Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tuesday Poem: The bag lady

she decants each day in cans
scans the drains for plastic treasure
trades lice and rats with lepers
raids the ruins for pins and tapers

clears the bins of tripe and crabs
plaits ducted cable to her tresses
drapes her scabs in spats of peat
scrubs the crud from her dresses

daubs the seats with lunar runes
taps public stipends from the streets
spiels and reels a descant tune
laces tea with beer and acid

her nightly sleep is lanced with pain
when spiders' bites redact her brain
and render essence of a past
so redolent of yours or mine

Poverty, impoverishment, the precariousness of continuity of access to livable incomes - these have been uppermost of mind recently. Visit Tuesday Poem for more great poetry.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tuesday Poem: Cloth Cap Commutes - the freeloaders

Cloth Cap was looking out the window, string-phoned, contemplating. Today's fellow travellers were the usual salmagundi. Sonia - she cultivated people knowing her name - was sitting next to Walking Stick, who earlier had done her assisted sprint from the feeder bus to board this one. The Crusher had found a seat to himself, to everyone's relief. Placemaker Man was sitting behind the driver, as he always did. Blue Coat (who actually hadn't worn it for a year) had chosen Cloth Cap to sit next to today - she never sat next to the same person two day's running. Other passengers from the later stops seized the remaining seats. It was if the freeloaders had been waiting for this to happen, or because the air in the bus had reached wing-muscle temperature. Or maybe, with their acute sense of hearing, they had heard Iggy Pop singing through Cloth Cap's string phones. Whatever it was, when the cicadas started stirring on the floor of the bus the effect was electric. The Crusher turned pale and gripped his knees, conversations erupted between previously mute companions, men and women lowered their faces in consternation and tried to brush any flying freeloaders away. 
Blue Coat calmly pulled a tissue from her purse, leant down and gathered up a couple of crawlers. She handed it to Cloth Cap and pointed at the open top window. Eventually all were dispatched one way or another. Iggy Pop, the iconic rocker who sometimes sang live dressed only in his undies, was still singing his punk anthem - The Passenger. "Oh the passenger, He rides and He rides, He looks through his window, what does he see?" belted through Cloth Cap's string phones. He was sure now the cicadas had only wanted to join in the riff. Iggy Pop and the Cicadas, now that would have been something.

Another poem from my University of Iowa MOOC writing experience. Visit Tuesday Poem for more great poetry.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesday Poem: Old paper

They stood forgotten
backs against the wall
waiting to be hung –
seven pictures,
remnants, ephemera,
a pastiche from the attics
of his life.

When his office was repainted
(‘papyrus’ - years ago)
he relegated them to a corner,
promising resurrection

After the reunion that refracted
fifty years from their first shackling
to a volcano's shadow,
he warmed to palimpsests
of paintings
on parchment walls.

He would begin with the mountain –
it wears a freezing-worker's white bonnet
and tussock apron...
though absent the feather of menace
that always plumed its crater.

Yes, the volcano would be first.
He knew now which memories

might recrudesce.

Yet another poem from my University of Iowa MOOC writing experience. Visit Tuesday Poem for for a great poem by Pascale Petit: Fauverie - Emmanuel.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tuesday Poem: Life sentences

by day he is a demon drover
who roams with rats in vacant lots
eats pitted dates with monster toads
leaves rinds of snot on rabid stones

his matted mane snares the mist
he shares his mind with dented mates
is atomised by vengeful doves
rants at vets who sieve his dreams

his eyes are stained with totem odes
he vends his verse from vats of steam
stores his rage in raven's drains
strides the street with riven tomes

but when the mares of night invade
the priestly demons that he droves
divest their robes and mitred hats
and rape him on the road

Another poem from my University of Iowa MOOC writing experience. Visit Tuesday Poem for more poems this week.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tuesday Poem: Giving birth

It’s scratching, sketching, hatching, culling
reflecting, collecting, selecting, electing
building, stitching, sowing, growing

It’s being mindful while netting metaphors
from speech and prosody's tidal reaches
lapping at our multitudes of selves

It’s saving sonnets lost in others’ words
taking pleasure with the tongue
seeking freedom in constraint

It’s congregation, congress, association
looking, sweating, kissing, cussing
this gestation, this poem writing

Like one or two other Tuesday Poem poets, several other New Zealanders, and over 3,000 global poetry writers, I have over the last 6 weeks been a participant in the University of Iowa's "Writers on Writing Poetry" MOOC. I registered for this online course because I was looking for new ways and techniques to explore and use when writing poems. To this end, I have not been disappointed and have been introduced to several ideas, many processes, and some exciting entrees into writing poetry. The course finishes this week and the above poem was my response to the exercise of writing a "constraint-based" poem. The constraint to be used was ours to choose and mine was to use a word from each of the titles that made up the12 Class Sessions. The words as they appear line by line in the poem are: sketching, collecting, building, mindful, prosody, multitudes, words, pleasure, constraint, association, looking, poem. And if you can get over all the -ing words in the poem, (which is frowned on by certain of today's poetry-writing teachers), I hope you enjoy.

Visit Tuesday Poem for more poems this week.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tuesday Poem: The ghost of Abbassia

Why so pale, young soldier-lad
what gloominess is this?
The days are breathing summer’s heat
what can there be amiss?

The boy he gazed into his beer
then looked around real slow
before he told to me this tale
in voice that trembled low:

I was on a signals course
we was testing radio.
We drove out to Abbassia
six months or so ago.

The night was bollocks freezing
there was ice on top of snow
the mountain she was steaming
the moon with blood did glow.

We set up camp and had a feed
but not a drop of booze.
I went outside to take a leak
and saw a bloody ghoul.

His face was black, his lips was burnt
cordite stained his hands.
His battle dress was ripped to shreds
He wore a gunner’s badge.

He said to me his gun had breached
a live one up the spout.
The crew was dead and dying –
go rouse the medics out.

I looked at him and knew he was
not human any more.
The gun it did explode alright
but thirty years before.

I told the ghost to bugger off –
his crew was feeding worms.
The gunner ghoul he swore real foul
then on me laid a curse.

He told me not to venture near
the swamp at Ngamatea
‘specially in the summer
for I would disappear.

He said the swamp would swallow me
like all them sheeps ‘n cattle
my bony bits would marry theirs
and never even rattle.

I laughed away that ghostie’s curse
when we was back in base
until today when Sarge he said
with malice on his face

‘You lot is slack and need a run
stay off the smokes ‘n beer
tomorrow sharp at sparrow’s fart
we head for Ngamatea.’

I wish I’d never seen nor dissed
the ghost of Abbassia –
tomorrow I’ll be drowning in
that swamp at Ngamatea.

I wrote this ballad several years ago (apologies to Keats for the first two lines). It is based on  a couple of incidents I experienced when I was a boy soldier in the 1960s. The ghost observation was reported by several of my colleagues during training when they were based at an NZ Army satellite camp (Abbassia, near Waiouru). Research later revealed that a gunner had been killed there 30 years previously when a shell exploded in a gun barrel during live-firing practice. We were also spun many stories about the Ngamatea (Nah-ma-tee-ah) swamp and how we would one day have to run through it during our physical training. These combined in my over-active but slow imagination 45 years later to spark this poem.

Visit Tuesday Poem for more poems and where this week's post is 'News from the Island' by Tracey Sullivan.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tuesday Poem: Facial impressions

On the map it’s a runny nose
dripping Florida’s Keys
into the Gulf of Mexico.

But when the Beach Boys sing Kokomo
I still join in – Key Largo, Montego…
Come on pretty mama
That’s where you wanna go…

Although you can’t say Everglades to me
without large birds flapping their gantry wings
as they fly away from the evil
that slithers into the swamp
near those ghoul-like cypress trees
dreadlocked in Spanish moss.

And you can’t say Lake Okeechobee
without me seeing the mass murderer
who is really innocent
running through the lake-edge water
looking over his shoulder and tripping
when he hears the sound
of the blood hounds
that he can’t see through the mist
that parts then shrouds
the spectral trees.

And if you say Miami to me
I say vice, Don Johnson
the film whose names I can’t remember
with the Florida chapter of the mafia
that the Chicago Godfather
wants to rub out/pencil in
for an unstable alliance
between the New York bosses
and the Cuban connection
that morphs to the Pelican Brief
that changes into Scarface
starring Al Pacino.

I say it’s the front tooth of a mouth
which is really a womb
annually spawning several children
each with chainsaw limbs
only one eye
and a murderer’s heart.

This poem appeared in Tongues of Ash.  
Visit Tuesday Poem for more poems this week.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Tuesday Poem: Today, there are twenty-three

Dead leaves
scratch the city street.

The sky is light-weak,
wearing another winter’s
manifest on a sleeve
abstained by blue.

The street’s address
is solid Golden Mile,
where Versace, Gucci,
and Swarovski sup with
the Saatchi brothers.

It is voting season too,
the season of evasion,
sanitised reports,
lies disguised as promises,
squabbles about deciles
of squalor, poverty, jobs,
housing, inequality;

during which politicians
will make the brothers
even richer.

On Golden Mile
beggars squat.
Today, there are twenty-three
between Manners Street
and Parliament.

Dead leaves
scuffle round their feet.

We are just coming into New Zealand's winter and we have a general election in September. Hopefully (or perhaps not), the poem says it all.

I'm also the hub Tuesday Poem editor this week, and the poem I've chosen is "Quail Flat, 1960" by Kerry Popplewell. Check it out at the main Tuesday Poem blog, and don't forget to check out the poems in the sidebar as well! 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tuesday Poem: My Boy Jack by Rudyard Kipling

“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind —
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

This month has seen not only the 99th anniversary of ANZAC day, but also 100 years since the outbreak of WW1. Given these events, I have chosen a poem by Rudyard Kipling for this post. Kipling lost his own son John (Jack) in September 1915 at the Battle of Loos and while the poem is emotionally driven by that loss, it is also about the generic loss of loved ones in battle. Kipling wrote the poem as a prelude to a story about the Battle of Jutland in 1916, so the "Jack" can also be a reference to sailors (Jack Tars). I like the repetitive questions and use of the words 'tide' and 'wind blowing' in the poem, they echo the ebb and flow of the sea - and life.

For more good poems this week, visit Tuesday Poem.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tuesday Poem: The Condensed Modified Mercalli Scale

I - V

Delicately suspended objects may swing
Many people do not recognise it
Vibration like passing of truck
At night some awakened
Walls make cracking sound
Disturbance of trees, poles, and other tall objects
Pendulum clocks may stop


Many frightened and run outdoors
Some chimneys broken
Noticed by persons driving motorcars
Fall of columns, monuments, walls
Heavy furniture overturned
Changes in well water
Ground cracked conspicuously


Shifts sand and mud
Water slopped over banks
Broad fissures in ground
Earth slumps
Rails bent greatly
Waves seen on ground
Lines of sight distorted

Found in the 'Modified Mercalli (MM) Intensity Scale', from An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock, originally published in 1966.

In a recent post, I quoted the middle stanza of The Condensed Modified Mercalli Scale, a found poem I wrote as part of a small collection of quake poetry with a working title of Felt Intensity. Today, the Central Hawkes Bay towns of Waipukurau and Waipawa experienced a swarm of earthquakes, the biggest of which was 5.2 on the Richter Scale. Little damage has been reported to date. The quakes have prompted me to post the complete Condensed Modified Mercalli Scale.

Visit Tuesday Poem for more poems this week and read TP's special 4th birthday poem, each line written by a different Tuesday Poem Poet without knowing what the other poets had written. The whole poem was knitted together by three editors and the result is fantastic.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour - Sandi Sartorelli

1.    What am I working on at the moment? 
It’s a collection of poetry about what is dear and personal to each of us, about what we hold just beneath the surface.  It could be an urge to feel the kiss of sunlight against your skin.  Or, to be recognised and heard, to know the intimacy of touching another.  It might be a craving to win the lotto, or have a baby.  It could be a wish for a dead one to return.  My collection, Calling down the sky aims to unleash many voices of desire.  It culminates with the voice of Papatūānuku and her longing for Ranginui.

This project has been on and off my drawing board for some time now. After sending the collection to a publisher recently, I received a dream rejection letter (yes, there really is such a thing).  She provided detailed feedback on some of the poems, practical advice about length, and genuine encouragement to continue with the project. Now I’m filled with desire and new insight to make this work grunt out loud – gracefully of course.  
2.    How does my work differ from others?
My poetry is nearly always portraits of people, famous people and other real folk, fictional characters, and the odd self-portrait.  Sometimes I write persona poetry which lets me speak in the voice of another person.           

My work often includes snatches of dialogue to emphasise the sound of a voice, and to encourage readers to think about the sound of the character’s voice as they read the poem. 

I like to ground my poetry with unpoetic but concrete details like the Edmonds Cook Book, the toilet, Weet-bix, or refrigerators.   

3.    Why am I writing about this?
Some of us try to pretend we don’t have desires, but when you get down to it, our days would be depressing without the whetstones that can make us behave badly, bravely, unwisely. Imagine how predictable the people around us would be if they had no desires.  Desire is the architect of our best and worst moments.  Seems like a perfect excuse for poetry.

4.    How does the writing process work?
Sometimes I’ll start with some research, but even before that there will be a stub of an idea that starts the poem.  It could be a snatch of conversation, something I have felt, seen or observed, a thought, or a sound.  Anything really.  I start with this stub and continue to write until the results surprise me.  After that I polish, spit and polish. 

This photo, ‘Sense’ by Tony Stano, provided the stub for a poem about a psychiatrist who wears only black, and her repressed desire for colour.

You can read more of my poetry here:

Next week (Monday 31 March), the Writing Process Blog Tour moves on to Mary Macpherson Mary Macpherson is a poet, a photographer and a communications professional. Her photographic work has been widely exhibited, and her
poetry has been published in a book-length collection, in literary journals, and as part of the collaborative work Millionaire's Shortbread (2003). In a review of Macpherson's first collection of poetry, The Inland Eye (1998), Paola Bilbrough writes that her poems
'say a lot - beautifully and with seemingly little effort - and many of the poems have a disturbing enigmatic quality'.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour - Felt Intensity

1) What am I working on?

As Kathy Ferber mentioned in her fascinating Writing Process Blog Tour post, I currently work for New Zealand’s Earthquake Commission. I have been employed there full-time since 6 September 2010, 2 days after the first of the really big Christchurch quakes struck.

It will be no surprise then, to learn that I have just completed a small collection of poems which focuses on the effects of Canterbury's seismic events of the last 3.5 years. Although I live in Wellington, not Christchurch, I travelled there frequently during 2010 - 2013 and so experienced enough of the tens of thousands of aftershocks (including the big and deadly Feb 22nd, 2011 quake) to gain some small understanding of what it has been like for Canterbury residents.


2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

During and since the Canterbury earthquakes a sub-genre of "quake" poetry emerged and a number of collections (for example, Things Lay in Pieces by Richard Langston) and many individual poems have been written. One of my favourite poems is Fault by Joannna Preston.

Quake poems are not new (which is not surprising, considering New Zealand has been known as the “Shaky Isles” since the 1800s). Before the Canterbury quakes, Sam Hunt wrote about one he experienced in South Taranaki. He called it Naming the Gods and he reads it as part of the song Cape Turnagain by the Warratahs. I use Sam’s poem as a start point for a sequence of poems in my collection – The Ruamoko Series (Ruamoko is the Maori god of earthquakes and volcanoes).

My as-yet unpublished collection probably differs a little from others in the quake genre because of the number of found poems (poems found in original text) it contains. The poem Headlines is a list of headlines from the Sunday Star Times of 5 September 2010, which was the day after the first big quake; February 22nd, 2011, Report 1 is a slightly abbreviated version of information about that quake published by GNS (New Zealand’s Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences) immediately after it happened; The Condensed Modified Mercalli Scale is a ‘Reader’s Digest’ version of this 12-point Scale, which is used by people to report how they experience an earthquake. The following is a stanza from that poem (the language is a bit ‘last century’ because the Scale was written in the early 1900s and the words and phrases are ‘as found’ in the Scale; I like the effect of the clipped, fore-shortened descriptors though - they jar just like an earthquake):

The Condensed Modified Mercalli Scale – VI - IX

Many frightened and run outdoors
Some chimneys broken
Noticed by persons driving motorcars
Fall of columns, monuments, walls
Heavy furniture overturned
Changes in well water
Ground cracked conspicuously

3) Why do I write what I do?

Tongues of Ash (see also the side bar) was my first full length collection. It contains poems which are mainly to do with place, reflections on place, memories of living in New Zealand in different localities, landscape, and the physical environment.

Felt Intensity is the working title of the small collection of quake poems which make up my reflections on the Christchurch earthquakes. It is also a term used to describe what the Modified Mercalli Scale actually measures. The titles of poems in this collection are (some of which have appeared in publications as shown below or in earlier posts on this blog):

The Condensed Modified Mercalli Scale
One might expect
Canterbury Groundworks Group
February 22nd, 2011, Report 1
February 22nd, 2011, Report 2 (JAAM 31)
Disaster Watch
Canterbury INTREP
Kia kaha Canterbury, October 2011
The Ruamoko Series
1.    Name-calling
2.    Grounds for a Protection Order
3.    Dear Ruamoko (JAAM 31)
4.    Canterbury Oblations
5.    Ruamoko, Trainwrecker
Richter meets Mercalli in Christchurch during the shallow aftershock years
Resilience (Tuesday Poem)
Accident at sea

In effect I write what I do because, like most if not all poets, I write what I feel.

4) How does your writing process work?

In answer to the first question of this post, I said that I don’t live in Christchurch. But I did once live there – as a student, for four years. When I left the city in 1970, I didn’t return for 12 years. The poem I wrote about that visit didn’t get written for another 20 years and is the opening poem of Tongues of Ash (see Canterbury Visit, Winter 1982 below).

This is evidence that in my writing process it can take a long time for a poem to ferment.

I am getting quicker though – the first of the Felt Intensity poems came along after brewing for only one year.

Canterbury Visit, Winter 1982

You clasp a shabby quilt
of dun and brown.

Memories from years before
at first stay locked away
like the snow water
in your mountains
marching north and south.

No storms call to your Port Hills
which are as bare as the trees
that trellis your sky.

But then, they always did.

Even as I enter the city
of my first true love
you get coy
clutch up a skirt of fog.

Once again
I have to fumble my way.

If you would like to follow the blogging tour, return to this blog next week (Mon 24 March), where I will be hosting Sandi Sartorelli’s Writing Process Blog Tour post.

Sandi Sartorelli recently shifted to live in the Cook Islands and is a graduate of New Zealand’s Whitireia Creative Writing Programme. Her poetry has appeared in a number of publications including JAAM, Blackmail Press, Penduline Press, Renee's Wednesday Blog and Shenandoah. Recently, two of her poems were highly commended in the Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize and the New Zealand Poetry Society Competition.

Enjoy the trip.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Tuesday Poem: Cloth Cap commutes

Yesterday, the Humourless Seinfeld spammed his audience with
an endless tweet, an unlikeable Facebook post, an audible Feltron Report.
Despite his best efforts, Cloth Cap couldn't shut out the confounding sound
so the Chopin-playing pianist hung his head, stopped playing.

Today the Humourless Seinfeld and his listening post sit two rows back.
Cloth Cap can still hear him inside his string phones, can hear him
sliming the 1812 overture, lowering the lifting of Napoleon's siege
of Moscow, spiking the guns, muffling the bells.

Tomorrow, Cloth Cap will magnanimously provide HS and his companion
with their own bus, TV producer, camera crew, and direct feeds to all
the world's reality shows. Cloth Cap will refuse resulting YouTube clip
advertising royalties and smile while he listens to Vivaldi.

Three and a half years of bus commuting have provided a lot of material for Cloth Cap. I don't think it will be his last reflection.

Visit Tuesday Poem for more poems this week.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tuesday Poem: The Rock – a tribute to Tiny Hill

The reasons
we called you this
at first were visual -
schist tor torso
voice of trampled gravel
nose as flat
as a skipping stone
(ground down in the murk
of countless scrums and rucks)

In 1964, when I jumped off
the train at 2 a.m. to land
in Waiouru's railway metal
and by moonlight saw
for the first time
two presentations of immensity -
Ruapehu to my left and you
on the platform to my right -
I didn’t know that
you were a famous All Black
from the 'fifty-six test series
the first the ABs ever won
against the 'boks

Nor did I really care
about that then
for like our fathers after the war
you never talked
to us Army boys
about your exploits
(though I've heard
at times you would confide
with close mates
over a post-match beer
how vindicated you felt
that you were dropped
for the one test we lost
against those 'boks)

Only now do I recall
the faintest of wry grins
when we did odd things
to avoid you - hiding
taking round-about routes
(or when you suddenly appeared
just as we went out of bounds)
lying flat in the roadside grit
hoping the dust
would swallow us

The reasons we still
call you this
are now more visceral
knowing that fifty years ago
we boys were small stones
carried by life’s river
to the anchor of a large rock
where we were taught
to carry the ball
read the game
give it our all

A couple of weekends ago, I went to a reunion which marked the fiftieth anniversary of joining the New Zealand Army for a group of boy soldier entrants, of which I was one. Fifty-four of our original intake of just over 140 attended. Also attending was Tiny Hill, now 87, who was our "School Sergeant Major".  I read this poem during the Saturday evening's dinner celebrations.

Visit Tuesday Poem for more poems this week.

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