Poetry NZ, New Zealand’s foremost poetry magazine edited by Alistair Paterson (ONZM), and guest edited for this issue by Siobhan Harvey, presents the finest in new writing from home and abroad. Each issue offers poems by talented newcomers and developing poets as well as acclaimed writers. Issue 39 features the work of Zarah Butcher, a young poet who’s already garnered numerous publications and accolades for her writings. Two sample poems can be found here: Unframed by Zarah Butcher, Finding the graves by Linda Connell.
‘We do not grow absolutely. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another, unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations,’ wrote French author, Anais Nin.
In many regards, Nin’s concept of age as a flexible, fluid entity defies conventional logic. Usually, though we see chronology as an ever-growing number, we see the states of being young, middle-aged or elderly as incremental, each point in life fixing us to socially regimented mores and beliefs. The young, we’re led to believe, are full of energy but lack the wisdom which arrives with middleage; the old are physically and cerebrally infirm, close to the end.
In this vein, we often look upon septuagenarian or octogenarian writers as figures whose work, opinion and ideas have lost their usefulness. One of course can point to writers who, in their later years, are or were more glorified in their career than at the beginning. Fine writers such as Maurice Gee and Janet Frame spring readily to mind in this regard. Yet, for every Gee or Frame, there are innumerable poets, short story writers and novelists whose existence and literary output fades from view and recollection once they attain a certain age.
This is not just a great shame, but a terrible waste of richer voices and richer minds, active writers who have much still to contribute to literature and much still to impart to their successors. The recent publication of the Jan Kemp and Jack Ross edited, Classic New Zealand Poets in Performance (AUP, 2004) is a rare instance of a book which enabled a younger generation of poets to remember those from the past like A.R.D Fairburn, Charles Brasch and Denis Glover who contributed so much – in terms of labour, time and output – to developing New Zealand literature. Perhaps more significantly, the anthology also allows us to treasure those poets who came after Fairburn, Brasch, Glover and others, who worked equally tirelessly throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond to growing local poetry and fiction, and who are still with us. Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, Brian Turner, Michael Jackson, Riemke Ensing, Alistair Paterson and many more: here are poets appearing in Classic New Zealand Poets in Performance who deserve continued literary representation – in magazines, anthologies and col lections – lest they and their work become forgotten and languish awaiting some future generation’s rehabilitation.
Poetry New Zealand 39 strikes me as an issue of the magazine which, like many previous issues, spotlights new writers, such as our featured poet, Zarah Butcher. Yet the more I reread the issue the more I’m pleased to see the presence in verse and reviews of an older generation of writers whose work warrants exposure because it deserves not to be disregarded simply because of its author’s age. As that wonderful American actress from a bygone time, Billie Burke, once said, ‘Age doesn’t matter, unless you’re a cheese!’
— Siobhan Harvey
in this solitary landscape
here we are
like pioneers beneath
Colin McCahon hills.
your fingers on the wheel
long and slim, a raw streak
below the wrist—
‘tuna fish can’ you say.
light is falling
we try to catch it
as the day thins
to a new realm.
we sip the quietness,
clouds tell their stories
I remember reading you
like an untitled poem.
driving for miles
without seeing the sea—
on the horizon
we divorce our shadows.
— Copyright Zarah Butcher, 2009.
It took two hours.
And the wind came with me,
sweeping past the angels.
So good to track down my great-grandparents
who sailed from Sweden and Ireland
to these old pines at the edge of
the Catholic section of the Waimairi Cemetery.
Here lies the eighteen-year-old boy
who received that terrible letter from his father
in 1872: ‘All our potatoes are fi nished. Tobiason
is deceased, and we, the sheep, will perish . . .
send us some money, for heaven’s sake.’
I found my mother’s uncle, who wrote
from Hokitika in January 1973:
‘I can’t stop here in the winter. I know
I am getting near the sound of the bugle’,
and answered the bugle’s call that August,
and I found her sister, who overdosed
on morphine in 1963, aged forty-two,
leaving no word.
And at last I discovered my grandparents
on the other side of the Catholic section:
Plot 43, Row 49.
I don’t know what to make of this.
Have their lives been edited out,
blank pages in the chronicles of death,
or is a patch of grass just right,
eloquent testimony to their days
on the golf course and half-acre lawn?
But to think they lie so near my baby.
Ever since 1979 I’ve thought she was
alone out here.
— Copyright Linda Connell, 2009.