Monday, December 31, 2007

Southern Sojourn

Been working down south recently, with lots of adventures to report (which is of course why I haven't reported on them, duh). Maybe some of them will prove poem-worthy and eventually appear on these pages. But in an attempt to show that I haven't been a total slacker on the writing front, here's the link to my latest Lumiere article, Sea Cruise. A little conceit of mine over the summer - I am Lumiere's roving 'Southern Correspondent'. Though I'm not sure how "Southern" the upcoming Palmerston North segment of my travels will seem to people who are not Aucklanders....

Monday, December 10, 2007

Creative types (like poets) have more sex

Seeing as this comment attracted so much interest when I mentioned it at a recent Poetry Live, here's the link so that all may benefit from this valuable information. The news article doesn't mention how exactly this study was carried out (one has visions of earnest scientists shadowing poets in shady bars), but I might try to track down the original article.

Also disturbing is that the researchers are careful to state that they don't know why this is. Is it just that creative types are hornier, have looser standards, or are generally more morally corrupt? Or is it what we all prefer to believe, that creativity makes us sexier? And what about weird sciency-creative hybrids like me - currently my "score" rate is falling on the non-creative side of things, so maybe the nerdy side of me cancels out the poetic sexiness... something I've long suspected, damn...

Thursday, December 6, 2007

It's Warm Down South

Been working down in Invercargill this week, and one of my off-duty pleasures was meeting up with the local writers and poets down here. The cold and mostly southern climate breeds famously tough people, and there was much to appreciate about the tenacity of being a writer in the South. (There are, of course, many famous literary names associated in some way with Invercargill.) It was such a pleasure to find like-minded people to swap poetry with, yarn about the business of writing and later, share a beer and dessert at the local watering-hole!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007



I sit
in my office, see
shadowed spikes of palm
against stone walls
by noon-drunk sun.

I am waiting for a baby. Not mine,
you understand, that is not in my contract,
but the baby of the woman
who lies gasping
unheard, unseen, around the corner. Her baby
(I imagine – all these things
are imagined) sits, cheeks cradled
in her pelvis, not knowing
which way to turn, not knowing
that the correct way to enter the world
is look both ways, then head first. Too late to turn now.
It listens to the pained panting
of its mother’s heart, feels the roof
of her diaphragm tapping
staccato beats onto
the small wet muff
of its hair, like urgent rain.
Its feet are cold.


I sift and sort words
read pages, feel the breath of my pager
drawn contracted on my hip.
There is a square of blue sky, a tree
shaking its head and laughing
through my window. The sea
is very far away.

This baby, you understand,
is not my responsibility
not yet.
I am not the midwife
my hands do not slide slippery slime
up between the red thighs,
the warm something poured into
a metal bucket on the floor,
they do not touch
the still white toes resting
in the perineum
as if waiting for a late bus.
I only watch
do not move
do not clang together giant tongs, lifting,
lifting the gray morsel
into the still world.


My mind turns lazy in warm liquid
squeezes out of salt-slung ocean
spreads gasping on a towel
after. There is sand in my mouth, sky
licks me warm. The shrill
page pulls me feet-first
back to life.

He (for now we can see
that it is a boy) lies naked
on my towel. His tongue lies unmoving
scarlet on white
lungs stunned, heart on snooze.
He is an unfolded nautilus
still dreaming under
the sea
listening to the slow
crash of his mother’s heart, the pulse
of the mask on his face. I push
each square digital second
into his chest. Time
clings like mucus to my fingers.
At last he coughs and breathes.
His heart flutters, caught
under the membrane
of my stethoscope.


I sit
in my office, pushing
words out
with patient contractions of my pen.
Somewhere in the hospital a mother
breastfeeds her newborn. I write.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Beach offerings

a speckled egg
sunwarmed on one side,
seawater-cold on the other.

a deconstructed crab.

a spiral shell, its insides
an interrupted flower.

a white shell
with grooves like a record.

sea spit wobbling
defiant in wind.

a green seed, tongue
between lips.

running pensioners caught
by the tide.

a striped moth tasting my words
with its feet.

two blue jandals
pulled toewards by the sea.

Ohope Beach, pm

Buried words

for Rae Varcoe

today I took your book to the beach
tore up the pages
flung words into
gasping pink foam

and watched the tide
bring them back.

then I scattered your words
among orphaned shells in rock pools
couching the slow suction
of salt water,

saw the small crabs
scurrying to build them into houses.

I turned them into paper planes
threw them at indignant seagulls
tangled strings of them
on burnt pohutakawa tongues

it was no use,
they always came back.

at last I dug a deep hole
in dunes, reaching
to the very core of the hill.
I stamped on, burnt
the body of your words,
poured the ashes
into the heart of the hole,
filled it in with sand
and sat on it.

your words came up again
as lupin seeds,
rounded embryos
in a sac
held beating
against the sun.

7.30 pm Ohope Beach

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Peace and Literature

Been reading links from the internet written by Israeli writer Amos Oz and about a speech given by 2006 Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, a Turk.

Both of them talk about the power of literature to enhance understanding between people and nations. I particularly love this quote from Amos Oz:

If you are a mere tourist, you might stand on a street and look up at an old house, in the old part of town, and see a woman staring out of her window. Then you will walk on.

But if you are a reader, you can see that woman staring out of her window, but you are there with her, inside her room, inside her head.

As you read a foreign novel, you are actually invited into other people's living rooms, into their nurseries and studies, into their bedrooms. You are invited into their secret sorrows, into their family joys, into their dreams.

Which is why I believe in literature as a bridge between peoples. I believe curiosity can be a moral quality. I believe imagining the other can be an antidote to fanaticism. Imagining the other will make you not only a better businessperson or a better lover but even a better person.

It's a heady feeling to imagine that you might be influencing others' thoughts, emotions, even their long term mindsets. I think that maybe this is one of the "drivers" of writers (given that there are few other obvious material benefits... certainly not money or even fame!) To create, initially, person-to-person understanding, even if one of those persons is fictitious. And then to extend that to groups of people (as in Pamuk's gorgeous flying couches image), nations, and then the earth... what better feeling can there be? Maybe that is why the possibility of being published (even for no monetary gain) brings a hopeful glint to the eyes of even the most cynical, "I-don't-go-in-for-that-vanity-bullshit" writer.

This is a warming sentiment, and gives me hope at a time when people are starting to have even their private poetry scrutinised for "terrorist" sentiments and are convicted of murder partially on the basis of unpublished manuscripts. From what I'm reading on message posts, here is an increasing nervousness within the writing community. The task many of us set ourselves is to plumb the depths as well as the heights of the human experience, and sometimes that means getting into the mind of a terrorist or murderer, or in Lloyd Jones' case, the mind of a paedophile in his novel Choo Woo, which I am reading at the moment. Even just declaring yourself a writer appears to be hazardous. Worryingly, it seems to be increasingly normal for courts to admit the line, "he's a writer, so he's a pathological liar" as an actual valid argument.

But there is a huge difference between wearing the shoes for the sake of "Art" (discussing what Art is is a whole other topic!) and wearing the shoes for real. I've had to struggle with this in my own work, as many of my characters have attitudes which would not be appreciated in the outside worlds in which I move. And not everybody, apparently, understands the difference between fiction and reality.

If my novel ever gets published, I figure I will have to deal with lots of questions about what my novel *might* indicate about my internal milieu -despite the fact I have made efforts to make it entirely "fictional." At times during the writing process I discarded chapters, even entire plot lines and characters, that might seem too "autobiographical". But after a while I found I couldn't do it and that certain things kept creeping back in. Discarding things were against the "emotional truth" of my characters, and ignoring this risked turning my work into mere PC drivel.

They don't tell you you have to be brave to be a writer. Yet it takes a lot of guts to "Write the truth, publish and be damned."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Poetry Slam

The last poetry slam of the year was held at Poetry Live on Tuesday night - although this was an "informal" slam there was fierce competition with no less than 5 previous slam champions taking part and some fiesty newcomers taking to the stage. A great example was set beforehand by our Guest Poet Jane Griffin with poems of great sensitivity and emotional range.

A touch of media glamour was added by the presence of ALT TV who came to film segments to be aired over the coming months on their show The Verona Sessions (Sky 65, Sundays at 5) and our very own poet-photographer Gus (whose photos you see above) who also took part as a competitor.

I'm always left amazed and impressed after these nights, at the edgy new material being aired. I notice the lyrical/classical forms are being tried out more (as opposed to the US-led autobiographical narrative slam style), and they often work very well on Kiwi audiences. I'm a little that way inclined myself, as a performer. As always there was a good proportion of new faces - some of the value of the slam format is that it draws people who normally wouldn't dream of coming to a poetry reading - and sometimes they realise how much they love it and keep coming!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Punch-drunk poet

Spent all of yesterday (except for time out playing cars with my nephew Marcus) reading through the poetry submissions for the Blackmail Press: Crossed Cultures edition. Probably read around 300 poems, and now feel slightly drunk on it all - poems being (often) concentrated little pieces of emotion or story. I find I go through a roller coaster of experience and feeling when reading a lot of poetry at one go. Kind of like watching three superb films back to back (only better of course, because it's poetry :)).

Today I've been reading two recently published books by NZ doctor-poets(yes, there's a rash of us at the moment, heh heh heh): Echolocation by Angela Andrews and Tributary by Rae Varcoe. Once again, I'm pondering what drives doctors to write poetry (or play music, or join national sports teams, or complete long PhDs when they should be thinking of retirement): a ceaseless search for meaning, for clarification, or is it relief from all the proffered emotion of others? Or maybe it's just a relentless masochistic streak? There should be name for the disease we've all got.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The function of poetry

Been reading links sent to me by friends this morning while posting photos of the Rose poetry stage and found this amazing quote from Major Jackson, about the function of poetry (full article here):

The function of poetry is that it does not have any function beyond its own construction and being-in-the-world. For this reason, poetry makes everything (and, yes, nothing) happen, especially in a consumer society prone to assessing and dispensing value to everything from lap dances to teachers' salaries. Whether as a form of witness, as a medium which dignifies individual speech and thought, as a repository of our cumulative experiences, or as a space where we "purify" language, poetry, like all imaginative creations, divines the human enterprise. This is poetry's social value.

I hope this does not sound like an exercise in ambiguities. If so, let me add another: one of poetry's chief aims is to illumine the walls of mystery, the inscrutable, the unsayable. I think poetry ought to be taught not as an engine of meaning but as an opportunity to learn to live in doubt and uncertainty, as a means of claiming indeterminancy. Our species is deeply defined by its great surges of reason, but I think it high time we return to elemental awe and wonder. Such a position is necessary to our communal health.

I try to teach my students the full magnitude of what can happen during the reading of a poem. The readerly self, if the music and strategies of the poem are a success, fades away to assume the speaker's identity, or the poem's psychic position. Once a reader has fully internalized the poem's machinations, she collects a chorus within her and is transformed. This ritual generates empathy and widens our humanity. These might seem like grand dreams, but it is just such a belief in the power of poetry that spurs my pen to action, whether I am getting paid or not.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Poiesis report

It's been a hectic but rich weekend (rich in culture I mean!). Amazingly for such a complicated event, there were few mishaps, and even the notoriously random Auckland weather behaved itself. Among the mishaps were an overly energetic poet breaking our only mic stand ten minutes into the start of events on Saturday, a wandering oom-pah-pah band that threatened to drown out our musician, and a poet having his words literally blown off him as he was trying to read on the main stage. Other than that, pretty much all we had to contend with were the odd case of sunburn (unusual for poets, who usually only emerge at night) and an aspiring open mic poet or two refusing to get off the stage (par for the course at poetry readings).

The festival was busy, with lots of people browsing among the roses nearby or poking through the stalls before heading up the steps to find out what the stage was about. Although a few passers by looked genuinely startled to find poetry being read, many more wandered past, stopped for a poem or two, and some (including a lady with a poodle on her lap) even stopped to listen for a few hours!! Kids needed little persuasion to write us poems for the "Poet-tree" which gradually grew its glittering way up the trunk of a central palm tree.

I was very glad to have my co-MC, Anna Kaye, with me, as well as a rotating group of "helpers" for the marquee and desk. With artist changeovers every 10-30 minutes we were kept quite busy, but we were told our stage was one of the most 'chilled' of the whole festival, so obviously we managed to hide it well!

photos are by myself and Gus (

Sunday, November 11, 2007

eight small poems about Parnell


grated onto the grass
by pohutakawa. The scented
air shivers
with the sound of bees.


stone chiselled
volcanic foam
laid cheek
by jowl into the shivered
air, an archway,
an opening out.


hats open out
an avenue. two icecreams
stroll hand in hand.
people watch themselves
watching the people
that watch the flowers.


they are so perfect,
so primped and posed.
where are the gardens
of the ordinary blooms?


cameras whirr
among the blooms
like butterflies.
small hands
bounce in delight.


hands follow
ribbons follow
words across a tree trunk.
the joy
is in the ordinary


A ballerina
and fairy dance
together in the grass.
the miracle
is in the ordinary


on days like this
I lie on the grass
just so I can slide
my finger slowly
a cheek of sky.

Rose Sonnets

what heat burns in the
heart of a rose?
a secret fire, a cheek
of pollen brushed
across a purple sky,
a blush on the lips
of a maiden. petals
pulsed around a core.
scent squeezed
onto my fingertips
like drops of blood, rare
and sweet, a taste
of iron and the wingtips
of butterflies.

I want to believe
the picnic blanket
will stay uncrumpled,
the wine will not spill,
and the grass will not be trampled
the summer days
will unroll and swell
like ripening passionfruit.
looks toss skyward
to clouds that watch
and hold their breath
by intent, waiting

black seeds of scented
honey warmed on the tongue
by kidnapped sun, roiled
and rolled and finally
spun like droplets,
a fountain, the earth.
the wind kicks
words off the petals, blows
poems off the velvet desk
scatters blooms among the stalks.
people come
to pick them up, others walk by
just smiling.
all think of a rose.

Friday, November 9, 2007


The weekend of Poiesis is nearly upon us. This, after some friendly debate between certain literary watchers who shall remain nameless :), is billed as "the biggest poetry event NZ has yet seen" and happened in the organic way of all good things.

Initially it started with my friend + fellow poet Gus asking if I knew any good poets who would be willing to read for five or so minutes on stage as a "filler" in between bands at a festival. So I quickly assembled a crack team of 10 or so excellent performance poets (not as hard as it seems, since I go to Poetry Live every week).

Somehow the poetry idea grew, with quick buy-in from Auckland City Council - indication of how persuasive Gus can be! Suddenly I found I was in charge of MCing and organising the program for a whole new stage to be devoted to poetry, prose and music at the Parnell Festival of Roses. The festival is billed as a "major event" on the Auckland spring calendar - 20,000 people are expected over the weekend. So being asked to organise 12+ hours of cerebral entertainment over two days as well as some spots on additional stages, was a bit of a surprise. As I got over my initial stunned reaction I found the stage taking over more and more of my time, but it was a lot of fun.

Our stage is to be called Poiesis, as it showcases emerging artists - poetry "coming out" to the public of Auckland, and amazingly we have a prime spot and good gear,that is, pending any disasters.... On the final site visit today we found a large crater dug by the gardeners right in front of where the stage was going to be (mythical leaky pipe, apparently)... but hey, 17 years of medical training isn't worth anything if I can't deal with a small thing like that. And the weather forecast sounds good.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

More launch photos

these are taken by the lovely and ever-helpful Mark.

Coppertooled happiness

The process of stamping the inside and crafting the outside of my books is laborious, but very satisfying. I'm guessing it takes me about 25 minutes to do each book. Only 9 left to do!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Yummy launch

I'm still feeling a warm glow from my first ever book launch (are they all this much fun? If so, I'll start writing now!). It was a bit of a rush to the finish, as the books were only ready from the printer's a few days before, and I was still madly hand-tooling the copperplate squares for the front cover right up to the last minute, which meant I only had 44 copies ready to take with me to the launch. Which I thought would be enough, but we actually ran out of copies rather fast!

People were spilling out the doors of the small dim sum shop (photos to follow), making for an authentically squashed atmosphere, which was kind of fun. I didn't hear any complaints about the dim sums, in fact they all went rather fast, so I assume they were good. The only person who complained loudly about being at a poetry reading was my 3 year old nephew Marcus, who was temporarily placated by being promised more dumplings. I'm particularly proud that there was a good Asian representation of artists, writers, media people, and "arts appreciators" and of course in the manner of small communities they all started talking to each other and finding out they were related!

I was really lucky to have some talented guests as well - so thanks Michael, Doug, Anna Kaye, Lynette and Ming Cher for making the occasion what it was. I owe you guys big time! Thanks to Gus for the wonderful images above.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


About half an hour ago, I decided to call it quits on the "proofing" of my manuscript,which has occupied me for the last 10 days. "Proofing" for me isn't just proofreading, but also rewriting, trimming and addition of extra material (including parts of chapters). So now I am printing out Draft 2 of my novel: 74,668 words, 364 pages double spaced. Just hope and pray that my dad's aging laser printer won't pass out from the exertion before I finish. Yes: I'm killing trees. Yes: I feel terrible about this. No: I can't do anything about it, this time.

The clock is still ticking: I now have just over three hours to finish printing two copies, go get them bound (cheap spiral) and hand in at the uni. Have now been awake 24.5 hours, and drunk 5 cups of coffee. So I'm probably looking like a "properly" bedraggled author. Hope this makes some of you (you know who you are) happy.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

tick tock

22 hours to go until I have to hand in the thesis/novel. I'm tired of staring at the computer screen.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Radio rant

I've been featured in an online poetry show, "Poets with Wings" run by a local independent radio station called Jam Radio. I'm interviewed with my friends Miriam and Daniel about writing poetry while travelling. To listen, go to:

and click on "Pounamu: Poets with wings". (use Firefox internet browser to open if Explorer doesn't work.)

The interview with me starts at about 20 mins in, and I read poems at: 28 mins ("Safe Haven"), 29 mins ("I write her name", poem by Shen), 49 mins ("Patagonia") and 56 mins ("Un poema pequeno", written in Spanish). There's a loop track from 29 mins to 49 mins which you should ignore. :)

Friday, October 12, 2007

The method.

Well, actually there isn't a method. But this is a photo of what my room looks like at the moment:

The post-it notes are what I'm using to keep track of my chapters. There are two main characters, thus the pink and blue stickies (and no, it doesn't mean one is a boy and one is a girl). The other post it notes, beneath the main 3-row sequence, are notes on themes, possible plot elements, and reminders for things I need to add.

It's been a steep learning curve trying to figure out how to construct a long narrative, and the curve is still going upwards. I've tried all kinds of things so far, character sheets, synopsies, mindmaps, diagrams, flow charts (that's the one taped above the sticky notes). A lot of the moving around of plot chunks or new plot ideas still happen in my head, usually in the mornings just after I wake up. I have to try and write down my ideas before I lose them.

The current method is borrowed from filmscripting. The post-it notes are a version of "storyboarding" -though as my film director sister has pointed out, a real storyboard would have a sequence of pictures and few words, not a lot of words and no pictures as I do. For me (being a novelist), the words carry the picture.

It's the 12th. 12 more days to go.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Chinese whispers

My parents, up until now, have been standing back watching my sudden veer in career direction with what I interpret as baffled bemusement. I'm surprised they are so calm about it, actually. But maybe they are just happy to see me so happy.

But over the last week, both of them have suddenly demonstrated enthusiasm for my newfound vocation. It started, innocently enough, with me requesting my mother to write for me, in Chinese script, the text of a Cantonese saying I'd heard since childhood: "Every grain of rice means hard work". This is one of four Chinese poems or sayings that I am using as a touchstone for my novel.

For those who don't know, I am illiterate in my first spoken language, Chinese. These days, my parents are too fatigued (from years of haranguing me and my sisters) to suggest any more Chinese Lessons, but become instantly delighted and hopeful if we demonstrate any interest whatsoever.

Anyway, I found out through a quick Google that this saying had evolved from an earlier four-line poem attributed to a Chinese Philosopher, Cheng Chan-Pao, and that led me to ask my Dad if he could find the original poem in Chinese. Half an hour later I heard my Dad making a long-distance call to his mate in Hong Kong to ask him for advice. His friend, Uncle Hung, is an ex-Waikato University Professor who just happens to be a descendant of Confucius. "My daughter's writing a book...." my dad started off, proudly. Later Dad called me into his study to show me what he'd found so far. He was surrounded by open Chinese dictionaries and literary texts and looked happy as Larry (whoever Larry is).

A few days later, a fax arrived at his surgery. Uncle Hung had enlisted the help of the Professor of Chinese at Hong Kong University who had trawled his way through the compendium of best Chinese literature ever written (there are lots of volumes and thousands of pages, apparently) and come up with the original of the poem I was looking for. Only it wasn't by Cheng Chan-Pao, it was by Li Shen, a famous Tang Dynasty Poet (772-845 AD).

What had started off as curiosity on my part had become an international scavenger hunt. And I was starting to discover something that mustn't happen only in Chinese literature : the transmission and transmutation of a particularly good line, down through the ages. From poem to philosophy to common saying.

My father suggested I try to translate the original poem myself, now. I was quite surprised by this suggestion, since it must rate as the first time he's acknowledged that I am writing poetry. So I got him to read it to me several times in both Cantonese and Mandarin (they are represented by the same characters, but the pronunciation is very different) and explain the meaning and intent of the characters. Then I tried to match the rhyme scheme, meaning and rhythm of the original as closely as I could. Here it is:

Spade, rice plant, sun at midday,
Sweat drips down on green terrain.
Who knows how a bowl becomes full?
Every grain by hard work gained.

As a final part to this international, intergenerational collaboration, my father has just come home tonight with an envelope almost as big as his smile. Inside were two carefully folded pieces of rice paper, on which were written, in a beautiful hand, the Chinese sayings I'd asked for, plus the poem you see above. They had been transcribed for me by a renowned calligrapher, my father explained. His friend.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Ballet lessons

Does anyone have a memory of ballet lessons? I did them when I was 7 (for 3 long years). Mostly I remember always being the one who was out of step with the rest of the class, the ungainly one always going left when everyone was going right, sticking my foot forward when it was supposed to go back. I've always been somewhat uncoordinated. Which is why it's weird that in my adult life, I love dancing.

Anyway, the point I was getting to was, the ballet mistress would always go down the line of bodies, adjusting this foot or that arm position, telling you to suck in your belly, pull your shoulders back. So you'd maintain this "ideal posture" until she got past you, and when she was past you you'd let out your breath again and let yourself slouch a bit.

Writing is like that. Since I started formally studying the process of creative writing, and with my various informal interactions with people, I have been conscious of sucking in my stomach, making sure my sentences were lean, that there were no unnecessary words, that there weren't too many adverbs, that my prose wasn't overrun with -ings. This was when I started learning about poetry. When I started writing plays and short stories I learnt about not stating the obvious, about showing not telling, about suggesting rather than making my dialogue too "on the nose", and hundreds of other things.

The novel form, I was told (not by my teachers I hasten to add), is a great form. Here is where you don't have to watch every sentence or pare it down to the bare minimum. You can let your characters out to play. You can put in things that are, strictly speaking, unnecessary just because you like them. In a phrase (I naively thought when I started this project), you can let it all hang out.

This is a fallacy, as you've probably already guessed. A novel, as I've discovered this year, requires you to follow (or at least discriminately break) all of the aforementioned "rules" of good writing, but you have to follow them for longer. And it adds in further disciplines (plot, character development, thematic shading and so on)on top of that. It's hard and I'm feeling it.

To go back to the original (and by now rather strained) metaphor, I've been a bit lazy while the ballet mistress wasn't looking, but she's back and I'm desperately trying to hide the fat and pull the shoulders back so that at least it looks good, even if it doesn't feel so good.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Shouting on paper

Earlier in the year my tutor, Jen, told me that "shouting on the page is much louder than shouting in real life." At the time I'd looked at her like she was crazy, but now, 1.75 (or so) novel drafts later, I'll say those are wise words.

Shouting, crying, or for that matter farting, on the page are much louder than if you merely get exposed to it, say in a film or even in real life. Why? Because the words on the page have to be processed through the brain of the reader, meaning they sound inside your reader's head, banging right against emotion, thought, soul and whatever else they have in there.

I initially found this entirely by accident, though it took me a while (including time to digest Jen's words) to actually realise what I'd discovered. In my writing, I'm aiming for a limited third person right-behind-the-eyes point of view. I hope this will lead to a more intense experience for my readers, though there is a question as to how much sustained intensity they can take. I'm trying desperately to write a contemporary novel* here and don't particularly want to accidentally end up with James Bond. (no dodginess meant.)

*What is exactly is a contemporary novel? I don't pretend to have much of a clue. But I try and read them, when I'm able.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Writing Treadmill

I think I have a writing routine happening. It goes something like this:

1230 Wake up. Have shower.

1315 have breakfast with my parents, who are having lunch.

1340 turn on computer. Write, with breaks when I lose concentration or when I am interrupted by phone calls etc. Drink my two daily cups of coffee. Sometimes walk around but spend majority of time as slob. Oh, and it's important the internet computer gets turned off, or I'm on there all day instead of writing.

1700 eat again.

around 1900 go out to evening activity - poetry, or plays usually.

around 2200 or a bit later. Get back. Turn on computer. Start writing again.

0200 Snack.

0400 Snack and hot drink to warm up.

0530 or so. Too sleepy to continue, so go upstairs (bumping into things I'm so tired), brush teeth, put on flannel pyjamas/cardigan/scarf/beanie/eyeshades over what I've been wearing during the day, set alarm to go off 7 hours later, crawl under sheets in unheated bedroom (I'm saving carbon credits) and pass out.

You're probably thinking I sound like a grot, and it's true. But then no one ever said it was all glamorous being a writer. If you could see me now (wearing glasses, messy pigtails, and an old trasksuit) your low opinion would be further confirmed. *Sigh*.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Money Conversation

Yesterday an envelope arrived from The Edge (the Auckland arts and performance titan) addressed to "Renee Liang, Theatre Reviewer, Lumiere Reader." It was a weird feeling to be addressed as "Theatre Reviewer." Oh well. I guess that makes me official then.

Accordingly, last night I went to a thought-provoking solo show, wrote my review after I got home (I finished writing at 2 am and then kept going on my novel until 5.30 am - I think my natural tendency is to be a night owl)and accordingly, posted my review for Lumiere here.

note: A TV crew was also there on opening night. The story can be watched here. ("Money for Nothing".)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Just got off the phone to a friend who finished his second novel a couple of weeks ago. He says he's in "post-natal depression" - he's mourning the loss of the bump that he's been carrying round for the past two years.

I'm jealous that he's finished, and quite happy to accept the possibility of a similar affliction just as long as I actually finish the damn thing. As of two weeks ago I have entered a self-imposed "cloistered period", though those around me will say that I seem to have a slightly loose definition of cloistered (I am certainly not living the life of a nun). I guess I mean that I'm trying not to book myself in for too many leisurely coffees, a lifestyle I have sadly gotten far too used to in the past year.

The thesis-cum-novel draft is due on 24th of this month, thus the lengthening lines on my forehead and the very slowly lengthening manuscript. It seems odd to think that I will be giving birth to a novel in three weeks, whether the birth is prematurely induced or not. Part of the reason it seems odd is that I'm still (at this late stage) trying to visualise what the foetus looks like, and even to figure out how many toes it will have. In the same way that you can't be completely sure if your baby will be normally formed/compatible with life until it is born, so I will not be sure until I can see it out in the open, unprotected from the outside world. Anyway, I will have no choice. Come the 24th three assessors will be reading my manuscript, ready or not. Arrrgghhh.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Slight glitch in plan for world domination

As I procrastinate a bit more over today's novel writing session, I'm pondering the latest email I received. My short play Rise didn't make it onto the final list for Short and Sweet Melbourne, although it was one of 5 NZ plays to be shortlisted. Oh well. I might still head over there, to breathe in the exciting vibe. This was the first international play festival that I *nearly* got into!!

I found out about the shortlisting a couple of weeks ago, at the end of a rather exciting week, literary-wise. In one week I got a short story published in the Listener, did a televised poetry performance (admittedly an indie channel - Alt TV - though it was "nationwide"), got paid for teaching poetry, became a literary reviewer, and had someone express early interest in my novel!

However, proving the laurels start to itch on the bum if you sit still for too long, it's now obviously time to start sweating blood (as one author has famously described the process of writing a novel)... beep, time up, procrastination period over - ciao!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Slam poems

Thought I'd post the poems that I referred to in the post below. These are performance not page poems, as are some of the other poems I've already posted! The Slam was recorded, so I might at some stage be able to get the audio version of these up.


There is a country between us
farmed blue cotton valleys
embroidered with small daisies

not quite a gulf
not yet
a bridge

your hand sleeps
coiled near my pillow
veins veiled conduits

to your dim shape
that curls
beneath still-drawn sheets

the terrain fogged,
blurred blinds
holding back the tide.

After the machines had ceased
their messy business,
after the hand holding and tears

nights I left a space
your side of the bed
your body

heavier on mine
than before, darkness
blooming brightness

as I found your limbs
entangling mine. Sometimes
you left the smell of your hands

on my skin
smoothed along silk rippled
pyjamas, our pulsating bodies

hunched beneath the surface
as if damming the flow
of unswerving sheets

and I let my hands rise
along the line of your back
counting each vertebral bump

until I reached
your traitorous skull,
and forgave.

But now
the tide is rising.

It rises
foaming over barricades
it rises
bright and unkind
through slashed blinds
it rises
thrusting cruel fingers
along bedded valleys
into unwilling eyes
it rises
sharp surgical steel
and cold clinical light
sucking your body back
under the fold of night
it rises
the sheets drawing tight again
over your face,

the light stabbing
through the X ray
stuck stiff on a box
the clot of blood seen hooked
between the spidered tissue paper
of the arachnoid mater
and your drowned brain
the clock
too fast

the sheets are empty
the dark day
erases even
the warm stain
of a hand

on my pillow

To a Husband
Medicine is my lawful wife and literature my mistress.” Anton Chekhov.
The keys are on the bench
still warm from nine years and nine months
in my white coat pocket,
nine years of wearing my name and a smile
hung from a rope around my neck.

The keys. Still warm,
worn from trying to fit
to so many locks, so many stories,
to histories,
none of which fit me.

I wrote them all down.
Wrote them down, in handwriting that slid
off the page when I was tired,
scuffed my shoes down lino corridors
the right heel wearing down first

pushed buttons on a machine to strengthen
the coffee
washed my hands between patients
tried to take only one towel each time
kept smiling.

In the early days when we went out
I remember how proudly I wore
the white coat you gave me
the heady feel of your gloved hands in mine
the beat of the oximeter marking our breaths

but even then you demanded of me
absolute devotion,
jealous of my time,
piling rosters and journals and exams
against my escape on Saturday nights.

Once you put your arm around me
whispered we'd be together forever no matter what
but, barren
I milked the smiles of babies
belonging to others.

You woke me at nights
to ask if I still loved you.
You chained a telltale canary to my hip
to remind me of my promises.
You had me constantly watched.

When I found someone else to love
I couldn’t tell you. I don't know why.
You found out in the end anyway
you in your pinched mouth
prim pouted way,

you with your contracts
your rosters
and your moving goal posts. In the end
I just couldn't run fast enough
and there you still stood blowing your whistle.

Honey, I tried. Sorry it didn't work out.
The keys are on the bench.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Lumiere article

The article I wrote on Alison Wong has just been published here - I am now offically an arts reviewer! I am also to be published in the Listener this weekend - the short story I won the competition with.

Going West Poetry Slam

Had an amaaazing night on Saturday at the Going West Slam - a big hall so full they ran out of chairs, and at least 44 people ready to take the stand and read poetry - can you believe it! I think the West is way ahead of the rest of Auckland in terms of art appreciation. Let that be a challenge!

It was really nice being just one of the competitors for a change as well. One of the downsides of being a Slam organiser is that often you don't have the chance to flex your own creative talons. So instead of working on my novel (Jen I hope you're not reading this!) I spent all day memorising and rehearsing my three pieces (Aubade, Poetry Evangelism and To a Husband)and managed to get to perform all three of them, by getting through to the finals and getting second place again (I was pipped at the post by my good friend Tim Heath).

A very nice review has been put up by the well respected literary journal Leaf Salon, too. Though I don't know what all this is about "Country calendar". Slams bring out the royalty of poetry, don't ya know!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Poetry Evangelism

hey you over there
ever stopped to wonder at
The Word?

hey you
reality isn't Big Brother
or some chick shaking her ass
at some guy groping blind and blinded
no matter how sweet her ass is,
reality isn't a blonde tart with way less class
than the French city she's named for
and no matter how many times you drive to the gym
you'll never look like her
not even with surgery

wearing your hoodie
so you can't see out the sides
pretending the whole world
wants a piece of you
doesn't hide who you really are
doesn't hide
the bruises inside
your burnt out eyes
and the way you stand naked on a stage
and pretend you're not here

hey you
take your earbuds out
listen to the snap
of your synapses sparking
smell the smell of roses
pale cream
stirred through with strawberry
and see how a seagull
slides on the shore
of a blue September morning

don't look away
I'm standing on this kerb for a reason.
I'm here to spread
the Lore of the Word.
just cos I'm holding a piece of chalk
doesn't mean I'm crazy
does it?
I'm out here
on Queen St on a Saturday night
to save your soul
with the Lore of the Word.

For you
I would lay myself down on the pavement
I would wear the crown of council thorns
I would wave my palms at policemen
I would eat the dust
and spit it back out for you in Words

Don't look at me like that.
don't look at me like I'm
a short Asian chick with issues
I'm not
a social refugee
or politically correct physician
or crazy nutter
though I could be
all of those things
if I wanted.

I am
the mirror
you hold yourself up to
the one you go to bed with
and the one you wake up to
if only you could.

Crack open
your sterile supermarket soul
take a handful of my words and crunch them
better than Hubbard's cereal
and way better
than John Banks in the morning.

slide the words round on your tongue
feel them melt
taste the salty-sweet-bitterness of them
try swallowing one long and whole
or suck it slowly
you could even
go to bed with a Poem
have more than one
at the same time
make them do whatever you want

Poems are good
for all sorts of things

but most of all

This one kind of just grew out of one of those "what-if" conversations I had with my friend Kirby a few weeks ago. It's been a while in the making too - this is draft 5...

The Fix


they called it
as if only women
could get lost
as if
the uterus twisted suddenly free
of its clawed Fallopian cage
landed like a cat on pelvic rubble
played hide and seek
in the twisted and twisting passageways
of her body

they said
she must be depressed
as if the mine shafts in her brain
had suddenly collapsed
leaving only her feet poking out
for rescuers

there's a probe
on her foot
in time with
her heart


he told her once
he loved her. Only once.
That was the night
he kissed her with his hard tongue
and later
when she lifted her bruised hips
from the mattress on the floor
of the villa in Ponsonby
she saw that he had left her five dollars


she was
lucky they said
(the gloved and gloving fingers
unravelling her)
the tube sliding
from between her
clamped and silent legs
her clamped and silent mind
Shhhhhh they said

she was lucky
it was only a baby
that he was notorious
that she was naive
that she should have known better
than to trust a man with a tattoo
of a tiger on his torso
Shhhhhhh they said

to breathe
and she smells the sweet sweet gas
watches the sweet milk
slide slowly deliciously into her arm
her body bare and breasts
fried crisp white
tucked in
with four neat triangular corners and baked for forty minutes


and she thinks
of her underwear
folded neatly beside
her head


and she thinks
of the pink teddy bear
she bought

and her parents


and the mask comes
down and down
down and down


Been on a bit of a poetry writing binge, probably prompted by the need to have something new for the Slam tonight. This one written last night.


my father
teaches Marcus
to say


eight limbs wrapped round
two heads
two full bellies
a kitchen table in springtime


strands of speech
scissor dull eardrums
with wonder

Good Boy!

an arthropod gains the edge
of a precipice
looks down
widens with newness

Good Boy!

his inevitable conclusion


and my father
hi-fi owner
nature-lover and
hugs his small grandson
weaves the weft thread tight.

Been working on this one for a while. Still trying to get it right.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

appearing on the dark side

Despite my declared hatred of TV and popular media I am delighted to announce that I appeared on TV today, as an "Asian poet" on Asia Downunder, an ethnic magazine-style programme.

(click on Chapter 2 to jump straight to the story on me).

They did a reasonable job of it and made me out to be quite articulate, which is a relief. It helps to be an unknown, and also a writer, as journalists (who also see themselves as writers but need to make a living) tend to be nice to you. Or so I've found so far (touch wood).

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Short Story competition

The weekend before last I won the inaugural NZ Chinese Association /Listener short story competition, topping up my earnings from writing so far this year by $1000. I got to read my short story to an audience of around 150 people, which was a huge buzz, especially as some of them responded quite emotionally to the story. It reminded me again why I write and what I write for.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Looking for Julia

I go for a walk,
buy milk,
instant coffee's getting low. $2.50,
third price rise
this year. looking through my coins
fiddly gold bits, ridged layers,
imprints, the year and date's all wrong-
I catch her flicker
as she walks past
narrow black shoes
thin hips and fast feet
that's all
I see.

outside the dairy
a dog wags.
I am not the one he's waiting for. he looks away.

the day's decided it's going to rain.
clouds frown
chew pencils
spit. there are wet footprints already
on the path.

someone has hung
balloons on the fence
for a birthday party. she is not inside
the cake
but I didn't expect
it anyway.

I pull a pink
from a bush
as I walk

back home
there's an envelope waiting.
it's from Julia.

I open it.

If only it were that easy.

Julia is a character in my novel.

Friday, August 17, 2007

12.10 am, 10th March

tree traced
on sea

wave sucked

drawn on
my back


it is
we talk




your face

burnt on



in my

from notes made this year while on Bruny Island, Tasmania

Two poems, one idea, recycled phrase.

what to do with a word (6)

plop it whole
into your mouth. go on.
let the round sweetness
penetrate you.
wrap the warm
with your tongue
then suddenly
without warning
bite down.

let blood red juice
over flesh
stain teeth
make a mess

you haven't finished
yet. suck
flesh out
from around
the pip, the round
hard heart of
what drives it

and using
your best
tie the cherry stalk
into a knot
for good luck.

for Casey

In summer we bought
taut black bags
of juice-splurged sweetness

filling bag
after handpicked bag –
look, I'd say

I've got triplets
you'd reply -
you were always
so damned competitive.

Back home
(cherries by the handful
tumbled under tapwater &
plopped into mouths, whole)

back home
the real contest would begin.
Look, mine's bigger
I'd claim

no, mine's bigger
you'd say -
watch, I'll tie a loop
in the stalk with my tongue.

And so we'd tangle
in lingual gymnastics
until someone

a knot
tied neatly
on our tongues,

we'd find true love
at last.

Of Red Roses

(in response to "String Quartet No. 3 (Blood Red Roses)",a piece by NZ composer Ross Harris.)

petals fell
like bombs
around him

a man.
his puddled dream.
the blue eyed falling.

the drumming guns,
the love
the love
his people

the hands
come/reach him
to touch
to idolise
to destroy.

raindrop ripped roses
on a summer's day

violins stand, play
in folds of his mistress’ skirt.

she falls
and he stands
for one last time.

the violins play.

Auckland 16/8/07, from notes made 14/3/07
“Red Roses” was the last piece Eva and Hitler listened to in the bunker.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

What's the point of writing?

Oh dear. I thought we were winning in getting people realise that poetry is living, is real and is not merely freeze dried and preserved in books. But obviously, I'm far too naiive. In my online travels tonight I came across this article by an experienced NZ literary reviewer:

Enough said in my comment. I guess there are different parts of the NZ writing scene, and it's hard to inhabit them all (as the growing pile of books-to-be-read by my desk will testify.) But come on, there is much more to being a writer than getting published!

I saw no better illustration than in the poetry reading I attended tonight. The Belfast Poets are a group of young, energetic performance poets who each have a unique style but a united voice. They have made it their mission to produce poetry that is strong poetically but which often carries disturbing messages through its imagery: a hungry child, a white king, a soldier killed by lies.... And as well as promoting poetry's power to make people stop and think, they demonstrate a social conscience.

We "writers" could all take a leaf out of their book I think. PEN (international society of writers) certainly puts freedom of speech and social conscience very far ahead in their agenda - after all, if writers don't feel free to write what they feel*, who will?

By the way, Shane Koyczan is a poetry god. I say this unashamedly. I was at the reading Amy describes in her review and there was way more than one person crying. See him if he comes to a town near you, it's an experience.

* there are snooty types who will argue for "art for art's sake". These are the same people for which words like "love" and "beauty" are dirty words in poetry and will argue that a scrawled line across a page not even resembling a word is high art (depends on the scrawler, I guess). Me, I hope I'll always believe that you must have passion, not merely innovation, to write well. And that the reader is the final judge of what is "good" writing.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Let There Be Lumiere

I have been invited to do a review for the">Lumiere Reader, NZ's online arts and culture magazine. This is quite exciting and will be my debut into the glamorous, demanding and highly pressured world of review article writing (only half joking).

I'm going to write a review of what is popularly known as The Banana Conference, which is just what it sounds like - a conference for Bananas.

It's on this weekend. I'm also going to do another article on">Alison Wong, who happens to be one of my heroes because she is a Kiwi-Chinese poet who is "making it". As well as being a damn fine poet in her own right, of course.

Friday, August 10, 2007

How to write a love poem in 12 easy steps

she has woven a basket
for catching glances. it is a fine weave,
much finer than she normally weaves,
but then it is special. it is for a purpose.
it is for catching a man.

not just anyone mind you.
Him. the guy over there, the one
whose smooth skin spills out of his T shirt
like, like, oh
like God. there I've said it. He's more beautiful than God.

her heart has been boiled
until soft, until there are little
bits of it crumbled off
making islands in the water.
she picks up the masher.

his first smile
hits her
like a fist
the eyes.

what? what? the room's
too noisy to hear,
she doesn't care,
she just wants his breath again
on her bared neck.

no I don't think you're sick,
no you aren't moving too fast

he sleeps.
his arm is rigid
behind her neck.
her nipples
trace lines of regret.

Watch. Watch my hands.
See? Nothing.
Nothing at all.
I'll turn them over for you.
You see? I'm not hiding anything.

You think I believe you?
you think I don’t know that
as soon as I turn away
as soon as,
you'll turn me into a poem?

there is
a dent
in the pillow
where his head was
last night.

a knotted
is hard

she weaves
fine flax strips
sliced from
the white heart
the cold white heart of the bush
fine flax strips
she weaves.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Frankenstein Delusion

I'm about to try to fit my novel together.

At the beginning of the week, I was suffering from a bad case of first-draft disillusionment - the classical variety, where you want to rip up your script and toss it in tiny pieces into the fire - except that this being an environmental household, there is no fire. I prefer to slouch around in front of my computer wearing five layers of clothing and my Flying Doctors beanie.

I've now settled on a less drastic action. I'm going to hack apart one of my characters, the one who looks too much like me, and using fine plastic surgical techniques turn her into someone else. At least on the outside. Then no one will recognise her (evil cackle).

There is another problem, of course. There are two main characters in this book. And they are supposed to mean something to each other. All the way through the first draft you can see the author (me) prodding them together, trying to make them say hi to each other. They do, but only with the utmost reluctance.

Damn characters with a mind of their own *mutter*.

So now I'm left with two disparate stories. Fraternal twins, if you like, since they were created and birthed together. I thought they were going to be Siamese twins and have been matching limb to limb, chest to chest, trying to figure out where to sew them together. They don't seem to match up anywhere, bugger it. So now I guess I'll have to pull apart each character and start all over again.

There will be bits of limbs scattered all over my desk, shortly.

God how I love extended metaphors.

Dippy Disc Jocks

Just got the CD recording of the radio poetry broadcast a few weeks ago and trying not to laugh/cry. I didn't realise until I listened just what type of "music" George FM broadcast. (No wonder the station manager looked at me with that nose-crinkling I-think-someone-just-farted-but-I'm-too-polite-to-say-so-out-loud look when I asked him if he was interested in broadcasting more performance poets!!)

So imagine this: some of NZ's most well-regarded poets, reading some of their most hard-hitting poetry, on the podium unaware that their words are being broadcast with an underbeat of the sugary ooh-ahh-sex confection that passes for music these days.

In my case (not, I hasten to add, that I'm a "well known" poet at all- in fact unaware that I had been promised as a "hip hop" style poet (!!)), I chose one of my saddest, most lyrical poems to start.
I have just found that I read Riverbeach (below) to an audible underbeat of pop-beat and a male voice cooing "oo-eer feel mah body".....

Hardly the most appropriate beat for a poem mourning Casey's passing, I feel. Anyway. At least the pavement audience liked the unadulterated version of it - and heard my last poem, which was obliterated by squawking ads on the broadcast.

It is an interesting side observation that we poets were asked by the radio station to limit our readings to 3-5 minutes max on basis of "the short attention span of our audience" whereas the same audience are expected to listen to 5 minute "songs" with repetitive butt-crunching, mind battering lyrics, followed by around ten minutes of shouty ads......I might sound like a grumpy old lady but WHY D'YA THINK THE YOUNG PEOPLE ARE GETTING BORED DUH?

On the other hand, I enjoyed myself thoroughly on the day, and despite the apparent mindlessness of radio jocks, would do it again. Thanks Carole!


no glaring moon interrupts
the stars in their glorious profusion.

A lone insomniac bird
squeaks, and rapidly hushes.
The river flows on in soft silence.

You said:
"We are all made from stardust,
and one day we will return".

How beautiful the sky is
with you in it.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Bad sex in fiction award

Here's a fun link to look at as diversion/encouragement when you hit a writing roadblock (or detour, impasse, or motorway jam) - the Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction award, awarded annually for the worst sex scene in a novel.

The list of literary heavyweights, and their extremely badly written sex scenes, are encouraging to those of us yet to publish a novel let alone a convincing sex scene (written down of course.... I stage extremely convincing sex scenes, at least in the privacy of my imagination, every now and then :))

I think this year's contenders were not as good as 2005's, a particularly fruitful year.,,1652812,00.html
But this is my all time fave:

2001 winner - Rescue Me by Christopher Hart (Faber & Faber)
Her hand is moving away from my knee and heading north. Heading unnervingly and with a steely will towards the pole. And, like Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Pamela will not easily be discouraged. I try twitching, and then shaking my leg, but to no avail. At last, disastrously, I try squeezing her hand painfully between my bony thighs, but this only serves to inflame her ardour the more. Ever northward moves her hand, while she smiles languorously at my right ear. And when she reaches the north pole, I think in wonder and terror...she will surely want to pitch her tent.

On Public Displays of Poetry (PDP's)

Been surfing the web on poetry links as I sometimes do late at night and found this interesting link quite by chance:

The article stimulates a lot of interesting comments (and performance links) from interested poets. The whole thing turns into a comment on whether TV is the right medium for poetry - accessibility and audience seem to be both its attraction and its Achille's heel. There is widespread agreement that TV and other forms of popular media have become "dumb" (at the assumption of its producers rather that the request of its audience) and that poets might be entering into a Faustian pact by allowing themsleves to be broadcast on TV. On the other hand, like many Slam poets I am convinced at the power of the unadorned spoken word, and welcome any opportunity to "get it out there". It's fascinating that this discussion is taking place in the UK, yet could reflect the experiences of many poets in the English-speaking world (where poetry is somehow not as cool as in the Hispanic or Asian worlds...why is that?)

I particularly liked this comment from "digit" (hope you don't mind me quoting you, mate):
"The real problem is the widespread assumption that poetry isn't any fun. As long as programmers keep believing this, even if they put poetry on, they're likely to do extraneous things to try to make it fun - the same kind of embarrassing, patronising bollocks that wrecks theatre for a lot of schoolkids. "

This links to another recent post I've read about teaching poetry to children - some are of the opinion that you have to make it relevant, and choose topics that appeal, others don't see a problem with using the classic, and best, texts there are (and by classic I don't mean just old poetry).

There isn't any "right" wayof course. Only personal preference, driven by experience, and a reading of the situation. But I will swear that poetry is not only relevant, but can oftenbe embraced and have healing properties for those that discover it - I'm not just saying this idly, but as the author (wearing my medical hat)of a study on arts programmes for at-risk young people in South Auckland, where I worked last year.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

These last few have been old poems, ones I have frequently read/performed over the last few years. They alos appear on other online forums, most notably Blackmail Press (issues 13 and 17).

I am an admirer of the brave people who post their newest, most raw poems. I hope to use this site for this, if I'm brave enough. As the internet itself warns us anything you post on the internet is not easily erased... (though who will go looking for the traces of it are another matter).

Thursday, August 2, 2007


a shop lady smiled at me
and said,
“Your English is very good”

her eyes crinkled
in a let's-be-nice-to-aliens way.

I wanted to say

-of course it bloody is,
-I was born here,
-how about you?

But of course I said nothing.
hardly her fault
we Asians all look the same

Maybe I should have
tattooed on my forehead
except then
I'd be told off by my mother.

My mother.

When I was born
I slept in Chinese
I fed in Chinese
I cried in Chinese

pooed in Chinese even.

Mother and father
left their English
lying around the house
like lollies

they knew I wouldn't touch
I was good then.

We kids built houses
with wooden blocks
painted with Chinese characters.
We fought over
longer characters
on bigger blocks,

better for building walls.

My mother used to say,
“No talking English at home!”

I'd brought it home like a disease
from kindy
and infected my sisters.

By the time we were teenagers
my mother was getting tired
from yelling
“No English!”

Once my sister and I decided to start speaking French.
We thought we were being smart.
Even though we weren't too good at French.

English was my camouflage.
As long as I wore it
talked in English
dreamt in English
ate in English

even shit in English
I couldn't be too Chinese

could I?

In Hong Kong
I am swept along the pavement
by a torrent of Cantonese
and shop ladies crinkle their eyes
in a let's-be-nice-to-aliens way.

“Your Chinese is good,”
they say,
“for a foreigner”.
©Renee Liang 2005
Beating sunrise

it's there.
touch it.
it's real.
this thing wrought
from random elements colliding
in a whirling furnace of a place
(wild fire you say with a wink)
and so new, we don't know what to call it yet

but it's real.

you blame
my reach for your hand
to pull you into the vortex of dancers
I blame
the fact you didn't let go.

And we could argue it
nose to nose,
lips to lips,
for many hours more

but dawn is licking the horizon
and I've decided I'm going to

beat the sunrise home.

©Renee Liang 2004

Click - on

These days, we no longer turn over a new leaf, or wipe the slate clean. We click and click and suddenly it materialises - a version of ourselves we want the world to see. Welcome to the fractionated poetry version of myself. It's an important facet - or why would I recently have had cards printed with the title "writer, poet"? We Kiwis tend to cringe at any form or labelling which might be seen as sticking our heads above the lawnmower line. But anyway, it's important to me. Maybe if I say it often enough I'll be it.