks gorgeous – beautiful cover design with an oxygenated font and layout inside. Everything has room to breathe. Barry Lett’s exquisite drawing of ‘Blue Flowers’ on the cover is revisited in a poem.

 

Because sometimes you

remind me of a Catalan fisherman

these are the blue flowers of the Mediterranean

 

***

 

With a felt-tip pen

bought in a supermarket

one day you created myriad blue stems

 

from ‘A vase of blue flowers’ for Barry Lett

 

The poems are equally full of air and verve. The opening poem, ‘Rucksack’, is a perfect entry point as it likens the collection to a rucksack you might take with you for the day. We can expect poems we might shower with; that favour the casualness of jandals, the toughness of tramping boots, bare feet. The poem’s final image flipped me. Bob’s poetry moves through the air, out in the complicated, beautiful world and then underlines human vulnerability with the final line’s ‘bare feet’:

I wrote them while walking down a road with bare feet.

The collection is steeped in the sea: you will find boats, sea birds, ocean harvests and harbours as Bob travels by land and by ocean. He travels in the present time and he travels back through the past, gathering in friends and places, other poets, beginnings and endings. Poetry, the writing and reading of it, is ever present as the world becomes a page, a script to be read, a poem to be crafted.

 

I mention the containers

of the Maersk Hamburg Sud or P&O Line

 

if only because my autobiography

 or even this poem

 

and the cargo it must carry

would be incomplete without them.

 

from ‘Autobiographic’

 

There is death and endings; there is marriage and beginnings.

 

This evening I fly back

a delta-winged moth

 

my sadness like moondust

my night vision glowing like an infra-red camera

 

a stranger to these parts

gliding between the bittersweet shadows of apartments

 

to enter again if only I could find them

the strawberry fields that were said to be forever.

 

How many times and for what purpose

did we have to break

each other’s

hearts?

 

from ‘A woman in red slacks’

 

I missed this book when it came out last year – and it is such a treasure. The fluid lines at times feel like the arc of a bird drifting across the sky and at other times draw upon the ebb and flow of the sea – always beautifully measured. Poetry has so many effects upon us – reading this book the effects are both multiple and satisfying. It comes down to music, intimacy and exquisite reflection, and an engagement with the world that matters. I love this book.

 

Steele Roberts author page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf classic poem: Siobhan Harvey picks Bob Orr’s ‘Remembering Akhmatova’

 

Remembering Akhmatova

 

Of course they are not

spacecraft. The seed packet

described them as ‘Giant Russians’.

Nevertheless they are looking down

as if to find a place to land.

They are not Van Gogh’s sick hospital flowers

neither are they William Blake’s eternal time machines

nor even Allen Ginsberg’s gold Harlem recognition of self.

These are the sunflowers

that looked over my shoulder

at Frankton Railway Station

as I sat in brown shadows

awaiting a train out of Hamilton.

In the heat the tracks trembled like mercury.

In the pages of a book of poems

I was abducted by a Russian –

her black and yellow words

her giant symmetry.

 

Bob Orr   from Valparaiso Auckland University Press 2002

 

 

From Siobhan Harvey:

I’ve always admired Bob Orr’s poetry for his rare ability to entwine narrative, atmosphere and intimation. So much in ‘Remembering Akhmatova’ is said, and so much inferred. Of the spoken, Orr manages to use few words for maximum activity. Within six early lines, for instance, we are transported from a humble seed packet of sunflowers to a stretch of iconic artistic representations of the Helianthus. Van Gogh, Blake, Ginsberg – the diaspora of their artistry, history, geography, inspiration and output is collected and counterpoised seamlessly. There’s weight there too, of course: the burden inferred by the work and legacy of these great artists which carries through the remaining lines of the poem, as the narrator – located in humble Hamilton – waits to leave; but for what? For a life of writing, assuredly, as Akhmatova – directly referred to in the title, but not in the poem – anchors the end of Orr’s work and its story. It’s her poetry which has stolen the narrator’s imagination, something tellingly revealed to us only at the point of his escape. Yet, in its covert concluding reference, it speaks to – and connects – everything which has gone before.

This is said without mention of form or lyric in this poem, both of which deserve discussion of course. Where Orr’s verse stretches to include mention and inference of the work of significant creatives (painters, poets), it also extends its lines; and the musicality of the work expands too. So the first eight lines steadily lengthen, guiding the eye and ear into the rhythmically exquisite, “nor even Allen Ginsberg’s gold Harlem recognition of self.” Cleverly, such extension occurs at the point when the narrative is built upon dissent and negation, ergo “they are not spacecraft” and “are not Van Gogh’s sick hospital flowers”. Then the poem – its tale, form and lyric – tips into ten short lines, all of which are affirmative in tone (“They are the sunflowers …”), tight in form and symphony sharp.

So much is packed into these eighteen lines. As a reader and an artist, I return to this poem so often, listening to it, looking and deconstructing it, searching to make sense of its deep craft.

 

Siobhan Harvey is an emigre author of five books, including the poetry collection, Cloudboy (Otago University Press, 2014), which won the Landfall Kathleen Grattan Award. She’s also co-editor of the New Zealand bestseller, Essential New Zealand Poems (Penguin Random House, 2014). Her work has appeared in multiple journals both in New Zealand and Internationally. She was long-listed for 2019 Australian Book Review Peter Porter Poetry Prize (Aus) and won 2016 Write Well Award (Fiction, US). The Poetry Archive (UK) holds a ‘Poet’s Page’ devoted to her work. She lectures in Creative Writing at The Centre for Creative Writing, Auckland University of Technology where she’s completing a PhD in Creative Writing.

Bob Orr grew up in the Waikato, and has subsequently lived most of his adult life in Auckland. He has published nine collections of poetry and won the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Poetry in 2016. His writing has appeared in a number of collections, journals and anthologies and he has recently published the new collection One Hundred Poems and a Year (Steele Roberts, 2018).

 

 

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Jacket 2: Vaughan Rapatahana in conversation with Bob Orr

 

Full piece and a few poems here

 

Bob Orr has been a well-regarded New Zealand poet for several decades, having eight collections of poetry produced to date, with a new collection due out soon. He is also rather different to so many ‘modern’ poets, in that he has always paddled his own poetic waka (or canoe) in and through his own currents. Oaring across his own ocean, if you will.

Bob never completed any tertiary education. He never attended any  university ‘creative writing’ classes in an endeavour to craft his poetry ‘better.’ Up until very recently, when he was the 2017 University of Waikato Writer in Residence, he eschewed any applications for literary grants. He rarely, if ever, uses a computer to write with or on — he doesn’t even have an email address. Indeed, he continues to write with an old style ribbon-fed typewriter. Bob Orr is a bit of a Luddite — all of which ensures that his stream of poetry flows deep from his heart and mind and is never obfuscated by the trends, tropes, and trivialities of the latest poetic fad. Like another key New Zealand poet, Sam Hunt, Bob Orr has always remained a people’s poet, by which I mean, a writer who keeps it simple, who never overreaches into pretentiousness and amorphous cleverdickism.

 

Poetry Shelf Review: Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2018

 

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What I want from a poetry journal

More and more I witness clusters of poetry communities in New Zealand – families almost – that might be linked by geography, personal connections, associations with specific institutions or publishers. How often do we read reviews of, or poems by, people with whom we don’t share these links? Poetry families aren’t a bad thing, just the opposite, but I wonder whether the conversations that circulate across borders might grow less and less.

I want a poetry journal to offer diversity, whichever way you look, and we have been guilty of all manner of biases. This is slowly changing.

When I pick up a journal I am on alert for the poet that makes me hungry for more, that I want a whole book from.

I am also happy by a surprising little diversion, a poem that holds me for that extra reading. Ah, this is what a poem can do!

 

Editor Jack Ross has achieved degrees of diversity within the 2018 issue and I also see a poetry family evolving. How many of these poets have appeared in Landfall or Sport, for example? A number of the poets have a history of publication but few with the university presses.

This feels like a good thing. We need organic communities that are embracing different voices and resisting poetry hierarchies.

Poetry NZ Yearbook Annual offers a generous serving of poems (poets in alphabetical order so you get random juxtapositions), reviews and a featured poet (this time Alistair Paterson). It has stuck to this formula for decades and it works.

What I enjoyed about the latest issue is the list of poets I began to assemble that I want a book from. Some I have never heard of and some are old favourites.

 

Some poets I am keen to see a book from:

 

Our rented flat in Parnell

Those rooms of high ceilings and sash windows

Our second city

after Sydney

Robert Creeley trying to chat you up

at a Russell Haley party

when our marriage

was sweet

 

from Bob Orr’s ‘A Woman in Red Slacks’

 

Bob Orr’s heartbreak poem, with flair and economy, reminds me that we need a new book please.

There is ‘Distant Ophir’, a standout poem from David Eggleton that evokes time and place with characteristic detail. Yet the sumptuous rendering is slightly uncanny, ghostly almost, as past and present coincide in the imagined and the seen.  Gosh I love this poem.

The hard-edged portrait Johanna Emeney paints in ‘Favoured Exception’ demands a spot in book of its own.

I haven’t read anything by Fardowsa Mohamed but I want more. She is studying medicine at Otago and has written poetry since she was a child. Her poem’ Us’, dedicated to her sisters, catches the dislocation of moving to where trees are strange, : ‘This ground does not taste/ of the iron you once knew.’

Mark Young’s exquisite short poem, ‘Wittgenstein to Heidegger’, is a surprising loop between difficulty and easy. Again I hungered for another poem.

Alastair Clarke, another poet unfamiliar to me, shows the way poetry can catch the brightness of place (and travel) in ‘Wairarapa, Distance’. Landscape is never redundant in poetry –  like so many things that flit in and out of poem fashion. I would read a whole book of this.

Another unknown: Harold Coutt’s ‘there isn’t a manual on when you’re writing someone a love poem and they break up with you’ is as much about writing as it is breaking up and I love it. Yes, I want more!

Two poets that caught my attention at The Starling reading at the Wellington Writers Festival are here: Emma Shi and Essa Ranapiri. Their poems are as good on the page as they are in the ear. I have posted a poem from Essa on the blog.

I loved the audacity of Paula Harris filling in the gaps after seeing a photo of Michael Harlow in ‘The poet is bearded and wearing his watch around the wrong way’. Light footed, witty writing with sharp detail. More please!

I am a big fan of Jennifer Compton’s poetry and her ‘a rose, and then another’ is inventive, sound-exuberant play. I can’t wait for the next book.

I am also a fan of the linguistic agility of Lisa Samuels; ‘Let me be clear’ takes sheer delight in electric connections between words.

Finally, and on a sad note, there is Jill Chan’s poem, ‘Poetry’. I wrote about her on this blog to mark her untimely death. It is the perfect way to conclude this review. Poetry is everywhere – it is in all our poetry families.

 

Most poetry is unwritten,

denied and supposed.

Don’t go to write it.

Go where you’ve never been.

Go.

And it may come.

Behind you,

love rests.

And where is poetry?

What is it you seek?

 

Jill Chan, from ‘Poetry’

 

 

Poetry NZ Yearbook page

 

Poetry Day: Kapiti’s Poets to the People features Bob Orr and Open Mic this Sunday

From Poets to the People:

In July, Airini Beautrais and Maria McMillan complemented each other beautifully with their fabulous readings. Hightide was the last gig of their North Island tour promoting their new books, Flow: Whanganui River Poems (Airini) and The Ski Flier (Maria). Despite some sun dazzle during Open Mic we were gifted a stunning Kapiti sunset as a backdrop to their fine poetry.

Sunday August 27 we welcome Bob Orr as our guest. Bob has published seven books of poetry, most recently Odysseus in Woolloomooloo (Steele Roberts), and his work appears in numerous anthologies. Born in the Waikato, Bob has spent most of his adult life in Auckland where he works as a boatman on the Waitemata Harbour and the Hauraki Gulf. In 2016 he was the recipient of the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Poetry, a prize given biennially in recognition of a distinguished contribution to New Zealand poetry. He is currently Writer in Residence at the University of Waikato.

Open Mic

This month, to celebrate National Poetry Day (August 25), we’re opening Open Mic to people reading a favourite poem by another poet. We’ll be giving priority to readers who don’t usually perform at Open Mic, those keen and supportive listeners who play a big part in the pleasure of our event. Of course you’re welcome to read your own poem if you prefer.

Here are the rules:
· One poem, no longer than 30 lines, no exceptions
· Maximum of 17 readers
· Cut-off time 4pm for getting your name on the board

So come and celebrate winter’s end with some favourite poems, and one of New Zealand’s most distinguished poets:

Sunday, 27 August, 4–6pm, Hightide Café, 43 Marine Parade, Paraparaumu Beach, $5 entry.

P2P dates for your diary
September 24: guest poet Tim Jones
October 29: guest poet Chris Tse
November 26: guest poet Mary Cresswell

We look forward to seeing you all there.

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