Growing up in Southland and Otago, I was a weirdo because I preferred soccer (football) and cricket to rugby. Rugby League was the code that dare not speak its name, but when I did see occasional footage, it was usually from the mudbath that was Carlaw Park, the then home of rugby league in Aotearoa.
For National Poetry Day on Friday, Mark Pirie posted a poem about, and entitled, “Carlaw Park”, by Francis Cloke. You can read Carlaw Park on the Poetry Archive of New Zealand Aotearoa (PANZA) website.
PANZA is a valuable historical resource on New Zealand poets and poetry that, in my view, doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. I encourage you to check out the site and read the PANZA newsletter – the latest issue has an in-depth obituary of Canterbury poet John O’Connor.
In contrast to rugby union, which has received plenty of attention from New Zealand poets and anthologists, not least Mark Pirie himself, and cricket likewise, I don’t know of much New Zealand poetry about rugby league. (If you know of rugby league poets and poems, please mention them in the comments!)
But I do know this one, because it was included in my first collection, Boat People:
The Rapture in Reserve Grade
Fifth tackle, and they’re kicking
when the last trump sounds.
The chosen players rise
but fail to catch the ball
as it spirals sinfully to ground.
It’s six a side in heaven,
seven left behind. No tackler,
no first marker. The halfback,
that cocky little rooster,
grabs the ball and scoots away.
No fullback, either. He’s
showing a clean pair of heels
diving beneath the crossbar
and taking the conversion
as the first drops of blood touch the crowd.