Thursday, July 30, 2009

Laundry Singapore Style



Carmi's Thematic Photographic theme this week is laundry.

So naturally, I remembered this photo that I took when we were in Singapore. Where else would you hang your laundry if you were living in a high-rise building?

More Poetry Events

At Joanna's book launch (see this post) I was offered a free double pass to a poetry event the following night, called Love Letters in the Margins. Not quite poetry, actually, but a fusion of poetry and music involving three bands, each with a poet appearing with the band.

I always accept free tickets! I planned to take my daughter, a contemporary of Marissa's, but she had to work, and the first few friends I tried were unavailable, so I gave up and decided to go alone. Which may have been just as well, because when I reached the ticket office at the Telstraclear Club where my name should have been on a list, they knew nothing about it. Since it was just me, however, they let me in for free anyway.

I thought I was entering what was basically a tent in Cathedral Square, but once inside I was astonished by the opulent surroundings - it was a polygonal space with plush upholstered wooden booths round the outside, and further polished wood chairs and tables on the floor in the middle. There was a bar and restauraunt service. The ceiling was draped red fabric with black scroll-like designs appliqued on - all very attractive.

The poets appearing with the bands were young local poets Marissa Johnpillai, Ciaran Fox and Ben Brown. I don't know their ages apart from Marissa, but their energy and style is what leads me to describe them as "young" as opposed to the more middle-aged and sedate sensibilities of many of the poets who read at the events I usually go to. Marissa read many of the same poems that she read at her book launch earlier in the week. What I like about Marissa's poetry is that it is positive and celebratory with none of the "angst" that often permeates the work of teens and twenty-somethings. There is a lot of food in her poems, and sex. It touches on her life both in Sri Lanka and in New Zealand, so has a touch of the exotic to it - but it also made me a little homesick for the Cuba St fountain in Wellington where I grew up! (Marissa spent a year studying for her Master's in Creative Writing in Wellington).

The main difficulty with Marissa's reading was that I felt the band, Le Mot Cafe, were a touch loud in places, making it hard to hear her words. It did help that I had heard the poems and bought her chapbook at her book launch.

The other bands weren't quite so loud. I'm not going to say much about the other poets, although I enjoyed their readings, because I haven't had the benefit of being able to read the poems before or after the event (perhaps I should have bought the CD).

I found the collaboration interesting. At her book launch, Marissa had also performed with backing music - the rather quieter tones of a flute. Some of her poetry, although far from all of it, falls a little flat on the page, and I feel it is definitely conceived as music as well as poetry - the intonation, pacing, and so on is integral to its success. Most of her poetry though is just as successful on the page as in performance. I did feel that in all three cases on Saturday night, the poets had written their work separately from the band, and each piece as performed seemed to be a fusion of first a poem read to music followed by a song which originally had no relation to the poem. Still, it seemed to work.

I've known Marissa for ages since she was a contemporary with my daughters at the Christchurch School for Young Writers, an organisation which runs Saturday morning, after school and correspondence writing classes for primary and high school age students. And this morning I caught up with another their fellow students when I saw her face in the newspaper - Jenna had been blogging as Tatiana Anymodel at Jezebel - here is her "coming out" post - it's a great read! And I have to say that the School for Young Writers was a great place (and still is) for nurturing young talented writers - I expect to hear more of both Marissa and Jenna in the future.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Where's the Pied Piper When You Need Him?

For the last few weeks we have been battling unwanted furry visitors. They consumed a whole bag of blood and bone (garden fertiliser) in the garage, which was bad enough, but they have also managed to get into the house. We had our fruit and vegetables in racks of wire baskets and it has been interesting to find out their preferences - for instance, kumara (sweet potato) are favoured but not regular potatoes, carrots, apples and bananas are all tasty to rodents apparently but the oranges and onions were untouched. They also consumed all the seeds from the middle of the cut pumpkin but not the pumpkin itself. They have the ability to suck out the tasty kernel of the pumpkin seeds but scatter the dried empty husks all over the floor.

And no, I am not talking about mice, the tooth marks are definitely bigger. At first I thought it was mice, but the mouse trap was triggered and flipped over, empty. We put out rat baits and they took all the ones in the garage but haven't touched the inside ones. We have now put all food items inside plastic containers with lids but still haven't managed to get rid of the visitors.

So, this morning I went into the downstairs bathroom to do my teeth and hair before leaving for work, and found big rodent tooth marks in the cake of soap. (Aaagh!!!)

My daughter thinks we need a cat. Given the size of her last vet's bill, I think the electronic rodent scarer advertised for $150 would be cheaper. If it works.

(More on local poetry events coming soon).

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Montana Poetry Day

Americans have a National Poetry Month. New Zealand poets, being far less ambitious, have a National Poetry Day. (The title Montana Poetry Day has nothing to do with the state of Montana, but the fact that it is sponsored by Montana wines).

Actually though, there are so many poetry events coming up here in Christchurch that it feels as if we are having National Poetry Month after all.

We kicked off with the launch of Marissa Johnpillai's chapbook on Wednesday, and on Friday - the day itself - Joanna Preston launched her new book, The Summer King. Joanna was lucky - and hardworking - enough to win the inaugural Kathleen Grattan award, which comes with a prize of $16,000 for a book length manuscript, and publication of the book by the Otago University Press. I've had the pleasure of hearing many poems in the book before at local poetry readings, and it was a pleasure to hear some of them again, and to take the book home to enjoy them at leisure later. Joanna's poems are never ordinary - she has a way of picking subjects which are slightly offbeat, and illuminating them with precise and perfect words.

Besides launching the book, she planned a wonderful event by inviting four other poets to share the evening. Each of them spoke about a poem by another poet that was a "touchstone" poem for them, and then read some of their own poems. I'm in awe of the way that each poet was able to speak intelligently and at length about poems and poets that had influenced them. I'm inclined to think that if asked, it would take me a lot of thought to get past "well, umm... because I like it..."

I'm fascinated too, by the range of venues local poets choose for their book launches. This was one of the more congenial - upstairs at local bar, The Twisted Hop, in a space that was just small enough to be friendly and just large enough not to be too crowded.

If you'd like to buy Joanna's book, do visit her blog - click on the link above - I'm sure she'd be delighted to tell you how you can buy a copy.

(Joanna - I thought I would find it on Fishpond, but their website tells me none of their regular distributors have stock available - I'm sure they would be happy to stock it if you let them know how!)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Here comes the Sun



It hasn't been a great winter here so far. Newspaper reports have confirmed what I personally felt, that it has been colder than average with far fewer sunshine hours. Not cold as in heavy snowfalls and sparkling winter white, but cold as in uniformly grey and depressing.

Hence it was a great relief that the sun shone all weekend. I was too congested, and coughing too much, to go anywhere, but I spent my time moving round the house like a cat, curling up in any puddle of sunlight I could find.

I did venture into the garden very briefly on Friday afternoon (having left work early due to my state of health) to photograph the snowdrops which have just emerged. Next it will be dwarf daffodils, and magnolia buds. Spring may be a way off, but it is definitely on the way.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Time for a Poem

I haven't been writing new poems for the Readwritepoem prompts in the last few weeks - mostly because I have been sorting and revising poems for my poetry group's forthcoming book.

We will have about fifteen pages or so each to fill and I thought over the last few years I had easily written enough good poems to fill the pages. It turns out that is partly true, but choosing poems that are not only good poems but that fit well together is harder than I thought. When we did our first book I didn't have too much of a problem arranging my poems in a sequence that made sense. I think I left out one poem that didn't seem to fit with the others. This time, I have more of a range. Partly, this is because of prompts from sites like Readwritepoem. Though I enjoy writing to prompts as they make me expand my range and stop me from boring myself, I am left wondering how important it is to have a sort of "narrative arc" in a poetry book. After all, I find that I often dip in and out of poetry books and don't necessarily read the contents in order. I still have a couple of months to sort things out, so no doubt I will resolve it in time.

In the meantime, here is a poem that I haven't shared on this blog before. A slightly different version is found online here, along with a couple more of my poems.

This poem arose after I read the introduction to Best American Poems 2006, in which Billy Collins claimed that he couldn't bear to read a poem that contained the word "cicada" - it stopped him in his tracks. About the same time, I saw a nature documentary on TV which included the amazing phenomenon of the periodic cicada which emerges en masse every 17 years. Of course, then I just had to write a cicada poem. I assumed - but may be wrong - that Collins's objection was to the sentimental way in which cicadas are often used in poems, so I tried to write a non-sentimental cicada poem.

North American Periodic Cicada

It will happen like this:
after the struggle, he will leave in haste,
return with a spade and dig
a shallow grave in the quiet woods.
The victim, who lived alone,
will not be missed until the neighbour
sees the overflowing mailbox,
knocks on the door a week later.
The assailant is long gone.

Or, it will happen like this:
he will dig a shallow grave.
Too shallow. A boy will walk with his dog
through these woods. The dog will sniff
the freshly dug earth, paw at it,
uncover what has been done.
The assailant, blood on his shirt,
will be stopped at a police roadblock
crossing into the next state.

No, this is what will happen.
There is a struggle in the woods.
Later that night a phenomenon that comes round
once every seventeen years -
a horde of insects crawl from the ground,
make their way around the corpse, through
the soft earth, up the trunks of trees. They split
their shells, emerge soft bodied.
Billions of creatures harden on branches
until by daytime they take to the air.
Before the boy comes by with his curious dog,
empty shells will rain honey-coloured,
covering the ground for miles.
The woods crunch underfoot. The boy
will not venture far in, the dog
will not spot the soft earth.
There will be no manhunt until
the assailant is several states away,
living a new life. And if he keeps his secret
the cicadas, deep in the earth for another seventeen years,
will not reveal it for him.

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

More fresh poetry this week at Readwritepoem here.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Thematic Photographic: Distant

Jenny Diski, in her book On Trying to Keep Still describes among other things a visit to New Zealand to appear at a book festival. She says that people kept saying to her that in New Zealand we are such a long way away, to which her reaction was that as far as she could tell, we are right here. Well, she has a point. But still, I think that most New Zealanders do tend to feel we are rather distant from anywhere that matters.

I do tend to envy British friends who have such a range of countries that they can visit quite cheaply. In an article on British immigrants to New Zealand, one of the couples interviewed mentioned that they found it hard that they couldn't afford their customary two overseas holidays a year, "not even in the Pacific". Well, no. Even the South Pacific, after all, would swallow up Europe many times over. Apparently their usual European holidays cost them about 20 pounds each in airfares. In New Zealand, that amount would purchase a fare from Christchurch to Wellington, and that's about it. (Here's a hint: come to New Zealand to see New Zealand, not to see Europe!)

Perhaps our distance is why we seem to be rather fond of putting up signposts like this:



This example comes from a park overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the small coastal town of Oamaru. No doubt they are also found in other countries, particularly at the coastal extremities, but I suspect New Zealand is particularly rich in them.

For more distant themed photos, visit Thematic Photographic here

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Thematic Photographic: Aviation

Here's another photo that I didn't get round to posting for Carmi's previous theme "cloudy". This week his theme is Aviation and I realised that I could sneak it in here instead.

One of the totally unexpected things that struck me when we visited the UK was that wherever we went, there were jet trails all over the sky. Here, at the edge of the world, we see occasional jet trails, but most of the time the sky is free of them. There, on blue sky days, whenever we looked up, there they were.



This photo was taken in a small town in Derbyshire called Matlock. While my husband visited the local records office in a search for his ancestors, I took a walk round the town and added to my holiday photo collection. It almost looks as if the jet trails are stitching the clouds together.

Kay Ryan on AWP

I have several huge piles of poems and articles about poetry printed from various websites. In the interests of clearing office space, I've been going through them and throwing most of them out , keeping only my favourites.

I enjoyed this one - Kay Ryan on her view of AWP which I found both entertaining and thought provoking. (Now that the link is recorded here, I'll throw out the printed pages).

She describes the "contemporary sestina" as like the "contemporary minuet" - both hopeful and sweet. This put me in mind of my third grade piano exam when one of my set pieces was "Minuet for a Modern Grandmother". As I recall, it was dissonant, syncopated and unlike my elderly music teacher, I rather liked it. So perhaps there is hope for the contemporary sestina despite Kay's views (though I have yet to write one myself).