Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Tuesday Poem

As I ponder about what to post for this week's Tuesday Poem, heavy rain falls upon New Zealand. Where I live, so far there is no accompanying wind, so it is falling softly and secretly, calmly unwrapping its contents. No doubt there are some who will be awake throughout the night, keeping an eye on flood waters. I am fond of rain and its ability (in small doses) to clean and heal.

In a poem by Dylan Thomas titled 'We Lying By Seasand,' he describes sand taking over rock;

'... wish for the wind to blow away
The strata of the shore and drown red rock ...'

And in another part of the poem:

'The lunar silences, the silent tide
Lapping the still canals, the dry tide-master
Ribbed between desert and water storm,
Should cure our ills of the water
With one-coloured calm ... '

Thomas died in November, 1953 (the year I was born) before the modern swoop of 'global warming' as we know it, and before our greed for the earth's resources caused the devastation we see in such disasters as the BP oil slick in the Mexican Gulf.

Thomas is said to have said that the meaning of a poem was secondary to him as he was more interested in the musicality of a poem. He stated that the poems that most influenced him were the Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes of his childhood.

My favourite Thomas poem is 'The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower'. I am fully confident that Nursey Rhymes are totally free of copyright, but I'm not so confident that the poems of Dylan Thomas are as free. I decided to play it safe for my 'Tuesday Poem' and post a nursery rhyme - one that has been going round and round in my head lately.

'I do not like thee Dr Fell
The reason why I cannot tell,
But this I know and know full well,
I do not like thee Dr Fell'.

This rhyme was written by Tom Brown in 1680 and describes a real Dr Fell, one of Tom Brown's school masters, but it wasn't included in Mother Goose Collections until 1926 when it appeared in 'Less Familiar Nursery Rhymes' by Robert Graves. It is a little rhyme that can be applied to many things - but perhaps currently, to the human greed that threatens to topple the fine balance of life on this planet, over into the diabolicle.

For some great reading ... go here to Tuesday Poem.

Monday, 24 May 2010

The Sound of the Sea

Little did Robert and I know that on a certain day in autumn in the late seventies (as it turns out, the very day we left the Isle of Mull, Scotland, where we had been working at the Tobermory Hotel) a baby girl was born to a young, Japanese couple in Osaka, who was going to grow up and become our future son's wife and the mother of our grandchildren.
Time, circumstances , juxtapositions, patterns, chances, the planned, the unplanned; the whole, tingling, awe-ful and beautiful symmetry of life; fills me with a wonder I can barely suppress. It makes me want to do something surprising - like burst into flower.

And so ... cut .... zoom .... 2009, and our son and his Japanese wife's New Zealand wedding ceremony. They collected stones from Kaikoura beach to use as place-names for the guests at the reception. A friend then decorated the stones and everyone was able to take their specially named stone home with them as a memento.

Mixing cultures can be tricky but the results when it is successful, as in the case of our son's marriage, is a thing of beauty.

I wrote a poem for the marriage ceremony and read it out on the day, in a shower of rain (making the third stanza especially poignant, or ironic, depending upon which way you want to look at it) and accompanied by the loud wails of their baby daughter (whose second name is 'Magnolia' - hence the reference to that flower in the poem).

The Sound of the Sea

for S.E.A.

It is all the ocean

between two countries

and two small row boats

that find each other


It is the love between

husband and wife.

The merging of worlds

within worlds, between

cultures and ancestry.

It is God opening

heaven’s windows.

It is the blessings

that fall. It is time

bursting into flower.

It is in the territory

of miracles. It is all of us

here for you. And it is sweet.

Sweet as magnolia.

As the sound of the sea.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Saturday, 22 May 2010

The Right Words

The photo above is of a door handle from my long-gone childhood home. It is off an outside door that led into the front porch outside the kitchen door. How fondly I remember the calm feel of its fit in the circle of my palm. How trustworthy it was, this banged-up doorknob. How gratefully I reached for the entry it allowed me into the familiar from the unpredictable. It's very precious to me this old handle from a door that was never locked.


'Spillikins' is another word for the childhood game I knew as 'Pick-Up-Sticks'. (Do children still play that game?) Fellow-writers described Robert Louis Stevenson's ability to write as one who seemed to be able 'to pick the right word on the point of his pen, like a man playing spillikins'. This Friday Dunedin's '24-hour Second-hand Book Sale' opened its doors for the 30th time. I got there mid-afternoon and among other finds, came home with 'Memories and Portraits', a series of essays written by RL Stevenson towards the end of his life.

It's a small, book, easy to hold, with a faded, red cover. The book opens with amusing descriptions of the differences between the Scots and the English (from what I know of the two nationalities, what he has written on the subject may very well still be applicable). Other essays describe Stevenson's memories of being a young student. Although couched in the embroidered tone of the age, he describes much of what faces students of any age - failing papers and missing lectures, the attraction of a charismatic lecturer, the boredom of a dull one, the energy and genius of fellow- students, the sex, the booze and drugs, the exuberance of rebelling against parental expectations and the panic attacks at dawn.

I have picked up one difference though; back in the 19th century there was an expectation that many young people would not live to old age, and it is clear in these writings that as a young man Stevenson, who suffered from fragile health all his life, was haunted by seeing friends die of ill health while still in their twenties and early thirties.

He travelled widely and wrote widely (his most well known books being 'Treasure Island' and 'Kidnapped' as well as 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde'. He also wrote poetry, his 'Child's Garden of Verses' becoming a classic) . Towards the end of the 19th century, he made Samoa his home, building a house and living there with his family. He adopted the Samoan name 'Tusitala' ('Teller of Tales') and became a great favourite of the Samoan people. He died there of a stroke at the age of 44.

This hard-backed book, pre-owned by a 'Frank Denton, 1933' (the name written on the inside cover in tiny, perfect, cursive handwriting making me think that maybe Frank was an ant!) is my door into Stevenson's writing and I'm savouring the writing style of this Scottish writer Henry James described as 'the only man in England who can write a decent English sentence'.

Once inside the door, I've been delighted to discover wonderful writing laced with splendid descriptions, such as the one below of English windmills; an example of Stevenson picking up the right words on the point of his pen, 'like a man playing spillikins':

'There are, indeed, few merrier spectacles than that of many windmills bickering together in a fresh breeze over a woody country; their halting alacrity of movement, their pleasant business, making bread all day with uncouth gesticulations, their air, gigantically human, as of a creature half alive, put a spirit into the tamest of landscapes'. R.L.S. from 'Memories and Portraits' (1887).
The fact that I love this description of windmills could be seen as ironic, given that I've written a poem against the farming of them in a specific area. But the wooden, bread-making windmills described here are a far cry from the 21st centuries more excessive ones. (Although, maybe there were some people back in the 18th century who saw the windmills we'd consider now as cute, a grotesque mark on their pleasant outlook ... ) I can't agree with large, electrical corporations plastering landscape worthy of being conserved with a nightmare of super-sonic windmills progressing en masse. (Something I'm sure R.L.S. would never in his wildest dreams have imagined). Ah, progress. Some good. A lot bad.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Tuesday Poem

One of these Tuesdays I will post a poem that someone else has written ... at the moment it just seems easier to grab a poem from out of my own store. That way the only person I need to ask permission from is myself (and guarantee an un-delayed response).

This poem is about remembering the days when I was a teenager living in the country and looking for some idyllic spot in which to read a book.

lost in ... my own green light’

Laying a curved trail

behind me like a river

in the long grass

of a paddock that waits to be made

into hay after summer

has squeezed it dry,

under a plain sky

not yet written on by weather,

I search for a possie in the middle

somewhere safe from the peril of edges,

the dilemma of borders,

to read from a treasury

of poets: Keats, Browning,

Hopkins, Thomas, Donne, Milton,

Rosetti, Gray, to emerge

much later with skin damp and itchy,

cross-hatched with the imprint

of grass-stalks, to hear

a skylark’s scream as if

the whole planet had shuddered

to a halt; to the slow awareness

of a tractor’s faraway drone

boring into the earth,

its very heart.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

The title of this poem is a line from a favourite song of mine (in fact I have used another line from it for a poem that is in 'Made For Weather'). The song is, 'Lost In Paradise' as sung by Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66.

And a must - for more Tuesday Poems - GO to Tuesday Poem

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Remaining Upright

In my part of the world, we are now deep into autumn.

Today (Saturday) I went out and about with my camera, heading away from the southerly, coastal atmosphere of the suburb where we live, north towards North-east Valley, a valley which leads out of the city into the hills that come between Dunedin and its more northerly beaches.
I stopped at Chingford Park, a peaceful place full of established trees and where the basalt Chingford Stables building nestles like a forgotten, old uncle. The stables were built in 1880 and at one time housed Dunedin's businessmen's horses. The building is now used for private and public functions and is a popular venue for wedding photos.

Chingford is also where the Dunedin Archery Club has its centre.

This is one of my favourite Dunedin buildings. Very art deco. Situated on North Road, it was Snow-White laundries a few years ago, but is now used for storage. I don't know what it was used for originally. I like the way it has been painted, but think it's a shame it isn't used for something more interesting than a laundry or storage facility.

I then headed out to Port Chalmers, Dunedin's port. It was mid-afternoon, but a clingy mist had crept in over the town with its historic, stoney buildings, so that it appeared (as it often does in my experience) cold, quiet and closed. This town is determined to give me the cold shoulder. There is a stubborn element of the arts and crafts in Port, which seems to fight to maintain a profile among the more established machinery, scaffolding, iron struts and grunt that is the stuff of a solid, stone-and-mortar wharf. Maybe any symbiosis that exists between the coffee culture and the worker has yet to fire. Although, from what I saw today, the grey will always threaten to swallow any spark.

I was taken by the artwork of local school children set as fired, clay tiles in a wall around Port's war memorial. I'm rather fond of seahorses and this one in particular conveys that sad, facial expression they carry of a distracted, careworn air; no doubt a result of the suffering involved in always having to remain upright.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Tuesday Poem

Expediency is the name of the game for me at the moment, what with working full days 'n all. SO I am posting Tuesday Poem early (it's Monday night) PLUS making it one of the poems I intend to read at this Wednesday's poetry readings currently running fortnightly at Circadian Rhythm, Dunedin. (This Wednesday's readings have the suggested theme of 'Games").

This poem is the last poem in my poetry book, 'Feeding the Dogs'.

the game

If I was a dog I'd be easily trained
to walk on my two hind legs
and fetch things that way

- like the one I saw on America's
Funniest. If I was a car I'd be a Morris
Minor; an instrument,

a barometer - tap me twice
daily. If I was a country I'd be run
by a benevolent dictator.

If I was a tree I'd be a stunted pine
sideswiped by the Roaring Forties.
If I was a fruit I'd be a green apple;

a Granny Smith in June. A nut,
a pistachio, an insect,
Bart Simpson's butterfly: (No one

suspects the butterfly'.) If I was
a man I'd get along better
with extroverts. If I could be anything

I wanted to be, I'd be a dark-blue
biplane that appears
out of nowhere.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Don't forget to pay the Tuesday Poem site a visit for more poems on a Tuesday.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Hard Yacker

And now after a week or so I feel like blogging again ... an enforced respite because of a tight work schedule at present.
I accepted a three-week block of relief teaching at an early childcare centre. This involves working from 8.30 in the morning until 6.00 p.m. at night. (And if I walk to work, add another 35 mins.)
This is okay in itself (it's needed income) but it happens to be with two-year olds. Imagine twenty-four, 15-month olds through to two-yr olds, en massee, stumbling, pushing, biting, snatching, crying, peeing, pooing, spitting, yelling, eating paint, sand ... and you get a bit of a picture.
I exaggerate. Kind of. Of course it's not like that ALL the time. We do have the rewards: smiles, hugs, cuddles, laughter, cute moments, singing, sleeping, learning, adorable moments, precious moments ... I wouldn't do it otherwise!
But apart from all the dramas, I find it tough work physically and my joints protest. I hear myself making old-people-noises, those involuntary grunts and moans we of a certain age make. I arrive home from work totally drained and exhausted.
However, I know I will survive and it does keep me more supple than I otherwise would be. (I certainly don't need to go to the gym - I get my workout right there at work).
The bonus is that at the end of this block of work, I will be able to pay some bills and will be free again (for a week or so anyway, after which I will be accepting relieving work again). And while I am free, I plan to go on a bit of a roadie as research for a story I am writing about my grandfather ... among other things, my third poetry book, for example. Details will follow.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Tuesday Poem

I wasn't going to post a Tuesday Poem, I felt too exhausted after a full day's work with two year-olds! but friends encouraged me to 'do it anyway' (thanks Paul and Angela). It turns out that that encouragement was all I needed. Here is an older poem of mine about a memory I have of a fingernail inspection when I was a school-girl (these used to happen in classrooms in the 1960's - I don't know if they still have them - probably not, too un-PC I suspect).

what lovely moons

In our mouths, the taint

of metal and rust

from the drinking fountain.

On our bodies,

the smell of sweat and grass.

Time now, the teacher says,

for fingernail inspection.

Place your hands palms down,

on the desk

in front of you.

Spread-eagled, my fingers

are a cowled row

of Virgin Marys.

The teacher draws close,

her own fingers cool,

narrow, streamlined

dragonflies that touch down

briefly where my fingertips

have begun to make mist.

What lovely moons, she says.

And yes, now I see them too. Pale,


moons still in their beds

but due to rise

sometime soon, and beautifully.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

For more Tuesday Poems - click on the logo on the sidebar!

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...