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CHANT FOR THE RETURN HOME
The seven seas aren’t what we thought they would be
packed to the gunnels with rum and rebellion.
Our tall ships fly home, flat tack in the wind.
We’ll alight and seek life in the tussocky rocks,
seek fewmets and footprints and niblets of spoor.
With no forest for shelter we’ll bivouac in the wind.
Tough trees lie flat; they clutch at the cliffs,
the grasses grow grasping and desperate —
nothing withstands the impact of the wind.
We grab hands and race for the deepest cave
hoping to lie in the light of our warmth
with the ghost of our hope left intact by the wind.
But gone means gone — we can’t sail back on the wind.
The black dog’s ears go flat in the wind.
[First published in The Ghazal Page, 2012(1).]
Mary Cresswell is a poet and science editor who lives on New Zealand’s Kapiti Coast. Originally from Los Angeles, her writing has been published widely in New Zealand, Australian, Canadian, US and UK literary journals. Her poetry collection Trace Fossils (first runner-up for the inaugural 2008 Kathleen Grattan award) was published by Steele Roberts in 2011 and her collection of satiric verse, Nearest and Dearest, in 2009. Mary was also one of four poets who co-authored Millionaire’s Shortbread (University of Otago, 2003).
This week’s poem is a ghazal (sounds like guzzle) – originally an ancient Persian form.
The Guardian has this to say:
“The strict ghazal is composed of five or more regular couplets. The couplet is called a sher, and must be self-contained. The second line of each ends with a refrain of one or a few words, known as the radif. This is preceded by the rhyme, the qaafiya. In the first couplet both lines end in the rhyme and refrain, so the rhyme scheme is AA BA CA, etc. The last sher contains the poet’s signature, his name or a variant thereof.”
Modern poets writing in English have experimented with the form (Mary’s is a tercet ghazal with a deliberately empty line in the last stanza) but it’s probably fair to say that most consist of self-contained couplets, often exploring themes of love and mysticism.
More Tuesday poems here, where you can also watch the jointly written third birthday poem unfolding.
If you didn’t get a chance to attend this year’s Janet Frame Memorial Lecture at Te Papa, you can read it here http://www.authors.org.nz/images/JanetFrameLecture08.pdf There was also an extract in the Listener and it’s being discussed on Leafsalon here http://www.leafsalon.co.nz/archives/001172literature_for_the_literary.html#more
Greg O’Brien had some very interesting things to say about the difference between a writer (someone who writes) and an author (someone whose work is published) and cited Janet Frame as someone who retired at 65 from being an author (ie from being published) but continued throughout her life to be a writer. I like this distinction. I’ve always thought of writing as a verb: something I do, rather than an identity: “being a writer” (a noun, something a person is). It is the process or activity of writing that’s important. You only stop being a writer if you stop writing.
Greg also talked about the marketplace – he prefers to see literature as a laboratory. I particularly liked the following:
“Literature is not a track event. Everyone is not running in the same direction—nor should they be. If literature is a race then it is one where, when the starting gun is fired, the participants run off each in their own direction. It is only arts funders and prize-givers who line writers up on some invented racetrack, facing the same ribbon.”
This reminds me of the philosophers’ football match in a Monty Python sketch, where, as soon as the whistle blows, the philosophers wander off away from the ball, to contemplate it all.
A couple of days ago, at my poetry group, we were lamenting the limited range of poetry publishers in New Zealand relative to the seemingly vast numbers of poets seeking publication and the fact that some of our few publishers are booked up several years in advance or buried under huge piles of unread manuscripts (with frustratingly long response rates as a result). More small presses would be lovely, but poetry is hardly going to pay the mortgage. In the meantime, that track event continues, each of us meandering off in our own little directions, atomising our verbal structures (I was very chuffed to get a passing mention in Greg’s lecture). Here’s to the laboratory!