Wednesday, March 28, 2012



It has taken two days to get here. When it comes to travel, New Zealand really is on the other side of the globe! A long journey at the best of times, this one ended up being quite a bit longer. Ten minutes prior to landing in Frankfurt we learned that Lufthansa's ground staff were on strike and as a result all connecting flights with that airline had been cancelled indefinitely. I was fortunate to be offered seats on two Swiss Air flights later than morning - the delay meant 'losing' a day in Barcelona but had I not been re-routed, I might have missed out on Barcelona altogether. 

Always amazed that airports work as well as they do, I was nevertheless not surprised to find that my re-routed suitcase hadn't been able to keep up once my itinerary had been changed. It went missing somewhere between Frankfurt, Zurich and here but will likely turn up before I leave for Ibiza first thing on Friday morning. Meantime, I'm enjoying traveling light, and let me tell you it's a whole lot easier making one's way across a city with a handbag (whose modest stomach holds my travel docs, a hairbrush, pencil, journal, glasses and lippy) and one small, lighter-than-usual piece of hand luggage (containing laptop, camera and a handful of books). I took a bus from the airport to Plaza Catalunya where - a little whelmed from lack of sleep and the excitement of being here - I spent about twelve dilly minutes scampering up and down escalators in a huge family-style department store searching for a replacement toothbrush and t'paste, knickers, plain white singlet and shampoo. . . What more would I need? (And what on earth had I packed into my missing 20 kg suitcase? We make such pack-horses of ourselves, don't we, wandering about with our weight on our backs.)

These pics show the view from the bedroom in the apartment I'm staying in. . . How curious to cross miles of ocean and land to visit an ostensibly foreign place only to discover on arrival that everything has a ring of the familiar about it. Everything. The apartment. The language. The city smells. The stone lions and metal minotaurs. The full-throated, unselfconscious sidewalk conversations. The different timbre of this city's laughter - which makes me wonder. . . Is the colour and texture of our laughter and our tears affected by the language we speak? Does sound inhabits our body in language-tinted ways? (I'm curious to hear what you think?). 

Unashamedly wanton when it comes to weathered surfaces, I love this city's muddle; its brickwork and cracking plaster, expressive wrought-iron balustrades and soft, loaf-shaped roofs (tomorrow, Gaudi will render me speechless, I know it). . . 

And then there's beautiful, gracious Marta - a writer, colour therapist, architect and sacred geometrician - who has welcomed me into her home; complete strangers only till the moment of our meeting. Can lives and lifetimes converge in a split second? Neither of us speaks the other's language and yet last night's conversation could not have held more, nor been any richer. Something's afoot (when is something not, I wonder?). It's the middle of the night and the neighbourhood's asleep. How good it is to see Northern hemisphere stars through my bedroom shutters; they seem plucking distance away. Light sentries of the night, I like to think they are keeping watch, minding their own business, yes - and ours, too - high above the clay-tiles, the Jacob's ladder scaffold of chimneys, television aerials and tilting satellite dishes. 

Right here, right now, I am indescribably happy.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday Poem - Fire by Melissa Green

Following on from last week's Water, Melissa's Fire. . . (thank you for permission to post these here, M - and, in time, your Earth and Air, too.) -

                      v Fire

                      Father, I'm dizzy in shimmering August, rising new
                      As summer's mistress from a field of corn. She now
                      Is married to the heat-swept grain. Her ripening breast
                      Is a thicket, bright with blood-berries, her body dressed
                      In flame. The red god of the salamander sandals her foot,
                      A monarch touches her lip, her coppery hands fit
                      Petals in a chain. She knows she has chosen to burn
                      At noon, as nature intends. The thrust maize, unborn,
                      Has made her heavy and drugged as a bee. A tawny wood-
                      Dove sleepily croons what her tongue cannot: the subtle wound
                      That too much plenty makes. She doesn't know that winter
                      Ravages, that grief and habitual wind will tint her
                      Skin and break the tender stalk of her body. She stands
                      Impaled by arrows of afternoon light until thunder stuns
                      Her - she slips like smoke into shade, behind the burning stones.

                      Melissa Green 
                      from The Squanicook Eclogues - pg 15. (W.W Norton & Company, Inc., 1987)


For more Tuesday Poems please click on the quill -

This week's editor is NZ N. Island poet Renee Laing with the poem Gaudeamus Igitur
by John Stone. 


I typed up Melissa's poem on the plane between Dunedin and Christchurch, scheduling it to post while I'm in the air between Singapore and Frankfurt. I am en-route to Spain, will have three days in Barcelona (Gaudi - at last) before crossing the sea to Santa Eulalia Des Rui, a small village on the island of Ibiza (one of the Baleriacs). For the first time ever, I've felt a wee bit nervous about traveling alone - probably because I don't speak a word of Catalan or Spanish and I don't expect my years of Latin are likely to help one bit. . . I'll be fine once I'm there, I'm sure. It makes me appreciate my children's intrepidness (is there such a word?) when it comes to foreign travel. My daughter has been giving me lots of encouragements. So begins another chapter of what will inevitably be a significant and altering time. . . 

Books I have in my hand luggage? Mr g by Alan Lightman.  Also his book of essays titled A Sense of The Mysterious - Science And The Human Spirit, Finuala Dowling's Homemaking For The Down At Heart (a wonderfully eclectic and eccentric cast of characters - i.e the title is, I think, misleading as the book is not nearly as domestic as it suggests; it's set in Kalk Bay, Cape Town, the fishing village I spent a chunk of time in when I returned to SA over Christmas) and the Rough Guide to Barcelona. 

More from me once I've landed. . .  

PS. John B - I am playing with a post on Venus and the traps. . . ; )

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday Poem - Water by Melissa Green

                 v Water

                  Father, I'm drowsy in April's humming sun and think
                  A girl the color of Autumn kneels at the Squanicook's bank,
                  Who is the river's daughter, dressed in driven skins,
                  Who knows a cedar wind at Nissequassick brings
                  The schools of alewife, herring, yellow perch ashore.
                  The place of Salmon roars with light. She steps, sure-
                  Footed onto stone; lithe as a poplar, bends over
                  The water. Wren feathers, shells, seven quills quiver
                  In her sable hair. Her eyes, a spring-fed stream, 
                  Like silica, seek bottom. Deep in her mossy brain,
                  The white-tailed mouse is born. She carries in her supple
                  Body all of spring - a tree frog in the apple,
                  A kit fox dozing in the brush, a brash otter
                  Diving her river-veins - the new, young, utterly
                  Green morning beads her skin. How simply she leans
                  Into understanding, baptized by light and the delicate lines
                  Of shadow from cedar. A goldfinch has flown its ribbed nest,
                  Dusting her cheek with its wing, a hummingbird throbs in her wrist, 
                  She is drenched in waking. Wonder, a long-legged doe,
                  Drinks in deeply, as all instinctive creatures do, 
                  And laughs, leaping the current, printing the field with dew. 

                  Melissa Green 
                     from The Squanicook Eclogues - pg 15. (W.W Norton & Company, Inc., 1987)

Melissa Green - whose 'vision is wonderbursts of wordstruts, inveterately inner, complex and subtle'* - is well-known within our community and beyond. The first time I read The Squanicook Eclogues, I cried. Noisily. Full-heartedly. Aghast at her exquisite, authoritative, passionate command of language, I audaciously imagined I might one day create a suite of paintings in response to these four poems. I made a start with an image-homage to 'v Fire'. 

Amy Clampitt endorsed Melissa's first collection with these words, "Melissa Green is a born, a natural poet, with whose work I've felt a quick affinity, along with an astonished admiration. Who could have supposed that Wilfred Owen would find such a disciple? It is an index of her originality that beginning with his strict and demanding consonances, she has gone her own gravely, sonorously engrossing way, and done so with such winning assurance." Melissa is one of our Tuesday Poets; the poem she posted on her blog today Statue of a Couple by Czesław Miłosz seems to me an echo of her Water. . . 

*Richard Eberhart

For more Tuesday Poems, please click on the quill. 
This week's editor is Seattle poet, Therese Clear. She has chosen the poem Talking Mean by Paul Hunter

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Flight Time

A community of intricately-carved wooden angels fly close to the ceiling in the entrance-way to my friend Katherine's house in Kalk Bay, Cape Town. Katherine's house is home to many angels - these here, and others besides. . .  Are not each and every of us surrounded by these 'custodians of the spirit'? Now more than ever, I like to think so.

For some reason this vid. insists on being here in this teeny-tiny format (not sure why this is).
To view it on a regular scale, I invite you to visit my Vimeo page. 

Thank you, Katherine

And a deep bow of love and respect to women everywhere this International Women's Day.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Tuesday Poem - Surprising The Quarry by Kay Mackenzie-Cooke

                 SURPRISING THE QUARRY
                 The joints of this house click - still sending signals -
                 where Hicks* sent the first message in morse
                 across the harbour, an ordinary afternoon closes in.

                 We are here to find inspiration wherever  
                 - the bath-tub that stands, feet apart,
                 or the toilet window Harbour Cone peers into.

                 Claire’s stacked paintings against the walls;
                 inside-out windows. The house knows
                 only what it once contained. White butterflies

                 twirl in four p.m. light. What can we add?
                 That here today the moment is still being born;
                 birds silenced by the flick of a switch-blade claw;

                 hills unmoved even as oar-shaped clouds row 
                 in an easterly direction. All expressed with weapons
                 of our own choosing - lead or pastel. Time will always

                 claim its quarry; a favourite singer’s voice
                 forced to travel through a smoke-damaged throat
                 is a de-capitated voice. But great for singing the blues.

                 Kay Mackenzie-Cooke

A couple of times a year, I get together with three women friends - Kay, Martha and Penelope (dedicated director of Rosa Mira Books and creator of The Most Unique PR-family In The World - Ratty, Lily The Pink, Isgar and Daisychord) - to workshop poems. We rotate houses (so to speak). Kay wrote Surprising the Quarry one afternoon we'd gathered at 22. She read it aloud to us in the moment; a poem with still-damp wings, it arrived pretty much fully-formed. I love the details she picked up on; the new slant on old things I've grown accustomed to. . . I especially love the opening line 'the joints of this old house click - still sending signals' (they do) and 'What can we add? That today the moment is still being born. . .' Oh, and too, the 'hills unmoved even as oar-shaped clouds row in an easterly direction.'

Kay is a much-loved and -respected Dunedin poet and warm-hearted friend. She identifies deeply with our South Island landscapes (I believe our rivers run in her veins). Kay has published two collections - Made For Weather and Feeding The Dogs. Her third book, Born To A Red-Headed Woman (also the title of her blog) is due out soon. 


The joints of my house - no. 22 (built in 1880) - really do click. Like every good man and woman, she has weathered much over the years; there are several chapters to her story. It turns out Kay's poem was prescient. Since returning from South Africa a few weeks ago, I have noticed cracks and signs of stress that were not there before I went away in early December. Two builder friends suggest she's showing signs of earthquake fatigue. . . not uncommon, apparently, even down here, 380 kms South of our sister city, Christchurch. I've been advised to lodge a claim with the Earthquake Commission (which I have done); the next step is to organize an independent assessment from a structural engineer. I'm not sure yet what the implications are. One step at a time. I am humbled all over again by all that our Christchurch friends have endured since September 2010. 

Every time something 'happens' to my house - structurally, esp., - I contemplate its symbolic, metaphoric meaning. Was it Jung who first referred to our psyche as 'a house of many rooms' (I'm paraphrasing)? Jung aside, I have long been interested in the correspondence/correlation between the things that manifest - often simultaneously - in our outer and inner worlds. . . The stories our house/our bodies tell us seem to me parts of the same thing; each has the potential to reveal hidden flaws and fractures, necessary truths? Suffice to say, I am paying attention. 

Staying with my house a moment. She (22 is def. female) was significantly damaged during a bizarre thunderstorm in Dunedin in February 2005. At the time - my personal foundations shaken - I was in the process of separating out from my husband of 19 years. Waterfalls gushed through the roof and into every room. Walls had to be stripped back, relined, re-plastered, repainted. An entire outbuilding collapsed, taking with it my laundry and loo (22 had an outside bathroom in earlier days). One wing had to be completely rebuilt. The crisis gave birth to my beautiful studio - it was as though the house was taking things into her own hands and insisting on this - inviting me to take my place fully in a whole new chapter.  

In honour of this transformative process, I left a wall in my passage 'exposed'. I like the idea of the house wearing this aspect of her history 'on her sleeve' and refer to this as her 'dreaming wall'. In the ensuing years, the wall has become a notebook/sketch pad/ideas board/telephone directory and visitor's 'book'. On my fiftieth birthday, Kay transcribed Surprising the Quarry onto the wall (see pic above). She made me chuckle last night, in her email saying 'yes' to my posting her poem here today. Her response to my telling her about 22's latest malady was this - 'Sorry the old girl is needing hip replacements ... hope it all goes well and is a stress-free process for you guys.


This is turning into a much longer post than I'd intended. I must be distractible (am supposed to be working on a talk for Thursday - International Women's Day - isn't that the way?!).  

* To add an interesting bit of background to Kay's poems and the house, 'clicks' rhymes with Hicks. . .(Clever Kay ; )). Stanton Hicks lived with his family at 22 in the early years of last century. The photograph below shows him and his friends sitting on the front steps on the harbour side of the house. 

An excerpt from our then-local newspaper, The Witness - "The first concrete evidence of transmitting and receiving Morse messages occurred on September 10, 1908, when two Otago Boys High School pupils, Stanton Hicks and Rawson Stark, sent messages across Otago Harbour between their homes in Ravensbourne and Andersons Bay. . . The Witness reported: "About two years ago the three boys seriously set about the equipment of a wireless station each, but although the conception was somewhat ambitious for boys of 14 and 15 years of age, their equipments were extremely modest comprising one or two small induction coils and battery cells of feeble power.

"Pocket money being scarce, their ingenuity found vent in unexpected directions. Discarded material and scrap heaps of various workshops in the city were laid under generous tribute. They were indeed like starlings at nesting time, and their school teachers can tell of weirdly distorted pockets and bulging school bags, as odds and ends were being collected and smuggled to safety, until the boys were free from lessons, when they would rush to their respective homes and toil away industriously."  (Continue reading this story here )

Cyril Brandon (17), pictured left, Rawson Stark (17), centre, and Stanton Hicks (16) are shown (on the steps of the Hick's Ravensbourne home) in an Otago Witness photograph with one of their wireless stations.

For more Tuesday Poems, please click on the quill.

This week's editor on the TP hub is UK-based Kiwi writer Belinda Hollyer with the poem Five Quartets by Australian John Tranter

PS. Tuesday Poem stats as at 4 March 2012

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Speak Softly

"For some people, solitude matters; for some people it is the air that they breathe. And, in fact, we have known for centuries about the transcendent power of solitude; it's only recently that we have strangely begun to forget it. . . " 

". . . So I wish you the best of all possible journeys and the courage to speak softly. . . "
Susan Caine

Friday, March 02, 2012

Oh, Gracious Spoon

"I always thought of spoons as the most civil
of the three eating tools as a spoon
can only give or receive
not cut or prod like a knife or fork"

(J musing - 2009)