Friday, 16 August 2013

National Poetry Day: "High Viz" by Andrew M. Bell

High viz

lovingly tended gardens subsumed by weeds

high viz

concrete foundations slumped like exhausted runners

high viz

through the gauze curtains no sign of occupation

high viz

industrial noise as background music

high viz

asphalt rising and falling like a choppy sea

high viz

everywhere the silt reminders

high viz

as though the beach tried to reclaim its children

high viz

streams running dark underground

high viz

bursting free from their oppressor

high viz

Nature advises us to relocate

high viz

Red, orange, white, green, green-blue, green-yellow, green-grey

high viz

a myriad of confusing colours, an anxious rainbow

high viz

so commonplace now we take no notice

ordinary, everyday, routine, humdrum
Welcome to National Poetry Day 2013. Have a good one and read some poetry that you enjoy and which inspires and uplifts you spiritually. Arohanui.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Tuesday Poem: "Bees" by Sarah Jane Barnett

On a barren hexagon of land he builds her a house. He grades and stakes it for the concrete pour. He hauls great limbs of pine that cut his hands and strain his back until the frame rises like a mighty saguaro cactus filling with rain. One evening there is a fat cloud of bees. They hum like worn out machines and rising canals. They hum into his empty spaces. He starts to sheath the frame, and each morning walks the skin of the house, cigarette in hand. He taps the hollows and listens for a riff of wings.

Sarah Jane Barnett, loving mother, in a playful moment with son, Sam, aged two.

Sarah Jane Barnett, serious poet, as she appears on the cover of her poetry collection, A Man Runs Into A Woman.

When the literary journal, Hue & Cry, crowd-sourced the funding on Pledge Me to publish Sarah's debut poetry collection, I was keen to support a fellow poet, especially a fellow Tuesday Poet, so I chipped in and, when the book was published, I received my own personally autographed copy. Before I'd even got to the poems, I was pretty excited by the fire-engine red cover with its bold white title. I love the colour red. It's a no-nonsense colour which takes no prisoners.

I had some familiarity with Sarah's work through her posts on Tuesday Poem, but reading A Man Runs Into A Woman elevated my appreciation of her work to a whole new level. I found the poems in her collection fresh and engaging and bursting with imaginative energy.

To include a section of poems based on the experiences and testimonies of prisoners on Death Row was a bold and original idea and I felt Sarah achieved great empathy and insight in these poems. She also shone a very humane light on a subject that most people would rather ignore. She put a human face on an inhuman practice.

I am delighted, but not altogether surprised, that Sarah's magnificent debut collection is a Finalist in the Poetry section of the New Zealand Post Book Awards. You can also vote for her in the People's Choice Award here:

But remember to do so by Sunday 18th August.

I could have chosen any one of the poems in Sarah's collection, but I chose "Bees" because I think it demonstrates Sarah's skill at painting a big picture with only a few lines. I apologise for using an overworked image, but a poem like "Bees" is like a pebble generating an expanding circle of ripples on the water. Our imaginations work out from the poem through questions and suppositions. I also enjoy how Sarah often places images in juxtaposition that surprise the reader with their incongruity and yet just seem to work so well in a completely unforced way. When she writes of the way the bees "hum like worn out machines and rising canals", it makes the reader view the world in a fresh and exciting way.

Sarah is up against some seasoned campaigners for the Poetry Award, but my money is on Sarah to win. Go, Sarah!!!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Tuesday Poem: "Savage Spring"

comin’ down like a machine gun on the brothers.
Ain’t no “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, baby!
Martin Luther King, Rodney King,
keep beatin’ on the black man for any old thing.
Lotta anger down here in South Central LA.
Keep worryin’, Hollywood, we’re comin’ your way.
Spike Lee comin’ atcha, Ice T comin’ atcha.
George Bush keeps talkin’ ‘bout Laura Norder.
Who she? She a waitress?
Gimme fries with that order.

news ‘copter, news ‘copter,
hangin’ there in judgement like the finger of God.
Yeah, Joshua fought the battle of Jericho.
You built the walls, baby, now we’re gonna blow.
Picture-takin’ while we fry white bacon,
hoverin’ out of reach like a kid at the zoo
showin’ white America the black bugaboo.
Film at eleven, CNN, Alabama,
but Rodney King’s assailants ain’t sittin’ in the slammer.
WelI, Miss Daisy, I don’t know what happen.
Uncle Tom Bradley, get back to your cabin!

Chutta- chutta-chutta-chutta,
eye in the sky got no tears for the sisters.
Laura Norder sleeps in the white man’s bed.
Black children die while she’s givin’ him head.
It ain’t no John Wayne, rootin’ and tootin’,
Hispanic child killed in a drive-by shootin’.
Crack money rules ‘cause there ain’t no jobs.
It’s enough to make even Laura Norder break down.
American Dream is a nightmare in this town.
Lotta anger down here, just needs a spark to ignite it.
Martin Luther King, Rodney King,
whitey look in horror at the savage spring.

POET'S NOTE: I wrote the poem above in 1992 as a response to the L.A. riots which erupted because four police officers were acquitted of the vicious and sustained beating of a black motorist, Rodney King.

As I watched the news footage play out on television, I noticed that the same racism and injustice which sparked the riots was being perpetrated in the way the riots and rioters were portrayed by the American media.

A writer can sometimes attract criticism for writing from the perspective of a culture that is not his or her own and I was leery of that fact. However, anger at the blatant injustice and treatment of black people in America drove my pen.
In a curious twist, my approach was validated not all that long after I'd written the poem. I performed the poem at a poetry reading at a pub in Perth, Western Australia, and, unbeknownst to me, two black sailors on shore leave from an American warship had entered the back of the bar. Had I known that they were there, I would have been hesitant to perform the poem. Afterwards, they both came up to me and shook my hand and thanked me for "telling it like it is".
Now, 21 years later, with Barack Obama as the President, we feel that America has made a great leap forward in race relations. But has it?

Just recently, a man who shot an innocent, unarmed teenager called Trayvon Martin because he was black was acquitted, just like the police officers in the Rodney King case.
So I offer the above poem as my humble tribute to Trayvon Martin, a young man who had everything to live for, yet died for nothing. God rest your soul, Trayvon.