Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Poet's (Wander)land

Yesterday and today have been contented days. I’ve been exploring Mary McCallum’s ‘Tuesday Poem’ site. Not just the poems but the highways and byways they and their followers opened up. After the bluster, bombast and backbiting of much that is on the internet it was a relief to be in a gentler arena, a topsy-turvy world where blue may not be a favourite colour but can be a favourite word. Or a place where a fox is a wolf bearing a flower.

Gentle in this instance does not mean weakness. There is power here. And richness. And delight. It is another space – of grace and observation and sharing – a mixture of ideas and images. And phrases like ‘a compassionate archaeology of the family.’ Mix-ups in spelling compound interest. Did you use ‘hoard’ when you meant ‘horde’? Searching takes me into new places - a health clinic in Seattle and the committed humans who tender to the sick, wounded and vulnerable.

There is nostalgia. For example, Jeffrey Paparoa Holman’s ballad about the early Labour party on the West Coast.
‘The First Church of the Socialist Millennium
Was the Blackball Miners Hall: where I grew
Up, with a Tip Top tub and Cecile B De Mille
And the saints on the wall were black and white.’
On the wall were photos of Saints, Hickey, Semple and Webb. Blasphemy some may say. The worship of those early leaders of the party had a religious fervour. Holman’s rollicking piece captures the spirit.

I can visualise that boy in the old hall waiting for the curtain to go up eagerly licking his ice-cream and looking at the line-up of the community’s past leaders. In my early days I attended the Presbyterian services in Little River held in the Masonic Lodge Hall. The door to the inner sanctuary was locked. But the hall in which we worshipped had photos of past masters wearing their regalia. I studied, even counted them, as my attention strayed. One blog site had a John O’Connor poem. It has these lines about a new church ‘& I recall wondering (&/ enquiring) why they made everything/ so unlovely.’ The child I was didn’t think of beauty, but noticed the difference of the environment. Those severe men were iconic.

On most expedition like this a few themes emerge. For some reason one I trawled was birds – even to the extent of a kowhai seed travelling through the gut of the native pigeon. Belinda Hollyer’s prose piece was delightful. The pukeko with its ‘comic timing’ so aptly described. I realised why I chuckled when I saw a certain advertisement. Such ungainly feet.

A bird flees a cat ‘with alarm and a certain disdain.’ There are bird descriptions galore; a great white heron snaps a ‘spiney fish’ ‘to a final soft swallow’. There is bird song. There’s an arresting quote from Carol Ann Duffy. Air-space closed because of the Iceland’s volcanic eruption:
‘But British birds sing in this spring from Inverness to Liverpool, from Crieff to Cardiff.,
Oxford, Londontown, Land’s End to John O;Groats.
The music’s summons,
That Shakespeare heard, and Edward Thomas, and briefly, us.

Ironic, with no planes flying, the birds could be heard. When my garden memoir ‘This Piece of Earth’ came out I received many letters and emails from people throughout the country telling me of their pleasure in hearing a tui sing. It pleases me that this can still happen in these islands. And the response taught me that the writer is never as individual as they suppose they are.

I like conundrums like that last sentence. Meliors Simms’ poem on the two types of ‘time’ left me meditating about an age-old debate, I like to reread old favourites, Hopkins, Donne, Browning and Causley. I even like the frustration of reading something I’d like to return to and then I cannot find it again, a glimpse of something heart catching. I’d swear I read these lines yesterday. ‘Tongue-dancing after wine tasting’. Today, I cannot find them. Did I dream them? Have they been removed? Am I a failure as a detective? Anyway, the chase has been fun. Maybe I was after the wrong fox.

A Postscript:
Today is Bastille Day. The French Revolution released ideas of nationalism, liberalism, autocracy, democracy and individualism that still drive human affairs. On a smaller scale the day is the anniversary of the election of the Lange government which profoundly changed the nature of New Zealand’s way of life. I meant to write about these things. Instead I’ve been, as I say, content to roam around in poet’s (Wander)land


  1. Thank you Harvey. I like that you think of Tuesday Poem as a gentle arena - and I'm thrilled you've enjoyed wandering through it. I can spend hours wandering through the Tuesday Poems -delighted by what they offer individually and the conversations between them. It's interesting the different themes that emerge in any given week - birds have featured more than once, fathers another time, and then mothers, poems about the light/ephemeral vs. heavy/physical ... I love the way poems overlap and the way the poets come and visit each other and comment. In the odd way the internet does, we have created a community here and I'm really pleased you've come along for the ride.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts Harvey - the photos in the old Blackball Miners Hall were huge, and to me now, in my 60s, I reframe them as the secular saints they seem to have been.
    As kids, they seemed to be strange objects hung by the adults, framing the world of illusion, the danger and the comedy of film. What they were to me then, I don't truly know - but now, they are part of a lost world, of who I was and still am.
    Just nice to know that others who shared similar experiences recall them. Cheers.