Tag Archives: Frankie McMillan

Poetry Shelf poems: a poem for a cold day, Frankie McMillan’s ‘Five ways of looking at a hot water bottle’   

Tamaki Mākaurau is a mix of freezing and blue sky and thumping rain, and here I am wondering if my second batch of seeds will survive (the first got blasted by a gale all over the show), and I am falling into little black holes, and then scaling the sides by diversion writing for the love of writing, and cooking meals for the love of cooking, and reading books with the the tūī outside pitching in, and avoiding news reports, and then feeling bad because I need to know what’s happening, and to keep up with numbers and strategies, and then I am slumping back down the black hole with the constant reminder of how unkind we can be to each other, and yes, miraculously I am scaling back up the slippery sides with Jon McGregor’s luminous fiction, and turning the daily batch of sour dough,

and yes, replying to a hundred children who have sent me lockdown poems, and then there it is, the thumping rain and the politicians who need to be muted, and me worrying that Ashley and Jacinda might not get enough sleep, and then heck, here I am reading the introduction Emma Espiner has written for her Poem Picks this Friday, and I am back in the light, back in the comfort zone, remembering the hottie poem Frankie McMillan sent me, me the eternal hottie lover, me with my snake hottie wrapped about me, as our icy house waits for the fire to be lit, and the sun starts to shard through the black clouds, and Odetta sings the blues, like her voice is part saxophone, part honey, part feet travelling over the corrugated tracks

Five ways of looking at a hot water bottle   

i

Dearest rubber hottie
you can be as wicked as I, you spring
holes in your back, drench the bed
you smell of the sulphur fields
of the Ukraine

ii

I carry you round the cold house
wrapped in your woollen cover    
slip my hands under, just for the thrill
of your boiled rubber bite

iii

I have to say the braille
of your ribbed back speaks
to my fingers
more than your gobbly mouth
that tends to splutter and steam and scald
and though we both get over it, I suspect
resentment might corrode in there                                    

iv

We always wreck the things we love— 
like trees. like dirt. like certain birds 
not to mention the slow perish
of various plantations

v

Dearest rubber hottie 
please know if the bed is ever drenched again
it’s not the worst thing in the world
just one of them

Frankie McMillan

Frankie McMillan is a poet and short story writer who spends her time between Ōtautahi/ Christchurch and Golden Bay. Her poetry collection, There are no horses in heaven, was published by Canterbury University Press.  Recent work appears in Best Microfictions 2021 (Pelekinesis) Best Small Fictions 2021 (Sonder Press), the New Zealand Year Book of Poetry ( Massey University), New World Writing and Atticus Review.

Frankie’s Monday Poem: ‘Girls raised by swans’

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Frankie McMillan’s ‘Girls Raised by Swans’

Girls Raised by Swans

We swim like foster children, our necks held high, we swim with open arms knowing water will always want us back, we swim like brides with beautiful feet, we swim like Russian thoughts.

We swim in caravans of water, we swim amongst floating chairs, a toaster, we swim with a lampshade on our heads and when the current surges west, we swim out into the open with the eels.

We swim like we are missed, we swim like we are bridled, we swim under bridges and when the boats come calling, we swim low, through scum, through ropes, we swim like rich people, always laughing.

Frankie McMillan

Frankie McMillan is a poet and short story writer who spends her time between Ōtautahi/ Christchurch and Golden Bay. Her poetry collection, There are no horses in heaven, was published by Canterbury University Press.  Recent work appears in Best Microfictions 2021 (Pelekinesis) Best Small Fictions 2021 (Sonder Press), the New Zealand Year Book of Poetry ( Massey University), New World Writing and Atticus Review.

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Thirteen poems about home

Home is a state of mind, it’s where you lay your roots down, where you trace your roots, feed yourself, friends and family, bake your bread and make kombucha, where you stand and sleep and dream, it’s a physical place, a small house with wooden floors and comfortable couches, a garden with kūmara almost ready to harvest, shelves overflowing with books, my family tree, my family treasures, my thoughts of life and my thoughts of death, a series of relationships, myself as mother, partner, writer, home is my reluctance to drive beyond the rural letterbox, it’s contentment as I write the next blog, the next poem, sort the kitchen cupboards, light the fire, conserve the water, feel the preciousness of each day.

The poems I have selected are not so much about home but have a home presence that leads in multiple directions. Once again I am grateful to publishers and poets who are supporting my season of themes.

The poems

all of us

once upon a time

all of us here

were one of them there.

maybe

in another skin

in a life before.

maybe

only a few weeks ago.

land of the long white cloud,

land of no borders,

floating

adrift

near the end of the world,

near the end of the sea.

we came

and stayed

and with our accents

call

this place

home.

carina gallegos

from All of Us, Landing Press, 2018

there’s always things to come back to the kitchen for

a bowl of plain steamed rice

a piece of bitter dark chocolate

a slice of crisp peeled pear

a mother or father who understands

the kitchen is the centre of the universe

children who sail out on long elliptical orbits

and always come back, sometimes like comets, sometimes like moons

Alison Wong

from Cup, Steele Roberts, 2005, picked by Frankie McMillan

What’s the pH balance of yin + yang?

lake / river / liquid / beverage / additional charges or income / (of clothes) classifier for number of washes / hai bian / shang hai /  shui guo / zhong guo / Sway by Bic Runga / three drop radicals on my guitar / liquid cement /  tai chi at Buckland’s Beach / put your facemask on and listen to the rain on a UE speaker /

It’s not outlandish to say I was raised by the water.  Aotearoa is a land mapped in blue pen, each land mass a riverbed. Originally swampland, the water gurgles from kitchen taps and runs silent cartographies underneath cities of concrete.

I was raised by my mama, raised with the treasures of every good cross-pollinated pantry. We have rice porridge for breakfast and mee hoon kueh when I plead. My siblings and I vie for iced jewel biscuits kept out of our reach, packed tightly into red-lidded jars on the highest shelf of our pantry. We stretch torso to tiptoe to reach them, knocking the jars off their perch with our fingertips. The dried goods we ignore on the levels below are the real jewels in the cabinet. From behind the creaky door comes the festivities of Lunar Celebrations: dried mushrooms, dried shrimp, vermicelli noodles, black fungus, herbal remedies, that good luck moss you eat on New Year’s.

Chinese cooking is a testament to soaking. Benches overflow with an array of colanders, damp towels cover small white bowls of noodles, rehydrating. We wash rice in liquid choreography: Pour. Swirl. Measure by the pinky. Drain.

My mum is from Ma Lai Xi Ya, her mum’s mum from Fujian, China. I google map the curve of a bordering coast, trace a line through the wet season pavements of Kuala Lumpur and end up with fingerprints all the way to Oceania. From my house you can see the windmills of Makara, jutting out like acupuncture needles. The sea rushes the wind like nature’s boxing lessons.

We fly back to Malaysia every couple years, past the sea-lapsed boundaries of other countries. In Singapore I am offered moist towelettes on the plane. In KL, where two rivers meet by the oil of Petronas, I shower in buckets of cold water and reunite with faulty flushing.

The first ethnic Chinese came to New Zealand during the 1850’s, following flakes of fortune. They came for the gold rush, fishing for luck on the unturned beds of rivers. Wisps of fortune lay in thousand year old rocks worn down to alluvial alchemy.  Chinese last names carried through the cold water creeks. They died in sea-burials.

Tones and tombs. You made your river, now lie in it. Yǐn shuǐ sī yuán. To think of water and remember its source; to remember where one’s happiness comes from; to not forget one’s roots or heritage.

Oriental Bay is the closest beach to us in Wellington City. On weekends, we drive out for picnics, happy to migrate our schedules. The beach was named by George Dupper in the late 1840’s after the boat he arrived on. Fresh off the Bay. Oriental Parade is famous for 22,000 tonnes of imported sand. In my house we are displaced soil in torrential rain. I search ancestry on Wikipedia, then look for my own last name.

Think of water and remember its source. Where do our pipelines go? When do our bodies enter the main frame? Oriental, noun. Characteristic of Asia, particularly the East. Rugs, countries, bamboo leaves. A person of East Asian descent (offensive).  A beach with fake grains. Imported goods and exported gooseberries. The fruits of our labour, measured and drained.

I think tourists find the green unsettling. It never stops pouring.

Year of the money. Year of the pig. Year of the scapegoat, the migrants, the rats on the ship. Labour. Lei. Qi Guai. Guai Lo. I google the wind howls around a shipwreck. I google microtraumas until my eyes bleed transparent. I google:

  • why do chinese people love hot water
  • can chinese people swim
  • why are there so many chinese in auckland
  • chinese people population
  • chinese people opinion

Ink blue motions stencil sight lines into the harbour of my eyes. I rub at ink sticks until the ocean turns to soot. The rising shadows of New World Power loom from water’s depths. We float currency back to motherlands in a trickle down economy.  What’s the pH balance of yin + yang?

I was raised with the dawn promise of an unpolluted skyline, pools in cyan-printed eyes, long white dreams of the colony. My body the cycle of a washing machine, bleached into safety. I was raised in a world full of oysters, one lofty pearl held between the whiskered snout of a dragon. But you can’t feng shui the comments on Stuff articles.

Feng shui just means wind water. It’s not scary. Duān wǔ jié is the annual dragon boat festival. I throw zongzi in the river to protect Qu Yuan’s body. Remember how you moved across the world to know you had been here already? My mum says she caught sight of the harbour and it’s why she will never leave. I watch her from the doorway, her frame hunched across the sink. She belongs here. The soft light of morning streams through the window, catching glints on small rice bowls. I can hear a pot of water boiling. She soaks bones for breakfast, then asks if I’m hungry. 

Vanessa Mei Crofskey

from A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand, eds Paula Morris and Alison Wong, Auckland University Press, 2021

blue beat

Every morning he milked the cow.

It was the chime that woke me and my sister,

metal against metal,

the fall of the empty milk-bucket’s handle

as he put it down to open the gate

right beside our sleep-out.

At the end of the day, in socks,

the cold, clear smell of fresh air

still on him, was his way

of arriving back;

the glass of water he gulped,

the hanky dragged from his pocket,

how he leaned back with a grunt

against the nearest doorpost

to rub and scratch the itch,

or ache, between his shoulders. Once,

seeing me poring over a map of the world

trying to find Luxemburg,

he teased, saying something

about how I couldn’t wait to leave.

None of us knowing then

that he would be the first to go,

leaving us

long before we could ever leave him.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

from Born to a Red-Headed Woman, published by Otago University Press, 2014

We used some

concrete blocks

the hollow kind

that let the grass

grow through

to make a carport

then took a few

out back to

plant a herb garden

parsley    thyme

used to step out

mid-dish to snip off

fronds till

it all went to seed

now my mother’s not

been out the

back door in

more than a year

they’ve grown into

massive aberrant

plants to match

the trampolines

around the flats

on either side

Jack Ross

Bliss

If I were to describe this moment

I may write

bliss

If bliss meant quiet, companionship

you in the garden, me hanging washing

the fresh scent of rain on the air

the murmur of voices inside

You and me

not far away

bliss

Rose Peoples

Reasons you should retire to the

small town the poet grew up in

Because you have a Grahame Sydney book on your coffee table.
Because you are public figure
        reinventing yourself as a public figure –
        in Central Otago.
Because you can buy advertising space cheap
        and write a column about
        local issues.
Because you know how moorpark apricots
        ripen from the inside
        and look deceptively green.
Because it’s a gold rush
        a boomer boom town.
Because you are a big fan of Muldoon
        flooding the gorge
        for the generation of electricity –
        when the river rose
        it formed little islands
        possums, skinks and insects
        clung to power poles
        to escape drowning.
Because you fell in love when you were sixteen
        with the dusty curtains
        in the high school hall –
        immense as the horizon
        holding the town in.

Ella Borrie

from Stasis 2020, picked by Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connnor

In my mother’s house

Everything is always evening:

curios in candlelight, blowpipes,

riding crops, cabinets of Caligari.

Children used to giggle in the rhododendrons;

dragons wander up to the door.

There were nightingales.

The ghosts hunch, passing the port,

rehash old scandals, broken trysts,

all those garden parties long ago.

Harry Ricketts

from Just Then, Victoria University Press, 2012

Hunting my father’s voice, County Down

It begins with the medieval

throat clearing of crows

high over Scrabo tower. You

were the boy your mother

forgot to drown and still

you holler for help

So here’s a bloody conundrum

shot to blazes and back

and your brother Jimmy

in a slow swim to save you

Dad, the land is full of boulders

an apron of stones

to feed a nanny goat

chalk a plenty to soften your voice

All those stories, enough

to hang a man, come Easter

All that dreaming

the time it took

to dig breath for the fire

the knot and bog

of the back parlour where Jimmy

washed roosters

and sister Maureen, her hair

lovely enough to stop your throat

Frankie McMillan

appeared on a Phantom Poetry Billsticker 2015

SH5

From Bluff Hill we can see the ships come in. Past the buoys stitched crooked like Orion’s belt. My school is art deco seashell and lavender climb. Girls press their hands to the frames and breathe on the glass. There’s this one boy who got peach fuzz before the rest of them. His voice cracks seismic and we all swarm. I practice my California accent down the landline and my mother laughs behind the door. We pass him around like chapstick. Hickies like blossoms on his neck, like rose-purple flags planted behind pine trees and beach grass. There are socials. Socials with glow sticks and apple juice in cardboard cartons. We all look at him. We look at him, through him, to see each other. A postcard is no place to be a teenager. The sea air is too thick. Rusts my bicycle in the garage. Rusts the door hinges. Stings in the back of my eyes.

Our town’s like honey. You get knee deep. Arataki. Manuka. Clover. Sweet. Council flat, Sky TV, pyramid scheme, boxed wine, sun-freckled early twenties. Ultra-scan, veganism, Mum’s club with the girls who went to your kindy. His sisters, their perfume vanilla and daisies, their babies fat and milky. We could have built a vege garden. I could have kept a shotgun under the mattress.

Most of us. Most of us leave. We carve the initials of our high school sweethearts into lumps of driftwood and throw them out to sea. To big cities where no one knows us, where the cops drive with their windows up and their sleeves rolled down. We learn to sleep through the traffic. We keep on leaving till we find a way to go. We leave so one day we can maybe come back.

Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor

from Starling 6

The Shed

It was a shed before it was home to Tongan relatives. The inside smelled like Dad’s work gloves, musk and dirt. Dust caught in cobwebs draped over muddy tools. Overgrown insects nested between the spades and hoes. Wonky stacks of building stuff lay against the walls,window frames, doors, planks with flaking paint and nails poking out. Dad would be busy in the humming dark behind the shed, shovelling smelly things in the compost.

He’d reach the bottom of the pit in one spadeful, burying green- oaty food waste and feathering rich crumbly compost over the top with delicate shakes. I liked the slicing sound of the spade when he dug deep. The mouldy compost frame kept everything together for so many years. To Dad’s left there was the chicken coop, with a motley crew of chickens and a duck. He’d built a pirate-rigging treehouse in the trees above. To his right the long brown garden where everything he planted thrived, giant broccoli and gleaming silverbeet. Runner beans grew up a chicken-wire frame separating the veggie plot from the pet cemetery at the back where flowers grew amongst wooden crosses with cats’ names scrawled on them.

There was a flurry of bush between us and neighbours. One bush grew glowing green seed-capsules we wore as earrings, there was a sticky bamboo hedge and the rotten log sat solidly in a gap. The bush was thick enough for birds to nest in, dark patches in the twigs that cried in spring. Sometimes we’d hear strangled shrieks and sprint to retrieve dying bodies from cats’ mouths; saving lives for a few moments. Dad said we’re allowed to pick flowers to put on graves but otherwise it’s a waste.

Simone Kaho

from Lucky Punch, Anahera Press, 2016

Home is on the tip of your tongue when

you lose your tongue

watch your tongue         

  wag your tongue

hold your γλώσσα

  cat got your tongue

sharpen your tongue      

  bite your γλώσσα

bend your tongue                      

  keep a civil tongue                   

slip some tongue

  speak in γλώσσες

  roll your tongue                        

give great γλώσσα

  loosen your tongue

find your tongue                        

   find your γλώσσα

Βρες your γλώσσα

 Βρες τη γλώσσα

Βρες τη γλώσσα σου

Vana Manasiadis

And Are You Still Writing?

All day in the spaces in between

soothing, feeding, changing the baby,

fielding work, balancing accounts, juggling memos,

tidying away the wandering objects

left in tidemarks in every room –

spill cloths, rattles, stretch ’n’ grows,

a stray spool of purple cotton,

coffee cups, litters of shoes – 

a poem waited,

small, tight-skinned, self-contained:

a package left on the doorstep of an empty house.

It was to be a poem

about the spaces in between.

From it would grow

menageries and oases:

wilds and silence.

But, as so often, dusk came.

The pen cast its image on the page.

The shadow lengthened, deepened

and thickened, like sleep.

Emma Neale

from Spark, Steele Roberts, 2008

The poets

Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor was awarded the 2018 Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Essay Competition, and the 2017 Monash Prize for Emerging Writers.  Her work has appeared in Starling, Mayhem, Brief, Poetry New Zealand, Landfall, Turbine, Flash Frontier, Mimicry, Min-a-rets, Sweet Mammalian, Sport and Verge. She is Poetry New Zealand‘s 2021 Featured Poet. She writes thanks to the support of some of the best people on this great watery rock.

Ella Borrie is a Te Whanganui-a-Tara based poet from Otago. She co-edited Antics 2015 and her work appears in Mimicry, Starling and Turbine | Kapohau. The title of this poem is inspired by Louise Wallace’s poem ‘How to leave the small town you were born in’.

Kay McKenzie Cooke’s fourth poetry collection was published by The Cuba Press in June 2020 and is titled Upturned. She lives and writes in Ootepoti / Dunedin.

Vanessa Crofskey is an artist and writer currently based in Pōneke Wellington. She was a staff writer for online arts and culture journal The Pantograph Punch and has a collection of poems out in AUP New Poets Volume 6. 

carina gallegos, originally from Costa Rica, has worked in journalism and development studies, and with refugee communities since 2011. She published poems in All of Us (Landing Press, 2018) with Adrienne Jansen. She lives in Wellington with her family and refers to New Zealand as ‘home’.

Simone Kaho is a digital strategist, author, performance poet and director. Her debut poetry collection Lucky Punch was published in 2016. She has a master’s degree in poetry from Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML). She’s the Director of the E-Tangata web series ‘Conversations’ and a journalist for Tagata Pasifika. In 2021 Simone was awarded the Emerging Pasifika Writer residency at the IIML.

Vana Manasiadis is Greek-New Zealand poet and translator born in Te Whanganui-a-Tara and based in Tāmaki Makaurau after many years living in Kirihi Greece.  She is 2021 Ursula Bethell Writer-in-Residence at Te Whare Wanaga o Waitaha Canterbury University. Her most recent book was The Grief Almanac: A Sequel.

Frankie McMillan is a poet and short story writer who spends her time between Ōtautahi/ Christchurch and Golden Bay. Her poetry collection, There are no horses in heaven  was published by Canterbury University Press.  Recent work appears in Best Microfictions 2021 (Pelekinesis) Best Small Fictions 2021 ( Sonder Press), the New Zealand Year Book of Poetry ( Massey University) New World Writing and Atticus Review.

Emma Neale is a writer and editor. Her most recent collection is To the Occupant. In 2020 she received the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for a Distinguished Contribution to New Zealand Poetry.

Rose Peoples is from Te Awakairangi/Lower Hutt. She is a student at Victoria University and, having finished her law degree last year, decided that the logical next step was to embark upon a Masters in Literature. She is a bookseller at Good Books. Her work has previously appeared in Cordite, Mimicry and Starling.

Harry Ricketts teaches English Literature and creative writing at Victoria University of Wellington Te Herenga Waka. His latest collection Selected Poems was published by Victoria University Press, 2021.

Jack Ross‘s most recent poetry collection, The Oceanic Feeling, was published by Salt & Greyboy Press in early 2021. He blogs on  the imaginary museum, here[http://mairangibay.blogspot.com/].

Alison Wong is the coeditor of A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand (AUP, 2021), the first anthology of creative writing by Asian New Zealanders. Alison’s novel, As the Earth Turns Silver (Penguin/Picador, 2009) won the NZ Post Book Award for fiction and her poetry collection Cup (Steele Roberts, 2006) was shortlisted for the Jessie Mackay Award for best first book of poetry. She was a poetry judge at the 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Ten poems about clouds

Twelve poems about ice

Ten poems about dreaming

Eleven poems about the moon

Twelve poems about knitting

Ten poems about water

Twelve poems about faraway

Fourteen poems about walking

Twelve poems about food

Poetry Shelf Poets on their poetry: Frankie McMillan reads and discusses ‘Hunting my father’s voice, County Down’

Photo credit: Kenneth Rittener, Getty Images

Frankie McMillan reads ‘Hunting my father’s voice, County Down’

Frankie McMillan is the author of five books, the most recent of which, The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other small fictions was listed by Spinoff as one of the 10 best New Zealand fiction books of 2019. Her previous book, My Mother and the Hungarians and other small fictions was long listed for the NZ Ockham Book Awards, 2017. She was awarded the NZSA Peter and Dianne Beatson Fellowship in 2019. Frankie currently teaches at the Hagley Writers’ Institute in Christchurch.

Poetry Shelf video spot: Frankie McMillan reads ‘ The Winter Swimming of my Grandmother’

 

 

 

Frankie reads ‘The Winter Swimming of my Grandmother’  (first published by New Flash Fiction Review, 2019)

 

 

 

 

Frankie McMillan is the author of five books, the most recent of which, The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other small fictions was listed by Spinoff as one of the 10 best New Zealand fiction books of 2019. Her previous book, My Mother and the Hungarians and other small fictions was long listed for the NZ Ockham Book Awards, 2017. She was awarded the NZSA Peter and Dianne Beatson Fellowship in 2019. Frankie currently teaches at the Hagley Writers’ Institute in Christchurch.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf connections: Frankie McMillan’s ‘We are not out of the woods yet’

 

We are not out of the woods yet

 

 

In the Netherlands during the war

the news came from watching

the windmills, sails set to indicate

good news or bad.

 

Here we shelter in place

in a city street and watch the one o’clock

Ashley Bloomfield show.

We wait for the numbers,

the dip and rise

 

of probable and confirmed and

the suspected cases who remain suspected

who drag their bodies from one day’s count

into the next, perhaps peering from their window

at the dark and tilted trees.

 

Meanwhile from our thick and boundless dreams

the scuffle of an unknown beast

rough nose pressed against the pane

checking to see if there has been change

in what was once our living room.

 

 

Frankie McMillan 2020

 

Frankie McMillan is the author of five books, the most recent of which, The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other small fictions, was listed by The Spinoff as one of the 10 best New Zealand fiction books of 2019. Her previous book , My Mother and the Hungarians and other small fictions was long listed for the NZ Ockham Book Awards, 2017. She was awarded the NZSA Peter and Dianne Beatson Fellowship in 2019. Frankie currently teaches at the Hagley Writers’ Institute in Christchurch.

Poetry Shelf fascinations: Frankie McMillan’s The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other small fictions

1563145604097_The-Father-of-Octopus-Wrestling_Cover-low.jpg

 

The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other small fictions, Frankie McMillan, Canterbury University Press

Canterbury University Press page

 

What a gorgeously produced book! A purple marbled cover with gold lettering and dark marbled section dividers inside. The book was designed and printed at Ilam Press, Ilam School and published by Canterbury University Press. I do hope more books emerge from this genius partnership.

Not far into reading I began to muse on the idea of original writing because the book is so invigoratingly original – I am fascinated by the origins of these short fictions that are shaped by an aeronautic imagination and (perhaps) specks of real experience. The realness is luminous – the sharp compounding detail does its work beautifully – yet each fiction offers tilts and kinks and little spikes of strangeness.

 

The opening piece, ‘Seven starts to the man who loved trees’, is like a test pot of beginnings that overlap with scene and foreboding  to the point of fluidity and connection. The book’s dark swirly cover with its murky possibilities seems a perfect match because this fiction, like all the fictions we read here, arrives in tantalising pieces. We will never get the full story but we do get sensual and emotional impact. I love that.

The water-presence in the first section is a thematic link. There is a father who gets put in an aquarium, a sister who holds tight to her sinister secret by a river, there’s too much plastic in the ocean, an Amsterdam canal. There are multiple movements ( I am thinking of the movement of water that is both predictable and unpredictable). Movement is a way of going forwards; elsewhere someone is moving through Ireland’s eerie rock-clad Burren.

Frankie’s writing flows like honey and is so sweetly crafted with its shifting rhythms. In ‘The honking of ducks’ the first long sentence is like a breath held (a secret held) and we all come up gasping for air:

 

The thing to do with a secret is to swallow it, and just as you’re not bothered by thoughts of a plum’s progress through your intestinal tract, neither will you think of your sister running hand in hand with a strange man to the river bank and when your sister goes missing you will have to borrow words to explain why you never told and when the police say who put those words into your mouth you will think only of the loveliness of weeping willows, the sshhh sweep of fronds over the sandy bank, all the fun you will have when your sister sets up house under water and you have to swim through the clefts in rocks holding your breath against the squeeze.

 

The collection is a reading banquet: I am feasting on scenes, situations, relationships, human challenges, desires, loves, losses.

Situations – In ‘How we occupy ourselves’, after parental bickering, the family home gets physically split in half, and the father lives by the river and the mother lives on the flat, and the grandmother makes roly poly pudding and says ‘how lucky we are, all of us alive with roofs over our heads and telling each other stories’.

Situations – In ‘A good match’ a husband wants to know if his shirt looks good with his green jeans (third one tested). The wife looks at the clothes strewn on the bed after he has gone out and stares and muses: ‘Wonder again about what goes best, this or that, blue with green, him with me or her.’ I get a whole whoosh of feeling when I read the this final sentence.

Frankie’s short fictions (you could also say prose poems) have poetry’s ability to screen most of the detail but with a few deft strokes and admissions reach a poignant kernel of human experience.

Situations: In ‘Reading the signs’ a miniature but dynamic biography of a hospitalised father emerges. To his visiting offspring he admits regret over a chimp he had raised like a human child in a zoo. The visitor sees him at the window as they leave:

 

I waved, knowing that it was probably the last time I’d be seeing him but wanting the wave to convey all the love I had inside me, all the things I was wanting to do and all the things I was wanting to say but couldn’t.

 

Ah such a whoosh of feeling as I read these lines. The way a story, a situation, a scene twists your heart until it hurts.

 

Here I am breaking my rules and telling you the endings. The beginnings are equally good. Here is the the start to ‘Salt’, a piece that pivots on salt and a woman who is forbidden to eat it on the hospital ward:

 

Sometimes you can ask for something as small as salt only to be refused, the rules won’t allow it. Then salt becomes a big thing in your mind and all you can think of is salt; how it’s responsible for the salinity of the ocean, and then you imagine all the seas in the world, all the whales, then all the camel trains across deserts to bring salt to people like the big woman in the bed opposite. It puts it all into perspective when the nurse says, sorry no salt allowed on this ward.

You forgot to add salt is also good for mistakes.

 

And here is another favourite beginning (‘Jesus and the ostriches’): ‘Soon after Roland began sleeping in the caravan I saw Jesus.’

 

The Father of Octopus Wrestling offers many satisfactions. Yes it is a book in pieces but it is also a book of echoes, hinges, connections. Fathers are every which way you look, along with birds, Jesus, fish, mothers. The strangenesses will jolt you – like when you think you saw a wild cat but it’s the bending tree – and the human experience will make your skin prickle. Within the surprising anecdotes (think bizarre surreal unexpected) wisdom takes seed. This is a book that maps human existence, past present future, and I am all the better for having read it. I recommend you do too! I just love it to bits if you will forgive the pun.

 

The mothers of the mothers of the mothers

 

She tells the child that if all the great grandmothers were

to climb out of the ground to drift though the cemetery,

it wouldn’t be long before they came across each other,

laughing to see each other’s old faces and say they were to

hold hands, the long line of them would reach the other

island, but they couldn’t complain that their feet were in

the cold salty ocean, in fact the mothers of the mothers of

the mothers were used to much worse, some having only a

potato to eat at night or soldiers burning down their whares

and others having to wear corsets of whale bones that go all

the way to their knees but the child says that’s going too far

and she likes the part best where the mothers of the mothers

of the mothers wonder about the little girl who rides to

school in a car that does not eat hay but only drinks lakes

and lakes of petrol.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Frankie McMillan reads ‘The Honking of Ducks’

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‘The Honking of Ducks’ is a prose poem from Frankie’s new collection The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other small fictions, Canterbury University Press, 2019.

 

 

Frankie McMillan is a poet and short fiction writer. She has published five books including My Mother and the Hungarians and other small fictions, long listed for the 2017 NZ Ockham awards. In 2018 she co edited Bonsai best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand. She has won a number of awards and in 2014 held the Ursula Bethell writing residency at Canterbury University. In 2017 she held the University of Auckland/Michael King writing residency. Her forthcoming book The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other stories will be launched by Canterbury University Press on August 31st 2019.

 

Canterbury University press author page

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Frankie McMillan’s ‘In Mama Mancini’s guest apartment, two racquets above the bed’

 

In Mama Mancini’s guest apartment, two racquets above the bed

 

What travellers would gleefully arise

from their beds, seize the wooden racquets

to wander through narrow alleyways

stumbling over the detritus, the restaurant rubbish

past the legless man, now sleeping across

his home made trolley, to search for a court —

whites whiter than white, the promise of fair play

the powerful Medicis on either side of the square

aced out by love

a back hand, a double fault, an under spin.

What fancies, what flights of imagination

possessed Mama to furnish a guest

with such pursuits? We do not ask and if, late at night

a tennis ball comes softly thudding though our open shutters

we will know it is only the previous travellers

foot weary

returning from their wondrous sport.

 

©Frankie McMillan

 

Frankie McMillan is the author of four books, the most recent of which, My Mother and the Hungarians and other small fictions ( Canterbury University Press ) was longlisted for the 2017 NZ Ockham awards. In 2005 she was awarded the Creative New Todd Bursary. Other awards include winner of the New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition in 2009 and winner of the New Zealand Flash Fiction Competition in 2013 and 2015. In 2014 she held the Ursula Bethell writing residency at Canterbury University and in 2017 the University of Auckland/Michael King writing residency. Her latest project is Bonsai: best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand ( CUP, 2018) edited with Michelle Elvy and James Norcliffe.

Frankie McMillan has tips for Hysteria Writing Competition

Waxing lyrical about poetry

The third category for the Sixth International Hysteria Writing Competition is poetry. That means a poem with the very loose theme “things of interest to women.” Oh, and a maximum of twenty lines, not including spaces. Our writer in residence Alex Reece Abbott has asked some award-winning poets and judges from around the world to share their best pointers for writing poetry for her post this month – big thanks go to the fabulous Frankie McMillan; Camille Ralphs; Jane Clarke and Aki Schilz for their support and valuable insights.

Camille has also kindly shared a poetry generator, so even if you’ve never written a poem before, there’s plenty of ideas to get you started for our deadline of August 31 2017. You can enter the poetry category on the Hysteria website.

Remember, you can make as many entries to Hysteria as you like, and you are not restricted to any category, so you may like to check out our other pointers and generators for flash fiction and short stories too.

So, here’s what my cyberkuia (wise women online) around the world had to say about poetry…

Frankie McMillan

frankie mcmillanAll the best for this project – here are my top tips for poetry…

  • Consider what you’re doing a kind of exploration. See the poem as an interesting journey – be alert and curious as to where it leads you.
  • Let things spill out even if they seem wild or unrelated. Let one thought catch on to another.
  • Don’t record what you already know; fresh insights are more interesting. Judges want to feel as if their view of the world/humanity has been enlarged by reading the poem.
  • Write what you really feel, not what you think you should feel.
  • Stick to the truth, the truth of your perceptions, the truth of your imagination.
  • Use interesting words to texture the poem. Do some research around the topic of the poem, gather a ‘word bank’ together.
  • Write freely and bravely but edit ruthlessly.

Frankie McMillan is a New Zealand short story writer and poet. Her latest book ‘My Mother and the Hungarians and other small fictions’ (Canterbury University Press) was longlisted for the 2017 NZ Ockham Book Awards.  In 2005, she was awarded the Creative New Todd Bursary.

Other awards include winner of the New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition in 2009 and winner of the New Zealand Flash Fiction Competition in 2013 and 2015. In 2014, she held the Ursula Bethell writing residency at Canterbury University and in 2017, the University of Auckland/ Michael King writing residency.

 

For the rest of the piece see here