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

The Beginning of September

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

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

III
In the summer
peaches the color of sunrise

In the fall
plums the color of dusk

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

V
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.

VI
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

VII
There are not always melons
There are always stories

VIII
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.”

IX
The insides of peaches
are the color of sunrise

The outsides of plums
are the color of dusk

X
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 . . .

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

XII
ripe blackberries

XIII
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
maybe

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

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

XVI
So summer gives over –
white to the color of straw
dove gray to slate blue
burnishings
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

demo

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.

Mindy

S_flowersbouquetIMG_5045

 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!

SunCards

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