Poetry NZ Issue 25
Issue 25

Alistair Paterson

Tracey Slaughter, Chris Abani, Raewyn Alexander, Nick Ascroft, Iain Britton, Chezia Thompson Cager, T. Anders Carson, Jill Chan, Jennifer Compton, Mary Cresswell, Carol V. Davis, Andrew Detheridge, Jennifer Dobbs, Elizabeth Gingell, Rachel Hadas, Jan Hutchinson, Elizabeth Isichei, Anna Jackson, Jan Kemp, Jesse Lee Kercheval, Mercedes Lawry, Julie Leibrich, Barbara McCartney, Nick Maslin, Noel Monahan, Mark Murphy, John O'Connor, Megan Parish, Robert Peters, Mark Pirie, Barbara Raeburn, PB Rippey, Jack Ross, Denise Sammons, Lewis Scott, Gareth Shute, Karen Swenson, Pat White, Simon Williamson, Mark Young

Mark Murphy

Jack Ross

Books in brief:
Alistair Paterson

While issues 23 and 24 concentrated on the poetry of brilliant teenager Pooja Mittal, and well-established New Zealand/American poet Michael Harlow, this issue features the work of Tracey Slaughter – a poet born in New Zealand in 1972 and described by the editor of British magazine Fire, as 'an exciting new voice in world poetry.' It includes an editorial and an article by Mark Murphy of Christchurch (NZ) on irrational and subconscious influences in poetry writing, and offers a wide variety of verse from poets in the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Ireland and Australia, as well as New Zealand.

Three sample poems can be found here: Johnny's song by Anna Jackson, Body Talk by Barbara Raeburn and Ataturk by Simon Williamson.


Poetry can be thought of in many ways. One such idea is that it isn't a product of logical thought but springs from a quality of mind – a non-rational aspect of mental functioning specific to aesthetic experience and activity. The work that's reached PNZ over the last few years reinforces this view and suggests that a poem is a linguistic artefact that can be either two or three dimensional – the third dimension being one that gives it a heightened intensity, an aesthetic reality it mightn't otherwise have. As a number of people have suggested, poetry and science perhaps relate to each other through quantum theory and the uncertainty principle. The problem for poets who accept these concepts, and have mastered the essentials of their craft, is how to relate theory to practice. Much of the work that reaches PNZ suggests poets and their readers should work together – view themselves as co-authors of the poem.

This means readers need to be given the freedom to bring themselves into the poem and that poets should accept this, should acknowledgethat they and their readers tend to experience, think and pursue their emotional lives in a relatively irrational, illogical and unconscious manner. Indeed, as Norman Gruman says in Coleridge, the Damaged Archangel (George Braziller, NY, 1971, p. 402), 'In all activity of the human mind there are unconscious elements, and this is especially true in poetry.'

The corollary is that poets shouldn't be too concerned with logic. They can let the subconscious, their poetic quality of mind, work for them, make leaps of meaning and reference in the verbal structure, leave lacunae and trust the apparently irrational thoughts and feelings common to all of us. The poem needs to reflect the way in which it's experienced and evolves rather than offering a seamless, smoothly argued, rational artefact neatly parcelled within the constraints of Aristotelian beginning, middle and end.

The best poems seem to escape the limitations of logical discourse and rational argument, and through a unique capacity of mind reach towards (however difficult it is to define) a perpetually evolving aesthetic of verse. What's on the page is a kind of raw material, a stimulus inciting readers to participate with the poets in co-authoring the poem – bringing to it their own experience, insights and understandings, and a greater enjoyment of what they read.

Alistair Paterson, September 2002

Johnny's song

Johnny's singing maps
the round road home:

There is one to be found in the Halls of Cambodia,
There is one to be found, come and see,
There is one to be found in the Halls of Cambodia,
There is one to be found, come and see.

When I came to the palace I was cold and wet,
When I came to the palace I was shivering and wet,
And I said to the princess, I will never regret,
And I said to the princess, I will never forget.

There is one to be found in the Halls of Cambodia,
There is one to be found, come and see.
There is one to be found in the Halls of Cambodia,
There is one to be found, come and see.

Johnny's song is stately,
he intones it like the wind,

his voice drips like the bush,
his voice is wet with undergrowth.

We drive the Halls of Cambodia
home through the Waikato bush.

— Copyright Anna Jackson, 2002.

Body Talk

If I don't get my hands on your body
soon I'll have forgotten how it feels.
It will become one of many walking
up the street – a little slow, feet small

I wander this city remembering
our last coffee in the rain.
Three times I pass our meeting place
It's rain again today – always raining some
would say of this city, alleys of memory
twisted paths walled high to the sun

My clothes strew the floor like wildflowers
in summer – pink next to mauve next to
orange. This room has a blue carpet
a field of unending cornflower petals.
In our first house I dyed the carpet
this colour on hands and knees
dyed it so we could walk on sea.
For years the bottoms of our feet were blue.

I meet my friend and her husband, listen
while he corrects her, she corrects him.
I choose a card for my daughter
Botticelli's Birth of Venus, and write
'This picture always reminds me of you
especially when you had your hair long
before you went away.'

My daughter youth and beauty
but love for us is fragile, reclaimed after loss,
the crevasse and the mountaintop in one.
Salt tears have worn a breadth
of braided rivers through our lives.

We know what we are losing, know
that memory's a poor substitute
for time held motionless, that pretence
cannot call a sleeping heart.

But like parents who can no longer hold
a child from drowning, we slowly slip apart.

— Copyright Barbara Raeburn, 2002.


For three days I have climbed that maunga
to listen to Gallipoli's dead tongues
the mud on my shoes
nothing compared to the mud and blood
you went through... brothers

Johnny and Mustaq, the plaque reads
are remembered together

The snow robed mountains of the South
stare across at the loss
of a generation

Bones and grenades
machine guns beating a rhythm of death

Here atop Ataturk Memorial
I sit and strip the flax's heart
callously to descend
to the grey ghost to roll around the coast
in security and peace

The valley of bones will rise
and smite the sky in anger
while I am left another war
fought with words

'And this,' Johnny quirks, 'is what we died for?'

— Copyright Simon Williamson, 2002.