Bordering on the Miraculous, Lynley Edmeades and Saskia Leek, Mssey University Press, 2022
The delight of shining— the slow melt of general warmth and how the sun often comes to be the centre. The reaching suggests a casual spreading with a few nostalgic licks of brown. The circle is the centre is the place of insistence. It calmly asks: what if yellow is the thing? What if it’s okay to sleep with the baby in the bed?
Lynley Edmeades from Bordering on the Miraculous
Great title, inviting cover! Bordering on the Miraculous is the fourth contribution to Lloyd Jones’ Kōrero series. He invites ‘two different kinds of artistic intelligence to work away at a shared topic. In each previous collaboration I have admired the individual contributions separately, and then pondered the hinges that connect them. Each volume has been lovingly produced by Massey University Press, and designed by Gary Stewart.
Lynley Edmeades has published two poetry collections, has a PhD in English from the University of Otago and is the current editor of Landfall. Saskia Leek has an MFA from Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts, was nominated for the Walter’s Prize in 2010 for Yellow is the Putty of the World, and is the subject of Desk Collection, a touring exhibition that features two decades of her work.
Lynley’s poems sit alongside Saskia’s monoprints. I was curious to see the latter named as illustrations, and got musing on what an ‘illustration’ is. So often, the illustration is the support act, an enhancement, sometimes representing additional and even sidetracking visual points of view and narratives. I finally left my ‘illustration’ maze, and thought of both poem and image as illumination, the one illuminating the other, each an individual luminosity. Particularly apt with the miracle theme.
The first words that come to mind when I meditate upon Saskia’s images: texture, palette ranging from muted to bolder, gesture, restraint, focal point. Without the presence of the poem – both its physicality and its mystery – I am embedded in body-tingling warmth. Saturated in delectable colour that triggers feeling, ideas, memory, pocket-sized narratives. It is the transcendental uplift of the abstract, the satisfying texture of the physical. I might be traversing backdrop or foreground: curtain, field, tabletop, wall, sky. I am drawn to the alluring focal point: a cup, fruit, an outline, a fried egg, a clock face. Yet nothing is certain, sun might become flower, mandarin might become sun. Printer’s ink becomes gesture, gesture becomes pattern, pattern becomes internal echo. And the process of looking becomes deep satisfying contemplation. Illumination.
The first words that come to mind when I sink into Lynley’s poems: lyrical, surprising, mysterious, physical. Each poem – and I am thinking poetic piece that contributes to a thread, a sequence – holds out co-ordinates and it is over to me to trace a path. It is poetry as gathering, keen-eyed observation, daily living. The accumulation of motifs resembles the music of return: sun, cup, borders, leakage, clock, island, fruit, circles, containment. It is physical but it is also abstract. It is entry into a philosophical realm and then return to a daily world where a baby must be fed or soothed or bathed. Ideas encroach on domestic borders, the domestic infuses contemplation. Nothing is certain. Everything is certain. An island might become slice of toast, a border may be single or many, collapsing or reinforcement. And the process of reading becomes deep satisfying contemplation. Illumination.
The miraculous may small, immense, intangible, a fleeting moment. A baby held. A mountain. The moment you sit at the kitchen window, tasting tea on the tongue, warm cup in hand, a bulging sun hovering.
Lingering with this book reminds me of the miracle of a moment. A need – let’s say an insistence – to fine-tune senses to any number of borders and miracles that arrive in a day. To resist immunity to the miraculous and its myriad borders.
In Bordering on the Miraculous, the bridge between image and word might connect you to the outline of an island, to cups, fruit bowls, the sun. How does it change when you look at a cup shaped by either word or colour? On one page spread you read a poem that offers a list, lying on a bench, of everyday synonyms, and the list includes: ‘like cup / and banana / and purple’. Saskia’s image is gestured in pale purple with a steaming mug and a windowed moon that wobbles and becomes yellow banana cup. The ink gestures like finger painting, the kitchen bench signals physical chores and routines. Drinking the moon. Windowing the mood. Listing the pattern of living.
Bordering on the Miraculous is a perfect retreat when you crave entry into a neighbourhood of warmth, luminosity, wonder. Think dailiness, think mystery. It is an aide to contemplation, and internal calm. It is a book to gift and a book to keep, because it is simply and utterly glorious.
The cup holds some quietness in the way that some edges hold roundness. Bring it to your lips and consider the cinch and slide of your mouth on its edge. Even the word has a cupness to it, surrounded as it is with its palatable plosives: cup cup.
Music is the first poetry attraction for me. I am drawn to poems that sing. Poems sing in multiple keys with affecting and shifting chords, rhythms, harmonies, counterpoints, pitch, cadence, codas, crescendo. Tune your ear into the poetry of Karlo Mila, Emma Neale, Sue Wootton, Bill Manhire, Hinemoana Baker, Michele Leggott, Nina Mingya Powles, Lily Holloway, Alison Wong, Chris Tse, Mohamed Hassan, Gregory Kan, Anna Jackson, David Eggleton and you will hear music before you enter heart, mystery, experience, startle. Take a listen to Bernadette Hall or Dinah Hawken or Anne Kennedy. Anuja Mitra. Louise Wallace. How about Grace Iwashita Taylor? Ian Wedde. Tusiata Avia. Tayi Tibble. Rebecca Hawkes. Helen Rickerby. Selina Tusitala Marsh. Murray Edmond. Apirana Taylor. Iona Winter. Rose Peoples. Sam Duckor Jones. Vincent O’Sullivan. Kiri Pianhana-Wong. Jackson Nieuwland. Serie Barford. Listening in is of the greatest body comfort and you won’t be able to stop leaning your ear in closer. I think of one poet and then another, to the point I could curate an anthology of musical poets. I can name 100 without moving from the kitchen chair. Ah. Bliss.
But for this theme I went in search of poems that speak of song. The poems I have selected are not so much about song but have a song presence that leads in multiple directions. And yes they sing. Once again I am grateful to publishers and poets who are supporting my season of themes. Two more themes to go.
poem to Hone Tuwhare 08
adroit composer of
‘No Ordinary Sun’
the music grows flows grumbles and laughs
from his pen
only the old house has fallen to the wind and storm
death shakes the tree but the bird lives on
from A Canoe in Midstream: Poems new and old, Canterbury University Press, 2009 (2019)
Between Speech and Song
I’m sorry, you said.
What for, I said. And then
you said it again.
The house was cooling.
The pillowcases had blown
across the lawn.
We felt the usual shortcomings
of abstractions. I hope,
you said. Me too, I said.
The distance between our minds
is like the space
between speech and song.
from As the Verb Tenses, Otago University Press, 2016
my sister is humming
the front door is shutting
and opening like lungs
to kauri trees
leaping upwards through air
my lungs are pressed
grey warblers sing like
dust moving through air
the sunflower is opening
and shutting like lungs
my lungs are shifting
from Second Person, Victoria University Press, 2020
The woman next door sings so slowly someone must have died. She practices her sorry aria through the walls. When we bump on the steps she is neighbourly, maybe, with her purpled eyes. She tries for lightness. The radio tells me it is snowing somewhere south. Drifts fall down for days. The presenter uses the word ghastly far too often. In the ghastly snow, he says, animals dig for their calves. When we meet on the path my own voice is chestnut and dumb. ‘It’s a ghastly thing,’ I say. ‘It was a ghastly mistake.’ In the dark the woman’s voice touches a sweet, high place. It’s a small cupboard where her children once hid when she’d tried to explain – which you never really can – why the animals must paw in the cold, brown slush. Where are the young? Who hears their low, fallow voices?
Sarah Jane Barnett
from Bonsai – Best small storiesfrom Aotearoa New Zealand, edited by Michelle Elvy, Frankie McMillan and James Norcliffe, Canterbury University Press, 2018
The song feels like singing,
looks out the window:
clouds glued to the sky,
hills like collapsed elephants.
There’s food stuck to the highchair,
a plastic spoon on the floor.
The cat stares up in awe at the fridge.
The song opens its mouth,
but seems to have forgotten the words.
The song wakes up.
Someone is crying.
The morepork in the ngaio
shakes out its slow spondee:
more pork more pork more pork.
Back in the dream a line
of faces passes the window.
Each face smiles, lifts
its lips to show large teeth.
The song sits at the window, humming
ever so softly, tapping
a rhythm on the table-edge, watching
the harbour slowly losing
colour. At the very far end
of the harbour slightly up to the right,
a zip of lights marks the hill
over to Wainuiomata. If that zip
could be unzipped, thinks the song,
the whole world might change.
The song strokes the past
like a boa, like some fur muff
or woollen shawl,
but the past is not soft at all;
it’s rough to the touch,
sharp as broken glass.
The song longs to sing in tune.
The song longs to be in tune.
The black dog comes whenever
the song whistles, wagging its tail.
The black dog waits for the song’s whistle.
The black dog wants a long walk.
The song croons “Here Comes the Night”
very quietly. Meanwhile the baby
spoons its porridge into a moon.
The black dog leads the song
down long, unlovely streets.
The night is slowly eating the moon.
from Winter Eyes, Victoria University Press, 2018
The crowd is seaweed and there’s always one man too tall at least or one man dancing too much or one woman touching too much. We form short bonds with each other. The man next to me we briefly worry is a fascist. But him and I set a rhythm of touches with each other as we’re together and apart from the music and the bodies. When the bassline and the drums are inside my entire body they always shake up grief like sediment in water so that I am the sediment and my tears become water. And I am the water and the seaweed at the same time and I hover in the thick of the sound experiencing myself experiencing sound and feeling and my body as one piece of a larger thing. I want to be part of a larger thing as often as I can. So many days there isn’t enough music to pull us together. We shred each other, other days. A little rip. A tiny tear. A deep cut. We curl backwards into ourselves to do the damage. I follow the line. I rise into it because it is the sea and the only thing to do is to rise. I am bread and I am fire. I am the line of the horizon as it is reflected back to you. We make our own beds and lie in them. You will have said something. To me. Later, as I think it through I remember us neck to neck, clutching.
from Sweet Mammalian 7
singing in the wire
The song is a clutch of mailboxes
at the end of an undulating road,
an unsteady stack of bee-hives
The song is the whine from a transformer,
crickets, waist-high roadside grass,
a summer that just will not let up.
The song is a power pole’s pale-brown
ceramic cup receiving a direct hit
from a clod flung by my brother.
It is looped bars laid
against the white paper of a gravel road.
Released the year and month my father died,
‘Wichita Lineman’ can still bring me the valley
where we lived,
still bring me grief, the sound
of wind through wire, the loneliness
of country verges; but does not bring
my father back. You can ask
too much of a song.
Kay McKenzie Cooke
from Born To A Red-Headed Woman, Otago University Press 2014
thursday quartet 9:15
The stairwell grew and rolled
with slackened half-night. Quite clearly
she saw how her words had become her.
When she sang she remembered; her breath was deep
letters unnudged. The stairwell hummed. Everything
smelt of other people’s hands.
One, two, three. Another life had trained her ready.
She knew these breaths. It had been a day
of near misses, daredevil secret creatures
who followed her home, a line of sight
and the road, misadventured art deco.
Had she been good enough?
At night her window smithied day.
She could see the boats as they came.
The stairwell rose and then uprising
the first notes.
When Johnny Cash was sad he’d call Willie Nelson and ask for a joke.
Willie knew a dirty joke – good or bad – was the secret to happiness.
Some people haven’t yet realised that Willie Nelson is one of the greatest singers, guitarists
and songwriters. But there’s time. There’s always time. Despite it being funny how it always seems
to just slip away. Still, to add to the legends of Willie smoking pot on the roof of the White House
and blowing out interviewers so that they couldn’t remember where they parked their car or where they lived or worked,
we can now thank Willie not only for his 70 albums and for writing the greatest jukebox weepie of all time…
But, also, on some level, he helped keep Johnny Cash alive for as long as he lasted. Johnny battled his depression
with a dirty joke from Willie Nelson. I’m not saying it works for everyone but it served The Man in Black.
carrying its song to crushed metal, smashed glass,
and fading in echoes of the old folks’ choir.
from The Conch Trumpet, Otago University Press, 2015
My brother says that he doesn’t
understand poetry. He hears the words
but they all intersperse into a polyphonic
whirl of voices; no meaning to them
beyond the formation and execution
of sounds upon lips, pressing together
and coming apart. I cannot touch or feel
words, but I see them ‒ the word ‘simile’
is a grimacing man, poised on the edge
of polite discomfort and anguish. ‘Dazzled’ is
a 1920s flapper with broad, black eyes
and lank black hair around the edges of
her face. A boy in my music class hears
colours ‒ well, not hearing as such, he says,
but images in his mind’s eye. People play
tunes and ask him what colour it is, but
they play all at once, and he says that it is
the indistinguishable brown of all colours
combined. I think of a boy I used to know
called Orlando, and how this word conjures
the sight of a weathered advert for a tropical holiday
in my mind ‒ a forgotten promise, just ephemera
and not to be mentioned. The History room at school smells
like strange, zesty lemons, like the smell when you
peel a mandarin and its pores disperse their
sebum into the air, or when you squeeze the juice
from a lemon into your hands, and feel it dissolve
the soapy first layer of skin. I always think of
a certain someone when I smell this, even though
they wear a different perfume, and when I listen
to soft guitar ballads I think of them too, even though
I know they wouldn’t have heard them. All
of the sounds and smells and thoughts blend
into ephemera, scorched postcards of violets and
swallows, etched with the perfect handwriting of
old, consigned to antique stores that smell of
smoke. Things of the past with no value, no
substance, just air filled with citrus mist. I collect
each word and strain of what was once fresh in
my mind, in a forgotten jacket pocket, to be discovered
on some rainy day, years later. I’ll pull out the
postcard and think of the way I always look twice
when I see someone with curly hair; the word ‘longing’
is a blue wisp that creeps between the cracks
in my fingers. That wisp hides in these things,
tucked away, like the 1930s train tickets I found
in an old book. I wonder if their owner ever made it
to their destination. I wonder who they were.
first appeared in Milly’s Magazine
Love songs we haven’t written
Within the warm wreckage of me,
I’d never dare to ask you, but
in that moment when pain finds it plowing rhythm,
would you want me dead?
It’s a startling thought.
So round and whole and ordinary.
But you can’t know these things until
you’re sunk deep in the geometry of them. Of course,
the bed I lie on would be lily white and threatening levitation.
I would imagine the emptiness I leave and
you would think of all the ways to fill it.
That is the grotesque version.
It should of course be the other way around.
I don’t need misery to write poetry.
For me words come only after precarity passes
and there is safety in sitting still for long stretches.
Words, eventually, have the thickness of matter
left out too long in the sun. My love,
If we had a daughter, I’d be more dangerous.
She’d lick words whole out of the air.
I would recognize her tiny anthem.
Like you, she’d need two anchors, and only one mast.
Like me, she’d be immovable, a miniature old woman
by seven years old.
my singing teacher says yawning during lessons is good
it means the soft palate is raised and air circulates the bulb of your skull
to be pulled out between front teeth like a strand of taut hair
gum skin or yesterday’s nectarine fibre
in empty classrooms my body is a pear, grounded but reaching
the piano is out of tune, its chords now elevator doors
a shrieking melody that says: relish the peeling off
floss til you bleed and watch through the bannisters
voices merge like a zip ripped over fingers
reeling backwards and thrown to the wall
are all the arcades, rubber children
midnight sirens and birds sounding off one by one
the sopranos cry out offering forged banknotes
while the altos bring the alleyways
you crash through the windscreen, thumbs deep in pie
laundromat coins with that rhythm
Emma Barnes lives and writes in Te Whanganui-ā-Tara. She’s working on an anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ writing with co-conspirator Chris Tse. It’s to be published by AUP in 2021. In her spare time she lifts heavy things up and puts them back down again.
Sarah Jane Barnett is a writer and editor from Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Her poetry, essays and reviews have been published widely in Aotearoa. Her debut poetry collection A Man Runs into a Woman (Hue + Cry Press) was a finalist in the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards. Her secondcollection Work (Hue + Cry Press) was published in 2015. Sarah is currently writing a book on womanhood and midlife.
Kay McKenzie Cooke’s fourth poetry collection was published by The Cuba Press in June 2020 and is titled Upturned. She lives and writes in Ootepoti / Dunedin.
Cadence Chung is a student from Wellington High School. She started writing poetry during a particularly boring maths lesson when she was nine. Outside of poetry, she enjoys singing, reading old books, and perusing antique stores.
Lynley Edmeades is the author of two poetry collections, most recently Listening In (Otago Uni Press, 2019). She lives in Dunedin and teaches poetry and creative writing at the University of Otago.
David Eggleton is the Aotearoa New Zealand Poet Laureate 2019 – 2022. His most recent book is The Wilder Years: Selected Poems, published by Otago University Press.
Rata Gordon is a poet, embodiment teacher and arts therapist. Her first book of poetry Second Person was published in 2020 by Victoria University Press. Through her kitchen window, she sees Mount Karioi. www.ratagordon.com
Lily Holloway is a queer nacho-enthusiast. She is forthcoming in AUP New Poets 8 and you can find her work on lilyholloway.co.nz.
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.
Harry Ricketts teaches English literature and creative writing at Victoria University of Wellington Te Herenga Waka. His Selected Poems appeared in June, Victoria University Press.
Simon Sweetman is a writer and broadcaster. His debut book of poems, “The Death of Music Journalism” was published last year via The Cuba Press. He is the host of the weekly Sweetman Podcast and he writes about movies, books and music for a Substack newsletter called “Sounds Good!” (simonsweetman.substack.com to sign up). He blogs at Off The Tracks and sometimes has a wee chat about music on RNZ. He lives in Wellington with Katy and Oscar, the loves of his life. They share their house with Sylvie the cat and Bowie the dog.
Apirana Taylor, Ngati Porou, Te Whanau a Apanui, Ngati Ruanui, Te Ati Awa, is a nationally and internationally published poet, playwright, short story writer, novelist, actor, painter and musician. He has been Writer in Residence at Canterbury and Massey Universities. He frequently tours nationally and internationally visiting schools, tertiary institutions and prisons reading his poetry, storytelling and taking creative writing workshops. He has written six collections of poetry, a book of plays, three collections of short stories, and two novels. His work has been included in many national and international anthologies.
Catherine Trundle is a poet and anthropologist, with recent works published in Landfall, Takahē, Poetry New Zealand Yearbook, Not Very Quiet, and Plumwood Mountain.
Landfall 239 edited by Emma Neale, Otago University Press, 2020
To celebrate the arrival of Landfall 239, edited by Emma Neale, I invited a few poets to read their poems from the issue.
The new issue is an excellent place for small reading retreats. You get fiction, non-fiction, poetry and reviews. It includes heavenly embroidered panels by artist Vita Cochran; they took me back to my primary school days when embroidery was a thing. Surely this will inspire a swag of us to pick up needle and thread, and get creative. I equally adored the paintings – oil on linen or canvas – by Star Gossage. These muted portraits, favouring blue / green palettes, hum with mood and presence. Gosh I love them.
You also get the winning essays in the Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Essay Competition 2020. And they cut through any stasis. Especially Grace Lee’s winning essay, ‘Body/Love’.
Small reading excursions are so very satisfying. And with me not going out for the forseeable future, I am very glad to settle back on the couch, and watch / listen to this Landfall reading. And then venture back into the book to read the fiction and reviews. Wonderful.
Thank you Landfall poets for contributing to a Poetry Shelf Lounge event.
Lynley Edmeades reads ‘Notice’
Leonard Lambert reads ‘Nights of Wonder, Days of Splendour’
essa may ranapiri reads ‘echidna goes to see the drone perform in front of a live audience’
Jo-Ella Sarich reads ‘The Jasmine (We need to talk about suicide)’
Tim Saunders reads ‘Demilune’
Nicola Thorstensen reads ‘Legacy’
Lynley Edmeades is the author of two books of poetry: As the Verb Tenses (2016) and Listening In (2019), both published with Otago University Press and both longlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Best Book Award. Lynley is a lecturer at the University of Otago, and she is currently working on a book of essays.
Leonard Lambert is a long-established NZ poet with a publication history stretching from A Washday Romance (John McIndoe, 1980) to Somewhere in August: SelectedPoems 1969-2016 (Steele Roberts, 2016). His most recent publication is a chapbook, WinterWaves, from Cold Hub Press. Between poems he paints and is a regular exhibitor around his home turf of Hawke’s Bay.
Emer Lyons is a lesbian writer from Cork, currently in the last months of a creative critical PhD at Otago.
Talia Marshall (Ngāti Kuia/Rangitāne ō Wairau/Ngāti Rārua/Ngāti Takihiku) is a poet and essayist with one son and one dog who has a poetry collection forthcoming from Kilmog Press titled Bad Apple. In 2020 she is writing about Ans Westra’s photographs of Māori as part of her Emerging Māori Writer’s Residency at Victoria University. Her essay titled ‘This Is the Way He Walked Into the Darkest, Pinkest Part of the Whale and Cried Don’t Tell the Others’ was quoted on the cover of POETRY magazine’s February 2018 Aotearoa issue.
Kōtuku Titihuia Nuttall (Te Āti Awa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Rangatahi, SȾÁ,UTW̱ First Nation) is a creative writing student at Te Pūtahi Tuhi Auaha o Te Ao (IIML). Her work has been published in Landfall, Turbine / Kapohau, Starling, Food Court, and Te Rito o Te Harakeke.
essa may ranapiri (Ngāti Raukawa/Tainui/Ngāti Takatāpui/Clan Gunn/Highgate) is a person or some shit / or whatever / they wrote a book of poems called ransack / it’s still in th world / the only time they use they/them pronouns for themselves is in these bios / isn’t that funny / thx goes out to their ancestors / who are as big as everything / just wow / just everything / they will write until they’re dead
Jo-Ella Sarich is a lawyer, writer, and mother to two young girls living in Te Awa Kairangi. Her poems have appeared in a number of print and online publications, including New Statesman, The Lake, Cleaver Magazine, Barzakh Magazine, Quarterday Review, Shoreline of Infinity, takahē magazine, Shot Glass Journal, the New Zealand Poetry Society’s Anthology for 2017 and the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017. Tumblr link, @jsarich_writer.
Tim Saunders farms sheep and beef near Palmerston North. He has had poetry and short stories published in Turbine|Kapohau, takahē, Landfall, Poetry NZ Yearbook and Flash Frontier. He won the 2018 Mindfood Magazine Short Story Competition, and placed third in the 2019 and 2020 National Flash Fiction Day Awards. His book, This Farming Life, was published by Allen & Unwin in August, 2020.
Nicola Thorstensen is a member of Dunedin’s Octagon Poetry Collective, which organises monthly poetry readings. Her work can be found in a number of New Zealand periodicals and journals, including Takahē, Poetry New Zealand and political anthology Manifesto Aotearoa.
Lynley Edmeades from Listening In, Otago University Press, 2019
Lynley Edmeades is a poet, essayist and scholar. Her debut collection As the Verb Tenses (2016) was longlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry and was a finalist in the UNESCO Bridges of Struga Best First Book of Poetry. She has a PhD in avant-garde poetics, and lives in Dunedin with her partner.
Listening In Lynley Edmeades, Otago University Press, 2019
Most of the time things slip
The seed on your plate slides
in the mess of leftover dressing
the hum of three street lights
making bright for no one
But every now and then
it feels as if things might hold
like here in this room
with its air and its airlight
from ‘Blue Planet Sky’
This is my summer holiday: reading gardening cooking walking on the wind-whipped beach. Trying to get better at sour dough. Most of all it is reading. Most of all it is reading novels. But some Aotearoa poetry books I dipped into in 2019 have been tugging at me, diverting me from the glorious satisfactions of fiction. I would hate to be a book-award judge this year as my shortlist of astonishing NZ poetry reads is Waikato-River long!
Here is another one is one to add to my list: Lynley Edmeades’s Listening In.
I adore this book. I adore the the extraordinary scope of writing.
The playful title evokes the reader bending into the frequencies of the poems but also underlines the attentiveness of the poet as she ‘listens in’ to her life, her preoccupations, the way words sing, misbehave, connect, disconnect, soothe, challenge. The linguistic play is breathtaking. You get different rhythms: from stammering staccato to sweet fluency, wayward full stops that introduce breathlessness, pause, discomfort, further pause. Verbs are signed posted (as is Lynley’s debut book As the Verb Tenses), as though each poem is a movement, as though each thing made visible is movement. A poem becomes a matter of being and doing in the now of the present tense.
The day unravels in the precarious throws of verb.
It’s everywhere we look: kitchen, bathroom, garden.
Even the floor waits in its doingness.
from ‘Things to Do With Verbs’
This is poetry as the flux of life where things are in place and out of place, where a great swell of language repeats and sidetracks and repeats again. You get to laugh and you get to feel. If we had all day, sitting together in a cafe or atop the dunes, I would tell you about the delights of each poem because there is such variation, such diverse impact as you read. ‘The Way’ is a knife-in-the-heart love poem and you have no idea the knife is coming and the love heat makes way for heartbreak. ‘Where Would You Like to Sit’ is an anxiety poem where questions pose as statements in a therapist’s chair.
You have to read the poems to see how they gather inside you. How the language gathers inside. How you can’t stop feeling the poems: the wit, the music, the originality.
Lynley takes three politicians as poem starting points. ‘Speetch’ is a transliteration of ex Prime Minister John Key’s valedictory speech in parliament. ‘Again America Great Make’ quantifies Donald Trump’s inauguration speech. ‘Ask a Woman’ juxtaposes Margaret Thatcher quotes that Lynley found online. All three poems are quite disconcerting!
(..) But long
before Wall Shtreet my political views hid been shaped by my Aushtrian Jewish
mutha Ruth, who single handedly raised me and my sisstas in now the infimiss
state house at nineteen Hollyfird Av Christchurch. My mutha wazza no nonsense
womin who refused to take no in answer. She wuddun accept fayure.
On other occasions a single word (stone, because) prompts a poem like an ode to a word that shadows an ode to experience. ‘Poem (Frank O’Hara Has Collapsed)’ spins on the word ‘collapse’ like a free wheeling stream of consciousness unsettling whirlpool. I adore these poems. ‘Islands of Stone’ leads from physical stones to language play. A quote from Viktor Shklovsky heads the poem and it is how I feel about the book: ‘Art exists that one may recover the sensation of life, it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony.’
Then there are the poems that glow. That fill you with poetry warmth. I am thinking of ‘Constellations’, a in which Chloe tells us ‘we draw stars/ around the adjectives/ to identify them’. She is writing a story about friends and lunchtime at school and whether friends are kind or nice.
It has little shadows
of very and kinda
that reach out
towards the stars.
Perhaps another way to view Listening In is as translation. A small poem ‘The Order of Things’ makes multiple appearances (it originally appeared in As the Verb Tenses) as half-translations and iterations. I am thinking each book we write is enmeshed in the books that we wrote before, and the books we write foreshadow the books to come. Lynley is translating the world (life) with an exuberance of words, out-of-step syntax (a nod to Gertrude Stein), repeating motifs, word chords, word cunning and delicious humour. She tests what a poem can do by testing what words can do and the effect is awe-inspiring. It makes me want to write. It makes me want to put the book in your hand. Because. Because. Because. Life is here out in the open and hiding in the crevices. Because. Because. Because. Her words open up like little explosions inside you and you know poems can do anything. I have barely touched upon what this poetry does. I love love love this book.
Lynley Edmeades is a poet, essayist and scholar. Her debut collection As the Verb Tenses (2016) was longlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry and was a finalist in the UNESCO Bridges of Struga Best First Book of Poetry. She has a PhD in avant-garde poetics, and lives in Dunedin with her partner.
Lynley Edmeades, Listening In, Otago University Press, 2019
Lynley Edmeades completed an MA at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 2012. Her first collection of poetry, As the Verb Tenses (Otago University Press, 2016) was longlisted for the Ockham NZ Book Awards for Poetry, and shortlisted for the UNESCO Bridges of Struga Best First Book Award. She has a PhD in avant-garde poetics and teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Otago.
Many years ago I was working two jobs to save to go overseas. One of these two jobs was an early morning shift in a coffee cart, just off Courtenay Place in Wellington, outside a building that housed corporates of many kinds. I worked at the coffee at cart with Jenny, who became a good friend.
Jenny was everything I thought going overseas would make me: effortless artistic, politically informed, culturally savvy. Her parents were both artists, and her uncle was once a Labour Prime Minister. Unlike me, she didn’t need to go overseas; she already knew about the world. In fact, when I told her I was saving to go to India, she just shrugged and said, sweet. No bravado, no interest in impressing. The opposite to me.
Jenny knew I was interested in poetry and that I’d been trying to write for a while. She knew I’d been reading people like Simone de Beauviour and Anaïs Nin, and that I carried this deep-seated belief that real life happened beyond these shores. Probably in France in the 1960s, but that didn’t stop me from going in search of it. Instead of challenging me on this warped idea, she simply slipped a beautiful cream paperback into my hands the day before I set sail; a parting gift. The book was 50 Poems: A Celebration, by Lauris Edmond. As if to say, there might just be some life here too.
I took Edmond with me in my rucksack, and together we would travel through India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and later, onto the UK, where I met up with Jenny in Glasgow some years later. I never said anything to Jenny, but even now, twenty or so years later, as I write this from my home in Dunedin, I still think about that parting gift and what it taught me.
There are several poems from this book that I have continued to come back to over the years. Including this one:
for Bruce Mason
I saw a woman singing in a car
opening her mouth as wide as the sky,
cigarette burning down in her hand
– even the lights didn’t interrupt her
though that’s how I know the car
was high-toned cream, and sleek:
it is harder for a rich woman…
Of course the world went on
fucking itself up just the same –
and I hate the very idea of stabbing at
poems as though they are flatfish,
but how can you ignore a perfect lyric
in a navy blue blouse, carolling away
as though it’s got two minutes
out of the whole of eternity, just
to the corner of Wakefield Street –
which after all is a very long life
for pure ecstasy to be given.
Who was Bruce Mason, and why was Lauris Edmond writing a poem for him? More importantly, who was Lauris Edmond, and how could she write a poem that had the lines “the world went on/fucking itself up just the same,” in such close proximity to “Wakefield Street”? In my extraordinary naïvety, this poem took me by the hand and said: see, there are people here that think. Here was the poet, looking and noticing, thinking carefully, trying to understand, playing, slowing reality down a little … There was a form of existential enquiry happening in New Zealand, right under my nose — I’d just been too ignorant and ill-informed (and religiously adhering to a stereotype) to take notice. Which seems to me the whole point of the poem — there is stuff happening right in front of us all the time, we’re just too egotistic or preoccupied to see or hear it.
‘Epiphany’ is from 50 Poems: A Celebration (Bridget William Books, 1999) and was originally published in New & Selected Poems (Oxford University Press, 1991) and is posted with kind permission from the Lauris Edmond Estate.
Lauris Edmond (1924-2000) completed an MA in English Literature with First Class Honours at Victoria University. She wrote poetry, novels, short stories, stage plays, autobiography and edited several books, including ARD Fairburn letters. She received multiple awards including the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship (1981), an OBE for Services to Poetry and Literature (1986) and an Honorary DLitt from Massey University (1988). Edmond was a founder of New Zealand Books. The Lauris Edmond Memorial Award was established in her name. Her daughter, Frances Edmond, and poet, Sue Fitchett, published Night Burns with a White Fire: The Essential Lauris Edmond, a selection of her poems, in 2017.
Lynley Edmeades is the author of As the Verb Tenses (Otago University Press, 2016), and her second poetry collection, Listening In, will be published in September this year (with Otago University Press). She is also a scholar and essayist, and currently teaches on the English program at the University of Otago. Her writing has been published widely, in NZ, the US, the UK and Australia.
1. Anna Smaill’s long interview with Bill Manhire. The advantages of slow-paced email interviews are evident as Anna and Bill explore the personal, ventriloquism, creative writing programmes, reading poetry, writing poetry, weirdness, holding back, trauma, God, mystery, parents, memory, drinking jugs of beer with Hone Tuwhare through the night. Life and poetry still maintain the requisite cloudy patches, private life and inner life are signposted but not made specific. This is a cracking interview – it refreshes my engagements with Bill’s poems, and writing and reading poetry in general.
2. Oscar Upperton’s poem ‘Yellow House’ because it has bright detail in the present tense and I am in the scene reading on a glorious loop.
The stream crosses the bridge. Pūkeko flicker
from blue to white, bikes rust into each other.
We rust at table.
(and the fact this poem is followed by ‘Explaining yellow house’ where Pip Adam gets a mention)
3. Sarah Barnett’s long poem essay ‘One last thing before I go’. Wow. This piece of writing is one of my treasures of the year because it goes deep into tough dark experience. It is measured and probing and hits you in the gut. Yet the fact of it on the page in front of me, so crafted and exposed, is uplifting.
4. Jane Arthur’s poem ‘I’m home a lot’ because it’s strange and real and unsettling.
This one sounds loudest against the front windows
and this one across the roof, nearly lifting it,
in an angry violent way. not like a bird taking off.
And even the birds here are massive and prehistoric.
Silence is rare. It’s eerie when it happens. Our dreams are mute.
5. Morgan Bach’s poem ‘carousel’ because when you read this your breathing changes and you enter a glorious mysterious complicated experience in the present tense.
but now having swallowed full moons,
coupled with mirrors of reticence, I find
life is not an experiment like that
and soon the body gives up its hunt
how soon the body becomes a cliff
how soon the body becomes a full stop
6. Discovering new-to-me poet Nikki-Lee Birdsey – she has a collection out with VUP next year and is currently an IIML PhD candidate. Her first-person storytelling in the form of a poem gripped me from the first lines.
7. essa may ranapiri’s selections because I find myself picturing them performing the poems and then I take supreme delight in the detail on the page.
8. Lynley Edmeades’s “We’ve All Got to Be Somewhere’ because it left a wry grin on my face. Poetry can do that.
9. Emma Neale’s ‘Unlove’ because this poem sings so beautifully.
My friend whose mind has frozen
sends me small gifts she says to keep her sane —
a cornflower-blue watch;
a box carved of light with a green latch;
a pink soapstone egg she says will one day hatch
a small, exquisite monster, its teeth sharp as love.
10. Rata Gordon’s poem ‘Mango’ because the writing is spare but it makes you feel so many different things.
Lynley Edmeades’s ‘The Age of Reason’ appeared in Landfall 235 edited by Emma Neale
Lynley Edmeades is currently working on her second collection of poems, which explores ideas of listening. Her first book, As the Verb Tenses, was published by Otago University Press in 2016. She is the 2018 Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at the University of Canterbury and is living in Lyttelton for now.