Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Earthquake - the words

After the last earthquake in Christchurch, I posted a poem trying to haul together what had happened there, and express what I'd seen and read at my safe distance in Wellington. I post it again today - the earthquake in Christchurch yesterday has devastated that city and its people. It was far worse in effect than the one last September, but the stuff of this poem does, I think, hold true, especially the opening lines -- and not just for the people of Christchurch but for all of us in NZ at the moment ... 'it mobs us/leaves us/immobile//we are aghast...' 

For the victims of the Canterbury Earthquake, September 2010

Day 1
it mobs us
leaves us

we are aghast and naked in the doorway 
clutching each other, where’s the dog? 
we are flying for the children, calling
their names, we are the woman up to her neck 
in it, scrabbling for a handhold, calling --
the child behind her on the path stay there 
the one she’s rushing to collect stay there 
we are the boy running to the grandfather, calling --
we are the family watching the capsizing house 

stay               there

earth in our ears
earth in our eyes
earth in our hair

Day 2
it runs its fingers  
along the fences
and power poles
leaves behind
the sound
anxiety makes

there are
early births
and heart attacks
sleep flies from
windows like
featherless birds

Day 3
the faultline is the

in the spine and the


and neck

and shoulder bones


are the

Day 4
it nudges
a dog does
the child vomit
his little brother
and shake and shake

the looters take what they like

the homeless take what they can

the mother says she can’t take anymore

the dairy owner says take what you like pay later

Day 5
it changes
the way we
face the world
that shop we
knew that street
we grew up in
that church
in Little River
we drove past on the way to our holidays

Day 6
the crane             drivers      are having a        field day
   one  saves              a chandelier and        bows      to the applause
one unpicks a      wall brick     by brick      and leaves small
       pyramids ready for       rebuilding    there are too many
toppled chimneys      too many buildings on their     knees
nothing can     be done about         Telegraph Road

Day 7
earth in our hair
earth in our ears
earth in our eyes

we are naked in the doorway
we are shaking like leaves
we are up to our neck in it

scrabbling for a handhold calling -- 


                                        Mary McCallum

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Makeover by John Horrocks

In muted light by the electric bath
nameless forms of naked patients
wait passively in the enamel tub.
They lie there white as axolotls,
amphibious creatures with
tiny foreshortened legs, their
feathery gills hidden in steam.

They face their faint reflections
in the enamel and the tiles, each
head half-obscured by the rim.

Companions to forsaken
angels who lived for themselves,
they think only of their beauty.
Everything else is refusal.

The white-jacketed attendant
touches the plastic switch.
There is a spluttering flash
of orange and vermilion.
The translucent skin of each
wavering body ripples
in brief mimicry of action.


How to get you into the spirit of the weird and wonderful book where Makeover resides? A Wellington poet who has a long relationship with Rotorua, John Horrocks' new collection Something in the Waters looks at the history of this North Island town - a thermal spa where visitors went to bathhouses to be offered mud, massage, electric shocks and x-rays for a range of conditions.

'In Something in the Waters,' says the book blurb, 'we see how these intimate treatments, like many contemporary makeovers, fuelled belief in bodily and mental transformations.'

John's poems delve into this bizarre sulphurous world accompanied by a fantastic collection of photographs from the archives (one of which is on the cover.) The photograph accompanying Makeover cannot be reproduced here, but it shows the 'white-jacketed attendant' - standing like a bus conductor - with his hand on a device that is attached, via wires, to a man in a deep claw bath filled to the brim. 

We only see the back of a man's head and some dim legs under the water. The room is tiled, white. There is a repulsive clinical feel, the back of the patient's head is unbearably poignant.

I find the poem disturbing and fascinating at the same time. I am repelled by the white things in the poem - the technician with his hand on the switch, the naked patients like axolotls, the enamel and tiles - and I feel such sadness for the patients. The short three line stanza does that - stepping in after the muted naked creatures at the start, and drowning them, reducing them to nothing but a faint reflection.

I am also smitten by the line, 'Everything else is refusal', not - until this evening - knowing its genesis. I rang John, who lives not far from me, and he directed me to his comments in the book referring to the Rotorua Bathhouse as 'structured like the worlds of Dante's Divine Comedy, with a hellish subterranean basement where the gases chew at the structure itself. ... The other levels are more like Dante's Purgatory, where redemption through uncomfortable treatments could take place.' John explained that the 'grand refusal' was made by the 'cowardly fence-sitters' at the entrance to hell who were neither evil enough for hell nor good enough for heaven. Which is just perfect.

Again, if you don't know Rotorua, you won't know that one of the attractions is Hell's Gate - a place of hot pools and steaming water that George Bernard Shaw said was the most damnable place he'd ever been to. Echoing that, is the deliciously Frankensteinish moment at the end of the poem that mimics the moment when the first Man was vivified.

There are many more poems about the people using the baths and the strange contraptions that were, astonishingly, used, and then there are the poems about Rotorua the place. As the poem Panoramic says, in Rotorua, 'there is still the pungent/taste of the past, the steaming/imprint of ancient explosions.' John's poems go a long way towards making that history pungent again, deepening the imprint.

Very cool indeed. 

John Horrocks (right) bantering with publisher Roger Steele
at the launch of Something in the Waters
at Rona Gallery, Eastbourne 2010

About the Author

John Horrocks spent much of his childhood at his grandparents’ house at Rotorua. His poems recall the lake at this time — when the water was clear and many of the surrounding hills were covered in bush — and the town itself, with the spa in the Government Gardens in its final years. 

John is a research co-ordinator in the School of Health Sciences at the Wellington Institute of Technology. His previous volume of poems, Raw Places (2006) was based on his experiences as a farmer in the Tararua foothills.
For more Tuesday Poems click on the QUILL in the sidebar. Fabulous stuff at your fingertips. Start with US poet Sarah Lindsay at the hub.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tuesday Poem: In/let by Jo Thorpe

This is a sluicing place.
Today, through the open door
of the Boathouse where I write,
Alan the builder works quietly and well,
puts sand in the concrete, fills yellow
plastic bags with mix to make the compound wall.
I don't want to think about work or plastic.
I want to cast back to the sandspit at noon,
how I stood on its bright neck, tide muscling in,
its heedless pulse finding every scooped-out
glyph and groove, each dry-channelled grainy place,
and sand so white that shallows could be seen right through
to aqua, turquoise, then the deep-rushing, deep-flushing
cerulean centre, doing what beauty does -
lifts us past the perpetual scrap
into largo of width - estuary, ocean -
into 'blue and a blue and a breath'.

I did not sit on the ribbed sand.
I did not turn back, nor follow the watermark's
inland loop, but stood till the inlet took everything -
sky, bush, reflecting even the echo of an answer found
I am because you are in the vast harem of its eye.
I'm out there, treading the edge
as it's re-shaped - as we've been,
by Sirens, the poet's dome, lucent days like this
that take the watching heart and throw it open.


Jo Thorpe's picture

Like music, I get crushes on poets and my current crush is poet, dancer and dance history teacher Jo Thorpe, whom I know as a co-Trustee of the Randell Cottage Writers Trust. 

I was intrigued by her new collection in/let (Steele Roberts) when I read Hunt the slipper which was posted on the Tuesday Poem hub on December 7 last year. Who could resist lines like these:

recalling a tale of that chaste ballerina
stopped by a highwayman wanting
not gold, but demanding she dance
on her black panther skins
spread out on the scintillant snow ...

I finally bought in/let last week and have already posted a little on the glittering/fairytale, muscular/dancing, instinctive poems within, and am posting here the title poem with permission. Here we find surely the perfect first line about a place of water, and the perfect end, and such as this in between:

I want to cast back to the sandspit at noon,
how I stood on its bright neck, tide muscling in,
its heedless pulse finding every scooped-out
glyph and groove ...
The image is powerful, glittering ... and the sounds fill the mouth – dance in the mouth - flood, spill. After the lapping double 'l's' in the half-rhymes at the end of lines at the start, hear here the 'st' and 'sp'  and 'sc' sounds - like the 'sh' of water coming over the sand (which does indeed become 'sh') - opening up to the smooth 'oo' of 'scooped' and 'groove' - which becomes eventually the open 'o's' at the end of the poem, as everything - the body, the water, the mouth - opens up.

This is a poem of an inlet (the blissful Awaroa Inlet in the Marlborough Sounds) and of letting in. Letting in water and light and colour and language and poetry. The 'poet’s dome' could be Shelley's: ‘Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass, Stains the white radiance of Eternity.’ 

This is a poem of the body – a builder’s body at work, a body of water at work, a poet/dancer watching. Gorgeous.

For more Tuesday Poems, including Poem for a Hard Time by Canadian poet Lorna Crozier at the hub, click on the quill in the sidebar or click here . TP, too, is a sluicing place of sorts.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Write it: embrace the beautiful danger

I have been Rousseaud into the day by the work of poet Jo Thorpe. This lovely verb 'To Rousseau' is in her new collection in/let: 'some ringlet of music/might Rousseau me into the day.' (Twlight and melancholies)

A dancer, dance reviewer and teacher of dance history, the elegant Jo writes poems that do indeed 'dance' - in their language, their musicality, the way they move... Poet Bill Manhire comments on the way Jo's poems 'notice' movement and follow it, and go between 'between stillness and frenzy'.

Amongst other things - not least sinewy/rich poems on being a mother, on being alive, on attending to things, on writing - Jo writes about the stuff of dance and what makes it. How to dance your own body's legend is one of those.

It begins 'Choose the site carefully. Find one that will hold you/ in-side nuance. Create your own mise-en-scene...' It could be a poem about writing just as easily.

Jo continues describing how the dancer enters the 'Now', moves 'through the animal', makes 'room for the bird', follows 'the wind-spool'. She bids the dancer/reader to 'embrace the beautiful danger' at the core:

Watch how it grins and glares at you, that blur
at the edge of field, blur on the edge of shape -- find the
keel of it, the red that pecks, the claw angling for the back.

Brilliant advice for the writer - too many of whom take the safe and familiar path, the place they think they should put their feet or where they think other people want them to go (I read a lot of novel manuscripts...) And even if they (hurrah!) 'find the keel of it', one of the biggest weaknesses in manuscripts I find is that too many writers let it go in the latter quarter of a novel, the boat founders, the red becomes pink, the claw wears a glove, and - god forbid - they start to tidy up (think claw as duster), heading for a tidy end, a 'satisfactory' end .... or maybe they just run out of steam or imagination. Poets do this too.

Jo, rightly, bids the dancer (the reader, the writer) not to give up at this point. 

Back, safe, from the flight through the intuitive
resist even now the wanting-to-be-calmed,
the 'clear-lit custody of knowing'. Furrow-up the stone path.
Lick your way through the glittering city (its fabled glass).
Play in the slipstream. This is how the story opens. 
This is how the necessary heat rolls in.

Bravo!! (Note: there shouldn't be gaps between the lines - blame blogger formatting)

Oh I love this poet. Her book is only $20 at good bookshops or online at Steele Roberts. And you can read one of her find-the-keel, glittering poems about a dancer here on Tuesday Poem.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes. Rilke. Melissa Green. Bliss.

Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes - their story is rendered exquisite in a poem by Rilke translated by award-winning US poet Melissa Green and posted as part of Tuesday Poem which I curate with Claire Beynon.

This is the treat that is TP - each week to open up and not know what there'll be... and there they are these poems in the blogroll: bright gems, chewy sweets, airbourne birds, bitter leaves ... and tucked in a blog that comes out of Winthrop Massachusetts this week is a rewritten/translated myth I know and don't know. And it is all of those things.

For the minutes it takes to read the words, I am inside the skin of Eurydice as she walks behind Hermes to reach daylight ('like a fruit rich with its own sweetness and bruises, she was filled to brimming with the enormity of her death'), inside the skin of Hermes as he leads her 'the wings on his ankles lightly fluttering', inside the skin of doubting Orpheus in a sky-blue cloak and 'the delicate lyre which had grown into his left shoulder the way a rose might be espaliered on an olive tree.'

How more perfectly could they be rendered?

Read it here.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Dating

it was so long ago

she was small
with slender
calves and
a different
way of walking

it’s hard to put
a face to her,
but she was
with deep-set
eyes, I
couldn’t be
sure of the

she wasn’t
with brains
but  was
bright enough

rather than

I can’t say
she used 
her time,
cooking springs
to mind

she'd have
your eye
a girl like

made you
think again
about that thing
of God’s
own image

she was quite
a find all right

I know
for sure
is that 
   (not her
real name)
is eighteen
years old

on that, 
thanks to
carbon, I
can be
fairly exact

Mary McCallum

Remember Flores? Check out more fabulous Tuesday Poems. Janet Frame's poem 'Poets' is at the hub and from there you can visit another thirty poets with poems from Rilke to Diane Brown. Just click on the quill in the sidebar. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Morning

Don’t deceive me precious morning
no, my love, do not –
your skin’s so fresh and born in air,
deceptions leave their marks
on there: like the tick
of cloud on the blue of sky
above the startled hills.

I need you to be true,
my love,
when I breach sleep and walk barefoot
yawning to the morning room,
day tugging on my sleeve already
asking for a piece of this or that.

I need your held breath,
your pale stare,
your cool complacent unmarked cheek 
and the way you sit, transparently
waiting for me.

                                                            Mary McCallum

For more Tuesday Poems go here - at the hub you'll find a NZ classic rediscovered.