Thursday, November 30, 2006

Poetry Thursday: Walls That Talk

This week I planned to explore the prompt at Poetry Thursday, but events at work upset my timetable for the week, so I am posting an existing poem, along with a photo of the memorial that inspired it. Come to think of it, it's a wall. So maybe this post is about walls that talk to me after all!

Almost Icarus

Icarus greets me each morning
still falling headlong
into a sea of flowers.
Lichen tips his feathers gold.

At my desk I tally numbers
while planes take off overhead.
At noon I walk past rows of flags –
the koru, the kangaroo, the golden bird
tethered to a pole.
I want to fly almost too close to the sun,
see temples and monuments,
marketplaces, beaches and jungles.

I want to return and put on my life
like a shabby old coat
and find how warm it is,
how soft.



Icarus in bas relief on a memorial to airmen of the second world war: "to those who flew and fell". It is situated near the approach road to Christchurch Airport, and I pass it on my way to work.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

An Unpost

I was going to write a blog post today, and then I got too busy exploring the Scottish Poetry Library website. So this is an "unpost" to tell you what a wonderful website it is.

One interesting feature I found was a poetry map of Scotland. In an earlier post I was wondering about poems that are about particular places in England and Scotland, and here I found a map of Scotland linked to poems about each place - a wonderful resource. You can also send a poetry postcard (by e-mail) to a friend - or to yourself.

Lots more to explore on this wonderful site

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Haiku: Legacy

A haiku for my grandfather:

he taught me how to
move bishops, kings and castles
- how to find a mate


Are you allowed to pun in haiku? My kind gentle grandfather taught me how to play chess. Later, playing chess in the university common room, I met my future husband.

More haiku on the theme of legacy at onedeepbreath

I have posted this photo before, but I thought I would repeat it - a portrait of my grandfather in fabric

Monday, November 27, 2006

Monday Mutterings

I arrived at work this morning, sat down at the computer, wiggled the mouse - but the screen didn't light up. I looked down - hadn't anyone switched it on yet? (My computer is the server for the whole office for our main database, so they usually turn it on first thing Monday morning). What I saw was a big dusty gap where the tower usually is. "Where's my computer?" I asked. "It blew up" was the reply.

Well, there was very little I could do without my computer so I came home again and now I have a free afternoon.

At the weekend I had a phone call. Our surname isn't very common. The caller was looking for Cindy for a school reunion. I suggested she try others of the same surname in the phone book since we moved here for my husband's work and don't know other families of that name in the area. But it reminded me of a funny incident a few years back. Strange mail started arriving addressed to me - advertising from marquee hire companies, caterers etc. I shrugged and tossed them in the recycling. Then I received one from a florist congratulating me on my engagement. My children thought this was a huge joke as I'd been married to the same man for about thirty years! I rang the florist and enquired how she got my address. She had purchased her list from a photographer. Apparently they go through the engagement notices in the newspaper, and then they check the electoral rolls to find the addresses. I told her that obviously they had the wrong Catherine and arranged to have my name removed from the list in the interests of saving a tree or two.

At this website you can check how many people in the US share your name. Actually you can't because it is based on statistics not an actual check of all the names - but it will give you an approximate idea. It tells me that there are 5 people with my name in the United States. (On the other hand there are 2372 people who share my maiden name). Which makes it a little unlikely that more than one namesake is going to turn up in the same not very big city in New Zealand.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

In the Garden

The blackbirds in our garden seem to have worked out that it is a good idea to investigate when one of the big creatures (me) is weeding the garden. Today I glanced up and saw Mr Blackbird not more than a couple of feet from me, busily digging in the soil with his foot. He had a beak stuffed full of grubs, sticking out along the sides like a fringe. I couldn't see how he could possibly hold more, but in fact he did manage to get a few more in before flying off, presumably to feed his chicks. A little later, he returned with an empty beak to start all over again. It amazes me how he can hold so many grubs and not drop any when he grabs the next one. Then Mrs Blackbird came along and joined in. The two of them have been at it all day, and didn't seem to mind even when I went noisily up and down the lawn with a mower.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Poetry Thursday: Poetry Readings

This week at Poetry Thursday we were asked to seek out and attend a poetry reading. "Yeah right" I thought (which, if you are a New Zealander, you will recognise as a reference to a certain advertising campaign - otherwise of course, you won't). To get back to the prompt - after it appeared, on Monday evening I went to the meeting of my small poetry group, where I learnt that our main local organiser of poetry readings had not been successful with its grant application for the next series - usually held annually around April-May. With luck, the readings will still go ahead, but without the ability to pay expenses, they will have to rely on local readers.

I like to think I live in a big city, but it's not New York, or even Seattle. We have the above-mentioned series of readings which run for about eight weeks once a year, and we have poetry as part of the book festival which takes place every two years. Apart from that, there are occasional invitations to book launches, but as far as I know, there are none coming up. Per head of population, I suspect New Zealand has as many poets as pretty well anywhere, but the population is about the same as the state of Wyoming.

I did attend quite a few sessions of the book festival which was held back in September. Even in the book festival, the poets were mostly those who were available. I was impressed by the international line-up - among them Chilean poet Cecilia Guridi, Korean-American poet Ishle Yi Park and Irish poet Iggy McGovern. Then I found out that the first two were actually living in New Zealand, and the last of the three was spending six months "across the ditch" in Melbourne. So, even with the big festivals, we take what we can get down here in this corner of the world. I enjoyed attending a session with poet/physicist Iggy McGovern. The discussion was mostly about the relationship between science and poetry. Iggy is an engaging speaker - I remember him saying of the sestina that it is a "very difficult form, so you only ever have to write one". He says that language for scientists has to be about precision, whereas poets prefer language imprecise and metaphorical. He did agree with me, however, in question time, that scientists are not beyond the use of metaphors - as in the wave/ particle theories of light, or string theory. I do believe that poets and scientists are closer to each other than they might think.

The poem below, "The Bony", was Iggy McGovern's most popular poem at the festival. If you click the link above, you will find links to three more of his poems, to audio files of several poems including "The Bony", and to an interesting interview that appeared recently in the New Zealand Listener. You can also order a copy of his book, "The King of Suburbia".

The Bony

When I shared a bed
in nineteen fifty-two or three
with my bony father I was led
to believe that we
were alone;

now I can own
that when his bony frame
closed in upon my back
and he whispered my name
into my bony neck,

behind him
lay his bony father and, behind,
his bony grandfather, his bony great-
grandfather...all that long-lined
boniness, lying in state,

their collective bony weight
pulling him down, but slow,
a little heavier each year
until he finally let go
and I fear
he's here
now with the same bony crew,
light as a feathery ton:
O they have a job to do.
But not a word to my son.


- Iggy McGovern

More Poetry Thursday here

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Slightly Random

Plans for our big trip are progressing - now that we have two weeks timeshare booked, we are looking at flights. Lots of "early bird" specials available at the moment. We discovered that if we fly Singapore Airlines we can fly direct from Christchurch to Singapore without having to go to Auckland first. Then we can fly direct from Singapore to either Heathrow or Manchester. We are definitely favouring the Manchester option, since we have heard that Heathrow is very congested these days.

Thinking about Manchester reminded me of the English school teacher I was talking to on our previous holiday in the North Island. (She was visiting New Zealand in her summer holidays). One of her questions was: "why do you call sheets, towels etc , manchester?" Well, presumably because a century or so ago, it was all imported from Manchester where there was a huge cotton industry. It hadn't occurred to me, though, that it wasn't called manchester in England! Actually, I think the word is dying out here - lots of big stores now have something like a "bed and bath" department instead.

Different word usage and different accents fascinate me. I have been watching "Survivor" (No doubt quite a few episodes behind the US). I couldn't figure out why a parent would name their child "Poverty" until I saw the name up on the screen and found out it was "Parvati". Over here that would be "Par" as in "Car". I assume that "car" has a long "a" in the US (or maybe everyone calls it an auto!)

Neil over at Citizen of the Month has started a tradition called "Thank Your First Commenter Day". So I checked back - comments were few and far between on my early posts - but my first commenter was m at Creative Voyage. And my first commenter who I hadn't known before I started blogging was the lovely Lynn of the defunct Sprigs, who is now blogging under her real name Dana, at sublimation. Thanks all. Comments make my day!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: Heroes

The word "heroes" conjures up dramatic images. It makes us think of war heroes, those who pluck neighbours from burning buildings, save children from drowning, and other such incidents. But to me, heroism can be a much quieter, unheralded thing.

I do respect those who fought in various wars, for whatever reason. Some may have been young men looking for an adventure, and finding it not quite what they expected. Others fought from a deeply held sense of duty, or served in medical corps or in other ways. My father and his two brothers however, independently of each other came to the same conclusion: that war was wrong and they would not fight. It was an unpopular view in 1940. It must have been hard as the war progressed to be among the few young, healthy men not away fighting. Their leisure time was mostly spent helping out with chores for the wives of their friends who had been put in internment camps. (My father was luckier, as his appeal was upheld). It was hard too, for their parents - those who lost sons overseas were not well disposed towards those who had not just one but three sons refusing to serve.

My father never made a big deal about his story. He just quietly got on with his life, and served others in whatever capacity he could, compatible with his beliefs. His stance may have seemed a feeble effort at the time, but I believe that many New Zealanders views now have been shaped in part by the consciences of that small group of people, who were often very harshly treated.

My mother, too, was someone who seemed "just an ordinary mother" to me in the fifties. Nothing unusual about her. It was only later that I came to realise that she was a pioneer too, in her own quiet way. I was the first baby born in Wellington by natural childbirth. Nowadays it seems quite normal to refuse drugs, learn breathing techniques, room in with the baby, even have a home birth and all that goes with that. It is one thing to do it when it is an accepted choice. It is quite another thing when medical personnel are against it and you have to make a real effort to stand up for what you want. I can't help feeling that I would have caved in to accepted practice, but my mother knew what she wanted and made sure of getting it. And later there were other things, like standing up to teachers when their methods of discipline were dubious (to say the least) - and she was able to be polite and respectful while making her viewpoint clear.

To me, the real heroes are people like these. Not the ones who make dramatic rescues when things go wrong, but those who progress civilisation, in numerous small ways every day, even when their view is unfashionable.

More Sunday Scribblings here

Making Plans

It is a long weekend here and I am getting very little done, probably because I planned to work on writing poetry. Whenever that happens I seem to procrastinate a lot. I find I get the most done if I jot a few notes down, go off and dig the garden and let the poem write itself in my head.

Unfortunately it is cold and wet, even though it's nearly summer, so that plan isn't working too well either. The air is so damp that the washing isn't even getting dry in the dryer, let alone on the line. I've been pruning the grape vine which grows so fast at this time of year it's hard to keep up, but the lawns will have to wait as they are too damp for the mower.

In the meantime, we have our accommodation bookings for next year's big trip: a week at Barnsdale Country Club which is in the English Midlands, where my husband's ancestors come from, followed by a week at Macdonald Forest Hills Resort near Stirling in Scotland, where my family comes from. From what I gather, it's a very historic part of Scotland with lots to see.
We will have a bit short of a week either side to move around, staying in bed and breakfasts, and seeing some of the outlying areas. We may or may not have a stopover on the way - Hong Kong or Singapore seem to be the favourite airline offerings. We are debating whether to fly in to Heathrow, or avoid the congestion and security issues there by flying into Manchester instead (which reduces the choices in airlines, but may be worth it). I'm not really looking forward to the LOOOOONG flight in uncomfortable airline seats - but I'm hoping it will be worth it!

I think when I get back I'll be planning the next trip, to fit in all the places there won't be time to see this time.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Poetry Thursday: Lying

This week's prompt at Poetry Thursday was to write down ten objects and tell a lie about each one. Whether this resulted in poetry, or merely a writing exercise, I'm not sure, but I had a lot of fun doing it. Here are the results:

A telesope is to shrink things
so that they will fit in the television set.
A piano has black and white teeth
and it eats songs.
Everything I write with this pencil is true.
The rose tells the news of the day
but I can't read it.
The sky knows how but it won't tell me.
Under the hill dead sailors dance hornpipes.
The pylons are the masts of their wrecked ships.
The barbed wire fences catch poems from the sky.
The ladder is for birds with broken wings.
The egg contains oceans. If you break it
we will all drown.


And here is a bonus question:
I have been thinking about poetry of place, and specifically England and Scotland. I'm looking for poems set in the places I want to visit. I'm having a hard time coming up with any. There is Robert Burns of course, for Scotland - quite a few places mentioned in his poems. And A.E. Housman's "A Shropshire Lad". Then from Wordsworth I have his sonnet composed on Westminster Bridge, and another poem set near Tintern Abbey (which I have yet to look for on a map). Gerard Manley Hopkins has "Inversnaid" and there is Rupert Brooke's "Old Vicarage, Grantchester". (Where is Grantchester? I thought this was the old vicarage at Grantham - where some of my husband's forbears come from - until I checked on google and found that it was Grantchester after all).

This seems like a rather short list from hundreds of years of British poetry, and I would be grateful for any suggestions to add to it. I prefer modern or modernish poetry, but will take all suggestions. Thanks!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hmmmm...

I stopped off at the library on the way home to pick up "Winters Bone" by Daniel Woodrell. Tara at Paris Parfait is hosting a discussion of the book for the online Third Day Book Club, so I am deciding whether to join in. Then I went to the shelves of the latest "read in the library only" magazines and sat down with Oprah for a while. It was the issue with a bunch of "how tos". Including "how to lose 4 - 6 pounds in two weeks." Well, OK - my wait loss plan isn't going that quickly, but it's a believable amount. Except that then the writer concerned claimed that she lost 4-6 pounds and one whole dress size. Hello?

Over the years I have put on 25 kgs. Actually, probably a bit more. 25kg is around 55 pounds. So by the above reckoning that should be 11 dress sizes! In that time I have gone from a size 12 to a size 18 (that's British sizing, various websites seem to be agreed that American sizing is smaller, but they don't agree on how much smaller). Anyway, by my reckoning that is three dress sizes. Apparently by some reckoning it's six dress sizes, but since you can't buy size 13, 15 or 17 I don't quite see it. Anyway, I have lost 6kgs so far - about 13 pounds - and I am still wearing the same clothes, and my pants haven't fallen down for want of a belt yet. So either the author is very short or there is something very strange going on.

And another thing - this week is Show Week in Christchurch. This is a big deal. Every other part of New Zealand celebrates the provincial anniversary day as a public holiday, but in Christchurch we ignore the provincial anniversary and have a public holiday on Show Day instead. And half of Christchurch also takes a de facto public holiday on Cup Day (yesterday) so they can go and dress up in fancy frocks and hats and get drunk at the races.

Anyway, the City Council apparently has a tent at the show (along with the sheep, cows and tractors). It will have information on, among other things, free things families can do in Christchurch. Except that to get this information, you have to pay to get in to the show. $16 for an adult, $8 for a child. There is probably a discounted family ticket too but I didn't investigate that far. I took the kids to the show one year and told them "that's it, you've been, don't ask me again." I let their teachers take them on school trips instead - so now I don't have to brave the crowds again until I have grandchildren. Which at the rate they are going will be somewhere the other side of never.

The above rambling is mostly because I can't yet post more holiday details. It is the 15th in the US but bookings for that date are still not showing up on the time share company's computer. However, the 14th is, so maybe tomorrow? And if I still have nothing to report tomorrow, well at least it is Poetry Thursday.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Gestation Period of the Human is...

Nine and a half months. Actually it is 38 weeks. It was only when I was pregnant that I found it the 40 weeks is counted from the first day of the last period, which means that you are two weeks pregnant before you are actually pregnant.

What does this have to do with anything? Well, today I booked a timeshare week in England for 8th September next year. But we will leave here around the 1st September which means that I have to wait about as long as I waited for any of my children to be born. Five times. Enough times for me to know I don't do well with waiting.

I was going to book another week in Scotland for the 15th. Only it turns out that even though it was the 15th November here it was still the 14th in the USA where the timeshare company website was based, so the bookings weren't open for that week yet. So I'll try again tomorrow. Watch this space.

I'd blog about something really interesting, but I'm kind of excited and antsy about this. I just have to figure out how to stop being excited about it for about eight and a half months so I can get something else done.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: Passengers

"I don't want to be a passenger in my own life" - Diane Ackerman

I have an immediate sense of what this quote means, but does it hold up on thinking about it more closely? She is talking, I think, about taking control. About not being passive. Being a passenger conjures up images of those long family trips, children in the back seat of the car saying "Are we nearly there yet?" Of course, they had little say over where "there" might be - and they may have no clear idea of where "there" is going to be when they get there. It was mum and dad who chose.

The other night at our quilt group we had an inspiring speaker: an embroiderer who for the past twentyfive years has been cycling around Europe. No, not non-stop! But each year at least, she takes a trip for around two months at a time, staying in camping grounds, alone, and seeing whatever she pleases when she pleases. She is free to travel at the speed she wants and stop when she wants.

Being a passenger means giving up that control over our lives. But who is in total control, really? The most independent minded person - one who is self-employed, who lives alone,who never asks or receives favours from anyone, still depends on a vast number of other people for their existence. They are not independent of the laws of the land. They are not independent of the laws of nature. They can't always dictate their physical health. They rely on those who produce the goods in the shops, who do the medical research, who get the oil out of the ground and transport it, and many many more. And it's lonely, living alone. We might want companions - but we can't make all the decisions for them. As soon as we share our lives with someone else we have to give up some of the control.

It's good to be a passenger sometimes. When I head to the UK next year I'll be a passenger in the plane that takes me there. That's my decision. I don't want to sail a yacht around the world. When we get there I'll be a passenger in the car much of the time while my husband drives. Of course, we'll probably share. But you can see more if you're not concentrating on the driving. If I went alone I could make all the decisions about what to see, instead of only some of them. But I don't want to go alone. So I give up some control for companionship, and someone to rely on in case of difficulty. If we didn't plan to drive, we could use trains and buses and guided tours. Passengers again.

There are many kinds of passengers. Those who go through life trying to avoid decisions altogether, like the children in the back seat of the car. Will they recognise "there" when they arrive? And there are those who make decisions which shape the course of their lives, like those who board the plane for the round the world trip. They may give up control, but it is because they think they know where that decision will take them. And sometimes they might even buy a ticket for a mystery trip, not knowing where they are headed, but sure it will shake up their lives a little.

We are all passengers much of the time. Which sort of passenger are you?

More Sunday Scribblings here.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Fun with a Scanner

A few weeks ago P. bought me a scanner. I had been wanting one for a while. Of course we have a scanner. Or two. And an endless supply of computers to hook them up to. Unfortunately the scanners seem to be picky about which computer they will hook up with, owing to changes in interfaces. So now I have a scanner on my computer instead of having to scan to another computer, and then transfer all the files over the network. Much simpler especially since my daughter is usually using the other computer.

It's not only a scanner, it is also a printer. It happened to be cheaper than buying either a scanner or printer separately. Of course, the reason that scanners and printers are so cheap is that they make money from selling ink. I'm about to help them out in that regard..

I've been scanning vast quantities of historic family photos.



This is me - much younger of course - in the paddling pool at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. We didn't live in Christchurch then, but my father's family did, and we came down on the overnight ferry almost every year on holiday.



A family picnic - before I was born, but that's my elder brother on my grandmother's knee on the far left. My mum is third from the left, my dad is third from the right, and my grandfather is on the far right. He's the one I wrote about last Sunday in my "Sunday Scribblings" - he left Scotland as a boy of six when his father's bakery went bankrupt. going on picnics seemed to be the main form of family entertainment back then. Either by car when we stayed with our aunts and uncles, or by bus or train or even on foot (we lived close to the beach) when it was just us, since we didn't have a car until I was about ten or so.

And then, just for a change, I scanned some cigarette cards. These were in an album I found lying in the street some years back. I've printed some onto fabric and am contemplating how I might use them in a quilt or similar item - maybe Artist Trading Cards. I haven't quite decided yet. Searching on google suggests these were produced during the 1920s and 1930s so they should be out of copyright.



Part of the "Happy Families" cigarette card series, from the 1920s. Of course being cigarette cards, many of the characters are smoking.




Some of the children in the "children of the world" series are rather cute, even if outdated. In fact I think they were probably outdated even when produced. I'm pretty sure the New Zealand Maori gave up their traditional costumes a long time ago, except for putting on a show for tourists.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

How to Publish a Book

I am not following the prompt for Poetry Thursday this week, which was to take an "Artist date" : I did in fact take an artist date but didn't want to commit myself to writing about it afterwards, like a school report.

Carrying on from a discussion on Poet Mom's blog, I thought I would tell you about our small poetry group and how we applied for a grant and published a book of poems. And yes, there is a poem at the bottom of the post - you can skip to that if you prefer.

The grant application process is probably similar in the United States than in New Zealand, though I imagine there are a lot more alternatives there to apply for. I can't tell you how to find grant providers in the US - in New Zealand the main national funding agency for the arts is Creative New Zealand, whereas for more local projects there is Creative Communities - the same funding provider but with some of the responsibility delegated to local bodies. This is the one we applied to.

The most important thing with a grant application is to read the guidelines, and come up with a proposal that fits the guidelines. Our project wasn't limited to publishing a book of our poetry. It involved getting an experienced poet to mentor the group, provide workshops and edit the manuscript - thus providing income for her, and growth in our field of the arts for us. We had to set out our budget carefully, showing what part of the budget would come from ourselves (or from sales) and what the money would be spent on. And of course, report back when the project was completed.

We couldn't have done this in isolation. The poetry scene in New Zealand is rather small. We attended the same workshops (that is how the group got started, I asked people I met in workshops who I felt I "clicked" with to join me). We attended poetry readings of the Canterbury Poets Collective. This is not as "communist" as it sounds! - merely a local committee which organises readings with invited poets from around New Zealand and an "open mic" first half. There are really only two regular open mic venues in Christchurch - this one which is for reading poetry, and an alternative mostly younger group which is more into performance poetry - the whole "poetry slam" type of scene. Similarly there are two main locally edited magazines for poetry and prose - the more conservative Takahe and the more hip Catalyst. There are others nationwide, of course, but not many compared to say the USA.

By attending readings, submitting poems to journals, and working on committees of various kinds (not all of us, but different members of the group in different capacities) we got to know most of the established local poets. Hence it was easy to find people to write recommendations on our application for funding. There is no particular magic about grant applications - it is really a matter of reading the guidelines and making sure your application fits (and of course, getting it in by the due date).

Once we had the funding it took not quite a year to get the book out - first workshops, then choosing the poems, selecting and editing. We commissioned a student artist to do a drawing for the cover design. One of the group's husbands did the back cover photo. My own husband did the layout using Adobe InDesign. We talked to a local printer who specialises in short run digital printing of books and magazines. They have a very helpful booklet detailing the requirements for formatting of files. I wouldn't hesitate to use the same printer again as they were so helpful. We decided on a print run (200 copies - rather nervously in case we had a lot left over, but it would be dearer to have two print runs of 100 copies at a time). We set a price.

With the books at the printer I went away on holiday and let others in the group organise the book launch. We hooked onto a local book festival which meant we were able to get a venue free, and bought wine, juice and made sandwiches, mini muffins etc for the catering. We sent out invitations to the mailing list of the Poets Collective, and also to friends and relatives, as well as advertising in the book festival programme. We invited a local poet to be MC - he did a splendid job - and we each read a couple of our poems. We signed lots of copies! We were also invited to read on a local access radio station, as part of their books segment of Women on Air.

We sent out a lot of review copies, and we also obtained a list of all the libraries in New Zealand, and sent out an advertising flyer to them. (There are about 4 million people in New Zealand. In the US I would be thinking statewide, or perhaps concentrating on a smaller area in some of the more populous states). We also had a few small independent bookstores stock the book. This came in handy when friends on international e-mail lists wanted to buy a copy, as they were able to order on line by credit card and we didn't have to deal with foreign currency.

That's about it - we had a lot of fun and are set to do it again next year, if our grant application is successful. In fact as we have some money left from the last book, I think we could just about afford to do it without a grant if we raise the price a little. I do think "self publishing" is different from vanity publishing - the latter to my mind being where you pay a publisher a large sum to publish your book, and eventually end up with a large pile of books and a hole in your pocket. With self-publishing there is a realistic expectation of making a profit. It is far easier in New Zealand to self publish poetry, as it is a fairly uneconomic genre for most publishers to take on any but the most well-known poets - even then, there is usually a grant involved to subsidise the costs.

As I promised a poem at the end of the post, here is one from the book:

Songs and Dances of Death

What they did not know was that the curious fertility of the soil came about because they stood on an ancient battlefield. Sometimes they would turn up old bones and once, a skull. They took it to the priest for burial and returned to their ploughing. At night they told the old stories. If you had asked “Can’t you hear the dead crying out?” they would say “It’s only the wind in the wheat”

*


All summer I read of these things.
In my garden the weeds grew lank.
It rained often. On the path
I could barely make out a small bundle of feathers
and bones

*


In the museum there is a dark blue velvet
cloth. It has covered many at their burials.
As well seek them in the night sky as here
their trace as faint

*


It is because of their deaths that we have come

*


this poem is not a sarcophagus
this poem is not a mausoleum
this poem is a brown cardboard box
sufficient to bury one dead blackbird
found on my garden path

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Gorge

The weather has not been too great this week. I keep thinking of Ali and Jude on their tour round the South Island, and hoping they get to see some scenery through the rain. It was fine this afternoon, but I was delayed at work, so by the time I got out for my walk it started to rain. It cleared just long enough for the walk, and then near the end it started up again, so that I finished in the rain, and it has been raining ever since.

I walked in the gorge that I was looking down on yesterday.



From here I couldn't see that the path continued over the rocks and under the base of the cliff - so I took the other path up around the cliff and along the top of the cliffs. It proved to be precarious and a very up and down affair - I was glad to have hands.



Near the top of the wooded part it is more open. Just above here it becomes farmland again, similar to my other walking territory (photos in an earlier post).



The stream at the foot of the cliffs. I returned along the lower track by the stream, it was a lot easier (but then, downhill always is).



New Zealand flax (last season's flowers).

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Haibun

I awake to the sound of steady rain, an unwelcome change from the warm sunny weather we have been having. I don't want to miss out on my daily walk, so I do household chores and some writing and hope that the rain clears. By mid afternoon it has stopped, though the sky is still heavily overcast.

I head out in my car and park at the base of the hill. I am looking for a little more challenge than the easy track I have been practising on. I look at the steep hill to my right. Hills like this one are the reason I haven't been orienteering much this year. Looking from the bottom to the top, thinking "I have to get up there" is a little daunting. But I am not orienteering, and hence there is a track to follow, which zigzags gradually up the steep slope. It is narrow and the surface is damp, but the hardpacked earth has not turned to mud. Long grasses on each side bend inwards so that the seed heads greet each other. They remind me of a guard of honour with crossed swords or rifles. They brush my trousers, making them damp, but not too wet to be bearable. The zigzags of the track are almost level in places, but at each turn of the track, I climb a little higher. Eventually I reach a spot where the track becomes indistinct as it passes over bare rock. I take what I think is the right direction to a plane table which identifies features on the horizon.

It is quiet on the track. I hear distant traffic, the thwack of my track shoes on the path, the swish of my rain jacket. Even the sheep have gone elsewhere. The tops of the hills have disappeared into the clouds. When I think I have climbed high enough, I turn and descend down the other side of the spur.

the rocky gorge
cliffs topped with pines
river runs below


I reach a gate and finish my walk along a road which leads me back to the car park.

alone in the car park
my only companions
starlings on wet grass


[Haibun is a passage of prose which includes haiku. It is a form that has been used historically in Japan for poetic diaries. I am also currently reading a travel book which takes a similar form: "Here Comes Another Vital Moment" by New Zealand writer Diane Brown. I like the idea of using this form for a journal of a trip, and am contemplating trying it when I go to the UK next year.
Haibun is this week's topic at onedeepbreath, where you can find links to examples from other bloggers.]

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: Morning

For my regulars: there are two posts today, so scroll down if you have missed the other (catching up because blogger wouldn't let me post yesterday). This is my contribution for the Sunday Scribblings prompt "morning" - a fictionalized account of my grandfather's last morning as a small boy in Scotland.

**********

Johnny stirred in his sleep. Strange bumping sounds were coming through the floor from the room below. He sighed slightly, and rolled over. The Scots of 1880 were early risers, but not this early. He sank deeper into his dreams, until he felt a hand on his shoulder, shaking him awake.

“Johnny, Jessie, Tammas, time to get up”.

Johnny was bewildered. It was still dark. A dim glimmer of gaslight came through the window. There were no cart sounds in the street outside.

“”But it’s..” he started to protest.

“Hush now” his mother said. “Get yeself dressed quietly now, shild I help Tam.” Thomas was not yet two, and still in skirts.

“We’re going to visit cousin William in Glasgow. We need to be ready for the coach.”

The children dressed and stumbled downstairs, still sleepy. Cousin Andrew was there, with their father. They had a big trunk between them. Their mother was packing a few things into it. Johnny glanced at the big coal range, but the fire was out and there was no bubbling pot of porridge. That was strange. Things hadn’t been quite right lately. There had been no bread baked in his father’s bakery for several weeks. No women coming to the store with baskets. The door was shut and there were posters plastered on the windows. The only visitors were men in fancy hats who took away the big ledgers his mother had laboured over in the evenings. She followed his glance now.

“Cousin Annie will give ye your breakfast” she said. “We’re calling on her first afore we catch the coach.” She took a photograph from the shelf and put it in the top of the trunk, moving the others along so the gap didn’t show.

“Come along now’, she said, and then to her husband “Come John, put the whisky bottle away, you’ll need your wits aboot you on the journey.”

He and cousin Andrew picked up the big trunk, and mother and children followed them through the streets of Stirling to cousin Annie’s grand house. Cousin Andrew was a schoolmaster, and better-off than most. When they arrived the men added the big trunk to a pile in the middle of the kitchen. There was much hugging and kissing by the women. Cousin Annie was mother’s best friend. Finally they broke apart.

“Whisht noo” said cousin Annie “the bairns will be hungry”.

And she set out plates of steaming oatmeal on the big kitchen table. Johnny wanted to play with his cousin Willie, but he wasn’t up yet. When Isabella and Willie did get up, they were busy with their breakfast, and their shoe shining, and gathering up their school books. Meanwhile several sturdy big lads had arrived to help with the pile of trunks. Another short walk took them all to the corner where they would catch the coach to Glasgow. There was more hugging and kissing, more than usual. Johnny thought it was strange. Cousin Annie tried to hug him too, but he didn’t want to be kissed, and thrust his hand out for a manly shake, the way his father would. Cousin Annie laughed, and shook his hand. “Well, ye’re a big lad noo”, she said.

When the coach came, there was a space up front by the driver, Johnny begged to sit where he could watch the horses. “Away with ye then” said his father, and he clambered up eagerly, while his parents sat inside with the wee uns. “Take care, d’ye hear?” said cousin Annie, as the horses started to move off. His mother waved and waved, even after they turned the corner, until the town had shrunk away into the distance down the long Dumbarton Road…..

It was most of the morning before the coach arrived at Glasgow. When they pulled into the coach stop, Johnny looked around for cousin Willie, a stern old man, but there was no one in sight. He was just wondering if they would have to find their own way, when his mother tugged at his arm.

“Come along now”, she said “we’re taking anither coach” and she gestured towards a bigger, shinier coach alongside.

“Will it take us to cousin William’s?” Johnny asked, bewildered.

“Hush now, bide a wee” his mother replied, “ye’ll see in a while”.

There was no room by the driver in this coach. Other passengers had taken the coveted spot already, so Johnny had to ride inside with his family. His father sang merry songs and told jokes which made the wee ones laugh and forget for a while that they were tired of sitting still. The coach made its way through the busy Glasgow streets, and Johnny tried to remember what cousin William’s house looked like. But gradually the houses thinned out, and then they were in open fields, getting away from the city.

Johnny fidgeted.

“I need to…” he looked at his mother.

“Can ye wait?” she asked “until they stop to change the horses.”

“I think so,” said Johnny, though he wasn’t to sure. And fifteen minutes later, he was fidgeting more than ever. His mother knocked on the front of the carriage to attract the attention of the coachman. The coach stopped. Mother watched while Johnny and some of the other passengers relieved themselves behind the bushes. Then she took Johnny aside to help with his buttons.

“When will we get to cousin William’s?” he asked.

His mother looked around. They were a little way from the other passengers. “We’re not going to cousin William’s” his mother said. “They’ll think we’re there, and if they don’t find us there, they’ll search at the Glasgow docks. So we’re going to London to catch a boat. We’re going to New Zealand to see Uncle James and Uncle John.”

“Will it take long?” Johnny had only a vague idea about New Zealand. Letters came sometimes from his uncles, who he had never met. “Will it take a whole week?”

“It will take three months” said his mother.

“Three months! Will I be back before my birthday?”

“We’re not coming back” she replied.

“Not coming back?” Johnny was astonished. And then he was dismayed “But I left my football!”

“Your uncles will get you a new football” said his mother. “We had to leave things, it had to look as if we are coming back. Now hush, ye’re a big lad, it’s a secret mind you. Promise me ye’ll say nothing more, until we are safely awa’ from London."

************

More morning musings here

Saturday Post on Sunday

(A note added after: blogger was being a pain when I tried to post this on Saturday. After quite a few hours I gave up and went to bed. I may just skip Sunday Scribblings today, and make this my Sunday post instead. Unless I do another post later).

I remember when I was a child, visiting my aunt who would talk about all sorts of people whom I had never heard of - her cousins, half-cousins, and other more or less distant relatives. I couldn't figure out why anyone would find these distant relatives interesting. And then I discovered genealogy - now I find it fascinating to find out how many people I am connected to, even if I have to go back two or three hundred years to find the connection!

I just spent a very pleasant couple of hours meeting my third cousin once removed, Alison, and her new husband Jude. They are visiting New Zealand on their honeymoon, having married in Scotland. Fortunately Ali and Jude seem to think that finding out where all the branches of the family came from and went to is as fascinating as I find it! We are hoping to meet again in Scotland next year. Ali's greatgreatgrandfather and my greatgrandfather were brothers. Thomas stayed in Scotland whereas John went bankrupt, and ran away to New Zealand, avoiding the bailiffs, where he went bankrupt again. Funnily enough he seems to have been successful in at least one endeavour which was breeding descendants - there seem to be far more of us now in New Zealand than there are back in Scotland.

Not a very flattering photograph of me, I'm afraid. I clearly have a wee way to go on my weight loss programme. (I'm sure you can figure out which one is me and which one is the young bride).




After meeting Ali and Jude at the Christchurch Arts Centre, I went into the Great Hall there to see our local quilt group's exhibition. It included a retrospective of prizewinning quilts from the last ten years. I had a chance to revisit my quilt which has been at my brother's for the last ten years (only brought out for honoured guests, I'm told, so it is still in very good condition). I took quite a few photos, but as a sign stated that photographs are for "personal enjoyment only unless permission is sought and given", I'm only showing mine here. There were a large variety from the very traditional to contemporary, bed quilts to wall hangings - some incorporating computer images on fabric and other very modern techniques.



This wee dog and its owner were giving a performance on the street outside.



I didn't go to the exhibition opening on Thursday night - in fact it slipped my mind completely - but during the evening there was a knock on my door, it was one of the quilt group members dropping off a bunch of flowers. All those who had a quilt in the ten year retrospective were given a bouquet. And they were my favourite colour, yellow, too!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Poetry Thursday: Favourite Lines

I had better get this done before I go to bed, or it won't be Thursday any more. Or at least, it will for some of you, but not for me. I have been trying to be more productive lately, and started writing down approximately what I do each day and how long it takes. Seeing it in writing seems to help me to get more done. It also stops me from giving myself a hard time about not doing more at the weekend - I realised that on Sunday, by the time I've slept in, made something for lunch, done the lunch dishes, cooked dinner and done the dinner dishes there isn't much of Sunday left. And if I throw in some laundry and ironing...

The offspring each get one night a week to cook, and a couple of turns on dishes. But I get to do the dishes on the nights that no one wanted. That leaves me with all of Sunday - their excuses being that they are generally working on last minute assignments that have to be handed in the next day.

Somehow though, my inner brat rebelled at all the "write it down" efficiency and had a tantrum last night and today - hence the last minute post.

This week's prompt was to think about some of our favourite lines of poetry, and possibly let one of them be the inspiration for a poem of our own.

Well, the lines I like are generally ones that take me by surprise. The ones where I am jerked into a totally different viewpoint of things.

Lines like "the sun is warm like a blue oboe" (John Dickson), and another of his lines, "perhaps a patch of blue sky will lose its way", which I mentioned a few weeks earlier in my post on synaesthesia.

Or how about "One day when the planet was idly/pressing stegosaurs in her scrapbook.." (Sarah Lindsay - "Mount Clutter")

Then there is Laura Kasischke who started a poem "Dear Earth" with the line "This is a love note from the sky"

And Olena Kalytiak Davis whose poem "In Defense of Marriage" is full of wonderful lines:

"Marry the fenceless moon and the defenceless sky"
"her body from a bone/ and her soul out of nothing"

and the ending
"I married the way moths marry./ I married hard"

As for letting one of these inspire my own writing, well firstly as I said I've been lazy over the past couple of days. And secondly, I feel that these lines are too distinctive to use easily. Although perhaps the one about the blue sky, or the body from a bone?

I read an article about collage materials which described some images - certain papers or rubber stamps - as "strongly determined". In other words, when you try and incorporate them in a composition, they retain their distinctive character, which makes it hard to use them in a new and original way. I think my favourite lines of poetry are like that. They inspire me in a very indirect way - they provide me with rich examples of wonderful writing, but I don't try and use them directly. I'm more likely to jump off at a tangent - a poem which includes the word "dream" for example might set me thinking of a dream memory of my own which is totally different to the content of the poem.

So, no poem inspired by the prompt today. But I did want to include a poem, so here is one on a previous topic (food). I'm losing track of which poems I've posted already. I could I suppose check through my list of previous posts. But I'm not going to do that, I'll just take my chances. This sonnet inspired by eggs is part of a set of "Kitchen Sonnets" of which I'm pretty sure I've posted one other.

Kitchen Sonnets 1.

“Cream the butter and sugar”, as if by beating
hard enough we could reverse time,
return it to what it once was.
“Add the eggs”. Medieval painters
would grind their pigments for hours,
bind them with egg yolk, mix it with water.
It was Irina who told me this. How
the holy icons, the flowing robes, the shine
on the faces of the saints were built up
with layer on layer of thin transparent glaze.
I am thinking of her as I crack the shells
on the side of the bowl, let the yolks fall
like heavy haloes, one, two, three,
giving themselves up for the cake.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Do You Want to Move to New Zealand?

I've been following Tia's blog as she made a much-anticipated move to New Zealand - unfortunately having to leave for the meantime her partner Bruce who stayed behind in the US to sell their house. Spare a thought for Tia, she has been having a hard time settling in. some aspects of life here are not as she anticipated. As she is without internet I read Bruce's blog as well to catch up, and found this post detailing some of the negative aspects of life in New Zealand.

Of course I got all defensive (and then felt guilty about getting defensive :) ). Of course we'd all like to think our countries are wonderful. And I think secretly we like to think we are better than the United States, for all sorts of reasons (maybe because the US is so big and overwhelming? - like the cool kids in school, everybody else secretly resents them).

But I have to say, most of the criticisms are true. The biggest one being that our houses are badly heated and wildly expensive. The reason that they are wildly expensive is immigration. So many people wanted to come to New Zealand, or return home, that there was a big demand for housing, and prices have skyrocketed over the past few years. I've seen graphs of house prices compared to immigration levels, and they clearly go hand in hand. So if everybody stops coming because of the high costs here, I'll be pretty glad - not because I think you're unwelcome, but because I have four adult children still at home, and I'd like them to be able to afford to move out! The other factor is that when you bring your American dollars here, you'll find the exchange rate is not very favourable at the moment. And that's because of high immigration as well. The chief weapon in the fight against inflation is to keep interest rates up, which is supposed to keep demand for housing down. Unfortunately it means all those overseas investors put money into New Zealand to take advantage of the high interest rates, and that keeps demand for our currency up. (A few years back, one American dollar was worth nearly 170% of what it's worth now, in New Zealand dollars).

So, don't come, OK? Then house prices will settle down. Our dollar will go down, the company I work for (an exporter) won't go bankrupt, we will raise the standard of heating in our houses, catch up with the rest of the world for internet access, and then you can sneak in, in a few years time, and get a nice, reasonably priced house, before everyone else catches on to the fact that New Zealand has become affordable again.

Of course if you are Shania Twain you can afford to buy a large chunk of our back country and build a fabulous house any time you want, high prices and all.

P.S. As for some of the other points -1) I was walking barefoot on the Rapaki track the other day, no broken bottles or other trash in sight although there were thistles.
2) Recycling - it depends where you are, we have kerbside recycling in Christchurch, we certainly don't have to transport it ourselves. (Though it's hard to recycle economically in a small country. It's a bit pointless to recycle if the energy costs of transporting the goods are more than the energy saved by recycling).
3) It probably doesn't actually occur to most New Zealanders that internet is expensive here - basically because if you haven't had it, you don't miss it. We e-mail of course, and blog, and even work over the internet - but we don't make long video calls for hours, or download lots of movies - we hire them from the video store. In most parts of New Zealand it should be quite possible to get good enough internet access to work from home.
4) Petty crime running rampant - yes, possibly. It's hard for me to judge. But I think part of the issue is that New Zealand isn't really big enough to have ghettoes. Criminals tend to operate near where they live, but in New Zealand we don't have big safe rich enclaves. So crime is spread out through more of the community.

I could debate this for hours - to sum it up, I love where I live, it's not perfect, but nor is anywhere - check the facts before you come (real estate agents have websites, you can check housing costs before you decide)