Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Tuesday's Poem

A challenge came my way today by way of a couple of writer friends - Claire and Tim. They tell me Mary has started a poetry challenge for poets to post a poem (original or someone else's you're allowed to share) every Tuesday. Coupled with the other challenge I have decided to take up - that of NaPoWriMo - means it's going to be a little busy around here through April!

Blue Lake, St. Bathans

Blasted ground, exposed silt
piled, blanched, weathered bone.
Under our feet, mealy grit's

The diggings give back
pale beauty, offer grass
and air. A bird sings.
We walk the paths,

soak in what time
it has taken. Say, "Hi,"
to two tourists, "Lovely
isn't it?" they say.

We have to agree.
It is that calm after the fact.
The silence of voices
that have died

away and gold-diggers
who have long gone.
You say you thought
the hotel cleaner greeted

the ghost. Turns out
it was a dog asleep
under the bench.
But the ghosts are there

all right, in the machinery
of pale facings, tangled
in lime light
under twisted water.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Sunday, 28 March 2010

The Night The Lights Went Out In George Street

I received in the mail recently, the poetry collection, ‘Underlife’ by January O’Neill by way of an overseas book exchange. (Her book for mine; my book for her’s). I read it on my recent trip away, and found it to be a warm companion. January’s voice is that of a person who engages fully with life. Her tenacity, bravery, sense of humour and of love, all come through strongly in this accomplished first collection.

The other book that also recently arrived in the mail was Leonie Wise’s ‘All of a Sudden’. A charming book full of beauty in both the words and the pictures it contains. Leonie’s sensitive nature shines through every page in this lovely book. It’s a little gem.


Last night for Earth Hour, Dunedin held a public event in the Octagon. The Octagon is Dunedin’s 8-sided city ‘square’ that divides George Street from Princes Street, and has a statue of the Scottish poet Robbie Burns as one of its focal points.

At 8.30 the lights were turned off and entertainment was provided by musical bands, drummers and fire-eaters. There was also poetry by poets, Sue Wootton, David Karena Holmes and yours truly. As it turned out, us poets had to swiftly negotiate for microphone time, as original plans were for us to read without amplification behind Robbie Burns (and of course, in the dark).

It was decided we would read one poem each in between the bands. I read last. By that time, people had been well and truly hyped up by the fire-dancing displays and a Pacific Island Drums band, and weren’t really in the right frame of mind to listen to poetry.

However, I saw it as a bit of a challenge and armed with the aid of a powerful sound system, tried to read above - or through - the general babble and somehow force the poetry through. Maybe I partly succeeded. It was fun trying. (I decided that I like being a disembodied voice in the dark; I feel very courageous when no-one can see me).


(All photos of the 'Earth Hour Event', were taken by photographer Kate Cooke).

Sunday, 21 March 2010


I had a great time with Canterbury poets at the Madras Cafe and Books reading. It was good to meet some fellow-poets I'd only previously met through their blogs, so to speak, and to catch up with others I hadn't seen for some time; including Catherine.

My trip to Christchurch and back however, proved to be a bit of a trial. The particular frame of mind I was in was not conducive to travelling. I lost things (re-covered after panicked backtracking) forgot things, made fuzzy decisions, experienced many confusing moments, made some ditzy, financially costly decisions (mainly involving a taxi-ride to my sister's place from the airport, which cost me $50). All in all, I was glad to finally arrive back home and r-e-l-a-x.
I found the two airports I was in harboured an unpleasant atmosphere of flux and flummox. One personal peeve was the way people the second they got off the plane, made important and desperate plunges for their mobiles. I found this annoying. (Okay, I'm old and cranky).

That is not to say that I didn't value my time away. Apart from reading out my poetry and having it welcomed by a warm and appreciative audience, I also got to stay and catch up with my sister. On the first night, we had dinner out at a place called 'The Vicarage' (see photo above). Very pleasant.

And I also got to meet a grand-nephew for the first time. He maybe was the highlight of my trip. (I am such a sucker for rug-rats!)

My lovely friend the writer and artist Claire Beynon from her blog '... All finite things reveal infinitude ...' has awarded me a Sunshine Award. Thank you Claire!

There are a few suggestions that come with this award:

-Send it on - nominate a group of bloggers whose sites you visit

-Put the logo in your sidebar or within a post

-Link the nominees within your post

-Let the nominees know they have received this award by commenting on their blog

-Share by linking the person from whom you received the award

The bloggers it's my joy to nominate, are five bloggers (located right at the bottom of my blog-links sidebar, because they don't blog very regularly). I am selfishly giving them this award in the hope that they will be encouraged to blog more (cos I love their work so!)

Alien Perspectives ... my son's viewpoint of a kiwi alien in Japan.
The Cartoon Moon ... my son's alien viewpoints from his world of art.
Katipo ... my friend Katherine's viewpoints from the ancient world of Greece.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Herring ... Marie's viewpoints (with excellent, accompanying photos) as an Aussie living in the 'land of ice and snow'; Sweden.
Endment ... gentle, elegant viewpoints, with photos, from a New York woodland.

So sound the bell; link, enjoy what they posted some time ago and with a comment, encourage them to post some more. Soon. You'll be doing us all a favour.


Sunday, 14 March 2010

Still Point

still point

An old, grey compass rose
dug into the rough top
of a weathered, fence post,
does not have to move
to point the way
the way back.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

I am reading poetry at Madras Cafe Books in the city of Christchurch on the night of Wednesday 17th March (St Patrick's Day). Mary-Jane Grandinetti and David Gregory will also be reading. We are there as guests of the Canterbury Poets' Collective, to take our part in the first week of their annual 'Autumn Season' of poetry readings. I am honoured to have been asked.
Yet I have to confess to a feeling of trepidation. I always feel strangely removed from myself at times like this anyway, viewing the events as they unfold as if from outer space, looking down on myself going through the motions.
But maybe the reluctance this time to dislodge myself from home to travel over 300 kilometers away, is exaggerated by the fact that I've settled into a satisfying rhythm of writing that I am loth to disrupt. For a good while now, I've been writing poetry about time and place; how we end up where we are (or more specifically, how I have ended up where I am). To be honest, it's been so akin to time travel that all I want to do after writing, is stay put and re-gather.
And yet ... real-time travel always brings its surprises and insights. I can only trust that what unfolds in the next few days of dislodgment, will be added to the presence of what I am writing now.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

A Day in the Lifetime

... for the sake of the birds

You can tell by their expressions that at the time of taking the photos, these were not happy felines! I took the photos soon after they'd both been fitted with bells; an attempt to stop them from catching birds. They look quite disconcerted. They couldn’t work out what had suddenly tilted their world. The fact that they both jingled as they sauntered threw them, and they looked at each other with suspicion and fear. Typical siblings, they seemed more than ready to blame the other for this sudden, noisy misalignment. During the day they were fitted, they crept miserably about, hounded by what must have seemed to them to be a type of tinnitus. Cats guard their dignity with some fierceness, and this insistent, silly accompaniment has caused them an uncomfortable discombobulation.

Not even a week later Grommet, the male cat, has caught a bird. As it was on a blustery day, I am thinking the bird may not have heard the early warning system.


... a day in the lifetime

The bus I catch has opera playing over the sound system, an indication of this day’s determination to be a little different. After I get off in the town centre, I look for somewhere to get a coffee, noticing on the way a young woman at an outside table who’s talking in a foreign language to someone on her laptop. Skype-ing home maybe? How rapidly technology has changed communication ... When we toured Europe in 1978 our parents had to wait a week for our postcards to arrive before they knew where we were.

While drinking my coffee, I see a man walking past outside with two babies (twins?) each in a buggy linked to the other like carriages in a train. Does this mean the horizontal mode of twin transportation has changed to linear? Or is it simply a matter of more choices for the consumer? Who knows. As a tail-ender babyboomer, I’m feeling more and more these days like I can’t quite keep up. Not that I’m complaining, I rather like my slow lowlands where the mist lifts every so often to reveal a tried and tested, true-blue sky. My mantra is fast-becoming, ‘what do I know?’ A pleasant enough accompanying theme tune, the lyrics created by myself as I go along. (Come to think of it - this mantra is not recent at all ... more along the lines of lifelong).

It’s always a momentous day when a grandchild’s on the way ... I keep thinking, this one arriving today, a girl, will be my fifth, and reel a little at how fast it's all happened. In no time at all from the girl in Skellerup gumboots clomping across green, Southland paddocks, to suddenly: a grandmother of five.

At an outdoor market in the Octagon I buy a new tin of Rawleigh’s 'Salve'. The tin we’ve had in our bathroom cupboard for thirty years is actually starting to rust. Rawleigh’s tins look exactly the same as they always have (maybe there are some things that never change.)

I have in mind taking a look at Dunedin’s ‘poem on the wall’ in Burlington Street. Over the years, I’ve read this poem a few times, in its original position. When I see the permanent, brass plaque made of it, I’m disappointed. Didn’t the original poem mention a blue hat? Was poetic license taken when they made the plaque? I remain a little suspicious and will never know for sure ... Memory does play funny tricks. Maybe the blue hat only ever existed in my imagination. (The immortalisation of someone’s street poetry is kinda cool though).

It’s time to go to the lunchtime poetry event in the Chinese Gardens. Unlike people suppose, not all poets are fond of performing. I heard a writer say on the radio that writers generally tend to be shy, introverted people who hate any public exposure, then added, “Oh, except for poets who love to perform”. Hey mister, I beg to differ. I do not particularly enjoy reading my poetry out in public. However, when asked I always appreciate being asked and would never refuse an invitation. The rewards of the engagement it gives me with those who come to listen and the connection that is made between the poetry, myself and the listeners, always makes it worth it. This day I’m looking forward to reading with friends - three other poets I’ve read with before. I’m going to enjoy myself and not be the ‘shrinking violet’ I was once accused of being, many years ago now. (At the time - Struan Robertson - it sounded to me like I was being accused of having some sort of a disease).

Despite the pesky wind knocking over the lectern and flapping tassels of Chinese lanterns in our faces; and despite the trains rolling past taking with them any words being read out; the reading goes relatively well. (The well-trodden cliche of ‘a small but appreciative crowd’ comes to mind). I’m buoyed by the surprise attendance of my husband. The trickster - not telling me he was going to be there. Straight after the readings, he tears back to work. My friend Ann’s a surprise too (after I realise the Garbo-ish person in sunglasses taking shelter from the mid-day sun under a floppy, straw hat is her).

Time now to go to the hospital and meet the newest grandchild. On the way, walking past factories in the bright sun (the sunshine that my Japanese daughter-in-law when she was over last summer, found so harsh ... and I don’t blame her, with only a thinned ozone layer between us and the sun to dull its beam, NZ’s sunlight is very sharp indeed) the wind is still intent on mischief and throws grit into my eyes. This is a painful experience when you wear contact lenses. I am literally stumbling blind, cut by a combination of sunlight shards and grit. I duck into an office building’s basement car park to doctor my streaming eyes.

Of course my granddaughter’s amazingly perfect. My daughter’s sleepy, so I don’t stay long. As I leave the hospital, I hold the image of my granddaughter’s face - her shut-tight eyes. In fact I’m thinking about her so hard, I apparently miss seeing among the other buses, my bus arrive and depart again. After thinking it was taking its time, I ask the woman sitting beside me if the Shiel Hill bus has arrived yet. “It’s just this minute come and gone again,” she says looking at me as if I’m crazy. And I don’t blame her one bit.

I tiredly plod up our driveway, still in a pondering mood, and spot a monarch butterfly adorned in tigerish colours. It sits patiently while I take its photo and then flip-flops away. My heart sinks when I see two or three birds fly after it. (My only hope is that as they are seed-gathering wax-eyes, they probably aren’t after the butterfly so much as the berries of the pittosporum). Butterflies live very brief lives, packing a lifetime into just one day, totally unaware there’s any other way of living. On one level, this could well be the definition of bliss.

Monday, 1 March 2010

'born to a red-headed woman'

One of my favourite photos. My mother as a young woman peering a little suspiciously at my father as he takes the photo. (In this photo she still has the fiery, red hair I remember so well as a child).

Autumn is my favourite season. It carries its own weight of serious softness and an endearing sense of inevitability. It points us towards reflection. Where I live, today is the first day of autumn. 'Time for a cool change'.
In keeping with that theme, I've given my blog a new title and header; the working title for my third collection of poetry. I say 'working title' because I'm not sure I will go all the way with it yet, or not. However after living with it for over six months or so, it has become embedded in my psyche - so much so that for me it's already been reduced to the familiar, with its own acronym: btarw.

‘don’t let the stars get in your eyes, don’t let the moon break your heart’

On a cold night in June

I was born

to a red-headed woman

in a hospital

by the Waiau river

making heavy work

of its final punch through

to the coast, the thrum of it


our breathing, the beating

of my heart

the size of a walnut.

Kay McKenzie Cooke


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...