Monday, April 30, 2012

Mark Doty's Vita Nuova

On my blog roll it says When Women were Birds under US poet extraordinaire and memoir writer Mark Doty's blog heading. So I clicked on it, intrigued. For some reason the post isn't there - he must have reconsidered! But I found this wonderful post by him instead about the nexus between creative writing and real-life writing on blogs and how restricting the latter can be toxic for the former. It is also a post about the relevance of our old lives and that tricky thing: old uncollected poetry - something that does take up my thinking from time to time, and about unexpectedly making a new life: la vita nuova, and the joy it brings.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Sea Fever by John Masefield

I learnt this poem off by heart as a teenager. Loved the sounds, the rhythm, the romance of it. Learnt Cargoes off by heart too for the same reasons. Unlike Byron and other poets I revered in those days, I knew nothing about Masefield except that he was English and my English mother liked his poems and kept them in the loo (with a whole lot of other poets, I have to say.)  
With my chapbook out and about in the world, I was invited recently to speak to a local poetry group. I could turn up at 11 and do my reading or I could go at 10 - driven by Marjory and Barbara -and discuss Masefield. How could I resist? I went at 10 gripping my copy of Palgrave's Golden Treasury which I won for coming second in Form 4C, Wellington Girls' College. 

The meeting was at Joan's lovely home in Petone facing - yes - the sea. There were nine of us. We heard from Richard via Wikipedia about Masefield's life, and then waited our turn to read a poem or two. Wonderfully, no-one else read Sea Fever or Cargoes, so I did. 
We agreed Masefield - who was England's Poet Laureate from 1930 to his death in 1967 -  wrote poems that felt modern to us, and that this came from the crispness of the language, the freshness of his observations and the beliefs expressed, which included reincarnation and sort of proto-feminism (Barbara read an incredible poem on his feelings about his mother - and all women - giving birth). 

We talked about how what seemed anti-romantic: the 'dirty British coaster' in Cargoes, could now be thought of as romantic viz. the 'Tyne coal', the 'iron-ware', and were treated to Richard reading an extract from the long poem Reynard the Fox which has been compared critically to Chaucer and which I'd never heard of before.  

The language: who can beat 'the wind's like a whetted knife' ? And those gorgeous rhythms which are just delicious to hear read aloud. 

Richard told us all about how Masefield's parents had died when he was young so he was sent off to boarding school. Then this from Wikipedia:
After an unhappy education at the King's School inWarwick (now known as Warwick School), where he was a boarder between 1888 and 1891, he left to board the HMS Conway, both to train for a life at sea, and to break his addiction to reading, of which his aunt thought little. He spent several years aboard this ship and found that he could spend much of his time reading and writing. It was aboard the Conway that Masefield's love for story-telling grew. While on the ship, he listened to the stories told about sea lore. He continued to read, and felt that he was to become a writer and story teller himself.
Don't you love it! 'To break his addiction to reading'!! Of course he fell in love with the sea and wrote about it so compellingly, so beautifully, and spun the sea yarns into gold. Here's Cargoes.

Cargoes by John Masefield

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

From SALT-WATER POEMS AND BALLADS, edited by John Masefield, published by The Macmillan Co., New York, US, © 1944, p. 124; first published in SALT-WATER POEMS, © 1902.

Now do go to Tuesday Poem for an astonishing Kath and Kim 'poem' posted by the provocative Zireaux. Yes, Kath and Kim. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Poets' Birthday by The Tuesday Poets 2012

The shyest sparrow's supplications in the early evening trees
are a careful arpeggio - each note liberates a flotilla of leaves
fleeting, indeed, left scattered as archipelago in a dew-grass 
The song's begun: feathered entreaties lift from every hedgerow, every
field, join in one great arc of beak and wing and downy plume --
brief benediction for the worker trudging home, a heart-lifted pause
at day's end. Summer's pages fall. Leaf by leaf, they shorten days,
strip bare the trunks, spill forth a concertina of split, sagging plums,
crimson globes -- Demeter's heart strung low against the blue note 
sky. Furrowed fields lie flat beneath the tramp of corn-fed feet.

The scene is set, two candles lit, another year opens a window 
through which we pass in streak of silver, burst of wheels' screech, breath
of horns' bright blasting. Inside, the chink of glass against china,
bubble of laughter tossed from one guest to the next draws us
to warmth, the blissful promise of shared experience. How it swells
the soul's bright plumage! A winking flame copies itself on the clean
slope of the knife before it passes. The reflection flickers: and beyond 
the window frame, a final guest hesitates in mauve-hued shadow, ghost 
of Keats maybe, listening still, reticent, reluctant to eschew 
autumn's arias. And hear now, along the bay, 

the pulse of song ticks out again in joyous iteration, a boy kicks 
a ball against a wall, a sole finch adds bebop syncopationGabble, 
and its consistency of warm honey dampen the tenor, the tune -- best
left out in the tang of sharpened daylight. Shadows unwilling to retreat
stand shoulder-to-shoulder and beat the day's thrum chanting come, cold,
come, dark, come firelight, we too have our part. Gladly, watch effulgence fade,
into this gentler glow of murmured crackle and spark-fed thoughts. Each year
is gathered and falls away in a clap of digits, up from nothing to where
we find ourselves surrounded. It's come to this: the riffle of breath, the winking
flame. One is out, then the other. Stay with us, poet, it's time to start over.  

A global birthday poem written line by line by 26 poets from six countries and 12 cities over two weeks: from Tuesday April 3 to April 17 2012. It has been written to celebrate our second birthday. 

The Tuesday Poets are (in order of their lines): Melissa Green, Claire Beynon, Saradha Koirala, Janis Freegard, T. Clear, Catherine Bateson, Renee Liang, Elizabeth Welsh, Alicia Ponder, Tim Jones, Kathleen Jones, Helen McKinlay, Helen Lowe, Eileen Moeller, Orchid Tierney, Susan T. Landry, Keith Westwater, Belinda Hollyer, Harvey Molloy, Bernadette Keating, Andrew M. Bell, Michelle Elvy, Catherine Fitchett, P.S. Cottier, Helen Rickerby, Mary McCallum.

Unable to post this year: Sarah Jane Barnett, Robert Sullivan, Zireaux, Emma McCleary 

It's up on the Tuesday Poem blog, but as a matter of record - and solidarity - I wanted it up here too! Our global birthday poem. It continues to astonish me... the way it unfolded, the richness of the language, the way it feels like it has one voice not 26 voices ... Look at all the poets attached to it! Very cool indeed. More on it here. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Penny Lane

 she says, I’ll get my hat 

We meet at Heketara Street
by the seawall but sometimes
if I’m early, it’s the lane
with the crabapple tree.

In truth, we meet where we
intersect. Sometimes I get as
far as her gate, she my door.
Penny’s always ripe in red

or orange wool, and old
Molly's at the end
of a Thai scarf, her hips
barely holding her legs in.

I’m scraped together, really,
bits of this and that – mended
boots, Adam’s jacket 
Ruby gasping on the lead.

– she says, there’s this poem

And there’s something in it
about being in labour
and the cabbage tree pom-poms
cheering her on but Penny 

isn’t sure it works. We walk 
under the power lines and the man
on the ladder, and we talk
about cooking cabbage trees.

Before we know it, we’re at the end
of the sealed road and touching
the gate and turning – back past
the car park and the spent condom

and the buses, back past the man
up the ladder and the woman
with the dachshund. At the lane
where we part

– she says, crabapples!

what a shame, Elsie could make
jam with them.  I get home 
and the phone rings. She's lost 
her hat, have I seen it?

I look, but we both know 
it’s not here. Within a week 
or two, she’ll arrive at  Heketara 
Street the hat on her head.

– she’ll say, I picked up a book

and there it was. And
we’ll turn into the wind.

                                  Mary McCallum

I used to treasure these walks with my friend Penny, when we were both writing and needing to talk about it. She left Eastbourne a year ago, so Ruby and I walk this walk on our own now.  I sometimes think I see Penny coming along that lane I think of as her lane. And for months, Ruby would pause and wait a moment where Penny and I used to intersect before moving on. When Penny returns for a visit, we try and do the walk. Hats and wind and all. 

Do please click here to enter the Tuesday Poem hub where our global birthday poem is posted. We had 26 poets from six countries and 12 cities posting a line at a time over a fortnight. It was terrific fun. And now it's done. Visit do. 

Happy Birthday to us. Ra Whanau ki a korua. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Global birthday poem unfolds

At Tuesday Poem there is a global birthday poem unfolding. Our second birthday, our second global poem. It's an amazing undertaking that does my head in everytime I organise the roster and each time a line goes up. 

In a nutshell, 26 of the 31 Tuesday Poets living in six countries and 12 different cities contribute a line each over 14 days to create a single fabulous poem. Many of us have never met each other, and yet we do it - on trust, and in good heart, because we are a community  and it's our birthday. 

The poem kicked off at one minute past midnight on April 3, 2012 with a line from Boston poet Melissa Green, my Tuesday Poem co-curator Claire Beynon (a kiwi visiting Ibiza, Spain at the time) contributed the second line ten hours later, with Saradha Koirala from Wellington New Zealand posting the third. 

After that we bounced across the globe from Wellington to Canberra to London to Philadelphia to somewhere in Italy to Seattle to Dunedin and more.  I will post the final line at one minute past midnight Monday night from Wellington, NZ. There have been so few glitches - sometimes the poem disappeared off the blog due to some scheduling issues, but it was no biggie. It popped up again in no time at all.... 

And how do we post? We're all administrators for the Tuesday Poem blog, so we log in, add the line, and then add our name to the list of poets at the bottom, before passing the baton to the next poet in this roster.

Our first global birthday poem was Tuesday written last year. 
This year we've called it Birthday Poem (working title). And it started like this:

"The shyest sparrow's supplications in the early evening trees
are a careful arpeggio - each note liberates a flotilla of leaves
fleeting, indeed, left scattered as archipelago in a dew-grass sea." 

It's many lines past that now. 

Here's what I said on Beattie's book blog last week: 'It's an exciting process watching the lines go up one by one - seeing the thinking behind each line - the language, the line-breaks, where it's left for the next poet to pick it up. It's like watching one poetic mind at work, with each poet like one of the many competing voices that a poet hears as s/he writes: 'break the line there' 'no don't' 'rhyme it' 'don't you dare' 'how about plums to echo plume' 'what are you thinking?' and so on. "

What I love most of all is thinking of the poet who is next on the roster mulling over his/her line - while drinking a coffee in Dunedin, perhaps, or eating dinner in London, or walking past spring bulbs somewhere in Italy ... 

It's Penelope in Canberra at the moment pondering on Catherine Fitchett's line posted from Christchurch. Helen Rickerby tomorrow. Then me. The final poem is published on Tuesday Poem on Tuesday April 17. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Grass, acid, vanilla: the chemistry of book smells

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Missing Sock

San Francisco Laundry, photo by Mia

My friend snapped this photo and sent it to me yesterday. It's a laundry in San Francisco - and look at the name! It was Mia whose basket of socksand accompanying bag of 'orphan socks' featured in an earlier post here Who by Socks? Which in itself was a sequel to Jenny Bornholdt's brief but brilliant poem Socks posted here prior to that.

So if those two posts were the question, this - thank you dear Mia - is the answer.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Just to Say by Bryan Walpert

I came to that old poem,
folded in the leaf of a book,
and meant merely to take
a peek, like visiting a home

I’d lived a few years in long ago,
curious what had changed,
but of course it was the same,
and I couldn’t help but linger

in that meadow where we still sat
as lovers. The air rippling through
the grass carried a thought
I could nearly catch,

and still hushed the bees,
busy as always laying gold amid
the buds, while the sun slid,
endlessly of course, behind

cherry trees whose petals
fluttered like a feeling
I’d forgotten, as I’d forgotten
the scent of dusk that settled

along azaleas, the pond,
even the blanket somehow
that you had forever spread
beside the river for us to lie upon,

and it was only the foolishness
that seemed new, the kind
you feel when you find
you’ve come late to the obvious,

that even a first-time reader
should have known how soon
the end was approaching when
the jays, weaving shadow braids

between branches, sealed
the seam of the horizon,
descending to wherever it is
our oldest best selves are stored,

so forgive me if I’ve remained
too long in this poem. I’ll leave
you asleep now by the river,
murmuring the memory of my name. 

My friend Bryan Walpert, will be launching his second collection of poetry, A History of Glass at the fabulous Palmerston North City Library this Wednesday 11 April at  7.00 pm, starting with drinks at 6.30 pm at the Bruce McKenzie bookshop next door. The event is free and open to the public, so do get along and take a friend.  

I am wondering if I can get myself up there - a bit of a road trip - a bit of poetry - wind my way home.... I'll see, I have some projects needing attention this week, ones that actually involve getting paid. Hah! Now there's a thing.  

A History of Glass is beside my bed at the moment - and I dip into it regularly - a poem at a time - having read it through in one reading when it arrived in my letterbox. It is a stunning collection, each poem a complex and tasty treat, and I will review it next week. 

Another poem from Bryan's collection featured on my blog here and Bryan's No Metaphor, from a previous collection, was the first poem on the Tuesday Poem blog, so it's a fine thing to reference it this week when we're in the middle of our second birthday. 

There's a global poem going on at TP to celebrate - so far a dozen poets have posted a line each and there are more than a dozen to go, with the final poem posted next Tuesday. Do have a look! It's fun to see where it goes...  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Translucent

Crossing the Rimutakas, going home,
and the scraped landscape is in the thick
of it – although thick isn’t the word, really
– tender the cloud stroking the cut earth,
tender the light as it feels its way through.
All is gauzy. Filtered. The blue
of the sheep truck we lose on the bends
the only colour. See, Helen, you can
touch clouds. Live in them, even. Tenderly,
we make our way up and over. So
light, so lit, we’re luminous. It’s like flying,
and all we talk about on the way down. 

Mary McCallum

Flax by Mary McCallum
On this, Tuesday Poem's second birthday, here is the final poem in my book The Tenderness of Light which, I am delighted to say, is fast selling out. You can watch me read it in the video at the top of the left sidebar here. It's right at the end...

I like this poem. I wrote it quickly but had been thinking about it for weeks - the best sort, really. They have a lightness of being these heady devil-may-care poems. The others - written slowly after a burst of inspiration - can do your head in. 

The Helen in the poem is mentioned in the first poem in the book, too. She's crazy about clouds, makes them, wants to live in them, and curated the fabulous exhibition Translucent Landscapes of which my poetry was a part. 

What I love in Translucent is the feeling of joy and family and nature and home. 

Now do go to the Tuesday Poem hub to see the excitement of the global birthday poem unfolding over two weeks. The first line is up this morning and others will follow. Very exciting! 

We're two! And it started here! I can't quite believe we've got to this. But we have. I am so grateful to all the Tuesday Poets who join me each week, especially Claire Beynon - artist, writer, angel. 

Finally, Happy Birthday to Melissa Green Tuesday Poet, and to little Carter who is one today and sometimes comes to play.