Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"All my life" by Sarah Broom

So we sat, and the waves
crashed in like gifts, or insults,
and the children played,
digging trenches to defend
against the sea, and then a head
bobbed up and down
in the waves, a bit too far out,
and an arm waved, and again,
and a friend walked the beach,
waving the head in, and we sat
and said to each other
do you know that Stevie Smith
poem, not waving but drowning –
yes, and why is it still so hard to tell,
and then we stood and watched
as the inscrutable head bobbed up
and down and the arm still waved
and the children still dug, bodies
roughcast with sunscreen and sand,
and we thought about getting the
lifeguards, but surely the friend
should know, and we thought
about how there should be a sign,
you know, two punches in the air,
or something like that, yes,
then a surfer came and paddled
him in on his board, and the friend
helped him walk, and yes he was
drowning, not waving, now we know,
and isn’t it hard to tell?

© Sarah Broom, 2010

From: Tigers at Awhitu by Sarah Broom, Auckland University Press, 2010
Reproduced on The Tuesday Poem Hub with permission.
Every year or so I encounter a few "standout" poetry collections, and Tigers at Awhitu was one of my personal favourites of 2010—because of the subtlety and keen-ness of the poetic observation, and the beauty and delight of the language employed, for example in lines like:

"So we sat, and the waves
crashed in like gifts, or insults..."

I found the collection both powerful and moving; it is also one that has "stayed with me" since that first reading.

Emma Neale described the poems as "sophisticated and intelligent … full of bittersweet, piercingly true contradictions" and I feel her words encapsulate today's poem, "All my life". The power of the poem creeps up on you, as the reader, because it is deceptive, disguised in the almost inconsequential conversation of the "we" on the beach, observing the "head//that bobbed up and down//in the waves, a bit too far out." The same "we" that continues to stand and watch and discuss until it becomes clear that the swimmer is in difficulty—and together, we are brought to the final realization:

"…and yes he was
drowning, not waving, now we know,
and isn’t it hard to tell?"

The "voice" remains conversational, but the ending on that final question works at several levels. There is the simple, surface understanding that "we" could have stood watching and speculating until the swimmer drowned.

But I feel the poem also picks up on that uncertainty we feel, an unease even, when something may be a-miss, but because we are unsure we hesitate to take action, to step into what may be deep water. "But surely," we tell ourselves, exactly like the "we" at the heart of the poem, "the friend should know." Someone better fitted than ourselves should know, should act…

Yet I also feel there is another layer again to this poem, one hinted at by the title, "All my life." It points to the poem as an extended metaphor for life itself, in which we are all both the head bobbing up and down in the waves, and the watchers on the shore; always caught up in that duality of drowning and waving, in which often "we know" too late—and isn't it always so hard to tell?

Sarah Broom’s first poetry collection, Tigers at Awhitu, was published by Auckland University Press (AUP) in 2010, and simultaneously by Carcanet Press in the UK.  She has also written Contemporary British and Irish Poetry: An Introduction, which was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2006. Her second collection, Gleam, will be published by AUP in July next year.  She lives in Auckland with her husband and three children.

To hear Sarah read from and discuss Tigers at Awhitu, click on the following Scottish Poetry Library podcast interview: Sarah Broom

This week's editor, Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, interviewer, and a 2012 Ursula Bethell Writer-in-Residence at the University of Canterbury. She emerged onto the NZ poetry scene in 2003 as an inaugural Robbie Burns Award winner and has since had over fifty poems published and anthologized, both in NZ and overseas. The Gathering of the Lost, the second novel in her The Wall of Night series, was published internationally in April, and she recently won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012 for the first-in-series, The Heir of Night. Helen posts every day on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog and is a regular Tuesday Poem contributor. You can also follow her on Twitter: @helenl0we

Enjoy more wonderful poems from our Tuesday Poem contributors by navigating the left side bar.

A message from co-curators Mary McCallum and Claire Beynon: Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year to everyone who contributes to Tuesday Poem and everyone who supports and comes to visit,  especially our regulars. We are grateful to you all for helping keep this wonderful poetry community vigorous, challenging and satisfying. What treats we've had this year - poems from all over and insightful personal commentaries that have shed new light on them. Based in New Zealand as we are, we are taking a summer holiday break until Tuesday January 22.  See you then!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Lines for a New Year by Sam Hunt

I like the branch
I find myself on

a view over the garden
all the way down to the beach

the family below me
gathered in the garden

debating where I’ve gone.
My father’s got a theory.

I like the branch
I find myself on.


You know how it is

to give up the piss
a week to the

day before Christmas

you know how it is

to fall over sober
safe in some spot,

come to later
remembering the lot.

the rugby ball kicked
far as the far paddock
where an apple tree caught it.
Was agreed among folk

they'd never seen such a catch,
such a kick, such a match.


I gave it away lately
I had no choice,
no need pump the brakes 
they'd already seized.

I like your poison, lady,
I like it too much:
which is why I am
        where I am today
outside of thought, beyond your touch.

I said I'll be seeing you.
You knew what I meant,
at least you seemed to.
Was the message you got
the same one I sent?


It's a love song
between a mother and son.

The son plays the drums
and wrote the song.

On the recording
mother sings the song

like mothers do. And the
son plays the drums

like a good boy. It's a
love song.


A friend used to say
my dog and I
had the same way of walking,

especially walking away.
Which was
often the case.

These days there's
not much happening.
It's people walking toward me

asking, where's the dog,
the dog? And they're
right. Where is he?


You live in this world
you have no choice.
Silence would be fine.
But you give it voice 

you have to, you cannot
help yourself.
Your mother says you never knew
when enough was enough.


Dreamt I met Thomas Hardy
walking a local back road.
He was an old man
but coped okay with his cane.

He said he was looking for
a woman called Lizbie Brown.
I said I knew her name 
but only from his poem.


Sitting on a clifftop
was always a dream
that more or less came true.
Just the words dried up.


Friends disappear
off the face of the earth.
For what it's worth
I loved you.
But you can't hear.


Is  said (what few
elders we have left)
anyone for whom birds sing
all night through to dawn

are themselves
close to eternal bird-song:
their time, among these branches,
that of the elders  – not long.


If this were the view
I got all year through 
a branch of a tree at the window 

I would become that
branch of tree and with it

The nurses agree
I never complain
about the rain, or pain.

Easy, when you know
you're a tree
at the window.


When I poured her a cup of tea
and asked her, strong or weak?
she held out a dark wrist:
same colour as this.


I'm off to look at angels.
And toetoe if I see it.

The family move in close.
No way out but

close my eyes to see

if anything's left of the toetoe,
and the angels.


© Sam Hunt. Posted with Sam Hunt's permission.
Sam Hunt
                                 Editor: Helen McKinlay.

Lines for a New Year is from Sam Hunt's latest collection, Knucklebones: Poems 1962-2012 (Craig Potton 2012).  I think there are few New Zealanders who have not heard of this poet, but just in case here is his bio courtesy of Craig Potton Publishers. [Go here to view the poet's website, read more poetry and/or purchase a book.]

Sam Hunt was born in 1946 at Castor Bay, Auckland. As a child, he was surrounded by poetry and performance: his mother, father and grandfather regularly read poems out loud or recited from memory; and his father was a somewhat eccentric barrister who came from a family of actors, troupers and musicians.

From a young age Sam wrote poetry, and has since become one of New Zealand's best-known and best-loved poets, touring the length and breadth of the country for over 40 years, performing his poems in pubs, theatres, schools and countless other venues. Fuelled always by his lifelong commitment to 'lifting the words off the page and giving them a good listen to,' he has introduced poetry to generations of New Zealanders.

In 1985, Sam Hunt was awarded a QSM for his contribution to New Zealand literature, and in 2010 he was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) for services to poetry.

As well as these well-deserved accolades, congratulations are due to Sam for being the 2012 recipient of the Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry. He lives with his son on the Kaipara Harbour in Northland, New Zealand.

Along with his permission to publish 'Lines for a New Year', Sam very generously sent me a new unpublished poem (below). I was a fan before .... have seen him perform and admired his lack of pretentiousness, amazing memory and wonderful inclusiveness .... and I am even more of a fan now, and finding Knucklebones hard to put down.So many delicious lines. It's hard to choose any poems let alone just one.

Tell me what

Tell me what I don’t know –
not what I know now

or what I’ll know tomorrow.
Tell me something new,

a story that will blow
this steady head apart.

Maybe that’s about where
the best stories start:

or you could go on, and on,
talking of the morning after:

the storm, the break up at sea.
And all of it gone,

gone down deep
where no one should go –

gone as that! . . Tell me
what I won’t know tomorrow.

©  Sam Hunt 2012

This week's editor Helen McKinlay is a published children's author and poet who lives in the South Island of New Zealand. To read about her and her writing visit her blog here.

After you've read Sam Hunt's poems check out the poems posted in the left-hand sidebar chosen or written by our thirty Tuesday Poets.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Nature Writing 101 by Catherine Owen

Our minds can turn anything romantic.
Is the problem.
The sewagy mud of the Fraser a quaint muslin & the spumes

    pulsing out of chimneys at the Lafarge cement plant look,
    at night, like two of Isadora Duncan’s scarves, pale, insouciant veils,
    harmless. The trees are all gone but then aren’t our hearts

more similar to wastelands.
We can make it kin, this pollution, children one is sad about yet still fond of, their
delinquency linked to our own, irreparable with familiarity, a lineage of stench &

    forgiveness. Our minds can assimilate all horrors.
    Is the problem.
    The animals will disappear and those small, strange invertebrates,

the bees will vanish & in the well-oiled waters, fish
will surge their deaths over the sand bags.
But then we keep saying, ‘Let’s construct another narrative.’

    The nightmares must simply be called reality.
    And after this you see,
    it is possible to carry on.

© Catherine Owen (posted with permission of the author)

Editor:  Kathleen Jones

It’s always a delight to take a turn as editor of the TP hub and share poets or poetry others might not have discovered yet. This time I’ve chosen a Canadian poet - Catherine Owen is a Vancouver writer, the author of nine collections of poetry and one of prose, the most recent being Trobairitz (Anvil Press 2012), Seeing Lessons (Wolsak & Wynn 2010) Frenzy (Anvil Press 2009), and the chapbook Steve Kulash & other Autopsies (Angelhousepress 2012). 

Her collection of memoirs and essays is called Catalysts: Confrontations with the muse (W & W, 2012). Her work has won awards, been translated & published in North America, England, Italy, Turkey, Australia Germany and Korea. Frenzy won the Alberta Book Prize and other collections have been nominated for the BC Book Prize, the Re-lit, the CBC Prize, & the George Ryga Award.

Catherine is one of the  - newly categorised - Eco-poets and wrote her Master’s thesis, in 2001, on the ecological poetry of Robinson Jeffers.  This year she will be the narrator for a Canadian eco-musical called ‘Awakening the Green Man’, for which she wrote five songs. This poem is from a new manuscript titled The River Sequence, lyrics on the Fraser River, and it first appeared (with two others from the sequence) in an anthology of Eco-poetry called ‘Entanglements’ published by Two Ravens Press.  Catherine is also an art model for Paul Saturley and blogs at blackcrow2.wordpress.com  Her website is www.catherineowen.org
What I love about 'Nature Writing 101' is the way it homes in on the real problem for the environment - Us, and the way we relate to it;  ‘our minds can turn anything romantic. Is the problem.... Our minds can assimilate all horrors’.  Human beings can turn anything into a narrative in order to live with it and the problems never get solved, we just find more and more ways of spinning the story. 

The whole fabric of the poem is constructed from the knowledge that the way human beings relate to their environment is through story - we try to make sense of the senseless by creating myths - we tame savage landscapes by romanticising them in poetry and prose.  Word webs become our maps of an unknown universe.  However big it is, however mysterious, we can contain it in a narrative, a verse, a metaphor. We reduce things to the size of our imaginations and in doing so lose all sense of the fact that we’re barely a comma in a plot more complex and gigantic than we can ever conceive. 

Catherine’s poems reveal a hard truth, that our pride, greed and lack of self-knowledge will do for us. In another poem she says ‘it is not enough/to have everything – nothing will soon be ours’.  Unless we realise that our nightmares are reality, someone else is going to be telling the story of our extinction.  The irony is that Catherine, in writing the poem, has also turned this ugly prognostication into something beautiful.

Please take a look at the sidebar and read what individual Tuesday Poets are posting on their blogs, and if you like our contributions, we would love it if you could share them with your friends on Twitter and Facebook! 

This week's editor, Kathleen Jones, is an English writer who lives in Italy.  Most recent work;  a biography 'Katherine Mansfield: The Storyteller',  a novel  'The Sun's Companion' and a collection of poetry 'Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21'.  She blogs at http://www.kathleenjonesauthor.blogspot.com