Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

It's almost midnight here, and I will be happy to see the end of 2010.
There were good things and not so good things, but even the good things - such as the launch of our poetry book, Flap - mark the finish of projects from which I am ready to move on.

I was out and about in the city the other day, and took these photos:

The first, of men on a crane inspecting damage to a building in the square from the Boxing Day swarm of aftershocks

and the second is a banner on a fence put up by the folks at A Good Yarn - a fitting photo to mark the beginning of a new year.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Pocketful of Stones

I remember when my children were small, they often came home with found treasures in their pockets. They picked up stones and gravel by the roadside. We went orienteering, and while they waited for the older ones to return from their courses, the younger ones would fossick under the trees for pine cones, or in the paddock for bleached animal bones. When a school class was studying bones, I was able to present the teacher with a large box full - once the treasures of the day, now forgotten. I was glad to get them out of the house.

I think of the childrens' stone collections when I read Fiona's blog, a handful of small stones. Fiona says a small stone is a polished moment of paying proper attention.
During January, a large number of people will be writing a small stone each day - a project called A River of Stones or International Small Stones Writing Month (not NaSmaStoMo, as it was originally conceived, because the internet is international).

So, I have decided to take part. Polished, though? I'm not sure about that. Some of the stones my children gathered were shiny. Most were not. They seemed to delight in the ordinary - things that were part of the dailiness of life. I've decided not to obsess too much about the "polished" part, and just pay attention, as it were, to the "paying attention" part.

This seems rather like an exercise of Linda Gregg's, that I have followed, rather erratically off and on over the past few months. In her essay, The Art of Finding, she 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." She talks about being available to seeing. It's an essay well worth reading. I've neglected Linda's exercise for quite a few weeks now, so January will help me get back into it.

My daily "small stones" will have the label "aros" for "a river of stones". It's not too late to join in, head on over and check it out.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tuesday Poem: All Beauteous Things

I remember when my eldest daughter started school, she would arrive home in the afternoon and scarcely was her foot in the door when she would announce "I'm bored". I found that I had only to wait a few minutes and she would find something to occupy herself. She had never had any trouble amusing herself before starting school, and I assumed that the problem was that after being told what to do all day, it took her time to re-orient to more self-directed pursuits.

I find it's the same with myself on weekends. By the end of the weekend I often have a long list of things that I could have spent my time doing, if I'd thought of it earlier. A four day break though, is perfect. I've been pottering about answering old e-mails, cleaning out my studio, gardening and so forth (taking frequent breaks from the heavy gardening because of the heat). And then today it rained, hard. I got out one of my set aside quilting projects, brought it downstairs and auditioned fabrics. My daughter had arrived and while she polished silver ready for New Year, and watched DVDs, I consulted with her on design choices, and cut and stitched borders. And then we did our bit for the shaky Canterbury economy by going out to the sales, along with my husband. We bought fabric for two shirts for him - his ideas on suitable summer shirts don't always fit well with the range in the shops - then I bought an iPod so I can listen to music or language lessons on my walk to work, and we bought a few other bits and pieces, and finished with the consumption of ice cream. A fitting conclusion to a summer shopping expedition.

I seem to be sliding into a position of ease with all this unaccustomed leisure - tomorrow I'm back to work. But then there's another four day weekend over New Year.

Tuesday Poem is on holiday until January 18th, but that's no reason why I can't post one here. So, thinking of the phrase "joy in the making", I decided to post this one. It comes from a book I won as a school prize more years ago than I care to count - The Collins Albatross Book of Verse. Possibly a bit cheesy for modern tastes, but I've always liked it.

All Beauteous Things

I love all beauteous things
I seek and adore them;
God hath no better praise,
And man in his hasty days
Is honoured for them.

I too will something make
And joy in the making;
Although tomorrow it seem
Like empty words of a dream
Remembered on waking.

-Robert Bridges (1844-1930)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Favourite Photos: In Need of Serenity

We thought things were settling down after our September earthquake, but yesterday proved us wrong. Starting at about 2 a.m when I was jolted awake, we had around 24 sharp aftershocks in as many hours. What was different about these ones is that they were all centred under the city itself, instead of some distance out to the west. In fact the biggest, at about 10.30 a.m., was centred about two blocks from our house. I think the scientists will be re-evaluating the extent of the fault line.

It was bad news for retailers, many of whom had to evacuate their shops in the middle of the busiest shopping day of the year, the one that would help get them back on their feet. A couple of blocks of the city were cordoned off while buildings were inspected. About twenty city buildings had damage additional to that from September. Most of the cordons have since been lifted but one street is still closed off.

I thought I was used to the aftershocks, but these were quite jolting, rather than a gentle rocking. At one stage I thought that outside in the garden would be a good place to be - generally, I don't notice the aftershocks so much outside - but the next one came and I understood what people meant when they said they heard a noise like an approaching freight train. Inside, the noise is more of things rattling. Outside, it was definitely like a freight train, and then the ground swayed under me. Strange, with thousands of aftershocks since September, that I've never really heard that sound before.

Things have settled down again, I think. The photo above is another of my favourite photos from this year, taken at the same place as the one in the previous post. On these wild West Coast beaches, making sculptures with the stones seems to be a popular pastime. This is another photo that I use as a desktop background (I have it set to change every 30 minutes).

And here is the trace of the seismograph drum from yesterday:

Other bloggers are sharing their year's favourite photos at Carmi's blog here

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Peace of the Season

I was feeling pretty stressed out in the run up to Christmas. Last year at least Christmas was a Sunday, leaving me a whole free Saturday for last minute preparations. This year I was working up to the last minute, and also committed to some other voluntary tasks. I had all sorts of things that I wanted to finish before Christmas, so they wouldn't be hanging around after.

Here in New Zealand, Christmas is not just Christmas, it is also the unofficial start of summer (probably the official start is 1st December, I'm not sure). After Christmas, nearly everyone goes on holiday. So preparation is not just preparation for Christmas, it's preparation for summer holidays, and it is easy to feel that anything left undone will spoil the holiday feeling.

Well, it's not all done and I realised that I just had to let that go, take a few days to relax, and leave the undone tasks to be done in their own good time in early January. I won't be going away, I have leave from one job, but I'll be using it to work overtime at my other job as I have a big project I'm not going to get done any other way. But I do have two long weekends of four days - one this weekend and one at New Year. Christmas Day, New Year's Day, and the day after each are all public holidays here, and since that falls on a weekend, we get the Monday and Tuesday off in each case.

For next year, I am working on shedding a few responsibilities so that I don't get so overwhelmed. For this year, I am working on finding a little peace within the "overwhelm"

The photo above is one I took on Hokitika beach on the West Coast of New Zealand earlier this year. At first, I was disappointed with it because it was late in the day and the low light made it came out blurry. But there is something about it that draws me. It is one of the photos I use for my desktop background, and it never fails to soothe me when I see it.

Whatever religion you follow, or whether you follow none, I wish you peace and blessings.

Others are sharing favourite photos at Carmi's blog, here

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Flap: The Podcast

Before the launch of "Flap" two of our group were interviewed at Plains FM "Women on Air". Unfortunately I couldn't go as I had to work. But I'm sure Victoria and Barbara made a good job of it. I've just found the podcast on line here. I'll be listening to it over the Christmas break. (Currently it is at the bottom of the first page, but if they add more, you may need to look further down).

Yesterday I chose a poem by Kathleen Jones for my Tuesday Poem post. Kathleen was stuck in London by snow (I suspect she still is) and didn't have her post up at the time I posted, but she has managed internet access in the middle of her travel problems, and has posted a sequence of my poems, Kitchen Sonnets.

And there are twenty eight more excellent Tuesday Poems linked from the hub website here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday Poem: Elizabeth and Mary, by Kathleen Jones

This week the Tuesday poets are participating in a not-so-secret Santa exchange. We have all been paired off to exchange gifts in the form of poems. My partner is Kathleen Jones who generously sent me a fine selection of poems to choose from. They were all excellent poems, but I chose "Elizabeth's Story" in deference to the season.

Kathleen says:
"As a child I was brought up with all the bible stories and even then I kept wondering what the real, human story was behind them. As a mother myself, I began to wonder how these two women had really felt to have what were then thought of as delinquent children who grew up to be such rebels that they became criminalised and were both executed by the governments of the day - Jesus on the orders of Rome and John by Herod. Elizabeth and Mary both lived through the massacres and purges of the times, protecting their children by either fleeing as refugees (Mary to Egypt) or in Elizabeth's case hiding her baby. There are several instances in the old testament where menstruating women (regarded as unclean until ritually purified) managed to conceal things and evade detection, so I used this scenario for Elizabeth concealing John, but this is speculation on my part! John's execution was particularly sad, as he was Elizabeth's only child, born when she was over forty."

Elizabeth's Story

You were my first-born, late-born son.
A gift
concealed beneath my skirt
when Herod's men stood at the door -
like Rachel
crouching on the stool
that kept her stolen birthright,
claiming Custom of Women.

And certainly
I smelt of woman's mysteries,
the birth-blood and the milk

And John
swaddled between my thighs
as if waiting for another birth.

A miracle.

These were the family infections -
miraculous births,
familiarity with angels,
a subversive streak.

My kinswoman and I were powerful women
who practised our own rebellions,
kept our own counsels.

We had imagined our sons differently,
taking their fathers' places.
But hers, already turning
water into wine,
disputing the prophets
with the priests,

and mine
(she grieved with me)
choosing the wilderness
beyond the Jordan,
living on locusts
and wild honey.


Kathleen lives in England near the Lake District but is currently stranded in London, hoping to find some way of getting to Italy to spend Christmas with her partner, the sculptor Neil Ferber. Unfortunately her flight from Heathrow has been cancelled due to snow. Kathy, I hope you make it!

Cancellations seem to be a feature for Kathleen this year, as she was in Christchurch for the Writers Festival in September which was cancelled due to the earthquake. She was to speak about her biography of the writer Katherine Mansfield.

For more poetry on Tuesday, visit the Tuesday Poem hub site here. All the Tuesday poets are linked there in the sidebar.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Flap: the Book Draw

As promised, I have used the sorting hat aka Random number generator to choose a winner. The person who will receive a copy of Flap is Deb.

If you didn't win, and would still like a copy, you can order online from Madras Cafe Books, and support a small bookstore. Thanks everyone for your interest.

(I have been fiddling with the settings on blogger. Now I seem to have a different font, without any option to change it. Darn!)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Earthquake Reprised

Over at Thematic Photographic, Carmi is asking us to share our favourite photos from this year. This post, however, is not so much about my favourite photos as the most significant. I'll never think about 2010 without our September earthquake featuring very prominently in my thoughts. So, I decided to post a collection of my earthquake photos, some from soon after and some more recent. It will take two or three years before the city is rebuilt or at least tidied up.

This week I read that in terms of the size of insurance claims, the Canterbury earthquake was the fifth largest ever. (Although it was dwarfed by the Northridge California earthquake of the mid 1990s). What that tells me is that we are very fortunate. There have been many bigger earthquakes. But the citizens of Haiti, for instance, mostly don't have insurance cover. No cover, no claims. And their possessions probably weren't very valuable to start with. So the size of insurance claims tells me that we are prosperous by world standards, and that we are well looked after in the event of catastrophe.

Still, that statistic did really bring home to me how amazing it was that no one was killed. Of course, as my daughter says, we should count those who died later of heart attacks brought about by stress - there was a significant increase in these in the following weeks. But that's not the way it's done, so according to the official statistics, no one died. Although there were some amazing escape stories. Like the teenager who was flung out of his bed on the first floor of his house, and landed on the lawn outside. He was scratched and bruised but otherwise unharmed. The wall of his bedroom had completely fallen down. (I think Americans call this the second floor, and what we call the ground floor is what we call the first floor - but anyway, he was one floor up).

One of our monthly magazines, North and South Magazine, chooses a "New zealander of the Year" every December. This year, they named "the People of Canterbury" for their resilience and spirit of caring after the earthquake. So, I'm a New Zealander of the Year - along, of course, with many others, a large number of whom probably deserve it far more than I do. My favourite photo is the "Keep Calm and Carry On" fence which I think well illustrates the New Zealand psyche - practical getting on with it, laced with wry humour.

A badly damaged church building

This building is used as an information centre and meeting place for arts events. It is closed for the next year or so.

Our local volunteer library, with significant cracks in the brick work.

The clock tower has been temporarily sheathed in plywood to stop loose bricks from falling. The hands stopped at 4.36 am and it was restarted not long after this photo was taken. Some people thought that it should be left permanently at 4.36 to mark the occasion.

A movement sprung up to make use of vacant sites where buildings had been demolished. The gapfiller project used this site for music performances, movies and poetry readings over a couple of recent weekends. Some other sites will be turned into temporary gardens, until replacement buildings are constructed. Above, Marisa Capetta reading at a poetry event.

Next door to the gapfiller site, a very public toilet as another building is demolished.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Big Tent Poetry: Dead Woman Poems

This week Big Tent Poetry introduced us to Marvin Bell and his Dead Man Poems. Such a specific prompt seemed quite challenging at first, however it was interesting to attempt, although I doubt that my efforts resemble Marvin Bell's too closely. It occurred to me somewhere along the way that there was no reason why my Dead Man shouldn't be a Dead Woman. So she is. I seem to have been writing about birds quite a lot in the last year or two.

1. About the Dead Woman and Birds

The dead woman can hear the birds above her head.
They are scritch scratching in the dirt looking for worms.
The dead woman contemplates the worms, the birds, and the nature of transformation.
Unlike the birds she has no wishbone.
It is too late to wish for anything.
The pole of a scarecrow is embedded in the earth in a neighbouring field.
The birds perch on the scarecrow’s shoulders.
The birds make their nests from the straw that pokes out from the scarecrow’s hat, and from the moss that the dead woman nestles in.
The birds are not afraid of the scarecrow, nor are they afraid of the dead woman.
She is learning the art of lying very still, so as not to frighten the birds.

2. More About the Dead Woman and Birds

See, it’s magic says the dead woman, as she pulls silk handkerchiefs from her pockets, from her sleeves, from under her hat.
The silk handkerchiefs turn into white birds and flutter away.
The dead woman is becoming lighter.
She feels a lifting under the soles of her feet.
She feels a prickling between her shoulder blades where her wings might be.
The dead woman has no boundaries.
She makes small exhalations of air.
She leaves behind her white bones and feels herself rising into the sky like a drift of grey smoke, like the skeins of migrating birds straggling northwards.


More Dead Man poems here
And come back tomorrow for the results of my poetry book draw (if you are quick, you can still ask to be included in the draw for a copy of Flap in which a quarter of the poems come from me)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tuesday Poem: Snow Falls Lightly

It's summer here, but snow is falling in other parts of the world - though not always very lightly!

For my Tuesday Poem this week I chose a poem from Flap: The Chook Book 2 written by Barbara McCartney, one of my co-authors of this book. It was previously published in North and South magazine.

Flap can be purchased on line from the Madras Cafe Bookshop. I earlier wrote about how this small bookshop had to close its doors. Fortunately it has found new premises, and is also still operating its website, so I am happy to support a small business by putting sales of our book through their website.

snow falls lightly

a bleak back country road
we're confronted by two bulls
and further on
a posse of steers giving the cockie a hard time

wanders over, stands like John Wayne -
a sarcastic bastard, tonnes of cheek
keen-eyed dogs milling

one of the worst five jobs in the world
he says - reckons sheep worse than cattle
- more dogmatic - but women -
wear you down to worm tucker -
reckon no man's perfect 'til he's under their thumb

yeah - women - love the outdoors
'til winter chucks a few curve balls -
they scuttle back to town

now the wind's changed, the rain horizontal
time to call it a day.

we turn back
he plods on with his dogs


through all the restless night
snow falls lightly

Friday, December 10, 2010

Big Tent Poetry: Referential

Referential Magazine is an online journal based on an interesting premise - submissions must refer back to a poem they have already published, by taking inspiration from a word or phrase in a poem from the site.

This week's task at Big Tent Poetry was to write a poem based on something found at Referential. My poem is based on the words tibia, fibula and the phrase coins in the sack from Elizabeth Langemak's poem, Self Portrait as Fake Saint with Wheel

The Grave Robbers

He doesn’t have any use for it now,
it’s clear, his soul long since gone
and his silver coin to pay the ferryman
fallen to earth from his clenched grasp.

The last shreds of flesh melted into the earth.
All that we saw a few tufts of hair,
his bleached bones, sightless sockets.
I pushed gold bangles high up my arm,

filled a sack with gold coins,
buckled his sword belt round my waist,
snatched the sword from where it lay
beside his lifeless bones – tibia, fibula

hoisted his plough on my back,
filled a sack with gold coins.
We left as quickly as we came,
in the dark hour of the night

when there were none to observe us,
and the noise we heard was only an owl
calling “Who? who?”, though our hearts
beat faster, and a fox in the shadows

seemed to fix us with its stare,
and our step quickened as we heard a rustle behind us
- only the wind stirring the leaves, we said –
but we stumbled over tree roots

and I fell headlong, dropped my sack,
its mouth open, a coin as round and silver
as the moon splashing into a puddle
and staring up at me, a single accusing eye.

For more referential poems, go here

And I have a give away this week. One copy of our recently published book Flap: The Chook Book 2, written by the Poetry Chooks, a group of whom I am one quarter. If you would like to go in the drawer, please say so in the comments. I'll leave the draw open until Saturday 17th at 6pm New Zealand time - which is somewhere around 6am Sunday GMT

Thematic Photographic: Family

Family doesn't always mean humans. Unlike my own family, these pelicans are unlikely to complain at finding their photos on my blog, having no understanding of the word "privacy" . And who knew that baby pelicans were black? Not me, at any rate, until I met these three, who were clearly hanging out with mama pelican and therefore, I assume, her offspring.

For my family themed photos, visit Thematic Photographic here.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Tuesday Poem: A Little Night Music

I have been revisiting some of my older poems, and either tweaking or making wholesale revisions. I picked this one because it seemed to fit the season. I wrote it a few years ago, at this time of year, when I was taking long walks most evenings. (Oh, to have the free time to do the same now!)

I think it still needs a little work, but for now, here it is:

A Little Night Music

1. Alla marcia

The day’s heat lingers
Through open windows, light spills
into the park. A radio is playing
“when the saints…”
Footsteps crunch on gravel,
somewhere a dog barks,
and the saints go marching
on 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 all the passing walkers,
to each other, to the river,
to the eels in the shadows,
and “Merry Christmas” to the moon.

3. Allegro appassionata

A tree frog is chirping a cadenza
to all the females in the pond.
In the flower beds, the rustling of leaves
and the squeals of hedgehogs.
In nearby houses, footsteps in hallways
and the sound of closing doors.


For more Tuesday Poems, go here.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

NZSA Mentorship Scheme

On Beatties Book blog, I spotted an article about the New Zealand Society of Authors Mentorship scheme. Applications are now open for a programme designed to help new and emerging writers develop skills, by working on specific projects under the guidance of an experienced mentor.

I won't be applying this year but I have a time frame in mind by which I may well apply in future. One paragraph, though, brought me up short. After saying Mentored projects including poetry collections, novels and work for children have been accepted for publication... I find further down the article that
There are 15 full mentorships available in the 2011 programme, as well as two half-mentorships of 10 hours each which are available for work - such as picture book texts or poetry - that is deemed not to require a full mentorship.

What are they saying here? Poetry is somehow less than fiction, and doesn't require so much work? Some might argue this is fair enough, the average poetry collection being considerably shorter than the average novel. On the other hand, it is far more condensed, and each word matters. In a novel, the reader is far less conscious of individual words. Anything clunky will stick out and need attention given to it, but it is less critical that absolutely every word deserves its place. So questions of plot, structure, narrative arc and so on become more to the fore.

Presumably, some things are the responsibility of the author, before mentorship is sought. So I don't have a fixed idea in my head as to whether or not a poetry mentorship should be a full mentorship, with as many hours devoted to it as would be spent on mentoring a novel. But it does leave me wondering..

And raises a second question. Can poets also apply for a full mentorship? Or do all the poets have to compete with the picture book writers for one of two half mentorships, while the novelists can apply for one of fifteen full mentorships? That seems a bit ...uneven. There are dozens and dozens of budding poets around. Not so many novelists. (Or non-fiction writers - I presume biographies, works of history and so on also qualify). I could be entirely wrong on this. I'm just judging by the people I know, and a lot of them are poets. But then, I attend poetry events, so it's reasonable that I would know a lot of poets!

Still, the whole paragraph seems to make poetry something less (and picture books, too!), whereas the first sentence I quoted put poetry ahead of fiction in the list of successful projects.

I think I had better head on over to the Society of Authors website and see if I can find out more.

Thematic Photographic: Night

An excuse to post another holiday photograph. This is a seafood restaurant on the Hastings River at Port Macquarie, New South Wales where we had a break for a week in September. Most of my nighttime photos seem to be taken on holiday, perhaps it's because then I take more time to relax, fiddle around with camera settings, and take the time to get one that I like.

For more night photography, go here

Friday, December 03, 2010

Big Tent Poetry: Enough

Just a single word prompt at Big Tent Poetry this week: enough.
I did a free write and seemingly got nowhere, then as I was going to bed that night this memory popped into my head - someone I knew at university long ago telling me about the coat he wore - his father's. The details are my own embellishments.

The Coat

“It was my father’s coat” says Aldis
and while he tells the story, I see
a figure trekking eastwards across Europe
ahead of the Russian armies. His scuffed boots,
nine days’ growth on his chin, his thick wool coat
almost to the ground, dark against the snow.
It carries all that he has, but it is enough.
It is his safe, his valuables sewn into the lining.
It is his tent, his transport,
his camouflage in dark alleys,
it is his cupboard with its capacious pockets.
It is his blanket and his pillow on his long journey
by foot and by ship to a new land far to the south
to a city where snow is only on distant mountains
and on ti kouka, summer’s blossoming cabbage trees.

Aldis explains his father’s coat and I see his father
and his father’s father before him, looking out through his eyes,
I see the coat that swirls round his ankles
and keeps out the chill Wellington wind,
almost too well, it is so thick.
It is his family album, his education,
his history lesson, his father’s arms about his shoulders,
it is all he has left of his father
and it is enough.


More poems on the subject of "enough" here

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tuesday Poem

The Tuesday Poem community is an initiative by New Zealand writer Mary McCallum, and others , to post a poem every Tuesday. Thirty writers each post a poem on their own blog, and each week there is one post on the main Tuesday Poem hub site.

I have finally taken the plunge and joined them.

This week, the Pike River Coal Mine disaster has been much on our minds here in the South Island. And so, I thought of Jim Brock and his book The Sunshine Mine Disaster. Jim is an associate professor of English at Florida Gulf Coast University, who blogs at Gods and Money. He has kindly allowed me to post a poem from his collection this week.

Of course, each mining accident is different. The Sunshine Mine Disaster took place in a silver mine in Idaho. There are similarities but there are also differences, nevertheless it is a fine collection of poems. Some address the disaster more directly, others are concerned with the miners involved. I was attracted to Aubade because although we don't have elk here, we do have deer - not native to New Zealand, but introduced for hunting - and I'm sure many of the West Coast miners would have been keen hunters in their spare time.

Aubade: Good Daylight

If a man doesn’t like to rush,
and I don’t, he can spend a half hour
in the dry-house: pull on his t-shirt,
overalls, wool socks, steel-toed

rubber boots, helmet, belt,
battery pack and light, a denim
jacket. And still time to make
good daylight at 6:30 a.m.

in Big Creek Canyon. Most
Mays, on the ridge above the Crescent
Mine, you can see ten or
twelve head of elk below the snow

line. It’s easy, in this work,
to think of cave paintings, when
you see wildlife in the dawn’s
light, before pounding the face

with dynamite, mucking out
the rock, clearing the new ground.
But I don’t like that kind
of confusion. Extraction counts

for nothing, save the pay dirt.
And those paintings are just some
lines, guttural and round, copies
of animals that had come out

of nowhere and had nowhere
to go on this slow earth. Today
three elk appear, two females
and a calf, feeding off

the greening bitter-brush. To the
calf, I say, “Grow fat, bastard,”
as I measure the distances of two
Octobers with a thumb, a hair



Footnote: My own poem, Blue, is the Tuesday Poem at Helen Lowe's website this week.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Quilts in the Library

The library where we had our book launch was hosting an exhibition of quilts this month. I was too busy the day of the launch to look, but I went back later.

These quilts are made by the members of the Refugee and Migrant Quilt Group. Each quilt had a card displayed with it telling the name of the maker and something about her. The women are from many countries, predominantly Asia but also Egypt, Jordan and Latvia among others. The group is a place where they can learn not just sewing skills, but English, and in addition make new friends. The quilts range from very simple to more comples - here are a few details from some of the more complex ones:

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Big Tent Poetry

This week's prompt at Big Tent Poetry was a wordle.
The words offered: hung, ash-pit, forklifted, boiler, nib, clunk, hand, awake, resurfaced, passed, cupped, lush.
I let them sit in my mind for a couple of days until I came across this post at one of my favourite science blogs, The Artful Amoeba.

This is the result (I worked in most of the words)


When he hears the clunk of the blade
in soft soil, the bulldozer driver climbs down
to find a massive bone. This soft earth
cupped in a hollow in the mountains
is now revealed as the site of an ancient swamp.
Lush grass bordered its edges.
Animals blundered in, bogged down,
while the peak hung above.
Work now stops. The driver moves to another job,
experts are called in to see
what has resurfaced.
Later, the driver returns
to read the story, written
not with nib on paper,
but in rows of exhibits - ancient grass seeds,
fragment of an iridescent beetle,
wood marked with glyphs by the teeth
of a prehistoric beaver. He passes
rows of bones - sloth, salamander, bison -
to gaze at the huge tusks,
imagines himself at the controls
of such a beast,
all that opposes him
forklifted and tossed lightly
into the air.
He raises a hand in salute.


It's rough, but I'm not too worried about that. Lately, I've started revising old poems from a year or two back. I've discovered the "housework method" of editing is remarkably successful. I read over and think about the poem for about ten minutes or so. Then I leave it alone and go and do housework. (Gardening works too, or a walk, or a long soak in the bathtub if actual work doesn't appeal). Somehow my subconscious keeps on working at the poem and I figure out what needs fixing, and how to fix it. So I'll probably put this one away for a year or so as well, and then come back to it.

To see what others did with these words, go here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What's a Doorbell For?

When I got up this morning, I went outside to collect the newspaper, and found a card from the courier service on our back doorstep. They had tried to deliver a parcel but we were "unavailable".

So I phoned to arrange an alternative. On Wednesdays and Fridays I work near the courier depot, which is on the other side of town. so I asked to pick it up at the depot, hoping it would be there by late afternoon when I was on my way home. I called for it about five fifteen, but it hadn't made it back to the depot. That courier must be having a long day, since it was around seven thirty when he left the card.

At that point, I thought that I had better try and get it redelivered tomorrow, because otherwise I couldn't pick it up until Friday. When I asked for it to be redelivered, I said "and please ask him to ring the doorbell". That's when I found out that the courier drivers are not allowed to ring the doorbell!. Apparently, they got too many complaints from shift workers that the courier driver woke them up by ringing the doorbell.

Well, from my viewpoint, if you have a doorbell, it is so that people can ring it. (Especially in a large house like ours, where we just don't hear a knock at the door). And if you have a parcel sent by courier, you are paying extra for prompt delivery, not to make the recipient run all over town trying to collect the parcel. Shift workers should disable the doorbell if they really don't want it rung. And then the rest of us can get our parcels delivered promptly.

There is now a large message left for the courier driver that he is to ring the doorbell on the instructions of the customer. Hopefully, all is now well, until next time at least. And I will take delivery of the parcel, whatever it is, in the morning.

End of small rant :)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Paper Butterflies

It was sunny yesterday, so I went to take a photograph of the paper butterflies mentioned in the poem in my previous post:

(actually they weren't paper, but some sort of fabric - just as well given Saturday's heavy rain)

and while I was there I noticed the sunbathers on a nearby roof:

These houses are part of Urban Rooms - a scheme that provides reasonably priced accommodation for medium term visitors - those staying a month or more, often international students studying English in Christchurch. They really brighten up the area!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Weekend Poem

Just when you thought it was safe
to put the jars back on the shelf,
the wine in the rack,
the books in the book case,
there is another tremor.

Just when you thought it was safe
to hang the pictures on the wall,
plaster over the cracks,
build castles in the air,
the earth is shaking again.

The city is all falling bricks and blossoms.
You keep a torch by your bed,
water in the cupboard,
stack heavy books along the foot
of the walls, put Blu-Tak under everything,
tie cupboard doors shut.

Your chimney has toppled,
your neighbour's house is off kilter,
your friend's buisness has shut its doors.

And then, just when you thought it was safe
to mope in corners, dress in black,
put on your gloomiest face,
there is music in the park,
the first strawberries of summer,
the generosity of strangers,
sunlight sparkling on fountains
and you drive down the street
past a tree filled with paper butterflies.


I thought it was time I wrote something for Big Tent Poetry, but instead of writing to their prompt I chose something else. I'm not doing the November poem a day challenge but I have been following the blogs of several who are. A few days ago the prompt was Just when you thought it was safe followed the next day by "a stacking poem". I've been resisting writing an earthquake poem - I'm sure we will be inundated by earthquake poetry at all the poetry readings in Christchurch in the next few months - but this prompt seemed made for an earthquake poem. I'm sure this is not the best I have to write on the subject, but it's a start.

The photo at the head of the post is a church I passed yesterday when I took a different route home from work than usual. I shot it through the mesh of the safety fence surrounding the grounds. I was going to photograph the tree full of paper butterflies, but there wasn't any parking nearby. I may manage to do so later in the weekend, if it stops raining.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Poetry Quote

Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo - Don Marquis

A quote that particularly appealed to me in light of our recent book launch!
You can receive writing quotes in your in box each day by sending a blank e-mail to:

Christchurch: A Safe Place to Park Your Car

On the news tonight: Tauranga is the most dangerous city in New Zealand to park your car. Apparently there are more than 200% more claims for damage to parked cars in Tauranga than anywhere else in New Zealand. About a third of these happen in supermarket car parks.

Christchurch is the safest place.
Unless there is an earthquake and this happens:

Not a very well-timed piece of news, perhaps! And I was going to say that we had had a quiet few days, but there was another small aftershock while I was typing.
Although it's good to know that we have courteous drivers.
(On the other hand,it was reported that nine out of ten people who ding parked cars don't leave a note on the windscreen).

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Earthquakes in Black and White

The council has sent contractors to repair the cracks in our street. So, instead of cracks a few millimetres wide (some of which were caused by the earthquake, and ran straight across the street - and some more irregular ones which may or may not be earthquake related) we now have wonderful calligraphic lines in black tar. An example above.

I was trying to think of which photos in my files might loo good desaturated for Carmi's black and white theme, since I always shoot in colour, and then I thought of these lines and strolled down the street to take a few photographs.

We had quite a restful week, earthquake wise. And then I started to tackle a heap of ironing, a bit at a time. After the first couple of times, I found myself thinking "Do I really still need to put the iron away each time? Since we don't seem to have had any aftershocks for a while?" Fortunately, I decided that I really did. Because we had about three in the night, one of which woke me at one thirty in the morning, and another equally strong one late afternoon today - either of which seemed potentially strong enough to topple an iron left out on a tall narrow ironing board. Probably by the time the aftershocks really stop (I'm told they could go on for a year), it will be an ingrained habit to put it away every time.

Somewhere I read that the count is now around 2900. Of course, apart from the scientists, nobody here is still counting. And there are plenty I've slept through, or not noticed through being in a moving car or other such place, or out of the country for two weeks - but no doubt if I'd counted I'd be up to a few hundred.

People are complaining of the slowness of the assessment process for insurance. I can understand that those whose houses are uninhabitable want it sorted. But for minor damage, I suspect slowness is a good thing. Not all the cracks in our walls and ceilings were there straight after the first quake. I'd like to think that by the time the assessors come around, all the damage that is going to appear will have finished appearing.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Flap: The Book Launch

It has been a busy few days, starting with the launch of our poetry book Flap: The Chook Book 2 on Saturday.
Well, actually, starting before that, since this was a co-operative effort, and there was catering to be done. So evenings last week, and Saturday morning, were spent baking mini-muffins, ready for the launch at 1 p.m.

We had a great time and it was a welcome diversion from aftershocks of which there were quite a cluster on Friday evening and Saturday morning. I'm beginning to realise why one never reads much mention in the newspapers of the duration of aftershocks, which apparently can go on for months. Because after all, what is there to be said? Reporting that "we had another aftershock" simply becomes repetitive in a very short time. And we have all long since lost count of how many.

There's a bit of a shortage of structurally sound function rooms in Christchurch at the moment, but fortunately the room we had booked at the lovely modern Christchurch South Library was undamaged. We sold books, our MC Fiona Farrell gave a warm and generous speech to launch the book, we thanked all the many people who had a part in its production - cover design, layout, printers, Creative Communities for grant funding, and the support from the library staff. Then we each read two poems from the book, and then we relaxed and celebrated.

From left to right: The Poetry Chooks: Victoria Broome, Christina Stachurski, Catherine Fitchett (myself), Barbara McCartney, with Fiona Farrell our MC and editorial advisor.

Lynda who took these photos didn't stay for the readings and speeches, I am still waiting on photos taken later from my husband as he took them in RAW format and so I can't import them directly onto my computer.

Helen Lowe is featuring poems from the book as her choice for Tuesday Poem over the next few weeks. Here is the first of her selections : Victoria Broome's The Foreign Office

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Thematic Photographic: Electric

This photo may not appear at first glance to have anything to do with Carmi's theme for this week - Electric.
Reefton is a tiny town on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, just an ice cream stop for us on our road trip last February. However it was once a busy gold mining centre, and later a centre for coal mining.

The reason I posted this photo was that in 1888 Reefton became the first town in the Southern Hemisphere to be lit by electricity. You can read more of the history of Reefton here.

(The book launch was a great success. I will post about it when I have gathered my thoughts a little. Looking forward to a much quieter week next week).

Thursday, November 04, 2010

More on the Book Launch

I have been spending most evenings this week baking mini muffins for the book launch on Saturday. I think the family is going to be well-fed on the rejects - the too cooked or not cooked enough, and the ones where I left out the baking powder!

I like Alison Holst's cook books very much, but she insists on using self raising flour which is not really a New Zealand thing. Why pay a lot more for self raising flour when you can just buy regular flour and add the baking powder yourself? The trouble is, a couple of times, I forgot to add it. On one of those occasions, I realised a minute after I had put the muffins in the oven, so I pulled them out, scraped out the mixture, stirred in the baking powder and put them back. They are OK but a bit chewy when over-mixed. And the ones that didn't have baking powder at all taste not too bad, but they look sad and flat. I still have Friday night and Saturday morning to bake a few more batches!

I have been asked about purchasing the book overseas. At the moment we are handling all the sales ourselves, so you can e-mail me at upsidedownpoet at gmail dot com to order a copy. You can post a personal cheque in any major currency, or pay through my husband's Paypal account. I can calculate the appropriate exchange rate if necessary. I am also looking into what I need to do to have it available online at Fishpond, New Zealand's on line book store.

Two of our group will be interviewed on Plains FM's Women on Air programme on Saturday morning (actually they have recorded the interview already, but it will play on Saturday morning). It's possible this will be available as a podcast, if so I will post the link.

Congratulations to Victoria, one of the group, who has been shortlisted for the Kathleen Grattan poetry award.

And here we are on the Christchurch library blog.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

More Yellow

I think I may have posted some of these images before, but yellow is my favourite colour, and I couldn't resist sharing a few more.

Monday, November 01, 2010

A Part of History

I came across this photo when I was searching through my files for yellow images. I decided to post it, not because I think it's a particularly good photo, but because this building (photographed last year) is now history, having been badly damaged in the earthquake. It was demolished shortly after, and there is nothing there but a bare plot of land.

There is some discussion about using at least some of the bare plots as gardens until such time as they are built on again, instead of the default option of temporary parking lot. I hope this eventuates, the city could use the beautification.

I spent part of the weekend walking round the house with a pen and paper listing all the cracks in ceilings. These are mostly a result of aftershocks, rather than the original quake. And some were there before, but trying to remember which is a challenge. After all, most older houses have some settling over the years. I think that most of the damage is probably surface, as a result of the ceiling panels flexing in the shocks and tearing the lining paper. But we will put in an insurance claim and have it assessed to be sure.

For more yellow photos, visit Thematic Photographic here

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Book Launch

Flap: The Chook Book 2
To be launched on Saturday, November 6
1 pm at Christchurch South Library

by The Poetry Chooks: Victoria Broome, Catherine Fitchett, Barbara McCartney, Christina Stachurski
with MC Fiona Farrell

Cover design by Mike Cooke

Only six sleeps to go!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Goodbye to an Old Friend

On the way to work yesterday I made a quick dash into the Madras Cafe Bookshop to take advantage of its closing down sale. (And also because I had an unused gift voucher that I wanted to use before they closed the doors). I don't think the closure is directly earthquake related, but the landlord has raised the rent above what they can afford - and the shortage of affordable premises for small, niche businesses is certainly not helped by the effects of the quake.

We need to value our small independent bookstores. Big chains may have their place, but it is the smaller stores that I head to when I want to find books beyond just those being promoted heavily by the big chains (and more and more, the big chains stock cookbooks, gardening books and celebrity biographies). I head to independent bookstores when I want good service, and perhaps a title ordered in specially. It is the small bookstores who are willing to stock books by local poets who are doing their own distribution - you can walk in off the street and say "will you stock my book"?

As for MCB as it is known locally, it has been host to many, many poetry readings, book launches and similar events over the years. It will be missed.

(After I took the second shot, I realised that the low light had led to a very long, blurry exposure. I thought of trying again, but I've seen so many Holga and Lomo photos on blogs in the last couple of years, that I'm beginning to get used to photos that once I would have thought technically imperfect. I decided I rather liked the effect).

Friday, October 29, 2010

Thematic Photographic: Yellow

Yellow hire boats photographed at Nelson Bay, Port Stephens, Australia on our recent trip. Blue and yellow together always make me feel summery.

For more yellow themed photos go here

Monday, October 25, 2010

Truth in Poetry

The other day I was checking out the Poetry Daily site and I came across an opening line that brought me up short:

Discovered in a New Zealand school's basement: a colony of garter snakes

It set me to musing on truth in poetry. I recalled a favourite poem by New Zealand poet Lauris Edmond, The condition. In it, she tells of standing on a bridge with a friend, watching trout, when he tells her that if they go upstream, they suffocate. I heard that this is not in fact true, but when he was told so, she refused to change the poem, because her very dear friend had told her so, and he must be right.

Well, In this case I can't see how the poem can be changed without destroying the poem. And besides, since she refers in the poem to what her friend says, there is no actual untruth in the poem - it is true that that is what she was told. It didn't really spoil my enjoyment of the poem to find that trout can, in fact, safely swim upstream.

But back to the Poetry Daily poem, Ourobouros. What is it that stopped me at the first line? Simply that there are no snakes in New Zealand. No native snakes, and no introduced snakes. Not in the wild, not in zoos, not in pet stores, not brought in for movies. They simply aren't allowed. So there is no way that anyone ever discovered a single garter snake in a New Zealand school's basement, let alone a colony. (Come to think of it, most schools that I know of don't even have basements).

The strange thing is that it seems totally spurious to set the poem in New Zealand. Substitute "New England" for "New Zealand" and the poem seems to work fine, though New England residents may tell me otherwise. I can just imagine that the poet may have heard this anecdote somewhere, and misheard "New Zealand" for "New England" so that's what she wrote when she developed her poem. It is probably a fine poem, but it lost all credibility with me as soon as I read the first line. I don't believe all poems have to be factual, but I do think that there are times when a little fact-checking is necessary.

I'd be interested to hear other opinions: do errors of fact matter in a poem or not?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Friday Evening

I stopped off on my way through the city after work on Friday. A three day weekend ahead. Friday evening always seems full of possibility. These photos were taken between the spot where I parked the car and the bookshop. A moment to savour.

The stone lion is part of the remembrance archway for World War I soldiers.

After work chilling out in the restaurants along Oxford Terrace

A chef takes a quiet moment in an alley

This fellow guards the entrance to the Bangalore Polo Club restaurant.

Today I felt sluggish. Eventually I did a bit of pottering in the garden. There was a massive eight hour free concert put together in Hagley Park to give people a lift after the earthquake. I caught some of it on TV, I picked out the acts I enjoy but I don't do crowds very well, and don't think I would have enjoyed being there, standing up, for hours on end through both music I like and music I don't. Clearly though, from the faces in the crowd shots, it was much appreciated.

And then this evening I dropped my daughter off at a friend's 21st party, in an area still without working sewerage, so I found myself driving past rows of portable toilets on the footpaths, over roads that were bumpy and cracked.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Feeding Time

Another holiday photo. This is a fish cleaning station in Port Stephens, New South Wales. The pelicans (these are just a few of them) were lined up patiently waiting for the scraps.

For Thematic Photographic's theme: savour

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Birthday List #38

Ride a Camel

- added to my birthday list when I found that camel riding was a tourist attraction in Port Macquarie, where we spent a week of our holiday.

The chances of ticking off everything on the list are not looking very good! I'm going to have to speed up my efforts a little. Of course, I'm sure I'll do lots of things that I didn't think to put on the list. Like experiencing a magnitude 7.1 earthquake!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Decluttering, and Other Things

I have been decluttering, which has been as much mental as physical. On Saturday, I found that a good hill walk went a long way to clearing out some of the tension I was feeling over multiple work and other obligations.

The hills are astonishingly green, the result of an exceptionally wet winter and warm spring. In fact it was so green just here, my eyes hurt a little to look at it.

Since Saturday, I have been much better focussed on getting through my "to do" list. This includes some writing for an online course. I'd been putting it off for a couple of weeks, so I signed up for 750 words, and having been tackling the various exercises by "stream of consciousness" writing - not so much like Julia Cameron's morning pages, which the site is designed for, but more like Natalie Goldberg's writing practice.

The other part of my daily writing practice is to observe three specific things each day and record them in a notebook. More on this in another post.

Apart from the mental decluttering, I've been doing some physical decluttering as well. Mainly in my writing/sewing studio. I managed to get it tidied up enough that I could get through the small door into the attic. I wanted to check out the chimney for quake damage not visible on the outside, and I had also heard of people who had found their roof beams had cracked in the quake or aftershocks. Fortunately, there were no signs of damage. I also went and bought some more lever arch files. It turns out that these folders don't do too well with repeatedly falling on the floor every time there is a big aftershock. The rings that hold the papers in get bent out of alignment and won't quite go back. So I've moved all the papers concerned to new folders, and rearranged the shelves so that the folders sit on the bottom shelf.

Just as well - we had another big aftershock today. Power went off in some parts of the city, there were goods off the shelves in quite a few supermarkets, and the airport shut down for about an hour while they checked for damage. I was at work, just beside some metal shelving full of files, and it shook and rattled rather alarmingly. I was just about to stop trying to steady my computer and dive for the shelter of the desk instead when it started to die down. I never quite appreciated before how long the aftershocks go on for after a big earthquake.

Spotted the following on the way home from work - someone has edited this sign:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Open for Business

The mayor of Christchurch wants us to spread the word - we are open for business!

So yes - although there are temporary fences around damaged buildings wherever you go, the weather is great, the flowers are blooming, and events are carrying on as normal. There is no shortage of good accommodation and restaurants that are open. It's still a good place to come for a holiday! The shaking? - Well, it might be a truck going past, or a sudden gust of wind (it's not, it's yet another aftershock, but they are harmless, really. Sometimes we don't notice any for a few days, and then there are several, but if you are out and about, you generally miss them.)

At the weekend the Indian community - and all of Christchurch with them - were celebrating Diwali in Victoria Square. I went along and took a few photos, though I didn't stay for the evening celebrations - Diwali is a festival of lights, so the event was planned to go on after dark.

The first photo shows the Diwali stars that decorated the area, and the second, some performers waiting backstage for their turn.