Tag Archives: richard langston

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Twelve poems about kindness

Kindness, the word on our tongues, in this upheaval world, in these challenging times, as we navigate conflicting points of view, when our well being is under threat, when the planet is under threat, when some of us are going hungry, cold, without work, distanced from loved ones, suffer cruelty, endure hatred because of difference. Kindness is the word and kindness is the action, and it is the leaning in to understand. I had no idea what I would discover when I checked whether poetry features kindness, and indeed, at times, whether poems are a form of kindness. I think of poetry as a form of song, as excavation, challenge, discovery, tonic, storytelling, connection, as surprise and sustenance for both reader and writer. In the past year, as I face and have faced multiple challenges, poetry has become the ultimate kindness.

The poems I have selected are not necessarily about kindness but have a kindness presence that leads in multiple directions. Warm thanks to the poets and publishers who have supported my season of themes. The season ends mid August.

The poems

Give me an ordinary day

Ordinary days

Where the salt sings in the air

And the tūī rests in the tree outside our kitchen window

And the sun is occluded by cloud, so that the light

does not reach out and hurt our eyes

And we have eaten, and we have drunk

We have slept, and will sleep more

And the child is fed

And the books have been read

And the toys are strewn around the lounge

Give me an ordinary day

Ordinary days

Where I sit at my desk, working for hours

until the light dims

And you are outside in the garden,

clipping back the hedge and trees

And then I am standing at the sink, washing dishes,

And chopping up vegetables for dinner

We sit down together, we eat, our child is laughing

And you play Muddy Waters on the stereo

And later we lie in bed reading until midnight

Give me an ordinary day

Ordinary days

Where no one falls sick, no one is hurt

We have milk, we have bread and coffee and tea

Nothing is pressing, nothing to worry about today

The newspaper is full of entertainment news

The washing is clean, it has been folded and put away

Loss and disappointment pass us by

Outside it is busy, the street hums with sound

The children are trailing up the road to school

And busy commuters rush by talking on cellphones

Give me an ordinary day

And because I’m a dreamer, on my ordinary day

Nobody I loved ever died too young

My father is still right here, sitting in his chair,

where he always sits, looking out at the sea

I never lost anything I truly wanted

And nothing ever hurt me more than I could bear

The rain falls when we need it, the sun shines

People don’t argue, it’s easy to talk to everyone

Everyone is kind, we all put others before ourselves

The world isn’t dying, there is life thriving everywhere

Oh Lord, give me an ordinary day

Kiri Piahana-Wong

The guest house

    (for Al Noor and Linwood Mosques)

In this house

we have one rule:

                                                     bring only what you want to

                                                leave behind

we open doors

with both hands

passing batons

from death to life

come share with us

this tiny place

we built from broken tongues

and one-way boarding passes

from kauri bark

and scholarships

from kāitiaki

and kin

in this house

we are

                                               all broken

                                               all strange

                                               all guests  

we are holding

space for you

                                               stranger

                                               friend

come angry

come dazed

come hand against your frail

come open wounded

come heart between your knees

come sick and sleepless

come seeking shelter

come crawling in your lungs

come teeth inside your grief

come shattered peace

come foreign doubt

come unrequited sun

come shaken soil

come unbearable canyon

come desperately alone

come untuned blossom

come wild and hollow prayer

come celestial martyr

come singing doubt

come swimming to land

come weep

come whisper

come howl into embrace

come find

                                                a new thread

                                                a gentle light

                                                a glass jar to hold

                                                                         your dust

come closer

come in

you are welcome, brother

Mohamed Hassan

from National Anthem, Dead Bird Books, 2020                        

Prayer

I pray to you Shoulder Blades

my twelve-year-old daughter’s shining like wings

like frigate birds that can fly out past the sea where my father lives

and back in again.

I pray to you Water,

you tell me which way to go

even though it is so often through the howling.

I pray to you Static –

no, that is the sea.

I pray to you Headache,

you are always here, like a blessing from a heavy-handed priest.

I pray to you Seizure,

you shut my eyes and open them again.

I pray to you Mirror,

I know you are the evil one.

I pray to you Aunties who are cruel.

You are better than university and therapy

you teach me to write books

how to hurt and hurt and forgive,

(eventually to forgive,

one day to forgive,

right before death to forgive).

I pray to you Aunties who are kind.

All of you live in the sky now,

you are better than letters and telephones.

I pray to you Belt,

yours are marks of Easter.

I pray to you Great Rock in my throat,

every now and then I am better than I am now.

I pray to you Easter Sunday.

Nothing is resurrecting but the water from my eyes

it will die and rise up again

the rock is rolled away and no one appears

no shining man with blonde hair and blue eyes.

I pray to you Lungs,

I will keep you clean and the dear lungs around me.

I pray to you Child

for forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness.

I will probably wreck you as badly as I have been wrecked

leave the ship of your childhood, with you

handcuffed to the rigging,

me peering in at you through the portholes

both of us weeping for different reasons.

I pray to you Air

you are where all the things that look like you live

all the things I cannot see.

I pray to you Reader.

I pray to you.

Tusiata Avia

from The Savage Coloniser Book, Victoria University Press, 2020

sonnet xix

I’m thinking about it, how we’ll embrace each other

at the airport, then you’ll drive the long way home,

back down the island, sweet dear heart, sweet.

And I’m thinking about the crazy lady, how she strides

down Cuba Mall in full combat gear,

her face streaked with charcoal, how she barges

through the casual crowd, the coffee drinkers,

the eaters of sweet biscuits. ‘All clear,’ she shouts,

‘I’ve got it sorted, you may all stand down.’

What I should do, what I would do if this was a movie,

I’d go right up to her and I’d say, ‘Thank you,

I feel so much safer in this crazy world with you around.’       

Geoff would get it, waiting at the corner of Ghuznee Street.

It’s his kind of scene. In fact, he’d probably direct it.

Bernadette Hall

from Fancy Dancing: Selected Poems, Victoria University Press, 2020

Precious to them

You absolutely must be kind to animals

even the wild cats.

Grandad brought me a little tiny baby hare,

Don’t you tell your grandma

I’ve brought it inside and put it in the bed.

He put buttered milk arrowroot biscuits, slipped them

in my pockets to go down for early morning milking

You mustn’t tell your grandma, I’m putting all this butter

in the biscuits.

Marty Smith

from Horse with Hat, Victoria University Press, 2014, suggested by Amy Brown

kia atawhai – te huaketo 2020

kia atawhai ki ā koutou whānau

kia atawhai ki ā koutou whanaunga

kia atawhai ki ā koutou hoa

kia atawhai ki ā koutou kiritata

kia atawhai ki ā koutou hoamahi

kia atawhai ki ngā uakoao

kia atawhai ki ngā tangata o eru ata mātāwaka

kia atawhai ki ā koutou ano.

ka whakamatea i te huaketo

ki te atawhai.

kia atawhai.

be kind – the virus 2020

be kind to your families

be kind to your relatives

be kind to your friends

be kind to your neighbours

be kind to your workmates

be kind to strangers

be kind to people of other ethnicities

be kind to yourselves.

kill the virus

with kindness.

be kind.

Vaughan Rapatahana

The Lift

For Anna Jackson

it had been one of those days

that was part of one of those weeks, months

where people seemed angry

& I felt like the last runner in the relay race

taking the blame for not getting the baton

over the finish line fast enough

everyone scolding

I was worn down by it, diminished

& to top it off, the bus sailed past without seeing me

& I was late for the reading, another failure

so when Anna offered me a lift home

I could have cried

because it was the first nice thing

that had happened that day

so much bigger than a ride in a car

it was all about standing alone

in a big grey city

and somebody suddenly

handing you marigolds

Janis Freegard

first appeared on Janis’s blog

Honest Second

The art of advice

is balancing

what you think

is the right thing

with what you think

is the right thing to say,

keeping in mind

the psychological state

of the person whom you are advising,

your own integrity and beliefs,

as well as the repercussions

of your suggestions in the immediate

and distant futures—a complex mix,

especially in light of the fact that friendship

should always be kind first,

and honest second.

Johanna Emeney

from Felt, Massey University Press, 2021

A Radical Act in July

You are always smiling the cheese man says, my default position.

The cheese, locally made, sold in the farmers market,

but still not good enough for my newly converted vegan friend

who preaches of bobby calves, burping methane, accuses me

of not taking the problems of the world seriously enough.

Granted, there is much to be afraid of: unprecedented fires,

glaciers melting, sea lapping into expensive living rooms,

the pandemic threatening to go on the rampage again

and here still, lurking behind supermarket shelves,

or in the shadows outside our houses like a violent ex-husband.

Strongmen, stupid or calculating are in charge of too many countries,

we have the possibility of one ourselves now, a strong woman,

aiming to crush our current leader and her habit of kindness

while she holds back global warming and Covid 19

with a scowl. I can see why friends no longer watch the news,

why my sons say they will have no children,

why pulling the blankets over your head starts to seem

like a reasonable proposition but what good does that do

for my neighbour living alone, who, for the first time

in her long-life, surviving war, depression

and other trauma is afraid to go outside?

Perhaps there is reason enough for me not to smile,

one son lives in China and can’t come back for the lack

of a job. The other lives by the sea, but in a shed with no kitchen.

I hear my stretcher-bearer dad in his later years, talking

of Cassino and how they laughed when they weren’t screaming

how his mates all dreamed of coming home and finding

a girl. Some did and so we are here, and in being here

we have already won the lottery. So, I get up early

for the market, put on my red hat to spite the cold,

and greet the first crocus which has popped up overnight.

I try not to think it’s only July and is this a sign

and should I save the world by bypassing the cheese man

and the milk man who names his cows?

My dad was consumed by nightmares most of his life,

but at my age now, 69, he would leap into the lounge

in a forward roll to shock us into laughing. A gift,

though I didn’t see it at the time. Reason enough to smile,

practise kindness and optimism as a radical act

Diane Brown

Seabird

I have not forgotten that seabird

the one I saw with its wings

stretched across the hard road.

One eye open,

one closed.

I wanted to walk past

But the road is no place

for a burial –

I picked it up by the wings

took it to the

water and floated it

out to sea,

which was of no use

to the bird, it had ceased.

I like to think someone

was coaching me in the small,

never futile art,

of gentleness.

Richard Langston

from Five O’Clock Shadows, The Cuba press, 2020

Four stories about kindness

I had lunch with Y today, and she told me over gnocchi (me) and meatballs (her), about how she joined up with another dating website. She quickly filled in the online forms, all the ones about herself and her interests, until she came to one where she had to choose the five attributes she thought were the most important in a person. She looked at them for a while, and then grabbed a piece of paper and wrote out the thirty possible attributes in a list. She read the list. She put it down and went to bed. The next morning when she woke up she read the list again. She found her scissors and snipped around each word. She laid each rectangle on the table, arranged them in a possible order, shuffled them around, and then arranged them again. She went to work. When she came back in the evening they were still there, glowing slightly in the twilight. She sat down in front of them and made some minor adjustments. She discovered, somewhat to her surprise, that kindness is the most important thing to her. She went back to the web page and finished her application. Very soon she was registered and had been matched with ten men in her area. Soon after she had thirty-five messages. The next morning she had forty more. She deleted the messages and deleted her profile. Then she wrote five words on a piece of paper and pinned it to her wall.

*

I phone A, whose father is dying. Whether fast or slow, no one really knows, and no one wants to say it, but we all know this will probably be his last Christmas. She was, at this very moment, she tells me, writing in our Christmas card. She tells me that she’s been thinking a lot about kindness. About people who are kind even when it’s inconvenient, even when it hurts. I tell her she is a kind person. ‘There are times’, she says, ‘when I could have chosen to be kind, but I didn’t. Wasn’t. I’ve said things. Done things. I don’t want to do that – I don’t want to make people feel small.’ I think of my own list, my own regrets. It’s weeks later before we get our Christmas card. ‘What’s this word here?’ asks S, as he reads it. ‘Before lights.’ ‘Kind’, I say. ‘The word is kind.’

*

J is a scientific sort of person, and she wants to understand relationships, so she does what any good scientist would do and keeps a notebook in which she records her observations. She watches. And listens. And then she writes. She writes about the good ones, and about the bad ones. Her subjects are her friends, her family, her acquaintances and people she meets (or overhears) while travelling. None of them have given ethics approval. (She hasn’t asked.) She considers the characteristics of each relationship, both good and bad, and in-between. It is almost halfway through New Year’s Day and we are still eating breakfast. While her study is not yet finished, and so all results are of course provisional, she tells us one thing is clear to her already: that the characteristic shared by the best relationships is kindness.

*

I am talking to C in the back yard at the party and I tell him that the theme of the moment is kindness. He tells me that while, yes, he thinks kindness is important, he thinks he is sometimes (for which I read ‘often’) too kind. He puts up with things, he says, that he should not. He lets people have their way. He doesn’t want to hurt their feelings, but he doesn’t want to be a doormat anymore. I’m not always the quickest thinker, but I know there is something wrong here; I think I know that there is a difference between kindness and niceness, kindness and martyrdom. I am sure that being kind doesn’t mean giving in, going along with things you don’t like, denying yourself. I’m sure that being kind doesn’t mean you can’t give the hard word, when needed, doesn’t mean condoning bad behaviour. I try to explain this to C, who is kind, and also is a doormat sometimes, but I’m not sure he understands what I’m saying. I’m not sure if he heard me. Probably because we are both too busy giving each other advice.

Helen Rickerby

from How to Live, Auckland University Press, 2019

Letter to Hone

Dear Hone, by your Matua Tokotoko

sacred in my awkward arms,

its cool black mocking

my shallow grasp

I was

utterly blown away.

I am sitting beside you at Kaka Point

in an armchair with chrome arm-rests

very close to the stove.

You smile at me,

look back at the flames,

add a couple of logs,

take my hand in your bronze one,

doze awhile;

Open your bright dark eyes,

give precise instructions as to the location of the whisky bottle

on the kitchen shelf, and of two glasses.

I bring them like a lamb.

You pour a mighty dram.

Cilla McQueen

from The Radio Room, Otago University Press, 2010

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.

Diane Brown is a novelist, memoirist, and poet who runs Creative Writing Dunedin, teaching fiction, memoir and poetry. She has published eight books: two collections of poetry – Before the Divorce We Go To Disneyland, (Jessie Mackay Award Best First Book of Poetry, 1997) Tandem Press 1997 and Learning to Lie Together, Godwit, 2004; two novels, If The Tongue Fits, Tandem Press, 1999 and Eight Stages of Grace, Vintage, 2002—a verse novel which was a finalist in the Montana Book Awards, 2003. Also, a travel memoir, Liars and Lovers, Vintage, 2004; and a prose/poetic travel memoir; Here Comes Another.

Johanna Emeney is a senior Tutor at Massey University, Auckland. Felt (Massey University Press, 2021) is her third poetry collection, following Apple & Tree (Cape Catley, 2011) and Family History (Mākaro Press, 2017). You can find her interview with Kim Hill about the new collection here and purchase a book directly from MUP or as an eBook from iTunes or Amazon/Kind.

Janis Freegard is the author of several poetry collections, most recently Reading the Signs (The Cuba Press), and a novel, The Year of Falling. She lives in Wellington.  http://janisfreegard.com

Bernadette Hall lives in the Hurunui, North Canterbury. She retired from high-school teaching in 2005 in order to embrace a writing life. This sonnet touches on the years 2006 and 2011 when she lived in Wellington, working at the IIML. Her friendship with the Wellington poet, Geoff Cochrane, is referenced in several of her poems. Another significant friendship, begun in 1971, was instrumental in turning her towards poetry. That was with the poet/painter, Joanna Margaret Paul. A major work that she commissioned from Joanna in 1982, will travel the country for the next two years as part of a major exhibition of the artist’s work.

Mohamed Hassan is an award-winning journalist and writer from Auckland and Cairo. He was the winner of the 2015 NZ National Poetry Slam, a TEDx fellow and recipient of the Gold Trophy at the 2017 New York Radio Awards. His poetry has been watched and shared widely online and taught in schools internationally. His 2020 poetry collection National Anthem was shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards (2021).

Richard Langston is a poet, television director, and writer. ‘Five O’Clock Shadows’ is his sixth book of poems. His previous books are Things Lay in Pieces (2012), The Trouble Lamp (2009), The Newspaper Poems (2007), Henry, Come See the Blue (2005), and Boy (2003). He also writes about NZ music and posts interviews with musicians on the Phantom Billstickers website.

Poet and artist Cilla McQueen has lived and worked in Murihiku for the last 25 years. Cilla’s most recent works are In a Slant Light; a poet’s memoir (2016) and
Poeta: selected and new poems (2018), both from Otago University Press.

Kiri Piahana-Wong is a poet and editor, and she is the publisher at Anahera Press. She lives in Auckland.

Vaughan Rapatahana (Te Ātiawa) commutes between homes in Hong Kong, Philippines, and Aotearoa New Zealand. He is widely published across several genre in both his main languages, te reo Māori and English and his work has been translated into Bahasa Malaysia, Italian, French, Mandarin, Romanian, Spanish. Additionally, he has lived and worked for several years in the Republic of Nauru, PR China, Brunei Darussalam, and the Middle East.

Helen Rickerby lives in a cliff-top tower in Aro Valley. She’s the author of four collections of poetry, most recently How to Live (Auckland University Press, 2019), which won the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the 2020 Ockham Book Awards. Since 2004 she has single-handedly run boutique publishing company Seraph Press, which mostly publishes poetry.

Marty Smith is writing a non-fiction book tracking the daily lives of trainers and track-work riders as they go about their work at the Hastings racecourse. She finds the same kindness and gentleness there among people who primarily work with animals. On the poem: Grandad was very kind and gentle; Grandma had a rep for being ‘a bit ropey’. He was so kind that when my uncle Edward, told not to touch the gun, cocked it and shot the family dog, Grandad never said a thing to my heartbroken little uncle, just put his arm around him and took him home.

Ten poems about clouds

Twelve poems about ice

Ten poems about dreaming

Eleven poems about the moon

Twelve poems about knitting

Ten poems about water

Twelve poems about faraway

Fourteen poems about walking

Twelve poems about food

poems about home

poems about edge

poems about breakfast

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Fourteen poems about walking

So many poets have written walking poems. So many poets have commented on the relationship between walking and a poem gathering momentum in the pedestrian’s head. Just for a start, I am thinking of Jenny Bornholdt’s magnificent poem ‘Confessional’, Michele Leggott’s walking blind, a vital thread, with different insight and senses on alert in her poems, and of course Blanche Baughan’s love of hill walking. A poem itself is a form of walking with its various rhythms and absorptions. The poet becomes walker, bricoleur, observer, mind-drifter.

My most recent collection The Track (Seraph Press) was written as I walked the third day of the Queen Charlotte Track with a broken foot in a wild storm. To keep walking I used the alphabet to compose poems and returned home with a book-length sequence. Whenever I have read from it, I am right back in the storm diverting pain with words. A strange feeling indeed. But I also have the early mornings at Te Henga Bethells. Walking on the near empty beach in the early morning light is an opening for poetry. Glorious.

I am currently reading Foxtrot and Other Collisons, Shari Kocher’s sublime second collection. In her endnote she says the poems were written over a five-year period. She wrote:

No poem in this collection was written before it was walked: arbitrary or otherwise, the rule I applied to the book’s organic growth was that each poem was to be ‘discovered’ on foot, and many continued to be composed peripatetically across many drafts while out walking in ways dedicated to that terrain.

The poems I have selected are not so much about walking but have a walking presence that leads in multiple directions. Many of the poems are longer rather shorter and take you on glorious excursions. Once again I am grateful to publishers and poets who are supporting my season of themes.

The Poems

Travelling light

She is walking at the edge of the sea

on the wet shining sand.

The bright sky is behind her.

She is travelling

on a sheet of grey light.

We pass, and I wave.

She laughs. Of course.

A woman who walks at the edge,

on light, would laugh.

Adrienne Jansen

Madeline McGovern’s ‘Enchanted forest’, source of Rose People’s poem

A path of stars

There are many things

I would like to tell you,

my darling

My darling,

I would like to tell you

in this life

everything will be okay

I would like to tell you

that you will walk upon a path of stars

that you will travel through the forest

and never lose your way

I would like to tell you

to look only at the stars

and not the gaps between them

to look at the sun

and not the clouds.

My darling, I would like to tell you all these things

for the same reason we read fairy stories to children

and weave their years with mythologies

because there is comfort is such lies

because I want the world you live in

to carry more magic

and less sharp edges.

But, on this dark night

I have run out of comforting lies.

My darling,

I cannot promise you a path of stars.

some days you will walk upon

unforgiving concrete or sharp-edged gravel

some days you will wade through quicksand.

Tonight, I cannot conjure stars

without the black between them.

My darling, I can only wish

when you walk through the dark and tangled forest

and lose your way a thousand times

that one day

you come across a clearing

where you can sit

and where the sun will find you

and warm your face

and where you can rest.

My darling

you can rest.

Rose Peoples

My Maunga

we’re monitoring pests at the Maungatautari reserve

gluing bait to ink slick cardboard with peanut butter

extracted from a single hole in the finger of a latex

glove bulging with the breakfast spread

our hands were all sticky fingers and dirt

made it to the first true slope

gorse brushing our knees the angle necessitating

a fuck-this what-are we doing crawl upwards

the trees move back and forth

poles caught in a tide

swinging long ways

between sickly white clouds

and glare-blue sky

a miromiro sitting plump on a ponga

squeaking like a mouse

then fluttering caught blurry on a camera

there are no edgerleyi in sight

Māhinaarangi’s perfume a ghost in the clouds

replaced by sweat-stink

the trip back down is a chorus of snaps

and low groans from wood and soil

giving way under our weight grown careless

with exhaustion

then we’re back through the mechanical gate

one shuts and locks for the other to unlock and open

pull it back on its squealing hinge

to leave the reserve behind

it’s a short trek down the hill back to the car

the air made pungent by cowpats

essa may ranapiri

from Ngā Kupu Waikato: an anthology of Waikato poetry, ed Vaughan Rapatahana, Waikato Press, 2019, selected by Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor

A Walk with Your Father

Before you do anything else, check your lungs.

Are they the right size for you, are you the right size for them?

Are they nice and snug against your ribs and spine?

Don’t worry if they’re a bit big for you, you’ll grow into them.

They must be full, however; you don’t want them empty.

You have a long way to go.

Put your hand inside your mouth and make sure

everything’s in it’s place, check that all the pipes and hoses

leading from your lungs into your mouth are in position and in good nick.

You don’t want any leaks or sudden explosions

this is your air we’re talking about.

Close your mouth securely around this apparatus.

Next check your weight. If you are too heavy

or too light you won’t get anywhere. By the way

there’s no need to take a whole lot of extras with you.

Some people strap expensive knives to their legs and wear protective gloves.

There’s no real need for any of this – an ordinary old sharp knife

from the kitchen drawer will do. And just your bare hands.

You may need to signal to each other.

Now pay some attention to your skin.

It should feel secure and warm

but also allow plenty of room to move freely.

There are any number of colours available nowadays –

they all do pretty much the same job.

Your feet, are they the right size?

If they’re too large you will tire quickly,

too small and you’ll be left behind.

You’re probably looking at feet

about the same size as his.

Your eyes – spit in them.

It keeps everything clear.

That step you’re about to take

will have to be wider than you’re used to.

Don’t forget to move forwards, not backwards.

Keep your hand on your mouth so everything stays in place

when you break the surface.

Mihi to Tangaroa. Mihi to Hinemoana.

Now get yourself in under there,

immerse yourself.

Do it now, go.

He’ll be right behind you.

Hinemoana Baker

from mātuhi / needle, Victoria University Press, 2004

When I Head Home I Like To Be On The Left Side Of The Road So As To Be Closer To Where I Am Heading

I walk home with a bouquet of flowers held up

like an explorer holding up a torch,

in the early days of these days.

The flowers do not emanate

light, but they do catch the eyes of the people

I might like. The flowers will sit by my bed

waiting for when I open my nose from sleep.

Maeve Hughes

from horse power, printed by Fernbank Studio, 2019

The verb ‘to be’

It is foggy.

There is a mountain.

I am climbing the mountain.

She is climbing the mountain.

The path is slippery.

She says, ‘It is all right.

It will all be all right.’

She is right.

There are people behind us.

They are climbing the mountain.

They are in the fog.

Their voices are broken.

There is a shout.

There is laughter.

We are all climbing the mountain.

She is climbing ahead of me.

There is fog in her hair.

Her hair is glittering.

The wind is cold.

There is a man with a walking stick.

There are names scratched on the stick.

He carries the names as if they were eggs.

They could fall and smash.

We are carrying names too.

They are carved on bone.

They are scratched on skin.

We are all carrying names up the mountain.

There is a chapel at the top.

It is locked.

Its walls are damp.

There is broken timber.

There are fallen stones.

It is cold here.

Now we are turning.

We are going down.

She is running.

She is sliding down the mountain.

I am following her.

She is running ahead in the fog.

That is how it is now.

That is how it will be.

That is how it will be

till she is and I am not.   

She will be.

I will not be.

The verbs slip under our boots,

like small changeable stones.

Fiona Farrell

from The Pop-Up Book of Invasions, Auckland University Press, 2007

A note about ‘The verb ‘to be’’

This poem was written when I had a writing fellowship in Ireland. My younger daughter took leave from her job working with kakapo recovery on Codfish Island and came to stay for a month. We climbed the high hills.

We climbed Croagh Patrick, up the slippery path from the enormous carpark and visitor centre to the crest where the fog was thick and the chapel was closed and a chill wind tore at the flimsy remnants of shelters built to give some protection to the thousands who come here each year. Toward the top we met a man who was climbing using a camán (the stick used in hurling or the women’s version of the game, camogie) as a support on the stony ground. He showed us some names written on the flat head of the camán. ‘You’ll recognise these’ he said. We didn’t, and felt awkward for not knowing. It was an All-Irish champion camogie team he had coached, his daughter’s name among them. Some time after their victory she had become ill and was now in hospital, and he had made a vow to climb Croagh Patrick 30 times, if only she could be made well. He carried the camán each time. This was his 29th pilgrimage.

We climbed Errigal, a steep-sided hill in Donegal. Irish is still spoken around here and the man who ran the hostel was passionate for the language. It is subtle, he said. There are, for instance, two verbs meaning ‘to be’: one suggests permanence (‘this is the floor’). The other suggests transience and is used, for example, when speaking of the weather (‘it is sunny’).

I walked up the tracks behind my daughter with her strong legs, her dreadlocked hair. Not that long ago, I led her. I can still feel the weight of her in my arms, carrying her when she didn’t want to walk any more between banks of tussocks and flowering hebes on the track at Tongariro, or through the bearded bush at Dawson Falls, or on some sunny Sunday walk near Pohangina. The feel of her little duffel coat and her red tights and her feathery hair, usually chopped into a jagged fringe by herself using the toenail scissors. Now she takes the lead and I’m following, and behind us, there’s that long queue of people, living and dead, stretching back down into the fog.

Fiona Farrell

Pacing Poem

Past the green flowers

past the red stool

past the drying towels

past the letter from school

past the newspapers

past the glass fruit bowl

past the decanter

past the ‘Hoptimist’ doll

and into the kitchen.

Past the oven

past the breadbin

past the broken dishwasher

past the empty tomato tin

and towards the table.

Around the red chair

over the floorboards

past the stairs

and onto the rug.

Past the lamp

past the outside world

past the radio

past the Argentinian print

and around the bassinet.

Past the novels

past the poetry

past the proteas

past the pottery

and into the sun.

Past the breeze

past the ottoman

past the unwrapped cheese

past the pestle

past the wine rack

and nestled

under my armpit:

two deep eyes

still shining wide,

so we keep circling

until sleep arrives.

Amy Brown

from neon daze, Victoria University Press, 2019

Travelling


How normal it feels
to get around new places—
how basely, physically normal it is
for our feet to touch the ground
and propel us forward, step after step
exactly as they do anywhere.


And if these roads home
one day become
the rivers they once were—
though we might have to pedal the currents
or steady our soles on pebbles—
we’ll soon get used to it.


A flavour’s only new at first taste;
and common sights become invisible;
and love dulls into something necessary;
and in grief we think this new lack
is impossible to live with but we do.

Jane Arthur

from Craven, Victoria University Press, 2019

By the Bosphorous Strait I sat down and wept

Breathe in

when Istanbulites woke to find the water a bright turquois they thought

the worst, a curse had taken over the city or toxins seeped from textile

factories but scientists agreed it was just an explosion of plankton migrating

from the Black Sea, a milky blessing heralding the summer calm, I am told

it’s serene.

breathe out

I did not find out I was colour blind until they tested our class at the library

in Form 2, it explained so much, why I always coloured grass in brown and

tree bark green, why I’d clash my outfits and no one is impolite enough

to tell me, my parents must have thought I was stupid or acting out, the

scientists agreed it was neither

breathe in

my manager told me that things can be difficult here, but when you walk

along the Bosphorous it makes it all worth it, sometimes I think this

city is magical, other times I’m sure it is cursed, a dark pact signed in its

catacombs centuries ago threatening to explode, most of the time it is sad,

mourning a lover lost or a friend it couldn’t save

breathe out

everyday at 12.30pm I walk out of the office and stand at its mouth waiting

for a sign, for the air to return, the explosions in my lungs to subside, the

panic attacks are a daily occurrence, a striking in the middle of a meeting, a

hungry mall, a dolmus packed with strangers and I tense my abdomen and

squeeze my shirt with my hands and try not to remember

for the life of me all I can see is blue, even the scientists are at a loss on this

one, they tell me to relax my shoulders and focus on my breathing, not

worry about time I can’t unwind

it’s amazing how something can be right in front of you and you just can’t see it

Mohamed Hassan

from National Anthem, Dead Bird Books, 2020, selected by Alison Wong

Locus

as you walk you become the vanishing

as you walk you lose the point

as you walk you              snow

though autumn

the ranges hold the storm

the ranges bite the neck

and night and day unfix

and night and day turn stone

snow     monkeys sit with ice on lashes

coast     monkeys pick snails from pools

shop     monkeys flip fish in milk and flour

as you walk through autumn, the ranges

unfix snow, and pool                 you lose

ice-pick, milk-lash, snail-bite—

turn your neck to the day—

Nicola Easthope

from Working the tang (The Cuba Press, 2018). 

Duet

I became an old woman

age eleven

Doctor and physio

circling my fingers

around a stick

bone on wood

Swinging my legs

to a new rhythm

wood on bone

bone on wood

Instructing me

in the art

of walking a duet

heel toe

bone wood

stick stick

Trish Harris

published NZ Listener, 1999

Crunch

(i)

She collected broken things: fragments of a delicate speckled eggshell she found on the gravel driveway, a starfish arm from the beach.  She kept them in a leadlight box, along with her imaginings.

(ii)

He was the one who knew the way back: just to the left of the forked piece of driftwood standing upright on the shore.  Over the bed of African daisies and ice plants.  Past the clump of marram and close to the flat patch of sand where they’d lain together that time.  That time he hardly thought about any more.

(iii)

She walked briskly, in a way that made you think the act of walking was the purpose of the walk.  Not the view of the island, nor the chirrup of pipits camouflaged in the dunes.  Not the way a shoe sinks into the sand, nor the sight of a collie hurtling after a stick.  No, her walk was for the sake of walking and she’d dressed accordingly: the sneakers, the sun visor, the sensible orange windbreaker.

(iv)

The sheets were so bright against the dull sky, he almost couldn’t bear it.  He wanted to take a pot of red paint and throw it against them.  He wanted to tell her, you bring out the red in me.

(v)

She lay on top of the duvet being a starfish, each of her hands touching an edge of the bed.  She thought how nice it would be, not to have to share.

(vi)

He found himself walking up and down the gravel driveway, just to hear it crunch underfoot as the stones scraped against each other.  When he noticed her watching him from the bedroom window, he just kept crunching.

(vii)

She lifted the speckled egg from its cotton wool cradle in the leadlight box and fitted the pieces together to make it whole again.  There was one piece missing.  She turned the shell so she couldn’t see the gap.

(viii)

Pounding the driveway.  Grinding the stones.  He supposed he could do it all day.  His heavy tread.  His trample.  He didn’t see her leave the house.

(ix)

The beach was a beacon, making her way clear.  She could feel the island’s solid presence, even when she couldn’t quite see it.

(x)

He recognised her footsteps, getting louder.  There she was at his shoulder, joining her crunching pace to his.  His foot, her foot.  Stamping together on a firm earth.  Her foot, his foot.  Two in step.  A two-step.  She smelt like biscuits.  He reached for her hand.

Janis Freegard

from Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus Auckland University Press, 2011

Hill walk

We often wonder
what moves us in a day –
was it words in a sequence
that surprised us

or notes played by someone
who kept their mouth closed
& let the sound leave 
their broken body 

or maybe after years 
it was the sight of your brother
nursing his leg down the hill
catching up with you

so you could walk
on together to discuss
what bird that was in
the bush making the sound

neither of you were certain of.

Richard Langston

from Five O’Clock Shadows The Cuba Press, 2020

walking with Dorothy

a dog bothers the scraps

of food around the compost bin

                        it howls at the murmur of the village stream

ignoring the voice calling from the hill

the trees gleam with overnight rain

                        each tree, taken singly, was beautiful

the bees emerging

from their wooden house

mistake me for

a flower and for

a moment I am one

hopelessly lacking in pollen

swaying in the breeze

and taking up space

standing still in the mud

unmaking myself amid

leaves I’ve seen a thousand times

and never wondered the names of

                        some trees putting out red shoots

                        query: what trees are they?

a fantail flits from branch to branch

something bigger than language

in its movements

which lose

their sheen when captured

and later the sky between

apartments and streetlamps

empties but for the full moon

and Venus striving to be seen

as brightly

                        all the heavens seemed in one perpetual motion

grit on the footpath like glitter

                        the roads very dirty

a morepork somewhere in the dark

oblivious to me and better for it

Ash Davida Jane

from How to Live with Mammals, Victoria University Press, 2021

The Poets

Jane Arthur lives in Wellington, where she is the co-owner and manager of a small independent bookshop. Her debut poetry collection, Craven, won the Jessie Mackay Award (Best First Book) at the 2020 Ockham NZ Book Awards.

Hinemoana Baker is a poet, musician and creative writing teacher. She traces her ancestry from Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Te Āti Awa and Ngāi Tahu, as well as from England and Germany (Oberammergau in Bayern). Hinemoana’s latest poetry collection Funkhaus (VUP, 2020), was shortlisted for The Ockham NZ Book Awards 2021. She has edited several online and print anthologies and released several albums of original music and more experimental sound art. She works in English, Māori and more recently German, the latter in collaboration with German poet and sound performer Ulrike Almut Sandig. She is currently living in Berlin, where she was 2016 Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer in Residence, and is completing a PhD at Potsdam University. Hinemoana’s website

Amy Brown is a writer and teacher from Hawkes Bay. She has taught Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne (where she gained her PhD), and Literature and Philosophy at the Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School. She has also published a series of four children’s novels, and three poetry collections. Her latest book, Neon Daze, a verse journal of early motherhood, was included in The Saturday Paper‘s Best Books of 2019. She is currently taking leave from teaching to write a novel.

Nicola Easthope (Pākehā, with roots in Orkney, Scotland, England and Wales) is a high school English and psychology teacher, and mentor of young activists and writers. Her two books of poetry are: leaving my arms free to fly around you (Steele Roberts, 2011) and Working the tang (The Cuba Press, 2018). She has appeared at the Queensland, Tasmanian and Manawatū poetry festivals, as well as LitCrawl in Pōneke. Nicola’s very occasional blog is gannet ink.

Fiona Farrell publishes poetry, fiction, drama and non-fiction. In 2007 she received the Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction, and in 2012 she was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for Services to Literature. Her most recent publication, Nouns, verbs, etc. Selected Poems (OUP 2020) has been warmly reviewed as ‘a Poetry Treasure House…a glorious book’ (Paula Green, Poetry Shelf), and ‘an excellent retrospective… remarkable for drawing small personal realities together with the broad sweep of history.” (Nicholas Reid, The Listener).  After many years in remote Otanerito bay on Banks Peninsula, she now lives in Dunedin.

Wellington-based Janis Freegard is the author of several poetry collections, most recently Reading the Signs (The Cuba Press), as well a novel, The Year of Falling (Mākaro Press). She was the inaugural Ema Saikō Poetry Fellow at New Zealand Pacific Studio and has previously won the Katherine Mansfield Short Story Prize and the Geometry/Open Book Poetry Prize. She grew up in the UK, South Africa and Australia before her family settled in Aotearoa when she was twelve. ‘Crunch’ was placed third in the Manawatu Festival of New Arts Poetry for Performance competition and performed in Palmerston North. 

Trish Harris has written two books – a poetry collection (My wide white bed) and a memoir (The Walking Stick Tree). She teaches non-fiction on the Whitireia Creative Writing Programme, is co-founder of Crip the Lit and edited their 2019 pocketbook, ‘Here we are, read us: Women, disability and writing’. She says she’s a part-time crane operator…but maybe she’s dreaming?

Mohamed Hassan is an award-winning journalist and writer who has lived in Egypt, Aotearoa and Turkey. He was the winner of the 2015 NZ National Poetry Slam, a TEDx fellow and recipient of the Gold Trophy at the 2017 New York Radio Awards. His poetry has been watched and shared widely online and taught in schools internationally. His collection, National Anthem, was shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, poetry category.

Maeve Hughes is a recent graduate of English literature with a minor in creative writing. She lives in Wellington where she loves to walk home.

Ash Davida Jane’s poetry has appeared in MimicrySweet MammalianStarlingThe Spinoff and elsewhere. Her second book, How to Live with Mammals, was published by Victoria University Press in April 2021. She lives and works in Wellington.

Adrienne Jansen writes fiction and non-fiction for both adults and children, but for her, poetry is where the magic is. Her fourth collection of poetry, All of Us, published in 2018, is a series of poems, with carina gallegos, around the themes of migration and refugees. She is the co-founder of Landing Press, a small Wellington poetry publisher. She lives at Titahi Bay, north of Wellington. Website

Richard Langston is a poet, television director, and writer. Five O’Clock Shadows is his sixth book of poems. His previous books are Things Lay in Pieces (2012), The Trouble Lamp (2009), The Newspaper Poems (2007), Henry, Come See the Blue (2005), and Boy (2003). He also writes about NZ music and posts interviews with musicians on the Phantom Billstickers website.

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

essa may ranapiri (Na Guinnich, Ngaati Wehi Wehi, Highgate, Ngaati Raukawa) is a Tainui poet from Kirikiriroa living on Ngaati Wairere land / they want everyone to know that the Echidna they write about isn’t a spikey mammal but a lady with two long snake tails instead of legs / go figure / tino takatāpuitanga 4eva

Ten poems about clouds

Twelve poems about ice

Ten poems about dreaming

Eleven poems about the moon

Twelve poems about knitting

Ten poems about water

Twelve poems about faraway

Poetry Shelf review: Richard Langston’s Five O’Clock Shadows

Richard Langston, Five O’Clock Shadows, The Cuba Press, 2020

We often wonder

what moves us in a day –

was it words in a sequence

that surprised us

or notes played by someone

who kept their mouth closed

& let the sound leave

their broken body

from ‘Hill walk’

I am writing this as Tāmaki Makaurau is back in lockdown, wondering if I will pack the car for our first family summer holiday up north in years, worrying how Auckland businesses will cope, how families will cope, and sleeping like a patchwork quilt. Poetry is such a necessary diversion. It even makes up for patchwork sleep. I still have a wee stack of 2020 poetry books and now the 2021 stack is growing. It is like a preserving cupboard of treats along with the canned tomatoes and the black beans.

Richard Langston’s book has been on my mind for months after hearing the reading he did for Poetry Shelf. This week has been the perfect time to return to the poems. I finished the book and the word that came to mind, a word I have never applied to a poetry collection, was precious. This is a precious book – it has poise and it is personal.

The first poems take me to the land. I am musing on how Allen Curnow and the crew of white men writing poetry in the middle of the twentieth century were digging their way into a New Zealand kind of poetry. They were moving away from the early poets that filtered the land and experience through poetry models from Britain. It is a complicated story that has been retold so many times over the decades, in so many different contexts, with so many different biases and erasures. Ah. And then the land barely got a look in in poems. I feel there is a book to be written that traverses the relationship between the land and poetry, that never lets the poem lose contact with the reader, that never lets the poem service the theory and little else, that acknowledges the suffering and heartbreaking losses of the tangata whenua.

The first poems in Five O’Clock Shadows make the land precious. I am reminded of how Sue Wootton, Brian Turner, Airini Beautrais (a river), Hone Tuwhare, Ruth Dallas have done this in distinctive ways. Like these poets, Richard’s poems also travel with myriad subject matter: from the closing of a tavern, to a lost dog, to Dunedin, to refugees, to Sunday in the islands. But it is the land poems that first strike me. I am musing on how earth warmth and leaf light can permeate a whole book. So yes, this is a collection of earth warmth. You get to stand in the land poems and the poem is beauty and anchor and care.

We love the land by eye & feel & sun

& shadow. It grows within us.

This is who we are, this is how we find ourselves.

from ‘Map’

There is a spareness in all the poems, a light rich economy. Goodness knows what it took to write these, but when they reach me there is an exquisite poise. Every word belongs. I also found ‘Bsharri, Lebanon’ – a poem penned for Richard’s sisters who travelled to their ancestral village – precious. This ancestor poem is a poem to hear read aloud:

We have come to hug you,

we have come to kiss you for the life

you made us.

We have come, ancestors, to love

you as you taught us. We have come,

ancestors, & now we are together.

Ancestors, we hug you, we kiss you.

Ancestors, we weep, because

we have come.

The poetry is economical but each poem launches you into multiple musings, feelings, intricacies. I love ‘Please, do not’. The poem begins with infectious word wit and then travels to the punch-gut restorative ending – and the word ‘enough’. I want you to read the whole poem but here is the beginning:

Please do not yell,

such a small shattering word –

YELL – I prefer yell-ow

that might imply surrender

or a field of flowers holding

their faces to the sun,

why not peace, or acceptance,

such lovely hard-earned words.

Perhaps the poems that strike deepest, that are most precious, are the several addressed to mother and father. Eulogies, recollections, re-tracings. I am thinking how Richard’s poems are made of parts and you need to experience the coming together of these parts to get the reading joy in full. If I take a stanza or two to share with you, I am distilling the magic. These poems are magic, moving, must-reads: ‘Plums’, ‘Sons’, ‘Snoring’, Threaded’, ‘There’. In writing the poems both mother and father are held close, like a gift for family, like a gift for us as readers who also live and love and mourn. I especially love ‘There’, a poem that places the mother at the centre. Here are a few stanzas near the end of the poem (again I implore you to read the whole poem):

What we share is our story.

I sit with her

& look out at the weather.

The windows

are full of the day.

She doesn’t know. I do not know.

We have our story,

our fallible memories.

Her mouth

hovers by the spoon,

& we watch the weather.

You can tell this book matters so very much to the poet – and the degree of personal investment is contagious, whether in words gathering the land, family, experience, memory. Think of the poems as personal plantings in the undergrowth of life, with all manner of glorious lights shining through. Like I said, I reread this book in our return to lockdown, and by the time I got to the end I was filled with the joy of living and writing and reading. I am going to leave you with the final poem in the book, that takes us back to the land (crikey we never left it), how the need to be creative is such a necessary thing and how we share so many attachments – ‘together on this whenua’.

Richard Langston is a veteran broadcasting journalist and director, who comes from Dunedin, and was a driving force in the city’s music scene in the 1980s. He lives in Wellington and is a proud member of the three-person South Wellington Poetry Society.

The Cuba Press author page

Richard reads from Five O’Clock Shadows

Off the Tracks review

Poetry Shelf Lounge: Richard Langston reads from his new collection, Five O’Clock Shadows

Richard Langston reads three poems from his new collection, Five O’Clock Shadows (The Cuba Press, 2020)

Richard Langston is a poet, television director, and writer. Five O’Clock Shadows is his sixth book of poems. His previous books are Things Lay in Pieces (2012), The Trouble Lamp (2009), The Newspaper Poems (2007), Henry, Come See the Blue (2005), and Boy (2003). He also writes about NZ music and posts interviews with musicians on the Phantom Billstickers website.

The Cuba Press author page

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Richard Langston’s ‘Sunday in the Islands’

 

Sunday in the Islands

 

A rooster crowed – the villagers in their black dresses

and tata, their black suits, white white shirts,

the flower of their devotion. A pig ambled in the rain.

Then they began to open their mouths

to listen and find one another,

they began to fill up the mystery,

to waken our souls.

This blending of human voices,

low and high and humming, and lifting.

They sang themselves out of themselves.

They summoned their dead from under garlanded mounds,

the bright sails of their embroidered names.

They sang them out of the depths of their ocean –

from their watery wrecks.

They sang for our brief moment here,

offered up this,

this shattering blue cathedral of song.

 

Richard Langston

 

Richard Langston is the author of 5  books of poetry: Boy (2003); Henry, Come See the Blue (2005); The Newspaper Poems (2007); The Trouble Lamp (2009); Things Lay in Pieces (2012). All published by FitzBeck. He works as a director for Country Calendar.