Saturday, 30 May 2009

Foaming Ocean

Despite appearances, after descending the sand-dunes and hitting the beach itself, heading into the wind was a little bitter. I was forced to shove my hands into my pockets, pull my woolly hat farther down over my ears and put my head down against the sting of drifting tails of dry sand that whipped along the damper sand, like wreathes of smoke.
However, after turning to head the other way, with the wind at my back, things were altogether different. My hands warmed-up and could emerge from my pockets. With the wind at my back, I started to enjoy the sight of foam draped against wood and kelp,

of sunlight on a patchwork of hills

and all the tiny, sand drawings and sculptures where the wind and sand had played with the detritus left behind from a high tide.

And all the while, at my side, the huge, roaring waves kept within their boundary,

as the ocean like a wild dog foaming at the mouth, strained and bayed against the chains of sky and earth that keep it tethered.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Alas A Lack

The photos featured this post are from my library of images, so if you think you've seen them somewhere before, you have - right here. When I got out of our staff meeting tonight, a frosty mist was swirling above the streetlight. We could feel the frost clenching its fist tight around the city, promising (or threatening) an icy start to the day tomorrow.

I'm looking forward to going to a play at The Playhouse tomorrow. Some very good friends of ours, Burt and Liz Nisbet, are in the play running there at the moment. The play, written by JB Priestly, is called, 'When We Are Married' and is meant to be very funny. It is a production being put on in celebration of Dunedin Repertory Society's 75th anniversary. Our friends were very active in Dunedin's vibrant world of theatre and music in the late sixties - we have heard many a tale of those heady days.
(Review of tomorrow night's production will follow anon.)


Coming up in Dunedin is another Pecha Kulcha night on June 10th at the Art School. Should be a fascinating entertaining evening. It is Dunedin's second such event. The first one I reviewed here.
Wednesday 10 June, 2009
Doors open 7.30pm, start 8.20pm
Lecture room P152 (new building), Ground floor. Enter off Riego Street.
School of Art, Otago Polytechnic


I see the Port Chalmers poetry reading sessions have come to an end. A shame it has had to stop as I know its existence was appreciated. A friend and I always meant to go and check it out, but somehow never quite made it out there.


Now that that Poetry reading event has ended, I get the impression that Poetry Reading events in Dunedin are a little thin on the ground now. It might be that I am just right out of the loop; there could be a secret, pulsing, fiery, little heart of Poetry going on somewhere in the basement of some hotel. But, sadly, I don't think this is the case.
This present dearth is a bit different to the past when we had a few young, energetic, university-driven generators who were right into the world of poetry; organising, leading and pumping out regular poetry reading events. Those were the days. I am talking the mid-to-late 90s and early on into the twenty-first century when Nick Ascroft, Richard Reeve, James Saville-Smith et al. were the drivers, ably supported by local celebs. such as Jenny Powell, Claire Beynon, John Dolan, Diane Brown, David Eggleton, Katherine Liddy, Peter Olds, Sue Wootton, Martha Morseth, David Karena-Holmes, Elizabeth Isichei, Nicholas Reid, Emma Neale ... and many others ... as well as local eccentrics, ravers and other assorteds. Some of the Burns Fellows during their year in Dunedin, supported these nights as well ... I can think of James Norcliff and Alison Wong (and there were probably no doubt others I've forgotten ..)
For a time too we had running alongside these readings, the Martha Morseth-driven 'Upfront' poetry readings, allowing some quieter poets to emerge and take the spotlight, gaining confidence and rightful acclaim.
And we have recently had the Circadian Rhythm poetry readings run by Poppy Braithwaite and the Octagon Collective, but I haven't heard about any events planned for this year. For whatever reason, we've hit a bit of a slump. That's okay ... a resurgence will erupt somewhere sometime I am sure of it. Dunedin and poetry go together and there are certainly many poets residing here. Let's hope that if they have gone underground, they are at least writing, ready to emerge into the spotlight to reveal all. When the time is right.


Saturday, 23 May 2009

'The Sky Was A Petrifying Blue' *

* the title for this post is taken from the song 'Maize Stalk Drinking Blood' by The Mountain Goats. (Lyrics by John Darnielle.)

This photo was taken by me on the Otago Peninsula two years ago, about the same time of year and in similar weather to today's.

As I write this, the rain falls mercilessly on to our iron roof, echoing in our wood burner's free-standing, metal chimney and only ever drowned out by the rumble of the electric jug when I switch it on.
And I seem to be switching the jug on at regular intervals, either for a cup of tea or for water for the hot water bottle Robert applies to his bad back. Today sees an unusual ocurrence, my husband bed-ridden, cut down by cruel, leg-buckling spasms.
Robert could never be accused of being part of the 'Man Flu' Brigade'. He's in some other flotilla altogether, probabaly called 'Silent Sufferers' who never take days off work and never suffer from a cold (or if they do have what the rest of the world would call a cold, they pronounce it as something to ignore along with the headache they'd never take medication for.) In their manual of written instructions, Positive Thinking and Reason will defeat any bacterial or viral assault.
Today though, his painful back has temporarily pummeled any positivism and reason into a pulp of screaming nerves. So, anti-inflams. have been seconded to come to the rescue. Let's see if we can get him to a state where he can at least can make it into the car to get to the physio. without the aid of an ambulance.

The only things happy about this rain are the ferns. Whenever I make a pot of tea, or fill up the hot water bottle, I look out the kitchen window and see them dancing.

I feel less grumpy now that it is the weekend and no more work for me until Tuesday. Even a wet Saturday and a disabled husband isn't bringing me down. I am reading Huberta Hellendoorn's book and loving her voice in my ear as she describes her daughter's upbringing. It is both a biography and an autobiography rolled into one with delicious charm. I am thoroughly enjoying this window on to the life of a remarkable, gifted woman and her equally remarkable and gifted daughter. Addressing her daughter Miriam, the book tells of the development of a daughter's artisitc talent and achievements from the point of view of a proud and devoted mother. Of course there is so much more that Huberta describes and relates as well; for example what it was like to emigrate in the 1960s from your own country (Holland) to a foreign country (New Zealand.) I find that I am absorbed by every aspect that is brought into this story. The title of the book, 'Madonna in a Suitcase', refers to the painting by Miriam as featured on the book's cover.

This photo was taken on the way down to Invercargill. It was taken somewhere between Clinton and Gore. (The reference to US politics has been duly noted, with an official road-sign stating: 'Gore-Clinton Highway.') I took the photo because the Hokonui Hills, very familiar to me, by some trick of sky and cloud appeared on that day to be surrounded by the sea. A fantastic notion indeed. (And yet ... not so much, as due to an ancient heave up out of the sea, petrified seashells have been found on these hills many kilometers inland from the nearest coast.)

I enjoy fantastical poetry when written by other poets. I am even envious of poets who can write this way. I could write a poem about something as eternally expansive as the universe, or about some historical event; the day in the life of a woolly mammoth, for example; and one day I probably will. But being me, even though the boders of time and/or space have been effortlessly tapped and widened, for the poem to have a warm centre I would still have to write it within the framework of reality and by the 'rules' of poetry. Otherwise, when I apply my own intuitive temperature gague to it, the poem would feel remote and icy-cool. But that's just me and how my writing 'neurons' operate. I can't speak for anyone else.
I feel all holds are off when I am writing prose, and I feel restricted when I am writing poetry. Don't get me wrong, poetry is no god. It is just another way of writing. I prefer not to get too precious about it. It doesn't need an ivory tower. Make it too heavenly, and it's of no earthly good.

Lyrics to Maize Stalk Drinking Blood :
by John Darnielle

lying in the hot sun today
watching the clouds run away
thought a little while about you
the sky was a petrifying blue
and while the geese flew past
for no reason at all
i let the sky fall
this is an empty country, and i am the king
and i should not be allowed to touch anything

i picked myself up off the ground
shook the grass from my hair and i
walked around
felt the warm sun in my eye
strangers were passing by
i shinnied up the black walnut tree
let the hard blue sky fall right through me
and i saw the sad young cardinals, trying to sing
and i should not be allowed to touch anything
[ Maize Stalk Drinking Blood Lyrics on ]

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Inside Knowledge

We spent six weeks in February and March learning a little Japanese for two hours every Wednesday night. This is in readiness for our trip over to Japan later on this year. It was just a smattering, but to me it felt like I was now on the inside of the door rather than standing outside 'in the dark'.
Now we have to make sure we brush up on it a little nearer the time of our departure. Already it seems I have forgotten most of what we learned.

Japanese Evening Class

Give each vowel
its own emphasis
and sense of importance.
Don’t forget suffixes
and prefixes.

It’s very simple.
Very complicated.
Sometimes funny. For example
the word for potty,
is omaru.*

But at least
I am now on the inside
with my head full of the difference
and holding in both hands
(the Japanese way)

language’s twisted skein.
The one that is beginning
to unravel in order
for my clumsy fingers
to wind it up again

into tidy hanks.
Strange words, puzzling
sentence orders, run to me,
beg to be remembered
and (quickly, quickly) gathered in.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

* In NZ, there is a town called Oamaru.

Monday, 18 May 2009


A while ago now I had an interview for a new job. I didn't get the job but did write a poem.

there is no spring

(in response to a bad interview)

Bad answers
to dull questions thud
on to the concrete slabs

of your eyes
where there is no spring.
You have decided I will not do.

But that’s okay, I walk away
getting my teeth into
the wind and rain, happy

as an unopened crab
still full
of its own sweet meat.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Saturday, 16 May 2009

A Breath Away

Fallen berries from an over-reaching branch of our strawberry tree. Each year it creeps farther and farther out over our back lawn. A few of the trees around here are doing that. Growing. We have lived here twelve years now, in a house surrounded by trees which have largely been left to do their own thing. We are in serious need of some arbour rescue.

The autumn colours have peaked and are now receding as the leaves drop. The cracked-wax look of bare twigs against winter's taupe, is just a breath away.

Book Sale

I managed to get to the annual 24-hour Regent Theatre Book Sale ... proceeds go to the on-going restoration and upkeep of the theatre. Built in 1928, it has survived any threat to be knocked down and is now in good going order again, thanks to the loving care of dedicated supporters and volunteers.
The book sale runs from lunch-time Friday through to lunch-time Saturday, with local singers and musicians providing free entertainment.
This year I was only able to pop in for the blink of an eye, but even so snaffled from the hard-backed section, Anya Seton's 'Katherine', a Margaret Forster (one of my favourite English writers,) a water-stained, Frances Hodgson Burnett's,'The Secret Garden' (with a name pencilled in child's handwriting on the inside cover, along with the date 1956) and a book I've never heard of before, but grabbed because I liked the title; 'Beach Music,' by Pat Conroy. (After some internet research I have learned that he is an American writer who has written a lot of books, including 'The Prince of Tides' and 'The Great Santini.')

All books on the ground floor are priced at only a dollar each. Some people arrive armed with cardboard cartons to fill up. And why not?
When I bought my books a woman volunteer commented favourably on my scarf and asked me if I'd knitted it.

"Oh this is going to be one of those women's conversations isn't it?" said the man who was wrapping up my books in newspaper.
"No," said the woman working next to him, "It's a person's conversation."
I liked her face; it was an attractive, intelligent, middle-aged face.
"What is it about women and knitting?" the man said, undeterred by any women's lib. jibes. (Or maybe he was just thick. Okay, good-natured.)
"Women have been knitting since the guillotine, haven't they?" he continued in his jolly, good-natured way. When a band of volunteers work together - especially for twenty-four hours straight - no doubt you get this good-natured banter thing going on.
I wouldn't be surprised if my mouth dropped open at that stage. And in that manner of the brain going off on to its own tangents, subliminal thoughts sparked ...
What?! Isn't it more a case of women knitting since the dawn of time?
I didn't know people still did that - link the French Revolution and the guillotine with the act of knitting?
Is this a case of knitting giving a bad name to the guillotine, or the guillotine giving a bad name to knitting?
Is knitting going to be forever linked with the mental image of cackling, old women out having a good time?
Hey! Wouldn't it be something to knit a jersey with a picture of a guillotine on it?

Then the man remembered a fonder connection of women and knitting.
"It was great in Italy when my wife and I were over there, seeing women sitting down by the harbour knitting," he said. I swear a dreamy look - even admiring - came into his eyes.
I was feeling a little bamboozled because between all his comments, some other volunteer came up and said she was off for a coffee as she had a headache and needed sugar and the intelligent woman who seemed a little mesmerised by my scarf, continued to ask me several questions about how I got all the colours into it, what stitch it was knitted in, how I'd bordered it, how I'd managed to hide all the knots. However, I was able to do it all - answer the woman's questions, field the man's interruptions, pay for the books and at the same time note any subliminal thoughts. I believe it's called multi-tasking. Something women have been doing since the guillotine ... I mean, the dawn of time.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Getting It Down

I've been writing more these past few weeks than I have for a couple of years now. Dropping down to a four-day working week has made the difference, giving me more time. A whole day free of any distraction, has kick started me into the rhythm of writing and owning the focus and concentration that it takes to sit down, and write.
I find this day's writing effort builds up a momentum, a bit like a large wave, that overlaps into other days of the week making me more inclined to grab other spare moments available to write.
I know I need to test the writing. So I send it out. This is also something I haven't done a great deal of in the past few years. It's a bit like starting again, but this time with a difference. I feel more relaxed about any outcomes. There's a certain ... hmmm ... nonchalance, I guess. (One dictionary definition of that word is: 'having an air of easy unconcern or indifference.') I don't really care whether the work I am sending out is accepted for publication or not. At the moment it just feels like I am 'playing about' with ideas for short stories, long poems; maybe even back stories for a novel. Getting down to writing and getting the writing down.

Saturday, 9 May 2009


1. Post the award on your blog and link to the person who gave you the award.

That would be the Watermaid. Thanks Carol.

2. List seven things you love.

(I decided not to state the obvious like husband, family, God and country ... and choose with wild random and/or abandon just a few from a very long list.)

... wild weather, bodies of water, mountains, apples, stone, coloured glass, the colour blue ...

3. Pass it on! List seven blogs you love and let those people know you’ve given them the award.

Barbara's bleeugh!
Still Standing On Her Head
Mountain to the Sea
Just Wandering Through My 40's
Weekly Grind
Accept All Offerings
Under the Microscope


Thursday, 7 May 2009


Dunedin's painted bus shelters catch the eye and are much photographed. These are two that I passed today on a walk along the harbour at Vauxhall. Most of the shelters were painted by John Noakes. (This link's sidebar takes you to more of his bus-shelter art. Sadly he died in 2006, aged 67 years old.) It's a wonderful thing that his art lives on for a bit longer on many bus-shelters, and that his original idea to paint the shelters is now being upheld as a tradition. I don't know if these shelters I saw today are of John Noakes' design, because of course as the original murals become faded they are re-touched/re-done. But I trust the original spirit that the shelters were painted in is being kept in mind by the artists.


You used to be able to walk right out along this little pier, but I noticed today that it had one side missing and I didn't trust myself to walk safely all the way to the end. Besides, at the end of the rail there were was a hangout (which is the official collective noun, I looked it up!) of shags and it would have been very rude of me to disturb them.


Tuesday, 5 May 2009


I was woken this morning by the phone. It startled me from a deep sleep. It was my boss asking me did I realise that I was starting at 8.30 this morning and that it was now 8.45? I didn't realise how reliant I was on R (who was away last night and today) to wake me up (he's far better than I am at this going to sleep and getting up at a reasonable hour business, and I tend to just follow in his very reliable wake - excuse pun.)
In my panicked state I tried to do all the preparation for work in fifteen minutes that it normally takes me an hour to do, and realised as I did so that I hadn't experienced such a soup of disorientation and embarrassment since probably high school - though come to think of it, Mum wouldn't have let me sleep in and arrive at school late. So maybe it's more a memory of me starting out on my independent life, and failing at times, as a tertiary student. Oh well, I guess it gave me a taste again of being young and disorganised, forgetful and irresponsible, which is a change from what is now the staid, habitual routine of the disciplined, responsible organised life of a middle-aged woman.

Lately I have been writing a lot of poetry and short stories, which is making me feel like a real writer (something that has eluded me somewhat these past couple of years) even if slightly foggy and 'out of it' (hence I guess the sleeping in.) The writing act feels fresh and exciting again. ('Blackbird has spoken'.)

When I got home from work I went for a walk. The early evening stillness had settled under a grey-sky calm. Very Dunedin. Very beautiful.

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...