Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday Poem: To Say

Emma McCleary, <i>First Flutter</i>, Woodcut, hand stitching and pencil on 300 x 300 mm paper, from an edition of 9, 2009. NZ$310 incl GST.

the first flutter of fledgling on the grass -
feathers new, askew, softly now,
ungainly thing

the first flutter of pencil on the page, to say
what the fledgling asks to be said, softly
now, ungainly thing

the first flutter of knife on wood, to say
what the fledgling asks to be said, softly
now, ungainly thing

the first flutter of needle on linen, to say
what the fledgling asks to be said, softly
now, ungainly thing

the first flutter of fledgling on the grass, ungainly - soon
to be gainly - thing, feathers new, askew, softly
now, so says the fledgling

                                                     mary mccallum

As part of the Tuesday Poem Secret Santa this week I am paired with Emma McCleary who is the webmaster for Booksellers New Zealand. A poet appreciator rather than a poet herself, Emma posts work by NZ poets on the website every Tuesday. So this Tuesday, in our Secret Santa swop, Emma is posting a poem of mine - and I have no idea which one it will be... (exciting!)

For my side of the bargain, I decided that rather than use one of the poems by NZers Emma has stashed away for her website, I would use something of Emma's. She is a wonderful printmaker and craftswoman, so I decided to use one of her prints here - and write a poem off the back of it.

Like Emma, I am very partial to birds, and with the birds nests full of cheeping young at the moment, and fledglings hopping in an ungainly fashion through the undergrowth (the word 'fledgling' alone is so evocative, and such mouth-filler),  I couldn't go past Emma's print 'First Flutter' pictured above and available to buy at Solander Gallery. The poem that goes with it is about art and how we try in our various media - Emma and I and others - to evoke that thing we see, or at least the thisness of the thing. But how any evocation is only ever that, and not the real thing at all.

A great way to end the Tuesday Poem year. For more Tuesday Poems go here or click on the quill in the sidebar. James Brown is featured at the hub and then there are 30 poets from all over with poems on offer....

Merry Christmas to you Emma and all the other Tuesday Poets and all my loyal blog readers. See you again in 2011.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tuesday Poem: Notorious Veins

thing clapp
-ing its
hands see

the small
screen see
it pulses
it claps
its ti
-ny hands

like nost-
rils go in

no, not a
baby, love,
not hands
this is

a beating


he says the buzzer whoops like a small siren and then there’s the running and the voices crying out like they do in a rugby match ‘come on, Tony, you can do it’, then something slapping on skin and the distant sound of clapping ‘Tony, come on’


he says
when it’s quiet
the nurse comes and sits 
in the chair by his bed
Beth in pink fimo on her
chest, and
she slips off her shoe
and rubs the ball of her
bad foot


one night she talks about how the chopper
brought Tony in with his cap still on his head,
and when she took it off he’d blinked so fast
she thought he would never stop

he’d wanted to talk about the two women he loved
and how neither of them knew,
and two sons that disappointed,
and his one wish that he’d taken up flying

I wanted to fly too, my father says
he said to Beth, and he told her about sitting
all the exams but how he was too tall
for the plane so he had to go to Africa


another night, he describes the smell of Erinmore Flake
when he opened the tin: all honey and smokey – taking
that first fingerful – packing it into the bowl of his pipe


other facts he shares while Beth kneads her foot:

the dark high ceilings of the kafenion off Syndagma Square
where his father played cards, the Greek record my mother
was playing when they first met, the children and grandchildren:
their names, the colour of their hair

lastly, his disappointing veins – the way they refuse
to yield blood no matter who tries


(I know none of this for a fact, I’m only guessing)


we see Beth with her trolley:  
she walks with us to my father’s
cubicle – you must be Mary
the writer, she says, and this
is your daughter, Isabel

when we reach the bed,
the fimo badge heaves
on the mountainous bosom,
and she takes his arm

with its notorious veins, and slips
in the needle no trouble at all –
I know you, her fingers say,
I know the


Mary McCallum

For more Tuesday Poems click on the quill in the sidebar. The hub poem is Alistair Te Ariki Campbell's To Stuart chosen by editor Robert Sullivan. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tuesday Poem: The Wahine

Kay McCormick
Photo acknowledged to the Dominion and Sunday Times newspapers.
Published on The Wahine website

The Wahine
Sunk by a storm, April 1968

walking alone you hear all of it
every power pole a-crackle with cicadas,
the sea rattling stones in raw hands,
weatherboard houses crying rust, a dog
hoarse at the end of its chain, the groaning
of a half-built boat,
                              where the gate is
where the sealed road
ends, where the coarse hills fall to their
knees, where the sky pours into a bay as
deep as houses, where we stopped
once to see the savaged sheep, marvelled
at the blood on the white wool, the twist
of its neck, where there’s the pull and push
of the Strait and the rocks bend dumbly to
take it, in the small suck between pull and
push –  

the sound of the truck that day
labouring on the shingle

the loose shoe falling

                                          Mary McCallum

Photo caption: 'Steward Frank Hitchens lies shoe-less and unconscious on the back of a Landrover making its way north along the Pencarrow road, his legs hanging over the rear of the vehicle... Burdan's Gate, where ambulances were parked and waiting, is about a kilometre ahead. Note the condition of the road. Survivors on foot, most without shoes, had to walk for miles through rock debris washed down from the hills by the rain and thrown up by the seas.' [Thanks to the Wahine website for this.]

Frank Hitchens was one of the lucky ones. In his story on The Wahine website, (scroll down), he notes that 47 of the 223 people thrown up on the rocks and beaches along this coastline were killed. 

I walk this road regularly as I live nearby. My brother turned one the day before the storm that claimed the Wahine. I was at school, we were sent home. My father was a radio and TV reporter so he spent the day reporting on events. A friend, Steve, broke through the police cordon and ran to help the people coming ashore. He saved lives. 

The day the Wahine went down, is one of those days in Wellington where you know exactly what you were doing. 

Do visit the Tuesday Poem hub for a fabulous poem about dance written by Jo Thorpe,  and links, via the live blog roll, to a stack more Tuesday Poems. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tuesday Poem: Orphans by Michele Amas

We are losing our parents,
3 mothers of friends
this month, like a middle-age 
phase we’re going through. 
The aunts and uncles
too, my name I see 
beside the telephone
of one,
I’m down as next of kin 
beside the lawyer
Mr Dick Crush, 
I don’t know 
which is more ridiculous. 
Under the blankets
I calculate the cost 
of death and travel. 
You are in the wardrobe
trying to trap 
a mouse with your shoes. 
It’s hopeless I say
where are the adults 
when you need them. 
I’m still standing on the beach
in my togs and bermuda shorts 
waiting for the parents 
to find
a park 

You can hear Michele read Orphans here. She is an actor and director as well as a poet, so this woman knows how to read a poem. She did the MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters the same year I did, but Michele's collection of poems won the Adam Prize for best folio. It is a damn fine collection published as After the Dance (VUP 2005) and shortlisted for the Best Book of Poetry at the Montana NZ Book Awards. She's just returned from Menton where her partner, Ken Duncum, was the Katherine Mansfield fellow. 

Here's an earlier post on Michele's poetry, especially her marvellous Daughter.  

One very good reason for posting Orphans: I have a good friend who has just lost her father, and she's not the only one. We met up with another friend in the same position when we were having coffee, and she said straight up: 'We are orphans.' They talked about the strangeness of not having parents in the world, now or ever (something that hasn't yet happened to me). That feeling of wondering where the adults are when you need them. 

When I read the last five lines of Orphans, I am immediately at Scorching Bay the summer I was 11. Radios. The smell of sunblock. People on towels. Feet burnt by melting tarmac. Waiting for Dad to find a park. And when he does Mum will plaster us in sunblock and open a book and read until it's time to unpack the picnic. Dad will let us three hang onto his broad back, and he'll take us out past the rock pools into deep water. 

Dad, don't let go. And looking back there's Mum safe on the beach, waving, and here's Dad, his big hands pushing the water away, oblivious to my brothers trying to shove each other off. I'm hanging on as tight as I can. Everything right then seems immense and good. 

This poem is posted here with permission of the author - thanks Michele. Do check out another wonderful poem at the Tuesday Poem hub by award-winning NZ poet Brian Turner. Just click on the QUILL in the sidebar. Then from there, there are 30 poets with Tuesday Poems .... 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bravado: two poems and a cheque

Bravado Issue 20
Rejoice! The first of my poems in a literary journal since 1980 when Today made it into Landfall. At university at the time, I found all sorts of people read Landfall including my lecturers. They were delighted for me, but it felt to me like my personal little poem was terribly exposed. So after that I shied away from lit journals and kept my poems safely inside boxes and folders.

Quite honestly, there was an element of disorganisation involved too, especially when I went offshore. And I was busy - journalism called - travel called - and eventually, children called. The poems, I guess, were just not loud enough.

Now they are, thanks to the internet. Being able to email submissions - for a persistent procrastinator - is a lifesaver, there are wonderful people on Facebook and in e-newsletters who remind me of poetry deadlines, and I am kept on my toes every week with the Tuesday Poem. Thanks, too, to Bravado. Great name for a journal, and I'm sorry to hear through the grapevine that this might be the final issue.

Oh I love that cheque! $10 a poem! (Note the date on it.)

You can find The Construction of the Nest on my blog here and Harp here.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Top Ten Posts: Shakin' Sylvia and Jivin' Jean and all the rest

After a day sorting out the dreaded boat shed, discovering useful things like the small red balls that go in the Harry Potter game and a pick-up for an acoustic guitar, I have spent a little time sorting out my blog and found similar treasures.

Here's one: a new gadget called 'Popular Posts' which shows my top ten posts ever.  Spot it in the sidebar to the left. 

I am not surprised to see Sylvia Plath heading the list. On 'feedjit' below - and my statcounter - I see how often people search out and find Sylvia. She fascinates as a woman writer of genius who pushed the envelope and died too young.

Number two on the list is my poem on the Christchurch Earthquake, illustrating the 'after shocks' of that event - shocks that are still being felt physically, emotionally and financially.  Reading the poem on National Radio would have given it a boost. Jim Mora is the erudite host of Radio NZ's current events hour, The Panel, and he loves poet guests to read their stuff.

Third is Jean Batten (pictured) - who fascinates for similar reasons to Plath. Poets reading from Best NZ Poems are next up, followed Kate De Goldi's runaway success 10 PM Question.

After that, two light-hearted posts -- one on a funny novelist's t-shirt, and the other is a found poem on bongos that is so light its barely there. A lot of bongo players out there?

A pair of sestinas follow: Andrew Johnston's The Sunflower which inspired my Southern Man which comes straight afterwards. I am thrilled Andrew's poem is getting extra airplay here - it is a masterpiece and deserves it. And my sestina is one of the things I am most proud of this year. It took me over 20 hours to write (I went down the wrong track with the rhyme-scheme to start with), and when I finished, I was exhausted and bursting with pride. It felt like I imagine running a marathon would feel.

Southern Man was another poem I was able to read  on air, and subsequently had the most responses of any poem of mine ever - southerners and people who knew Alan (the Southern Man) rang and left messages, emailed, and stopped me in the streets and at parties. One woman yelled something over her shoulder as she cycled past one day. We were both heading towards the mountains I'd described in the poem and they shone in exactly the same way.

Number Ten is Emily Dickinson's poem Hope. Another woman of genius. A brilliant small poem.

Given my focus on poetry recently via Tuesday Poem (click on the quill in the sidebar to go there), and the increase in followers to this blog as a result, it's no surprise poems hold sway on my all time Top Ten. That could change of course. With summer holidays coming, I am planning to finish the children's novel and get on with Precarious. I won't have much time to blog, but do expect some posts on the difficulties of making hay while the sun shines.

Friday, November 26, 2010

my body's the home of a wandering miner

Sonnet xxiii from The late great Blackball bridge sonnets
by Jeffrey Paparoa Holman
In the house of my body I carry that river.
In the depths of my being I’m water. My
body’s the home of a wandering miner
too old to go down and too tired to go on.

more on the book here

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wanting coal - man the cost. Twenty nine die in Pike River mining disaster.

Today we reel at the news of 29 dead inside the labyrinth of tunnels that is the Pike River coal mine. The news alone horrifies - and the whole country is mourning those men (some no more than boys) and thinking of their families today. I guess there are also many like me who are wondering how it is - with the obvious dangers involved - that men are still used to retrieve coal from under the earth in this manner. 

My grandfather started his working life in the mines in the north of England but hated it, and quit to work at sea. For many there isn't this choice. They know mining is dangerous but it's ready work and work they can do -- and some, like the 17 year old who died at Pike River at his first day on the job, regard mining as an exciting career. All these men trust the mining companies will have their back.

Interestingly, the Pike River mines investor fact sheet on the Pike River website describes how the coal is mined and transported and what it's used for but it does not once mention the men who walk into the kilometres of underground tunnels on a remote mountainside every day to drill out the coal. It does not include a single picture of a miner at work. 

Which makes you wonder really about both the company and the industry. Who are they looking out for? What price are they willing to pay? And should we let them? 

In the Pike River mines Pike River metallurgical hard coking coal is particularly sought after by coke makers and steel mills because of its high quality, including the lowest ash content in the world at one percent, and very low phosphorous levels. 
Two mining methods are used.  The first involves large cutting machines to  create roadways in the Brunner seam and the second uses hydraulic monitors (water cannons) to break up the coal face at the rate of 2,000 tonnes-a-day using high pressure blasting. The crushed coal is washed down flumes into a low pressure water pipe which carries the coal 10 kilometres downhill to a coal preparation plant for cleaning, grading, and stockpiling.
From the coal preparation plant, the coal is trucked 20 kilometres to the nearest railhead near the small community of Ikamatua and loaded onto coal trains for a 250 kilometre journey to the east coast export port of Lyttelton.  

In light of that, here's an adaptation of the old poem 'For want of a nail' that gives investors a fuller picture of the Pike River mine:

For Want 
Wanting machines - steel the cost. 
Wanting steel  - coal the cost.
Wanting coal - man the cost. 
Wanting coal - man the cost.
Wanting coal - man the cost. 
Wanting coal - man the cost.
Wanting coal - man the cost.
Wanting coal - man the cost. 
Wanting coal - man the cost.
Wanting coal - man the cost. 
Wanting coal - man the cost.
Wanting coal - man the cost.
Wanting coal - man the cost. 
Wanting coal - man the cost.
Wanting coal - man the cost. 
Wanting coal - man the cost.
Wanting coal - man the cost.
Wanting coal - man the cost. 
Wanting coal - man the cost.
Wanting coal - man the cost. 
Wanting coal - man the cost.
Wanting coal - man the cost.
Wanting coal - man the cost. 
Wanting coal - man the cost.
Wanting coal - man the cost. 
Wanting coal - man the cost.
Wanting coal - man the cost.
Wanting coal - man the cost. 
Wanting coal - man the cost.
Wanting coal - man the cost. 
Wanting coal - man the cost.

Mary McCallum

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tuesday Poem: How she holds her head

for Christina      

Hell I believe is the carpark at Pak’nSave on a Saturday         
the lost souls -
all those hunched and bunched and loaded up somewhere
the trolley lane and the sliding door
devils? too many
shrieking for off-cuts of luncheon from the deli counter
angels? one

appeared in front of me once slipping between the Odyssey
and a Corolla
on her way to the entrance (someone sounded a horn)
in jeans and a velvet singlet  and a flash - when she laughed – 
a tongue stud
arms swinging unhurried and wide   nothing in her hands but rings
no child
no wallet   no cell phone  not a damned thing 
and a back so
straight and strong you knew it could   without any
support a pair of wings 
Mary McCallum

Click on the quill in the sidebar to get to the hub Tuesday Poem by a poet from Northern Ireland Michael Mckimm, and selected by Hinemoana Baker ... and 30 other Tuesday Poets in the live blog roll. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tuesday Poem: Under the Influence

For Bill 

A poem is flawed or
it has no purchase on the world 
for his own reasons
God will turn it away.
A poem is polished
but must appear effortless
as if you’ve rubbed it with
your elbow in passing.
A poem hesitates
line by line
for a poem knows nothing
not even who is speaking.
A poem knows
so little it stutters
small asterisks
spits out stars.
A poem can begin its life
with nothing
but a patter of sounds or
a cadence of voices.
A poem can begin its life
fully formed
with an end in mind that has
a man call his dog called Bone.
A poem must believe it can
go over the page
even if it stumbles
in the attempt.
A poem has a way                                                                   
of leaning on words
so their hearts beat
louder than usual.
A poem strings
the heart beats together
and is a small throat
to let out the sighs.
A poem tiptoes
into people’s lives
and tiptoes out again
it will always wear disguise.

Mary McCallum

I have just got back my old hard drive and found a wealth of poems on it. This is one of them. I wrote it after former NZ Poet Laureate and Director of the International Institute of Modern Letters Bill Manhire talked to our MA class about his poetry in 2005. 

Bill was my poetry tutor back in 1981 and was around and about when I studied fiction at the IIML in 2005. 

Menhir Stone Man by Klobuky
czech menhir
Some poets are touchstones - that place you go back to reorient yourself. For so many of us who've gone through the IIML (and haven't) Bill is a menhir*. Contrary to some reports, he doesn't dole out advice or tell poets how to write, he just offers up possibilities and then starts immediately to question them. Like a poem, Bill 'stutters small asterisks/spits out stars'. All the rest of us can hope is that we one day do the same. 

*from whence comes Manhire 

FOR MORE TUESDAY POEMS -- CLICK ON THE QUILL IN THE SIDEBAR. Jen Compton is the guest poet at the TP hub this week with an Australian poet.

Congratulations to Wellington poet Diana Bridge who is the winner of the 2010 Lauris Edmond Award for Poetry worth $NZ1000.   

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hand me down World 'extraordinary' - Guardian

"There's a brutal and even uncomfortable integrity to a novel in which many fictional conventions are eschewed. Hand Me Down World is not an overtly intellectual exercise, yet it demands that the reader think and then think again. Jones is a daring writer who can be relied on to ignore expectation, and is becoming one of the most interesting, honest and thought-provoking novelists working today."

Brilliant review of Lloyd Jones' latest novel from The Guardian

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How to Write when the Boat Shed is Howling

How hard it is to write when the Boat Shed starts calling out in an unseemly way from the front of the property. I imagine it hunkered down there like one of the Wild Things in Maurice Sendak's book, grinning and disruptive and loud.

It's full of everything but boats in fact - heaving instead with unused ski gear, boxes of old toys, kids' books, videos, photos, camping gear, unhung paintings, tools, cans of paint. And it's not a tidy archive - it's a tip. Not helped by middle son doing various things related to fixing cars in there.

It is crying out to be cleared out. And not just so there's a clear space in there for my son to teach guitar or my daughter to have summer sleepovers. But also so I can get on with things. The emotional weight of each and every item in there is huge - there would be some things that weigh the same as the planet I'm standing on. So how can I even consider lifting them into the car to take to the hospice shop or to my son's friend Dan's girlfriend who has the sweetest daughter?

Maine writer Susan Landry has blogged on the 'messy room' and the weight therein, and pointed out that some of us see things as heavy when in fact what we're carrying is just a giant feather. She says blithely, 'I'm going to clean out the messy room'. But she and I know it won't be that easy. Check out her wonderfully named Twisted Knickers blog for her giant feather picture... a much nicer image than a raging Wild Thing (shut up can't you? I'm trying to blog). 

A young American blogger has another solution. He is living and espousing a minimalist life as a way to find true freedom. It sounds very like the way my Buddhist friend lives, although this chap (aged a mere 26) is more extreme. He lives with only 57 things including clothes. One of his rules is to get rid of things he hasn't used in a month. He also talks about throwing away photos he doesn't look at and burning notebooks of unpublished writings. Just thinking about that makes my skin prickle. I am aghast and excited all at once.

This chap, with the only-in-America name of Everett Bogue, says living with 57 things releases him from the past, from emotional baggage, from all that weighty stuff pulling us away from the freedom and wonder of the living moment. I'm not sure how much 'past' I had to discard at 26, but good on Everett for starting the way he means to go on -- that way he will never have a Boat Shed howling in his ear day and night.

So something to think about.

I couldn't get down to 57 things. Full-stop. It would be like losing an arm not to have my books and my precious collected things (being suitably vague here). And I really do need more than two pairs of jeans, a pair of cut-off jeans, a hoodie and a selection of purple and grey tank-tops to get through the days (see Everett's list at the bottom of the post). I'm not as bad as some friends who feel strongly that to be happy and free to live as they want to, they need stuff. They are like bees with pollen on their legs and bodies, lifting off heavily into the sky. Without it, they wouldn't be bees.

I'm bee-like, there is no doubt - although living with a minimalist husband has made me think differently and work hard (to good effect) on shedding things. Although I'm not sure 'shedding' means shifting them into the Shed.

I do know that cutting back further to - oh I don't know - 5700 things would definitely free me up emotionally and, no doubt, creatively.  And I say that without a hint of sarcasm.

A friend who has just turned 50 reckons she's going to follow Everett's lead and try to get down to 50 things. Clear the decks. Write what she always wanted to write. Good on her. She will be my inspiration. And I'll keep checking up on Everett and Susan too. I see it as a step-by-step thing. Today the boys' old bikes tomorrow the bag of Issy's first shoes (perhaps keep one pair.)

And as for those old notebooks.... I'd need a permit for a bonfire that big. So maybe not now. Really, I have work to do.

Everett Bogue on detroying your past lives  and on living with 57 Things here. His list: 
  1. MacBook Pro
  2. Macbook cleaning cloth
  3. iPhone 4
  4. iPhone earbuds
  5. Black Yoga Mat
  6. Moleskin notebook
  7. Pen to write in moleskin notebook
  8. Surly Steamroller Fixie
  9. Helmet
  10. Bike lock
  11. Frye Boots
  12. Belt
  13. Gray Converse Allstars
  14. Tom’s Shoes
  15. REI two-person backpacking tent
  16. Sleeping bag
  17. Gray hoodie
  18. Wind breaker
  19. Sunglasses
  20. Army jacket
  21. Tweed jacket
  22. Black heavier jacket
  23. Gray backpack
  24. Black Diamond Gray Backpacking bag
  25. Jeans
  26. Jeans
  27. Cutoff old jeans
  28. Purple tank
  29. Purple tank
  30. Gray tank
  31. Gray long-sleeve sweatshirt
  32. Gray long-sleeve T
  33. Coffee tank
  34. Gray v-neck
  35. Gray v-neck
  36. Black v-neck
  37. Blue v-neck
  38. Purple T
  39. Gray T
  40. Gray T
  41. Black T
  42. Toothbrush
  43. Deodorant
  44. Swim Trunks
  45. Keys to apartment + bike lock
  46. Minimalist “wallet” (really just a paper clamp that I keep my cards and cash in)
  47. Gray sweatpants
  48. Brown sweatpants
  49. Brown button cowboy shirt
  50. Gray button-down
  51. Socks (about 10 pairs)
  52. Underwear (about 10 pairs)
  53. Sewing repair kit for clothes
  54. Travel towel
  55. Knit hat that Alix made me
  56. 1 TB harddrive
  57. 500 Gb harddrive (looking into cloud backup options)