Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Topography Of Wellington, by Jennifer Compton

There is a darkness here: and also an itinerant rainbow
strolling like a twister with one lazy finger dipped in water.
There is a harbour: because of the rainbow there may be
a glory, like a saint's halo, which is an optical effect. Glory.

There are six kererū  in Orangi-Kaupapa Rd feeding on miro:
or pūriru, tawa, tairare. These birds are almost too indolent
to fly, the telephone wires zig-zag under their exiguous feet.
As they pause - in their top heavy survey of topography, let

us consider our understanding of living above. Above contains
below. Look up to the hills and sky, look down the way a river
runs. You are having it both ways now. The sun seeks you out.
In the deep of night before dawn the wind and the rain blow in.

Look down into this glittering city, high on your slippery hill and
shrug. Would they have called it View Rd if it didn't have a view?

© Jennifer Compton 

from This City, Otago University Press, 2011
Reproduced on The Tuesday Poem with permission

Editor: Helen Lowe

Last Friday, August 28, was New Zealand's National Poetry Day for 2015. So what better to feature, I thought, than a poem about New Zealand by an expatriate New Zealander who is also one of our own — the indefatigable Jennifer Compton.

In 2008, Jennifer was Writer In Residence at Wellington's Randall Cottage — and from first reading I was captivated by the accuracy with which she captures the interwoven physical and emotional landscape of Wellington:

"There is a darkness here" she tells us, accurately I feel, but:

"...also an itinerant rainbow"

Also accurate. The poem that unfolds from these lines plumbs the emotional depths of physical environment, and in so doing, Jennifer Compton joins the masters who have caught a cultural sense of the city in literature. The Topography Of Wellington is part of a lineage that includes Lawrence Durrel's Alexndria Quartet and Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities:

"...Above contains
below. Look up to the hills and sky, look down the way a river

Yet the topography of this Wellington remains as instantly recognisable as Dickens' London, portrayed in the opening paragraphs of Bleak House, would have been to his contemporaries. We encounter Jennifer Compton's six kererū with the same delighted shock of the familiar, the sense of yes, this is not only real, but true:

"There are six kererū in Orangi-Kaupapa Rd feeding on miro:
or pūriru, tawa, tairare. These birds are almost too indolent
to fly ..."

The Topography Of Wellington, as is only right and proper for both poetry and literature, provides a nexus where the local encounters the universal, to the extent I feel confident a reader anywhere in the world could read of looking down:

"...into this glittering city, high on your slippery hill"

and have a sense of what the poet saw. 

Reading The Topography of Wellington I was also able to concur with Kathleen Grattan Award judge, Vincent O'Sullivan comment about This City as a collection: 

'It is a volume that sustains a questing, warmly sceptical mind's engagement with wherever it is, whatever it takes in, and carries the constant drive to say it right. This is a complete book of poetry, coherent, gathering its parts to arrive at a cast of mind, a distinctive voice, far more than simply adding one good poem to another.'

I hope reading The Topography of Wellington today will encourage you to seek out both This City and more poetry by Jennifer Compton.

-- Helen Lowe

Jennifer Compton was born in New Zealand in 1949 and now lives in Melbourne. She has won several Australian awards for poetry and This City won New Zealand's Kathleen Grattan Award in 2010. Her poem, Now You Shall Know, won the Newcastle Poetry Prize in 2013, and the collection of the same name was published last year in Australia (Five Islands Press), while her verse novella Mr Clean & The Junkie was published this year in New Zealand as part of the Hoopla series 2015 (Mākaro Press). 

To discover more about  Jennifer and her work, visit her on her blog: 



Today's editor, Helen Lowe, is a novelist, poet and interviewer whose work has been published, broadcast and anthologized in New Zealand and internationally. Her first novel, Thornspell, was published to critical praise in 2008, and her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Helen's fourth novel, Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night Series, Book Three) is forthcoming in January 2016. She posts regularly on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog and is also active on Twitter: @helenl0we

In addition to today's feature be sure to check out the wonderful poems featured by the other Tuesday Poets, using our blog roll to the left of this posting. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What Heartbreak Felt Like, by Annabel Hawkins

A full stop. In the middle of a sentence.
Not enough water in the jug for a cup of tea, and
all the milk's run out for good. Fumbling for your
keys in your bag at night. No-one remembered to
switch the light on before they went out.

That time you forgot your coat in a southerly,
called home and no-one was there. Just the hollow
sound of you waiting on the other end. But I've got
news, you thought. And your teeth closed together
with a clink.

The last drops in the bottle - leaving it upside
down, running out for too long and now it's
everywhere, all over the sink and through your
hands as you try to clear it away. The stainless
steel bench looks like it's bleeding. Great.

It's upstairs at a house quietly whispering down
the phone to the taxi man. Please come and take
me home now - I'll wait outside.
Waiting outside.

Weet-Bix in bed and another friend leaves to see
the world. Frozen-over cold on your car windscreen
on an August morning. You are as slow as the
engine as it shudders to warm up. Not having
enough money for a Memphis Meltdown.

Not being in the right shoes for the right party and
wondering if you even have a nice enough dress in
your wardrobe to wear anyway. Finally leaving for
the day, turning before you shut the front door.
The stony percolator no longer percolating

on the stovetop alone.

© Annabel Hawkins.
Published in This Must Be the Place, Mākaro Press, 2015

Thank you to Mākaro Press and Annabel Hawkins for permission to feature What Heartbreak Felt Like.

Editor: Janis Freegard

'What Heartbreak Felt Like' is from Annabel Hawkins' debut collection 'This Must Be the Place' one of the latest offerings from Mākaro Press. The collection is a collaboration between Annabel and   her friend, Alice, who designed the book.

Drawn from her blog, Spare Pencils and Scrap Paper, the book allows us a glimpse into a young woman's experiences in the city. Here you'll find thoughtful and readable contemplations on friendship, love and family, with a focus on how life changes - whether through moving house or saying goodbye. It's a collection filled with nostalgia for the recent past, in the way that nineteen seems so long ago when you reach twenty-three. In some ways it's like an assemblage of little stories - fragments of life captured between the leaves of a book like pressed flowers.

I like the way this poem evokes loss without dwelling on the cause of the heartache. We might not know exactly what happened, but we do know how it felt.

 Annabel Hawkins is based in Wellington, where she lives, leaves from, and returns to after her travels. She works in media and writes in all forms. While her talents know no bounds, her way with words often leaves others speechless.

Alice Clifford (the designer) lives in Wellington, travels frequently, and tutors design at Massey University. A member of the International Society of Typographic Designers and owner of a small library herself, words are at the forefront of her creative endeavours.

Today's editor, Janis Freegard, lives in Wellington, New Zealand. Her latest publications are a novel, The Year of Falling (Mākaro Press, 2015), and a poetry collection, The Glass Rooster (Auckland University Press, 2015).  She blogs at http://janisfreegard.com

You can check out more great poems featured by other Tuesday Poets, using our blog roll to the left of this posting.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Speaking of the Balloonist by Janis Freegard

he had a balloon for a head
so to start with I didn’t trust him
his lips made rubber sounds when he spoke

he always rode a bicycle
and I was concerned his head might catch
in the spokes of his wheels and burst
(this never happened)

he dressed formally
immaculately turned out in trilbies
with pheasant feathers on the side
and bespoke suits
I wondered if he had to be
periodically reinflated
like the economy

he was well-spoken, the richness of his consonants
and globularity of his vowels
a constant source of pleasure

I got to know him a little
through my work at the academy
he was old as a vampire, he told me
and had spent time in the speakeasies
of Prohibition America
drinking bathtub gin and playing the trumpet

he stood for mayor in the last election
for days driving up and down my street
announcing himself through a red loudspeaker
I told him I’d vote for him
but when it came down to it
I didn’t vote at all
I meant to but I didn’t get around to it in time
then it was too late
I have failed democracy and don’t deserve it

someone accused me of trying to make him laugh
I can assure you that was never my intent
I have always been serious about this stuff
I have always spoken the truth
(I am not smiling)

this is how we shape each other: with every word we speak
once, while we were smoking opium together
I had the urge to undo the little knot at the nape of his neck
and blow and blow until we were both cloud-high
at times I look back and wish I’d done it
in the way we regret what we failed to do
more than anything we ever did
I aspire to be free of regrets
and console myself with the promise
that next time such an opportunity presents itself
I will seize that balloon with both hands
and will not be stopped

Answers to FAQs

1.     it was blue
2.     with a slight Estonian accent
3.     only in the beginning, then it faded somewhat

© Janis Freegard

Thank you to Auckland University Press and Janis Freegard for permission to publish Speaking of the Balloonist. This poem is from her latest book The Glass Rooster.

Editor, Helen McKinlay: 

The Glass Rooster is divided into eight echo-systems, yes echo, not eco as one might expect from someone with a degree in botany. A magical play on the eco systems of science and a new way of looking at the world as a group of systems which echo each other in multitudinous ways.
Janis’s personal echo-systems range through The Damp Places, Forest, Cityscape, and The Alpine Zone to Space, Home and Garden, the Underground and In the Desert and demonstrate her feeling for the interconnectedness of all things, animal, vegetable, mineral and beyond.

Within each of her systems the poems reverberate the main theme. For example, in The Alpine Zones, the poems encompass a sense of high places. So in Speaking of the Balloonist, we read 'I had the urge to undo the little knot at the nape of his neck and blow and blow until we were both cloud-high…' and in the poem Dimorphism, ‘If, for example, the heart were a vegetable sheep, settled on the flanks of some southern mountain… it would know to keep growing smug and corpulent leading the good life harking at kea.’ And then there is the love poem where, the lover says, ‘I am inflated like a giant zeppelin and am no longer able to remain on the ground’.

The book entrances with poems which tell stories both true and imaginary, filled with rich imagery, sharp observation and the sheer joy of living. The mystical figure of the glass rooster, watches over all and sums up as the book progresses. In the poem Neutrinos, the rooster says ‘Hen we are the children of stars, we are made from the same substance, let me take you through galaxies, oh I will show you such things…’ For me these lines are the essential ingredients of the book.

Janis at launch of her first poetry book,
Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus
Science and Imagination: I believe that imagination is the vital tool which helps us to survive in our environment and plan for the future. It needs to be encouraged in children and fostered throughout our lives. I found out not so long ago that the great scientist, Einstein agreed with me in this for he said: 

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

In Janis’s writing, science and imagination balance each other, allowing her to stretch the borders of known reality with credibility and to stride confidently into a poem with a statement such as ‘he had a balloon for a head.’  

I believe that to achieve this balance a writer needs to be well grounded in their own life as a writer. I asked Janis to make comment on how she achieves this: 

In order to carve out writing time, I work a nine-day fortnight, with every second Friday as a writing day. Apart from the obvious benefits of financial security, there are a number of reasons I like having a “day job”: I feel I can make a social contribution (not that writing doesn’t do that too), I have another source for feeling I've achieved or completed something, and then there’s the social contact. I like having a group of people to say hello to every day and enjoy the occasional pot of tea with. When I’m writing, I like to break up the day with a walk, a visit to a café or a browse around an art gallery. Walking’s great because you get a change of scene, oxygen flowing and hopefully some fresh ideas. Writing is so much about being “inside your head”, it’s good to do something physical and out of doors.

Exciting to note that on the night Janis launched The Glass Rooster, (Auckland University Press, 2015) she also launched her first novel, The Year of Falling  (Makaro Press, 2015)
Janis at her double book launch
It is such a pleasure for me to post Janis and her wonderful book here today especially since she is a fellow member of the Tuesday Poem community. Thank you Janis for being my guest. I hope you enjoyed this post. -- Helen McKinlay

Janis Freegard was born in South Shields, England, but has lived in New Zealand most of her life. She has degrees in Botany and Public Policy. Her books include 'The Glass Rooster' (Auckland University Press, 2015), 'The Year of Falling' (Makaro Press, 2015), 'Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus' (Auckland University Press, 2011) and 'The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider' (Anomalous Press, 2013). She is also the co-author of AUP New Poets 3 (Auckland University Press, 2008). She has won several prizes for short stories, including the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in many journals and anthologies and several of her stories have been broadcast on radio.  You can go to Janis's website here.

Other Useful Links:
  •  Article in Wairarapa Times re Janis's Ema Saiko Residency
  •  Review of The Glass Rooster on Beattie's Book Blog by Elizabeth Morton
  •  Janis's excellent author site on Amazon...includes updates on the books and a radio interview

Helen McKinlay is this week's Tuesday Poem editor. She is the author of the bestselling 'Grandma' books including Grandma Joins the All Blacks. She is also a published poet who lives in the top of the South Island NZ and blogs regularly on her own blog gurglewords. 

In addition to today's feature be sure to check out the wonderful poems featured by other Tuesday Poets, using our blog roll to the left of this posting.