Thursday, September 27, 2007

Writer’s Curse

We drove down the road, perhaps
picking up McDonald’s for tea
on our way somewhere, perhaps -
                                    I forget -
but it doesn’t matter.

My children, 3 blonde boys,
lean over the back of the front seat
as I scribble a few lines waiting
for the lights to change.

‘Everything isn’t a poem Mum’
the eldest complains
and I hear in his voice:

writing our lives down. Click the nib
back into your pen and pay attention to us.
Not the fat lady waiting for the bus,
or the red car whose stereo pulses the street.

He has his fingertip poised
on the mother-guilt button.
I want to put down my pen

but the long rows of trees
marshalled inside my head whisper
through their fir-finger branches.

There’s no silence,
                              no rest.
The terrible pukekos of my dreams
rush to me pecking and smothering
with their loathsome feathers
as I sit on the road
                              unable to rise.

Words trip, tumble, stumble –
so loud in my head
they clamour for the needle’s eye,
plastic tube of ink,
that feeds the paper.

Back to Me

I waited for you
the way I waited
for the cactus plant
on my dining room table
to unfold its feathery blooms,

the way I waited
for the locksmith this morning
to come and secure my house.

Not an obvious, checking
my watch, sort of wait,
but the underswell of tension
ticking a pulse somewhere
below my navel.

Made to Order

I love you
and I am incapable of love.
I love all mankind
and I feel nothing.

Sometimes I want to gather
all the starving children in the world
and take them home for dinner.

Sometimes i want to swipe
the sight of their misery off my TV screen
block it from my life.

Perfect love seems improbable to me.
Other people's love bores me.
Happy ever after seems like
it's invented for people with no courage,
or no imagination,
or both.
I yearn for happy ever after.

I'm sick of being P.C.
I want to be judgemental.

I want to force my opinions
down the throats of all the people
I pass at the mall
swearing at their kids,
or wives.

I want to say to them,
'we can be better than this,'
but I'm not sure it's true.

I want to say,
'demand better from yourself
every day
than you did the day before,'

but I'm not sure it's possible
for them.

I watched Oprah today
like I do every day
like a prayer.

Today's show titled,
have you let yourself go?
said I should ask the question
who am I?
but if I don't know,
if I can't find the answer,
then maybe it's true
that I never really existed.

If I died tomorrow,
would anyone even remember I was here?

Maybe that's why I write my poems?
Like graffitiing a wall:
John was here, September 28, 2007.

I want you to agree with me,
but constant compliance irks me.
I want you to come up with your own ideas and opinions,
but agreement is so pleasant.

I want my food cooked just the way I like it
and served to me with flawless ease.
I want my holiday tailormade
especially for me
but I disapprove
of pampered Western society's obsessive
and fawning
indulgence of every whim
of every individual.

It's so character forming
to have to go without,
or to eat a meal that is not what you ordered
once in a while.

Maybe the guy whose meal you got
ordered something new
that you never heard of before.
It might become your new favourite dish.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

On the Chair in the Corner

She wears the moon
underneath her clothes
so no one will know.

Her face is the shape
of an arrow, indicating
a downward trajectory, or
a wedge of lemon on the tongue.

Her eyes
are the colour of background.

The moon is a body -
moon-shaped body -
luminous only in lightfall.

Sliding into darkness beneath
an arrow of chin,
under cover of cloth,
it becomes sharp
as a sliver of lemon
placed lightly
between lips -

on the tongue -

sucking into a dusk
coloured gaze.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A grade one teacher collected well known proverbs. She gave each child in her class the first half of a proverb and asked them to come up with the remainder of the proverb.
It's hard to believe these were actually done by grade one kids ("6" year-olds),
because the last one is classic!


Strike while the insect is close.


Never underestimate the power of ants.


Don't bite the hand that looks dirty.


Better to be safe than punch a grade 7 boy.


If you lie down with dogs, you'll stink in the morning.


It's always darkest before Daylight Saving Time.


You can lead a horse to water but how?


No news is impossible.


A miss is as good as a Mr


You can't teach an old dog new maths.


Love all, trust me.


The pen is mightier than the pigs.


An idle mind is the best way to relax.


Where there's smoke there's pollution.


Happy the bride who gets all the presents.


A penny saved is not much.


Two's company, three's the Musketeers.


Don't put off till tomorrow what you put on to go to bed.


Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you have to blow your nose.


There are none so blind as Stevie Wonder.


Children should be seen and not smacked or grounded.


If at first you don't succeed get new batteries.


You get out of something only what you see in the picture on the box.


When the blind leadeth the blind get out of the way.


Better late than pregnant!


My gift to you?
A blue moon

The Dog's Day

The jealousy mongrel is
The jealousy mongrel is
slapping his jaws.
The jealousy slavering dirty dog
is humping his bitch
all across the slippery yellow
parquet floors.


I lay my ear against your rumble
and don't care about the fleas
crawling into my hair.
Let me polish you till you shine.

Come to me crying
with hands full of hooks
looking for your lost meal -
insist you’re never fed.

Your hunger whines
on the turbine of empty,
jewel of coal.

Lay your head next to mine -
we share a hollow of warmth
where your fur has gathered
the sun’s glow.

Monday, September 17, 2007

REVIEW, OCHO # 12, September 17, 2007

When OCHO # 12 arrived, it was late at night, midnight in fact, the witching hour, when magic is made and unmade. I opened it immediately, it’s a long time since I had the luxury of reading poetry for pleasure rather than study. OCHO 12 is presented with the professional polish that has come to be expected from a Menendez publication, attracting contributors of the stature of Billy Collins himself. Guest editor, Grace Cavalieri, has made an intelligent selection of poets and poems and assembled them into a cohesive sampling of contemporary American poetry.

In her editorial Cavalieri states ‘poem[s] … open us up,’ and the poems she has collected here are no exception. Good poetry does the same thing to the mind’s eye that a good painting does to our physical eyes. It opens them wide: in surprise, in appreciation of beauty, in wonder at a new perspective on something. It was this feeling of the mind’s eye opening, the sensation of transcendence, that I was seeking when I opened OCHO 12. I found it the third poet in, with Judith Farr.

After a ‘step into the nothing dark,’ down a ‘corridor of escape’ formed by two mirrors, an image masterfully constructed by Fleda Brown as she looks at the moon with her grandson in Venus de Milo, Cavalieri moves us seamlessly into Billy Collins,’ A View of Stars from a Lawn Chair. It’s a friendly and accessible beginning for this issue and lures the reader on, building unobtrusively poem by poem, growing steadily in complexity and the demand for interaction from the reader.

By the time we get to Farr, we are six poems in and Collins has offered us the tragi-comic image of the headlight with its fur eyelash, and a curiously personal rendition of an ant with a ‘mean-spirited brother’ and ‘tiny mother bursting with pride.’ Sentiment is engaged, poetry muscle is flexed. It's an easy step from here into Farr’s first offering.

Farr draws us into the poem in the wake of her mother’s ghost. She is remembering a neglected childhood where more meaningful connections were made with a paid servant, the colourful Rosaleen McQueen, who sadly leaves to pursue her own affairs when the child is ten, than with the child’s mother. As an adult, Farr envisions the spectre of her mother walking down the road to the post office. Like a plaintive child she calls for her mother to see her:

“Mother, turn around. Won’t you look at me?”
It was Eurydice’s question, the one she asked of the living
But we always ask of the dead. And like all the dead
My mother would not turn.

Farr invokes Eurydice without arousing the inward sigh that classical name-dropping often provokes in the reader of contemporary poetry. Eurydice is relevant. She is the perfect reference to illustrate the poet’s point. The lonely, only child’s longing for recognition from a withdrawn, distant parent is palpable here.

Retaining both mood, and child’s perspective the next poem presented is Grand-mère. Captive in the fairytale fantasy of childhood the memory of Grand-mère is created from a lace of words as fine and beautiful as silver filigree. The magic of the children’s stories, and American classics like Little Women, becomes overlaid with a patina of Grand-mère’s own personal, French, enchantment. Farr’s theme, structure, and language are supported by her line breaks, use of white space and abandonment of left margin constriction, they gracefully uphold the rhythm, pause, and emphasis she wishes to convey.

Later, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, whose name is a poem in itself, writes of Frank Sinatra’s voice and what the words of his songs did to her as a young, impressionable girl. Her poems, like Sinatra’s songs, are ‘so perfect for expressing everything [we want]/ and d[o]n’t have the words to name.’ As an adult and a poet, she finds the words her younger self didn’t have. Through Moments in the Past that Shine ‘smooth as the petal of a rose,’ like her daughter’s face, to her final poem Planting Flowers in Iraq, where she wears her grief ‘like a veil, like those heavy garments/ that Iraqi women wear to cover their faces and hair,’ and mourns:

We ruin
everything we touch. Sorrow. Sorrow.
all the poems in the universe
cannot heal what is broken.

Gillan illuminates the relationship between the events in personal lives and the events history records with clarity and empathy.

Richard Harteis, whose name mimics that flower, heartsease, whispers and thunders by turns, invoking tears and King Lear in his moving tribute to lover, William. His memorial account of William’s passing reminds how death equalizes gay, straight, rich, poor, black, white, gifted, and unremarkable, without regard for race, status or politics. His eloquence is a gift that raises William’s death above the ordinary and offers to all an opening through his words to ease their hearts and spend a moment with their own lost loved ones.

As Cavalieri promises, there is an eclectic, but nicely balanced, selection in this issue. Two delightful contributions from Ted Kooser create vivid images with unique use of language. Kooser has an ability to finish a poem with a ‘wow’ factor many poets must envy. Dolores Kendrick creates beautiful imagery with her mix of bones and butterflies in the fragile cleaning woman: Hattie Elder. And Herbert Woodward Martin uses cunningly constructed long lines in, A Daily Excuse. He also, unusually, uses the ellipsis to good effect in this poem, a difficult feat to accomplish. There is a poetic account of the life of Cleopatra interwoven with that of sculptor Edmonia Lewis, by Vivian Shipley, with some notable moments, although for me it lost momentum after part 1. Maria van Beuren contributes an excellent group of writings that display her talent and versatility as a poet and writer. OCHO # 12 finishes strongly with Reed Whittemore’s satirical forays in rhythm and form. All in all OCHO 12 delivers on Cavalieri’s promise of ‘15 kinds’ of American poetry. There is a taste of poetry magic here for everyone.

Get your copy here:

Monday, September 10, 2007

The I Land

It's hard not to think of the sea
when you live on an island
with the coast always running
its edges alongside you.
Your ear holds the rush of surf
even without a shell pressed to it.

I wonder if children born in the desert
have the fizz of granules ever present,
like the burr of a radio tuning in,
the slide of dunes formed
and reformed in the wind.

An island dwells amidst the constant pull
and surge of water, the weary, wearing
grate and polish of fluid movement.
It is stillness at the heart of agitation,
where seeds are sown
and living things take root.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

a found poem (disturbing content)

New Zealand has long prided itself on being a great place to raise kids. Unfortunately it seems this is no longer true for a lot of kids here.

I wanted to find a way to memorialise these children so that their names
and their brief, sad little lives will not be forgotten.

Cut Flowers

If you cut a flower and put it in a vase full of ink
the flower will infuse with the colour.
You can watch the black, blue or red seep
into the traceries of veins that map each petal
until the entire flower is tainted with inkstain.
Unfortunately the ink poisons the flower and it dies.

1999: four-year-old James Whakaruru was punched
and kicked to death by his mother's boyfriend

2000: Hinewaoriki (Lilly-bing) Karatiana-Matiana
died from cerebral swelling after being shaken

2000: Mereana Edmonds, 6, was beaten to death
by her mother Belinda and her lover Dorothy Tipene

2001: Saliel Aplin, 12, and her half-sister Olympia Aplin, 11,
were killed in a knife attack by their stepfather

2003: Tamati Pokai, 3, was beaten to death
by his 'foster father' after the child brought home
a packet of jelly beans from kindergarten.

2003: After he vomited up his dinner,
12-year-old Kelly Gush was kicked to death
by his mother's partner.

2003: Coral-Ellen Burrows, 6, complained
she didn't want to go to school while her stepfather
Steven Williams was driving her there.
He knocked her unconscious, beat her to death
and dumped her body.

2003: Fifteen-year-old Rocky Wano, already hooked on booze
and drugs, had come home for Christmas. His angry father
kicked and beat him to death after finding him drunk.

2004: Tangaroa Matiu was beaten to death with a fence paling
by his stepfather after soiling his pants

2005: Harley Wharewera, 19, was jailed for 10 years
and Jeremy Tawa, 23, for two after attacks on an unidentified
two-year-old boy whose home they shared

2006: Ngatikaura Ngata, 3, was beaten to death
with weapons also after soiling his pants

2006: The who and how of the Kahui twins' killing
have yet to be argued in court where their father
faces murder charges.

Aug. 3rd, 2007: Nia Glassie, 3, died after abuse including
being spun on a clothesline and put in a dryer.

A flower’s needs are simple, as are a child’s: fresh water,
sunshine and beneficent earth.