Tag Archives: Jeffrey Paparoa Holman

Poetry Shelf Spring Season: Emma Espiner picks poems

Photo credit: Jenna Todd Photography

I had two introductions to poetry. The first was through my husband who insisted that my apathy towards the form was because I was going about it all wrong. Poetry had to be read aloud to be understood, he told me. He read Cassandra’s Daughter and As big as a father in the living room of our home on a hill on the south coast of Wellington and I conceded, he was right. 


The second introduction was through the arrival of Tayi Tibble. Tayi is a gateway drug, and once I’d read In the 1960s An Influx of Māori Women I read everything else she had written and, still hungry, found Hera Lindsay Bird and Nicole Titihuia Hawkins. Type Cast and Monica sit together, a matched set of sitcoms from the 90s, deconstructed and devastated, repurposed. 


These young women brought me home to J.C. Sturm, a writer whose collection of short stories I stole from my university’s library as a graduation gift to myself last year. Her poem Coming Home reaches across the years since her death into the heart of our collective ache for identity and belonging. Sturm writes with clarity and prescience and her work sits comfortably alongside the best of Aotearoa’s contemporary poets.

Emma Espiner

The poems

In the 1960s an Influx of Māori Women

Move to Tinakori Road in their printed mini dresses
Grow flowers on white stone rooftops to put in their honeycomb vases.
Dust the pussy-shaped ashtray their husbands bought on vacation in Sydney.
Walk to Kirkcaldie and Stains while their husbands are at work.
Spend their monthly allowance on a mint-green margarita mixer.
Buy makeup at Elizabeth Arden in the shade too-pale-pink.
Buy vodka and dirty magazines on the way home from the chemist.
Hide the vodka and dirty magazines in the spare refrigerator in the basement.
Telephone their favourite sister in Gisborne.
Go out to dinner with their husbands and dance with his friends.
Smile at the wives who refuse to kiss their ghost-pink cheeks.
Order dessert like pecan pie but never eat it.
Eat two pieces of white bread in the kitchen with the light off.
Slip into the apricot nylon nightgown freshly ordered off the catalogue.
Keep quiet with their husbands’ blue-veined arms corseting their waists.
Remember the appointment they made to get their hair fixed on Lambton Quay.
Think about drowning themselves in the bathtub instead.
Resurface with clean skin, then rinse and repeat.

Tayi Tibble

from Poūkahangatus, Victoria University Press, 2018

As big as a father      

I lost him the first time
before I could grasp
who he was, what he did, where
he fitted with her

and it’s always seemed so dumb:
how to lose something
as big as a father.

I lost him the next time
to the rum-running Navy
who took him and took him
and kept right on taking

and it wasn’t my mistake
losing a vessel
as big as a father.

I lost him a third time
to a ship in a bottle
that rocked him and rocked him
and shook out his pockets

and no kind of magic
could slip me inside
with my father.

I lost him at home
when floorboards subsided
as he said and she said
went this way and that way

and dead in the water
I couldn’t hang on
to my father.

The last time I lost him
I lost him for good:
the night and the day
the breath he was breathing

 and death’s head torpedoes
blew out of the water
the skiff of my father.

  Jeffrey Paparoa Holman

    from As big as a father, Steele Roberts, 2002

Cassandra’s Daughter

Cassy for short.
We’re discussing the colour green
and why.  And how last night
in her dreamtime a wooden-horse
appeared.  And look–how the wind
puts shivers in the water, shaking
the keys in their locks.
Only five years old, she is
already in love with how
one word wants another
with astonishing ease.
Inside the alphabet now,
inside the lining of a word
she asks me as we sit
on the garden wall under
plum-coloured sun: why
were you born at seven o’clock
that night?  I was a morning baby
my mum says, the best kind.
I was born with my eyes open,
you see?  Would you like to
hear me sing?  I can almost dance,
too.  Would you?  I can hear
that she knows, Priam’s daughter,
all her years to heaven–
that every word was once
a poem, isn’t it?

Michael Harlow

from Cassandra’s Daughter, Auckland University Press, 2005

                


Typecast 

I want Shortland Street
to cast us a fat brown woman
with a pretty face, wild hair
& an ass that could
clap back against the haters
when she plays T.K, Vinnie & Maxwell
sleeping with them all at the same time. 

I want Shortland Street
to cast us a girl gang of Māori women
who eat the weight 
of their feelings in cheese 
at wainanga & help each other
craft responses to
cultural appropriation, Govt. Depts & fuckbois.

I want Shortland Street
to cast us an exhausted junior Dr.
tall & thin, newly-vegan 
who still eats hāngī on the marae
Waka Blonde Ngāti Kahu Khaleesi 
fangirling over Lance O’Sullivan
addicted to kawakawa ointment.

I want Shortland Street
to cast us a fair-skinned Kāi Tahu Boss Lady
an expert in her field
who gets nominated for awards 
invited home to speak on panels
who snapchats her friends from the wharepaku 
saying she feels like a fraud on her own whenua. 

I want Shortland Street
to cast us an overworked
social science teacher
wearing Hine & Whitewood to work
teaching Harry, Ula & Jasmine
Whare Tapa Whā & The Native Schools Act
her passionate tangents hashtagged #WhaeasRants.

I want Shortland Street
to cast us a solo Mum in her 40’s
whose babies are to different men
rose quartz, ratchet 90’s home done
tā moko on her big boobs
spilling from a pilling lace bra from Kmart
as she rushes late from school gate to mahi.

I want Shortland Street
to cast us a long-grey-haired Kui
with a moko kauae 
who talks to our tīpuna 
in her dreams, by night
kaumātua kapa haka, 
rewana bug feeding, by day. 

I want Shortland Street
to cast us a Ngāti Porou Aunty
who sets Marge, Kirsty & Leanne straight 
when they mispronounce her reo 
takes her own time to teach them
then vents to Vasa at Box Fit
that they complained to the boss she was telling them off.

I want Shortland Street
to cast us a co-sleeping
breast-feeding Māmā
who laughs at the Plunket nurse
when she tells her to leave her 
baby to cry in a cot
calling it sleep training.

I want Shortland Street
to cast us a young emerging talent
raising eyebrows even higher than her skirt hems
rubbing shoulders with the 
top surgeon’s fathers
Chris Warner wrapped around
her dusky middle finger.

Nicole Titihuia Hawkins

from Sport 47, 2019



Monica

Monica
Monica
Monica

Monica Geller off popular sitcom F.R.I.E.N.D.S
Is one of the worst characters in the history of television
She makes me want to wash my hands with hand sanitizer
She makes me want to stand in an abandoned Ukrainian parking lot
And scream her name at a bunch of dead crows
Nobody liked her, except for Chandler
He married her, and that brings me to my second point
What kind of a name for a show was F.R.I.E.N.D.S
When two of them were related
And the rest of them just fucked for ten seasons?
Maybe their fucking was secondary to their friendship
Or they all had enough emotional equilibrium
To be able to maintain a constant state of mutual-respect
Despite the fucking
Or conspicuous nonfucking
That was occurring in their lives
But I have to say
It just doesn’t seem emotionally realistic
Especially considering that
They were not the most self-aware of people
And to be able to maintain a friendship
Through the various complications of heterosexual monogamy
Is enormously difficult
Especially when you take into consideration
What cunts they all were

I fell in love with a friend once
And we liked to congratulate each other what good friends we were
And how it was great that we could be such good friends, and still fuck
Until we stopped fucking
And then we weren’t such good friends anymore

I had a dream the other night
About this friend, and how we were walking
Through sunlight, many years ago
Dragged up from the vaults, like
Old military propaganda
You know the kind; young women leaving a factory
Arm in arm, while their fiancées
Are being handsomely shot to death in Prague
And even though this friend doesn’t love me anymore
And I don’t love them
At least, not in a romantic sense
The memory of what it had been like not to want
To strap concrete blocks to my head
And drown myself in a public fountain rather than spend another day
With them not talking to me
Came back, and I remembered the world
For a moment, as it had been
When we had just met, and love seemed possible
And neither of us resented the other one
And it made me sad
Not just because things ended badly
But more broadly
Because my sadness had less to do with the emotional specifics of that situation
And more to do with the transitory nature of romantic love
Which is becoming relevant to me once again
Because I just met someone new
And this dream reminded me
That, although I believe that there are ways that love can endure
It’s just that statistically, or
Based on personal experience
It’s unlikely that things are going to go well for long
There is such a narrow window
For happiness in this life
And if the past is anything to go by
Everything is about to go slowly but inevitably wrong
In a non-confrontational, but ultimately disappointing way

Monica
Monica
Monica
Monica Geller from popular sitcom F.R.I.E.N.D.S
Was the favourite character of the Uber driver
Who drove me home the other day
And is the main reason for this poem
Because I remember thinking Monica???
Maybe he doesn’t remember who she is
Because when I asked him specifically
Which character he liked best off F.R.I.E.N.D.S
He said ‘the woman’
And when I listed their names for him
Phoebe, Rachel and Monica
He said Monica
But he said it with a kind of question mark at the end
Like……. Monica?
Which led me to believe
Either, he was ashamed of liking her
Or he didn’t know who he was talking about
And had got her confused with one of the other
Less objectively terrible characters.
I think the driver meant to say Phoebe
Because Phoebe is everyone’s favourite
She once stabbed a police officer
She once gave birth to her brother’s triplets
She doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks about her
Monica gives a shit what everyone thinks about her
Monica’s parents didn’t treat her very well
And that’s probably where a lot of her underlying insecurities come from
That have since manifested themselves in controlling
And manipulative behaviour
It’s not that I think Monica is unredeemable
I can recognize that her personality has been shaped
By a desire to succeed
And that even when she did succeed, it was never enough
Particularly for her mother, who made her feel like her dreams were stupid
And a waste of time
And that kind of constant belittlement can do fucked up things to a person
So maybe, getting really upset when people don’t use coasters
Is an understandable, or at least comparatively sane response
To the psychic baggage
Of your parents never having believed in you
Often I look at the world
And I am dumbfounded that anyone can function at all
Given the kind of violence that
So many people have inherited from the past
But that’s still no excuse to throw
A dinner plate at your friends, during a quiet game of Pictionary
And even if that was an isolated incident
And she was able to move on from it
It still doesn’t make me want to watch her on TV
I am falling in love and I don’t know what to do about it
Throw me in a haunted wheelbarrow and set me on fire
And don’t even get me started on Ross

Hera Lindsay Bird

from Hera Lindsay Bird, Victoria University Press, 2016

Coming home

for Peter

The bones of my tupuna
Safe in secret places up north
Must wait a little longer
Before they claim me for good
             The love of my second parents
             Unconditional from the beginning
              Unrelenting to the end
              Never quite made me theirs
That tormented paradoxical man
Father of my children
Convinced me we belonged together
But then moved on.
               The young ones (our young) he left behind
                Claimed my castle as their own
                Being themselves a part of me
                Always, bone of my bone
Years earlier, a much younger self
Lay face down in the hot dry sand –
                 Salt on her skin, the smell
                 Of green flax pungent in the heat,
                 Summer a korowai
                 Around bare shoulders –
And felt in her bones
Without knowing why
She belonged to that place.
Nearly a life-time later
On another beach –
                                             the sea
           A blinding shield at our feet,
           Behind us a dark hill fortress
           With sentinel sea birds
           Circling and calling –
I lay down beside you in tussock
And felt without warning
I had come home.                  

J. C. Sturm

from Dedications, Steele Roberts, 1996, published courtesy of J. C. Sturm estate

Emma Espiner (Ngāti Tukorehe, Ngāti Porou) is a doctor at Middlemore Hospital. Emma hosts the RNZ podcast on Māori health equity, Getting Better which won best podcast at the Voyager media awards in 2021. She won Voyager Opinion Writer of the Year in 2020. Emma’s writing has been published at The Spinoff, Newsroom.co.nz, Stuff.co.nz, The Guardian, and in academic and literary journals.

Hera Lindsay Bird was a poet from Wellington. She hasn’t written a poem in a long time, and no longer lives in Wellington. 

Michael Harlow has written 13 books of poetry, and was awarded the prestigous Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement for Poetry in 2018.  A collection of his poems, Nothing For It But To Sing was the Kathleen GrattanAaward forPoetry, and in 2014 he was awarded the Lauris Edmond Memorial prize for Distinguished Contribution to New Zealand poetry.  He has been awarded a number of Writers’ Residences including the Robert Burns Fellowship, the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship to France.  This past year The Moon in a Bowl of Water was published by Otago University Press.He lives and works in Central Otago as a writer, editor, essayist and Jungian Psychotherapist.

Nicole Titihuia Hawkins (Ngāti Kahungunu ki Te Wairoa, Ngāti Pāhauwera) is an emerging writer, avid home-baker and pro-level aunt. She lives in Te Awakairangi, hosts Poetry with Brownies and runs side hustles with her besties. She is most commonly found teaching English, Social Studies & Māori Activism at a local High School. Her debut poetry collection will be published by We Are Babies Press in 2021.

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman is a poet and non-fiction writer, most recently, Blood Ties: selected poems, 1963-2016, Canterbury University Press (2017); a memoir, Now When It Rains, Steele Roberts (2018); Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2021, an essay on prison reform; poetry in More Favourable Waters – Aotearoa Poets respond to Dante’s Purgatory, (The Cuba Press, 2021).

J. C. Sturm (1927 -2009), of Taranaki iwi, Parihaka and Whakātoa descent, is thought to be the first Māori woman to graduate from a New Zealand university (First Class Hons, Philosophy, Victoria University of Wellington Te Herenga Waka). She initially wrote short fiction, and her work was the first to appear by a Māori in an anthology. Her debut collection, Dedications (Steele Roberts, 1997), received an Honour Award at the 1997 Montana NZ Book Awards. She published further collections of poetry, and received an honorary doctorate from Victoria University of Wellington Te Herenga Waka.

Tayi Tibble (Te Whānau ā Apanui/Ngāti Porou) was born in 1995 and lives in Wellington. In 2017 she completed a Masters in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University of Wellington, where she was the recipient of the Adam Foundation Prize. Her first book, Poūkahangatus (VUP, 2018), won the Jessie Mackay Best First Book of Poetry Award. Her second collection, Rangikura, was published in 2021 (VUP).

Spring Season

Tara Black picks poems
Victor Rodger picks poems
Peter Ireland picks poems

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Twelve poems about faraway

Slea Head: Dingle Peninsula Michael Hight, 2020

Poetry is a way of bridging the faraway and the close at hand. A poem can make the achingly distant comfortingly close. Poetry can be a satisfying form of travel, whether to the other side of the world, to the past or to imagined realms. Reading poems that offer the faraway as some kind of presence, I feel such a range of emotions. Moved, yes. Goose bumps on the skin, yes. Boosted, yes. This is such a fertile theme, I keep picturing a whole book moving in marvellous directions.

I am grateful to all the poets and publishers who continue to support my season of themes.

The Poems

Remembering

if you can you can try to recall

the sun across the roof and you

knee-deep in childhood playing

near the fence with the storm

of daisies still impressionable

in the way of dreams still

believing leaves had voices

and you might then remember

curtains drowned in burnished light

how at night the sky emptied

into a field of stars leaching out

the guilt you’d soon forget unlike

the woman you called Nana who kept

knitting you hats while you kept not

writing back and maybe then you’d know

the injustices you had no part in

the lady who bought your house how

she ravaged your kingdom while

you were away oh these memories

spiralling into memories into

nothing this helter skelter art of

remembering this bending

over backwards running out of light

Anuja Mitra

from Mayhem Literary Journal, Issue 6 (2018)

Drifting North

Acknowledgement to David Eggleton

She said we discussed post

structuralism in a post modern

context. She said in order

to remember such crucial

poetic phrases she had bought

a small exercise book in which

to record them.

It was, she said, a book

of semantic importance.

She said we considered

the deception of disjointed

parody and the fragmentation

of shallow consumer culture.

I can only remember

a girl

in her pale blue cardigan

drifting north

in a zither of light.

Jenny Powell

from Four French Horns, HeadworX, 2004

apricot nails

I want to paint my nails apricot
as an homage to call me by your name
and the fake italian summer I had last year — 

fake because
I didn’t cycle beside slow streams or
in slow towns

Instead I lay on a 70 euro pinstripe lounger
and couldn’t see the water
only other tourists

And the apricots I ate
came from peach spritzes at sea salt restaurants
and clouded supermarket jars

But all the shops are shut
and the closest nail colour I have
is dark red 

I want to be somewhere in northern italy
with light green water and
deep green conversations

I want to pick fresh apricots from drooping branches
and kiss a boy I shouldn’t
on cobblestone paths against cobblestone walls

I want to lick a love heart on to his shoulder
so that when he gets on a train
my hands shake like a thunderstorm

and I can’t cycle home past
the fields we held each other in
and mum has to pick me up from the station

I want to walk down a staircase
with winter at the bottom
waiting to sweep me into snow

I want the phone to ring when the sky is white
and hear an apricot voice 
ripe and ready to be plucked from the tree

he’ll say how are you
and I’ll slowly leak

Rhegan Tu’akoi

from Stasis 5 May 2020, picked by Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor

Wearing Katherine Mansfield’s Shawl

Seventy years on, shut

in a cardboard box in the basement

of City Hall, you might think

the shawl would have lost

its force to charm, the airy fragrance

of its wearer departed, threads

stripped bare as bones,

yet here it is, another short story:

it felt like love at the Hôtel

d’Adhémar the moment you placed

the silk skein around my shoulders,

the dim red and rusty green fabric

and a fringe gliding like fingertips

over my arm, a draught of bitter

scent – Katherine’s illness,

Virginia’s sarcasm – and

yes, a trace of wild gorse

flowers and New Zealand, not

to mention the drift of her skin

and yours during the photograph,

the stately walk through the town.

Fiona Kidman

from Where Your Left Hand Rests, Godwit, Random House, 2010

Sparks

On the occasion of the Sew Hoy 150th Year Family Reunion, September 2019

Here in this earth you once made a start

home treasure watered with sweat, new seeds

a fire you can light and which gives off sparks

the gleam of gold glowing in darkness

an open door, warm tea, friendships in need

here on this earth you once made a start

sometimes you imagined you left your heart

elsewhere, a woman’s voice and paddies of green

a fire which was lit, remembering its sparks

but even halfway round the world, shoots start

old songs grow distant, sink into bones unseen

here in this earth you can make a new start

with stone and wood you made your mark

built houses of diplomacy and meaning

a new fire was lit, with many sparks

flame to flame, hand to hand, heart to heart

150 years, sixteen harvests of seed

here, in this earth, you once made a start

A fire was once lit. We all are its sparks.

Renee Liang

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 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

My city

drawing blank amber cartridges in windows

from which we see children hanging, high fires

of warehouse colours, a reimagining, my city fluttering

far and further away with flags netted

and ziplining west to east, knotted

and raining sunshine,

paving cinder-block-lit-tinder music in alleys

where we visit for the first time, signal murals

to leapfrog smoke, a wandering, my city gathering

close and closer together a wilderness

of voices shifting over each other

and the orchestra,

constructing silver half-heresies in storefronts

to catch seconds of ourselves, herald nighttimes

from singing corners, a remembering, my city resounding

in and out the shout of light on water

and people on water, the work of day

and each other,

my city in the near distance fooling me

into letting my words down, my city visible

a hundred years from tomorrow,

coming out of my ears and

forgiving me,

until i am disappeared someways and no longer

finding me to you

Pippi Jean

Looming

I call it my looming

dread, like the mornings I wake

crying quietly at the grey

in my room, like whispering to my sleeping

mother – do I have to

like the short cuts I can’t take

like the standing outside not breathing

like my hand on the doorknob

counting to twenty and twenty

and twenty.

Tusiata Avia

from Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, Victoria University Press, 2004

mothering daughter

I am coming home to myself

while watching

my mother going away from herself.

Every move you make

an effort

so much slower now, mother

like your body is trying to keep pace

with your mind

everything about you reads as

tired

but sometimes I read as

giving up

FUCK THIS! silently salts my tongue

a tight fist slamming the steering wheel

gas under my foot

tears choking my ears

smoke swallowing my chest.

I am a mother:

Mothering her son,

a motherless daughter mothering her mother.

It’s hard somedays not to be swallowed.

Grace Iwshita-Taylor

from full broken bloom, ala press, 2017

Memoir II

Preparing for death is a wicker basket.

Elderly women know the road.

One grandmother worked in munitions, brown

bonnet, red stripe rampant. the other, a washerwoman:

letters from the Front would surface, tattered.

You must take the journey, ready or not.

The old, old stream of refugees: prams

of books and carts with parrots.

Meanwhile the speeches, speeches: interminable.

When the blood in your ears has time to dry: silence.

The angel will tie a golden ribbon to the basket’s rim.

You will disappear, then reappear, quite weightless.

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman

from Blood Ties: New and Selected Poems 1963- 2016, Canterbury University Press, 2017

fever

moving away from the orchard plots,

laundry lines that sag under the macrocarpa.

moving away from the crystalline skies,

the salt-struck grasses, the train carts

and the underpasses. i astral travel

with a flannel on my head, drink litres

of holy water, chicken broth. i vomit

words into the plastic bucket, brush

the acid from my teeth. i move away,

over tussock country, along the desert

road. i chew the pillowcase. i cling

my body to the bunk. the streets

unfurl. slick with gum and cigarettes.

somebody is yelling my name. i quiver

like a sparrow. hello hello, says the

paramedic. but i am moving away from

the city lights, the steel towers.

and i shed my skin on a motorway

and i float up into the sky.

Elizabeth Morton

from This Is Your Real Name, Otago University Press, 2019

Black Stump Story

After a number of numberless days

we took the wrong turning

and so began a slow descent

past churches and farmhouses

past mortgages and maraes

only our dust followed us

the thin cabbage trees were standing

in the swamp like illustrations

brown cows and black and white and red

the concrete pub the carved virgin

road like a beach and beach like a road

two toothless tokers in a windowless Toyota

nice of you to come no one comes

down here bro – so near and

yet so far – it takes hours

not worth your while –

turned the car and headed back

shaggy dogs with shaggy tales

Murray Edmond

from Fool Moon, Auckland University Press, 2004

The Poets

Tusiata Avia is an internationally acclaimed poet, performer and children’s author. She has published 4 collections of poetry, 3 children’s books and her play ‘Wild Dogs Under My Skirt’ had its off-Broadway debut in NYC, where it took out The Fringe Encore Series 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year. Most recently Tusiata was awarded a 2020 Arts Foundation Laureate and a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts. Tusiata’s most recent collection The Savage Coloniser Book won The Ockham NZ Book Award for Best Poetry Book 2021.

Murray Edmond, b. Kirikiriroa 1949, lives in Glen Eden. 14 books of poetry (Shaggy Magpie Songs, 2015, and Back Before You Know, 2019 most recent); book of novellas (Strait Men and Other Tales, 2015); Then It Was Now Again: Selected Critical Writing (2014); editor, Ka Mate Ka Ora; dramaturge for Indian Ink Theatre. Forthcoming: Time to Make a Song and Dance: Cultural Revolt in Auckland in the 1960s, from Atuanui Press in May, 2021.

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman is a Christchurch poet and non-fiction writer. A poetry collection, Blood Ties: selected poems, 1963-2016 was published by Canterbury University Press in 2017. A memoir, Now When It Rains came out from Steele Roberts in 2018. He makes his living as a stay-at-home puppy wrangler for Hari, a Jack Russell-Fox Terrier cross. Hari ensures that little writing takes place, while psychogeography and excavating parks happen daily. Recent work has appeared in Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2021, an essay on prison reform, and poetry; also, an inclusion in The Cuba Press anthology, More Favourable Waters – Aotearoa Poets respond to Dante’s Purgatory.

Grace Iwashita-Taylor, breathing bloodlines of Samoa, England and Japan. An artist of upu/words led her to the world of performing arts. Dedicated to carving, elevating and holding spaces for storytellers of Te Moana nui a Kiwa. Recipient of the CNZ Emerging Pacific Artist 2014 and the Auckland Mayoral Writers Grant 2016. Highlights include holding the visiting international writer in residence at the University of Hawaii 2018, Co-Founder of the first youth poetry slam in Aoteroa, Rising Voices (2011 – 2016) and the South Auckland Poets Collective and published collections Afakasi Speaks (2013) & Full Broken Bloom (2017) with ala press. Writer of MY OWN DARLING commissioned by Auckland Theatre Company (2015, 2017, 2019) and Curator of UPU (Auckland Arts Festival 2020).

Pippi Jean is eighteen and just moved to Wellington for her first year at Victoria University. Her most recent works can be found in Landfall, Starling, Takahe, Mayhem, and Poetry New Zealand Yearbook among others.

Fiona Kidman has written more than 30 books and won a number of prizes, including the Jann Medlicott Acorn Fiction Prize for This Mortal Boy. Her most recent book is All the way to summer:stories of love and longing.  She has published six books of poems.In 2006, she was the Katherine Mansfield Fellow in Menton.  The poem ‘Wearing Katherine Mansfield’s shawl ‘is based on an event during that time. Her home is in Wellington, overlooking Cook Strait.

Renee Liang is a second-generation Chinese New Zealander whose parents immigrated in the 1970s from Hong Kong. Renee explores the migrant experience; she wrote, produced and nationally toured eight plays; made operas, musicals and community arts programmes; her poems, essays and short stories are studied from primary to tertiary level.  In recent years she has been reclaiming her proud Cantonese heritage in her work. Renee was made MNZM in 2018 for Services to the Arts.

Anuja Mitra lives in Auckland. Her writing has appeared in TakaheMayhemCordite Poetry ReviewStarlingSweet MammalianPoetry Shelf and The Three Lamps, and will appear in the AUP anthology A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand. She  has also written theatre and poetry reviews for TearawayTheatre ScenesMinarets and the New Zealand Poetry Society. She is co-founder of the online arts magazine Oscen.

Elizabeth Morton is a teller of poems and tall tales. She has two collections of poetry – Wolf (Mākaro Press, 2017) and This is your real name (Otago University Press, 2020). She has an MLitt in creative writing from the University of Glasgow, and is completing an MSc in applied neuroscience at King’s College London. She likes to write about broken things, and things with teeth. 

Jenny Powell is a Dunedin poet and performer. Her work has been part of various journals and collaborations. She has a deep interest in music and used to be a french horn player.

Chris Tse is the author of two poetry collections published by Auckland University Press – How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes (winner of Best First Book of Poetry at the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards) and HE’S SO MASC – and is co-editor of the forthcoming Out Here: An Anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ Writers From Aotearoa.

Rhegan Tu‘akoi is a Tongan/Pākehā living in Pōneke. She is a Master’s student at Victoria and her words have appeared in Turbine | Kapohau, Mayhem and Sweet Mammalian. She has also been published in the first issue of Tupuranga Journal

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

Poetry Shelf new books: Jeffrey Paparoa Holman celebrates Michael Steven’s The Lifers

Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 7.40.14 AM.png

 

 

 

7
Halide compounds hum inside the floodlights

pouring down lumens on the prison yard

across the service lane. Sleep is futile.

Antarctic breezes rattle loops of barbed wire.

Pairs of men in dark coats milled from rough wool

make laps of the yard’s fenced interior.

I lean out the window, into the brumal air

of tonight’s vision. The lifers carry on.

They walk their fates in thick woollen coats,

addressing each other inaudibly—

confessing and sanctifying their stories

with hand gestures, glowing tips of cigarettes.

You sleep. It is too late to show you them.

Their cold cells are a museum, open at 9 a.m.

 

Michael Steven

This is poem 7 from a sequence called ‘Leviathan’ in The Lifers (Otago University press, 2020).

 

 

 

 

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman:

There is a whakapapa of prison poetry that links Michael Steven’s poem on men behind bars in The Lifers, his recent second volume from Otago University Press. The poems in this book have gritty echoes that François Villon would hear and feel; a deep well of humanity also that Oscar Wilde would appreciate, from his cell in Reading Gaol. Whether we are watching users scoring, thieves preparing a raid, a friend mourning the suicide of a kindred lost soul, there opens up before us a vision of brokenness elegised with compassion through an unsparing binocular lens. The poem considered here – Sonnet 7 from a series, Leviathan – captures precisely the cold realities of those sentenced to life for the most serious of crimes. The effect is so visual, it returned to me a memory of Van Gogh’s ‘Prisoners Exercising’, painted in 1890 while he was in the asylum at Saint-Rémy, suffering deep depression. Most Fridays, with two other poets, Bernadette Hall and Jeni Curtis, we take part in a reading group at Christchurch Mens Prison; I recently took copies of this poem and shared it. The silence that greeted its reading attested the truth Michael Steven has captured, from the inside. This poem – and the rest of his fine and developing oeuvre –  invite your close attention.

 

 

 

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman is a Christchurch poet and non-fiction writer. His most recent poetry collection, Blood Ties: selected poems, 1963-2016 was published by Canterbury University Press in 2017. A memoir, Now When It Rains came out from Steele Roberts in 2018. He is currently working on a book chapter for a collection of studies on early 20th century ethnographers. He makes his living as a stay-at-home puppy wrangler for Hari, an eight-month old Jack Russell-Fox Terrier cross. Hari ensures that very little writing happens, but Victoria Park is explored and mapped daily.

 

Michael Steven is the author of the acclaimed Walking to Jutland Street (Otago University Press, 2018). He was recipient of the 2018 Todd New Writer’s Bursary, and his poems were shortlisted for the 2019 Sarah Broom Poetry Prize. He lives and writes in West Auckland. The Lifers (Otago University Press) was recently launched at Timeout Bookshop.

Otago University Press author page

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Jeffrey Paparoa Holman’s ‘entrar en el silencio’ (in Spanish/English/German)

 

entrar en el silencio

 

entrar en el silencio que no es un silencio

restos de un zapato por boca de un eje

oxidado caldera a un tenedor en el arroyo

estanque de anguilas, donde desmanteló la draga

terminó su canción en un valle de escombreras

entrar en el silencio que no es un silencio

 

entrar en un silencio que nunca fue

las ruedas de un helecho de germinación lokie

una señal de tren vestido de líquenes

el signo de una mina donde los muertos

todavía persisten perdido a los amantes queridas madres

entrar en un silencio que nunca fue

 

introducir entonces el mundo sin llamar

la excavación de perforación sluicing tala

agricultura pesca arando un sueño

acarreando una isla de las constelaciones

en el resplandor de un reinado extranjero

introducir entonces el mundo sin llamar

 

entrar en el silencio entrar entrar la oscuridad

la colmena de la invitación entrar

la majestad Introduce el vino entrar

el desierto mientras que usted puede entrar en

con banderas y entrar con instrumentos

entrar en el silencio  entrar  entrar

 

 

enter the silence

 

entering the silence that is not a silence

remains of a shoe by the mouth of a shaft

rusted boiler at a fork in the creek

pond of eels where the dredge dismantled

ended its song in a valley of tailings

entering the silence that is not a silence

 

enter a silence that never was

the wheels of a lokie sprouting fern

a railway signpost clothed in lichen

the sign to a mine where the dead

still linger lost to lovers dear to mothers

enter a silence that never was

 

enter then the world without knocking

digging drilling sluicing felling

fishing farming ploughing a dream

hauling an island from the constellations

into the glare of an alien reign

enter then the world without knocking

 

enter the silence enter the dark enter

the hive of the invitation  enter

the majesty enter the wine  enter

the wilderness while you may  enter

with flags and enter with instruments

enter the silence  enter  enter

 

 

geben Sie die Stille

 

Eingabe der Stille, die keine Ruhe

bleibt eines Schuhs durch den Mund einer Welle

verrosteten Kessel mit einer Gabel in den Bach

Teich von Aalen, wo der Bagger abgebaut

beendete seine Songs in einem Tal der Tailings

Eingabe der Stille, die keine Ruhe

 

geben Sie eine Stille, die niemals war

die Räder eines Lokie Sprießen fern

ein Eisenbahn Wegweiser in Flechten bekleideten

das Zeichen, um eine Mine, wo die Toten

noch verweilen, um die Liebhaber lieb Mütter verloren

geben Sie eine Stille, die niemals war

 

Geben Sie dann die Welt, ohne anzuklopfen

Graben Bohrungen Schleuseneinschlag

Fischerei Landwirtschaft Pflügen einen Traum

Schleppen eine Insel von den Sternbildern

in die Blendung einer fremden Herrschaft

Geben Sie dann die Welt, ohne anzuklopfen

 

geben Sie die Stille einzugehen die dunkle eingeben

der Bienenstock der Einladung geben

die Majestät geben Sie den Wein geben

die Wüste, während Sie können eingeben

mit Fahnen und mit Instrumenten geben

geben Sie die Stille geben geben

 

from an unpublished series called ‘Wild Iron’

 

 

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman is a Christchurch poet and a writer of non-fiction, and senior adjunct fellow in the School of Humanities and Creative Arts at the University of Canterbury. Born in London, Jeffrey immigrated to New Zealand in 1950, growing up in the Devonport naval base in Auckland, then the coal mining town of Blackball on the West Coast of the South Island. He has worked as a sheep-shearer, postman, psychiatric social worker and bookseller.

Jeffrey’s poetry collection As Big as a Father was longlisted for the Montana New Zealand Book Awards (2003). In 2007, Jeffrey and Martin Edmond won the Copyright Licensing Limited Award giving them $35,000 each towards a non-fiction project. Best of Both Worlds: The Story of Elsdon Best and Tutakangahau, was published by Penguin in 2010. Jeffrey was the 2011 Waikato University Writer-in-Residence and in the same year shortlisted for the Ernest-Scott History prize, Australia. In 2012, he was awarded the Creative New Zealand University of Iowa Residency. The resulting book, The Lost Pilot: A Memoir was published by Penguin NZ (2013). In 2014, Jeffrey travelled to Berlin on a Goethe-Institute scholarship, pursuing research for his current project, a family history based on links with his German relations.

Jeffrey’s SHAKEN DOWN 6.3: Poems from the Second Christchurch Earthquake was published by Canterbury University Press in 2012. His most recent collection, Blood Ties: New and Selected Poems was published by Canterbury University Press in 2017.

Poetry Shelf Friday talk spot: Jeffrey Paparoa Holman and ‘Normal Service’

 

Normal Service

It feels like months since I’ve come near to anything like writing poetry. Sometimes it just happens like that: there’s a season, not that the well is dry, just that the bucket hasn’t been lowered. The first few months of this year have been taken up with getting myself ready to leave my position at the University of Canterbury, deciding not to re-apply for another three years as an adjunct. Time to go, after nine productive and stable years.

I tell people, “I’m not retiring, just moving offices”, which is true, but it is a major change. Every weekday morning, Jeanette and I have cycled out to the Ilam Campus, stopping off for a coffee most days near Hagley Park. Now, I don’t have to go anywhere, which is different from having nowhere to go, but it will take some getting used to.

What I won’t forget is that in the last two weeks of my tenure, all has been overtaken and devoured by what happened on the afternoon of the fifteenth of March when the whole campus was locked down as a result of what we were first told was, “ a firearms incident at the Al Noor Mosque”. It soon became obvious it was a fatal shooting, there had been many casualties, that some were dead, and as the afternoon wore on, the numbers climbed as the scale of the tragedy was revealed.

So much has happened in this city since that day, on a public stage and in private places, that don’t need any reminders here. The stories, the narratives of grief, shock, anger and even a kind of numbness are all being woven together, in a community that knows disaster, that must now confront terrorism and its aftermath at our very heart – a place of worship.

I had no intention, no inclination, to write anything resembling a poem. It was enough just to try and get my head around what was happening and as well, carry on clearing my desk, saving files, changing email addresses and saying goodbye to good friends on the staff of Canterbury.

Jeanette and I sometimes go for breakfast at Under The Red Verandah, a famous city eatery reborn after the poet and publisher Roger Hickin’s original establishment was wrecked in the earthquakes. While we were there on Thursday morning, my wife asked me if any poetry was there in the wake of what had happened, and I recall saying, no, I couldn’t even contemplate writing a poem.

But as I walked around afterwards, I heard a line, an insistent phrase, quite clearly: “Normal service will not be resumed”. It just sat there. Then another: “There has been a slaying”.  It isn’t often I feel I must obey an instinct as strong as this, but started to write what was really a form of litany, compressing the underlying horror I felt. The poem came in couplets that began with what sounds like a public service announcement, which the next line undermines. At least I hope that is the effect.

I worked on it during the day, and on Friday I took it out to Christchurch Mens’ Prison, Paparua, where every week, three Christchurch poets – Bernadette Hall, Jeni Curtis and I – run a book group in the library overseen by Susan, our wonderful librarian.

There was a security lockdown that day and we had no prisoners turn up. We all sat around and shared our lives, and the poem was read. Susan took a copy for the prison’s monthly library magazine. Whatever it is worth, a silence for me was broken and some of the men in that jail will get to read it, maybe even give a response at a later group.

W. B. Yeats once wrote, “…but all that is personal soon rots; it must be packed in ice or salt”. For Yeats, style, form – made new – was vital in preventing the poet from lapsing into subjective egotism. A disaster like this is not about me, but the victims.

 

Normal service

 

mō ngā mate Mahometa e rima tekau i hinga ki Ōtautahi 15 Māehe 2019

Normal service will not be resumed
There has been a slaying

Normal service is impossible
Children executed

Normal service disconnected
Mothers slaughtered

Normal service is terminated
Elders eliminated

Normal service makes no sense
Terror is walking

Normal service is banned for life
Blood on the welcome

Normal service is now shut down
Thank you for weeping

 

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman
4 April 2019

 

 

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman writes poetry, memoir and history. His most recent work is Now When It Rains: a writer’s memoir, published by Steele Roberts (Aotearoa) in 2018.

 

 

Rob Stowell, the videographer at Canterbury had recorded this reading of the poemW

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio Spot: Jeffrey Paparoa Holman reads ‘Toroa Feeding – Taiaroa Heads’

 

 

 

 

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman reads ‘Toroa Feeding – Taiaroa Heads’, from Fly Boy (Steele Roberts: 2010).

 

Reading to the albatross.jpeg

 

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman is a Christchurch poet and a writer of non-fiction, and senior adjunct fellow in the School of Humanities and Creative Arts at the University of Canterbury. Born in London, Jeffrey immigrated to New Zealand in 1950, growing up in the Devonport naval base in Auckland, then the coal mining town of Blackball on the West Coast of the South Island. He has worked as a sheep-shearer, postman, psychiatric social worker and bookseller.

Jeffrey’s poetry collection As Big as a Father was longlisted for the Montana New Zealand Book Awards (2003). In 2007, Jeffrey and Martin Edmond won the Copyright Licensing Limited Award giving them $35,000 each towards a non-fiction project. Best of Both Worlds: The Story of Elsdon Best and Tutakangahau, was published by Penguin in 2010. Jeffrey was the 2011 Waikato University Writer-in-Residence and in the same year shortlisted for the Ernest-Scott History prize, Australia. In 2012, he was awarded the Creative New Zealand University of Iowa Residency. The resulting book, The Lost Pilot: A Memoir was published by Penguin NZ (2013). In 2014, Jeffrey travelled to Berlin on a Goethe-Institute scholarship, pursuing research for his current project, a family history based on links with his German relations.

Jeffrey’s SHAKEN DOWN 6.3: Poems from the Second Christchurch Earthquake was published by Canterbury University Press in 2012. His most recent collection, Blood Ties: New and Selected Poems was published by Canterbury University Press in 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The inaugural Blackball Readers and Writers Festival

Exciting!  full details here

 

The inaugural Blackball Readers and Writers Festival, to be held at Labour Weekend, will bring established writers to the Coast to read from their work and to have conversations before the audience of Coasters and those from afar. The festival will be modelled on the underground coal mine and will therefore seek work ‘from the underground’ which can be interpreted in many different ways e.g. that which has been forgotten, or that which has become for a time, marginal, or that which has deep roots in the earth or the past.

 

The festival is organised by the Bathhouse Co-operative, a subsidiary of Te Puawai Co-operative Society, a co-op set up to incubate projects on the Coast (http://www.tepuawai.co.nz). The members of the co-op are: Catherine Woollett who runs the Shades of Jade shop in Greymouth; Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, London born but Blackball bred and one of NZ’s major poets; and Paul Maunder, a playwright, theatre director, filmmaker and author who lives in Blackball. Support comes from Creative Communities and the Department of Internal Affairs. The Festival could lead to the creation of a boutique publishing house on the Coast. As well, with the establishing of the Paparoa Great Walk, the festival could become part of a wider package.

The guests:

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf interviews Jeffrey Paparoa Holman: ‘the poetry of witness is necessary still’

 

IMG_1568.JPG

 

Preparing for death is a wicker basket.

Elderly women know the road.

 

from ‘Memoir II’ Blood Ties

 

To celebrate the arrival of two new poetry books—Blood Ties: New and Selected Poems 1963 – 2016 (Canterbury University Press, 2017) and Dylan Junkie (Mākaro Press, 2017) —Jeffrey Paparoa Holman agreed to answer some questions for Poetry Shelf.

 

images.jpg   9780994137807.jpg

 

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman was born in London in 1947. He writes poetry, memoir and history. His most recent works are The Lost Pilot: a memoir (Penguin, 2013); Blood Ties: New and Selected Poems 1963-2016 (Canterbury University Press, 2017); Dylan Junkie, a collection of His Bobness fanboy poems (Mākaro Press) is released in May 2017.

 

Pantograph Punch review of Blood Ties by Vaughan Rapatahana

Two Poems at The SpinOff

Radio interview

Dylan Junkie will be launched in Wellington at 4pm Sunday 21st May as part of the 2017 Hoopla Series

Mākaro Press page

Canterbury University Press page

 

The Interview:

Hera_Lindsay_Bird_final_cover__03325.1460344863.220.220-1   Fale_Aitu_Spirit_House_RGB_front_cover_new__70514.1459977506.220.220.jpg  9781776560677__33035.1468469946.220.220.jpg

 

PG: Name a poetry book you have read in the past year or so that has really inspired you.

JPH:  I think Tusiata Avia’s Fale Aitu/Spirit House is the book of the past year for a myriad of reasons and you’d have to create a special category for Hera Lindsay Bird’s eponymous dark horse sensation – but I’d give my heart to The Collected Poems of Alistair Te Ariki Campbell. Trying to review the book for Landfall reminded me that no-one can really capture a life in letters that spanned such width and such depth; in his generation, he was the Pasifika pou in a house of words held up for Māori by Hone Tuwhare, and for Pākehā by James K Baxter.

 

 

Squid-fat chicks in the baleful wind hunker

and wait, outwitting winter on Taiaroa’s

broad back.

 

from ‘Toroa feeding – Tairoa Heads’ Blood Ties

 

PG: Your poetry is musical, thoughtful, sustained by deep attachments and thematically active. What matters when you write a poem?

JPH: I don’t know if I can answer that easily, as many poems that speak to me come from a wide compass; whatever hits me when one of mine is coming might depend on mood, or some conviction, an itch or good old fashioned heartache. I do have to restrain myself sometimes from getting overtaken by insistent metrics (some would say not enough), but I am affected by music. I think poetry is embodied, it’s physical to me. On my own at home, sometimes I’ll play a Dylan track and make my own kind of dance moves.  There’s a poem in my latest book from Mākaro, Dylan Junkie where I’m riffing on his World Gone Wrong album from 1993, when I was still in London and he was seen wandering unannounced around Camden, mere blocks away from where I lived. In the series of poems that take biographical snapshots in the first part of the book, that moment in his life and mine is remembered with me dancing around our council flat, “croaking away to those Akai speakers/with blood in my eyes for you”.

I guess that’s an example of a deep attachment to a man whose music and songs, whose poetry, kicked me off in 1964; then the mining town of Blackball where I heard songs like Only a Pawn in Their Game is another deep strata for me, the bookish boy in a tough, outdoor workingman’s world where women did it hard to just to survive, like my mother and her friends.  I got a lot of my songbook from the request sessions on 3YZ (no TV, thank God!) and my politics just from living in that consciousness, of a history of struggle to get fair conditions in a dangerous world underground.

We had a Hospital Request on Sunday morning, in the days when there were no private rest homes and the old people’s homes were attached to the four West Coast hospitals. Many of the oldies were Scots, Irish and English, born elsewhere in the 1880s and the 1890s, so we got lots of longing for lost homelands, melancholy ballads and such like. I was schooled in true nostalgia, meaning “the pain of exile”. And we were an immigrant family too, though I hardly realised it at the time.

It’s all down there somewhere when I write, like the Irish song, Galway Bay: “So the strangers came and tried to teach us their ways/And they scorned us just for being what we are…”. The women gathering potatoes in the song, “speak language that the strangers do not know”, I was hearing the bitterness of the Cromwellian history, the seizing of Ireland by the English and the cruel history of colonisation that followed. The Coast was a sectarian domain, the Catholics, the Protestants, the Communists and all.

I suppose today I’m a bit of a throwback.  I hate it when I hear ingrates who have no idea of where we come from, forget the sacrifices my parental and grandparental generations made to get kids like me a house, a hospital, a school, a job and three square meals. That’s the root of a lot of my thinking and it comes out in some of the poems, true – but I’m a broken human too, I can do love, loss and laughter. One of the things that got to me about John Key was how he – a Bryndwr state house kid like me, at one time – fashioned his story as a kind of rags to riches, self-made man, yet seemed happy to watch the culture that sheltered him degrade. For me now, it seems like the reverse: from enough security for all to ensure social cohesion back then, to now, every one for themselves, insecurity, inequality and selfies all round. I guess that makes me a political writer in many ways, but not all.

 

memory is

the braille of buildings

threading the labyrinth

 

from ‘Memory is a place’ Blood Ties

 

 

PG: I am drawn to the shifting musical effects in your poetry. Which poets catch your ear?

JPH: You’d have to find Baxter and Hone Tuwhare in there for sure, and later on, Jack Gilbert, who all get a nod in Blood Ties, the new selected. Back in the ’70s when I was starting off, I was reading Lowell and cummings, studying Eliot and Pound, falling in love with Neruda and Vallejo, very few women poets then I confess, Emily Dickinson and a nodding acquaintance with Sylvia Plath, overshadowed by Ted Hughes. We had a small group of writers and actors in Christchurch in 1973 and we did public readings in the new Town Hall and out at Teachers’ College. I got to love the idea that page and stage could work together; I always test what’s written with reading, as the poems come on in the making.

I heard Baxter read here the year he died, outside the old UCSA at the town site, early ’72. He was a prophet. I think I picked up the sermonising aspect of some readings I heard and never liked it. I wanted a kind of handmade vernacular, you know, what I found ten years later in Raymond Carver. Poems that were poems that didn’t look like poems, but when you read them aloud, they came alive. Hearing the Czech poet Miroslav Holub read in London in 1991 blew me away: a second language speaker of English, the accents of his Czech made the surreal poems he articulated with some effort simply transfixing, like you were being marinated in a thick black coffee soundscape.

I’m well aware now that what is merely personal “soon rots, it must be packed in ice and salt”, as Yeats told us – but that’s more than just technique he’s talking about, that’s a soundprint of the self the poet has got down somehow, whether it’s Jenny Bornholdt’s subtleties or Glenn Colquhuon’s list variations. Anyone who has heard David Eggleton read has got the whole package: intelligence with invisible guitars, a scalpel for a baton.

There’s always been something ineffable in the English translations of Osip Mandelstam that makes me sad I have no Russian; but he’s always in my heart, since I was pointed his way in 1971 by my American mentor and friend, the late David Walker. “What has held out against oxidation/and adulteration, burns like feminine silver,/ and quiet labour silvers the iron plough/and the poet’s voice.”   353, Voronezh (1937), trs. Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwin. I have no way of knowing what it cost this man and his devoted wife and editor, Nadezhda (who memorised his entire body of work to save it for the future), to survive as long as they did as internal exiles in the midst of Stalin’s purges. His poetry has remained with me ever since my first readings, a tutelary angel of courage and brilliance.

 

 

Knit me back together

when time stops to roar

for eternity and everywhere

is water and all is an ear –

resurrect me in the rain.

 

from ‘ Resurrect me in the rain’ Blood Ties

 

 

PG: Your new Selected Poems is arranged in thematic clusters rather than chronologically. What factors were important in collating the book? What difficulties did you face?

JPH: The collection has a history of changes. I roughed out the idea in early 2012 with the working title, My Culture is my Songbook – which is still an implication in what we have now. Then in my time in Iowa at the IWP later that year, I worked up a draft list of poems from the previous collections and some published elsewhere, some unpublished. I also wrote an essay to preface the collection, which hasn’t survived.

One publisher looked at that iteration in the following year and kindly declined; another in 2014 said maybe it was a bit early for me to be doing a selected. Nil desperandum: I was busy with The Lost Pilot, my Japan kamikaze memoir at the time, so probably wasn’t as focussed as I needed to be. But I had an idea, and was happy to wait. I gave the collection a new title (Paparoa Hotel) and shelved it. Working with John Pule and Catherine Montgomery of Canterbury University Press in 2013 for the re-issue of his great poem, The Bond of Time gave me the impetus to approach her in the following year and see if she was interested in looking at the manuscript.

Once Catherine agreed, I had another look, dropped the essay, gave it a new title and winnowed some, added a few others. Her reader came back to us with a positive report but suggested the thematic structure instead of chronology alone as a guide. She also felt that given the amount of darkness in much of the subject matter, ending on some of the more intimate and tender works might be helpful. I thought about this and decided, why not?

That left me to decide where the pieces fitted into which jigsaws, which wasn’t that difficult and resulted in poems from different collections now sitting side by side. The aeroplane poems selected from Fly Boy now found themselves in the opening section on childhood, Only Yesterday; the bird poems from the same 2010 book sat much later with the love poems near the book’s end, in Lovers and Feathers. Ancestors of the flesh and those of the written word rub shoulders: we see my terrified grandmother watching V-1 flying bombs streaking overhead, while on the next page, a salute to the composer and onetime Spitfire pilot John Ritchie takes off in Old Flyers, then a page or two on, an elegy on the death of Hone Tuwhare.

So it goes: the mining poems in Old King Coal, the poetry of wounding in Traumata Dreaming and Other Tongues where work on Māori language and history sits alongside a lament to dead kamikaze and their families. This will work for some and not for others, as the times of composition are necessarily out of joint (the editors did suggest dating the poems in the Acknowledgements, so it is possible to get a timeline, if one is bothered).

 

 

I do not want another father: old man, now

dead, cancer faded

and swelled you, speechless at the door, yellow

feathered fingers.

 

from ‘Father and son’ Blood Ties

 

I lost him the first time

before I could grasp

who he was, what he did, where

he fitted with her

 

from ‘As big as a father’ Blood Ties

 

 

PG: Do you think your poetry has changed over the course of time?

JPH: I can see it has changed even more so than was obvious before, now we have this group to ponder. Just take one set of poems for example: my father and his war. I’ve been aware that my elegy for Dad, ‘Father and Son,’ written in 1973 in the year following his death was echoed in many respects by what seems to have become a signature poem, 1993’s ‘As Big as a Father,’ written in London twenty years later.

The early poem has little in the way of formal structure, held together by the force of feeling and a linked set of images: starving children and cancer patients, the RSA and the bottle of port, the toilet flushing, the doctor leaving after pronouncing sentence. As Big as a Father, two decades later, grief having subsided into regret and amputation, falls back onto form and metaphor: my father is a lost ship that finally sinks when torpedoed by death itself. The stanzas are regular and repeat, the conceit playing variations on the four times loss of a father, each descending tercet ending with “father”.

Yet none of this was consciously planned, any more than was the early poem; it all arose from an idea of the impossibility of losing anything as big as a capital ship (I was musing on the expression, “one of our battleships is missing”). Yes, so how could you lose anything as big as a father?  The thought just slid across my bows. The poem ran from there. It seems that the less apparently personal of the two elegies, the more distanced one, has the greater power to reach others who know what is being spoken of here.

Two later poems – ‘Father war, 2012’ and ‘Wall, 2013’ – are similarly distanced and even more stripped down, unplugged. Father war eschews musicality for a series of jabs to the body, like a boxer hitting over and over in the region of the heart, to demonstrate the brutal ongoing effect of PTSD, kicking survivors of combat when they are down, returned home, but never free of the invisible wounds. Wall, the poem just stares into the abyss of addiction, alcohol, gambling and invisibility.

On this subject at least – warriors and their wounds – I can clearly see changes. I’m more confident now to have a go, try something, a ballad if one is called for, or something more playful like ‘The Writing Teacher.’ I’ve been reading Max Sebald’s poetry: given his sense of history and landscape, both regarding us from their buried secrets, I’ve written some work in imitation.

 

(iii)

the fieldfares

of Norfolk

flock on autumn

stubble, on the old

airfields

 

from ‘After Sebald’

 

It helps to know that the great German novelist – a migrant, to England in the 1960s – lived and died in Norfolk, teaching for many years at the University of East Anglia. He was a frequent walker and wanderer; he would often have seen this large migratory thrush, the fieldfare, wintering over in Norfolk on the flint speckled fields after harvest. The area was the home of other migratory birds: the bombers of the 8th Air Force in World War Two and their crews, American airmen who came to bomb Sebald’s Germany where he was born in the midst of their raids in 1944. So yes, I am aiming now at a little more indirection, suggestion, aware the world is writing me as much as the reverse.

 

It’s not every day you can find a guide

to show you around a working graveyard.

 

from ‘Inferno (Strongman Mine 1967)’ Blood Ties

 

PG: The title is particularly resonant. How important are blood ties as you write? Do they go beyond the familial?

JPH: The title as I mentioned earlier came late and so is retrospective. I think I was looking for something that caught the feel of what was gathered, but it was pretty instinctive. The poems in the book do relate stories of whakapapa, some of blood, others of influence. I can feel some kind of familial connection to writers who connect with me, many of them dead of course, others I’ll never meet.

There are also a number of poems that come out of the connections my family has with war and survival: my father, mother and grandmother especially, but also the poems about mining disasters and that community where I grew up. Relationship as in a shared culture: to me they are ties of blood, as much as those of immediate family members.  Noel Prescott, one of my classmates at high school died in the Strongman Mine disaster in 1967, he was 19 years old.

I went to the 50th anniversary of Strongman in Greymouth and up at the mine site itself, earlier this year. Pike River hung over the whole three days, but nobody mentioned it publicly, as if that would take away from the solemnity of this gathering. Pike is so raw still, seven years on in November. This is where my heart is, down in the roots of childhood and adolescence where blood ties equal whakapapa to me.

We had a West Coast launch for the book after Christchurch, in the Bonzai Café in Greymouth a few weeks ago; again, I had family there and miners as well. Two of the people who were the last to leave were a father and son: Les Neilson, retired miner – son of my old neighbour in Blackball, Les senior – and Kirk, his son, a fourth- generation miner. Les had worked in Strongman after the explosion and was one of those who closed it down in 1993. Kirk is working for Solid Energy, closing Pike River. These men know about blood ties and coal; I was honoured they came for the poetry that night.

 

PG: I like the design of the book with the left-hand side generally blank. Tell me about the design choices.

JPH: I should pay tribute here to the staff of CUP, the reader and my editor, Emma Neale who saw all this through, as well Aaron Beehre and Gemma Banks who designed and printed the book at Ilam Press, based in the University’s School of Fine Arts. They made this format work with their outstanding production values: it is a beautiful artefact, like all the books they make. The reproduction of John Madden’s painting from Karekare on the cover is a crowning glory for me; he too is a West Coast coal miner’s son.

They do this special thing with one page poems getting a whole sheet to themselves; poems that run over do get printed on both sides, but it means a fatter than average poetry book. It’s on art paper too, and then you have section inserts in another colour and the titles picked out in red: classy. The title on the cover is strip overlaid by hand, all finished off with the folding flap.

It makes me feel privileged to have this workmanship where I’ve chosen the poems I think I want to remain behind me when I’m gone. It’s like a waka huia, those intricately carved treasure boxes where Māori kept the precious feathers of rank. I deliberately included my earliest published poem and a couple of juvenilia, because this is my life: the production here is a joy to me. He tino taonga te pukapuka nei!

 

The last time I lost him

I lost him for good:

the night and the day

the breath he was breathing

 

and death’s head torpedoes

blew out of the water

the skiff of my father.

 

from ‘As big as a father’ Blood Ties

 

 

PG: The father poems are so beautifully textured, both emotionally and musically. What are the difficulties and what were the joys in writing of your father?

JPH: People might rightly observe that I’ve made a career out of mining my father’s and my relationship, but you have to play what’s in front of you. In some ways, I had little choice, as we were so entangled. I spoke a bit earlier about how my writing him changed over time; as for emotions, I guess I felt cheated by his early death and our all our unresolved stuff. I know I’m not alone here.

I’m writing this on Anzac Day and I was down at the Dawn Service in Cranmer Square this morning (where in early 1973 I’d stood up and read a poem of James K Baxter’s in the memorial service held there for him). I know I was grieving my Dad’s death and my broken marriage too that day, reading ‘He Waiata Mō Te Kare,’ Baxter’s love poem to Jacqui Sturm.

This morning, watching the sailors march in with the other armed forces, singing The Sailors’ Hymn, “Eternal Father, strong to save,/ Whose arm has bound the restless wave…”, I was touched by his memory again, through the metrics of the hymnody and those bloody uniforms! I cried a bit: not even I’m sure, just for him but like in a poem I read years ago and forgot the writer, “we weep for our strangeness”.

I’m a writer, it’s what I am and what I do, however well, however badly and so if I need to address somebody or something that’s got to me deep down, I have to find a language for it. I might forget the odd name these days, but I don’t forget people, the ones in my life that have touched me. Dad is top of the list, mostly because he was there but not there, always, like I write him in the poem Father war, “gone but not gone/back but half cocked/alone and alone/the war for a self”.

It makes me cry when I think of how alone he was, addicted to alcohol and adrenaline, how I have come to understand him a little more now, inheriting his tendencies to run on chemicals (I have long since sought help, but he never did). The dead are just the dead at first, our parents who disappear, but over time they become stories we tell to keep them alive and finally, they’re mythical beings. Poverty, depression, war, migration, addiction, it’s a God-given epic, isn’t it? It would be churlish not to sing about my parents’ lives and times, to refuse the gift.

 

After the tremor the neighbour

after the terror the stranger

after the stranger the doctor

after the doctor the soldier

after the soldier the looter

after the looter the vulture

 

from ‘After the tremor’ Blood Ties

 

 

PG: Your earthquake poems are also very affecting to read. I was pondering over the way catastrophe can either freeze or impel writers. How did the quakes affect your writing?

JPH:  Well, the quakes were affecting, that’s for sure, but I guess it doesn’t follow writing about them will be. Your observation about catastrophe having the power to “freeze or impel” is very true – of everything, not just writing. You get the adrenaline to react, the fight-or-flight booster, but it’s how you use it, I think (well, in the moment at least).

I know some people freeze so hard they can’t think; so far, I’ve managed in the aftermath to stay focused, but I wonder if that’s partly because as you age, your system is slower anyway? I learned to put my shoes on before blundering around a darkened house (broken glass); to photograph everything right away, for insurance purposes; to text loved ones (and by extension, in a series of quakes, keep your phone charged).

Lots of learned experience, yes, but when it comes to writing about it, I was slow to do anything much, really. I wrote one poem about our cat disappearing, which The Press published shortly after the September event; that ended up opening what became Shaken Down 6.3. The title tells you that the book really begins after the deadly 22 February quake in 2011 that killed 185 people, including my dear friend and neighbour, Tetaki Tairakena, an English teacher killed in the CTV building collapse with many of his Asian students.

That year I’d been awarded a University of Waikato Writing Fellowship, so I spent much of it coming and going, including a trip to Japan in April in the course of writing The Lost Pilot memoir. I managed to come home regularly and caught many of the major shakes, including the February killer and a bad one in June. We were all PTS, shaken up and burned out over that year, including for many of us, our broken impoverished sleep.

That was how the poems arrived, in the middle of my wakeful nights in Hamilton. I’d wake at one, two or three in the morning and it was hard to go back to sleep. My vestigial childhood hyper-vigilance, formed in response to my father’s late night home-from-the-pub rages woke up again: I’d be on the alert automatically, ready to run if another shake came.

 

how can I find

my way through myself

with the past torn down

 

the road of dreams

with my compass

smashed

 

from ‘Memory is place’ Blood Ties

 

Your brain doesn’t care if you’re in another city, another country – this is what we’ve come to call in Christchurch “quake brain”. As I woke and lay there, sometimes a line would come, a half-conscious thought, as in the poem, ‘Memory is place.’ I’d be in my deep mind somewhere and words would come to match a stumbling thought, like how with the city half destroyed and broken down, we didn’t know where we were anymore. It was disorienting to feel you no longer knew your own city, or knew where you stood.

Some of the poems came as broken pieces (when all you) or chants and incantations (after the tremor), and for most, they were night birds, except for the three I wrote in Japan reflecting their experience of tsunami horrors in Fukushima, back in March. In some ways, the book is like reportage, written under pressure in one year and published the next; the use of photographs was a choice there too, giving readers visual information, along with a reflection, an essay that ends the book.

Jim Norcliffe, one of our kaumātua in the poetry scene here for years was at the time poetry editor of The Press and he tells of how he was inundated with up to a thousand poems by Christchurch citizens, over the next year or so. It seems that when the chips were down and we wanted to tell each other what it felt like, a poem was the weapon of choice. I used to say that we all, with our quake stories were now characters in a giant multi-faceted novel, never to be quite finished, authored by Papatūānuku herself.

 

 

I found no trace of your vital signs.

I stopped the car at Poerua.

Your image stained the lake.

Your signature dripped in the bush.

 

from ‘Re-reading you (Peter Hooper, 1919 – 1991)’ Blood Ties

 

 

PG: There are a number of poems that pay tribute to poet, Peter Hooper. Are there other poets that have sustained you in view of both reading and conversation?

JPH:  Yes, Peter my high school English teacher and later, a lifelong friend was always going to figure. I mentioned a few earlier in answer to another question, but I think the next influence was David Walker, who taught literature papers in the American Studies programme at Canterbury when I came back to study in 1971 after dropping out in 1966.

I was starting to write again after what I might like to style as my “Woodstock years”, when I ran away to country (not to escape fame of course, just growing up). I met Gary Langford who had a flat downstairs and he was writing and publishing, very much a presence in the university lit scene. It was David though who helped me step up to the mark. I saw he was publishing poetry in Canta, so after a tutorial one night, I gave him a few of my ‘prentice efforts.

The cold bath he gave them should have put me off, but I persevered; he pointed me towards the Russian and South American writers I mentioned earlier, as well as rarities like Georg Trakl and Goncharov. I guess he steered me into the wider world, out of the claustrophobic Anglophilia which still gripped the English Department in those days (Patrick Evans is good on this subject).

David and I corresponded, were published together by Fragments Press in 1974 in a shared volume (Two Poets: Fragments 5) and stayed friends thereafter, swapping poems and books. He kept the flame alive for me, I think that’s true; after I dropped out of university again, I wrote fitfully but published nothing until 1998, back at varsity for a third time lucky, self-publishing a stapled booklet called Flood Damage.

I met a few poets working in London bookshops in the 1990s (I even heard Stephen Spender read, in a tiny community centre for the arts in north London, in Torriano Avenue, N7). I took a course at the legendary City Lit adult education centre in Stukeley Street not far from my work in Charing Cross Road, tutored by Alison Fell.

I was reading everything I could get my hands on and writing daily, even if only a diary entry: short stories, an abandoned novel and poetry, poetry, poetry. That’s where As Big As A Father came from, that time; like fishing, if you bait a line and cast every day, sooner or later, you’ll get a bite. I was reading Raymond Carver and I think in the end, it was the example of his life, even more than his style that empowered me. Carver was a recovering alkie like me, a working-class kid from the sticks, who’d found the self-belief to keep writing.

Back in New Zealand, at university in 1998, I took Rob Jackaman’s creative writing paper for poetry. I got to know him well and he helped me – along with Patrick Evans – take writing seriously and look to publication, long term. The year before, As Big As A Father had won the Whitirea poetry prize so I had Sam Hunt cheering me on after that (he was the judge).

James Brown I met that night in Porirua was writer in residence at Canterbury in 2001 and he read a manuscript I’d got together, edited by Bernadette Hall and encouraged me to send it so Roger Steele of Steele Roberts. That was breakthrough I needed. The resulting book, As Big As A Father (2002) was shortlisted in the Montana New Zealand Book Award the following year and the faith, the support of all the foregoing writers had a public reward. What matters though as always is the next poem, the being awake in the moment.

 

 

I filled my heart with as many tears as I could

possibly carry and saving them for life, skedaddled.

 

In the pub in Dunoille, knocking back beer after beer

celebrating a visit to hell with a man who works there.

 

from ‘Inferno (Strongman Mine 1967)’ Blood Ties

 

 

PG: Is there a poem that has really lasted the distance for you?

JPH: I thought about this and while it seems obvious ‘As Big As A Father’ will survive me, for a while anyway. I still have a heart for ‘Inferno (Strongman Mine 1967).’ I wrote it in London, during those years when I was isolated from all it speaks of physically and culturally and not getting published much at all, seemingly whistling in the dark.

Somehow, it just turned up and rolled out: the first couplet is a memory of my old Blackball friend David Hibbs in 1978 when I was back living on the Coast, in Runanga, offering to take my wife and me down into Strongman. It was a potent journey: her father had died there in the explosion with eighteen other miners, 19 January 1967.

The image of Virgil guiding Dante down into the underworld just sat there for me and everything else seemed to follow. This is where reading informs and sustains us; without thinking, I was diving down into the Western tradition for guidance. The memory of our trip to Greens Dip where the explosion took place, and the final point where you can go no further in that section, where two bodies still remain buried deep, spooled out of me like a film.

I knew I had it almost straight away. I know it will stay around as it relies on whatever power it has for the buried emotion in the measured pauses at of each couplet. It was well that we took that trip back then; the mine was finally closed and  sealed up in 1993; there is no way down there now, to offer alms to the dead.

But I would put in an honorary mention for one lesser known: The Iconography of Birds (for Les Murray). I wrote this I think in 1998, after hearing Les Murray read at the university, where he spoke of birds perching on a dead tree in a dam on his farm in New South Wales. The poem he read was a graphic dramatization on this scene.

I love birds, I’ve been watching them all my life. I went home and wrote this poem as if in reply, fuelled by my studies in medieval iconography and a recent essay on stained glass windows in the great cathedrals. I was in full flight in Rob’s poetry classes, writing on steroids, so the imagery of Christ as a pelican feeding his young on blood from his own breast came straight from my essay, reflecting on a window that held this image.

From there, the sky was conceived as “the Gothic vault” filled with migratory birds, especially the godwits, who had not long departed the Heathcote Estuary on their incredible, world-girdling flight to Alaska and summer feeding grounds. The birds became Greek voyagers in Homer’s myths and without thinking too much, I’d joined the two great streams of Western literature: the pagan Greeks and the biblical writers, the Jews.

The birds fly out into the Pacific night, driven by that mysterious migratory instinct that tells them it is time to go, star-farers as wise as those who navigated their way here to Aotearoa, Māori first, and later, Pākehā. I was a late arrival to these southern waters, a migratory bird like these early travellers, albeit I sailed here on my mother’s back, so to speak. Below the line, I think the poem was trying to tell me something and I like that.

 

 

it started out of sight and out of mind

too dark to see too hard to think

 

it began with the world made flesh

on the backs of tiny bones

 

from ‘Child labour’ Blood Ties

 

 

PG: Which new poem especially delights you?

JPH:    I like ‘Child Labour’ in its simplicity and its rage, and ‘Dark With Nouns’ too. Very different offerings and both pretty fresh, they were written last year. Catherine Montgomery encouraged me to include something recent. That reading at the ICA with those giants of poetry on a raised stage in front of me: phew! Like Mount Rushmore in the flesh, and I try and capture something of that in the salute to Brodsky, who made the remark somewhere I was reading about how if you covered all the adjective and verbs, a poem should be “dark with nouns”. I like poems to be full of the material world, the word made flesh (small ‘w’).

But I’ll go for ‘Child Labour,’ because it’s a song, like one of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience: here, the innocent get to have a cruel experience, the kind of image I saw in my fifth form history books, tiny, emaciated kids pulling coal tubs in tunnels little more than burrows for moles. It still goes on today, everywhere children and those with less power are exploited for somebody else’s profit, for my smart phone, my T-shirt.

I’ll put my hand up: the poetry of witness is necessary still, whether we look back to Chaucer pointing out ecclesiastical corruption, fast forward to Neruda skewering US companies and their tame dictators enslaving peasants in South America, or Miroslav Holub holding his nose over the rotten Communist bureaucracy in Czechoslovakia, while seemingly talking about a Chinese emperor embalmed stinking fish – we can speak up, when it matters.

It’s great to see that Emma Neale and Philip Temple have just published the anthology Manifesto with Otago University Press, a collection of political and protest poetry. We have a broad church to speak into, it doesn’t have to be one thing or the other; let’s not miss the chance to stand up and be counted.

Look what happened when Eleanor Catton made her opinions known on the back of her public profile, post-The Luminaries afterglow. She took a serve from John Key and a few others, but good for her. That meant was she’d hit them where it hurt. How the hell did we get to be a country where families sleep in cars?

 

9780994137807

 

so anger pushed you back to the river/back again to

the fish that flew/a world made by words over

 

from ‘When the thin wild mercury music came’ Dylan Junkie

 

Dylan Junkie is a tantalising weave of Bob Dylan and Jeffrey Paparoa Holman. When you caught Dylan’s first single, ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues,’ on the radio in 1965, it struck a chord. What initially gave you the Bob-Dylan goosebumps?

JPH: Whew, that’s tough to recall. I say in the first poem, ‘When the thin wild mercury music came,’ “sixty can’t call back sixteen”, an admission that when I’m trying to source the feel of those goosebumps, it’s kinda too late? So in the poem, I make it up, “hearing him was like wind over water” – it was shocking in a way, exciting.

When we did the Christchurch launch at Scorpio Books on Thursday, I gave a brief mihimihi and for my waiata, played that song from my iPhone through a very small battered twin speaker set the size of a TV remote. It was tinny but loud, a bit like the primitive PYE record player we had at the time in Blackball, or the Columbus valve radio. I really wanted to jig about for the two minutes sixteen seconds it took to blast it out to the audience.

I think it was just the sheer energy of the stolen Chuck Berry riff and the beat rap of lyrics fired off like machine gun volleys, with a sneer. It was like somebody had let a noisy opinionated teenager into a room full of retirees, he was running around swearing his head off, warning the kids his age that the squares and their thought police were out to get you. It was the sound of somebody smashing the window of the Readers’ Digest HQ, throwing a brick through the windows of respectability. Yeah, I’m making this up now: I was damaged goods and pubescent right then, so his arrogance and his confidence were intoxicating.

 

PG: Were you writing at the time?

JPH: In 1963, I’d written that poem for Peter Hooper that starts off Blood Ties, and one about the Great War after reading A.J.P. Taylor’s The First World War: an illustrated history. I was a good history student and the book, richly illustrated with often sarcastic photo captions affected me deeply. That one got in the School Magazine the following year, when I met Dylan’s music. I wrote one about my grandmother’s ageing too, since lost but snatches remembered.

 

PG: Did Dylan influence your poetry when you first began writing?

JPH: The high school poetry didn’t follow me beyond the classroom. I was in sawmills and shearing gangs by 1965 and can recall clearly listening to Like A Rolling Stone on jukeboxes in Pahiatua (I was the only one playing it).  That’s in the first poem too, “in a jukebox milkbar chasing a girl/the shock of the snare drum smashing!”. The music, the organ, the sneer, the howl of the chorus, “how does it feel, how does it feel?” bypassed the brain’s resistance and shot you in heart. But it didn’t make me write then; I kept a few diaries and wrote to my mother, that was about it.

A brief romance had me writing to the girl a declaration of something I felt, but nothing like Dylan was doing. He was an inspiration amongst many others: the Beatles, the Stones, Procul Harum, Manfred Mann, the Animals. Once I got out in the country away from the towns, I somehow lost contact with his music after Bringing It All Back Home in 1965. I’d eaten up Mr Tambourine Man and the ‘B’ side, Subterranean Homesick Blues (I bought the single). I’d heard ‘Only a Pawn in Their Game’ from The Times They Are a-Changing album, an angry, powerful song about the 1963 murder of Mississippi civil rights’ activist, Medgar Evers – and many others.

 

if not for

Only a Pawn in their Game

ripsaw hillbilly prophet man

West Coast white boy like me

 

from ‘If not for you’ Dylan Junkie

 

 

That’s in the poem, ‘If Not For You,’ in the History Lessons sequence in the book, where I have poems for songs that sing into years of my life, in sequence. I somehow worked backwards in discovering Dylan: I never knew the songs in the eponymous first album, and only a few in The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan of 1963, like Blowin’ in the Wind. A lot Dylan fans tell this story: how they picked him up somewhere along his career, got hooked and worked back through the catalogue.

My first – unforgettable – album purchase was Another Side of Bob Dylan, in early 1965 after Subterranean shot me through the heart. I never bought another Dylan album till 1973, I missed the entire explosion of genius from1965 onwards for one good reason: I was out of town in a world of farmers, shearers and petrol heads. I heard Lay Lady Lay plenty on airplay in West Australia, but I always associate it with the Vietnam War – how weird is that? Feminists hate it, but to me it carries the melancholy of death. Local Aussie farmers’ sons were getting killed over in Vietnam, so the two things are locked my memories of that time, 1968 to 1970.

Dylan left the country behind just as I went out there to find and test myself, I guess. But the early songs never left me and once I took him up again, back in the city in 1972, he’s never been far away. Somebody gave me Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid in 1973 and flatmates were playing Blonde on Blonde. I bought Planet Waves, a forgotten album now as he’d left Columbia and it came out on Asylum; it’s a favourite with me as it plugged me back; that one did influence my poetry in ’73-74 as I was getting a collection together. Once Blood on the Tracks got to me in 1974 that was it, then I went back and bought more, including the despised Self Portrait from 1969. The Basement Tapes was a revelation in 1975, and then Desire. I was crashing and burning all through the 70s and so was he.

 

PG: On the one hand, the collection delivers traces of Dylan so you replay lines in his gravelly, off-pitch voice, while on the other hand you are transported back to the younger self where certain experiences shine out along life’s uneasy learning curve. Do you think this fertile knit has produced poetry in a different key?

JPH:  I think if you asked my long-suffering adult kids they would say Dylan is in my DNA; my first wife and I would sing songs or recite lines on long car trips or anywhere, really (my son is a fan now, my daughter’s agnostic). I could probably do a medley of lyric snippets anytime, a mashup. I know he tunes my voice somewhere, deep down. There’s plenty of other people’s songs and poems and sounds down in the mix, too.

But it’s kinda physical, you know? I sensed in some way how these poems might go. The first series I wrote, Lines from Hard Rain comes second now in the book we see here. I riffed on single lines from A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall just to kick things off.  I wanted to do a Dylan album, if you like – for example, his “twelve misty mountains” became my “twelve mountains” – but I filled his line out with my world, my take on things. It’s the West Coast, it’s the Paparoa Range, but it’s also Old Testament prophets and a battered wife – a world I knew, transformed into an incantation with rhymes. So it’s a song, really.

Some are biographical – like, poet in gutter, a sweet little wordplay about kids floating sticks in a ditch in the rain – but many are chants, or rages, a weeping that wants to be singing. The lifelines, the bios are in the History Lesson section but there too, as with Most of the Time and Tempest, there are lyric forms and rap sheets like the ones in Hard Rain.

 

Long slow bend, I’m nursing sixty, the world

just rips in half. water that’s flat as the eye can

bear meets sky, meets air, a blue that leaps

without perspective, seas of space stretch

out to nowhere and throw the world aside.

 

from ‘Heading to Hibben’ Dylan Junkie

 

 

‘Heading for Hibbing’ is a road poem, vignettes of a journey I took to his hometown 500 miles from Iowa City where I was in residence for the International Writers’ Program in the autumn of 2012. It’s much more prosey and conversational, like where I fill up with gas just north of the town of Zimmerman (yes!) on I-169 and the blonde counter clerk loves my Kiwi accent, she wants to go to Hobbiton.

A note of the surreal is the undercurrent in this sequence but not the language, the form. Dylan is a storyteller, a klezmerin, a wandering Jewish minstrel deeply linked to that European tradition beyond American folk, country and rock. Lasting classics like Desolation Row (the all-American nightmare), Brownsville Girl (America the Movie) and Blind Willie McTell (the curse of race and slavery) make this man what I called him at a welcome party for the overseas writers in Iowa City that year, “The American Shakespeare”. They seemed to look at me blankly, in reply.

It’s a little like the concept in the Blackball bridge sonnets of 2004: a visit to another world, a lost time, a different kind of people to those in cities and suburbs today, where the land and rivers and the mountains rule and the music has roots in those immigrants and radicals who worked the mines. I felt deeply, subjectively, that in hearing Dylan as a teenager, I’d somehow heard where he came from, a place not unlike my tūrangawaewae. Is that wishful thinking? Who knows.

 

PG: I rather liked the fact there are no endnotes. Were you tempted to include any? Like a Dylan song-map to overlay the poems?

I wrote blogs on the four days of the Hibbing trip and planned to include one, like the essay appended in the earthquake poems in Shaken Down 6.3, but Mary wasn’t keen so it fell off. That was good thinking, in retrospect. The songs are flagged in the History Lessons section and the lines from Hard Rain become titles, edited so they’re not quotes and we don’t risk the wrath of Sony. Highway 61 Revisited shows up at the end of Heading for Hibbing, but I don’t think endnotes or anything like that were considered.

Some of the History Lessons poem have the names of songs for titles (No time to think, that’s from Street-Legal, 1978), others have albums (Time out of mind, 1997). Often, it was a mood or a memory I was hooking into: Bill Mathieson in 1978 grief-stricken at the drowning of Abel Salisbury near White Horse Bay on the Coast Road; or my best friend Frank Pendlebury who loved the 1997 album, especially Not Dark Yet. Sadly, he killed himself ten years later; we played the song for him as we said goodbye at his funeral.

 

 

some roads I’m cruising like a king

on some she’s boiling dry again

some hills the clutch just slips so bad

in the rain the vacuum wipers stall

 

from ‘Time out of mind’ Dylan Junkie

 

PG: Is there a poem that particularly resonates for you either in terms of experience of the Dylan connections? (can we post it?).

There are a few with deep, ongoing hooks, but if I was going to choose one, it would be ‘Time out of mind.’ The album was another of his “back from the dead” records, like Oh Mercy (1989) and World Gone Wrong (1993). He was always being deserted by one group of fans or declared dead and buried by the industry, then popping up later, reborn: electric, country, born-again, Americana, and now, the crooner of standards.

The poem itself is a kind of West Coast hillbilly movie short with its two-line bridges, couplets maybe Bob might like? It’s a road poem too, so he’d be into that. Ikamatua: a nowhere town you drive through heading to Reefton and almost never stop, except for petrol and tobacco. It’s where I drove my old Chev in 1968 on a pub crawl with my mother’s boss from Internal Affairs in Greymouth, the old man who ran a string of cleaners in all the government buildings. Must have been before I headed off to West Australia, just me and Mr Cosgrove on the car’s vast leather bench seat, getting high. He loved his beer and whiskey chasers, Cossie did, another true Coast original straight out of The Basement Tapes cast list.

 

 

Time out of mind

 

1997

 

everybody’s got a different brain

mine’s an old juke box

 

some days it plays you Frank running

like a frightened deer in the dusk

across the flood-wracked Blackball bridge

buckling underneath

 

everybody’s got a twisted heart

mine’s a ’52 Chevrolet

 

some roads I’m cruising like a king

on some she’s boiling dry again

some hills the clutch just slips so bad

in the rain the vacuum wipers stall

 

everyone gets a shot at beauty

everyone sees a distant star

 

here we are on a dusty road

something nagging maybe grace

low on petrol out of smokes

heading for Ikamatua

 

©’Time out of mind,’ from Dylan Junkie, Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, Mākaro Press (Eastbourne, 2017).  Used with permission.