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