Poetry NZ Issue 31
Issue 31

Alistair Paterson

Alistair Campbell, Jean Anderson, Peter Bakowski, Dean Ballinger, Kathryn Dudding, Riemke Ensing, Helen Frances, Janis Freegard, Desire Gezenstvey, Franco Gisuti, Gregory Gilbert Gumbs, Charles Juliet, Tim Keane, Arthur Kimball, Brent Kininmont, Jessica Le Bas, Ralph Luttermoser, Olivia Macassey, Robert McLean, Catherin Mair, Simon Perris, Kerry Popplewell, Patricia Prime, Nicholas Reid, Anna Rugis, Jocelyne Thebault, Jo Thorpe, Marcus Turver, Richard von Sturmer, Sue Wootton

Nelson Wattie, "Alistair Te Ariki Campbell & the community of readers"

Mark Pirie, "The new American poetry"

Alistair Paterson

Issue 31 features the work of Alistair Campbell, one of New Zealand's most widely published and anthologised poets who was in January of this year made an Officer of the Order of New Zealand for his distinguished and longterm contribution to literature.

Three sample poems can be found here: Morning Blues by our featured poet, Alistair Campbell, Ooh, if only I could sing as well by Gregory Gilbert Gumbs, and The room is small, the person will die by Jocelyne Thebault.


As has often been said, poetry is perhaps best thought of not so much as residing in its subject matter or "message" as in process – in the writing and experiencing of the poem itself – in what happens emotionally, intellectually and aesthetically while it's being read, heard or written. Art and poetry (despite Jung's collective unconscious) are individual and personal because they're experienced in the same way as we experience everything else – alone and unaided by anything other than our physical senses and the various ways we mentally and emotionally (in David Hume's words) deal with "sense data" and relate these to what we've previously encountered.

The "collective" aspect of the aesthetic experience consists of the complex fragments and "bytes" of information, knowledge, belief and opinion we acquire moment by moment from television, newspapers, magazines, books, the theatre, movies, the natural environment, the people we have contact with and what we do and don't do. But we're all inventive and the chunks and fragments of experience and knowledge that keep coming to us are always changing and constantly being modified. Everything changes: we as individuals change – and our view of poetry, our belief in and experience of what constitutes art and poetry, changes as well.

According to Charles Peirce, the American mathematician and philosopher (1839-1914), knowledge is an activity. Extending this view, it can also be considered as such because irrespective of apparent common sense, knowledge doesn't exist independent of, or apart from, neural processing. If this is so and knowledge is an activity, like almost everything else in the mind it constantly undergoes re-evaluation and testing. Similarly and because poetry is involved in and can't be separated from neural process, perhaps it too is a form of knowledge – aesthetic knowledge if it needs specific designation. Aesthetic knowledge though, and no matter how much we try to define it, is difficult to pin down because its essence is tied in with perception and the processes of perception, and in the thoughts, ideas, objects and events it's related to.

Mark Pirie's essay in the present issue of PNZ concerns this, because it demonstrates that there's no longer a single valid theory of poetry and poetic practice, that poets can and do – irrespective of assumed orthodoxy – draw on whatever concepts, theories and methodologies seem appropriate to their needs. They deal with poetry in the multitudinous ways it's always been dealt with – through the confusion and limitations of human understanding while at the same time being forced to acknowledge (as was said by Judith Merkle Riley in The Master of All Desires) that "... the gift of discernment of true art from false is the cruellest gift of all, especially for a poet."

Alistair Paterson, September 2005

Morning Blues

It wasn't a good night.
I woke up stiff as a carcase
hanging by the hocks in the
freezing-works. The question was:
what to do with myself?
Well, why not offer myself
for use as a park bench,
my head and feet resting
on apple boxes? But be
careful to close my eyelids.
I don't want any sparrow pecking
out my eyes. Or why not use me
as a fence post? But please dig
the hole deep enough, so that
when they strain the wires,
my feet won't suddenly jerk
out of the hole, scattering
dirt about. If I won't do
as a fence post, why not stretch out
my arms on a batten, stuff straw
in my shirt and hat, and put me
to use as a scarecrow. If that still
won't do, why not use me
as a cross to which some criminal
may be tied, but please, please,
not the Son of God—by Jesus,
I couldn't bear the nails.

— Copyright Alistair Campbell, 2005.

Ooh, if only I could sing as well

'... singing and singing, without breaking the peerless tragedy of existence.'
Julia de Burgos

Ooh, if only I could sing as well as
Winston Rodney did in the film
The Rockers
On that warm and dark Caribbean night
Under the coconut trees by the ruins on the beach
Ruins that echoed with the sounds of sad, bygone days

Ooh, if only I could sing as well as
Rodney did in his well-known hauntingly hollow voice
Full of longing and sorrow
loss and nostalgia
His wet dreadlocks jamming and soulfully swinging through the air
Haah Haah Hafrica
and the winds carried his words across
The Middle Passage
That same Middle Passage, which his great, great grandparents once
Unwillingly crossed, shackled like beasts aboard their Godless ships

Ooh, if only I could sing as well as Winston Rodney
In his well-known hauntingly hollow and mournful voice
I would take the train from the University of Scheveningen
Get out there and walk on the widely engineered white sand beach
Wait until the night falls and the cold winds start to blow out to sea
Before turning myself in the direction of my little Island
Far, far away from these strange shores
And then
I too would
As he did.

— Copyright Gregory Gilbert Gumbs, 2005.

The room is small, the person will die

Yes the doors are shut, it is all white
the whole place white
the windows blank:

lovely summer before, you foot deep
in the hiss and curl of the ocean
beginning and end,

you were tiny, sure, folded into the far roar
(your eyes can't go there)
where it gathers, where it waits—

if you had to think it, the intimation of the great wave
higher than you, its curve
growing, hanging—
now you know that boundlessness was clenching there
it has flung open, it is white
in here, not ending...

— Copyright Jocelyne Thébault, 2005.