22 March 2011

Tuesday Poem: Return to Nussbaum Riegel

This is a tent.
This is another tent, next to the first tent.
This is a bag full of urine.
This is the vast inconceivable.

This is a rock.
This is another rock.
These are the deposits of a long-vanished glacier.
The frigid wind, whistling over the frigid ice, passing over long
generations of mummified seals making their stealthy way from the sea,
has formed these rocks into the unearthly shapes we call "ventifacts",
photographs of which form the bulk of my presentation today.

This is me.
This is Guido.
This is Guido, Nails and Barry.
Guido, Nails and Barry
are men with whom I will always share a special

This is Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
He wrote his famous poem "Ulysses" while visiting Antarctica
on the first "Artists in Antarctica" programme
with Bill Manhire, Chris Orsman and Nigel Brown.
(This is Bill Manhire, Chris Orsman and Nigel Brown.)
Alfred, Lord Tennyson inscribed his famous poem "Ulysses" on a cross
placed on Observation Hill by the survivors of Scott's Polar Expedition of 1910-1912.
To read it, you need a magnifying glass
and an iron constitution.

This is the Polar Party.
These are the Polar Party’s drinks and nibbles.
The Polar Party went on till 5 a.m.,
then made camp. Scott opened his diary,
wishing, not for the first time,
that he had brought a pen.

Credit note: "Return to Nussbaum Riegel" was first published in Issue 14 of Interlitq, A New Zealand Literary Showcase. This issue has stories and poems by a wide range of New Zealand writers - it is well worth checking out.

"Return to Nussbaum Riegel" will also appear in my forthcoming poetry collection Men Briefly Explained.

Tim says: Nussbaum Riegel is a rocky transverse ridge in the centre of the Taylor Valley, one of the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. The Dry Valleys have been among the main subjects of the New Zealand Antarctic research programme.

You can read all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog - the featured poem is on the centre of the page, and the week's other poems are linked from the right-hand column.


Kathleen Jones said...

I like the build up of solid detail here Tim. I could really see it.

Isabel Doyle said...

the glacial 'vast inconceivable' works on so many layers, I liked the irony, the pathos and the general mickey-taking, unless I've got it horribly wrong?
I was expecting the wounded to be brought in on wheelbarrows and a call for blood donations. What I read was much more enjoyable.

Penal-Colony said...


There's something quite alluring about this poem, but I haven't figured out what it is. I like the directness of the naming, the couplings that follow, the seeming extraneousness of the pairings and [for want of a better word] its innocence.

What struck you about it?

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Kathleen, Isabel and John.

Isabel, you are not wrong. Many wonderful poems about Antractica have been written by New Zealand poets, but they do tend to resort quite quickly to notions of the 'vast inconceivable'. I wanted to take a different approach.

For the record, many things in this poem are true: the bags of urine, the mummified seals and ventifacts in the Dry Valleys, the "Artists in Antarctica" programme and its first participants (other than Alfred, Lord T., who predeceased the programme's inception by some considerable time).

But only the last line of Tennyson's marvellous poem Ulysses:

"To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield"

is inscribed on the cross on Observation Hill to commemorate Scott and the Polar Party; and Scott most certainly did bring a pen, and continued to write in his diary when almost all else had failed.

Whether Robert Falcon Scott was a hero or a bungler, whether he was unforgivably incompetent or undone by bad weather and worse luck, continues to be a topic of heated debate today, 99 years after his death.

Mike Crowl said...

Ha ha, the 'bags of urine' in the Tweet you sent out got me rushing to see what sort of a poem this was! I'm glad I checked it out, even though the bags of urine turned out to be something other that what I might have at first conceived...

Isabel Doyle said...

Whew ... that's a relief. I didn't want to offend. I read the poem to my husband last night and he laughed and enjoyed it too.

Jennifer Compton said...

oh that is most interesting - i like the way you use the fact of tennyson ruthlessly

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Mike, Isabel and Jennifer.

Mike, thus I leverage the power of social media!!

Jennifer, I think I was in what Tolkien calls a "fell mood" when I wrote this one.

Mike Crowl said...

Yup, social media works - with certain key words.....though I hadn't thought 'urine' was one of them until now.

Meliors Simms said...

I love the mystery of the beginning, the build up, the familiar names and thier surprises, the humour throughout. I can't wait for the book because every taster you've offered has expanded my understanding of men. So once I've studied the complete volume I'm sure I'll be an expert.

Tim Jones said...

Thanks very much, Meliors. Maybe the book should come with its own set of study notes!