Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Books, Birds and Rain

The flurry has died down.

Back to old clothes and porridge, as my nana would have said.
I can report that the launch went well. A crowd of friends and family gathered together in the publisher's offices above a busy Cumberland Street. Below, along the one-way, a non-stop stream of Friday night traffic headed northwards. Inside, out of the winter air, glasses of wine were raised and good, kind things said. 'made for weather' was well received and duly afforded a worthy shove into the world. It is a fine-looking (thanks to M's painting on the cover and Fiona Moffatt's design) hard-covered book. Richard Reeve said some very kind things about my writing. I tried not to feel too embarrassed. To have Richard launch the book meant the world to me. He's been part of my writing life from when I started taking the writing of my own poetry seriously, and I value his intelligent and energetic support of both poetry in general and my own poetry.
I duly signed all the copies bought, feeling like a bona-fide author. (Excuse the 'post-launch' posing!)
I enjoy things better when they are unpretentious and meaningful. And for me, the launch had that flavour. The ones who were there were the important people. Of course not everyone who is important to me was able to be there - but there were enough people, friends and family present to stand in for them.
After most people had left, I signed the wall - an OUP tradition. Pity I didn't get a photo. We forgot the camera! (Although ABM said he was happier not to have the pressure of having to think about taking photos.)
Afterwards it was off to the library for the Poetry Day readings; myself as featured poet - no pressure!
I had prepared well. It had taken me all week (in the evenings after work) to process the information I wanted to convey about each poem I was reading, and to prepare and rehearse the reading of the poems themselves. It paid off. I wasn't nervous. I felt relaxed and confident and even found it enjoyable. (As opposed to a nerve-wracking, endurance test ...) ABM said it was the best he'd heard me read, so I'll take that as confirmation that it went okay.
Afterwards we went with friends and M&K for a wind-down coffee. I treated myself to a hot chocolate and a slice of chocolate cake. Yum.

In Saturday's mail, a Snoopy card arrived ( I love Snoops! as E figured I did ... ) from S&E in Japan. Touching and sweet - it's a keeper.

And for the launch, L my bestest buddy at work, bought me some roses.


On Saturday, to recover from all the excitement, I spent most of the day in bed - sleeping the day away and reading in between. I read the book my friend R. from Wellington gave me for my birthday. It's called 'The Jane Austen Book Club' by Karen Joy Fowler.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. It reminded me of Becky's style. Her book 'Coupon Girl' has that same quick humour, with enough one-liners to keep a stand-up comedian in business, yet at the same time, a sturdy, captivating plot that keeps things rolling along.

Now I am reading the 'The Bedside Book of Birds - An Avian Miscellany - ' by Graeme Gibson (Margaret Atwood's husband.)
This is the book I bought myself for a birthday present. As I am a fan of birds, it's not surprising that I am finding this fairly hefty book a satisfying one to dip into before I go to sleep. I am looking forward to it lasting as reading material for the rest of the winter.
The piece I read last night was by Saki, and was about his observations of the habits of birds in a war zone. It might surprise you to know (it did me anyway) that despite the war raging about them, mostly the birds carry on regardless, going about their daily business, building nests on war-ravaged trees and singing above the gunfire.

Speaking of birds, I happened to tune into Channel One's 'Artsville' programme on Sunday night, and was entranced (yet again) by seeing Bill Hammond's paintings. All those human-like, hook-beaked birds in primordial mists and bogs, just sitting or standing there, waiting for something. Waiting ... Waiting ...
His latest bird paintings feature the imposing, regal presence of the Great Haast Eagle - now extinct. By a co-incidence, last night when searching for images of the moa - an enormous flightless bird, also extinct - I came across another image of the Haast eagle, attacking a moa.

Today I drew a moa for the children. They coloured it in and we stuck it to the wall. They were fascinated by its size, and as indignant as only four year olds can be, to think such a large and amazing bird was hunted out of existence.
Part of the programme on Sunday night, featured a museum curator opening drawers holding three huia. Another extinct bird. These are the only three specimens of this bird in the whole of this planet. It was quite affecting ... I sensed a poem ... that fizzing feeling, like an electrical charge with origins in the gut, shooting up to the brain's right (or is it left?) hemisphere.

The weather has been both churlish and charming of late. It is still winter, but we've had some warm, sunny days to trick us into a false sense of security - until yesterday when the hard and persistent rain fell. There was some flooding in parts. Luckily it didn't affect us too much. Nothing a good raincoat and gumboots wouldn't fix.

'The Things children Say' (two things overheard this past week ...)
'T. said 'farting'," a child reports.

"You can come to my tea party as long as you don't be a dinosaur," G ( a girl) said to W (a boy).


Monday, 16 July 2007

Winter Grist

around Tuesday

This morning on my way to work, I stride into the coldness. As I make my way through the Gardens, I see a blackbird - extra large with its feathers all fluffed up.
Once at work it's a case of getting through the day without making any terrible blunders. I don't feel I have the energy needed to be extra 'specially bright and bubbly to parents and children. However I smile in as saintly a way as I can manage and try to enjoy the moments as they arise. Like the twin sisters who've just had a baby brother added to the family, who when asked, "What has arrived at your house?" reply, "A digger." Of course watching a digger at work is far more exciting than a baby brother!
At lunch-time I make an escape to go for a brisk walk to grab some lunch. In the cafe at the table next to me, a Canadian is telling a kiwi farmer all about an early morning experience he had while out deer hunting. He describes coming upon a stag and lining it up in the sights of his rifle. "I checked the skyline to make sure I had a safe shot," he says. It seems a world away from working with a crowd of small children and this busy, city corner, traffic tumbling past, to the Umbrella Mountains, Piano Flat in the distance, a bush-covered ridge above still bearing traces of morning mist.


around Wednesday

Sitting outside under a tree having a snack with the few 'late' children; those still to be picked up. It is four o'clock in the afternoon. A flat time of the day. The children munch on crackers and apple. Two tuis scuttle in the branches above us, interested in the possibility of some food. They come close, their glockenspiel clicks and whirrs an entertaining distraction.
We feed the rabbits some pellets. In the shed where the rabbit-food bins are kept, I spot a brown mouse inside an old glass aquarium. It lies, stomach down, its back legs spread like a frog's. It has fallen in and been unable to get out again, its demise brought about by a lethal combination of starvation, thirst, cold and no rope or ladder. I ask A if she will gather it up, as I'm a real wuss and can't bring myself to touch it.

around Thursday

Lunchtime. I sip my soup-in-a-cup. Asian Laksa. I read the newspaper. A photo of the young woman brutally slain over the weekend brings me up short. It's Vicki. She was a student in one of my child-care classes back in 1999 when I was tutoring. Sweet Vicki. The one who came up to me, two years later, brimming with positive energy and thanking me for what she'd learned in the class. Telling me life was good, she was doing things with her life and the future looked bright. Vicki, Vicki, Vicki. What gave that brutal man the right take your life? To slash you with a knife and leave you to bleed to death? I feel bruised inside for the rest of the day. A beautiful life extinguished. Just like that.

around Friday

I am reading poetry in a church where we drink mulled apple juice - warm, spicy and tasty. Friends are in the audience and their warm faces give me courage. It is not easy to open yourself to others, take the words you've written, give them air and energy. I feel I fail to do the poetry justice. However, my friends are gracious in their encouragement afterwards. The other readers have made it all worthwhile. The poetry is robust, meaningful, crafted and strong.
The other readers were Susan Jones (the minister of the Opoho Presbyterian Church where the readings were held) Elizabeth Brooke-Carr, Sue Wootton, and the two open-mike readers, Ann Jacobsen and Herberta Hellendoorn.


... which brings us to Saturday

A walk past the playing grounds where a game of rugby league is underway. The smell of a muddy playing field bringing back memories of playing hockey and the thrill of running in a freezing wind, my body generating the heat and energy needed to ride the cold.

And to the beach, winter-cold, clouds forming a grey rampart against any advance of sun.

Against a dark backdrop, two seagulls on power poles survey a grim outlook.

It was time to head back home to the fire. Enough of experiencing the elements for one day.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Was The Coffee A Free Trade Brand?

This is a Sunday Scribblings post where the prompt was 'Hair'.

Today my friend is wearing her hair up, which accentuates her eyes. A little loose bit not caught up in a black butterfly clip at the back, moves when her head moves.
She says that she is feeling her age.
We are both the same age - which is of an age where we are about to be (if not already) sidelined by those much younger.
After reaching forty, age becomes a 'thing.' Younger people are often puzzled at how much we older people mention age in conversation. Don't they realise how much it is a crisis of confidence?
After the age of forty, we can no longer rely on youth to get away with things. From now on it's all up to our wits and whatever wiles we have managed to acquire in those forty years. Until then we have managed to get along (just as young people are still doing) buoyed by the feeling that we own the world.
In a restaurant down on Dunedin's quiet (read: deserted) waterfront, we drink coffee and look out at the harbour view.

The sun's retreat leaves a fat shadow over the peninsula hills.
We agree that we are lucky. We aren't going to be jailed for writing or speaking against the government. We don't have to think about where our next meal is going to come from. We don't have enemies.
I think about how I probably should be more of a political animal. Greenhouse gases spring to mind. I salve my conscience with the thought that after my coffee ... I briefly wonder if it is a politically correct brand ... I am walking back home.
I don't mention it to my friend, but today I'm having an unwashed, funny-hair day.
Why is it, I wonder, that if I don't wash my hair every day I feel less than human? And yet I remember that as a child, our family only ever had a bath on Saturday night. Daily showers were something Hollywood actresses had and only became part of my life in the late seventies - or even later. I can't actually recall the exact time. Yet we survived. We weren't too rank. Maybe all this cleanliness has got a little out of hand. Would my carbon footprint be smaller if I washed less?
My friend tells me her husband went through a stressful time in his early forties and his hair began to go grey. Then when circumstances changed and the stress lessened, the grey hair grew out. I don't know how grey I actually am because I keep it covered. Even from myself.
My friend and I say good-bye. She's off to RPM classes and I'm walking home. I apply chap-stick on my lips and pull a red, possum-fur beret over my head. Possum-fur clothing may be an alarming thought to some, but it must be remembered that possums are a notifiable pest because they chomp through our native trees and plants.
There is a sharp, bitter wind. As I stride into it, I have to keep freeing wisps of my hair after they get stuck on my chap-sticked lips.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

I'm Making A List ... Checking It Twice ...

You know that feeling of waking up, thinking , "Oh no. Work," only to realise that it's Saturday?! Don't you just love it when that happens? Impossible to plan, so when it happens, it is especially sweet. And it happened to me this morning. What joy.


I identify very much with what Catherine over at Still Standing On Her Head has to say in her Friday post about the effect work has on the creative part of her life. When I was working shorter hours, I found it easy to fit the writing in. Back then (and I'm only talking two months) I was working around my writing. Now I am writing around my working - a far more daunting prospect.
Time to make like a ship in trouble and list!
Just like January, I'm going to set some writing goals.
1) A poem a week. Poetry Thursday here I come!
2) Start the whole process again of sending out stuff.
3) Instead of trying to remember what jumps out at me as an idea for a poem, work a little harder on my notebook, jotting down ideas on the run.
4) Set aside ten minutes every day to WRITE; without the pen leaving the page.
5) Read one poetry book a week.

Perfect. Five easy goals. And as fate would have it, five fingers on one hand to remember them by.


I notice they are all poetry-writing goals.

I also want to write prose, but blogging entries may have to be it for a while.

Writing prose (for me) takes up a whole lot more time than poetry. Poetry I can work on in bits. Prose requires (for me) time to have a clear run. A solid block of time set aside to go from go to whoa seems to be my preferred style when writing prose.

All power to Becky, Clare and Patry who are great models as writers who keep their noses to the grindstone and do the gruelling work required to write a novel.

I was thrilled to receive two prizes in the Shameless Lions Writing Circle's competition. Those of us who joined the circle, chose a lion to adopt and then wrote something about that lion. Go on over and take a look. There are some splendid entries over there. Special thanks to Seamus the highly creative, tireless 'Irish Kiwi' who lives in France. He it was who hatched and dispatched the whole thing. And it looks like it is not going to stop here. There are plans afoot to keep the writing going. Yay!

Reading: Chris Price's 'Brief Lives' - so far I am enjoying it immensely.

Listening: To the sound of silence - except for the clock ticking, the fire sparking and the click of the keyboard as I type.

Watching: Soon - The NZ All Blacks rugby team play the Springboks.

Go the ABs!


Monday, 9 July 2007

The Blue Oyster and Pumperknickers

I guess every country has a shameful past to a certain extent.
Not far from where I live is this door in a cliff.

It may look cute, but it is widely believed that it is where Maori war prisoners from sometime the 19th century were kept. Behind that door is a dark and rudimentary cave where it is reported they slept at night. During the day they were made to work on the stone walls that are such a feature of the Otago Peninsula,

and on the roads around the harbour. Some of these men were taken far away from their wives and families in the North Island and shipped to the South Island, simply because they made a peaceful protest and refused to move when their pa (fortified village) was invaded.
This memorial was erected in memory of those who died and never returned to their families.


On Tuesday night we went to an exhibition at the Blue Oyster Gallery. The whole space has been transformed into a bright splash of colour made up of thousands of small paintings contributed by over 200 artists here in Dunedin. One of the artists is Son M. The paintings are unnamed, but we could easily pick out all of M's paintings.
The space is a basement that has arched stone walls and a labyrinth-like atmosphere. There were so many people there that I got quite claustrophobic, and as visions of what would happen if there was a fire leapt to mind, I made my way nearer the door.


As you can see from this photo taken on Sunday, last week's snow still remained on the hill suburbs. However, it has now largely disappeared. The building in the foreground is the Dunedin railway station, taken from the business end.

This winter is a particularly hard one. Temperatures are dropping to minus 10 degrees celsius at night. Some people have had burst water pipes flooding their houses. It is certainly hard to get out of bed these cold mornings.
Today at the pre-school we made honey water for the birds and discussed how ice is formed.


Last night was a treat, I had dinner with two families I used to be nanny for. The restaurant where we all met up for dinner is called 'Pumpernickles'. However, three-year old JD prefers to call it 'Pumperknickers'.


Thursday, 5 July 2007

Taking The Weather With Me

Thanks to Donelle, the publicist at Otago University Press, posters and email invites to the launch of 'made for weather'are ready to go.

The painting is by Son M. and was done especially for the book.

The launch is to be on July 27th, New Zealand's Poetry Day.

After the launch, there is a Poetry Reading featuring 9 Dunedin poets and I'm fortunate enough to be the featured poet.


Wednesday night after work, some of us got together at the 'Robbie Burns Pub' to discuss the prospect of getting regular poetry readings going again in this fair city of ours. After the slightly hurried 'meeting of minds', with some good ideas as to venues and format being tossed about, it is now a case of Watch this Space. I will keep you updated as to progress.

In a rash moment, a co-worker and I offered to go into to work today (yes! on Saturday!!!) to sort out a woefully neglected storeroom. (Why do I do these things?) As it turned out, there were no cars at home for me to use, and so rather than take a circuitous bus ride - Saturday buses are like that that - I opted to walk.

It only took an hour. It was a fresh (see the snow on the hills?) and sunny day. All the way,
I vacillated between feeling like a resentful martyr and a diffident trooper. I looked around, and yes, I was the only one walking. Everyone else was in a car.

As I passed by the railway station, I spotted these two resting engines. Something about them appealed, maybe because they represent how I often feel - the little engine that could ...

This car took my eye, with its cap of snow and Tweety bird and Taz car-seat covers. Classic.

As I write this, the Live Earth telecast from Sydney has been playing. There have been film clips that really make you think about what this planet, with the help of humankind, is spinning into.
At the moment the kiwi band Crowded House is singing the last song, 'Everywhere You Go, You Always Take The Weather With You'.

I feel very virtuous walking all that way today. In the end, the trooper won out over the martyr.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Bouquets and Bricks

Most of the photos featured on this blog are of the remainder of flowers in our garden. The ones left behind, struggling to weather the winter before they finally succumb. They symbolise a bravery and doggedness I can identify with to some extent.

Winter's barricade works surprisingly well. We scuttle indoors at the end of the day and close the curtains on the clammy, cold evening. And hope that we don't have to venture out. Ever.

In the morning it is cold and dark. Frost has to be scraped with credit cards from windscreens. The traffic creeps along icy streets. My daughter's partner K said that he hears the grit truck going past at about 5.30 a.m. Sometimes his is the first car on the road after the grit has been spread.
I enjoy the cold, dark walk to work after ABM has dropped me off. Part of the walk is through the Botanical Gardens. Sleeping ducks look like large shoes abandoned in the middle of grass white with frost. At the edge of the paths, small, dark hedge-wrens run like mice. Bare, scarecrow-trees form broken-wax patterns against a lightening sky.
When the sun appears, some of the children, armed with magnifying glasses, take a closer look at the glittering crystals of ice. The sun appears, bright and sharp as a knife.
And then at about four o'clock, it slips away again leaving behind a clammy coldness. By the time we arrive home again, it's dark. We light the fire and draw the curtains.

However, despite the sense of siege one gets from winter's constrictions, there have been some bright incentives for us to weather the dark cold and drag ourselves away from the fireside. My birthday dinner on Monday night was one. ABM and I went somewhere where we knew there would be a roaring fire at our backs and hearty choices on the menu. We made a good choice in going to The Esplanade Restaurant in St Clair, where we enjoyed warm bread and seafood chowder, followed by a pasta meal which neither of us could finish, we were so replete. On the way back to the car we stood for a while and watched the sea, as in the darkness it sucked back and then surged forward, a foaming mass crashing into the sea wall.

The next night the family were around to share cosy pizzas. S rang from Japan. He had half an hour between his teaching classes to talk. All eight of us were able to speak to him. He said the weather there was muggy and hot. That was hard for us here in Dunedin to believe, with a hard frost forming outside.

Sometimes it's hard to restrain myself from sharing all I'd like to on this blog. But as my real identity is known, alas I cannot say all I would like to about certain things. Suffice to say there is nothing sweeter than having a good old gossipy gripe. And that's all I will say about Wednesday night spent in a certain coffee bar after work with a certain other person who shall remain nameless.

And now we come to Thursday night when ABM and I attended a play written by Martha Morseth.
It was such a treat to witness the finesse, confidence and stage presence of the young women actors. It was a play about New Zealand's first female doctor. Set at the turn of the century in Dunedin, the dialogue, characterisation, episodic incidents and music that the play incorporates, transports you to those times. We get a genuine sense of what it must've been like to be a young woman launching herself into an established male domain. Dunedin once again demonstrates how much of a thriving centre it is for the arts. Martha Morseth, the writer, and Sylvia Duff, the director, as well as the talented St Hilda's high-school students involved in the play (especially Nina Wright who played the lead character of Emily) are all examples of a rich, cultural vein in this small city.
When ABM and I left the theatre, we were buzzing with the experience of having seen something special as we walked out into the frosty air; hard, clear and sharp. I think the mark of whether something has been an experience rather than just plain entertainment, is if it remains with you long after you've seen it. This play has that quality about it. I have found myself going back over it, seeing the faces, and hearing the voices like echoes in my mind. A sure sign for me that this play is a goodie.

Friday night after work we attended a book launch. The next book launch to be held there will be my book. ABM and I got a glimpse at what the cover will look like. It is a little different to what I had envisaged. I'm sure it will look right once it is all done and dusted. There is nothing I can do about it now anyway. At least they used M's painting; a beautiful thing.

And that brings us to today - Saturday - a light, sunny winter's day after a night of rain. As the puddle on the deck-chair's seat shows.

ABM played a game of golf and came home feeling a little better than he had been feeling. Again, I cannot say much about it. All I can say is that it riles me when someone with as much integrity and strength of character as ABM has, who always treats people with utmost respect; who is a rock, a pillar; is not given the same respect or support. Some PC tripe has meant he has been treated with professional disdain. I have probably said too much and may well end up withdrawing these statements. Meanwhile though, I will use them to employ a little payback. For my man.

These irises aren't from our garden. ABM bought them for me after I'd had a hard day at work. (Told you he was sweet.)

Clocking Out

 I have been neglecting this blog for some months. I think perhaps I should face facts and accept that it is indeed time to retire this blog...