Tag Archives: Cliff Fell

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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Chords and the Truth: an evening of music and poetry for grownups (The Adulterators starring Cliff Fell and John Newton)

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The Adulterators (Cliff Fell & John Newton) w/ Mahoney Harris
Wed Oct 8 at 7:30pm to Thu Oct 9 at 10:00pm
The Dog’s Bollix in Auckland, New Zealand

Three Chords and the Truth: an evening of music and poetry for grownups