Life is not a dream. Careful! Careful! Careful!
‘The city that does not sleep’
New Age mystics. Wave-particle physics.
Federico Garcia Lorca, that all-night talker.
The law. The rot inside the apple core.
All dawdlers. Power walkers. Tattoo
parlours. Death metal concerts.
Poetry readings that go on for hours.
Cigarettes. White-singleted men in bedsits.
Responsibilities. Provincial cities.
Representation on committees.
Bad sex. Rainforest decks. Sunday best.
Other people’s crises. Lychees. Waste
of breath. At all costs, avoid death.
Too much sun. Too much of one thing.
Wagner’s Ring. Paintings of cows at eventide.
Cows in formaldehyde. Sentimentality
and cynicism. Literary criticism. Impartiality.
Anyone with a knife. The good life.
Goodbye, bagel, table for one.
Coffee, cigarette. Warmth of the sun.
Goodbye, sparrow. Goodbye, speckled hen.
Goodbye, tomorrow. Goodbye, remember when.
Goodbye pepper, goodbye, salt.
Goodbye, sour and bitter things. And honey. Malt.
Goodbye whiskey, cabernet, beer.
Goodbye, Christmas. Goodbye, New Year.
Goodbye mortgage, taxes, and bills,
renovator’s makeover, rotten windowsills,
lovers, hatreds, kid pen-pal from Mumbai.
Old body that I’ve come to know. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.
Tim Upperton (from The night we ate the baby, Haunui Press, 2014)
On that note, I’ll conclude this 15 week Tiki Tour of New Zealand poetry—a rare opportunity to redirect some literary traffic eastwards, back across the Pacific. American voices have been heard in New Zealand for decades now—and their influence is everywhere to be felt in our contemporary poetry. Yet most American readers and writers don’t know much at all about New Zealand and its poetry. (A rare exception: Robert Creeley married a girl from Dunedin and used to drop by nearly often enough for us to claim him as a New Zealand poet.) For anyone wanting to explore antipodean poetry a little further, a good starting place is the ‘Best New Zealand Poetry’ website (administered by Chris Price and the Institute of Modern Letters)—an annual on-line publication inspired by the ‘Best American Poetry’ anthologies: https://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/iiml/bestnzpoems/index.html The site features such indispensable poets as James K. Baxter, Allen Curnow, Ian Wedde, Janet Frame, C. K. Stead, Keri Hulme, Geoff Cochrane, Kate Camp, Ashleigh Young and virtually all of the NZ poets featured on the present site over the past 15 weeks.
Among the anthologies in print, I can wholeheartedly recommend Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets, ed. Andrew Johnston and Robyn Marsack (VUP & Carcanet, UK, 2008) and The best of the best New Zealand Poems (ed. Bill Manhire and Damien Wilkins, VUP 2012). For a wider view of the nation’s literature, the 1200 page compendium The AUP Anthology of New Zealand Literature (ed. Jane Stafford and Mark Williams, 2012) is—remarkably, given its size—sparky, enticing, energising and brilliant. Also worth a close look: Essential New Zealand Poems (ed. Siobhan Harvey, Harry Ricketts and James Norcliffe), 99 ways into New Zealand poetry (ed. Harry Ricketts and Paula Green), the periodicals Landfall, Sport, Hue & Cry, and the on-line journals: trout (https://www.trout.auckland.ac.nz/) and turbine (https://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/iiml/turbine/Turbi13/index.html). Many thanks to all the poets and publishers who have helped present this sampler over the past three months.
Having reached the end of my 15-week stint without including any prose poetry, I would like to make mention of a genre which is in particularly good health here in the antipodes. Interested persons should seek out the work of Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle, Airini Beautrais, James MccNaughton, Aleksandra Lane, Cilla McQueen, Anne Kennedy, Michael Harlow and Richard von Sturmer, to name a few. I can’t resist adding (alongside a photograph by Victoria Birkinshaw) the following prose-poem by Rachel O’Neill (from One Human in Height, Hue & Cry Press 2013):
Closer and closer
She is a parachutist and for her own reasons approaches her family reunion from above. Falling, she spies a young girl who looks cool, dressed in fluorescent pink bike shorts, hair tied up with a scrunchie, which is a sort of mini deflated parachute for the head. It’s a sign that I’m landing in the middle of the right reunion, the parachutist thinks. Also she can see a group near a smoky BBQ, waving. The parachutist can’t yet confirm that she’s landing in the midst of the right people but she likes the look of them, the way they’re starting to part a little so that she can land safely amongst them. Please, let them be my family, she thinks, because whoever they are, they’re getting closer and closer.