Wednesday, 14 January 2009

What Has The Dentist's Chair Got To Do With Poetry?

Have you ever had your dentist stop and read you a poem before working on your teeth? That is what happened to me last month. Knowing that I write poetry probably gave him the added confidence that I would be an appreciative audience (plus of course a captive one, in my semi-reclined position in the dental chair!) I guess I appreciated the thought, but couldn’t help other churlish, uncharitable thoughts sneaking in, such as: “Why isn’t it my book he’s raving about and reading from?”
After he was satisfied that I was just as impressed as he was about the poem (it was in fact an excellent poem by the NZ poet Brian Turner) he asked how the writing was going ... (Oh yes, that perennial, curly one!) to which I gave my stock reply; ‘Not so great this year, hoping that next year will be better without as many distractions,’ all the while mentally crossing my fingers.

And now - what do you know, it is next year and I have no more excuses!

A poem of mine was in the local newspaper a couple of weeks ago, but with all the goings-on and general hubbub and excitement of family, visitors, cooking, wedding preparations, Christmas, New Year, two birthdays, sightseeing trips to Queenstown etc and etc. I missed seeing it! (Not really all that surprising.)
I will post the poem below. I wrote it about a caravan holiday (the one and only) my family went on when I was thirteen. It was only a couple of years before my father died (not that we knew that tragedy was ahead) and I wish now that I hadn't been in such a mood ... but of course I was just being a typical snotty teenager. As you can't help but be at that bewildering age. (My siblings would say I was eternally in that state ... all I can say in my defence was that it was rough being the oldest of seven children while craving the peace and space as was / is my meditative wont.)

The (unfortunately faded and blurred) photo (which I have posted before in September on Father's Day; so apologies for such blatant over-exposure) is one taken at Cap Burn the very day the poem describes. As you look at the photo, I am on the far right.

caravan at Cap Burn

At thirteen and in a mood
I try for some reception
on my transistor radio,
finding some comfort
in the smell of warmed,
turquoise Bakelite.

It is summer and raining
and I’m in a caravan
with its musty smell
of disappointment
and damp,
flock sleeping bags.

The rest of my family
have gone eeling.
I opt to stay back with my book,
hearing over the rain
cropping sheep,
a blackbird,

rushing water. Close by
the railway overbridge
still with its steam train
and steel rails intact,
Cap Burn stream

back before it turned
into a rail-trail, cycle track
when in this caravan
pelted by unwelcome rain,
I pretend
I do not care

if my family ever comes back,
but wait for them anyway
to return, soaked
to the skin, smelling
of a muddy creek
and light-green willows.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

This photo was taken at the same locality the next day, when the sun was out again. It was taken by me. I am interested in the expressions on the faces of my family - methinks I was taking a long time to get the photo right; probably shouting instructions as to where everyone was to stand. Some look amused, while others look slightly brassed off.
(Apologies for the quality; it’s a photo printed off a photo, off a photo, ad infinitum - the negative having disappeared long ago.)


Rethabile and Phil's fabulous on-line poetry magazine Canopic Jar has launched its latest edition. I am honoured to be among the poets featured in this issue - go check it out.


Catherine said...

I think I'd be a bit startled if my dentist did that. I hopped over to Canopic Jar to enjoy your poems - my greatgrandfather lived in Rattray St in the 1890s (I think it was quite seedy even then, they were pretty hard up)

apprentice said...

Oh you really capture those agonising teenage days when like a dragonfly you have simply out grown your family, but your wings aren't dry enough to fly.

I can smell and taste it. No wonder it got published, it's a great piece.

On the photos, if you ever want to e-mail them to me I'd be happy to clean them up for you, although the graininess is part of the appeal.

Kay Cooke said...

Catherine - Yes I can appreciate the feeling of being a little startled! Have you ever read the book 'Blue Lion' in part set around Rattray Street during the Gold Rush? You might be interested ...

apprentice - The dragonfly is an apt description! Thanks for the offer re photos ... I'll give that some thought.

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...