Poetry NZ, New Zealand’s foremost poetry magazine, edited by Alistair Paterson (ONZM), presents the finest in new writing from home and abroad. Each issue offers poems by talented newcomers and developing poets as well as already acclaimed and established writers. Issue 40 features the work of Robert McLean of Christchurch, whose poetry has appeared in more than 70 literary journals in New Zealand and overseas. Three sample poems can be found here: As deceivers, yet true by Robert McLean, Lahore 2009 by Rizwan Akhtar, and Love as string (theory) by Jessica Le Bas.
The ways in which poetry is approached, written, read and experienced have probably never been as varied or disparate as they are now. Ross Brighton’s article, ‘Recent developments in American poetry’, and the poetry offered in the present issue of Poetry NZ have been brought together in order to give representation to the range of work currently being published. Central to it is the idea that a poem and the way it’s produced and read are indeterminate. That’s to say there’s little about a poem that’s conclusive or fixed — neither the poet’s nor the reader’s intention, attributes and contribution, nor the poem’s meaning if it has one at all. Consciously or unconsciously, we theorise about it — try to understand what it is and how it works and what’s happening when we’re reading a poem or trying to write one. But the reality escapes us and we devise theories and ‘isms’ in our attempts to explain and understand what it is we’re dealing with and doing.
Language poets, such as Bernstein et al, demonstrate an instinctive aware ness of this in recognising and trying to escape the constraints of conventional language, exposition and narrative, of romanticism, modernism and related traditions. Underlying this awareness is a sense that in poetry as in Freudian psychoanalysis, much of what we say and do relates to and is the product of ‘free association’. This perhaps lies behind such recently developed ‘isms’ (discounting their relationship to Dada) as ‘Gurlesque’, ‘Fluxus’, ‘Flarf ’ and ‘Conceptual Writing’ where ideas can be logical in conception but are usually illogical in perception (application) with, as Charles Olson said, ‘one perception immediately and directly lead[ing] to a further perception.’ As a result poets sometimes surprise themselves as well as their readers (if they have any!) and reinforce the view that none of us know what we’ll write until we’ve written it.
Most of the poetry in the recent American anthology Legitimate Dangers — see Ross Brighton’s essay — makes use of an initial concept followed by a tumble of apparently misrelated perceptions. Some of the poetry in this issue of PNZ employs this principle. It’s been placed here in company with work ranging between the traditional and the near avant-garde in order to indicate the wide range of methodologies and writing practices poets are presently using. New approaches, such as those described in Brighton’s essay on American poetry, aren’t always as new as they seem but not surprisingly follow on from, and provide updated variations on, impressionism, Dada, fauvism, vorticism and similar practices.
— Alistair Paterson
It was almost a dead giveaway:
throbbing lacunae, still-birthing chora,
numerous ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ (he never
had the chance to be disappointed —
but hell’s teeth, I never had a chance,
did I? — at least there was a hell of
a lot more to look at here back then,
as opposed to there, wherever that
had been. Mind you, the fact is there just
isn’t anymore) and being on
another island not so far from
here, an island on which odd things come
to light, even now: (tis strange, yet it
is true, sir) Good God! (to hell with it
all: all that pain and suffering … and
pain was recurrent fact, as it
was … in the long run, and it was, in
fact, a bloody long run) — take as an
example the ink-sketches of the
itinerant artist Augustus
Earle around 1827,
or the soldier-artist Charles Heaphy
later, in the 1840s, but,
this late in the day, the spotlight cuts
out, right on cue. And it seems the night
sky’s full of stars, exasperated
or expired, as I strive to describe
with grace what has been seen: a fisher
of men, or perhaps my father himself,
black-clad in his sacerdotal serge,
lying half-submerged snoozing within
a conclusive closing couplet, as
when absent-minded gatekeepers who
demand that words on a page must sing
fuck up absolutely everything.
— Copyright Robert McLean, 2010.
The city is still mine.
I sneaked it from my grandfather’s diary
holding his finger, when the morning azan
throbbed at our door.
Its street is the vendor’s junk food of words, fried
with a smattering of chilies and garnished with Punjabi.
Words drop into another’s words.
The city keeps a tighter lingual embrace
and suddenly unclasps beyond the borders of courtesy.
Tales of elopement and wedding couplets
mix well with the cough dunk dross of the Ravi.
Rough but innocuous, it’s ultimately a decent courtesan,
well-versed in the art of bete-leaf chewing
and garlands of night blooming jasmine.
(She danced with and without anklets.
Her spidery luxury was uncased.)
Sometimes, the dust storms hurt the eyes
and history is censored, behind the dying fort.
Though lips are dried with heat
it lingers as if ghazal is brewed in wine.
On the dusk-dabbed horizon
a cordless kite plummets,
at the mercy of its chasers,
chase it, hunt it.
— Copyright Rizwan Akhtar, 2010.
That first twang, taut and tempting
him/her. Morning and night inside your veins
it seems. The yaw and trim, your puppet limbs
And next the gifts that were secrets in his/her hand
He said pearls were some sort of fish excrement
and went for gold. In the first months, that year
he pulled you tight towards him — you soared
nightly, then some. Courted
Come winter, it was your youth he said —
the dynamic properties of your splendour, your age
— something about the ease with which you came
to his call, strung out for his laughter
pulled along — the fibre of your holding-on-grip
that ‘threadlike concentration of energy
within the structure of space and time’ — the sinew
of his little lamb. Quartered
In your hand, his/her hand
In your subatomic particles, his/her particles —
there be a whole universe — thwarted
— Copyright Jessica Le Bas, 2010.