Friday, March 6, 2009

Why Stoat Spring?

This blog is settling into a pattern similar to an old time movie session. Cartoons, newsreels & brief clips followed by interval and then the main feature.

a) I’ve reservations about science. I don’t like it monkeying around with the essence of human existence. But I must admit I would not be alive but for scientific and technological breakthroughs.
b) I was to go to Te Papa yesterday to see the Impressionist exhibition of paintings from Boston. Anne had a wheelchair booked. But a stomach upset in the morning put paid to that plan. She went without me with Jonathan her son, who majored in art history. They arrived home raving about the Monet and Renoir. Renoir is my favourite painter, humanity at play amidst light and shade. But Monet’s haystacks, waterlillies, green bridge, London scenes, Rouen cathedral are also amongst my preferred paintings. We’ve been to Giverny his home and garden, a memorable visit. The surprise was his large collection of Japanese prints, many very erotic. I can visualise him and Clemencau walking and talking in that garden. I hope I can see the exhibition before it closes.
c) My stay at home meant I was here when a friend, Brian Clark unexpectedly called. Brian taught with me at Melville High School in Hamilton and then worked with me when I was Executive Director of the New Zealand Council for Teacher Education. Brian’s wife has a contract in Brisbane. He’s finding the humidity and heat there very trying. Their two cats are enjoying catching an endless supply of lizards and he has a bush turkey nesting in their back yard.
d) Lesley brought us as a wedding anniversary present a swan plant with two monarch butterfly caterpillars on it on Tuesday. Her idea was that they would interest me. She was right. I christened them Groucho and Marx. We both became involved in their progress. To our dismay, by yesterday morning, voracious feeders, they’d eaten every leaf on the bush. So Anne went out early on a rescue mission to Mitre 10. She said ‘I feel responsible for them.’ Two new plants later, transfer effected auspiciously, they happily chomping away, we felt we’d played God very well. I never ever thought I’d care about a caterpillar. Poor Anne, the fact that there was no alternative to her going is an another example of how my health affects our activities. Which is a nonsense sentence because there was an alternative, not to go, and let them starve, but we never thought of not doing a mercy mission.

I’ve been asked why my blog is called Stoatspring? Simple! My second volume of poems, published 1983, is called Stoat Spring. When I was creating the blog we found title suggestion after suggestion had already been used. It took us ages to find an acceptable one. It’s a good one for it is a volume I’m particularly pleased about. A favourite childhood book was Mortimer Batten’s Some British Wild Animals. In his chapter on stoats he told of a box-trap set for rabbits. One night, two rabbits, a tom-cat and a stoat fell in. It would have been a lively night for in the morning it contained two dead rabbits, one mangled, dying cat and a very frisky stoat.

The closest I ever got to a stoat was in Delphi in Greece. The guide had taken us to the ruins of the old stadium high above the temple remnants. Remote from the group I was sitting on a piece of masonry. Suddenly this stoat popped out beside me. Standing on his hind legs he surveyed the scene, a beautiful and deadly creature. I’d seen the carnage either a stoat or weasel had committed in our fowlshed at Okuti. Thereafter the chooks roosted in the old macrocarpas behind the house.

The volume comprised a series of poems written over a period when after the end of my first marriage I began my relationship with Anne, a rather fraught though sparkling time. I was also under stress at work – bureaucratic middle management with all its frustrations and powerlessness. I see the blurb at the back of the book says ‘he earns his keep as Assistant-Director Curriculum Development, in the Department of Education.’ Most of the poems were written before I took up that position when I worked for Schools Supervision, an unwise career move in terms of satisfaction. I collapsed the poems of a few years into a sequence of a spring season and made stoat a metaphor for my feelings of discontent and exhilaration. It was a good time and a bad time. I was reading Hughes and Larkin and their hawk and toad were in my mind. Before publication one evening I was reading poems at the old Circa theatre. Api Taylor preceded me, such power left me daunted. Anyway after my reading while I was sipping a wine one of the band that was backing our readings said why don’t you get Bruce the drummer to illustrate your book. Bruce Rothwell, a wallpaper designer, drew stoats as a hobby. So he did. On my study wall is this picture with six stoat drawings in it

The poem begins:

and gin, the traps
slam shut.
Inside middle management
stoat and cat fang rabbit;
then circle
circle one another.
Cat leaps
Too late!

Along the way I explore the nuclear threat (Mururoa tests were underway) poetry critics, love’s affirmations and ups and downs, the washing machine flooding the laudry floor, the garden, life, history, climbing Cave Rock at Sumner with my mother and above all, the workplace.

The office has its boltholes,
they bar the winter winds:
only the rich
or vagabonds
can afford the sun
open space
and the chance to outpace
that sliding and elusive shadow.

I remember writing those lines. It was a Saturday and the rain was pelting down. I’d spent the week in the office, a glorious September week with full sunshine. The penultimate poem describe the work Christmas party, ‘the office/ rings with satisfaction, sausage/ rolls and grog.’
A colleague slaps gin into a glass,
states he ‘couldn’t give a damn.’
I do, stoat
I do

The poem ends:

We lay our drains until banks
then boat the paddocks, rescue
stock. For a while the heart enjoys
the risk as yesterday's pig sty
tin drum
dream house
down the creek. When the flood
recedes we resettle & the bishop
climbs the pulpit, announces new tithes,
old taxes, they'll enclose a field,
rebuild a nave, get him a crimson
cap. No need to wait another winter.

Bureaucrats like sheep labour on
lasting tracks into the fabric of events.
The system works until the design fault snaps.
Who doesn't like to run guns to the rebels?
(Evaporation - precipitation - respiration)
Silt cracks in the sun. Peasants plough.
Politicians check the profits. Money comes
and money goes; adds a little sherry to the trifle,
more blood to the revolution: a matter
of economics of hunger of physics of love.

No comments:

Post a Comment