30 March 2010

Tuesday Poem: Shostakovich In America

Shostakovich in America

1959, November. The plumed De Soto
hammers on, freshman driver
burning up the plains.

Freedom! The Kappa Gamma Beta boys
can never catch him now. They're back east
in the studio, where Ormandy

shrugs and starts recording.
Dmitri has better things to do. This is
his jazz age, his lost weekend.

An upstate college, denuded branches
scrawled across the moon. He nestles
in a co-ed's bed. Dreams

drag him back to the Kremlin:
always the bottle of Georgian wine,
always the black telephone.

Dawn is coffee, hesitant smiles,
the wordless bond of night
knotting itself into language.

She is summer, America, forgetting.
"You were flailing your arms,"
she says. "Conducting."

He kisses, disentangles, turns the key.
His car roars over the siloed plains,
eastwards into the morning.

"Shostakovich in America" was originally published in Issue 11 of Bravado magazine, and is one of the poems I plan to include in my forthcoming collection Men Briefly Explained.

Dmitri Shostakovich did visit the USA in 1959, and did record with Eugene Ormandy. The rest is imagined.

Author, poet and blogger Mary McCallum has started an initiative called "Tuesday Poem" on her blog, and suggested that other poets do likewise - posting a poem, by themselves or anothr poet, each Tuesday. I'm not promising to post a poem every Tuesday, but it sounds like a good plan to me for those who can manage this. If that's you, then go for it - and check out Mary's blog for news of others who are doing so.

UPDATE: I had a pleasant surprise a day after this Tuesday Poem was published - an email from the editor of the world's only journal devoted to Dmitri Shostakovich, asking permission to reprint "Shostakovich in America" in the journal, which I was very happy to grant.

I'm beginning to come round to the Tuesday Poem way of thinking...

24 March 2010

Ada Lovelace Day Post: Nancy Adams, Botanist and Botanical Artist

Today, Wednesday 24 March, is Ada Lovelace Day. Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging (videologging, podcasting, comic drawing etc.!) to draw attention to the achievements of women in technology and science.

Ada Lovelace, for those who don't know her, was the world's first computer programmer (true) and one half of a celebrated pair of crime-fighting superhero mathematicians (true in a less truthful way).

Ada Lovelace Day began in a celebration of women in technology, but has now broadened out to include female scientists as well. I'm glad it has, because this has allowed me to blog about a woman in science whose contribution has helped and inspired many New Zealanders in her chosen field - scientist and non-scientist alike.

Her name is Nancy Adams, she lived from 1926-2007 (see her obituary), and she was a botanist and botanical artist. As this excellent article about Nancy Adams in the Listener discusses, her magnum opus was her 1994 Seaweeds of New Zealand: An Illustrated Guide.

When I was studying Botany at Otago University in the late 1970s, though, I was mainly interested in New Zealand land plants. So I encountered Nancy Adams as the co-author and illustrator of (A.L.) Poole and Adams' Trees and Shrubs of New Zealand.

Previous books of this type may have had scientifically valuable illustrations, but they were completely unusable to identify plants in the wild. The great advantage of Trees and Shrubs of New Zealand was that the colour illustrations were perfect for actually identifying plants. Generations of botanists, amateur and professional, headed out into the back country (or into their gardens) with Poole & Adams.

I didn't end up with a Botany degree, but the highlight of the whole course for me was the plant identification that Nancy Adams made possible for me. It was not until later that I learned of the full range of her achievements. I'm pleased to draw attention to her life and work on Ada Lovelace Day.

22 March 2010

No Mining In New Zealand's National Parks!

I have just finished watching a programme about the immense lengths to which dedicated people have gone to protect vulnerable populations of native birds in New Zealand. That effort is both awe-inspiring and humbling.

It's also a painful contrast with the National-led Government's plans to open up New Zealand's National Parks and other high-value conservation lands to mining.

The very fact that National launched these plans - as parts of their efforts to turn us into a tiny, ersatz Australia - shows that John Key's Government, quite apart from their lack of commitment to protecting our environment, has a lot to learn about political management.

John Key was still a political novice when he became Prime Minister. He showed his political inexperience when he took on the post of Minister of Tourism as his "play portfolio". He probably thought that this would give him equally good opportunities to travel around and open shiny facilities in beautiful places. Instead, it has landed him right in a brewing political storm.

See, the problem with being Minister of Tourism is that it makes you the public face of New Zealand's elaborate and costly "100% Pure", "Clean and Green" international image. New Zealand makes a lot of money from tourists: according to Tourism New Zealand,

International visitors contribute $8.3 billion to the economy each year, which accounts for 19.2% of export earnings. During 2006, 2.4 million international visitors arrived in New Zealand.

This means that keeping that Clean and Green image going, even if it is much more about appearance than reality, is a major priority of the Minister of Tourism.

So, how to enhance Clean and Green? How about … oh, I don't know … opening up National Parks and other areas of high conservation value to mining?

That bright idea was cooked up by Minister of Energy and Resources Gerry Brownlee and his mining industry mates. The plan is to let gold, and coal, and all sorts of other mining take part in our National Parks.

Despite Government promises of strict environmental controls, and claims that there might be $140 billion of minerals under the conservation estate, the history of the mining industry in New Zealand and elsewhere, teaches us that:

  • Mining companies will try to avoid having environmental controls imposed on them. Where controls are imposed, they are often ignored or circumvented. Mines destroy the land, both directly (by digging it up) and indirectly (through tailings dams, pollution, building access roads – the list goes on).
  • Mining companies often go bust, leaving the public (in this case, the grossly under-resourced Department of Conservation) to pay the tab for tens or hundreds of years of environmental remediation.
  • Although mining jobs are well-paid, mining creates very few jobs.
  • Even if $140 billion of minerals were to be extracted – itself wildly unlikely – only a very small percentage of that would end up in the public purse. Most of it would go into the pockets of a few private investors in New Zealand, and rather more from overseas.

Helen Clark, as Prime Minister, ran a tight ship, sometimes to the point of immobilization. John Key is the opposite. He lets Ministers run with their pet projects, and in this case, Gerry Brownlee has run into a whole heap of trouble.* The Nats took their mining proposals to focus groups and discovered, to their shock, that "middle New Zealand" didn't much like the idea of New Zealand's iconic public lands being dug up.

That forced John Key to pay attention to the political danger. Now, he's running around trying to downplay the issue.

When a Government starts to back down, that's the best time to ramp up the pressure on them. So if, like me, you believe that opening up National Parks and other areas of high conservation value to mining is irresponsible, short-sighted and ethically wrong, not to mention economically dubious, then here are some things you can do.

What You Can Do

Attend the protest if you're in Wellington (see the poster above for details).

Send John Key and relevant Ministers an e-card telling him our National Parks are too precious to mine: http://www.forestandbird.org.nz/our-national-parks-are-too-precious-mine

Email him directly and tell him the same thing: j.key@ministers.govt.nz. If you live outside New Zealand, email John Key and point out that tourists don't want to visit mine tailings.

Tell Gerry Brownlee where to get off: g.brownlee@ministers.govt.nz

In case you're thinking "yeah, right, all these messages will go straight into the trash" – in New Zealand, that's not true. I once worked in a Government department answering letters and emails from the public, and non-form messages did get read and responded to. (This means a personal email is more likely to get a reply than an e-card.) If you put your postal address in the email, you may even get a letter in response.

*A more Machiavellian view of John Key's behaviour is that, by letting Gerry Brownlee run the pro-mining campaign, he has handed a bumptious Minister a long length of rope, and then watched Gerry Brownlee use it to hang himself (in the political sense). But John Key would never do anything like that, would he? He has such a nice smile.

18 March 2010

Writing Past Each Other? Literary Translation and Community

I was sent information about this conference by the organisers, who asked me to pass it on to people who may be interested - and what better place to do that than this blog? In particular, the organisers are keen to publicise the call for papers, which closes on 31 March.

As someone with an interest in the translation of poetry, I am especially interested in the sessions they are planning on poetry and translation, which are being organised by poet Chris Price:

As a special feature of the conference, we are also organising translation workshop sessions with noted New Zealand poets (participants should pre-register; details to come). There will also be an evening reading session.

Here is the full announcement. For other details, e.g. how to register, please check out the conference web site.

Writing Past Each Other? Literary Translation and Community International Conference in Literary Translation

Victoria University of Wellington
11-13 December 2010

Lawrence Venuti
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

Announcement and Call for Papers

Metge and Kinloch (Talking Past Each Other: Problems in Cross-Cultural Communication, 1978), explore the ways in which those from diverse backgrounds misread important cultural differences in everyday life.

At this conference we hope to explore how literary translation promotes awareness and appreciation of such differences, while simultaneously creating a sense of community across local and international boundaries, or how a lack of such exchange can contribute to the isolation of literary cultures: how is globalisation affecting international literary exchange? how might translation contribute more to literary communities?

While papers on how these issues are articulated in the Asia-Pacific region are especially welcome, we also encourage paper proposals on a wide range of topics related to practical and theoretical aspects of literary translation and covering cross-cultural linguistic interaction from across the globe. Panel proposals (3 to 4 speakers) are especially welcome. Conference papers are to be delivered in English, but may relate to any of the world's languages.

As a special feature of the conference, we are also organising translation workshop sessions with noted New Zealand poets (participants should pre-register; details to come). There will also be an evening reading session.

Please send abstracts (title of paper, name of presenter, 250 word outline and a short (50 word) bio-bibliographical note) by 31st March 2010 to NZCLT (at) vuw.ac.nz. We plan to publish selected papers from the conference in a refereed volume. Conference attendees wishing to have their papers published should submit them by 31st January 2011 for consideration.

15 March 2010

Five Blogs I Like. Chapter 2: The Bloggening

Just over a month ago, I started an occasional series of blog posts under the heading "Five Blogs I Like". Now it's time for another instalment.

Janis Freegard's Weblog: Janis blogs about matters that generally relate to her very fine poetry and fiction. A recent article about Poetry and Gender in New Zealand Publishing was especially interesting.

Incidentally, Janis is the guest reader at the next Poetry Café in Wellington, on Sunday 21 March: 4pm – 6pm, Ballroom Cafe, cnr Adelaide Rd and Riddiford St, Newtown. It's great that Poetry Café has restarted in Wellington, and though I couldn't make the first session, I'm hoping to attend this one.

Joanna Preston: A Dark, Feathered Art: Joanna's poetry collection The Summer King won the 2008 Kathleen Grattan Award, and I interviewed her in 2009. Joanna's blog is frequently provocative. She says what she really thinks - a valuable service to other, more timid souls!

Harvey McQueen: Stoatspring: Harvey is a poet and educationalist whose blog, frequently updated, ranges across Harvey's long involvement in matters poetical, educational and political. I'm looking forward to the imminent release of Harvey's new collection, Goya Rules.

Jack Ross: The Imaginary Museum: Jack is a polymath: a poet, fiction writer, critic and academic with a head full of fascinating and provocative thoughts. His blog posts are mini-essays which range freely across the cultural landscape.

Reading The Maps: Like Jack Ross's blog in breadth of content, but different in tone, Reading the Maps is the work of a trio of bloggers who look at a range of cultural and political issues from a (mostly) non-dogmatic Marxist perspective. Always well-argued, often well-illustrated, and well worth reading.

So far, all the blogs I've highlighted have been from New Zealand. Next time, I'll speed bonny boat like a bird on the wing to foreign parts to investigate five examples of the bloggy goodness to be found there. And that wins the prize for most mangled metaphor hands down.

10 March 2010

The New Zealand Poetry Society's 2010 International Poetry Competition

The New Zealand Poetry Society’s annual International Poetry Competition, Verse and Haiku, is under way, with Open and Junior Sections. The Junior Open and Junior Haiku sections are open to students who are 17 years of age or younger on 31st May 2010. Please visit our website at www.poetrysociety.org.nz for full competition details and to download the entry forms. Last year’s results, including winning poems and judges’ reports, are also on the website.

Entries must be received by 31 May 2010.


Open: 1st - $500; 2nd - $250; 3rd - $100
Open Junior: 1st - $200
Primary/Intermediate: 1st runner-up - $100; 2nd runner-up - $50
Secondary: 1st runner-up - $100; 2nd runner-up - $50
Haiku: Top five haiku - $100 each, plus First Prize Winner receives the Jeanette Stace Memorial Prize of $150.
Haiku Junior: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Primary/Intermediate - $50 each; 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Secondary - $50 each

In addition, the writer of the haiku considered the best of the two sections receives the Jeanette Stace Memorial Prize of $100. All prizes are in New Zealand Dollars.

All winning and commended poems, along with other selected entries, will appear in the New Zealand Poetry Society’s annual anthology in November 2010, to be edited by Barbara Strang of Christchurch. It is not necessary to buy a copy of the anthology in order to have a poem included, as the selections are made blind (i.e. without identifying information).

This year’s judges are:

Vivienne Plumb (Auckland) – Open Verse
Tony Beyer (New Plymouth)– Open Haiku
Lynn Davidson (Nelson) – Junior Verse
Karen Peterson Butterworth (Manawatu) – Junior Haiku

Further enquiries can be directed to: Laurice Gilbert, The Competition Secretary, PO Box 5283, Wellington 6145, competition (at) poetrysociety.org.nz

08 March 2010

New Order: Sections, Statistics And Sequencing A Collection

There are good things and bad things about being an author who works in more than one format. On the downside, it takes longer to get any individual project finished. But on the upside, when I'm feeling blocked on one piece of writing, I can always work on another.

This past week, having temporarily worn myself out on my novel revisions, I've been doing some more work on the poetry collection I'm putting together, which I'm calling Men Briefly Explained.

The sticking point, which it's taken me quite a while to resolve, is what order to put the poems in, and how (if at all) to divide them into sections. There may well be well-organised people out there who work out the order of their poetry collections, or short story collections, before they sit down to write a word - and I'd be interested to hear if you're one of them - but for me, the idea for a collection emerges from looking at what poetry I've been writing and what I think I'd like to focus on writing next.

I'm looking for two, partially contradictory, things when sequencing a poetry collection: a flow from one poem to the next, and some division points which allow poems with similarities to be grouped together. If possible, I like the overall shape of the collection to have some kind of arc, to suggest a narrative.

My original idea was to divide the manuscript into four sections (and, off the record and on a strictly "need to know" basis, these were I: Men In The Wild; II: Men in Love; III: Men Under Construction; IV: Men Overboard). But the more I looked at this division, the more unsatisfied I felt. Where was the flow, where was the arc?

So, after a lot of hemming and hawing over the section titles, I decided to start from scratch and re-sequence the whole thing, on the entirely unscientific basis of which poems felt like they belonged early, middle, and late in the collection. Within these, divisions emerged, rather like the points of a compass rose, so that poems acquired designations such as "early middle" and the even more problematic "early late". Then, put them all together, et voilà! A reordered poetry collection.

Now the love poems are up the front, followed by the "growing up" poems. The wild men, and indeed a number of the tame men, cluster around the middle of the collection, while the late period charts the long decline towards senescence, with occasional excursions to Haast. (I may still move the excursions to Haast.)

There's still plenty of work to do. Some of the poems, especially those previously published in literary magazines, are finished - I think; some are fairly stable, but still need some tidying up; while others are rough drafts with encouraging little notes to myself like "more stanazas here!" This instruction should probably be removed from the final version.

When it comes to the age of the poems, there's a bimodal distribution - almost half of them are three or more years old, and have had a fair crack at being submitted to literary magazines, while most of the other half have been written within the last few months. The poems in this latter half deserve their chance at individual glory too.

Somewhere down the track, I have a third short story collection in mind. Daringly, I've already come up with the theme and most of the story titles, if not the order. Whether this will encourage me to actually write the stories remains, as yet, unknown.

04 March 2010

An Interview With Robert McLean

Robert McLean was born at Bethany in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1974. He graduated from the University of Canterbury in 2004 with an MA in political science and art theory. He returned to complete an MFA in creative writing in 2008. His poems, translations and articles have been published in a variety of print and electronic periodicals and anthologies, both locally and overseas. His first collection For the Coalition Dead was published by Kilmog Press in 2009.

Robert, I think of you as having a strong interest in poetic form. Do you regard yourself as a formalist in the poetic sense?

I do have an interest in form for its own sake. Since I’m invested in functionality of meaning in a poem, I’m interested in the semantic ‘difference’ between, say, a Petrarchan and a Miltonic sonnet. There are many problems associated with my decision to write the way I have done. Whilst meter can serve to squeeze excess connotation from a saturated word, as Allen Tate often did, it can also make despicable rhetoric seem convincing, as do the relentless iambs in Pound’s Canto 81 – ‘Here error is all in the not done’; not my idea of humility. And since the printing press, the use of rhyme and meter as aide-memoire is almost redundant, which was the point of their development. Whilst nostalgia isn’t a concern for me, redundancy is a worry.

Since I’ve made a case against myself, I’ll try to answer it. Having witnessed first-hand the horrific consequences of unrestrained libidinal bloodlust, who could be surprised that the returning WWII US service men who also happened to write poems, especially those who took advantage of the G.I. Bill, turned to Augustan fixity in verse forms?

I grew up in New Zealand the 80s, when the Invisible Hand was given free reign to determine how much food ended up in our bellies – amongst other equally vital requisites of a dignified life. While I was at school, handing out the Communist Manifesto seemed more important than Jim Norcliffe parsing Wilfred Owen for School Certificate English, though I’m sure he did a fine job.

Imitative form never seemed to me an appropriate response. Besides, I started writing in my late 20s – anger had been replaced by sadness by then. What anger remains goes into my music. In short, I utilise non-organic form(s) for extra-poetic ends. Mediating reconciliations between sincerity of utterance and pre-determined patterns of relationship is utopian i.e. political. The integrity of every syllable is constitutive of structure, which is in turn dependant on maintaining the former to remain legitimate. To do so without semantic violence intimates my hope correlative social and inter-personal resolutions can also be possible. After all, the word is no less indeterminate or relative than the human.

So, yes: this is a socialist poetics – iambic pentameter quatrains reek of nostalgia and tradition, but they, for me, can also be read as anticipatory, should the reader so choose. This choice between signifying futurity or declension, rarely made in favour of the former, is the necessity and discrediting of my decision to write in such a way. I live with this.

I freely admit that to adhere to such a theory requires submission by its practitioner and relinquishment of much authority. It isn’t fun and I don’t like it. It is exhausting and unlikely to be sustainable. I find it painful. It involves exclusions and limits and refusals. It requires absolute scepticism of that into which I have most invested.

Most importantly, it demands that one takes full responsibility for the consequences of a poem, even, perhaps especially, for those which were not intended or desired. To write a necessary poem is the most difficult task I know. The standards outlined above are stringent and I have never met them.

You say "The standards outlined above are stringent and I have never met them". Let us hope you do; but if it becomes apparent to you that you may never meet them, would you rather relax the standards, or go in a different poetic direction, or keep trying to meet them anyway?

If it became clear to me that meeting the standards was impossible, or, more likely, that I was falling ever further away from them, then I hope I’d have the grace to stop. Like I mentioned above, I don’t write for enjoyment or pleasure; and nor has my reading been hedonistic since Treasure Island and whatnot as a child.

It’s probably no coincidence that a fair proportion of the writers from whose words I’ve learnt most about better living and loving – Edgell Rickword, Laura Riding, Rimbaud etc – let it go. And of those whom I esteem who didn’t stop, most of them were far from profligate: Mallarmé, “the Hamlet of writing,” as Roland Barthes called him, published some sixty poems in thirty-six years – or Curnow. Besides, there are more than enough poems without me adding to the heap. The world is littered and noisy and by now I need very good reasons to publically raise my voice when what is needed is quiet.

In correspondence, you said "My poetics are an end point of other political and philosophical commitments and obligations". What are those commitments and obligations, and how do your poetics emerge as their end point?

How I write is determined by two concerns: first, what poetry is (not what it has been) and what a poem can be; second, of what a responsible speech act ought to consist. To some extent, this can be understood as what my rights are and what my obligations must be.

Having spent seven years at University largely devoted to studying philosophy, I am well aware of the cogency of the ‘linguistic turn’ in thinking about thinking and the world. I also believe that whilst such destructive measures were necessary, now we need to reach tentatively across the space which has been cleared before it is filled with noise and consider constructive ways to rethink communicative possibilities which take into account the material conditions of existence without back-peddling to inappropriate strategies due to discomfort or difficulty. As Habermas wrote, “it is nigh impossible to think of ‘the ethical' or moral consciousness outside of the sphere of language i.e. Communication”, and it is to discourse ethics I have turned as, for now, the best hope for solidarity and reconciliation through language in the public sphere.

I’m not a linguist, but if a phonological or lexical sign is the basic unit of language then the sentence is the basic unit of ‘discourse'. The linguistics of the sentence supports the theory of speech as an open-ended event. The premise is that human beings are unique rational (in terms of gathering as opposed to possessing knowledge) creatures that possess the ability to converse with each other without necessarily being dominated by coercion or instinct and recognises the ‘vulnerability' of the individual.

There is interdependency between the individual and the collective in a shared ‘life-world' and it is the communicative action of its members that produces a ‘language community'. ‘Life-world' is the schema that you carry with you in an everyday sense, something that can be used to make judgments of reality and to help build a self-understanding of who you are. It is symbolic of how we may hope to orient ourselves as beings in relation to other beings. In the idealised ‘life-world’ that discourse ethics conceptualises, cases of disagreement ought to be brought to agreement by argument as much as possible.

Here, communicative action might be the mechanism by which agreement is brought about. What this means is that some kind of agreement is achieved that is considered fair and just by all individuals involved and nobody is forced to do what he/she is not convinced that he/she morally should do or tolerate: comprehensibility, knowledge-sharing, truthfulness, and consensus are requisites in this process. This is in contrast to strategic action, in which one actor seeks to influence the behaviour of another by means of the threat of sanctions or the prospect of gratification in order to cause the interaction.

There is no space to go into the details of the process, versions of which are readily available, but it is important that discourse ethics is founded not on the ‘I', but more correctly on the ‘we' and on the basis of a ‘mutual understanding' between all parties. Self-expression is not its end. Within forms of communication there rests an implicit recognition of the other ‘I'. If the two ‘I's' can be referred to as subjects and there exists a discourse between those subjects then there exists an ‘inter'- subjectivity which has the potential for mutuality. We look for discourse ethics in the life-world of the ‘inter' – and the ability that we possess to communicate through discourse and reach mutual understanding with each other, admitting that it can never be defining or exhaustive.

This leads to the second determinant of my poetics – what poetry is; or, in terms outlined above, what kind of life-world is poetry? My reply to this question is anti-honorific and anti-Romantic: it doesn’t raise poetry to Parnassus above street-language or scientific journals; nor does my answer amount to stating what I feel poetry should be and that much of this or that falls below a measure based on preference.

When it comes to poetry, I am not an idealist. Poetry is a social practice and institution. The practice involves producing poems and the institution legitimises or otherwise contextualises what its practitioners produce. Historically, both these functions have radically changed, as has the degree of independence poetry has had from other life-forms, so much so that apart from ‘Wittgenstein-esque’ ‘family resemblances’ and nominal continuity, little else connects, for example, Thus Skelton to Jack Spicer. Thus, poetry is what poetry-makers say it is.

Since people involved in poetry surely know the nature of the life-world of which they are constitutive, there is no need to go into great detail about its present characteristics. However, given that my fidelity to emancipatory speech ethics takes precedence over my investment in poetry, some aspects of the later and their bearing on the former are worth mentioning:

  • The open-endedness of discourse clashes with the seemingly definitive presentation of the published poem. Given the lack of stringency in criticism, with which process could be reintroduced into poetry reading, this bluntness is even more exacerbated.
  • The over-emphasis on license and rights by poets with respect to their own work denies any correlative obligations they could have outside the poetry-world.
  • Comprehensibility, knowledge-sharing, truthfulness, and consensus are not lingua franca in practicing poetry, at least not at present.
  • Strategic action, especially in terms of the prospect of gratification, say of ‘poetic experience’ however conceived, predominates in poetic practice.

I could go on, but clearly most of the principles involved in discourse ethics clash with those of at-present-poetry, but since my understandings of the former is idealist, albeit based on empiricism, and the later is pragmatic this is hardly unexpected. To state my current situation succinctly, it would be to say that when I write a poem, my first obligations are to responsible speech-making; only if these have been met do I then consider the rights of the poet and the peculiarities of the poetry-world.

What would you like potential readers to know about your collection, "For The Coalition Dead"?

A preference for Moltmann over Kristeva would be helpful for the reader. Reconciliation, not schism, is dear to me. Various prosodies are employed from poem to poem, but if iambs and trochees too uncomfortably remind you of your father’s authority, especially if you consider that authority to be illegitimate, it would best be avoided. Apart from all that, it is lovely object into which Dean at Kilmog Press has put much time and energy. He deserves the support of people who want a sustainable alternative to the pulp culture of book-award winning presses.

What are your next priorities? Do you have further poetry projects planned out, or are you taking that as it comes?

The last poetry related projects on which I worked were seeing through to press another small collection ‘For Renato Curcio’, which is with Rob Lamb at Gumtree Press in Port Chalmers, and working on poems for my feature in the next issue of Poetry New Zealand, both of which involved revision and rewriting, not newly completed pieces. I haven’t written much at all since finishing my MFA with John Newton. If I do write another poem and continue to grope towards the standards I’ve set for myself, it seems to me the only way forward is to live better. There is an intimate connection between person and persona and what’s written. Being ever more attentive to my family, friends, and strangers, maintaining the distance of which Weil wrote that makes love, instead of possession, possible, and not over-privileging words – if I were able to do all that, then maybe I would move closer to writing the way I hope to write. But in so doing, I’d also move further away from having to write at all.


Sweat beads my tonsured cranium:
above me I can hear a hum –
electrical. No longer dumb,
of what I know, I’ve told him some,
just not enough. My body’s numb –
but still he beats me (like a drum?):
blood freckles the linoleum.
Dispersed, I am the total of his sum.

He took a moment to explain
his expectations, which are plain:
to launder each inhuman stain
from where I am – what will remain
is emptiness except for pain
nuanced and measured out. He’ll drain
from me the substance I contain:
the truth is something that one cannot feign.

At first, I found it strange that he
could speak my language fluently,
and with a perfect accent. We
are countrymen. How could it be?
I never thought I’d live to see
this come to pass. Oh no, not me.
Belligerents, officially
we are engaged. We are our enemy.

He seems unfailingly polite –
he has no bark. Indeed, he’s quite
a gentleman, and yet his bite
is so severe. There’s no respite:
by now I must be quite a sight.
Back when I volunteered to fight
I could determine wrong from right,
but now I don’t know if it’s day or night.

So handsome in his uniform:
I watch him flick a switch – a swarm
of angry bees: I cannot form
a thought for sting and singe. The swarm
again, again, again – a warm
patch sops my pants. O he’s the storm
that rages when I can’t conform
to what he has established as the norm.

Consequently the rich smell
of shit and piss has filled the cell
I’ve absented. Somehow, I tell
him something true. Although I yell
and scream for God to stoop to quell
my agony, he knows I dwell
in his domain. I pray for Hell...
This is his job. He does it very well.

Each variation on his theme
is played just so. Thus I blaspheme:
mine was the blood Faustus saw stream
across the sky. He is supreme:
for whose voice is this I hear scream?
I must accept his will to deem
me thus reduced. And it would seem
not every nightmare has to be a dream.

Why did we let ourselves be swept
up by mere words? We could have kept
what land we had. Instead, we leapt
into the fray, repaid some debt
we thought we owed this beast that’d slept
within our civil state. Except
for Him, we men, all of us, stepped
in line. Watching us march, our mothers wept.

At last the stories that the old
ones used to tell make sense. Behold
the Man!
More water...will it scold
or freeze? Of what I know, I’ve told
him some, perhaps too much. I’ve sold
a lie. I long for him to hold
me close, but all he does is fold
his arms and sigh. I feel so cold. So cold.

Book Availability

Kilmog Press books are available from Parsons Books Auckland, the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and Kilmog Press directly (Kilmogpress at hotmail dot com).