She paints gut punches
from memory, he draws
a lot of water in towns
that are drowning; they
met and life was never the
same again. For anyone.
We would run through town trying to leap to touch the
signs that were hanging under the shops. Saturday night,
but not too late, the shops all closed for the weekend.
And my brother could sometimes touch the bottom of
a sign. And my cousin would sometimes get close. But
I never got very close at all, too small, too slow, no jump.
One time, though, I was glad to be so far off. My bro
took his very best shot and hit the sign with the tips
of his fingers, it creaked on rusty hinges, whining like
a hose. And a guy walking the other way, freezing-worker
gumboots, his hood up tight, took two steps across and
booted him hard. The boot print instantly framed
on my brother’s white shorts. The guy yelled something
about fuck off kids – or maybe it was fuck off cunts? and
he carried on his way, a slight sway in time with the swigs
from out of the brown paper bag. My brother was in the
wrong place at the wrong time. And so we waited for the
adults to catch up and we told them. “Who did this?” my
father cried out, chest all puffed and ready. We pointed.
And he went straight up to an old white guy, close to 80,
very crumpled suit. “Did you just kick my son?” And boy
was he angry. We were all shaking our heads, and the old
guy was reaching to adjust his hearing aid. It was super
comical, really. Even though it probably wasn’t. So we
pointed again, to someone half that guy’s age, and twice
his size, with different skin – and everything. And my
dad paused for a minute, then told us all to head for the car.
But when we got there, dad was right along beside us,
opening the door – and telling us to forget about it all
since it was probably just a mistake.
it’s a lucky person that gets to go to work, that has a job
and is paid money into an account at the end of each
week or month or whatever the pay-cycle is; a lucky
person indeed. After the grunt-work for the day is
done the rest is gravy, you take your fancy clothes off,
put your trackies (back) on and you pretend to read the
magazines in the piles, or you reach for a book. You make
a meal, take a look through your records, watch a silly old
film, fall asleep on the couch – maybe make it to bed. Where
you’re always dreaming of Friday afternoon. After which,
Sunday arrives far too soon. And the dread kicks in that you
need to be ready to do it again. But the dread isn’t real and
it can’t last – not when you’ve seen the other version:
working around the clock for nothing, never actually at work,
never ever at ease. Weekends arrive and disappear in a sneeze
and you barely notice and just don’t care because there can be
another one if you want it, order it up as soon as Tuesday if
you really like. There’s no luck in all that and hardly any hope.
It dies hard. And every day. I’ll take the luck of the job, the
pay that isn’t sweat, but actual money that you earn and the
lesson there to learn is gratitude. Which now you can afford.
This whole stubs things really started because I kept bunches of old – but not that old – ticket stubs to save for bookmarks. I’m a bit obsessed with bookmarks. I have lots of books on the go, non-fiction, poetry, I might not finish reading these sorts of titles for a year or more, or I might want to mark more than one place in a poetry volume. Mad? Possibly. But it’s a thing I know to be true about myself. I relax a whole lot more when I have many, many bookmarks.
So I realised that I had kept some of the older concert tickets too – and then this Stubs series was born. Writing about a Guns N Roses ticket one day and a play I’ve seen more recently the next. Leaving it several days before I would write about something else. And then, as with some of the books I’ll eventually get to finishing, I’d sometimes leave it a whole lot longer than just a few days… Read More »
Where are the big poems now?
They’ve all gone away. Been
collected up in a book, and a few
people had a look, and some were
kind enough to say they liked them.
Now I can get back to just saying
any old thing. No desperate writing
through the night and gripping on
tight too long just trying to make
it right. See. This’ll do for today.
Joyce Carol Oates says you must read
in order to write. She says to read with
focus and reckons if you chose a short
novel, like Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea,
you could read it in one gulp and the next
day you’d be ready to spit out some better
writing than previously; I’ve not done
that. More good advice I’m yet to take.
Bob Dylan’s Neverending Tour started in 1989. Maybe he knew it then, but we certainly didn’t. The shows have tumbled from stages ever since – a break here and there for Christmas or another holiday, sometimes a new album would be released and its songs wouldn’t even graze the setlist, old songs resurrected, never a guarantee you’d hear the hits, less of a given you’d recognise them. To be on his own, with no direction… Read More »
Look at this poem by Selima Hill.
I didn’t so much read it as feel runover by it. It stalked me from the page. It lured me. And I just kept staring at it and re-reading it. I shared it on my pages. And people commented. They felt seen. And heard. They were floored. They were in awe. It is really something. And just six lines.
Selima Hill is a British poet with close to two dozen collections of work available. She is 75 and has been publishing for over 35 years.
The most extraordinary thing I know about her work is that many of her poems are as short as this one – or shorter. She is a master of economy. She paints gut punches. But she also makes strange and surreal works. She makes the ordinary extraordinary.
I started reading Hill’s work – on a whim – during lockdown. I was at the library just ahead of the level 4 call last year and I stacked up on books – something I was out doing anyway. But in the early days of that new normal I had my support-network of words I’d borrowed.
And Selima Hill’s book I May Be Stupid But I’m Not That Stupid was instantly one of my favourites. Most of the poems are four lines long. Some are two. Not many stretch past six. There are two and three and four poems per page. There are some 400 poems in this 150 page book. It is a lot. A beautiful lot. The economy of language is one thing. But the mind behind these words. I kept pondering that. How. How had this work happened? How had the writer arrived at this style? Not since Lydia Davis (and her medium is the short story) had I been so curious about how the writer imagined-up and kept utilizing the same magic-trick. Making it new each time.
Incidentally my favourite Lydia Davis story is called The Cows. It’s in one of her books and then it became one of her books – published as a standalone short volume. I’ve read it a few times now and marveled at its commitment. To simply observe. To tell what’s there.
Hill has a poem called Cow – in it she observes too. But perhaps she observes (and observes) and then tells us what’s not there.
Anyway, my thanks must go to Emma Neale – a fine writer of both poetry and novels. A skilled editor too. It was her selection of the Hill poem that knocked me out. Had me sharing then. And sharing now. And had me heading back to the hills of Selima’s work.
Recently I powered through Bunny – a funny book of short, short poems which I have woken up to read again. I’ve got Violet and the selected poems, Trembling Hearts In The Bodies of Dogs lined up on the bedside table now to read. And re-read.
So I just wanted to put this poem – and poet – in front of you. And praise it like I should. Maybe you’re already a fan and know her work far better than me. But maybe her name and work is new to you. And if so please investigate further and though you won’t always ‘enjoy’ you will experience a whole lot in just a few short words.
(after The Shaggs)
The rich people want what
the poor people have got
The cold people find a new
warmth to hold
The people I was when I was
so young are not the people
I’m trying to be as I get old,
but it’s hard sometimes
It’s hard sometimes. You try
to keep in time, but you like
to colour outside the lines.
It’s just more fun. And you
don’t know you’re wrong
until someone comes along
and tells you so. What makes
them right? We’ll never know.
I support the farmers and their
right to protest – good on them
but they were equating their struggle
with black lives matter, they were
saying that the Maori language was
part of the problem here too.
Well, big deal – that’s a side-issue,
move on. They probably think they
have been unfairly treated, so I think
the comparison is valid. No one wants
to be picked on. And everyone
is entitled to an opinion.
Well, I reckon they shouldn’t use
banners that say ‘Farm Lives Matter’.
And I reckon they will be first with
their hands up for flood relief – it won’t
be such a commie government then.
Pardon the pun, but the tide will change.
The important thing for you
to understand is everyone has a right
to protest – and the farmers lives really
do matter. They work hard and provide
a lot for this country. All Maori language
has ever done is confuse the issue.
Whose land is it that they’re farming?
They were paid the market price for it!
About once a month or so I have a long chat on RNZ about a particular musical artist or genre or a theme – for their regular Tuesday music features. This week I chose to talk about Grace Jones. Her music and her alien look captivated me as a child. And still does, the music particularly. I’ve been a fan all my life. She was a model and actor as well – so that gets some lip service in this chat, but the focus is on the music.
We played some of her best known songs – drew attention to Nightclubbing (her best album) turning 40 this year and featured a range of music from across her career.
If you want to hear the feature Click HERE.
She said wear some of those comfy
pants to your next poetry reading.
I said if you see me in those pants
make like a scared poacher –
shoot first, then run to the car.
She said shame on you to me.
(She said shame on me). Poets
she reckoned were an endangered
species. I said enraged species
more like. Told her to step outside,
the bloody city is crawling with
them. A zombie apocalypse of
distracted thought in clipped wee
lines. That’s the real bloody pandemic!