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.

Tuesday Poem: ‘Meditations’ by Maria McMillan

Meditations

All loss is about imagination,
or did I make that up? That
strands of grief, hung in a room
like streamers, are not so awful
in themselves but awful
because they are always there.
That sunny flat in Palmerston
North with the abundant grapefruit
tree and the men who would smoke
dope and play chess all day.
They were so gentle treading
around each other’s sadness
like it was a bluebottle. It was slow
but I was an urgent sort of person
and found even this thrilling.
I fell in love and from that man’s
bed only remember the sun
coming in at the oblique
angle of early morning. After
a while I didn’t know which
was real the staggering pace
of this place or the rest of my life
where actual things happened.
They taught me chords
and once for a full half hour
I had them before that too got lost.

A month or so ago I stayed at a bach in Raumati with twelve other poets. We brought our favourite poetry books, did exercises, and walked on the beach. We drank wine, ate watermelon, and took turns to read and talk about other people’s poems. The first poem I read to the group was ‘Meditation at Lagunitas’, which even after writing an entire and fraught thesis chapter about the poem, is still my favourite. It appears to be a favourite of others too, and Maria McMillan – a wonderful writer and social justice activist who has published two collections of poetry: The Rope Walk (Seraph Press, 2013) and Tree Space (VUP, 2014) – showed me her poem ‘Meditations’ which she’d written in response to Hass’s. The poem summarised the Raumati weekend for me, and the way writers inspire each other.

Read ‘Ghosts’ by Maria McMillan on Tim Jones’ blog
Read Paula Green’s review of Tree Space on Poetry Shelf

For more Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Book Launch: Native Bird by Bryan Walpert

Bryan Walpert was my doctoral supervisor, and he’s one of the most beautiful and interesting writers I know. I’m excited about his new collection, Native Bird, which will be launched at 4pm, Sunday 19 April at the Fringe Bar in Wellington. Native Bird will be launched as part of Makaro Presss Hoopla Series. You can read three of his poems on this blog: Horse Story,’ Operation, October,’ and ‘Objective Correlative.’
 
About Native Bird
In his anticipated third collection, award-winning poet Bryan Walpertwho arrived here from the U.S. a decade agowrites of what its been like to be an observer or birdwatcher in a land whose physical and cultural geographies he is still learning to name. With his trademark precision and insight, Bryan weaves meditations on the life and songs of birds into his observations on living as a new settler in wind-charged Manawatu. Working at the shifting borders between homes and hearts, prose and poetry, call and song, this is an arresting collection that speaks to us all.
 
About Bryan Walpert
Bryan Walpert’s poetry has been published in New Zealand, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. He’s won the James Wright Poetry Award from the Mid-American Review, the NZ Poetry Society International Poetry Competition, the RSNZ Manhire Award for Creative Science Writing, and an Australian Dialogica Award for writing about poetry, and has been short-listed in other major international awards, notably the Rattle Poetry Prize (U.S.) and the Montreal International Poetry Prize. The author of two previous poetry collections (Etymology, A History of Glass), a short fiction collection (Ephraim’s Eyes) and a scholarly book on poetry and science (Resistance to Science in Contemporary American Poetry), Bryan is an Associate Professor in the School of English & Media Studies at Massey University.

Wellington invite

Tuesday Poem: ‘Grandmother’ by Sarah Jane Barnett

Grandmother

i

I fly for thirty hours;
she seems pleased to see me.

Perched in her chair we talk about her new home.
She has made friends with Eva, a long-stayer,
whose lounge is filled with flower arrangements.

I prefer minimalism, she says.

When the sun breaks we relocate to the backyard
where I read her the story of a geisha
taking a young maiko apprentice

whom she teaches to care for silk kimono,
separating each section to wash
then sewing them back together –

of the graceful tea ceremony where a rhythmic bamboo brush
discretely exposes her wrist –
of the art of secrecy.

As we speak I notice her ankles,
a flutter of dark moths on skin.
They’re filled with fluid, she says
of the swollen splits and bruises.

ii

It’s raining.

She pops up every five minutes
to snake a hand through net curtains,
observe the retirement village – red brick units circling a fish pond –
and report on any activity.

Lois has made a dash for her car wearing a new parka.

The phone rings, Joss lost his sister last night.
He is the last of nine, and the oldest,
she says, her voice level.

The rain leaks colour from the day.
I scan the sky and follow individual drops
to the ground where they bounce up into pin-heads.

At 6pm she declares, The bar is open
and passes me a glass of sherry.

iii

Grandmother borrows a wheelchair.
I haul it out of the boot
to construct in the Whitley Court carpark.

You might push me in the lake, she jokes.
I park her by an ornamental gazebo.

Are you okay? She waves me away,
walking stick laid like a child in her lap,
her eyes stroll the central avenue.

I explore the blackened ballroom,
the arched conservatory open to the sky –
through the caved roof clouds bunch together.

Wheeling her to the fountain for the water firing,
she tells me the myth of Perseus and Andromeda
as they pose before us – she pale, her hair motionless
on the breeze. One hand gently wards off the serpent.

After the show she fixes her jacket and I give my camera
to a tourist. The photograph reveals my hand cupped
around her shoulder – my smile a head above hers,
her shirt stepped in stripes to her chin.

iv

England needs 11 runs from 24 balls.
My sister Linda was named for Rosalind, she says,
the Shakespearean character.
A sprint between wickets.
She had a baby but he died quite young.

10 runs from 23 balls.
I don’t want people knowing that Dad was a bankrupt.
A statement. He was a good man.
I suggest his troubles were caused by the Depression.
He just didn’t have the head for money.
Someone hits a six.
Owning a bakery sounds nice, I say.
It was a pokey little place. After we lost it we lived
with Dad’s parents and then kept a pub in Wolverhampton –
where I took the University exam.
Someone hits a four and she makes a little fist
in the air.

Did you go?
No. My friend did though. Her father was a chemist.
The wickets are pulled from the pitch.

v

The Proms are on
so I am taught to make a trifle.

She heaves a crystal bowl onto the bench,
breaks a sponge into large cubes, her hands moving
mechanically as fruit and sherry are secured by jam.

Jam’s the family secret, she says and takes out glazed cherries,
sticky doomsday buttons pressed into custard.

When my Aunt and Uncle arrive they sip sherry
and jump up and down with the audience,
my Uncle singing from his knees like a sailor.

She sits on her cushion, feet tapping
under a blanket, the union jack clasped in one hand.

*

The engine is running.
At the door my Grandmother hesitates
so I bend down and wrap my arms around her.

I wave as the taxi navigates the car-park.
She waves back, her hand a small pigeon
against a brick-red sky.

‘Grandmother’ was originally published in JAAM 25. For more Tuesday Poems check out the hub.