Friday, June 30, 2006

And Now for an Ad Break

From their website:
"Suddenly Press, a small but determined publishing house newly transplanted to Silicon Valley, California, USA publishes Best of the Rest, a series of best of the year anthologies showcasing the best short speculative fiction from the small press, online, and non-American publishers."
The reason for its inclusion in my blog is that my daughter has a story included. For details on the book, click here.
And for her story originally published in Abyss and Apex, an online science fiction/fantasy journal, click here.

I also received a letter today accepting two poems I submitted to our local newspaper. One is to be published early August and one early September. I have had good success with the newspaper and with one magazine, I have been trying to broaden my list of publications lately but after several rejection letters - very encouraging letters, but still rejections - I decided to fall back on my good old standbys. I'm still waiting to hear from the magazine.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Everyday Poetry

It's Poetry Thursday again. This week's prompt was to bring poetry into the everyday - some place you wouldn't expect to find it. It reminded me of something I read in a book, of the author discovering Housman's poem "Loveliest of Trees" tacked up to a cherry tree on her university (college) campus. I also thought of a lovely poem "Low Tide, Aramoana" by New Zealand poet Cilla McQueen. If I was to read a poem at work, or pin one up, that's the one I'd pick. That's because I do accounts for a shellfish exporter, and the poem mentions cockles, and a scene very like the one where our shellfish are harvested.

But I'm not brave enough for that. So I decided to do it backwards and post a poem that brings the everyday into poetry, rather than poetry into the everyday. And what is more every day than spam? (I just checked the prompt, and there was another part, to use a phrase you hear every day in a poem. I didn't do that either). I get around 100 or so spam messages a day, and a year or two back I decided to make use of them and turn some of them into a poem. Each line is the subject line of a junk e-mail:


Here is the Incredible News
someone is interested in you
it is a world of love
this is a limited time offer

become the man that women desire
Dave did it, so can you
nail fungus is a thing of the past
passion should last forever

peel your hardboiled eggs in seconds
Spot’s got nothing on Dave
elevate mood and improve sleep
stop e-mails like this one

stir up your morning
fresh roasted gourmet coffee
the aroma will put a smile on your face
energy never tasted so good

tired of running to the Post Office?
Elvis endorses Google’s g-mail
please scan for errors by March 25
what’s Bill Gates got to do with it?

More Poetry Thursday here.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

And Another Thing..

I noticed an ad in the paper today for a guest house which has "cotton embroidered linen". I am trying to figure this one out. Is it linen embroidered with cotton? I think it is probably linen that is made of cotton and then embroidered. Which is kind of impossible - linen is made of linen - except that these days, I guess, linen just means towels, sheets etc, whatever they are made of.

I have decided the phrase "cotton embroidered linen" belongs with "plastic glasses" and "acrylic wool". I saw the latter in a large craft store. I tried to explain to the sales assistant that it didn't make sense and should be "acrylic yarn" but she just gave me a really dumb look. Of course when I first learned to knit, the only yarn you could buy in New Zealand was made of wool. So everyone just called it "wool". But now there are so many fancy sorts with bobbles, fringes etc and most of these seem to be acrylic. Hence "acrylic wool".

Haiku - Design

As I read it, there were two choices given for this week's haiku at one deep breath - either to write a haiku on the topic of design, or to write a "Fib" - a short poem based on the Fibonacci sequence, with six lines of syllable count 1/1/2/3/5/8

I decided to attempt the first. The team at one deep breath commented that they couldn't find many haiku on the theme of design. I soon found out why. I wanted to take photos of the shapes found in nature and show how they repeat in many forms eg the starfish which is the same shape as a five-petalled flower or the inside of an apple. The problem is that a haiku is such a compact form and there is really only room to portray a thing as it is, without introducing any abstract ideas of how its form reflects this or that.

Here is what I finally came up with. I don't usually do precise syllable counts (not a requirement in Western haiku these days) but this one was looking close enough to 5-7-5 to encourage me to make it exactly that.

on my windowsill
Fibonacci cactus thorns
- spiral galaxy

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ode to Kenwood

I learned to bake first from my mother, and next, in school cooking classes, where at the age of ten I was taught to cream the butter and sugar properly, over a sink of warm water, beating and beating until the mixture really did look like whipped cream and my arm had just about fallen off.

I did all my baking by hand until, for my first wedding anniversary, my husband presented me with a Kenwood Chef mixer. "Now you can make me a sponge cake," he said.

Sadly at the moment my Kenwood is in the Food Mixer Hospital. Or more precisely, in the shed at the back of the house of a semi-retired gentleman who specialises in fixing Kenwoods. Apparently he sold his business but no one else was doing it, so he started up again from home. I turned the mixer on the other week and the engine roared, but the beaters didn't turn. It's definitely worth fixing, the little old man told me. Once it's done, it will be better than a new one. Mine is apparently the best model they ever made. It must be to have kept going so long. It's 34 years old. That's older than anything else in the house except me. Well, older than anything else electrical in the house, anyway. We do have a few old things, like P's grandfather's long case clock, and his other grandfather's violin. And a very tarnished spoon that belonged to my greatgrandmother (that's a story in itself).

Today is my son's birthday. That of course calls for a cake. The trouble with little old semi-retired repairmen is that they do a great job, but they do it in their own good time. Fortunately I have my wonderful standby chocolate cake recipe which can be easily mixed by hand.

Linda's Sticky Chocolate Cake
Mix together 250 grams plain flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 4 tablespoon cocoa, 125 grams sugar

Melt together 1 and a quarter cups water, 2 generous tablespoons of golden syrup, 90 grams butter or margarine, when melted add 1 tsp baking soda.
Add to dry ingredients and mix gently. Bake at 180 degrees C (the recipe says how long to bake it for, but my version is "until it's done")

I usually make two cakes and sandwich them together with butter icing, and then put more icing (I think you Americans call it frosting) on top.

I have no idea who the heck Linda is, but that's what it's called.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Power of Metaphor

In a novel that I'm reading, I found a reference to Donald E. Brown's list of Human Universals. He studied a large amount of anthropological literature and came up with a list of behaviours and ideas that are common to all cultures. Envy is universal, as are family, memory, sexual jealousy. Sibling rivalry and ambition are not - they are the inventions of particular cultures.

There are 352 items on the list (so the book says, I haven't counted) and they make for fascinating reading. One of the universals is metaphor, and another is figurative language (simile). They are not the same, although many people confuse them. Metaphor is when you say something is another thing. Simile is when you say one thing is like another thing. In a poetry course I once took, the tutor explained that metaphor is more primitive than simile. Metaphor is magical, while simile is scientific. Or as the autistic and very literal-minded narrator of Mark Haddon's novel, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime" puts it,
"A metaphor is a lie. A simile is not a lie, unless it is a bad simile".

It occurs to me that the movement away from strict patterns of rhyme and metre in poetry was a move towards more natural speech. But the post-modernist move away from metaphor is something different. Metaphor and simile are totally natural. Try and describe something vividly without using either. It is very difficult. So the move away from their use seems to me to be a move towards a more academic, less natural form of language in poetry.

Incidentally I think the not-to-be-named editor who accused me of relying heavily on metaphor was wrong. I use simile far more than I use metaphor - I believe he was one of those who confuse the two (which makes me less inclined to value his opinion. If I can't trust his use of literary terms then how do I know what he means by "postmodern" or "semiotic" either?)

I sent out another batch of poems last week. This is the last magazine I am going to try with these poems. If none of them are accepted, I will just have to retire them and write some more.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Music of the World Turning

Today's prompt for Sunday Scribblings: music
I find this a difficult one because there is so much that could be said about it. I think of my mother playing the organ in church and practising her singing lessons. I think of piano lessons from the ages of 6 to 18, and clarinet lessons later as an adult. I think of all the music lessons I sat through with my children - violin, cello, recorder, trumpet, clarinet, singing. I think of my first date with my husband - a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. I think of what our children call "car music" - the songs we listen to on holiday - the Seekers, Peter Paul and Mary, the Carpenters, Glen Campbell, and others of the same era. Songs we know so well that we can all sing along.

Music is everywhere. Music is on the front page of Saturday's newspaper with an article on the music that surgeons play in the operating theatre. (Do they ask the patients? I wonder. It has been proven that patients can hear when they are supposedly unconscious. If the surgeon likes heavy metal, and the patient doesn't, does it affect the outcome?)

But I have a long "to do" list today. I am going to sneak out of exploring any of these topics and post a poem I wrote some time ago. A poem that arose from my summer evening walks around the neighbourhood - just before Christmas. I am going to put a CD on, sit in the patch of sun that is coming through the window and taking the edge off the winter chill. I am going to take up my pile of mending while listening to Paul Simon and KT Tunstall. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the poem

A Little Night Music

1. Alla marcia

The day’s heat lingers
Through open windows, light spills
into the park. A radio plays jazz.
Somewhere a dog barks,
while the saints go marching
out into the night

2. Allegretto giocoso

School’s out. No homework,
nothing more important to do
than flock on the riverbank
and poke sticks into the water.
“Merry Christmas, Christina’s mum!” they call,
“Merry Christmas” to each other,
to the eels in the shadows,
and “Merry Christmas” to the moon.

3. Allegro appassionata

A lone cicada is playing a cadenza
accompanied by rustling leaves
and hedgehog squeals in the flower bed.
In nearby houses, footsteps in hallways
and the sound of closing doors.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Where I Live

Last week when we had all the snow, I drove home from work and caught a magnificent view of the hills south of the city covered in snow, from the top of a railway overbridge. Unfortunately it wasn't a good spot to stop the car and take a photo, and it was about to get dark.

On Thurday I was sitting here typing up my Poetry Thursday post, looked out the window and saw big melty flakes falling. Just then K.T. Tunstall sang "oh, what is that snow falling down?" Or did she? I checked the CD insert for the lyrics and found it was actually "what is in store for me now?" Sometimes we hear what we want to hear.

When the sky cleared, I hung out of my son's bedroom window and got this shot of the hills, not so much snow as last week but still quite pretty.

Today I have been playing with google maps.
This is the link to the satellite view of the area around my home - you can see the river winding around in a big loop. It is lined with willow trees. The hills are the open area to the south (you may have to scroll down).

Just for good measure here is a link to a satellite view of the Palace of Versailles. I think this looks simply stunning from above. And you can zoom in close enough to see the tourists queueing for entry.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Favourite Words

The (competely and totally optional) prompt for Poetry Thursday this week was to think about words you love or words you hate, and try to make a poem using them. It's interesting to think about my favourite words. On the whole, I believe words are team players. I think of great prose and poetry -

"In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God" from the gospel of John, or Seamus Heaney's "Red beef, white string/ Brown paper ripped straight off for parcelling/Along the counter edge" whose music so captivated me on the Poetry Daily website (May 30th). There are few words in there which I would choose for a list of "stars", and yet together the sound is wonderful. And if someone were to choose a word like "God", or "beginning" for a list of favourites, it would probably be for the meaning attached to it rather than for the sound of the word itself. For words do have meanings in a way that musical notes don't. (This confuses small children. On the whole, a small child will identify "big" as a "big word", not as a "small word". The meaning gets in the way of the concept of the word itself as a separate thing. So perhaps choosing words we like or hate is easily entangled with the idea of things we like or hate).

Back to the musical notes - would we ask a musician "what are your favourite notes?" I can't imagine saying "Oh, the A above middle C is the most beautiful note of all time." Well, perhaps notes are more like individual letters than words, and yet even individual letters lend themselves more easily to having favourites than notes do - I myself am partial to "o" "m" and "z". The instrument that plays the notes adds needed colour - but a word is perhaps more like a motif - a group of notes too short to be called a phrase. The opening notes of Beethoven's fifth symphony is one that springs to mind - instantly recognisable. And yet there are few enough memorable motifs, that the question "what is your favourite motif?" still strikes us as strange.

Back to words. Despite the fact that the best music is made by words in teams, I do have a list of words I like, tucked away in the back of a writing notebook. Mostly they are multisyllabic - archipelago, horizon, meniscus, Cadillac. It is the rhythm that attracts me to these. A few are shorter - ocean, hover. Very occasionally they are one-syllable words - soar, bones. I do have some favourite letters - o, m, z, soft sounds like l and v and sh find their way into my list more often than the law of averages would suggest. On the whole though, my favourite words are prima donnas, difficult to work into a poem. I can imagine imitating the sound of a train travelling along the track and whistling as it comes to a level crossing by reciting "Cadillac, Cadillac, Cadillac, Cadillac...meniscus!" But my better poems are the result of thinking of images, or of the music of whole phrases, rather than individual words.
Nevertheless here is one poem from a while back in which I tried to use some words I hadn't found a use for elsewhere:

Poetry is Painting with Words

These are my raw materials
stored in tubes and sorted by sound.
These three, for instance, “sorted” “stored” and “sound”
are kept alliteratively in a bright yellow tube with sand, sea and sun.
Alliterative itself is elsewhere, with the l’s in a bluegreen tube
with a slight brown undertone
that reminds me of forest pools – languid and limpid
Here is a large tube full of “o” words
ocean, open, bones
When I squeeze them onto the page, they invite me
to walk right in to their circular embrace
I have a large tube full of nothing but “the” – basic black
My friends tell me not to use it so much
This tiny gilt tube contains only a few of my favourite words
“Cadillac”, “meniscus”
See how clean it is around the cap
Until today, I hadn’t found a use for them

And here is one from another poet, the only other poem I have ever seen that used the word "Cadillac"

The Cadillac in the Attic

After the tenant moved out, died, disappeared -
the stories vary - the landlord
walked downstairs, bemused, and told his wife,
"There's a Cadillac in the attic,"

and there was. An old one, sure, and one
with sloppy paint, bald tires,
and orange rust chewing at the rocker panels,
but still and all, a Cadillac in the attic.

He'd battled transmission, chassis, engine block,
even the huge bench seats,
up the folding stairs, heaved them through the trapdoor,
and rebuilt a Cadillac in the attic.

Why'd he do it? we asked. But we know why.
For the reasons we would do it: for the looks
of astonishment he'd never see but could imagine.
For the joke. A Cadillac in the attic!

And for the meaning, though we aren't sure what it means.
And of course he did it for pleasure,
the pleasure on his lips of all those short vowels
and three hard clicks: the Cadillac in the attic.

- Andrew Hudgins

More favourite words and poems here

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Conversation with my Son

"What's for dinner?"
"It's in there" I say, indicating the crockpot (slow cooker)
"It's not that horrible soup, is it?"
"No, it's a casserole. And there's nothing wrong with that soup, it's full of good stuff - oh, do you mean the kumera soup?"
"That too. I don't mind if you never make either of them again"
"It's boring having the same meals all the time" I say
And he replies hopefully "We could have more chocolate" !!
(Not that I'm against chocolate)

The first soup referred to is minestrone - made with shin beef, red beans, dried spaghetti, tomatoes and lots of vegetables and herbs. The kumera (sweet potato) soup includes chicken stock made from real chicken carcasses, mashed sweet potato, apple sauce, coconut and curry powder.

I'd gladly receive suggestions for meals. I generally cook for five or six people. Here are some of the requirements:
1. A husband who gets itchy if he eats oats or corn, isn't allowed a sugar content of greater than 10% and says capsicums make the meal taste bitter, even if he leaves them on the side of the plate.
2. Both he and I should probably be taking off weight - so, low fat.
3. A dietician recommended that he have no more than three red meat meals a week and two fish, with two non-meat. On the other hand, he doesn't like vegetarian food, though he does like eggs.
4. I also have a daughter who is very skinny, doesn't eat much, likes red meat and really needs it for the iron content. (Besides we all like red meat).
5. The eldest daughter lived in Korea for two years and likes very spicy food, and wants her meals to be varied.
6. The youngest son (speaker above) is allergic to eggs, oats, rye and corn. He doesn't like spicy food, and doesn't often like new things (unless they fall into the category of dessert).

As you can see some of the requirements are mutually exclusive. But there is one thing that we are all agreed on - you can never have too much ginger!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Frosty Morning

Two posts today, my haiku for "one deep breath" is below this one. for the haiku I used a photo from my archives. These photos however are what the weather is really like here - cold and frosty. I needed to go to the supermarket for a forgotten ingredient for a casserole - I walk since it's only a couple of blocks away. I don't know whose cat this is, but it seems to like this patch of fallen leaves at the bottom of our wisteria vine. A warm spot in the winter sun.

This is a partially collapsed ice sheet at the edge of someone's driveway. I was fascinated by the way it formed in sections.

A gingko leaf fallen on the grass verge, rimmed with frost.


This week's topic for one deep breath: pathways

summer heat
a bridge over stones
keeps our feet dry

More haiku here

Sunday, June 18, 2006


The topic for today's Sunday Scribblings: Bed

I think of feather beds and divan beds, bunk beds and water beds, beds of flowers and a ginger cat asleep in a bed of leaves, in a small patch of winter sun. I think of the bed in which my baby brother was born, and my mother propped up in bed receiving our visits with bunches of irises. But most of all I think of the beds that are mentioned in the wills of my ancestors.

When William Shakespeare died in 1616 he left his wife his "second-best bed". Not quite sixty years later, my eight times great grandmother Elizabeth Robertson died in Scotland, then a much poorer country than Shakespeare's England. She had outlived her husband Maurice Miller and their sons. Her grandsons, who had already inherited their father's property, were barely men. Among Elizabeth's few possessions were "ane oak standing bed". Research revealed this to be a four-poster bed. Possession of even one bed was a sign of relative prosperity in Scotland, where most beds were cupboards built into the walls of the house. The thought of having a "second-best bed" must have been undreamed of wealth for all but a few nobles.

When her greatgreatgreatgrandson, Thomas Miller, died in 1808, the inventory of his goods mentioned three beds: a chaff bed with two pairs of blankets, an old bed cover and two feather pillows: a fixed bed (probably one built into the wall as I have mentioned) and "an old feather bed". Three beds - but he had seven children, and probably farm servants - where did they all sleep? I imagine various possibilites - Thomas and his wife in the chaff bed, the girls in one and the boys in the other of the remaining two beds. Or perhaps some of the children slept in the hay barn with the farm servants. Much later in the century, a huge proportion of the Scottish people still lived in one or two room cottages. Thomas and his wife were well-off in their four roomed house, but by modern standards they were horribly overcrowded. How much lucker we are, or are we? With a bed each, even a bedroom each, would they think us lonely?

More Sunday Scribblings here

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Finding My Way

Yesterday evening, we went to a party at my student daughter's flat - that is, myself, husband, and three other offspring. We took two cars, because some of us thought we might get bored and want to leave before the others. In the end we all left at the same time. Both times my husband arrived before me. So it occurred to me to ask him which way he thought was the best route there - a question not immediately obvious. I've driven back and forth quite a lot, both when I was helping her to move, and when she broke her ankle and I was helping her out with transport and Christmas shopping. I tried a lot of different routes, for variety and because I couldn't quite decide which was the best way .

He solved it by pointing me to the Wise's website. I've been playing with it since. I tried finding the best way to work, and also the best way to work when I'm dropping people off at the university on the way. The results surprised me a little - it's the route that goes almost through the centre of town, rather than the route that goes round by the motorway. Wouldn't you think the 100kph route would be faster than the 50kph route? Apparently not, according to the website.

I find it a little deficient though. You can ask for the fastest route, or the shortest route. In many cases they are the same. For the route to my daughter's, the "shortest" route is longer than the "fastest" route! I'm not sure how they work that out. The "shortest" route also includes roads that are closed to through traffic! My husband told me of one trip where he was advised to take a road that doesn't actually exist (it must be a paper road, surveyed but not ever built).

Besides, I want to be able to ask other questions. Such as "what is the prettiest route?" "What route can I take to avoid right hand turns into busy main roads?" (since we drive on the left, here) "What is the least congested route" "What are ten different routes I can take to work, given that I don't want to add more than an extra kilometre to the journey?" (Who wants to drive the exact same route every day?). "If I have to stop for milk on the way, and there are supermarkets at these three places, which one should I stop at for the best route?"

What questions would you want such a site to answer?

At least the routes offered generally do seem to be short. I remember a segment of Top Gear when they asked a similar computer program to find a route between two given English towns, avoiding a particular highway, and it came up with a route that took in France and Ireland!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Following Up on Yesterday

Judging from the comments yesterday, a few people are not clear about the issue of blogs and publishing.
Think of it - anyone in the whole world who has access to the internet can read your blog. If that's not publishing, what is? Of course it feels as if we are just chatting to our friends here.

But: the IRS have chased people up based on what is on their blog (so don't admit to receiving untaxed money)
People have been fired for what they put on their blog (so don't rant about your job, your boss, your co-workers, and don't give away confidential information)
The CIA has investigated people for things posted on their blog (so don't make bad jokes about terrorists).
And if you want to publish a poem, read the submission guidelines for the magazines you want to publish in. They will probably say "previously unpublished work". Yes, this means "not published anywhere, even on your blog".
You could just cross your fingers and hope they won't find out. They probably won't. Most editors don't have time to check out everything - although it would be very easy to enter a line or two of your poem in google. That would reveal it straight away.

Basically, they want to sell magazines. They don't want to think their potential readership will be put off buying their magazine, because they have already seen the content elsewhere. And the people who are interested in reading poetry in magazines are probably the same people interested in reading it online.
Then there is the matter of e-mail lists. Most of these archive previous posts. Often, you don't even have to be subscribed to the list to search the archives. This, too, is publishing. I personally will share poems on a list I belong to which has closed membership and doesn't archive work. It is also OK to send a poem in a private e-mail to a friend - this is the same as showing the poem to your friend in person, or sending it by snail mail.

Books are slightly different from magazines. Most books of poetry will give a list of magazines in which work previously appeared. In other words, it is not usually all unpublished work. so you can put a poem in a book if it's already been in a magazine, but you can't put it in a magazine if it's already been in a book (unless you are the editor and then you can do whatever you want to).

Those who have already put poems on their blog, and want to send them to magazines - personally, in that case I'd send them out anyway. If you get caught out, and you probably won't, plead innocence. But just to be on the safe side, I'm not sharing anything here unless I have either published it, or been rejected enough times that I've given up on publishing it, or decided that I'm not sending that particular poem out for publication.

I hope that's all clear now

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Another Poem

Yes, it's Poetry Thursday again. I couldn't decide what I wanted to post this week, so I just opened up my poetry file, grabbed the first one I could see that was already published. (I don't post the unpublished ones, unless I'm quite sure I don't want to publish them elsewhere, because if it's on my blog it is published, and then I can't give a magazine first rights. I'm not sure if everyone putting their poems on their blogs realise that).

The New Zealand flag has the Union Jack (the British flag) in one corner and then the stars of the Southern Cross on a dark blue background. It is a) quite similar to the Australian flag b) rather fussy and complicated and c) tied to our colonial past, which ardent republicans are inclined to object to. (That's people who want us to be a republic, not Republicans as in an American political party). I wrote the following once when travelling on the ferry between our two main islands. (It is supposed to have the lines laid out in a more interesting pattern, but I haven't figured out how to do that in html yet).

On the Need for a New Flag

Keep the old one
seen by Kupe,
Tasman, Cook
three stripes
sea, sky
the land between
flown for generations
to mark arrivings

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Moving Day

Not the house, just the computer. I wanted more room to spread papers out by the computer. In the end I decided the best place for it was my sewing room/studio. So I took the plunge and moved it up here. So easy! It's an iMac G5 (I think, I have to check the box, not being very techy). All I had to do was unplug it from the printer and the wall, pick up the screen, pick up the keyboard and carry it upstairs. So light, considering it's not a laptop. What about the hard drive? Well, it's hiding somewhere. In the back of the flat screen, I think. I didn't even have to reconnect to the internet. We have all our family computers networked, and I have a wireless connection, so it just goes.
I still need to move the printer. And the desk I put it on up here is too high, and I'm rapidly getting neck strain. So I have to figure out where I can make room for the computer desk that it was on before.
One nice thing about it being dark when I come home in winter - just as I leave work, I get a great view of the sun setting over the Southern Alps.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Mixter-Maxter

That's apparently Scots for a miscellany.

It's still cold here - snowed briefly this morning but it quickly turned to rain, so there isn't too much snow on the ground. Inland, there are still people snowed in and without power.

My 18 year old complained because I referred to him as a "chick". Well of course, that's because I am a poetrychook so my children are my "chicks" as in "chickens". But I didn't think through the other implications of the word. So this is an apology to him.

Our supermarket has a large supply of peanut butter ice cream. ?!? As it's really cheap, I might consider trying it, if it wasn't so cold.

I was working on the family history, and on a page of a 1927 newspaper I found half an article about missing French aviators. They had a ten day supply of food - bananas and caviar.

I'm still on track with my goals for the year - sort of. I basted a quilt today, then spent a lot of time procrastinating. I'm thinking of moving my computer upstairs, if I can figure out how to make the desk fit along with my sewing desk, filing cabinet, cutting desk, bookcase, etc etc. At least I'd have room then to spread papers out by the computer. I have accounts to do for a literary magazine, which is probably why I have been procrastinating. Room to spread them out would really help.

I looked at a poem by one of the poets that the nameless editor (see previous post) recommended as examples of the sort of work he wants. Remember, he wants post-modernism, not metaphors. Strangely this poem seemed to be full of metaphors. Not a scrap of post-modernism in sight. Still, it was a very fine poem.

Off to bed, hoping it will be warmer tomorrow.

Monday, June 12, 2006

A Weather Report and a Rejection Letter

For those of you sweltering in summer heat, here are some cooling images. I awoke to find this scene in my yard:

Yes, it's winter, but we usually get snow only once a year or so, and usually later - August or even September, when the winds blow straight up from the Antarctic.
It had stopped snowing, so I set off for work. Shortly after I left home, it started snowing again. At work I kept checking out the window as the snow got heavier, wondering if I might get stuck there. Here is the scene just behind my office around one in the afternoon.

Towards mid-afternoon the snow turned to rain, and it started to melt. By the time I left work the rain had stopped too. So I stopped in Hagley Park - our large central park - for a photo session. This is the lake, looking east, with the trees lit up by the low rays of the sun.

And this is looking east into the sunset.

When I got home I found a fat envelope addressed in my own handwriting. Yes, another rejection letter. This one says "I think you write extremely well and have a true poetic gift and would like some time to print some of your work. The problem now should perhaps try to avoid reliance on metaphor and move a little further towards postmodern and semiotic techniques" ?!?

I like my metaphors. Actually, I knew this magazine likes "postmodernism" and "semiotics" (whatever they may be) and tried to send him the poems I thought most likely to fit. Apparently they don't fit well enough. Well, I will try and figure out what he wants, but I probably won't alter my writing style to suit. "I yam what I yam"

Sunday, June 11, 2006


The theme for today's Sunday Scribblings: Mystery

The mystery I would like revealed is the mystery of my ancestors. That's not really one mystery, it's enough mysteries to last a lifetime. If they could be revealed a little at a time it would make me very happy.

I have been researching my family history intensively for the last few years and I think that I have solved most of the mysteries that are solvable. More answers may come unexpectedly, but I know that there are many more that will remain a secret. for instance, my greatgrandfather who stated on his marriage certificate in 1860 that he was born in Glasgow where his father was a lamplighter. I thought I would find him on the 1841 and 1851 census, when it became searchable on the internet, but now that I have searched it is as if he sprung fully formed as an adult - the family is nowhere to be found. (Perhaps Thomas senior was too busy lighting lamps to answer the census questions).

In other lines I was able to trace back further, but the earliest ancestor, however far back, is still a mystery. Where did they come from? But it is not just a search to get as far back as I can. I want to know about their lives. My greataunt told me for instance, that her mother remembered when she was a girl in Scotland, writing to her Uncle James in New Zealand. I know that she also wrote, after she emigrated, to relations in Scotland, England, Australia, and the United States, and received letters from them. What was in those letters? They were all destroyed, so I will never know. And then there are questions like what did my ever-so- many-greats-grandmother wear, in Scotland in the 1600s (the costume books I can find are not very clear on the matter, showng only clothes worn in England) - what did she believe? how did she spend her days? The few hints I have from surviving wills are only a tantalising glimpse.

I think these questions have a hold on me because they are part of who I am. Seventeenth century Scotland may be remote, but each generation influences the next.

The mystery I have no desire to see is the mystery of the future. What will happen? If I were to know, I don't think I would believe it. There would be a part of me that would believe I could change it (for the better, of course). Or that I don't need to change it, because it will never happen that way.

I remember once when my elder son was small - about three years old. We came out of church and there was a huge vicious-looking dog in the car park. Before I could stop him, he walked right up to it, pointing. It's mouth was hanging open. He got so close that his finger was actually in its open mouth. I was thinking "Oh no, it's going to bite him!" but it backed off and slunk away. Given more time to think about a dreaded event, I would always believe that somehow what seemed inevitable was not going to happen. It's the things we don't think of ever worrying about that knock us down unexpectedly. And it's the surprises that we don't ever expect that delight us.

Past, future - both mysteries - and then there is the mystery of time itself. What is time? Another mystery that I will probably never quite understand.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

More Haiku

There is a new blog called One Deep Breath for posting haiku. This week's theme is "A Walk in Nature". I'm running a bit late with this, but I think I am just in time before the week ends.

caught in the branches
of the crabapple tree
- dandelion moon

Haiku Pathway

Over at Lynn's blog, Sprigs there is a discussion in the comments section of her Poetry Thursday post on haiku. I promised Lynn I would post pictures of the haiku pathway at Katikati, so here they are.
Katikati is a small town on the Coromandel coast of the North Island of New Zealand. We visited there when we spent a week at Mt Maunganui, a popular seaside resort area, a couple of years back. The haiku pathway was built as a millenium project. the pathway winds around a reserve by a small river. Each haiku has been selected to suit its boulder and setting. Below are a general view of the pathway, and then some photos of some of the boulders close up. I hope the haiku are readable.

This one reads:
marathon effort -
the veteran runner
jogs his memory

The other main feature of Katikati (which is a very small town) is its murals. This is an ongoing project started in 1991 to depict the history of Katikati in murals. There are small brochures available describing the subject matter and location of the murals. although they are easy enough to find - just walk down the main street and back up the other side (there really aren't many other streets).

Quoting the brochure: "To supplement his stipend the Anglican Vicar farmed ostriches from 1897. Their frequent escapes is (sic) recorded here"

These colourful birds are pukekos. They are usually known by their Maori name, but they also have the English name of swamp hen. they can fly, but they don't do it often or very well.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Going Public

A week or so ago I was thinking about how the year is nearly half over. At the beginning of the year I had ideas about what I was going to accomplish this year, and I had barely started on the list. OK, I finished a quilt. And I made some curtains. That's about it (besides doing all the mum things like cooking meals and doing laundry, and then there's my job, and the garden, and I wrote a few poems. But that's about it).

So, I have started visualising myself at the end of the year having accomplished all the things I want to. And now I am going to list them here, because it feels like more of a commitment if I make them public.

1. Write the family history that I have been researching for so long. This involves writing it, which I think I should try to do in the next month, because then I have to check it for information gaps, research them, edit it, gather illustration material, do the layout (which I have never done before), check how many people might want copies, and get it printed. Really, writing it is the smallest part of all this.

2. Finish a set of nine small quilts that I have been working on just about forever. I have one quilted and ready for binding, several more ready for quilting, some need borders and one isn't started yet. It's a good thing they are small.

3. Get fit enough to do a triathlon. OK, it's not really a triathlon. It's a sort of baby triathlon. I did it a couple of years ago, and I entered last year and then didn't train, so I didn't do it. This time I want to do it faster than the first time. It's a 300 m swim, 10 km bike ride and 3 km walk/run (which I did about half and half walking and running, the first time).

4. Lose weight - about 10 kgs. I'm hoping that 3 will take care of 4. Though I may need to stop eating the biscuits and cakes I make for the 18 year old teenage offspring (and the other chicks, but he's the hungriest).

5. Keep writing poems, so that I have at least one to take to my writing group each month. Preferably more. Keep sending them out to be published. I'm hoping to get some published in a few different magazines so that my list of publishing credits is a bit longer.

I had a feeling there was something else but I can't quite think what it was right now. Of course there are things I have to do. And things I want to do, but aren't quite important enough to make the list of goals. Sort of optional extras. Such as take part in NaNoWriMo - that may have to wait, if I'm busy on the family history still. And I am thinking I'd like to visit Oamaru for the Victorian Heritage celebrations in November. Which may entail researching and making myself a costume - or I could just hire one, I suppose. I'd also like to get organised enough that I can take one day a week to "play" - make fibre art postcards, mess around with words, try Japanese calligraphy, or whatever takes my fancy at the time.

There! It's public. And I have done a couple of thousand words on the family history so far this week, and finished quilting one of the quilts, so that's a good start. At the end of December I may just post how far I got (or I may hide my head in shame and pretend this post never happened).

Thursday, June 08, 2006

It's Poetry Thursday Again

It's a good thing the prompt at Poetry Thursday is optional, because I am still working on the prompt from about a month ago. Also, the idea of getting out somewhere and listening to what people are saying is a good one - but it's winter here, and I spent Tuesday at home alone indoors, apart from a brisk walk also alone, and Wednesday at work where people say really interesting things like "Would you like a cup of coffee?" or "Normans want to increase their order by ten boxes". Not inspiring poetry material. Actually I suspect this prompt works best with random overheard conversations, where you don't know the context.

The most interesting thing I heard yesterday was my son quoting his maths lecturer. Apparently he told them "We don't like these numbers that play with themselves. It's better if they play with each other, but only in pairs"!?!

Anyway - back to Poetry Thursday. I was giving an account of my relationship with poetry, and had got to the end of my years at high school. At this point I get to skip a whole lot of non-poetry-related stuff and a whole lot of years. Basically, after high school I did a couple of degrees in chemistry, got married, worked for six years as a forensic scientist and toxicologist, left worked and raised five children. Of course I did the mother thing which involved a lot of driving children to music lessons, swimming classes etc. One of the activities for the three youngest was Saturday morning classes at the Christchurch School for Young Writers. This is an excellent place where the children get tuition from published writers who are also experienced teachers. My oldest didn't go there, as she was too old when it was established, but she is also a committed writer who has been polishing her craft for many years.

As the children grew older, I decided it was time to go back to work - first I needed to retrain, so I spent a couple of years doing a business diploma and graduated top of the class. Then nobody wanted to give me a job (the age thing, I guess). It took me a year. At the beginning of that year, I came across Julia Cameron's book "The Artist's Way", and I joined an online group working through it together. I thought it might help stretch my boundaries in quilting. However,for one of my "Artist dates" (as required by the book), I went to a poetry reading with guest readers and a "bring your own" section. And I started thinking, my children had to get their talent from somewhere, and maybe it was my turn. So at the end of that year I enrolled in a summer school course at the local university, a three day poetry workshop with a very talented local poet Bernadette Hall. (She is also an inspiring teacher, incidentally she had also taught some of my children at their Saturday classes). There's not much to say after that really, it was the beginning of 1999 and I have been reading a lot of poetry, doing a few classes and writing poetry ever since. It was later in 1999 that I got together with a few others I had met on courses to form the "Poetry Chooks" and we still meet regularly every month. We also produced a book of poetry a couple of years ago.

One of the exercises in Bernadette's course was a brain-storming exercise based on the words "river, ice, drought". In the end all three made their way into my poem below:

Here where the winter rain
froze in the cracks
and pushed until the rocks came tumbling down

Here where the spring swollen river
with the strength of young love
swept me off my feet
and I fell into the cold, sharp shock

Here now the river has grown old
lies shrunken in a stony bed
the grasses withered on the banks
and the rocks feverish in the hot sun

More Poetry Thursday here

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Catching Up

We had a long weekend and I have been slacking off blogging. Not that I actually did anything much. The weather turned cold and wet. On the Sunday I had a horrible sinus headache which was making me slightly nauseous. So when I finally got up and out of the spa pool, I tucked myself up with a quilt and borrowed my daughter's DVD of "Black Books", and got on with some hand quilting.

This morning the family was back to work and study, but I only work three days a week so I went for a walk. I dressed warmly in thermal underwear, woolly hat, and sheepskin gloves. There was snow on the hills yesterday (only a half hour's walk away). Today it had melted but even though the sun was shining it was still very cold. I rang the bell at my neighbour's house - she is my usual walking buddy - but she had gone off somewhere so I told her son to let her know I had gone walking on my own. Without the company of a chatty friend and a boisterous dog, I had a different sort of walk, free to ponder whatever came to mind.

Such as: when I look at the leaf patterns on a tree, why do my photographs not show the wonderful patterns that I see? I figured that one out - it has to do with stereo vision - close one eye and the whole tree is flattened, so that individual leaves don't stand out as much. Next time I want to take a photo, I'll check it out like a one-eyed pirate first.

I went past my children's primary school, and noticed they have put a whole extra level on the main building. I'm not sure when that happened. Did the school get bigger or the class size smaller? The school has its fiftieth anniversary this year. My children don't seem interested in going. It occurred to me that they should let ex-parents register as well as ex-pupils. Parents become part of the community. I was so involved in the school when my children were there, from writing down stories for the littlest pupils, going on class trips with them, up to teaching orienteering to the oldest classes and coaching the school's very successful maths teams. I think it would be great to catch up with other parents and see what they and their children have been doing. On the other hand, I've never particularly bothered about going back to my own primary school reunions. I don't want to revisit the miserable time I had there. That's probably why my own children aren't interested either. The youngest is the only one who made lasting friends there, and he still sees them every day at university, so there isn't much need for a reunion.

I have been meaning for several days to write about Audrey Niffenegger (author of "The Time Travellers Wife"). She was here last week giving her final talk in two to three years of travel promoting the book. After this she plans to settle down long enough to write the next one, which is set in Highgate Cemetery in London. I always find it interesting to hear how writers work - they all seem to do it differently. In her case, the title was the initial spark for the book. The first scene that she wrote was the very last in the book. After that, she wrote scenes from all over the book, and gradually came to see how they all fitted together, and what was missing.

It must be difficult to do book tours as time goes on - half the audience had read the book and half hadn't. That meant avoiding spoilers for the half that hadn't, and reading parts of the book to get their interest - and yet the other half of the audience wanted to ask quite detailed questions. This resulted in a sort of "code", fudging the details, such as "that bit with the feet - was that really necessary?"

Audrey insists that nothing in the book is biographical, even though she has given Henry and Clare jobs similar to what she knows. And she has set the book where she lives. She believes that if you are going to have a wildly improbable basic premise, the rest of the detail should be absolutely authentic to make it believable.

There were copies of her other book on display: "The Three Incestuous Sisters". This was originally a hand-made artist's book which took fourteen years to produce in a limited edition of ten copies. It has now been published in a mass-produced version, I took a glance and it looked rather gothic and dark, and didn't really appeal to me. On the other hand I'm really interested to read her next novel, but I suspect it will be another two or three years before it is finished.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: Earliest Memory

In truth, it is difficult to figure out what is my earliest memory. I never moved house from the time I was born until the time I married. There are few time identifiers on my memories - I can identify them as "preschool" or "school age" - as "holiday" or "at home" and that's about it. The earliest datable memory I have must be of the year my younger brother was born. He was born at home, at a time when home birth was very uncommon. In fact he was the last baby delivered by the midwife before she died, and after that there were no home birth midwives in New Zealand for a very long time (around thirty years).
I remember looking into the room where my mother and the baby were. I can still visualise the placement of the bed. And I can recall that we knew that if the door was shut, my mother was resting and we weren't allowed in.

The top photo above is of my elder brother, myself and my baby brother. There were a lot of photos that year, because the year my brother was born was also the year that my grandparents went on their big trip. My grandmother was born in Dundee, Scotland and emigrated to New Zealand at the age of ten. My grandfather was born in New Zealand but he still called Britain "Home", as most New Zealanders did at that time. They went by ship - the second photo is their departure photo, at the wharf in Auckland. They are third and fourth from the right. They were away a whole year - travelling was a much more leisurely affair in those days. I still have my grandfather's trip diaries - but can't quite locate the passage where he tells of the news of the birth of a grandson. I believe it arrived by telegram (the news, not the baby!)
The main memory I have of my grandparents trip is the postcards that they sent me. I wrote a poem about this a few years back:

Postcards of Ships

After my grandparents went away
postcards of ships appeared in the letterbox
On the back careful round print
told me (in case I couldn't see for myself)
"this is a very big ship"
and hoped I was being a good girl for mummy

Before they left they talked in capital letters
of going Home
which was a place I didn't know.
They went away,
postcards appeared
and then (bearing tartans)
they came home

A Very Silly Saga

I don't normally talk about rugby. I think I must be a changeling. Apparently all true New Zealanders are rugby crazy. However I felt driven to report on events of the past week or so. It started with The Match. The final of the Super 14 series which is competed for by 14 teams from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Our local team, the Crusaders, were finalists in a home game against the Wellington team, the Hurricanes. Predictably, fans queued overnight for tickets, and other fans tried to log onto the internet, and all the tickets were sold out within about fifty minutes. And then the night of the game arrived, and all the fans who had queued in the cold for tickets, and those who had managed to get onto the web site, and those who had paid large amounts to scalpers, sat in the fog where they couldn't actually see from one end of the field to the other.

Those who were lucky were at the right end of the field to see the winning try. Presumably they had a whole bunch of referees since none of them could see the whole field.

The local team won - that's what matters, right? Predictably again, all the rugby players and half the spectators then headed into various bars and nightclubs and proceeded to get drunk. And one non-player in a bar somewhere tripped over a player's feet. (A player from the losing team, but nevertheless an All Black i.e. a NZ representative). So the All Black, lets call him Chris, punched the guy - as you do, if your feet get in someone's way, and you are loaded with beer and testosterone. Then All Black number two, lets call him Tana, picks up a nearby handbag and clobbers Chris with it. And Chris bursts into tears. The purse had a cellphone in it, which got broken. So, the Hurricanes management apologised to the purse owner, and replaced her cellphone, and Chris got fined $3000 by the team management, which might seem a lot but given the amount the All Blacks earn, and that he wasn't actually suspended at all, is more like a slap on the wrist with a wet bus ticket. It would have ended there except that someone offered to buy the purse. As he was planning to sell it on Trade Me (the New Zealand equivalent of e-Bay), the owner decided to decline his offer and put it on Trade Me herself. Last night bids had reached $7000 for a $25 purse and broken cellphone. This morning it was reported it had sold for over $100,000. Girls will be queuing up to have All Blacks break their cell phones.

And speaking of rugby, plans for our firm's midwinter dinner have been made. They are holding it in the "Jack Ruby room" of a local cafe. The venue was apparently chosen because it has a big screen TV. There is a game that night. Fortunately it is part of the tri-nations series (NZ, Australia, and South Africa again) and is being held in Australia. Due to the time difference, it won't be screened till 10 p.m. With luck I can eat and get out before then. The office girl who typed up the invitations, being about thirteen years old and more interested in hair extensions and eyebrow waxing than history, copied the venue as the "Jack Rugby Room". I guess I am showing my age. I seemed to be the only person there who had heard of Jack Ruby. Aaargh!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Autumn Leaves

I spent yesterday afternoon cleaning up my backyard. I couldn't resist taking a few photos of leaves in the driveway and then playing with them in Photoshop.
I am very inexperienced at Photoshop, but I quite liked some of the results:

I think this would be a good photo to play around with quite a lot more - i've only just begun to find all the possibilities.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Poetry Thursday: High School Years

This week's optional prompt at Poetry Thursday was to read some poetry out loud. On the same day that I read the prompt, I found two poems by Seamus Heaney on the Poetry Daily website that just itched to be read aloud. The first of these really caught hold of my imagination. What is it about Heaney's work that entices me so much? He uses plain words, no metaphors or similes, just straightforward descriptions. He writes in form which not many poets do these days. These poems are sonnets and they conform pretty well to the traditional sonnet metre and rhyme scheme. And yet they sound very natural. Heaney doesn't resort to twisting the grammar, or using filler words like "oh", or abbreviations like "o'er" to make his words fit. The rhythms make them wonderful poems to read aloud. There is something about "red beef, white string/ Brown paper ripped straight off for parcelling/ along the counter edge. Rib roast and shin/Plonked down, wrapped up, and bow-tied neat and clean" that I want to roll around my tongue and repeat over and over.

There is another use for reading poetry aloud and that is for editing. I find when I write that I sometimes am at a loss as to how to edit my poems. I know that there is something not quite right and yet I don't know what to do about it. I find that if I read my own poems out loud, five or six times, and then go and vacuum the house or dig the garden, something will suddenly come to me that will solve a problem. I have been doing some of that this week, as I sort my poems and make submissions to various magazines in the hope that someone will give some of my "babies" a home.

It's time today to resume my series on the influence of poetry in my life. Today, my high school years. I had encountered poetry in primary school but not in any systematic way. At high school we were taught poetry more regularly - first forms and metre - the sonnet, the ballad - and later specific poets. I encountered Shakespeare, Donne, Wordsworth, Tennyson and later Gerard Manley Hopkins and T.S.Eliot. We even studied a modern New Zealand poet - Louis Johnson - who actually came and spoke to us - the first time I had encountered a living, breathing poet (and discovered he was a very ordinary looking man). I began to encounter a few poems that didn't rhyme, or where the rhyme was a little looser. There was free verse,as in Shakespeare's plays, of course, but that is still quite highly structured - no rhymes, but the rhythm is quite strict. The Eliot was much more variable in line length - though it still has a good deal of rhyme - still, I fell in love with "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and others. One of my English teachers apparently told my mother "Catherine has a real feel for modern poetry". I enjoyed modern poetry in French classes too, particularly Jacques Prevert. Still, in high school something else happened which changed my path for many years - I discovered science. I changed my career ambitions from "writer" to "scientist". I believe now that the common thread between all my enthusiasms - science, poetry, quilting, and even genealogy - is a love of pattern, of seeing how things fit together and how they repeat.

I wrote only a little poetry in high school. I do remember a line from a poem in which I tried rather clumsily to imitate the style of Gerard Manley Hopkins. It was interesting to see that Seamus Heaney, in one of several articles linked on the Poetry Daily news page, referred to Hopkins as being an early influence. I was a bit misguided at the time. I believed that Hopkins made words up. Actually I have since found that he revived archaic words, and it was the influence of this strong Anglo-Saxon language that Heaney was referring to. My poem was about a moth and the line I recall is "wind-whiffled, wing-wafted through the dark night". I'm still trying to write about moths and I haven't done it quite to my satisfaction yet!
The poem that I am going to share in full today is by Hopkins, and it is also a good one for reading aloud:


This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fawn-froth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, fell-frowning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern.
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

- Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844-1889

More Poetry Thursday participants here