Tuesday Poem: ‘My Mother in the Kitchen’ by Joel Pearson

My Mother in the Kitchen

My mother is
banging and making noise
in the kitchen.
With bowls and cutlery,
searching with
needless clatter.
Her handkerchief
tucked at the ready
up the cuff
of her best black suit.

In the newspaper
there are two women–
twice my mother’s age–
campaigning to have
headstones propped back up
after they toppled over
in the earthquake.

Graveyards
are the afterlife’s kitchens.
The women are
banging around in it.
Making the bed.
Deadheading the roses.
My mother searches
for something real
amongst the tupperware.
Trying to rip back up
stones
that the earth lulled
into lying down.

Joel Pearson is a Massey University student living in Christchurch. His major is English and he hopes to continue studying creative writing. One of his short stories appeared in Takahe 81, but he also writes poetry. This poem was written for Creative Writing 139.123and came together after Joel read an article in the newspaper about the earthquakes, and also from being annoyed by his mother banging around in the kitchen.

This is a marvelous poem about the way we distract ourselves from grief. I admire Joel’s ability to balance humour with simple and poignant imagery such as the mother’s ‘handkerchief / tucked at the ready / up the cuff / of her best black suit’. If you want to read more poems by Massey students I posted one last week.

Tuesday Poem: ‘Jam Jar’ by Mary Fisher

Jam Jar

I’m wilting in the darkening kitchen
When my younger brother
Arrives to my grappling,
Ridges of agar jar rubbing
Fingerprints from my skin.

I’ve poured hot water around the rim,
Metal bands expand, steam melting upwards.
I’ve tried the tea towel grip.
My hands simply slide, leaving
Squeaking glass and solid lid.

As he slips in, pale-faced from the cold
I stand straight and sweep rogue,
Sticky stripes of hair aside.
His squint rakes my crumbling attempt
To keep the jar behind, benched.

Floppy curls, beginnings of whiskers.
When did he become the taller one?
I say, ‘Don’t worry’.
But his long arms already loop around
My torso, a slow warming like rays of morning sun.

And while I sink into his limby cocoon,
His fingers find the flaws
In the jar I’ve been wrestling over,
Longer than a fearless sister should.

He pops the cap with slender hands.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to post poems by my students. Massey University doesn’t (yet) have an online journal like Turbine or 4th Floor, and it seems unfair that these poems are not read beyond my dining room table. These poems are the ones that make me think it’s a blurry line between student and teacher.

The first poem is by Mary Fisher, a part-time Massey student studying towards a BA in psychology alongside representing New Zealand in swimming. She enjoyed creative writing at high school and wrote this poem as part of 139.123, which for her was an elective paper. Mary likes cooking and says there is a parallel between her and literal jam jars as well as an object which could represent aspects of identity.

Two Interviews: Paula Green and Myles Lawford talk about The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems

Two Interviews: Paula Green and Myles Lawford talk about The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems

The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems

The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems, by Paula Green and Myles Lawford, was voted for by children and young people from all over New Zealand to be a finalist on the children’s choice list in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Paula Green has worked closely with children in creating her poetry, and it is no wonder that this collection is on the list. Reviewer Tim Gruar says, on the Booksellers NZ blog, ‘There’s a nice collaboration going between author Paula Green and illustrator Myles Lawford in this quirky little collection of onomatopoeic and physical verse.’

This post is part of a blog tour that Booksellers are running for the Children’s Choice finalist list for the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Booksellers have given me a copy of The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems to give away – to enter, just leave a comment below!

We put questions to Paula and Myles about how The Letterbox Cat came about. Paula is first up:

1. As an author, you must have a lot of ideas floating around. How did you decide to put together this collection in particular?

I have been collecting picture poems in notebooks for years and I finally decided it was time to put them in a book. I love using words to make a picture on the page and then to make sure those words sound good. All the other poems arrived by surprise. It might be seeing the crazy way our dog swims or where our cat sleeps. Or the way the sky looks. I just think: that’s a poem! I love using real life and real things in poems as that can make a poem sizzle, but like Margaret Mahy, I also love the power of imagination. Most of all I aim to make a collection that sounds good.

2. Tell us a bit about the journey from manuscript to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in publishing this book?

Once Scholastic agreed to publish the book (I was over the moon! Not many children’s poetry books get published in NZ sadly), then they took over. For me there were no big challenges (some of my books have had tyrannosaurus challenges!), it was just cupcake pleasure. When I saw the way the zesty illustrations of Myles Lawford danced on the page, I cried! When I saw Scholastic had given the book a Dr-Seussy feel I jumped with joy on the spot.

3. How did you tailor this book to the age-group it reaches?

When I write poems for children, I want the poems to sound good and catch the ear. I want my poems to go into the poetry playground and have fun. Going down a poem slide or digging in the poem sandpit can be funny, serious, imaginative, challenging. Playing with words can make your skin tingle just like when you whiz down the slide. I want my poems to hook the five-year old and the twelve-year old. I think poems can travel an age stretch more easily than novels and stories.

4. Who have you dedicated this book to, and why?

I dedicated it to my brother Warren and his lovely wife Banu. She’s from Turkey so it felt like a nice welcome gift to our family and to New Zealand.

5. Can you recommend any books for children/young adults who love this book?

Margaret Mahy’s The Word Witch because she was the queen of word play. Any collections by Peter Bland because he is an expert on the way poems can sound so good and dazzle with imagination. A truckload of poetry collections from USA: I love anything by Calef Brown, Valerie Worth, Karla Kuskin and Shel Silverstein. The dictionary! This was one of my favourite books when I was young and I would read it in bed with a torch. I loved finding strange words. I loved mashing words together so they sparked or sung. And the book I loved to sit on the (make-believe) stairs and recite from: AA Milne poems. Bliss.

6. What is your favourite thing to do when you aren’t reading or writing, and why?

I love doing things outside like running swimming walking cycling gardening boogie boarding skiing. I don’t care if it is raining or windy or freezing because the Great Outside blows all the spiders webs clear out of my head. Then I am ready to write a poem! I like doing things inside like cooking (especially dinner!), doing cryptic crosswords, watching films and TV shows. Hanging out with my girls. I like cooking tasty new things, sharpening my mind with tough puzzles, sharing the warmth and love that makes a family special. Family is more important to me than anything.
_____

Myles Lawford was influenced by Quentin Blake in his images for The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems:

1. What was your approach to illustrating each of these books?

For The Letterbox Cat I wanted fun little images, nothing too finished as to distract from the poetry, mainly influenced by Quentin Blake and Ronald Searle.

2. Tell us a bit about the journey from storyboards to published work for each book. What was the biggest challenge you faced in illustrating each of the books?

The challenge of The Letterbox Cat was to find interesting interpretations of each poem. I would come up with a few ideas for each and then present these to the editor for approval.

3. How closely were you able to collaborate with the writers? Do you prefer to work this way?

Actually, I don’t talk to the writers at all during the entire process, only at the end when the book has been printed is the first time I talk to the writers to see how they feel. Thankfully I haven’t had any disappointed writers yet. Fingers crossed. We try and split the two processes of writing and illustrating so that one doesn’t influence the other.

4. What was your favourite thing to draw when you were at primary school – did you have a “party trick”?

When I was at primary school I spent most of my time drawing for my classmates, at a cost. I charged people for helping them illustrate their homework and projects. Nothing too outrageous, an ice cream here, a steak and cheese pie there.

5. What is your favourite thing to do when you aren’t reading or illustrating, and why?

I’m a big fan of computer games, the conceptual design in gaming was always something I wanted to do, whether it being designing new characters, races, architecture or environments. I find myself sketching ideas all the time due to something I might of seen in a game or from a movie. I a child at heart, I’m not ready to grow up just yet.
____

If you want to know more about Paula’s work, check out her two dedicated poetry blogs, The Poetry Box – a NZ poetry page for children and NZ Poetry Shelf.

For a review of The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems, check out the Booksellers NZ blog.

Yesterday’s feature was Maori Art for Kids, by Julie Noanoa and Norm Heke, which was featured on the NZ Green Buttons blog. Monday’s feature will be the third of our five non-fiction titles, New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame: 25 Kiwi Champions, by Maria Gill and Marco Ivancic. This will be featured at Booksellers NZ’s blog site.

letterbox_cat

Window/Mirror

This week I flew to Auckland to see a special edition of Hue & Cry journal. It was commissioned by ST PAUL St Gallery for the exhibition The things we talked about, which looks at how ‘speaking, reading, writing, research: each may be understood as a gesture of self-definition, as part of an unfolding autobiographical narrative.’

The Hue & Cry edition Window/Mirror is in the gallery’s front window and came out of a conversation between myself and artist Ruth Buchanan. Ruth currently lives in Berlin so our conversation was an email blind date. The starting point: a question about whether our art practice was a form of self-definition. The exhibition catalogue states that Window/Mirror ‘comes to the space as a vinyl text on the window and a series of suspended posters that change each week during the exhibition.’ The idea of suspension appeals – to write to each other required a suspension of our everyday doing. Ruth’s emails would turn up, challenging me, and I’d have to respond to keep the conversation going. I imagined her at a big wooden desk, or, like me, at a kitchen table. Over a month we tried to wring out the relationship between art and self-definition, at least for the two of us.

ST PAUL St Gallery

ST PAUL St Gallery

ST PAUL St Gallery is usually closed on a Monday, so when I arrived Abby Cunnane, who curated the show, turned on the lights and video pieces, holding up her remote as if in salute. I spent an hour in the gallery and at times felt quite moved. It’s an exceptional collection of pieces and voices, with work by Moyra Davey, Dorine van Meel, Ruth Buchanan, Marie Shannon, and Alicia Frankovich. On opening night there was also a performance by lightreading (Sonya Lacey and Sarah Rose). Shannon’s digital work The Achaean Faxes (2012) especially made me think about the lifespan and function of a conversation. Shannon edited faxes from her partner Julian Dashper during his residency in Germany in 1995 (Dashper died in 2009) paired her new narrative with a mournful cello piece. It made me think about how we not only use conversation to define ourselves, but to cross distances and connect, whether that be from Berlin to Wellington, or to a time decades ago.

ST PAUL St Gallery

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ST PAUL St Gallery

Images, top to bottom: Lover (2011) by Alicia Frankovich; The Achaean Faxes (2012) by Marie Shannon; One of the three curtains that form An image of a solid (2012) by Ruth Buchanan

Window/Mirror (2015) was edited by Chloe Lane and Andrea Bell, and designed by The International Office.