Monday, March 24, 2014

"Tuatara", by Nola Borrell

Matiu/Somes Island, Wellington
Keep your distance
you’re new here
rough-edged and arrogant

One step closer
and you won’t see me
you won’t see me anywhere

Always lie low, I say
I’ve learnt a thing or two
over 200 million years

Take away your ‘ecologically
appropriate quarters’
this drainpipe will do

And quit drooling over me
I pounce on skinks and wetas
eat my own kind

If a female won’t dance
I bite her neck
and then I take her

Still, I’m glad of a bit 
of company. Keep our numbers up
and keep yours down

Not that I’m worried
I’ve outlived the dinosaur
I may outlive you

How many years did you say you’d been here?


First published in Turbine
Published here with permission of the poet

TP hub editor this week: Janis Freegard

I have long admired this tuatara poem by Nola Borrell. I like its matter-of-fact, irreverent tone, its down-to-earthness and its perfect ending. I like the way interesting facts about tuatara (their dining habits, the fact that they've been here 200 million years) have been woven in, but without it sounding as though the poem is trying to teach us something.  And I cling to the hope that tuatara and many other species will outlast humans. Nola is also an accomplished, award-winning haiku poet and her economy with words shows in this poem.

Nola and I are both "in residence" at New Pacific Studio as I write and I was lucky enough to hear her read 'Tuatara' at the Open Day last weekend. Nola tells me that this well-travelled poem has been translated into Ukrainian and French.

Nola Borrell has had poetry including haiku published in New Zealand and overseas since the mid 1990s, and has won various awards. Her work has appeared in NZ journals and anthologies, Australia, US, UK, Croatia, Slovenia, Roumania, Poland, Japan and Algeria and online websites. Nola co-edited (with Karen P Butterworth) the taste of nashi - New Zealand Haiku (Windrift, 2008). Her chapbook this wide sky was published in 2012 (Puriri Press); and waking echoes in 2013 (Korimako Press). Nola is a member of Zazen, an international haiku workshop, and Convenor of
Windrift Haiku Group, Wellington.

This week's editor, Janis Freegard, is the author of The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider (Anomalous Press, 2013) and Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus (Auckland University Press, 2011) and co-author of AUP New Poets 3. She lives in Wellington and is the current Ema Saiko Fellow at New Pacific Studio in the Wairarapa. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"Bonsai" by Cecily Barnes

Who needs your stunted style, your tiny jewels
of thwarted art, to snatch a kite flown loose
or bad-thrown ball? Or your unsayable rules
of infinite pleasures unknown, delights abstruse,
to feel soft feathers, their talons' sponsal band?
To splinter a street, plumb galaxy's soil, or hold
a heaving noose? To grasp your child's hand?
To be unbound by any soul, un-bowled
by death, to never know what the Eleventh Azure is!
The stuttering night unveils its fairy dark.
The moon, that pruning groom, the manicurist,
bends down to rub its cheek against the bark
and hears the raspy chainsaw play its song,
while wispy light appears in wonders dawned.

"Bonsai" was originally published in the October, 2013, issue of Harper's Magazine.

Published here with permission.
TP Hub Editor this week: Zireaux.


An Acacia Bonsai
"Bonsai" is a poem that speaks to me. I mean literally, it's speaking directly to me. The haunting "Eleventh Azure" in line 9 can also be written as "Azure XI," which of course is an anagram of my name. And I'm not going to discuss the "Jew" in "jewels," or the "thwarted art," or the veiled threat to my child and so forth. So let's move on.

Cecily Barnes has composed countless poems, too many poems. Among other accolades, she was awarded the Los Angeles Times Prize for Poetry (declined it), the Bollingham Prize (ditto), a Dickinson Endowment ($100,000 received by bank transfer I'm told) and turned down an honorary degree from Princeton's Lewis Center for the Arts.

I first discovered her woeful early poems at a writer's festival in Trinidad in 2002. Derek Walcott, Rabindranath Maharaj, Olive Senior from Canada, and my overly joyful, soon to be ex-girlfriend (along with her young poet friend and soon to be bedmate, Miguel Murat) -- I recall hanging out with all of them at Queen's Park, eating aloo pies beside a passionate flame tree, with pumped-up storm clouds over the Gulf of Paria.

Cecily wasn't at the festival. Has never been the traveling type, and, her one endearing quality, despises all forms of literary pretense. But it was there, in Port of Spain, while enduring an excursus on the awkwardly absent V.S. Naipaul (and keeping one eye on musky Miguel) that I discovered Cecily's poetry in a clandestine browser window of my Net-suckling laptop. I read, I understood, I knew immediately what was going on; that I must find this sinister poetess, that I must get to know everything about her, tame her, restrain her, shame her, destroy her reputation, silence her, silence her.

At that time Cecily Barnes -- lover of anagrams, whose name, by the way, rearranges into "Lyric Absence" -- wrote under a different pen name. Back then she was the more exotic and erotic-sounding Galaxia Gaudh. She was based in a brainy railroad town in Texas called College Station, and was -- to use Jane Austen's phrasing -- still very much Galaxia then, untamed, unabashed, wild, noisy and fearless. I, meanwhile, a more youthful Zireaux, was desperately lonely, hurting and hateful; far too certain of what I'd become, far less certain of what I was.

I flew to LA and straight to Houston, took a rental car and some drugs. Mad, magnificent, unmarried days. On the outskirts of Houston I bought a 9mm Glock and box of bullets at a converted three-bedroom house with a signboard: "Arrowhead Guns and Ammo." (So oxymoronic, the melting pot of American history). I bought the gun -- not to use it, but, as that deranged narrator says in Mary Gaitskill's brilliant "The Other Place": to know I could.

Back on the highway, those hanging green recipe cards and their carefully measured exits -- 3/4, 1/2 -- grew shorter, less frequent, cooked up fewer burger joints out of the hot pancake terrain. Ten minutes past Hempstead I swerved to avoid what I thought was an armadillo (nothing but a sun-drenched tumble-bag), lost control of the car, and the local African-American sheriff, a friendly former boxer, ended up introducing me to his tow-truck driving granddaughter, a friendly former pageant queen -- but where was I? Right. College Station. George Bush Drive. The one-bedroom apartment of Cecily Barnes, a.k.a. Galaxia Gaudh.

Now before I knock on that door, I must explain...or never mind, let's just knock on that door:

"So much distance you've came here, Mr. Zero. Come in, come in. Such a flatterer you are for Galaxia. Some Irish Cream?"

That's Branko, bald, burly, Latvian, punching his way through an English sentence while trying to activate an atrophied grin. Stolid, very big feet, I doubt the boxing Sheriff could have taken him down, not even in his, the Sheriff's, prime.

"Where is she?" I asked from the living room's squeaky white leather sofa. Beside me was a glass-topped table with a lone, twisted, long-embittered bonsai.

But to cut this story short -- both time and audience are limited here -- this bumbling Branko was so convivial, so charming, that I quite forgot my obsession with the vulgar poetess, his "Gal" as he called her, and before I could say "what cologne is that," the two of us were driving to the local Dairy Queen for root beer floats, then drinks at Gatsby's Bar, shooting the Glock near the water tower, then mini-golf, more drinks, a visit to a cute two bedroom cottage with a "for sale" sign on Appaloosa Avenue which, from the following month, we'd end up sharing for nearly three years like a good gay couple.

The point is this: We rarely let Galaxia come between us, or not until the end anyway, when, in the winter of 2005, I issued an ultimatum to my bruised Branko: It was either Galaxia or me. We had often talked about her, and I had made my position clear: "Snowball poems, diamantes, clarihews. Big whoop. She's deaf to dialect. Always will be. Let's see her produce a multi-layered sonnet."

To which he'd reply: "Say what you want, mon amour. Her youth is a threatening for you, I know it. She's read more books than yourself can ever. Writes faster. More prolificness. Did I tell you that Re:Visions Magazine is publishing her sestina series? Next stop, the New Yorker."

Arguments in the shower. He called me a "friendless iconoclaster," said I had an inflated sense of self, that I was condemned to obscurity, that the poet is not an individual, not even human, not worth our attention, but merely a vessel; and that poetry, like math and physics, has existed since the beginning of time, even before we acquired the voices to express it. "It's there to be discovered, not created."

I accused him of being afraid of other people's feelings, of an inability to appreciate poetic passion, of suffering from a crippled cognition (okay, that was cruel), of being a Pygmalion in his laboratory (he was now a computer science doctorate, spending long nights away from home in the university's computer lab). Galaxia, I declared, could never exist without people like me being sucked dry of our literary genius, and oh, while we're being honest, I've always detected a faint but clearly discernible whiff of anti-semitism oozing from your pores.

We separated. I moved in with a beautiful art history student from New Zealand, soon married her, and we now live happily in Australia with Acacia, our daughter. Branko. of course, returned to his ungrateful Galaxia Gaudh. Did we love one another, Branko and I? I suppose we did, and I suppose it was because of my affection for Branko, this intimate bond of ours, that Galaxia -- now Cecily Barnes -- never trusted me, was determined in fact to destroy me, to elevate herself in Branko's eyes as a poet of grandiosity and "prolificness."

Over the next decade or so, I'd discover her poems in all sorts of respected journals, Granta, the New Yorker, bylined with numerous identities ("Umayu Funshock" my all time favorite). Her style was easily recognizable. The sentence patterns, her fondness for anagrams, the lifting of phrases from other poets and authors on (the line about "infinite pleasures," for example, is from Balzac's Gambara); not to mention her propensity for the word "stuttering," a favorite anagram of hers. Her poetry is also marked by the vainglorious, a sense of immortality, and she often disparages the efforts of individual poets, especially poets like myself, seemingly sunk in insignificance, imprisoned in our heads, or living on "little isles," bowl-bound by marriage, children, death.

I admit my career has never blossomed like it might have.

If I see any hope here, it's in the strangling vines of competition, the rival forces of philistinism making fools of one another. How distressed Cecily and Branko must be by the corruption of her work. See how the creeper of surveillance spreads through the entirety of "Bonsai:" The NSA in "uNSAyable," "spoNSAl," "chaiNSAw," in "BoNSAi" itself; and all those "spy"s in "wiSPY," "raSPY," "graSP Your;" not to mention the final couplet's much-too-obvious -- but perhaps heroic -- anagram of "wonders dawned."

Bonsai is a trivial work, indeed, a very bad poem, by a poet undeserving of our attention. It's stunted, manicured, pruned by a collective aesthetic, shaped by the buffeting forces of self-infatuation. But even amidst such a vast dehumanization, there will always exist the "tiny jewels," the "pleasures unknown, delights abstruse," in the soil of its genesis; the leafy lanes of College Station, the monarchs and scarlet maple, the concentrated slice of Branko's tennis backhand, the horrible oatmeal cookies he used to bake (his nose tipped with flour), the adorable collie pups we used to visit at Wiggles and Wags. The smell of Hugo Boss.


This week's editor, Zireaux, is the author of several novels and works of poetry. He writes poetry, book reviews and commentary on literature at the website

Be sure to check out the other Tuesday poets and poems via the sidebar on the left.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Votive Angel by Moira Wairama

Thinking it’s the delivery pizza,
he opens the door
to The Votive Angel,
arrayed in slogan-splattered silks,
carrying her sword-sharp pen.
Silently she strides past him,
her silver boots crunching empty beer cans.
 “Apathetics,” she roars to the house at large,
“Arise and vote.”

The woman in the kitchen stirring soup looks up,
“Who for, dear?” she inquires amiably.
“Think,” expectorates the angel,
her spittle splattering the bubbling soup.
Around the bathroom door appears
a freshly painted mannequin’s mask.
 “I like the one that always smiling,” she beams.
The spin doctors hiding in the shit house high–five each other.

From the darkest corner of the room
the pin-pointed pupil yawns widely.
“No point voting, can’t trust fuckin’ politicians,
come the revolution I’ll be out there,” he mumbles.
Seizing his carefully groomed dreadlocks,
The Votive Angel swings him ceiling high
to drop and fall beneath a wall-sized TV screen.

Where images of teeth white infomercial beauties
are suddenly replaced
by battered, bleeding protesters
struggling against a tide of helmeted batons
fiercely fighting for the freedom
to vote.
“Bitch,” snarls the patched one threateningly
As he strains to rise from his proverbial crouch
“My fucking right not to.”
Screeching in fury,
the angel draws her politically incorrect whip
and drives all before her out
into the street where others gather in amusement.
“Vote, you Apathetics,” she screams distraught,
her silver boots stamping on unyielding asphalt.
“Vote,” she banshee wails to the indifferent crowd,  
her stirring words swallowed by a silent majority.
She watches grim-faced as people  
scuttle back inside to watch American Idol
while others follow sheep-like the sharp-suited man
who suddenly appears to leads them to the nearest pub.
“I’m paying,” he calls back cheerfully.
The Votive Angel shrugs her shoulders in defeat,
unsettling her wings from which feathers fall.
She takes off her silver boots
and bare-footed walks after the promise of free drinks.

Posted with permission from Moira Wairama. 
Tuesday poem editor this week: Andrew M. Bell

Moira performing in Scary Sagas

MOIRA WAIRAMA is a Wellington storyteller specializing in bi-lingual tellings of traditional legends, an award-winning writer, a poet and a teacher. With her partner, Tony Hopkins, she is co-founder of Baggage Co-op, which has produced a number of award-winning shows including Po@rt, the art of Poetry, Questions and Te Kauta (all written by Moira) and most recently Te Haerenga, a journey of identity which toured to the United Kingdom in 2012. She has also written a number of radio dramas.

Moira was coordinator of the Hutt Valley Angus Inn Poets Pub for over a decade and is herself a performance poet with work in a number of anthologies, including works for children. She writes for children in both English and Maori and has won several awards for her books The Puppet Box and The Taniwha of Wellington Harbour.  Currently she is working on a picture book for women with artist Linda Tilyard and trying to make friends, rather unsuccessfully, with the spiny-backed, foul-breathed dragon of technology. 

I first met Moira through the Wellington theatre scene in the mid-1990s. I knew Moira first as a performer and a storyteller. Then I became well-acquainted with Moira's partner, Tony, when he and I were cast to perform in a production of Driving Miss Daisy. Tony, who is African-American, was to play the part of the chauffeur, made famous in the film version by Morgan Freeman. Unfortunately, after much rehearsal, the production was abandoned because the director couldn't raise the funding. That's theatre for you.

Later, I saw a powerful production of Moira's play, Questions, a play about youth suicide inspired by real-life events. The play went on to be adapted for and screened on television with a television panel discussion following the screening.

So, like Shrek's metaphor about the onion in the first Shrek movie, I witnessed the various layers of Moira's creative life peeled away. Then she invited me to read at the Angus Inn Poets Pub in Lower Hutt where I became a semi-regular reader and audience member.

Moira is a creative force to be reckoned with and a lovely person as well. She has a quirky, dry sense of humour which comes through in this poem which should resonate with all Kiwis in this election year. Please follow the advice of the poem, as I'm sure all erudite Tuesday Poets already do, and exercise your democratic right.

This week's editor,  Andrew M. Bell, writes poetry, short fiction, plays, screenplays and non-fiction. His work has been published and broadcast in New Zealand/Aotearoa, Australia, England, Israel and USA. His most recent publications are Aotearoa Sunrise, a short story collection, and Clawed Rains, a poetry collection. Andrew lives in Christchurch with his wife and two sons and loves to surf.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

From Bird Murder by Stefanie Lash


Tusk was settled by rogue miners.
They went too far up-creek, there was no gold, they were lost.
They found instead the coloured stones.

The women are most industrious in tusk
and the children hop from house to house.
Perhaps because of the minerality of the River tusk

children’s hair will colour as they age.
Purple is the predominant hue; some boys turn green.
The huge prismatic slabs dominate industry:

tiling, tinted tonics prepared from the glacial flour,
some paper, an abundance of silkworms nearby.
From the terraced town the sea is very visible,

but visitors don’t come here. The jetty isn’t long enough
for pleasure boats and the blue mountains hug
and nest them so closely.


I am sent to work on my impossible bottle.
I am sent to the train to board and alight, board and alight,
until a certain time has passed.

Swan fat for our faces is delivered in ice boxes.
On school days I count the windows of the manse
then count them again.

Wring, wring. Press my knees dry.
I must not look behind any statue.
I wear the whale in between each rib.

When I grow up I will learn to drive
and I’ll drive back and forth across the country
without ever needing petrol.

My name is Passerine and
I sigh into a man’s hat up in the attic.
J is for Juno, whispering down my telescope.


For feathers to iridesce
the molecular structure
is like a prism;

or air pockets retained in the feather
scatter light uniformly;
for feathers to be black,

melanin is present,
a strengthening agent.
But in the white feather – the white feather.

Pearls dissolved in vinegar.
Rinsed in the milk bath.
Only exposed to moonlight.

Have you seen a bird’s skull
like a droplet of bone frozen.

Posted with permission from Stefanie Lash and Mākaro Press. Soon to be published in Bird Murder.
Tuesday poem editor this week: Helen Rickerby

Stefanie Lash is a poet and archivist who lives in Aro Valley, Wellington. Her poems have appeared in journals including Sport, Takahē and Turbine. Bird Murder is her first book.

I couldn't resist. I know it's cheating, but it's Tuesday Poems this week rather than a Tuesday Poem because I couldn't resist sharing three of the poems from Bird Murder, Stefanie Lash's debut collection of poetry, which is going to be launched next week (details below). Bird Murder is one of the three books in the Hoopla poetry series, to be very soon published by Mākaro Press (along with Heart Absolutely I Can by Michael Harlow and my own collection, Cinema).

This is the official blurb for the book:
An albino huia, a stranger in the attic and a pink-haired woman ... Bird Murder is a gothic murder mystery telling of the demise of a ruined banker, set in the not-quite fictional town of Tusk.

At the heart of the story is the sacred bird, the huia: its beauty, curiosity and ‘fluted conversation’, and the consequences of its slaughter by early settlers.

As evening falls and Mr Cockatrice and his wife prepare for a party, questions surface. Are the gimlet-eyed creatures in the bird room capable of revenge? Is the stranger perching in the attic more than he seems? Or is the temptation of a fine head of cherry’d hair reason enough to murder?


I was lucky enough to get to get a pre-publication read of Bird Murder, and gosh it's good. I've never read anything quite like it. It's sort of a 'verse novel', as they call them in Australia, in that it tells a story over the course of the book, but it's so much more than that. The verse novels I've read have, it seems to me, sacrificed the poetry for the story, losing the richness of the language and ideas and layering of meaning. But that is so not true of the poems in Bird Murder, where the language is sparkly and playful, and so much is going on under the surface.

Although it is made up of poems in the same strict form - five stanzas of three lines each - there is such variety in this book. (Hence my desire to share more than one of the poems.) The styles and tones of the poems vary, and line lengths go from a single word to ones that stretch right across the page. The sum of the parts adds up to a unique collection that is by turns magical, grim, humorous, mysterious, strange and very satisfying.

It is also quite educational. You'll learn a lot about huia and other birds - along with the fiction there is a lot of fact, as evidenced by the notes and references at the end.

As I said, Bird Murder, along with Heart Absolutely I Can by Michael Harlow, and Cinema by me, is going to be launched next week, and you're invited. It's also a celebration of Mākaro Press's first year in the publishing business, and the end of Writers Week. So, Thursday 13 March (that's next week!), 5.30, Blondini's (the cafe at the Embassy Theatre), Wellington. Hope to see you there!

This week's editor, Helen Rickerby, has published two-and-a-half books of poetry, and her new collection, Cinema, will be published by Mākaro Press next week. She runs Seraph Press, a boutique publishing company with a growing reputation for publishing high-quality poetry books, and she is co-managing editor of JAAM literary journal. She blogs irregularly at and has a day job as a web editor.

And do check out some of the other Tuesday Poems that you'll find in the sidebar to the left.