Friday, 27 December 2013

Poem: "Disjointed on Wellington Railway Station" by Peter Olds

Where the night ends & the pallid day begins 
several dirty old groaners lie & stand around 
the railway station. One sleeps, a boot under 
his head, a plastic shoulder bag clutched to his 
belly, his pants half down exposing a white bum...
I sit on a kauri bench & light up a Capstan, 
place a boot on my rolled-up sleeping bag 
a free hand on top of my canvas pack.
A skinny man with a battered nose drops down 
beside me, requests a smoke - his red eyes 
unpicking my duffle coat, travelling over my 
tennis shoes to the tailor-made cigarette in my hand. 
'Non-filter,' I say -
'Better than nothing' his reply.

I light him up & give him half of what's left of 
the pack (about five) which he tucks away on the 
inside of his overcoat, then runs a hand over 
his smooth grey hair - the only tidy part of him. 
Two mates stand off talking with another guy: 
secret laughs, hands in pockets, knowing nods. 
An air of deliberate disjointedness. Last night's 
close shave. An agreement to rendezvous 
at an early opener later. Nervous like stage-fright 
children ill at ease in a moneyed world... 
They produce a bottle of sherry, which gets my mate 
off the seat like a shot, but they don't want 
to give him a drink.

Seems he played up last night, allowed himself 
to get done over by the boys - took a lot of shit 
on himself. The sight of him turns the others away – 
seeing themselves in his snot-smashed face, blubbery 
lips & puffy eyes.
They drink the sherry, smiling, rolling back on flat 
heels like heroes having come through a horrific night

Another man in a cowboy hat joins them, all belly 
&. beard, carrying a guitar. Wears moccasins - long 
grey frizzy hair poking out from under the hat's 
brim, an intelligent twinkle in the eye.
But when he opens his mouth &, speaks his previous 
demeanour changes from something strong & sure 
to something weak & gone. His speech practically 
One asks the cowboy where he slept last night & he 
somehow conveys 'Here' (at the station). He gets 
the poor bastard look...

Suddenly, they take off on separate paths (in case 
they're followed) toward the city centre, to meet 
up later for tea at an all-night shelter. 
My mate with the cigarettes tucked into his chest 
waves a gloved hand (but not too revealingly) & 
disappears in a swirl of railway grit...
The next time I see him (on Courtney Place) he's 
battered more than ever, looking like he's been 
rolled. Clothes ripped, hair dishevelled wild pale 
eyes, paranoid pallor - charging apologetically 
through the clean crowds heading God knows where 
from God knows what.

     -- Peter Olds

Spare a thought for the homeless and the destitute over this festive season. Christmas is not a time of joy for everyone, sadly.

About the poet:

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Poem: "Centennial" by Denis Glover

In the year of centennial splendours
There were fireworks and decorated cars
And pungas drooping from the verandahs

     But no one remembered our failures. 

The politicians like bubbles from a marsh
Rose to the platform, hanging in every place
Their comfortable platitudes like plush

     Without one word of our failures. 

     -- Denis Glover

If you want to see a selection of pictures from Wellington's celebration of New Zealand's Centenary,  Centennial Coffee House in Lyall Bay is the place to go for a burst of nostalgia and local history.  

Lyall Bay, facing south into the Cook Strait, and located beside the Wellington Airport was quite the fairground at the time of the Centenary.

About the poet:


Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Poem for a New Zealand Christmas: "Spectacular Blossom" by Allen Curnow

     Pohutukawa Trees, Auckland

Mock up again, summer, the sooty altars
Between the sweltering tides and the tin gardens
All the colours of the stained bow windows
Quick, she’ll be dead on time, the single
Actress shuffling red petals to this music,
Percussive light! So many suns she harbours
And keeps them jigging, her puppet suns,
All over the dead hot calm impure
Blood noon tide of the breathless bay.

-- Are the victims always so beautiful?
Pearls pluck at her, she has tossed her girls
Breast-flowers for keepsakes now she is going
For ever and astray. I see her feet
Slip into the perfect fit the shallows make her
Purposefully, sure as she is the sea
Levels its lucent ruins underfoot
That were sharp dead white shells, that will be sands.
The shallows kiss like knives.

-- Always for this.
They are chosen for their beauty.

Wristiest slaughterman December smooths
The temple bones and parts the grey-blown brows
With humid fingers. It is an ageless wind
That loves with knives, it knows our need, it flows
Justly, simply as water greets the blood,
And woody tumours burst in scarlet spray.
An old man’s blood spills bright as a girl’s
On beaches where the knees of light crash down.
These dying ejaculate their bloom.

-- Can anyone choose
And call it beauty? -- The victims
Are always beautiful.

     -- Allen Curnow

Nothing says Antipodean summer and Christmas like the blossoming of the Pohutukawa tree.

Photo credit: Professional photographer Rob Suisted 

About the poet:


Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Poem: "Poetry is a kind of lying" by Jack Gilbert

Poetry is a kind of lying, 
necessarily. To profit the poet
or beauty. But also in
that truth may be told only so. 

Those who, admirably, refuse
to falsify (as those who will not
risk pretensions) are excluded 
from saying even so much. 

Degas said he didn't paint
what he saw, but what 
would enable them to see
the thing he had. 

     -- Jack Gilbert

About the poet:

Monday, 23 December 2013

Poem: "Coming Home" by J.C. Sturm

The bones of my tupuna*
Safe in secret places up north
Must wait a little longer
Before they claim me for good. 
                            The love of my second parents
                            Unconditional from the beginning
                            Unrelenting to the end
                            Never quite made me theirs. 

That tormented paradoxical man
Father of my children
Convinced me we belonged together
But then moved on. 
                            The young ones (our young) he left behind
                            Claimed my castle as their own
                            Being themselves a part of me
                            Always, bone of my bone. 

Years earlier, a much younger self
Lay face down in hot dry sand --
                            Salt on her skin, the smell
                            Of green flax pungent in the heat, 
                            Summer a korowai
                            Around bare shoulders --
And felt in her bones
Without knowing why
She belonged to that place. 

Nearly a life-time later
On another beach --
                                                                 the sea
                            A blinking shield at our feet,
                            Behind us a dark hill fortress
                            With sentinel sea birds
                            Circling and calling --
I lay down beside you in tussock
And felt without warning
I had come home. 

     -- J. C. Sturm

*tupuna - Maori for ancestor or ancestors

About the poet:

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Poem: "Householder" by Mary Stanley

Never build a house to the south, they say. 
It's cold. The sun goes north on holiday, 
the nights are bitter, even the fleas retreat. 

But summer, ah, summer is another time. 
The flimsy house is hot enough, the doors
and windows gape to catch a breath of air. 

And yet I like this house under the pines. 
We have mended the roof, painted the walls, set all
in order. Only the garden will not be tamed. 

No manual can coax this stubborn earth
to bloom. Sometimes we blame the pines, and laugh
knowing our lazy ways. The weeds rejoice. 

     -- Mary Stanley

Those who have neglected their gardens due to other life pressures will identify with this poem. My wife and I epitomise the last line: "knowing our lazy ways. The weeds rejoice."

For more about the poet:

Saturday, 7 December 2013

RIP Nelson Mandela (Madiba)

It was with some sadness I heard of Nelson Mandela's death. At 95, he had lived a long life, but he had 27 years stolen off him while imprisoned on Robben Island.

Although it is tempting to elevate him to demi-god status, I'm sure he recoiled from any attempts to lionise him, because I believe, at heart, he was a genuinely humble man.

Many years ago I read his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, and what always impressed me was his determination not to hate and avenge, but to build a better South Africa, free of that appalling stain on morality, apartheid.

Men like him are unique. Only a few come along in this world with any generation. They make us look inside ourselves and question: are we being the best human beings we can be?

Nelson Mandela would be the first to admit he was a flawed human being like the rest of us, but he strived to be his best, to be noble and courageous and generous and forgiving.

God bless you, Madiba. If there is a heaven, then you are free to run through its veldts like you did as a happy, carefree child in Qunu, the village of your birth. God Speed. We will not see your like again.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Tuesday Poem: "This Life" by Grace Paley

My friend tells me
a man in my house jumped off the roof
the roof is the eighth floor of this building
the roof door was locked      how did he manage?
his girlfriend had said      goodbye I'm leaving
he was 22
his mother and father were hurrying
at that very moment
from upstate to help him move out of Brooklyn
they had heard about the girl

the people who usually look up
and call      jump jump      did not see him
the life savers who creep around the back staircases
and reach the roof's edge just in time
never got their chance      he meant it      he wanted
only one person to know

did he imagine that she would grieve
all her young life away      tell everyone
this boy I kind of lived with last year
he died on account of me

my friend was not interested      he said      you're always
inventing stuff      what I want to know      how could he throw
his life away      how do these guys do it
just like that      and here I am fighting this
ferocious insane vindictive virus day and
night      day and night      and for what?      for only
one thing      this life      this life

     by Grace Paley

Grace Paley, who died in 2007, was an American short story writer, poet, teacher, and political activist. For more about her life and work, see here:

I was really captivated by this poem. Although the subject is tragic, she approaches it in a very matter-of-fact manner which somehow plays off all the imaginative alleyways she explores. Her use of spaces within lines is intriguing.

The plainness of the language she uses belies the fact that the poem is packed with meaning. I love those lines: "the life savers who creep around the back staircases/and reach the roof's edge just in time/never got their chance" which seems to poke fun at the implausibility of some of the scenes we might see on television or in films.

And then the self-absorbed single focus of her friend who has no time for her imagination throws the whole poem into stark relief.

Friday, 22 November 2013

50th Anniversary of Kennedy's Assassination: "The Gift Outright" by Robert Frost

The land was ours before we were the land's.She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England's, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become. 

By Robert Frost

John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, 50 years ago today. 

John F. Kennedy was the first president to have a poet read at his inauguration, a tradition which continues to this day.  And he invited Robert Frost, one of the giants of American literature. 

Robert Frost responded to JFK's invitation:

"If you can bear at your age the honor of being made president of the United States, I ought to be able at my age to bear the honor of taking some part in your inauguration. I may not be equal to it but I can accept it for my cause — the arts, poetry — now for the first time taken into the affairs of statesmen. … I am glad the invitation pleases your family. It will please my family to the fourth generation and my family of friends and, were they living, it would have pleased inordinately the kind of Grover Cleveland Democrats I had for parents."

Frost composed a poem for the inauguration only two days before, but he encountered difficulties reading on the day. The poem he'd written for Kennedy was long and he hadn't memorised it. Frost was unable to read the poem because it was a snowy day and he experienced sun-strike coming off the snow.  

So, instead Frost recited "The Gift Outright", the poem reproduced above. Actually, Kennedy had earlier requested "The Gift Outright", a poem Frost knew by heart. He even went so far as to change the last line to "such as she will become" (again, in line with a request from Kennedy).

Much had lead up to Kennedy's assassination, the Vietnam War, protests, civil unrest, but, although Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated in office, it seems to me that that day America lost some of its innocence and youthful enthusiasm which it has never since regained.

I might add that Native Americans would, no doubt, feel uneasy about the frontier jingoism of Frost's poem. Certainly a counter view was posted on the Tuesday Poem hub recently:

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Blog Action Day - A late Posting on Human Rights

I was meant to be part of an international Blog Action Day on October 16, but I was away in Western Australia and wi-fi access to the Internet was difficult. So here is my belated post:

There is always a theme and this year the theme was Human Rights.

I thought about this and I thought I'd write about Human Rights in our present society and Human Rights for our grandchildren and future generations.

Firstly, let us look at our present society. Each year, surveys and scientific research are published which show that the income inequality is growing. Jesus said, "The poor are always with us.", but perhaps even he did not envisage a world where vast amounts of wealth were concentrated in the hands of only a relative few. His camels would be queueing up to go through the eye of the needle!

Recently, I read a Guardian article which expressed the view that oligarchy in Russia was societally unhealthy as the super-rich ran the country through political patronage. Putin and his cronies grow wealthy by essentially raping the natural wealth of their vast country while the majority of Russians still struggle with low incomes and lack of access to basic products and services.

When Tony Blair was in the early days of his Prime Ministership, he spoke of a much-vaunted "Third Way", some miraculous form of governance which would walk the line between Socialism and Capitalism and deliver a good life for all citizens of the planet. This idea soon was soon quietly forgotten and Blair went on to pander to the wealthy as usual even though he was a Labour Prime Minister. "New Labour" became synonymous with faux Conservatism dressed up to look like the working class weren't getting screwed even they knew damn well they were!

And in the good old superpower, USA, Republicans and Democrats aren't really right and left wing parties, more like extreme right and moderately right respectively. American politicians rarely do anything which doesn't have big corporation capitalist approval. Guns and War and Political Adventurism are the American way and being compassionate to people too poor for medical care is UnAmerican!

When I was a child growing up in the 1960s in small-town New Zealand, perhaps I was blind to social conditions, but I don't think I was. Modern statistics also verify my memories that New Zealand was more equal and egalitarian prior to the great New Right experiments of the 1980s. The gap between New Zealand's rich and poor has widened substantially from 1980 onwards according to many books and articles by esteemed social scientists and others.

My father worked his way up from a lowly teller in the Bank of New South Wales (which emerged from mergers as Westpac in modern times) eventually to bank manager, with his career only interrupted by 6 years of World War 2 when he flew in the RAF, mainly in the Middle East. In order to get promotion, we moved from town to town in rural New Zealand every 2-3 years so my childhood was peripatetic.

Everyone equated working in a bank with being rich, but we were only middle-class at best. When my Dad retired in 1974, I discovered, quite by accident, that he was only on a modest salary. As a 17-year-old Trainee Laboratory Assistant, I started on a higher yearly salary than my Dad finished his career on.

But we lived often in houses in small rural towns with populations anywhere between 3,000-10,000 people and the Bank actually provided the house at a modest rent so my parents did not have the outgoings of a mortgage for a long period in their lives.

My brothers and I went to ordinary State schools and mixed with lots of children, both Maori and Pakeha (there wasn't much multiculturalism then just a weak form of biculturalism). We played at other people's places and that was an indicator of whether they were better off than you or not. By my recollections, it was usually the families of accountants and lawyers who were the richest in the towns, but even then not obscenely rich, more a little bit rich.

I'm not saying we lived in a Golden Age prior to the 1980s, but I don't think New Zealand as a society contained the extremes of wealth and poverty that it does now. I know, also, that we cannot go backwards or remain cocooned in isolation from the rest of the world, but the 1980s also brought with it the concept of Globalisation. Like everything, Globalisation has its pros and cons. One of the downsides, I feel, has been the entry of multinational corporations into our economy with their purpose being to exploit New Zealander's wallets and maximise their returns to their shareholders. Although many will pretend to care about New Zealand society in their PR, in truth they have no stake in our society and their "pretend caring" is just another exercise in massaging the money from our wallets.

The Americans would do well to pay more attention to their founding forefathers' lofty goals for every citizen: "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". For every citizen of this planet to have real Human Rights, these goals are underpinned by a decent income, access to good education, having the basics such as clean water, wholesome food, decent shelter and the ability to enjoy leisure time.

Call me a Socialist, an unreconstructed Marxist or whatever, but until some of the obscene wealth held by a few can be spread more fairly amongst the many, Human Rights remain just a pallid phrase for a great majority of Earth's citizens.

This is a long post to digest so I will address my other concern: Human Rights for our grandchildren and future generations, in another post.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Tuesday Poem: "Cranky Old Man" by Anonymous

What do you see nurses? . . .. . .What do you see?
What are you thinking .. . when you're looking at me?
A cranky old man, . . . . . .not very wise,
Uncertain of habit .. . . . . . . .. with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles his food .. . ... . . and makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice . .'I do wish you'd try!'
Who seems not to notice . . .the things that you do.
And forever is losing . . . . . .. . . A sock or shoe?
Who, resisting or not . . . ... lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding . . . .The long day to fill?
Is that what you're thinking?. .Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse .you're not looking at me.
I'll tell you who I am . . . . .. As I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, .. . . . as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of Ten . .with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters .. . . .. . who love one another
A young boy of Sixteen . . . .. with wings on his feet
Dreaming that soon now . . .. . . a lover he'll meet.
A groom soon at Twenty . . . heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows .. .. .that I promised to keep.
At Twenty-Five, now . . . . .I have young of my own.
Who need me to guide . . . And a secure happy home.
A man of Thirty . .. . . . . My young now grown fast,
Bound to each other . . .. With ties that should last.
At Forty, my young sons .. .have grown and are gone,
But my woman is beside me . . to see I don't mourn.
At Fifty, once more, .. ...Babies play 'round my knee,
Again, we know children . . . . My loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me . . . . My wife is now dead.
I look at the future ... . . . . I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing .. . . young of their own.
And I think of the years . . . And the love that I've known.
I'm now an old man . . . . . . .. and nature is cruel.
It's jest to make old age . . . . . . . look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles .. .. . grace and vigour, depart.
There is now a stone . . . where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass . A young man still dwells,
And now and again . . . . . my battered heart swells
I remember the joys . . . . .. . I remember the pain.
And I'm loving and living . . . . . . . life over again.
I think of the years, all too few . . .. gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact . . . that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people .. . . . .. . . open and see.
Not a cranky old man .
Look closer . . . . see .. .. . .. .... . ME!!

This might not be considered great poetry, the stuff of legend, but it has a poignancy that made me want to post it. In our Western societies, I often feel that we don't value age and the wisdom of experience. Many other cultures such as Asian cultures, for example, hold their old people in high esteem, but ours are often brushed off as a nuisance, of no great use to society and, indeed, often viewed as a burden.

When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in an Australian country town, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value. Later, when the nurses were going through his meager possessions, They found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.

One nurse took her copy to Melbourne. The old man's sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas editions of magazines around the country and appearing in mags for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on his simple, but eloquent, poem.

And this old man, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this 'anonymous' poem winging across the Internet.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Original children's poems displayed in our library

National Poetry Day is but a distant memory now, but I thought I would share a few of the original poems that appeared on the children's display in our local library:

"Cats, cats, they sleep on mats 
Fish, fish, they stitch 
Cows, cows, they moo and poo 
But birds are the loudest nerds."

By Kole 

"Teacher, teacher, don't be mean 
Give me back my bubble gum 
Teacher, teacher, don't be mean 
Give me a coin for the coffee machine 
Teacher, teacher, I think he has lost his underwear" 

By Anonymous 

"Llama, llama, shopping drama 
Llama, llama, shopping drama 
Llama llama woke up in the shower." 
By Lydia 

And brief but highly original and thought-provoking:

"My sister Sammi is very nice 
So please don't call her a piece of rice." 
By Anonymous (in very cute little kid writing)


You can't beat children for an original take on the world!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Tuesday Poem: "Silk of a Soul" by Zbigniew Herbert

did I speak with her
either about love
or about death

only blind taste
and mute touch
used to run between us
when absorbed in ourselves
we lay close

I must
peek inside her
to see what she wears
at her centre

when she slept
with her lips open
I peeked

and what
and what
would you think
I caught sight of

I was expecting
I was expecting
a bird
I was expecting
a house
by a lake great and silent

but there
on a glass counter
I caught sight of a pair
of silk stockings

my God
I'll buy her those stockings
I'll buy them

but what will appear then
on the glass counter
of the little soul

will it be something
which cannot be touched
even with one finger of a dream

     -- Zbigniew Herbert (translated from the Polish by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott)

To read more about the Polish poet and writer,  Zbigniew Herbert, read here:

I like this poem because it has a sensual quality that really appeals to me. Enough said.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Tuesday Poem: "Channelling his Inner Greek"

Mischief light fills his eyes
and he can’t believe his ears.
His father is giving him permission
to smash a plate on the concrete driveway.

Mum’s picked up a nice line in Crown Lynn retro plates
in a second-hand shop in Timaru
and she’s culling hard.
Tiny chip on the underside of the rim, felt but unseen,
and it’s unsentimentally consigned
to the dustbin of history
or at least some anonymous landfill.

Dad sees an opportunity for secret boy business,
sanctioned vandalism. “Don’t tell Mum. She wouldn’t approve.”

That boy’s blue eyes are
charged with adrenalin
when that white innocence shatters
in a porcelain explosion.

“Do you feel a little bit Greek?” Dad asks
and is met with incomprehension.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Tuesday Poem: "Places Becoming Lonely"

Not a name on a marquee,
but a firmament in which a star could shine

this solid Earth, dependable unless we forget
the hard lessons of gravity

understated, not showy, he knew the places
his eyes could take the audience

there are more of us now and they say
we are more visually literate

and the images multiply daily
and yet there are more

places becoming lonely

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Tuesday Poem - "Kindness" by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

     -- Naomi Shihab Nye

There are many fine poets in the world (including all my fellow Tuesday Poets on the blogroll) and not enough time in one lifetime to discover and read all the fine poets, both alive and dead, out there in the big, wide world.

I have a poetry aficionado friend in Wellington to thank for introducing me to this wonderful poem by a poet I had never heard of.

I love this poem because I think you'd go a long way to find such a wonderful, rich and poetic encapsulation of the concept of kindness. A simple act of kindness performed from the heart can lift a person's spirit and enrich their day.

If you'd like to know more about this poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, see:

And then you can kindly proceed to read some of the wonderful offerings of my fellow Tuesday Poets at the blogroll at: