Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tuesday Poem: It's got a leaf

true I
didn’t eat
pears for years
unaware they ripen
from  the  inside  out,
despite Dad who worked
with apples and pears, sold
them in  Europe,  took us on
holidays to orchards and packing
sheds, ordered them, tissue-cupped,
by the wooden box. Now I try to buy 
my pears from Tom or Richard or Sandra:
Winter Nelis – which looks like Nellie but
isn’t – the round hard-looking ones that feel
just picked, and pile them on the spotted plate,
slice them one by one to eat. Winter Nelis – the
one Annie painted for me: a rich red wall behind
the freckled face of it, a goldenish shine to the
skin – the one Tom or Richard or Sandra
rushed over to her from the fruit shop
next door: Look, it’s got a leaf!

Mary McCallum

Such a winter poem! Enjoy (best enjoyed eating a pear). And do check out the Tuesday Poem at the hub – it's by best first book of poetry winner 2014, Marty Smith, and is stunning: Agnus Dei. There are stacks of other Tuesday Poems in the sidebar there too. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The feijoas are falling from the trees by Louise Wallace

The feijoas are falling from the trees –
a fresh bag-load every day.

Winter is on its way.
I am in the kitchen
shucking feijoas like oysters –
filling ice-cream containers to freeze.

Won't it be nice to eat them in July?
Rory is a good man, who hates feijoas.

I see a strong gust outside
and I imagine the sound of a feijoa falling.
Crashing into branches on its way down,
waiting to be plucked
from the leaves and soil.

Winter is on its way.
I try to think of how I could earn
more money; work harder, get ahead.
There is never enough
and it would be nice to get ahead.

I write a list of all the things
I need to make –
stewed feijoas, feijoa crumble –
another gust; feijoa cake. 


Louise says this poem is a clear favourite at readings she's given from her second collection Enough (VUP). It certainly scored high at a reading I was part of at Petone library recently. She was one of three 'young and hungry writers' appearing there – the others were Caolinn Hughes (VUP) and Stefanie Lash (one of my authors at Mākaro Press).

There's something about feijoas. I should know - I once posted a feijoa chutney recipe on this blog and it was a favourite post for months and months.  This poem of Louise's nails the business of having a feijoa tree in your life: from the excess to all the recipes ... no chutney, however...

Louise's poems walk with light feet, but carry so much. She thinks they're not all that interesting, but she's wrong. There's something beguiling about them that I can't quite explain. It's the Jenny Bornholdt effect – an honesty and quickness and quirkiness – and always the sideways glance at the place where vulnerability lies.

I'm talking about Louise and Enough on National Radio this afternoon with Simon Mercep - 1.30 pm.

Posted here with the poet's permission. Do check out the Tuesday Poem hub and a wonderful poem by Riemke Ensing about KM. A treat.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tuesday Poem: Chemotherapy - it's on the hub!

My poem 'Chemotherapy' - a tribute to the courage and constancy of The Book of Hat author Harriet Rowland's mum Jan Kelly - is on the Tuesday Poem hub this week with a poem by Frankie McMillan. We've both just judged the National Flash Fiction Day NZ competition and so we're paired up here by NFFD powerhouse Michelle Elvy.  Very cool. Thanks Michelle!

The Book of Hat is published by my Mākaro Press. It is Harriet's story of living with terminal cancer based on her vivid, upbeat blog posts and has been a hit with young adult and adult readers around the country, and elsewhere. The Auckland Libraries blog reviewer says:

                                      The Book of Hat is the real The Fault in Our Stars

The poem is here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Tuesday Poem: Alienation by Siobhan Harvey

is the march of students into class,
      the closing of space around them
  like a retracted wing.

is ornithology for beginners:
      Today’s lesson is birds, the teacher says;
           and how the children squawk.

is uncertainty:
      What birds do we know? the teacher says;
            and how words and ideas flock
   hungrily into Cloudboy’s mind.

is eagerness to impress:
           Geese, Miss, cries Cloudboy;
    and how he goes on, In Historia Animalium, Aristotle said
           Barnacle Geese emerged from shellfish like phoenixes
    from fires.

is the mouth of a river:
     No, New Zealand birds! the teacher remonstrates:
         and the liquid bubbling cry of it.
the call of a bittern, the cry of a tern …  

is the unwillingness to give in:
     Moa, miss, Cloudboy perseveres.

is cultural confusion:
     What's a Moa? the teacher asks.

is an argument which can't be won:
     It lived long ago, Miss, Cloudboy says, like the dinosaurs;
                 and the teacher's reply, Not dinosaurs! New Zealand birds!

is an arm small as a wing:
     how a girl raises her hand; 
                   and how the teacher nods
                                    at the child's answer, Blackbird, Miss. 

is an open window:
     how Cloudboy turns towards it, the freedom
                    beyond glass, the knowledge
                                     of air, the gravity birds defy. 


A stunning poem from Siobhan Harvey's powerful new collection Cloudboy about her son who is diagnosed with autism. She writes from the point of view of Cloudmother. I review it on Beattie's bookblog.

Here's a quote from the review:
....  the character of Cloudboy snuck up on me. With him came his abiding curiosity for how things work, his passion for finding out, his genius for understanding (his subjects: Nephology, Astronomy, Ornithology and goodness knows what else at the age many are learning to write their names) and his perceptive mother. And we see this wisp of a boy go to school, and watch aghast at the way school tries to make him more boy than cloud, and in so doing breaks the heart they don’t seem to know is there (‘such softness’) ....
Siobhan's poem posted here with permission. 
Do check out Tuesday Poem hub with a wonderful poem by Emma Neale. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Tuesday Poem: Song

The minim leap of dog
behind, and in front, the hemidemisemiquavers
of rabbit.
Oblivious, both. I think of Mary
Oliver and her unleashed dogs
      ‘stay’ to Ben
      ‘run’ to the raccoon.
On Pirinoa Road, we’re still
a strange kind of musical interlude
with me the conductor. Now one – ah there – and now
the other. The grace of both. No need to say a thing. 
Bow, my loves. 

Mary McCallum

Mary Oliver's lovely book Dog Poems inspired this poem, written at a place of rabbits and one dog. 

I am also the editor at the Tuesday Poem hub this week and have posted a wonderful poem by Helen Rickerby who is one of the first poets to be published as part of my new Hoopla series. Her book is Cinema

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tuesday Poem: Happiness Bowls

                                 Pink and blue and
lavender, poured glass bowls pinched
to look like small boats brimming with water.
Inside, incised: the letters and lines of a
chemical formula. The white card says
‘Happiness Bowls’.
                                 I wait for the woman
to finish with the customer who’s asked for
a piece of art small enough to carry in a
pocket. As I wait, I decide she doesn’t love
her job. She wears her unhappiness like
a white card. The way
                                 she chinks the keys
for the cupboard that has glass pieces fit
for a pocket, holds the cupboard door as if
she wants to shut it on a hand. The customer
looks and looks and shakes his head. He leaves,
hand in his pocket. Please,
                                  I say, what is this
written in the Happiness Bowls? Seratonin,
she says, but it sounds like Sarah Tone.
She’s back at the table where she can
watch people enter the shop. It’s the
chemical equation, she says.
                                  Oh, I say. I didn’t know
it was like that. I stare at the hexagon, the
pentagon, lines and letters, NH2–HO–HN,
inside the pale, poured bowls. He’s done
more serious work, she says, I’ll get it, and
she walks up the stairs –
                                   brings down a bowl like
the Happiness Bowls but this one needs two
arms to hold it and it’s the colours of fire.
Angular, brimming, but no equation this time.
It looks primordial, like a wedge of something
                                    cut from a rock
and polished. She places it in the natural light
by the window and the colours lighten and
redden, rise and fall, burn like a brazier. I am
enthralled. She says the artist makes a wax
shape and, from that,
                                    a mould, pours molten
glass into it. He fires it, cools it, uses acid
to make the outside opaque. Against artificial
light, the red flares, she says. The word
‘flare’ sounds like it’s flaring in her mouth.
Even the word ‘light’ has lightness.
                                    The ‘t’,
the merest tip of something. I imagine
her upstairs on her own under the lights
watching it flare. Yes, it’s cool to the touch,
she says, but there’s a warm current too like
the sea in summer. Then – No!
                                    she says, fingermarks!
Picks up the bowl and takes it to her table.
I go back to the Happiness Bowls. They are less
serious now: pastel, talky, glib. Something to
carry in a pocket, to bring out when confidence
flags. Why are they here:
                                    to give happiness or to
hold happiness? Or perhaps, and I feel this
might be it: the bowls are happy. And what is
that when it is so small an equation, so easily
etched? I nod goodbye to the woman, behind
her table again. She is
                                    polishing the red bowl
with a soft blue cloth, her whole attention on it.

                                            Mary McCallum

It's the fourth birthday of Tuesday Poem. I can hardly believe it's gone on so long! Inspired by all the fun Michelle Elvy (our precious hub-subbie) has been having with our usual birthday collaboration (okay - fun and HARD work), I decided to write a poem - and then got side-tracked on a old poem which had never felt quite right in language and form. So here it is again, streamlined ... hopefully better. And a HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US!

I have to say I am deeply indebted to the wonderful Michelle Elvy for taking on the job of sub for our Tuesday Poem hub, relieving me of my weekly duties overseeing the posts there. After Michelle finishes her stint, there's another hub-subbie lined up and so it goes. And I will try and write more poems :) with the space these lovely poets have given me. And thanks as always to the wonderful Claire Beynon my co-curator.

So, please check out our hub now -- take a squizz at the fourth birthday poem, and then read some of our poets in the sidebar.

Go HERE to the hub ...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tuesday Poem: Chemotherapy

who knew she was there
hidden inside that thing that turns
her girl upside down and inside out
(poison, really, a small inefficient
killing field) let loose in a body still
young enough to smell of milk
in the morning, one the mother must
return to sit beside and stand over    
to stroke the soft cheek, catch the soft
vomit, be steel to all that softness — a shield —
and, when called upon, to scream
like a banshee      yet, for the most part,
sits beside is all she can do, hands in lap

but running the spellcheck just now
over the girl’s story — all those
words, sharp teeth biting at the last
of life’s full belly — there she is! mother
over and over:  the unexpected heart
of the matter, with key on one side,
and happy on the other

Mary McCallum

This poem is for my friend Jan. Do check out other Tuesday Poems  - there's the magnificent Bogong Moth on the hub and then in the sidebar you can find 30 poets with poems they've posted especially for today. Enjoy! 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tuesday Poem: Little Dog’s Rhapsody In The Night by Mary Oliver, a reading

Mary Oliver reads a poem from Dog Songs from The Penguin Press on Vimeo.

Oh this is just perfect. I am working on a poetry book at the moment with dog poems in it (that's as a publisher not a poet), and the poet sent me a link to Mary Oliver's new book called DOG SONGS (The Penguin Press 2013). I love Mary Oliver's work already -- and now I love it doubly. Such perfect lines...

Could there be a sweeter arrangement? Over and overhe gets to ask.I get to tell.
Do go to the Tuesday Poem hub for a fire cracker of a post on Les Murray,  by Zireaux, and to see the other TP poets there.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tuesday Poem: Tangaroa at Days Bay: the fishing man by John Horrocks

            After a print by Michel Tuffery

In this house you can never tell
when it’s raining, for the streams
sound all night outside our windows.

Tangaroa, his black form
ornamented with yellow fish,
stands above our bed, his head
slightly lowered, as though he
can never stop listening
to the running water
or the waves at the beach.

His world is full of bounty.
A blue kahawai swims at his feet.
Beside his dark legs a wash
of gold floods among
eager shapes of fish
hastening to adorn
the fabric of his body.

Poised in the harvest-laden sea
He treads the waves on our wall,
A fastidious and deliberate god,
content merely to demonstrate
how every flowing moment
of every day might be.

I love the bountifulness of this poem and the water and the fact of a god. John Horrocks, who was once a farmer in the Wairarapa and wrote wonderful poems about hills called Mount Misery and sheepdogs, lives close to the sea now (and close to where I live) and writes often of water. I remember hearing this poem read the first time and loving the movement of it,  and the sounds. I have seen the Tuffery print too - it's fantastic. John's poem is included in Eastbourne (an anthology) which I am co-editing and is out soon. 

When you've read this poem do go to the Tuesday Poem hub where a young South African has a wonderful sensual poem posted ... 


Friday, October 11, 2013

Alice Munro Nobel Prize in Literature

Alice Munro wins the Nobel Prize in Literature! Brilliant. The tag line on the Nobel website is 'master of the contemporary short story'. Canadians have been known to call her their Chekhov.

A short article here articulates the beauty of this win - the way we struggle to say exactly what it is that makes Alice Munro so great and how she's credited with doing the 'woman writer thing' exceptionally well:  making the small things of life some how big with the attention she pays - but then the article lands on 'some kind of alchemy of form and content' as the only way of understanding Munro's greatness, before throwing up its hands and saying - in effect - just read her! Do please, yes.

I tried to discuss Munro's genius in a blog post five years ago and talked about the time Munro spent looking out of windows. Yes, not looking inside at her own life and her own angst but outside, at people passing by, and what they do. In her words,
I want the reader to feel something is astonishing. Not the 'what happens', but the way everything happens.
How she wrote short stories because she was a wife and mother and busy thinking always about others needs, so there was time for little recreation except looking through windows, and writing short fiction. Her first collection of stories was published in 1968 when she was 37. I talked in the blog post about reading one of Munro's stories in her collection Runaway while I was working hard on my 2007 novel The Blue - and how it showed me 'suddenly and simply how to write about love in a way that was unsentimental, visceral, raw, astonishing'. And I quoted Munro...
I want the reader to feel something is astonishing. Not the 'what happens,' but the way everything happens.
... And then I found a perspicacious review in the International Herald Tribune:
The distinctions that Munro has been elaborating on for years along the prairies, small towns, and modest lives of Canada operate upon the heart. They are particle metaphysics, and their collisions release an energy that all but mutates the reader's mental and emotional genes. 
Afterward, we glow faintly in the dark. 
Heart is a word dangerously subject to sentimental abuse; even worse is heartstrings. Useful, though, in attempting to suggest the nature of Munro's art. She moves on a fine workaday surface; then, unsignaled, reaches deep with delicate and knowing fingers to tug the filament of a brainily targeted emotion. Her unremarkable landscapes are dotted with rabbit holes; falling in, we grow, we shrink, we are at a loss, and then unexpectedly found.

Congratulations Alice Munro. And Canada (love that country and its writers). Thanks Bookman Beattie who shared the news with me first thing this morning.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Thought-Fox by Ted Hughes

Ted Hughes reads. And, yes, this is the poem coming  - a shadow lagging - a creature about its own business - the widening, deepening greenness - then - yes! - it enters the hole of the head. Printed. Genius.

Please take time to enter the poem at the Tuesday Poem hub this week. It is an anti-war poem by a father to a son written by Jamaican poet Geoffrey Philp, editor Rethabile Masilo in Paris. A marvellous poem an commentary. Here.

And congratulations to New Zealand author Eleanor Catton for being short-listed for the Booker Award with her novel The Luminaries. The third kiwi ever to do it, I believe. Proud.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Tuesday Poem: The Storm

She dreams of wheelie bins hurled from great heights and wakes to find the street a thicket of meat trays and fruit nets and eggboxes; the asphalt, a jig-saw puzzle. The dog is discovered at the neighbour’s – the fence, worn thin by salt wind, is down. The woman who dreamed of wheelie bins stands by the gap calling the dog and sees the vege garden for the first time. All those trellises, all that lawn, a purpose-built compost. All the way to the shops, she sees how delicate things are: the way asphalt is only a skin and trees are brittle at the tips, and roofs – usually so respectful – can turn and laugh at you. At the café, she shares a table with a woman who forgets how old she is. She needs to text her husband to find out. She’s not old, she’s just in pieces. Together the two women watch a family walk its belongings from a sodden house – cat bed, cushions, crime paperbacks. A truck pulls up with orange cones and men in high-visibility jackets. Someone cheers. Both at the same time, the women lift their bags and go. At home she tries to fix the fence. There’s a blackbird contemplating the lid of her wheelie bin, he’s pinkish in the light. The bin lid is yellow, the sky, yes, at last! a little blue.

Mary McCallum

We've had a big earthquake since but we're still fixing things up from a massive storm that hit us some weeks back. The asphalt is still jig-saw-like in parts and sand is over the footpath and rubbish bins are wrenched from the ground. We were lucky really... just a fence down. That bit of the poem is me. The rest is true of other people I know. How helpless storms make you feel and 'in pieces'.  Enjoy Tuesday Poem this week both here and at the hub where Australian poet and author Catherine Bateson unfolds a gem for us... Go here. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Eleanor Catton in Wellington and beyond

The extraordinary writer Eleanor Catton has done what few (only two?) New Zealanders have done before. At the tender age of 27 she has a novel on the Booker longlist: The Luminaries. And we in Wellington can see and hear this author at her book launch next Saturday 5 pm at Unity Books and at a Modern Letters' Writers on Monday event 5 August 12.15 at Te Papa.

I'm not surprised to hear of Eleanor Catton's success. She is a singular talent. Four years ago I reviewed her first novel The Rehearsal  in a blog post entitled Catton among the pigeons and, lost in a strange metaphor of my own making, said:

"This terribly-young author is already a cat-like phenomenon in the Big Book Square of the World with its greening statues of the famous and host of perching pigeons. She's won Best First Novel here and a similar award in the UK, and is lined up for more. The book reviewers and writers' festivals love her. One UK reviewer picked The Rehearsal as the future face of the novel."

There's a great write-up of Eleanor Catton's recent success by Robert Sullivan on the MIT website here where she teaches and a brief TV interview here.  I'm looking forward to reading The Luminaries - at 800+ pages I will need to put some significant time aside.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tuesday Poem: Tassel by Saradha Koirala

The action of giving turns out
to be a gesture for making a deal
the promise of discount, save or Be Saved.
I gather what I can
listen for insights from passing chatter
squint the world into a spin.
An elderly couple walk side by side
a tassel of her shawl caught in his cufflink
well-dressed for this time of day.
I roll the image between finger and thumb:

the cufflinks, the shawl the slow pace of their walk
spin the world into a gilded string.

This poem is from Saradha's new collection Tear Water Tea out soon. It has the most beautiful cover designed by her partner and is published by Steele Roberts. I love Saradha's images that are both delicate and strong, like this one. Who would have thought a tassel would have had so much life in it! I am caught up in my family history at the moment -- working on my mother's memoir -- and so perfect images like the one above: the tassel caught in his cufflink, resonate. And I always like a fairytale reference. 

Please go to the Tuesday Poem hub to read another excellent Saradha poem posted by Harvey Molloy which touches me, a one-time immigrant, in different ways. His write-up is a thousand times more interesting and insightful than mine and worth every second of the time you spend on it.

Happy reading!

Tassel is published with permission.