Friday, February 26, 2010

Poetry as Fiction

Lately, I’ve been feeling like Josef Grand in Camus’ The Plague who spends an interminable amount of time rewriting the same sentence about the beautiful horsewoman riding through the Bois du Boulogne on a May morning, or was it riding on a May morning through the Bois du Boulogne.

I have been trying for days to catch a particular feeling in a haiku. Below are two versions I have come up with.

The cry of sea gulls
and I am a child again
in holiday mood.

Sixty years later –
the cry of sea gulls recalls
summer holidays.

The problem is that neither of these captures exactly what I am looking for. When I was a child my grandfather owned a bach (New Zealand equivalent of primitive cottage) with rain water, no hot water system and an outside dunny that had to be emptied. If, when I hear the sound of sea gulls I close my eyes, I am on my way to that summer bach. The train from Christchurch has just arrived at Lyttelton, I am on the wharf smelling salt and diesel, about to step on to the launch which is going to chug the 15 – 20 minutes across the harbour. Every time I hear sea gulls crying I have that memory but I can find no way, in a three line poem, to indicate that one moment can be repeated again and again.

One of my friends finds it difficult to compress an idea or feeling into a three line haiku because she needs a “Once upon a time…”. My poem about the sea gulls also requires a “Once upon a time…”.

And this next one is no better.

sitting desolate
in an autumnal garden –
then a grey warbler

The only way I can indicate the wonderful lifting of mood I experience when I hear a grey warbler is to suggest that I was desolate first. But I can feel as happy as Larry and then be immensely elated by the sound of a grey warbler. Again, when I hear one, I am running down the track to the beach past the high grass with the smell of dry hay and broom seeds popping, round the corner and under the cool of the pine trees, over the stile, and down the root-sculpted path. So once more the poem tells only half of the story and not even the right half.

Thus it can be seen that all poetry is fiction.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Haiku Moments

the dark midnight hour
my body rigid and cold
the cat snuggles closer

no good harping on and on
I’m alive not dead
let’s talk about the light

as the sea mist rolls in
I trace out the shape of my life –
the cat inscrutably sleeps

a life in waiting –
Michelangelo’s slave
straining out of the stone

I pause at the threshold
which direction shall I look?
back to the past or onwards

late afternoon
light on the walnut tree -
the balm of living

criss-crossing water
morning barge passes
soon pure reflection

looking up from book
music peach blossom seagulls –
the whole world stands still

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Straight-lined people repudiate
vigorously the world of curved-liners.
With set-square and ruler
they seek to measure and quantify;
trying to show, once and for all,
the inherent geometry of things.
Straight-liners see patterns
in a succession of items,
while curved-liners
see a pattern in the whole,
loving the curl of a wave,
the arch of sky, the flickering
brightness of flame, preferring
a wilderness of garden
to the statutory distance
between plants, a subtlety of hue
to primary colours;
never minimalists,
they want to be absorbed
into a polyphony of sound.

This poem appeared after one of my new carers got me safely out of bed one morning, but as she left put in the mailbox her letter of resignation, which took effect from the very moment I received it. The poem constitutes my efforts to understand that she found the job lacking in structure. After all, working for me cannot be a regimented activity when there must be space for the unexpected visit of a friend with a boisterous three year old grandson or a missing rabbit.
Her replacement carer wishes to bring her horse to graze on my overgrown lawn. I feel confident she will be suitably curve-lined.