Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Being here, by Vincent O'Sullivan, New Zealand Poet Laureate



It has to be a thin world surely if you ask for
an emblem at every turn, if you cannot see bees
arcing and mining the soft decaying galaxies
of the laden apricot tree without wanting
symbols – which of course are manifold – symbols
of so much else? What’s amiss with simply the huddle
and glut of bees, with those fuzzed globes
by the hundred and the clipped out sky
beyond them and the leaves that are black
if you angle the sun directly behind them,
being themselves, for themselves? I hold out
my palms like the opened pages of a book
and you pile apricots on them stacked three
deep, we ask just who can we give them to
round here who hasn’t had their whack of apricots
as it is? And I let my hands tilt and the plastic
bag that you hold rustles and plumps with their
rush, I hold one back and bite into it and its
taste is the taste of the colour exactly, and this
hour precisely, and memory I expect is storing
for an afternoon far removed from here
when the warm furred almost weightlessness
of the fruit I hold might very well be a symbol
of what’s lost and we keep wanting, which after
all is to crave the real, the branches cutting
across the sun, your standing there while I tell you,
‘Come on, you have to try one!’, and you do,
and the clamour of bees goes on above us, ‘This
will do’, both of us saying, ‘like this, being here!’

From Further Convictions Pending: Poems 1998–2008 by Vincent O’Sullivan. Posted with permission. I chose this poem for its great sense of being in the moment and its laid back feeling of summer's best, an ideal way to approach the 'silly' season.
Further Conviction Pending
Further Convictions Pending


This week's Editor, Helen McKinlay continues; 'on a sunny October day in Takaka, the first for a while and therefore not a day to expect a good audience, Vincent O’Sullivan, New Zealand’s Poet Laureate, spoke to a full and attentive house...the best the librarian could remember for a poet. Vincent had no need for a microphone. He read the poem above and some love poems. He read us a story from Families (Victoria University Press 2014) his latest book of short stories. We were enthralled and amused and, I felt, in a strange way comforted.'



Vincent O'Sullivan
'I think that was his ability to talk to us and with us rather than above us. He also demystified poetry, which is exactly what a poet laureate should do. Listening to Vincent speak, I was impressed at the way he encouraged poets to write according to their own beliefs and values and trust in their own style. I thought more about some of his ideas and had some of my own I wanted to run by him and Vincent readily agreed to join me in a discussion for this page. You can read the results below.'



AUTHENTICITY VERSUS SINCERITY


HELEN: To me it takes a lot of courage to be authentic in what one writes but it is that authenticity that gets the message across to the readers. I think most 'good' poets have that quality, that sense of being faithful to one’s own beliefs and values, free from peer pressure.
 

VINCENT: Yes, 'authentic' can be a troubling word, in that one person's authenticity may well be another's 'sincerity', which we know is a word that rightly unsettles critical discussion. At the moment, when as writers and readers we're under constant pressure of just too much information – numerous blogs and gossip sites, too much advice, too much clamour with vested interests, perhaps the hardest thing is to keep one's head, if not above, at least out of range of much of it. That's what for me authenticity comes down to – trusting your own voice, not because you think it superior, but because that is the only honest thing you can do – take the responsibility for what you write and think, without an eye to pleasing some other standard than your own, or letting your ear be captured by the most 'advantageous' clamour or clique. Poets graze with a herd only at their peril. As Chekov said, more or less, there's no such thing as a 'team' when it comes to writing. Nor is it a beauty contest. You don't have to sashay for the judges. Readers may go along with your own take on 'authentic' or dismiss it. That's not your business as a writer, which is to get language, form, the rest of it, 'lined up' with what can be said, without compromising oneself. It's about the most we can hope for.


THE “I” IN POETRY

HELEN: Writing in the first person gives an immediacy and an intimacy to the poem which allows the reader to experience an event for themselves. It seems to me that use of the “I” word is still frowned upon by many. Perhaps it’s a leftover from the days of ‘letter’ writing when too many “I”s implied an obsession with oneself.
You yourself mentioned the fact that poetry written in the first person is often assumed to be true, whereas fiction is not. This, you said applied to your own poetry, i.e. a love poem by you was not necessarily about you.


VINCENT: Yes, it still surprises me how difficult it can be for some readers to accept that the ‘I’ of the poem is not necessarily autobiographical. We seldom assume that with a short story or a novel, yet in poetry the first person can be as much a fiction as it can in prose. As Evelyn Waugh neatly put it of his own fiction, ‘I am not I, you are not he nor she, they are not they.’ Whatever else it is, any kind of writing is ‘made up’.


Us,  then, Vincent's latest poetry collection
and Poetry winner of  NZ Post Book Awards 2014

THE INEVITABLE BUT FASCINATING MEANING OF POETRY


HELEN: So many people angst about the meaning of a poem as if it were compulsory that they give an immediate analysis of what the poet meant. It worried me too once but now I find it easy to enjoy a poem without being able to pin down its meaning. Such things as the sounds of the words and the rhythm, matter just as much. I like to think that a reader has space to use their own imagination and thus extend the meaning of the work.

VINCENT: Some very good poets, like Robert Graves, insist that the least a poem should do is to make good prose sense. Others think quite the contrary – Wallace Stevens’ remark, for example, that ‘poetry should resist the intelligence almost successfully.’ The overarching fact of poetry is that it offers a swathe of possibilities, from total clarity to the most elusive symbolism. There’s no obligation to admire every kind of poetry, and there’ll always be enough of what we do care for us not to fret about what we don’t.


STORY IN POETRY


HELEN: It seems to me that poets talk about narrative in poetry but not so much story. You said that story is what drives your poetry. And yet a poem based on a story can often end up as poetic prose and at that stage we reach the discussion about what makes a poem a poem. 

VINCENT: Once we have written a couple of lines, we are engaged with a narrative whether we like it or not. Even in what we might consider the purest lyric, there is a dramatically ‘staged’ voice, and so the fragment of a story, if not a completed one. What I mean by ‘story drives my poetry’ is that we can’t get out of the language we use, out of context, away from situation. And that’s a story.


WORK PATTERNS

HELEN: One of the most popular questions for writers apart from where do you get your inspiration from is the one: 'How many hours a day do you work?' Your own comment on inspiration, incidentally, was not to wait for it just get on with writing. In my experience writing isn’t just about sitting down with a pen and putting words to paper or on the computer, for so many hours a day. One needs to get out and about give it a break. My mind then clarifies, comes up with better ideas, works on its own.  

VINCENT: Almost anything one says is likely to be a generalisation, and so immediately suspect. Every writer’s way of working is likely to be distinctive to him or her, and I’m hesitant to say much about this side of being a writer. Until the poem or whatever is actually completed or published, to talk about it isn’t much more than chatter.
         Vincent with his tokotoko matua the laureate's talking stick.
Photo by Mark Beatty, National Library NZ.


HELEN: You have a reputation for being a hard worker…you certainly have a large output. Stephen Stratford quotes you as saying, "I see myself as someone who buggers around a lot. I can go for weeks without writing a line, then work hard for a week or so.”

VINCENT: I meant it’s important to have time when the business of writing doesn’t matter. Life’s bigger than that. And yes, like many writers I suppose, I’d prefer to be lazy, but you don’t quite have the choice.


OF FREEDOM AND EVIL:

HELEN: Your answers to the above questions all enforce the importance of freedom to a poet, that sense of being faithful to one’s own beliefs and values, the personal authenticity. The poet and writer Annie Dillard once said There is always the temptation in life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for years on end. It is all so self-conscious, so apparently moral. But I won't have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous ... more extravagant and bright. We are ... raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.’ 

It is sad that many poets have been imprisoned for espousing the same ideals but I must admit that I was startled when I read the words ‘I miss pure evil’ the first line of your poem Freedom (Us, then 2013) which continues;
‘I miss the hiss when glaring iron goes dunk into water.
I miss God…’
This poem bought up many thoughts for me, among them, isn’t there enough evil without missing it? Is he giving us a wake up call? And then I refocused on the title…FREEDOM.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, ‘Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility' (an oft-quoted phrase). 'For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.' It is this concept, that makes your line ‘I miss pure evil’ in relation to freedom, so interesting. You could be talking about the freedom which comes from redemption, or the Rasputin like need to sin in order to be forgiven. And then there is the concept of original sin. Or as American singer Don Henley said, ‘in the old days, words like sin and Satan had a moral certitude. Today, they're replaced with self-help jargon, words like dysfunction and antisocial behaviour, discouraging any responsibility for one's actions.’

VINCENT: New Zealanders, for all our self-flattery about being independent and the rest of it, can be pretty timid souls, and to say anything too directly can rattle our assumptions about ourselves. We don’t like being uncomfortable, we don’t like being thrown into responsibility, hence a soothing political blandness, as we well know, immediately appeals to us. What I was getting at in that poem is that if we sign away our conceptions of good and evil, this can lead to a fairly colourless or deluding life. It doesn’t mean one has to embrace absolutes, but it does mean deciding where one’s boundaries reside. I dislike our easy ‘middle of the road’ sloppiness about certain issues because taking a considered stand isn’t always ‘nice’ or agreeable.

HELEN: Yes what you say is true. It isn't always 'nice' or agreeable. But sometimes it's worth the risk. Thank you Vincent for joining me in this short discussion. This extract from your poem 'Puritan Sunday' (Us,  then, 2013) seems an appropriate way to finish

                ‘if the shelves in the kitchen are to be
arranged with the labels always neatly printed,
both myrrh and arsenic forbidden substances,
the glass-case locked with its glinty sequins,
the Coronation clackers, the sentimental
mementoes grubbed with thumbs,
                                            then count me out.

Editor's Note: Vincent shares another poem today which I have posted on my blog gurglewords. 'Not included in the footnotes' is a wonderful poem, full of humour, which illustrates what Vincent has said himself, that Catholicism was part of his upbringing, one of his main environmental influences. 
I am very appreciative of the time Vincent has spent on the above topics and the careful consideration he has given each one. Thank you for that Vincent and for sharing your wonderful poetry with us. May the next year of your laureate bring you much pleasure! 

Biography Books Interviews and Commentaries:
Vincent O'Sullivan has publications in most branches of literature, from short stories to poetry, to biography, to plays and novels. He is also the recipients of many awards. His NZ Book Council page here gives a comprehensive list. Below are a selection of other useful websites for those who want to know more.

Vincent's Poet Laureate Blog: As Poet Laureate he keeps a blog, one which features other poets (‘I’m not one to write about myself.’) go here to read it.
Biography and books: go to Victoria University Press
Human interest article by Stephen Stratford:  go here
Live interviews
1.Kathryn Ryan talks to Vincent on Radio New Zealand National, about his work and life and also, Requiem for the Fallen, his collaboration with NZ composer Ross Harris, written for the centenary of the  First World War.
2. Arts on Sunday with Lynn Freeman. On Radio New Zealand National.Vincent discusses his collection of poems, Us, then, and how his move to Dunedin has found its way into his writing. 
Reviews:     
1. Go to  Victoria University Press for a number of mini reviews of his poetry.
2. Go to the The Poetry Archive an initiative of the British Arts Council for an in depth commentary.
3. Go here for the Listener Review of Us, then, Vincent's last book of poems.

This week's editor Helen McKinlay is a published poet and children's author who lives in the top of the South Island, New Zealand. She blogs at gurglewords.

Please check out the rich variety of offerings from other Tuesday Poets in the left hand sidebar. And do have an enjoyable and relaxing festive season and a Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Shooting Star by Daren Kamali


Tonight a shooting star
kissed my lips

Its bright spark
shone in my eyes
reflecting love
from the lover in me
My face could not hide
such vulnerability
connecting
affection through my writings
to reality

Tonight a shooting star
kissed my lips


Posted with permission from Daren Kamali
Editor this week: Michelle Elvy


Daren Kamali gets around. A poet of Fijian, Wallis/Futuna and Scottish descent, he was born and raised in Suva, Fiji and arrived in Aotearoa in 1992. He's been writing and reciting poetry most recently in Iowa, as part of the Iowa Writers' Programme. I asked Daren some brief questions about his poem 'Shooting Star' and a few other things. I hope you enjoy hearing more from this poet in this exchange. Thank you, Daren, for sharing your words with  the Tuesday Poem collective this week!  ME

Let’s talk first about your poem 'Shooting Star'. Do you think this is a typical poem, for you? Is there such a thing? 
'Shooting Star' is very different from what I normally write. It’s a very short piece but it tells the reader a lot. Love for family and friends I can write about and tell either directly or in a parallel angle juxtaposed to the Pacific Ocean or tropical blue skies. This, however, is a piece woken by a feeling within for how love or broken love is like that shooting star. I guess the reader may have their own interpretation of a Shooting Star in their life or not. This is part of a collection. 

This poem captures that feeling of connection and vulnerability – things central to the notion of love. Are those themes you tend to explore a lot in poetry? 
No. I don’t normally write love poems. I may include images and connotations of romance, fantasy or erotica sometimes in my poems, especially in my trilogy Squidluminaries, such as Manteress, the underwater goddess, or Teuthis Drinks AfakasiTwist from my second published book of Pacific poems Squid Out of Water: the evolution  or a few more poems from my first book Tales, Poems and Songs from the Underwater World. As for the four letter word, I have never spoken/written directly like this before. 

‘Shooting Star’ has such an optimistic feeling. Do you tend to exude such positivity in your poetry, or is there are darker side as well? 
This was an inspired on the spot piece I wrote in Iowa City while I was on the International Writers Residency (AugNov 2014). No, I am not always optimistic in my writings. Normally in my books, Teuthis, who becomes a man from the Giant Squid (Kuita) over centuries, never really finds true love and always seems he is in search of Love, from sea to street to sky. In my last two published collections, you will find predominantly darker sides, dark secrets, beliefs, loyalties, conflicts, half truths, half lies etc, all imagined and experienced from a Pacific Islander's dream/perspective. 

Some people say the short poem is underrated. What do you think? 
I have never thought about rating before. As a performance poet I used to write lengthy poems but I have come to respect how much one can say in so little words. I must say, I think a poem is a poem. If it needs to be short to tell the story or myth, as long as it is well thought out, structured and comes out right, the length of the poem doesn’t really matter. 

Other poets I’ve interviewed have talked about music. What music influences your work? Is there a connection between music and poetry for you? 
More recently I have been enjoying jazz music. I’ve always been a reggae and hip hop lover. I would listen to classical music sometimes. 


Your first two poetry collections are called Tales, Poems and Songs from the Underwater World (English/Fijian/ Ukrainian, Anahera, NZ 2011) and Squid Out of Water: the evolution ( Ala Press, Hawai’i, 2014). I can’t help but notice references to the sea in your titles and your work. It’s stating the obvious, perhaps, but do tell how the sea is central to your life.
 I am a Pacific Islander and I was always surrounded by the ocean, growing up in Fiji and here in AotearoaNZ but this is not the reason I write about the ocean. The real reason I came back to the ocean theme is because in 2001 I wrote a song titled Giant Squid and a week later it was in The NZ Herald that a giant squid washed up onto a beach in Wellington. I adopted the squid theme, mixed it with different Nesian mythologies and stories, creating a world parallel to the ocean and earth and wrote stories through poetry since then. The sea is my special sanctuary. 

Sample from 'What becomes of the Flying Squid?' By DK 
The giant knew
his soul mate was too good
to roam the underworld forever
warned three times
she held on for dear life
tangled in his tentacles
like many lovers gone before
never wanting to let go

The giant felt tricked
sacrificed his lust for freedom
The baby shark filled the va (space)
between his sere (song) and lomani (love)
He had no choice but to commit
despite his zest for adventure

He wrapped his Tabua (whale tooth)
in masi cloth (Fijian tapa cloth)
folding his glow and shark
in fine mat
tucked them neatly
in the corners of his Pacific
he swam back
through currents and time
into her world
landing in a place
he thought was forever

He fell in love
with an everlasting fantasy

She made him strong
he let her shine
before the invader of dreams arrived
Dark angels pulled on his conscience
past demons grabbed
the mat from under him
causing him to fall back
into the darkness
filled with all kinds of possibilities
pulling him back
to a place he thought

never existed

Your heritage is Fijian/ Wallis/ Futuna/ Scottish. How does such a diverse background impact your place in the world – as an individual and as a poet? 
I am proud of my diverse cultural background although I still have yet to visit Wallis and Futuna and Scotland. Fiji is my birth place and an island that will always represent who I really am as an individual. Fiji and AotearoaNZ have nurtured me into the man, father and poet I am today. When I am on stage, especially the international stage, I am always bragging about Pacific poetry or Pacific Literature and representing to the best, as I want people to see that we carry the Pacific in us. I don’t only represent myself, I represent us all. Vinaka. 


Tell us about your recent stint at the Iowa International Writers’ Program. And what did you write in that time? 
International Writers' Program 2014 in Iowa City  what an experience. Firstly, I want to extend a vinaka vaka levu, a big thank you, to Creative NZ, Christopher Merill, Hugh Ferrer, Natasa Durovicova, the staff and participants of the International Writers' Program 2014 at the University of Iowa. I am very grateful to be the recipient of this prestigious award. I am also very honored and humbly proud to have participated as the first NZ/Pacific Island writer alongside twenty-nine other prominent writers from twenty-nine different countries. Over the duration of ten weeks we grew to know and respect each other which in turn has empowered and motivated me in my writing and outlook on life. 

The insight and exposure into different forms of writings, performances and collaborations, especially around poetry in all its academia, its simplicity and cleverness, from very innovative experts from various genres of literature was a true blessing. I want to especially thank John and Virginia Stamler for being amazing hosts, offering me a cottage at Lexington Ave to write, and also opening their home and hearts to me as a resident and guest to their home for the duration of the program. Today I know different writers from different cultures and backgrounds, such an ocean of knowledge, networks and international relations were developed as a result of this residency. The world has become a smaller place. 

IWP14 is the highlight of my writing career so far in the last seventeen years. This residency has broadened my perspective and understanding of international writing process and writers, and I realized the need for more Pacific literature to be represented on the world stage on an international level. I am deeply encouraged to continue writing and promoting Pacific literature as far and wide as possible. As a result of this residency I’m in the completion stages of the final manuscript to the trilogy Squidluminaries. I’ve also started working on the manuscripts Mango Bar Collections and 101 Broken Love Poems. During the residency I engaged in readings and presentations at the Iowa City Book Festival, University of Iowa, Shambaugh House and Prairie Lights. I was also invited to present and perform at Buena Vista University, North Iowa, and also in New Orleans at Barb College and in Washington DC where I performed and facilitated a poetry workshop at ‘Split This Rock’. I also visited the Poetry Foundation in Chicago and New York City. Thank you all so much for making this experience memorable.


Bula in Iowa City
He ties his sulu vataga
firmly around his waist
wears an impressive
Bula shirt

A salusalu of shells
hangs from his necklace
He notice people wondering
with their eyes on his jandles

Who is this guy?
Where is he from?
behind dark sunnies
he sees them all

Oh how mystically magic it feels
What an honor to be here
from many countries
I get to represent here

From many cultures
I get to be here
among many amazing writers
I am here

From the ocean
I give thanks
I am HERE..
dk

Here we have an example of your spoken word poetry, with 'Giant Unleashed'. Tell us more about this kind of poetry. What kinds of poems do you tend to 'perform'? 
It has really evolved over time, I still enjoy representing the Pacific in my poetry but slowly exploring other avenues in terms of getting more bold and detailed while performing. Also continuously challenging myself, like with my 101 Broken Love Poems series in the making at the moment. 

What’s next for you? 
At the moment on the rewriting stage of the final of my trilogy to be published in 2015. Also working on a couple for more writing residencies in the new year. People and places inspire me. Vinaka.dk

Thank you, Daren Kamali! ME


~

Daren Kamali is  a poet of Fijian, Wallis, Futuna and Scottish descent. Born and raised in Suva, Fiji, he arrived in Aotearoa in 1992. He has a  Bachelor in Creative Arts, MIT,2014, and graduated from the International Writers Program 2014. He has just completed a stint as a fellow at the University of Iowa writers' program, Aug - Nov 2014.  Other honours include work in the Fulbright/CNZ Pacific Writer in Residence programme and the University of Hawai’i, Manoa, Center of Pacific Island Studies, AugNov 2012. His books include Tales, Poems and Songs from the Underwater World (English/Fijian/ Ukrainian, 2011) and Squid Out of Water: the evolution (2014). His poetry has been featured in Hawai’i Review 2014, Landfall 2014 and Ika Journal 2014.   

Links:
DK's books.
DK's New Zealand Book Council page.
DK in Iowa.
DK last year at Tuesday Poem: 'He has Superpowers', posted by Robert Sullivan.
  

*

Michelle Elvy is a writer, editor and manuscript assessor based in the Bay of Islands and currently travelling in SE Asia. Her poetry, fiction and reviews can be found most recently in Ika, Takahe, Revolution John and Entropy. She edits at Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction and Blue Five NotebookShe is also an associate editor for the forthcoming Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton, 2015) and co-ordinator of National Flash Fiction Day. More at michelleelvy.com and Glow Worm

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The room of books, by Rethabile Masilo

Every face carries the strife it possesses, and people
wear these like masks to hide the inside of their colour.
You'll see them sometimes, when the dolour of life
is heavy and unbearable, turn away into the confines
of another street. Some wear them against the weather,
like a hat, or a rubber coat, or a pair of old gumboots.
I wear mine like the sun to burn the things that make me,
the tough sinews of resolve, this hide that has taken me
half to where the bulk of me always wanted to go.
My grandmother used to say a face has failed that has
no baggage under its eyes, to show to others things
that come with age, and feed the choices of the sage,
which are what we rely on. These things fashion you
and turn you into the mission your parents had in mind
for you, before you were born. I remember when she came
to live with us, and my father told us to ask her anything
we could think of, because she was a library. She wore
her face loosely, like a true Basotho dress, and swanked
down the road and up again for all to see what a life lived
looks like in reality. Her posture matched the way
she always felt, about us, and about the way her own son
had turned out. If every smile carries in it the knowledge
of a good world, every sigh knows the solution to part
of what that world is being consumed by. When she died,
a room of rare books and their contents went with her.


Rethabile Masilo blogs at Poéfrika and co-edits Canopic Jar. He is a Mosotho poet who enjoys reading and writing. He lives in Paris, France, with his wife and two children. His work has been published in various hard and soft-copy magazines.
Rethabile
Rethabile Masilo

Rethabile was born in 1961 in Lesotho and left his country with his parents and siblings to go into exile in 1981. He moved through the Republic of South Africa (very short stay, on account of the weight of apartheid), Kenya and the United States of America, before settling in France in 1987.

In 2012 his first book of poems, Things That Are Silent, was published by Pindrop Press.

Note by poet: "I wrote this poem because I had been thinking about the famous African proverb, 'When an old person dies, a library burns to the ground.' The proverb may be from west Africa, but that's a wild guess. In many countries on that continent, elders are revered and their advice is sought after and listened to. What a surprise it was for me to discover that in the Occident (I've lived in the USA and in France extensively), elders are not revered, but are sent to retirement homes, instead of 'retiring' in the homes of their children!

Nevertheless, cultures are different from place to place, and my comment is no more than a simple observation."

You can find more Tuesday Poems in the sidebar to the left.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Introduction, by Airini Beautrais

Neil, you were six weeks dead
when I was born, the last hours
of 1982. Almost thirty years
have gone by since then.

Driving through Whanganui,
I can't get my head around the streets.
Parallel to the river, or perpendicular?
The map in my mind is a map of the past,

probably never accurate to begin with.
The river has this kink in it, difficult
to align to. I often drive around that bend,
the place you left off from,

and I squirm in my seat, making room.
My second son will be born soon.
Therefore future. Therefore past,
all our skins and skins.

Muddied time, a crackle in transmission.
The concrete monolith unsettles me,
the empty park and its monuments,
its blank spaces of grass.

All the dark histories of this corner
of earth, where you placed your chequer
on the board. Here are some knot
in the network, some holes in the net.


(Published with the permission of the poet)
 

Last week (18th November) was the 32nd anniversary of Neil Roberts' death.  It was also the week Whanganui-based poet Airini Beautrais launched her latest collection, Dear Neil Roberts (Victoria University Press).  Neil Roberts was a punk anarchist who blew himself up outside the Wanganui Computer Centre (the building that housed New Zealand's national police computer).  Airini's collection is partly about Neil - how his friends saw him, how the media saw him, the political context of his action - but it's also very much about her own life and her reaction to hearing about what Neil did.

'Introduction', I think, captures the essence of the book very well.  Airini Beautrais has approached her topic with a great deal of thought and sensitivity. I knew Neil back in the day, and I'm pleased people are still talking, reading and thinking about what he did.  I also think this is a very fine book of well-crafted poems and definitely recommend it.

With respect to the form of the poems, Airini says, "Dear Neil Roberts is written in quatrains. The form seemed to fit, and I began to write to the four-line stanza. It is not an arbitrary lineation of what would otherwise be prose. It is full of rhyme and off-rhyme, and there is a poem in there with a set rhyme scheme and accentual meter. I have become really interested in form and I want to play around more with received forms. This is a matter of inner compulsion rather than any specific reactionary stance in regard to poetry."









Airini Beautrais (right) lives in Whanganui. Dear Neil Roberts is her third book of poetry. She is currently working on a PhD on the subject of narrative in contemporary Antipodean poetry.

This week's editor is Wellington-based poet Janis Freegard, who is the author of Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus and The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider.  She recently interviewed Airini Beautrais about Dear Neil Roberts on her blog.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Outpost, by Lindsay Pope

March, 1941.

The coast is a scribble. Stars are stored in a
wooden box on my shelf. It is more black than
white here. Like algebra but colder.

The hut’s walls are a ghetto of mice. Those I
catch become whiskers of smoke in the firebox.

I attend to the scratching radio.

This is not my dream.


July, 1942.

The short days are long here. Morse code
stutters in my aerial.

Every door of the home of the wind has been
thrown open. An albatross turns the world on
a dip of its wing. It has learnt the axioms of the
air. 

Mice crawl in the pockets of my sleep.

I wake, clutching a stick of chalk. Each day a
tally mark.


December, 1943.

The mice have all but disappeared.

Clouds, black as slate, are heavy with names.
They fall upon my roof clutching ash.

On short wave the radio coughs all night long.

I have lost the frequency.


(Published with the permission of the poet and the publisher)


A pleasurable discovery
I became aware of Lindsay Pope's writing only recently, when I bought a copy of Headwinds, (Submarine, an imprint of Makaro Press, 2014), whilst lunchtime bookstore browsing. Most of Headwinds' poems are as rich with metaphor and sparse with verbiage as Outpost is.

According to the publisher, the poems are "the story of a man living ‘on the lower cheek of the world where the tears fall and turn to ice’ who is simultaneously muser and maverick" and "Lindsay Pope’s combination of the domestic and the wild, of fables and personal disclosures, has created a beguiling first collection."

The poem
Of the many appealing poems, Outpost interested me for this post because of its skillful use of poetic technique and its subject matter. Pope, a former mathematics teacher, sprinkles the poem with maths metaphors and similes which startle the reader: "Like algebra but colder" and "It has learnt from the axioms of the air." Mice crawl through the poem like static and disappear off the page. But references to radio, morse code, and aerials also point to context.

When I asked Lindsay to comment on the poem's setting, he replied "Outpost is the imagined diary entries of a Coastwatcher stationed in Auckland Island's Carnley Harbour during WWII".

I had sensed the Coastwatcher aspect from my first reading, but was aware only of their stationing in Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, so the appearance of an albatross threw me. According to some research which I then carried out, a secret five-year wartime programme of coast-watching stations was established on New Zealand's more distant and intermittently inhabited subantarctic islands. In the poem, Pope's narrative captures the isolation and virtual imprisonment of the coast watcher - '"each day is a tally mark" - and his slow erosion of sanity in the ambiguous last line: "I have lost the frequency". Considering the Auckland Island Coastwatchers didn't sight a single enemy ship in their five years of scanning the sea, I am not surprised.

The poet

Other than through his poems, Pope is reticent about his past. His very spare biography in Headwinds states "Lindsay Pope was born in Dunedin and lives in Nelson. His poetry has appeared in publications and online literary journals, in New Zealand and overseas."

Although Pope eschews social media, he did give a blog interview in 2012. The interviewer was Victoria University MA classmate, Ashleigh Young. During the interview, the following revealing exchange took place:

Young: Your work is often surreal and heavily metaphorical, as in your poem "Outpost": “Stars are stored in a wooden box on my shelf. It is more black than white here. Like algebra but colder.” And within this world is often a totally singular speaker, someone experiencing a necessary isolation: “The short days are long here. Morse code stutters in my aerial.” What is it about the experience of isolation that you keep coming back to in your writing?
Pope: I think I self-isolate. My personal history is one of betraying a great love. I find myself unable to trust myself to love fully again. Hence “I am more alone than together”.

The book

Headwinds may be purchased at Unity and other good independent bookstores, and online at www.makaropress.co.nz.

The Editor
This week's editor, Keith Westwater, lives in Lower Hutt, New Zealand. His debut collection,
Tongues of Ash (IP, 2011), was awarded 'Best First Book' in the publisher's IP Picks competition.
More of his poetry can be found on his blog 'Some place else'.

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