New Zealand’s foremost poetry magazine, edited by Jack Ross, presents the finest new writing from this country and elsewhere. Each edition offers poems by talented newcomers and developing poets as well as those of already acclaimed and established writers. This issue is guest-edited by Nicholas Reid and features the poetry of Jan Kemp. Three sample poems can be found here: Cri de coeur de Katherine Mansfield by Jan Kemp, What better totem by Andrew McIntyre, and A Book of New Zealand Verse by Alistair Paterson.
Do you write poetry to be read silently by others or do you write it to perform it out loud? Do you prefer to read poetry off the printed page (or computer screen)? Or do you prefer to hear it read by its author?
Many will respond to these questions by asking simply ‘Does it matter?’ Poetry can be that purely literary and even typographical experience, which allows ‘shape’ poems and experiments in lineation to be devised, and the absolute luxury (from a space-rationing editor’s point of view) of one-word-per-line verse to be indulged. Poetry can also be declaimed, shouted, chanted, acted and otherwise vocalised in public. It can work either way, and there will always be English 101 students to remind us that all poetry began in public performance; that ‘lyric’ poetry was originally poetry performed to the accompaniment of a lyre; and that the repeated catchphrases in epic poetry (‘the wine-dark sea’ etc.) were there to cue the bard who had memorised thousands of lines for a listening audience. Poetry was around for millennia before most people could read or write.
Yet it seems to me that there is now an essential difference between the poetry meant primarily to be read in private and the poetry meant primarily to be performed. In November last year I had the great pleasure of attending and contributing to the poetry conference in Hawkes Bay, organized by Bill Sutton. One of the many highlights was a jocular and ironical piece acted out expertly by a young performance poet. I joined the whole audience in applauding it lustily. Then the worm entered my skull. No names, no pack-drill, but I at once recalled the good public performances I had heard pub-poets give of poems which, on the printed page, I found to be nothing in particular.
My mind flew to the damning comment John Dryden made in 1681 when he read a printed version of a play he had enjoyed in stage performance, George Chapman’s tragedy Bussy D’Ambois. Said Dryden ‘I have sometimes wondered in the reading what has become of those glaring colours which amazed me in “Bussy D’Ambois” upon the theatre; but when I had taken up what I supposed a fallen star, I found I had been cozened with a jelly; nothing but a cold dull mass, which glittered no longer than it was shooting.’
Are we sometimes ‘cozened with a jelly’ when we enjoy the public performance of a poem? In poetry, density of meaning and good public performance are not necessarily mutually exclusive. But what grabs the attention of a listening audience can often be thin in texture, meaning and allusiveness, like the lyrics of a good song shorn of its music. It is good to be reminded of this in an age when rap and poetry slams are talked up as if they were the best current poetic practice.
— Nicholas Reid
I hear her cry out from her grave
not leave all fair but:
leave me alone!
Let me RIP through
your societies your conferences
your codswallop about me
& tear it all apart
read me read me
for all you’re worth
that’s why I wrote
carving me up
& serving me
at too many tables
stop the industry
stop the production
get off my back
stop flying on my wings
fly on your own
let me be
are eye pee
(on you all)
— Copyright Jan Kemp, 2014
I dreamt a tiger seized my throat in his jaws,
which wasn’t the nightmare you’d imagine.
He spoke to me telepathically in a despotic dialect,
our minds one pyre chained together;
I felt his claws on the knuckles of my spine:
his breath was hearthy as home.
I should have been terrified but was honoured
that this majestic creature had chosen me,
as if in silence the selector selected the selectee
free of his prejudicial brethren, daring to brave
the grieving realms of a dreaming man’s brain
to stitch his torn heart with threads of fire,
kindled by time to twist crepuscular forests
to its burning, muscular favour.
Out of the blue
of our lives black with the loss of our son, this tiger
stole into my skull and cuffed me into epiphany
by saying, as the homiletic cleric to the animalist:
I will teach you about blood.
— Copyright Andrew McIntyre, 2014.
You did it, Allen, whatever it is
poets do, gathered together what
the climate, or what seemed to be
the climate as it was seen by you
& all those others, your friends
(those others not known so well)
believed it to be
an acceptable view
as it was discovered
here in this little town
Hardy Street, Collingwood, Trafalgar
laid out in squares, the pattern
Wakefield & the Company officers
thought to be well-shaped, orderly
the way to do it
getting things right, giving shape
to the shapeless, the half-formed
the ill formed as in the famous table
(periodic) making sense of it all
quarks, hadrons, bosons (Higgs)
held together by string theory
strong forces, weak . . .
which is the way to do it, Allen,
the very best way to do it
as can be seen in the New Scientist
even better in the reports & papers
it summarises, & in literature
the exquisite shape poetics & theory
provide super symmetry
the ultimate theory
timing is everything . . .
— Copyright Alistair Paterson, 2014.