May I rest between your thighs
And dream of outer space,
While I travel through the themes
Of thought and mind and grace.
For ours is a world gone by,
Though we tethered its hinterlands
As clouds rushed by with force.
Longingly we look back
At what we could have sought.
From Natural Zoo: poems, word-plays, performance pieces and other perorations (Steele Roberts 2011) by sculptor Colin Webster Watson (1926-2007), edited by Colin's niece Anne Manchester and myself. Available at Rona Gallery, Eastbourne and Unity Books, or email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright: Colin WW. Here is my introduction to his work....
Singing poems into the world
It was Colin. On the phone. He’d just written a poem, and wanted to read it to me. Anyone who knows Colin knows I had no choice in the matter, whether he was ringing from the other side of the world or, as in my case, across the road. So I sat down and listened as his voice delivering that poem down the phone -- a voice as deep and strong as a spring tide. I swear if I’d hung up on him, I’d still have heard it filling up the gardens of Pukatea Street.
That’s the first thing people have to understand about Colin’s poetry – him, his voice. He was first and foremost, ahead of sculpting even, a performer. His poems were him. There are hundreds of them – beautiful, thoughtful, playful, provocative, silly, sad, sensual – and all, I believe, were written with performance in mind. He performed them down the phone, at dinner parties, on a garden stage, as part of a show he called ‘Pohewa’.
The sheer volume of them, and the exuberant way they tumbled into the world, means the reader can stumble over infelicitous phrases, over-wrought lines, inconsistencies in punctuation, and rhyme that can verge on doggerel. To get to the heart of Colin’s poems is to think of all this as flotsam, his voice, the tide. He was one of those poets who sang his poems into the world, and the voice of this generous, ebullient, loving man is the companion at your elbow as you read this collection.
As with any flotsam, there are treasures beyond those things that catch the eye. There is the light the poems throw on Colin’s life as a friend, lover, family member, citizen and artist; and there are the insights into the human condition and a particular life well lived, that stop you for a moment, and make you read again.
Colin also delights with his natural sense of rhythm and rhyme, his love of word-play and sounds, and the use of a direct conversational style that comes straight from his theatre days. Check out the repetition in ‘A thought to think’, the humour of ‘My Appian Way’, the opening gambit of ‘For Jane’ and the opulence of ‘On the train to Sperlonga’. And how about a lyric line like ‘A fluctuating day’, or the wry ‘As the world turns/Even so the pot’?
I believe Colin’s best poetry is when he has written simply and honestly, as he does in ‘Through a dream’: ‘May I rest between your thighs and dream of outer space’. His confidence to write this way clearly grew over the years, and the more antique expressions that he delighted in as a younger man slipped away. In their direct meditations on life, these later poems show more of Colin the philosopher than the performer.
One of his last poems, ‘Salute to the great possum hunters of Eastbourne’ surely rests itself on the shoulders of the first poems ever: the salute to the hunter, rendering him heroic. True to this style, Colin plays with language, alliteration, and rhythm – elevating both the language and the men – and at the same time making something all its own.
Anne and I have worked on Colin’s poems on and off for a couple of years. For some of those meetings, local writer and friend Penny Walker joined us. We’d take turns to read aloud from the huge spiral-bound manuscripts, and later, we spent time editing for consistency and sense, and to shore up those poems where Colin had, shall we say, burst his banks. We puzzled, we laughed, we felt cried, we had fun. And we’ve drawn together a collection that we believe is a fair reflection of the best of Colin’s oeuvre – enhanced by his drawings and photographs.
Anne's indomitable energy and devotion to her uncle have driven this project. I have enjoyed our evenings working on the poems, and by ‘our’ evenings, I include Colin of course. Reading his poems has allowed me to get to know him better, and I hope the same goes for the other readers who pick this volume up.
Colin was a sculptor of international reputation who was born and brought up in Palmerston North, but lived much of his life overseas in the UK, Italy and the US. He returned to NZ in his final years - becoming my neighbour and friend.
As well as sculpting, Colin wrote hundreds and hundreds of poems - Natural Zoo is a selection of the best of these, along with some of his drawings and photographs, and was launched this month at Rona Gallery here in Eastbourne.
The launch was a theatrical affair - just as Colin would have wanted it - with readings by local actors and writers including Anne and myself, with the appearance of a local possum hunter adding spice to Colin's poem: Salute to the great possum hunters of Eastbourne.
Colin was one of those people who enhanced the lives of everyone he knew. He was 'larger than life', warm, encouraging, funny, theatrical, and a creative force to be reckoned with. My first Tuesday Poem 'Missed' is about Colin, and our mutual friend writer Maggie Rainey-Smith has posted a tribute to Colin and his book.
Please seek out more Tuesday Poems - at the hub this week is wonderful NZ poet Dinah Hawken, and you'll find another 30 poets in the world of the sidebar.