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 (www.printablereality.com)

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.