Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"Anna God Remembers" by Eileen Moeller


Anna God Remembers

the time she followed in
her father’s footsteps,
tiptoeing through the night
behind him as he left for the barn.

She was only two years old but she remembers
how the front door locked behind her
and he went off to do the milking,
not even seeing her standing there
in her little coat and rubber boots.

She remembers singing to herself
as she curled up on the front porch
to get out of the wind.

But her mother never heard her over the wailing.
The rest she only knows from stories:
how she froze like a porcelain doll there,
on a night that dipped to eight below.

(Her mother always cried at the part
where she found Anna blue as skim milk,
and drove her to the hospital,
dead and stiff on the back seat.
Anna would cry too, over how
the Doctors swore and wept and pleaded,
thawing her out, coaxing her heart into beating again).

It’s fuzzy, but Anna remembers
being startled awake by warm hands
kneading her arms and legs,
and the voices saying: Come on, open your eyes.

Once in awhile she dreams she is her father again:
dozing in the straw against the kindly beasts,
warm as a newborn calf.

© Eileen Moeller

First published in Firefly, Brightly Burning, Grayson Books, USA, 2015

Featured on the Tuesday Poem blog with permission

Editor: Helen Lowe

One of the very great pleasures in being part of a community like The Tuesday Poem blog arises when one of our fellow poets brings out a new book of poetry – which presents not only the opportunity to celebrate with them, but also to enjoy a new body of work.

Today, I am delighted to feature Anna God Remembers from our own Eileen Moeller's recently released book of poetry, Firefly, Brightly Burning, published by Grayson Books.

Firefly, Brightly Burning comprises a number of poetic sequences, one of which features the fictional Anna God. It's too easy, in an age of often intensely personal poetry, to overlook that it is also a form of fiction, and that the point of view character central to a poem is frequently not the poet. The creation of poetic characters such as Anna God helps sustain this vital aspect of the poetic tradition.

Last week, I featured an outstanding example of a narrative poem, Robert Browning's My Last Duchess. In this case, both the 'story' and the character development were encompassed in one poem. Sometimes, however, the narrative arc and understanding of character are explored and developed through a sequence of poems, as is the case with Eileen Moeller's Anna God.

I was particularly taken with the poem I have chosen to feature, Anna God Remembers, because of the power of the subject matter and the vivid picture the poem paints. As readers, we are part of the moment: the all-too-believable scenario of a two-year-old being locked out of the house, having followed her father out into the winter weather, and he, meanwhile:

"...not even seeing her standing there
in her little coat and rubber boots."

while later :

"...her mother never heard her over the wailing" [of the wind]

or how:

"the Doctors swore and wept and pleaded,
thawing her out, coaxing her heart into beating again..."

Like most good poems, it will only speak to the reader if the whole holds together – which Anna God Remembers undoubtedly does. Nonetheless, there are also some fine poetic moments within the poem, including the clever use of repetition around 'remembers' and with images such as:

"Her mother always cried at the part
where she found Anna blue as skim milk"

building on the earlier fact that her father "went off to do the milking."

I hope that you will enjoy the whole that is Anna God Remembers as much as I did on first and also subsequent readings. I also hope you will check out Firefly, Brightly Burning further – starting with another of Eileen's poems, Wind, which I have featured on my own blog today. Wind is a companion to Anna God Remembers, but also highlights the range of Eileen Moeller's poetry.

You may also find out more by going to the Grayson Books site; just click on the book title: Firefly, Brightly Burning

Eileen Moeller was born in 1950 and grew up in Paterson, New Jersey, where she had poems published in her high school and college literary magazines. After starting a family, she earned an M.A. in Creative Writing from Syracuse University, where she taught in the undergraduate writing program for many years. She also did storytelling and ran creative writing workshops throughout Central New York. Her poems have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies in the United States and England, in online journals, in self-help and spiritual books/blogs, and on her own blog, And So I Sing: Poems And Iconography. Three poems were set to music in 2011, by contemporary composer, Dale Trumbore for a CD titled Snow White Turns Sixty. She has also been the recipient of The Dorothy Damon and The Allen Ginsberg Awards. She currently lives in southern New Jersey with her husband, Charles.

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, July 21, 2015

"My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning, 1812 - 1889

My Last Duchess


That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will ‘t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Frà Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps
Over my Lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat”; such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart . . . how shall I say? . . . too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men—good; but thanked
Somehow . . . I know not how . . . as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
—E’en then would be some stooping; and I chuse
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will ‘t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your Master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, Sir! Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me.

by Robert Browning, 1812 - 1889

Editor: Helen Lowe

My Last Duchess has long been one of my favourite poems. It is a fine example of a narrative poem,  i.e. one that tells a story, but also of dramatic monologue, where the character of the Duke and his relationship to his last Duchess are subtly expanded through the length of the poem.  The poem is also significant for the way in which it exposes the Duke’s character, without commentary – particularly the chilling way in which the Duke reduces his wife to an object, like any of his other works of art, together with the implication that he has had her murdered for smiling at those other than him. In terms of poetic technique, My Last Duchess is also a masterly example of using end rhyme, i.e. it is written in rhyming couplets while still managing to sound like conversational speech. A master work at a number of levels.

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 posts regularly on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog and is also active on Twitter: @helenl0we 
In addition to "My Last Duchess," 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, July 14, 2015

At Koukourarata/Port Levy by John O'Connor

with Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, Helen Jacobs & Mark Pirie, June 3 2001

we parked the car by the memorial
to Taawao, the Ngapuhi missionary

which greets you as you arrive
on the final flat that horseshoes

round the bay to the wharf &
a collection of sheds & boatsheds --

it was full tide, a spring tide,
the water foreshortening the hills by

a myth or 2. we were too close
yet close enough to see. somebody

wisecracked about the gullibility
of biography -- or biographers -- as

an afterthought to thinking that
Mick Stimpson -- "Dirty Mick" -- had

humped his load of fish past here
many a time, as we turned back

& walked together towards the
cemetery beyond the gum tree

just off road, 2 gates
& you're there -- standing above the bay.

& I'd never seen the bay
so beautiful, in the winter air

smoke rising & the magpies
absent, for once, there weren't

even the usual sheep in the grave-
yard that had so disturbed

my American guest a few months before.
just Stimpson's grave at Port Levy

a bare headstone that as you say
may or may not be above the right

person. Alistair, you also said
that the mistakes don't matter

& quoted Auden on Yeats who
hadn't died in the depths of winter

but in Spain, sunny Spain, &
as we left the spot the Maori

kids ran after us, playing &
also visiting the graves, who

stopped by the gate before leaving
& washed their hands & flicked

the drops away. I
latched the gate and followed

you all downhill. & the kid
who asked were we old --

a naïve & unexpected question
which I liked & you replied to --

you later said she was the spirit
of the place. she had come

from the creek that cuts the road
& afterward went back to the

smoky yard of a Maori family's
home or bach. how do you

end a poem like this without
saying that all poems are about

love & death -- as you had?

Published with permission of HeadworX Publishers

This post today is to honour the passing of one of Christchurch and Canterbury's poetic identities, John O'Connor. John died suddenly on 12 May 2015.

John O'Connor founded the poetry magazine, plainwraps, in 1989. He has been an occasional editor of Spin, Takahe and the NZ Poetry Society's annual anthology. He was co-founder of Sudden Valley Press and Poets Group and was co-editor of the Canterbury Poets Combined Presses. He was on the committee of the Canterbury Poets Collective for twelve years, five of those as Chair.

John's many poetry collections include Laying Autumn's Dust (Line Print, 1983), Citizen of No Mean City (Concept Publishing, 1985), As It Is (Sudden Valley Press, 1997), A Particular Context (Sudden Valley Press, 1999), Working Voices (with Eric Mould) (Hallard Press, 2003), Parts of the Moon: Selected Haiku (Post Pressed, 2007), Cornelius & Co: Collected Working Class Verse (Post Pressed, 2010), Bright the Harvest Moon (Poets Group, 2011), Aspects of Reality (HeadworX, 2013) and Whistling in the Dark (HeadworX, 2014).

Monday, July 6, 2015

Sangan River Meditations: Spring, by Susan Musgrave

What I most want is to spring out of this personality,
then to sit apart from that leaping.
I've lived too long where I can be reached.
Rumi  "Unseen Rain"

In another life, this place was my home.
I feel the rising of a forgotten  knowledge
like a spring from hidden aquifers under the earth.

To glimpse your own nature is to come home
like the rainfall that turns to mist before touching the earth
then rises once again to praise the sky.

a young eagle lights
on a gravel bar.  How effortlessly
the rain drips from the eaves.

A moment ago I heard
a raven speak: feed me,
stay away, come over here,
pay attention!  Imagine!  Up
until that moment the ravens
and I had not been on speaking terms.

I wash lettuce in the river
separating the leaves to make sure
no dirt clings to the unearthed root.

Later, a simple meal of alder-smoked
salmon, and hard bread I baked over
a week ago.  Later still I return to the river
with empty hands.

From the bridge I watch
the pure moving of the bird
over the bank where two children
pick the blue lupines I planted
that have since grown wild.  I see
the raptor swoop, then change
his mind and disappear, think
how boundless is the pure
wind circling our lives.

Paul's home from the hospital:
who would've guessed he could beat
lung cancer!  Already he's up
making deals, vying to buy
my old Toyota for parts when I've
driven her into the ground.

At low tide he would take me
to the places no one knew;  he knew
I loved those blue-violet mussel shells,
their hairlike bonds.  Driving home
along the beach I turned once
at White Creek to see a wisp
of white cloud spiraling into the sky
over the dome of Tow Hill,
just as if, I remember feeling,
a spirit were leaving a body.

Our cat is up the tree again;  I hear her cry
over the lonely tattering of prayer flags
worn to transparency by the wind.  I try
tempting her down with heart minced the way
she likes it, still warm from the gutted
body of the deer.  I build a bridge
from our roof to the end of her branch
so she can pad across and I can rescue her.

But no, it's as if she clings to the high
dying hemlock because she has
something she wants me to see.
Later, with the moon rising I climb back
onto our roof with my flashlight, her eyes
two shiny plum pits summoning me.  She
is happy now that I have come just to sit
patiently and watch from this height
the river empty into the sea.

Perhaps this is all
I have left to do

bow to the plum blossoms
in all those ancient love poems

loosely translated from the Chinese.

'Spring', an extract from Sangan River Meditations
by Susan Musgrave
from Origami Dove published by McClelland & Stewart

I met Susan Musgrave when I was in British Columbia recently on a research trip.  She's one of Canada's leading poets, with 14 previous collections, as well as prose books.  Origami Dove, published in 2011, was a finalist in the Governor General's awards and individual poems in it have also won awards.

Susan lives mainly on the islands of Haida Gwaii, off Canada's north west coast.  It's remote and wild. People there try to live off the land and the sea, foraging for food.  There are deer, salmon, crabs, halibut, clams, and a whole range of fruits and salads all there for the taking. Chickens scratch in the back yard and small veggie plots are wired against the wildlife.  Susan, who believes it's incredibly important that we know how to feed ourselves in an uncertain world, has recently gone vegetarian - unable not to imagine a pair of brown eyes looking at her out of the pot whenever she cooks a meat dish.  She makes all her own preserves, bread and yogurt.

Susan has had a very unusual life and her poetry reflects that. Married for over 20 years, she spent many of them alone while her husband served a sentence for bank robbery. He too is a writer. Susan owns one of the quirkiest bed and breakfasts in the whole of British Columbia - it's like staying in a museum. I slept in The Retreat, famous for Margaret Atwood's stay there.

Susan's poetry is as unconventional as the poet, and it's a very unusual collection, containing several long sequences.  There are surprising contrasts - swings from contemplative rhythms to 'in your face' passages, and - as one reviewer commented - 'enough tragedy to break your heart'.  I particularly love the Sangan River Meditations, and also Heroines, a hard-edged, unsentimental series of poems, which was commissioned for a documentary about the lives of six prostitutes, addicted to heroin, and which won several awards. A poem from Heroines is featured on my own blog today.

Origami Dove is published by McLelland & Stewart

Today's poem has been chosen by Kathleen Jones. She is a biographer, novelist and poet who lives mainly in England but sometimes in Italy.  She blogs at 'A Writer's Life', is often to be found wasting time on Facebook, and Tweets incognito as @kathyferber 

For Tuesday Poem poets and more Tuesday Poems, check out the links in the sidebar to the left.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Papatoetoe Poems by Tony Beyer

1 Early Days

the billy that rang empty
on its hook against the gate post
last thing at night
was full of the colour of starlight at dawn

2 Originals

them kumaras is really gallopin now
Mr Kilgour in braces and hobnail boots
he'd stamp and click on the path
like a horse modestly skittish in its stall

when he came over to use our phone
party line 796D
he shouted as if he believed
a hollow and not altogether reliable tube
connected him with his son in Henderson

there was also the backward boy opposite
whose face became more anxious
left behind in the childhood we all shared

and Errol you could never get a straight answer from
a wigwam for a goose's bridle he'd say
or we had one but the wheels fell off

3 Archipelago

in the sunday school tableau of iniquity
someone has eaten too many honey and banana sandwiches
and someone is copying someone else's homework

the angel of the lord
disappointed by the accommodation industry in Gomorrah
smirks to one side in a bedsheet

4 Task

the lawn
divided in three
for each to mow his share

smallest in front
but awkward
round the shrubs

the middle clear
except for the clothesline
which paspalum fringed

the rest secluded
leading to recklessness
among fruit trees

parts of the world
that if I don't remember
won't have been

5 Neighbourhood

not that I want the bottlebrush shrubs
the since defunct council planted on our verges
not to have grown

nor that the houses whose owners' names
I knew by heart a generation ago
need to be renamed

but that someone should notice
like me in passing

6 The Headstones

calm pasture for cattle
and the constantly unfolding
episode of the motorway

this detached green fingertip
of the absorbed borough
presses into estuarine mud

lettered in dry uprights
everyone's best attempt
at what can't be said too often
every love second love word love is love

7 The Rec

a line of poplars
thrashing as the wind comes on
individual gestures within
an encompassing choreography

boys walk to the crease
in their first creams
in their padded gloves so much better
than the rubber-spiked ones we wore

I nearly lost teeth here
over the other side by the school
misreading a rising ball
from my brother when he was fast

8 Address

loose metal at the roadside
signed by footprints and hooves
and the turning curves
of audibly sprung cars

thick flap of the upright
white wooden letter box
through which I still receive
indecipherable mail in dreams

(Published with the permission of the poet)


I came across Papatoetoe Poems a few years ago now and was attracted by the title, as I too had spent some of my boyhood years growing up in this South Auckland suburb. In those days of the late 1950s and early 1960s, Papatoetoe was on the margins of Auckland's march south and wasn't yet connected by housing development to Manurewa. What is now Manukau City and Wiri was mostly dairy farms. Some of the major highways that today connect South Auckland to Auckland's airport were then narrow and partly-gravelled roads and I used to deliver the Auckland Star to Papatoetoe houses which lined them.

Recently, when I started into a poetry-memoir project of my own, I remembered Tony's Papatoetoe Poems, fossicked on the Web until I found them, and decided to ask Tony for permission to post the sequence on Tuesday Poem.

The Poems

I wasn't quite sure what I was going to find when I started reading the poems, other than reconnections with shared past places. What I also found were images that resonated with me - the words on the headstones in this detached green fingertip, and loose metal at the road-side/signed by footprints and hooves, and a line of poplars/thrashing as the wind comes on.

Tony's ability to evoke through his writing a universal New Zealand 1950s suburbia through these particular Papatoetoe instances impressed me - the billy left out for milk, the telephone party line, the paspalum fringing the clothesline, the boy across the road who was left behind in the childhood we all shared.

There is also a nod to the existential nature of memories in the lines - parts of the world/that if I don't remember/won't have been, which I am particularly taken with, as I am with the powerful concluding lines of the last poem Address: thick flap of the upright/white wooden letter box/through which I still receive/indecipherable dreams.

The published Papatoetoe Poems

According to Tony, Papatoetoe Poems has an interesting publishing history, appearing first in Poetry NZ 16 in March 1998 and then in his book The Century (HeadworX, 1998). Bernie Gadd selected it for the (then) Manukau City Libraries website anthology subsequently published as Manukau in Poetry (Hallard Press, 2004). It was also included it in Dream Boat: selected poems (HeadworX, 2007).

The Poet

Tony Beyer Tony is a long-standing New Zealand poet. He was born in Auckland in 1948 and although he left there "finally" in 1971, he still regards himself as a native South Aucklander. He currently lives in New Plymouth (again) and is working full-time as an English teacher.

He has had published 15 collections of his poetry (the first in 1971) in New Zealand and Australia. Works, other than those just mentioned, include Dancing Bear (Melaleuca Press, Australia),  and Electric Yachts (Puriri Press, Auckland). He has also edited the journal Poetry Aotearoa (Picaro Press, Sydney), a bi-annual selection of contemporary New Zealand poetry for Australian readers. His most recent work is Great South Road and South Side (Puriri Press, 2013).

This week's editor, Keith Westwater, lives in Lower Hutt, New Zealand. His debut collection,
Tongues of Ash (IP, 2011), was awarded 'Best First Book' in the publisher's IP Picks competition.
More of his poetry can be found on his blog 'Some place else'.

For Tuesday Poem poets and more Tuesday Poems, check out the links in the sidebar to the left.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sugarloaf hill by Bill Sutton

I like to start my morning walks
earlier in late summer
before the Hawke’s Bay heat engine
gets going
          and the flies start up.

There are people already
some with dogs...
we smile and exchange
handfuls of words.

Scratches in the dirt
like some post-modernist
literary text
signify a rabbit

and I see the ragwort
is making a comeback
from spraying and insects...

It’s cool at the top...
I sit for a minute
to look around
grateful for the quiet

a cluster of houses
is colonising
the Hawke’s Bay hills
                    like German wasps

and a small plane zizzes
through the sky
carrying its cargo
back to Wellington.

On my way down
I see the bunny –
a small one,
dead already

engrossed in making
a meal for maggots.
My friend Vicky
would be mortified

but I say... what about the flies?
like developers
          they deserve a chance.

From Bill Sutton's collection Jabberwocky, Steele Roberts, 2014. Reprinted here with the kind permission of the poet.

Tuesday Poem Editor: Tim Jones.

Cover: Rainman, Leonard Lambert, 2013

Bill Sutton says: Since I returned to live in Napier, every week I've climbed at least one of the three hills around Taradale, for exercise and to catch up with the seasonal changes.

Tim Jones says: Hawkes Bay Live Poets were kind enough to invite me to be their guest reader in May 2015 - a trip I greatly enjoyed. Bill was my generous host, and before the reading he tested out my calf muscles with a climb up Sugarloaf Hill so he could show me nearby Taradale, Napier a little further away, and the wide expanse of the Bay.

I had no idea he had written a poem about Sugarloaf Hill, so when I got home and started reading his collection Jabberwocky, I was excited to see such a fine poem about a place I had visited so recently.

I first met Bill when I attended the 2013 National Poetry Conference in Havelock North. This year's conference in in Wellington - I hope you can make it!

Bill Sutton lives in Napier. Previously a DSIR scientist, senior policy analyst and Labour MP, he grew up on a South Canterbury farm and in 2013 organised a national poetry conference in Hawke’s Bay. His poetry collection Jabberwocky (2014) is available from Steele Roberts.

This week's editor is Tim Jones, whose own recent books include poetry collection Men Briefly Explained (IP, 2011) and short story collection Transported (Random House, 2008).

With Mark Pirie, he co-edited Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand (IP, 2009), and with P.S. Cottier, he co-edited The Stars Like Sand: Speculative Australian Poetry (IP, 2014). His poem "Kraken" won second prize in the Interstellar Award for Speculative Poetry 2015.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Grave secrets by Helen Bascand

If you should bury me,
as I have requested
with my hands clasped,
bury me wearing this bird
on a fine chain,

if my grave
should be uncovered
in a thousand years,
a wise man might say

Here we have
the bones of an elderly woman,
well, she would have been elderly
in her day.

From the evidence
of the spinal column, we can deduce
she carried heavy loads & the bones
of the hands indicate hard labour.

There is advanced
degeneration of the phalanges.
Early writings suggest
this was a common affliction.

But what is
of peculiar interest in this grave
is the small wrought bird.
It is silver & beautifully worked.

It has fallen into the chest cavity
but I think we can safely imagine
it was placed between her hands –
wings to carry a soul into eternity?

My gap eyes & unhinged jaw
will not reveal the day we bought it;
the way you wrapped it in my hand
& kissed my fingers closed;
the way we made love
with the silver chain around my neck

wings pressed between us.

Published with the permission of Steele Roberts Publishers

I thought that this week I would like to honour one of the stalwarts of Christchurch's, Canterbury's and New Zealand's poetry scenes, Helen Bascand, who recently passed away on 27 April 2015.

I hope that no readers will think my choice of poem by Helen morbid, given her recent death, but I think this poem is beautiful and it has a very hopeful thread running through it. It speaks of a life well led, full and pleasurable, rich and robust with many pleasant memories of love and beauty. I think this poem captures Helen's voice so well because her poetry was laden with beauty and grace.

I have often seen and heard Helen read her work at the Canterbury Poetry Collective's regular poetry seasons and her work was always received with great appreciation.

I cannot profess to have known Helen well, but she always struck me as a gracious, elegant person who knew her own mind and was a perceptive observer of human nature and the natural world as well. She took great pride in crafting writing that would stand the test of time and weather any passing literary fashions. She was renown both here and overseas as a mistress of the haiku form.

Her absence will be keenly felt at future Canterbury Poetry Collective readings and her passing will rend a tear in the fabric of contemporary New Zealand poetry.

Helen wrote poetry for many years, but applied herself more intensively to the craft from the 1980s onward. In the 1990s, Helen developed a keen interest in writing haiku and she won the haiku section of the New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition in 2000. Her work appears in listening to the rain, an anthology of haiku and haibun published in 2002.

Her poetry has also appeared in The Press, Bravado, JAAM, Kokako, The Listener, Takahe, SPIN, Printout and in overseas periodicals such as Famous Reporter and Poetrix (Australia), Still (England) and Frogpond (USA). Her work has also appeared in many anthologies including Voiceprints 2; Throwing the Words; Half Light and Half Wind; Something between breaths; All Together Now; Big Sky; My Garden, My Paradise and the Canadian anthology, Rose Haiku for Flower Lovers.

Helen published two collections of her poetry: Windows on the Morning Side (Sudden Valley Press, 2001) and Into the Vanishing Point (Steele Roberts Publishers, 2007).

Helen was also closely associated with The Small White Teapot Haiku Group for many years.

RIP Helen Bascand. I hope you were buried with your bird on a silver chain.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Implausible Birds, by K. Robinson

Implausible Birds

The sort of vase described in
Ian McEwan's novel, Atonement.
A gift. A curse on me self-cast. A Sino-sin 
I signed with my intent, and all Verdun's 
exploding wealth now written in my skin;
my brain forever battered by those guns. 

Or was it a theft? Sometimes a man concussed 
would seem quite sound, so peaceful in repose. 
Inside - a soupy mess, his bones like dust 
dispersed by wind and in a river froze. 

Not so a vase. It's either cracked, uncracked. 
Cursed, uncursed. It has two states alone. 
I kept it whole. Its faculties intact. 
So what accounts this impulse to atone? 

The fact I stole? Or lied? Or that I killed 
a man who tried to stop me? I fear the scene  
that haunts my shelf - those Chinese chaps in frilled 
Chinoiserie. The birds of aquamarine. 

The lips of gold. That I preserved a thing 
which should have died. Gilded, implausible birds, 
enamelled curves, polished for a Polish king 
by German arcanists. But here's what's most absurd: 

It wasn't the wealth I wanted. It was - the ideal. 
A delicately painted past to cleanse 
a mind's decapitated truth. To heal  
the shattered self. To seal a happy end. 

Yet in those interlacing leaves, those men 
of quietness, that lone unravished bird,  
I see the way the artist's brush, this pen, 
to fix one world, must leave another blurred.

"Implausible Birds" is published here with permission from the author.

Editor: Zireaux

Not long before Australia heard the Siren call of Gallipoli, a federal undertaker was busy preparing a capital city that could entomb, memorialise, grow festivals of flowers upon the country’s war dead. They called the city Canberra.

It was two years before the outbreak of World War I when Australia’s Minister of Home Affairs, King O’Malley, held a series of conventions, committees, negotiations, referendums, and finally an international competition (with King himself supreme adjudicator) to design Canberra. The criteria? Gardens, ornamental waters, a sense of grandeur, and most of all, “symbols of nationalism.” Thus was my place of residence sprayed with the poeticide of an ideal, rendering it more or less artistically sterile for the next 100 years.

Canberra today is so painted and powdered, so primped in the finery of cultural vanity (visit the National Library Cafe, my reader, and hear the fancy people talk of “aboriginal affairs”) that the city was recently judged the “best place in the world to live” by the OECD. The OECD analysed 10 metrics in all - from income levels to safety to civic engagement and the environment. It must have overlooked Canberra’s $1 billion dollar asbestos scandal, or its pervasive high-class drug scene, its zombified job market, landlord cronyism, or some of the most unaffordable and poorly built homes on the planet. Its metrics didn’t include culture or diversity or immigration or art. And certainly not poetry. 

I say this affectionately, as a loyal resident, a faithful Canberra-phile. I’m holding up the mirror here, after all, not for the Emperor to examine his hideous nose, his triple-chin, the venal pallor from jaundiced internal organs. But rather, I want him to see, over his stately shoulder, the magical mischief-making of the servant children in the doorway — a band of unknown, uncertified, unrecognised waiflings. They’d stop their enchanting play the moment the pompous old fellow turned around.

Last year I received an email from just such an unknown, behind-the-scenes sprite, a young Canberra poet asking for advice on that oxymoronic illusion - a “poetry career.” She shared some of her work with me, requested my feedback, and her “Implausible Birds” is no doubt a poem worth sharing with the Tuesday Poem community. The work is a response to Ian McEwen’s remarkable novel, Atonement. Ms. Robinson has lifted her poem’s title directly from a description of the painted birds on an exquisite, beautifully-crafted, time-traveling vase that serves as a kind of cynosure to McEwan’s exquisite, beautifully-crafted, time-traveling story.  

In the novel we’re told the vase, with its "painted Chinese figures, ornate plants and implausible birds," was a family heirloom. It belonged to a deceased uncle who received it during World War I as a gift from the grateful inhabitants of a French town he had helped evacuate. So goes, anyway, the family legend. But “Implausible Birds,” the poem, questions the plausibility of this perhaps too fine and feathery story of war-time heroics (the uncle had written the tale in a letter home). Ms. Robinson resurrects that uncle, inhabits his head, lets him reconsider the events. Was it really a gift? Maybe he stole it. Maybe he even killed for it. And if so, why would he do that? The answer: ’It wasn’t the wealth I wanted. It was - the ideal.’ 

King O’Malley, Canberra’s founding fraudster, was of that same generation. He would have appreciated that ideal - that desire for a fixed and cleansing perfection, an enamelled city with lips of gold and ceremonies to honour the dead (however implausible the depiction). Not a delicate vase for him, however - Cold Pastoral! - but monuments of cement that needn’t be protected or loved or kept unbroken through family affection; and so the parliamentary triangle brands it ideology amidst the beauty of Canberra’s hills today.

But the poets keep coming. Through Time’s unfolding accident precision is regained. Sharp, untamed, poetic visions scuttle through the cracks, as ants through the prolapsed soil of their nests. Blue-tongued lizards. The yellow plumage of the Cockatoos. The red-and-grey regalia of the Gang-gangs. And even a teenage poet in a city of such polished grandeur, of such purposeful geometry, can look beyond Gallipoli’s obscuring monolith and sense a single cracked and shell-shocked mind from a century before. 

As for her poetic future, my advice: Either stay and look more intently at Canberra than anyone has looked before. Or throw yourself to the traveling winds as soon as you can, never to return.
For more sharp, untamed, poetic visions, be sure to visit some of the posts in the sidebar. More information about Zireaux and his work can be found at www.ImmortalMuse.com.