Tuesday Poem: ‘Shipwrecker’ by Nina Powles

Kaikoura, 1844

She plants daisies in a corner plotted out with bones
pulled from the ribcage of a sperm whale.

Her favourite thing hangs by the front door –
a string of whale’s teeth polished wonderfully bright.
Her father brought them home for her eighth birthday

which was a particularly good day
for whaling. A pod of dolphin-eating whales chased
a humpback calf, breaking its jaw quite rapidly.
They are baby’s teeth, he said, that’s why they are so
white just like yours.

When whales forget their maps they strand. The first time
she thought they were rocks but the funny shapes spat air,
little cloud prints floating just above. By tea-time they had died.
The whole place smelled like sea-monster said her mother.
They had white patches on their skin where big eyes ought to be.

Her father always says a whale’s tail can knock you
right out of your boat. The most dangerous part is just when
the harpoon goes in – you can see the white of the eye,
then blood and whale-groans and big waves. So it’s very
important he says, not to scare the whale suddenly.
She wonders how you kill a whale without
scaring it suddenly, and if down there
on the beach
is the least sudden place to die.

‘Shipwrecker’ is from the chapbook Girls of the Drift (Seraph Press 2014), which I read over the summer. The book features poems about real and fictional women from New Zealand history and literature, including Katherine Mansfield and some of her creations, the first permanent lighthouse keeper, the daughter of a whaler, poets Jessie Mackay and Blanche Baughan, and a school ghost. You can read some of Powles’ poems about Mansfield in issue #1 of Starling. She certainly has a gift for creating tension in a poem, and then making that tension turn or transform at the end. I’m often surprised and always hooked.

Nina Powles recently completed her MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters for which she won the 2015 Biggs Family Prize for Poetry. Her writing has appeared in Best New Zealand Poems, Salient, Turbine, and Sweet Mammalian.

Tuesday Poem: ‘Elegy to R.J.J.’ by Andrew Jardine

Elegy to R.J.J.

A picture of your last ship hangs on my study wall;
the one I inherited from our parents, who have both gone
now too. And that ship sails eternally in sepia-toned
black and white, unable to break free from its frame.

And I struggle to remember you, because I was too young
to recall: your voice, and what you had to say, and how you
might have looked out for me, as older brothers do. But
I do remember your photo, you dressed in your navy uniform;

and Dad, as he told his story of you out hunting, being chased
by a wild pig up a tree; the fur hat that you made from possums
caught in gin traps, that you skinned and tanned; and the smell
of your sweat, stuck in a shirt left tucked in the back of a wardrobe.

You were on shore leave, in some foreign city, perhaps
Portsmouth or Plymouth, or some other naval town,
and alcohol was flowing freely; was it beer? Or maybe
something stronger? And when it came time, perhaps

following the last round, to return to your ship, they say
that you staggered and slipped, and fell from the gangway;
and as you fell, your head cracked against the grey hull,
and I can only imagine the dull sound that might have made

and I wonder, did that sound echo? Like the reverberations
from a thrown stone that makes ripples in a pond; a wave
of sound felt more than heard: an echo trapped, never fading.
And I was told that you were dead before you even entered the sea,

which is where you were buried soon after. And much later,
your ship’s trunk: your last possessions, arrived by sea;
and that trunk always looked like a casket, complete with shiny
brass corners, and your initials imprinted in large black script: R.J.J.

And I don’t remember your funeral, but I often wonder what
you would be doing today, and how many kids you might have,
and your wife’s name, and I don’t even know if you had a girlfriend,
because when you were gone, no one talked about you much,

except sometimes, when a certain song played on the radio,
and our mother would suddenly seem so far away, and if I asked
her what was wrong, she would say, it was a song that you liked
to listen to, just before she got up and changed the station.

I feel this poem in my gut. I think it’s the way the poem moves through time and memory. It bounces and builds to something like the ‘echo trapped, never fading,’ a wave of sound about the loss of possibility for both the speaker and his brother. I think it’s exceptional.

Andrew Jardine is completing a Graduate Diploma in Arts. He moved from New Zealand to Los Angeles in 2004, where he and Jenny now live in the small town of Claremont. He is the father of two wonderful young men, one of whom recently moved back to New Zealand. Andrew would like to dedicate this poem to his brother Robert.

Read ‘Nora’s Funeral’ by Susan Hansen, which I posted last week and is also an elegy written for the Massey 139.229 creative writing paper.

Tuesday Poem: ‘Nora’s Funeral’ by Sue Hansen

Nora’s Funeral
For Ray & Nora Doogue, married 1941-1993

I expect rain, the day we bury my Grandmother.
Yet, as mourners gather on the cobbled yard
we squint into the sun’s light,
and the wool of my jacket itches my neck.

I sit at the end of the pew
next to Grandad’s gaunt form,
strapped upright in the wheelchair.
He cannot genuflect – Parkinson’s.
So I cross the translucent skin
of his forehead,
wipe the rivulets of spit
that traverse down his badly shaven chin,
tissue catching in the stubble.

His blue eyes stare at the pulpit;
would he realise at the hospice
that the person feeding him potato
was a nurse, not his wife?

We sing, ‘Enfold me in your love’.
My voice swells with the congregation
and there we are, Grandma,
on your threadbare orange sofa
where we read together,
tucked under the cashmere rug.
You would ask,
‘Are you warm enough, dear?’

During the final eulogy
Grandad coughs loudly;
I pull his large hand into mine.
The hand that taught me
fishing knots and chess moves
is cold, like the
snapper we would throw
onto the boat floor
in Ohope.

The pallbearers stride up the aisle.
My uncle and some second cousins.
Grandad’s eyes rove over the casket
as though a blind person seeking ballast.
I stand to wheel him out.

While he sits
covered in prisms of pink cast by the lead light
touching his wet, grey stubble –
incarnations of Mary’s hand
reaching down from her assumption.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to post poems by students of Massey’s 139.229 creative writing paper. Massey University doesn’t (yet) have an online journal like Turbine or 4th Floor, and these poems should be read beyond my dining room table. During the course students write contemporary elegies, odes, and love poems.

I was moved by Sue’s poem about her grandparents, Ray & Nora Doogue. My own grandfather had Parkinson’s, and I’ve always thought that the mental decline of the disease creates a particular type of heartbreak for the partner who remains. There is a subtle redemption at the end of Sue’s poem; while the image of the grandfather being ‘covered in prisms of pink cast by the lead light’ as though in ‘assumption’ suggests a certain peace for the grandfather, I actually read the ending as the granddaughter being freed from seeing her grandmother care for a man who is lost to both of them.

Sue Hansen lives at Narrowneck beach in Auckland with her husband and two extremely beautiful children. Her paternal grandparents, Ray and Nora Doogue, had a large part to play in Sue’s childhood, as her father died when she was aged two. Sue was always in awe of her Grandparents bond with one another.

Tuesday Poem: Two triolets by Janis Freegard


The sound of dropped silverware is, like, really loud.
I think I’ll do that gamelan course
next semester. When there’s no crowd,
the sound of dropped silverware is, like, really loud.
I’ve uploaded all my tunes to the cloud.
Did I tell you my parents are getting divorced?
The sound of dropped silverware is, like, really loud.
I think I’ll do that gamelan course.

The Alpine Zone

We rose up into the alpine zone
taking the path of least resistance.
Gliding where harrier hawks have flown,
we rose up into the alpine zone.
The landscape dwindled, bare as bone.
Perspective always comes with distance.
Rising into the alpine zone,
we took the path of least resistance.

I heard Janis read some of these triolets (a French poetic form with repeated lines) on National Poetry Day. They are from her new collection The Glass Rooster (AUP) and appear at the start of each of the eight sections (or ‘echo-systems’) – The Damp Places, Forest, Cityscape, The Alpine Zone, Space, Home & Garden, Underground and In the Desert. There is so much curiosity in this collection, wielded by Janis’s sharp intellect.

Janis Freegard lives in Wellington, with an historian and a cat, and works in the public service. Her first full-length poetry collection, Kingdom Animalia: The Escapades of Linnaeus, was published by Auckland University Press in 2011. She is also the author of a chapbook, The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider (Anomalous Press, 2013), and co-author of AUP New Poets 3 (AUP, 2008). Her poetry has appeared in a wide range of journals and anthologies in New Zealand and overseas, including Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page (Random House, 2014), Best NZ Poems 2012 and Landfall. In 2014 she held the inaugural Ema Saikō Poetry Fellowship at New Pacific Studio in the Wairarapa. She also writes fiction, is a past winner of the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award. Her first novel was published with Mākaro Press in 2015. She blogs at http://janisfreegard.com.

Tuesday Poem: ‘The fallings’ by Morgan Bach

The fallings

I wake and watch the planes
from my bed — each one an uncalled
number. An unspilled cup of tea,
covers still clean, hands
unscalded and reaching
under the sheets to the cool patch
on the other side where you were,
and you were and you
and you too, though none
of you now. Out my window
the planes take off at different angles,
some keep low and rise slowly
but others are full-tilt
to the heavens
hoping the weather
is better there, with clouds below
to give the illusion of being pillowed
should they find themselves
alone, so suddenly,
in the cool patches.

In 2013 Morgan Bach undertook an MA in Creative Writing at the IIML. She was the recipient of the Biggs Family Prize in Poetry, co-editor of Turbine 2013, and has had work published in Sport, Landfall, and Hue & Cry. ‘The fallings’ is from her debut collection Some of Us Eat the Seeds (VUP). There are some photos of the book launch on the Unity Books website.

I heard Morgan read this poem on Radio New Zealand in her calm and self-assured way. During the show, Greg O’Brien called her a ‘good, strong, mature, independant poet’ and stated that her collection is ‘an amazing book.’ He’s right — I couldn’t stop thinking about ‘The fallings,’ especially the lines, ‘on the other side where you were, / and you were and you / and you too, though none / of you now.’ I felt the disappointment that came with each ‘you,’ but also the sadness that is part of the speaker’s quiet acceptance (an experience of many women in their 30s, maybe, myself included), that they’ve again found themselves alone in their bed, watching someone fly away.

Tuesday Poem: ‘Addis Ababa’ from WORK


This excerpt is from ‘Addis Ababa,’ which is one of six long poems in my forthcoming collection, WORK. The poem is about a man who is trying to rebuild his life after his wife dies in the final skirmish of the Ethiopian Civil War. It first appeared in Sport 43, and on RNZ reviewer Harry Ricketts called it the standout poem of the issue.’ I actually made one of those excited half-squeals, the embarrassing kind you can’t keep in. Anyway, another excerpt from WORK was on Up Country last week (along with a little piece I wrote about Canadian moose being released in Fiordland in the early 1900s).

WORK will be released on Thursday 22 October. EXCITING launch details to come!

Tuesday Poem: ‘Mason’ by Scott Lindsay


I like to walk in these hills.
I enjoy the sense of isolation,
as if I really could be
the only person
for miles around.

The landscape is rugged here,
tufts of thin grass clumped around
rocks, stones, boulders.
Red flowers bloom in stark contrast
to the browns and muted greens of
the other alpine plants.

Should they make me less lonely?
These flowers, these symbols
of life, and continuity?
Should they make me rejoice
in the beauty of life,
and of nature?

I held you for a brief moment.
You were limp in my hands,
your arms and legs splayed wide
like a living rag-doll.
Ragged breathing.
Tiny gasps of air.

The labour had taken days,
my wife was exhausted,
and I couldn’t stay awake for long.
And when my eyes opened once more
you were gone.

I look from the blooms to the town below,
curls of smoke rising skyward from chimneys,
warm golden light
shining from windows, my heart
across gardens now turning deep blue,
the fading light of day.

I was so moved when I read Scott’s poem, and spent some extra time writing my feedback to him, basically because I couldn’t help myself. There’s a weight that comes when responding to very personal poems – those of love and grief, or most often both. How do I tell someone to cut lines about their loss because they’re too clunky or abstract? I didn’t have to do much of that with ‘Mason’ and reading it out loud to a friend last night, it still affects me. It makes me sad and thankful, and it also makes think, this is why I teach creative writing.

This is what Scott sent me for his bio: Scott has a wonderful wife and three amazing daughters. He also had a son briefly, and this event served as the inspiration for his poem ‘Mason’. Even though this was a traumatic time, he learned a lot about love and family. If you, or someone you love, ever have to face similar adversity in your life, please reach out for help as soon as you can. The pain is real and you don’t have to suffer by yourself. No one is alone in dark times like these, even though it certainly feels like you might be.

I’ve posted two other poems by 2015 students: ‘Jam Jar’ by Mary Fisher, and ‘My Mother in the Kitchen’ by Joel Pearson.