Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The quiet life at Glenfinnan (1877, Runs 458/468) by Robynanne Milford



...........................              By the East Matukituki in a shieling picket fenced with currants gooseberries, oats and ducks, Mrs MacPherson, her heirlings, and
Forty walls of deadfall water incessant cascade drowning
lip-sound. Inside and out avalanching ice, thousand-foot roars
into cauldron scoured, reverberates unseen
Duncan’s gone on
government work  
rumbles round and round       vibrates rocky
land resounds in every cup of tea. Constant cannon crack 
is
that He   I search from the roof   and aye the ever river 
boom’n
boil of boulders     big as Bank of England         thunder bank
to bank. Riflecrack of trees snow-snapped  wet airs cloth-stiffs
on a line furious hissing
must  be   going mad beneath
Blackpeak serrations
shriek of a winding-up norwester
wild pasture rabbit-savaged. ........ thwack and blizzard
     
Is he crossing yet
            the sudden rise my four bairns and nary
an adult voice
 screaming shingle-roil the little one drowned
here, I fear the ever river deafness descends with the darkness is
he crossing now            watch from the roof the garden is
struggling for butter
 deafness descends                  Some18
months ere               I eyed another

Miss Moreland. You must come in
 
iceavalanchesleetsnow and the rain-rain drizzle to deluge
watersfalling and the windwhistle shriek-shake
of timbers lifting, river roil and
Forty walls of dreadful waters

© Robynanne Milford, 2015
   
*Miss Maud Moreland early tourist

   

Featured on The Tuesday Poem Hub with permission.

Editor: Helen Lowe


In last year's Canterbury Poets' Spring Reading Season, I very much enjoyed the poems read by guest, Robynanne Milford – many if not all of which were drawn from her (then forthcoming) poetry collection, Aspiring Light (Pukeko Publications), which was launched last Sunday, 19 April.

The focus of Aspiring Light is on the Wanaka area of Otago. In particular, the poems highlight "characters who shaped, explored, named and pioneered the area" throughout its history. In her cover quote for the collection, poet Bernadette Hall, observes that Wanaka is: 

"A place of myth and mystery, where suffering has scoured many a soul, but where dreams may still come true."

In choosing a poem to feature today, I felt that The quiet life at Glenfinnan//1877 Runs 458/ 468 exemplified the pioneering narrative that Bernadette alludes to. The poem records the harshness of an environment where people were dwarfed by both the terrain and the elements:

................."Forty walls of deadfall water incessant cascade drowning
lip-sound. Inside and out avalanching ice, thousand-foot roars
into cauldron scoured, reverberates unseen ..."


The overwhelming presence of nature is juxtaposed with the material highlighted in italics within the poem, which records the response of those, such as Mrs MacPherson and her children, seeking to survive its harshness:
"Duncan’s gone on government work...//...must  be   going mad...//...my four bairns and nary an adult voice ...  the little one drowned here..."

On first hearing, then subsequently reading the poem, I felt it captured the experience of pioneers, but most particularly pioneering women, in an authentic and powerful way. And the physical form of the poem, where the initial "block" effect of the text reflects the physicality of the landscape in the area (in which the mountains do indeed rise like sheer walls), in combination with the subsequent, more staccato and almost "distracted" (i.e. "overwhelmed") narrative voice, both work together to reinforce the poem's story.

But what I love most is the way the experience of "woman alone" within this overpowering landscape resolves into the normalcy of:


"Miss Moreland. You must come in"

– belying the fact that Miss Moreland is the first fellow adult Mrs MacPherson has spoken with in eighteen months. But for me, as reader, it is this note of "normalcy" that grounds the poem and in so doing, really makes it work – as work it undoubtedly does.
.
Robynanne Milford is a Christchurch poet and former general practitioner, ground-breaking in the medical care of sexual abuse survivors. Aspiring Light is her third book of
poetry, the first being Songcatcher in 2009, the second Grieve Hopefully in 2012.  In 2010 she was runner up in the International Manuwatu Poetry for Performance competition. Her poetry has been published in Landfall, takahē, Poetry NZ, Catalyst, The Press,Voice Print Three, and in anthologies Crest to Crest, Roses and Razorblades and In this Bitter Season.


Today's editor, Helen Lowe, is a novelist, poet and interviewer whose work has been published, broadcast and anthologized in New Zealand and internationally. Her first novel, Thornspell, was published to critical praise in 2008, and her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Helen posts regularly on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog and is also active on Twitter: @helenl0we

In addition to "The quiet life at Glenfinnan", be sure to check out the wonderful poems featured by the other Tuesday Poets, using our blog roll to the left of this posting.