Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday Poem - Patience by Randi Parkhurst

For more Tuesday Poems, please click on the quill.
This week's editor is Keith Westwater with Polonius: Old Poet by Harry Ricketts

Saturday, November 26, 2011

And while we wait for our election results to come in. . .

. . . a slice or three of green to keep us buoyant and settle the ions after two days' relentless 
(and I mean  r  e  l  e  n  t  l  e  s  s ) winds. . .

What bliss when the air finally lets up with its tantrum-ing. Although, perhaps this is entirely appropriate behaviour given what we want is to chase out the old and usher in the new. . . Change seldom happens without a certain amount of chaos, right? 

It'll be a few hours yet before we know what the outcome of today's voting is. I'm off to nestle into the evening with a glass of red and my dog-eared book -

Friday, November 25, 2011

Encounters With Rainbows


It was a treat to encounter three double rainbows during the hour and forty minute drive home from the mud house. . . 

Wikipedia has a wealth of information about rainbows, of course, much of it celebrating the physics of light, the laws of refraction, rainbows' symbolism and their metaphysical implications. . . There are essays galore elsewhere on the web about the seven colour rays and their esoteric significance

I have a soft spot for flags. . . The use of rainbow flags has a long tradition; I love that they're displayed in many cultures around the world as a sign of diversity and inclusiveness, of hope and of yearning. . . This seems especially relevant given tomorrow is Election Day in New Zealand. These are confusing times to say the least; our local and global politics are all over the place. May the unifying energy and high integrity of the rainbow flag permeate. . .

  • red: stands for courage;
  • orange: offers the vision of possibilities;
  • yellow: represents the challenge that GREEN has kindled;
  • green: indicates a challenge to co-operators to strive for growth of membership and of understanding of the aims and values of co-operation;
  • sky blue: suggests far horizons, the need to provide education and help less fortunate people and strive toward global unity.
  • dark blue: suggests pessimism: a reminder that less fortunate people have needs that may be met through the benefits of cooperation.
  • violet: is the colour of warmth, beauty, and friendship.

Being something of an interdisciplinary nut, I love this excerpt from Wikipedia. . . 

'. . . The Newtonian deconstruction of the rainbow is said to have provoked John Keats to lament in his 1820 poem "Lamia":
Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an Angel's wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine –
Unweave a rainbow
In contrast to this is Richard Dawkins; talking about his book Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder*
"My title is from Keats, who believed that Newton had destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to the prismatic colours. Keats could hardly have been more wrong, and my aim is to guide all who are tempted by a similar view, towards the opposite conclusion. Science is, or ought to be, the inspiration for great poetry."'

An Appetite for Wonder - now that's a phrase to pin to the fridge; one to wear, sing, invite, invoke, uphold, sustain, weave into every moment. . .  ?

Before I head off into the day, here's the irresistible Kermit (almost as irresistible as Penelope's Ratty & Lily the Pink) singing his rainbow song. . . 

I wish you all much love, light and joy this Thanksgiving time. 2011 has been quite a year and yet here we all are, standing together - even when apart - in gratitude. Thank you for the many ways in which you enrich and illuminate life out here, for the wonders you continually wake me to. . .   

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tuesday Poem - Emily Dickinson & the cheese grater at 22

Last night, whilst tidying up after supper, our grater and the patterns it cast onto the metal surface beside the sink got me thinking of Emily Dickinson and - perhaps not entirely surprisingly - the relationship between illusion and truth. 

Do you find yourself as captivated by the spaces and shapes in and around an object, as you are by the object itself? I do. Do you appreciate the rests between musical notes as much as the notes themselves? Yes, me too. I love the way a scent, sound or object interacts with its environment and as it does so becomes an expression of more than itself, more than its source or initial appearance. It gathers influences and the presence of 'significant others' along the way; is seduced or repelled by this, that or the next thing. . . Our grater, for instance, was elevated by light, shadow, rhythm, perforations and pattern and defined just as much by each of those elements as it was by its pyramidal steel framework, parmesan shavings and clunky black plastic feet.  

I recall a conversation I had on the subject of truth and illusion with an older male friend - a poet - some years ago. He tended to equate illusion with deception and lies. (I disagreed.) Afterwards, he wrote to me, 'A lie is a truth also' and then he went on to suggest that 'every truth was once a lie.' Hmm. I'm not so sure. But this is territory for the bold and I'm far from being a bold creature at the moment, so I'm going to drape these ideas over the back of the chair and allow them to dangle there a while. If you feel prompted to to pick one up and turn it around, please do. As for me? I'm going to stick to my grater. . . (Ha ha. Wouldn't that be funny?

Would we recognize a grater 'just' from the way light and shadow tease the eye, distorting, dissolving and courting its form whilst at the same time abandoning it? I find it thrilling that risking a more deliberate glance into the crazy funnel/black-hole vortex/empty belly of this humble everyday object, we happen upon all manner of unexpected things. . . an alphabet of ancient symbols, a dying star, a base-jumper's paradise, a city of holographic skyscrapers, a sheer rock face awaiting pick-axe and cleats, a flimsy biplane dodging lightening in a thunderstorm?   

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant---
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind---

Emily Dickinson

For more Tuesday Poems, please click on the quill. 
This week's editor is Orchid Tierney with pidgin peace meal by Iain Britton.

I'm heading away for a couple of days - a certain old mud house is in need of bit of time and TLC. Home Thursday. . . ish. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Salt And Stone

Today, a short story I wrote in memory of my dear friend, C, who has been much in mind lately. . .


The first time Tristan came to see me was the Thursday before Easter, scrolls of tightly-rolled drawings under his arm. He greeted me with a nod, walked silently across my office space to the plans chest in front of the window and set the drawings down. Without speaking, he scanned the view of the city beyond my office - telephone wires threading their way around stone and concrete, stealthy, century-old yews, the mute bell-tower of St. Catherine's cathedral. 

His initial letter of contact served as an introduction to himself and his proposed project. He’d outlined his ideas and intentions, clarifying at the outset that should I choose to work with him, my involvement would be professional, but peripheral. Nothing in his plans could be changed. There was to be no probing, no questions asked. His intention was not to be in any way awkward or obstructive – to the contrary, he would go out of his way to facilitate the process - but it was imperative that the project baton remain firmly in his hands. Plainly, I was useful to him - a man with contacts who could offer him easy access to builders, stonemasons and crafts people. Besides, he trusted my reputation for site sensitivity and my creative use of traditional materials: these had been the prompts he'd needed to come and talk to me in the first place. How else would he find the right person to create the stained glass windows? To whom could he entrust the intricate carving of a pedestal font?

He would, of course, see to it that my contributions to the building were appropriately acknowledged. Did I think we’d be able to work together on such a project? Did I think I could tolerate his restrictions?

In my office, he unrolled his drawings, carefully flattening them out on the chest’s wooden surface.

Lightening sparked from somewhere inside the piles of paper.

Despite the day’s high blue sky, I heard the far-off growl of thunder.

Dust motes collided in sudden stripes of light.

He had brought layers and layers of detailed working drawings. Black and white draughtsman-like diagrams were at the top of the pile, followed by increasingly expressive renderings of the small chapel he had in mind. I was mesmerized, under their spell. 

At first glance, his line drawings appeared stiff and brittle, embedded deep within the weave of the paper. They seemed lifeless, stuck down fast. But as we moved from one page to the next, marks begin to tremble and stir. They detached themselves and slid across the page, re-arranged themselves in the top left hand corner, mid-page, off-centre right bottom. Every now and then, one threatened to leave the paper altogether, to take off and dart instead around the room. I ducked instinctively. There was a passion in his plans that betrayed the calm and quiet of his meticulously typed letter, his careful shirt and tie. By the time he’d begun introducing colour to the windows of his building, I was shaking my head and nodding, diving to my desk for contract and pen.

Outside the window, clouds churned and massed on the horizon, misshapen athletes lining up for a race, waiting for the starters’ gun.

He’s insisting on a basic rectangular ground plan. There’s nothing complicated about this building. It’s a small, simple stone structure, foundations laid out precisely along the axes of a compass. North. South. East. West. It’s the stained-glass windows that are complex – after all, he explains, it’s the windows that will tell the story. He wants fourteen of them, is as adamant about this as he is about everything else. Ten or twelve won’t do. Yes, he knows, it’s a tiny space, but by his calculations (and given the high vertical thrust), fourteen would not present a problem.

He’s designed the two short walls to accommodate the widest, three-paneled windows. Facing due East and West, they will describe the beginning and end of the story, deliberately positioned to catch the light from the rising and setting sun. His drawings give the impression of a continuous unbroken window – a luminous wall of coloured light, held up by roughly-chiseled stone blocks, interrupted only by the necessary support of the slimmest stone pillars. Floor-to-ceiling stained glass will tempt light into the room, he says - hold it there like a slow inward breath.

Have I noticed how effectively light nudges shadows into corners?

The two long sidewalls will reveal the finer details of the story, coloured glass the perfect medium to chronicle a life – her life - chapter by chapter. One window for each of the years he had with her, for the combined age of their children. One for each day of their two-week holiday. Fourteen windows for the fourteen minutes it took from the time she entered the sea – laughing her way in, her sun-browned hands scooping up the waves – to that final moment when bitter salt water flooded through her body.

I read what he doesn’t tell me in the drawings of the windows. They describe it all - deliberate groupings of line and pattern following the passage of time, the subtleties of light moving across the hours and moods of a day. A predominance of orange and yellow glass set into the Southern wall takes me to the beach where I stand at ease, bare toes burrowing into gritty warmth on what seems like any ordinary morning. I hear children. They’re a little way away, carting buckets and spades, paddling in the shallows. A group of tanned teenagers play volleyball. Bluebottles lie washed up on the sand, foam stuck half-heartedly to their deflating balloons. Crabs sidle up to empty shells and sandcastles.

She drowned on a Sunday. First up in the morning, she’d tiptoed out of the house around sunrise, closed the door on him and their sleeping children, and gone out for a walk around the Valley. They’d woken an hour or so later to find her in the kitchen, humming - a bunch of freshly-picked flowers loosely arranged in a jam jar and set out on the kitchen table. A raw chicken sat unprettily on the marble cutting board, dimpled legs modestly crossed, attempting to conceal two lemon halves, one red onion, the obligatory head of unpeeled garlic. At the front door, the new red umbrella, four folded swimming towels, a brown paper bag filled with organic oranges…

Tracing the blue North wall now, I hear her cry. Shadows fall. Darkness stalks an unsteady sea. I hold my breath, dive below the surface, swim into the watery silence of a thousand shapes of clear blue glass.

The light in my office shifts.  I turn on my feet.

There’ll be no apse or nave, he says.

Just enough room, I say, for a font, a single pew, a jam jar of flowers.    


The windows at All Saints' Tudeley (Kent, UK) are a memorial tribute to Sarah d'Avigdor-Goldsmid who died aged just 21 in a sailing accident off Rye. Sarah's parents commissioned Marc Chagall to create each of this tiny stone church's twelve stained glass windows. This image shows a detail from the East Window.   

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tuesday Poem - from the image suite 'Love The Waters'

On the tide line
red kelp
the heart's small garden

(From a suite of small 'Oil on Paper Poems' I'm making for a group show that opens in Dunedin next Saturday.)

For more Tuesday Poems, please click on the quill. 

This week's guest editor is Australian poet Janet Jackson 
with Fortified by performance poet, David Vincent Smith

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Tuesday Poem - Absence of Birds

The mountains 
do not remember
asking the forests 
to shelter birds 
with silent tongues
and wings of bark. 

CB 2008

I wrote this short poem whilst on board the conservation yacht, The Breaksea Girl. A group of us were fortunate to spend six days and nights in and around Doubtful and Dusky Sounds in Western Fiordland, a protected, once-pristine area of black water, red kelp, primordial forest, 'vanishing' waterfalls and - until quite recently - a cacophony of birdsong. Sadly, predators - cats, rats and stoats - have resulted in a severely diminished bird population and significant damage to the forest floor; this in turn has led to the canopy thinning which implies potentially dramatic long-term changes to the ecology in the area. We were shocked and saddened to witness firsthand what felt like the loud absence of birds. . .    

For more Tuesday Poems, please click on the quill. 
This week's editor is Helen Heath with Bookcase Full Of Closed Books Wants To Sing 
by Joan Fleming

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Tuesday Poem - It Depends How You Look At It


Inside the stone the world is round.  A woman wears jeans and a clean white T-shirt.  There’s a canvas hammock in the garden, strung between the magnolia and a flaming red maple.  Her family’s washing hangs on the line, snapping its way towards freshness. A taste of summer.

Inside the stone the world is beige.  Flat. Bland. Pale.  The sun’s light is tepid, the sea runs a pale wet tongue across the beach leaving behind a faint tea stain.  The sand is a crushed malt biscuit.

Inside the stone the world is an apricot.  Wind loosens the ripe scent of sex and soft fruit, of wet and round and orange.  Men and women peel off their clothes, step out of their shoes.  They stride past work on cool, bare feet.
Inside the stone the world is a puzzle, a thousand pieces strewn across a landscape. A man is gathering them up, constructing a scene from the inside out.  They remain out of focus until he picks them up, transforming at once from flat and grey, to monumental, three-dimensional structures; his dream of a different life keeps him captive.

Inside the stone puddles are pewter ovals, sleeping.

Inside the stone is a black world, a place with neither windows nor doors. The woman searches for a trapdoor, any means by which she might escape the darkness.  But there are only concrete walls and wooden floorboards that threaten to split.  She can smell the sticky stench of bitumen, the singe of a hot, high fire.

Inside the stone is a soft wax world.  Children know the silent slide of honey.  They walk with candles; lights tilted to flatter the forest, they highlight moss and lichen, outline fallen pine needles with a subtle edge of gold. 

Inside the stone the world is populated by flocks of primordial birds.  They burrow their way out of the dark soil in our gardens and look us straight in the eye.  Their skin is damp and pink as a Desiree potato.  They carry the dirt of the world on their backs, feed on mass nouns and ripe plums.

Inside the stone the world is a bulletin board. Sharp corners stab and cut. People and events are paper cut-outs, underlined, trimmed, pinned to its surface with cold stainless steel pins.  Cold. Steel. Pins. Disturb the layers to see what lies behind or beneath and everything will turn to dust. Take heed. The printers’ pigments will leave telltale stains on your fingers.

Inside the stone is a trapped storm.

Inside the stone a spill of full-cream milk spreads across a linoleum kitchen floor, splashes down the back doorstep and out into the garden.  It flows down the slope, past the exuberant yellow peonies and flowering cherries, gathering speed and doubling in volume as it travels. By the time it has crossed the neighbourhood boundaries, it is a wide white river; the children and untethered lambs of the suburbs run along its banks sploshing, stretching and bending, drinking their fill.

Inside the stone a miniature narcissus threatens to pull up its roots.  It shakes its head, catapults its scent across the sprawling grey of the city.  Perfume drizzles down street lamps, drips onto sidewalks, sticks to the dusty flanks of buildings.  Industry blushes and for a moment steps out of the shadows.

There is a universe inside a stone.


For more Tuesday Poems, please click on the quill. 
This week's editor is Catherine Fitchett with Country Life by David Howard

Teapot Shock/Shocking/Shocked

A group of friends came for a studio visit on Sunday. We had a merry time with wine and samosas, much hilarity and gritty, probing conversation. Late-ish in the afternoon, there was the suggestion of tea. I reached for my favorite big old teapot (softly dimpled, pewter-glazed ceramic) and asked Lesley if she would do the honors while I went to find a book in my bedroom. Well, ahem. She called after me with a question, 'Er, Claire, how long is it since you made tea in this pot? You might want to take a look?' The rest, as they say, is history. . .  

We drink a lot of tea in this house but most often use the small teapot with the red knitted jumper and dangling Licorice All Sorts, or the one that lives beneath the sassy striped ski-type beanie Jackie B made. Next time, I'll be sure to stick my nose into any and all pots before offering them to others for any tea-making ritual. So saying, the (weeks'-old?) mold is kind-of pretty, don't you think? (Kind of. . . ?) I can't help thinking of Lascaux and Alta Mira, the cave paintings of Chauvet and rock art of Africa, from whence I came. . . how much of everything is dust and smoke? And water. Always water.