Monday, October 12, 2015

Tuesday Poem: The Girl Who Sings Islands

The Girl Who Sings Islands

The girl who sings islands stands
on the branch of an apple tree
grasping the one above.
She sings, and small shoals
of fish swim from her mouth,
slip into the river and head for the sea.
She sings and each syllable
becomes coral, becomes pearl,
becomes a small chain of atolls
strung across the Pacific.

The girl who sings islands
has a white dress, its broderie hem
a froth of white foam washing
around her shores. She sings,
and the apple tree breaks into blooms
of frangipani, tiare, hibiscus.

The girl who sings islands
swings her foot back and forth,
back and forth, dipping into the air
as a paddle dips into the waves.
She propels her waka
on its long ocean journey
sings and paddles, sings and paddles
paddles and sings.

copyright Catherine Fitchett

I have been a bit slow in organising permissions and haven't posted a Tuesday Poem for a few weeks, so thought I would post one of my own this week. This poem was placed third in the 2015 Poems in the Waiting Room competition and appeared in their Winter Poetry Card.

The girl in the poem was a young girl I used to watch on my walks home from work. She was singing and playing much as described,in a language I thought to be one of the Pasifika tongues, although obviously I added an element of fantasy to the poem.

For more Tuesday Poems visit the main hub site.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tuesday Poem: Sabbath, by Mary Cresswell


not that the dead will visit – they are dead.
But while we living bathe in such mild air,
neither will I rinse them from my mind,
beloved bones dismantled into sand.
Rachel Hadas, “Shells”

I lay the table as I always did:
blue and white dishes, crystal glasses.
The linen cloth is new. Never mind,
when he comes, he will recognise
if not me, at least the meal I serve,
the candles, the wine, the braided bread.
The words come more slowly.
I am out of practice and unused
to visitors. Greeting them is hard –
not that the dead will visit – they are dead.

I display my dead on the mantelpiece
arrange them in rows like smoky quartz
picked up on mountain trails
or bivalves washed up on beaches.
Unlike the loud and living, they don’t answer back.
They stand mute and dusty. Always, the dead are
accommodating, part of rituals past
and rituals yet to come. Either way,
it’s OK to leave them there.
But while we living bathe in such mild air,

storms roll in from every compass point;
unrecognisable flotsam and jetsam
pile up in heaps. When high tide relaxes
we are left with an expanse of debris
otherwise known as thoughts.
The dead are more kind.
They rest outside our tumbling chaos
waiting for us to pick through them.
I pause my sorting, grubby and begrimed,
to swear I’ll never rinse them from my mind

so I decide it’s time to build
a place to hold us all, perhaps
a temple – a tumulus – a bower
to safely store the memories
I need to keep with me. Call it what
you like. The dead have all the words to hand.
I mine them all to pick through
and extract my dearest shards. Then I
use them to construct my promised land:
beloved bones dismantled into sand.

© Mary Cresswell

Mary Cresswell is a poet and science editor who lives on the Kapiti Coast. She was born in Los Angeles and moved to New Zealand in 1970. "Sabbath" is taken from her book, Fish Stories, published by Canterbury University Press.

I asked Mary if I could post the poem because I have fallen for a form called the glosa, of which it is a fine example. The glosa is based on a quatrain by another author. Each line of the glosa forms the last line of one of four ten line stanzas. In each stanza, lines six and nine rhyme with line ten.

Mary says:
The poem was written for a Los Angeles friend, a World War II refugee from France (a "displaced person" as they were called then) and later used at her memorial service. It's a twist on the usual Friday night sabbath meal, because it welcomes the sabbath as a bridegroom rather than a bride.

The Tuesday Poem community is a group of poets who each aim to post a poem on their blogs every Tuesday. For more Tuesday Poems, check out the main hub site.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Tuesday Poem: Ozymandias, by Horace Smith


In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows: -
"I am great OZYMANDIAS," saith the stone,
"The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
"The wonders of my hand." the City's gone, -
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder, - and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chase,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

- Horace Smith(1779-1849)

Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem Ozymandias is well-known. This companion poem by his friend Horace Smith is not so well-known, indeed, I had never heard of it until attending a course on poetic forms with Joanna Preston, where we were introduced to bout-rimé. The idea of bout-rimé is a sort of poetic game whereby the participants are given a set of end rhymes by another participant, and have to come up with a poem using those end rhymes in the given order. Shelley and Smith had read about the discovery of the statue of Ozymandias (the Greek name for Rameses II), and challenged each other to write a sonnet about it, beginning with set end rhymes.

The Tuesday Poets are a group of poets who each aim to post a poem on their blogs on Tuesdays. At the main hub site, one of the members acts as editor and posts a poem for the week, while all the participants are listed in the sidebar. There is lots of poetic inspiration to be found there if you click on through!

(Yes, it's Wednesday. I suddenly found this had not appeared on my blog, and discovered that it was still in "draft". So here it is, a day late).

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tuesday Poem: The Genesis Wafers, by Clive James

Genesis carried wafers in her hold
To catch the particles sent from the sun.
Diamond, sapphire, gold
Were those fine webs, as if by spiders spun
Beside whom specks of dust would weigh a ton.

Continue reading

Years back I used to watch Clive James on TV, and found him an entertaining critic and travel writer - but I was only vaguely aware of his poetry, from the title poem in his collection "The Book of My Enemy has been Remaindered". So I had always thought of him as someone who wrote light satirical poetry. That is, until I took a class with Joanna Preston which looked at a number of his more recent poems, and I found that he was a good deal more serious than that.

Some of his most beautiful poems, such as "Japanese Maple", have been written in the last few years, since his diagnosis with leukaemia in 2010.However, while on holiday last week I read his slightly earlier collection, "Angels Over Elsinore", from which the above poem is taken. It appealed to me for its expression of the beauties of science, as I have been working on a scientific poetry project of my own.

Clive James is generous with his poetry and shares most of it on his website, so I have linked to the rest of the poem there. It is well worth clicking through to read it all, and then exploring further.

For more Tuesday Poems, visit the main hub site. The poem shared there this week is "What Heartbreak Felt Like" by Annabel Hawkins. And you will find links to many other participating blogs in the side bar.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tuesday Poem: Sunday Lunch, by Paula Green

Sunday Lunch

Everyone turns up for Sunday lunch
even Pythagoras makes an appearance.

I want to discuss the great novels
but conversation favours the harmony of the spheres.

If our ears are deaf to the music
of objects in motion, I hear that
we are immune to the ever-present world.

Simone de Beauvoir passes the kofta.
Everyone agrees the taste of eggplant
and mashed potato is in perfect harmony.

Plato is cutting the bread and
admiring the baker’s thumbprint.

Copernicus dresses the salad
oil lemon mustard honey
on runner beans and radishes.

Simone has laid pomegranate seeds
the length of the table
to track the faultline of human existence.

‘It all comes back to story,’
she says, admiring her handiwork.

- Paula Green
used by permission

I have been reading and enjoying Paula Green's collection The Baker's Thumbprint published in 2013 by Seraph Press. I felt the poem above, Sunday Lunch, best gave the flavour of the first part of the collection, which reminded me of that question beloved of certain interviewers: if you could ask anyone to a dinner party, living or dead, who would you invite? Besides the characters above, Einstein, Florence Nightingale, Jane Austen, Janet Frame and others wander in and out of these playful and yet somehow serious poems. And then, of course, there are the descriptions of food, which make me feel rather hungry!

Paula Green has published seven previous collections of poetry, including two for children, and has written several children's books. With Harry Ricketts, she co-authored 99 Ways into New Zealand Poetry

For more Tuesday Poems, visit the main hub site.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Tuesday Poem: The Soldier Born in 1983, by Jennifer Compton

The Soldier Born in 1983

Before he could walk he crawled
for all the world the way a soldier
slithered through New Guinea
or Vietnam.

I could almost see the rifle
in his crooked arms
as he went elbows and knees
across the kitchen floor.

He searched the house through
but could not find his gun.
Rose up on his hind legs
found the wood basket and

something comfortable like a weapon.
He turned with a happy grin
slew his family with a practised sweep
and exactly the right sound.

- Jennifer Compton
used with permission

When I started high school I dove happily into everything on offer (everything except sports, at least!). This included the public speaking competitions - prepared and impromptu. One year ahead of me, and therefore in the same "junior" competitions, was one Jennifer Compton who impressed me enormously with her facility with words. We each went our separate ways, and it was not until 2004 when I discovered the poem above on the Poetry Daily website, with an attribution to Poetry Wales and wondered if it might possibly be the same Jennifer Compton. (Wales being a long way from New Zealand!)

And yes, it turned out to be the same Jennifer Compton, living in Australia, not Wales, and now a fellow Tuesday Poet. And I still admire her facility with words. She has written plays, short stories, and several collections of poems, including This City which won the Kathleen Grattan award and was published by Otago University Press in 2011. Her most recent publications are Mr Clean and the Junkie, a verse novella published by Wellington's Makaro Press, and Now You Shall Know, published in Australia by Five Islands Press. The poem above was included in her 2004 collection Parker and Quink. She blogs at Stillcraic

Monday, August 03, 2015

Tuesday Poem: Landscape with the Fall of John Damian

Landscape with the Fall of John Damian

after Auden, “Musée des Beaux Arts”

If the painter had been there, he would have seen
how flat the lands below the castle
dotted with people – the tenant in his fields
making hay, the fisherman in his barge,
the distant drover bringing cattle
from the markets at Crieff. They did not
turn their backs. They glanced up
from time to time, checking for signs
the king was in residence, wondering
when the carts would be sent out
to gather their crops and cattle for a feast.
So it might have been that one of them
would have noted the fall from the cliff –
an indeterminate shape dark against the sky,
not flying too close to the weak Scottish sun
even for a moment, but plummeting –
too distant to make out the detail.
The observer would have shrugged, assumed
a particularly large bundle of rubbish
had followed the piss that the maids
emptied from the chamber pots,
wiped his brow, turned back to his work.

© Catherine Fitchett

Note: Scotland’s first recorded attempt at flight took place at Stirling Castle in September 1507. John Damian, an Italian alchemist at the court of James IV, attempted to fly from the castle’s walls with the aid of feathered wings. He failed completely, landing in a dunghill and breaking his thigh.

After wrestling with a different poem about our 2007 visit to Stirling Castle, I laid it aside. Some years later, inspired by Breughel's painting "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus", and the Auden poem which was inspired by that painting, I wrote the above poem, which was included in the 2014 New Zealand Poetry Society anthology take back our sky.

My ancestors farmed in the very flat lands across the river from Stirling Castle. I was able to visit the farm where my great grandparents were married, and observed the magnificent view of the castle across the river. I like to imagine one of my ancestors working in the fields and looking up to observe John Damian falling from the castle walls, as described in the poem.

I have been a bit slack about posting to Tuesday Poem lately. However, I am having a poetry reading binge lately and am in the process of selecting a number of poems to post over coming weeks, providing that permission is forthcoming. So, to kick it all off, I am posting one of my own this week.