Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tuesday Poem - Insomnia by Kathryn Schoenhals Feigel

Hi. I wonder how you're all doing now that Christmas is in the past and the world is gearing up for what it considers to be the next crucial calendar date? (I've decided again - I am definitely a Kronos rebel.)

I've been Elsewhere since posting my pre-Christmas message; hence the unhappy dearth of responses to your wonderful good wishes (apologies for this; I do not like not being able to engage). Much appreciated they were; you are. Thank you. 


I came across the powerfully affecting poem Insomnia by Kathryn Schoenhals Feigel (known to her readers as Kass) some weeks ago whilst enjoying a lively comments discussion on Marylinn Kelly's blog. Marylinn had written a wonderful piece about the rogue-ishness of sleep. Her post began 'Sleep rolled in very late last night. Of course, I had to wait up. Thoughtless. We may need to have the talk with words like curfew and responsibility...'  

Kass offered visitors to Marylinn's site her poem Insomnia in response. I asked her if she'd  consider letting me post it here as part of our Tuesday Poem series. Thanks for saying 'yes', Kass. When I first read this poem, I confess to feeling quite tossed about by it; it upended me, upset my equilibrium. Such potency; its ferocity and forthrightness stayed with me long after that first reading. I'm sure you'll all agree - this is a fine piece of high-voltage writing.  

detail from Peter Nicholls' * steel sculpture - 2009


In the evening,
the sinister curl of his lips
forms the first of many
smarmy solicitations
to lie with him.
Holding me flush against the sheets,
he presses.

He authors consternated, greedy love-making,
giving up the plot right away,
submitting endless revisions,
bookmarking me for tomorrow.
Gathering courage, I grab his face,
hold it close to mine.
I scream - I am alive,
not carrion -
I suggest there are others
he could plunder.

With hostile indifference
he reveals his promiscuous need
to drive minions
through his slavish sluices.
He taunts me, tells me
wallowing is all I will ever know.

At dawn,
sated by his manic insistence and with
plagiarized grace,
he grants a partial spasmodic respite,
in which I dream intensely
of wakefulness.

Kathryn Schoenhals Feigel

In the intro. on her blog, Kass describes herself as an 'irrational optimist.'  She writes, 'I like knockwurst, knapsacks, knots, knee-highs, knights, kneaded bread dough, knolls, knives, knobs and knitting. I like knocking on doors that open. I like the idea of scoundrely knaves wearing knickers having a knack for knutty knowledge. I like the idea of being known. I like this "K" not being silent - about anything.' 

Each time I've encountered Kass - whether on her own blog, or in comments threads on others' - I've come away inspired by her warmth, insight, humour and compassion. 

To enjoy more of Kass's writing, visit her online poetry room here


On the Tuesday Poem hub this week, you will find details of the inaugural Caselberg Trust International Poetry Competition. (TP poets are on holiday for a couple of weeks; Mary McCallum will pick up the baton again with a poem on 18 January 2011.) 

* Peter Nicholls website 
Interview with Peter on TV NZ's programme, Artsville 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Life's kitchen

The following 'found' poem hangs on a wall in my kitchen. I assembled it some years ago after happening upon a bin of defunct supermarket signage in a scrap yard. I was on the lookout for building materials for my studio at the time. Each word or combination of words was a separate piece back then.; turn it around and you'll find a labyrinth of duct tape holding it all together. (Where would we be without duct tape?) This odd and slightly comical word image sums up for me, life's kitchen; the necessity, incongruity and crazy unpredictability of its sweet and savoury ingredients. Toss a bit of hardware in amongst the honey and pickles, add a light bulb, a tube of toothpaste and a pair of pantyhose and we're set to go. . .  

Wherever and with whomever you gather this Christmas - whether around a table, a picnic hamper or hospital bed; on a beach, atop a mountain, in a family home, on a friend's porch; with snow and stars in the dark or beneath sunshine and blue skies in warmer climes. . . let us feast and be thankful. Life has been tough on many counts this year. May the muscles we've grown serve us and each other well. 

Thank you all for being such a rich part of my year, integral to my staying upright - no matter the lurches and malfunctions, the gnarly knots and finer silk threads. . . Heavens, 2010's been a mega-balancing act. I know it's been so for many of you, too. What a gift our community is. Take care, have fun and stay safe over the holidays - xo

Egg yolk tree

Strawberry starfish

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday Poem - Cake with Flute - Therese Clear


Clang of  pan
against lilt of Mozart.
Flour, scoop, and measure, measure.

Buttercream vibrato, vanilla harmony.
Egg whip. Trill.
Three, four.

Three fourths cup of milk
to whisk. And soda,
powder. Rising,

rising, up the scale. Note
the heat now. Allegro,
hotter. One quick breath

and mix with grace
notes. Honey that milk
for all it's worth.

Therese Clear
   for my son Nelson, at ten

The American poet T. Clear has been writing and publishing for more than thirty years, and is a founder of Floating Bridge Press (http://www.scn.org/floatingbridge/main.html). She began baking at an early age, and believes the baking process to be as close to religion as she'll ever get (in spite of many years steeped in Catholicism). A former owner of Two Tartes Bakery in Seattle, she now manages production and shipping for an international glass artist.


This week, the Tuesday Poets are swapping poems in a festive pairing - or "Secret Santa". I'm delighted to have been linked up with Therese, whose lively blog I first encountered a year or so ago. I don't think I've missed a post there since. Thanks for sending Cake with Flute, T. There is nothing mundane about this (or, as far as I can tell - any) of your baking adventures. My experience of this poem is (amongst other things) as a dance in which flour and grace notes are happy partners. 

Happy Christmas to you all from the Tuesday Poets - and three cheers for Mary McCallum who has so wonderfully and wholeheartedly coordinated this weekly poetry initiative. Thank you, Mary. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Happily chagrinned

Before turning my light out last night, I sent a late-night note to my friend, Nicola, who lives on the other side of the hill from me and whom I'd anticipated seeing and celebrating yesterday. . . (It was her birthday last week and she'd arranged a Sunday evening gathering in the park below her house; white lights, white food, white clothing. . . ). 

I didn't get there in the end, despite the fact I'd been looking forward to it, had hunted out a white ensemble and done some white baking. In my e-, I wished her a Happy Birthday and then I added the (absurd) comment, 'my life's not my own at the moment; it's a wriggly creature, intent on not staying within the lines. . . '

My life's not my own? What a shocking thing to say. (I do know better - what on earth was I thinking?) 


Nicola sent her post-party reply just after 2.00AM. She's a Sagittarius, thoughtfully succinct. . .
'Dear Claire

Thanks for your message.

Your life is always your own!

. . . "

Yes. Yes. And yes. Every step of the way, it is - and thank heaven and earth it is so; and people and plants, star dust and dust motes, fireflies and stinging wasps, knots and silk threads, onions and bunions and all else that's part of the mesh. . . We know these things, but from time to time need reminding. Thanks, N. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Twenty five

There's a 'memetic prompt' (I'm not sure such a term exists, but like the sound of these two words together ; )) doing the rounds on Facebook at the moment. . . Name twenty five things about yourself that might not be considered 'common knowledge'. With all that's swirling about right now (for one thing, I'm supposed to be writing a conference proposal - submission deadline's today), I was initially reluctant to participate, but after reading other people's offerings, came to the conclusion there was more gift in this little exercise than burden. 

Here's the list I cobbled together in the wee hours this morning. . .  


1. I have no trouble not answering telephones.

2. Had I been born male, I'd wear a beard and sing bass.

3. The un-publicly declared name for my house is Izinyoni (Zulu for 'House of Birds')

4. I hope my postage stamp of land will one day become a vibrant meeting space for collaborative exchange; for yoga, meditation, creative and healing arts, dance, music. . . a sanctuary where fellow travelers come together to contemplate life's mysteries, explore ideas, take creative risks. . . grow.

5. I light candles each evening - and often during the day.

6. I think our unconscious is a good many steps ahead of us and that we humans are endlessly mysterious

7. . . . and wondrous, as is the world we inhabit.

8. I'm curious about the things we cannot see or hear, the places we cannot travel to - except via dreams and the imagination.

9. Mathematics, numerology, sacred geometry - the systems that undergird everything - thrill me.

10. I like keeping the score in Scrabble.

11. My favourite numbers are 11 and 22

12. My patient old glasshouse has finally been lovingly dusted off and repaired and is ready for its first growing season in years. Hooray. 

13. I talk to 'my' birds each morning and am encouraging the raucous tui teenagers to try out a new riff or two (yes I sing to the birds, too).

14. I fell in love with Antarctica the moment I set eyes on her in 2005; five years later, I remain convinced there was nothing incidental about our meeting and, too, that our relationship will endure for at least a lifetime. 

15. I fell thigh deep (right leg only) into a crevasse at the foot of the Herbertson Glacier in 2008. Had both legs gone in, that saw-toothed glacier might well have swallowed me whole and I might not have been here today to write about it. I still sometimes feel a shock-wave run through me at the memory of that. . .

16. I have a five-dot birthmark on my left ankle that resembles the 'five' on a dice.

17. I talk in my sleep - on occasion, strangers on airplanes have had to prod me to let me know I'm expounding loudly on some subject or other

18. I need great big dollops of time on my own and in silence - I am increasingly reluctant to visit commercial outlets. 

19. I trust faith and best intentions to help us transform even the toughest of obstacles into something worthwhile

20. I cherish my children - and believe in them big time

21. I love my friends

22. I grew up handling chameleons, tortoises and snakes; my childhood home was surrounded by wide open veld. I would freewheel on my bike (no hands on the handlebars) at high speed down our dirt road to the river where my three sibs and I would wade amongst bullrushes and red bishop birds. We'd regularly pick up rose quartz, amethysts and tigers' eyes.

23. Once upon a time I loved a Siamese Fighter fish named Rufus. 

24. I think protest can be better expressed through poetry, art and prayer than via aggressive means, noise and negative language.  

25. Laughter and music are great healers.

Young Tomas's flowers - c.1996

Perhaps you'll feel 'memetically prompted' to share twenty-five bite-sized morsels (or less, or more) on your own blogs - and/or to jot one or two down here for others to enjoy? Thanks ;

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tuesday Poem - Basho

The sea darkens
And a wild duck’s call
Is faintly white


Clouds -
a chance to dodge


Orchid breathing 
incense into
butterfly wings

Matsuo Basho
1644 - 1694


My friend Rupert, over in Oz, sent me the first of these Basho haikus; its deep quiet sent me looking for others.  


For more Tuesday Poems, please click here

This week's editor is new-to-TP poet Robert Sullivan (welcome Robert!); he has chosen the poem To Stuart by NZ poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell.  

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Soaring through the sacred hoop

Ten days ago, my dear friend Clive - for thirty of our fifty years, a fellow traveler, kindred spirit, brother - left this earth to begin what he referred to as his 'next adventure'. I wanted to acknowledge his passing then but was unable to find words. 

He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this time last year, three months before his fiftieth birthday. Clive was a catalyst, a bringer-together of people, a life-affirming spirit for whom friends and an attentive relationship with our planet were highest priorities.  He was a yoga teacher, an extreme sportsman, lover of sea and earth and air (an atmospheric scientist by training and vocation), a person who lived with a sense of urgent-yet-tender appreciation for Now. 

Clive wrote letters during the months between his diagnosis and his death (he spoke of 'dying in order to live the next chapter'); he became a source of courage and inspiration to many. As well as friend, he became coach. Wise counsel. Teacher. He valued transparency, was as courageous in his joy as he was honest in his despair. Two weeks before he made his crossing, he called us together in celebration of friendship, life, love, spontaneity, unpredictability; he acknowledged life as a process and death as a passage, each reality part of the other, the two a meaningful mix of challenge, heart-ache, exhilaration, disappointment, grief, elation. . . with growth and learning overarching it all. 

The night before he died, Clive wrote one final letter to his friends; the subject space carried the words 'Knowing it's time" and the first line read,  "You know when something is going to happen, if you listen closely..." 

Clive hang gliding above Cape Town, South Africa - early 1990s


In one of his letters Clive sent these Native American story lines - 

Long road winding began in the stars, spilled onto the mountain tops, and was carried in the snow to the streams,to the rivers, to the ocean. The Red Road is a circle of people standing hand in hand, people in this world, people between people in the Spirit world, star people, animal people, stone people, river people, tree people. The Sacred Hoop.

To walk the Red Road is to know sacrifice, suffering. It is to understand humility. It is the ability to stand naked before God in all things for your wrong doings, for your lack of strength, for your uncompassionate way, for your arrogance - because to walk the Red Road, you always know you can do better. And you know when you do good things, it is through the Creator, and you are grateful.

To walk the Red Road is to know you stand on equal ground with all living things. It is to know that because you were born human, it gives you superiority over nothing. It is to know that every creation carries a Spirit, and the river knows more than you do, the mountains know more than you do, the stone people know more than you do, the trees know more than you do, the wind is wiser than you are, and animal people carry wisdom. You can learn from every one of them, because they have something you don't: They are void of evil thoughts. They wish vengeance on no one, they seek Justice.

To Walk the Red Road, you have God-given rights; 
you have the right to pray,
you have the right to dance,
you have the right to think,
you have the right to protect,
you have the right to know Mother,
you have the right to dream,
you have the right to vision,
you have the right to teach,
you have the right to learn,
you have a right to grieve,
you have a right to happiness,
you have the right to fix the wrongs,
you have the right to truth,
you have a right to the Spirit World.

To Walk the Red Road, is to know your Ancestors, to call to them for assistance; it is to know that there is good medicine, and there is bad medicine; it is to know that Evil exists, but is cowardly as it is often in disguise. It is to know there are evil spirits who are in constant watch for a way to gain strength for themselves at the expense of you.

To Walk the Red Road, you have less fear of being wrong, because you know that life is a journey, a continuous circle, a sacred hoop. Mistakes will be made, and mistakes can be corrected if you will be humble, for if you cannot be humble, you will never know when you have made a mistake.

If you walk the Red Road, you know that every sorrow leads to a better understanding, every horror cannot be explained, but can offer growth.

To Walk the Red Road is to look for beauty in all things.

To Walk the Red Road is to know you will one day cross to the Spirit World, and you will not be afraid. 


Friday, December 10, 2010

International Poetry Prize 2011 - Caselberg Trust

Inaugural Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize for 2011

The Caselberg Charitable Trust runs a residence for writers and artists at Broad Bay, Dunedin. The Trust has organised a variety of collaborative artistic events since its establishment in 2006, including the Fiordland Wilderness Residency in 2007, and, most recently, ‘A New Line’, in which 8 poets and 8 jewellers presented work inspired by each other’s disciplines.

The Inaugural International Poetry Prize competition will be judged blind by the distinguished poet Bernadette Hall. First Prize will be $500, Second Prize $250, and there will also be 5 Highly-Commended awards (with no monetary prizes). 

Submission deadline is 31 January 2011

The first- and second-placed poems will be published in the May 2011 issue of Landfall, and all winning and highly-commended entries published on the Caselberg Trust web-site (copyright remains with the authors).

For the Conditions and Entry Form, please go to http://www.caselbergtrust.org/

Flotilla v - Oil on paper - CB 2010

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Tuesday Poem - Getting to know you, Venice


Pigeons in Venice are born mathematicians.
Under their wings, the flash of fob watch
and compass with metal point sharpened.

Kohl-eyed from nights spent marking
and route-mapping, they leave their ledges
in the mornings, the distance between dome,
cornice and cobbled square plotted ahead
for ease of business. The city is theirs - a lavish
3D drawing of scrubbed stone and stolen-gold
mosaics, an almost-place conjured by saints
and lines, angles and lions, and - of course -
the pigeons' squawk. Raucous at ground level,
they are silent in flight, daring to keep
the company of angels, graceful enough
not to graze the pinnacles of temples.
Down a side street, away from the crowds,
a gondolier monitors his comrades' movements
via cellphone; the smells of garlic, myrrh
and dead fish mix. And above it all, the quiet
white whirr of pigeons' wings. I imagine
it might be possible to attempt the impossible
here - grow feathers, dissolve solid marble
on the tongue.

In this city, where rain falls from frescoes
and children fence their shadows in courtyards
at dusk, even the gutters and drainpipes
and dirt bins shimmer.


A decade ago, I was lucky enough to spend some time in Venice, a city that had (as is true for so many) occupied the vaulted basements, tiled rooftops and watery alleys of my imagination for years. Before I'd had any inkling I might actually one day go there, I experienced two especially powerful encounters with the place - each time through a book; the first, whilst reading Jeanette Winterson's The Passion where I seemed often to be walking a few steps ahead of one of her characters, Villanelle - a cross-dressing, web-footed, red-haired young woman living in the city during Napoleonic times - so that I found myself somehow knowing before 'we' got there which street she'd choose to turn into, where she was heading, who she would meet, the nature of their exchange and how things were likely to end up. Villanelle's clothes and attitudes, the city's sounds and smells, its bridges and flat-bottomed boats, interior spaces and outer features were as familiar to me as if I'd lived there - or at the very least pre-read and committed to memory, that story. I have no way of explaining this. It was not something that had happened to me whilst reading a book before - neither has it happened since; I was both fascinated and a little unsettled by it at the time. 

Venezia - 1613

My second significant encounter came whilst reading Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (you can read Jeanette Winterson's compelling review of this book here.). Again, it was as though I'd been listening in on a conversation from a bygone time. It's probable both these experiences can be explained away by linking back to art school where we studied Venetian art and architecture in quite some detail, but I'm content to consider life is sometimes more mysterious and unknowable than we can imagine.

When I did eventually get to Venice, I was woken in the pre-dawn hours of our second night there by a massive thunderstorm (I wrote in my journal afterwards that it had sounded like 'a marble sky cracking'). I have always adored thunderstorms and the pull to be outside in one in Venice was too strong to resist. I  crept out of the bed where P, my then-husband, was sleeping, pulled on the nearest garments and headed barefoot into the dark. It didn't occur to me that it might be a crazy, hair-brained thing to do; we had barely arrived, let alone oriented. I couldn't speak Italian (although I do have a reasonable handle on Latin!); I might have gotten horribly lost, been captured or mobbed down a side-alley and dumped into an oily black canal. . . and how on earth was I going to find my way back to our tiny hotel without a torch, candle or map? These thoughts and details only occurred to me in retrospect, hours later when P and I were standing in front of Tintoretto's heart-stopping paintings in the Scuola Grande di san Rocco.

In the moment, I was beyond hesitation, beyond fear or good sense; I took to the streets with exhilarating joy, running with bare arms outstretched to drink up the rain, my face turned not to the ground but to the sky so I could bear full witness to its drama. Heaven was in the mood for tantrums, belting out its protestations and indignation with the most terrific lack of restraint. I cannot recall how long I was out there, only know that the hair on my arms, the skin on my throat and the nape of my neck still remember the texture and temperature of that rain. The soles of my feet still carry the memory of the city's stone streets.

Running through Venice in the fist of that storm remains one of the most vivid - and deeply free - moments of my life.  


For more Tuesday Poems, please visit the hub where Jo Thorpe's poem Hunt the slipper: a romantic divertimissemente begins 

'Taglioni's lilies,' he says
handing her a long-stemmed
bouquet in the bar near
his chambers. . .