Friday, March 30, 2012

Adrienne Rich public intellectual and poet dies

Described as one of America's foremost public intellectuals, award-winning poet and essayist Adrienne Rich, has died aged 82.

'A poet of towering reputation and towering rage [who] brought the oppression of women and lesbians to the forefront of poetic discourse and kept it there for nearly a half-century" says the New York Times. Rich published more than 20 collections of poetry as well as essays, articles and lectures.

More here at Bookman Beattie who links to an article at The Guardian.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Sycamore Tree

see me see me
by the sycamore tree
each child a propeller
sorry each child has a
propeller and is throwng
it up and the dead seeds
spin and spin and spin
& they shriek my
little ones & pick up another
one & anothe one & spin & spin
& spn sory I was right
at th beginning each child
is a propeller & I
stand at th still point on
th warm path & th world
spins round me shoutng
& whoopng & spittng
its ends tied up in its
beginnings & bits & pieces
lost in the spinnng
I know yu’re watching us
frm a room with a desk
by the window usualy we
jst pass by sometimes u wave
today we’ve stopd here right
n front f you
but I can’t move the childrn on
not while they’re spnnng
like little propellers like
little worlds
fallng over & gulping &
laughing & spinning agin & I
& I know you’re watching
can see you’re there frm
the way the light settles
inside th glass & I
& I guess u must be writng
& I have no idea what it is
you write bt I wish I could see
those whol words those
complete sentences laid out
neatly on a page like seedlngs
in soil with all
their beginnngs & end-
ings &  all their tendril possibilities
I can – shh – see the hush
around you – smell the
coolness of your room – feel
the pen in my hand rubbing
that callus I've had since
primer 2 & I pic up
a handful of seeds throw
them highr than the childrn
cn go faster than the children
cn go & the childrn
fall ove themslves & ove me
& they shriek
do it agen do it agen &
I’m maddened with
the spinnng & the shriekng
& the sun & th warm path
& the seeds in m hands &
th vegetable love
I hav for thm & I want nthng
els right thn
nthng else wll do but somthng
happens wth th sun cmng
throu the leaves & fallng
on the glass & I see
your face in th window lit
frm brow t chin stretchd
in its own wild shriek  
& I throw the sycamor seeds
one  mor  time as high as
they can go & wish

Mary McCallum

I was sorting through things the other day and found an old poem I don't remember writing called Sycamore Tree. It's scrawled on the page as if I barely had time to write it, which I didn't with two small children - which is what I had then.  What I wrote was skimpy and traditional in its language and form. It captured a moment. I decided to write it again yesterday - and this is what came out - the poem behind the poem, the real poem, winded and spinning. And the wish at the end? Your guess is as good as mine. 

Do check out Tuesday Poem this week. Such a stunning long poem by a poet doctor and a write-up by Tuesday Poet Renee Liang. Worth every second you spend reading it. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Plums and things

A lovely post on my book has popped up on Fiona Kidman's website - along with a recipe for the little plum cakes which I baked once when Fiona and our mutual friend Maggie Rainey-Smith came for coffee. It's a Lois Daish recipe I've had for forever and I used just-picked plums off our burgeoning tree. And now Lois - alerted to it - wants a copy of Tenderness. Which fills me with joy (no plums in it though! only apricots).

Lois Daish was such a hero of mine when the children were small, her Listener recipes and advice on cooking a highlight of my week. Everything was simple, sensible, heart-warming, delicious, useful. I was devastated when the column stopped. One thing she said that has been gold with our family, is to let children cook and to happily clean up their mess until they get to love cooking, then gradually introduce the idea of cleaning up the mess. Her point being that too many kids get put off cooking seeing it as a chore.

It's worked brilliantly with mine. Both my sons have a night on the roster each and it's heaven. This week, middle son made Goan Prawn Curry and eldest made lasagne. How good is that? THANKS LOIS.

And thanks, too, to Fiona, who is a loyal friend of the first order. I love her post most because it is a record of that friendship, that cup of coffee with plum cakes, the way she buys my poetry book for herself and her friends and takes the time to visit the exhibition associated with it and to write about it for her website. THANKS FIONA.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday Poem: The Problem of Descendants by Tim Jones

They reassort your genes
and sort through your things when you're gone.
They ask: why did he keep that ridiculous hat, those
palaeolithic music magazines?

Half to the tip, half to the Sallies,
plus a small urn on the mantelpiece,
three photos, the fading diaries
they can’t quite bear to throw away.

They remember you at birthdays, Christmas.
You recede into scrapbooks,
the photos growing foxed, your children's children
forgetting why they know your name.

File formats are rendered obsolete.
Anthologies go out of print.
In a provincial library, behind a rack of shelves,
your last book battles silverfish.

Ashes, vanity. The years
scroll past like autocues. Yet,
scavenging the ruins, or terraforming Mars,
still someone somewhere has your nose.

From Men Briefly Explained (Interactive Press) published with permission.

This poem keeps popping into my head - perhaps because noses are strong identifiers in my family: a certain Grecian nose that comes from my father's side and has turned up diluted in me and my daughter, and in full flight in my eldest son. 

I like the ordinary feel of this poem at the start - the stuff that's so familiar - trotting down the page, and I like the way its held together and made compelling by strong sounds that echo within stanzas e.g. 'shelves' followed in the next line by 'silverfish' and then 'ashes'. Then the whole thing pushes out of the up-close-and-provincial with the wonderful image of time passing (the scrolling autocues) and then kicks off into the future and outer space before circling back and zooming in on the almighty inherited nose. 

I laughed out loud when Tim read the poem at Rona Gallery while on his poetry tour  - it was a great finish to his reading segment, and you'll find this sort of humour and playfulness and smartness throughout the book, along with poems of a more serious bent. Looking through my blog posts, I realise I missed Men Briefly Explained off my Best of 2011 list, when I shouldn't have. Apologies Tim. Now rectified. To order the book go here. 

Do check out a terrific post at the Tuesday Poem hub written by T Clear of Seattle about one of her fellow poets. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Tenderness of Light, the reading

Posted on Translucent Landscapes this morning:

The reading of my book The Tenderness of Light at the opening of Translucent Landscapes was recorded on video by Mike Ting, and I edited it with images from the book and the place the poems talk about: our property in the Wairarapa over summer. Making the video has felt like an extension of the book-making and the poetry.

It's been a challenge - watching myself and listening to my own voice reading over and over (!), learning how to delete unwanted sounds/interjections etc and putting the video together with images that are evocative without being dominant -- and by that, I mean evocative of both place and book. I feel I could improve on the reading and hope to do so in the Wairarapa before long.

Meanwhile, Tenderness is selling well to poets, poetry readers, friends and family (thank you!)  ... Here is one happy customer! Copies are going off to San Francisco and Boston and London, to Dunedin and the Wairarapa, and many places in between. Wonderfully, I have gone over the 50 mark in terms of sales, so just under 50 more to go.

You can still buy the books from Translucent Landscapes at 75 Ghuznee St, Wellington until March 22. I am there tomorrow (Sunday) 11 am - 6 pm, if you want to talk about the poems and have me write your name in the book. They are already signed and numbered. Or click the button in the sidebar of this blog. Or email Details below.

The Tenderness of Light 
Poetry, signed limited edition of 100 books. Six poems.28 pages. Garamond font on uncoated 100 gsm Munken paper with flax photograph on Gilclear insert, 240 gsm Munken cover, and hand-sewn linen thread binding. $15

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Summer

Toenails freshly pink, washing on the line held by the last
of the pegs, apricots the colour that can only be called
apricot (perfect for picking but rotten by noon). Bees sip
the lavender, the dog has – after a small performance –
swallowed her pill, the girls are up at last cracking eggs
for pancakes. Ian’s making coffee. Blitz of the grinder,
chuckle of fledglings on the roof wanting breakfast – one
being taught how to fly – an asterisk of a cloud dissolving
in the time it takes to walk to the compost bin. Summer
here – a held – breath –         Now a thousand trees
exhale – now the deep greening that sussurates, resuscitates
this! pixilated sunlight – leaves startled into silver.

Mary McCallum

Another one from The Tenderness of Light (see previous post)For more Tuesday Poems go to our excellent hub at Cheers!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Tuesday Poem: The Tenderness of Light (my new book)

Mary McCallum
1. The Tenderness of Light
poetry, signed limited edition of 100 books. Six poems.28 pages. Garamond font on uncoated 100 gsm Munken paper with flax photograph on Gilclear insert, 240 gsm Munken cover, and hand-sewn linen thread binding. $15 

This is how The Tenderness of Light is written up in the catalogue of the Fringe Festival exhibition Translucent Landscapes which opened on Thursday March 1.  

At 5.30 pm that night, a hundred or so people crowded into the abandoned optometrist's premises on Ghuznee Street to celebrate the work of our 'pop-up' community of nine visual artists, one composer and myself. 

The artists and their work: installation art, photography, oils, drawings, videomedia and more, were there to interact with and enjoy (see end of blog for images), and at the appointed time, I stood in front of the gathering and read The Tenderness of Light in its entirety! After that, Iain Gordon's composition Ice was performed with him on mandolin, my son Paul on guitar and Slava Fainitski on violin. 

Gorgeous. All of it. And not just the art or poems or music that were out there in front of people, but the community we'd formed - the work we'd done together to get the exhibition up and running, and the work we'd done in our own discipline that bounced off everyone else's work, in one way or another, and off the place itself. We are all in awe of curator Helen Reynolds who made it happen. 


I sold about 20 copies of my book that night, and each sale was an unexpected and unbelievable gift. In all the writing and designing and printing and handbinding, I hadn't thought what it would be like for someone to open Tenderness and read it and want to keep it, or for someone to hear me read and want to own the poems to read again. Yes, I've sold fiction, but this is different - far more personal, an offering of self. Perhaps, too, because I've waited so long for this. 

Of course my lovely family and friends bought the book without even so much as opening it - and thank God for those people, how could a writer or artist exist without them? - but I was deeply touched when I stopped reading
and a man who owns a barn in the Tararua foothills brought a copy of Tenderness to me to write his name in it (they're already signed). He said my poems about the Wairarapa - just over the hill from him - spoke to him and encouraged him to write. Then there was the elderly woman who squeezed my hand when she took the book from me, and the violinist in the trio who clutched a copy to his chest as he left. The next day a woman with flame red hair bought a copy to send to friends in San Francisco, because she wanted something New Zealand. 

The Translucent Landscapes exhibition is on at 75 Ghuznee Street, Wellington from March 1-22, open daily 11am -6 pm. Free entry. The Tenderness of Light is available there or you can email to order a copy from me direct. 

Below are some photos from the exhibition, but first here is my lovely team of bookbinders who worked away like elves into the night. 
That's me, grinning away at the back with dark hair and pale shirt, on my left (going round the table) Alexandra, Carrie, Helen (the host and bookbinder extraordinaire wearing the red shawl), Issy (my daughter), Fifi, Ayliffe, Heather. 

Legs by Poppy Lekner from her Lightness of Being series
Installation by Kath Joyce-Kellaway
Clouds by Helen Reynolds
Video by Mike Ting