Tuesday Poem: ‘A Story About the Body’ by Robert Hass

A Story About the Body

The young composer, working that summer at an artist’s colony, had watched her for a week. She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her. He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she mused and considered answers to his questions. One night, walking back from a concert, they came to her door and she turned to him and said, “I think you would like to have me. I would like that too, but I must tell you that I have had a double mastectomy,” and when he didn’t understand, “I’ve lost both my breasts.” The radiance that he had carried around in his belly and chest cavity–like music–withered quickly, and he made himself look at her when he said, “I’m sorry I don’t think I could.” He walked back to his own cabin through the pines, and in the morning he found a small blue bowl on the porch outside his door. It looked to be full of rose petals, but he found when he picked it up that the rose petals were on top; the rest of the bowl–she must have swept the corners of her studio–was full of dead bees.

‘A Story About the Body’ must be one of Hass’s most famous poems. I read it as part of a creative writing reader long before I bought his collections. It comes from Human Wishes (1989), Hass’ third collection, and a collection which has the most apt title for poetry. I think critic Dob Bogen most accurately describes the collection when he says it ‘captures both the brightness of the world and its vanishing.’ So many of these poems are concerned with loss, transience, and with the process of seeing something disappear; even in this poem the young man’s ‘radiance’ withers from his chest. In Human Wishes Hass really gets into longer lines, and an entire section is dedicated to prose poems. I can’t get enough of them–they so completely inhabit and create a world.

For other Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

December colours

Follow the Firefly Knitted dishcloth ChristmasTop to bottom: The inside cover of Follow the Firefly / Run Rabbit Run by Bernardo Carvalho which I reviewed for Booksellers NZ; a variegated cotton dishcloth–my new crafting addiction; Christmas at home including my Christmas wreath and the advent calendar I made for Sam.

Tuesday Poem: “Olive” by Emily Dobson


I should have been
a beautiful woman.


I was tired of dealing
with the everyday waste
of an ordinary life.


The twins stand back to back
in the shower — they
won’t let me wash them.

One says,
‘I don’t want to die.’

The other says,
‘Have I kissed you?
I want to kiss you.’


Holes have throats.


Norma’s on the deck calling:

Here it is Jude, it’s in the beetroot.
It’s here, it’s in the beetroot!


I thought I smelt the sea
but it was only the freshly cut grass
and gathering of seagulls.


A house
with four bathrooms.
Four dignified baths
to slowly wash herself in.


Olive with her back turned
in a boat.

Only a few collections of poetry make me want to get to know the poet. Emily Dobson’s collection, The Lonely Nude, makes me want to take her out for a drink. I imagine, at the start, that she’d be shy like her poems. I also imagine that once we got talking — and I think that talk would be about poetry as a craft, and the importance of a single word, and how when used as well as you can, you can transfer some of life’s strange melancholy to the page — we’d be fine.

Dobson has an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University, for which she was awarded the Adam Prize. She was also awarded the 2005 Schaeffer Fellowship to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the United States. From her MA came her first collection, A Box of Bees (VUP, 2005), which details growing up in the Hawke’s Bay in a family of apiarists. I did my own MA in 2006, and like all collections published the year before you do your MA, they are a thing of wonder; something to aim for. I’m very glad to see her second collection has made it into the world.

My full review of The Lonely Nude will come out soon on Landfall Review Online.

For more Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Tuesday Poem: ‘The Beginning of September’ by Robert Hass

The Beginning of September

The child is looking in the mirror.
His head falls to one side, his shoulders slump.
He is practicing sadness.

He didn’t think she ought to
and she thought she should.

In the summer
peaches the color of sunrise

In the fall
plums the color of dusk

Each thing moves its own way
in the wind. Bamboo flickers,
the plum tree waves, and the loquat
is shaken.

The dangers are everywhere. Auxiliary verbs, fishbones, a fine carelessness. No one really likes the odor of geraniums, not the woman who dreams of sunlight and is always late for work nor the man who would be happy in altered circumstances. Words are abstract, but words are abstract is a dance, car crash, heart’s delight. It’s the design dumb hunger has upon the world. Nothing is severed on hot mornings when the deer nibble flower heads in a simmer of bay leaves. Somewhere in the summer dusk is the sound of children setting the table. That is mastery: spoon, knife, folded napkin, fork; glasses all around. The place for the plate is wholly imagined. Mother sits here and Father sits there and this is your place and this is mine. A good story compels you like sexual hunger but the pace is more leisurely. And there are always melons.

little mother
little dragonfly quickness of summer mornings
this is a prayer
this is the body dressed in its own warmth
at the change of seasons

There are not always melons
There are always stories

Chester found a dozen copies of his first novel in a used bookstore and took them to the counter. The owner said, “You can’t have them all,” so Chester kept five. The owner said, “That’ll be a hundred and twelve dollars.” Chester said, “What?” and the guy said, “They’re first editions, Mac, twenty bucks apiece.” And so Chester said, “Why are you charging me a hundred and twelve dollars?” The guy said, “Three of them are autographed.” Chester said, “Look, I wrote this book.” The guy said, “All right, a hundred. I won’t charge you for the autographs.”

The insides of peaches
are the color of sunrise

The outsides of plums
are the color of dusk

Here are some things to pray to in San Francisco: the bay, the mountain, the goddess of the city; remembering, forgetting, sudden pleasure, loss; sunrise and sunset; salt; the tutelary gods of Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Basque, French, Italian, and Mexican cooking; the solitude of coffeehouses and museums; the virgin, mother, and widow moons; hilliness, vistas; John McLaren; Saint Francis; the Mother of Sorrows; the rhythm of any life still whole through three generations; wine, especially zinfandel because from that Hungarian vine-slip came first a native wine not resinous and sugar-heavy; the sourdough mother, yeast and beginning; all fish and fisherman at the turning of the tide; the turning of the tide; eelgrass, oldest inhabitant; fog; seagulls; Joseph Worcester; plum blossoms; warm days in January . . .

She thought it was a good idea.
He had his doubts.

ripe blackberries

She said: reside, reside
and he said, gored heart
She said: sunlight, cypress
he said, idiot children
nibbling arsenic in flaking paint
she said: a small pool of semen
translucent on my belly
he said maybe he said

the sayings of my grandmother:
they’re the kind of people
who let blackberries rot on the vine

The child approaches the mirror very fast
then stops
and watches himself

So summer gives over –
white to the color of straw
dove gray to slate blue
a little rain
a little light on the water

I’ve spent the last four years studying American poet, Robert Hass. Over the next month I’m going to post some of my favourite Hass poems. This poem is from his collection, Praise (Ecco, 1979). There is a great recording of Hass reading this poem to an audience in Rotterdam.

For more tuesday poems check out the hub.

Thursday Poem: ‘the dictator’ by Kerrin P. Sharpe

the dictator

the brother of birds
smokes feathers

sucks a collar
of small black tunes

coaxes thick slices
of red berries
into his bunker

preorders gasoline
shoots his dog

crushes tiny skulls
of poison for his wife

persuades his gun to talk

I really wanted to post this poem on Tuesday but didn’t make it, so this is a Thursday poem instead. I’ve just reviewed Kerrin P. Sharpe’s new collection, There’s a Medical Name for This, for Booksellers NZ. Sharpe was born in Wellington and now lives in Christchurch where she is a poet and teacher of creative writing. Sharpe’s poems are a lot of things: condensed, arresting, often surreal, and funny. What struck me about this collection was the way the poems slowly reveal themselves to the reader (her writing is deliberately elusive), and then, figuratively, knock you out.

Poem posted with permission from VUP. For more Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Mayan Love Charms

Recently, my friends Chloe and Pete moved to Gainesville, Florida. Chloe had been offered a place in a highly respected MFA programme. On their way to the US they spent a few weeks in Mexico, and Chloe sent me this book of Mayan love charms, which are like short poems. The book was made by Taller Lenateros, a publishing collective founded by Ámbar Past in 1975 and run by contemporary Mayan artists (Past translated the charms from Tzotzil to English). The collective has created the first books to be written, illustrated, printed, bound (in paper of their own making) by Mayan people in over 400 years. It is such a beautiful book.

At WORD Christchurch, I had a few conversations about books as art objects. I think books will always be relevant and bought and loved, but as any bookseller will tell you, the industry is changing. It made me think about how books, as cultural objects, have changed over time from the first rare and painstakingly created parchment and paper books, to the proliferation of books with the printing press, and now ebooks. I wonder what’s next. Mostly I’m thinking about poetry (in part because I’m a poet, but also because I buy a lot of poetry), which – I think – doesn’t do well in ebook form. Maybe I’m just old-school; I like my poetry on paper. It did make me think about how much I enjoy chapbooks, or the limited edition books produced by Sarah Maxey, or just poetry books that care about design.

Mayan Love Charms Mayan Love Charms Mayan Love Charms Mayan Love Charms Mayan Love Charms

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.