Tag Archives: Ian Wedde

Poetry Shelf poem festival: Trees

 

 

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our place, January 2020

 

 

In 2020 Poetry Shelf will host a monthly, theme-based festival of poems.

First up: trees. I chose trees because I live in a clearing in the midst of protected regenerating bush. It is a place of beauty and calm, no matter the wild West Coast weather. We look out onto the tail end of the Waitātakere Ranges knowing we work together as guardians of this land.

I chose trees because like so many other people the need to care for trees is strong – to see the fire-ravaged scenes in Australia is heartbreaking.

I love coming across trees in poems – I love the way they put down roots and anchor a poem in anecdote, life pulse, secrets, the sensual feast of bush and forests, political layers.

I could plot my life through the books I have read and loved, but I could also plot my life through my attachment to trees.

 

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Let me Put in a Word for Trees

 

Let me put in a word for breathing.

Let me put in a word for trees.

Let me put in a word for breathing.

 

Dinah Hawken

from Water, Leaves, Stones (Victoria University Press, 1995)

 

 

 

After a long hard decade, Miranda asks for a poem about feijoas

 

Small hard green breasts budding on a young tree

that doesn’t want them, can’t think how to dance

if it has to put up with these;

 

yet over summer the fruits swell and plump:

frog barrel bodies without the jump or croak

limes in thick velvet opera coats

 

love grenades to throw like flirt bombs

for your crush to catch and softly clutch

before they release their sweet seductions

 

and when the congregation and the choir

in the Tongan church next door exalt in hymns

while their brass band soars and sforzandos in,

 

a fresh feijoa crop tumbles to the grass

as if the tree’s just flung down its bugle mutes

in a mid-life, high-kick, survival hallelujah.

 

Emma Neale

 

 

 

Heavy lifting

Once, I climbed a tree
too tall for climbing
and threw my voice out
into the world. I screamed.
I hollered. I snapped
innocent branches. I took the view
as a vivid but painful truth gifted
to me, but did not think to lay down
my own sight in recompense.
All I wanted was someone to say
they could hear me, but the tree said
that in order to be heard I must
first let silence do the heavy lifting
and clear my mind of any
questions and anxieties
such as contemplating whether
I am the favourite son. If I am not,
I am open to being a favourite uncle
or an ex-lover whose hands still cover
the former half’s eyes. I’ll probably never
have children of my own to disappoint
so I’ll settle for being famous instead
with my mouth forced open on TV like
a Venus fly-trap lip-synching for its life.
The first and the last of everything
are always connected by
the dotted line of choice.
If there is an order to such things,
then surely I should resist it.

Chris Tse

from He’s so MASC (Auckland University Press, 2018)

 

 

 

Reverse Ovid

Woman running across a field
with a baby in her arms . . .
She was once the last pine tree on Mars.

Bill Manhire

 

 

My mother as a tree

I like to think my mother may have been a tree
like Fred’s, the oak whose Elizabethan
damask skirts each year spring-clean
the hillside opposite, in front of the house
where Fred was born. Her royal foliage
clothes a peasant’s weathered fingers,
the same unfussed embrace.
Fred never sees her now,
he’s in a rest-home up the coast
and doesn’t get out much
and so, in lieu, she fosters me
from unconditional dawn
to dusk and through the night,
her feet in earth, her head
in air, water in the veins, and what
transpires between us is the breath
of life. In the morning birds
fly out of her hair, in the evening
they are her singing brain
that sings to me. My mother as a tree:
my house, my spouse, my dress
and nakedness, my birth, my death,
before and afterwards. I like
to think my tears may be her
watershed, not just for me.

 

Chris Price

from Beside Herself  (Auckland University Press, 2016)

 

 

 

Objects 4

 

It’s the close of another year.

Stunned, I walk through the Gardens

feel them draw the numbness out of me.

This is another ‘I do this, I do that’ poem

I learnt in New York from O’Hara.

This is a New York poem set in a garden

styled in colonial civics on an island

that is not Manhattan.

I hurry to the hydrangea garden,

their shaded, moon-coloured faces

so much like my own. As a child I was posed

next to hydrangeas because the ones

next to an unremembered house

were particularly blue—

to match my eyes, presumably.

There are no hydrangeas in New York City.

I rush past the Australia garden but I stop

dead at the old aloes, their heavy leaves

so whale-like, gently swaying flukes

thick and fleshy, closing up the sky.

Some kids have carved their

initials and hearts in the smooth rind,

a hundred years against this forgotten afternoon.

I bend to the ground and sit as if to guard them

in the darkening sun.

The spread of rot constellates out of the kids’ marks

as if to say

look at the consequences,

look at me dying.

 

Nikki-Lee Birdsey

from Night As Day (Victoria University Press, 2019)

 

 

 

I Buried the Blood and Planted a Tree

 

Love is the thing that comes

when we suck on a teat and are fed.

Love is the food we can eat.

 

The food we can’t eat we give

to the ground

to the next day.

We pat the earth

like it is our own abdomen.

 

If I could have drunk a hot enough tea

to boil it out

I might have.

If I could have stood

on a big red button

and jumped once

to tell it to exit

 

like the highest note on the piano.

It was a sound I couldn’t feed.

I gave it to tomorrow.

I buried the blood and planted a tree

so she, unable to be fed, could feed.

 

Maeve Hughes

 

 

The sepia sky is not one for forgetting. Even fragmented, looking up at it from beneath a canopy. The flash of light through leaves more twitch than twinkle. Therapists and yoga teachers say It’s important to let yourself to be held by mother earth, to let yourself be. I used to feel relief in the arms of a tree, but now I feel unease. Is it my own chest trembling or the trees? Oxygen spinning from the leaves, boughs holding birds who were once such a chorus they almost drove Cook’s crew back to sea. Invisible roots bearing the weight of me, through the deep dark, where trees talk in voices I am too brief to hear.

Simone Kaho

 

 

Trees

 

Place is bottled lightning in a shop,

or in a chandelier’s glass tear-drop,

or in a glow-worm’s low watt grot,

or in street neon’s glottal stop —

wow-eh? wow-eh? wow-eh?

 

Place is the moulded face of a hill,

or lichen like beard on a window sill,

or the bare spaces that shadows fill,

or ancestors growing old and ill,

or descendants at the reading of a will,

who frown and examine their fingernails

before plunging off down the paper trails

of diary and letter and overdue bill.

 

Place is the home of family trees —

family trees to wrap round plots of soil,

tree roots to shrivel into umbilical cords,

tree branches to spill bones and skulls;

but even trees are just a spidery scrawl

against the shelf-life of a mountain wall.

 

Place is a brood perched on power-poles:

bellbirds with shadows of gargoyles,

korimako who clutch the power of one,

like an egg, to trill their familiar song.

Place is grandsons who sprawl

in the family tree with laughter;

place is the tree windfall,

gathered up in the lap of a daughter.

 

David Eggleton

from Rhyming Planet (Steele Roberts, 2001)

 

 

13

Te Mahuta Ngahere
the father of the forest
a livid monster among saplings.

A swollen aneurism grips his bole.
Below bearded epiphytes
a suppurating canker swarms with wasps.

Derisively lyrical
the tuis in his crazy, dreadlocked crown
pretend to be bulldozers.

 

Ian Wedde

from ‘Letter to Peter McLeavey – after Basho’, from Three Regrets and a Hymn to Beauty (Auckland University Press, 2005)

 

 

 

Last night I sat outside and looked at the moon. Up there, like it has been since the dawn of time.
Same one the cavemen looked at.
Sickle phase.
I know, scientifically, about the forces that hold it in place.
And suddenly I felt I knew too much.
The grass had been cut, while flowering.
The flowers were still there, they’d either sunk below the blades or reflowered.
I noticed grass flowers look like kowhai post-flowering. When the stamens hang long and white after the flower has fallen away.
The night was still. Cones on the street let me know men would come the next day in matching orange tunics and I should not park there.
The moon was still there.
The stillness and the quiet was misleading.
Everything had a perfect and terrible design that didn’t need me to know it.
I know the trees above the mangroves are called macrocarpas, some bird calls sweetly from the macrocarpa as the sun sets every evening. Orange, purple and pink from the verandah of my flat.
I don’t ever want to know that bird’s name.

 

Simone Kaho

 

 

Song from the fallen tree which served as a twelve year old’s altar to the wild gods

i am a hundred years more girleen since before you were a seed
i fell to mouldering in this darkleaf cathedral where you come

to bury the bones of brief chittering things and burn candles
in roothollows ah you young girleen life all aflickering past short
roots unplanted

i am all your church and ever the altar at which you girleen kneel
i all goldenarched around by sunbeam and sapling green

with my many rings i share with you rootlessness and in winter
you brush away my cloak of snow humming your warmblood
girleen beatsong to soften my ache of frost

while you ask knowing of what time is to the forest and you sing
up your low girleen voice to the horned and feathered kind which
do not walk the rustling hymn of season same as we all

then twice up here you come bringing anothergirl girleen
you open your arms to the sky saying this is your heart and

home yes this the forest that sings you by name and girleen
it is true we the trees know you but you never learned from us

the songs called shyness and slowly and the next time girleen you
bring your brighthaired friend you kiss her in the pricklebelly
shadow of the holly

where i feel you like a seed unhusked shiversway as she
branchsnap slams whipslap runs so when again you dewyoung
girleen come to me you come alone

ungrowing girleen and withering back your shoots as you
bitterbrittle freeze your sapling blood into something thinner
than lancewood leaf

which cracks you through to the heartwood solvent veinsap
dizzily diluting girleen you can barely make your mountainwalk
up to me

until for two snowmelts you do not return but even once your
starved arterial taproot has begun sucking in again greedy sunlight
and sugar to colour your suppling girleen bark back alive

you have disremembered every prayersong taught you by we the
trees and i rot in the forest you called your heart and girleen
you do not visit

 

Rebecca Hawkes

 

 

The Gum-Tree

 

Sitting on the warm steps with you

our legs and backs supported by timber

looking down to the still trunk of the gum-tree

we are neither inside ourselves

as in the dark wing of a house

nor outside ourselves, like sentries

at the iron gates – we are living

on the entire contour of our skins,

on the threshold, willing to settle

or leap into anywhere.

 

Here’s to this tree we are standing in.

Here’s to its blue-green shelter,

its soft bark,

the handy horizontal branch

we have our feet on

and the one supporting our shoulders.

 

Dinah Hawken

from Water, Leaves, Stones (Victoria University Press, 1995)

 

 

 

 

Nikki-Lee Birdsey was born in Piha. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a BA from New York University. She has been published widely in the US, UK, Canada, and New Zealand, and she is currently a PhD candidate at the International Institute of Modern Letters. Her first book Night as Day was published by VUP in 2019.

David Eggleton’s most recent poetry publication, Edgeland and other poems, was published by Otago University Press in 2018. He is the New Zealand Poet Laureate 2019 – 2021.

Dinah Hawken was born in Hawera in 1943 and now lives in Paekakariki. Her eighth collection of poetry, There is no harbour, was published by Victoria University Press in 2019.

Rebecca Hawkes is an erstwhile painter-poet and accidental corporate-ladder-ascender. Her chapbook Softcore coldsores was launched in AUP New Poets 5 in 2019 and she performs with the poetry troupe Show Ponies. She wrote this tree poem in her previous occupation as a teen and hopes it will survive repotting after all these years.

Maeve Hughes lives in a tall house in Wellington. She has studied Fine Arts and Creative Writing. Her first publication Horsepower won the 2018 Story Inc Prize for poetry and was launched in October last year.

Simone Kaho is a New Zealand / Tongan poet and a graduate of the International Institute of Modern Letters. She published her debut poetry collection, Lucky Punch, in 2016. Simone is noted for her poetry performance and writes for E-Tangata.co.nz.

Bill Manhire’s new book of poems will be published later this year. It might well be called Wow because he is so surprised by it.

Emma Neale is the author of 6 novels and 6 collections of poetry. She is the current editor of Landfall.

Chris Price is the author of three books of poetry and the hybrid ‘biographical dictionary’ Brief Lives. She convenes the poetry and creative nonfiction MA workshop at the International Institute of Modern Letters in Wellington. In May 2019 she and her guitarist partner Robbie Duncan will be among the guests at Featherston Booktown.

Chris Tse is the author of How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes and HE’S SO MASC. He is a regular contributor to Capital Magazine’s Re-Verse column and a book reviewer on Radio New Zealand. Chris is currently co-editing an anthology of LGBTQIA+ Aotearoa New Zealand writers.

Ian Wedde’s Selected Poems were published in 2017 – Te Mahuta Ngahere can be found there and we hope will survive in the bush. Wedde’s historical novel, The Reed Warbler, will be published by Victoria University Press in May, and a collection of essays 2014-2019 is in development.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday Poem: Ian Wedde’s ‘McCahon’s Defile’

 

 

McCahon’s Defile

For John Reynolds

 

And so Colin I cast off in my frail craft of words

my craft of frail words of crafty words

into the defile of Three Lamps where

struck by sunshine on the florist’s striped awning

and the autumn leaves outside All Saints

as you did before fully waking in Waitakere

to look at the elegant pole kauri in dewy light

I defile my sight with closed eyes

and so see better when I open them the Sky Tower

pricking a pale blue heaven like Raphael’s

in Madonna of the Meadows or the scumbled sky of

Buttercup fields forever where there is a constant flow of light

and we are born into a pure land through Ahipara’s blunt gate

a swift swipe of pale blue paint

on Shadbolt’s battered booze bar where bards

bullshitted among the kauri.

 

Gaunt cranes along the city skyline

avert their gazes towards the Gulf

away from babblers at Bam Bina

breakfast baskers outside Dizengoff

some pretty shaky dudes outside White Cross

beautiful blooms in buckets at Bhana Brothers

(open for eighty years) Karen Walker’s window

looking fresh and skitey across Ponsonby Road

my charming deft dentist at Luminos

most of South Asia jammed into one floor at the Foodcourt

Western Park where wee Bella bashed her head

on some half-buried neoclassical nonsense

the great viewshaft to not-faux Maungawhau

and then turn left into the dandy defile of K Road

where you make your presence felt yet again

Colin through the window of Starkwhite

in building 19-G_W-13 where dear John Reynolds

has mapped your sad Sydney derives and defiles

across the road from Herabridal’s windows all dressed up

in white broderie Anglaise like lovely frothy brushstrokes

or the curdled clouds and words you dragged into the light

fantastic along beaches and the blackness that was all

you saw when you opened your eyes sometimes

like the bleary early morning Thirsty Dogs

and weary hookers a bit further along my walk.

 

I love the pink pathway below the K Road overbridge

a liquid dawn rivulet running down towards Waitemata’s riprap

but also the looking a bit smashed washing hung out

on the balcony above Carmen Jones

and over the road from Artspace and Michael Lett etc

there’s El Sizzling Lomito, Moustache, Popped, and Love Bucket

the Little Turkish Café has $5 beers

it’s like a multiverse botanical garden round here

you could lose yourself in the mad babble of it

like the Botanical Gardens at Woolloomooloo

with the clusterfucking rut-season fruit-bats

screaming blue murder.

 

But it’s peaceful again down Myers Park

the mind empties and fills like a lung breathing

the happy chatter of kids swinging

and my memory of you Colin

sitting alone and forlorn on a bench

must have been about 1966

contemplating the twitchy cigarette between your fingers

as if it divined the buried waters of Waihorotiu

or the thoughts that flow beneath thought

in the mind’s defile at dawn when you open your eyes

and see that constant flow of light among the trees.

 

©Ian Wedde

 

 

 

 

Ian Wedde is an Auckland writer and curator with sixteen poetry collections, seven novels, two essay collections, a book of short stories, a memoir, a monograph on Bill Culbert and several art catalogues. His multiple honours include The Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry, admission to The Order of NZ Merit and an Arts Foundation Laureate Award. His most recent poetry book, Selected Poems, appeared in 2017.

Auckland University Press page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Winter Season: Ian Wedde off-piste

 

From ‘A hymn to beauty: days of a year’

 

Beauty

you’re the trouble I’m in

because there’s a lot of sweetness in my life

with that rude kind of magnificence

as when they hung Le Bateau upside down,

unusually animated and sparking.

Happy Birthday Montgomery Clift:

Where did I see this guy—in Red River

or in From Here to Eternity?

Accept and you become whole

bend and you straighten.

 

 

I hung around a little too long

I was good but now I’m gone,

I may find myself in a tight spot

but forge ahead

where satellite images show Yongbyon

and a mariner in the distance appears cordial.

Happy Birthday Betty Hutton

who is to be found in the lines and gradations

of unsullied snow

for your heart will always be

where your riches are.

 

 

They’re Justified and they’re Ancient

and they drive an ice-cream van

so do what will help

and don’t worry what others think

if King Kong premieres in New York.

In his eyes, beauty may be seen.

Happy Birthday Lou Reed,

as fast as a musician scatters sounds

out of an instrument.

One thing only do I want

to marvel there.

 

©Ian Wedde Three Regrets and a Hymn to Beauty (Auckland University Press, 2005)

 

 

Note for poetry shelf

In ‘Enjoyment’, the preface to Selected Poems (2017), I ‘confess to restlessness and the enjoyment of subverting my own practice’, which is one way of saying I got bored with myself and switched tracks regularly over the years. In a selection covering fourteen collections these swerves look more abrupt than they were. One place where they converge is in ‘A hymn to beauty: days of a year’, a sequence of fifty-seven sections that sampled lines from songs, the day’s horoscope advice to Librans, a ‘today in history’ clip from the Evening Post, the birthday of someone famous, a quote from the shambolic literature of the Sublime, and a religious homily. It took up 22 pages in its original covers (Three Regrets and a Hymn to Beauty, AUP 2005) and I only stopped when a sensible little voice told me to—I was having too much fun. It took me out of an autoethnography groove, it allowed me to mess around with a complex word, beauty, without being trapped by aestheticising lyric conventions, and it construed narrative meanings that had nothing to do with my intentions. Fergus Barrowman first published the whole thing in Sport 32 (Summer 2004) for which I thank him. Here are three sections, the opening one and two more picked at random with my eyes shut.

 

Ian Wedde’s first (very small) book was published by Amphedesma Press in 1971 and in May this year his (fairly chunky) Selected Poems was published by Auckland University Press, with artwork by John Reynolds. A small book about the art of Judy Millar, Refer Judy Millar, is just out from Wunderblock in Berlin. His essay ‘How Not To Be At Home’ is in the anthology Home: New Writing just out from Massey University Press.

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

NZ Festival series: Ian Wedde’s Reading Life (and Bill and Catherine’s)

 

 

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This terrific series edited by Guy Somerset also includes Bill Manhire and Catherine Chidgey.

To celebrate Ian Wedde’s Selected Poems, we are invited to share a smidgeon of Ian’s reading life:

‘The first book to capture my imagination was … A toss up between May Gibbs’ Snugglepot and Cuddlepie (I was scared of the Banksia Men) and Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Books (I was Mowgli!).’

Ian’s full book shelf here

Sadly this was Guy’s last edition, but he left a terrific Glastonbury link as an adieu.

Poetry Shelf interviews Ian Wedde: ‘writing – or thinking about writing – poetry really is a tremendous pleasure’

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With Donna in Berlin, New Year 2013/14.

 

You have to start somewhere

in these morose times,

a clearing in a forest say,

filled with golden shafts of sunlight

and skirmishes. A little later

your itinerary will take you past

weathered churches on plains that stretch

as far as the eye can see.

 

from ‘The lifeguard’ in The Lifeguard (2013) and Selected Poems

 

To celebrate the arrival of Selected Poems (Auckland University Press, 2017), Ian Wedde agreed to talk about poetry with me.
Born in Blenheim (a twin of Dave) in October 1946, Ian has lived in Bangladesh, England, Jordan, France, Germany, now lives in Auckland with his wife Donna Malane, a screen-writer and novelist, they have five children and five grandchildren, has published seven novels and sixteen collections of poetry as well as books of essays and assorted art books and catalogues. Most recent book is Selected Poems (AUP, 2017) with marvellous art work by John Reynolds. New Zealand poet laureate 2011-12, Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement (poetry) 2014.

 

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Cover and internal art work: John Reynolds

 

The Interview

PG: Did poetry feature in your childhood? What activities delighted you as a young boy?

IW: There wasn’t a lot of poetry in my childhood, though my father chanting John Masefield’s ‘Cargoes’ as he rowed across Waikawa Bay in the Marlborough Sounds was memorable – the rhythm was right but the words were deeply weird to me, which was what I liked.

 

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,

Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,

With a cargo of ivory,

And apes and peacocks,

Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

 

PG: What were some key influences when you first started writing?

IW: A link between the deeply lost-in-it world of reading stories and the hypnotic secret ecstasy of writing things, or trying to. Also the fascination of not understanding either what I was reading sometimes (I happened on Browning’s ‘Sordello’ by accident) or why writing was so mesmerising. Also Kipling, because of the poems associated with the Jungle Books, which I was addicted to.

 

PG: Or at university?

IW: At university I was obsessive about getting my hands on contemporary American poetry after or off the shoulder of the great modernists – post Pound-and-Eliot if you like. Post-Beats, for that matter. William Carlos Williams above all, though of course Spring and All and Kora in Hell were published in the 1920s – but those early books like Spring and All and Kora in Hell incorporated prose and poetry, they seemed to be experimental and interesting in ways that the accredited modernist masters were not. I loved Williams’ humanity and love of sparrows and weedstalks, but also the marvellous delicacy of thought that articulated his lines. Robert Creeley was important, his frugal counterpoint; Denise Levertov’s makeover of the exhausted lyric; Gary Snyder’s ecological ethic that made for a new kind of eclogue; Frank O’Hara’s urbane vernacular and before long Ted Berrigan, especially Berrigan’s Sonnets. John Ashbery’s ‘The Tennis Court Oath’ amazed me. Also French poets, but always sheeting back to Rimbaud. Pablo Neruda in bulk, his marvellous relish for the sensuous world and its political demands on our responsibilities. Elizabeth Bishop’s The Complete Poems. John Wieners because he broke so many rules without showing off.

 

I study my son’s face, to treasure it.

Each day (now, & now) it’s changed & I’ve lost

what I love, loved.

from ‘Paradiso Terrestre’ in Earthly Sonnets for Carlos (1975) and Selected Poems

 

PG: The birth of your first son prompted Earthly: Sonnets for Carlos. While some New Zealand men have written fatherhood poems (notably Graham Lindsay) I cannot think of another extended sequence such as yours. The prolonged contemplation allows greater complexity when facing what might at first seem unsayable – the miracle of a new-born baby. Did your son’s arrival throw your relationship with writing in the air?

IW: I usually threw my infant son in the air. It was a time of wonder. I also walked around with him quite a lot at night, those rhythms shaped how I thought and how the poems moved.

 

PG: What draws you to the longer sequence?

IW: A disinclination to get to the point in timely fashion or to admit there is one worth ending with. There are dear friends whose conversations and phonecalls I love because they do go on. Mostly I like giving in to the drifts and swerves of language that takes me to places I can’t get to by intention. A tendency rapidly to lose interest in the self-centred, anecdotal lyric in which a certain kind of modesty often strikes me as sham.

 

PG: Have other things elbowed your writing—refreshed, transformed, derailed, sent askew in good ways, sparking in new directions? A book or theory or idea or chance encounter or unexpected experience?

IW: Probably art more than anything, and music. The ways in which our perceptions of phenomena trigger thought I find fascinating and seductive. I’m an easy weeper – I’ve been known to sniffle during the opening credits of movies just because it’s so amazing that we can do this stuff. I love art in its many guises because at its best it can be so capable of subversion – of subverting representation as mimesis, subverting personal testament, or markers of class and taste – and because at its worst it can be all those things, and boring to boot, especially as cultural capital. Music perhaps because it’s just off the camber of what language does in poetry, unless of course we’re talking about poets as song-writers, that fabulous ancient lineage. During the time I spent in Jordan in 1969-70 the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish and others was a revelation – how it had a vast, loyal, politically disenfranchised radio audience of Palestinians and at the same time reached deeply into classical histories, reached the audiences of the Egyptian singer Oum Kalsoum and spoke to intellectuals such as Edward Said.

 

(..) If trees &

suchlike don’t tell on me I understand

my son will & soon, too. His new blue eyes

see everything. Soon he’ll learn to see

less. O the whole great foundation is sand.

But the drought has broken today, this rain!

pecks neat holes in the world’s salty fabu-

less diamond-backed carapace & doubt comes

out, a swampy stink of old terrapin.

What shall I say? ‘I hid nothing from you,

but from myself. that I dream, little one,

 

from ‘for Rose’ in Earthly Sonnets for Carlos (1975) and Selected Poems

 

PG: For me Sonnets for Carlos is a collection imbued with love deep within the roots of the line. Yet when I regard the expanse of your writing across the decades, love seems to be an active ingredient whether it is for the dead poet Horace, blistered peppers on the hot plate, the beauty of a city street, family or the wide stretch of home. Do you agree? What do you see as active ingredients that have endured?

 

Late autumn’s good up around

The neighbourhood mountain’s misty flank in the morning

When the piss-trail of the morning’s promenade’s fresh

And even an old dog can still feel

The sac of earth trembling under his running feet.

 

from ‘5.4 To Mount Victoria’ in The Commonplace Odes (2001) and Selected Poems

 

IW: ‘Love’ is an easy word to utter and an even easier one to claim. Looking at what’s in this new book of selected poems, what I think I see repeated quite often is a claim that I ‘love’ the commonplace world – William Carlos Williams’ world of sparrows and weedstalks, if you like. I love appetite and enjoyment and relish and so the preparation of meals and so forth. I love thought that has a vigorous appetite, that enjoys tasty discussion. But I think you have to love this kind of ‘love’ knowing it comes at a cost, that grief or anger are its stalkers. I think there’s quite a lot of anger and frustration in my poems.

 

PG: In your introduction, ‘Enjoyment,’ you talk about the joy of writing poetry. That feeling must be contagious because in my view your poetry is a joy to read. For some writers, writing is a dark and painful process while for others it is energising. Do you also have patches like these? Do you have writing patterns, routines or rituals?

IW: For me writing – or thinking about writing – poetry really is a tremendous pleasure, at once a kind of rapture or abeyance of self, and a complete deployment of the self’s capacities. I’d never describe it as painful, though it can be tough when the critical phase kicks in and you realise that your rapture has generated a steaming heap. But then there’s a certain pleasure in consigning the pile of shit to its bucket. Much of what I write starts with walking around with a little notebook, and in a sense nothing in the notebook is ever wasted, even if what happens to it ends up getting chucked.

 

PG: You refer to the pleasure generated when ‘a poem veers off, carried along by a momentum that’s not quite mine, towards a direction neither I, nor the poem’s reader, is anticipating.’ There is a sense of writing into the unknown, but could you conversely say you write into into the known in unpredictable ways?

IW: No, I’m really talking about how my let’s call it ‘overarching concept’ can be highjacked by language itself – I go along with that, in a sense, and try to keep a very light hand on the tiller (as in that mixed metaphor).

 

PG: I am thinking, for example, of The Commonplace Odes and Three Regrets and a Hymn to Beauty where home infuses the poems in searing physical detail along with home-nourished states of mind. I rate these two books in my handful of sublime New Zealand reading experiences ( I am thinking too of the way your books have been long-term, book mentors along with those of Michele Leggott, Bill Manhire, Bernadette Hall, Cilla McQueen). The language is pitch perfect but it is that glorious tension between the known and the unknown that elevates me—along with the roving intellect and the physical beacons. I am reminded of Kafka’s yearning to read books that, like an axe, cut through the frozen sea within us. Do you have a book in your oeuvre that has particularly worked for you?

IW: Do you mean books I’ve read? I think there have been lots of them, over time. Perhaps the one that keeps on being non-negotiable is Rimbaud’s Oeuvres complètes (Gallimard, 1972) and subsequent translations, including those by Samuel Beckett, John Ashbery and Jeremy Harding, among others. Rimbaud’s pronouncements in May 1871 at the age of seventeen in letters to Georges Izambard and Paul Demeny that ‘I is somebody else’ (Je est un autre) remains for me one of the most potent codes with which to approach the way in which the poet (at seventeen) can become a ‘drunken boat’ that morphs into the child the poet was ten years earlier, playing with his toy boat on a pond, and finally the ship that swims under the frightful gaze of the prison hulks that incarcerated the Communard prisoners of 1871 that were the seventeen year old Rimbaud’s heroes. But if you mean one of my own books that I think has come close to that kind of sorcery, then pass.

 

Beauty

you’re the trouble I’m in

because there’s a lot of sweetness in my life

with that rude kind of magnificence

as when they hung Le Bateau upside down,

unusually animated and sparkling.

Happy birthday Montgomery Clift:

where did I see this guy – in Red River

or From Here to Eternity?

Accept and you become whole

bend and you straighten.

 

from ‘A hymn to beauty: days of a year’ in Three Regrets and a Hymn to Beauty (2005) and Selected Poems

 

PG: The allure of language in its slippery elusive glory, its ability to make music and bear all manner of freight, is a potent force for the poet. When a poem succeeds for you, or comes close, what is language doing? Do you have a poem or two that continue to resonate at the level of language? For me, there is an ongoing musicality, an enviable musicality, that provides shifting keys harmonies and chords.

IW: I think any poem that’s worth reading ‘resonates at the level of language’, which is to say the language doesn’t just do what it’s told to, rather it subverts or distracts the task of making itself understood. ‘Musicality’ in the language of poems can be a distraction or, at worst, an indulgence, an invitation to the categorisation ‘poetic’. I like the idea of meaning-chords as riffs, vertical rather than linear.

 

(..) the lovely world has everything I need,

It has my kids, my sweetheart, my friends, it has a new book

With mouth-watering risotto recipes in it,

The kind of plump rice you might have relished,

Horace, in the Sabine noon, yellowed with saffron.

‘The zen poet’ is another of you, he wrote a poem

About making stew in the desert which changed my life.

A good cookbook is as good as a book of poems

Any day, because it can’t be any more pretentious

Than the produce you savour with friends as night falls.

 

from ‘1.2 To the cookbook’ in The Commonplace Odes (2005) and Selected Poems

 

PG: In ‘To the cookbook,’ we read that ‘A good cookbook is as good as a book of poems.’ Women have long been denigrated for domestic traces in their writing. I take issue with this on so many levels. Food, including the cooking of food, adds a sensual zest, like finely judged salt and pepper, to your poetry, and indeed opens fascinating windows upon relations between food, life and writing. How do these connections work for you? Are you offended if I describe some of your poems as mouth-watering?

IW: Not in the least offended. It’s a compliment, thank you. And then, Neruda’s ‘Ode to Tomatoes’ is one of the most slyly political poems ever written, as is Gary Snyder’s ‘How to Make Stew in the Pinacate Desert’.

 

PG: The word subversion crops up in your introduction. You relish subverting expectations of what language ought to or can do. Do you see other subversions at work?

IW: I try to subvert myself, not always with much success.

 

PG: The Selected Poems underlines how important your reading life is and how it has sustained and infiltrated your writing life. Name three books from any time or any place that have mattered deeply.

IW: Geoff Park’s Nga Uruora: The Groves of Life; May Gibbs, The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie; Ovid, Metamorphoses.

 

PG: Name three New Zealand poetry books that have resonated with you.

IW: Nga Moteatea (4 vols.); R.A.K. Mason, Collected Poems; take your pick of poets who are also song-writers, we have some great ones: Hinemoana Baker, Teremoana Rapley, Bill Manhire, Dominic Hoey known as Tourettes, the Dam Native crew, lots more in this country.

 

PG: Have you been attracted or influenced by any poetry movements? Or conversely repelled?

IW: Constantly.

 

If I wanted to translate

silence I would have to be

deaf, to remember silence

I would have to recognise

its opposite, for instance

singing, a miracle, not

too much to ask I hope, and

why wouldn’t I hope, why not?

 

from ‘Shadow stands up’ in The Lifeguard (2013) and Selected Poems

 

PG: In your introduction you suggest it is over to the reader to make sense of the way your writing has changed—over to us to decipher the recurring motifs and predilections, the side steps, the shifts in attention and concerns. Time and age are under the spotlight right from the start, in the first poem addressed to Matisse. Just one question then. Do you feel you have greater freedom at 70 when you pick up your writing pen?

IW: I have less compunction about putting the pen down and going for a walk. With or without my notebook.

 

Henri Emile Benoît Matisse je vous salue!

Let me tell you a secret.

Your work goes on.

I’d only seen your things in art books

bite sized. I dreamed there was a bright room

in my head somewhere

which you were making real stroke

by counterpointed stroke

& where I would some day retire

to an armchair in the corner:

the final element of a composition

that perfectly described itself.

 

from ‘Homage to Matisse’ in Homage to Matisse (1971) and Selected Poems

 

Auckland University Press page

Radio NZ review

Herald piece with Greg Fleming

Discussed in Anna Jackson’s essay on the Epistle Poem

 

 

 

Wedde_Selected-Poems_backcover_AI.jpg

‘Dear Epistle’ an essay by Anna Jackson in PNR

This article is in Pen Review 235, Volume 43 Number 5, May – June 2017.

Anna’s wide roaming essay is a terrific read especially the bit on Ian Wedde’s Commonplace Odes. Here is a taste:

 
‘Wedde wrote The Commonplace Odes after ‘a dry spell’ of not writing poetry at all, having become bored, he writes, ‘with mundane unpretentiousness, writing as small talk’, while at the same time he ‘choked on the grandiloquent’.16 If these odes elevate ‘the marvellous, surreal details of ordinary life’ they do so without waxing poetical in the ironic way Sharon Olds does in the spoon ode, or Heather Christle does addressing her ‘Dear forest.’ And this creates a different relation to time. The ‘O’ of the ironic ode at once collapses time, in the way the belatedness of postmodernism uses the quotation marks of irony to bring any traditional element into play in an indistinguishable present, and marks an unbridgeable gap in time between the present and a past that can never be taken straight, can never be truly accessed. In his long engagement with the classics, Wedde has always acknowledged the distance in time that inevitably alters a reader’s relationship with an author ‘Whom I know only by the garlands / laid daily on this tomb,’ as he writes of Horace, ‘and whose tomb / I know only by the books I read, hoping / To hear in them, in their different accounts of the work done, / The equitable voice of the poet, wine cup in hand…’ But to acknowledge this gap in time is not to collapse time – quite the opposite. Shane Butler offers a useful approach to thinking about this difference in his recent work to direct classical reception theory away from thinking of reception only in terms of the immediate present – so that every translation, every reading of a text, is regarded as an entirely new reading best understood in the context of current and local concerns – to thinking, instead, in terms of a ‘deep classics’ that positions our engagement with the classics as an ongoing process taking place across (if not beyond) time, that recognises that our engagement with the classics is, in part, an engagement with the very passage of time that comes between the reader and the text (or, to put it more intimately, between the reader and the poet).17′

 

 

Poetry Shelf The Summer Season: Poets pick poems – David Eggleton picks Ian Wedde

 

Mahmoud Darwish

from ‘The Andalusian Epilogue’

 

Because it’s our last evening on this earth we extract our days

From their leafy camouflage and count the coasts we’ll encounter

And those we’ll leave. There. On this our last evening

There’s nothing left to farewell and no time for fanfares.

This is how everything’s governed. How our dreams are renewed,

Our visitors. Suddenly irony’s beyond us

Because the place is set up to accommodate nothing.

Here, on the last evening

We moisten our eyes with mountains encircled by clouds.

Conquest and reconquest

And an earlier time that relinquishes our door-keys to the present.

Come into our houses, conquerors, and drink our wine

To the music of our mouwachah. Because we are the night’s midnight.

And no courier-dawn gallops to us from the last call to prayer.

Our green tea is hot, drink it, our pistachios are fresh, eat them,

The beds are of green cedar wood, yield to sleep

After this long siege, sleep on the duvet of our dreams.

The sheets are spread, perfumes placed at the doors

And by the many mirrors.

Go in there so we can leave, finally. Soon enough we’ll seek out

The ways our history wraps around yours in distant regions.

And at the end we’ll ask: Was Andalusia there

Or over there? On the earth . . . or in the poem?

 

(after the French translation by Elias Sanbar of Darwish’s poem in Arabic)

 

©Ian Wedde The Lifeguard: Poems 2008 – 2013 Auckland University Press, 2013.

 

 

The poem I have chosen, ‘Mahmoud Darwish’, is taken from Ian Wedde’s collection The Lifeguard: Poems 2008 – 2013 (Auckland University Press, 2013). This is a book mostly made up of sequences of interlocking poems. One of the sequences is called ‘Three Elegies’, and consists of three poems, titled, respectively: ‘Harry Martens’, ‘Mahmoud Darwish’ and ‘Oum Kalsoum’. These are connected through the life and work of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish (1941 – 2008). The elegy for Harry Martens remembers an exuberant traveller, linguist and poet, one Harry Martens, who translated Darwish, while the elegy for Oum Kalsoum celebrates a famous Egyptian singer and media star — acclaimed generally as the single most prominent Arab woman in twentieth-century history — who died in 1975. In this latter elegy, Wedde recalls hearing her in the early 1970s ‘singing Darwish in Cairo, /reprise after reprise’, a performance he watched at the time on a TV set in Amman, Jordan.

Of the central poem ‘Mahmoud Darwish’, it could be said rarely has a poem seemed more pertinent than this one right now, when, preening himself like an orange budgerigar, President Trump is obsessively chirping anti-Muslim, anti-Arab tweets on Twitter, intent on scapegoating and marginalising Arab citizens as the dangerous Other. Mahmoud Darwish (1941- 2008) was one of the most accomplished modern poets, not just of the Arab world, but internationally. Furthermore, he is one of the emblematic poets of loss of homeland and exile, of ‘destroyed identity’ — and the central literary figure in Palestinian culture.

The Israelis razed Darwish’s home village to the ground in 1948, when he was seven. He grew up in occupied Palestine. Emerging as a significant young writer in the 1960s, he was imprisoned for reciting his poems, harassed, banned, and eventually sent into exile by the Israeli authorities: a permanent refugee.

Ian Wedde, working with the Arabic scholar Fawwaz Tuqan, translated a number of Darwish’s poems into English in the early 1970s, and Carcanet Press in the UK published these as a Selected Poems in 1973. A copy of this slim volume in its now-faded yellow dust-jacket resides on my bookshelves.

‘Mahmoud Darwish’, however, is not a poem directly about the poet; instead it is a translation from an original poem by Darwish, filtered through a translation into French by Darwish’s friend and fellow Palestinian writer Elias Sanbar. One affinity between Darwish and Wedde is that they are both philosophical poets, ontological poets, concerned with exploring being-in-the-world through language. Another affinity is that they are both cosmopolitan poets, restlessly alert to contexts and cultural allusions. Many of the poems in The Lifeguard emphasise a kind of stream-of-consciousness effect, or are, in their reverie, even occasionally teasing reminiscent of Walter Benjamin on hashish.

‘Mahmoud Darwish’ picks up on the same phenomenological pressure, but then artfully opens out into a sort of liminal dream space. Its verbal music, at first acquaintance, seems to have an air of yearning, as it evokes what might be a mirage, an oasis, a sequestered courtyard. But gradually, reread, the poem becomes increasingly haunting, subtly plaintive, and the tone you might at first take for lassitude, world-weariness, melancholy, begins to resonate in a more complex way. Beneath the incantatory language and luscious imagery, the air of fatalistic resignation, is a smouldering anger and underlying bitterness.

Wedde has actually only selected the first of eleven poems in Darwish’s original ode sequence, titled by one translator ‘Eleven Stars Over Andalusia’, or as Wedde calls it ‘The Andalusian Epilogue’. All the poems in the original sequence are variants of classic Arabic verse forms, pushing and pulling and prescribed rhyme schemes and standard imagery.

Andalusia in southern Spain is a mythical homeland for the dispossessed Palestinians. It’s a region of medieval artistic accomplishments, where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together in harmony for centuries until Muslim Spain — al-Andalus — was conquered by Christians from northern Spain in 1492. Darwish wrote this poem on the anniversary of the Fall in 1992, in part in response to Yassir Arafat’s peace negotiations with Israel at that time, which Darwish regarded — rightly, as it turned out — pessimistically. ‘Mahmoud Darwish’, then, is a poem about harsh realpolitik, only cast in sensual cadences; it’s a poem of disillusionment, affirming a lost cause. The tribal bard calls on his people’s collective memory to mark the ongoing occupation of the homeland and the intransigence of the conqueror — that conqueror’s policies of eradication, subjugation, apartheid  — in language reminiscent of the Song of Solomon.

 David Eggleton

 

 

David Eggleton lives in Dunedin, where he is a poet, writer, reviewer and editor. His first collection of poems was co-winner of the PEN New Zealand Best First Book of Poems Award in 1987. He was the Burns Fellow at Otago University in 1990. His most recent collection of poems, The Conch Trumpet, won the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry. He is the current Editor of Landfall, published by Otago University Press.