please put the poem back

posted by Michele

There was a move recently at The NZ Listener to cut publication of the weekly poem which has appeared in that magazine for decades. It’s one of the few places that offer a substantial fee for a poem ($150 per acceptance) and the only NZ print publication to publish a poem 51 weeks in the year. For the past few years the Listener poem has also been archived online (here’s CK Stead’s elegy for editor Robin Dudding, written after a visit to the Michael King Centre on Mt Victoria in Devonport a few months ago).

Bookman Beattie has logged the uproar over the proposed cut here and it seems likely the Listener will reconsider its decision. Here’s my letter to the editor, dispatched yesterday. The readership figure is cited from the latest Nielsen Media Research National Readership Survey.

30 October 2008

Dear Listener editor/s

A lot of time and effort is put in by poets, publishers and readers to get poetry into public places. When poems reach the walls of galleries or cafes, the signboards of buses and trains or the surfaces of beaches and pavements, public response is positive and everyone is reminded that poems live in the world as well as on the page. So why has The Listener decided to discontinue its weekly poem, the one place in this country that prints a poem which reaches 286,000 potential readers every seven days? Cost? I wouldn’t think $150 per week (the current fee) is too high a price to pay for the preservation of an honourable tradition that tells us poetry engages hearts and minds wherever it goes. Please put the poem back.

shore space

posted by Michele

Auckland’s North Shore is heavily populated with poets, past and present (it used to be a cheap place to live). So it seemed like an excellent opportunity to profile some of them during the launch of Shore Space, the North Shore City Council’s new arts portal, at the Bruce Mason Centre in Takapuna last night.

Robin Hyde spent most of 1937, her last year in New Zealand, living on the Shore in a series of baches in Castor Bay and Milford. It was a very difficult year but she got a lot of writing done before leaving for England in January 1938. Here she is, taking a bus ride from Devonport to Milford, finding diverse company along the way.

And already the poem is out of date: Sonja Yelich’s new collection Get Some (Auckland UP) was launched last week in Devonport and Stu Bagby had the first copies of Just Another Fantastic Anthology: Auckland in Poetry (Antediluvian Press) in the boot of his car last night. Watch that space!

shore space

Robin Hyde is getting off the ferry
weeping like Niobe   she's been to see
Work and Income and her case manager
is not enthusiastic about the novel
or the new poetry collection   her tears fell
like marrow fat peas as she crossed the harbour
but now the sun is mopping them up
she posts a letter to John A Lee telling him
she is not pregnant with a third child
and his government should do something
about the land grab going on at Orakei
then she catches the bus for Takapuna
and contemplates the shape of things to come
as it rattles along the waterfront

look there's the Fairburn house
but no Rex   he was sent to buy chops
for the family dinner and wandered off
to the Masonic   where the public bar
is critiquing the second draft of Dominion
Robin Hyde waves from the bus
the bar waves back   bring us yours
next time you’re down this way they call
she pats the typescript in her bag
a little book of dream and philosophy
something for everyone there
and here's Kevin Ireland with jaunty Sid
heading for the cricket pavilion
after a narrow escape from the fangs
of a neighbourhood fiend in Domain St
Sonja Yelich pulls alongside   honk honk
in a big car full of kids and books
caught your last one on National Radio
she calls   let me know if there’s anything
I can do
  Robin Hyde perks up
as the bus swings past Narrow Neck
look at all those sailboats   surely one or two
hold world-class poets in the making
she likes the look of the bicycle lanes
on Lake Rd   she spots Frank Sargeson
ambling home to Esmonde Rd   hey Frank
let's get together next week at my place

the pale idea of Janet Frame floats
around the corner but this is not the moment
to compare notes on mental health
and anyway the bus is grinding past the lake
where Leigh and Susan Davis
are watching rowers and swans drift past
on a perfect map of the sky
isn’t that tony green tony green tony green
jogging by in lycra and an experimental hat?
Robin Hyde gets off the bus in Milford
and down the road comes Wystan Curnow
fresh from a swim at Castor Bay
with D'Arcy Cresswell and Sam Hunt
they've heard about the plan
to sail for England and are here to offer help
with packing when the time arrives
Robin Hyde is touched   guys that's awesome
she thanks them and they all walk up
the hill to Prospect Terrace
to meet the gang of people waiting there

it’s quite a scene   a small room
with large windows overlooking Rangitoto
John Yelash and Robin Dudding uncork the Lemora
Greville Texidor tangos past with Anna Kavan
Mary Stanley blows a kiss
to three boys trailing home with towels
and a typewriter thumps in the back room
where Kendrick Smithyman is putting
finishing touches to the masterpiece of the day
he hands out copies and everyone
offers comment so useful
he gets back on the job right away
Stu Bagby's asking for contributions
to Great New Zealand Sex Poems Volume II
Jan Kemp is arranging TV contracts
for those whose Collected Works have gone
platinum on international charts   yes platinum
Keith Sinclair's heart is in his mouth
be kind to one another, kiss a little
and here's Karl Stead fronting up
with the keys to a London flat   please I insist
the big pohutukawa at the gate
leans out over the iron roof   fantails hop
in a mesh of boughs
  the typewriter thunders on
above the talk of poets living and dead
and suddenly Robin Hyde no longer minds
that the landlady wants her out
in time to catch the Christmas rentals
Kendrick look there's this new machine
I could take overseas   why don't you keep
my old clunker
  she's bought
the tickets to go to England by way of China
Japan Russia Germany and France
the whole World War just waiting
to happen   and who knows
what will become of her novels her letters
and her poetry collections   one thing's
for sure   she would be pleased
this spring afternoon above the bays
where gorse and mangroves present
a united front and choko vines run wild
she would be pleased to see Jack Ross
and friends rolling in with a box of books
and a sausage sizzle to do a fundraiser
for a poet who has run out of cornflakes
on the other side of the world   Robin Hyde
is living on baked beans and disprins
soon she will leave the places we can see
and walk the seaward road that glistens
with disappearances   she waves her stick
in farewell as the sun goes down
on the blue and blissful bay   she finds a piece
of Exquisite Bond in the wilderness of paper
that is her boat   and starts to write

Image: Robin Hyde, 1936
Photographer: Spencer Digby
From Young Knowledge: The Poems of Robin Hyde, Auckland University Press, 2003 

travelling tapa

posted by Michele

Here’s Rachel Blau DuPlessis settling in at Durham, North Carolina, where she and partner Bob DuPlessis are visiting fellows for the North American academic year at the National Humanities Centre. Rachel is flagging the recent publication of Ron Silliman’s monumental work The Alphabet (U of Alabama P, September 2008), a long poem published serially over 30 years and appearing now in its full 26 parts. She’s also sitting under a beautiful piece of Tongan tapa that travelled from Auckland to Umbria in June when we went to stay for a few days with Rachel and Bob at their summer place in Italy. There it is (below) unrolled in full on the terrace.

It was at this point we learned that Bob is an authority on, among other things, the history of textile production in central Italy (what he doesn’t know about wool, linen and the farming of silkworms isn’t worth knowing). But the bark cloth from the Pacific, involving a different kind of mulberry tree, was new to him and to Rachel. We’re glad to see the tapa is still travelling and look forward to having the roving Americans in our part of the world. They’ve been to Australia twice and they’re keen to come here. Text and textiles could be the drawcard.

Images from top:

Rachel Blau DuPlessis with The Alphabet.
Photo credit: Bob DuPlessis

Rachel and Michele with tapa.
Photo credit: Mark Fryer

for the record

posted by Michele

A catch-up on events and activities winter through spring:

5-7 July NZSA/CNZS conference in Florence, Italy, keynote presentation ‘Talking to the Future in the Mountains of the Star’ and presentation with Brian Flaherty of nzepc’s LOVE, WAR AND LAST THINGS: A Digital Bridge for Florence.

18 July Poetry Central at Auckland City Library, launching New NZ Poets in Performance and Bob Orr’s Calypso on Montana Poetry Day.

4 August Hand to Hand: Five Laureates at Writers on Mondays, reading with Jenny Bornholdt, Bill Manhire, Elizabeth Smither and Brian Turner at the National Library, Wellington.

13 August Chancellor’s Lecture ‘Resuming folding life’ at Massey University, Albany campus.

28 August Mollie: On the Track of the Ohakune Elephant 1957-2008, University of Auckland.

5-7 September The Press Christchurch Writers Festival, panel discussion with Bill Manhire, Bernadette Hall and Brian Turner.

20 September Poetry off the Page, presentation with Helen Sword at Going West literary festival in Titirangi.

Top: With Penny ('Crone Queen') Somervaille.
Bottom: Penny chalking
Photographs by Renee Liang.