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.

Tuesday Poem: “On Children” by Kahlil Gibran

IMG_4901

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.

Tuesday Poem: “Persimmons” by Harold Jones

Persimmons

His wife used to come to my flat –
She was tall, dark haired, her skin
Very pale. Sometimes he’d follow
Soon after. We were always
In a hurry. Once or twice he was
There at the door so quick I thought
We’d had it. Now I don’t know.

What was it all about? That was
In Chelsea, years ago — our flats
A short walk apart. The things
You think of at funerals. Out there,
Through the window, all sorts
Of birds are picking out the last,
Big, hanging orange persimmons.

The leaves are such mixes of colours –
Yellows, reds, green, some almost
As rich as the fruit. The celebrant
Doesn’t have a clue. He presses on,
Making the most of the usual
Platitudes, working them for all
They’re worth. His tone is unctuous.

But what else is possible without
Beliefs? His life was led and it came
To an end. What’s there to offer
By way of consolation but these
Fatuous words? Yes, he’ll live on
In our memories. So pale she was,
And this fruit so huge, so bright.

Harold Jones was born in New Zealand in 1952 and read English at Cambridge University. His poetry has appeared in a range of New Zealand and international journals, and he was also published as part of AUP New Poets 4. This poem comes from his debut collection, Curriculum Vitae. The collection is downright incredible (if you want to read my full rave I’ve written a review for the next issue of New Zealand Books). You can also read other poems from the collection on Google Books, but I suggest buying a copy.

For more Tuesday poems, check out the hub.

Tuesday Poem: “Sex Without Love” by Sharon Olds

Sex Without Love

How do they do it, the ones who make love
without love? Beautiful as dancers,
Gliding over each other like ice-skaters
over the ice, fingers hooked
inside each other’s bodies, faces
red as steak, wine, wet as the
children at birth, whose mothers are going to
give them away. How do they come to the
come to the come to the God come to the
still waters, and not love
the one who came there with them, light
rising slowly as steam off their joined
skin? These are the true religious,
the purists, the pros, the ones who will not
accept a false Messiah, love the
priest instead of the God. They do not
mistake the lover for their own pleasure,
they are like great runners: they know they are alone
with the road surface, the cold, the wind,
the fit of their shoes, their over-all cardio
vascular health—just factors, like the partner
in the bed, and not the truth, which is the
single body alone in the universe
against its own best time.

I’m quite a fan of Sharon Olds, one of America’s leading poets. I discovered her through this poem which is part of the reading materials for 139.123 Creative Writing, which I teach at Massey University. In 2013 Olds won the Pulitzer Prize for her collection, Stag’s Leap - a remarkable exploration of loss and intimacy that documents the end of her marriage. As the Poetry Foundation states: “Olds is known for writing intensely personal, emotionally scathing poetry” and Stag’s Leap certainly fits that description.

For more Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Tuesday Poem: “For Sylvie (the Cat)” by Lee Posna

For Sylvie (the Cat)

With nothing but the sea to ape
the sweep of time, and signs of ape
imbued with teloi of an ape
that apes its making;
the sea that rounds the apes with sleep
un-singing in its empty sleep
the teloi of an age asleep
inside its making;

with Sylvie in a square of sun,
couchant and spooning in the sun
of equidistant lions, sun
that squares the circle,
I symbiose. We need the square
for love, you know, is just a square
within a greater, animal square—
but feel the warm circle!

Dear tabby-Abyssinian cat,
translucent chartreuse-irised cat,
brown, tiger-striped, piebald-lipped cat
what is in nature
the cause of your soft heart my dear?
They say these bickies make me dear
while human love transcends, my dear,
the wants of nature—

of course we know it isn’t true—
a matter of degree, it’s true
the sea our dreams of life can true
and vice versa.
With nothing but the sea to sound
our day and words of touch not sound,
I see you hear my feeling sound
and vice versa.

Your deathlessness must colour love.
And wordlessness, though less with love
whose colours beggar little love,
a word like water.
Your wee heart, like Earth, is almost naught.
An epitaph above the naught
whose shapeless words are doubly naught
like words in water.

This innocence apart from birds,
all balled up tight, far off as birds,
baffles my sense of loss, like birds
alone in winter.
I’m hesitant—to touch your peace—
your giottesque radiance of peace
of mind about our final peace
alone. Some winter.

I know if it were you and me
only, our harmony for me
would pulse with distance, you and me
and spacetime ringing;
though dissonance must be the heart
of harmony, the crowded heart
that isolates the only heart
and sets it ringing.

But we the childless or childfree
invest in you what makes us free
and love with the love of the free,
which must be lighter.
And Sylvie dear you love us back,
in spitting rain you come out back
to see us take the washing back
and make us lighter.

It takes guts to write a poem about your cat, and if anyone can pull it off it’s Lee Posna (Janet Frame and Saradha Koirala have also written notable cat poems). When Lee sent me this poem he told me he wrote it after Wordsworth’s ‘To the Daisy.’ He said: “I thought to myself, I love Sylvie so much, it’s funny how you just can’t write a poem about a cat – for many reasons. So I did.” I have been a fan of Lee’s work for some time, and this poem makes me admire him even more. For other Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Tuesday Poem: “Poems Done on a Late Night Car” by Carl Sandburg

Poems Done on a Late Night Car

I. CHICKENS

I am The Great White Way of the city:
When you ask what is my desire, I answer:
“Girls fresh as country wild flowers,
With young faces tired of the cows and barns,
Eager in their eyes as the dawn to find my mysteries,
Slender supple girls with shapely legs,
Lure in the arch of their little shoulders
And wisdom from the prairies to cry only softly at the ashes of my mysteries.”

II. USED UP

Lines based on certain regrets that come with rumination upon the painted faces of women on North Clark Street, Chicago

Roses,
Red roses,
Crushed
In the rain and wind
Like mouths of women
Beaten by the fists of
Men using them.
O little roses
And broken leaves
And petal wisps:
You that so flung your crimson
To the sun
Only yesterday.

III. HOME

Here is a thing my heart wishes the world had more of:
I heard it in the air of one night when I listened
To a mother singing softly to a child restless and angry in the darkness.

I hadn’t read any Carl Sandburg before coming across this poem online. I’m not going to say much about the poem; I think it speaks for itself. I would be interested to know other people’s interpretations. For other Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Tuesday Poem: “Just another sketch” by Bryony Campbell

Just another sketch

I’ve written another letter
this time its form traced
on an old newsletter found discarded in the recycling bin.
In charcoal feathered pencil, I hastily sketched an outline
then folded the words into each other,
so that they held each other in with no room for escape. I

squirreled it into my jacket pocket and
zipped it away from
the prying eyes of the world, perhaps
for a rainy day
when the droplets are fat
with memories and dust. I intended to

never
let it breathe, or see the sun’s rays,
to let it hide forever in the shadows and collect
my ill-timed reminiscences,
but I was tempted by who knows what,
to read it once more. It’s by no means

a magnum opus, shining in clever wit. It’s
just a mere draft, just as this
is a mere draft
that I won’t dare to read or touch
again. I’m not even sure you could call it a letter
– just a collection of thoughts that stumble

and trip over each other; a clutter
of musings and broodings.
A jigsaw puzzle
with pieces missing, and unwanted pieces that
intrude.
I tell you, though, there really is something

alluring
about committing your spilling thoughts to white virgin paper,
to let the blankness soak up your feelings
and make them belong to someone who is
irrevocably distant from plain old
you.

You can blacken the paper with ink
screw it up, tear it to furry pieces,
if you don’t like what you have written,
wring it out like a towel
and empty the burning mind
of distracting thoughts.

Bryony Campbell is a 16 year old writer studying at Wellington East Girls’ College. Her poem ‘Just another sketch’ was a runner up in the 2013 National Schools Poetry Award, although I thought that the poem should have won. What I enjoy is the way the poem, which on the surface is about a letter, is actually also about poetry: “just a mere draft, just as this / is a mere draft” the poet says. Campbell states that she was intrigued by how quickly this poem unfolded, given there was no particular, conscious, inspiration for it.

Campbell’s other writing highlights include winning the Senior Category in the 2010 NZ Puffin Short Story Awards with her story ‘Bric-a-Brac’, and placing second in the Middle Division of the Scenario Writing Competition at the International Future Problem Solving Conference held in Wisconsin, USA in 2010. She currently writes interest pieces for her school’s blog ‘Define East’ and articles for the school’s annual magazine.

For other Tuesday Poems check out the hub.