26 March 2013

Tuesday Poem: Ford Madox Brown, The Last Of England

“THE LAST of England! O’er the sea, my dear,
    Our homes to seek amid Australian fields,
    Us, not our million-acred island yields
The space to dwell in. Thrust out! Forced to hear
Low ribaldry from sots, and share rough cheer
    With rudely-nurtured men. The hope youth builds
    Of fair renown, bartered for that which shields
Only the back, and half-formed lands that rear

The dust-storm blistering up the grasses wild.
    There learning skills not, nor the poet’s dream,
        Nor aught so loved as children shall we see.”
She grips his listless hand and clasps her child,
    Through rainbow tears she sees a sunnier gleam,
        She cannot see a void, where he will be.

Credit note: The name of this poem is actually "For the picture, 'The Last of England'". Ford Madox Brown wrote it in 1855 to accompany his famous painting. It exists in a couple of versions; this version hangs in the Birmingham (UK) Museum and Art Gallery.

Tim says: Ford Madox Brown began work on this painting in 1852, when emigration from the UK was at its height - according to Wikipedia, over 350,000 people emigrated that year, from a country whose population is much smaller than it is now.

I have this painting as a black and white illustration in a book, and had always imagined that the couple in the foreground (modelled by Ford Madox Ford and his wife Emma; their children also appear in the picture) were staring back at England. In fact, the white cliffs of Dover are in the top right of the picture, and the couple are looking resolutely away. When my family and I sailed out of the English channel in 1961 on our way to New Zealand with a boatload of assisted immigrants, I imagine the emotions felt by the adults on board may have been somewhat similar.

The Tuesday Poem: Moves between cultures.

20 March 2013

Words On The Wind: Wellington Central Library, 6pm Wednesday 20 March

I'm looking forwards to taking part in this reading at Wellington Central Library tonight:

And I also enjoyed taking part in this interview with Sally Dunn for the Nelson Mail: Beyond Infinity: Writing Science Fiction.

12 March 2013

Tuesday Poem: Media Advice To The Disgraced CEO

Don't try to sell your story. That would only remind the public
of the millions in bonuses, the failed investments, the workers
turned out on their ear. Don't try to sell your story,
but make sure you have a story to tell.

It's hard to appear contrite - we know. Think of yourself
as an actor playing a part. Mention a disabled relative you've
(quietly, anonymously) been helping out. A cause
you're passionate about: animal rescue, flower shows.

That first interview is crucial. Show them
you're not a monster but a man. A monster doesn't care - a man
makes mistakes, has made mistakes. You admit mistakes were made.
You're only human and you got things wrong.

And as for your latest bonus: you offered to return it,
but the company said no. So what you're going to do is,
you're donating it instead. (Animal rescue, flower shows. A hospital?)
But for this interview, you wouldn't have told a soul.

Remember contrition? Now you have to show it. The interview
is hard for you, and by the end you're dabbing at your eyes.
The public will swallow any grade of bullshit
that is packaged with a redemptive tear.

Credit note: This is a new and previously unpublished poem.

Tim says: You might think that this poem is inspired by recent events, but I couldn't possibly comment.

The Tuesday Poem: Is ready to rock.

04 March 2013

Tuesday Poem: Jump In The Fire

Toss it all in. The smoke

thick, greasy, the cinders
cuffed this way and that
by a turbulent breeze.

Hide your eyes. Retreat
until the wind backs off.
Seize handfuls, volumes. Let fire ants
devour the close-furled leaves.

There's something — you feel it —
of the night, of the lupine
act, unclawed, unfurred,
of living through another day.

Something of triumph. You dart
back, and then back to the flame.  

Credit note: "Jump In The Fire" was first published in my third poetry collection, Men Briefly Explained.

Tim says: I guess this poem has its origins in the garden waste fires Dad used to build when I was young, fires with a flammable core surrounded by turf that were designed to burn at a low heat for a long time so that we could load on more grass, branches etc as we worked on our large and unruly garden - this was when we lived in Otatara, south of Invercargill, in the late 1960s. Somewhere along the way, a sport of book-burning seems to have attached itself to the concept.