Saturday, May 29, 2010


And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

TUESDAY POEM - Second Nature

It's leaf-scuffing time in our part of the world. I've been appreciating the industry of earthworms.

for Tomas

My son rescues foolhardy earthworms
ensures they get a safe ride home
on his skateboard. It's old, well-used
enough for the grip-tape to hold,
not graze an earthworm's body.

He takes care not to go too fast.

When we're out in the car, we keep a watchful eye
on the road - not because of the traffic, mind
but in case after rain, earthworms might
slither onto verges, tackle the pedestrian crossings
attempt to take on the city's traffic.

"We can't just leave them" he protests
They'll keep on creeping to the middle
of the road. They have no eyes to see
no obvious front or back."

He has a point. Besides, I have my own soft spot
for earthworms, the more since chameleons
bent in gnarled attitudes of prayer
have long since left my garden.

Back home in the kitchen - the earthworms
safely transferred from tarmac to skateboard deck
to fresh-cut grass - I pull out a book
and introduce my son to Rousseau's famous Dream
painting; yellow-eyed tigers stalking
long-legged lotuses, the sound
of a primitive wind instrument
a daytime moon.

In the bottom right-hand corner, he draws
my attention to an enormous earthworm
just leaving.

CB 2006

Henri Rousseau - The Dream (1910)

- for more Tuesday poems, click here -

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Photograph - Henry Kaiser

Jelly mushroom - mushroom jelly?

Sycphomedusa - Diplulmaris antarctica

Friday, May 21, 2010

Surface stories I - Mushroom

Mysterious things, mushrooms. Penelope spotted this one beside the wood pile at the bottom of my garden a couple of days ago. From a distance, it looked like one of our common edible ones, but closer inspection revealed an unusual shaggy cap and ominous, creamy-white gills. It was the pale gills that set my alarm bells ringing. It was also unusually large - 19 cm diameter, the size of a fish plate - with more 'personality and presence' than the average mushroom. 

When I knelt down to pick it, it came away from the soil without any resistance, as though it had landed there rather than burrowed its way up through the earth. It had none of the muscle and weight of our black- or brown-gilled mushrooms and was lighter and more spongey in texture. I brought it inside to photograph (it was beautiful, particularly with those angelic, butter-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth gills and I wanted to make a portrait or two) then emailed the pics to Penelope with the comment that I didn't think I'd be having risotto for dinner. . . I then hopped onto the web to visit New Zealand Fungi a wonderful local hub that celebrates all things 'fungi'. (It also has an excellent list of links to related sites, including The Hidden Forest and this one, All About Mushrooms.) My suspicions were confirmed. This handsome mushroom belongs to Amanita family - probably Amanita karea or Amanita sp. - and is extremely poisonous. . . not deadly like Amanita phalloides, the 'death cap', but capable nevertheless of creating havoc with a person's internal systems, esp. the liver. A minute or two after I'd identified it, Penelope emailed with one emphatic sentence in the subject line - "'SHROOM - DO NOT EAT!"

And there I was poring over the photographs I'd just taken, thinking - oooh, look. . . mushroom mandalas! Hmm. . . perhaps not. Although, there might still a message in here that relates back to what's happening in the Gulf. Nature has its own ways of teaching us to be watchful, to do our research and to be alert to wolves in sheep's clothing?


Later: Kay McKenzie-Cooke has just sent through a link to an inspiring article titled 'Healing the World with Mushrooms'. Thank you, Kay!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Surface stories I

I've just been listening to the news and am sitting now with a tight throat and a knot in my solar plexus.

Our world's airwaves are clogged with stories of war, incest, murder, Facebook deviants, paedophilia - and, of course, the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This man-made disaster has all the toxicity and virulence of a very black plague; its full reach and impact, quite beyond our imagination.

This morning it was confirmed that the oil has entered the current we have all so hoped it would not, and is drifting North towards Florida Keys - oh god, no. What have we done? What of the manatees? And the turtles? And the corals and fish and anemones and plankton and brine shrimp and foraminifera... What of the birds? And the fragile communities of plants and animals living on the intertidal zone and all along those shores? I feel deeply, ongoingly shaken by our appalling capacity for willful devastation. Such glorious creatures we can be; so tender, fierce for love, compassionate, attentive, courageous and nurturing. But oh, how blithely we underestimate our shadow, our inbuilt propensity for blindness, self-delusion, mindless, large-scale destruction. What irreparable havoc we are capable of unleashing.

W. B. Yeats's poem is stampeding around inside my chest ---

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned. . .

In What is Life? - a book I tend to carry around with me - Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan write -  
". . . We and many other animals sleep and wake in cycles that repeat every twenty-four hours. Some ocean protists, dinomastigotes, luminesce when dusk comes, ceasing two hours later. So hooked are they into the cosmic rhythm of the Earth that even back in the laboratory, away from the sea, they know the sun has set. Many similar examples abound because living matter is not an island but part of the cosmic matter around it, dancing to the beat of the universe.
Life is a material phenomenon so finely tuned and nuanced to its cosmic domicile that the relatively minor shift of angle and temperature change as the tilted Earth moves in its course around the sun is enough to alter life's mood, to bring on or silence the song of bird, bullfrog, cricket and cicada. But the steady background beat of Earth turning and orbiting in its cosmic environment provides more than a metronome for daily and seasonal lives. Larger rhythms, more difficult to discern, can also be heard. . . " (pg 240)
". . . Knowledge about the varieties of life on Earth - life which, from pond scum to tigress, is connected to us through time and space - serves to inspire. That excess is natural but dangerous we learn from the photosynthetic process of plants. That movement and sensation are thrilling we experience as animals. That water means life and its lack spells tragedy we garner from fungi. That genes are pooled we learn from bacteria. Modern versions of our ancient ancestors, the protoctists, display versions of the urge to couple, and of our capacity to make choices. Humans are not special and independent but part of a continuum of life encircling and embracing the globe. 
Homo sapiens tends to dissipate heat and accelerate organization. Like all other life forms, our kind cannot continue to expand limitlessly. Nor can we continue to destroy the other beings on which we ultimately depend. We must begin to really listen to the rest of life. As just one melody in the living opera we are repetitious and persistent. We may think ourselves creative and original but in those talents we are not alone. Admit it or not, we are only a single theme of the orchestrated life-form. . . " (pg 246)
As a way of reminding myself to look more closely and listen more attentively, I'm thinking of posting a weekly series of 'mystery images' that shine a light on the surface landscapes of ordinary, every day things. I invite you to join me in this quasi-meditation on our natural world...

Here's the first one -

What do you see?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tuesday Poem - Late in the Day


A house is what you pass
through, using each room as the diver might a wreck.
The properties of the property trusses (faith) dwangs (hope) and cladding (charity)

come Christmas the wood is still
knotted. Erratic yet joyous the wind in the roofing iron.
There's a shadow behind my understanding

smile, a smile that understands nothing but is practiced.
What are an electron's qualities? Zero volume and an infinite lifetime...
Such inexpressible nothing! Like

love. For every hour wasted, a vase of flowers on the kitchen table between you and me; we
wait for petals to obscure our shopping-list, those personal pronouns.
With every start false we start

over, naturally. On the corner the memory of another
corner. Each step is a cross
connecting the life to come with the life to come.


David Howard's collaboration with photographer Fiona Pardington, How To Occupy Our Selves, was published in 2003. A draft of the opening poem There You Go featured in Best New Zealand Poems 2002; the full text was mezzosoprano, narrator and piano trio by the Czech composer Marta Jirackova. The Harrier Suite appeared in both Best New Zealand Poems 2004 and The Word Went Round (2006). In 2007 David worked with Brina Jez-Brezavscek on a sound installation, The Flax Heckler, in Slovenia. On 18 September 2009 soprano Judith Dodsworth premiered Johanna Selleck's setting of his lyric Air, Water, Earth Meld at Melba Hall in Melbourne. In December 2009 David received the inaugural NZSA Mid-Career Writer's Award. Late in the Day comes from an unpublished collection that also includes Overture: Aotearoa (Best New Zealand Poems 2009)

For more of David's writing, please follow these links -

Tuesday Poet Tim Jones posted an extensive and absorbing interview with David on his blog Books in the trees (November 2009), the expanded version of which you can read here, at Cordite.

To read more Tuesday Poems, please click here
. . . then follow the links on the Right-hand side of the page. . .

Monday, May 17, 2010

Light and dark

The Insistence of Light.

for dear friends who are feeling the ache of loss at this time.

Friday, May 14, 2010


Yesterday I received confirmation that my short film, Hidden Depths - Poetry for Science, is to be screened 'in full' at next month's International Polar Year Science Conference in Oslo. This makes me deeply happy. The PolarCINEMA event will showcase films from twenty-three countries. Each production will have environmental advocacy at its core, with a special focus on our Polar regions; there will be documentaries, cautionary environmental tales, feature films, etc... Gulp. This is a slightly 'whelming first for me and I'm going to have to trust that my 13 min 12:08 sec experimental arts film will cope with being projected onto a full-sized cinema screen. (My sons reassure me that the resolution I used will be plenty high enough for this, but still... I have only ever made this one film and have only ever watched it on my little black lapdog!)

I blogged about the making of Hidden Depths way back in February (gosh, February seems like a hundred years ago). It was a huge learning curve for me and very nearly fell into the 'give it up/it's too hard' basket.. Circumstances around its production felt spectacularly stressful. It occurred to me this morning that were I to try and pick up this same project again today, chances are I'd find I no longer have a clue where to start? Technically at least, I feel sure I'd have to start again from scratch.

How can this be so, one has to wonder? Well, I imagine it has something to do with the fact that every now and then our obstacle courses really do become our opportunities. We somehow find what we must in order to manage - or even rise above - the knots and hindrances; this seems especially true when a situation comes along that requires 'more' than we feel we are qualified, or able, to give. A short film might come across as a rather prosaic illustration of this point, especially in light of the The Big Picture, but I suspect the same principle of grace holds true for many of life's challenges?

Looking back, it is clearer to me now that the wrestling I was engaged with back in February might stand as a metaphor for so much more than 'just that'. At the time, just about everything felt impossible and I was sure I wouldn't be able to bring the project through to completion. And then something almost magical happened; there was a kind of 'declaratory moment', a point at which something shifted and the 'way in' made itself apparent. It ended up becoming one of the most exhausting and exhilarating creative adventures I've been on. Those who know me well would add that a good dollop of stubbornness helped - which seemed amusingly incongruous at the time, given the content of the film and the fact I think of it as a meditation piece?

Stubbornness and meditation - can the two go hand-in-hand? Apparently, yes. Whew. However this came about, I am ever so grateful.

DVD cover for Hidden Depths - 2010

Here's the short background blurb that will accompany the film:

"HIDDEN DEPTHS presents a chapter of ArtScience collaboration between Claire Beynon (New Zealand artist & writer) and Samuel Bowser (New York-based polar biologist).

Audiences will embark on a lyrical under-ice voyage in the company of a science diver, a pteropod, a flotilla of silver & white bamboo boats and an ancient giant of the uni-cellular world – tree foraminiferan, Notodendrodes antarctikos. Painterly and metaphorical in its approach, this short film addresses polar themes in a novel and thought-provoking way. HIDDEN DEPTHS is - as its subtitle suggests – ‘poetry for science.’


I won't be anywhere near Oslo in June, of course. . . why, it's half a world away from wonderful old Dunedin. Somehow this matters not and is right the way it is. In some inexplicable way, the fact I can't be there seems integral to this story's overall unfolding. Besides, I have good reason to stay close to home and I will be able to go to Tasmania with it for the Antarctica Imagined conference at the end of that same month. Yay. ; )

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Global moment

from the NY Times LENS page:

"Here it is: Earth, covered by stacks of thousands of virtual photographs corresponding in location to where they were taken by LENS readers at one moment in time: 15:00 U.T.C - Sunday 2 May 2010. . .
. . . Make no plans for the rest of the day!"

Image from (with thanks to James Estrin of LENS)

Tuesday Poem

0.0000000406 light years away

Moon calligraphy

The images in this short clip are a tiny fragment of an ongoing poem titled Alphabets of Light - a 'poem without end' if you will. I began this piece in 2004 when my life took a series of dramatic turns. I found myself traveling, unexpectedly and to far-flung places (Antarctica, Edinburgh, Berlin, the US, back to Africa. . . ). I'd always thought of myself as a home-body so being away from my nest required some adjustment, not only for me but for my loved ones.

I took to photographing the full moon as a way of documenting where I was at different times, whether at home or away. It was like throwing out an anchor, I suppose - a 'sky hook' (to borrow a term from a friend) - that offered me a sense of comfort and connection. As a child I can remember feeling reassured by the thought that no matter where in the world we are, we're all under the same sky.

The twenty-six moons featured in this sample clip were captured in our Northern and Southern hemisphere skies between 2004 and 2007. (Meantime, I'm continuing to take photographs... )

For more Tuesday Poems, click here

Sunday, May 09, 2010


This morning, during a conversation with R in Australia, we found ourselves talking about time and how these days it seems as though events that occurred in our micro-worlds last week might as well have happened a decade ago - so strangely time's behaving... Do you find yourselves looking at the day that's immediately in front of you - or behind - and in it see all the density, variety and tonal range you'd ordinarily expect to find neatly distributed across a week, a month, a year. . . ? Life's a-jangle at the moment, a fact that can leave us faltering one minute and fitter for it the next. And just when we think we've got our dance steps sorted, the music speeds up, slows down or comes to a halt altogether. As individuals, and as a race, we're having to learn a whole new repertoire of moves. It's a little like alternating between an extended yoga pose and a high-impact karate sequence.

I've been on an interesting - home-based - journey this week. T in the States sent an e- last night saying "I trust everything's okay? I notice you haven't blogged since Tuesday..." to which I replied "I hope to post something later today; ideas have been brewing but everything seems to have a mind of its own these days, not to mention an independent timeframe, so who knows how long it will take for my next little ramble to take shape. The space between the A Cappella poem and whatever comes next seems integral to the story... "

Anyway, here I am, not really knowing what's going to come out on the page, other than that it will have something to do with the note B-flat.

Something deep inside me shifted and clicked into place this past week as a result of posting the A Cappella poem. The process began when the ever-discerning Mim expressed her wondering about a part of the poem (four lines from the end) where a colon after the word 'waver' acts as a kind of 'hinge.' The tone of the poem changes quite dramatically at this point and in the context of Chrissie's story, the colon suggested we'd reached a kind of threshold. John and Helen shared Mim's wondering (might the poem in fact end there?) - and I was inclined to agree with the three.

It was at this point that an entirely 'other' journey began. . . I'm not sure I have any words to add to those already written in the comments thread following that Tuesday's post, so rather than re-write the story as it unfolded there, I'm including a link to that conversation.

One thing leads to another. The internet community really is a remarkable one. A day or two after I'd posted A Cappella, a local Dunedin man (who, as far as I know, is a regular reader of the Tuesday Poems), sent me a message via Facebook - "Hey Claire, re; your latest Tuesday poem, somewhere, someone says that B-flat is the sound pervading the universe (providing you tune in!")

This gave me goosebumps; in the poem, the note Chrissie bounced into our women's laps was a B-flat and I'd referred to the "aural Aurora Nebula" as ". . . the sound of music taking wing/finding 'ephemeral purchase' in the world beyond the window. I thought then that I was alluding simply to sound waves and the way that, once released, they travel endlessly onwards, out into the universe. . . "

There was nothing for it but to get searching... On my meanderings, I came across some fascinating stories as well as various pieces of factual information; anecdotes ranged from the discovery that a massive black hole in the Perseus cluster of galaxies emits a B-flat note to a story about Buddhist meditators sounding a collective B-flat Om even when the separate notes they sing vary in tone and pitch. One site I came upon told a story about the (now documented) fact that for some unknown reason, the note B-flat causes alligators to bellow. No other note has the same effect on these creatures.

Here's an especially moving and poetic extract from an article in the New York Times -

'. . . Astronomers say they have heard the sound of a black hole singing. And what it is singing, and perhaps has been singing for more than two billion years, they say, is B flat -- a B flat 57 octaves lower than middle C.

The ''notes'' appear as pressure waves roiling and spreading as a result of outbursts from a supermassive black hole through a hot thin gas that fills the Perseus cluster of galaxies, 250 million light-years distant. They are 30,000 light-years across and have a period of oscillation of 10 million years. By comparison, the deepest, lowest notes that humans can hear have a period of about one-twentieth of a second.

The black hole is playing ''the lowest note in the universe,'' said Dr. Andrew Fabian, an X-ray astronomer at the Institute for Astronomy at Cambridge University in England. . . '

Another site referred to this song as our universe's "longest symphony." Yet another referred to the idea that healing properties are inherent in the vibrations emitted by the note B-flat.

The list of positive stories and B-flat attributes is long and inspiring. In B-flat , for example, is a collaborative project initiated by musician Darren Solomon. You can read his story here.


from Questions of Balance - Oil, liquin & pastel on paper - CB 2009

I can't help wondering what change might be effected in the world if we all took it on ourselves to light a candle each morning or evening and spent a minute or two humming a B-flat? We might not be designed to get down as low as 57 octaves below Middle C, but the range that's available to us is wide enough for every one of us to find a register that's comfortable. Is it daft to consider that global unification and healing might be as simple (and as complex) as us joining together in song?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Tuesday Poem - A Cappella

for Chrissie

She plucks a B-flat
from the adjoining room

bounces it
across the patterned carpet

into the laps of five
hungry women waiting.

They suck on it
in round, red mouths

coax one note
into four then more -

a single B-flat start
and the flames in the grate

waver: there is something else
now roaming the night

an aural Aurora Nebula
lighting the dark.


Every second Thursday evening for the past fifteen years, five of us have gathered together to sing. Come what may, music has been one of the constants of our busy lives. It has buoyed and sustained us, provided us with inspiration, companionship, adventure and (my thanks to Rebecca Loudon for this term) 'deep play'.

Chrissie, to whom I have dedicated this poem, would usually be the one to deliver us our starting note; she'd clang her tuning fork purposefully down on her knee or - on the odd occasion when she forgot to bring it - would pop through to the next-door room to fetch a note from our old family piano. Chrissie, our much loved friend, passed away just before Christmas after a long and courageous battle with cancer; whenever we meet to sing, we hear her voice.

- for more Tuesday Poems, click here -

Monday, May 03, 2010

Too early for birdsong

Too early for birdsong
New Zealand Lancewood (Pseudopanax crassifolium) - dob. circa 1880
3.00AM 3 May 2010

Sunday, May 02, 2010

A Moment in May

Here's news of a terrific global community event that's open to anyone with a digital camera; the countdown is on but the 'click minute' is still a few hours away. Details re; image file sizes and upload instructions can be found on the New York Times site.

"... Journalists are often at their worst when trying to predict the future. But it seems safe to say that many hundreds — if not thousands — of shutters will be released simultaneously on Sunday, May 2, as photographers around the world help Lens create “A Moment in Time”; one single moment in the life of the planet.

That moment will be 15:00 hours in Coordinated Universal Time or U.T.C., the contemporary equivalent of Greenwich Mean Time. In the United States, under daylight time, this would be 11 a.m. on the East Coast, 10 a.m. in the Midwest, 9 a.m. in the West and 8 a.m. on the West Coast. For local times around the world, you can consult this converter from"

Northern Hemisphere participants will have it easier than those of us in the Pacific. 3.00AM on Monday 3 May is the time we have to be up in order to push our shutter buttons in synch with the rest of the world!

My alarm is set. Proof of this particular pudding will be a photograph posted here a few hours from now. Anyone else keen to join in?