Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Tuesday Poem: "A Moment of Ignition"

The ash is streaked
upon your proud cheekbone.
Your hair is piled up,
dark and winged
like a nesting swan,
but a rogue strand
catches in the corner of your mouth
as you bend to add a log
to the blazing trunks.
You embody that pioneer spirit often hidden
from the history books,
fearless yet feminine,
and this rich distillate
ignites the torch which illuminates 
my love for you.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Hands off,Hekia, Push off, Parata

The already stressed and battered citizens of Christchurch were dealt another body blow by the Minister of Re-education, Hekia Parata, and her puppet-master, John Key, recently when they announced their proposal for a massive reorganisation of Christchurch's schools.

Here is Ms Parata encouraging the citizens of Christchurch to see the "positives" in having their school system decimated and their children forced to bus long distances to their "new" merged schools just like poor, black South Africans in "the good old days" of Apartheid:

Sorry, Hekia, but we might have to drink all the contents of those bottles behind you to see any "positives" in this grand Re-education scheme. Why doesn't your boss, Pol Pot....ooooops, John Key, move us all out to the country in North Canterbury where we can learn to work the TC1 land out there to feed our masters.

Perhaps you and your hatchet woman, Lesley Longstone,

should visit some of these schools you are so callously consigning to history. You might open your eyes and rub the blind ideology out of them that obscures your vision to the fantastic work hard-working teachers do every day.

Why, here in the bruised, battered BUT NOT BEATEN East of Christchurch, we have two schools I know of personally that are fantastic examples of State schools providing excellent education and much more besides to their pupils.

Jane Dunbar's excellent article in The Press speaks volumes for the value of Chisnallwood Intermediate much more eloquently that I can, but I hasten to add that Richard Paton is one of the most forward-thinking, caring, compassionate and committed Principals it has ever been my good fortune to meet. My oldest son spent two very happy years at Chisnallwood developing a strong sense of community pride and citizenship and becoming a first-class musician. My oldest son had access to a first-class music facility with top-notch teachers of almost every instrument. The teachers at Chisnallwood went the extra mile time after time to give our kids a well-rounded experience of art, technology, music, debating and so many other subjects as well as a solid grounding in the core subjects like Maths and English. I doubt there is a parent in Christchurch who has not heard of Chisnallwood's reputation and how it punches above its weight in music and many other fields.

To throw Chisnallwood's unique qualities and character into some big amorphous "hub" is criminal, Hekia, and maybe, somewhere deep down in your heart, you know it is wrong.

My youngest son attends one of our local primary schools also in the path of "the big merge", Freeville Primary School in New Brighton. Having witnessed the progress of his older brother, he is keen to attend  Chisnallwood Intermediate also.

But he will also value the years he has spent at his local school. He started as a bright-eyed five-year-old with a cohort of his contemporaries who moved over from North New Brighton kindergarten. That is the value of community, Hekia, you always have your friends and whanau close by you.

Freeville too is staffed by excellent, vibrant, energetic teachers who go the extra mile for their pupils. I doubt Lesley Longstone would have the budget to pay these teachers for all the extra unpaid overtime they put in. Forget 9 to 3, Hekia, I once asked my son's Year 2 teacher when she started the day and she told me she was usually at school by 7am and went home about 6pm! Even if she took an hour for lunch which might be spent largely on playground patrol or attending to some child's needs, that is still a 10-hour day.

Where Hekia wants to march the Freeville teachers and pupils off to, there is no Bi-Lingual Unit which the teachers of Freeville have worked so long and hard to establish. Maori and many Pakeha children can learn immersed in Te Reo which is an Official Language of Aotearoa and, I believe, your Mother Tongue, Hekia, before you joined the Dark Side.

My youngest son has awakened an interest in learning languages, but will there be a Freeville Bi-Lingual Unit for him to enrol in for next year? Will there be a Chisnallwood for him to go to when he is a Year 7 student? Will many of the teachers he knows and loves find themselves joining the Dole Queue (where they can be punitively punished by your mate, Paula "I've forgotten my roots" Bennett)? Will the unique cultures, flavours and spirits of these two schools (just two of many about to suffer the same fate) be sacrificed to some amorphous, cost-cutting blob of educational blandness?

And don't even get me started on the dodgy data you and Lesley are tossing around like so much chaff before the wind.

It's not too late to BACK DOWN on this one, Hekia. You've done it before in the face of well-justified parent anger and no doubt, given your record, you'll do it again.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Tuesday Poem: "Lament for Lost Literary Comfort"

I thought I'd do something a little different this week...Poetry with Pictures. A bit like Bob Dylan's early video for "Subterranean Homesick Blues", but with a poem instead of a song.

In case Photo Booth has not captured all the sound for you or I am stumbling over the words here is the text plus appropriate images shown below:

Once I looked to the Bard for words profound;

ageless, his wisdom ran unabated.
Yet Hamlet is now ideologically unsound,

“the slings and arrows” historically Iocated.
I wept for the creature of Frankenstein,

spurned by his master, forced to roam the Earth.
But I’d been subjectively positioned in a paradigm
by Mary’s anxiety about childbirth.

I read Balzac, Hardy and Henry James

describing “worlds” which seemed quite sensible.
Now Eagleton’s exposed their bourgeois games

I find them morally reprehensible.
I dreamt of being Robinson Crusoe

or proud, fierce Hawkeye in his buckskins dressed,

but Fenimore and Defoe have to go,

they’re culturally encoded and empirically obsessed.
Inspired by Guinness, did James Joyce sit down

to see what magic flowed when he was pissed?
The stream of Ulysses floats Bloom-about-town

dreamthinkingnever : “I’mamodernist”.

I’d gladly give Woolf a Room of Her Own

and be one of the boys with Hemingway,

but sensitive guys leave their bulls alone
say de Beauvoir and Luce Irigaray.

No more fun with Wordsworth being daffodilly,

no simple pleasure reading Mickey Mouse;

Steamboat Willie can’t help but look silly

dissected by Foucault and Levi-Strauss.

The Bible shows intertextuality

says the two Jacques, Lacan and Derrida.

Judas, a construct of bisexuality?

The anal fixations of Herod are?

It’s got so bad I deconstruct a holiday brochure.

I can’t even fart without Roland Barthes and Ferdinand de Saussure.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Tuesday Poem: "1914 IV: The Dead" by Rupert Brooke


                                                          1914 IV: The Dead

These hearts were woven of human joys and cares,

Washed marvellously with sorrow, swift to mirth.

The years had given them kindness. Dawn was theirs,

And sunset, and the colours of the earth.

These had seen movement, and heard music; known

Slumber and waking; loved; gone proudly friended;

Felt the quick stir of wonder; sat alone;

Touched flowers and furs and cheeks. All this is ended.

There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter

And lit by the rich skies, all day. And after,

Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance

And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white

Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance,

A width, a shining peace, under the night.

Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)

Rupert Chawner Brooke was an English poet known for his idealistic war sonnets written during the First World War, especially "The Soldier". He was also known for his boyish good looks, which were said to have prompted the Irish poet W. B. Yeats to describe him as "the handsomest young man in England".

Brooke's accomplished poetry gained many enthusiasts and followers and he was taken up by Edward Marsh who brought him to the attention of Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty. He was commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a temporary Sub-Lieutenant shortly after his 27th birthday and took part in the Royal Naval Division's Antwerp expedition in October 1914. He sailed with the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force on 28 February 1915 but developed sepsis from an infected mosquito bite. He died at 4:46 pm on 23 April 1915 in a French hospital ship moored in a bay off the island of Skyros in the Aegean on his way to the landing at Gallipoli. As the expeditionary force had orders to depart immediately, he was buried at 11 pm in an olive grove on Skyros, Greece.

Acknowledgement is made to Wikipedia for the above biographical information. To read more about Rupert Brooke go to:


Sunday, 9 September 2012

Fall of Rome?

I subscribe to the Mindfood magazine e-newsletter and naturally it is targeted at the middle-upper class and their disposable income. They have a lot of competitions to win things, most of them reasonably sensible and handy things that would be useful, appliances and such like.

But the latest e-newsletter contained a competition prize that I found patently absurd. See below:

"Win a Servo-Drive uno mechanism from Blum for your rubbish-bin drawer, valued at $500. With the addition of Servo-Drive uno, all that’s required to open the drawer is a light tap of the knee, foot, or elbow."

So when did we become so lazy and so corruptly affluent that we would pay $500 ( a weekly salary for many people in New Zealand) for a machine that opens our drawer? Is it because there is rubbish in it? Are we so terrified of a few germs that we can't open the drawer with our hands? Are we so paranoid we might get ill?

Rome was once mighty and powerful, but it became corrupt and lazy with wealth and power and so fell prey to the lean and hungry Barbarians at the Gate. Each flood starts with a raindrop. Does the downfall of the West begin with such tiny absurdities as the Blum Servo-Drive uno mechanism?

Friday, 7 September 2012

Hot Pokers in their eyes

Picture of simulated torture with a red-hot poker

Copyright www.clearharmony.net

I was very chuffed to be asked to read from my most recent poetry collection, Clawed Rains, at the Papanui and Central Tuam libraries in Christchurch. The readings were scheduled at 11am and 2pm last Saturday, 1st September.

The first was at Papanui library and I was a little taken aback by the indifferent reception I received from the librarians when I arrived. It seemed at odds with the email I'd received from the person coordinating the visits who'd said that these libraries had "requested" a reading.

As I had come early ( as is my habit), a librarian took me into their staff room for a cup of tea and we had a nice chat about her recent holiday to California. Then when it was nearly time, I was directed to the space where I'd be reading. I asked a librarian if they would do an announcement over their PA to let people know the reading was about to begin. I'm not sure if they had a PA, but one librarian just announced (in a conversational tone) to the ring of computers occupied mainly by teenagers that the poetry reading was about to begin.

I had intended to read for 20 minutes to half an hour depending on audience reaction and throw in a flash fiction story at the end just to mix it up a bit.

Well, I waited...and waited...people went about their business...a teenage boy went behind me to search the graphic novel shelf...my heart lifted...a young Mum came and sat on a sofa opposite...but, no, she was merely seeking a comfy spot in order to read a board book to her daughter...glance nervously at my watch: 11.05am...standing there like a dork...should I just start proclaiming and hope the power of my voice and the magnetic attraction of my wit draws the punters, rousing them from their stupor...glance embarrassingly at my watch: 11.10am...no, I'd feel like an absolute spoon reading to an audience of no one...just one dewy-eyed punter, please...I'll give them my all...they'll walk away thinking they've heard the JFK of poetry, such will be the impact of my oratory...11.15am, not a single soul appears...11.16am, I slink out of Papanui Library, chastened, with my tail between my legs.

In between gigs, I go home to extract some sympathy from my wife and children. My 9-year-old Number One Fan says: "Don't worry, Daddy, you're a good poet. I love your poetry."

1.45pm, I tentatively enter Central Tuam Library and state my purpose. A very kind, smiling librarian shows me to a large table in the Aotearoa Collection Reference room. Signs are hopeful. Posters are up displaying my wrinkled, but smiling, visage. Large signs direct punters to the reading space.

While waiting for the allotted time, I sneak into the aisles of the Reference collection to look for Aotearoa Sunrise, my short story collection, which the catalogue tells me is held at 823 BEL. I can't find it. Has someone stolen it? New Zealand fiction from the 1930s and 1940s is there, but not my baby, bursting fresh from the 21st century. I try to kid/console myself. Someone liked it so much that they felt compelled to steal it and keep for their own. OR someone is, at this very moment, reading it somewhere in the Collection room.

It's a lovely space and a large oil painting of Margaret Mahy stares down at me, willing me to success, with those much-missed and much-beloved laughing eyes.

2pm comes. No punters drift in, eager for literary nourishment. The odd person passes by the entrance to the room-within-a-room that is the Aotearoa Collection and glances in with mild curiosity. Probably thinking, what's that dick doing standing there all alone at that table?

2.05pm, a single librarian enters and takes a seat at the table near me. We talk and she tells me about her long-ago but fascinating Library Exchange to Dorset, England for a year.

2.10pm, the single librarian says, why don't I just start reading and see what happens. I'll read to you, I tell her. She is mildly chuffed to be the sole recipient of my artistic outpourings. I read her an amusing poem first to soften her up. Afterlife Airlines. Then I tax her compassionate side by reading a poem about the English child migrants sent out after World War II as virtual slaves to "the Colonies". The poem is called Silent Night. She makes admiring noises.

2.15pm, like sharks using their ampullae of Lorenzini to detect the electromagnetic fields of fish in distress, two more librarians have sensed me flailing in abject desperation and glide in quietly like Grey Nurses and slide into seats beside their colleague. Now I have an audience of three!!! Oh bliss!!!

I amend the running time somewhat but now I'm in full stride, laying poetic gems on them, left, right and centre. I finale (is that a verb, well it is now) with a flash fiction, Ubermenschen, a story about a Holocaust survivor.

So I leave Central Tuam library, buoyed by my kind reception from the three lovely librarians, but wondering that if you are not a "name" writer with some extensive pre-publicity, you are likely to find that the average library patron equates the words, "poetry reading", with the experience of having their eyes seared with hot pokers. Poetry smoetry, I only come here to access the internet and take out Hot Rods Monthly.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Tuesday Poem: "Spring Comes Early to the Fridge"

Spring Daffodils near the ruined Catholic Basilica 
(Copyright 2012 Andrew M. Bell)

Ice arcs through the air
like solid lightning.
The large bolts strike with a rumble
and clatter to rest
where they gleam with bravado
at the dispirited winter sun.
The small bolts explode
with a skittering hiss
and trickle down between the bricks,
prodigal drops returning to the watertable.
Cast out from its plastic host,
the ice bears grooved testimony to their symbiosis,
but this testimony concedes to the crafting thaw
a bevel smoother than a human hand could fashion.
Some ice lies clustered on the brick paving
like terra incognita wrought on a vellum map
by the feverish imagination of an Olde World explorer.
Some lies scattered among the purple and white alyssum
in imitation of a Tyrolean spring.
As a breeze releases
the olfactory history of myriad fridge dwellers,
a cloth rings over a wire tray
in a crude arpeggio which segues into
the basso profundo of the resurrection hum.
The cycle begins anew.

POET'S NOTE: Spring seems to have arrived in Christchurch and we are truly thankful. We have had a more than usually cold and wet winter and the daffodils blooming and sunlit blue skies fill our hearts with joy and optimism. The days are getting warmer and lighter and you gotta love that!

The poet wishes to acknowledge The Western Review (Australia) in whose pages this poem first appeared.