Thursday, 30 October 2008

Apprentice acrobat

Bodil Malmsten's new book is out - The Last Book from Finistere, but only in Swedish. I have no Swedish and there are no plans to translate. I found a webpage which translated her entire webpage, from Swedish into English, and that was great. She writes about events worldwide. Quotes for example one article entitled Poor Volvo - apparently orders are down to ONE TRUCK per day! (I am always curious about Sweden). Also quotes from newspapers in the US and France, good coverage.

Today my turn for a review by the group. Two poems are in deep trouble, Meeting the House and Upon reading the National Geographic. I keep trying and trying to improve them, but they do not find favour. I try to see them through other people's eyes, hear them with other people's ears, and learn. All I can think of right now is that the expression 'a cold shoulder' is weird, for some reason. I use it to describe the way the flight of concrete stairs leading to the porch and to our front door is angled away from a person arriving up the path, as if to say, You may be here, but we are not really interested. I think that I need to re-write Nat Geo completely, and have an idea that it might work, I feel relatively optimistic there. Have re-written Meeting the house already, more detail, more help for the reader - for Hinemoana said, Maybe it is under-written.

The feedback today was more muscular, to the point, no tiptoeing- it has given me something to work with. (There are some bruises, part of growing up, I think, like learning to be an acrobat.) I'll keep writing - other stuff- and then look back at these poems one day and probably wonder how I could not see what was wrong.

Here's a photo of our group taken last week, in front of Whitireia's library, with Hinemoana in the middle (white T-shirt). We are looking out over the lagoon which has ducks and gulls, towards the green Kapiti hills, low under a vast expanse of blue sky. Beautiful.

Discussion at lunch with the others about meeting up once the course is over: that will happen, I am happy.
We prepared for the gig on Monday at the pub, Howltearoa. I shall sing Yedid Nefesh, with the old familiar tune. Just the first stanza.

One thing I realise I have learnt during this year, which was wrong with the novel-in-process, and now have an inkling how to remedy - the cloying sweetness. A sweet story about Nazis. Yes.

In one of Elizabeth's emails, she mentioned Maxine Kumin - I might like her work. Well, she is one for me: no frills, and funny. Look here for some of her poems, Woodchucks is my favourite.

Monday, 27 October 2008


Am reading a book both about and by TS Eliot, The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot's contemporary prose (L. Rainey, ed., 2005, Yale University Press).

I read a bit of the poem, it was enough to entice me to read the long introduction by Lawrence Rainey and be drawn in still further. I am looking forward to this very much.

Wrote a poem I'm calling Motherhood - first draft. It seems to have emerged from the Black Lake poem.

Another story: I have been asked to provide a blurb about Kristallnacht events for the programme of the Vector Orchestra concert which commemorates them. I thought I'd quote a bit from my book. Am busy with that, but not quite sure how to approach the whole business. I have till Thursday to sort that out.

Hinemoana suggested that maybe besides reading my poems, I should sing something at the Howltearoa poetry reading at Southern Cross Pub, next Monday November 3rd.

(For readers outside New Zealand, the name Howltearoa is a combination of Allen Ginsburg's poem title Howl, and one of the Maori names for NZ, Aotearoa.)

The poster was produced by the poets' collective who run the monthly poetry readings.

Am thoughtful about the possibility of singing.

I said to my children on Friday: Maybe this is happening too late for me. I feel tired. Backache.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Unkept promises

A welcome day at home.
Working on poems, cutting mainly. Feedback from Elizabeth is positive. I have yet to try sending anything anywhere for publication, cowardly.

Started on a story, something that happened, that I know about, a wicked old lady - well, maybe not so wicked, more misguided.

I have not kept to my promise to read poetry every day, yet. Nor have I been writing the 20 min of free flow, even though I know it is a good technique. Time to pull myself back on track, I would like those things to become routine. Have strayed considerably from everything, including Zazen and walking, though with regard to exercise, was happily busy in the garden for several hours yesterday.

I read a short play by Tennessee Williams, Something cloudy, something clear, because the title appealed so much. He wrote it when he was old, and death is in the play, though the play appears to be about young people - young people who know they are dying. The cloudy and clear are in the eyes of the writer - there is a writer in the play. Apart from the title, it makes grim reading.

Monday, 20 October 2008


A sudden spate of people reading this blog - over a hundred - leaving no comments - what triggered that?

Discovered a new blog to follow, entitled Long pauses, (see here) mainly film reviews, good reviews.

The name Long pauses is a quote from the English poet Denise Levertov, in her 1987 poem entitled Making peace:

"Making peace

A voice from the dark called out:
"The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war."


A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentences our lives are making
revoked its affirmation of profit and power
questioned our needs, allowed long pauses...

There is much more, see the blog.

The Long pauses blog put me onto a (for me) new director, Nathaniel Dorsky (San Francisco, US), who makes short non-narrative films that are as yet unavailable here. A good description might be contemplative. He calls his style Devotional Cinema, and has written about it in a short book of that title, also unavailable.

We watched an Afghani movie entitled Osama last night, a story focussing on ordinary women in Afghanistan under the Taleban. The director is Siddiq Barmaq: the film is beautifully shot (in Aghanistan) and stringently cut - one of the sources of its power. It said somewhere that he decided during the editing to remove any trace of hope. The film won countless awards.

Have dragged myself around all morning unable to work because of the hopelessness. This has happened before, had sworn to avoid films like that.

Reviewing my own poems last week: cut, cut, cut.
Like pruning the roses.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008


Someone told me to read a novel called Remember me by Trezza Azzopardi, read it last night and disappeared into it, a feeling of being sucked in - thank goodness it's over, a depressing and scary world, about a woman with an intellectual disability living as a derelict, a bag-lady. Wonderful writing, in terms of imagery and of getting inside the head of someone like her, but also lacking in some ways, practical things not thought through. Azzopardi's first novel The Hiding Place was short-listed for the Booker in 2000. Her father is Maltese and her mother Welsh, she grew up in Cardiff.

Today is my uninterrupted day, got a lot done, have prepared poems for emailing on Thursday. Year-long resume next, tomorrow morning, mainly based on this blog.

Read Dylan Thomas's Where once the waters of your face, an ode to the sea, or is it the tide?
Expressions I noticed: 'The dead turns up its eye' , 'your clocking tides','the dolphined sea'. He eliminates words, changes others, creates concentrated expressions, the language becomes rich and fresh. That's from his book The Loud Hill of Wales.

A Scots friend lent me Selected Poems by George Mackay Brown (1971 & 1977, Hogarth Press). The first poem, from his Loaves and Fishes collection, is entitled The Old Women: they

"...fix on you from every close and pier
An acid look to make your veins run sour."

and at the death of a "...gray-eyed sober boy..." would

"...weave into their moans

An undersong of terrible holy joy."

The use of holy!

Monday, 13 October 2008

Humble pie

When the class reviewed my poem Meeting the house, a month or so ago, I listened in silence as people took their turn to comment, following the usual format for feed-back. I didn't agree with what I heard and when everyone had finished, I told them: "I won't change a damned thing".

Well, heaps has been changed and the poem is the better for it, slimmer, punchier. I was wrong. Apologies, people.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Abandoning the parochial

Reading Leonard Cohen. From the interviews with him and with others who know him, he is painstaking, choosing words slowly.

There is a quality to the poetry which has to do with the general, the topic that touches everyone. It is a relief to read poems like that.

How to do that.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Black lake

Today is uninterrupted, I can write. Am listing future phone calls and letters as I think of them. P guards the gate.

Yesterday evening, poetry reading with my Whitireia classmates at L's, a nice evening. We may keep in touch after the course is over.

The poem I read is called - for the time being - Away from here. Here is the last bit:

I would like to be that lake now -
black, silent, reflecting cloud, rock and snow,
the ruffle of a small sharp breeze, and then still
again. No fish, no bird, no other being.

Is it an ode to Death - frozen stillness except for the breeze? fish, no bird... - so much non-life. Except for other being... someone is there, maybe me? maybe not? The breath of air, wairua, ruffles the water.

Ruach noshevet al pnei ha mayim...
A wind breathes on the face of the water, says the Israeli poet Rachel (my translation). Ruach can mean both wind and spirit, I realise. More and more biblical. Checking Genesis 1:2, and the words ruach and al pnei ha mayim are there - but God's spirit (ruach elohim) 'hovers' over the water, merachefet, not noshevet.

Or is this poem about longing to be a Zen person in a black robe, anchored on a black cushion? Noshevet has for me the connotation, the sound, of the passive tense of Yashav, he sat. In the feminine - she was sat.


Watched the Leonard Cohen documentary I'm your man and the music is in my head all the time, wake up with it, go to sleep with it. I'm dying to sing that song- If it be your will. Found Anthony singing it on You tube, better than LC himself - took down most of the words. Seeing/hearing the MacGarrigle sisters in the film - a flashback. We must be the same age.

I set the timer for eight minutes and it rang - ages ago.

Monday, 6 October 2008


A confession: Two non-writing projects of mine are going awry at the moment and it is difficult to write while this is happening. The 3 hours of writing should come first, but the compulsion is strong to try and get things moving on those fronts, and once the phoning and talking about them starts, whatever peacefulness there was is replaced - for a while at least - by agitation and a churning stomach.

Months ago, someone lent us a DVD of a film about Leonard Cohen and his songs, entitled I'm Your Man. It was almost lost, then found again, then about to be returned unseen, and finally last night, when there was nothing else to do, we watched it, transfixed. When it ended we re-watched the songs we liked most, it was after midnight when we said, This is madness. The songs are still going through my head. They were not sung by LC who is in his seventies, but by other people, wonderfully. Rufus W. sang the Halleluyah which is well know, but that was not the best, the best was Anthony, singing If it be your will - straight to the heart. Wonderful words all along. Good interviews with LC himself. They showed some footage of him and his Roshi, very fat and old, and neither of them at ease, a surprising thing to notice about a Zen master.

The DVD is also at Wellington's Central Library. The lovely library.

That was my most recent enthusiasm. There was another before that - two in two days - a book I spent the entire Saturday reading: Portrait of the Artist's Wife, by Barbara Anderson (1992, VUW). My original perception of her as a writer was formed by a play she wrote entitled Gorillas, which was put on by the local amateur theatrical group. That group can do a decent job, but the play was ghastly - and does not feature in the list of her publications on the Book Council website, so something must have happened to it (maybe it became something else?)

The Portrait was gripping: as if a dear friend were telling a story about something that has happened to her, that has changed her. The story progresses naturally in time, a relief after bumpy flashbacks encountered elsewhere.

In particular - and this is a personal view - to the point of tears, I was touched by the loving portrayal of the elderly refugee couple from Vienna, Olga and Otto, who tutor and mentor the main character. That generation has all but vanished now, but the portrait is true, true.

Reading Elizabeth Smithers' Professor Musgrove's Canary. Reading aloud has its rewards - the smell of stone, I wondered? Ah yes, stoned...

Struggling with a new Robert Hass book bought extravagantly new - it includes a ten-page essay on Rilke, which I am trying to complete the reading of, have tried twice so far, admittedly before going to sleep. From a second hand bookshop: Stevie Smith, Dylan Thomas and Seamus Heaney's for my own bookshelf, to keep. No CK Williams anywhere, yet.
Also CL Stead's My Name was Judas. That will have to wait till I have written more and read more poetry.

And constant companions, read for the calm and the wisdom: Charlotte Joko Beck's classic Everyday Zen (S. Smith, ed., 1989, Thorsons), and the quarterly fascicles of Mountain Record, from Zen Mountain Monastery. Daido Roshi included a lovely sci fi story by Terry Bison in one of his talks - here is just a small excerpt:

“They are made out of meat.”
“There’s no doubt about it. We picked up several from different parts of the planet and took them aboard our recon vessels and probed them all the way through, and they are completely meat.”
“That’s impossible. What about the radio signals, the message to the stars?”
“They use radio waves to talk, but the signals don’t come from them, the signals come from machines.”

“So who made the machines? That’s who we want to contact.”
“They made the machines. That’s what I am trying to tell you—meat made the machines.
“That’s ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You are asking me to believe in sentient meat?”
“I am not asking you, I am telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in the sector and they are made out of meat.”

If you want the rest of the story, and the rest of Daido Roshi's dharma discourse, which is entitled Perfection Revealed, you can find it here. (The sci fi story is in italics half-way through).

Wednesday, 1 October 2008


Today some sort of routine is resumed. Too much has been going on which has nothing to do with writing, commitments to others. Also some business hanging over me which was originally to be completed long ago and which is still going on. People to be overseen and chased up. It is just how things are.

Looking back reveals how necessary peace of mind is for writing. Knowing that there are just three hours to write in and that then it will be necessary to jump up and deal with the so-called real world means that writing may be unfocussed during those three hours. Writing this blog is my favourite diversion from writing poems.

Today the 20 min free writing exercise: only carried out three times in September, not counting the times we wrote in class. Poems have been written but not finished, in the sense that more work is needed - or maybe they should be chucked out?

Taking my writing book to bed with me in the evening can work well; by then nothing more can be done about all the other stuff, and my head is clearer, less anxious. But tired, which is why it is not a good long-term strategy.

Have been reading over the last weeks a medley of poetry, Robert Lowell, Kate Camp's Realia and some of Elizabeth's poetry collections. These last have intriguing titles taken from poems in the collection: You're very seductive, William Carlos Wiliams (1978, John McIndoe) and The Legend of Marcello Mastroianni's Wife (1981, Auckland University Press and Oxford University Press). Re-reading them several times brings more enjoyment, more understanding, and also a clearer perception of how the number of words can be reduced - what can be pared off, how to leave space for the reader's imagination, rather than pinning it down with detail. That may be a new insight, or is it an old one which has returned with greater power?