Tuesday, February 26, 2013

'Crayfish' by Fleur Adcock

Of course with all those legs they’re arthropods –
crayfish, lobsters and their armoured ilk.
At school one day a bunch of us nipped out
in our lunch-break and bought a prickly hulk
to have our way with, rip apart and crunch.

It was like eating a pterodactyl –
morally, I mean, in retrospect –
but the sea-drenched jelly when I snapped
a leg from the carapace, cracked it and sucked in
ecstasy… no, that’s no way to talk.

Think of the blood-orange-pink smashed shards,
the pimpled plates of the exoskeleton,
reduced to midden-debris, wrapped
in newspaper in the prefects’ room bin;
think of the handsome creature; feel the guilt.

Archaic, slow to mature, not adult
for ten years, it lurks deep among rocks:
the spiny or rock lobster – the one that lacks
claws. To shock predators when attacked
it screeches with its quavering antennae:

friction, not vocalisation. Moult by moult,
given time, it can grow to the bulk
of a dog. Cilla McQueen said it can walk
all the way across the bed of the Tasman
to Australia, feeler to feeler with its kin.

Soon to be published in Glass Wings (Bloodaxe/Victoria University Press), and posted with the permission of the author.

Editor: Helen Rickerby

I’m really excited to be able to share this new, unpublished poem by Fleur Adcock, an important contemporary poet and one of my poetic heroes.

In September of last year I went to Europe for the first time (not counting the time I went when I was 18 months old because that really doesn’t count), and through a series of fortunate events – mainly having such an awesome friend as Anna Jackson (also one of my poetic heroes), who happened to be going to a conference in the UK at the same time as I was in Europe – I got to do a poetry reading with Anna and Fleur.

As a bit of a Fleur-Adcock fangirl, this was especially exciting for me. She was one of my first ‘grown-up’ poets and, as a becoming-poet, she was a great inspiration to me. It also helped that she was a woman who had grown up (part of the time at least) in Wellington, not even half-an-hour away from where I lived!

Because the reading had been organised by the New Zealand Studies Network, and was in the UK, both Anna and I read poems that were about New Zealand or UK – that had a connection to place. I read some about Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield, and I remember Anna reading her poem about the British Museum. Fleur read new poems, ones that were connected to New Zealand. I particularly remember poems about her father, and a farm in the middle of nowhere, inland from Kāwhia. These new poems, like ‘Crayfish’ above, are from her new collection Glass Wings, which is just about to be published – in the UK by Bloodaxe, and in New Zealand by Victoria UniversityPress. She will be back in New Zealand for a visit in April/May to launch the book and I will certainly keep my eyes out for any readings she might do.

Fleur has been living away from New Zealand since 1963, and she had also lived in the UK during the really formative years from five to thirteen, so it’s no wonder she has had an ambivalent relationship with New Zealand and with whether she was a New Zealander at all. We of course, like to claim her and, especially in her more recent books including this one, she has explored her memories of and connections to New Zealand in her poetry.

The starting point of ‘Crayfish’ is some girls buying and devouring a crayfish at lunchtime. I am imagining this taking place at the old fish-and-chip shop that used to be across the road from Parliament (now demolished to make way for apartments), but I have no evidence for that. It’s a wonderfully visual poem, or maybe sensual rather – because as well as seeing the ‘blood-orange-pink’ crayfish I can also hear the snapping of its limbs and the slurping of its flesh, and my fingers feel greasy from the ‘sea-drenched jelly’. There’s also a lot of sound effects going on in the poem itself – there’s rhyme, but not always where you expect it – sometimes it’s internal rhyme, and sometimes the echo appears lines and lines away from the original word (such as ‘snapped’, ‘wrapped’, ‘attacked’). I would love to hear her read it.

I also love how it moves from that remembered event to an appreciation of the crayfish – and in fact a wee lesson on its development and behaviour. There’s that lovely reference to New Zealand poet Cilla McQueen, and we’re left with the image of the crayfish walking across the seafloor, heading away from New Zealand – perhaps a little like the poet herself, though in her case not to Australia.

In tandem with this brand-new poem by Fleur, I’m sharing one of her very early poems on my own blog: http://wingedink.blogspot.co.nz/2013/02/tuesday-poem-incident-by-fleur-adcock.html. And, as always, there’s a cornucopia of poems on the blogs of the other Tuesday Poets on the left.

This week's editor, Helen Rickerby, is a poet from Wellington, where she works a day job as web editor. In what's left of her time she also publishes books as Seraph Press and is co-managing editor of JAAM magazine. She's published two collections of poetry: My Iron Spine (HeadworX 2008) and Abstract Internal Furniture (HeadworX 2001), and a handbound chapbook, Heading North (Kilmog Press, 2010). Her current poetic project is all about how to live – it may be a little too ambitious. She blogs irregularly at: http://wingedink.blogspot.com/.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fault by Joanna Preston

A mistake. An error of judgement. A penalty
brought against a quiet city. Stroll
through the park, lunchtime almost over.
A defect, a small disappointment. A summer day
laden with clouds, grey light that softens the walls,
the stone and brick, the glass. Less
than expected. Someone to blame. A sparrow
rests lightly on the hand of a statue. A weakness
in the system, communications break down.
A telephone rings into silence. A refusal. Dispraise, dis-
continuity, lateral displacement. A woman
leaves a cafe, checks both ways, crosses the street.
An unthought response. A vice. Students
repeating the phrases – Good Morning, Good Evening, Good
-bye. It is nine o’clock, it is ten to eleven. The time
is twelve fifty-one.

First published in Landfall. Reprinted with permission of the author.

                                       Editor: Catherine Fitchett

This week sees the second anniversary of the New Zealand earthquake of February 22nd, 2011 which caused so much devastation in Christchurch. It seemed appropriate therefore to post this poem, which I will allow to speak for itself.

Joanna Preston
Joanna Preston is a 'Tasmanaut' (her word for an Australian who crosses the Tasman Sea to live in NZ). She is also a poet, editor, and freelance creative writing teacher, whose first collection, The Summer King (Otago University Press, 2009), won both the inaugural Kathleen Grattan Award for poetry, and the 2010 Mary Gilmore Poetry Prize. She blogs on A Dark Feathered Art, and lives in Canterbury with an overgrown garden, a flock of chooks, and a Very Understanding Husband.

Once you've read Fault - turn to the left hand sidebar and check out the other Tuesday Poem posts. The poets come from all over: NZ, Australia, the UK and US. 

This week's editor, Catherine Fitchett, also lives in Canterbury where she works with numbers by day and plays with words in the evenings and weekends. She has had work published in various anthologies and journals including Takahe, JAAM and the Christchurch Press and blogs here. She has a keen interest in genealogy and hopes to complete writing a family history or two this year.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Gift by C. K. Stead

Allen Curnow 1911 - 2001

Brasch in his velvet
voice and signature
purple tie

complained to his
journal that you had

I wasn't sorry.
That was Somervell's
coffee shop

nineteen fifty-three.
Eighteen months
later you and I

were skidding on the
tide-out inner-
harbour shelvings

below your house
from whose 'small room with
large windows' you saw

that geranium 'wild
on a wet bank'
you suggested

was 'the reality
prior to the
poem'. Son of

Christchurch and the
church you'd come north
to be free perhaps,

to be employed and
in love, and were
making the most

of it in poems that
gave to old 'summer'
new meanings.

Ten years ago
we launched your last
book, The Bells of Saint

Babel's overlooking
the same inner
harbour with

its shallow bays
and touch-and-go
tides. You wrote in

my copy (sure I
wouldn't have
forgotten the source)

'To Karl, always
"somewhere in earshot".'
What you left out

was 'for the story's
end'.  You must have
guessed it was close.

Today no end
to your occupation
of the bland

nor of wild
Karekare where we

shared Lone Kauri
Road. The pipe across
Hobson Bay is

replaced by a
tunnel. Tohunga
Crescent has some

new polish but
nothing you would
deplore. The tuis

still quote you
and even cicadas
manage a phrase

that sounds like yours.
Storms too in wooden
houses sometimes

creak of you. But
this 'blood-noon breathless'
Auckland summer

is the season you
gave us in making
it your own.

                      C.K. Stead

From 'The Yellow Buoy, Poems 2007-2012' [AUP 2013]
Posted with permission 

Editor, Mary McCallum

The Gift by C.K. Stead first appeared in the London Review of Books in 2011 to commemorate the centenary of fellow NZ poet and Queen's Medal winner Allen Curnow's birth, and the ten years since his death.

Karl Stead by Marti Friedlander
Reporting on this, Graham Beattie of Beattie's Bookblog said, 'Stead began writing for the LRB under the editorship of Karl Miller, the paper’s founder. Miller was Professor of English at University College London in 1977 when Stead was there as an honorary fellow and visiting lecturer.

Stead introduced Miller to Curnow’s work and wrote about it for the paper, after which Curnow became a fairly frequent contributor of poems, and this continued after Mary-Kay Wilmers, second in command under Miller, moved into the editorial chair.'

Allen Curnow by Marti Friedlander
The poem begins when the two men met as Auckland University student and lecturer and goes up to the time of the launch of Curnow’s last collection of poetry before his death fifty years later. Curnow and Stead were neighbours in Tohunga Crescent for three decades and in Lone Kauri Road at Karekare on Auckland West Coast, where both had baches.

'The Yellow Buoy' is the 16th poetry collection by Stead out of a total of 44 books of poetry, fiction, criticism, and memoir he's written and edited, and I have had the pleasure of reading it for review on National Radio's Nine to Noon show on Friday. Which means I can't review it here, but I can introduce TP readers to the poem and the man.

While working as an academic in both NZ and the UK, C K Stead became one of our country's most distinguished writers, winning a number of leading literary prizes including the world's largest short fiction prize - the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award, and the open section of the 2010 International Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine.

He's also the winner of a number of national book awards in this country, as well as the Katherine Mansfield short story award and Memorial Fellowship (which took him to Menton), and the Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement in Fiction. More on him here. 

Contrary to the impressive solidity of such achievements, The Gift skips into its subject with its thirteen-syllabled tercets - the delight and sense of mischief, palpable. And it takes them off, the two poets - both geniuses of a kind - to the place of 'touch-and-go tides', in a way that makes me think of the marvellous poem by Bill Manhire, Opoutere, an elegy to friend and fellow writer Michael King who died suddenly, leaving behind another place of tides and fish. These sorts of insights into the lives of prominent NZ writers and their work - our writing history, if you like - I find fascinating. But it's also a lyrical poem about two blokes who hung out in the way blokes in this country do.

The quote Curnow inscribes to his friend Karl Stead is by Yeats, by the way, underlining perhaps the mentor relationship here, and I'm guessing there are a number of references between the lines to poems by Curnow himself apart from the obvious ones. 'Storms too in wooden/ houses sometimes// creak of you', for example, seems like a firm nod to Curnow's Wild Iron which I posted on my own blog just last week on a particularly windy night. Lovely stuff, that 'blood-noon breathless' Auckland summer - especially given the weather we've been having (apart from that windy night, and that was Wellington). 

The whole collection, written as Stead neared his 80th birthday, is anchored by poems about the poet's friendship with and appreciation of writers alive and dead, and the places they inhabited. People such as Frank Sargeson and Robin Dudding and Kevin Ireland and Katherine Mansfield and Eugenio Montale. The poems evoke both a sense of loss and an appreciation of gifts received, and they talk to another batch of poems which deal playfully, curiously, stoically with the fact of being old and what it will, in time, bring.

Strangely, I was at a Katherine Mansfield event yesterday in Wellington, and who was there but Kevin Ireland whom I'd never met before. 'I've just read a poem about your wedding!' I blurted, and turning to the woman beside him, 'This must be your wife, Janet Wilson.' (She's named in the poem.)

It's not all weddings and funerals and walks on the beach. C K Stead is no stranger to literary controversy and his latest collection doesn't completely step away from that. Near the end, there's a poem that's a succinct nine-line retort to a Vincent O'Sullivan poem that once criticised Stead - if you're interested in that kind of literary spat, you can start following the trail in the notes at the back. It's another part of the conversation at the heart of the book.

When you've read The Gift, please take time to look in the sidebar which links to poets from around the world who choose a poem written by themselves or others every Tuesday.

This week's editor Mary McCallum is a novelist and poet who lives by the sea in Wellington, New Zealand, and blogs at O Audacious Book. She is co-curator of Tuesday Poem and this year's coordinator of the NZ Post Children's Book Awards Festival. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

They Could Have Stayed Forever by Joan Fleming

There’s a free beach somewhere close to here, where everyone’s covered in sand. And everyone knows that sand is time, or time is sandy, and all the barriers are striped, red and white, like Christmas candy. But no-one’s there. They couldn’t find the rhyme for fun hiding in their pocket money. There’s only the space where they ate spun sugar, then floated off the boardwalk after their snack. Now, open palms in the endless season of these audacious empty spaces shiver, wave. And now, you can find out what it is the dead sea craves: for you to wade in and let your eyes sting in its salted buoyancy. To watch the sky change as you float on your back, from blue to grey to silver to black. 

Editor: Orchid Tierney

Joan Fleming is not a British writer of crime and thriller novels. Joan Fleming has not had a distinquished career in the field of psychoanalysis. However,  I have seen Joan Fleming read Freud. I also witnessed her take 20 dollars from our swear jar. "I'll pay it back!" she said. We never got that beanbag for the office because we have both been helping ourselves.  

Joan Fleming, the Joan Fleming that I know, is a super talented poet, and probably one of the kindest people I have met. So I am very pleased to present one of her poems here on Tuesday Poem. 

This poem was written to accompany an exhibition of photography by Kate Van Der Drift, made up of large scale, high-key outdoor scenes of abandoned holiday places. These quietly still, beautifully eerie photographs, taken near Israel's dead sea, convey a sense of migration, emptiness, and change. Something has happened: the people have left, found another place or another planet to inhabit. It is not sad but hopeful - the end of one thing and the beginning of something new.


Photos by Kate Van Der Drift reproduced with permission

Joan Fleming
Joan's debut collection, The Same As Yes, was published last year by VUP. In 2007, she won the Biggs Poetry Prize; her work has also appeared in a number of places such as Landfall, the Listener, Sport, 150 New Zealand Love Poems (Godwit: 2012) and The Best of Best New Zealand Poems. She is currently finishing her MA at the University of Otago where she is writing about Anne Carson and iterative poetics.

This week's editor Orchid Tierney  is currently finishing her MA at the University of Otago, where she is writing about electronic literature. 

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