Archive for July, 2010

New Zealand Poetry Day: To an Expatriate

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

TO AN EXPATRIATE, by A. R. D. Fairburn

“Weep ye not for the dead, neither bemoan him: but weep sore for him that goeth away: for he shall return no more, nor see his native country.”

Jeremiah XXII:10

Pine for the needles brown and warm,

think of your nameless native hills,

the seagulls landward blown by storm,

the rabbit that the black dog kills.

Swing with the kelp the ocean sucks,

call to the winds and hear them roar,

the westerly that rips the flax,

the madman at the northeast door.

Dream of the mountain creek that spills

among the stones and cools your feet,

the breeze that sags on smoky hills,

the bubble of the noonday heat.

The embers of your old desire

remembered still will glow, and fade,

and glow again and rise in fire

to plague you like a debt unpaid,

to haunt you like a love betrayed.

I have loved this poem since I first encountered it in an English lecture at Auckland Uni, when I’d read very little New Zealand poetry before and had no real idea that I would become an expatriate. The poem took immediate hold of my heart and imagination and it has been part of the soundtrack of my life ever since. At that first encounter I was struck by both the accuracy of the imagery and its deeply romantic appeal, and all I have to do to bring the whole poem to mind is to start that first line off in my head and I’m away – back on Waiheke Island as a child at my grandparents’ house, or sliding on nikau palms down the back hill beside the lines of pine trees, or … or …

I haven’t lived in New Zealand for any length of time since I left (and the Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse was one of the five books I took in my suitcase on that first plane journey) but I revisit as often as I can, and stay for as long as possible. And New Zealand poetry in general, as well as this poem in particular, now as then, connects me to that set of almost tribal loyalties and understandings which matter a great deal to me.

So I’m delighted to be able to post this on New Zealand’s Poetry Day – I hope you’ll check out the other poems on the Tuesday Poetry blog.

Tuesday poem – ‘Even such is time’ by Sir Walter Raleigh

Monday, July 26th, 2010

EVEN SUCH IS TIME, by Sir Walter Raleigh

Even such is time, which takes in trust

Our youth, our joys, and all we have,

And pays us naught but age and dust;

Which in the dark and silent grave,

When we have wandered all our ways,

Shuts up the story of our days!

And from which grave, and earth, and dust,

The Lord shall raise me up, I trust.

This poem was written the night before his death in 1618, when Raleigh was about 68. Adventurer, explorer, navigator, passionate Protestant, and favourite of Elizabeth I who nevertheless confined him to the Tower of London under threat of death at least twice (although it was Elizabeth’s successor on the throne, James I, who finally executed him). A complicated person for sure and a gloriously successful poet too. This poem seems to hold a perfect tension between an aching and deeply felt sorrow, and a hopeful faith.

Check out the other Tuesday Poems – and there will be an extra helping on the site this coming Friday, for New Zealand’s Poetry Day.

Rice boat tranquility

Monday, July 26th, 2010

This is the last of the photos on my blog intro page for me to comment on, and it relates to a holiday in Kerala 18 months ago. I took the photo on a sunset boat trip when we were staying at the southern end of the Vembanad Lake, on the Malabar coast of Kerala. The lake is part of an intricate wetland system, and an astonishing place. It sits at sea level, separated from the Arabian Sea only by barrier islands, but it is linked by canals to other coastal lakes, and at least six freshwater rivers feed into it from the Western Ghats. All that means that the water is salt in parts and fresh in others and achieve a delicate balance of the two over most of its area, which is about 1,500 square kilometres.

The sunset boat trip was on a converted Keralan rice boats – a reworked model of Kettuvallam (in the Malayalam language, kettu means ‘tied with ropes’, and vallam means ‘boat’). These were originally used to carry rice and spices through the backwaters up to the port of Kochi (Cochin).  They have thatched roof covers over wooden hulls, and as you can tell from the photo they were steered from the bow rather than the stern.

I know the photo isn’t very clear – my new iPhone takes better photos than this camera ever did – but you can just see the misty barrier islands ahead of the boat and a few other boats ahead and to the sides. But what I liked most was capturing a mood of almost meditative tranquility in the two figures.

The present intro photos will be replaced in the next week or two by a new set – a great relief to one of my friends who tells me he can’t bear the spider pic for very much longer.  Sorry, Jon. But you know (and this goes for anyone else who feels unhappy at the sight of a spider or who’s bored with the blog intro pics, or just likes to go for a low-click rate in their internet life)  if you enter the link directly to the blog you can skip the website, intro page et al.

Tuesday poem: On the road from Oxford

Monday, July 19th, 2010


The colours have gone crazy this year;

All the flowers have broken out.

On the road from Oxford, we gasp

At the blaze and dazzle of them:

At a meadow gilded with buttercups,

Or blue with a sky-haze of flax.

But it’s the poppies that startle.

Imagine, field after field drenched in scarlet!

A bolt of red silk billowed out in an Indian shop,

Or haze of pure pigment showered by a mad artist;

The whole field flushed and glowing,

So hot, demanding our entire attention,

As if to remind us

That beneath the earth, there is fire,

Beneath the skin, there is blood.

The author of this poem – a friend  and fellow writer –  is putting together a poetry journal this year. It’s a diary of reading poetry over the year, and when she first emailed me about it in April, this is what she said:-

“… it’s a sort of poetry diary, which sprang out of a resolve earlier this year to read more poetry. As well as choosing poems myself, I want to sprinkle the mixture with some poems of other people’s choosing, so it’s not too Frances-centric. Do you think you could choose me a favorite poem of yours that I could add to my list? No need for the whole poem, just the title and poet’s name, and I can find it.  At the moment I’m just collecting things in a ring-binder – and enjoying it enormously:  it’s surprising how engrained some poems are in your consciousness, even if you haven’t read them for ages.”

I have now read the first six months of the journal and simply loved it – the kind of thing you wish you’d thought of doing yourself, and that you wish you had the application and stamina to complete. I also discovered that for her entry on 18th June Frances thought only a poem could properly celebrate the experience of driving through dazzling fields of flowers – and so she wrote her own. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.

And do look at the other Tuesday poem entries.

Tuesday poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Monday, July 12th, 2010


Glory be to God for dappled things—

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;

And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise Him.

I wanted to post this poem as an extension of last week’s list poem: as Frances pointed out in her comment then, this Hopkins poem is also a great list! Wikipedia say it’s one of only three examples of Hopkins’s invented poetic form, a Curtal sonnet. I know that Wikipedia isn’t an entirely reliable source but if you’re interested to read what they have to say, try this link. Or if you just want to look at a picture of “rose-moles all in stipple” on a trout, here it is.

And do have a look at the other Tuesday poems.

The first bean on the vine

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

Here it is, in all its glory, fully three centimetres long. We await its growth, and the arrival of its many friends and relations, with impatience.

Word clouds!

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

Mary McCallum’s blog has given me this lovely present of an idea, as well as an entertaining time-filler (you note that I have avoided the use of the terms ‘time-waster’ or ‘writing-avoidance’). Its origin is wordle and if you have a look at the site you’ll get the idea. To create the design above I just entered the url of my blog, but you could play with a poem, or the names of things you love, or even a whole novel.

Love it!

Not a Banksy? Never mind, it’s definitely June!

Friday, July 9th, 2010

We’ve had a rush of graffiti in our area of North London. The usual kind are mostly tags, but the new ones are Banksy-style graffiiti. They look a lot like Banksy’s offerings, and when the first one arrived in the back garden of a local pub a few weeks back the pub owners were rather pleased. Well, you would be – a genuine Banksy is worth a lot of money, and the whole question of how you get one off a pub garden wall and into an auction house is beside the point, as well as beyond my understanding. (On the other hand I know you can take frescoes off walls; why not a graffito?)

Anyway. This one has been officially rejected as a Banksy by Banksy’s agents, but the real joy of it isn’t its own fame or inherent fortune. Its joy resides in the fact that it’s an exact portrait of our locally beloved June – the Queen of Primrose Hill – who recently retired from the local shop she and her late husband ran for about fifty years.

It makes me smile every time I walk past, and I hear that June herself is delighted. So thanks, whomever. Thanks a lot.

Tuesday poem – The great lover (of lists)

Monday, July 5th, 2010


These I have loved:

White plates and cups, clean-gleaming,

Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, færy dust;

Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light; the strong crust

Of friendly bread; and many-tasting food;

Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood;

And radiant raindrops couching in cool flowers;

And flowers themselves, that sway through sunny hours,

Dreaming of moths that drink them under the moon;

Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon

Smooth away trouble; and the rough male kiss

Of blankets; grainy wood; live hair that is

Shining and free; blue-massing clouds; the keen

Unpassioned beauty of a great machine;

The benison of hot water; furs to touch;

The good smell of old clothes; and other such — -

The comfortable smell of friendly fingers,

Hair’s fragrance, and the musty reek that lingers

About dead leaves and last year’s ferns. . . .

It took re-discovering this poem by Rupert Brooke (and I’ve given only an excerpt from the full long poem above) to be reminded  of two things. The first was a sudden and potent memory of sitting in a classroom at Takapuna Grammar listening to my friend Jan Lyon read it aloud. I had one of those sudden memory flashes – with the smell of the classroom, dust and old books and sweaty socks, in a kind of counterpoint to the revelatory pleasure of hearing that poem’s precise and luxurious imagery for the first time. And the second was realising just how much I love lists!

There are quite a few list poems that I love. There’s Wallace Stevens’s 13 Ways Of Looking At A Blackbird - here’s my favourite fifth way to remind you of it:-

V I do not know which to prefer,

The beauty of inflections

Or the beauty of innuendoes,

The blackbird whistling

Or just after.

There’s Elspeth Thompson’s Twenty Blessings, of which these are the last three:

May the company be less for your leaving.

May you walk alone beneath the stars.

May your embers still glow in the morning.

And there’s Charles Causley’s Ten Types of Hospital Visitors. The first type “…enters wearing the neon armour/of virtue…”; the second “… a melancholy splurge/ Of theological colours;/ Taps heavily about like a healthy vulture/Distributing deep=frozen hope…”

And the poem ends with: “The tenth visitor/ is not usually named.”

It’s not only poetic lists I love: all lists charm me, including, I have to confess, my own.  Here’s this morning’s fresh Monday morning list, divided as always into two parts (obsessive? moi?).

I love lists like Michael Pollan’s book of Food Rules (Rule Two: “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food”). And there are Billy Wilder’s Screen Writing Tips which include gems for any writer to treasure (Rule Five: “The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer”).

I dunno why I love ‘em so much: maybe it’s no more than seeking the illusion of control in some form. Just about any form, to be honest, although I hasten to add that I draw the line way before raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. But lists give me pleasure, and clearly they gave Rupert Brooke pleasure too.  For all I know – and hope – there are other Tuesday Poem bloggers and readers who share this as well.