Tuesday Poem: Lot 165, by Marty Smith

No one has come to look at my teeth.
Flies licking the weep of my waxy lashes.
‘The heavy horses are quiet fortresses.
Dependable,’ the grandmother huffs,
settling on her knotted legs. She feels my tendons.
Her perm from the Swan Lake Hair Salon.
To her floral blouse, matching pleated skirt
I appeal, I try not to creak.
She means cart-horses and draught horses.
Those horses pull wagons, not race for Sheiks.
If she knew her history.
I’m a light-boned Arab, my pedigree
goes right back to Saladin. I carried Sultans,
we ran rings round Crusaders on big heavy horses
to haul big clanking knights. We left those horses for dead.
I’m looking right at her, carrying my gift from the past.
For the want of a nail.
I make my eyes soft and sharp.
‘Getting old,’ she says. ‘Maybe time for cat food.’
She’s looking for heart room, I breathe out dark red air.
She could carry me in her arms.
She could bed me down in straw.
I’m near to my knees, pleading.

Credit note: “Lot 165” is from Marty Smith’s collection Horse with Hat and is reproduced by kind permission of the author. Horse with Hat is available from VUP.

Marty Smith says: Horses have large round eyes like billiard balls set in the sides of their heads, which means they can see behind for danger. So the horse might as well tell the story of the long relationship between men and horses, in which horses always end badly. The poem also takes a gentle poke at the way horses are often represented in a mawkishly sentimental way.

Tim says: I’ve been nervous around horses ever since John Meredith’s fifth birthday party. John lived along Glengarry Crescent from me. The feature of his fifth birthday party was a large and placid horse in the back garden, on which the partygoers were offered rides. When my turn came, I lasted partway round the ride before sliding off the back of the horse and falling to the ground – and though I have since ridden horses without repeating that indignity, I have never quite conquered those early nerves. So I am glad to present a poem seen from the horse’s point of view, from a poet with infinitely more confidence around and knowledge of horses than I – and a wonderful ability to express that in her poetry.

The Tuesday Poem: This week, I’m the Hub Editor, and the poem I’ve chosen is How They Came To Privatise The Night by Maria McMillan.

Tuesday Poem: A Left Hook, by John O’Connor; In Memoriam John O’Connor

David Howard has alerted me to the sad news that Christchurch poet John O’Connor died recently. I didn’t know John well, but I enjoyed talking with him when I was in Christchurch, and he kindly gave me the opportunity to feature his poem Johnny as a hub Tuesday Poem. It comes from his 2013 collection Aspects of Reality (HeadworX).

A few years earlier, I’d published John’s poem “A Left Hook” on this blog, and I’m republishing it today as a tribute to John. In 2013, John made his own selection of his poetry available online, and an adapted version of his bio from that site is below:

John O’Connor was a Christchurch poet and critic. He was co-winner of the open section of the New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition in 1998 and winner of both the open and haiku sections of the same competition in 2006. In 2000 his fifth book of poetry, A Particular Context, was voted one of the five best books of New Zealand poetry of the 1990s by members of the NZPS. He was an editor for Canterbury Poets Combined Presses and was founding editor the poetry magazine plainwraps, co-founder of Sudden Valley Press and Poets Group, occasional editor of Takahe, Spin and the NZPS annual anthology. 

He was a past chair and long-term committee member of the Canterbury Poets Collective. His poetry has been widely published and is represented in Essential New Zealand Poems (Random House/Godwit, 2001). His haiku have been internationally anthologized and translated into eight languages. In 1997 he received an Honorary Diploma from the Croatian Haiku Association and in 2001 a Museum of Haiku Literature Award, Tokyo, for “best of issue” in Frogpond International, a special issue from the Haiku Society of America, featuring haiku from 52 countries and language communities.

A Left Hook

an early experience
of the left hook (admirably

tight if open-handed) came
at the beatific hand of

Monseigneur O’Dea – too
old to be a parish priest – who

about to impart the very
body & blood of Christ found I

was not holding the paten
correctly. a few years later

an equally irascible boxing
coach imparted impeccable

advice on how to throw it,
though he didn’t know the bit

about feinting with Jesus.
when the good monseigneur

had his final photo taken
he bestowed a copy on our family

– old friends should be so blessed –
for a decade it sat on the mantelpiece

between a bunch of plastic grapes
& a glass bowl that snowed if shaken.

This poem is from John O’Connor’s recently published Cornelius & Co: Collected Working-Class Verse 1996-2009 (Post Pressed, Queensland, 2010), which I also reviewed.

The Tuesday Poem: This week’s poem is Albert Park by Alice Miller, a finalist in this year’s Sarah Broom Poetry Prize (won by Diana Bridge).

New Zealand Poetry: Is It A Metropolitan Closed Shop?

As I blogged about last week, I was the guest reader at Hawke’s Bay Live Poets on Monday night – and I had a great time! A number of people who had heard me read (and whom I had heard read) at the first New Zealand Poetry Conference held in nearby Havelock North in 2013 took part in the evening, plus many people I hadn’t met previously.

The evening, compered by my welcoming and generous host Bill Sutton, started with a very high-quality open mike session – poems by turn moving, thought-provoking, and in at least one case absolutely hilarious. After the break it was my turn, and after a bit of a slow start – I hadn’t read for quite a while, and it showed at first – I got more and more into it, and judging by the reaction of the friendly audience, they did as well – so I ended up feeling very pleased with how the night had gone.

Talking to people during the break and after the reading, I was reminded of my experience in 2011 when I was a guest at the Readers and Writers Alive! Literary Festival in Invercargill: in both Invercargill and Hawke’s Bay, I met and heard writers whose work was clearly good enough to be published in magazines and anthologies and collected in book form, but who didn’t think it was a realistic ambition for someone in their position to break into what they saw (not inaccurately, in my view) as the Wellington/Auckland literary axis.

The success of poets such as Marty Smith make it clear that this can in fact be done; but (I suspect) from the non-metropolitan parts of New Zealand, the “mainstream” of New Zealand literature seems like one cosy club where everyone knows and publishes everyone else, and which sets a high bar for ‘outsiders’ to jump. The reality might look different to those who live in the cities – in Wellington, for example, there are distinctly different, although sometimes overlapping, International Institute of Modern Letteres (IIML) and non-IIML scenes – but I suspect this view is more true than many of us would care to admit.

The 2013 New Zealand Poetry Conference, which Bill played a key role in organising, helped to break down those barriers: I hope and expect that the New Zealand Poetry Conference 2015, to be held in Wellington in November, will include poetic voices from across the country, and not just end up as another metropolitan talking shop.

Awwwright, Hastings! Here’s One From The New Album!

Where: Hastings Community Arts Centre, 106 Russell Street, Hastings.

When: Monday 11 May, 7.30pm

What: I’m the guest reader  at the Hawke’s Bay Live Poets’ Society monthly meeting.

Contact: Bill Sutton, phone 06 844 4196, email suttb70 (at) gmail.com

Last year, I went to see Neil Young and Crazy Horse play at the Queen’s Wharf Events Centre in Wellington. Knowing that Neil Young + Crazy Horse = the rockers, not the folkie stuff, I went along expecting powerchords, guitar solos, and feedback – and that’s what I got (barring a short acosutic interlude in the middle).

But (when I could hear at all) I was amazed to hear people around me complaining “Why isn’t he playing the hits? Where’s A Man Needs A Maid? Where’s Lotta Love?”

If this happens even when an artist is playing old but lesser-known material, imagine what it’s like for the long-established band, going out on tour yet again, that tries to play material from its new album. Nobody wants that shit – they want the hits from twenty years ago! Sleater-Kinney seem to have avoided this in their recent reunion tour, but for most rockers of a certain vintage, the gap between musicians’ expectations and audience reaction must be hard to take.

I may be ageing, but I’m not a rock star – what are those three preceding paragraphs even about? So when I read at the Hawke’s Bay Poetry Society next Monday, I’m going to try out some of the new poems I’ve been writing this year – along with some poems that have been knocking around the “set” for a while.

I attended the first New Zealand Poetry conference in Hastings in 2013, and found the Hawke’s Bay poetry audience to be knowledgeable and appreciative, so I’m not too worried about their reactions to “the new stuff” – though I can always distract them by stabbing a Hammond organ with knives: