Tuesday Poem: ‘Attempts to Hearten a Sooty Shearwater’ by Charlotte Simmonds

Attempts to Hearten a Sooty Shearwater

It doesn’t matter too much on these islands if you are a seabird and have found your way inland. From any mountain here, we can sight the sea.

From any heightened place, we can see one cloud somewhere in the cloudless sky, or one patch of blue somewhere in the dark, so if you do get lost, be assured you can rise up high where the sea is always east or west, the land always north or south.

Higher than the rain, you will notice water blown across the city tops. It looks like the sound waves I’ve seen recorded on paper, but you’ll hear nothing from the city itself, and then whiteness should hide it all from view.

Far in the distance, someone wiggles a sheet of corrugated iron.

If you are a seabird and have found your way long inland in the rain in this country, let your sense of smell be tough. Let it be durable. Let the city odours of the rain-drenched concrete-dwelling bacteria not drown your nostrils in utter confusion, so that even in whiteness and the wet, you might always smell the bacteria of the ocean, little shearwater, little petrel, little cormorant, little shag.

Born in 1983, Charlotte Simmonds is best known for her work in Wellington theatre. Her plays include Arctic-AntarcticThe Story of Nohome Neville and Unwholesome Clare who Worked in Kitchens and Smelt like a Dish, and Burnt Coffee. I first read Charlotte’s work when I reviewed her book, The World’s Fastest Flower, and this is the second poem of Charlotte’s that I’ve posted as a Tuesday Poem. She sent it to me after I posted a poem by Bryan Walpert that also features a shearwater and a petrel! ‘Attempts to Hearten a Sooty Shearwater’ plays wonderfully with the idea of distance and connection. We are up on a mountain, in a “heightened place” looking out, and noises come over the distance, but there is always a “patch of blue” or the smell of the ocean to connect with.

For more Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Tuesday Poem: “Demolition” by Sarah Jane Barnett


At the moment I’m nervously reading through my PhD thesis in preparation for the viva next week. This is one of my poems from the thesis, or at least a version of that poem. When I read it again yesterday I had to fiddle; I took out a few words and changed the poem’s form. I reconsidered some images and cut a few lines. An hour later the poem was different. The original poem (the one that lives in my thesis) is also different to an earlier version published in Trout 17So often I find these collections of words to be insistent and pushy, but I like the idea that a poem can be an evolution, rather than an end point.

For other Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Adventures in floristry

A week ago I went to a floral styling workshop run by Mindy Dalzell of Twig and Arrow (that’s her luminous self in the first photo). It was very swank. My sister owns Paperswan Bride, so I’d known about Twig and Arrow through that vague connection to the wedding industry. I like her modern style and her joyous use of greenery and natives. Her bunches always look a bit wild. 

At the workshop we started out by making the first letter of our name from flowers and twigs (that’s my ‘S’ below). Then we put together a bunch. Mindy showed us how to trim and clean the stems, and how to spiral a greenery base before adding flowers and twigs. These were all the techniques I wanted to learn, and I think my bunch was a cheerful first attempt (third photograph).

Today, at the markets, I bought $8 of new flowers and combined them with the still-going parts of my bunch to make a new bunch (bottom photograph). It was a lot easier to make one the second time around, and this bunch is more me. Having fresh flowers in the house makes me happy, so I’m excited to keep on experimenting. On my Friday run I took note of possible sources of greenery, and will be out with my snips next week.



 Workshop photographs by Jess O’Brien Photography.

By now the sun had come out

It’s the final day of my holiday. Next week I’ll be preparing for my doctoral exam (mostly reading followed by hyperventilation). One of my favourite ways to relax is to make cards. Yeah, I know. I should probably learn how to relax by doing nothing. Sam and I go to op-shops a few times a week, and I look out for old books that I can cut up. I find books that are damaged as cutting up usable books is wrong, wrong, wrong! The two cards below were made out of a ripped Eric Carle book. The gift tags were made from other bits of card that came into my life – the three standing up from a Maze and Vale fabric order; the robin is a stamp I bought at Vic Books (they have a great selection at the moment); and the geometric card came from an Emma Makes order. Just as an aside, you should order something from Emma Makes. She always wraps her packages so beautifully!


I also decided to make myself a laptop case. The fabric is from Maze and Vale who I found out about from this Tiny Happy post. I bought a sample pack to see what their designs were like in person, and a fat quarter of this mushroom print. The fabric is very beautiful. The back of the laptop case is done in grey wool blanket (which gives a bit of padding), and it’s lined with calico. After finishing I realised most laptop cases have a curved zip as it’s easier to get the laptop in and out! Still, I’ll enjoy seeing those little mushrooms when I travel.

laptop cover

Poetry & Bears & Bunting

My teaching contract finished last week, so I’m taking a week off before starting my next project. The project is to write the first drafts of five long poems, which, in theory, will go with three already completed poems and make my second collection. It’s a plan and bound to change with the warp and weft of writing. The project is funded by Creative New Zealand and the Louis Johnson New Writers’ Bursary, so thank you to them for the support and motivation.

In the mean time, I’ve been sewing and watching trash television. Here are some photos. The bunting was intended for Sam’s room, but the colours didn’t work. I was blinded in Nancy’s by the cute robots and bubble helmet. Fret not! They’re going to live with my friend’s son. The bears in a bed are also gifts for Sam and another of his friends. I didn’t make the bears (I did find a pattern online and then decided it was a migraine in the making). I bought them from Bears with Attitude on Featherston Street, and the tins were on sale for $1 at my local florist. The bedding is made of out fabric scraps: cotton, wool, linen, and filler. You will note that the bears’ sheets are the same cotton as some of the bunting flags!

BuntingBears Bears

Tuesday Poem: “On Children” by Kahlil Gibran


On Children

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Kahlil Gibran was a Lebanese artist and writer who, as a young man, immigrated with his family to the United States. This poem comes from his 1923 book, The Prophet. I heard Sarb Johal read this poem on Nine to Noon with Kathryn Ryan (thanks Pip Adam for suggesting the listen). The segment was about mindful parenting, and Johal, an Associate Professor of Psychology, cut into the conversation to read the poem. It was unexpected, and it made me a little teary “For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.” The picture at the top is of Sam, my intrepid son, striding off into the Botanical Gardens.

For more Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Tuesday Poem: “Towards the Mountain” by James Norcliffe

Towards the Mountain
for Pat Hammond

The paddocks wrapped in boxthorn
are so green they shine in late light.

You talk of how the lambs’ heads
swell into gargoyles during parturition,

so much so that a newborn’s head stuck
in delivery must sometimes be decapitated.

After a day or so the heads of survivors
shrink into cuteness and their bodies frisk.

We are on the swing bridge built to deliver
sheep from one side of the gorge to the other.

It sways back and forth with all the
grotesquery of these birthing stories,

and although the water below is as clear as
reality, you still mistake a stick for a trout.

You couldn’t do it the first time, you say.
You brought in a less ruthless neighbour

whose sweet whisperings somehow saved
the ewe, although her lamb did succumb

and was later slung on the heap of slinks.
It is winter. We look up to where the sheep

batten on the hills. Lambing’s not too far away,
and the slopes, you say, have never looked so green.

Lambent, I say. It means the light is playing there with
a soft radiance. Like lambs, you say, like lambs.

downloadJames Norcliffe has always been one of my favourite New Zealand poets, and he was the first to encourage me to publish my work. Norcliffe has written collections of poetry and short stories, several books for young adults, and worked widely as an editor. I reviewed his latest collection Shadow Play (Proverse 2012) for New Zealand Books Quarterly. “Towards the Mountain” is from that collection.

For other Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Tuesday Poem: “Objective Correlative” by Bryan Walpert

Objective Correlative

Start with a bird.
A petrel. No, a shearwater.
Whatever. You start with a shearwater,
then add a backdrop. An ocean, but not
too close, just close enough to hear it.
Not too much information, but a shearwater,
an ocean, and a house. Who’s in the house?
Two people. Well, one person. The other’s
on the deck, in a chair, writing a poem
about a shearwater, an ocean, a house,
and two people, one of whom is on the deck,
the other coming out to ask him what
he’s writing about. He explains about
the shearwater, the ocean, the house,
the man writing, the woman asking
this question, who is gone before he’s finished
the sentence, gone meaning her eyes are off
toward the ocean, which is fine because he
can get back to writing about a shearwater,
a woman looking out over the ocean at a boat
rising and falling on the surf, a fisherman
out alone under a hat, working in good faith
under a sun that shines in equal measure
on the ocean and house and the man writing
about a woman staring into the distance
of the past, thinking of someone important
she gave up for a house, an ocean,
and this man whom she can see now walking
down the path from the house to the ocean
to take a long run on the sand, as long as his body
will allow him, which is not the body it once was,
the body that drew her to a house near the ocean,
but what that body has become, a familiar
body, and though what is familiar can replace
youth and strength and mystery, it is no
substitute for it, and of course she’s thought
to leave, he thinks as his shoes slap the sand,
a hundred silent decisions in favor of
a commitment she made once to a house
near an ocean and the child that until
now was not going to be in the poem,
is not quite yet in this world, so
of course, she thinks, that explains the run,
and no doubt he’s thinking about the poem
on the pad he left on the chair on the deck
to take the run on the sand to chase a body
he is leaving, little by little, thinking
as he runs that it should be a petrel,
after all, can’t see her pick up the pad
to read about the house and the ocean
and the shearwater that might be a petrel
and the woman, who is not inclined to offer
an opinion on the matter because to live
with someone in a house by the ocean is
to take each suggestion as something more
than what it means, hence it occurs to her
to wonder why the bird at all, why
the fisherman, why alone, wonders as well
for the first time whether a fisherman thinks
about the necessary sacrifices the ocean makes
for his hunger, the generosity of it—she wonders
this as she comes out of the house to watch
the boat bob its way through another afternoon
at the noisy ocean and to listen for a bird
she could identify absent the shushing of the surf,
if the house were somewhere else, would wonder,
too, about the poem’s odd displacement—
she finds his choice of word interesting,
a Freudian word, and a literary one—
of their lives to an ocean, would wonder
this, too, were her mind not already on the dinner
she plans to prepare, a piece of something for herself
and a man walking the last bit up the sandy path
from the ocean to the house, curious
whether she picked up the pad as he’d planned,
whether she understood what he meant by the boat,
the fisherman, whether it might elicit from
the woman a revealing comment, something,
she thinks, they might have split along with
a nice white, were she allowed to drink it,
to open while he ices his knee, while the ice
does what it does, the boat does what it does,
as the house and the woman and the man
(and the wine she can’t drink) breathe
in the salty air wafting through the poem
in the hand of a woman on a deck watching
the fisherman wait patiently beneath his hat
for the fluid world to deliver itself up
as the bountiful flesh, that it might be divided
into equal parts mercy and remorse.

This is the third poem of Bryan’s that I’ve posted on my blog (the other two being “Horse Story” and “Operation, October). “Objective Correlative” is such a clever and touching poem that I am not surprised it was selected a finalist for the 2011 Rattle Poetry Prize.

Bryan Walpert is the the author of the poetry collections A History of Glass (Stephen F. Austin State UP), and Etymology (Cinnamon Press); the short story collection Ephraim’s Eyes (Pewter Rose Press), named a Best Book of 2010; and a scholarly monograph, Resistance to Science in Contemporary American Poetry (Routledge). He teaches creative writing at Massey University’s School of English & Media Studies in Palmerston North. “Objective Correlative” will appear in his next poetry collection, Native Bird, which is to take flight as part of the new HOOPLA poetry series published by Mākaro Press, with a launch date of March 2015.

For more Tuesday Poems check out the hub.