Tag Archives: Victoria University Press

Poetry Shelf classic poem: Tracey Slaughter picks Fleur Adcock’s ‘Composition for Words and Paint’

 

Composition for Words and Paint

 

This darkness has a quality

that poses us in shapes and textures,

one plane behind another,

flatness in depth.

 

Your face; a fur of hair; a striped

curtain behind, and to one side cushions;

nothing recedes, all lies extended.

I sink upon your image.

 

I see a soft metallic glint,

a tinsel weave behind the canvas,

aluminium and bronze beneath the ochre.

There is more in this than we know.

 

I can imagine drawn around you

a white line, in delicate brush-strokes:

emphasis; but you do not need it.

You have completeness.

 

I am not measuring your gestures;

(I have seen you measure those of others,

know a mind by a hand’s trajectory,

the curve of a lip).

 

But you move, and I move towards you,

draw back your head, and I advance.

I am fixed to the focus of your eyes.

I share your orbit.

 

Now I discover things about you:

your thin wrists, a tooth missing;

and how I melt and burn before you.

I have known you always.

 

The greyness from the long windows

reduces visual depth; but tactile

reality defies half-darkness.

My hands prove you solid.

 

You draw me down upon your body,

hard arms behind my head.

Darkness and soft colours blur.

We have swallowed the light.

 

Now I dissolve you in my mouth,

catch in the corners of my throat

the sly taste of your love, sliding

into me, singing;

 

just as the birds have started singing.

Let them come flying through the windows

with chains of opals around their necks.

We are expecting them.

 

Fleur Adcock

 

From Poems 1960-2000 (Bloodaxe Books, 2000). Subsequently published in Collected Poems (Victoria University Press); originally published in Tigers (Oxford University Press, 1967). Posted with kind permission from Bloodaxe Books and Victoria University Press.

 

Note from Tracey Slaughter:

 

When I read Fleur Adcock’s ‘Composition for Words and Paint’ I get a feeling like I’ve just stepped from glaring sunlight into a dim cool room, a blinking transition where objects shift their edges, textures and sensations blur. Things cross the retina that shouldn’t coexist – heat and cool, shade and sheen, disorientation and sharp awareness – as the dazzled eye tries to pull focus on outlines, shadows, glints. I’ve read it so many times now I could start to break down how its sheer mastery does this to me – but first I’d rather just surrender, step over that threshold, and let it return me to that liminal space it evokes, that experience of sensory eclipse.

Charted in a present tense aquiver with nowness, it’s a poem that wants to keep you in that state of dissolve, that hazy receptivity. Stanza through stanza as it tracks the movements of lovers drawing close in an intimate room, it guides the senses through concrete details that both cloud and illuminate, define and veil, observing the couple’s actions through sustained brushstrokes of metaphorical paint. It’s a poem that watches the act of love with an eye for its composition on the canvas, using the artist’s gaze to render the encounter in visual strokes and shapes, bringing bodies to slow light through questions of perspective, surface, angle, plane. As if conducting an ekphrastic exercise, analysing imagery already framed, it envisages the elements of this love scene in terms of its visual field, lining up the lovers in a studied play of light, curve, pose, dark, parallel, emphasis, depth. But if it employs the methodical and intricate tone of the artist approaching the canvas at the same time it applies the motif of paint to evoke the flooded senses of the lover lost in the work-at-hand’s erotic experience. Issues of surface, extension, colour, focus are at once used to underline the artist’s trained gaze and to wash the scene with a sensuous physical impression of the lovers’ work in progress. ‘I sink upon your image’ the speaker says – the borders of the canvas collapse. It pivots on a repeated play on ‘drawing,’ a practice which moves both brush and body – from a white line sketched around a figure, a head is drawn back, another tantalisingly down – using the term to figure both the tactile capture of the painted line and the gestural seduction of bodies, the pull and call of the lovers pacing and exploring each other in the shaded room. In that elided term, the hand that draws cannot sustain its ‘measured’ distance, it’s too coated in the palette of touch, too absorbed in lust for each line it envisages. Each brushstroke shivers on the painter’s own skin as it orders and colours objective space. It’s part of the mystery I love in Adcock’s language throughout the piece, that it can be at once controlled and lush, clinical and intoxicating – when I read it over I’m always searching for how it extracts such pulse from precision, such glistening intensity from poised restraint. Heat and chill, dark and gleam, it always keeps me blinking for how she keeps that threshold so skilfully blurred.

From an eye scrutinizing the shades and planes of love, the perspective slips to a place where the deeply implicated speaker can only ‘melt and burn’; I imagine that Adcock must have known the work of other women trying to depict female desire around this era: I always hear a tinge of Plath and Sexton in that phrasing. Perhaps there’s an echo of those poets present in the voice of this piece too, its commanding first-person, an ‘I’ intent on fixing and tracing the interaction with ‘you’ in a potent, honed, hypnotic tone. The slow processional sound of each line moves like brush or fingertip savouring the detail, like an entranced hand lingering on the contours of all it draws to light, tasting and positioning each syllable that ‘discovers’ the body with its palpable paint. It is unconventional glints of the lover that are touched upon too, the odd raw details an ordinary love-poem would read as flaws lifted into luminosity – flashes like ‘thin wrists, a tooth missing’ stand in contrast to the points of perfection a love ode would usually pick out, but the ‘tactile reality’ of this encounter sets them alight with ache and lustre. The final blur is ultimately the blur of fusion, of bodies merged and dissolved in such a close-up all sense of scale is lost from the visual field: ‘We have swallowed the light.’ The paint of the scene now spills into the speaker’s throat as she drinks in the lover: it’s a slyly rapturous depiction of orality which could have been a terrible paean to pleasure, but which Adcock’s lyric language manages to sculpt to a sultry and mutual release. Could any other poet pull off the miracle of birdsong ‘flying through the windows’ at climax? Sometimes I wonder if there’s a tint of darkness caught in the opal chains around the necks of those birds – but if there is, it is set against the tender domination of the voice, its soft imperative immediacy: ‘Now I dissolve you.’ It’s been said that a love poem always appeals as much to the reader as it does to the lover, using its language to pull and lure their senses too into a sweet-talking thrall. Consider me dissolved. ‘Composition for Words and Paint’ always has me at ‘This darkness…’

 

 

Bloodaxe Books page

Victoria University Press page

 

Tracey Slaughter‘s latest work is the poetry collection Conventional Weapons (VUP, 2019). She is the author of the acclaimed short story collection deleted scenes for lovers (VUP, 2016), and her work has received numerous awards, including the 2015 Landfall Essay Competition and the 2014 Bridport Prize. She works at the University of Waikato, where she edits the journal Mayhem.

Fleur Adcock, a New Zealand poet, editor and translator, resides in Britain. She has published numerous poetry collections, her most recent being The Land Ballot (2014) and Hoard (2017). This year Victoria University Press published her Collected Poems. She has won many book awards and has received notable honours including an OBE (1986), the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry (2006) and a CNZM for services to literature (2008).

 

 

 

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Poetry Shelf classic poem: Robyn Maree Pickens picks Joanna Margaret Paul’s ‘For Felix’

 

for Felix (1981)

 

a black shawl over a chair

& the corner

composed itself.

the light came from outside

& delayed/on the

delphinium

& behind the oak trees

1 2 3

a grey stripe

is a tennis court

& men have

white shirts only

& sometimes

arms

while the ball

flying/occasionally

thru trees

keeps the moon

in motion.

 

Joanna Margaret Paul

 

from like love poems: selected poems (Victoria University Press, 2006)

Posted with kind permission from JM Paul estate

 

 

Robyn Maree Pickens:

Recently I had the opportunity to write a review of Louise Menzies’ exhibition In an orange my mother was eating at Hocken Collections, Dunedin for The Pantograph Punch. Menzies, the 2018 Frances Hodgkins Fellow, produced an exhibition that foregrounded overlooked works by three artists, Frances Hodgkins, M.C Richards, and Joanna Margaret Paul. Of the three artists Paul seems to have been the most influential. This is evident in the enigmatic exhibition title In an orange my mother was eating, which is itself the title of a poem by artist and poet Joanna Margaret Paul (1945-2003). Published in 1981 on the occasion of the exhibition Mothers at the Women’s Gallery in Wellington, the poem records a dialogue between Paul’s daughter Maggie, and her friend Charles when they were five years old. In this poem Maggie and Charles spark off each other all the possible places they could have been born, including: “in a mirror / in a hot fire / in my gym / in my brain / in your hat.”[i] As engaging as this poem is—showing Paul’s attunement to and valorisation of her children’s world—I want to discuss another poem by Paul, one that invokes her interdisciplinary practice that included poetry, drawing, painting, photography, and film. The poem I have chosen is called for Felix and is published in like love poems edited by Bernadette Hall (Wellington: VUP. 2006, 99).

I chose for Felix because this poem has an extraordinary poetic breadth. While it is decidedly and primarily a poem, for Felix could also be a cinematic vignette, a black and white photograph, a series of graphite drawings, and a loosely gestural painting.

The corner is agentive; it has composed itself with a black shawl over a chair. In contrast to the black shawl, daylight is introduced and delayed on the slender stems of blue flowers and oak trees. From inside, the poem looks out to a tennis court in the distance (a grey stripe). The sport evokes male tennis players who again are viewed from a distance (& sometimes / arms). This distance, and the object and arc of the tennis ball lend their likeness to the moon, which Paul figures as batted between spheres, or tennis players. Paul charts this course from corner to cosmos with incredible lightness, a few sure brushstrokes, a gently panning shot. This lightness is accented formally with the short lines, lower caps throughout, ampersand symbol, forward slash, numbers, and a casually abbreviated word, “thru.”

I chose this poem partly in sympathetic response to a comment by arts writer Eleanor Woodhouse, who in a recent article primarily on Paul’s experimental film wrote, “yet the effect of dispersed critical attention—a little within the field of literature, a little within art, a little within film—isn’t additive; perversely, the effect is even subtractive.”[ii] Woodhouse’s observation—that writing done in silos on an interdisciplinary artist can be diminishing—has stayed with me. And I am conscious that writing about Paul’s poetry in a poetry forum could also be problematic. That is why I chose for Felix for its potentially “interdisciplinary” qualities, and gestured towards other possible resonances of this poem in other mediums. But it is only a gesture.

Paul was an interdisciplinary artist from the early 1970s to her premature death in 2003. In the early decades of her career she was “interdisciplinary,” or postmodern, before such a position was recognised and understood in New Zealand. This is partly why her presence is under-recognised in all the disciplines she worked in and across. Also she was a woman. In her introduction to Paul’s poems (to return to this particular discipline), editor Bernadette Hall writes:

 

The academic and literary worlds of the 70s were dominated by brilliant young men for

whom women might well be the Other, the Lover, the Muse. But not the Poet. Attempts

to express real womanly experience or the domestic were most likely to be sidelined as

trivial, hysterical or hormonal.[iii]

 

Paul was triply marginalised, as a woman, a boundary-crosser, and for her predominately everyday subject matter. This short piece introduces one of her poems and makes an attempt to validate a multi-disciplinary artist who has been neglected from several canons because she didn’t fit the circumscribed model. Call it another (small) effort towards feminist retrieval and recirculation.

 

 

[i] From In an orange my mother was eating, a digital video work by Louise Menzies in an exhibition of the same name. Hocken Collections, 16 February – 30 March 2019.

[ii] Eleanor Woodhouse. “The Transcendent and Domestic in Joanna Margaret Paul’s Films.” Contemporary Hum 19.04.18. https://www.contemporaryhum.com/joanna-margaret-paul-film-programme

[iii] Bernadette Hall. like love poems. Wellington: VUP (2006): 10.

 

 

Robyn Maree Pickens is a PhD candidate in ecological aesthetics at the University of Otago. Her poetry is forthcoming in Peach Magazine and has appeared in SAND, Cordite, Plumwood Mountain, Matador Review, Jacket 2, and at ARTSPACE. Her poetry criticism is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal and has appeared in Rain Taxi and Jacket 2. She was a finalist of the 2018 Sarah Broom Poetry Prize judged by Eileen Myles, and winner of the takahē Monica Taylor Poetry Prize 2018.

Joanna Margaret Paul (1945-2003), poet, painter and experimental filmmaker, was born in Hamilton. She graduated from the University of Auckland with a BA in Philosophy and English, and Elam School of Fine Arts. She was awarded the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship (1983) and the Rita Angus Residency (1993). During her lifetime she published several poetry collections while a range of her poems were showcased in the posthumous like love poems, edited by Bernadette Hall. Her debut collection Imogen was awarded the PEN Best First Book Award for Poetry. (1978). After her death the Wellington City Gallery exhibited her artwork in Beauty, even 1945-2003 with an accompanying book of poems.

 

Victoria University Press author page

 

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Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Ashleigh Young’s ‘If So How’

 

 

If So How

 

Opportunity I love you

Windows and watermelons march down the street

—Robert Winner, ‘Opportunity’

 

 

Please detail any future opportunities

you secured as a direct result of the project

 

oooOOOooo

 

I have a feeling I will be stabbed

and I wanted to tell someone.

 

Sometimes my neighbour’s crying

sounds like music and sometimes it sounds like confession.

 

At eel o’clock

the air fills with ferns and gelatinous dark . . .

 

I get opportunities

and release them back into the water,

their colours autocorrecting to grey . . .

 

Sometimes my crying feels like paperwork and

sometimes it feels like an argument

bleeding through my earplugs.

 

The opportunity never to do this again;

the opportunity never to be this again.

 

oooOOOooo

 

Did you meet with any people

(including festival directors)

who could have an impact

on future

opportunities for you

 

oooOOOooo

 

I was walking on the street one morning

and, yes, festival directors were winking in the snow.

One of the festival directors hid under a car

when a group of school children approached,

and I crouched down to see if he would come out,

and I saw that the festival director had lifted his body

right up into the undercarriage of the car, as if possessed.

 

oooOOOooo

 

Did the event help to increase

your long-term international

market profile

If so how

 

oooOOOooo

 

You leave the room for a moment

and when you come back, not only

 

has the jug come to the boil

but someone has died.

 

The lesser greens start to fray as

a new jag of green comes out of the soil.

 

I’m in over my head.

I remember praying

 

because I dreaded school

and the future

 

and I prayed to be hit in the head by a cricket ball

and to spend my last days alive hurtling

 

back through all of the profiles of my life. How? as if pushing

into a row of warm office shirts on the line

 

helplessly ensnarled

and some part of me (neck?) increasing within them,

 

their tiny frayed parts,

and all the workplaces they might represent.

 

oooOOOooo

 

Have you identified

any further markets

or future audience development

opportunities

as a result of this tour/event

 

oooOOOooo

 

I will go on a tour

of my future

 

I will identify

which of my selves

 

to plant in the cool damp soil

and which of my selves

 

to boil alive

and which of my audiences

 

to take down with me.

 

Ashleigh Young   (from How I get Ready, Victoria University Press, 2019)

 

 

Ashleigh Young lives in Wellington and works as an editor at Victoria University Press. She is the author of Magnificent Moon (poems), Can You Tolerate This? (essays), and How I Get Ready (poems). She writes a fortnightly column in Canvas magazine and is the poetry editor at The Spinoff.

Victoria University page

Ashleigh appears at Auckland Writers Festival event Literally Lorne on Friday May 17th.

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Poetry Shelf review: Lynn Davidson’s Islander

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Lynn Davidson Islander Victoria University Press 2019

 

 

Time goes slower in the sea

and faster in the mountains.

Physics has taken over

where poetry left off.

 

from ‘Pearls’

 

 

Lynn Davidson’s terrific new poetry collection, Islander, travels between Scotland and New Zealand, between the place she grew up (Kapiti, Wellington) and the place she now lives (Edinburgh). Divided into five parts the poems move amidst light, fire and earth. Like Dinah Hawken, Lynn pays close attention to the world about her, the physical world, the inhabited world, a world buffeted by weather, seasons, time. Her poems are layered and fluent and measured.

The opening poem, ‘My stair’, sees the speaker (the poet?) looking out, in an eerie night light, from her second-floor window onto the bus depot. She evokes a scene through pitch perfect detail and a surprising simile (‘buses lightly lumber / into the yellow depot / like bubbles back / into solution’). But the surprise for me, the point of ruffle and ripple, is the mention of the father:

 

My father’s heart is failing, he fills up

 

with fluid (like an empty bus fills up with light?)

I look for flights.

 

One of the pleasures of this collection is the eclectic movement. There is movement born from departure, from the sway between presence and absence, birds in flight, the ripple of water, the movement of a musing and contemplative mind. A number of poems struck me. ‘A hillside of houses leave’ is mysterious, magical and rich in movement. Like many of the poems, there is a link to birds that might be symbolic but that is always physical.

 

Steeped in old weather the wooden houses

remember their bird-selves and unfold

barely-jointed wings.

 

The poem holds the conundrum of life – its impermanence, its fragility and the little anchors, the necessary bones.

 

People curl inside

the bones that keep them

that will not keep them long.

 

The presence of birds is fitting in a collection that navigates islands – the birds might signal the ocean’s presence, the multiple flights, the multiple nests, the bird on the poet’s sight line, the bird carried by heart, the bird house and the bird lungs.

I began to see the collection as a poetry chain; where this poem rubs against that poem and that poem rubs against this. Here the light of this day touches the light of that day which touches the light of the day before all the way back to ancient times. Dinah has a poem dedicated to her and I am reminded of Dinah’s ability to evoke the spare and the luminous within a cluster of lines that then open out with absorbing richness. Lynn is similarly dexterous. This from Lynn’s ‘Bonfire’:

 

The mainland is rendered down

silvers and is gone.

 

My heart is green and raw – a pea not a heart –

front to the fire back to the wind.

 

The groan of stone on stone unsettles

me as I unsettle them.

 

Islands is also inhabited with daily lives, with anecdote and incident, thus rendering landscape humane as well as wild and beautiful. At times it made me laugh out loud as in ‘Lineage’:

 

I was nine months pregnant, and waiting, when the man in the

Taranaki airport shop snapped this isn’t a library you know,

 

and when I turned my great belly full of fingernails and teeth-in-bud

towards him he asked (hotly) if I was actually going to buy anything.

 

The baby made exclamation marks with its soft bones,

glared with its wide open eyes – two Os. No I said I won’t buy

 

my news from you.

 

Lynn traces family, the children who leave, the children who make home solid, the unnamed boy who names home hame, the children half a hemisphere away. This from ‘Leaving Wellington’:

 

Hours go by and elements still gather.

Each day my waking children, just by naming

assembled all the solid things of world:

the bath, stove, chair, the bed, the window,

the shoe, the dinosaur, the door, the wall.

Then in a kind of via negativa

they composed two empty rooms by leaving home.

 

I said it was an anchor but it’s not.

It’s a shadow roughly like a kiss.

 

 

This is a book to slow down with – just as you slow down when you walk the perimeter of an island – gazing into a shifting sky vista and towards the unreachable but alluring horizon line  –letting your own thoughts cascade and catch. It is a book where the view of a poem never settles but keeps revealing new lights, new joys, new surprises. I love this considered pace, this sharp revelation, this anchored heart. I love this book.

 

Victoria University Press author page

 

Lynn Davidson is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently How to Live by the Sea (2009, VUP) and a novel, Ghost Net, along with essays and short stories. She grew up in Kāpiti, Wellington and currently lives in Edinburgh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Bill Nelson picks Hinemoana Baker’s ‘Sound Check’

 

Sound Check

 

you sound just like that woman, what’s her name

she sings that one about the train

check one two one two check check

ka tangi te tītī tieke one two

 

she sings that one about the train

can I get another tui over here

ka tangi te tītī tieke one two

my secret love’s no secret any more

 

can I get another tui over here

at last my heart’s an open door

my secret love’s no secret any more

that sounds choice love what a voice

 

at last my heart’s an open door

you got a voice on you alright

that sounds choice love what a voice

you know the crowd’s gunna soak up the highs

 

you got a voice on you alright

had a bit of a band myself back in the day

you know the crowd’s gunna soak up the highs

i’d up the tops if I was you ay

 

had a bit of a band myself back in the day

check one two one two check check

i’d up the tops if I was you ay

you sound just like that woman, what’s her name

 

Hinemoana Baker from mātuhi / needle  (Victoria University Press, 2004)

 

 

From Bill Nelson: Sometime in 2009 I heard Hinemoana Baker read ‘Sound Check’ and it has stuck in my mind ever since. I think the reading might even have taken place on a mid-range PA system in a dingy carpeted room, some people laughing in the next room. Although I could be retrofitting that memory and it was in Unity Books or something. Anyway, at the time I noticed the outstanding music in the poem, and then wit and humour, and finally, the way the drama escalated as it continued.

Unusually, the poem is entirely in dialogue. A man is speaking to a woman who is trying to do a soundcheck and sings bits and pieces into a microphone. There’s no other description of the room, or the man, or the woman, or any other sounds. And yet through the poem’s pitch perfect choice of dialogue, the man is conjured up before us. A man we’ve probably all met. A pissed bloke in a pub, who likes to talk shit, knows a little bit about everything, probably from some other generation. He leans with his elbow propped on a tall felt-covered loudspeaker at one side of the stage, a beer in other hand, maybe a cigarette too. By contrast, the woman in the poem is a collection of song fragments and meaningless numbers, and it’s harder to picture her clearly. We know little about her, other than she seems like an incredibly professional musician, with a grasp of te reo Māori and a penchant for love songs.

You don’t have to try very hard to hear the music. It’s a pantoum, so there’s the repetition of course, but also the rhymes are particularly great and bang home like a drum, and there are bits of song lyrics that are italicized like they are meant to be sung. The complexity of the staccato sound check syllables juxtaposed with the rambley-bloke language of the man speaking is also really interesting and ramps up the conflict. Different people and different rhythms, looping in and out and over each other. It’s the kind of poem that is always going to be read out loud.

Pantoums are great at showing how context is important for language, how one line put against another can change it’s meaning entirely, or more accurately, provide two equally true meanings. The poem starts and ends on the same line said by the man, ‘you sound like that woman, what’s her name.’ And what seemed like an innocent enough question at the beginning, a bit idiotic perhaps but friendly enough, becomes patronising and infuriating by the time we get to the end. We cringe as he says it a final time, after a string of condescending comments and feeble compliments. He’s sounding more drunk, unable to remember what he already said two minutes ago, and I imagine him wandering off to the urinal, a poster of the gig that night right in front of his face. And he stands there with one hand propped against the wall, squinting his eyes, still unable to remember her name.

 

 

 

Bill Nelson’s first book of poetry, Memorandum of Understanding, was published by VUP. He is a co-editor at Up Country: A Journal for the NZ Outdoors and his work has appeared in journals, dance performances and on billboards. He is currently living in France. You can find more about him here at billmainlandnelson.com.

 

Hinemoana Baker  of Ngāti Tahu, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa and Te Āti Awa along with English and Bavarian heritage, is a poet, musician and playwright currently living in Berlin. She was the 2009 Arts Queensland Poet in Residence, a writer in residence at the University of Iowa International Writing Programme (2010), Victoria University Writer in Residence (2014) and held the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer’s Residency (2015–16). She has published three poetry collections and several CDs of sonic poems. Hinemoana’s website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio: Marty Smith reads ‘Hat’

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Marty Smith reads ‘Hat’ from Horse with a Hat, Victoria University Press, 2014

 

 

 

‘This is the kind of territory they were all locked together in. Here are the hills, and this is how they went to work.Left to right: Garth Smith (Dad) on Misty; Fiona Allpass on Poo: Marty Smith on Blackie: Bill Champion on Tiny: Chrissy Champion on Pet, and Paul Smith on Trixie.’ Marty on the photograph
Marty has given up teaching and administering literary events to work full time on writing a non-fiction book about what it takes to work in the racing industry and how and why people do. Her research involves regularly watching morning track work at the Hastings racecourse and betting at the TAB.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf review: Dinah Hawken’s There is no harbour

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cover image by Marian Maguire

 

When I trained in social work

in 1968—the year we saw Earth from space—

I found the History of New Zealand

could shake me like an earthquake

and make me cry.

 

from ‘”All the history that did not happen'”

 

Dinah Hawken’s eighth poetry collection, There is no harbour (Victoria University Press, 2019), presents three entwined Taranaki strands. The first comprises her family history during the years of early Pākehā settlement, the second a brief history of the Taranaki wars and the third reveals her thoughts and feelings as she researched and wrote her long poem. Dinah always gifts her poetry with musicality, breathing room, heart and contemplation. This new book is no exception. It is an addictive mix that inspires me as both reader and writer.

In her brief frontnote Dinah writes:

The completion of the poem has not lead me to any sense of resolution. It has led to something less measurable, perhaps more valuable—greater clarity, particularly of the depth of injustice Māori have endured in Taranaki. At the same time it has strengthened my attachment and my gratitude to my great and great-great grandparents, whom I know as essentially good people. And it has led me back to Parihaka: to profound respect for Te Whiti and Tohu, the art of leadership, the art of passive resistance, and their refusal of human war.

Dinah brings together family voices, anecdotes, settings, facts and musings to re-present history in poetic form—history that was hidden, manipulated and muted in the past. She stands as a Pākehā in multiple places, searching for other points of view, other ways of seeing and feeling. I am looking through her poem view-finder and the effect is significant. I am mourning the arrogance and the atrocities, I am celebrating the courage.

 

Tītokowaru

fired his tūpara in the air

in front of 600 people

threw it down at his feet

and kicked it.

 

The evil weapon, he said,

which has caused so much mischief and ill-will

and been loaded with the blood of men,

should never hereafter

be taken up again.

 

from ‘1867, “The Year of the Daughters”‘

 

As a poet Dinah utilises economy on the line to build richness above, between and beyond. That plainness of talking makes the impact even stronger, deeper, wider.

 

Wherever you looked at it from,

whoever lived inside it,

a whare was a welcome shelter.

One in which a family could sleep,

in which a child could be born.

 

It was the kind of house

that could easily

go up in smoke. And it did.

 

from ‘Oswald, from his notebook’

 

How to imagine the past? How to imagine the cruel past? How to imagine the day and its sheen of sun on the leaves? How to imagine both sides of  an unforgivable war? How to imagine how to proceed in your Pākehā skin with your Taranaki family tree and the ancestral tree in Britain?  This is what Dinah does as she creates her chain of connections towards the present and back into the past.

Individual lines stand out and they feel like entrances into the stories I /we need to hear:

 

‘I am the beneficiary of injustice.’

 

In one poem the voices of Robin Hyde, Virginia Woolf, J. C. Sturm and Te Whiti sit side by side.

 

In 1940 Virginia Woolf said:

 

Unless we can think peace into existence

we—not this one body

but millions of bodies yet to be born—

will lie in the same darkness and hear

the same death rattle overhead

 

from ‘Found Poetry’

 

I adore this book, this contemplative, self-vulnerable exploration that faces a past that makes me feel shame, but that offers empathetic heart-lines out in the open. I can’t take it all in, in my first reading. I have read it again, and then again. There is no harbour is a vital reminder to bring our stories into the open and to keep finding ways to build peace in our homes and our villages and our cities. And our hearts. I want you to read it and find your own connections, your own lines to treasure, because this is a poetry book that matters so very very much.

 

‘Loss of possessions is a kind of freedom;

loss of land is exile’

 

This is what it comes down to:

Taranaki land was stolen.

My people—at first lost—were then

steadied by it. Pakakohe

were wrenched from it.

They were promised reserves,

instead they were jailed.

 

When you come down to it

everything comes back

to the vital, absorbing land.

And although a poem

can enclose you

like the rocky arms

of a Cornish cove,

justice is so much stronger than injustice

and this poem

has no solace to offer:

it is a phrase or two in a story

being written and woven together

by numerous, various,

generational hands.

 

©Dinah Hawken There is no harbour

 

Victoria University Press page