Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuesday Poem - Not An Elephant & Remembering Janet Frame by Martha Morseth

                         NOT AN ELEPHANT*

                         There's a hippopotamus in the room
                         more awkward than an elephant.
                         It scans the perimeters, paws the carpet;
                         the eyes narrow, threaten. Conversation
                         in low-backed cushioned chairs
                         slides sideways, stumbles
                         hides those nutrients delectable to the beast.
                         Disappointed, the quadruped moves on.
                         The room relaxes; a giraffe appears
                         lithe, with liquid eyes.
                         There is laughter; drinks are served;
                         focus becomes oblique.
                         Watered well, talk is careless
                         doesn't notice the grass grow higher
                         a crocodile
                         climb out of the river.

                         Martha Morseth

* Not an Elephant was first published in The Listener in March 2012

Hippopotamus in the room (love the title!) was published by Steele Roberts Ltd and is Martha Morseth's second collection of poems. Martha and I have been in the same writing group in Dunedin for about a decade and a half and I was really sorry to be away from home at the time she launched her Hippopotamus. I am neither a funny nor witty nor wry person - attributes Martha has in abundance. She has a way of approaching serious, uncomfortable subjects from a wholly original vantage point, combining clarity and insight with acerbic humour and compassion. She can be sharp-tongued without showing the faintest hint of malice or unkindness.   

Martha was born in the United States and immigrated to Dunedin in 1972. She taught high school English until 1999. Her poems and stories have been published in literary and popular magazines and anthologies. The first collection of her poems, Staying Inside the Lines, was released in 2002. Together with four other poets - Kay Mackenzie-Cooke, Jenny Powell, Sue Wootton and Claire Beynon - Martha founded the Dunedin open mic series, Upfront---spotlighting women poets. She has written three books for teenagers, published by Pearson: two short story collections --- Yeah! and EDGE/a cut of unreal; and a book of one-act plays --- Let’s Hear it for the Winner! Three of her one-act plays were produced for Otago University’s 2003 Gay Pride week, and a full-length play, The Trials and Tribulations of Emily, based on New Zealand’s first woman doctor, was produced in 2007. Two of her stories have been on Radio New Zealand. 

Trevor Reeves wrote of Martha's first collection Staying Inside the Lines --- "Martha is at her best when juxtaposing things with one another; events, tastes, activities, smells - a potpourri of words and images that are refreshing and delightful, yet bristling with the occasional menace. . . "

and of Hippopotamus in the room, Elizabeth Smither has this to say --- ". . . Parallel worlds, one cool and one wild. I love the way you toggle between silence and sound/conversation and doubt/plainness and density/control and sudden rushes of action and feeling. . . "


August is NZ poet Janet Frame's birthday month.  Gorse is Not People (Penguin) will be launched in Dunedin this coming Wednesday, 15 August from 6.00PM in the University Book Shop. "This brand new collection of 28 short stories by Janet Frame spans the length of her career and contains some of the best she wrote. None of these stories has been published in a collection before and more than half are being published for the first time." RSVP - ubs@unibooks.co.nz

Martha's poem Remembering Janet Frame concludes with what I think might be my favourite stand-alone line in Hippopotamus in the room. It says as much about Martha as it does about Janet.

                         REMEMBERING JANET FRAME

                            28 August 2007

                         I haven't far to walk 
                         to imagine you still living on Evans Street
                         passing near Frame Street on your way
                         to the Botanical Garden for the Sunday afternoon
                         brass band concert, then wandering 
                         to the aviary to talk to the kea
                         the one you wrote about 
                         the one that learned to walk upside down. 

                         The tui in my garden are not so clever
                         but manage to stand on their heads
                         when they siphon nectar from the kowhai blossoms.

                         There's a lunar eclipse tonight, on your birthday.
                         How like you to unsettle us all so quietly. 
                         Martha Morseth


This week's Tuesday Poem editor is Janis Freegard. Janis has posted For Patrick Rosal Who Wore A Dress & Said, from Aracelis Girmay's collection Kingdom Animalia (BOA Editions, Ltd.).

Click on the quill!


  1. I hadn't read these before - thanks for posting them. I like the idea of all those animals in the room! And I *do* especially like the last stanza in the Remembering Janet Frame.

  2. Hi Janis - yes, I like the idea of all those animals in a room, too! Which one(s) are we?
    Thanks for coming by, and for your fine post on the TP hub this week ; )