21 March 2011

Tuesday Poem: 'The Truth the Dead Know', by Anne Sexton

If you can't view the YouTube clip above, then click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkCHYVgXHiQ

Reading Siobhan Harvey's Lost Relatives recently sent me back to Anne Sexton, as Siobhan has a couple of Anne-Sexton related poems at the end of the collection. So today, an audio poem of Sexton reading her own poem. Also, because there's been so much death around lately - both big disasters, and little disasters, which are no less big for the people who have lost someone they love.

Check out the other Tuesday poems on the Tuesday Poem blog: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com/

19 March 2011

Robert Sullivan and Poetry Society (and Helen Cubed at the Ballroom)

I mentioned earlier that Robert Sullivan was reading at the Poetry Society in March, but it was in the middle of a long ranty post, so it's worth reiterating.

He's reading on Monday at 7 pm (which is earlier than usual), at the Thistle Inn, Mulgrave Street, Thorndon. There will be an open mic, and there is a $5 entry fee ($3 for members).

Also, Helen, Helen and I have been making preparations for our reading tomorrow at the Ballroom: http://wingedink.blogspot.com/2011/03/helen-cubed-come-see-us-read-poetry.html. I am still having serious debates with myself over what poems to read, but will try to read a mixture of older and newer stuff. See you there?

14 March 2011

Tuesday poem: 'Tooth' by Siobhan Harvey


Today, you’re twelve teeth old,
and we fossick for shells,
star-fish, pipi and paua

until the tide goes out
when we wave goodbye
to yachts moored in the marina.

At home, you float
across polished floors
until you keel over.

Your jaw leaves an alveolus
in the matai deep enough
for a tear-drop’s caress.

As I stroke you,
your eyes collect water;
your gums are an ocean of blood.

But only when you’re sleeping,
do I discover a tooth
anchored to blue woollen blanket.

Suddenly, you’re eleven teeth old
and have grown, like Lazarus,
younger beneath moonlight.

White and hull-shaped,
tooth’s a boat,
isolated by low tide.

In the morning,
I’ll show you how it can rest
safely upon its starboard.

Siobhan Harvey has just launched her first New Zealand collection of poetry, Lost Relatives, from which 'Tooth' comes. She's lived in New Zealand for a decade, but grew up in UK. She's the poetry editor for Takahe, and is a consulting editor of International Literary Quarterly. She was the editor of Words Chosen Carefully: New Zealand Writers in Discussion and Our Own Kind: 100 New Zealand Poems about Animals. I got to know Siobhan after accepting three of her poems for JAAM 22, and met her for the first time when she came down to Wellington as part of the Winter Readings. Since then, I've met up with her each time I go to Auckland, and it has been lovely getting to know her.

Lost Relatives is, in great part, about Siobhan's experience of moving to New Zealand - leaving behind and, in a sense, losing her home and her family. And then building a new life here, with her new family, her partner, her son, and her 'found' family. Sometimes reading Lost Relatives was like finding old friends - there were many poems I'd read before, including those three poems I'd published in JAAM 22 all those years ago.

Last Thursday I went along to the offices of Steele Roberts for the Wellington launch of Lost Relatives. (She also launched it in Auckland, where she lives.) I wasn't surprised to find a bunch of other writers there, because Siobhan has a knack of making connections with people - not in a 'networking' sort of way, but in a genuine connection sort of way - and has made friends (found family) all over the country. Roger Steele began, Harry Ricketts launched the book, and then Siobhan spoke and did an excellent reading of some of the poems in the book.

I've chosen 'Tooth' as my Tuesday poem because it was one of the poems she read, and I was particularly struck by it - by its simplicity - a story of her son falling and losing a tooth - which belies its intricateness. I love especially the marine metaphors - 'keel over', 'your gums are an ocean of blood', discovering the tooth 'anchored' to the blanket, the tooth 'isolated by low tide'. I also really liked the idea of her son being 'twelve teeth old', and then going back in time to being only eleven teeth old. He was at the launch, and is now six (I think), so many more than eleven teeth old - but still has the gap where the tooth once was.

As always, check out the other Tuesday poems via the Tuesday Poems blog: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com/.

12 March 2011

Helen Cubed – come and see (and hear) us read poetry

On a lighter note (not that we will necessarily be reading light poetry), I will be reading at the Ballroom Cafe next Sunday with Helen Heath and Helen Lehndorf. Together, we are Helen Cubed.

It'll all start with an open reading, followed by live music by Blue Vein (Dan Bar-Even, Liz & Kate Kennedy), followed by Helen Cubed. It will be awesome, because what could possibly be better than three Helens? (Four Helens I guess...)

Look, there's even a Facebook event, you don't even need to remember when it is, because it Facebook will remind you: http://www.facebook.com/?sk=events#!/event.php?eid=154114791313415

What is with you, 2011?!

2011 is supposed to be the year of poetry, for me at least. And has been. But it was not supposed to be the year of a whole bunch of horrible stuff. I'm grateful that it hasn't been for me personally, but I'm really feeling for everyone for whom this is year has been crap, what with earthquakes and tsunamis and floods, and, for other people, smaller but personally huge tragedies. I'm trying not to feel helpless in the face of it all. And, meanwhile, I'm appreciating my life and the people in it.

09 March 2011

Tuesday(ish) poem: 'Poetry with Beatrice and Laura'

Poetry with Beatrice and Laura

Could Beatrice have written like Dante
Or Laura glorified love’s pain?
I set the style for women’s speech
God help me shut them up again.
― Anna Akhmatova

First we discuss Beatrice’s poem
It’s about her stalker
how he hides
around corners, appears
she goes, pretends
to be walking the other
way, pretends
he doesn’t see her
‘I don’t think he’s dangerous’
she says, ‘but he really gives me the willies’

We praise
her sharp images
the melody of rhythm, conciseness of form
her humour

I suggest she might want to change
the names

‘He just needs a proper girlfriend,’ says Laura
and she knows
what she’s talking about
she too
has a bad case of the secret admirer

‘It’s just been embarrassing,’ she says
‘I have to publish
under a pseudonym
“Oh, you’re that Laura,” they used to say
“Laura ‘whose beauty was the envy of the sun’”?
No editor would take me seriously anymore’

Her poem, a perfect sonnet
is about love and pain
and how they are not
the same thing
‘Something my grandson
should have learnt,’ she giggles
It is a departure for her
She usually writes political satire

As the theme
has turned around to love
poetry I confess that since
I have been in love
love poems have been
I suggest that there is something
about the distance, the artifice
of infatuation
that lends itself
to voluminous words
Beatrice and Laura groan

Beatrice says, ‘My husband read
what he wrote about me: “Turn, Beatrice
o turn your holy eyes upon your faithful one,”
and he said “Dante should come and live with you
for a few days, then he’ll know
how human you are,” but then
he kissed me and said
“and that’s why I love you”

Same time next
week we’ll meet again
at Beatrice’s house
and over tea and cake
bring our latest clutch of poems out
into the light

OK, so not actually Tuesday anymore, but I've missed posting a Tuesday poem for several weeks now, for various reasons, and thought it was time I got back into the swing of it.

I mentioned this poem in my last post, and talked about how I was inspired to write it after getting annoyed by that quote by Anna Akhmatova. It was going to be one of the poems in the last section of My Iron Spine, where I hang out with women from history, but I took it out because I wasn't entirely sure about it. I'm kinda fond of it though.

Beatrice Portinari (1266–1290) was a Florentine lady, best known as the woman loved from a distance by Italian poet Dante Alighieri. She is worshipped in many of his poems and appears in The Divine Comedy as a guide to paradise. It is likely that Dante only actually met Beatrice twice in his life. Laura de Noves (1310–1348) was a lady of Avignon, believed to be the woman loved from afar by the poet Petrarch and the subject of many of his sonnets. She was probably an ancestor of Marquis de Sade.

You will find many other Tuesday poems via the Tuesday Poem blog.

02 March 2011

February poetry reading (6-10)

My reading has been rather haphazard, but I seem to have managed to read some poetry books. I got a whole bunch out of the library, and now they are all overdue, sigh, and I'd better take them back. This is why I'm generally not a library user - due dates mean nothing to me, and then it ends up being cheaper buying books...

Vita Nova by Louise Glück (6/52)

I have conflicted feelings about this book. Louise Glück is a celebrated contemporary US poet, she's won lots of prizes, including for this book, but most of it didn't seem very good to me. That isn't to say that it isn't good, but more that it sent me in a bit of a spin because I couldn't see why it was good. Is it a problem with me? I guess this happens a lot - people raving about something that doesn't speak to me at all, which seems clumsy or lacking a point - and I guess we all just have different taste. But still...

There was some lovely stuff in Vita Nova though, even for me. The collection is telling a subtle story of the narrator's rebirth into life after something happened. There are snatches of a failed love affair and it's all mixed in with mythology. Should have been right up my alley. And some of it was. Here's my favourite quote:
I lived in a tree. The dream specified
pine, as though it thought I needed
prompting to keep mourning. I hate
when your own dreams treat you as stupid.
Vita Nova is, apparently 'written in the elected shadow of Dante', and so I thought now might be a good time to pick up that copy of Vita Nova/The New Life by Dante, which has been sitting on my shelf for some time. I'm still clawing my way through it, and perhaps it is just the translation, but it reads to me like the stalky obsessions of a very socially maladjusted young man, who could do with a bit of a slapping (except of course I abhor violence). It tells the story of how he saw Beatrice, fell in love with her, and then obsessed over her for years and years. He writes some poems. In between the poems he tells us what the poems mean and how they work (and how clever he is), and how he pretended he loved someone else, for some reason, and how he got so thin because of his love, and goodness me you really should have found some medieval Florentine psychotherapist, Dante, then perhaps you could have just asked her out and got it all over and done with.

I probably didn't come into it with the most receptive attitude - when working on My Iron Spine I wrote a poem called 'Poetry with Beatrice and Laura', where I have a poetry-writing group with Beatrice and Laura (the beloved of Petrarch). I wrote it after I was really annoyed by this epigram by Anna Akhmatova:
Could Beatrice have written like Dante
Or Laura glorified love’s pain?
I set the style for women’s speech
God help me shut them up again!
I normally like Anna Akhmatova's poetry, but this infuriated me, and I wanted to give some kind of voice to those women, who haven't gotten to have one in history.


Music Therapy by Peter Olds (7/52)

In contrast, I really enjoyed this book. It's quite simple, accessible and balanced. I reminded me of nothing as much as James K Baxter's Jerusalem poems, and I imagine it may be written in that tradition - Olds spent some time at Jerusalem in the 1970s. Similarly, many of these poems are about a time spent living differently, in solitude. In the 1980s Olds lived for a while in a hut at Seacliff, near the old psychiatric hospital. Like Baxter's poems, he will often describe things he sees around him, which will very subtly be metaphorical of what's going on for him. The rest of the book focuses on Dunedin in the 1990s, after a breakdown. I would include a quote, but that book has gone back to the library, to avoid further fines.

Soft Sift, by Mark Ford (8/52)

I picked this one up from the library cos it's published by Faber and sounded interesting. I'd never heard of Mark Ford before this, but then I have an appalling lack of knowledge of contemporary poets who don't live in NZ, which is what I'm trying to rectify this year.

I started reading this one afternoon, while I was in a grumpy-pants mood, and had wandered down to sit in the park in the sun to have some alone time. When I read some more, I was sitting on a concrete thing at Oriental Bay, with my feet being lapped by occasional waves - until I retreated because the tide was coming in and a particularly huge wave soaked my skirt, my bag, and dampened the book (don't tell the library). I finished it off sitting at my dining room table. This is basically irrelevant, except that now it's intimately connected with those locations in my head.

I found the poetry itself really dense. I described it to friends as kind of like eating dessert while drinking something also very sweet. I can totally enjoy dense, rich, even sticky poetry, and I did enjoy quite a bit of this, but I found I had to keep rereading lines - there seemed to be a lot of words without a clear meaning - not in a metaphorical sense so much, but as in a sense sense (if that makes any sense). For example, the first two lines of 'Penumbra': Beneath an angular web of scratchings-out/Vagrant motives glow like phosphorus: low, creeping' (though actually, that seems to make more sense now than it did before...).

I confess, I read a lot of the poems without really getting them - and now have forgotten them entirely. But one that has really stuck with me is 'The Long Man', about the Long Man of Wilmington, well, at least partly - you know poems, tricksy things – they're generally about stuff other than what they're about. Anyway, it begins 'The Long Man/of Wilmington winces with the dawn; he has just/endured yet another mythical, pointless, starry/vigil'. A favourite bit: 'I had/ the 'look', as some called it, meaning I floated/in an envelope of air that ducked and sheered/between invisible obstacles.' And the end:

... I kept picturing someone tracing
a figure on the turf, and wearing this outline
into a path by walking and walking around
the hollow head, immobile limbs, and cavernous torso.

Piki Ake! and Voice Carried My Family by Robert Sullivan (9–10/52)

I read these in preparation for Robert Sullivan's reading at the Poetry Society in March. Piki Ake!, his second collection, is from 1993, while Voice Carried My Family is from 2005. There's a bit of a gap in between (though, there are other books in this gap), and there does seem to me to be a development of style, as well as some similarities and similar interests and concerns. Both draw on Maori culture, stories and heritage, and both show the influence of waiata. Pike Ake! seemed more ... informal - I'm not even sure that's the right word. Perhaps looser is more what I mean. It has quite a few personal stories, including several poems telling the story of a family reunion up in Northland. There's still personal stories in Voice Carried My Family, though they seem tighter, perhaps more sophisticated.

He tells others' stories too - such as the stories of Te Weherua and Koa, young Maori boys who hopped on board the Resolution in 1777. Sullivan also knows that telling others' stories is problematic: 'But I can't. I just can't take the middle of your throat./Who would I pay for the privilege?' ('3 Mai') I felt a similar issue when working on the 'biographical' poems in My Iron Spine - I wanted these women to be remembered and celebrated, I wanted to give them voice, but I knew that it was my voice I was giving them, not their own. I couldn't really know what their voices would say. It is a slightly uncomfortable appropriation.

I think my favourite poem from either collection is the mysterious and haunting '13 ways of looking at a blackbirder'. I can't possibly tell you exactly what it's about, but I kind of feel it. You know, like a David Lynch movie.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing/hearing Sullivan read - I've never heard him before, and hearing how a poet read, their rhythms, can give you a whole new way of understanding their poetry.