Tag Archives: emer lyons

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

 

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

 

Albert Wendt

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

 

Emer Lyons

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

 

Erik Kennedy

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

 

Therese Lloyd

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

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

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

 

Michele Leggott

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

 

essa may ranapiri

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

 

Bernadette Hall:

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

 

Cilla McQueen

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

Thinking is in the poem and is the poem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Emer Lyons on Heather McPherson

 

 

Have you heard of Artemisia?

 

Have you heard of Artemisia of Halicarnassus,

or Cartismandua? or Camilla?

 

Have you heard of Hiera of Mysia? Or Julia

Mammaea who ruled Rome? Or Tomyris the Celtic

queen who killed great Cyrus of the invading

Medes and Persians?

 

Have you heard of Boadicea who fought

an attacking empire – who would not be a Roman

Triumph and died by her own hand?

 

Have you heard of Martia Proba, Martia the Just?

Her Martian Statue after a thousand years

was the source of Alfred’s code . . .

 

And what of Hypatia of Alexandria? head of

the School of Philosophy, logician, astronomer,

mathematician, torn to pieces by a Christian

bishop’s flock . . .

 

Have you heard of Thecla the Apostle, or Aspasia,

or Nausicaa? and if you know passionate Sappho

what of Corinna, St. Bridget, or the Lady Uallach?

and since you know Joan of Arc, should I

mention the Papess Joan or good Queen Maud,

or Philippa the beloved queen whose merchants

bought her pawned crown back . . .

 

I did not learn them at school, these queens

and scholars . . . but scan names such as Mary,

Elizabeth, Shulamith, for their story – vivid

women who lived as the Celts did, with audacia,

and loved their sisters . . .

 

In a wheel’s radiation all spokes fit the motion . . .

old Europe’s strain has crossed the Pacific Ocean

and I have heard it, who am a descendant

in a train, going back to a flat with a goddess

wall, who connections travel countrywide

in quiet woman’s guise . . .

 

dedicated to Elizabeth Gould Davis and Max Jacob

 

Heather McPherson, from A Figurehead: A Face (Spiral, 1982)

 

 

Have you heard of Heather McPherson?

Emma Neale asked me this question when I was searching for lesbian and queer poets for my PhD research. I hadn’t which is hard to imagine now.

‘Have you heard of Artemisia?’ was painted on the outside wall of the Women’s Gallery on Harris Street, Wellington in 1981.

As I typed the poem it became apparent that Microsoft Word had not heard of Cartismandua, or Hiera of Mysia or Tomyris. Neither had I. My middle name is Bridget. A name I share with many women in my family. Every year in my Catholic primary school in Ireland we weaved St. Bridget (most commonly spelt Brigid) crosses on her saint’s day, the first of February. Nobody mentioned Darlughdach, Bridget’s apparent female lover and soulmate. Catholic forums online call this a conspiracy theory.

Heather was the first out lesbian to publish a poetry collection in New Zealand.

I’m not a “gold star lesbian” (watch Hinemoana Baker explain the term here). It took me a long time to own my feminism. The Guerilla Girls came to my university in Cork sometime in 2007 (or 2008 or 2009 . . . ) and when they asked the crowd, “How many people here tonight call themselves a feminist?”, I did not raise my hand. I didn’t think then that it mattered that men always won the Oscar for best director, or that women feature in the Met predominately as nudes not as artists. I believe my religious upbringing ensured that the patriarchal domination of society remained unquestioned within me for far too long. I did not learn to question at school.

There are ten question marks in this poem. I encourage you to ask yourself ten questions today. And to ask ten people, “Have you heard of Heather McPherson?”

 

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

Heather McPherson (1942–2017) was a poet, editor, teacher and feminist activist. In 1974 she founded Christchurch Women Artists Group and Spiral, a woman’s art and literary journal. She published five collections of poetry, with her poems appearing in numerous journals and anthologies. Figurehead: A Face (Spiral, 1982) was the first poetry collection by an out lesbian in New Zealand. Janet Charman selected the poems for McPherson’s posthumous collection, This Joyous, Chaotic Place: Garden Poems (Spiral, 2018).

 

 

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In the hammock: reading Mimicry IV

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Holly Hunter has edited the latest issue of Mimicry. She has drawn together an eclectic package of art and writing that will place your finger on the pulse of emerging (well mostly!) voices. The magazine is devoted to poetry, fiction, nonfiction, comedy, music, art, photography and design. It is slim but is abundant in reading currents.

You even get a mix tape at bandcamp to listen to as you read.

Often when I pick up a poetry journal I gravitate to the familiar poets whose work I already love – like a music hook. I will share my initial hooks with the rain thundering down outside. In this case Morgan Bach because I  haven’t read anything from her for awhile and I just loved her debut book, Some of Us Eat the Seeds. Her two poems here are honed out of cloud and snow and blood because they are light and airy and serious.

 

Looking for balance to the red interiors

in a calm sea of grasses, the dull love

of dust on a hillside, the caress of each

muscle as it contracts and expands

to pull me to a summit. That place

I would reuse to leave if I could,

but the hours have me by the ankles.

 

from ‘Terrific’

 

After hearing Emer Lyons read in Wellington last year, I jump to her poems in an instant. She is nimble on the page and in the ear, and tacks in fresh directions that retune me as poetry reader.

 

i talk too much at parties

every bee i see is dead or dying

people set fire to the sky

set the dogs howling

record themselves singing the same thing

on repeat

repeating

(and The Fish goes

A A X B B X

1 3 8 1 6 8)

 

from ‘strays’

 

Chris Tse’s latest book, HE’S SO MASC, is a sublime read. I love this book because it risks and it opens. The poem here is ultra witty but dead serious.

 

20. It’s the way we step out of a burning theatre as if nothing’s wrong.

21. As if the smoke in our eyes is a lover’s smile caught in sunlight.

22. An uncontrollable fire is perfectly fine, given the state of the world.

23. Then why do I feel so angry?

24. Are you angry?

25. I’m angry.

 

from ‘Why Hollywood won’t cast poets in films anymore’

 

Essa Ranapiri was a highlight for me at Wellington Readers and Writers week this year.  Their poem, ‘her*’, catches the way they make words ache and arc and slip between your ribs. You need to read the whole thing. To quote a glimpse is barely fair (two lines out of thirteen).

 

i left him wrapped in curtains

to stall the acid action of my stomach

 

from ‘her*’

 

I have only just discovered Rebecca Hawkes on The Starling. She is so good. The poem here is a linguistic explosion on the page: like an intricate and lush brocade that amasses shuddering detail and smatters expectation. You want to spend the weekend with this poem.  (I want to hear her read so will be posting an audio clip of a Starling poem soon)

 

I ask their name and they make an unpronounceable sound / like the

curdling clink of cooling obsidian / so I call them the ultimate war machine

 / they hurl rocks into my enemies and when they beat the earth with their

fists / I feel the world quake under me / this is how I know I have fallen in

love / but also onto the ground

 

from ‘Crush’

 

We are served well with fresh young literary journals at the moment (literary doesn’t seem to catch what they do). They keep you in touch with poets that continue growing on you but also take you into new zones of reading, with unfamiliar voices making themselves felt. Indelibly!  I have just read Sophie van Waardenberg’s three poems and they touch me, make me want to write with their viscosity and tang.

 

my girl becomes a calendar and I curl up inside her

my girl becomes a tongue twister and I curl up inside her

my girl lets the spring in through her hands

she puts her hands over my ears and I remember how it feels

 

from ‘schön’

 

Cheers to a well-stocked journal to keep you going through wet wintry days. I am saving the rest of the journal for the next wild weekend. First up Louise Wallace (author of much loved Bad Things), Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor (the winner of the Landfall Young Writers Competition 2018) and Rachel O’Neill (who was recently awarded a NZ Writers Guild Puni Taatuhi o Aotearoa Seed grant to develop her screenplay).

The pleasure of good writing journals is that keep you in touch with what you know and catapult you into the unfamiliar where you accumulate new must-reads. Mimicry does exactly that.

 

See Mimicry on Facebook

Enquiries: mimicryjournal@gmail.com

Monday Poem: Emer Lyons’s ‘Poison’

 

Poison

After Gwendolyn Brooks and Terrance Hayes

 

We

take to the drink, wanting real

life to dampen our tongues, cool

the shame we are forced to we-

ar with guilt built in, all left

to us from him. Dul ar scoil

to learn the church’s rules, we

learn to shut mouths, minds, legs, lurk

close to home, wait until late

in life to start living. We

protest against them. We strike

them down like they do us, straight

 

*

 

up get wasted. Hear our we-

ary mothers try to sing

songs that might free us from sin –

A-ma-zee-ing Grace. They we-

ep for us their kin grown thin

from not giving a shite, gin

our favourite perfume. We

think to join in, feel that jazz

of life again but them June

days are made for drinking, we

mute their sound, they turn to die-

ts of rosaries, T.V. Soon

 

*

 

we join the rest like us, we-

lcomed we are into the real

darkness of the pub, scrubbed cool

colours paint the walls, but we

don’t look at the walls, eyes left

downcast for fear that some school

friend’s dad be holding up we-

t edges of a stool, lurk-

ing for some young wan’s time. Late-

r when we’ve spent our lot, we

goes to the likes a him, strike

up some talk with tits out straight

 

*

 

under their noses, they we-

ak them eejits, we be sing-

le, we’re not patrolling sin-

‘s committed by men, we

too busy with our own thin-

clad secrets, like how the gin

at home is watered down – we-

eks of stealing dat took! Jazz

oozes from the jukebox, June

fades outside the window, we

stay until it starts to die

down, already Sunday, soon

 

*

 

Mass be starting, not that we

bother anymore, found real

religion that don’t play cool –

you’ll get what you’re given. We

grab the bottle’s neck, get left

in pools of our own sick, school-

ed to mind ourselves – coz we-

‘ve no time for all dat! Lurk-

ing Larry’s hide in the late

afternoon shadows to we-

t us between the legs – strike

all ya want girls! We walk straight

 

*

 

passed them, they keep trying. We

see some other girls get sing-

led out, get pregnant, the sin

dripping off them, we look we-

ll away when they be thin-

king to look at us. Begin

to think about things that we-

‘ve been told, listen to jazz

music in our rooms with June

next door shouting how we owe

her some peace – go way and die!

Her gob shuts as the bassoon

 

*

 

roars the devil’s music. We

develop our taste buds, real-

ise wine looks classy, the cool

kids be drinking it, so we

form fists around the stems, cleft

our insides, move like a school

of fish, joined at the hip we

be, until we go home, lurk

through our own front doors, dilate-

d pupils in heads, too we-

ak to take d’mother’s strike

against our faces, lie straight

 

*

 

down on the carpet. There we

sleep dreamless until the sing-

ing birds move our bleary sin-

ged bodies to mirrors. We-

igh ourselves (no shoes on) – thin

girls don’t hang onto virgin-

ity long. The fella’s we-

dge between us, shove their jazz-

ing hands down our skirts, the June

heat hot against our heads we-

lded to the wall, us die-

hards wanting it over soon-

 

*

 

er rather than later, we

don’t look into their eyes, real-

ly we’d rather catch the cool

stares of other girls, a we-

llspring of poker faces left

to drown outside of the school

system, taught us nothing we

could use against filthy lurk-

ers, or what to do with late

periods, or how come we-

‘d never be wealthy – strike

us down for we have strayed straight

 

*

 

off the path most chosen. We

won’t marry any man, sing

children to sleep or get sin-

gled out for promotion. We

will live backed against walls, thin-

king of dreams we had of begin-

ning again, all along we

knew we’d never see a jazz

band, another clear blue June

sky or hear our mother’s we-

ak, how sweet the sound. We die

soon.

 

©Emer Lyons

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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