The Situation 2021: Sue Wootton

The Situation 2021

Tēnā koutou katoa

‘The Situation 2021’ is a continuation of ‘The Situation 2020’. A kind of Poet Laureate's Choice of work from Aotearoa New Zealand poets for the Poet Laureate blog. Essentially, it will be a portfolio of poetry, posted over the next while, from a range of poets whose work I have enjoyed reading recently: interesting poems for interesting times.

David Eggleton


Where goes my body, where goes my mind,
that journey’s dust settles on me, sheet

upon sheet. My winding sheets, my coil,
my solenoid core, my sedimental sentiments,

all I walk through layered on me, pressed,
preserved. I carry my divining and designing

rods across the lodes, sum myself in strings
and Fibonacci spirals. The tempo of spheres

is my comfort and my curiosity. Loom, wheel,
slide rule. Gimbals and ullage and magnificent

desolation. I am galvanised by itch
and mystery, doomed to want

to know. Engine and ingenuity, mitochondrial
machine. This is my tissue-thin life, a matter

of strata and stratagem, microplastics in the carbon
record, a geology of thought and peristalsis,

the chitter-chatter of cell life in its arc. I strew
my trails. Melt reveals my strops and blades, my yarns

and needles. I am an anatomy of pollen and mites, host
to the democratic cacophony, bacteria, parasite,

the viral load. I accrue in layers, though I shed
and shed my soiled skins, although regardless

I forget and forget. In my meteor craters
and my caves snore physicists, poets, healers,

mariners, prophets and gods. I take my pick
to the glittering seams for what clear thread persists,

drawing it through the thick of the tangle.
Word-boned animal with a lace-work mind

blind with gimp and spangle, holed
with loss and limbic-wired for terror,

constantly assailed by vertigo on the lip
of the fathomless fall. Yet the visions pierce.

I swoon, still dizzied in my cities by distant stars,
by the glaze of evening sunlight on a street,

by a certain slant upon a single tree, its portal brilliance,
the excellence and delicacy of a gilt-edged leaf.

— Sue Wootton




How strange it is, a river, made of motion,
made of air, the way it’s every moment

its own catchment and its own release,
full presence, incomplete trajectory,

each rill containing every upstream rill,
each ripple-surge a leading edge that,

in the instant of its observation, dissolves,
pours forward and entirely follows, source

and seeking – both – with all it was
propelling all its going, so that the current

singing to the clock tower from the weirs
is more than it appears, and utters it, karakia

to the summit’s wind, the moon, the stars,
the cap cloud streaming over Cargill,

so that to cross Ōwheo on the footbridge is to cross

dawn chorus, evening roost, the ruru,
frost-beaded moss, five-finger, broadleaf, fern,

whip-tailed kōura in the dappled burn,
deleatidium, smelt, a fuchsia flower afloat,

the ghostly chunk-chunk-chunk
of watermills, and hammer-echo, axe,

the pin-point glow shone in by fungus gnats
from mucus droplets strung on silk,

the footprints of a mayfly strutting
on the pollen-dusted riverskin – is to cross

a long kōrero, whose strands and trails
and traces whisper, babble, surface, disappear,

a telling in the valley of its knowing,
if we would but learn to hear.

(Ōwheo: the Māori name for The Water of Leith.)    

— Sue Wootton

Sue Wootton biography

Sue Wootton’s novel Strip (Mākaro Press) was longlisted for the 2017 Ockham NZ Book Awards, and her most recent poetry collection, The Yield (OUP), was a finalist in these awards in 2018. She was the 2008 Robert Burns Fellow, and held the 2018/19 NZSA Beatson Fellowship. She was awarded the 2020 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship. Sue lives in Ōtepoti-Dunedin where she is the recently-appointed Publisher at Otago University Press.

Sue Wootton. Image by Oscar Francis. 

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