Tim Upperton reads ‘So Far We Went’ from A House of Fire
This villanelle is from my first book, A House on Fire (Steele Roberts, 2009). It was later anthologized in Villanelles (Everyman, 2012). Villanelles are almost always sad (there are exceptions – Wendy Cope has written some funny ones). The repetitions inherent in the form circle, return, like old griefs or regrets. It’s a form that seems – at least to me – in tune with our current moment.
Tim’s second poetry collection, The Night We Ate The Baby, was an Ockham New Zealand Book Awards finalist in 2016. He won the Caselberg International Poetry Competition in 2012 and again in 2013. His poems have been published in many magazines including Agni, Poetry, Shenandoah, Sport, Takahe, and Landfall, and are anthologised in The Best of Best New Zealand Poems (2011),Villanelles (2012), Essential New Zealand Poems (2014), Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century (2014), and Bonsai (2018).
Bob Orr, One Hundred Poems and a Year Steele Roberts, 2018
Consider this book of mine
as if it were a rucksack
containing what you might need
if you were to step outside your door.
There are poems heavily knitted
as fisherman’s jerseys
in case you should find yourself
all at sea. (…)
Bob Orr was born in the Waikato. He worked as a seafarer on Waitematā Harbour for 38 years and now lives in a cottage on the Thames Coast. In 2016 he received the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Poetry and in 2017 was the Writer in Residence at the University of Waikato where he wrote most of One Hundred Poems and a Year, his ninth collection.
The book looks gorgeous – beautiful cover design with an oxygenated font and layout inside. Everything has room to breathe. Barry Lett’s exquisite drawing of ‘Blue Flowers’ on the cover is revisited in a poem.
Because sometimes you
remind me of a Catalan fisherman
these are the blue flowers of the Mediterranean
With a felt-tip pen
bought in a supermarket
one day you created myriad blue stems
from ‘A vase of blue flowers’ for Barry Lett
The poems are equally full of air and verve. The opening poem, ‘Rucksack’, is a perfect entry point as it likens the collection to a rucksack you might take with you for the day. We can expect poems we might shower with; that favour the casualness of jandals, the toughness of tramping boots, bare feet. The poem’s final image flipped me. Bob’s poetry moves through the air, out in the complicated, beautiful world and then underlines human vulnerability with the final line’s ‘bare feet’:
I wrote them while walking down a road with bare feet.
The collection is steeped in the sea: you will find boats, sea birds, ocean harvests and harbours as Bob travels by land and by ocean. He travels in the present time and he travels back through the past, gathering in friends and places, other poets, beginnings and endings. Poetry, the writing and reading of it, is ever present as the world becomes a page, a script to be read, a poem to be crafted.
I mention the containers
of the Maersk Hamburg Sud or P&O Line
if only because my autobiography
or even this poem
and the cargo it must carry
would be incomplete without them.
There is death and endings; there is marriage and beginnings.
This evening I fly back
a delta-winged moth
my sadness like moondust
my night vision glowing like an infra-red camera
a stranger to these parts
gliding between the bittersweet shadows of apartments
to enter again if only I could find them
the strawberry fields that were said to be forever.
How many times and for what purpose
did we have to break
from ‘A woman in red slacks’
I missed this book when it came out last year – and it is such a treasure. The fluid lines at times feel like the arc of a bird drifting across the sky and at other times draw upon the ebb and flow of the sea – always beautifully measured. Poetry has so many effects upon us – reading this book the effects are both multiple and satisfying. It comes down to music, intimacy and exquisite reflection, and an engagement with the world that matters. I love this book.
Anger sang in that house until the scrim walls thrummed.
The clamour rang the window panes, dizzying up chimneys.
Get on, get on, the wide rooms cried, until it seemed our unease
as we passed on the stairs or chewed our meals in dimmed
light were all an attending to that voice. And so we got on,
and to muffle that sound we gibbed and plastered, built
shelves for all our good books. What we sometimes felt
is hard to say. We replaced what we thought was rotten.
I remember the starlings, the pair that returned to that gap
above the purple hydrangeas, between weatherboard and eaves.
The same birds, we thought, not knowing how long a starling lives.
For twenty years they came and went, flit and pause and up
into that hidden place. A dry rustle at night, fidgeting, calling,
a murmuration: bird business. The vastness and splendour
of their piecemeal activity, their lives’ long labour,
we discovered at last; blinking, in the murk of the ceiling,
at that whole cavernous space filled, stuffed like a haybarn.
It was like gold, except it was more like shit and straw,
jumbled with their own young, dead, desiccated, sinew
and bone, fledgling and newborn. Starlings only learn
a little thing, made big from not knowing when to leave off:
gone past all need except need, enough never enough.
Tim Upperton from A House on Fire, Steele Roberts, 2009
Sarah Jane Barnett:
Since I first read Tim’s poem, it’s been my favourite by an Aotearoa writer. When I was a kid living in Christchurch, a hive of bees lodged themselves in our bathroom’s exterior wall. We could see them go in and out through a tiny hole in the stucco concrete. They’d land, pause for a moment on the hole’s lip, and disappear into the hollow. Eventually my parents had them fumigated.
There is so much to admire in Tim’s poem – the vibrating yet unpretentious language; the gentle comparison he creates between the labour of the family who ‘gibbed and plastered’ and the labour of the starlings’ ‘bird business’; his use of the collective noun, ‘murmuration’. I recommend listening to Tim read the poem to really see how good it is.
For me, the emotion of the poem comes from the family trying to ‘muffle’ the starlings. It makes me think about growing up in a house where ‘anger sang’ but was never acknowledged, and the way a child will push their fear and feelings down by concentrating on something else: starlings for example, or bees.
Sarah Jane Barnett is a freelance writer and editor. Her poetry, essays, interviews and reviews have been published in numerous journals and anthologies in Aotearoa and internationally. She has two poetry collections: A Man Runs into a Woman (finalist in the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards) and WORK (2015). Her poems often inhabit the lives of others, and ask how we find connection and intimacy when affected by trauma. Her essays explore the multifaceted theme of modern womanhood. Find out more here.
Tim Upperton’s second poetry collection, The Night We Ate The Baby, was an Ockham New Zealand Book Awards finalist in 2016. He won the Caselberg International Poetry Competition in 2012 and again in 2013. His poems have been published widely in New Zealand and overseas, and are anthologised in The Best of Best New Zealand Poems (2011),Villanelles (2012), Essential New Zealand Poems (2014), Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century (2014), and Bonsai (2018).
It feels like months since I’ve come near to anything like writing poetry. Sometimes it just happens like that: there’s a season, not that the well is dry, just that the bucket hasn’t been lowered. The first few months of this year have been taken up with getting myself ready to leave my position at the University of Canterbury, deciding not to re-apply for another three years as an adjunct. Time to go, after nine productive and stable years.
I tell people, “I’m not retiring, just moving offices”, which is true, but it is a major change. Every weekday morning, Jeanette and I have cycled out to the Ilam Campus, stopping off for a coffee most days near Hagley Park. Now, I don’t have to go anywhere, which is different from having nowhere to go, but it will take some getting used to.
What I won’t forget is that in the last two weeks of my tenure, all has been overtaken and devoured by what happened on the afternoon of the fifteenth of March when the whole campus was locked down as a result of what we were first told was, “ a firearms incident at the Al Noor Mosque”. It soon became obvious it was a fatal shooting, there had been many casualties, that some were dead, and as the afternoon wore on, the numbers climbed as the scale of the tragedy was revealed.
So much has happened in this city since that day, on a public stage and in private places, that don’t need any reminders here. The stories, the narratives of grief, shock, anger and even a kind of numbness are all being woven together, in a community that knows disaster, that must now confront terrorism and its aftermath at our very heart – a place of worship.
I had no intention, no inclination, to write anything resembling a poem. It was enough just to try and get my head around what was happening and as well, carry on clearing my desk, saving files, changing email addresses and saying goodbye to good friends on the staff of Canterbury.
Jeanette and I sometimes go for breakfast at Under The Red Verandah, a famous city eatery reborn after the poet and publisher Roger Hickin’s original establishment was wrecked in the earthquakes. While we were there on Thursday morning, my wife asked me if any poetry was there in the wake of what had happened, and I recall saying, no, I couldn’t even contemplate writing a poem.
But as I walked around afterwards, I heard a line, an insistent phrase, quite clearly: “Normal service will not be resumed”. It just sat there. Then another: “There has been a slaying”. It isn’t often I feel I must obey an instinct as strong as this, but started to write what was really a form of litany, compressing the underlying horror I felt. The poem came in couplets that began with what sounds like a public service announcement, which the next line undermines. At least I hope that is the effect.
I worked on it during the day, and on Friday I took it out to Christchurch Mens’ Prison, Paparua, where every week, three Christchurch poets – Bernadette Hall, Jeni Curtis and I – run a book group in the library overseen by Susan, our wonderful librarian.
There was a security lockdown that day and we had no prisoners turn up. We all sat around and shared our lives, and the poem was read. Susan took a copy for the prison’s monthly library magazine. Whatever it is worth, a silence for me was broken and some of the men in that jail will get to read it, maybe even give a response at a later group.
W. B. Yeats once wrote, “…but all that is personal soon rots; it must be packed in ice or salt”. For Yeats, style, form – made new – was vital in preventing the poet from lapsing into subjective egotism. A disaster like this is not about me, but the victims.
mō ngā mate Mahometa e rima tekau i hinga ki Ōtautahi 15 Māehe 2019
Normal service will not be resumed
There has been a slaying
Normal service is impossible
Normal service disconnected
Normal service is terminated
Normal service makes no sense
Terror is walking
Normal service is banned for life
Blood on the welcome
Normal service is now shut down
Thank you for weeping
Jeffrey Paparoa Holman
4 April 2019
Jeffrey Paparoa Holman writes poetry, memoir and history. His most recent work is Now When It Rains: a writer’s memoir, published by Steele Roberts (Aotearoa) in 2018.
Rob Stowell, the videographer at Canterbury had recorded this reading of the poemW
I was in Opunake for a couple of nights camping in January, and as we passed Taranaki maunga on the way there, I remembered it was the tūrangawaewae of poet and fiction writer, Jacqueline (J.C.) Sturm.
It’s something of a regret that we never crossed paths, despite both living on the Kāpiti Coast in the same early 2000s. I would have liked to thank her for this unforgettable poem, for the permission she gives herself – and, unwittingly, any poet who’s ever been silenced – to directly accuse, to swear, to rage and ache (I imagine from a west coast clifftop, face into the southerly wind whipping up volcanic blacksand)… in this case, at her loved, lionized, rogue husband, for dying without her.
There are so many layers here – her mantle of anger in the first, brilliant, versatile stanza, to the intimate, broken heart of the poem, and back to the cursing, in an emphatic finale. Such a satisfying poem.
‘Grieving, 1972’ has a companion in ‘And again, 1989’ – here, Sturm returns to the subject of her grief, but now the pain has significantly lessened, maybe almost gone. May it be so.
In celebration of the life and work of Jacqueline Sturm, let’s seek out copies of Dedications and Postscripts again; open their pages to the fresh air.
J. C. Sturm (Jacqueline Cecilia) (1927–2009), of Taranaki iwi, Parihaka and Whakatōhea descent, was born in Opunake and is thought to be the first Māori woman to graduate with an MA from a New Zealand university (First Class Hons, Philosophy, Victoria University of Wellington). She initially wrote short fiction, and her work was the first by a Māori to appear in an anthology. Her debut poetry collection, Dedications (Steele Roberts, 1996), received an Honour Award at the 1997 Montana New Zealand Book Awards and she published further collections of poetry and short stories. Her poetry appeared in a number of anthologies and journals. Her collection, Postscripts (Steele Roberts, 2000), includes images by her son John Baxter. She received an honorary doctorate from Victoria University of Wellington, worked as a librarian, was married to James K Baxter and had two children.
Poems published with kind permission from the estate of J. C. Sturm.
Peter Bland recently sent me his two latest poetry collections from Steele Roberts – Voodoo and The Happy Garden: New & Selected Poems for Children – and told me to use them anyway I liked on my blogs. In his letter, Peter was concerned about the visibility of poetry in bookshops and review space. The NZ Book Council’s 2018 book reading survey suggests we are definitely reading poetry but I wonder if we are buying it to the same degree? Our National Poetry Day suggests we have myriad poetry communities doing all manner of things with an explosion of small presses and journals matching the output of the university presses dedicated to poetry. Yet as much as I try, it is a real challenge keeping a finger on our local poetry pulse. Often a publication escapes my attention because I just don’t know of its existence.
So I am delighted to celebrate the arrival of two books from Peter Bland, one of our poetry elders.
I posted a poem from the children’s collection on Poetry Box (he is one of our best children’s poets) but I was hard pressed to pick just one from Voodoo. I wanted to post the whole book! The poems in the new collection exhibit the species of reflective state that often appears in old age and that produces fertile and thought-provoking poetry. Peter pares everything back to the essential detail, an idea that lingers, a mood that governs an image, a recollection, a pulsating thing. Peter has gifted us numerous much-loved poetry collections – this one is also a real treasure. The world slows down as you read, to the vital moment, the person and place that matters.