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. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tuesday Poem: Alice the Camel

Alice wakes up one morning. Her lover sings to her: Alice the
Camel has two humps. It's an action song.

Short and sweet today - one of the gems from The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider by Janis Freegard, another Tuesday Poet. The chapbook is published by Anomalous Press in the US, and I have one, and I treasure it. It's the size of a hand and the prose poems are long and short and will make you smile and nod and shake your head a lot. Janis is launching it in NZ soon.  Watch this space.  Do head over to the TP hub where there's a wonderful wonderful poem A GARAGE by an Australian poet called Robert Gray.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tuesday Poem: Flash Fiction Dead Space

Dead Space

Catch the boy out there standing like a bird with one foot tucked behind a calf looking at the sea. He isn’t at soccer practice. He isn’t on the scout tramp to Chatham Creek. He isn’t playing Dead Space 2 while Bridgie practices her scales. Up and down, up and down. The boy, Jesse, is allergic to scales and allergic to Bridgie who squeaks like a bird when he interrupts her. Dead Space 2. Necromorphs for god’s sake. I need to concentrate
          But she just squeaks and then she squeals and then Mum comes wiping her hands on a tea-towel, and she wants to know where he got the damn game from. Then it’s all over red rover, as his dad says, and he’s outside, like his dad usually is, smoking, except Jesse’s not smoking because he’s run out of smokes.  
           Catch the boy before he leaves. Not the boy leaving. The father leaving. Country Road bag in hand – Bridgie’s bag for sleepovers. He says to the boy, ‘Bye, Jess’, and he says to the boy, ‘Be good for your Mum.’ 
           And his dad puts down the stupid bag, and the look on his face is that sort of look he gets when he comes home and it’s his birthday and Mum’s made a special dinner. Hopeful. Or something. He blinks too much, thinks Jesse, his breath smells like shit. When his dad hugs him, Jesse puts his foot down so he won’t topple. The scales have stopped. Jesse thinks of Necromorphs. He smells sweat and smokes. That’s how Necromorphs would smell, he thinks. And they’d blink too fast. His father used to play the piano. He bought the piano for Jesse to play but Jesse didn’t want to play. He just didn’t. 

Mary McCallum 

Dead Space isn't a poem, not really, but as Flash Fiction, it's a comely blend of poetry and short fiction. Three hundred words only and a lot of fun to write. More fun to discover my story was placed third in the National Flash Fiction Day Competition, June 22. It came in after the winning story by Frankie McMillan In the nick of time, a deer, and Rebecca Styles' second placed story Parade, and was read at a NZ Society of Authors open mic evening in Wellington last night. 

Congratulations to Frankie and Rebecca and all those short and long-listed. Thanks to Tuesday Poet Michelle Elvy for encouraging me to enter with her fabulous flash fiction facebooking. And thanks to the kind donor who has given some money so the winners get a cash prize - how good is that? 

I decided to enter the competition the evening of the deadline, and had a sentence in my head and went from there. As happens with this sort of approach, I didn't know where I was headed or where the Necromorphs came from (they do exist, in a game called Dead Space - but what are they doing here? and they are so right.) The point of view veers back and forth a bit from the boy to the dad. If I'd had time I would have worked at making it more consistent, but in fact I like the inconsistency and uncertainty now, and it works better with paragraphing, which wasn't in the original - becoming more like a play. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Tuesday Poem: Palmy by Jennifer Compton

Here's a taster of Jennifer Compton's poem Palmy - yes, about Palmerston North - the rest is on the Tuesday Poem hub where I am privileged to be the editor this week.

This used to be all forest, not so long ago, and I could tell by the sorrow
that haunts the wide, flat roads, that seeps out of the sense of openness,
something is missing, something is wrenched askew, as the river runs.
The wind blows through, in rolling gusts, baffled, and almost angry.
The wind is searching for the Papaioea Forest. How beautiful it was.  
Tonight, behind the necklace of glittering lights below, is the darkness
which is the hills. Upon them, when it is light, like many crucifixions,
the wind farm. Then the long, ungainly arms swoop and seem to bless.
I will admit, to you, that I have found Palmerston North disconcerting.

More here at the Tuesday Poem hub. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tuesday Poem: Ruby

It’s Ed and me today at the end of the seawall
on the way to Lion Rock. We lean on it, feel
the crust of lichen beneath our elbows, watch 

the dogs
running on the shingle beach. Billy’s a softie
for a staffie-cross but he’s pulled  Ed’s arm

from the socket too many times to count. Ruby’s
not a softie, she has eyes like coins, a seal’s coat.
Together they’re the tigers in that story

running till they’re butter. Ed’s talking
about the dances in Limerick and
gets onto how he trod the boards with Harold

Pinter. Ed’s a painter now, or was  his duff
shoulder tells that story. Some days we fall in
with Charlie the blue heeler and his owner

whose name I always forget. Both of them have
a touch of wilderness about them.  Charlie’s
owner’s parents ran the Oasis Motel

in Palmerston North. Colin lived in Palmy, too,
before he moved to Rome to sculpt; his peke 
Andrew is pissing on the wall now and Colin’s

following in his shark tooth hat. He tells a story

about living on Long Island and how, walking
with his bulldog, he was sometimes mistaken

for Truman Capote.  Justine  is blonde and pregnant 
and makes me think of vanilla icecream.
When she hoves into view with slobbering

Aaron and Beagle-eyed Georgie, the men
hold themselves tighter. She’s pretty,
Justine. Her husband’s a musician and

at weekends you see them out and
about. One day
Ed, Charlie’s owner, Justine, Colin and I are

up by the Rec’ in the pingao grass,
and we’re talking baby names while the dogs
churn. Her face is plump and tired, and Justine 

says, 'Ruby, I think,' then louder, 'Ruby’ –
and we stop talking a moment and breathe
in the sea and the sharp grass and the frangipane

scent Justine wears and the must of Colin’s
sheepskin coat and whatever it was Billy rolled
in, and then we laugh, and I mean laugh. The

belly kind that makes it hard to breathe anything
at all. We laugh, Ed, Charlie’s owner, Justine, Colin
and me

because there’s Ruby - over there – sniffing
Charlie’s arse, sleek and black, eyes a-gleam,
nothing vanilla about her, nothing like

ice-cream. Weeks later, by Lion Rock,
Colin catches me up. He’s got some results back.
His blood is revolting, turning on his heart.

I squeeze his hand. He squeezes back, eyes
on the oily sea, the other hand holding a bouquet
of the stiff pale seaweed that washes up

in storms. Some days it’s so luminous here,
it’s like standing inside a shell.

Next time we see Ed, he’s at the corner
of  Nikau and the Promenade waving
and waving with his good arm.  ‘Justine had

her baby! I’ve seen the little mite.’ We
stop and wait. The wind 
getting up. Ed has Billy’s lead tight around

his wrist and pants when he reaches us. He mimes
lifting a pram cover and peering in. ‘Now ask me,’
he says, ‘ask me her name.’ We say all together,

a straggly chorus, ‘What’s her name, Ed?’ What’s
her name, Ed?  says the sea, and Ruby circles
Billy like a tiger, and the gulls ratchet it down to a mew

and everything is one big smile, everything on this
beach, one big ear. ‘Sure as I’m standing
here,’ says Ed, ‘You’ll never guess.’  He heaves Billy

along the path now, a grin like shark’s teeth,
then Charlie shows up, and his owner –
Garwain? – and they want to know too,

and Ed’s having a ball. We’re all having a ball. 

Mary McCallum 

This poem was written very long time ago. Nine years. But I've been redrafting it over the past two months. 

Ed doesn't walk Billy now because he isn't well enough so his wife Patricia does it instead.  We always stop and chat when we see them, but Billy and Ruby are older and greyer and only sniff each other now - no churning. Colin passed away five years ago and his beloved Andrew followed. Garwain, if that was his name, moved away with  Charlie. So, I think, did Justine and her dogs and her Ruby - but I'm not sure about that. I just haven't seen them in a while. I still enjoy my daily walks with my Ruby but it's been a while since it was quite so social and quite so much fun. 

Do get along to the Tuesday Poem hub to read a delightful fragment of Robin Hyde's, editor Janis Freegard.