Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Rock-Crystal by Ursula Bethell

Routine-galled, dulled, by many years cumbered,
slipping halter holiday-wise,
away into the west land.
So much cool green to see; such deep silence
to hear; clear silence; bright waters;
such deep-green of tree-shade; such chiming
of gem necklaces – birds shaking,
concealed, the leaves with crystal songs.
To hear, at evening, young mountaineers,
come down godlike from sunlit pinnacles,
tell of prowess and peril, and, taken from pocket,
show faceted crystals from high rock-surfaces.
To muse: All this, it has been like to crystal,
cold-dropping waters, clearest bird-voice,
sheerest silence, light-flashing glacier.
To be invited: Please have this crystal.
And so, like fay-bestowed flower in the fairy-tale,
beauty, fast in a crystal, bearing,
back to the city.
Humanity has ever found it comfortable
to render richest experience portable,
heart to heart with a sign indenture,
sum up in symbol, most high adventure;
till, years gone by, and significance broken,
folk ask: What mean you by this token?
Let us in kindness covet for every man
one lovely memory at least in life-span
fit to be locked up in crystal reliquary,
so all may see it, yet none see, save he.
I found this fascinating poem in the Guardian online. And there's a terrific write-up to go with it. As the article says, Bethell was one of our seminal poets. Born in 1874 in England, she died in Canterbury NZ in 1945. 

Many of her most beguiling poems celebrate the sloping garden she built at Rise Cottage, on the edge of the Cashmere Hills. They often begin like letters or journal-entries, informal, matter-of-fact: "I find vegetables fatiguing" ("Perspective"), "My garage is a structure of excessive plainness" ("Detail"). Sometimes, Bethell half-playfully addresses the plants themselves: to an orange-tree sapling she writes, "O little Omi-Kin-Kan, your green shoots are so sturdy ..." ("Citrus"). From such informalities, the poems blossom into rich verbal gardens, relishing intense colours and litanies of plant-names. 
Bethell the painter and Bethell the musician collaborate in her best work. The garden she writes about is a repository of spiritual meaning, and also symbolises her love for Effie Pollen, the woman with whom she shared the happiest, most artistically productive, years of her life.

This week's poem, "Rock Crystal", travels beyond the garden and celebrates wider nature. It's a "holiday poem" but one that takes a metaphysical turn, and invites us into the process by which a refreshing new vista expands into the visionary. 
Read more here.  

Then check out the Tuesday Poem blog by clicking on the quill in the sidebar or going here to read a provocative poem at the hub plus a whole host of others...  

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tuesday Poem: What I'd take etc....

What I’d take in the event of a tsunami
              & what I wouldn’t

Tiny ivory elephant in a tiny woven box in the cupboard
                    the missing tusk, fine as a finger nail

Photo cut in a circle – badly – to fit that old frame
                    the frame, the running boys inside it: too big to carry

Daughter, her things, she won't pack light,
                     the filled apple boxes waiting for the op shop
Bass guitar with a name that sounds like kissing and telling
                    the piano out by a semi-tone, all those piano lessons

The iron pot which rings like a bell when you drop it
                   the iron pot which rings like a bell when you drop it.

Mary McCallum

This came out of an exercise I invented for a poetry workshop of Year 9-11 year olds at Newlands College. I had a fantastic afternoon there last week, annoucing the winners of the school-wide poetry competition, running the poetry workshop, and talking about the NZ novels that influenced my fiction to a scholarship English class. What a terrific bunch of switched-on students. 

Thanks to Newlands College teacher extraordinaire and Tuesday Poet, Harvey Molloy, who got me involved.  

The exercise was to make the students write in precise concrete detail rather than writing abstractions and the familiar. It yielded some terrific stuff - terribly poignant at times and all evocative of character: the girl who would leave behind the bra with the scratchy underwire, the other one who would take her great grandmother's blue rosary, the boy who would take his Baxter but not his Thomas, one who'd take a tiny red triangular pick but not the guitar 'that keeps it company'. 

I liked the way they played with the relationship between the give and take line in each couplet. 

My poem: there's a lot about weight here - the need for relative lightness in the items that can be taken - and how the lost and absent things we live with often become heavy - so can't be taken for two reasons. What of the iron pot? It's that will I/won't I thing... it is heavy, and the line signals that the potential for it to be dropped is huge, and yet the ringing it would make - the sound of its 'thisness' as Gerard Manley Hopkins would say - is beautiful. 

Worth it then? To try? Perhaps to hear the bell? It's my best cooking pot, so many meals have been made in it, like magic - something from nothing. Cook porridge cook.... May as well. 

The poetry submissions for the competition were good to read and the winners were standout. 

Check out Tuesday Poem now www.tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Tight by Helen Heath

My mother folded
heavy blankets
into hospital corners
topped with candlewick.
At night I was pinned down
like a butterfly in a case.

Now we are hiding
from each other
but I'm the only one
playing the game.

Inside the wardrobe
I spy old wallpaper
and under the carpet
oiled floorboards.

Who'll find me
now she's gone --
knees by ears tight
breathing all of me.

Poet Harvey Molloy pocketed Graft
at the Unity launch 
Helen Heath launched Graft (VUP) this month at a moving ceremony in Unity Books, Wellington. Moving because it's Helen's first full collection and because these are poems that spring from both heart and brain but come back in the end, each and every one of them, to the death of Helen's mother when Helen was nineteen, over 20 years ago.

In a post on her blog nearly two years ago, Helen wrote about how the death of her mother had defined her and quoted this:

My mother is a poem
I'll never be able to write
though everything I write
is a poem to my mother.
                     Sharon Doubiago

And of course we've just had Mothers Day, and on top of that (bear with me) my middle son turns 21 any day now, and I've been looking through all those old photos and thinking what it means to be a Mum and feeling a bit emotional. Then there we were on Mothers Day morning and middle son wasn't home yet and the others weren't up yet, and my husband was making coffee ... A knock at the door. On the doorstep, forgotten his key as usual: middle son, his cheeks fresh with cold. He'd walked nine kilometres to get home to see me.

I digress. Mothers.

A number of the poems in Graft are directly about Helen's mother like the one above which constricts my throat -- the claustrophobic feel of it -- the heavy blankets pinning the child down -- all that briskness and efficiency -- the tightness in the cupboard, of the air, the child-in-the-woman curled up so tight, foetal, full of missing, glimpses of another time - wallpaper, floorboards - so close.

There are poems which appear to be indirectly about Helen's mother too: inserted throughout the collection are poems about science and scientists - a fascination of Helen's -- and an area, I think I'm right in saying, that her mother was involved in. These scientists in the poems are people like Marie Curie and Beatrice Tinsley who died of terrible diseases, often brought on by the work they did. The work they did unfolds here in precise and majestic detail.

There are fairytale poems too - which so often have absent mothers - and poems about faith and about Helen as mother.  The effect builds powerfully, so powerfully, poem by poem through each of three sections.

In the second of three sections in the book, there are poems are about Helen's journey to her mother's homeland, Ithaca, to find her mother there. Through language and mythology and place she tries to place her feet where her mother trod and perhaps treads still. One part of the long poem Graft feels like the answer to -- the CPR to -- the open door to -- Tight.

I lie under the olive trees
and say to them, to the hill,
to the sea: I am ready.
I press my ear, my cheek,
to the ground. I smell the dry earth.
I say to the island: I am 
ready to hear you now. 
I wait. After a while
I hear it. There is nothing there
but a hum of silence,
the tension vibrating. The hum
touches my cheek, passes through
to my mouth.
I swallow, turn and look up.  

Later in the same poem, she says:
If I dig a hole all the way through
to before, perhaps then I can hold her.
This middle section of the collection especially grabs my heart, for the search Helen's engaged in, and for a different reason too. Like Helen I am part Greek, and know that feeling of going to that country to find what you do and don't know. These poems with their delicious details of language and place ('Everything familiar/yet askew. Apo thalassa sto Vathy.') made me want to go back there very soon.

In the third section, there are more poems on family, a little science, and a series on Justine of the Hutt Valley who wears ugg boots and gets pregnant to the brother of the speaker of the poem and decides -- against the tide of the book -- not to be a mother -- but has an abortion instead. Aaaah - it's like letting the air out ... but no, the final poem is Justine's, and she's rising above it all somehow, floating, like magic, like faith ... The Rapture? Which returns us, perhaps, to the first poem in the collection which talks about Isaac Newton and the Book of Revelations. My only small gripe: I really wanted that final poem to have Helen's mother in it somehow. Justine's interesting, but feels like an interloper...

Such a good book, though! A powerful collection that I read at a sitting and continue to be excited by.

On the Tuesday Poem hub this week, Helen Rickerby who published Helen Heath's earlier chapbook Watching for Smoke, is posting from Graft too. I am looking forward to seeing what she has to say -- go here.

I didn't mean to say quite so much here but am pleased I have. Now I really have to get on with the speech for a certain 21st. Oh, and one more thing about Mothers Day on Sunday... After a time with my children, I went to visit my Mum. Of course I did.

Tight is published with permission.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Emily Perkins' The Forrests my review

Here it is - within the six minute slip of a time slot on National Radio's Nine to Noon. I had so much more to say, but the guts of it is here and I am grateful for that.

To clarify about the 'will it win the Booker' question at the end of the interview -- okay, I didn't hear that --  I heard: 'could' it -- I mean, who can possibly say if it will? There's more than the book itself to consider, there's the competition, the politics, the sheer Britishness of the award etc -- but yes, I definitely think it could win the Booker. Oh yes I do.

As I say in the interview, it's as good as any other Booker winners I've read lately: Enright, Hollinghurst etc. This book grabs hold of you and is very very hard to dislodge.