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.   


Elizabeth Welsh said...

Yay for recovering old hard drives and the gems we find in them!
Bill sounds inspirational, you were lucky to have that opportunity.
Each stanza seems like a perfect possibility.
Thanks, Mary!

maggie@at-the-bay.com said...

I like words with beating hearts - how precious to find your hard drive - the computer's soul, so to speak.

harvey said...

Bill leaves a lengthy legacy. As Elizabeth says hooray for old hard drives. I've seen many attempts at defining poetry. All fail! But this one is a rewarding approach in its very open-endness. And each stanza is valid. I'm delighted to read it and wonder what other gems glisten unnoticed in that hard drive.

Helen Lowe said...

Love this poem, Mary. Favourite stanzas:

A poem knows
so little it stutters
small asterisks
spits out stars.


A poem has a way of leaning on words
so their hearts beat
louder than usual.

AJ Ponder said...

I especially love this line.

"A poem tiptoes
into people’s lives
and tiptoes out again"

Nice work finding this little gem - and not letting it tiptoe away quite so easily.

Pam Morrison said...

This is fabulous Mary. As one whose every poetic impulse has gone quiet of late - this has reawakened me. Thank you!