Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Flying Beach Umbrellas

a favourite desk calendar reaches the last page ...

Just been watching Youtube footage of beach umbrellas and how to / how not to put them up. Apparently it was meant to be funny. However the footage appears largely to have been shot by sniggering, smug types providing superior commentary about the body-shape and other such very human foibles and flaws of fellow-holidaymakers, blissfully unaware that they were being filmed.

I can just imagine these cowards lounging back BEHIND the camera, safe in the knowledge that the world isn't ever going to see them. Maybe while these people are making their furtive, sneaky films, someone else should be filming them filming, then see how they like them apples.

I did think the clip on the flying beach umbrellas was rather funny though. Dangerous things apparently, giant, flying umbrellas. One actually appeared to swallow a woman whole! And yes, I did laugh.

There is the promise of beach umbrellas where we're headed in a couple of days. (I don't think we'll be required to put them up, so that's a relief). However, on windy days I must remember to look out for umbrellas bearing down on me. Must also look out for people taking sly movies. I certainly don't want to be the fat lady showing the world how NOT to put up a beach umbrella.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

'In a Sea of Glass and Tin'

nativity scene on window-sill

A barbecue planned for this afternoon had to be held indoors; a not uncommon barbecue eventuality around these parts.

Our friends brought out their bagatelle board. Our sons used to play a more humble form of this on a board that my mother had at her house - they called it 'Nana's Marble Game'. Our friend has made this one from recycled rimu (a native NZ wood) and used ball bearings rather than marbles.

Some of us immediately thought of the song, 'Penny Arcade'. Roy Orbison's version of this song was apparently never a hit in America or Britain, but I certainly remember it being played extensively over the radio in New Zealand in the 60's. (I believe it was popular in Australia too). Today the song, written by a British songwriter Sammy King, is the current anthem for the Scottish football club, The Rangers.

... “Step up and play”, each machine seemed to say 
as I walked round and round the penny arcade. 
“Just ring the bell on the big bagatelle 
and you’ll make all the coloured lights cascade”. 

... At first I thought it a dream that I was in. 
Lost , lost in a sea of glass and tin. 
But no, so dipping my hand in the back of my jeans, 
I grabbed a handful of coins to feed the machines. 

One of the things I remember from our last trip to Japan, were my ears being assaulted by the frantic clatter of rolling pinballs issuing from the open doorways of the pachinko parlours; a Japanese version of billiard halls or gaming arcades.

Glancing into these frenetic spaces with their waterfalls of lights and blasting whistles and sirens, you see a 'shop' lit up like a flying-saucer full of intense young men in white shirts, desperately pushing buttons and pulling levers to set the pinballs rolling.

Even that small shot of frenzy as we walked past was more than enough exposure to pachinko for me.

The relatively sedate game of bagatelle being played today, indoors safe behind glass, while outside gale-like winds worried the red roses, was really more than enough excitement for me. For now. 

Saturday, 10 December 2011


sunfish painting on Dunedin bus-stop (Portobello Road) 

from wikipedia
Many of the sunfish's various names allude to its flattened shape. Its specific name, mola, is Latin for "millstone", which the fish resembles because of its grey colour, rough texture, and rounded body. Its common English name, sunfish, refers to the animal's habit of sunbathing at the surface of the water. The Dutch-, Portuguese-, French-, Catalan-, Spanish-, Italian-, Russian- and German-language names, respectively maanvis,peixe lua, poisson lune, peix lluna, pez luna, pesce luna, рыба-лунаand Mondfisch, mean "moon fish", in reference to its rounded shape. In German, the fish is also known as Schwimmender Kopf, or "swimming head". In Polish it is named samogłów, meaning "head alone", because it has no true tail. The Chinese translation of its academic name is fan-che yu, meaning "toppled car fish".

There is an enormous, stuffed sunfish housed at Dunedin Museum. (Last time I was there, it was hanging on the wall at the top of one of the stair landings). The museum's sunfish was caught by my late brother-in-law's great-uncle. My brother-in-law was understandably very proud of that fact.

Yesterday we were watching a video of my mother's 60th birthday. It was taken twenty years ago now. So many changes since. (Including my shape - where has that skinny young slip of a thing gone?) I've changed so much since then, even Robert didn't recognise me - and he was there at the time! Over the years since then, I've turned from a minnow into a sunfish.

It will soon be the anniversary of my brother-in-law's death. He was a great father and husband and I know his three girls (my sister and his two daughters) miss him like hell. There is a beautiful wee granddaughter too now, whom he never met.

Life is a mixture. Light and dark. Happiness and sadness. Often all at the same time. Like the warmth and plenitude that the word sunfish conjures on a cool, grey day; the humour too, of a sunfish caught in a cold concrete bus-shelter.


Excited! To be the judge of a poetry competition - especially such a worthy competition as this one that Poems In The Waiting Room (NZ) are running. Go here for the details. Be in, poets!


Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Little Miss a Hit


This year, one of the amaryllis bulbs given to us by Robert's Dad has decided to flower. It's always a little hit and miss whether or not I am doing the right things with these potted plants. Twice in the three years since we've had the bulbs, one of the flowers has bloomed, filling that corner of the house with a quiet thrill.

These flowers remind me of the poet Diane Wakoski. On the back of her book, 'Argonaut Rose', there is a picture of her with an amyrillis. Her gaze from behind a pair of very large glasses is enigmatic - as if she is the only one who really knows why the flower warrants more attention than she does.

Her title poem opens with the lines:
'What is the history
of this arm of a red lily that towers
out of its January pot, ready to bludgeon anyone
with its axe-handled crimson blade? ...'

I know I am a greenhouse pleb., but it is a puzzle to me why amaryllis are a December / January plant, whether you live in the northern or southern hemisphere  ... You'd think the bulbs would know better. Daffodil ones do; in New Zealand, daffs. wouldn't dream of flowering in May as they do in the northern hemisphere. For Diane (an American poet) it is a plant that emblazons her winter. For me, it sucks up summer light, reflecting it back in determined and boastful triumph.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

New Zealand Writer Tim Jones Explains

Tim Jones is a New Zealand writer I much admire. He is able to turn his talented writing-hand to many genres and forms - among them, speculative fiction, science fiction, short stories, novels and poetry.

 It is my absolute pleasure to take part in the Blog Tour organised for his latest publication the poetry collection, 'Men Briefly Explained'; a book I thoroughly enjoyed for a myriad of reasons - not the least being for its guiless, self-deprecating humour and the descriptions and references to parts of New Zealand I am very familiar with.

1) The last time I saw you was at the first event on your recent book tour (with Keith Westwater and David Reiter), at the Circadian Rhythm Cafe in Dunedin. The audience there was treated to an excellent evening of high quality and entertaining poetry. How did the rest of the tour go?

It went well, although we took the rain we had at the Dunedin event around the country! We had good turnouts in Christchurch, though it's probably no surprise that audience reaction was fairly muted, and even better turnouts in our home stamping grounds of Wellington and Lower Hutt. We must have had about 80 people at the Wellington event, held in the YA section of Wellington Central Library - though since it is a library, I did notice that one seeming audience member was actually there to read a library book - it was a Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic, a choice of which I naturally approved.

I had a really good time at the Lower Hutt launch, held at Eastbourne's excellent Rona Gallery, and even though the Kapiti launch at Paraparaumu Library was organised at the last minute, and at two minutes before the scheduled start time there was only one audience member present, we ended up with an appreciative audience of a dozen or so people. Going to Auckland always makes me a little apprehensive, and by that point in the tour I'd acquired a cold - the rigours of touring life, you know - but our appearance as part of Poetry Live at the Thistle Inn was a good way to cap off the tour.

I enjoyed my turns to read, especially once I settled on the poems that worked best in front of an audience, and also enjoyed catching up with old friends - and new friends - along the way.

2) One thing that struck me about "Men Briefly Explained" was how much the first section, in particular, is about your own life. Since you grew up in Southland and Otago, that means there are a number of poems set in the southern South Island. This is a place dear to my heart, for as you know it's where I was born and brought up, but do you ever worry that these poems won't mean much to people who haven't lived in this part of the country?

This probably isn't rational, but I think I'd worry more if I were writing prose. It's true that there may not be many readers who know where Puysegur Point is ("Men at Sea") or have ever been to Haast Beach ("Shetland Ponies, Haast Beach"), but I hope the feelings and experiences communicated in the poems overcome the possible unfamiliarity of the locations. Just as a lot of the poetry in the first section of this book hearkens back to my own childhood, youth and young manhood, so it hearkens back to the places where those stages of my life took place.

Having said that, I was very impressed that my fellow book-tourist Keith Westwater, in his debut collection Tongues of Ash <>  which includes a lot of landscape poetry, thought to put in a map of the locations which the poems are about. I associate maps with fantasy trilogies - I never thought of putting one in a poetry collection, but it's an excellent idea.

3) I was interested to see that you have included some prose poems in this collection, which I don't recall seeing from you before. Is that a direction you see your poetry taking?

I'm rather surprised to see them there myself! I have always been a bit nervous of prose poetry, perhaps because I write both poetry and short fiction, and prose poetry occupies an ominous netherworld between the two.

Of the two examples, the "Three Southern Prose Poems", which are all based on experiences I had growing up - as a child playing on Bluecliffs Beach at Te Waewae Bay, as a slightly older child climbing the Black Umbrella Range in Northern Southland with my dad, and as an adolescent, rather too full of my own self-importance, travelling back to Otago University from my home town of Gore - were written several years ago now, while "As you know, Bob", three alternative futures for the male gender, was written relatively recently, so I don't think that constitutes a trend. All the same, I wouldn't be surprised if a few more prose poems pop out from time to time.

4) As an ex-Gore High pupil myself; one who also headed to 'the big smoke' of Dunedin as a tertiary student; I'm dying to ask - did you really wear your Gore High School jersey to the bottle store, when you were eighteen years old and the drinking age was twenty, as described in "Down George Street in the Rain"?

Indeed I did. I don't know whether this was a subsconscious desire to be caught, but for some reason, when taking this little trip to the bottle store near my student hostel for a reason I now forget - supplies for a party, I expect - I wore my Gore High School jersey, and was turned away without so much as a bottle of Speights to my name. To this day, I never know what the right thing to wear is in any given situation.

5) What if any reaction have you had to the concept of publishing a book called "Men Briefly Explained"? Has there been a different reaction from women than from men?

At the readings, I tended to forestall any possible adverse reactions by putting my finger over the 'n' of "Men" and saying that the book might be better titled "Me Briefly Explained". Because, obviously, there is a lot of me in this book - although the second and third sections of the book are more about other men, both real and imagined, than about me.

Maybe I shouldn't worry. Reaction to the book has been good so far, but it was noticeable that, at the tour events, it was overwhelmingly women who bought it. I am hoping that men wanting gifts for women will come to the party over the coming months. Gentlemen, this is your chance to explain yourselves without actually having to do the explaining - what are you waiting for?

How To Buy A Copy Of Men Briefly Explained

Men Briefly Explained is published by Interactive Press (IP) of Brisbane. You can find out more about Men Briefly Explained, and buy it direct from the publisher, on IP's mini-site for the book:

On Tim's Men Briefly Explained page, there are more options for buying the book in person and online, plus latest reader reactions and reviews:

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...