Poetry NZ Issue 35
Issue 35

Owen Bullock

Nicolas Kurtovitch, Frédéric Ohlen, Paul Wamo, Raewyn Alexander, Rob Allan, Stu Bagby, Kerry Craig, Jen Crawford, Peter Crisp, Waiata Dawn Davies, Shirley Deuchrass, Nicola Easthope, David Flynn, Basim Furat, Rhian Gallagher, Jane Griffin, Michael Hall, Trevor Hayes, Arthur Kimball, Leonard Lambert, Will Leadbeater, Jessica Le Bas, Olivia Macassey, Robert McLean, John Millett, A. Mary Murphy, Mark A. Murphy, Art Nahill, Julia O'Connor, Jacqueline Ottaway, Helen Patrice, Vivienne Plumb, Nicholas Reid, Anna Rugis, Peter Jay Shippy, Elizabeth Sullivan, Ann Walker, Laura M. Wiseman

Jack Ross, Irony and After — New bearings in NZ poetry

Bernard Gadd, Incognito by Jessica Le Bas

Books in brief:
Owen Bullock

Issue 35 introduces the poetry of three New Caledonian poets, featuring the work of Nicolas Kurtovitch. Three sample poems can be found here: The work of longing by Rhian Gallagher, Musique concrètism by Peter Jay Shippy, and Ode to the poor by our featured poet Nicolas Kurtovich (trans by Jean Anderson).


I think there are two types of poems in terms of one's first reaction to reading as an editor. There are those that immediately demand a response and which in some cases keep that response. There are others which, upon re-reading, gather interest. The latter are intriguing and, often, the best.

There are also trends in what people write about. A while back, if a poet wrote about colour, it seemed always to be blue; recently it's been white. But for an editor it means that if you've already got a couple of good pieces 'about' white, you're unlikely to take any more. There were those times when almost everyone seemed to be writing about their fathers, thankfully that has passed – writing about children is probably more common at present. Political poems and what it means to be Pakeha come in spates as do works on the settler era. Recently, American poets have offered perspectives on Britain (though I've gone for an English example in this issue). Aspects of personal relationships appear in many forms – but one only wants a range of perspectives. The phenomenon I've described shows the limitations of subject matter as the controlling drive in poetry.

Then there is the consideration that comes to us through linguistic theory that our expression is restricted by the structures of language itself. Practitioners may want to wrestle out of that. I'm not sure we always, or even often, achieve such a feat, but we try.

And there is the poem that seems to break the rules – the rules of practice, fashion, even the perspectives that have evolved because of the factors mentioned above – the poem that suddenly takes a hackneyed idea in a new direction. It's easy to miss those, so we work hard not to miss them.

In this issue, Jack Ross considers the apposite question of what comes after a postmodern aesthetic. Despite his modesty, there are some answers. They concern a particular trend, and he acknowledges that there may be others which are just as relevant.

Magazines the world over have looked to internationalism recently to stimulate the growth of poetry. With it, paradoxically, comes a new consciousness of local idiom. Poetry NZ gives pride of place in this issue to poets from New Caledonia. The call also seems to be going out for serious poetry which can be enjoyed, rather than being turbid and dense. I guess I've favoured a certain lightness in poetry, that is, lightness of touch. If you were fortunate enough to hear the New Caledonian band Celenod at WOMAD, you'll know that their music has just as much vibrancy as the poetry, and perhaps, as with Celenod, we would like to dance.

Owen Bullock, September 2007

The work of longing

You live with purpose, scheduled flights. Your days as a plasterer shapes
a wall smooth at the surface. In the garments of each portrayal, between
the sequenced hours
I will find you.

Your skill in complexity, your change of course, the forest's dark boudoir
you navigate, each new doorway that you cross saying this time.
The anthem that I make tows under, and on the balconies
I take hold of your wrist.

You say you have learnt nothing from life, that the heart of winter is the
same as the heart of spring. Yet rain falling over the city is like a hammer,
a thousand pianos at the adagio. My teeth are not smoke, I am equal
to the wound of any blade.

You tug at the knot. But I have your body. Here is a breeze from the sea
your flesh is my prize.

— Copyright Rhian Gallagher, 2007.

Musique concrètism

I hear Chopmonger and I want to run
And pet everyone and their sister
Right on the head, right? Like I flip
On a side of Al Ear-Popper and need
To make sweet hate with the world
As it were in a manner of speaking,
I mean — am I the only man who wishes
To put a boot to the ass of sundry
Politicians after iPodding
The Hans Offensptiz Chorale's version
Of the Equus Quagga peace march?
Yes I am not, no. And to this day
I can't perceive Obadiah Obligato's
'Arachnology' without recalling
Scramming kindergarten to catch his gig
At Spiderland. From his deathbed
In the notorious Kelpie Hotel
My father asked that The Tel-Morpheme's
'Dissertator's Mash' be played
At his funereal bash. His lips
Were so near to my ears that I feared
My brain might pickle, so I agreed
Though . . . that tune brings out
The Aaron Burr in my soul, I mean
I hear that opening couplet:
Her fingernail's lunule
Spoke to me like a virgule
And I want to take my burp-gun
To your rooftop and go mango y mango.
But soon as his choice finished
I put on Sound Bite's 'Starch My Truss'
(the Yukky La-di-da remix)
And I wanted to rerouge my old man's cheeks —
Sincerely — I was in the mood
To climb a tall pine tree and lick the wind.

— Copyright Peter Jay Shippy, 2007.

Ode to the poor

At first glance there is only
when everything else is over
there's still mud
before during after always
all night long
mud is the dream
that kills the future.

They are here, the ones who
live at top speed
jolting along, to the rhythm of the cars,
passing at full speed
just metres away,
a hundred or so,
they signal it's time to get up
for the ones who have made their home
inside four walls of salvaged iron
rusty and full of holes
stopped up with dried
mud mixed with straw,
the ones who squat
with their midday meal
in the scrawny shade of the pepper tree,
the trees don't hide a thing
dark clouds
above the shacks.

To live is to say simply
something that can't be said
any other way.
But when you look closer,
listen harder to their song,
their brutish drunkenness,
it's really a matter of surviving.
A short survival
before they join the ones who no longer
hear the sirens,
ambulances and cops together,
no longer sniff
the petrol fumes
mercedes and coleman stove together,
making do from their first conscious moment
with the stench of the swamps.
The ones who
talk among themselves,
whenever they still can
about the next dozen beer
they will drink
like so much Blood of Christ,
to be reborn into the world
cleansed and sanctified,
as if they were sons of God again.

— Copyright Nicolas Kurtovich (trans by Jean Anderson), 2007.