Monday, October 26, 2009

Six Things a Day

I was web browsing a week or so ago and came upon this article by Linda Gregg.
Linda says "I have my students keep a journal in which they must write, very briefly, six things they have seen each day - not beautiful or remarkable things, just things." I have seen this exercise referred to a number of times before, and was inspired to have a go - which I kept up for several days, until the long weekend arrived, and with it a three day gardening binge.

Linda asks her students to write without similes. Just to simply see. That is the first step. But then there is the finding of words. I found it harder than I would have imagined to describe something like this:

Raindrops hang on the handle of my recycling bin. I was transfixed by the way they picked up the colour, not of the green directly behind them, but of the yellow lid.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hawks and Falcons

A couple of years back I lost a fair bit of weight by eating well (lots of salads etc) and walking a lot, especially in the Port Hills not far from my home. And then I went back to work full time, and winter arrived, and gradually I put it all on again.

I decided it was time for action, so I have been back to the salads for the last couple of months, and have been trying to walk to and from work (about half an hour each way) three days a week. I decided it was time to increase the activity level a bit, especially since the walk to work is flat. so at the weekend I headed for the hills.

I didn't get very far up, but will aim for further next time. As I was heading downhill, I saw a large number of black and white feathers clinging to the grass in a roughly circular area about half a metre across. There's only one bird around here with feathers like that - a magpie. (The same as the Australian magpie, which is an entirely different bird from the British magpie). My first thought was that it had been killed and eaten by a hawk. I often see one gliding above the hills, searching for prey. My second thought was that a magpie was surely too big to be taken by a hawk. Magpies are quite fierce birds, especially at this time of year, when they will dive bomb anyone getting too close to their nests, as unwary cyclists and joggers sometimes find to their peril. In fact, in nesting season, even some joggers will wear helmets. And cyclists apparently find that two large eyes painted on the back of their helmets will deter magpies.

I did briefly ponder the possibility of a dog, but it is lambing season, and dogs aren't allowed on the hill tracks where sheep graze.

In one of those intriguing coincidences, there was a programme on birds on TV that evening, and they showed the New Zealand falcon, which is similar to the hawk, but smaller and faster. Among the range of birds they showed that are taken by falcons were magpies. So perhaps my original thought was not wrong after all.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry

Friday evening was the Christchurch stop on the country-wide tour that Tim Jones and publisher David Reiter are putting on to promote the new book Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand.

As Tim said, the first question that sprang to mind when he was considering this book was "is there any science fiction poetry in New Zealand?" And the answer turned out to be, quite a lot. Science fiction poetry though seems to be a slightly different beast than science fiction itself. Poets, I think, have the benefit of brevity which means that one poet will in a lifetime write far more poems than one fiction writer will write novels, or even, mostly, short stories. Hence, the poets included in this book may have, on occasion, written science fiction poems, but they are not "science fiction poets" - they are just poets, free to range over a wide range of subject matter as the fancy takes them.

In each venue the readers are mostly local poets who have work featured in the book. Thus, besides Tim reading his own and other's work from the book, and David Reiter reading from the book, we had local poets James Norcliffe and David Gregory reading their work (both in the book, and others). Not having taken notes at the time, I recall in particular David Gregory's "Einstein's Theory Simply Explained" and James Norcliffe's "Alien Vegetable" which despite the title, he claims is not a science fiction poem but a riddle poem. (David Gregory's poem is included on the publisher's website for the book - click the link above). There was also an open mic opportunity for the audience to read their own science fiction poetry. Most memorable from this section was Helen Lowe's wonderful poem "Star Man" about the loneliness of an astronaut . The book has been several years in the making, but I'm sure this poem would have been a worthy candidate for inclusion, if submissions had been open more recently.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lyttelton Farmer's Market

More photos from the Farmer's Market. It was a challenge trying to keep the rain off the camera, but it did make the vegetables wonderfully shiny.

A close-up of one of a duo performing from under a verandah

I thought this baby looked very warm, dry and contented

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Weekend of Walks

Lyttleton is the harbour town for the city of Christchurch. I don't go there very often as I tend to think of it as "out of town". There is a large hill between the city and the port. In reality though, it is only a ten to fifteen minute drive through the road tunnel from my home, which is about half as long as it takes me to drive across town to work twice a week.

Over the weekend there was a walking festival at Lyttelton, with many interesting choices of walks, so I made the effort to get over there and take part in a couple of events. The first was a photography walk, based around the Farmer's Market and the main street - not much walking, only a few blocks, but plenty of photographs were taken and some useful tips given.

Farmer's Market

I spotted Rose Tremain's Music and Silence at a very reasonable price in this second hand bookstore, and ducked in to buy a copy.

These two young boys couldn't resist posing when they saw a bunch of photographers.

The second event was a visit to Ohinetahi, a historic home with beautiful gardens.

Again, I took many photographs. I'm crazy busy this week, but will try and find time to post more photos from both days.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Coffee with Kooser

I've had Ted Kooser's book Local Wonders on my bookshelf for quite a while - maybe a couple of years - but hadn't got round to reading it all the way through. Recently I took it down and found that it is ideal for taking to work to read on my coffee break. (I'm not being antisocial - we have a very small staff - often just the boss and me if his wife is out!).

It's not a poetry book, but a series of prose observations on people, places and events in the Bohemian Alps area of Nebraska where he lives. It is divided into four sections, one for each season, but each section consists of many short pieces, separated only by a new paragraph and a small leaf motif serving as bullet point, without titles or page breaks.

Kooser is not afraid of using metaphor. In fact at times his prose is overloaded with it, and it can be heavy on sentiment too. But it is saved by the originality of his metaphors, his wonderful observation skills, and his generous good-heartedness. He reminds me to delight in my surroundings, wherever they might be, and not to feel that I have to travel to find anything worth seeing.

If you can awaken
inside the familiar
and discover it new
you need never
leave home.

A couple of his wonderful metaphors:

The sky is like old blue denim just before dawn, with one round hole worn through, exposing the cold bony knee of the moon.


A woodpecker taps her automatic pencil on the roof of the house, trying to get the lead to drop down through the tube. She is a certified public accountant, dressed appropriately in black and white, and her task is to keep track of a franchise of ants.

I found myself wondering what Kooser would have noted had he been in my neighbourhood on Thursday. Would it be the scattering of tiny fallen blossoms on the pavement, from a native tree whose name I don't know, looking like small black stars? Or perhaps the three ducks who flew past me like fighter pilots, straight down the road towards the river? I'm sure he would have been amused, as I was, by the nest building antics of the small bird out of sight in the guttering - maybe a sparrow, or a starling. Whatever it was, it was wrestling a cabbage tree leaf - a long, narrow fibrous leaf, at least half a dozen times the length of its small body. As it pivoted on the guttering, the leaf swung back and forth, until eventually it lost its grip, and the leaf joined several others on the roof jutting out below.

And no doubt Kooser would have observed several other things that I missed. With practice, I might see them myself.

But I haven't lost the desire to travel.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Long and Lovely and Lush

Spring always reminds me of Gerard Manley Hopkins -

Nothing is so beautiful as spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush

I have been hitting the garden hard this weekend - or at least, until Sunday when it started to rain.
It's an urge that strikes me every spring, and then I look at the beautiful fresh green of the long grass in all the flower beds, and wonder why I am thinking of pulling it up. Until I remember - "Oh yes, hay fever".

If I was less erratic in my gardening habits, I could plant more actual flowers when the weeding is done, such as these tulips.

I'm gradually picking up photography tips, being very much self-taught. I want to try the tulips again, with the focus set on the left-hand flower, which is in the foreground, since apparently depth of field is greater behind the point of focus than in front. I'd like to try and get all three in sharp focus against the soft background. (I may not get the raindrops though, if the weather clears).

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Poetry Pleasure Doubled

It's good to see new poetry events springing up in Christchurch. For National Poetry Day in July one of the local events was "Poetry for Pudding" at Borders Bookstore. This is now being trialled as a regular event on the first Friday of the month. It's an open mic night (without the mic) held in Gloria Jean's, the coffee area at the back of the bookstore - which led to pauses in the readings as we waited for the coffee machine noise to die down a little. The poetry, as is usual at these events, was mixed in style and quality. However, at the end of the readings, an "accidental" audience member stood up and commented that he had never liked poetry, but he thought all the poems read out were great, and he had really enjoyed it.

I suspect the group would have been bigger if it was not for the other poetry event of the evening. At 5.30 we had a poetry reading for New Zealand Book Month with four well-known local poets and one out-of-towner. The readers were Joanna Preston, Tusiata Avia, James Norcliffe, Frankie McMillan and Otago poet Brian Turner. This was very much a time for re-hearing familiar work, as many of the poets were reading from their latest books, several of which are on my bookshelves.

An evening of entirely new poetry can be hard on the concentration, and familiar poems often gain on rehearing. I do wish though that New Zealand was a slightly larger country with a slightly greater pool of good poets. I was glad of Brian Turner's presence as he read a number of unfamiliar poems, and I do like at least some new work added to the mix. This is not to detract from any of the readers - the standard of the poetry was high, and all read well. The complimentary glass of wine no doubt added to the good spirits of the audience. At the end of the evening Brian was awarded the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for contribution to poetry, and gave a suitably surprised speech of thanks.

It was a bit of a rush to get from one event to the other, and most didn't attempt it, so perhaps next month there will be a larger number of local poets enjoying "Poetry for Pudding".