This will be the penultimate entry I make on the National Library’s blog site. The invitation to nominate a new poet laureate has been posted, and soon another writer will be enjoying the generous hospitality of these pages and the blog’s support crew, not least the guy who may seldom get the thanks he deserves: Reuben Schrader, who’s transformed my messy texts into the elegant pages you see on your screens. Thank you Reuben. (Ed: Aw, thanks.)
One of the enjoyable spin-offs from the involvement of students at Auckland University has been the project, at once inspired and bizarre, to use the university's Photon Factory research facility to shrink some verses of 'Shadow Stands Up' and laser them on to objects including a piece of coal, a bus card, a cork, and a key. I love this project because it reminds me of my favourite museum, the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, Los Angeles. Here, you will find objects whose relationship to verifiable truth and material authenticity – or usefulness – is ambiguous to say the very least. The Microminiatures of Hagop Sandaldjian, for example – teeny-weeny sculptures that can fit inside the eye of a needle – are described in deadpan museum label-ese. "Each nearly weightless sculpture seems to hover between its slim hold on the material plane and the lucid and immeasurable reality of a mental image. Straddling the line between science, craft, art, and novelty, Sandaldjian's work befuddles our ability to make such distinctions, and in so doing, opens a space for wonder." Of course there’s a give-away: "nearly weightless"?
The possibility that Sandaldjian's works may not exist seems beside the point. They exist, or come to exist, inside a space called a 'museum', in much the way that words sometimes seem to exist inside a space called 'poetry'.
A bonus of this disappearing act which I also like is the sense I get of the 'Shadow Stands Up' poems, and my time on these pages, not exactly fading to black but disappearing to a pin-prick invisible to the naked eye.
You can see this happening at poetryoffthepage.org.nz, where an interactive website allows visitors to zoom in on the poems. Thank you to the students of Poetry off the Page 2012, who selected the objects and supplied initial design ideas for Jake, Rob, Fraser, Cather and the rest of the Photon Factory crew to implement, and to Michele Leggott and Helen Sword who run the Poetry Off the Page course. The ten inscribed objects, one for each of the first ten sections of 'Shadow Stands Up,' will now travel on to Special Collections at the University of Auckland Library, where a display involving physical and digital renditions of the project is being organised by Library staff.
The last full-size shadow you'll read here is number 17 (there are three more in the book...) in which a lovely dog called Pete is farewelled.
Dead of night, the sentinel
clock strikes three from the tower
at the junction of Three Lamps
where many roads converge if
you’re arriving but diverge
if you’re striking out. Goodbye
dear Pete, I’ll never forget our
walks up behind the zoo where
slyly slinking hyenas
stopped you in your tracks – shaking
with recognition you looked
over your shoulder as if
to ask, should I remember
this, is this what you mean by
that cacique of Westerners,
Anubis, black dog, Khenty-
Imentiu, whose shadow
stands up as he trots human
souls towards the Western Lands?