Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Tuesday Poem: "Poem on My Father's Birthday"

On the train to Haifa
I think about my father
in wartime Palestine,
a different time, a different name
but the same place.

His memories of oranges and beaches
and warm, Mediterranean swimming
are the times he chose to rescue
from the six years when the world
was drowning in its own blood.

The weather is blue and grey
but the sun shines
like my father’s medals
on his blue-grey air force uniform
that entranced me as a child.

As the helicopter gunships prowl over Mount Carmel,
speeding north to Lebanon,
I wonder what times I will choose to rescue
from a land built out of longing,
but paid for in blood.

POET'S NOTE: It seems sometimes like the Middle East has been constantly in turmoil and this latest event with insurgents declaring an Islamic State in northern Syria and Iraq got me thinking about the 8 months I spent in Israel as an agricultural worker on two Moshavs in 1987 and 1988 and how my father had been there before me as a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF during WWII.

My father died in 1995, aged 83, but I remember him telling me about R'n'R in Beirut, the "Paris of the East" he called it. And he had an album of small black and white pictures taken during the war. I always remember the photo of him floating in the Dead Sea. My Dad loved fruit and he said the oranges in Haifa were the sweetest, juiciest oranges he ever tasted.

As you can see, I wrote this in Israel on my Dad's birthday and posted it to him. Sadly, my Dad died before my two sons were born, but we inherited his wartime medals and my youngest son, Ryan, wears his Grandad's medals proudly at our local Anzac Day commemoration.

My son, Ryan, wearing his Grandad's medals, Anzac Day Memorial 2011

Sunday, May 11, 2014

For Mother's Day Sunday 11 May: "On Children and Mothers"

Your fervent hopes that I write
“something about children”
is a mother’s nature revealed.
By their selfless love,
they second their lives to those of their children.
To write of children is to write of mothers.

Five years of life stares down
through coal buttons of mischief and wonders.
Are these groggy, surly people
really in control of the world out there?
The world of five is bound by a desire
for no boundaries,
to be with the big people,
but there are compensations for masks
and early bedtimes: shielded
from the jags and gouges of a world
outside Transformers, morning TV, Bubble-O-Bills,
kindergarten Picassos and a mother’s love.

Six months of life
represents the investment of a lot of breast milk
as he gurgles in his bouncer,
throwing a curve ball smile
through his rusk-besmirched mouth.
His perimeters are smaller than his brother’s,
wind and tears and the succour of the breast
while the faces of giants fill his vision
and huge hands lift him skyward.

And always there is mother,
balancing her day with theirs,
shepherding, nurturing, cajoling them
towards that, over which she has no control:
the future.

Three generations: my mother; myself; my son, Thomas; Christine, Thomas' mother circa 2000

Thomas with his grandmother circa 2001

POET'S NOTE: I wrote this poem many years ago at the behest of a cousin's wife, a woman for whom I have great affection. It is specifically about her and her two children, but, despite whatever changes take place in the world and in society, mothering probably doesn't become any less difficult nor, conversely, any less rewarding. I dedicate this post to Mothers and the wonderful job they do all over this great big world of ours.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Anzac Day Poem: "Eulogy" by Brian Turner

It happens on a Monday, at 11:20 A.M.,

as tower guards eat sandwiches

and seagulls drift by on the Tigris River.

Prisoners tilt their heads to the west

though burlap sacks and duct tape blind them.

The sound reverberates down concertina coils

the way piano wire thrums when given slack.

And it happens like this, on a blue day of sun,

when Private Miller pulls the trigger

to take brass and fire into his mouth:

the sound lifts the birds up off the water,

a mongoose pauses under the orange trees,

and nothing can stop it now, no matter what

blur of motion surrounds him, no matter what voices

crackle over the radio in static confusion,

because if only for this moment the earth is stilled,

and Private Miller has found what low hush there is

down in the eucalyptus shade, there by the river.

PFC B. MILLER (1980-March 22, 2003)

     by Brian Turner

Brian Turner is an American poet.  We, here in Aotearoa/New Zealand, have a prominent poet called Brian Turner too. Our Brian Turner lives down in Otago and didn't see service in Iraq.

Brian Turner, the American one, was interviewed on Radio New Zealand National this morning. He read out a poem he'd written that had been inspired by an event that happened when he got back from Iraq. 

Upon returning to the States from service in Iraq, Turner attended a parade which was held at his Brigade's base. The Brigade's Colonel gave a speech at the parade in which he listed all the men who had not made it home from Iraq with the rest of the Brigade. 

Except for one.  Private First Class B. Miller.  

To hear the Podcast from Radio New Zealand National , here is the link:

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tuesday Poem: "The Weather"

Outside the window

slivers of daylight

lead us to believe that the weather

has fallen foul of our expectations.

Small boys sidestep school

to savour a rugby ball’s muddy sting.

A fantail dances nimbly

among the watery wattle

like an avian Astaire.

Blackbirds strut the park,

plump gourmets cajoling worms

down their gullets.

Islands of gulls

in brilliant monochrome

against the green, wet green

grass sparkling under grey.

Like psychic stain remover,

the rain urges us to seek a balance

to our sunny day skills.

POET'S NOTE: The above picture is a screen grab from the Waimairie Beach surf cam at sunrise on Sunday just passed. The Easter Bunny came disguised as the last gasp of Cyclone Ita and Easter has been a wet affair this year. Without putting too fine a point on it, Noah would have felt right at home around here this Easter.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tuesday Poem: "For Thomas on his First Birthday"

Thomas, it’s part of life’s strange design
that these fresh days
of your green bud years
will be lost to your conscious memory.
You enjoy each laugh, each bath, each hug, each kiss,
each new discovery of taste or touch
and then it evaporates into past tense.
Amidst the daily demands of the ordinary,
your mother and I
try to cage that steam.

For two weeks prior to your birthday,
we drive around Canterbury, Otago and Southland
connecting the dots of your mother’s heritage.
The sky is big down here, Thomas,
and the stars burn with diamond clarity
in its grape-dark canvas.

POET'S NOTE: I'm shamefully indulging in a bit of nostalgia here as my oldest son, Thomas, turns 15 in about 11 days time. In the photo above, he's probably closer to two. This was taken in the playground near the Whale Pool on the foreshore of New Brighton Beach.

From the earliest days of his life, he demonstrated that he was an independent-minded spirit, given to blazing his own trail. Hence, not for him the simple task of sliding DOWN slides. No, he liked to climb UP slides even getting in the way of children attempting to slide. Thomas is a lovely boy and I'm very proud to be his father. He is intelligent, creative, forthright in his opinions, fiercely loyal to his friends and family, curious and vastly interested in the world. He likes to delve deeper behind the stories fed to us by the media and, contrary to what is often posited about teenagers, he has a burning interest in current affairs and the geo-political machinations around the globe. He often tells me things I didn't know about the Middle East or the Baltic States or other areas that seem to crop up regularly in world news.

He looks more like this now...not as overwhelmingly cute but still very handsome:

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tuesday Poem: "Not Syria"

Not for us the swift savagery of the strafing jet
or the murderous melée of missiles,
but the slow and steady creep
of ignorance and neglect.

While an empire is being built at speed
in the Central Business District,
the small voices of the poor and vulnerable
cry out unheard by that bureaucratic machine
that knows no face nor gives no kind word.

The third hospitalising bout of pneumonia visits
the 92-year-old widow in the third winter since
Rūamoko rose and shook himself
like a dog emerging from a river.
“I just want my home fixed before I die,” she says.
Not much to ask for,

like peace in Syria.

PLEASE NOTE: The poet in no way wishes to diminish the enormous tragedy and suffering that is happening in Syria. My heart goes out to the Syrian people who are being slaughtered by a dictator clinging to power at all costs. I pray that peace comes to the Syrian people swiftly and that no more innocent civilians have to die.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour

1) What am I working on? 
I’ve just finished writing a poem called “Bulletin Afterthought”, which I submitted as part of a group of three poems to The Typewriter. The Typewriter is an independent online poetry magazine based in Auckland, New Zealand, which publishes New Zealand, Australian and Pacific poets. Now in its fifth year, it publishes a volume annually and my poem, “Bulletin Afterthought”, has been accepted for its forthcoming Volume V.
So now I am several drafts into a new poem called “To Do List for the Failed State”, inspired by my readings about North Korea and, possibly, made all the more pertinent by the recent geopolitical jostling going on in Ukraine.
I often have several works on the go in various stages of readiness or partial completion. Looking in the folder I have labeled “Drafts, Ideas and Work in Progress”, I have 17 poems nearing completion, 15 poems in early drafts and several ideas that are still only the kernels of poems.
I am probably by nature one of those people who likes to start a project, whether it is a poem or short story or another genre, and be singly focused, progressing the project through from start to finish. However, after studying under the esteemed Australian novelist, Elizabeth Jolley, who taught me that you can write disparate “fragments”, as she liked to call them, and later weave those fragments together in the service of a larger work.
So now, I’m more at ease with having fragments of work which I can shuttle back and forth to. Modern computer capability makes this effortless, except for the actual writing, of course.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
This is the most difficult question to answer. I don’t feel I’m forging any new pathways as perhaps William Burroughs did in prose.
Poetry is, I believe, the oldest written literary genre, having sprung from the ancient epic poems, which were memorised and transmitted to their audiences in an oral form. So after thousands of years of oral and written poetry, it would be extremely egotistical of me to claim I was heading out on the road not travelled.
If I can claim any point of difference, it might be that many of my poems respond to events in local and global politics. Wherever the subject matter of a poem suits it, I try to striate the poem with humour. Humour, to me, enriches both life and art.
And I often feel the sub-genre of satirical poetry has been somewhat neglected since the halcyon days of Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope. So my poetry oeuvre is littered with satirical poems. In this modern world of globalization and the Internet there are no shortages of subjects to be satirized.

3) Why do I write what I do?
Forgive me if this response is somewhat cliché riddled, but, ever since I was a child in primary (elementary) school, I have felt this compulsion to write. I had a young, inspirational teacher when I was eleven and he was very good at spotting children’s leanings, their talents and their passions. He saw that creative writing was a passion for me.
I got really serious about writing poetry when I was fifteen and a young woman that I’d been close to tried to end her life because she suffered from anorexia and other self-image problems. The young woman I’d known was beautiful, intelligent and vivacious with a real zest for life and new experiences. We’d lost touch when I’d been sent to a boarding school in Auckland at the age of thirteen.
When a mutual friend informed me that this young woman was residing in a psychiatric ward at Auckland hospital, I began writing to her to give her emotional support. In my letters I always enclosed poems I’d written to try to remind her of her old self which I fervently hoped would re-emerge and triumph over her mentally crippled self.
From those humble and heartfelt beginnings, I branched out into writing in other genres, but, in many ways, poetry has remained my primary form of communication.
As writers, we may wish for awards, residencies, kudos, critical acclaim and the other peripheries, but, if we are honest, these are definitely secondary to the act of writing. I cannot speak for others, but, if I stop to analyse the question above, I know I write to make sense of the world and to communicate with my fellow human beings who may or may not find empathy with my worldview.
4) How does your writing process work?
Again, a difficult question because my writing process might be seen as somewhat haphazard.
I often tell secondary (high school) students in my writing workshops to keep a notebook handy in all possible situations (who will invent the waterproof notebook that can be used in the shower?). At the risk of stating the obvious, any writing has to spring firstly from an idea.
Situations I observe, people I encounter, things that I read, snatches of conversations overheard – all are fodder for me, as a poet. An example of this can be found here:
Once I have the idea, the kernel of the poem, I approach it in different ways. Sometimes, I just start writing and the words flow effortlessly on to the page (this is the seldom-encountered Shangri-La experience for poets). In this case, when I’ve written my first draft, I’ll put it aside for about a week if I can afford that period of time. Then I return to the first draft with my editorial eye. For subsequent drafts, I follow a condensed version of this process.
Sometimes I have the central idea or theme of the poem, but I’m breaking rocks on the chain gang and the words and lines come with effort and frustration. In this case, I often resort to that wonderful thing, the Mind Map. I encircle my idea in the centre of a large blank A3 sheet and freewrite as quickly as I can, shooting out ideas as branches from the central idea. Mostly, I try to use a variety of colours to draw the branches to give the ideas life and impetus. This often has the advantage of sidelining the logical side of the brain to make way for the imaginative side to have free rein.

As much as I’d like to be an early morning person to savour the quiet and the sunrises, I seem to be more inclined to be an owl. I often write at night when my two sons, and sometimes my wife, are in bed. Sometimes my long-suffering wife complains of my disturbing her sleep if I lie awake ruminating on a poem because I know I must get up and write the ideas down for fear of losing them by dawn.