Friday, October 31, 2008

What's That Again?

I was looking for Carcanet's New Poetries IV at Fishpond (New Zealand online bookstore) and I got the question popping up - the one search engines use when they think you have misspelled something...
"Did you mean...?"

What did they think I meant?

The question was "Did you mean New Poe tries IV?"

What was that? Why on earth would I want a space in the middle of the word?
And then I looked again and figured it out. Visions of Edgar Allen's descendant hooked up to a drip, in a graveyard with bats and ravens flying around. Hmmm...

Thursday, October 30, 2008


I don't seem to be writing many posts lately, my last few posts have been photos for Carmi's Thematic Photographic.
My mind is turning towards writing new poems, and editing old poems, which seems to divert my energies away from writing blog posts, but images are another matter.

This week's theme is night.

The first photo is the Bridge of Remembrance here in Christchurch, lit up at dusk. The time of year was midwinter (about June or July), as I was on my way home from work and in summer it is of course still bright daylight at that time.

The second photo was taken in December 2006 at Carols by Candlelight. The event had in fact been cancelled. But some of us didn't know that and turned up anyway. Someone decided to conduct, some had brought their own carol books from previous years, and candles, and someone else dashed home and fetched a trumpet. It's amazing what a great event we had without the celebrity comperes, brass bands etc.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

In a Blur

This week's theme at Carmi's Thematic Photographic is blur

It brought to mind the photos I took last year when we drove through the small village of Freshford near Bath, in England. My greatgreatgreatgrandfather was born here. Unfortunately English country lanes are very narrow and unlike New Zealand roads, places to pull over and stop to take a photo seem to be sadly lacking. Furthermore, twilight was rapidly approaching. So even though we were getting quite practiced at clicking the camera on the move, the long exposure time dictated by the low light meant my photos of the village came out rather blurry.

There's a poem to go with this one (although the bridge described in the poem was actually in a different photo). The italics are a quote from another poem that was on Poetry Daily, I need to look it up to find the author and title.


Yes, yes, you can’t step into the same
river twice
, and I can’t cross
the same bridge as my ancestors,
but all the same, this bridge is one of the things
that has changed least since you lived here,
linking the village with the quarry, on narrow roads
meant for horses. On both sides now
the stone houses, clean and prosperous looking,
country retreats for the middle classes,
and cars pulling up at the inn, in the twilight.
There were weavers and washerwomen once.
Where are their rough cottages? Pulled down,
or renovated, made large enough for small families
to sleep one to a bedroom. Your seventeen children
one by one left their shared beds
to trudge over this bridge to distant cities
in the hope of work. Look, here are photos
I took from the car window. Have I captured
your ghosts? I see only a blur. We are moving
too fast.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Simple Pleasures #3

After I posted the photo of the girl on the swing I started to think about childhood pleasures. Parents these days seem to be inundated with advice on the importance of a rich environment for children. Unfortunately this often seems to be interpreted to me lots of educational toys and "baby Mozart" DVDs.

I believe that when I was growing up I had a very rich environment. Lots of time at the beach and outdoors, climbing trees, sliding down flax bushes and making tunnels through the daisy bushes. Many, many books borrowed from the library, which had far more books than my parents could have ever bought me. Time spent with adults who could respond individually - my parents, and my grandparents just up the road. A grandfather who believed in learning enough that he was still learning himself (Esperanto and chess were his two big retirement pastimes). Nature, of course, can do something that no "educational" plastic toy can ever do - it can change from day to day, all by itself.

This child is spending time in just the sort of environment I loved as a child (even though I was totally unathletic, as you will see from my sidebar, I loved the outdoors). I don't know who he (or she?) is - I snapped this during the "farewell to the godwits" ceremony held here a couple of years ago. They do it every year when the birds are about to set off on the long journey from New Zealand to Siberia - a miracle of nature that impressed this child far less than the miracle of sand and water.

For more photos of children, visit Thematic Photographic at Carmi's blog.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

More Simple Pleasures

This one is my brother and myself, with my Dad pushing the cart, outside my grandmother's place here in Christchurch. We must have been on holiday - we lived in Wellington at the time.

Probably about Christmas 1952

For Thematic Photographic - kids

Friday, October 03, 2008

Endangered Species

Recently this rope swing appeared on the riverbank near our house. While driving home, I spotted it and pondered the possibilities of photographing it for Carmi's Thematic Photographic this week - kids. Almost nothing says "kids" as well as a rope swing, even if there are no actual kids in the photo.

Just as I pulled over, however, the young girl appeared to play on it. So I used my zoom to get a few photos from a discreet distance. I rather like that it is a little blurred - it speaks of movement - and it makes it more anonymous, too.

I don't think the swing will last very long. Apparently city council workers cut them down whenever they come across them. I'm not sure if it's the trees or the children they think they are protecting. I think it's a shame that modern play choice come down to artificial playgrounds, carefully designed to remove all danger (and hence fun), and Playstations and Gameboys.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Thematic Photographic - Kids

Carmi has invited us to post photos of kids this week.
My own children are all well grown up and show no signs of producing the next generation. While we do have lots of photos of them when they were younger, they were mostly taken by my husband, and it feels a bit odd to post someone else's photos on my blog.

So, I hunted to see what else I had. Mostly, my shots of children aren't particularly great as photos, but since most children are adorable anyway, whether the photographer is skilled or not, I decided to share a few.

This is a wee girl I spotted in the street one day. Since I have a daughter who loves zebras, I asked her mother very nicely if she would mind my taking a photo, and the girl posed very nicely for me.

More "kid" photos here

Four Types of Sentence

Some years back I took an evening course led by a poet who is also a Steiner teacher - in fact the classes took place at the local Rudolf Steiner school. It was at least partly based on a book by Paul Matthews called Sing Me the Creation, which is centred around four types of sentences.

Of course poets don't always use sentences at all. We can write in fragments, or lists. But it is hard to think of any sorts of sentences other than the four that Matthews describes - the statement, the command, the exclamation, and the question.

I started thinking about these four again while reading the poetry of Olena Kalytiak Davis recently. Most poems that I read, if they are written in sentences, rely heavily on statements. (Sometimes fairly strange statements, but statements nevertheless). In Davis's poetry, I found many many examples of commands, questions, and even exclamations, and I think it is one of the reasons I find her poetry so powerful.

For instance, "In Defense of Marriage" consists mostly of commands:
Marry the white fences;
marry the fenceless
Moon and the defenceless sky


Promise to forsake.
Give in
to the cistern full of asters

The final statement seems stronger for its position at the end of a string of commands:

I married the way moths marry.
I married hard.

And then there are her questions, like this one from "The Panic of Birds"

What was it
I understood so well last night, so well it kissed me,
Sweetly, on the forehead?

The exclamation is the hardest, I think, to use effectively. Nineteenth century poems are full of them, of course - the word "Oh!" is a give away. It's one word that some beginners use misguidedly to make their work seem more "poetic" and one word that puts editors off enormously. (See the introduction by Billy Collins to Best American Poems 2006)

Davis makes very effective use of "O'" in her poem "In the Clear Long After" (which is included in the first Poetry Daily anthology. The last two lines are

O, to be stung by an errant bee. O, to sting.
O, to see you again. Covered in spring.

There are poems by Davis that I love, and poems that leave me mystified, although I am decreasing the number of those as I get to know them better. She's a little known poet but one I believe is worth becoming acquainted with. The Paul Matthews book is well worth a read, too.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Poets and Day Jobs

Since it's confession time over at January's blog (or perhaps not, time differences between continents always confuse me) - anyway, Tuesday there or not, I thought it was time to confess what a terrible procrastinator I am. I have little bits of paper stored up for months on which I have ideas for poems and blog posts.

This week though, I thought I would try to have a catch up and get some of those blog posts (and maybe even poems) written. So there will be lots of posts from me this week.

One of the news items over at Poetry Daily is this one about poets and their day jobs. Not many poets, of course, make a living from writing poetry. Some have jobs in universities and make a living from teaching poetry, but I don't think it's the same thing at all. Robert Saxton says in the article, "the price I pay for a salaried job is lack of collegiate empathy" - where does he think the collegiate empathy would come from if he didn't have a salaried job? Wouldn't he be rather isolated from other poets - unless he was in a university - and then he'd have a salaried job, in which he would spend quite a bit of time teaching rather than writing.

I found myself thinking about poets and their day jobs - in most cases, I can't tell from the poetry what the day jobs are. There are exceptions, of course. In New Zealand, Glen Colquhoun is well known as a doctor poet, and one of his collections, "Playing God" is full of poems that arise from his experience of medicine. Ted Kooser worked for years as an insurance executive, but you don't see that much in his poetry. The Czech poet, Miroslav Holub, was an immunologist, but the poems I remember most from reading his work are his "Minotaur" series. I've read a poem about the work of engineers, and another great poet about a manager having to make men redundant, but whether the poets were in that line of work or not, I have no idea.

I found the article interesting, but wondered about the comment from Jane Routh. She's a farmer. I think that's a great day job for a poet (despite being rather time consuming) but then, I'm rather partial to nature poems, myself. Much more interesting than "office" poems. However, she said "the worst 'day job' would be poetry: what would there be to write about?"

Well, of course, all those things we write about when we are not writing about our jobs. Families, nature, friends, history, ideas, science, childhood memories, and on and on.

I found myself wondering what I write about most. Not my day job, that's for sure. I don't find a lot of poetic stimulation in accounting, although a spreadsheet did make an appearance in one of my poems once. I've written a fair few poems based on my family history research - both about specific ancestors, and about the lives of people of earlier times in general, the immigrant experience, and so on. I've written about the colour white, the letter Z, simple kitchen ingredients like eggs and honey, I've written about scenes from my trip to the UK last year (though much less than I expected), mythology, missing my parents, incidents from my childrens' childhood. Currently, I'm obsessing about birds. It started with a discussion about how poetic crows are, and then I began wondering why there are no crows in New Zealand - why the English didn't introduce crows, even though they did introduce starlings, blackbirds, sparrows and many others. Whooops! I thought I was on to a new topic there, but it seems to have come back to social history, and the immigrant experience again. But with another layer.

So, I don't think it would be a hindrance at all for your "day job" to be poetry - you would still be able to find things to write about. But you probably do need some sort of obsession that isn't poetry. What Natalie Goldberg calls "the third thing". There is you, and writing, but what is the third thing that informs your writing?

What do you write about?