Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuesday Poem - Taonga Puoro

In October 2008, I was one of ten artists invited to participate in the Caselberg Trust's inaugural Breaksea Girl Residency. Our group of painters, poets, a jeweler, a filmmaker and a composer spent six days and nights on board the conservation yacht, the Breaksea Girl, exploring the dark and dramatic waterways of Western Fiordland. 

Before setting sail from Dusky Sound, our Captain Lance suggested that should any one of us feel a need for space, we should speak up and he would drop us off on a convenient rock for as long as might be deemed necessary.

"Can’t you just picture it," said Gillian. "Ten artists. Ten rocks?"

for Gillian Whitehead

This unsteady place of black water and red kelp insists
we lay down our tools and listen.

From where I stand, spine to the rope, I catch her
in the act – eyes closed, head back – undisturbed by silence
or squall, the sharp/flat cadences of weather.

She’s with us on the Breaksea Girl, but music
is her separate boat.

See how her face is wet
with notes, her throat a waiting bird.
Taonga Puoro surge in her chest like waterfalls.

How strange I should remember here a line I read
long, long ago; bees in Mykanos hum in a minor chord.

Here, the scale is unpredictable, the thrum
that of a sailor’s cap, an incidental island,
a glissando of salt scattering the shadows of dark-bellied fish.

We sail through contrapuntal seas -
our private charts, our common geography.

Ten artists, yes, and at least as many rocks. But
in this unsteady place of black water and red kelp
                   we do as we must. We lay down our tools and listen.
        CB 2009 


*"Taonga Puoro are the musical instruments of the Maori people of Aotearoa, New Zealand. The name Taonga Puoro means 'singing treasures' and denotes how highly the instruments are valued, both for the beauty of the sound, the instrument itself and the story of the Taonga. There are many different types of Taonga Puoro, from shell trumpets, to unique types of flutes, spun instruments and bird callers. All instruments are seen as individuals as they have their own unique voice and decoration. They are grouped into families according to how they were created in the ancestral past. These stories are shared through the sounds of the Taonga and the carvings on them. There are many different uses for Taonga Puoro, from open entertainment to sacred ritual use. In either context, when played, they somehow transmit an appreciation for the spiritual dimensions from which they come. . . " 

If you would like to learn more about Taonga Puoro - and to see and hear them, click here.

Meet Gillian Whitehead here and enjoy her compositions here, here and here

For more Tuesday Poems, please click on the quill. This week's editor is TP curator Mary McCallum with the poem 'Home to You' by Michele Amas 

Tuesday Poem

Aaah. . . 'tis good to be back.



  1. Fantastic images; how a painter writes! I really enjoyed this, Claire.

  2. Lovely poem, Claire, vivid and unmistakably one from the Breaksea Girl. Fascinating about the Maori musical instruments. Welcome back!. xo

  3. Dear Claire, So good to have you back. I often think of what is considered civilization and how far, far we have come from knowing what is sacred and how things are connected. Your poem gives such a sense of the discoveries of your voyage. xo

  4. Hi Gordon - I've just returned from a visit to your blog; long overdue, I'm afraid, but always a pleasure. I re-read your profile this time; how fascinating it must be to live between your two 'S' countries; Spain and Scotland. Their languages have in common an especially glorious musicality; colour; texture; exuberance.

    Thanks for your comment on Taonga Puoro - am happy you enjoyed it.

  5. Dear Melissa - it's been a while since we met out here (v. unlike me to be gone for this long) but, oh, what joy it was to be with you - really/actually/truly WITH you- in Boston. A time not past, but present still.

    I thought you'd find the Maori instrument site interesting, M, esp. the mythological references.

    Much love to you in Winthrop, C xo
    (Tell me it's not still raining?)

  6. Dear Marylinn - it's good to be back after a rich time away. I feel fecund. Full. Grateful.

    I agree with what you say re; 'how far, far we have come from knowing what is sacred and how things are connected'. Our so-called sophisticated bid for 'progress' has brought us the pain of separation, esp. from Mother Earth and each other. We have lost our connection to what is sound and good and life-engendering. Our primary task here and now - or so it seems to me - is to do what we can to re-establish Right Relationships; this so much more about collaborative effort than about solo endeavour.

    Words that kept coming up at the conference in Phoenix began with the root 'co-'. . . co-creation, collaboration, cooperation, communication, community, connected, common. . . the energy of these words give one hope.

    Love to you in Pasadena
    Claire xo

  7. As soon as I started reading I was there with you. What amazing images you paint with words.

  8. Wonderful poem, Claire, and good to have you back. :)

  9. It is so good to have you back Claire. I'm sure all of your readers missed your posts as much as I did. Welcome back! x

  10. Hello, Helen. And hello, Jane. Thank you for your welcome welcomes. . . It's good to know you're here to come home to. I'm looking forward to catching up on both your blogs, too. One thing about being away is that one returns with unabashed appetite! L, C xx