Monday, August 9, 2010

Tuesday Poem: Stowage by Chris Price

for Jonathan Besser

The sadness of bells sitting silent
shelved like a library of hearts
old salts in their retirement.
Tap one on the lip and a ship
comes ghosting out of the fog
everything passing and human
held in a resonant vessel.
The submarine cathedral
of its ribs still echoes though the ship
is long since flensed and rendered
down – this spare music
the last thing that lingers
the songs of our youth
always the last to go.

Stowage was written about 22 abandoned ship's bells, as part of an installation at the Wellington Museum of the City and the Sea which combined music and poetry inspired by the bells.
The poem is part of Chris Price's collection The Blind Singer (AUP) and was selected for Best NZ Poems 2009. Chris explains on that website where her mind went as she wrote the poem. This explanation is a real treat. She says she visited the bells 'on the shelf' in a warehouse not far from where she lived, and they appeared to her to be 'a very melancholy thing'. And she goes on:

Somewhere behind the ‘library of hearts’ is a story that had been in the news some time before about a local hospital that had collected and stored the hearts of infants who had died – without the knowledge or consent of the parents. I was also thinking of a photograph I’d seen of poverty-stricken ship-breakers living on a beach in India (I think it was) amongst the rusting hulks of ships that looked like giant carcasses. Then there were the Celtic and Russian folk stories of sunken churches whose bells can sometimes be heard tolling. And lastly there’s the curious aspect of human memory experienced by some Alzheimer’s patients, that while they may be unable to remember what happened yesterday or even minutes ago, music can sometimes unlock the complete recall of the words to tunes they knew when they were young. 
More here.

Chris Price, it seems to me, is a poet's poet, in that she not only writes poetry, but she also leads the way for poets to follow along a certain path: rigorous, eventful, erudite, intersecting wildly with a range of characters and situations - and in her hand a bell. She is a poet who has a deep involvement with music which is why this poem, her recent collection and her magnificent book launch resonate(d) with the sound of music.  
Chris is co-convenor of the MA at the International Institute of Modern Letters in Wellington, co-editor of the online journal Turbine and one-time editor of LandfallChris' collection Husk won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poems in 2002, and Brief Lives was short-listed in the biography category of the 2007 Book Awards.  
Stowage is used here with the author's permission. Ask for The Blind Singer at all good independent bookstores who can order it from AUP. 
For more Tuesday Poems click on the quill in the sidebar. Today's Tuesday Poem at the hub is selected by US poet Melissa Shook, but that's just the start. There are thirty other poets to read in the live blog roll. 


Claire Beynon said...

Chris's poem made me want to close my eyes, the better to listen.
Thanks, Mary, for the excellent introductory notes - and, Chris, for the poem.

Rachel Fenton said...

I much agree with Claire.

Wonderful poem.

LentenStuffe said...

Something very melodious and sweet here, a growing that grows on one.


Helen Lowe said...

There's also an echo of the hub poem "Hot Food" in the lines:

"the songs of our youth
always the last to go."

Kathleen Jones said...

Wow! some of teh images in this poem really knocked me out. I now want to read more. Thanks for introducing me to yet another wonderful poet.

Penelope said...

This is one of those poems that keeps turning up for me ... and I hear it anew every time. Thanks, Mary and Chris.

AJ Ponder said...

Mary, as you know I'm very slow - after all it's taken me a whole day to get through all the poems down to yours and Tim's at the last.
Is the easy flow followed by the dissonance meant to be funerary bells in some way? It seems quite a deep poem - like Ursula le Guin's "Lavinia" in that it's almost too deep to take it all in at once.

Gondal-girl said...

gorgeous - and the cover delish