Monday, June 27, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Sea Call, by Hone Tuwhare

Sea Call

Let the radio pip and shudder
at each dawn’s news

Let the weatherman hint
a gaunt meaning to the chill
and ache of bone:
but when the new moon’s bowl
is storing rain, the pull of time
and sea will cry to me

And I shall stuff my longing
in an empty pack
and hasten to the secret shore
where the land’s curve lies
clad in vermilion – and the green
wind tugging gravely.

There let the waves lave
pleasuring the body’s senses,
and the sun’s feet
shall twinkle and flex
to the sea-egg’s needling
and the paua’s stout kiss
shall drain a rock’s heart
to the sandbar’s booming.

- Hone Tuwhare
reproduced by permission of the estate of Hone Tuwhare

I was about eleven or twelve when I fell in love with John Masefield's poem, Sea Fever. It spoke to a solitary young girl who spent a great deal of time at the beach, swimming, clambering over rocks and dabbling in rock pools - elements of the poem such as "the call of the running tide"... "the flung spray and the blown spume, and the seagulls crying" were very familiar to me.

Sea Fever though, speaks of a mariner, leading a "vagrant gypsy life" far from shore.

Hone Tuwhare's poem Sea Call seems to me to express something of the same longing in a more shore-bound way, closer to my childhood experience. There are some beautiful images in here - the land's curve clad in vermilion (surely a reference to the red blossom of coastal pohutukawa trees), the sun's feet which twinkle and flex, the paua's stout kiss. I was unfamiliar with this poem until I heard it read at the launch of the Phantom Billstickers Poetry Poster series. I was delighted to be able to bring home a small size version of the poster on which it appears (coming soon to a lamp post near you!) It was to be read by Hone's son Rob, but Rob's flight from Auckland was unfortunately cancelled due to volcanic ash, so another reader took his place.

My thanks to Rob for permission to reproduce the poem here.

For more Tuesday poems go to the main hub site, where there is a poem posted each week. Further poems can be found on the blogs of the participants listed in the sidebar there. Biographical details and more of Hone Tuwhare's poems can be found at the Hone Tuwhare Charitable Trust website linked to his name above.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hurry Up and Wait

Today was the day when the government made a major announcement on the future of homes in Christchurch. The earthquake didn't just damage homes - it damaged the land beneath. There are large areas now where the land is so damaged that it can't be rebuilt on. It has become prone to flooding, and all the underground services are wrecked - "munted" is the slang term that has become very familiar lately - sewage, water and so on. To repair the land would require all the homes in the area - damaged or not - to be demolished, so the ground can be compacted, in some cases raised up to three metres, and all the underground services completely replaced. Also, in some areas it had been proposed to sink giant stone walls into the ground along the river banks to prevent lateral spreading. This is where the land moves sideways and develops huge cracks, usually towards the river as there is nothing to stop the sideways movement there. Only when the land repair is complete could the houses be rebuilt. This would mean at least three years, probably five or more, before the residents could return to their homes.

So, the city has been divided into four areas. Red zone residents - about 5000 homes - are being offered an immediate compensation package by the government so they can sell up and move on. The orange zone of another 10,000 homes requires further assessment, in particular because the June 13th aftershocks changed the situation yet again. Some of this zone will become red and some will become green. The green zone is OK to rebuild on. The white zone - mainly the hill suburbs - has not yet been assessed. The hazards in the white area are more related to rockfalls than flooding.

Our house, as expected, is in the green zone. And the landcheck website told us, earlier today, that this meant repair and rebuilding could now proceed. Yeah right, I thought, but we haven't even seen an insurance assessor yet, let alone had a payout. (300,000 insurance claims take a while to work through). Strangely, when I went to check the exact wording, I found it had been changed! It no longer says that repair and rebuilding can proceed immediately, just that we should talk with our insurer and EQC (the government earthquake insurance) about repairs. It also advises that some work should be delayed until ongoing aftershocks settle down.

I can't honestly say that if we were offered settlement today, we'd be in a hurry to begin work tomorrow. Plastering cracked walls and ceilings for instance, seems a little crazy when there is a 30% chance of another aftershock bigger than 6.0

So - for those in the red zone, a settlement offer will arrive within eight weeks, orange will have to wait several more months to be reclassified red or green, white will have to wait an indefinite time to get any sort of classification, and everyone but red will have to wait while the backlog of claims is processed and then until the ground stops shaking so that there is actually some point in fixing things up.

And while our house is zoned green, I was shocked to discover just how much of our area is zoned orange, including neighbours just three houses down the street towards the river, all the houses along the river just around the corner, and the house we lived in before we moved to our current house.

We had been planning to add on to that house to accommodate our growing family, and then spotted this one for sale, and decided it was so much easier just to move to a larger house rather than go through the problems of adding on. It was a lucky find, being large enough for a family of four children (later to be five), and only two blocks away.

I don't know whether to feel fortunate that we moved, or sad for our friends and neighbours still in limbo waiting for a final answer.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tuesday Poem

North American Periodic Cicada

It will happen like this:
after the struggle, he will leave in haste,
return with a spade and dig
a shallow grave in the quiet woods.
The victim, who lived alone,
will not be missed until the neighbour
sees the overflowing mailbox,
knocks on the door a week later.
The assailant is long gone.

Or, it will happen like this:
he will dig a shallow grave.
Too shallow. A boy will walk with his dog
through these woods. The dog will sniff
the freshly dug earth, paw at it,
uncover what has been done.
The assailant, blood on his shirt,
will be stopped at a police roadblock
crossing into the next state.

No, this is what will happen.
There is a struggle in the woods.
Later that night a phenomenon that comes round
once every seventeen years -
a horde of insects crawl from the ground,
make their way around the corpse, through
the soft earth, up the trunks of trees. They split
their shells, emerge soft bodied.
Billions of creatures harden on branches
until by daytime they take to the air.
Before the boy comes by with his curious dog,
empty shells will rain honey-coloured,
covering the ground for miles.
The woods crunch underfoot. The boy
will not venture far in, the dog
will not spot the soft earth.
There will be no manhunt until
the assailant is several states away,
living a new life. And if he keeps his secret
the cicadas, deep in the earth for another seventeen years,
will not reveal it for him.


"North American Periodic Cicada" is one of the poems in Flap: the Chook Book 2, my small poetry group's recent collection which is reviewed on the just-updated website for Takahe magazine.

It came about like this: I had been reading the foreword to Best American Poems (the 2006 edition, if I recall correctly) for which Billy Collins was one of the editors. He was discussing elements in poems that were deal breakers for him, and one of them was the word "cicada". Apparently, if he comes across it in a poem, he finds himself unable to read on.

No explanation was given. I found myself wondering what it was that he objected to about cicadas. It seemed to me that perhaps many poets use cicadas as a sort of sentimental evocation of the sounds of summer. So I was immediately attracted to the idea of writing a non-sentimental cicada poem. And that night I watched a nature documentary on TV, which included the phenomenon of the North American Periodic Cicada, an insect which spends seventeen years underground before metamorphosing into its adult form. Furthermore, all the members of the species emerge en masse in one night. It is apparently quite spectacular when it happens. I started imagining what the dense layer of cast off exoskeletons might cover up.

The poem has been slightly edited from its original version, which first appeared at Blackmail Press online, in the Secrets issue.

For more Tuesday Poems, visit the main hub site, and the contributors listed in the sidebar at the Tuesday Poem site.

Friday, June 17, 2011

And the Number for Today Is...

That was the size of the aftershock which served as the city's alarm clock at 6.30 this morning. I did get back to sleep after that one. I got up a couple of hours later, happy that it was Friday and I had a free day to run around and work through my long list of errands, and wonder again how I ever found time to work five days a week.

Fridays will be even better once I don't have a long list of errands to do.

I came home and was relaxing when we had another couple of 4.4s - actually the second I think was 4.5. It bounced the coffee out of my coffee cup and into my lap. Just as well that it was a cold day as I had enough layers on to insulate me from the effects.

My brother and his wife arrived to do their laundry and have showers as there is still no water on in their suburb. They live very near the epicentre of Monday's two big shakes, and their area took a hammering. Fortunately their own house is still liveable.

The day ended better than it started, as I headed off to a poetry reading - the Global launch of the Phantom Billstickers' sixth series of poetry posters. It was held in a venue I've never been to before - the Addington Coffee Co-op. Addington is a former working class suburb just on the western fringe of the city. It's been seeing a lot of action recently as businesses relocate to new office parks there, along with retail and hospitality businesses displaced from the central city. There were a few traffic problems on the way - it was rush hour - but it was worth it. The selection of poets reading was generous - large numbers brought in from out of town, as well as local poets, to read one poem each - and the free catering was equally generous. I've been going to the Canterbury Poets Collective annual series of readings for quite a few years, and thought I knew all the local poets, but many tonight were unfamiliar to me. It was a pleasure to be going to any event at a time when so much has been cancelled, and rescheduled, and cancelled again. (Though a few of the invited poets didn't make it due to flights being disrupted by ash from the Chilean volcano - others read their poems for them).

Almost as exciting as going to a poetry event was seeing a table full of glasses next to a tap with a sign that read "We have a UV water purification system - our water is safe to drink".

The Phantom Billstickers main business is putting up posters on hoardings for pay - concert posters, and so on - but the poetry posters are, as far as I can tell, something that they do just for the love of poetry. The poems we heard tonight will soon be gracing lampposts, walls and hoardings all over - not just in New Zealand, but in the United States too - Boston, New Jersey and Pennsylvania were some of the places mentioned. They were also giving away free smaller sized versions of the posters, and I brought several home with me.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Earthquake Play List

My earthquake playlist has been growing slowly since shortly after the September quake when one of our local radio stations happened to be playing Carole King just as an aftershock hit. I'm sure this list would be longer if I had a better knowledge of popular music. Some of these songs may not be familiar to overseas (or younger) readers, but I'm sure a quick google search will find most of them on Youtube.

1. I Feel the Earth Move - Carole King

2. Shake, Rattle and Roll - various artists including Bill Haley, Buddy Holly and Elvis

3. Good Vibrations - the Beach Boys

4. Tumblin'Down - Maria Dallas

5. Rock Around the Clock - Bill Haley again

6. The Gumboot Song - John Clarke aka Fred Dagg. This is one that our local radio played for all those digging silt off their properties, yet again, after the double quakes on Monday.

Any more suggestions welcome.

Edit: Some great suggestions in the comments, also, I intended to include "Here We Go Again" on the list, but I can't quite find the one I was thinking of - there are it seems many variants on this title - "Here We Go Again", "Here I Go Again", "There You Go Again" and so on, but none of them is quite the song that is playing in my head.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Bubbles, by Siobhan Harvey


Buoyant and with breath enough
to blow out two candles, you
purse lips, expel air, create a rainbow-
coloured world for the first time. Like you,
it dances, fat bee, around spring garden
bright with early stargazers. Afloat,
it anchors you before it, a deity, so in its skin
you discover yourself turned topsy-turvy,
and the world at your back upended also.

Then it vanishes, just as you, my little atom,
will vanish in time. Suddenly,
when you’re big enough, you’ll drift away
to new worlds, spinning stories home
about pearl-diving off Isla de Coche;
night-watching the Golden Gate’s glassy lights;
hot air ballooning over an oracular el-Colossat;
lazy Sundays playing boules in les Tuileries
and sightseeing L’Orangerie and Sacre Coeur.

My heart releases any pain
it feels at the thought
of ever losing you, for I see
now that we’re floating, you and I,
towards that future even as you lift
the wand again, birth and set free
more bubbles. All I need remember is:
the breath I’ve given you carries you onward,
and that breath always belongs to me.

Siobhan Harvey is an enormously busy person - among other things she is the poetry editor for Takahe magazine, the national coordinator for New Zealand Post Poetry Day, teaches creative writing at Auckland University, and is the mother of a young son. Among all this, she has found time to publish her own poetry. Lost Relatives was published this year by Steele Roberts. It explores issues of immigration, identity and family. Siobhan had planned to hold a book launch for Lost Relatives in Christchurch on March 8th. Unfortunately the February 22nd earthquake caused a cancellation of the book launch, but I was able to order a copy direct from the publisher's website. (No book shops were open in Christchurch at the time, or at least, none that stocked poetry - but the service direct from the publishers was excellent and the book arrived within a day or two).

Siobhan says about the poem:

'Bubbles' was inspired by the smallest of acts. My son, who was 18 months old, was blowing bubbles. I loved watching him do this - his sense of accomplishment; the aesthetic beauty of bubbles floating in the sun; the simple act of creating something such as bubbles which were often dazzlingly beautiful. Yet, it struck me, that each time my son blew bubbles, this simple act was framed and, in turn, acted as a frame for far deeper, universal issues which he and I, as son and mother, would have to negotiate in time - such as his growth through childhood and the experiences of motherhood this would bring to me. There was my young son with and close to me. There was I, parentally watching over him achieve a small milestone in the blowing of a bubble. Yet, like the bubble he birthed and let float out into the world, all too soon my son would drift away from me, travel overseas and explore everything the world has to show him. In this sense, the bubbles my son blew were like mirrors which unfolded his - and my - future. Once I'd perceived and considered these issues, the poem came to me. Eventually, it was selected as runner-up in the Inaugural Bernard Gadd Memorial Poetry Prize. Later, the artist Alby Yap selected it for a piece of work he did which was entered into and short-listed for the 2010 Bernard Gadd Art Award. To me, the poem plays a crucial role in the third section 'My Son and I' of my new collection, Lost Relatives.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Here We Go Again

More aftershocks, a 5.5 just on lunchtime which had me jumping under my desk - then, after lunch when I was beginning to calm down and focus on work again, a 6.0 which shut off the power to over 50,000 homes (including where I work) and stopped work for the day.

So, not quite back to square one, but there is plenty of new damage:

Our local volunteer library after September 4th - cracks in the block work, causing safety fencing to be erected around it.

After February 4th, looking distinctly the worse for wear

After this afternoon's effort - now we can see right through the building to the house on the other side.

This was taken in the main road a couple of blocks from our house. Not as bad as February 22nd, when I had to take off my socks and shoes, roll my trousers up and wade through here to get home. Nevertheless, there is enough liquefaction, along with damage to water and sewer mains, to set back the recovery effort significantly.

We were very glad to get our power back on again just as it was getting dark, although we had already got out our emergency supplies - candles in jars half filled with sand to keep them stable, a gas heater, a hand cranked torch, a transistor radio, and our emergency water. The water pressure is very low and the sewage system is damaged again (not that it had been completely repaired yet). There are still 47,000 households without power and they are not likely to get it back on tonight.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Waterfall, by Marisa Cappetta


It starts as
the father and his daughters,

his love for them
enough to fill a balloon
and sail over
the Colosseum over the Tiber
and onto London.
His love a warm air rising,
playful as a thermal.

His girls tumble
from the basket
he scans the land below

but his daughter's beds
are empty and smell
of earth, leaves
and the pummel of
water on wet stone.

He finds one of their
shoes behind the waterfall.

At night
his eyes are silos
filled with a warm air,

This week's offering for Tuesday Poem is another of Marisa Cappetta's lovely poems filled with lush imagery. Marisa is a Christchurch visual artist and poet, currently studying at the Hagley Writers' Institute. The poem was published in the latest issue of Takahe magazine, where Marisa says
When writing I gather ideas, text, articles and objects in the literary equivalent of a visual diary. I produce 'thumbnails' of writing in frames, mind maps, balloon diagrams and flow charts. In this format I test phrases and ideas in various configurations; the process is often playful, easily allowing me to experiment.

Saturday, June 04, 2011


Back in the middle of last year I started making a list of things to do before my next birthday. Unfortunately it didn't include experiencing two major earthquakes! With just two to three months left to go, I find that much of the list remains undone.

What I did include on the list was two things to stop doing. Strangely, stopping something seems almost as difficult as doing something. But I am nearly there. One was to leave one of my two jobs, and I was hoping for extra hours at my other job to partially bridge the gap in earnings. This has worked out perfectly - an extra day at the second job was offered and accepted without my even asking for it. And yesterday, for the first time in a long time, I found myself with a free Friday. Which I spent running round catching up on all sorts of errands, and wondering how I ever found the time to work five days a week.

Among the tasks - most of the copies of Takahe issue 72 are now in the mail (the other task I am planning to give up. The AGM is in a few weeks time, then I will be done). Getting a long overdue haircut. Picking up a book that I had put on hold from the library.

I started walking to the hairdresser, got as far as the footbridge (see photo) and realised that I couldn't go that way any more. I wasn't able to capture it in a photo, but the bridge has completely broken away from the supporting pillar underneath. Only gravity is keeping it in place. It was too late to take the longer route by the road bridge so I went back home and got the car.

On the counter at the hairdresser, a petition to save our local Post Shop. Apparently NZ Post intend not to renew the franchise when the shopping centre is rebuilt. Given the distances I had to drive to get all the magazines in the post, I was very quick to sign. I really miss being able to do quick errands on the way home at 5.15 pm.

At the library, I thought I would check on the poetry books shortlisted for the NZ Book Awards. And there they were in the catalogue, listed as "available - first floor Central Library". So I went to the counter. "Books that are listed as available at the Central Library - can you actually retrieve those?" "Well, no", was the answer, "we're not allowed in at the moment". So, I can place a hold but I might have to wait six months, or who knows how long, before the Central Library is accessible again.

I've asked my daughter, who works at the University Library, if she can get them for me. She is going to try, but much of the University Library is also inaccessible, apparently. Sigh. I could buy them, but I've already spent quite a bit on books in the last couple of weeks.

Instead, I will console myself with The Best of the Best New Zealand Poems, which is one of the books I did buy. And with the fact that it is a long weekend here (happy birthday to the Queen, even if it is not her real birthday!), so I still have two more days of weekend to look forward to.