Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tuesday Poem: Ruamoko, trainwrecker

If you study a map of the South Island’s fault lines
you will notice that they resemble a railway
marshalling yard. The main trunk line is the big bugger,
the trans-alpine fault, running up the spine of the island.

Somewhere near Murchison, it breaks north-east and forms
a series of branch and shunting lines which meet the sea
at Marlborough before chunneling under Cook Strait.

But if you zoom into that junction at Murchison and search
until you find the Train Controller’s box – one of those

buildings on four legs from which the points are operated –
focus in again and look closely through the windows.
There you will see a Train Controller, bound and gagged,
with a look of horror on his face. Ruamoko, eyes shut
and grinning, is playing with the point-setting levers.

I wrote this poem recently and it is the last in my Ruamoko series - a small collection of 14-line poems that reference the god of earthquakes (and volcanoes - sorry Aucklanders). I've posted it because I haven't posted in a while, mainly because my blog took some unplanned time out over the last month and a half. Thanks to help from fellow Tuesday Poem poets Tim Jones and Helen McKinlay, I have managed to resuscitate it.

Visit Tuesday Poem for more poems this week.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tuesday Poem: Sir Patrick Spence

The king sits in Dumferling toune,
Drinking the blude-reid wine:
"O whar will I get guid sailor,
To sail this schip of mine?"

Up and spak an eldern knicht,
Sat at the kings richt kne:
"Sir Patrick Spence is the best sailor
That sails upon the se."

The king has written a braid letter,
And signd it wi his hand,
And sent it to Sir Patrick Spence,
Was walking on the sand.

The first line that Sir Patrick red,
A loud lauch lauched he ;
The next line that Sir Patrick red,
The teir blinded his ee.

"O wha is this has don this deid,
This ill deid don to me.
To send me out this time o' the yeir.
To sail upon the se!

"Mak hast, mak haste, my mirry men all,
Our guid schip sails the morne:"
"O say na sae, my master deir,
For I feir a deadlie storme.

"Late late yestreen I saw the new moone,
Wi the auld moone in hir arme,
And I feir, I feir, my deir master,
That we will cum to harme."

O our Scots nobles wer riclit laith
To weet their cork-heild schoone ;
Bot lang owre a' the play wer playd,
Thair hats they swam aboone.'

O lang, lang may their ladies sit,
Wi thair fans into their hand.
Or eir they se Sir Patrick Spence
Cum sailing to the land.

O lang, lang may the ladies stand,
Wi thair gold kems in their hair.
Waiting for thair ain deir lords,
For they'll se thame na mair.

Haf owre, haf owre to Aberdour,
It's fiftie fadom deip.
And thair lies guid Sir Patrick Spence,
Wi the Scots lords at his feit.


I was thinking the other day about some of the old narrative poems and ballads which I learnt about in "English I". This is one of them. I was lucky enough to hear it read aloud (fittingly enough) in the great stone hall in the old Canterbury University campus in Christchurch. Our poetry lecturer was a dramatist and actor and his rendition of this poem (and other ballads) held the large class of students spell-bound.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tuesday Poem: Evensong in a graveyard of villas

The pines on the ridge are about to cede
their colour to the night.  Once more
light’s absence will shroud this place.

Not even car-lights on the highway below
(such is their need for road when it’s dark)
re-mark the trees – their placement

their particular explanation of green.
Soon the evening will lay claim too
to vestiges of villas which once stood

in the bush beneath the pines –
orphaned lawns, homeless paths
rhododendron that flower

among five-finger, tree fern, rata.
These last artefacts mark the bones
of grand abodes. These and a plaque

at the site of each home
listing its name, its history of dwellers
its date of sacrifice to the road.

This poem, which appears in Tongues of Ash, came to me one day as I was staring out of my office, looking for inspiration. My view is over a State Highway onto a hillside, part of a reserve of native bush called Percy's Reserve and I remembered on one of my rambles there seeing the preserved sites of what once were houses.

The tone of the poem was a far from perfect attempt to capture what Bryan Walpert, one of Tuesday Poem's alumni once spectacularly achieved, in a poem called Aubade, which won the NZPS 2007 poetry competition. Evensong in a graveyard of villas was not based on Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, as one reviewer of Tongues of Ash once asserted.

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tuesday Poem: planchette by James Norcliffe

I'm the hub Tuesday Poem editor this week, and the poem I've chosen is "planchette" by James Norcliffe. Check it out at the main Tuesday Poem blog, and don't forget to check out the poems in the sidebar as well!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

A drizzle of ghazals

'Water' was the theme of the latest Challenge issued by the online Ghazal Page journal. The ghazals for the Water Challenge were selected by guest editor and Kapiti Coast-based, New Zealand poet Mary Cresswell. Among the 12 ghazals by American, Canadian, and New Zealand writers are two I wrote which were originally published in Tongues of Ash – Winds and Time and All in a Day's Work.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tuesday Poem: Variations on an early turning

Five days of rain, bitter gales
mass desertion of leaves
bedraggled blackbird, savage at
the last apple’s heart
pecking a cadenza for rain’s bolero.

Days of unseasonal cold too
snow on the hills, an early turning
as my own winter starts
with skirls of slurry and sleet
from the pipes that plumb to my heart.

In a boy’s body, after hard running
I remember lying listening
to ground-bouncing, pounding timpani
unaware the heart’s sound
will one day desert the body.

And you my love
try to mask your concern
but your heart rides tandem with mine
and taps a discordant descant
for my drug-induced adagio.

Today, for a heartbeat of time
the day mutes rain’s tattoo
unravels a sodden skein
from the sullen blanket of sky
lets through a quaver of white.

Not enough blue sky to make
a sailor a pair of pants
your father would say
before his proud heart surrendered
to time’s savage pecking.

Though long enough to display
the latency all days have
for light, warmth, death’s abstention
for playing arpeggios of hope
in a heart’s winter garden.

The recent change of season here in NZ - snow, rain, gales - reminded me of an early winter a few years ago. It coincided with a personal health scare. I wrote this poem at that time and it was published in Tongues of Ash.

Don't forget to visit http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.co.nz/. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tuesday Poem - The Listeners by Walter de la Mare

"Is there anybody there?" said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grass
Of the forest's ferny floor;
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller's head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
"Is there anybody there?" he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller's call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
'Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:--
"Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word," he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone. 

I started thinking the other day about the poems that were taught to me, brought to me at school by good teachers, the ones that hooked me into poetry. This poem, this poet, was one of those.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tuesday Poem: Road Cricket

Driving through town
listening to the cricket
I saw a man
in the road’s grassy middle
about to thread a three-lane needle
with his body

glass, metal, flesh, blood

He danced ahead
like a batsman at the bowler’s end
just before the leather leaves
the bowler’s hand
then scuttled back
to bide another chance

walk, run, dive, swallow

You fool, I thought
you bloody bunny
as my own life’s risky runs
replayed for me right then
though I knew on his far crease
there was no-one looking out to call

YES! NO! WAIT! …sorry 

I've only ever played cricket once in my life. That was when I was a university student more years ago than I'd like to admit. It was a social game between the 'Onslow Street Onslaughts' (the team I was roped in to make up the numbers for) and a team from a local pub - the 'Caledonian Allstars'.

The game was played somewhere in rural Canterbury on a hot summer Saturday. I remember there was a shed, kegs, a concrete pitch, long grass, large trees, sheep droppings, and a set of rules which bore some likeness to the real game's ones. From that one experience, I went on to love watching cricket. I love its mercurialness, how it can unfold in unexpected ways, the real-life parallels.

A much later incident I observed, which is described in the first stanza above, was the genesis for 'Road Cricket'.

The result of the game I played in? An unexpected and last over victory to the Onslaughts, of course. (This particular claim can be verified by a friend of mine who played in that game and went on to become an international test cricket umpire. We wouldn't both claim a win that wasn't now, would we? That wouldn't be cricket.)

Visit Tuesday Poem for more poems this week and also check on the progress of Tuesday Poem's third birthday rolling jazz poem.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tuesday Poem: The lawyer’s eulogy at the funeral of a client

Good afternoon, my name is
Titus Loebloe from the practice
Loebloe, Shalloe and Sharpe.
I didnt know Eunice well
but she was my client.

She used to worry a lot
and ring me up all the time
as you do when
youre getting past it.
Well, the clock was ticking
at both ends of the phone
I tell you.

I would like to use
this opportunity
to acquaint possible
beneficiaries of the will
with some of our
investment services.

If you are inclined
as Eunice is sorry, was
to hand over her savings to us
lock, stock and wine-box
I can honestly say
what a pleasure that would be
for both of us.

We have a number of
high-risk, low-return schemes
for you to consider
and I guarantee that
we will make more money
out of this than
you ever dreamed.

Just in case you are wondering
how successful I have been
thats my car outside the Volvo
I know it looks a bit like a hearse
but it cost a fortune.

Now, you should also be aware
that its not too late for Eunice
to donate her organs
to medical research
just sign the sheet on the way out
and I will arrange it.

I have a number of large hosp
I mean, keen buyers lined up
and what they will pay
will more than offset
the cost of re-opening the coffin.

Before I finish I would like to say
its been a pleasure
and will be more so
once you put $250 in the plate
my fee for providing you each
with this wonderful advice.

In February 2005, The New Zealand Consumer reported that a lawyer charged a bereaved family for time spent in attending the funeral of a client. The Wellington District Law Society defended the practice.  The poem is my satirical take on the sorry story. 

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tuesday Poem: Resilience

Mathematicians      have worked out
how to calculate       the bounciness of a ball:

(the coefficient of this  x  the cosine of that)
+   the differential of today's weather     all ÷ by
a piece of string      (and the speed of the train)
=  the same as     dropping different balls together
and seeing which ball     has the longest bounce

Measuring how well     a person will rebound
after being dropped on     is still being worked on:

some believe     it has something to do with
the thickness of their skin           whether their stretching
reaches a breaking point     or results in       withstanding
whether they can fight and flee          how many times
the person has returned to a vertical position before

I am feeling a little guilty for not having posted on Tuesday Poem for two whole months! Excuses - Xmas, grown-up children shifting house, work busy-ness, summer, grandchildren, checking out that the Hawkes Bay still makes wine...writing poetry???

Anyway, today's poem arose from contemplation on a phenomenon of recent (quaky) times.

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