Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Tuesday Poem - The woman who walks backwards by Diane Brown

In my neighbourhood of bankers’ mansions
converted into halfway houses, and broken
windowed student flats, I’ve come to expect
odd subjects, the man who cries out piercingly 
at dawn, the speedy walker with Tourettes, 
the one who stalks the footpath for his next 
cigarette, and now the woman who walks 
backwards down the 200 steps, hoping 
to meet herself going forwards; a way 
to delay getting old, I’m told, but how 
she risks splinters, bare hands gripping 
the rail for dear life.

Diane Brown

I first read this poem by Diane Brown several months ago when it appeared in the New Zealand Book Council newsletter. 

Two days ago, I was standing with Diane outside her house; we were talking in the rain (as one does) at the top of the steps that feature in this poem. They were just a foot or two away from where we were standing - her long shortcut down the hill to work each day. She mentioned that her knees have been giving her gyp lately, so it's not unusual for her to have to make her descent backwards. . . 

Thanks for sharing your image-rich poem with us, Diane.

Diane Brown is a poet, novelist and memoirist, and the Creative Writing Co-ordinator at Aoraki Polytechnic in Dunedin, New Zealand. Her publications include two collections of poetry (Before The Divorce We Go To Disneyland, Tandem 1997—winner of the NZSA Best First Book of Poetry at the Montana Book Awards 1997; Learning to Lie Together, Godwit 2004), two novels (If The Tongue Fits, Tandem 1999; Eight Stages of Grace, Random 2002—a verse novel which was a finalist in the Montana Book Awards 2003), a travel memoir (Liars and LoversRandom 2004) and a prose/poetic travel memoir, Here Comes Another Vital Moment, Godwit 2006. She is currently completing a novel, Hooked.


Pamela Gordon is this week's Tuesday Poem guest editor. She is the niece and executor of one of New Zealand's best known - and best loved - writers, Janet Frame. Pamela is also a poet, and a dedicated supporter of our Tuesday poetry initiative. She's chosen to post Poets by Janet this week. 



  1. Amazing poem, whose title reminds me of the other similar though perhaps more sinister novel title, the woman who walked into doors.

    Thanks, Claire and Dianne.

  2. It gave me memories of where I lived in Denver, searching for characters portrayed in a Kerouac novel, probably long dead.

  3. A poem with great images, and line breaks that add power.

  4. This line is a grabber:

    to meet herself going forwards

    Thanks for sharing this.

  5. Hi Claire, stopped at the same line as Kass.

    While not poetry it reminds me of a book by Dr. Oliver Sacks "The man who mistook his wife for a hat".

    I'll be back to visit when I have more time.

  6. '...gripping/the rail for dear life' did it for me - how many elderly folk I've seen do that - my grandparents included - wonderful poem and write-up claire

  7. This piece seems very Dunedin to me Claire--the 200 steps and the gripping of the rail! And how about that 40 degrees celsius day--not "like" Dunedin at all!

  8. It could be Wellington as much as Dunedin. There must be many places there with 200 steps, or more.
    Thanks for posting this, I enjoyed it very much

  9. Elisabeth, Steve, Gordon, Kass, Antares Cryptos, Mary, Helen & Catherine - thank you, from me and from Diane.

  10. Antares Cryptos - welcome to this space. It's great to see you here (I've noticed we frequent some of the same places ; ). I look forward to exploring your blog further. . . Take care, Claire.

  11. Thank you we certainly do.:)

    And under a different guise, we've already met. While pondering the stars and dispersants...

    (I'm being secretive for a reason, hope this makes sense.)

  12. I like the quiet reservedness of this poem; there's a little internal rhyming but other than that it doesn't shove itself at you - a well controlled piece. I've read it many times now and I take something new each time.