Monday, January 26, 2015

Tuesday Poem: The Arrival of the Bee Box by Sylvia Plath

I ordered this, clean wood box 
Square as a chair and almost too heavy to lift. 
I would say it was the coffin of a midget 
Or a square baby 
Were there not such a din in it. 

The box is locked, it is dangerous. 
I have to live with it overnight 
And I can't keep away from it. 
There are no windows, so I can't see what is in there. 
There is only a little grid, no exit. 

I put my eye to the grid. 
It is dark, dark, 
With the swarmy feeling of African hands 
Minute and shrunk for export, 
Black on black, angrily clambering. 

How can I let them out? 
It is the noise that appals me most of all, 
The unintelligible syllables. 
It is like a Roman mob, 
Small, taken one by one, but my god, together! 

I lay my ear to furious Latin. 
I am not a Caesar. 
I have simply ordered a box of maniacs. 
They can be sent back. 
They can die, I need feed them nothing, I am the owner. 

I wonder how hungry they are. 
I wonder if they would forget me 
If I just undid the locks and stood back and turned into a tree. 
There is the laburnum, its blond colonnades, 
And the petticoats of the cherry. 

They might ignore me immediately 
In my moon suit and funeral veil. 
I am no source of honey 
So why should they turn on me? 
Tomorrow I will be sweet God, I will set them free. 

The box is only temporary.

I don't keep bees but I know people who do. They love them, are mesmerised by them. And Sylvia? Bees are a box of 'maniacs' – something to control – like the buzzing in one's brain. A great write up here:

Afterwards go to the Tuesday Poem hub  page: to find another wonderful poem: this one by young Canterbury poet Hamish Petersen, selected by Andrew Bell.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Art of Fiction and the wonderful James Baldwin

Herewith, I offer you one of my favourite short stories of all time. Such writing about the human spirit and about music, about families and race in America ... about love. And the ending! Meet the fiction of the fabulous James Baldwin in his story Sonny's Blues. Worth every second of your time.

Read, here. 

And here ... an interview with James Baldwin in the Paris Review. He lived in Paris for a number of years and wrote his seminal novel Go Tell it On the Mountain there.

Finally, a blogpost at Off the Shelf explores the 'something' about James Baldwin ...

In 1948, James Baldwin left New York and travelled to Paris. He didn’t speak French and arrived with forty dollars to his name. He was twenty-four years old. But being broke or not speaking the native language was of no consequence. In fact, Baldwin was relieved. He needed to leave America. -  more...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tuesday Poem: Hush

In the sweet of the morning,
would barely fill a palm 
or china cup, is a mouse
curled up asleep in the bread.
Hush, or it will waken and
I'll have to do something.

                      Mary McCallum

The dilemma of a mouse in the house. Note poem revised since first posted.

And today at the Tuesday Poem hub, you can find more mice in a poem by Lindsay Pope – but his narrator is a little less circumspect in dealing with his mouse problem. Lindsay's book Headwinds I published under our Mākaro Press Submarine imprint. It's a marvellous collection and it's great to see Lindsay on TP, thanks to editor Keith Westwater.

Have a lovely day. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

I say to horror, 'What do you look like under your hockey mask, your bloodstained cocktail frock?' Elizabeth Knox

Elizabeth Knox writes movingly and insightfully on caring for a loved person through a long illness – and how caring for her mother has changed her world view and introduced her to the experience of despair. She talks too of how having a sister who was different from the norm made her write differently:  fantasy and horror instead of 'literature'. This from the inaugural Margaret Mahy lecture delivered this year and published by VUP
For instance, I say to horror, 'What do you look like under your hockey mask, your bloodstained cocktail frock? Show me your body. Your bones.' I walk into the house-of-horror-genre and melt away its grossly figured wallpaper, the shadow on the alcove of its stairs, its dirty glass, its shuttered windows. I melt away the walls themselves until what is left is the frame, a stark figure around an empty volume, and then I call into it my own storms; outer, other darknesses; the real things in life that aren't reconcilable with living rationally, happily and confidently. Such as what illness does to us – to our selves – before we die. And how, even with all the organisation and energy, and goodwill in the world, there is only so much effective help we can offer one another. And in the end how careless a world bursting with causes is with all those devoted to the long cause of care... 
.... So why do I write non-realist fiction now that I'm all grown up? Today's answer  has to be that I can best make sense of the sadness I feel by acknowledging what catches you when you're in despair – then laughs about it. 
Elizabeth Knox read at the wonderful Litcrawl in Wellington last night. People packed into venues around the a small area of the central city and heard poets and storytellers read their work, and then walked to the next event and the next. Yes, packed!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Renée and Anahera: writers must take responsibility!

Renée is a writer who lives up the Kapiti Coast about an hour and a half from me. She's in her eighties and has been a professional writer for the past 30 years after a lifetime of working in various jobs since leaving school aged 12, the daughter of a solo mother, and always trying to fit in her writing.

Yesterday she walked into a seminar I was attending as a writing mentor. The air changed, there is no doubt. It was something about her bearing, the way she took us all in: fearless, compassionate. She came to speak to us to encourage the writers there: all Māori writers, part of the Te Papa Tupu incubation programme (we writing mentors are there in support but get as much out the sessions).  She came to speak to these writers who are trying to live their busy lives while fitting in time to write their novels and poetry and short stories – she was there to tell them it could be done – that there is always a way. 

Even as the mother of young children, even as someone holding down a full-time job, even when life becomes overwhelming and pulls you in every direction except towards your desk, there is always a way. And discipline helps (she has it in spades), and humour and compassion and self-belief (those too). 

"It's stories that make ideas live. And we're the ones who have to tell the stories."

"Take responsibility for your writing, for telling these stories." She talked about looking writers looking after themselves: their health, their lives, their families so they could write.

Writers are readers first and foremost: "I was a huge reader, I vacuumed up the books in the library. When I stop reading it'll be because I've died … my hands have dropped from the keyboard ..."

How to write: "You've got to find your own way in – writing puts up a bit of a battle at first, but in time it finds you." 

Be disciplined. Yes, Renée writes every day to the clock. "I've always used a timer to write. If I hadn't had it I'd have forgotten to do things like check on the children ... when the timer went off I'd go and see what they were up to ...  I had to catch the 8 o'clock train today, so I put the timer on. I still have it. "

Finally, she told us that she wrote her famous Depression era play Wednesday to Come in honour of her mother who died aged 42 from a broken heart – she had battled to bring up three children after their father committed suicide. What's more the play was written for a competition, and Renée wrote right up to the deadline. To occupy her children, still young then, she threw coins in the garden and told them to go looking for them and pull out the weeds while they were at it. The garden was weeded (and so were the flowers). The play was writ and continues to be a favourite. It was pivotal for me in the writing of The Blue set in 1938.

Renée finished speaking and then listened with interest to a young upcoming poet and fiction writer Anahera Gildea. Anahera hadn't so much walked into the room as exploded inside it: smiling and hugging everyone like they were old friends. Like Renée, she was a funny and charming speaker, and her insights echoed hers nicely, except that Anahera confessed she'd lacked the older writer's discipline. She said she'd struggled to write a novel until she found her own discipline by discovering how her creativity worked.

Anahera describes her process as working through from the place of te Po and te Ao Marama – a place of stillness and darkness to light.  She sits for two hours every morning thinking about her novel, if she writes, fine, if not, that's fine too. This way she progresses by working with herself not against herself, and in three months wrote an astonishing 30,000 words towards the draft of her novel.

Anahera's other tips gleaned from her life so far as a writer, including being part of the MA in creative writing at Victoria University's Institute of Modern Letters: 




In other words (excuse the pun): better to write than not write, to get it down and then craft the thing into something, and yes – make the time and the words will come. 

Finally, Anahera echoed Renée: "Being a writer is more than just writing to a word count every day – it involves looking after your health, it involves balance, it involves battling addictions ...' Taking responsibility, in other words, for being a writer and telling the stories that need to be told. Something both these inspirational women do. Thank you for reminding the rest of us. 

Renée's blog is at where she is posting a novel-in-progress every Wednesday! And you can find one of Anahera's poems here on Tuesday Poem.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tuesday Poem: Missing Hat

                  for Harriet  26 8 93–7 5 14

Audacious to think I taste that kind of sorrow. My missing
of you is simply on our steps in Ghuznee Street: you in a shiny, 
red coat, wanting to know where to go to get a hook-and-eye 
 fixed on your dress, delighted to be 
taken up Cuba to the small shop that’s shut now, the one with 
the blackboard and the mysterious seamstress. I'd have done 
it for you if I’d had needle and thread, but instead I left you 
                                     by the blackboard – and we hugged 
and your coat squeaked, your skin up close impossibly creamy. 
I think too of watching you talk that day, when you gave time 
without weighing it, the tracings your fingers made, mouth
                         so mobile, your face a place people
lingered. The way you said to a wedge of brownie on a plate: 
‘Perfect!’ and regarded it with such plain affection. Small ruins 
for me. For the brother they call Gramps, the weeping father, 
                                     the stoic mother, Grandma Jo, the rest –
Mac in his kilt, girls in scarlet lippy and pineapple pants, boys 
with three-day beards and skinny ties – for them this missing 
is a shattered city: lost spires, gutted high-rises, lights stuck 
                                    on amber, paper caught in chicken-
wire, the howl as wind claws the perimeter fence. 

Mary McCallum

Hat and puppy.
Photo credit: Rebekah Dorman
Harriet Rowland would have been 21 today. The lively, gorgeous Wellington student passed away on 7 March this year.

We at Mākaro Press published the blogs she wrote over the nearly three years she lived with cancer – it's called The Book of Hat and it's been a surprise hit: on bestseller lists, bought by students and grandparents, by bookclubs and classrooms, and runner-up in the Ashton Wylie award between Lloyd Geering and Joy Cowley. 

So many people have responded to Harriet's vivid, upbeat and compassionate voice. It's been called 'the real The Fault in Our Stars' but it's more than that... there's something singularly Hattie about the book, that spills out in the reading, and doesn't leave you. Peter Jackson's called it, 'truthful, funny and wise'. All of that. Just – Hat. 

And now it's going global! The Book of Hat is an ebook -- launched today, something we've achieved working with Rosa Mira Books in Dunedin. And we're also off today on our third roadshow around Wellington secondary schools distributing Hat's book – donations from generous reader Bridget Percy, who reckoned every school should have a copy. 

All great ways to celebrate the wonderful woman Harriet Rowland was, on what would have been her 21st birthday. And goodness would she have partied! 

Do check out the Tuesday poem for a host of other poems. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tuesday Poem: It's got a leaf

true I
didn’t eat
pears for years
unaware they ripen
from  the  inside  out,
despite Dad who worked
with apples and pears, sold
them in  Europe,  took us on
holidays to orchards and packing
sheds, ordered them, tissue-cupped,
by the wooden box. Now I try to buy 
my pears from Tom or Richard or Sandra:
Winter Nelis – which looks like Nellie but
isn’t – the round hard-looking ones that feel
just picked, and pile them on the spotted plate,
slice them one by one to eat. Winter Nelis – the
one Annie painted for me: a rich red wall behind
the freckled face of it, a goldenish shine to the
skin – the one Tom or Richard or Sandra
rushed over to her from the fruit shop
next door: Look, it’s got a leaf!

Mary McCallum

Such a winter poem! Enjoy (best enjoyed eating a pear). And do check out the Tuesday Poem at the hub – it's by best first book of poetry winner 2014, Marty Smith, and is stunning: Agnus Dei. There are stacks of other Tuesday Poems in the sidebar there too. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The feijoas are falling from the trees by Louise Wallace

The feijoas are falling from the trees –
a fresh bag-load every day.

Winter is on its way.
I am in the kitchen
shucking feijoas like oysters –
filling ice-cream containers to freeze.

Won't it be nice to eat them in July?
Rory is a good man, who hates feijoas.

I see a strong gust outside
and I imagine the sound of a feijoa falling.
Crashing into branches on its way down,
waiting to be plucked
from the leaves and soil.

Winter is on its way.
I try to think of how I could earn
more money; work harder, get ahead.
There is never enough
and it would be nice to get ahead.

I write a list of all the things
I need to make –
stewed feijoas, feijoa crumble –
another gust; feijoa cake. 


Louise says this poem is a clear favourite at readings she's given from her second collection Enough (VUP). It certainly scored high at a reading I was part of at Petone library recently. She was one of three 'young and hungry writers' appearing there – the others were Caolinn Hughes (VUP) and Stefanie Lash (one of my authors at Mākaro Press).

There's something about feijoas. I should know - I once posted a feijoa chutney recipe on this blog and it was a favourite post for months and months.  This poem of Louise's nails the business of having a feijoa tree in your life: from the excess to all the recipes ... no chutney, however...

Louise's poems walk with light feet, but carry so much. She thinks they're not all that interesting, but she's wrong. There's something beguiling about them that I can't quite explain. It's the Jenny Bornholdt effect – an honesty and quickness and quirkiness – and always the sideways glance at the place where vulnerability lies.

I'm talking about Louise and Enough on National Radio this afternoon with Simon Mercep - 1.30 pm.

Posted here with the poet's permission. Do check out the Tuesday Poem hub and a wonderful poem by Riemke Ensing about KM. A treat.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tuesday Poem: Chemotherapy - it's on the hub!

My poem 'Chemotherapy' - a tribute to the courage and constancy of The Book of Hat author Harriet Rowland's mum Jan Kelly - is on the Tuesday Poem hub this week with a poem by Frankie McMillan. We've both just judged the National Flash Fiction Day NZ competition and so we're paired up here by NFFD powerhouse Michelle Elvy.  Very cool. Thanks Michelle!

The Book of Hat is published by my Mākaro Press. It is Harriet's story of living with terminal cancer based on her vivid, upbeat blog posts and has been a hit with young adult and adult readers around the country, and elsewhere. The Auckland Libraries blog reviewer says:

                                      The Book of Hat is the real The Fault in Our Stars

The poem is here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Tuesday Poem: Alienation by Siobhan Harvey

is the march of students into class,
      the closing of space around them
  like a retracted wing.

is ornithology for beginners:
      Today’s lesson is birds, the teacher says;
           and how the children squawk.

is uncertainty:
      What birds do we know? the teacher says;
            and how words and ideas flock
   hungrily into Cloudboy’s mind.

is eagerness to impress:
           Geese, Miss, cries Cloudboy;
    and how he goes on, In Historia Animalium, Aristotle said
           Barnacle Geese emerged from shellfish like phoenixes
    from fires.

is the mouth of a river:
     No, New Zealand birds! the teacher remonstrates:
         and the liquid bubbling cry of it.
the call of a bittern, the cry of a tern …  

is the unwillingness to give in:
     Moa, miss, Cloudboy perseveres.

is cultural confusion:
     What's a Moa? the teacher asks.

is an argument which can't be won:
     It lived long ago, Miss, Cloudboy says, like the dinosaurs;
                 and the teacher's reply, Not dinosaurs! New Zealand birds!

is an arm small as a wing:
     how a girl raises her hand; 
                   and how the teacher nods
                                    at the child's answer, Blackbird, Miss. 

is an open window:
     how Cloudboy turns towards it, the freedom
                    beyond glass, the knowledge
                                     of air, the gravity birds defy. 


A stunning poem from Siobhan Harvey's powerful new collection Cloudboy about her son who is diagnosed with autism. She writes from the point of view of Cloudmother. I review it on Beattie's bookblog.

Here's a quote from the review:
....  the character of Cloudboy snuck up on me. With him came his abiding curiosity for how things work, his passion for finding out, his genius for understanding (his subjects: Nephology, Astronomy, Ornithology and goodness knows what else at the age many are learning to write their names) and his perceptive mother. And we see this wisp of a boy go to school, and watch aghast at the way school tries to make him more boy than cloud, and in so doing breaks the heart they don’t seem to know is there (‘such softness’) ....
Siobhan's poem posted here with permission. 
Do check out Tuesday Poem hub with a wonderful poem by Emma Neale. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Tuesday Poem: Song

The minim leap of dog
behind, and in front, the hemidemisemiquavers
of rabbit.
Oblivious, both. I think of Mary
Oliver and her unleashed dogs
      ‘stay’ to Ben
      ‘run’ to the raccoon.
On Pirinoa Road, we’re still
a strange kind of musical interlude
with me the conductor. Now one – ah there – and now
the other. The grace of both. No need to say a thing. 
Bow, my loves. 

Mary McCallum

Mary Oliver's lovely book Dog Poems inspired this poem, written at a place of rabbits and one dog. 

I am also the editor at the Tuesday Poem hub this week and have posted a wonderful poem by Helen Rickerby who is one of the first poets to be published as part of my new Hoopla series. Her book is Cinema