Two Mosques, Christchurch

This previously unpublished commemorative poem was written in the wake of the terrorist attacks that took place at the Al Noor Mosque and at the Linwood Islamic Centre, in Christchurch on Friday March 15, 2019, in which 51 people were killed.

Two Mosques, Christchurch

The poem writes the gunman invisible:
a him who hates so much is indefensible.
Scrupulous, they followed their beliefs to peace
he chose to deny and scythe with brutal lies.
Their blood unfurls as that of martyrs,
though they never wanted their altars.
All that's impure, he brought with a smirk;
he will be forever cobwebbed by the dark,
his darkness sawn out of rocks in his head.
But they will bloom forever, each one dead,
as the nation mourns and mountains crack.
Sad days amid rainbow petals, freshened stems,
a tide of grief that will never leave the path,
that winds with so many threads and colours.
He wanted ammunition; they bade him welcome.
He wanted crime; they gave him forgiveness.
He wanted erasure to fill the hole in his soul.
They barely sought to acknowledge him at all,
but only as a shooter who rose in a jabber,
and blind with loathing pulled the trigger.
Let them be a mass of flowers,
that are vessels of keening spirits.
Let them be a mass of flowers,
bunched and wrinkled and handwritten.
Let them be a mass of flowers,
like the remains of a maze trampled down.
Let them be a mass of flowers,
like a storm system stirring the ground.
Let them be a mass of flowers,
like a compass and a journey.
Let them be a mass of flowers,
that winds from mosque to mosque,
and then around the city, dusted with pollen and history.

David Eggleton

Ode to Weary Dunlop

I used to amble, I used to ankle, I'd hopscotch along.
I'd bop, I'd diddly-bop, I'd pad, I'd percolate through the throng.
In the disco, in the bistro, I'd get on shanks' pony,
and traipse it all night long.
And now it's the hesitation waltz, the blind bat foxtrot,
the yearning saunter, the excuse me after dark.
The shamble shanks, the slow bandy legs,
the disconsolate gesture is no walk in the park.
I can no longer yomp across shifting sands
as a riptide tugs quick at my heels,
I'm on the wagon, I'm on the shelf,
I'm looking forward to meals on wheels.
But to tramp and never tire of it,
breathing in jungle's penumbra at dusk,
like that colossus of rutted roads,
that Australian in his slouch hat,
with his remnant of juggernaut army,
that life-saving surgeon in charge
with his wry grin and his sloping brim.
To walk and never tire of it,
as Weary Dunlop never did,
his guidance an airstrip
in the jungle of the mind.
And so I stagger after never-weary Weary,
who had sandals made of old tyres,
and carried that scorched earth smell of War,
drifting our way with the whirring
of propellers and flying boat drone.
There were the Japs, and the other chaps,
up on the screen, with bayonets waved around,
P.O.W. camp barbed wire, David Niven with his frown.
Those feature flicks we watched agog,
before we played it out again on the rifle range
abandoned at the back of the Air Force base,
the sky dead calm with that heat haze,
as men went past in jeeps and sun-baked khaki.
When black and white ran in reverse,
divers burst out of the water backward,
arcing through air onto the springboard
of an amazingly blue swimming pool.
So here's to us now, soft tyres around the waist,
afloat on the vast white sarcophagi of cruise ships,
backpedalling through Asia in the slack season,
looking for the old Burma Railway
and finding the well-paved boulevard.
Things have changed for the better,
gone the forced march, the flogged march,
the sack race march, the dead march,
across an acreage of broken pedestals,
tireless as the ghost of Weary Dunlop,
whose men once shuffled forward
with the sad wallow of tyres gone flat.

David Eggleton

Isthmus

Sugar Town's rush hour fills choke points below
the biggest exclamation mark on death row,
concrete hypodermic lit by gamble fever,
the watchtower needle struck by weather.
Kite flying in forked lightning, ant trails,
skull headlands whose houses gleam gold teeth,
I nibble at the corners of dark cloud reef.
Woks singed over flames in food halls,
white pelts fur gutters after hail falls.
Forklifts carry pallets and engines growl,
off hot pavements steam plumes, thunder resounds.
Yellow petals tumble in memorial gardens,
a mānuka bud is a song in the city of sails.
The siren calliope serenades harbour mermaids,
anorexic spectres waver in door plate glass.
Lights a pimple rash on pinched neck of isthmus,
the container ship glides under blood orange moon.

David Eggleton


The Letter Zed

From zealot to ziggurat,
that zeitgeist, that zoetrope,
is Zealandia, son,
wear it on your lapel for your mother's sake.
Zugzwang ran the zoo,
and the zoo was an ark
for Zealandia and all who thrived there,
at the end of the alphabet,
knowing they were lucky last,
possessing the Anzac spirit and abundant lemon zest.
Even zambucks carrying a concussed player
zonked from the paddock,
zigzagged to the ambulance.
Those in Zephyrs and Zodiacs
bound down State Highway One,
heading home on a metal throne with rubber
tyres, knew they sat at the zenith.
Their zipped-up zippers shone,
their ziffs purred with satisfaction,
Zespri was their favourite sorbet.
Zowie! they went, zooming along,
catch the zeds from those over there.
We're zippy, but they are just zizz,
just z-listers in zombie droves.
Thataway, zanies chill, out of zone,
singing zip-a-dee-aye, zip-a-dee-eh,
zip-a-dee-doo-dah day, to zydeco.
They make zippo or zilch gestures,
they launch zingers from a phone,
each a zillionaire living on pure air,
till zapped by the self-same bug-zapper
that one day will zap
Zealandia back to zero.

David Eggleton

Len Lye's Wind Wand

Bendy baton, swizzle stick, swagger stick parade,
a pole vaulter's pole catapulted skyward,
performing spells at breezy dawn;
a spiral inside a clear glass marble,
a twister bearing the bob of a marker buoy.
Within its moist fog coat, the mountain is coy,
the bee rides the daisy flower back and forth.
Tall wand, a dowser's twitcher, down to earth,
curves to the gusts, inclines to the view,
floats with sphere, a bubble on air;
and then conducts an auction tender
between the mountain and the silver sea,
forest and bird, flax and river,
town and country, wave and whisper,
mountain white as Te Whiti's albatross feather.

David Eggleton

Taking a Line for a Walk: The Poetry of Peter Olds

(Text of a talk I gave at Noticing Peter Olds, an informal symposium on the poetry of Peter Olds, organised by Jacob Edmond, Jenny Powell and Anna Jackson, and the University of Otago English Department, and held on Friday 27 September, 2019 in the University of Otago Business School building.)

New Zealand poet Peter Olds, photographed in Dunedin, October 2014 by Grutness. [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I want to argue that in the poetry of Peter Olds, any day is a good day for taking a line for a walk. As his numerous small publications over the years indicate, his poetry steadily accumulates day by day, made up of lines jotted down and going in and out of notebooks. These lines are the notations of a self-trained observer — gnostic gnawings on the bare bones of reality mayhap, but they always grounded in empirical observation, in tactile factuality. Whereas for some poets to make chin music is to offer a ruminative chewing on the cud of cliché at the pitch that flying insects enter the room, Olds resists falling into that trap by a certain alertness, a certain mental toughness, and by his hard graft of material fought for and processed in an attentive logic of sounds, as in the poem 'Bad Omakoroa' from the 2001 collection Music Therapy, published by the Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop, which opens:

            Walking past the place where Mrs D
            was smashed to death by a speeding car
            as she crossed the road to check her letterbox.
            A pheasant breaks loudly from
            the avocado, flies out of sight
            behind a hedge of feijoa.
             A blue heron circles the sky.
            Pukeko scatter from a vegetable plot.

Peter Olds, rather like Seamus Heaney, digs with his pen. He digs into his own sensibility, he digs up memories and so digs the song of himself, and we dig it, too, as we read, finger-clicking figuratively along with him, digging that bop, that beat, that mysterious current of energy that flows through the ordinary made strange, or at least made curious, absurd, wry, droll, memorious, and recalled as through a glass, darkly.

The poem 'Butcher shop' in the booklet Reaching for the Baxters (published by the Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop in 2007) begins:

            I'm in the Rhubarb Café drinking delicious English breakfast.
            This café's a converted butcher shop ...
    
            ...                             you can imagine blood splattering up
            the pretty white tiles ...
            [and so on, and then the poem twists mordantly]
    
            ...                                 ... Trini Lopez begins to
            shout 'If I had a hammer' as I walk out into the blinding sun and
            across the bridge to the spot where I last saw L, late one night

            just before Christmas ...
            ...                                 and we walked together down the length of
            Highgate shouting and yakking our heads off, and hating Christmas.
            And three weeks later they found her dead in someone's woodshed.

Like James Joyce in his novel Ulysses, Peter Olds is interested in what a single day may be capacious enough to hold, but whereas for Joyce June 16th, Bloomsday, became the day of days, holding all others in a mystical chalice or Grail, day incarnate and revelatory, Peter olds positions every day as superabundant, or at least full of promise, full of quicksilvery essence, oceanic existence.

Take virtually any poem for proof of this. Take 'Graveyard Beach, Omimi', published in Music Therapy:

            And thousands of sandflies hover over
            the smooth-worn cow dead in the rocks
            skin blackened by salt & sun, goose eggs
            laid in its bones, belly evaporated.
            Two other fresh-dead cows fallen over
            the cliff at night,
            legs broken, wedged in rocks.
            One plucked goose stiffened in the
            attitude of flight. Four ewes
            dead from giving birth in a creek-slit
            on the edge of the slippery shore.
            Three paradise ducks circle the sky,
            their high-pitched calls mingling
            with the sounds of thousands of sandflies.

Quite an apocalyptic vision, a modest apocalypse, perhaps, but its sentiments endorse those of John Betjeman in his poem 'Slough': '... swarm over death!'

And so — life, death, greed, humanity, poverty, gentrification, Methodism, bees, love, spirituality, medication, buses, trains, clapped-out pre-War Fords, and an immaculately restored white Oldsmobile Convertible with pink vinyl hood: these are some of the threads, some of the chains of coincidence, continuity and being that run through and animate the verses of Peter Olds, his personal vision rolled round in earth's diurnal course with rocks and stones and trees.

Looking over the diary-like oeuvre, the  methodical corpus of this poet, it is inevitably now vast, a kind of moth-eaten musical brocade, to steal a line from Philip Larkin, embroidering on days where we live.

Poem titles give some idea of special days, through truly every day is special, even unique: 'Anzac Day in the Rooming House', 'Hiroshima day/ 11 am (for Yuri Matsuma)', 'A Cold August Night in the Captain Cook Tavern', 'Morning Picture of South Dunedin'.

Now, you may say such titles suggest a stasis, merely pictorial representations of one damned thing after another. But you would be wrong. Olds is a master of laconic comedy, offering us  delicate absurdist perceptions robustly expressed: childhood winter mornings in an antiquated Christchurch, a portrait of his father as 'a clergyman sitting up in bed ... rolling a racehorse cigarette', a glancing view of a dog described as ' a walking/ chucked-out bargain basement carpet'.

Bringing it all back home, nailing those thoughts, hunkered down in various attics, garrets, boarding houses, flats, Olds weaves a consciousness of the moment into a personal mythography, as in this from 'A plate of lamingtons' in You Fit the Description: the Selected Poems of Peter Olds, (Cold Hub Press, 2014):
    
            The smoke on the hill's from the crematorium,
            OK if you're into backyard fires and don't suffer delusions.
            You could have nightmares worrying about the future,
            who moves in next door,
            shall we sell the second car,
            you'll have to walk to work,
            jog off the cholesterol.
            You've got a job,
            you've got a cellphone,
            I've got a lamington —
            I must come again
            I must come again.

But if  Peter Olds is a bard of the modern urban alienated condition, where did it all begin? It began back when the word was God, and his voice palpable in a1940s Sunday School. It began when a girl asked Marlon Brando in the movie The Wild One as he revved up his motorcycle, where are you going? And he replied, 'Oh man, we just gonna go', echoing Jack Kerouac's On the Road: 'Where we going, man?''I don't know but we gotta go.' And so go became the watchword of the beat generation, reaching New Zealand and its 1950s bodgies and widgies, and reaching Peter Olds, too, as he recalled in his 2012 jukebox poem 'Love Me Do/1963':

            We helped the minister's wife cut layers
            of rotted cloth off drunks
            yellow-skinned with booze
            in the hostel shower ...
            we were 'The Boys',
            Roy Orbison and Gene Pitney imitators.
    
            At the slot of a coin on Ponsonby Road,
            Auckland turned on a needle.

That socio-cultural restlessness led him off the rails, too, as he wrote in 'On Probation' in Lady Moss Revived (Caveman Press, 1972):

            I their shiftless longhaired masterpiece
            edge towards the courthouse
            to face the animal of nightmares ...

These were the Elvis years, the Beatles years, the borstal years, the Dylan years, pop, hippies, psychedelics, the heart of the Sixties and out the other side, post-revolution, post Zabriskie Point, into R.D. Laing anti-psychiatry country, navel-gazing, boiled cabbage and rooming houses, sherry, port wine and roll-your-owns, and on into therapy, abstinence, Zen Buddhism — a relentless psychic cartography winding out of the beatified, beatnik self.

Peter Olds was one of Ginsberg's original angel-headed hipsters in this country, hopped up on Mandrax under the bright red neon HYDRA bacon factory sign that loomed over Ponsonby ridge at Three Lamps. In those days, poets had mana as figureheads of the counterculture, the spiritual children of William Blake, celebrating spontaneity of feeling and expression. Rejection of materialist values was a virtue and madness itself was considered a kind of holy state, a form of inner enlightenment. And yet the truth was always more complex. Peter Olds was there in slum landlord Spring Street, or in a doss house in Wellington Street, a crash pad in James K. Baxter's Boyle Crescent, and writing furiously, getting it all down day by day on paper, though days themselves were elastic back then and sometimes snapped back and even split into pieces.

There were the early phantasmagorias, compounded of amphetamine psychosis, delerium tremens and Visions of Johanna: words, words, words, the incurable itch leading to poet to commit pen to paper — all of a piece with the poet's quotidian routine, years ago today, when he shuttled like a yoyo between Auckland and Dunedin, thumb out looking for the ghost of a 1937 Ford with a V8 motor barrelling down the highway, and looking to catch a ride or a poem or both.

Even back then Olds was a flaneur, keenly observing, keenly noticing, while taking a line for a walk. As he wrote in 'In Auckland', published in 1972's Lady Moss Revived:

            Tonight I am walking to the point of your face.
            Climbing through another part of town,
            the boundaries of a large suburban shell —
            the junk-yard where the poverty-angels fade —
            where dark-skinned beer-lovers
            grab for the warmth of a dim pie-shop light,
            where the man seems to be going in circles,
            where each face beside me looks wild
                                    and driven from its home —
            lips kissing the sky of illusion goodbye
                                    into the crooked chimney tops —
    
            drunk for another day
            another dollar dead.

I'd like to finish with the first part of a poem which we could take as a kind of ongoing manifesto for this poet, one that emphasises a hunter-gatherer quest for experience, for epiphany, for spiritual sustenance. It's the start of a poem entitled 'Surfcasting instructions' which first appeared in the 2005 Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop booklet After Reaching for the Baxters, and the poem itself is dedicated to the late John Dickson, poet and legendary sidewinding raconteur.

            You need the agility of a spear-throwing warrior
            the feet of a high jumper

            and the deft hand of a pool-player.
            You need to run head first

            fearless into the frothing surf, and
            in an instant of non-thinking, cast your line —

            stop,
            swivel round like a shot-putter and bolt back

            into the tussock sandhill like Jack lovelock
            bony finger extended skyward off

            the running line,
            the line itself streaming over your shoulder

            out of the twelve-foot rod's hot bamboo tip
            the bait sinking fast down through beery foam
    
            to the crab-holed floor.

Chain Lightning

A new poem from Murihiku, the tail of the land.

Chain Lightning

I who was harlequin, left jewelled green
on tor bulwark in baroque eyelid dream
through solar rays absorbed down gilt crevice,
salamander by lightning flash, storm-pillaged,
stock-still when matagouri counts each thorn,
I feel the tohunga within, while piercings drum
forecasts of breath that blows this land warm,
and cobwebs shade where mokomoko dart
from those rays gorgon-headed geckos bask;
before heavy clouds race their dark backing
over tussock hairshirt with flagellant hail.
As whistle stones flute higher and higher,
the sleet tattoos dirt to a blind white eyeball.

David Eggleton

Tēnā koe David


David Eggleton. Image David Mckenzie
David Eggleton is Aotearoa New Zealand’s Poet Laureate for 2019-2021.

David began reciting his poetry at rock music gigs in the early 1980s and remains interested in presenting poetry across as many media as possible, keeping poetry live, relevant and vital.

His poetry has featured in murals, short films, on T-shirts, in shop window displays, written on pavements and included in art gallery exhibitions.

His first collection, South Pacific Sunrise, was co-winner of the PEN Best First Book of Poetry Award in 1987. His seventh collection, The Conch Trumpet, won the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry.

David received the Prime Minister's Award for Excellence in Poetry in 2016 and in 2018 Otago University Press published David’s eighth collection, Edgeland.

He edited Landfall between 2011 and 2018, and the free street arts magazine The Cafe Reader between 2014 and 2018. A noted arts reviewer, he has received the Reviewer of the Year Award six times at the New Zealand Book Awards.

David Eggleton has been described as a beatnik bop poet, performing with the perpetual motion of a jiver down at a rock and roll dance-hall on Saturday night. He has also been called a visible ghost-writer, an anonymous voice-over, a shape-shifting poet in the street — a freestyling surrealist and lyrical word-spinner rhyming to a rhythmic beat.

Of his own poetry, David has said it is ‘one long poem, describing the epic voyage of my life’ and that it ‘expresses my passion for the communal experience of living here, in this green archipelago in the South Pacific.’

Former Poet Laureate Cilla McQueen observed of David’s poetry that it is ‘informed with indigenous understanding and discerns the post-colonial legacy with a satirist’s sharp eye for humour and incongruity.’

David is of Rotuman, Tongan and Palagi descent. He lives in Otepoti/Dunedin.

Warming

Up here, seagulls float like kites on thermals.
Down there, a car canters like a racehorse
through pasture, towards Aramoana.
The giant wharf cranes of Port Chalmers
stand like steel giraffes in a story book,
and time is reluctant to turn the page.

A fishing boat’s wake is carving a V
in the freckled salty skin of the sea,
furrowing its calm green translucence,
until the sun squeezes juice from quarter
of a lemon onto the veiling, foam-white,
dissolved wings of a billion butterflies.
Pick up that foam, pick it up and drape it
across the dry riverbeds of the skies.

David Eggleton

Tokotoko Takes the Stage - From Jurassic Park to Jacinda' - ha!

Selina and Tusitala Kapura at an event to celebrate the life of mountaineer, adventurer and humanitarian, Sir Edmund Hillary, who was born 100 years ago on 20 July 1919.

At the event, Selina performed her new poem about Sir Ed called 'Hillary’s Step'. The poem is featured on an installation of the same name at Christchurch Airport.

Tokotoko takes the stage - from Jurassic Park to Jacinda' - ha!

L to R: Professor Neil Quigley,  University of Waikato Vice-Chancellor, Sam Neill, actor, writer, producer, director, and vineyard owner,  Tusitala Kapura, Selina's tokotoko,  Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Poet Laureate and Professor Clive Gilson, Chair of the Hillary Centenary Steering Committee.

Poet Laureate Award call for nominations

Kia hiwa ra!
Kia hiwa ra!

The National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa is seeking nominations for the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award.

Poetry is a quintessential part of New Zealand art and culture, and through the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award the government acknowledges the value that New Zealanders place on poetry.

The Chief Librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library will appoint the New Zealand Poet Laureate after reviewing nominations and seeking advice from the New Zealand Poet Laureate Advisory Group.

Nominees must have made an outstanding contribution to New Zealand poetry, and be an accomplished and highly regarded poet who continues to publish new work. They must also be a strong advocate for poetry and be able to fulfil the public role required of a Poet Laureate. The role includes engaging with a wide range of people and inspiring New Zealanders to read and write poetry.

Candidates are expected to reside in New Zealand during their tenure as Laureate.

The term of appointment for the next Poet Laureate will run until August 2021.
Nominations close on Wednesday, 24 July 2019 at 5pm.

Please email your nomination to Ruby.Yee@dia.govt.nz

Email is preferred, but you can also mail your nomination to:

Alexander Turnbull Library
Attention New Zealand Poet Laureate Award
PO Box 12349
Wellington.

Send any enquiries about the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award can be directed to Peter.Ireland@dia.govt.nz