are bigger than rats
they race back and forth
across the lath and plaster
like good little rats
they have taken their poison
and now grow large with thirst
where are their pretty girlfriends
or love, the magician?
cannot one of these
offer them solace or slake?
oh qwerty they clatter
oh qwerty qwerty
as the night grows hard round them
desperate in their scrabble
and the stars
set like teeth
Editor: Keith Westwater
The poemplanchette first appeared in Psychopoetica 64 (UK) in 2000 and then in Landfall 201 in 2001 and in the New Delta Review (USA) in 2002. It was subsequently included in Contemporary Poets In Performance ed Jack Ross & Jan Kemp Auckland University Press in 2007 and in Nurse To The Imagination Ed Lawrence Jones Otago University Press in 2008.
This poem appeals to me on several levels. Initially, it had me searching for a thesaurus, as I didn't know that the title referred to a triangular-shaped scribble board mounted on two castors with a pencil mounted in the third corner. When lightly touched, it traces 'writing' with its movement. And, if I hadn't been tripping down to earthquake-ravaged Christchurch for the now nearly last three years, I wouldn't have known what 'lath and plaster' is - a type of ceiling construction prevalent in older Canterbury houses. So, with my education complete, I was able to relate to the poem my own relatively recent experience with poisoning rats in our ceiling. I had heard the same sounds that James describes in the extended typewriting metaphor he has used through this tight, taut poem with language that strikes home like a laser.
The New Zealand Book Council states that "James Norcliffe is a poet, fiction writer and educator. He has written collections of poetry and short stories, and several books for young adults. His writing has been featured in journals and anthologies, and he has also worked widely as an editor. Norcliffe has won awards and prizes, and has been the recipient of key fellowships, including the 2006 Fellowship at the University of Iowa."
The Council's biographical notes then go on to quote more extensively from The Oxford Companion To New Zealand Literature and provide additional information about James' writing career and impressive number of achievements.
James has published six collections of poetry, more recently Rat Tickling (Sudden Valley), Along Blueskin Road (CUP) and Villon in Millerton (AUP). His latest collections are: Shadow Play (Proverse), which was a finalist in the 2011 Proverse International Writing Prize and includes a CD of the poems; a book of selected poems, Packing a Bag for Mars (Clerestory Press), which is a collection for younger readers with writing prompts and illustrations by Jenny Cooper; and a new novel for young readers Felix and the Red Rats which has just been released by Longacre Press/Random House.
James lives at Church Bay near Christchurch and more about him can be found on his blog.
Two degrees of separationI met James socially (once) through a mutual friend about 20 years ago, well before I started writing poetry, then re-met him again (through the same mutual friend) in 2011, a few years after I had been knocked on the head by the muse. It was only then I began to appreciate the quality, breadth and depth of James' literary work (see above). Since then, I have intermittently sought his advice on poetry-writing so now also greatly appreciate his sagacity and counsel which he has given unstintingly.
planchette is published on Tuesday Poem with permission. After you've read it do check out the other poems in the sidebar.
This week's editor, Keith Westwater lives in Lower Hutt, New Zealand. His debut collection Tongues of Ash (IP, 2011) was awarded 'Best First Book' in the publisher's IP Picks competition. More of his poetry can be found on his blog 'Some place else'.