Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Christmas

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Something for Christmas

Yes, I'm a little late this week. It is getting busier and busier round here, but in an unashamedly sentimental mood, I picked up a wee book at the library at the weekend, Amazing Peace by Maya Angelou. It is a poem that was read at the lighting of the White House Christmas tree on December 1, 2005. Click the link to read it on line.

We stopped in Latimer Square on the way home late the other night to take photos of the Telecom Christmas tree. Cathedral Square, our traditional city centre is still cordoned off nearly two years after the February 22nd 2011 earthquake. So the Christmas tree is in Latimer Square instead - image above. I'm looking forward to it being back in its traditional place next year - or maybe the year after?

For more Tuesday poems visit the main hub site.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Temptation


The rind falls on the bench top
in the shape of her initial.
He slices the fruit in thin segments
with hands stippled and pleated by age.

He arranges its slices on a porcelain plate.
Carries it in shaking hands
to where she sits deep in a chair,
shrunken in its arms, propped on pillows.

Once he courted her with apples.
This pear softer and kinder
to aged gums. He feeds her
slice by slice. She sucks the sweetness.

A trickle of juice runs down her chin.
Winter will come soon enough.
He is feeding her the sun.


The Canterbury Poets Collective finished their spring series last week with an evening featuring the winners (by audience vote) of the open mic portion of the previous seven weeks' events. I was fortunate enough to be included. This is one of the poems I read. I always thought that if I had been Eve in the garden of Eden, I would have found pears much more tempting than apples, which are altogether too neat and well-behaved a fruit to be very seductive.

I entered this poem in the inaugural Poems in the Waiting Room competition and was pleased to be awarded third place. The next competition is now open. It's a worthy cause and worth support with your entry fees.

For more Tuesday Poems,visit the main hub site.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Poem Walking, by Helen Jacobs

Poem Walking

If you cannot sing the world
if the tune is too complex
and the reach too vast

perhaps a poem walking
from door to gate is for you
a small parcel of contents

you can tick: nandina, potato vine,
weeds, letter box and constant cars.
Not an extensive list.

Bring in the blue and white of overhead
and a red helicopter. Now you have it,
your world written down, wrapped up.

But walk further
to the living street of springs
a pavement of design beside bush and flax

to the park and pond
where voices are heard, boys are playing.
they hope for fish.

You have pushed out the perimeter.
You have walked into the smallest part
of the larger sound, the Big Band.

You imagine playing the music of oceans
of river runs, mega-city percussion.
Your poem has come out

from behind the fence.

- Helen Jacobs


We have had a wealth of poetry events in Christchurch lately, among them the launch of Helen Jacobs' new book, "Dried Figs", published by Sudden Valley Press. This is Helen's sixth poetry collection and as it says on the back of the cover, as she is now in her eighty-fourth year another book cannot be guaranteed.

Helen is an acute observer of her immediate surroundings. As the poems in this collection vividly express, one's horizons perhaps narrow somewhat with increasing age - but she makes a good deal out of such every day subject matter. I felt the poem above expresses this rather beautifully.

The poem was first published in the New Zealand Poetry Society collection "Across the Fingerboards" in 2010. Photos of the book launch and information on how to order Dried Figs can be found on Helen's website.

For more Tuesday Poems, visit the main hub site>

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Escape at Bedtime, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Escape at Bedtime

The lights from the parlour and kitchen shone out
Through the blinds and the windows and bars:
And high overhead and all moving about,
There were thousands of millions of stars.
There ne'er were such thousands of leaves on a tree,
Nor of people in church or the Park,
As the crowds of the stars that looked down upon me,
And that glittered and winked in the dark.

The Dog, and the Plough, and the Hunter, and all,
And the star of the sailor, and Mars,
These shone in the sky, and the pail by the wall
Would be half full of water and stars.
They saw me at last, and they chased me with cries,
And they soon had me packed into bed;
But the glory kept shining and bright in my eyes,
And the stars going round in my head.

- Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 - 1894)

Every year the Scottish Poetry Library produces a set of poetry postcards for National Poetry Day (which occurs during October in the UK). I received a set in the post a few days ago, courtesy of my friend Mary of fatblackcatjournal (Thanks Mary!). Most are modern poems, however one of this year's selection was the above poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, which I was unfamiliar with.

Robert Louis Stevenson was a Scottish poet, novelist and travel writer. His father was a leading lighthouse engineer, and he initially studied engineering, but showed no enthusiasm for his studies. He wrote novels such as Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Kidnapped. His most well-known book of poetry is A Child's Garden of Verses, some of whose poems reflect the long periods of illness he endured as a child.
He settled in Samoa where he died in 1894, probably of a cerebral haemorrhage.

For more Tuesday Poems visit the main hub site.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


On our way home from the bridge club last night we stopped off in the central city to look at the light intallations. These are part of Luxcity which is the opening event in the Festival of Transitional Architecture. It was great to see the city come to life. The lights and crowds made it easy to overlook the fact that these installations were all set up on the sites of demolished buildings - many suspended from the cranes which are still working to pull down all the damaged buildings.

This one is looking straight up the centre of the structure in the first photo (the colours cycled through several variations). You can just make out the beam of the crane holding it up. Since I had my camera on a tripod on time exposure, this one was rather tricky to set up as the camera was flat and pointing straight up, making it difficult to compose the image on the view screen.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tuesday Poem: The Sea Question, by Elizabeth Smither

The Sea Question

The sea asks 'How is your life now?'
It does so obliquely, changing colour.
It is never the same on any two visits.

It is never the same in any particular
Only in generalities: tide and such matters
Wave height and suction, pebbles that rattle.

It doesn't presume to wear a white coat
But it questions you like a psychologist
As you walk beside it on its long couch.

Elizabeth Smither was a guest reader last week at the Canterbury Poets' Collective spring reading series, and I took the opportunity to ask her permission to post this poem, which sprung to mind as I sorted through photos taken a couple of weeks ago on the beach at Mt Maunganui. It was originally published in The Tudor Style (Auckland University Press, 1993) and later appeared in The Nature of Things: Poems from the New Zealand Landscape published by Craig Potton Publishing in 2005.

Elizabeth Smither is a poet, novelist and short story writer. She has published many collections of poems and was selected as the inaugural Te Mata Estate Poet Laureate. In 2008 she was awarded the Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry.

For more Tuesday Poems, visit the main hub site and check out the blogs listed in the sidebar.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Back from a Break

I had a week's holiday, then spent the next week catching up. I hope to line up some permissions for Tuesday Poems in time for next week. In the meantime, some photographic evidence of our trip. I have been taking ferry trips between the North and South Islands of New Zealand for longer than I can remember.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Three Days in a Wishing Well, by Kerrin P Sharpe

three days in a wishing well

at the bottom
of the well
lined with porteous
yellow blue art tiles

ceramic hands hold
moon drop coins
arranged as feathers
on a hunter's shirt

and a city care
man with hose and
bucket is separating
wishes from water

the research is called
three days in a wishing
now the council knows
the thoughts of the boy

rowing nowhere the
woman carrying shortbread
as live
even the washing

instructions for this poem

- Kerrin P Sharpe


Recently the Christchurch Writers Festival returned after an absence of four years due to earthquakes. One of the events I was happy to attend was the launch of Kerrin P Sharpe's new book Three Days in a Wishing Well. The poem I have selected here is the title poem.

Kerrin's poems are delightful, full of beautiful images but ultimately somewhat mysterious, so that I always want to come back to reread them. I believe that fellow Tuesday Poet Helen Lowe will be featuring another poem from the book shortly. And the Victoria University Press website also has an extract in their "recent news"

Kerrin P Sharpe was born in Wellington but now lives in Christchurch. She is currently Writer-in-Residence at St Andrews College and teaches creative writing at the Hagley Writers' Institute. She completed the Victoria University Original Composition programme taught by Bill Manhire in 1976 and has recently returned to writing as her family have grown up and left home. Kerrin's poems have appeared in many journals, and in Best New Zealand Poems 08, 09 and 10. In 2008 she was awarded the New Zealand Post Creative Writing Teacher's Award from the Institute of Modern Letters.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Slant


Tell all the truth but tell it slant – Emily Dickinson

Beneath the jagged mountains
crossed cranes at dawn
frame the city skyline
buildings propped and braced
with beams and girders
all diagonals
the twisted bridge
the fallen staircase

in the house the sun slants
onto unlevel floorboards
portraits askew on the walls
smile their cockeyed smiles
after each aftershock
crack in the plaster
zigzags across the ceiling

it started in spring
last month you stood in the hallway
snowflakes, blown in
through the gap in the wonky doorway
settled on your shoulders

now across the yard
a spiderweb carried on the wind
one end anchored to the broken spouting
the other angled across the sky
like a kite string
festooned with pink petals


Today is the second anniversary of the 2010 September 4th earthquake. Hard to believe it has been two years already. The poem above is more about the aftermath of the February 22nd quake six months later. It was written last year about this time, but much in it hasn't really changed. The cranes are still there - more of them, in fact, taking buildings down rather than putting new buildings up. At least we have straightened the pictures! It seemed an appropriate moment to let it out into the world.

For more Tuesday Poems visit the main hub site.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tuesday Poem: The Weight of Calves, by Karen Zelas

The Weight of Calves

after Mandy Coe

A calf estimated to weigh
thirty million tonnes
split from the Tasman Glacier.
If this was its weight,
imagine if you can, its size, ice
more voluminous than water.

And imagine its age:
I’m told the residence time
of glacier water may tip
one million years. All
those old molecules, trapped
for aeons, waiting release
into Brownian motion.
The world’s reservoirs
leaking. Greened plains lapped
by cattle. The weight.

The birth of a calf is assisted
by gravity. Maternal groans
as the glacier labours through rock
and the calf drops,
torn from terminal ice. An echoing crash.
A wave. Turquoise light. Hard
shards slice water. The calf
part-submerged, melting. Freshwater
mingles with saline.

Calving into water causes a splash;
into oceans, raises the level. Collapse
the ice sheets and tides will lift
six metres perhaps. Think of that.

Cows and calves
where they never should be.
Weighing heavy.

Karen Zelas lives in Christchurch. A former psychiatrist and psychotherapist, she returned to university, taking creative writing papers at Canterbury University in preparation for giving up her day job. Since 2004, her poetry has been increasingly widely published within New Zealand, including in Landfall, Poetry New Zealand and Takahē, and broadcast on radio. It has also appeared in Australian ezines Snorkel and Eclecticism and recently been blogged by Interlitq (UK). Several anthologies contain her work. In 2009 she was the recipient of a Creative Communities grant. She is editor of the anthology Crest to Crest: Impressions of Canterbury, prose and poetry (Wily Publications, 2009).

Karen’s first novel Past Perfect was published by Wily Publications in 2010, and is to be released as an ebook by Interactive Publications this year.

For the last five years, Karen has been Fiction Editor of Takahē literary magazine and chairs the Takahe Collective Board. She is married with children, grandchildren and a child-substitute: a miniature poodle.

Karen's book, Night's Glass Table, was the winner of the 2012 IP Picks Best First Book Competition run by IP (Interactive Publications), Brisbane. It is to be launched in conjunction with the Christchurch Writers' Festival at 4.30 - 6pm on Thursday 30 August, as part of an extensive reading tour through NZ. Books can be purchased online, including e-publications, via the IP website (click on "Store"), or directly at the Night's Glass Table mini-site.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Looking Back, by Aleksandra Lane

Looking Back

Something must have disappeared
from that day. A little sun veneer,
surface of light stolen
by the swooping hands
on your watch
perhaps. All around us
the grass was dazed dry
and the trees above were moving
in small fits, like children
not yet acquainted
with their own bodies,
but still painfully aware of their will.
We willed each other away
and then willed the other too quickly too
close again. Between us
there were no words, only children
unmade and children undone. It seemed
nothing was missing
at the time – that something
must have disappeared just now in me
explaining the day
must have lost a tooth
in that grass, in those clouds –
a little milkiness
never to be found again.

Looking Back is taken from Birds of Clay, Aleksandra Lane’s first book in English, after two published in Serbian. Aleks moved to New Zealand in 1996, and completed her MA in Creative Writing at Victoria University’s Institute of Modern Letters in 2010, receiving the Biggs Poetry Prize. Her poems have been published in Jacket2, Sport, Turbine, Takahe, Snorkel, Side Stream and Swamp. She lives in Wellington and is studying for a PhD in English at Massey University.

I enjoyed reading Birds of Clay, a varied collection which contains a range of forms - a number of prose poems, free form poems like Looking Back, but also more traditional forms such as the rather edgy villanelle "Knife". I was attracted to Aleks's beautiful although sometimes surreal imagery. I found some of the poems rather mystifying at first, but they reward careful re-reading. A book to be savoured. My thanks to Aleks for allowing me to choose a Tuesday Poem from her collection.

For more Tuesday Poems, visit the main hub site.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuesday Poem: The Annunciation, by Rhian Gallagher

The Annunciation


This is no swallow, no butterfly.
Feathered with Concorde power
Titanic bulk, breathlessly aerobic
Gabriel dives in under the lintel,
wings swept back behind Olympic shoulders
he tilts like a display pilot
and just clears the entrance.

Mary pulls up under the impact
cherubs sail on the draught
like a herd of sky-diving babies. Outside
Joseph grapples with a bit
of four by two, oblivious to the super-human
frequency. The earth's in a bad way.

As to Gabriel
you can see he's not going to help
pick up the pieces, he's not even going to land,
message delivered on a rush of air,
no buttering up of Mary,
his beautiful arms poised towards heaven
before he back-flips out of there.

- Rhian Gallagher


Rhian Gallagher recently won the New Zealand Post Book Awards poetry category for her second collection of poems, Shift. This is her first with a New Zealand publisher - her earlier collection, Salt Water Creek (where The Annunciation appeared) was published by Enitharmon Press in the UK, where she lived for eighteen years.

While there are many fine poems in "Shift", it is often the first poem that I read by a new author that most impresses itself on my memory, and that is the case here. I read The Annunciation when it appeared on the Poetry Daily website, and it led me to seek out more of Rhian's poetry, which I enjoy immensely.

Rhian suggested that it might be hard to find a copy of Salt Water Creek now, but I did find it listed on both the Fishpond and Amazon websites. Shift is much more readily available, and both books are well worth reading.

For more Tuesday Poems, visit the main hub site.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Empiricism, by Roger Hickin


a wayfaring stranger who climbs
a steep village street
an old embroidress who’s lost her needle––
stranger stoops to help her look
but soon gives up–– lo siento
needle nowhere to be seen

wizened stub of a woman opposite
watches squatting on her doorstep––
está loca she informs the stranger––
the embroidress is nuts
she’s got no needle

a few doors up a younger woman points
at woman two–– take no notice of her
she advises–– está sorda
she’s stone deaf doesn’t hear
a word you say

all this–– perhaps a comedy routinely played
to confuse the wayfaring stranger
who threads his way
up the narrow street
inclined to doubt
wanting to believe

in the existence of the needle


Roger Hickin has worked as a visual artist and exhibited regularly throughout
New Zealand since 1985. Although he has written poetry since the 1960s, his main preoccupation was with sculpture & painting until the early 2000s when poetry began to demand more serious attention. A poem about a moribund rooster is still recalled by some who heard it at a reading in the public bar of the City Hotel, Dunedin, in 1983.
Two collections of Hickin’s poetry, Waiting for the Transport and The Situation & other poems, appeared in 2009. His Cold Hub Press publishes poetry by New Zealand & international writers. He lives in Governors Bay on Lyttelton Harbour.

Thanks to Roger for permission to use this poem which appears on the Phantom Billstickers' poetry posters. I took a stroll up to a nearby main road on National Poetry Day to have a look at the posters there and spotted this one. It's a strange place to post them as there is not much foot traffic, mainly cars and heavy trucks thundering by on their way through to the port at Lyttelton. I thought it was an appropriate day to give the posters a bit of attention.

For more Tuesday Poems visit the main hub site - check out this week's post, and the poets in the sidebar.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tuesday Poem: William McGonagall


Beautiful town of Montrose, I will now commence my lay,
And I will write in praise of thee without dismay,
And in spite of all your foes,
I will venture to call thee Bonnie Montrose.
Your beautiful Chain Bridge is magnificent to be seen,
Spanning the river Esk, a beautiful tidal stream,
Which abounds with trout and salmon,
Which can be had for the catching without any gammon.

Then as for the Mid Links, it is most beautiful to be seen,
And I’m sure is a very nice bowling green,
Where young men can enjoy themselves and inhale the pure air,
Emanating from the sea and the beautiful flowers there,
And as for the High Street, it’s most beautiful to see,
There’s no street can surpass it in the town of Dundee,
Because it is so long and wide,
That the people can pass on either side
Without jostling one another or going to any bother.

Beautiful town of Montrose, near by the seaside,
With your fine shops and streets so wide,
‘Tis health for the people that in you reside,
Because they do inhale the pure fragrant air,
Emanating from the pure salt wave and shrubberies growing there;
And the inhabitants of Montrose ought to feel gay,
Because it is one of the bonniest towns in Scotland at the present day.

- William McGonagall (1825-1902)

I have just finished a series of Joanna Preston's Reading for Writing classes, one of which took the topic of "Bad Poetry". Of course, the poets studied had to include the immortal William Topaz McGonagall. There is something curiously encouraging about studying bad poets, when struggling to write good poetry! And of course, working out just why it is bad can offer useful guidance as to what to avoid in one's own writing.

The classes were held at the Sydenham room of the Christchurch South Library. Bad news when I picked up the newspaper this morning - ongoing inspections of council facilities have revealed that the library is at only 10 to 20% of new building strength due to earthquake damage, and it has been closed. It was the first library branch to reopen after the February 2011 earthquakes and has been a lifeline in so many ways - as a library, art gallery for community groups, cafe and meeting place, City Council service centre, learning centre and educational facility and so on. The award winning building was completed in 2003 - showing that the impact of the quakes extends beyond the old, unreinforced masonry buildings that were the first casualties.

Presumably Joanna will be looking for a new venue for her next series of classes. I hope she finds one as they are well worth attending - most of the class members were repeat attendees, since there is something new to learn every time.

For more Tuesday Poems visit the main hub site. This week, poems from the finalists in the poetry category of the New Zealand book awards are posted there, and other participants are linked in the side bar.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Controversy, by Ursula Bethell


There is perpetual contention
Between the guardians of the dwelling house and the demesne.

Shall the garden be a paradise,
And the inside of the cottage a shambles?

Or contrariwise, the garden a wilderness,
While we preserve the image of a Dutch interior?

While one cries out 'The wash-up waits!'
The other murmurs wistfully 'The lawns! The lawns!'

Tell me now, what is your dream -
The neatest apartment in Knightsbridge?
Or in a deep glade of Eden a booth of green boughs?

Ursula Bethell (1874-1945)

Ursula Bethell was born in England and came to New Zealand with her parents as a small child. She returned to England to complete her education and stayed there for 25 years. She then returned permanently to New Zealand and purchased Rise Cottage on the Cashmere Hills in Christchurch, where she wrote the bulk of her poetry, celebrating her beloved garden and the views of the plains and mountains.

At the weekend I went to view the latest exhibition at the Christchurch Art Gallery. The fact that the gallery has been closed since the earthquakes has not stopped the staff from finding ways to mount exhibitions. This one, Reconstruction: Conversations on a City is installed on display stands placed along Worcester Boulevard next to the gallery. It contains reproductions of photographs and paintings showing buildings and gardens of Christchurch in the past (more and less recent) and as they are now.

On one of the stands there were images of gardens along with the above poem by Ursula Bethell, which is what prompted me to choose it for my Tuesday Poem this week. For more Tuesday Poems, visit the main hub site.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Tuesday Poem: On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer, by John Keats

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer

Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told,
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne:
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific - and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise -
Silent, upon a peak in Draien.

John Keats (1795 - 1821)

Poets have often been inspired by painters and sculptors. In Christchurch at the moment we have an example of the reverse process - Michael Parekowhai's installation "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer" pictured above, which represented New Zealand at the Venice Biennale. Part of this exhibit, which explores themes of exploration and discovery, is now at the Art Gallery's temporary room above the Ng Gallery in Madras Street. The rest of it - two enormous bronze bulls on grand pianos - wouldn't fit into the room (presumably it was the narrow stairway that was the problem) - and stands on a vacant lot opposite. One of the more interesting uses of the many demolition sites around the city.

John Keats himself was of course, inspired by another work of literature - translations of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey by George Chapman. In this poem Keats likens his discovery of the translation to the Spanish explorers who first reached the Pacific Ocean on the edge of the isthmus of Panama - in the region then known as Darien. (It was in fact, Balboa, not Cortez, who discovered the Pacific - one of the more famous literary errors).

I was struck when preparing this post by the dates of Keats's life - he died at the age of around 25. What might he have achieved if he had lived longer? There is hardly time for juvenilia in a life so short.

For more Tuesday Poems, visit the main hub site.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Chiaroscuro


Five o'clock. The bright interiors
of freight forwarders' warehouses
framed in the dusk like a Rembrandt nativity
on an old postage stamp. No camels.
No baby. Planes overhead. Men with forklifts,
ordinarily wise, load cargoes
for distant lands. A single soft flake
lands on my windscreen.
The evening's first star
grows brighter in the sky.


Just after winter solstice seems an appropriate time to post this poem, which is a winter poem, and could also be a Christmas poem, except of course that here in the southern hemisphere Christmas comes in mid-summer.

I used to work near the airport, and in winter it was getting dark when I left the office. A sudden glimpse of a lit warehouse, which somehow reminded me of the painting on the postage stamp shown above, inspired this poem.

It was first published in the Christchurch Press daily newspaper, and later appeared in Flap: the Chookbook 2.

For more Tuesday Poems, visit the main hub site for links to all the participants.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Trip to the Library

The temporary Christchurch central library is situated just north of the cordoned red zone, where a lot of demolition work is going on. So - I never know what things will look like when I go to change my library books.

Here is a small park (actually I think it was used as the set of a children's TV show) just along from the library three weeks ago

and here it is when I went yesterday

I felt incredibly sad to see just how many buildings are disappearing, and there are more to come.

Another from three weeks ago - the tall building behind the crane is the Price Waterhouse tower - soon to be completely gone.

A bit of Christchurch graffiti humour.

There is a new temporary central library opening tomorrow, further south - I may try that one next time, both to see if they have more books (there are still a lot unable to be retrieved from the damaged main library), and to see if the surrounding streetscape is a little less depressing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tuesday Poets do Flash Fiction

I have been nursing a cold - sleeping in, then huddled under a pile of quilts working my way through Wolf Hall, which is a very fat book. In the meantime,for your reading pleasure, many of the Tuesday Poets are celebrating flash fiction this week.

And over at Helen Lowe's blog, she has chosen Learning Italian, one of my poems, for the Tuesday Poem this week. Thanks, Helen!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tuesday Poem: The Beautiful Morning by Fiona Farrell

The Beautiful Morning

On beautiful mornings,
flowers fling up their
bright skirts, trees wink
and children run from
their parents' hands to
stand in the crack that
has opened overnight
outside the kitchen.
They jump in.
They jump out.
In and out
as if it were a crocodile.
The earth lies still and
lets them jump
and out
of its open mouth.

On beautiful mornings
the front of the bagel shop
falls down flat on the street.
The pub slumps in the gutter.
And the church across the
road lays down its heavy
cross. It spreads itself in
tiny pieces, no bigger than
a man's hand
among the daffodils.

- Fiona Farrell


Fiona Farrell's poem "The Beautiful Morning" was published in Catalyst, volume 9 and also in The Broken Book which was last week shortlisted in the general non-fiction category for the New Zealand Book Awards. The Broken Book is the book that Fiona was writing when the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes struck Christchurch. Originally a book about walking, it has lovely passages which ramble in the way one might do when taking a leisurely walk about the countryside. However the earthquakes changed the nature of the book, and interspersed with the prose are a dozen or so poems which interrupt the text in the same way that the earthquakes have disrupted all our lives.

I loved the way that The Beautiful Morning set beauty alongside destruction in such a matter of fact way. And I found the whole book really absorbing to read, a worthy contender for the book awards. (With the poetry shortlist being restricted to three books, it is nice to see a little extra poetry sneaking in to another category).

It was a good week for Fiona last week - as well as her book being shortlisted, she was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit on the Queens Birthday honours list for her services to writing.

For more Tuesday Poems visit the main hub site.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Snow Day

We don't usually get snow this early in winter but it fell heavily all day today. Unlike many people I did manage to get to work as it is not too far from my home. All the buses stopped at 11 a.m. Most schools and many businesses were closed. The garden in the photo is next door to the place where I work, and I took the bird photographs through the window at lunchtime. The large flower panicles belong to a cabbage palm (ti kouka in Maori) and the little waxeyes were all over them. I'm guessing that they need to eat a lot on cold days to keep up their body heat.

I did get to come home a little early so as not to be on the icy roads when it was getting dark. And our usual Wednesday bridge night was cancelled so I have tackled some long overdue housework - nothing like being active for keeping warm. Back to work in the morning, if the snow stops overnight as forecast.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Written in the Churchyard at Middleton in Sussex

Written in the Churchyard at Middleton in Sussex

Pressed by the moon, mute arbitress of tides,
While the loud equinox its power combines,
The sea no more its swelling surge confines,
But o'er the shrinking land sublimely rides.
The wild blast, rising from the western cave,
Drives the huge billows from their heaving bed,
Tears from their grassy tombs the village dead,
And breaks the silent sabbath of the grave!
With shells and sea-weed mingled, on the shore
Lo! their bones whiten in the frequent wave;
But vain to them the winds and waters rave;
They hear the warring elements no more;
While I am doomed - by life's long storm oppressed,
To gaze with envy on their gloomy rest.

- Charlotte Smith ((1749 - 1806)

I have been reading a small book, "101 Sonnets from Shakespeare to Heaney" edited by Don Paterson and published by Faber and Faber. It has been a revelation - there is a very interesting introduction which discusses that old question "what is a sonnet?" (the answer - it has fourteen lines - probably) and goes on to explain why the sonnet in particular is a perfect shape to contain human thought.

This is followed by the sonnets, from 101 different poets, many familiar, but others new to me. One of these is Charlotte Smith. Years back when I studied poetry at high school, it didn't occur to me that we were not taught any female poets. If pressed, I could have named Christina Rosetti ("Goblin Market") and Elizabeth Barrett Browning ("Sonnets from the Portuguese") and if I thought even harder, I might have remembered Eileen Duggan, whose poem "The Kingfisher" was thought suitable for primary school children - but that was it, against the dozens and dozens of male poets that were taught to us or at least mentioned.

There are of course many contemporary women poets - and I've gradually become aware of earlier ones - Emily Dickinson, Margaret Cavendish, Anne Bradstreet, Amy Lowell and others - but hadn't come across Charlotte Smith before picking up this book. The sonnet form became highly popular in England during the Elizabethan period, but then fell into disregard. It was largely due to Charlotte Smith that it became popular again among Romantic poets such as Wordsworth. For this, she deserves to be much better known.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tuesday Poem: from Kitchen Sonnets

Kitchen Sonnets 3

Sometimes I feel ten years old, watching you
in the kitchen. You are mixing mash for the hens.
I will feed them, gather the eggs, carry them
carefully into the house. Did you ever wonder
how eggs in the nest bear the warm weight
of the hen and do not break? Here I am now,
older than you ever were. I don’t feel wise,
but astonished to have arrived in this body.
Every year there is more I do not know.
There is so much I would still ask you, but
you would not know the answers, even if you could speak.
I am the child who has run ahead on the path.
I glance over my shoulder, you are no longer there.
I am as strong as eggshells, and ready to break open.


Since Mother's Day has just passed, I decided to repost this which is one of three "Kitchen sonnets" first published in Takahe magazine and later in Flap: the Chookbook 2. My mother died fairly young, and I have been older than she was for several years now. So this is posted in her memory.

For more Tuesday Poems visit the main hub site.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Tuesday Poem: The Poker Players

The Poker Players

A cold wind has passed
down the street on horseback,
shooting up the town,
lashing his whip.
The poker players have made
their declaration: “I’m out”
and flung down their hands
of various golden suits.
Leaves lie in drifts - the spade-like poplars,
lobed maples, and willow
pointed like diamonds.
The players stand about the saloon
grey and gaunt,
against a background of imperturbable green.
Kowhai, manuka, ake ake;
the natives are still in the game.
They are keeping their cards close to their chests.

- Catherine Fitchett


It seemed a good time to post something seasonal. This is also fitting because I have been playing cards a lot over the past year - bridge, not poker. New Zealand native plants - of which three are named in the poem - are mostly evergreen (not just the conifers), as opposed to the imported English varieties common in Christchurch, such as willows, oaks, chestnuts and poplars. "The Poker Players" was first published in the Christchurch Press and also appears in Flap: The Chookbook 2.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Tuesday Poem: A Brief for the Defense, by Jack Gilbert

I came across Jack Gilbert's poem "A Brief for the Defense" a few days ago, after finding a reference to it in an interview with Jack Gilbert posted at the Poetry Daily website.
A google search revealed a few Youtube videos, but none of them turned out to be the author reading it, and I didn't like the rather overwrought voice of the young woman in one of them - so rather than embed the video, I am just posting the link to the text.

The central message of the poem "we must risk delight" is a powerful reminder, at a time when we seem to be surrounded by bad news in Christchurch - more and more buildings that will have to be demolished, a growing housing crisis, lack of progress on insurance issues, and so on. All of which pales into insignificance compared with problems elsewhere in the world. Gilbert's poem addresses all this very powerfully.

I am aware that asking readers to click links to another site risks losing attention on the internet - but click the link anyway, the poem is worth it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tuesday Poem: The Herbert Plot, by Jenny Powell

The Herbert Plot

for Donna Demente

As if you were chasing summer
and taking an apartment on the Riviera

or travelling on a tour of galleries
and architectural treasures,

you announce a stopover
at Herbert, ticket purchased,

documentation all in order,
the plot written and waiting

for an opening, there on those
green hills. Not highland hills

or Emerald Isles but Mount Charles
where the heart's land rises

hill upon hill and in their bones
history rattles. The slow gaze of time

wraps a hundred shades of love
and sorrow in a convergence

of yellow and blue, the last echo
of life tumbling down to the sea,

lifting into the requiem of night,
Donna, Donna, Madonna.

- Jenny Powell


A week or so back I had the pleasure of attending the launch of three new chapbooks published by Cold Hub Press. Among them was Jenny Powell's new collection , Ticket Home. Jenny was kind enough to give me permission to use a poem from the collection as my Tuesday Poem this week. I have been enjoying reading her poems very much. As often happens, to navigate the difficulty of choosing among them, I settled on one with personal resonances - I remember stopping off at the Herbert cemetery referred to in the poem some years ago, to search for the graves of my great great uncles and their families. It is a lovely small graveyard on a hillside shaded by pines and other trees. Donna Demente is an artist and gallery owner from Oamaru. Jenny says "The poem was inspired by an exhibition of work by Donna Demente in Oamaru's Forrester Gallery. I didn't want to think about her chosen place. As with many things we don't want to consciously consider, the unconscious has a way of retaining them, hence the poem."

Jenny Powell is a Dunedin poet who has written five individual collections of poetry. She has worked with other poets to produce two collaborative collections, 'Double Jointed' and 'Locating the Madonna.' Her latest collections are 'Vietnam: A Poem Journey' (HeadworX, 2010) and 'Ticket Home' (Cold Hub Press, 2012).

For more Tuesday Poems, visit the hub site to check out the main post for the week, and to visit other Tuesday Poets linked in the sidebar.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Beckenham Mural

This mural appeared on the brick wall of the pharmacy in Beckenham (a suburb near me) in the last week or so. Some of the buildings depicted were destroyed in the earthquake, including those on the now vacant lot next to the wall. I suspect the appearance of the mural means that nothing will be built there any time soon.

It was estimated that, to replace all the buildings that were destroyed, a new one would need to be completed every four days for the next ten years. And ongoing insurance problems are slowing the rebuild. It will happen, eventually, but in the meantime it is good to see artwork like this to brighten up the city.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Tuesday Poem on Wednesday


I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

- Percy Bysshe Shelley 1792 - 1822

I find this vision of ancient ruins keeps popping into my mind, with the growing number of demolitions around our city, and the controversy over the future of the Christchurch Cathedral. So I thought I would post it for my Tuesday Poem this week, though I am a day late due to some rather late nights out.

Meantime, at the main Tuesday Poem website, the Tuesday Poets have been building a collaborative poem for our second birthday. We have constructed it by contributing a line each in turn. It was great fun to do (and challenging, as well).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Easter, by George Herbert


Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The crosse taught all wood to resound his name,
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long:
Or, since all musick is but three parts vied
And multiplied,
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

I got me flowers to straw thy way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.

The Sunne arising in the East,
Though he give light, & th’ East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many sunnes to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we misse:
There is but one, and that one ever.

George Herbert (1593 - 1633)

This seemed an appropriate song to post as my Tuesday Poem this week. There is an extensive discussion of the poem at Patrick Comerford's blog here.

Monday, April 09, 2012


I went into the city today (as much of it as is open) for a bit of gift shopping. Then I browsed round a bit and took some photos. You can stand on a corner and in one direction the view looks like this:

(apologies for the poor focus)

and then in the other direction it looks like this:

It's not only the leaves that are falling. The pace of demolition is increasing, everywhere there are unsafe buildings being torn down. Crowds of people used to stop to watch the demolitions, now hardly anyone bothers. In the meantime much of the city remains off limits. I stopped to help out some overseas visitors, trying to find a gift shop which had advertised on an obviously out-of-date brochure (there are far too many of those around still). I had to tell them that, no, that address was firmly behind the cordon, and suggest other shopping areas they might be able to reach on foot. When last seen they were heading off to the museum and its gift shop - one of the few nineteenth century Gothic revival buildings that has survived, having been earthquake strengthened some years ago. Many other supposedly earthquake strengthened buildings have not survived - I guess they weren't earthquake strengthened enough.

Easter trading hours are a bit strange in New Zealand. Good Friday and Easter Monday are officially public holidays. But back when the public holidays were gazetted, nearly everybody worked Monday to Friday, so it didn't occur to our law makers to make Easter Sunday a public holiday. They did however make it one of the few days a year on which shops (with a few exceptions) are not permitted to trade. So now that shops open all weekend, and on most public holidays as well, the result is that the shops are closed at Easter on Friday and Sunday but open on Saturday and Monday (apart from some garden centres which open and get fined for doing so. No doubt it's profitable for them).

Our public libraries on the other hand, were open on Sunday - because it's not a public holiday and they are not covered by shop trading hours rules - but closed on Easter Monday. Bizarre.

I didn't manage to spot an Easter Bunny road cone - though there are hundreds of road cones not too far from here begging to be "bunnifed". So, if you would like to see what they look like, head to my daughter's blog

or Cheryl Bernstein's

or Christchurch Daily Photo.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Tuesday Poem

No Tuesday Poem this week becuase life is keeping me busy. Nothing particularly exciting - work, autumn tidy up in the garden, jam making, family coming for meals and the like. If you need a fix of tuesday poetry, do go over to the main hub site where all the participants are listed in the side bar, and where there will be a special poem developing for our second birthday - growing a line at a time over the next couple of weeks.

I have managed some poetry related things recently. A poetry class with Joanna which comes with plenty of homework, some poetry submissions sent out to various publications, and the news that one of my poems placed third in the inaugural Poems in the Waiting Room competition. So if I keep writing, I may have some more of my own work to post on Tuesdays, which will save me the effort of sending out all those permission requests.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Postcards from Her Alternate Lives, by Catherine Pierce

Postcards from Her Alternate Lives


Each day the city unhinges its jaw and I climb inside.
I sing show tunes and polish its teeth. At night, I ride
its lit scales into glittered, showstopping dreams.


Sister, the desert is more even than I dreamed. On each
rock rests a bowl of water, a wooden flute, a lizard.
The clouds swoop into the shape of my fears, then
blow off into the next county.


I live between mountains and take my smallness,
like a pill, on waking. Always I'll be only one
more moving part, blurred in snow and stone.
I'll never fall for the slick con of consequence.


Bright, or secret, or ghosted, towns fall into place
like the corner pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. All the sky
pieces look the same. I can't fit the fragments
of clouds together.


This place is as I never left it: the neon sub shop
on the corner, the junior high. My house is an aquarium
filled with tulips. My mouth is a tulip filled with dust.

- Catherine Pierce

I came across this poem in "The Best American Poetry 2011". (I was reading the book by way of comparison with another I had read recently - "The Best of the Best New Zealand Poems" - but that's another story). I was immediately fascinated by Catherine's poem. Many of us must have wondered about other paths our lives might have taken. Such a poem could be an exercise many of us might tackle - but like all those school essays "What I did in my holidays" it could easily become humdrum. The imagery in this poem, and the oblique and mysterious approach to "other lives" lifts it quite out of the ordinary.

My thanks to Catherine for permission to reproduce it here. She says:

'I've always been intrigued by the idea of parallel lives existing alongside our real ones. I wanted to write a poem in which these different versions of the self sort of "write home" and report back on what they're experiencing.'

Catherine Pierce is the author of two books of poetry, The Girls of Peculiar (Saturnalia 2012) and Famous Last Words (Saturnalia 2008). Her poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including The Best American Poetry, Slate, Boston Review, Ploughshares, FIELD, and elsewhere. Catherine grew up in Delaware, then earned her B.A. from Susquehanna University, her M.F.A. from the Ohio State University, and her Ph.D. from the University of Missouri. She now lives in Starkville, Mississippi, where she teaches and co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University. Her website is

For more Tuesday Poems visit the main hub site.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday Poem: The Eagle, by Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Eagle

He clasps the crag with hookèd hands:
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

- Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 - 1892)

I've chosen a Tennyson poem for Tuesday Poem previously. He wrote quite a few long dramatic poems of which Ulysses was one. This little gem is rather different.

One of the things that fascinates me about it is that it doesn't sound particularly old fashioned. I have thought quite a bit about the difference between modern rhymed poems and older work and realised that many older poems include features such as the reversal of normal word order. If it's a choice between a natural sounding sentence, and getting the end words to rhyme, then in older poetry (apart from blank verse, of course), the rhymed end words seem to win out every time. You just can't get away with that in contemporary poetry. But in this one, there is not a distorted sentence to be found. The only oddity is the giving of two syllables to the word "hooked" (which strangely, I remembered as "crooked" which would quite legitimately have two syllables).

I love the imagery in this poem - especially "ringed with the azure world" - the idea of the eagle being so high up on the cliff that he is surrounded by sky. And the alliteration of the c's, l's and w's also appeals to me. I think of the letter c as the shape that the hooked claw of the eagle makes.

For more Tuesday Poems, visit the main hub site.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Alice in Videoland Reopening

I've tried to avoid being one of the armchair experts who are common in Christchurch these days. Every time a building is marked for demolition, the heritage lovers come out in droves in "letters to the editor" and elsewhere complaining that CERA are far too ready to order demolition of buildings that could be saved. Clearly their engineers' reports must be from the wrong set of engineers. And then - especially earlier on, not so much now, there are others who claim that not enough is being done to demolish buildings and reopen the city. The silliest comment I heard was one comparing Christchurch to Haiti where apparently only 10% of buildings are being demolished and the rest saved. Really? Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. So could it be that they are pouring billions into rescuing historic buildings? Or could it be that they have lower building standards and are allowing damaged and dangerous buildings to remain standing? In fact - maybe lower building standards is the reason that 200,000 people died in an earthquake no bigger than ours?

I always figured that if building owners, and CERA, had the reports and if the insurance company wouldn't stump up the money - say four million to restore and save a building that could be completely rebuilt for three million - then it was quite understandable, though sad, that the building would be demolished. And that yes, we do need to get the city reopened. I'm beginning to wonder though, as every week we hear of another building, or several, to be demolished due to damage either in the February quake or in one or other of the many aftershocks - when they pull all these buildings down so we can safely get back into the city, will there be anything left to make it worth going there?

So it was really good news to here that Alice in Videoland had reopened. I went down on Saturday after attending a poetry workshop (more of that in another post, perhaps) just to see. I parked the car at what I thought was the nearest point, then had to take a rather convoluted route on foot to find the entrance that wasn't still inside the cordon - the front of the building is not yet accessible. On the way I passed numbers of people and family groups heading back to their cars with DVDs in hand. I didn't actually want to borrow anything just at the moment - more just to see for myself that something positive is happening in the city.

Alice's is a fantastic store, it has what an amazing collection including vast numbers of art house and foreign movies. It also has a very colourful interior as can be seen above. In their refurbishment they have included a small theatre since so many of the city's smaller theatres have been unavailable since the earthquakes.

In addition to the photos above, more can be seen at Christchurch Daily Photo, and in this news article The latter shows the building from the front,which is still cordoned off and inaccessible to the public. The space all around it is shockingly empty, an example of just how much has been lost.

(Apologies for any awkward sentences and bad grammar in this post. I seem to be rather short of editing time lately. I may come back and fix it later, maybe not depending on time).

Friday, March 16, 2012

Cathedral Square Again

A few more photos from last weekend...

A small part of the crowd on the way into the square via the fenced-off walkway. In parts the crowd was much denser, leading me to wonder what would happen if there was a large aftershock while we were in there.

Detail of the cathedral. This end looked quite solid from the side we were allowed to view from - until I zoomed in and realised that you could see right through to the buildings on the other side of the tower.

On the way back I lifted my camera up above the fence and took this shot of a parking sign standing in the middle of rubble. I think it will be a while before anyone parks here, whether for five minutes or longer...

Also behind the fences, a bollard with posters from before the earthquake, gradually peeling away to reveal the layers underneath.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Hallelujah on the Presidential Highway, by Sue Wootton

Hallelujah on the Presidential Highway

Gore to Clinton on State Highway One

Fogged. Loomy. Slews of rain. Hedgerow flax, tall eucalypts,
macrocarpa shelter belts. Pugged and puddled paddocks.

Abandoned cottages slide past; south-wall weatherboards
slump. A woolshed roof has fallen in. In Gore I ask directions

to the Art Gallery. The man says Do we have an art gallery?
Eventually I find it: shut. The Mataura writhes cow-piss yellow

at the bridge. Slip Leonard in the slot - a song, friend, a song.
Fonterra's silver city glides into view. Cohen creaks and cracks -

Hallelujah, hallelujah - and the towers shine. Praise it all, insists
his voice of hopelessness, praise it all to broken hopeful heaven. Praise

the wars, the lies, the constant talk of peace; praise clean white
wealth, unlooked-at art, spilt milk, shut galleries, lost sheep.

-Sue Wootton


"By Birdlight", in which this poem appears, is Sue Wootton's third collection. I purchased it immediately on release towards the end of last year, as I knew from her previous two books that I would enjoy it. I had a hard time choosing from many possibilities which poem to present here. However, I found myself drawn to the celebratory nature of this poem, against an unpromising rain-darkened and somewhat desolate landscape.

For the benefit of overseas readers - Gore and Clinton are small towns in the south of New Zealand. Gore's art gallery has collections of far greater significance than would normally be expected in a town of its size. Fonterra is the corporation responsible for New Zealand's dairy exports.

Thanks to Sue for permission to use this poem. I have had internet problems today and am posting late - so in lieu of the usual bio,here is Sue's website where you will find a bio and links to purchase all three of her books.

For more Tuesday Poems, visit the main hub site.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Last Chance to See

I had an extremely busy weekend. After a meeting this afternoon, however, I made time to go into Cathedral Square. The walkway has been opened to the public for two weekends only, as it has been announced that the Cathedral is too badly damaged by the series of earthquakes, and will be coming down. ("Deconstructed" is the polite term for it.)

Comparing my photos (above) with the ones I took when the walkway was last open before Christmas, I can see that there is significantly more damage. The decision has been extremely controversial. Whether it is the right decision or not, I can't say - but many people are acting as if the bishop has just made a random decision over breakfast, whereas I am sure that behind the scenes there have been many consultations with experts, and agonising over the best way to proceed.

Cathedral Square was crowded - far more so than the last time I went. We won't have another chance to see it until the Cathedral, and no doubt many other buildings, have come down.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Digging Kumara, by David Taylor

Digging Kumara

When the morning is wet without rain
bright without sharpness
warm on the skin but cold in the nose
it is time to dig the kuara.

The hole is deep enough when my hands
sift the powdered basalt through my fingers
and feel no trace of the tuatua and pipi you ate here,
crouching beside the fire, deciding where to sleep tonight.

No trace of marbles waiting
for you to shut one eye and take your best shot,
running through the grass to see where they landed
whether you can claim the cat's eyes as your own.

No trace of the clothes pegs you popped
on the ground so you could straighten the sheet
that was pulling in the westerly,
that you wanted to put back on the bed tonight.

No trace of the crooked nails that fell
to the ground when you replaced the rotting palings to
keep out the neighbour's sly dog on one side,
the sly neighbour's dog on the other.

No trace of the small soldiers
with the impeccable discipline
that you used to explain why there had been lots of uncles
and so few cousins.

No trace of the shopping bags
that were drying in the sun
because they weren't rubbish,
could be used again for carrying, say, silver beet.

No trace of brown shards
from the swappa crate you opened up
to relax after a busy day,
then the hole is deep enough.

when you have eaten, played, taken in the washing,
mended the fences, taught history to the children,
washed up, put your glass down, lain your body down,

I will pile the kumara in the old cane washing basket
and put it in the shed for winter.


David Taylor is from Christchurch (Otautahi) and went to Canterbury University. He is currently studying Educational Leadership at Auckland University part time. He says "I run, tramp, fish, learn te reo Maori and keep chickens. I am a Woolf Fisher fellow for 2012.The inspiration was working in my garden – harvesting the kumara – and realising that I was also engaged in some urban archaeology. It was a demonstration of just how we can be connected to other people through the land."

Digging Kumara appeared in Catalyst Volume 9, published in February this year after a rather long wait due to the Canterbury earthquakes. Catalyst is a Christchurch-based poetry journal. As a local production, it tends to publish mostly local poets, the best of which are very good. The production quality is always excellent - this volume has commissioned artwork from NZ born/USA based artist Matt Couper. It also comes with a CD on which can be found the poems read by their authors, set to background music clips. I haven't had time to listen yet, but am looking forward to it especially since some of the poets included are known to me as excellent spoken word performers.

If you'd like to purchase a copy you can hop on over to the Catalyst blog and look for the e-mail link in the sidebar.

For more Tuesday poems visit the main hub site.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday Poem: On Not Being Charles Lindbergh

On Not Being Charles Lindbergh

Snow on the ground
cold outlines the curves of our thighs
making love with socks on
thinking about
Charles Nunsegger and Francois Coli
missing over the Atlantic
with ten days’ supply
of caviar and bananas.


I've been a bit slack lately about sending out requests for permission to use poems - so one of my own again today. I really need to get those requests going as I'm running short.
This is an odd wee piece which was included in Flap: The Chookbook 2. Yes, it's a winter poem really, and it's not winter here, but never mind.

I received some newspaper clippings from the Wyoming State Library regarding the obituary of my greatgrandfather's brother who emigrated to Cheyenne, Wyoming from Scotland and died in 1927. On the same page was a fragment of an article about two missing French aviators, so out of curiosity I looked them up on google and found that they had tried to cross the Atlantic a few weeks before Charles Lindbergh made a successful crossing. They were never found. So this poem celebrates those who tried and failed, the unremembered, the also rans.

(You can purchase Flap online at Fishpond by following the link above).

For more Tuesday poems visit the main hub site and check out all the links in the sidebar.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

One Year On

People have an instinct to leave flowers in a place where something terrible has happened, by the roadside where there was an accident, in front of a building where someone was shot. It's not like bringing flowers to a grave where the body has been laid to rest. These flowers are not the same. Someone dies a horrible death, and suddenly the bouquets appear. It's a desperate instinct to leave a mark of innocence on a violent wound, to mark the place where that last twitching nerve of innocence was stilled. ..
Flowers were the very first thing we needed. Before bread. And long before words.
--Anne Michaels in "Winter Vault"

Yesterday as part of the commemorations of the earthquake anniversary, flowers were cast into the city's rivers, and placed in all the road cones around the city (and we have a LOT of road cones, with all the ongoing repairs to underground drainage).

My daughter's comments on the first anniversary of the quake are here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tuesday Poem

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the February 22nd earthquake - not our first earthquake, but the one in which people died. The September 4th (2010) quake, though larger in magnitude, now seems more like a dress rehearsal.

Some of the Tuesday Poets have commemorative poems. Others - not based in Christchurch - have lovely poems on other topics. For myself, as I don't have anything appropriate, and don't really want to post anything else, I have decided to skip a week. You can explore all the Tuesday Poems by visiting the main hub site.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Winter Incident, by Jan Hutchison

Winter incident

A man and a woman
trudge towards the estuary.

Snow falls.
Reeds are bare in the wind.

Silence sinks below the fabric
of their overcoats.
Thoughts are in pocket linings.

They pass a caravan on the verge
then skirt an upturned bucket
with cast-off peelings.

From out of the gloom and scrub
a pukeko struts up to them
as if it were asking a question.

It flicks its tail up and down
stretches its long neck forward
flutters white under-feathers.

Afterwards, either the man or the woman
will remember the pukeko
with wings folded to its body
remember the bird running to the marshes.

The other will remember half-moon
turnip peelings.

"Winter Incident" appears in The Happiness of Rain, Jan Hutchison's new book from Steele Roberts. I was fortunate to attend Jan's book launch last week, a very pleasurable and well-attended celebration. It was difficult for me to choose a poem from the book as there are so many that I enjoyed, with their finely observed detail, particularly of the natural world - though, as can be seen in this poem, people also make frequent appearances.

Thanks to Jan for permission to publish her poem here. She sent me the following rather brief and modest bio:
Jan Hutchison lives in Christchurch.
Her work appears in a variety of publications, including Quadrant, Australia and on-line Snorkel. She came first in the Takahe
International Poetry Competition for 2011. The Happiness of Rain is her third collection.

For more Tuesday Poems, visit the main hub site.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Visiting the Ancestors

Visiting the Ancestors

We come to Aberdeen in the evening,
plan to stay the night
and pass through Dundee the next day
to visit the ancestors.
We didn't count on North Sea oil.
Rows and rows of B & B's in grey granite
all have their signs out : "No Vacancy"
The big hotel offers us an executive suite,
three hundred pounds a night, too flash for us.
Finally we find a phone booth,
drive south on the motorway,
leave them all behind.
Machines whirring at the Verdant Works
where great grandfather William is busy spinning ropes.
Young Edith skips in the street outside the "steamies"
where her mother does the laundry. Her big sisters
rolling hoops on the cobblestones.
The smell of marmalade wafts towards us from Keillor's factory.
Newsboys are calling – Scott lost in the Antarctic,
and away in the south the rigging creaks as his ship
makes its slow way back to rest at anchor here.
It’s crewed by great grandfather Samuel's navy mates
from the days before a wife and children anchored him to shore.
Later his son will meet the girl from Dundee
and make her his wife, but for now
they all disappear into the night
as we drive past Dundee in the dark.

copyright Catherine Fitchett

first published in Takahe no 74

For more Tuesday Poems visit the main hub site

(Thanks to my daughter S for assistance with the new layout of my blog. The header was put together from photographs of a sculpture situated at Paihia School in the Bay of Islands. More on the sculpture in this story

Sunday, February 05, 2012

When to Fake an Earthquake

Sage Cohen is a poet, writer and teacher who blogs (very entertainingly) at The Path of Possibility. A year or so ago, I received a copy of her book "The Productive Writer" which I intended to review on my blog. I read the whole book - but last year, I wasn't being very productive. In fact I was hardly writing at all (though I did send out a number of submissions of old work). And, well - it is hard to talk about being a productive writer while being unproductive.

I continued to enjoy Sage's newsletters, and a few weeks back, her post When to Fake a Head Injury, jogged me into action. I had started writing poems again, though sometimes only a line or two a day. I re-read the book and gathered my thoughts together.

I didn't have to fake an earthquake last year. In fact, at last count we have had around 9,500 earthquakes, including one magnitude three or more on average every four hours. But that wasn't what was stopping me from writing. We were without power for two days, and without running water for a week. But never without pencil and paper! No, the reason that I wasn't writing was - well, I just wasn't writing. Clearly, my experience shows that no amount of hints on being a productive writer will substitute for the will to start. And when, early in the book, I found suggestions of how one might structure writing time, given three hours a day, I thought maybe this book wasn't for me. I was wrong.

I realised as I got further into the book that there is something in it for everyone. Whether you are writing full time or fitting it in during coffee breaks at your day job - whether you are a poet, novelist or non-fiction writer - there will be something that you can find useful. For instance, since re-reading the book, I have vamped up my systems for keeping track of submissions and publications. I have also found Sage's discussion of "platform" helpful in thinking about the things I do in my writing life, and how they fit together - going to local open mic events, taking part in Tuesday Poem, entering competitions and submitting work. Which possibilities are worth pursuing and which don't really fit my goals?

I can recommend the book, and also Sage's blog. You can, if you wish, have new posts sent to you regularly by e-mail. I do!

Friday, February 03, 2012

Earthquake Update

This afternoon I headed up the Rapaki Track for the first time in nearly a year. It's a popular track with mountain bikers, joggers and walkers. However after the February 22nd quake (2011) it was closed for many months due to rockfall hazard. On December 23rd, at midday, the announcement was made that it had reopened. And then two hours later, there was another quake, and one an hour after that, so it was again closed.

It seems that all the issues have been resolved, although there is still this sign at the start of the track. Many other tracks are still officially closed. For instance, the valley track in the gully below, where my favourite grumpy faced rock resides (at least, I hope it still resides there and wasn't a casualty of the earthquakes), and where a lone piper used to be heard practising from time to time.

On the Summit Road at the top of the track, there is a substantial road barrier - not one, but four rows of orange poles, then some heavy concrete barriers and a locked gate with a very official looking sign:

You can't quite read the small print in the photo, but it warns of a penalty of a very heavy fine or up to three months imprisonment, under the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act (some section or other), for ignoring the "No Entry" warning.

I used a lot of zoom to take this photograph:

This is on the other side of the Summit Road from the top of the track, it is the end of the cliff which used to be a popular rock climbing area. I very much doubt that it will be considered safe enough for rock climbing for a long time.

In other news, a link to my daughter's post on the process of her earthquake-related house repairs - now nearly completed. And as for ours - well, today we had an assessor sent by our insurance company. Seven months ago, the EQC (government natural disaster insurance organisation) assessed the house. And they have now decided that it is over the cap - (see explanation below) - so they passed the claim over to our insurance company. How this took seven months to decide I can't quite fathom. I guess it just sat in a pile of 100,000 or so other claims for that time, not being looked at. Today's assessor agreed that the damage was well over the EQC $100,000 cap - though he also told me that the house had "stood up pretty well". In other words, along with the chimney that fell down, the front of the house that needs to be jacked up, and a few doors that don't open or shut properly, there are enough cracks in ceilings, wall linings and exterior cladding to add up to a considerable sum to fix - but structurally, the house is not in any danger of falling down - unlike some.

For those overseas readers who are unfamiliar with the New Zealand earthquake insurance system - after the big 1931 Napier earthquake, the government set up the Earthquake Insurance Commission, which was supposed to cover damage to private houses (not businesses) from natural disasters. It is funded by a levy on all insurance policies. But the annual levy, and the limit on cover, were last reviewed in, I think, 1989, so have rather failed to keep pace with inflation. This means that EQC will cover damage up to $100,000 (plus GST - a type of sales tax) which in 1989 was the full cost of the average house. So, for the Christchurch earthquake, the system that is running is this:
Damage under $10,000 is paid out in cash and you organise your own repairs.
For damage between $10,000 to $100,000, Fletchers, a big construction company, have been appointed to oversee the repair process. This is to avoid having lots of "cowboy" contractors and price hikes due to the overwhelming demand for tradespeople. Fletchers then appoint subcontractors to do the repairs (the process my daughter has just been through).
And the third level - if it is above that, the $100,000 is paid either to your bank, if you have a mortgage, or to the homeowner, and the insurance company takes over from there.

I'm not too disturbed that we are over the limit, I had long suspected as much and wondered why no one had said so before. In fact, I think in some ways it will be easier to have only the insurance company to deal with, and not the rest of the bureaucracy. As to when anything will happen, along with most of the rest of the population of Christchurch, I have no idea. No doubt some time before I die, if that's not unexpectedly soon!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Tuesday Poem: The Bird, by Victor Hugo

Be like the bird, who
Pausing in his flight
On limb too slight
Feels it give way beneath him
Yet sings
Knowing he has wings.

- Victor Hugo
(translator unknown)

I walk to and from work most days, if I can get up early enough (it takes about half an hour each way). On my walks, I often find myself not noticing my surroundings, as my mind goes its own way. So I try to counteract this tendency and deliberately notice what is around me, jotting down half a dozen small observations per day.

Last week I noticed a sparrow land on a dandelion stalk, which promptly bent itself horizontal under the bird's weight. The sparrow ended up perched over the gutter like a tightrope walker, before it flew off. I thought there might be poem material there somewhere - then coincidentally, a day or two later, I found the above on the internet. You can see it as a rather charming Youtube video - I tried, but failed, to embed it, so you will need to click on the link.

From my google search it seems that this is the whole poem, although most of Victor Hugo's poems are longer. If I am wrong and anyone can enlighten me as to the rest, please leave a comment.

Victor Hugo (1802 - 1885) was a poet, playwright and novelist. Within France his fame comes first from his poetry, but outside France he is best-known for his plays, Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

For more Tuesday Poems, visit the main hub site and check out the links in the sidebar.