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 hook├Ęd 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.