Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Preparing for an Exhibition

All the talk today is about this.
Helen who lives in the house I used to live in,
who cooks in my kitchen, makes paper clouds
where we ate, alights on the word translucent,
but moves on – via the deception of clouds –
to what she wants to say all along,
the word I’ve been avoiding perhaps because
I say it vainly every day: clarity clarity clarity
until it sounds like a horse running
down the road without its rider. Helen
doesn’t hear the horses, she only hears the lick
of gauzy rain from gauzy clouds:
ity ity ity
and is already imagining how hers might be –
layers of paper like onion skin. Really,
she wants to stop the dissembling. See the clouds,
you can touch them. Live in them, even.
Clarity, then. Not just the brilliance
of the tui clawing flax flowers outside
the kitchen window –
black feathers like embers, the comedy
of its throat, ty ty ty as it sucks –
but the way through to other side of the tui and
the flax where a luminous idea resides.
The tenderness of light.
Here at last in plain sight.

With thanks to ‘Meditation at Lagunitas’ by Robert Hass

Yes, I have been Preparing for an Exhibition - for nearly three months now, ever since Helen Reynolds invited me to join the Workbook Collective for a Fringe Festival Exhibition Translucent Landscapes. 

There are nine artists (installation, oils, video-media etc), a composer, and me, and we aim to fill up an abandoned optometrist's premises in Ghuznee Street with works that evoke and react to light in various landscapes from the vast to the intimate. We open this Thursday night with readings and music (my son's in the trio: mandolin, guitar and violin), and then we're open daily 11-6 pm until March 22.

Our joint blog explains better than I can what everyone else is up to. My poems are gathered in a limited edition book The Tenderness of Light with the creamiest paper - and they are, without my expecting it, really a sequence of poems about summer in the Wairarapa - a place we go to every year, where we grow things, where there is a Barn, where I write... The poem posted here was a huge challenge because it was about ideas as much as a moment and a feeling - Robert Hass' brilliant poem was a direct inspiration, and I have Tuesday Poets to thank for that: Sarah Jane Barnett and Elizabeth Welsh - both huge fans of his - who have posted a few times on Hass.

The process of writing to a theme for an exhibition has been hugely challenging and stimulating - from working intensely over summer trying to get poems down on the page, to the intense editing process which included unexpected and hugely helpful feedback from two poets I admire - both Tuesday Poets -- Bryan Walpert and Helen Rickerby, to working through how to present the poems (for this I am grateful for the generosity of my printer friend Martin Schaenzel), to the time now when we are working intensely together to make the exhibition happen.

Today, for example, I took young Eddie to the premises to clean the windows and help him get a poster up on the outside wall, I found out about mobile eftpos and credit card zip zap machines, and negotiated with a real estate company to remove a 'For Lease' sign from a key window. I also met with the printer who's printing my book and discussed/designed our next move, and then I hung around a bit supporting the other artists I guess. They're an amazing lot - full of ideas and energy and playing with 'stuff' in a way that reminds me of Playcentre - which I loved when I took my children there. It's such fun to be back.

The print button will be pressed tomorrow on The Tenderness of Light, and then in the evening friends will gather at Helen's house to hand-sew the binding. That will still my nerves, I think. Do come to the opening if you're in town.

5.30 pm Thursday March 1 at 75 Ghuznee Street, performances at 6 pm. Wine and nibbles. Open daily after that until March 22 (11-6pm).

I recommend you check out the Tuesday Poem hub now - a terrific US prose poet is featured thanks to Susan Landry.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Earth - For the people of Canterbury

Day 1
it mobs us
leaves us

we are aghast and naked in the doorway
clutching each other, where’s the dog?
we are flying for the children, calling
their names, we are the woman up to her neck
in it, scrabbling for a handhold, calling --
the child behind her on the path stay there
the one she’s rushing to collect stay there
we are the boy running to the grandfather, calling --
we are the family watching the capsizing house

stay               there

earth in our ears
earth in our eyes
earth in our hair

Day 2
it runs its fingers
along the fences
and power poles
leaves behind
the sound
anxiety makes

there are
early births
and heart attacks
sleep flies from
windows like
featherless birds

Day 3
the faultline is the

in the spine and the


and neck

and shoulder bones


are the

Day 4
it nudges
a dog does
the child vomit
his little brother
and shake and shake

the looters take what they like

the homeless take what they can

the mother says she can’t take anymore

the dairy owner says take what you like pay later

Day 5
it changes
the way we
face the world
that shop we
knew that street
we grew up in
that church
in Little River
we drove past on the way to our holidays

Day 6
the crane            drivers        are having a           field day
  one saves                a chandelier and            bows      to the applause
one unpicks a     wall brick     by brick     and leaves small
      pyramids ready for       rebuilding     there are too many
toppled chimneys     too many buildings on their    knees
nothing can     be done about         Telegraph Road

Day 7
earth in our hair
earth in our ears
earth in our eyes

we are naked in the doorway
we are shaking like leaves
we are up to our neck in it

scrabbling for a handhold calling --

Mary McCallum

Written after the September quake 2010 and before the February quake 2011

I wasn't there in September 2010 or February 2011. I wrote this poem from the words of those who were there in September. The voices I heard on radio, on TV, in blogs, in Facebook. The voices of my friends and those I'd never met. It is about their language and their stories.

To me, it was like all the words were there scrabbling for a handhold in the ephermeral world of the media and internet - needing a place to rest and to hold each other up. I felt I had to at least try. Since then, we've had the terrible February quake and I found it more difficult to know what to do with all those scrabbling calling words. They were less happy to stay with me. Other people have, since then, found a place to put them - in books and articles. In poems.

Jane Bowron's Old Bucky & Me (Awa Press) is one that stands out, and now there's Martin van Beynen's book Trapped which survivors have applauded. Interestingly, Martin - a Press journalist - said he hoped the stories in the book would provide an 'everlasting record of what people went through.' As opposed to the other records of the day.

Reading words on the page about that earthquake is not an easy task for those who went through it. Jeffrey Paparoa Holman reviewed Trapped for the Listener.  He says he couldn't be objective about it, that it is a powerful read but that, in all honesty, he hasn't been able to finish it.  I can understand that. Jeffrey has written his own collection of poems about the earthquake which some will find difficult to read while for others it will be a way forward. A catharthis. And more will come...

'Earth' appeared on my blog shortly after the September quake and I've read it on radio twice - on Jim Mora's show and on the special Radio NZ show about the earthquake. It was also read at a Christchurch fundraiser in Geelong Australia, organised by Alison Wong, after the February quake.

There are other poems on Tuesday Poem this week that write about the earthquake a year ago and the time after it - written by Christchurch poets and others. Go here - and check out the sidebar.

My thoughts are with the people of Canterbury today.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Class Discussion by Bryan Walpert

First snow falls
on the half-finished bridge.

All afternoon snow falls, as on
Basho’s half-finished bridge. Light falls
through the half-opened blinds
onto the table, over which this poem
is disputed. Why does it seem
suddenly so difficult to me?
Perhaps the speaker is approaching
middle age, someone suggests,
so all things seem elusive.
Yes, another says, the snow
is the first hint of white
in the speaker’s hair, which
he has arranged in a comb-over.
I touch the top of my head.
And why falls, asks a woman,
her eyes closed in emphasis,
her head thrown back, as if
she planned to stick out her
tongue to catch the flakes,
so young she would not think
twice about a world arranged
to suit her taste: Why not just
have it all already sitting there
for the speaker to come upon:
the crest of a long hill,
snow covering the valley, ice lightly
on the river, from which only some
wood pylons, a few boards, extend
as the speaker stops to compose
himself. There is some place he had
hoped to reach, perhaps someone,
but even as the words
he had planned form in his mind,
as he writes them into the lines
of the landscape they slip
like scent into the cold air,
and anyway he is struck
by the beauty of the blossoms
of snow on his boots, or rather their
wabi-sabi, their imperfect beauty,
for even as he notices them
the vibrations of his steps
have settled the flakes into
less and no less satisfactory
patterns. He knows nothing
is less satisfying than resolution,
than having, something that now
seems only an idea, like the future
into which I like to think he will turn,
unbothered by disappointment
or anticipation, towards home,
where someone will be glad
to see him. Perhaps as he
approaches he will see smoke
from his own chimney etched
across the sky, which soon
will darken, as he sits by the fire,
the objects of his life arranged
around him, a sky from the greater
perspective of which one might
see students, the class over,
having smoked beneath the balcony,
one by one braving the weather,
the ghostly blossoms of their
breaths merging with the snow,
drifting to other buildings
or cars or the middle distance
into which this afternoon extends,
nearly complete.

This poem is a taste of Bryan Walpert's new collection A History of Glass (Stephen F. Austen State UP, Texas) due to be launched in March during NZ Book Month.  Bryan's first collection of poetry Etymology (Cinnamon Press 2009) and his short fiction Ephraim's Eyes ( Pewter Rose Press 2010)  I rated very highly, and I am looking forward to his new book very much. I reviewed Etymology on my blog, and on Tuesday Poem; and the review of Ephraim's Eyes is here. 

American-born, Bryan lives in Palmerston North - blogging on what it's like to do that cultural switch - and teaches at Massey University. He's won a number of awards for his writing including a manuscript prize by the publisher of History. I tutor at Massey University Wellington  and hence am a colleague of Bryan's - hence my choice of this poem. This is familiar ground. Not only the poetry discussion - and the teacher questioning the poem afresh for some reason - but the falling of the snow while the discussion goes on. I was teaching a first year creative writing class when the snow fell and we stopped and stared and then did a snow/poetry exercise. I had a lot of snow poems to mark later that term.

But back to Bryan - this is a marvellous poem for so many reasons but most of all for the winding curl of language from line to line to line as it picks up an idea (the Basho poem), opens it up, climbs inside it, explores it and -  by implication - the speaker of the poem (who, via a Walpert sleight of hand, slips inside the skin of the man in the poem - or vice versa) and, eventually, the students who are hauled in to complete the picture. Or nearly. Like the bridge.

There is always a welcome layer of clever word-play in a Bryan Walpert poem, and here he plays with the idea of something being more satisfying when it's unresolved/imperfect - whether it be the Basho poem or the discussion of the poem etc, and I also wonder if  Bryan's commenting quietly on his own previous poems which could tend towards wrapping things up too tidily at the end sometimes. It's certainly possible.

There's so much more here but I'll need to take more time to read the poem over, along with the full collection which I'm promised any day now. Looking forward to that - I'll post more on it in March. This poem is published here with permission.

Do check out the other poems on Tuesday Poem  with James Norcliffe at the hub.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Wild

For Colin

erupting from a flock of birds
arms wide open
that great heart pumping
so hard so hard

that great heart pumping
so hard

Mary McCallum

A poem about my friend Colin Webster-Watson, a sculptor, whose great heart gave out nearly five years ago. He'd feed the gulls every day down on the beach near my place, and oh they knew he was coming! What a noise - what a sight. His arms would be flung out like the wings of the birds that flocked to him. But then he was always like that, arms flung wide ready to embrace.

Do check out a powerful sensuous arresting poem on the Tuesday Poem hub this week by Bill Nelson.  It will stay with you I promise.