Tag Archives: Cliff Fell

Poetry Shelf connections: Cliff Fell’s ‘On the First Night of Lockdown’

 

On the First Night of Lockdown

 

Mottled clouds hanging over roadside paddocks

blistered with autumn

and the road still vanishing into the mountains

where I was looking

to see the new moon’s silver thread

out on the horizon

 

and thinking of you on your walkways

so far to the north of

these long golden hills strung out with weeds

and thistledown wired all the way

to your city above the troubled sea

where you’d be looking

 

for the same lop-sided smile

 

but the moon was in lockdown too

thick barcodes of rain

closing out the doors of the sky

and the road’s white arms flushed dark

with unknowing

 

Cliff Fell

 

Cliff Fell lives on the eastern edge of the Motueka river catchment, He has published three books of poems and recently completed a 3600 word prose poem celebrating Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s 101st birthday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf poem festival: Wonder

 

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Gregory Kan wrote a terrific article for Verb Festival on writing his book-length poem Under Glass (longlisted for 2020 Ockham New Book Awards). It prompted me to choose ‘wonder’ for my February poem festival. I love Under Glass and picked Gregory to read at my Poetry Live Session at the Wellington Writers Festival in March. He talked about writing trauma yet resisting the need to make a spectacle of it. He also spoke of  ‘an increasing drive and demand for the narratives of women, Queer and Trans people, people of colour, immigrants, refugees, etc., etc.’ but that we don’t need tokenism. Pronouns and symbols, things, the paths we follow as readers, wonder, love, empathy – these are open, mobile, able to be reformed, replenished in the form of a poem. Alienness and alienated are two different experiences:

 

I think everyone experiences alienness, i.e. encountering something in the world that one finds alien. To me, alienness is the experience and feeling of one’s internal models of reality being exceeded and/or disrupted. And I don’t think alienness always needs to be framed negatively. It is also a condition of the most beautiful things in the world, such as empathy, love and wonder. All these experiences that begin in the encounter of the unknown. Impossible gaps and impossible bridges. The beauty and terror and noise of being in a jungle.

But not everyone experiences being alienated. Those who are particularly privileged stand at the centre of their respective worlds, and may not often experience what it’s like to be on the other side of those borders. I wanted the text to be able to invoke, at times, the sensation of being outside, even in the places that we find most comfortable and familiar.

Gregory Kan

 

Poetry is wonder. So is science, dance, music, mathematics, sport, growing things, cooking things, the landscape, sky, crashing ocean, having a family, breathing clean air and watching the sun rise.  These things fill me with awe, they challenge, raise questions, leave me lost for words, curious. I witness beauty and I marvel. But I also witness tragedy ignorance violence hatred greed and I wonder. I wonder at humanity. Poetry is a place of retreat when I don’t quite understand, when something puzzles, when something astonishes. Poems set me wandering, with skin pricking, with uplift. Reading and writing poems can be transcendental, like experiencing a rush of utter well being. I completely agree with Reihana Robinson that poetry can fill children with wonder – and that that carries on to adulthood!

 

 

A festival of poems: wonder

 

 

 

 

Their own mind was a kind of wunderkammer, and they kept themselves in the smallest box of all. A parrot with a bird’s keen eye for colour and flash, its memory of jungle and the blue infinite. How eloquently they decorated the tiny space, a slow but relentless process of removal. First one object disappeared and then another. But they were still there, the last to leave, curating their beautiful absence.

 

*A place where a collection of curiosities or rarities is exhibited

 

Alison Glenny

 

 

 

I think the beginning of anything

is always a secret.

I love myself when my mind is fucking the hinges of events.

 

Gregory Kan

 

 

The Houses  II

 

On the asphalt a gas light pools: a child looks out

Swinging against the slotted fence and grey,

And eats the three nasturtium seeds: all day

She kept them in her pocket for the doubt

They might be poison, as her sisters say.

But now their delicate, dubious taste can sting

Her tongue curled: snails’ horns curl: they drop and cling

On round nasturtium leaves, green-saucered here.

 

Now she has evening all her own; the hot

Cream scent of cabbage palms, trying to flood out

Like man’s love, or the Blessed Sacrament:

Sunset peaks over her, a copper net,

Wind like God’s breath goes past her in a shout:

Behind this street shine houses that are not,

Playmates she loves, or loved: but then forgot.

 

Robin Hyde

from ‘The Houses’ in Houses by the Sea and the Later Poems of Robin Hyde, ed Gloria Rawlinson, Caxton Press 1952

 

 

 

Poem to my nearest galaxy

 

Yes, I had forsaken curiosity, let it

dull. Now, a most delicate bell,

it chimes as if a monk at meditation’s

end gently tapped the brass, a call

 

to wake. Stirred. Beguiled.

Not simply interested. Agog. The stars

above (if they’re above) recede

in an ever expanding universe

 

and here by your side at midnight

I’m startled childish by wonder.

Galaxies? Infinite question, red-shift

reply. But you, you helped me remember.

 

Sue Wootton

from The Yield  (Otago University Press, 2017)

 

 

 

Wonder

 

Is one

of my core values.

 

It sits in the twelfth

House of Soul Growth

and the Unconscious.

 

Wonder might end

the marriage.

 

Wonder is the Shotover

Moonlight mountain

marathon trail

 

each step pushed

on by the destiny

toe edging its way

along the barren

ridge line

and what the Bible knows:

 

That mountains

and marriages

are earthed scaffolding

for Atua

seeded in the lava ash

of Pouliuli

sown in the rays

of Ra

grown under

the cratered cracks

of Mahina

where thigh-splitting

Va lies supine

between us

watching the woman

coming to the end

of herself

at 2000 metres elevation

at the 41st kilometre

after the seventh and final

water station

 

when each step

is a leap

towards or away from

an infinite love.

 

Selina Tusitala Marsh

 

 

 

                                                Dance of Sina

 

You are a tiny flutter, a marigold on water

flung out calling the dead. You are the Tūī

across four winds, an armour of feathers

bone and light soaring over mountains

climbing the day.

 

You are the core, spilling seeds deepest

blue, head first into soul. You are blood

woven into silk piercing night to sun. You

are a child. A child at sea anchored on your

mother’s lips.

 

Coral holding the shore, fingers caressing Tāmaki

river. Young girl breaking into woman unfurling

on the Waitematā. You are Sina, sung from

the bones of ancestors, always swimming

towards the sun.

 

Kim Meredith

 

 

What to say and how to be *

Lively eyes lively eyes lively eyes
Square as a box white hair on top
Darrin is thinking HARD about Hiroshima

His teacher has set an
Assignment. It is August 6 three days
until Fat Man dropped on Nagasaki

History is such a funny idea

The fact of men and maybe women men and
maybe women in tiny offices and laboratories
scattered in some other continent
scheme a burning up of people
A burning up of people

And so Darrin writes

All Japan is waiting for
WONDER WOMAN
in your star tights

She is craven she is the last twig
on the cliff-face the last air before
going under that final fast car of rescue
Get away get away sinking wreck
punctured lifeboat wretched sickness

Her grace betraying comic perfection

as if a child could stroke her arm
and be imbued with safety and love

Darrin is wishing for WONDER WOMAN
in her star tights

to catch the falling weapon
in her saving arms like a baby
an infant who is truly a Little Boy

To save all children from

a brief but never-ending childhood
To save schools and satchels and bentos
and laces from ashes more ashes

To save shy smiles and perfectly
folded ‘kerchiefs
Ah! The etching of dark shadows

Shadows fall on Darrin’s classroom

35 small years after Enola Gay rose up
from Tinian amid floodlights and cameras
to fly into history

this funny thing called history
counting a quiet 43 seconds

Tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick

 

* As a teacher of 11 to 13 years olds at one period in my life I loved the way poetry exploded in the hands and hearts of children who otherwise may have been overlooked in classroom chaos.

 

Reihana Robinson

(First published as ‘After the fall or the power of reading’
in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal Hong Kong)

 

 

 

Fireflies

 

Last summer I sat amongst a swarm of fireflies while night fell into place around me. I wanted to know if one firefly could ever fly far enough from the rest to see the pulse of their collective light. But there was no one to ask. I raised my arm and held my fingers outstretched towards them but the movement caused them to disappear in a flickering panic—

just as I imagine she might have walked every night to a spot in the bush, not far from the house, where there is a mossy bank riddled with holes and crevices and inside those crevices there are clusters of glow worms, pinpricks of bluegreen light, brightening as her eyes adjust to the dark. She reaches out to touch them and the lights extinguish so suddenly she is not sure they were even there at all.

 

Nina Mingya Powles

from Whale Fall a chapbook in Luminescent (Seraph Press, 2017). This chapbook focuses on Betty Guard (1814 – 1870) who arrived in Aotearoa as a 15 year-old-bride and was the first Pākehā woman to settle in the South Island.

 

 

 

Cambridge Trilogy

 

KETTLE’S YARD

 

The kingdom will have its own colours,

and the unfashioned light will let itself be mastered

in a bottomless, Brancusi pool.

Metal refined by its own thinking force

retains that mercury peril,

continues

to reflect the furious pleasure

of a man being listened to, the one who explains,

art become epiphenomenon of explanation,

a nuclear residue cheaper to tame,

grace nostalgia

strident, even here

where the Gaudier-Brzeska

holds the uncomfortable end of her posture,

sinews bright in the light nursery,

and light in the pits

and mistakes.

 

 

JESUS GREEN

 

The kingdom will have its own spices

whose fore-scent is the privilege of a retriever

lifting her nose at last from the carcass.

When assorted corvids take her place

I will not whisper any of their names

to the tutelar of the college.

The blue

roman candle advance of liberated students,

crossing the moat, appear from this distance

to embarrass the jogger,

the avenue

of plane trees a parlour

for homeless

who paddle through bugs like playing a harp,

plucking and smoking at once,

labour given lightness by caution.

I follow the sun down the darkening aisles

as if it were criminal.

The wind is animal with cannabis.

 

 

ST. MARY THE LESS

 

 

The kingdom will have its own currency.

I cannot see any from the pew,

but I know the rivers of this country

sing with cancelled sterling.

Like silver under water

mercy

will flicker through the feeling

of the reader

infinitesimally warming the air

until all of our salvos begin with forgive me.

We pray today

in a national rope

for the brokenness of what we do

here

in memory, pray

the discordances

of an amateur choir perform that brokenness better

than harmony, pray like the nonagenarians

cough

and infants bray

from the back

the Angelus domini.

 

Steven Toussaint

from Lay Studies Victoria University Press, 2019

 

 

 

The Good Husbandwoman’s Alphabet 

 

When people fall in love with love

they fling themselves in the abyss

Marina Tsvetaeva (translated by. Elaine Feinstein)  

     

 

(Animals)

 

Languages we never learn to speak,

although in books they taught us how to read:

tiger, tapir, timber wolf—T was all of these—

each a name in which I find myself again,

I, who see him coming from the hill.

Now I turn the barbecue to ‘full’.

     

(Bridle)

 

These words: throat-lash, brow-band, bit—

how a horse gets broken in.

Each night I am unbridled.

Never try to understand a marriage.

It’s beyond the wonder of all but the finest

gentlemen: how the bridle’s said to fit the bride.

 

(Cattle)

 

Heedless ones who never knew

their names, the oxen were unyoked in

Happy Valley, where the years will pass

easy as eels in a creek. I was of the alphabet they made,

slipping across the wet grass at night—

eel among the cattle, gone in a scribble of water.
(Dog)

 

No one knows but the dog—

dog-sense, dog’s-chance, dog’s life.

So why should I care if he has changed

His name—for if he reads, he must read backwards.

I is what I am. No more or less. So, go on,

say what you will—but go and spread the word.

   

(Earth)

 

Consider the earth he works up rich beneath the plough,

or a tilth of crumbly soil—

didn’t Virgil say these were best for corn?

‘Earth yields to us its bread, each cartload

drawn into the barn by slow-

moving oxen.’

 

(Fires)

 

Even when the fire was lit, I knew that

sex would never be the thing.

Say that this is true—

an alphabet of husbandry might burn in other ways.

G would be for glimpses of this,

even as he flared beneath my skin.

 

(Glimpse)

 

I will make myself absolutely clear—

whatever glimpses you gain of me,

as string of letters, or random word, it was

nothing would ever be easy. Believe me when I say,

to be the good husbandwoman, I tried at every turn

to turn myself into any other thing.

     

(Husbandry)

 

Only when he’d love and

care for all the animals on this, my farm;

only when he could name and

number all the cravings of my body—only in such

fidelity would he learn to play their song, though

even then, I’d keep an eye on him.

 

(Information)

 

Something’s trying to tell me that

something’s going on. Oh yes.

This morning at sunrise he woke me with his

‘old ways’—then laid them on the floor.

He placed them where the sun’s first beams would alight

on them and opened the blue window.

 

(Jump-cut)

 

Whenever he wanted anything,

I recited this, my alphabet to him.

Fevers of words fastened in the needy

evening of his brow, a projection of

letters that flicker in this jump-cut to his eyes,

lifting his eyelids silent as a rose.

 

(Knowing)

 

In the first glimmer of knowing that

nothing will come of nothing,

life was all we could make

of those swiftly passing days: I was the golden

violin that he would touch into

echoes­, as the echoes gathered us in.

 

(Lovers)

 

Whisper it once more in my ear. Oh, that

I would have you hold me still,

tenderly touching me into my skin:

how is it that we render our souls to

love’s fine place, in the rivery light of this:

oh, the pillow and the kiss.

 

(Money)

 

Vouchsafe for me these days of

eminence, though in my bag lies nothing but

a worn-out empty purse. Oh,

nothing will come of the nothing that

declines with each transaction. Oh,

I stared back at the checkout girl. And oh I

     

(Nothing)

 

waited for the earth to take me in,

as though this were the

nub of it all, the rub of the nothing

that plies between the echo and its

testament to what I pledge to you,

out of the hills, and echoing over again.

 

(Over)

 

My name is this: the day that passeth over.

Ancient in the making, now it will be broken over.

Keepsake, my heart, oh will you ever make it over?

Easeful now, I wake when the night is over.

Ashes in the wind: and then its fragrances blew over.

Carry me, sir, carry me on, into the going over.

 

(Providence)

 

Apple-blossom drifting down the creek.

Still the rooster wants to crow, though

evening’s almost here.

Forgo these things, though fate or commonplace

ordain us with this dream—our conveyance into

rapture, or the idea that provides.

 

(Quotidian)

                                                             

As though this were the remedy for everything—

delight indeed will arise

unto these indigo-tinted skies;

latitude will restore us to the brightness of

the sun, to the spindle of this dreaming

earth that turns for everyone.

 

(Release)

 

Release me into the somewhere of the dream—

you will remember where, when you were

brother to me.

Unhook me from the steely world of

tractors, sheep-shit, shearing shed—

I am the one who has already gone into the giddy now.

 

(Sky)

 

Cherish the way you held me in your arms—you, he . . .

as usual I confuse the one with the other,

nattering my way through the rain, seeking out

the tarradiddle, the silver-tongue that touched

me once with truth: my good husband was

a pillar whose love could hold earth and sky apart.

 

(Tarantella)

 

Knowledge is this, with the heart in mind:

everything you ever did can always be undone.

Absolution never is never quite complete.

Cast yourself in the spider’s web:

a day would come and then the dust would settle.

Some days we would dance the wildest dance.

 

(Underworld)

 

Easier by far to see where the stars let out.

Friday. And then he said he really came from

Orion’s belt, the buckle star: Epsilon Orionis.

Riding in the hills that afternoon, he declared another name—

Alnilam . . . O you of the three Maries, I said. And then,

declare that name again . . .

 

(Vespers)

 

Usually at around this time it comes to this:

leaves in the poplars start to rustle,

the Empyrean gives forth its heron to the roost.

Except for this, the evenings are ordinary.

Round here they say the poplars are a kind of a people, too.

You’ll believe it when you hear the heron speak.

 

(Whisper)

 

It was thus that I came to quietude.

Came into the silence

and the redress of the mind. For

no one thinks to ask

of me what the horses say,

nor guide them on the way, although . . .

 

(Exhale)

 

Let me take you back to when

you first could take this in, this breath that is

my husbandman and this my

alphabet—and I, oh I whose breathing

knew of each his suck and sigh of life, each eddy in the

ebb and flow, wherein I now exhale.

 

(Yet)

 

a day would come when he would be gone.

Commend to me to these last things: a rustic table,

a bowl of fruit, the music-box that sang

‘Sally is my sweetest heart’. As though the mountains might

exalt his name, even as he flees through

falling shadows and the warbler’s plaintive voice.

 

(Zero)

 

Oh and only when the last of words is

ruled and underlined, only when you see the

love that learns itself again,

only when you find the text that declines into the

vertical, will you read in its acrostic that

everything is this: the sweetest of the nothings that are love.

 

Cliff Fell  (Last Leaf Press, 2014)

 

 

 

 

The contributors

 

Cliff Fell is the author of three books of poetry. The Good Husbandwoman’s Alphabet came out in 2014, published as a chapbook by Last Leaf Press, with illustrations by Fiona Johnstone and photographs by Ivan Rogers.

Alison Glenny‘s Antarctic-themed collection of prose poems and fragments, The Farewell Tourist, was published by Otago University Press in 2018. In 2019 she was, with Lawrence Patchett, a recipient of an Ursula Bethell writing residency at the University of Canterbury. She currently lives in Kāpiti.

Robin Hyde (Iris Guiver Wilkinson) (1906–1939) was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and moved to Wellington with her family in 1907. She was a poet, novelist and journalist. She worked for the Dominion before becoming Lady Editor at the Wanganui Chronicle, and subsequently the New Zealand Observer. She published three poetry collections (and one posthumously), along with two anthologies of her work (edited by Lydia Wevers and subsequently Michele Leggott).

Gregory Kan’s latest collection Under Glass was longlisted for the Ockham NZ Book Awards 2020.

Selina Tusitala Marsh (ONZM, FNZRS), former NZ Poet Laureate, is a Pasifika Poet-Scholar and graphic mini-memoirist. She is an Associate Professor at the University of Auckland and lives on Waiheke Island.

Kim Meredith (Samoan, Tokelauan, and Portuguese descent). Her poetry and short stories are founded on reclaiming space for the female narrative and have been published in Aotearoa, Hawaii and Mexico. She has collaborated extensively with partner Kingsley Spargo performing to audiences in New Zealand and China. She is co-producing an upcoming album on spoken word and soundscapes ‘Swimming Toward the Sun’ due for release later this year.

‘Dance of Sina’ was written for her daughter Courtney Sina. Courtney was named after her maternal grandmother Rita Sina. Rita Sina was named after her paternal grandmother Sina le pua (Sina the flower). There was a sense of awe and wonder about Sina, continuing her journey down the family line. This beautiful and incredible creature daring to push boundaries and seeking out her own path.

Reihana Robinson:  2019 highlights included poetry readings for Mākaro Press with Jo Thorpe and Elizabeth Welsh (including Poetry Live in Auckland and the Fringe in Wellington), as well as reading at Lounge Poetry at Auckland University and with the remarkable Bob Orr at Carson’s in Thames. Reihana is working on her next collection tentatively titled ‘Grassfire’ but may end up with the title ‘NO’.

Steven Toussaint is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the IIML and is currently studying philosophical theology at Cambridge. He has been a Grimshaw Sargeson Fellow and is the author of poetry collection The Bellfounder and the chapbook Fiddlehead. His new collection, Lay Studies, is longlisted for the 2020 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Sue Wootton lives in Dunedin. Her most recent publications are her novel, Strip, which was longlisted in the 2017 Ockham NZ Book Awards, and her poetry collection, The Yield, which was a finalist in these awards in 2018. She will travel to Menton, France, later this year as the 2020 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellow.

Poetry Shelf Winter Season: Cliff Fell off-piste

 

Cento: The Rose of Tralee

 

I began to investigate the world,

Tearing at something of the mystery of birds, calls,

And the blue and green of the riverbed.

 

Once, I read a story of killed horses.

It is copyrighted.

But when the huntsman knelt beside her,

A pistol in his hand,

The Rose of Tralee quivered like a quartertone,

Though soundless. A fountain of roses flowed from her head.

 

You don’t have to understand the tui’s song

To admire it. I was so much older then,

Though only a child –

It was bitter to say farewell to the earth so renewed,

Bitter to sing in chapel that week:

 

The body of each of us is your body, Lord.

 

 

Author note: I first wrote – or stumbled upon, really – ‘Cento: The Rose of Tralee’ in 2002, a significant year in my development as a poet. The making of the poem happened fast and involved a kind of trance-like going sideways out of my usual practice, a shift in direction or approach that certainly nudged me out of the comfort zones of my writing.

As its title indicates, the poem is a cento (of sorts), though when I was writing it, I did not yet know of the Latin form that lends its creative process an air of legitimacy. I think I was just experimenting with the possibilities of Eliot’s dictum about poets stealing and trying to make something better or ‘at least something different’ out of their thefts. So it was that one Sunday evening in that long, marvellous winter I was looking through a 1991 anthology of post WW2 eastern and central European poetry, The Poetry of Survival, edited by Daniel Weissbort. The poems are for the most part darkly moving, sometimes terrifying, born of the holocaust and the forging of the Iron Curtain. I think I was trying to find some translations of Slavko Mihalic by Charles Simic, as I was reading Simic at the time. I already knew the anthology well. It had been a bible of mine during the 1990’s, at a time when I was focused on extending my reading of 20th century poetry.

I can’t now remember exactly which line or poem set me off, but I suddenly began to wonder if I could make a poem by opening pages at random and selecting lines that caught my eye. By the time I’d come up with the key image, ‘Once I read a story of killed horses’ – a conflation of lines by Dan Pagis and Peter Huchel – I had invoked a childhood memory of a horse being shot. This was on a farm where I was working a summer job, aged 14. So, the narrative of The Rose of Tralee’s sad demise, her hoof trapped in a crevice, began to insert its voice into a solemn parade of lines that have their origins in poems by Nina Cassian, Paul Celan, Leopold Staff, Zbigniew Herbert, Czeslaw Milosz, Agnes Nemes Nagy. Others, maybe, that I cannot now trace. In a moment of light relief, ‘It is copyrighted’ was an amusing, ironic aside from the sixteenth canto of Hans Magnus Enzenberger’s ‘The Sinking of the Titanic’. As I tried to resolve the poem, as a nightingale transformed into a tui, I must have started casting my net wider. It seems clear to me now that ‘I was so much older then,’ must be a steal from Bob Dylan’s ‘My Back Pages’. How it got in there, I can’t quite remember, but it did.

Cliff Fell is working on a fourth book of poems.

 

From Paula: For Poetry Shelf’s Winter Season, I invited 12 poets to pick one of their own poems that marks a shift in direction, that is outside the usual tracks of their poetry, that moves out of character, that nudges comfort zones of writing. It might be subject matter, style, form, approach, tone, effect, motivation, borrowings, revelation, invention, experimentation, exclusions, inclusions, melody …. anything!

 

 

Press release: Sarah Broom Poetry Awards results

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Wellington poet Hera Lindsay Bird is the winner of the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize 2017.

Bird is a Wellington-based poet and bookseller whose debut book of poems, the eponymous Hera Lindsay Bird, was published by Victoria University Press in 2016. It has been reprinted many times since, her poems being celebrated for their verbal flamboyance and humour, their ‘playful and exuberant’ qualities (NZ Listener). Bird has an MA in poetry from the International Institute of Modern Letters where she won the 2011 Adam Prize in Creative Writing. Earlier this week, she won the prize for best first book of poetry at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Cliff Fell and Sandi King joined Bird as finalists for the prize at the Sarah Broom Poetry event at the Auckland Writers Festival on Sunday 21 May. Each read work from their prize submissions, introduced by guest judge for 2017, Britain’s Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

Duffy describes the entries for the prize as ‘eclectic and exciting’, and the three shortlisted poets as ‘those who shone brightest in a sparkling year’.

The Sarah Broom Poetry Prize was established to celebrate the life and work of Sarah Broom (1972-2013), author of Tigers at Awhitu and Gleam.  It is now in its fourth year, and we are pleased again to be working together with the Auckland Writers Festival to showcase and celebrate New Zealand poetry.

Hera Lindsay Bird wins Sarah Broom Poetry Award to an audience whoop

 

Carol Ann Duffy was the guest judge for the 4th annual Sarah Broom Poetry Award announced today at the Auckland Writers Festival. There is a generous monetary gift for the winner but the event also showcases the work of three New Zealand poets.

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Carol Ann read a selection of Sarah’s poems after underlining ‘the vital sense of importance of poetry to Sarah’s wellbeing.’ It was the best reading of Sarah’s work I have heard and I felt with each poem I was in a chamber of return. I returned to the exquisite craft of Sarah as a wordsmith, to our conversations, to the effect her writing has upon me.

We got to hear the three poets read before the winner was announced. I would have liked the judge to comment upon the entries as a whole, the posts she selected and the winner but for some reason she refrained from doing so. Is this the way it is done overseas?

 

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Hearing the three read, however was a highlight. Hera was up first and I started firing words in my notebook: anarchic, surreal, funny, acutely funny, cranky, provocative, sharp, torrent-of-consciousness-like in a finely crafted way which seems like an oxymoron, personal, confessional, sweetly fluent, spikey-fluent. I could have listened to her for hours.

 

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Cliff Fell was a marked shift in register and preoccupation. I was hooked on the rhythms to begin with, undulations of words like tidal flows; the detail accruing and dilating. There was an infectious quiet energy that drew me in – I wanted to sit down and reread the sumptuous poems on a page at a dawdle pace. I loved ‘The Pin Cushion,’ ‘The Song of a Pebble.’ And the sonnets with their random rhymes.

 

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Finally Sandi King read. I wasn’t familiar with her work but her poems drew upon love and memory with reverence and reverberations. Lines stood out and marked the writing as both personal and reflective. ‘Words are flutter boards beneath the surface.’ ‘It has taken a lifetime of tides to accept yourself.’

 

Hera admitted she had entered the competition as she wanted Carol Ann Duffy to read her work. This is indeed a special thing for those who enter each year: the chance to have an offshore judge spend time with our local poetry.

Grateful thanks to Michael and Sarah, and the AWF, for showcasing New Zealand poetry at this event. The Award is a vital part of and for our writing communities. Good to see the VUP folk in the crowd backing their authors.

The Sarah Broom Poetry Award finalists: an interview, some poems

Sarah-prize2.png

 

This world is only ever

water, rock and black air.

It cannot accommodate us;

we cannot, will not complain

when the water deafens and knocks us.

We shut our eyes

and meet its volleyed blackness.

 

©Sarah Broom, from ‘Caving,’  in Tigers at Awhitu (Auckland University Press, 2010)

 

 

 

 

The Sarah Broom Poetry Award supports New Zealand writers through an annual poetry competition. The finalists are invited to read their work at an Auckland Writers Festival event and the winner gets a substantial cash prize. This award matters not only because it offers a financial reprieve for a poet, but because it showcases our poetry. We are an eclectic bunch writing in diverse ways with diverse preoccupations within diverse communities. The award also returns me to Sarah’s poetry; an annual pilgrimage for which I am grateful. Her work continues to resonate on a personal level and along the fertile line, ever revealing, ever fresh and vital. I applaud Michael Gleissner and Sarah Ross for all the hard, behind-the scenes the work they undertake to make this award happen. Thank you.

This year’s judge is Carol Ann Duffy who will also appear at the Auckland Writers Festival.

The finalists: Sandi King, Cliff Fell, Hera Lindsay Bird

 

 

The Poems

 

 

Where the World Looks In

 

It’s true that everything’s always moving:

The way a sunbeam glances off the corner of the fridge

Or the shadows turn from violet to indigo.

 

Or the way your voice will slip a semi-tone

When you’re talking on the phone

And you think someone else is listening.

 

So I’ll wait for you under the first arch of the bridge

Where the river longs to persist,

To abide beyond its turbulence and flow

And all the other laws that words will not obey.

 

And I want the words to say

Something else again

Or just to be there when the river is blessed

Like a mirror where the world looks in.

 

© Cliff Fell

 

 

 

The Way Home

 

Flamboyant: noun

  1. The condition of being flamboyant
  2. A group of flamingos

http://www.yourdictionary.com/flamboyance

 

 

The lush wetland

of my unconscious mind is squawking

in the same way I formed thoughts

before I was old enough to know words.

Just out of sight I hear

wildlife, and the shore

bright with the colours of sunset

discarded in the morning

grass.

 

I reach through the wire fence

and grasp the legacy left to me,

orange/pink

and fragile. Thousands

of flamingo feathers

 

which I scoop secretly into a bag

and carry back to the motel

to admire the fluffy whiteness

of the tiniest feathers. I lay

the long ones in a row

to assess

their intensity of pigment,

their readiness for flight.

 

Sometimes I dream that my body

is wrapped in a bolt of organza.

It’s orange/pink,

a hood-to-ankle garment.

In the mirror, behind my reflection

I can see the Manawatu Estuary

coloured in with my childhood

dreams. I lift primary flight feathers

to the sky, soar

over road and cars and houses

all the way back to Nana and Grandad’s lawn.

 

In Nana’s flowerbed I find

two ornamental flamingos, pink

so pink. She bends as if to feed

from the shallows, he waits

fondly beside her.

They are translating the garden

into bird

of paradise.

 

I shelter with these two as long as I can hold

then wade on home, finally

orange/pink,

into the flamboyance of flamingos.

 

© Sandi King

 

 

 

 

The Questions

 

 

The Sarah Broom Poetry Award is a terrific supporter of New Zealand poets and poetry. Can you name a New Zealand poetry book that has resonated with you in the past few years. What do you love about it?

 

Sandi: Bill Nelson’s collection Memorandum of Understanding is stuffed with the kind of poetry I love to read. There is variety in the content that sparks my imagination. Some of the poems have an ambiguity, but of a giving nature. If the poem could talk to the reader it might say ‘I have more. Come back tomorrow and read me again.’  His clutch of poems titled ’How to do just about anything’ feature a liberal use of the second person that I enjoy.

Cliff: There are quite a few, but I particularly admired Dinah Hawken’s Ocean and Stone and recently enjoyed reading Hannah Mettner’s Fully Clothed and So Forgetful. But the book that resonated most with me in recent years is Rachel Bush’s Thought Horses, published shortly after she died in March 2016. It’s not only that she lived in Nelson and that I’d read some of the poems as they came into being, but the way the collection finds her – particularly in poems I hadn’t seen before – facing her death with such fortitude, wit and wisdom. Rachel has always had this wonderfully elastic syntax, and a giddy playfulness to the way she can shift focus in a poem. All of that is heightened in this collection. It’s a book that’s marvellously re-readable. I discover little gems I hadn’t noticed before, nuances and images, every time I enter its lost domain, its domain of loss.

Hera: I try not to talk about why I like certain books because I always end up lying by accident, but I always like reading Geoff Cochrane. Can everyone just take my word for it? It’s better this way.

 

 

What are some of the strengths or weaknesses of New Zealand poetry and its communities?

 

Sandi: I have found a lot of generosity. Writing groups meet together to nuture each other, and develop their work into the best it can be. We have organisers like Bill Sutton who organise events where poets can come together and hear each other. We have poetry competitions which offer hope to everyone who enters. There are still opportunities to be published thanks to the commitment of small publishers, plus a variety of journals and websites, and there are excellent educational opportunities available. New Zealand has talented mentors too – I have been extremely fortunate to be mentored by Renée.

Cliff: There’s so much going on in New Zealand poetry, you would have to be very dedicated to keep up with it all. Its strengths are its poets, of course. They’re probably its weaknesses, too. But I’d imagine that New Zealand poetry is generally thriving, gaining greater recognition overseas. Cheers to all responsible for that! As for its communities, apart from the point that individuals can create their own community, their following, these days, I’ve had a notion for a while that in the arts, in poetry in particular, in its real nose-to-the-grindstone communities, New Zealand resembles the city-states of late medieval, Renaissance Italy, with their arts flowering in different styles. There are similar alliances and rivalries and moments of cross-pollination, as there were then, and distinct local sounds or voices or concerns are beginning to develop, the way the Dunedin sound developed in music. The rivalries in poetry have been going on for generations, as we all know. All of this is, obviously, down to our demographics – relatively small population – and our geography, our topography, in that it means journeying between centres is bound to be epic, on some level. Who would the Papal State be in such an analogy? CNZ, I suppose, with the patronage it confers. Of course, this is a notion – and in some ways a ridiculous one – that I would favour, indulge in, due to my interests. Also, I’m an outsider, so that probably colours the way I see things. But I think there’s a kernel of truth to it. We may not exactly have to learn the taste of other people’s bread, but it’s not a bad trope for how things are.

 

Hera:

 

con: poor overall fighting technique, weak in physical combat department

pro: lots of wine

con: nobody to talk to at parties about Survivor

pro: except Louise Wallace and Holly Hunter

con: small population size leading to difficulty maintaining rigorous critical culture, ancient confusing unexplained feuds going back decades, lack of money, too many poems about mountains, easily hurt feelings

pro: if people hate you they have the decency to do it in private, to their friends and loved ones

con: James K Baxter

pro: oh relax, I’m only joking

 

 

 

Do you see your shortlisted collection as a surprising departure from your previous poetry, a continuation and deepening engagement with your poetic concerns, or something altogether different?

 

Sandi: To be honest, I was excited by the opportunity to have my work read by Carol Ann Duffy and looked through everything I have written for poems I thought she might like to read.

Cliff: More a continuation probably, though I’m not sure – and either way, hopefully some kind of a deepening engagement. To be honest I was amazed that my entry came together at all, as I hadn’t really been writing for a while. I wrote two new poems on the deadline day and heavily revised four others. When I looked at the collection again, on learning that I’d been shortlisted, one thing that did surprise me was to discover that three of the poems were ekphrastic in nature. How that came about, I really don’t know.

Hera: Some are following on from my first book, others are a little looser. I’m trying as hard as possible not to think about it while I write. The phrase poetic concerns is such a great one. It always makes me think of Byron having trouble with his swans.

 


I am putting you on the spot here, but if you were reviewing your collection, what three words would characterise its allure?  

 

Sandi: Sensual, adventurous, satisfying

Cliff: Yes, horribly on the spot, as I would hate to review my own collection. It would be a public self-mauling that no one would want to witness. Flawed. Flibbertigibbet. Fatal. Will they do? Oh, and Astronomy. That’s four words, but there are plenty of stones and stars, and also caves, in my poems. Too many probably.

Hera: Silly, unsettling, imagistic

 

 

When you write a poem, what talismans or cornerstones or spark plugs or jump leads or release pads do you favour? I am thinking, for example, of the way some poets are drawn to musicality, storytelling or the element of surprise.

 

Sandi: Many of my poems are portrait poems or persona poems. The beginning of a poem can sometimes be the sound of the character’s voice, and trying to thread that into the poem

so that maybe the reader can imagine the character speak when she reads the poem. Often a segment of story develops from the portrait as I write. Otherwise a poem will begin from a little stub – something I have seen, heard or felt. When I discover a stub, I write it down. Months later, I’ll look at that stub again, and sometimes it will be the start of a poem. It’s like taking cuttings from people’s gardens – you achieve variety without having to try too hard for it.

 

Cliff: Yes, I certainly believe in talismans and little rituals. I once knew a builder in Scotland who wouldn’t go up on a roof without a kilt pin in his trouser pocket. It’s easy enough to understand why, when you think about it. In my case, well, first up I consume a quantity of petrol. That’s for the spark plugs. Then I get into some kind of trance-like fire-eating routine, blowing flames around the room, hoping the poem and all my electric guitars will spontaneously combust. Or I imagine I’m being carried in a coffin into what has been billed on the invitation as an ‘outrageous’ party. This is in fact a gate-crasher’s ploy, as the hosts have notably declined to invite me. I only learned about this exclusive mother of all parties when I saw an invitation a so-called friend taunted me with. So when the night-watchmen I’ve hired as coffin-bearers carry me through the door, we thump into the hubbub, noise of glasses being smashed, voices, music, people banging on the lid and so on. I think they must have set me down in the middle of the dance floor, because when I emerge, naked as the day I was born, there she is, Topsie-Terpsichore, spinning and pirouetting and doing the scorpion in my arms. And we dance all night. Maybe it’s West Coast swing, on the track to begin with, but then it gets crazy, circle dancing around the coffin, big bass lines pumping out of the PA and deep into your rib-cage, and a frenzy of many arms and legs. Later, there will be sweaty, abandoned sex on the grassy shores of a lake. Moonlight and embarrassment, of course.  A boat, though perhaps it’s just the coffin floating away. I seem to remember there was a high wire-mesh fence we had to clamber over. Stuff like that. It all helps.

 

Hera: Everything at once. I like poetry pushed to its stylistic limits. For instance, take a poem about a swan in the moonlight. That might be a good poem. But what if…… instead of one swan you had a thousand swans? And what if instead of moonlight……the moon had never existed & instead there was a giant neon exit sign, hanging in the sky? I’m just being indirect because I don’t want to write a manifesto too early. I think one of the tasks of poetry is to teach yourself to write as many different ways as possible, and then to trick yourself into never thinking about them in the moment. Like mixed martial arts, if people used mixed martial arts to express their feelings about autumn.

 

 

 

 

 

The Finalists

 

 

Hera Lindsay Bird is a poet from Wellington. Her debut self-titled collection Hera Lindsay Bird was published in 2016 with Victoria University Press; it has been reprinted many times, and is currently on the shortlist for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. She has an MA in poetry from the International Institute of Modern Letters where she won the 2011 Adam Prize in Creative Writing. She works as a bookseller at Unity Books Wellington.

Bird’s work has been featured in The Guardian and Vice Magazine. She has been published in a number of journals and publications including Best New Zealand Poems, The Spinoff, The Listener, The Hairpin, Hue & Cry and Sport. In 2016 she ran a free, ten-week creative nonfiction class called TMI. She likes watching the figure skating at the winter Olympics and murder mysteries set on trains.

 

 

Cliff Fell is the author of three books of poems, The Good Husbandwoman’s Alphabet (illustrated by Fiona Johnstone, Last Leaf Press, 2014), Beauty of the Badlands (Victoria University Press, 2008) and The Adulterer’s Bible (Victoria University Press, 2003). The Adulterer’s Bible was awarded the 2002 Adam Prize in Creative Writing and the 2004 Jessie Mackay Prize for Best First Book of Poetry. Other poems have appeared in the online anthology Best New Zealand Poems and in various New Zealand and overseas publications. He has been a regular contributor to the RNZ National Nights programme, talking about poetry.

Born in London to an English mother and New Zealand father, he has lived in New Zealand since 1997 and worked, sometimes very briefly – and tenuously – as a roadie, musician, bank clerk, bar-tender and also in farming, forestry, and film-making. He studied History and Archaeology at Exeter University, received an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University and currently lives in the Motueka river catchment. He is a tutor of creative writing in the Arts programme at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology.

 

 

Sandi King (previously known as Sandi Sartorelli) is a New Zealander of English, Irish, Danish and Moravian descent. She currently lives in the Hutt Valley with her youngest son Guy. She has a degree in Creative Writing from Whitireia New Zealand. Her work has been published in a number of journals and websites including 4th Floor, Blackmail Press, JAAM, Renée’s Wednesday Busk, Snorkel and takahē.

In 2013 three of King’s poems were highly commended in the Caselberg Trust Prize, the New Zealand Poetry Society Competition and takahē Poetry Competition. In 2015 her poem ‘Timing’ took first place in the Upper Hutt Poetry Competition. The most recent publication to include her work is the book Poetical Bridges/Poduri Lirice (2017), a collection of New Zealand poetry translated into Romanian, and Romanian poetry translated into English, created by Valentina Teclici.

 

 

Hera Lindsay Bird, Cliff Fell, and Sandi King will read poems from their submissions at the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize event at the Auckland Writers Festival on Sunday 21 May 4.30-5.30pm.

This is a free event. Guest judge Carol Ann Duffy will introduce the finalists and announce the winner of this year’s prize.