Friday, February 26, 2010

The Vertical Lawn

An "installation" at the front of the Canterbury Museum as part of the Christchurch Floral Festival. It's made of real grass growing in a felt backing, with water trickling down to keep it fresh and green (though it seems to be withering a little at the top).

A detail:

Posted for this week's Thematic Photographic: The Grass is Always Greener

(Something seems to have gone wrong with my Photoshop settings. These pics are way smaller than I intended, but it's late at night so I'm not going to try and fix it right now).

Update: fixed it!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hokitika Beach

The West Coast has about 2000 mm of rain every year - more in the south. It's possible to go there and find glorious sunny weather, but it's best to be prepared for rain. While we were there, we experienced a pattern of rain at night and sometimes into the morning, clearing in time for warm sunny afternoons, and clouding over again by the evening.

It was sunny and hot while we were at Shantytown, but by the time we arrived at Hokitika that evening it had clouded over again, so our excursion to the beach to watch the sunset was rather doomed to failure. This is the best we could manage:

But despite the lack of sunset, the following two photos really appealed to me (even though the second one is technically rather unsharp, due to the low light and lack of a tripod):

Monday, February 22, 2010


Shantytown is a tourist attraction near the main West Coast town of Greymouth. It reconstructs a mining village of the 19th century, with a small section of historic railway, gold sluicing and panning demonstrations, old style shops etc

For $5 a time, visitors can try their hand at gold panning - the gravel is carefully preloaded with flakes of gold which you get to keep in a small glass vial. Look carefully and you will see the gold flakes among the rust of the pan.

A display of old style scales in one of the shops

This weka was wandering around in the bush (the New Zealand term for "forest") near the end of the railway. Here in Christchurch, we live on the edge of a large plain which has been cleared for farming. Consequently, the birds we see are mainly introduced birds, as native birds mostly prefer forest. It was a delight on the West Coast to see these flightless birds wandering around everywhere. They are very cheeky and curious, and like the kiwi are flightless. I took many photos, this was the one I liked best.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Seagull, Bruce Bay

Heading south from Fox Glacier, the road suddenly arrives at the coast at this rather wild and windswept bay. This is the main tourist route on the West Coast (it is the only through route on the West Coast). Nearly every tourist who passes by, whether in a campervan, car, or perhaps even a bus, must have stopped at this beach. Someone built a driftwood and stone sculpture, and as these things do, the trace they left behind sparked its imitators, so now the beach is crowded with driftwood and stone structures.

The seagull posed beside one of these structures as if to say "look what I made". It is as far as I can tell a young red-billed gull. We have red-billed gulls and black-billed gulls which are very similar to each other. The difference is not in the colour of their bills but in their feet. Young red-billed gulls have black bills but red feet. Young black-billed gulls have red bills but black feet. (When adult, they do in fact have the same colour bills as their name). The situation is complicated by the fact that they are now interbreeding. The brown markings on the wings are an indication of immaturity, it will lose those in adulthood. I thought they toned beautifully with the stones.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lake, Mountain, Tree

Last week I managed to squeeze out a few days' leave from work and head off on a road trip. My daughter has a friend visiting from the UK and we thought she should see more of the South Island than just Christchurch, so the four of us (husband, self, daughter and friend) headed over the Alps to the West Coast, down the coast and back through the Haast Pass and up the middle of the island on the east side of the Alps to Christchurch.

I have been spending the past few evenings sorting and editing photos and uploading some to an online site for printing.

Here are a few for a starter:

Knowing less now, and alone
These things make for me
A gauge to measure the unknown
- Lake, mountain, tree
Sings Harry

- Denis Glover

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Road Trip

We're off on a road trip in a few days. My daughter has a visitor from the UK, and we thought it would be good to show here some of the South Island besides Christchurch. So we are heading for the West Coast in hopes of seeing some of the spectacular scenery (glaciers, rainforest etc) through the famed West Coast rain. It seems that it doesn't matter which country you are in - New Zealand, Scotland, the US - it rains on the west coast.

In the meantime it seemed fitting that Carmi's topic for Thematic Photographic this week is On the Road. Obviously I have no photos of the west coast yet, so here is one from our last road trip in the far north of the country. And yes, this is a legal road. The remains of a car buried by sand show what happens if you don't check the tides before setting out.

For those not in the know, the beach is Ninety Mile Beach, which is actually 55 miles long.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Poetry x 12: February

There's more I could say about my January reading,but I need to get on with February. This month I am reading All of it Singing: New and Selected Poems by Linda Gregg. The challenge for the month is to read a book recommended by another blogger. Again, I'm stretching it a little as it takes time to order online and the selection of poetry available at our library or locally isn't huge.

It was Dana whose blog introduced me to Linda Gregg, though not to this book in particular. I decided that it counted.

If anyone hasn't chosen a book yet, you may be interested in one of my recommendations:

Mount Clutter or Twigs and Knucklebones by Sarah Lindsay
or And Her Soul out of Nothing by Olena Kalytiak Davis

There are poems in all three books that just blew me away.

Enjoyable, But Is It Really Poetry?

The title of this post was the heading on a review of a local anthology of prose and poetry in The Press, the main Christchurch newspaper. It had me spluttering in my morning coffee.

I haven't read the anthology, but I do have an idea of what it contains, having seen the submission guidelines, and flipped through the finished book. The reviewer seems to be breaking what I understood to be a fundamental rule of reviewing, that you review a book for what it is. You don't complain of a science fiction novel that it is not a romance, or of a book of light verse that it fails to follow modern semiotic techniques (whatever they might be). This reviewer, instead of actually reviewing the poetry, jumps on his soapbox:

How strange that the poetical traditions of rhyme and thythm, which go back well over six centuries ...seem to have disappeared without trace.

He then says Of course, I am not maintaining that rhyme and regular rhythmic patterns are necessary for poetry which seems to me to be a bit of a cop-out, given that he fails to review the poems on any other basis than their lack of thyme and rhythm. Further, he suggests that it is not particularly difficult for any reasonably literate person to produce this kind of thing. That comment seems to me not only to disparage most contemporary poetry, but also prose. If poetry becomes easy to write once presented in irregular lines with no rhyme, then surely he is saying that prose is easy to write too? He gives no recognition to the fact that not all sequences of words produce the same effect and that words have to be chosen equally as carefully for their sound and meaning whether they are presented as prose, unrhymed unmetrical verse, or rhymed and metrical poetry.

As I said in my earlier post on the poets of 1951, I began to feel that at that point the tradition of rhymed verse had reached a dead end. One of the reasons that the rhymed verse of 1951 sounds so much less modern to me than the unrhymed verse is that the unrhymed version makes much more use of normal speech rhythms, or at least something that could pass for it. The poets who still wrote in rhyme and meter still seemed to use some of the old techniques of inverting normal word order to make it fit. It's the "Procrustean" technique - if it won't fit the form, chop it about and rearrange it until it does. (Procrustes, apparently, was known for chopping or stretching his guests to make them fit the bed).

Besides Denis Glover, reviewed in my previous post, I read Adrienne Rich's first published collection "A Change of World" and Mary Stanley's "A Starveling Year". The latter was a 1994 reprint - she attracted little attention in her time, and it was republished, with additional poems, at a time of renewed interest in some of New Zealand's earlier women writers. The original was published in 1953, but it went to the publisher in 1951, so I stretched the rules. It was her only published work, whereas Adrienne Rich, of course, went on to have a long and distinguished career.

Checking over the two books, I find that Rich for the most part does not use inversion of word order. Mary Stanley sometimes does. Overall, there are fewer examples than my first impression - which goes to show how strongly the technique colours our impressions of a poem - invert the word order and it immediately stands out as being what the traditionally-minded seem to think of as "poetic".
For example
I by all my imperfections stand accused

the water-walking god in greed
exploratory fingers thrusts

Other passages, while staying with normal word order, nevertheless sound very formal:
put off constricting day (Would you invite your husband to bed with those words?)

Cut off by tides we here are islanded
also by time and graver circumstance

When contemporary poets, rarely, choose rhyme and metre, it sounds different. There is often more use of enjambment. The rhymes may be slant rhymes. They manage something far more difficult than what was expected of earlier generations of poets - they make the lines sound much more like everyday informal speech, so that the rhyme and metre seem to intrude less. It's difficult to do. When it comes off, it's lovely - some of my favourite contemporary poems are rhymed. (And it's not that I don't like the old ones - I do, but I wouldn't expect a modern poet to write like Keats or Hardy or Frost, any more than I would expect a modern novelist to write like Jane Austen or Charles Dickens.) Here's a recent example of rhymed verse at the Poetry Daily website - look for the abba rhyme scheme.

And one more thing - rhymed poetry, particularly poetry that concludes with a rhyming couplet, just sounds so damned sure of itself. In today's more complex world, it's not always appropriate to end a poem with what seems like a declaration that "I know this, and that's that!" A poet who wants to end "well, perhaps..." will find it a lot easier to do so without rhyme.