Poetry NZ Issue 33
Issue 33

Alistair Paterson

Siobhan Harvey, Raewyn Alexander, Rob Allan, Tony Beyer, Iain Britton, Eric Dodson, Rhonda Douglas, Doc Drumheller, Riemke Ensing, Blair Ewing, Basim Furat, Jane Griffin, Li He, Elanna Herbert, Mike Johnson, Frank Koenegracht, Leicester Kyle, Leonard Lambert, Laurel Lamperd, Barbara McCartney, Olivia Macassey, Gardner McFall, Catherine Mair, Adrianne Marcus, Susanne Morning, Eric Mould, Bob Orr, Rae Pater, Frank Pervan, Mark Pirie, Christina M. Rau, Jack Ross, Robert Sullivan, Linda Newman Woito, St James Harris Wood, Sue Wootton

Sarah Broom, "'Experimentalism' and the 'Mainstream' in Britain"

Jack Ross, Contemporary British and Irish Poetry by Sarah Broom

Scott Hamilton, Classic NZ Poets in Performance, edited by Jan Kemp and Jack Ross

Jennifer Straus, Either Side of the Horizon by Stephen Oliver

Books in brief:
Alistair Paterson

Issue 33 features the work of Siobhan Harvey, formerly of the UK, and now living in New Zealand.

Three sample poems can be found here: Ravens by our featured poet, Siobhan Harvey, Bucking the hallucinations by Iain Britton, and My dates with Joe Six-Pack by Linda Newman Woito.


Over the last twenty-five years or so it's become common for literary theorists to cite Heisenberg's uncertainty principle as a justification for writing presented in a semiotic form and carrying little discernible meaning. They seem to believe "meaning" in the sense of "out there" or "in the text" can't be clearly identified and is characterised by a high degree of uncertainty, leaving readers to make their own sense of what they're reading rather than relying on what the "author" might be saying. Perhaps we shouldn't quarrel too much with this approach. It fits in with "reader response theory" and the views of a number of the more recent linguistic philosophers.

A difficulty arises when theorists use Heisenberg's uncertainty principle as an explaation and justification for literary uncertainty – which seems problematic because the uncertainty principle concerns the behaviour of quanta or sub-atomic particles rather than events at the macroscopic level. It states that, "The position and the velocity of a quantum particle cannot both be known with absolute accuracy at the same time." Of course, in relationship to the indeterminacy of language, Heisenberg's principle can be used as a metaphoric parallel and in this sense works well.

The idea that it might be applied directly to the macroscopic human world is overly simplistic. On a human scale – the scale of the things we perceive directly through the senses – people impose structure and a degree of certainty on the world in order to deal with it effectively. This is a necessity for survival and is employed in regard to the way we write, listen to, look at and read poetry just as it is in relation to our other human endeavours. It's not done passively but actively and at both conscious and unconscious levels. As readers of and listeners to poetry, we structure what we read or hear in terms of who and what we are – our social and human nature, and our personal knowledge and experience.

People and language, however, aren't fixed but are constantly in flux, constantly changing in terms of themselves and their social, personal, historic and geographic circumstances. What poetry means now is not necessarily what it meant in the past, what it will mean in the future or might meanto another person. Its uncertainty and unpredictability are manifest in its each and every reading. This being so, perhaps we should take pleasure in it because it gives poetry its magical quality and (hopefully) in doing so enriches our lives.

Alistair Paterson, September 2006


Seeing things,
I imagine an unkindness of ravens
(Corvus antipodum antipodum)
rising out of the mist
to snub the sky
above your mother's home.

They make me recall
the first time we met.

Black-suited, glassy-eyed,
you teased your audience
Clap, clap, you buggers!
as if we were small prey.

As you crowed,
your poetry grew
less profane to me.

Today, you're wearing a singlet
and watching Sleeping Beauty
with your daughter.

I arrive as the heroine is cursed,
large, dark passerine circling
a beak-nosed queen.

When you yawn,
I notice shadows
trouble the skin
below your eyes.

And when you hover nearby,
I see te moko
green as pounamu
green as your irises
green as your soul
spread across yoru body —
arms, chest, legs —
like an ornate plumage.

The barbs and vanes
of your voice sing me
a discordant love-song
about waiata, wahine
and weightlessness.

Conjured from the ether,
your words are tricks —
talk of mates, birds
and our innate need to nest;
talk of a storm coming,
of how you're a dying breed:
man, poet, doom-monger.

Silence, your gaze
reflects a myth:
two blue-black forms fusing —
body-to-body, lip-to-lip —
in bedroom, study, kitchen,
your mother's home alight
with unnatural electricity.

As this fantasy charges
across your vision,
I think, if only
you had the eyes of a child,
you might find solace
in love and other fairy-tales.

Tonight, I'll dream
of you and I ascending,
like airborne romantics
in Chagall's Au Dessus de la Ville.
We'll feather into one another
and soar above rooftops,
something unseen spiriting us
upwards until we disappear.

Later, I'll wake, rested,
as if from a long, deep sleep.

For now, I fly away,
feeling your eyes upon me.

When I don't look back,
clouds arrive, black
and heavy as an omen.

As I find my way home,
they set free squawks of rain
until water covers my windscreen,
its pounding as intense
as beating wings,
and the bones of our meeting
lie exposed before me,
refusing to die.

— Copyright Siobhan Harvey, 2006.

Bucking the hallucinations

You're the man who drove in from the hunting grounds of
Shangri-La, the berry fields of Eden — you're the man who
learnt to be a city cowboy, who could post hairy-chested
like Freddy Mercury and sing Barcelona to my face and
bring Queen Street to a standstill.

Yeah. You're the sweaty-shirted man in
clinking spurs, the gunslinger from Rerewhakaaitu
hoofing your hefty boots from bar to bar,
pushing your way through smoke and murk. You've
come to town with gold dust falling from your clothes —a

shimmy here and there and the streets turn golden. You're
from Rerewhakaaitu and if you're quiet enough (being loud is
outlawed in the sticks) you can hear the dancing steps of a
cricket, the orbiting click of the Earth,
the landing thump
of a fullstop. If you're quiet

I say to him,
Kereopa the Eye-Eater will pass this way
to the hangman's tree — he passes every afternoon at 4 pm to
meet his Maker. It's a well-worn path which leads to
nowhere, except the Casino.

You're the one with the glazed, displaced look, the one smelling
of animals and salt-fed skies, thinking you're the fastest gun
in town. Like other people you play games. You cheat.
I cheat. Our neon personas shine. Passers-by stare. We're
cowboys bucking hallucinations for a living.

— Copyright Iain Britton, 2006.

My dates with Joe Six-Pack

1. I met Joe Six-Pack on the radio

The radioman spoke softly to me, telling me
I could meet Joe Six-Pack at the corner-store
catch him checking out the blue-light specials
(without Martha what's-her-name of course)
even said Joe would start singing to me from the
freezer isle and when his time was up in the
beer cooler then he'd sing Home on the Range
to me one more time before they had to lock him
in that cell with all the other fruitcakes who kept
repeating, But my name really is Joe Six-Pack.

2. Next night, I heard Joe sing

I was driving home and swear I heard Joe singing
to me on the radio — as I headed south on Boulevard
sounding like he knew my name I swear I think
a he said my name when he sang very loud to me:
My name is Joe Six-Pack
you can call me Joe
I sing songs to my motorcycle
but I tell you what
if I have to listen to that old lady yammer
one more hour
it will be a 3-dog night times two
a six-pack night

— Yes that's what he sang to me until I joined him duo-like
Hey bartender, bring us another beer!

— Copyright Linda Newman Woito, 2006.