Tag Archive: poetry


staying in bed with a book

There’s nobody home
So go away
Nobody home but me
And I don’t want company
Just this view and the sun
And music in all the rooms

Don’t phone –
I’ve taken it off the hook
Don’t knock on my door
I’ve locked it
Don’t worry about me –
I’m fine
So leave me alone
Tomorrow
Or the day after
Or sometime next week
I’ll become again
A social animal but
Not today
Today… just
Keep away

Bub Bridger
Wellington #NZWOMANPOETS

field of purple daisies

The pause between moments
Smells like woodsmoke
Feels like velvet
Sounds like rain
Tastes like dark chocolate
Looks like purple fire.

Between inhale and exhale
There is a whole lifetime
Between past and present
Universes coalesce and dissolve
The world of between
Non-existent, never-ending.

We live there sometimes
Stopping our hearts to live between the beats
Unable to stop the world around us
Unwilling to let go and let time roll forward.
It cannot last, we know this,
But living in the pause can soothe
Can comfort and strengthen us
Allowing us to hold on to the peace of between
And face the inexorable now.

 

Becky Ellen-Johnson
Kapiti #NZWOMANPOETS

 

A rainbow doesn’t have pink I tell her
If God wanted girls to wear that colour
you’d see it in the sky.

Fingering each rack with disappointment
she rejects a blue top, a skirt in purple
even a belt in sparkles and gold.

Grandma, you don’t understand
everyone has pink
Barbie has a pink car and shoes.

Pink is weak, silly and girlie, I grumble
you need a colour that shows your strength
a royal blue or brilliant yellow.

She leads me to the teen department
a field of sequined and shiny black leather.
Witches are strong, she says and grins.

 

Martha Morseth
Dunedin #NZWOMANPOETS

Reaching for Mercy Greenbelt 2018 Proost Talitha Fraser

“Here is poetry arising from the beautiful souls of poets you have passed on the street, never knowing they carried words that must be spoken… the poems are at times angry howls of protest or cries of lament, at other times they are saturated with hope.”

What makes a poem spiritual/Christian and therefore worthy of inclusion in this anthology? This is not an easy question to answer, at least in part because poetic spirituality is not a familiar part of our dominant religious culture. I have found it helpful to read the poetry written by the Sufi poets- Attar, Rumi, Sanai etc. They write poems that are not about instruction or impartation of theological truth (although they might achieve both) neither are they always about ‘God’ at all- rather they are written by people seeking truth, beauty and honesty. Sometimes they tip over into mysticism, as if what they are writing has gone beyond even their own understanding. Poetry like this creates open spaces for our spirituality to adventure; we feel it as much as we understand it…we just ‘know’ it when we read it. The poem soars inside us.

…So here we are. The starting page of a new book. A book full of people reaching for mercy.

Chris Goan

It has been a privilege over the past year to work with Chris Goan the curator of Proosts’ Poetry Collection Vol. 2 “Reaching for Mercy” and to travel to the UK for it’s launch at the Greenbelt Festival. Chris has a way of seeing people and holding space for how they see the world that’s captured and collated in this lovely collection by 8 editors and over a 100 contributors from all over the world… it’s not just “pretty” poetry, it’s protest too. Across all the themes: truth, wild, resisting, lament, hope, post truth, everyone is welcome, whole… there is a poignant paradox of sure hope and disbelieving grief in responding to the way the world is.  I think this collection speaks to our times. I hope it speaks to you.

 

Our model at events is to read one of our own poems and one by another contributor as a way of bringing that broader community of beautiful ordinary souls together. These are the pieces I read at Greenbelt…

God, did you see the news today?

God, did you see the news today?
We’re killing one another.
We’re killing in places killing has gone on so long we don’t know how to stop…
We’re killing next door.
We’re killing one another.

God, did you see the news today?
We’re laying waste to the world
to consume, consume, consume
an appetite “stuff” cannot sate.
Our elders know. Our elders tell us.
We ignore their wisdom.

God, did you see the news today?
People are saying hateful, hurtful things
what is right, what is wrong
what is holy, what is profane
…as if we know. As if we could know.

God, did you see the news today?
Were you there when we turned the boats away?
We are denying people food, electricity, sanitation, shelter, medical care…
We are denying people their basic human rights.

People are grieved and weary.
Longing for a world that is different
but not knowing where to start.
Not knowing how to start.
All victims, variously blind.

I’m not pointing fingers, I’m raising my hand.
I need Your help. We need Your help.

Amen.

 

And I was also very proud to read this piece written by my sister Abby. It felt significant to feel like I was representing some voice of Australia and New Zealand all the way around the world. It includes language and it includes my family. It speaks to home, belonging and identity… thanks for your work and words Mana Wahine… x

 

My Truth belongs to me
Abby Wendy

My Truth belongs to me. I will hold it tight, hold it close.
I will bury it deep.
My truth is a tūrangawaewae for the roots of my heart.
I will water it.
My truth is a nesting place for my wairua.

My truth is reflected in ten thousand random moments.
I am shining like the sun in the secret power of my own unique truth.

My truth requires no scientific proof – I believe it.
My truth requires no majority support – I believe it.

If I whisper my truth in your ear, will you stand with me? Would you trample the roots of my heart, buried deep, in my sacred place of belonging? Where will my spirit rest, if my truth becomes ash?

I will hold it tight, hold it close.
I will bury it deep.
My Truth belongs to me.

 



Copies of this book are available from Proost, if you know me it might be worth waiting as I’ll likely do a bulk order to Australia and you can get one from me directly if that’s easier… If you haven’t heard of it, Proost is a small publishing outlet aimed at gathering together resources from the creative edges of Church. Proost have lots of interesting stuff on their site – animations, songs, Easter and Advent resources, books… so have a look around while you’re there!

woman sitting in a fig tree Pipemakers park

Thin the slung chain,
silky slack, infrangible;
blood beads heavier than water.

Birthed we are like Russian dolls,
one from another from another,
mother, daughter, granddaughter,
red smudges on each cheek.

You stand at the open window
being never too happy in your own
time & place as she is always,
straddling blowsy branches, singing.

I bend between, frisking marjoram,
twisting in weedy aisles a breathing
space. The bright links burn on my neck.

 

Bernadette Hall
Alexandra, Central Otago #NZWOMANPOETS

rainbow skipping rope

England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales Inside, Outside, puppy dogstails

A constant refrain of my playground days and I remember setting up two dining room table chairs to practice at home as well. Because once you succeed at ankle height you get to move up through ‘kneesies’ and ‘underbums’ through up to ‘necksies’ if you were really good. And then you got to go to the next rhyme… or the next move… Diamonds?! I can’t even remember how that went… skipping, clapping games, knucklebones… 80s playground mash up… GO!

Down down baby, down by the rollercoaster. sweet sweet baby, I will never let you go shimmy shimmy cocoa puff, shimmy shimmy pow! shimmy shimmy cocoa puff, shimmy shimmy pow!

On top of spaghetti
All covered with cheese
I lost my poor meatball
When somebody sneezed

It rolled off the table
Right on to the floor
And then my poor meatball
Rolled out of the door.

Bubbles go haatchi tachi (knee, knee, flick)…

you are my darling…

Bubbles…  hatchi tatchi

Bubbles… hatchi tatchi

Bubbles… hatchi tatchi (getting faster and faster until someone breaks the rhythm)

Shoo!

 

Under the bambushes under the sea Boom boom boom boom
True love for you my darling
True love for me

When we get married
We’ll raise a family
With 16 children all in a
Row row row your boat Gently down the stream, Fling your teacher overboard And listen to her scream.

Under the bambushes
Under the sea
Bom bom bom
True love for you my darling True love for me

When we get married we’ll raise a family A boy for you
And a girl for me
I-tiddly-I-tie sexy

 

Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?
[Name] stole the cookies from the cookie jar. Who me?
Yes you!
Couldn’t be!
Then who stole the cookies from the cookie jar ?…

 

Concentration, concentration, now begin Keep the rhythm, keep the rhythm moving. Start now… 1 -2, 2-8, 8-4…

 

Out of breath? Me too. Apparently you have more energy when you’re 8…

The characters in this story are 5 and 6 but it is WAY to scary for kids that age (Badjelly turns kids into sausages).  Spike Mulligan does all the voices in this creative and absurd story and there’s a fairly intense soundtrack (fyi his work was a big influence on the Monty Python crew).  Essentially little kids Tim and Rose wander into the woods after their lost cow Lucy and meet various enchanted woodland characters like Binklebonk and Mudwiggle…  OMG a rumour website tells me Tim Burton might be making this into a movie 2020 – that could be fun… stinkypoo and knickers of fun.

Folks might also remember one of his most famous nonsense poems and a good example of his style:

On the Ning Nang Nong 

On the Ning Nang Nong
Where the Cows go Bong!
and the monkeys all say BOO!
There’s a Nong Nang Ning
Where the trees go Ping!
And the tea pots jibber jabber joo.
On the Nong Ning Nang
All the mice go Clang
And you just can’t catch ’em when they do!
So its Ning Nang Nong
Cows go Bong!
Nong Nang Ning
Trees go ping
Nong Ning Nang
The mice go Clang
What a noisy place to belong
cause it’s the Ning Nang Ning Nang Nong

Aah, like so many of the great lights of comedy it seems Spike struggled with nervous breakdowns and depression… this piece is called “Manic Depression” and is very evocative. Vale Spike Mulligan – we are grateful for your silliness and sensitivity and the gift of your art.

The pain is too much
A thousand grim winters
       grow in my head.
In my ears
        the sound of the
             coming dead
All seasons, all same
        all living
        all pain
No opiate to lock still
        my senses.
Only left, the body locked tenser.

 

carefully balanced stack of rocks art andy goldsworthy

I woke to an awareness of You
It is profound
and yet not articulate.
Some reaching out and
re-membering You Are Here.
Not far, but Near,
in this and all things.

I am an emotional creature…

labyrinth west footscray park

I am an emotional creature…
I love You.
Most days that doesn’t feel enough.
I want to do more for You.
I am grateful for that hunger.

Love. We look for it.

 

Talitha Fraser

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A short introduction to the life and work of Stevie Smith for the Spiritual Reading group meeting at the Carmelite Library in Middle Park.  After a short talk to contextualise the work of the artist we read some of the works aloud and hold shared discussion reflecting on what they might mean…

Stevie was born Florence Margaret Smith in 1902. At 3 years of age, the marriage of Stevie’s parents broke down and she moved with Mum, Ethel and big sister Molly from Kingston Upon Hull, Yorkshire to Palmers Green in North London. Contact with her father, who was in shipping, became single line postcards saying things like: “Off to Valparaiso, Love Daddy”

Contracting tuberculosis peritonitis  at 5, Stevie was taken to a sanatorium at Broadstairs in Kent for 3 years. Being separated from her family was hard and Stevie has said that this is when her preoccupation with death and fear arose.

When Stevie’s mother Ethel became ill, Madge Spear, affectionately referred to as “The Lion Aunt” came to live with them, raising Stevie and Molly.  A feminist who had no patience with men, formidable Aunt Madge raised a family of women attached to their own independence counter-cultural to the ruling Victorian idea that “father knows best”. When she was 16, Stevie’s mother died.

Stevie studied at Palmers Green High School then went to Mrs Hoster’s secretarial academy – the North London Collegiate School.  It was around 17 the “Stevie” moniker came into common use arising from riding in the park with a friend who commented that she reminded him of the champion jockey Steve Donoghue.

Stevie suffered depression all her life that expressed as nervousness, shyness and intense sensitivity.  Straight out of the Collegiate school Stevie became a secretary at a magazine publishing company, and eventually became the private secretary to Sir Neville Pearson with Sir George Newnes and Newnes Publishing Company where she worked 1923-1953.  In this time Stevie had published 3 autobiographical novels and 4 of the 9 volumes of poetry published in her lifetime.  The themes of her work traverse: loneliness, myth and legend, absurd vignettes, war, human cruelty and religion.  Stevie’s line drawings, which she called her “higher doodling” often weren’t published with her poems, that happened later when collected works were published, and the pictures weren’t necessarily drawn to go with particular works but she would merely pick out whatever seemed appropriate.  They often lend a note of whimsy to words of touching depth or sharp parody to her satirical set-downs.  Stevie used comedy to talk about dark things and used the tools of her craft to resist domestic ideology around class, religion, marriage…

While her early novels and volumes of poetry were a great success, the work of the 1940s and early 1950s had been less well-received. She was seen as eccentric and the style of her poetry out-of-fashion.  One account suggests Stevie invalided out and was given a full pension following a nervous breakdown at work that led to her attempting suicide at her desk after an incident threatening her boss with a pair of scissors but another says perhaps more discretely that Aunt Madge became bedridden and Stevie left work to care for her. Stevie perceived death as she did god, someone perhaps to have a dialogue with ‘scolding for taking her loved ones and those whom the world will miss’, someone she had to acknowledge and comes to terms with the existence of. Stevie has said that she was “so consoled by the idea of death as release” that she didn’t have to commit suicide it was enough to know that death was there to look forward to. This god death is often expressed as kinder in her writing than the God of church and religion.

A come back after the period 1953-1955 when Punch was almost exclusively the only established periodical willing to publish her work. Stevie undertook a collaboration with Elisabeth Lutyens and Heidi Anderson when she struggled to find other outlets for her writing.  The arrangement and performance of her poems between her own readings were very engaging for audiences and led to Stevie eventually developing her own unique performance style of singing her poems.

Between readings Stevie would often sing, using sonorities and tonalities for effect, 2 or 3 of her works to familiar tunes she borrowed from Anglican hymns, folk melodies, popular music hall songs, a military march or tunes she made up in these styles.  While setting hilarious captions to the table book “Cats in Colour” in 1959 was I’m sure, a highlight, it may have been surpassed by receiving the Queens’ Gold Medal for Poetry in 1969. The last decade of her life saw her increasingly in demand to give readings not only to societies but schools.

Stevie died from a brain tumour 7 March 1971

Katherine Firth’s thesis on “The MacNeices and their Circles: Poets and Composers in Collaboration” provides insightful context of the time and place of Stevie’s writing.  The influence of modernism in the 1920s-30s had a destabilising effect on meanings – skilled practitioners were able to create works that reflected their own ambivalences, scepticisms and self-criticisms and you see a lot of this in Stevie’s writing – especially on the subject of religion.  Resisting her High Anglican and Tory Aunts’ influences with her lefty friends. This group of friends were influenced by Aristotle’s writing on poetry on the root word for poetry and action being the same so there was a sense that the words should be working to explain or impart something.

While Stevie lived a largely secluded and celibate life, aside from a few flings with both men and women, Stevie was a resolutely autonomous woman and rejected the idea that she was lonely.  Intimate relationships with friends and family kept her fulfilled. This was a time of cliques and gangs – groups of writers, producers, painters, composers, performers and critics that interacted socially and professionally in overlapping circles while retaining distinct identities.  Stevie corresponded and socialised widely with other writers and creative artists. She was chief bridesmaid and Louis MacNeice the best man at the wedding of the novelist Olivia Manning to the poet Reggie Smith. George Orwell was close and Sylvia Plath a fan.

New West End venues, technological advances and the rise in the role of the BBC in disseminating music were changing performance media.  Contemporary composers were looking to their poet-peers for lyrics, there were a range of styles of popular music and they borrowed from each other.  There was a desire convey Modernist idioms to reach a broader social and cultural context, making music and poetry relevant to the political and economic circumstances of the audiences listening. There was an idea that a poems words will do its work on someone if it is palatably wrapped as a hymn or cabaret tune.  The music groups of the day wanted audiences to be improved AND entertained.

Susan Thurman’s thesis provides this concise synopsis:

“Smith’s poetry reveals three major attitudes toward religion, which sometimes overlap: first, she is the agnostic who cannot make up her mind–she has faith in a god in whom she does not want to believe, yet she loses faith in a god in whom she does want to believe. Second, she often writes poems which confidently reject God; she is the atheist expressing approval of the decline of organized religion, strongly attacking both the Catholic and Anglican Churches. She vehemently rejects God and Christianity in such atheistic poems as being untrue, but if possibly true, then cruelly unfair. Third, however, she is a believer who replaces the Christian God of eternal damnation with what she views as a more merciful God of her own making. She tries desperately to create a God for herself in whom she can believe.” As she says of herself in her image on the poster for today’s event: “In yielding and abnegation I spend my days”.

Stevie often attracted labels like “eccentric”, “odd”, and “difficult” with causality attributed to her gender… Not Waving But Drowning is one of Stevie’s most well-known works speaking to our individual isolation within society.  Between the poem and the paradoxes of Stevie’s own life: participant or observer, believer or atheist, here to live or here to die? Cynthia Zarin draws a parallel – saying “she is at once the stranger and the traveller, both waving and drowning” – we’re going to wrap this up with Stevie reading that piece, it runs for about 2 mins and you’ll hear her at the start describing what the work was about…

References/Further Reading:

Anne Bryan. “Stevie Smith and God
Katherine Firth. “The MacNeices and their Circles: Poets and Composers in Collaboration on Art Song 1939-54”
Stevie Smith. “Some Are More Human Than Others.”
Stevie Smith. “Stevie Smith Collected Poems”
Stevie Smith. “Two in One: The Frog Prince and Other Stories/Selected Poems”
Susan E. Thurman. “The themes of God and Death in the Poetry of Stevie Smith
Cynthia Zarin. “The Uneasy Verse of Stevie Smith”

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1  Me nolentum fata trahunt is a play on a line from the Roman Seneca: Ducunt volentem Fata, nolentem trahunt. This means “Fate leads the willing, and drags the unwilling”. So, Stevie Smith’s line means “because Fate drags me, unwilling”.

 

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All rights to this work belong to the Stevie Smith Estate with Faber & Faber and have been reproduced here for educatonal purposes only.