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.