Tag Archives: Elizabeth Morton

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Elizabeth Morton’s ‘You can’t, always’

 

You can’t, always

 

I’m not going to cry. All winter the television

sulks in the corner of our love. You put the lentils

in a colander to flush the ugly bits. You peel oranges

to their pith and talk about your past like it was mine too.

You say it was sunnier in Queens than it could ever be in

an unhappy kitchen with a lover made of feathers.

I want to tell you about the way a man can look down

a corridor, the way a hunter visits his scope. There are things

too big to ever fold into your hands. A barbule is enough

to demonstrate how even soft things fall down,

like small people from towers that trade in shadows.

When I say I need you, it clambers up a stairwell in my throat

like you were the only window left in 110 levels of pain.

I’m not going to say I get it. You toss the lentils

in a brine pot and power-up the television.

You say we spend too much of life watching

the kind of comedies that make you sad. Like Home Improvement

and The Cosby Show that make you think of time

and the way we were happy in Queens

before small people sat on window ledges, before

the hunter’s scope settled on an ordinary bird.

I’m not going to cry. All morning chopping onions,

watching Bill Cosby hug his wife in Brooklyn Heights

before he was a rapist, and before you first registered

towers on the skyline by their absence.

When I say I need you I am a soft thing falling

on something familiar, and it is violence

in the way dispassionate surgery is violence

or the way The Cosby Show is what you get

before you get what you never wanted.

 

I’ll take what I can.

 

 

Elizabeth Morton

 

 

 

Auckland writer, Elizabeth Morton, is published in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, the UK, Canada and the USA. She was feature poet in the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017, and is included in Best Small Fictions 2016. Her first poetry collection, Wolf, was published with Mākaro Press in 2017. She is completing a MLitt at the University of Glasgow, usually in her pyjamas.

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Elizabeth Morton picks Janet Frame’s ‘I Visited’

 

I Visited

 

I visited
the angels and stars and stones;
also, adjectival poets, preferably original.
There was an air of restlessness
an inability to subside, a state of being at attention,
at worst, at war with the immediately beating heart and breathing lung.
I looked then in the word-chambers, the packed warehouses by the sea,
the decently kept but always decaying places where nouns and their
representative images lay together on high shelves
among abbreviations and longlost quotations. I listened.
Water lapped at the crumbling walls; it was a place
for murder, piracy; salt hunger seeped between the shelves;
it was time to write. Now or never. The now unbearable,
the never a complete denial of memory:
I was not, I never have been.

 

Janet Frame from The Goose Bath: Poems, Vintage, 2006

 

published with kind permission from The Janet Frame Estate (note in The Goose Bath states that this appeared as a section in a long untitled sequence)

 

 

Notes from Elizabeth Morton:

Veni Vedi Veci is a T-shirt-perfect slogan, gloating in its victory of ancient history, and its facility with Latin grammar. As an undergraduate I likely sported such an item of casual alliteration. I may have stood at the fence of Albert Park, smoking a Wee Willem cigarillo, mispronouncing the words to passing first-years and telling a bastardised yarn about Julius Caesar. Janet Frame’s poem, ‘I Visited’ relates a quieter, more tentative conquest – that ends in brute self-nihilation – ‘I was not, I never have been’. This is no Caesar. Here is a concession that our words are things to be borrowed, not usurped. There is a sense of things in flux, things that spill through the gaps in your fingers – ‘decaying places’ and ‘crumbling walls’. There is no pillaging of intangibles. The world of words is a lending library with ‘word chambers’ and ‘high shelves’.

Frame’s poem is gently playful. Through it, I recognise this impossibility of ownership. Words are slippery; words alter to their context; words are shared but never spent. I have supermarket bags full of words – words for ‘angels and stars and stones’, earthly and metaphysical – words like ‘turophile’ and ‘oleaginous’ and ‘eosophobia’ and ‘absquatulate’. They can never be conquests. I visit them. Visito. And I try to shake the dust off the words that have been left for dead. Words are people too, you know – ‘with beating heart and breathing lung’. Frame’s poem captures an excitement, a vitality, and also an humility. Also, ‘salt hunger’ makes me shiver.

 

 

 

Auckland writer, Auckland writer, Elizabeth Morton, is published in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, the UK, Canada and the USA. She was feature poet in the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017, and is included in Best Small Fictions 2016. Her first poetry collection, Wolf, was published with Mākaro Press in 2017. She is completing a MLitt at the University of Glasgow, usually in her pyjamas.

Janet Frame (1924-2004) published eleven novels, five story collections, a previous volume of poetry (The Pocket Mirror, 1967), a children’s book and a three-volume autobiography. She won numerous awards and honours, including New Zealand’s highest civil honour when she was made a Member of the Order of New Zealand in 1990. In 2003 she received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement and was named an Arts Foundation Icon Artist. Pamela Gordon, Denis Harold and Bill Manhire edited The Goose Bath, Janet’s posthumous collection of poems in 2006.

 

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12 questions for Ockham NZ Book Award poetry finalists: Sue Wootton

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Congratulations on your short-list placing!

Thank you Paula!

 

What poetry books have you read in the past year?

And this is why you should always keep a reading diary … I’ll have to cobble this together from flawed memory and my messy bookcase. Here goes: most recently, a ‘slim volume’ in the Penguin Modern Poets Three series with work by Malika Booker, Sharon Olds and Warsan Shire. In contrast, also Sentenced to Life and Injury Time by Clive James. Before these: Undying by Michel Faber, the poetry collections on the Ockham longlist, Bill Manhire’s Some Things to Place in a Coffin and Tell Me My Name, Walking by a River of Light by John Gibb, South D Poet Lorikeet by Jenny Powell, Getting it Right by Alan Roddick, Alzheimer’s and a Spoon by Liz Breslin, Taking my Mother to the Opera by Diane Brown, Fracking & Hawk by Pat White, The Trials of Minnie Dean by Karen Zelas, Taking My Jacket for a Walk by Peter Olds, Wolf by Elizabeth Morton, Where the Fish Grow by Ish Doney, Family History by Johanna Emeney, Possibility of Flight by Heidi North-Bailey, Withstanding by Helen Jacobs, Conscious and Verbal and Learning Human by Les Murray, Poems New and Collected by Wistawa Szymborska, Poems 1962-2012 by Louise Glűck, and X  by Vona Groarke.  

I like keeping an anthology handy too, and in the past year have been dipping in and out of two: Andrew Motion’s Poetry by Heart (on the bedside table) and Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke’s The Map and the Clock (next to the sofa).  

 

What other reading attracts you? 

Oh boy, you should see the pile of books by my bed – too many to list here. I enjoy both fiction and non-fiction (especially essays, biographies or memoir). Fiction-wise, I’ve recently finished Fiona Farrell’s wonderful Decline and Fall on Savage Street and am now reading Where My Heart Used to Beat by Sebastian Faulks, and some short stories by William Trevor. I’ve recently reread Olive Kitteridge and My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (I love all of  Strout’s work!). Vincent O’Sullivan’s All This By Chance is standing by for Easter.

Nonfiction-wise, I’m itching to start neuroscientist Antonio Damasio’s The Strange Order of Things and Marilynne Robinson’s new essay collection What Are We Doing Here? (I love all of Robinson’s work!).

 

Name some key starting points (or themes) for your collection. 

This is quite a hard question for me to answer because The Yield wasn’t pre-planned as The Yield – it grew very slowly into The Yield, and I only recognised that I had a coherent  collection very late in the process. In hindsight I can see quite clearly that the poems are bound together by themes of give and take, love and loss, flexibility and rigidity, toil and harvest. This finally clicked into place for me after I wrote the poem called ‘The Yield’. It was only after that that I felt I had a potential collection in my hands. But most of the poems in the collection were written in the couple of years preceding that moment, and during those years I had no idea whether a book would eventuate. I had hope, but not much evidence!

 

Did anything surprise you as the poems come into being? 

Every poem I write is a surprise to me. I can never get over that fact – it amazes me, always.

 

Find up to 5 individual words that pitch your book to a reader.

These words are from The Yield: haul, reach, lift, roam, home.

 

Which poem particularly falls into place for you?

Not sure if I can select one – they all have their place.

 

What matters most when you write a poem?

I like a tight synthesis of sound and sense.

 

What do you loathe in poetry?

 Sometimes in an art gallery I stand in front of a painting I find ugly or too obvious or (conversely) too obscure – challenging, anyway, a canvas that maybe bores me or offends my personal sense of aesthetics, perhaps even my values. But still, alongside my ‘this is not one for my living room wall’ reaction, I can still respect the graft and the craft that went into making it – so long as it’s well made. Ditto, poetry. What I appreciate, above all else in poetry, is knowing that the poet has really leaned in. That’s a fundamentally appealing quality for me, even if I can’t adore the finished product. But if a poem is attentively made, and it somehow moves me – then I’m all in.

 

Where do you like to write poems?

 In my study or on the kitchen table (though I scribble scraps in my notebook anywhere, any time).

 

What are strengths and lacks in our poetry scenes?

We seem to have a lively open mic scene all over the country, with a new fizz of high energy youthful involvement alongside the different – no less intense – energy of more experienced voices. I love the diversity of this, the way it opens our ears and hearts and minds to each other. It’s good, too, to see extroverted poets out there connecting with audiences, attracting media comment and generally flying the flag for poetry. But don’t forget the page! I’m a big believer that poetry is a craft learned by practice. Getting better at it is done through serving a kind of apprenticeship, learning the tools of your trade, and being supported, mentored and informed by more experienced practitioners, so for me it’s really great to see newer literary journals like Mimicry and Starling rising up (though I’m sad to see the end of  JAAM).

Nothing matches the developmental push that comes from submitting work to a well-read editor to be scrutinised word by word. It’s healthy, too, to have enough possible publication places to be able to avoid only submitting work to your friends or classmates. So, I think we can do with still more editor-curated poetry publications to nourish the development of poetry in Aotearoa-New Zealand. Another lack: we need more platforms for the kind of stimulating and informative longform poetry review that critics like Lynley Edmeades, for example (in a recent Landfall Review Online), are so good at writing. But also, no one should be expected to write a seriously-considered review for nothing. Work is work, even if at the end of the day it’s not mud, but ink, on your hands. Funding, funding, funding: there’s a permanent problematic lack!

  

Have you seen a festival poetry session (anywhere) that has blown you off your seat (or had some other significant impact)?

I was at the 2010 Granada Poetry Festival in Nicaragua – truly a festival, a celebration of la poesia. The readings were held in parks and plazas. The Nicaraguan people have a passionate regard for poets and poetry – they turned out in their thousands to hear readings from their own and international poets. One particular event stands out for me. It was an evening reading, outside, warm and dark in the main town plaza, with about 2000 people in the audience – all ages, children, teenagers, parents, grandparents. Their listening was so attentive (most poems were voiced twice, once in the poet’s language and again in Spanish translation) – I watched face after face absolutely blossom in response to some lines. There was a feeling of us all being tapped into a high-voltage current – such power. Sheer zappery! And all from words.

 

If you could curate a dream poetry session at The Auckland Writers Festival which poets would be there and who would mc or chair it?

Sharon Olds, Louise Glück and Rita Dove in conversation with Carol Ann Duffy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poets on Tour: Airini Beautrais and Maria McMillan take to the road, July 2017

Airini Beautrais and Maria McMillan have written up their poetry road trip. I am so hoping this becomes a thing – two poet friends on tour with new books.    

 

 

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both Victoria University Press, 2017

We’ve known each other since the early 2000s, and both of us have been writing poetry for even longer than that. Some common threads in our work include feminism, social justice, environmentalism, and an interest in the possibilities of form. Over a cup of tea one afternoon in Maria’s lounge we agreed that as we both had books coming out this year, we should go on tour. Maria had been working hard in non-poetry related paid gigs, Airini was battling some difficult personal circumstances, and some time on the road reading with other women poets seemed like just what the doctor (of creative writing) ordered.

Somehow the tour got planned amidst the mad mess of everyday life. Sarah Laing kindly agreed to let us use her drawings for promotional purposes. Airini made a DIY poster with the help of scissors, glue, wallpaper and blu-tack. The word went out. The car got packed.

 

On Friday 14 July Airini held a book launch for Flow: Whanganui River Poems, at the Whanganui regional museum. Maria was the main support act on the night, reading from her recently-released The Ski Flier (Airini had also read at Maria’s launch a month earlier). Jenny Bornholdt read a poem by Joanna Margaret Paul. Other local booklovers read some favourite Whanganui-linked poems. VUP publicist and talented novelist Kirsten McDougall gave a fantastic launch speech.

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Accidental ankh, Dannevirke

In the morning it was coffee, porridge and a quick trip to Whanganui’s famous SaveMart ‘The Mill’. Then onto the back roads of the Manawatu with a battered road atlas and smartphones which were largely ignored. We made it over the Pohangina Saddle, and lunched on launch leftovers in Dannevirke, where we discovered a church with a possibly accidental (we think maybe not) ankh – a perfect opportunity for posing with our books. On to Napier where it appeared we had entered a time warp. Airini’s dirty old Honda suddenly looked new alongside the vintage cars sweeping around the waterfront, driven by flappers and dapper gentlemen. The thought occurred to us that it was Deco weekend.

 

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Beattie and Forbes Booksellers with Marty and Emily

Beattie and Forbes Booksellers is a must-visit independent bookstore near the sea in Napier. They opened up on a Saturday evening so we could read, with Marty Smith and Emily Dobson. Old friends and new turned up, along with members of local poetry groups. It seems that anywhere you go in New Zealand, there’ll be a poetry group of some sort, and a reading will draw at least some of them out of the woodwork. A highlight of the evening was Emily reading a poem owing a debt to her young daughter, called ‘Thea’s ‘gina song,’ which ended ‘It’s a ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-BAGINA!’ Both Marty and Emily are accomplished poets and readers and it was a privilege to read alongside them.

 

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Maria at Waiomu Cafe

 

Sunday 16th we set off from Marty’s picturesque country house, on our big drive through to Thames. The roads had opened, but were still lined with snow.  We made it to our reading at Waiomu Beach Café with five minutes to spare. The café is in a beautiful spot and draws in regulars driving around the Coromandel coastal road. It’s run by Maria’s cousin Julie, who was an amazing host. Airini also met some extended family members at the reading. More FM were there, and interviewed us. We read in the outdoor courtyard, adjusting our volume according to the passing traffic. Over the road, a cop issued speeding tickets. A kereru landed in a tree alongside. We posed for more book photos under the pohutukawa, took Julie’s dog for a walk, and enjoyed the scenery.

 

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The Big House, Parnell with Tulia and Emma

Thames seems like the kind of place one could stay in forever, but on Monday morning we carried on to Auckland.  We parked the car and went to hear a reading at the Auckland Art Gallery with Steve Toussaint, Simone Kaho, Elizabeth Morton, Johanna Emeney and Michael Morrissey. Everyone read well, but a disgruntled audience member booed, hissed and heckled during question time at the end. Chair Siobhan Harvey did an excellent job of shouting him down. We looked at each other and wondered if this was how poetry readings always went in Auckland. But our reading that evening at the Big House in Parnell, with Simone Kaho and Tulia Thompson, was a very warm and homely affair. Many of the house’s 25 occupants joined us by the fire to listen and talk, and housemate Emma also read some of her poems with us.

 

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Airini at Poetry Live, Auckland

 

Tuesday night’s gig was Poetry Live, at the Thirsty Dog on K Road. Like the Big House, Poetry Live is an institution that’s been going for decades. We were lucky to be there for the farewell to regular MC Kiri Piahana-Wong. There was a great turnout and the venue and audience were friendly and welcoming. We read by turns in our guest poet slot, feeling like proper rockstars against the backdrop of a drum kit and stage lighting.

By Wednesday we were tired, and ready to head home. We stopped for tea and toasted sandwiches in the Pink Cadillac diner in Turangi. We parted ways at the Desert Road, after which Maria had some variable hitchhiking experiences, and Airini zig-zagged back and forth around the mountains navigating road closures. We’d had a great time and were looking forward to the second leg.

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Vic Books in Wellington with Pip and Freya

 

The next leg kicked off on Friday 28 July with a lunchtime reading at Vic Books. We were joined by superstars Pip Adam, reading from her brand spanking new The New Animals, and Freya Daly Sadgrove, whose poetry is performative and highly entertaining. Maria read her poem, inspired by Pip, ‘In which I attain unimaginable greatness,’ in which the narrator attains superhero powers, achieves amazing feats, and at the end declares ‘This is how I begin. This is my first day.’

 

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Palmerston North with Helen and Jo

Palmerston North City Library on Saturday evening was possibly the highlight of the tour. The library is a great place to read, hosting numerous literary events throughout the year. The big windows feature poems by local Leonel Alvarado, and pedestrians have a way of peering in through the letters, wondering what’s going on in there. We’d decided on a dress up theme of ‘80s trash with our fabulous co-readers Helen Lehndorf and Jo Aitchison, which got us some funny looks in New World, but definitely improved our performances. Helen’s hair was particularly spectacular. We had a small crowd but a great vibe. A kebab and whisky party kept us awake until the wee small hours.

 

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Maria at Hightide Cafe

Helen’s chickens laid us our breakfast, and we revived ourselves with bottomless pots of tea. Maria’s superpowers became evident when she managed to drive us safely to our last gig, Poets to the People at Hightide Café in Paraparaumu. The sun was setting over Kāpiti as we drank coffee and listened to the open mike. Again, this is an event that’s been running for years, and there’s a sense the regulars know and love one another. We went home to a beautiful roast cooked by Maria’s partner Joe. The tour was over, but the fight continues! We had some great conversations in the car over those two weeks, and some good catch-ups with family and friends along the way. There was a lot of fighting talk, a lot of laughter and also a few tears. A big part of the tour was affirming ourselves as poets, mothers and radical women, and by the end of it, our unimaginable greatness was hard to deny.

 

Airini Beautrais and Maria McMillan, September 2017

 

 

my conversation with Airini

my review of The Ski Flier

VUP page for Airini

VUP page for Maria

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth Morton’s Wolf: ‘Wolf goes to suburbia’

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Wolf, Elizabeth Morton, Mākaro Press, 2017

 

Elizabeth Morton’s debut collection is a mysterious, eye-catching, sound-catching read, with piquant detail and a poetic net that catches all manner of things – the light and the shade. I was particularly drawn to the opening sequence of poems featuring Wolf. Wolf is ‘a critter of humanity’; he is an outsider, an outcast, living on the edge and off scraps. The writing is assured, pungent and rich in atmosphere. I love the way Elizabeth deliberately slows things down, like a raconteur, so the art of the storyteller infuses the poetic line. As a reader, you pay attention to the amassing detail that startles and shines. I also like the way the lower-case letters that precede full stops is like a little hiccup or start on the line. It shifts the fluency and is akin to looking at a view where things pop in the corner of your eye.

 

Wolf goes to suburbia

rubbish bags hunch in
deathrow orange. yogurt pots
tickle the gutter pit.
newspapers suck asphalt.

like everything else,
Wolf is a shambles –

hide all a-scab with
the nippings of fleas.
skull abuzz with the
echoes of home-

the belchings of elk,
the titterings of muskrats.

today Wolf is a critter
of humanity.

where gophers whistled
trucks now vroom.
where hornets rattled
traffic lights now click

into the emerald of his
mother-world.

Wolf mouths his way
into a rubbish bag.

the yellow night
covers him like a rash.

 

© Elizabeth Morton 2017

 

Elizabeth Morton is a poet, fiction writer, and reviewer from Auckland. Her poetry and prose are published in New Zealand, UK, USA, Australia, Canada and online. She is the feature poet in the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017. Her own poetry collection, Wolf, was published by Mākaro Press (2017). In 2013 she was winner of the New Voices Emerging Poets competition. She was shortlisted for the Kathleen Grattan Award (2015) and was, twice, 2nd place in the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Competition (2015, 2016). Her flash fiction was selected for the international anthology, The Best Small Fictions 2016.

Side-projects include: collecting obscure words, penning bad rap music, studying the brain, and exploring the coastal rock pools. She likes to write about broken things, and things with teeth.

 

Mākaro Press page

Emma Shi’s review at The Booksellers