Tuesday, July 22, 2014

News from the Island by Tracey Sullivan

I met the weaver today
scalloping burnished gold
onto tamed hanks of lacebark,
porous and sunbleached
tissue thin strips of lathed bone.
He was cold, the weaver,
but he talked sunnily enough
of commissions and 
traditional uses for the bark 
- bandages and summer cloaks -
as spring sun sparkled crisply 
on the bay.
He gave me news of the cloak
I coveted
everyday last summer.
Visited. Lusted after. Loved.
I knew its rightful home
was here
on the too white walls
of the newly painted shack.
Black falls spiked with red
the wayward beauty 
of a waterfall, or hair.
And then it was gone
- to Olive.
And my heart learns again 
the consequence of uncertainty
the outcome of inaction
and the opposites of those.  

© Tracey Sullivan


Published with the permission of the poet

Editor: Claire Beynon




Tracey Sullivan is a New Zealand poet currently living in the Netherlands. Her work has appeared in print and digital form in New Zealand and on radio in the Netherlands. In 2012 a chapbook of her poetry, "a place on earth", was published in Singapore by Math Paper Press. She is currently working on a full collection. The internet is a remarkable tool with the ability to link people from all corners of the globe, often in surprising ways. Tuesday Poem is evidence aplenty of this! Tracey and I were introduced online via a mutual friend and while we've not yet met in person I have been fortunate to spend three nights in the 'newly painted shack' she references in today's featured poem. The shack is a magical place set amongst native bush on Waiheke Island, a forty minute ferry ride from Auckland. I can see why the place calls her; a shell-encrusted pathway leads through a forest of tree ferns and trunk-hugging fungi to the cottage. Night times are a call-and-answer conversation between silence and sound, insects and air. Pukeko fossick on the wooden deck at dusk. After dark, the balcony's lichen constellations shine. Tracey's writing is vivid and adventurous, intimate and contemplative. On the one hand she invites us to observe from a distance and on the other, to come right on in. Look through both ends of the telescope, she seems to be saying. Bold notes echo and dissipate across familiar and unfamiliar landscapes. I was especially moved by one of Tracey's recent poems, 'Spiegel Im Spiegel', whose title was borrowed from Estonian composer Arvo Pärt's composition of the same name. (I learned this week that this poem was highly commended in this year's New Zealand International Poetry Competition - the judge was our 'own' Tim Jones!).  Affection and restraint are woven through Tracey's 'News from the Island'. She is - and, by proxy, we are - both the observer and participant in this story. She offers us a portrait of master weaver Te Ao Marama Ngarimo and, too, a glimpse of his creative process, the outcome of which is a cloak whose 'wayward beauty' she 'coveted everyday last summer'. I found myself intrigued by details inferred as well as stated in this poem - the weaver's relationship with the natural world, for example, and the integrity of his chosen materials. Cloaks are garments of ceremonial importance as well as mantles of status and protection. The weaver was 'cold'; we are not told his age but might not 'old' be implied here? Certainly, his creative competence implies a man of maturity, mana and experience. It seems to me the word 'omissions' is cleverly embedded in the lines 'he talked sunnily enough/of commissions and/traditional uses for the bark', the more so after we've read the poem through to its closing stanza where we find the writer simultaneously challenged and at ease with her questions. It seems she holds both the weaver's skill and her own deliberations with similar affection. And who is Olive? A name and word I love, Olive evokes for me images as various and far apart as New Zealand's bellbird, Popeye's beloved and the garden of Gethsemane.  A day or two ago, Tracey sent me the following paragraph -"For me this poem is about finding a path, often between opposites, finding balance, making sense of loss and longing. The poem is full of contrasts: warmth and cold, presence and loss, external and internal, wildness/passion and the constructive taming of those. The literal story is of a change meeting with the Waiheke-based artist Te Ao Marama Ngarimo, whose work I admire. He worked as we spoke. I was struck by the time-consuming preparation of natural materials, the meticulous detail that goes into his weaving and how much life, passion and love is reflected in the finished work. I have spent quite a lot of time on Waiheke Island over the last few years. I am never ready to leave. It is part of the balancing act. The need to walk between pragmatism, judgement, decisiveness, and desire, emotion, connection. Making mistakes sometimes. Finding the path as you go."Yes. Thank you, Tracey, for agreeing to be this week's featured poet. TP readers can enjoy more of Tracey's poems on the Blackmail Press and Whitireia Polytech sites.



This week's editor Claire Beynon is an artist, writer and independent researcher. She is the founder and curator of a global arts initiative titled Many as One. Her studio website is being given a major and long-overdue overhaul. She blogs here

Please check the sidebar on the left of this page for links to Tuesday Poets' many fine offerings. 


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Another Exile Paints a Spring Portrait of Katherine Mansfield by Riemke Ensing

(for Eric McCormick)


There are all these lines
without words telling you a whole
story.  The portrait is a yellow table
a gingko leaf shaped fan you think
might smell of sandalwood, a paperweight
some flying sheets of paper and a Chinese
vase of ‘yellow-grey, 2 blues and brown’ [guess who]
curving itself round mountains and the wide open
branches of trees looking up river.  Also an apple
halved, on a plate with knife and rose.  Maybe
there’s a cat asleep beside the blue cup.  Certainly
a teapot (and you fill in the cake from the corner shop).
Everything is luminous and shines.  Green
makes a slight impression on the wind
flowing in the way sky runs
through the open window snaring the light
on a jug of jonquils catching fire
at the edge of spring.

And there’s your still-life portrait [yes, you’ve got it,
landscape in a figure.                                                   Frances Hodgkins]

© Riemke Ensing
from The K.M. File and Other Poems with Katherine Mansfield

Published with the permission of the poet
Editor:  Kathleen Jones

I keep coming across writers and poets who’ve become fascinated by Katherine Mansfield.  K.M’s life story, her diaries and letters, her work and the way she wrote (so lucidly and powerfully) about it, somehow catch the writerly imagination. New Zealand poet Riemke Ensing, my most recent discovery, is one of those who has entered into a dialogue with Mansfield in poetry.

Katherine Mansfield is the ultimate ‘writers’ writer’ - there is always some aspect of her life and work we can connect with.  For Riemke Ensing it’s the aspect of exile.  Riemke was born in the Netherlands and came to New Zealand in 1951, where she taught English Literature at the University of Auckland.  Her collection, The K.M. File and Other Poems with Katherine Mansfield is one of six collections of poetry.  It was published back in 1993 with art-work by Margaret Lando-Bartlett and Judith Haswell and it should really be re-issued because of its importance to Mansfield aficionados.

This poem takes me straight to Mansfield’s account of being in John Fergusson’s studio - her descriptions of the china, the way the light fell across the room, all the colours, but it is actually a dialogue with one of Frances Hodgkins’ still-life portraits.  Frances Hodgkin was one of New Zealand’s first notable painters - a contemporary of Katherine Mansfield who also came to England in order to develop her art, became part of the modernist movement and died in 1947.  There’s no evidence that the two women ever connected, though their paths crossed on several occasions in London and France.

Drafts of the poems are included as illustrations
I love the way the poem builds up allusions and images, inviting you to guess the answer to the question posed at the beginning.  What are all these lines and words leading to?

Academic Lucy McAllister wrote in an essay that she considered the poems in this collection ‘ to have a playful and cryptic purpose like a cross word puzzle’, and she chose the ‘Spring Portrait’ as a particular example of this style.
The poet describes in detail a painting: "The portrait is a yellow table / a ginko leaf shaped fan you think / might smell of sandalwood...". Ensing is specific about shape, smell and particularly colour: "a Chinese / vase of 'yellow-grey, 2 blues and brown'". The use of italics (point to the text) should signal to the reader that this phrase contains key information. In the margin is a parenthesised "guess who". This is a challenge from the poet: she knows the identity of the artist. Is the reader able to deduce the painter's identity from the references to specific style and colour?

The theme of a puzzle or game is continued until the final couplet. This does not directly answer the riddle: it is a riddle in itself. In a matter-of-fact tone Ensing states "And there's your still-life portrait / landscape in a figure". This juxtaposes four types of painting as one and reverses the usual relation of "Figure in a Landscape". However, the italicised "still-life portrait" is the crucial "signal" for the reader to look at the notes in the margin. It is here that the answer lies: "(yes, you've got it Frances Hodgkins)". In effect the poet has described Hodgkins's painting style without directly stating the artist's name.’

So the poem manages to include both Mansfield and Hodgkins - it’s describing the portrait by Hodgkins in words that reference Mansfield. There’s a sense of longing in the last lines - the jonquils refer to Katherine Mansfield’s exile in the south of France among fields of those blossoms - the imagined familiar landscape - the cat curled up beside the blue cup (Wingley?), and the nostalgia for a sky that ‘runs through the window’. Mansfield was often homesick for the New Zealand landscape.

You can hear Riemke read this poem (and others) at the New Zealand sound archivethough - sadly - it seems you have to purchase the cd if you can't visit the library.

Renee Liang interviewed Riemke Ensing for The Tuesday Poem in 2012 and you can read it by clicking here. 

Photograph of Riemke Ensing: copyright James Ensing-Trussell

This week's editor Kathleen Jones is an English poet, novelist and biographer living in exile in Italy. Her most recent collection of poetry 'Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21' is published by Templar Poetry in the UK. She is also the biographer of Katherine Mansfield, published by Penguin NZ and EUP. Kathleen blogs at 'A Writer's Life'. 


Please take time to browse the sidebar where the other Tuesday Poets have an eclectic selection of poetry and ideas waiting for your enjoyment.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Cracked by Johanna Emeney

In this drought
a crack has worked its way
up or down our lounge wall -

a crinkle
to a hairline
to a mad jaw of a thing.

The builder talks of settling,
waiting for a change in the weather,
giving it a few days,

and you are fine
with putting panic on hold
for a rainy day,

while I'm on a fault line,
looking up past the picture
you have hung to hide it,

pulling out the settee
to see how much worse
it is tonight,

until the cross-hatch
of buckled tape
and seamed board

look too much
like a mistake
or a torn page.

When wrinkles
spread across ceilings
and doors swell shut

so I have to tug and sweat
to get out,
I expect you to be there

on the other side.


First published in Trout (17).
Reprinted here with the kind permission of the poet.

Editor: Elizabeth Welsh.


I discovered Johanna's poem 'Cracked' in Trout 17, the Home Spaces issue published in 2012. It is the opening poem of this superb issue and it drew me in and kept me coming back to it over the last couple of months (it niggled!) - the seemingly calm domestic scene of a lounge with a growing crack traversing and growing slowly up/down the wall. There's something about the casual conversational tone between the 'I' and 'you', the slight edge of sharpness, of hysteria that blooms, the scrabbling behind furniture and the masking with paintings to allay or confirm fears. It's paced so deftly, so carefully. The startling image of the crack and the differing reactions to it pulse quietly and build to the final image of the 'I' tugging and sweating at a swollen, unflinching door. Sometimes there are final lines that I genuinely wish I had written, and Johanna's poem is a perfect instance of that, bringing the poem to a whole new level of complexity and depth and love: 'I expect you to be there on the other side'.

When I chatted to Johanna about sharing her poem, she very generously offered an autobiographical glimpse into 'Cracked': 'Cracked is, in many ways, a love poem. Its occasion was the large cracks that started appearing in our house because of the mercurial weather of Auckland over the past couple of years, coupled with the poor clay soil of rural Coatesville, where we live. One crack in particular appeared directly above the sofa on which my husband and I sit. The fissure got larger and larger over a period of months. It was positioned directly between us when we sat in our habitual places, and became the cause of much hilarity and ironic joking about portents and omens. Our reactions to the house's movement were opposite, and reflective of our personalities: I panicked and brooded. My husband was calm and unfazed. The poem explores these attitudes (and, of course, amplifies them!)'.

Johanna Emeney is a New Zealand poet and teacher. She spent fourteen years in England, during which she attended Cambridge University and taught English Literature at public and private schools. In 2006, she returned to Auckland with her husband, David. Jo is currently studying towards her PhD at Massey University, where she also tutors on the Level One Creative Writing course. In addition, she enjoys working with her friend Rosalind Ali at the Michael King Writers' Centre, delivering the Young Writers' Programme to talent senior school students, and the New Kiwi Voices workshops for migrant youth, supported by Auckland Council. 'Cracked' comes from her book Apple & Tree, published by Cape Catley in 2011.

This week's editor, Elizabeth Welsh, is a poet and academic editor. Originally from Auckland, she has made London her home for the past three years. She runs the online poetry magazine The Typewriter and is currently working on her first poetry collection. She blogs about all manner of literary, travelling and everyday bits & bobs at small marks.

Do take a short morning tea break to check out all the other poets and poems along the sidebar from the rest of the talented Tuesday Poem community.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Cloudmother by Siobhan Harvey

When a child starts school, so too the parents:
this is a truth Cloudmother can’t escape.

Here are others – when a teacher favours a child,
so too the parents; when a classmate befriends a child,

so too the parents; when a label owns a child,
so too the parents. The mother most of all.

The handwriting lessons that failed to prepare her for life;
the teachers who saw careers in computers not art or poetry;

the years she spent invisibly circling the schoolyard:
the institutional past Cloudmother thought she’d shed

returns. What follows are a sleepless night and a waking
to a trick of the light that breaks across the harbour

and makes sea and sky one, their limpidity fusing
into image and duplicate, a lone kawau observing all.

When Cloudmother escorts her son to class, everything
he is yet to bear and be pained by unfurls in her

like a hailstorm. Drear mornings of multiplication
when Cloudboy’s eyes float outside to nimbostrati dark

and static as the wings of dead wasps or caged starlings;
lunchtimes of lonely drifting around the playground

when reaching out towards faint cirrostrati refracted
into halo phenomena is easier than making a friend;

afternoons reading Gulliver’s Travels to restless pyrocumuli,
behold an Island in the Air, inhabited by Men who were able to raise,

or sink, or put it into Progressive Motion….”: Cloudmother sees
these will precipitate her son’s future, just as they will

birth times before the bell when parents gather to gossip
and she’ll race to places where only Cloudboy can find her.

Later classmates will rain their mothers’ whispers upon Cloudboy
until they condense icily in the air he and Cloudmother occupy:

cold spells about junk food turning Cloudboy into a freak;
cold spells about the mother turning Cloudboy into a freak.

Published with the permission of the poet.
Editor: Helen McKinlay

                                                     
Cover Image - Cloudboy the book

Siobhan Harvey's comments:  

'Cloudmother' is one of the key poems in Cloudboy. Its first line - When a child starts school, so too the parents - was the phrase which began the entire journey towards drafting, redrafting and completing the collection, and indeed its companion creative non-fiction essay, 'A Boy Called Cloud' (which was Highly Commended in 2013 Landfall Essay Prize, at the same time as the collection was selected for the 2013 Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry). For all parents of children at school, irrespective of whether your child, like Cloudboy, has Autism Spectrum Disorder, that line has an undeniable and resonant truth to it. More than its authenticity, though, the line offered me a poetic realisation: the ability to map out the journey of child and mother through those early, fraught years at school; to build a narrative, a quest for knowledge and academic sanctuary for both mother and unconventional offspring besieged by an education system which demands conformity above all else.

When so much of this collection needed to rest upon the child, their visions, inspirations, hardships and liberations, 'Cloudmother' also enabled me to give a parental presence to the collection, to contextualise the child's difference within the protective, treasured care the parent has, the parent who wants only her son to be accepted and nurtured at school with the same understanding she shows him at home. The poem's final couplet was indeed inspired by the retorts many of my son's former peers said to him in the schoolyard; even though he rarely ate 'junk food' (the one rule in my house is: "No MacDonald's") and has never played or owned an Xbox, the parents at my son's former school clearly felt a need to explain away my son's difference to their children in the only ways they knew how: to blame my son for having a mother who was, in their eyes, failing him as a parent.

Siobhan Harvey -  Cloudboy’s Mother

Editor Helen McKinlay comments:


Looking at the book Cloudboy as a whole, I find that the way Siobhan enters into her son’s world of clouds and writes his story is celebratory and magical. This is a work of poetical genius and a gift to New Zealand literature. It is also of tremendous experiential value as an educational resource, not only to parents and those with an interest in autism, but to all those who are responsible for the care and development of children. We learn best from those like Siobhan, who have the courage to be emotionally honest and open. There were times when I found these poems and their companion essay, A Boy Called Cloud, heart searing. The book itself is a story, a mythology of Cloudmother and Cloudboy. As such it is celestial, but full of adventure, conflict and a feeling of two heroes coming home.

Imagination is more important than knowledge – Albert Einstein – front pages Cloudboy

Imagination and resilience are two qualities which I wish most for all children. Imagination is how we perceive our path through this world. Resilience is the skill we use to deal with challenges and catastrophes. The imagination helps us design the frameworks of values, beliefs and common sense behaviours which build resilience. We need supportive family, friends, teachers and community, to help us in this. Many of those who deride others do so from fear, caused by lack of these qualities.

It’s clear that imagination helped Cloudboy and Cloudmother find the resilience to deal with their own unique challenges and came to the point where Siobhan could write:

Looking at the sky and everything in and below it afresh, I knew Cloudboy would be alright because he had me at his side to watch over and protect him, and I had him at my side to teach me the special insights and perspectives he carried inside him.’ (extract from  A Boy Called Cloud)

A Boy Called Cloud ( the essay) tells of Siobhan's journey for answers to help her son. I highly recommend that you read this work. It's informative, honest and very moving.
Please click here.

Cloudboy has already graced the New Zealand bestseller lists, an awesome result for a poetry book. It can be obtained online from Otago University Press. 

Thank you for being my guest on this week's Tuesday Poem Hub, Siobhan. It's been a delight.


Siobhan Harvey is a poet and nonfiction author. Cloudboy, her new poetry collection, (Otago University Press, 2014) won the 2013 Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry. It was launched at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival on Friday 16th May. Other works include Lost Relatives (Steele Roberts, 2011), Words Chosen Carefully: New Zealand Writers In Conversation (Cape Catley, 2010) and Our Own Kind: 100 New Zealand Poems about Animals (Random House NZ, 2009). Additionally, she was runner up in 2012 Dorothy Porter Poetry Prize (Aus) and the 2012 Kevin Ireland Poetry Competition. 
For her creative non fiction, she received a Highly Commended in the 2013 Landfall Essay Prize for A Boy Called Cloud and was runner up in the 2011 Landfall Essay Competition. Between 2006 and 2013 she co-ordinated New Zealand's National Poetry Day. She has been a guest writer at literary festivals in Australia, Indonesia, the UK and New Zealand. She has a Poet's Page on The Poetry Archive (UK), co-directed by Sir Andrew Motion.  
Editor's Note. Siobhan is a member of the New Zealand Book Council and is available to speak and give workshops as a writer in schools to all ages above five. What a great resource person she is.!

This week's editor, Helen McKinlay, is a children's author, known for her bestselling Grandma series (Harper Collins NZ). Her poetry has been published in a wide variety of magazines and anthologies in New Zealand and internationally as well as online. While in Christchurch she set up Poetry for Pudding, a live poets group for all ages and stages. She is now based in the Top of the South Island New Zealand. You can read about her work on her own blog gurglewords, where she is to be found most Tuesdays.

Please take time to browse the sidebar where the other Tuesday Poets have an eclectic selection of poetry and ideas waiting for your enjoyment.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

'Chemotherapy' by Mary McCallum and 'In the corner of my mind, a boy' by Frankie McMillan

Chemotherapy by Mary McCallum

who knew she was there
hidden inside that thing that turns
her girl upside down and inside out
(poison, really, a small inefficient
killing field) let loose in a body still
young enough to smell of milk
in the morning, one the mother must
return to sit beside and stand over    
to stroke the soft cheek, catch the soft
vomit, be steel to all that softness — a shield —
and, when called upon, to scream
like a banshee         yet, for the most part,
sits beside is all she can do, hands in lap

but running the spellcheck just now
over the girl’s story — all those
words, sharp teeth biting at the last
of life’s full belly — there she is! mother
over and over:  the unexpected heart
of the matter, with key on one side,
and happy on the other

© Mary McCallum


In the corner of my mind, a boy by Frankie McMillan

This morning watching people in the street
I remembered the book I’d forgotten to write –  
The Boy Who Lived In A Wardrobe
which I promptly changed to
The Boy in the Wardrobe, this meant
it could be flash fiction as living implies
a day’s activities which in the case of the boy
would normally be kicking a ball
around the overgrown tennis court, or finding
a lost bird in the hedge
then there is the business of eating, licking fingers
washing and scrubbed knees all of which
are impractical in the dim wardrobe smelling
of furs and the indecision of shoes
and though I can present the child however
I wish a chance encounter might be best
say, a glimpse through a key hole 
to where a small boy sits 
playing with his fingers in what would be
my parents' wardrobe, the cotton dresses
falling on his shoulders
my father’s trousers a stack of chimneys
which brings me back to the parade of people –  
how they walk towards deeds   
they never knew they had within them

©Frankie McMillan, previously published in Sport

Poems posted with permission by the authors.
Editor: Michelle Elvy

I chose to share poems by Mary McCallum and Frankie McMillan today because they have just completed their tasks as judges for the 2014 National Flash Fiction Day competition, and this is a wonderful way to honour and thank these two individuals for their talents and efforts. NFFD prize-givings occurred simultaneously on Sunday, June 22, in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch -- and Mary attended the Wellington celebration while Frankie was at the Christchurch event.  

Besides being many other things -- publisher, editor, novelist, poet and generally enthusiastic supporter of many literary endeavours -- Mary is, of course, co-founder of Tuesday Poem as well. I got to know Frankie's writing from her poetry first, then from her flash fiction which won last year's National Flash Fiction Day competition -- whose title 'In the nick of time, a deer' should be noted here for its parallel rhythm to the poem posted today -- and then I was pleased to read it much more closely as I reviewed stacks of stories for the forthcoming Flash Fiction International (W. W. Norton, 2015), for which Frankie's story 'Truthful Lies' was selected for inclusion. This year, we were excited that both Frankie and Mary agreed to judge the NFFD  competition and present awards on Sunday. 

From the judges' astute commentary on the winning 2014 stories, readers can see how Mary and Frankie went about selecting the winners for this year's competition. And their poems featured here today demonstrate poetry that tells stories, stories that are poetic. 

In  'Chemotherapy', I particularly admire the opening lines, how we are plunged right into the middle of this story, with the uncertainty of 'who knew she was there' balanced by the details that show a constancy and a presence all along -- in the milk, in the soft moments, in the screams -- and then the ending with the attention to detail and care of spellchecking every letter, every small moment on the page and in her daughter's life. This poem is inspired by Mary's association and friendship with Jan, the mother of Harriet Rowland, who wrote The Book of Hat, which Mary's Makaro Press published earlier this year. It's an extraordinary story, and Mary's poem is a subtle tribute to a complicated mother-daughter relationship, full of love and even joy in the face of life and death. 

'In the corner of my mind, a boy' is similarly a glimpse at a life -- only this time it's the imaginative life in/of the mind of a writer, contemplating all the possibilities and small details of this boy whom we can see briefly but fully through a very few words on the page. I love how Frankie plays with the idea of poetry and flash here -- very compelling for me. And how we see the boy through the keyhole -- that is the very way writers of excellent flash may think about bringing a full story to realisation. It's a glimpse, a small moment of light through which we may see activity or thought or history or even dresses and trousers, gently swaying against each other. And the ending says it all -- how poetry and flash hold such tremendous energy and potential, like the parade of people that Frankie comes back to:

how they walk towards deeds   
they never knew they had within them

These poems reveal a fine line between poetry and storytelling, and finely tuned writing. Thank you, Mary and Frankie, for sharing your talents!

After you've read this week's Tuesday Poem, please check out some of the other poems offered by the Tuesday Poets who appear in the sidebar.


~


Mary McCallum (centre in the photo, with other Wellington writers from the NFFD celebration) is an award-winning poet and fiction writer with a children’s book Dappled Annie and the Tigrish newly published by Gecko Press. Her novel, The Blue, was published in 2007, reprinted twice in 2008 and translated into Hebrew in 2009. The Blue won the New Zealand Society of Authors Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction and the Readers’ Choice Award at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards. She has won and been nominated for key awards and bursaries, including the Lillian Ida Smith Award in 2004. Her fiction and poetry have been published in a variety of literary journals.
Mary is a recent convert to flash fiction which she sees as a terrific hybrid of poetry and fiction. She placed third in the 2013 National Flash Fiction Day competition. She earns her living as a freelance writer and tutor, is the co-curator of online Tuesday Poem, and has recently started up a niche publisher Mākaro Press. She lives in Wellington with her family.


*
Frankie McMillan (far left in the photo, with the other Canterbury writers from the NFFD celebration) is a short story writer and poet. Her short story collection, The Bag Lady’s Picnic and other stories, was published by Shoal Bay Press. In 2005 she was awarded the CNZ Todd Bursary. In 2008 and 2009 her work was selected for the Best NZ Fiction anthologies. Many of her stories have also been broadcast on radio. In 2013 she was the winner of the National Flash Fiction Day award.
McMillan is also an award-winning poet. Her poetry collection, Dressing for the Cannibals, was published in 2009 and in that same year she won the NZ Poetry Society International competition. Recent poetry appears in TurbineJaamLandfallTroutSnorkelSportThe London GripShenandoah and Best NZ poems 2012, and her work will appear in the upcoming Flash Fiction International  (W. W. Norton, 2015).  This year she is the co-recipient of the Ursula Bethell writing residency at Canterbury University. Her next book of poetry, There Are No Horses in Heaven, is to be published by CUP in early 2015.

*
This week's editor, Michelle Elvy, is a writer, editor and manuscript assessor based in the Bay of Islands but currently in Indonesia aboard her sailboat, her home of more than ten years. She edits at Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short FictionBlue Five Notebook and Awkword Paper Cut, where she curates a monthly column, Writers on Writing (which recently featured Tuesday Poets Harvey Molloy and PS Cottier She is also Associate Editor for the forthcoming Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton, 2015) and co-ordinator of National Flash Fiction Day. Her poetry, fiction, travel writing, creative non-fiction and reviews have been published most recently or are forthcoming in Eastbourne: An AnthologyHtml GiantIkaJAAMJMWWPANK, Takahe and 2014: A Year of Stories.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Lucifer In Las Vegas by Joanna Preston

tortoise: from the Greek, tartarchos; ‘god of the underworld’

i. The Fall

As I fell, I burned
through shame and grief
and disbelief and love –
words that trail like smoke,
like broken wings.
Only rage was left –
its silken tongue, its
crystal shell. I fell
through night and time
into the morning
of this world, and
kept on falling.
Once, I lived
by passion’s flame,
but I learned
.
cold blood
is better.


ii. Shell

It’s been six thousand years,
give or take. This shape’s as good
as any other. I am fortress,
island, rock – a treasure chest
with a living lock no thief
can pick. I walk in armour,
plastron thicker than a tank.

The only mark of then
is a reflex twitch, a flinch,
a body thing I still can’t shake
beneath the fear of wings.

When I heard what happened
to Aeschylus, I laughed so hard
I nearly split my shell. Well,
I see He hasn’t lost His sense
of humour.


iii. Sand

Once, all this was sand. Sand and cactus,
sand and yuccas, sand and black brush,
gila monsters, sand and sand. Hell
of a place to land in,

    a dried out basin
in the mountains. Not a blade
of grass to graze on, not a flower
without thorns.

    I listened
to the blood-song of the desert

and dug down. 


iv Vegas

I built this kingdom for myself
from memories.

    The dry-bones chatter
of dice from a rattler’s tail, and the girls
pink and gold like gaudy birds.

The cardshoe started out an empty
tortoise shell (I bear no rivals),

baize-covered tables for the cropped
green fuzz that gave this town its name.
And the one-armed bandits – sheer genius,
like teaching cows to milk themselves.

The gambling chips began as skutes, then clay,
then plastic.
    Now I use men’s souls.
Why not? They’re light and plentiful, and have
no other value but my mark.

We do it all – the wedding, the divorce, the
post-loss suicide. If you want it,
you can get it.

At a price.


v. Lucifer

In the desert, the night sky
was endless. In the desert
the night sky was achingly near

but now it feels empty.
Abandoned. Mere clouds of dust
condensed into stars and space.
I stopped searching
its blank face for signs
of forgiveness aeons ago.

    Look down.
From the high-stakes room
the glitter of money
puts starshine to shame.
Look down. All the people
who flock to my shepherds, who pray
at my temples …

    Look down.
I hurl a handful
of orange chips into the air –
watch the sheep scrabble
and crawl at my feet.

    At night, look down
from space and Vegas is the
brightest thing on this world.


Look down, damn you, and see. 

© Joanna Preston

 Reproduced on The Tuesday Poem Hub with permission.

Editor: Helen Lowe

I am a great admirer of Joanna Preston's poetry and consider her award-winning, debut collection The Summer King (Otago University Press, 2009), one of the most interesting and integrated I have read in recent years. The poem I am featuring today, Lucifer In Las Vegas, is a new poem, but encapsulates a great many of the elements that first drew me to Joanna's work: wit, intellectual inquiry, the dexterous use of "voice" within the poem, and the unerring delivery of an emotional payoff for the reader.

Lucifer In Las Vegas offers all these elements, as well as quite stunning use of language, including the powerful opening:

"As I fell, I burned
through shame and grief
and disbelief and love –
words that trail like smoke,
like broken wings.
Only rage was left –
its silken tongue, its
crystal shell. I fell
through night and time
into the morning
of this world, and
kept on falling ..."

I also love poems that tell a story. As both a poet and Fantasy novelist, I really love a new, exciting take on an old story – and the moment of recognition when you first "hear" that new "voice", in this case of Lucifer, recounting the fall. There is pathos in the account, emotion that is framed, as well as contained, by the juxtaposition with the "archangel ruined" 's metamorphosis into a tortoise – and the subsequent transformation of the barren desert into Las Vegas. The transition is convincing, as is the unfolding of the "voice" – with the whole of the poem, as well as its diverse elements (e.g. the fall, the tortoise, the desert, Las Vegas) all pulled together by that final compelling, and revealing, line:

"Look down, damn you, and see."

I am honored to be able to feature Lucifer In Las Vegas on The Tuesday Poem Hub today. I am also a great believer in poems speaking for themselves, so I will now simply say that I hope you enjoy the read as much as I have.

Joanna Preston is an Australian-born poet, editor and freelance writing tutor who lives in a small rural town in Canterbury, New Zealand. In 2008 she won the inaugural Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry. Her first collection, The Summer King, was published by Otago University Press in July 2009, and won the Mary Gilmore Award for the best first poetry collection by an Australian author in 2010. She has an MPhil in Creative Writing from the University of Glamorgan (Wales). She worked for three years as a part-time tutor in Creative Writing at Christchurch Polytech, and was co-editor of Kokako magazine from 2009 to 2012.
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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 "Lucifer In Las Vegas", be sure to check out the wonderful poems featured by the other Tuesday Poets, using our blog roll to the left of this posting.
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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Bad Housekeeping by Emma Neale

The cat does a fine patriarchal stalk
his paws all rosebuds and thorns,
eyes a tender-censorious almost-blue
as he plays pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake
with the living room rug
which bubbles and bumps
like bread dough baking
until I lift its edge
to see a small, dark, anguished mouse
race the thread of its tail up and down
like a seamstress frantic to say least and mend soonest
the deep rift in time the cat’s mood gouges.

And now, and again now, the cat leaps victorious,
hurtles the mouse across the floor:
she’s a dainty stunned spool of nerves and blood,
her sequin-sized heart would fit on a fingertip
and beats fast as an edge-flipped coin,
the glittering of her minikin eyes
says terror plunges through her
in two black pins
and tells me, mute but clear,
that once upon seventy-five million years ago
we sprung (crept and hid) from one lost common ancestor.

And so as if she is a Thumbelina-Cinderella
in kohl-black eyeliner and gothic velvet coat,
I spirit her up and over the windowsill
out into the darkened garden that sways in the wind
like a boat briefly anchored;

she stumbles once, rouses,
then see, see how she runs:
free and easy, heel-kicking,
midnight’s ship-deck dance
safer than houses
for some little sisters.

Posted with permission from Emma Neale
Editor: Andrew M. Bell

I came upon this poem in Takahē 77, Summer 2012, in which it was first published. I was immediately struck by how the tone of the poem was, at once, both compassionate and playful. The title is well-chosen, a wry self-chastisement by the poet that implies that the mouse is present in her house through some fault of her own, some failing of her domestic standards. Also implicit in the title is the feminist counter-punch, a sly dig at the patriarchal ideal of the perfect homemaker.

The poem itself is a vivid portrait of a cat bringing a mouse into the house, one which many readers themselves would have experienced. Emma perfectly captures the callous indifference the cat shows in its protracted playing with the mouse before the inevitable kill. She beautifully counterpoints this with the abject terror of the mouse.

I love the way Emma has skilfully woven echoes of Beatrix Potter and Hans Christian Andersen through the poem with phrases like "her minikin eyes" and "as if she is a Thumbelina-Cinderella". This seems to lend the poem a dark underpinning such as that often found in fairy tales.

The poem is brimming with startling images that grab the reader's attention such as the depiction of the tossed mouse as "a dainty stunned spool of nerves and blood" whose heart "beats fast as an edge-flipped coin". With her poet's skill, Emma has taken a domestic incident to which many people would not give a second thought and imbued it with drama and humour. In doing so, she has created a folk tale of her own. And, in our heart of hearts, we all love a happy ending.


Photo Credit: Graham Warman


Emma Neale is a writer, editor and occasional creative writing tutor living in Dunedin. As a child she lived in Christchurch, California and Wellington; as an adult she spent 8 years working and studying in England where she gained a PhD in English Literature from University College London. She has received the Todd/CNZ Award, was the inaugural recipient of the NZSA Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature in 2008, and in 2012 held the Robert Burns University of Otago Creative Writing Fellowship. Her novels are published by Random House. Her latest poetry collection, The Truth Garden (OUP), won the Kathleen Grattan Award for an unpublished manuscript in 2011. She was one of the three finalists for the inaugural Sarah Broom Poetry Award in 2014.


This week's editor, Andrew M. Bell, writes poetry, short fiction, plays, screenplays and non-fiction. His work has been published and broadcast in New Zealand/Aotearoa, Australia, England, Israel and USA. His most recent publications are Aotearoa Sunrise, a short story collection, and Clawed Rains, a poetry collection.

Andrew lives in Christchurch with his wife and two sons and loves to surf. Some of his poetry and flash fiction can be read at Bigger Than Ben Hur.