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Tuesday Poem: Frank O’Hara for Charles, by Anna Jackson

15 Jun

Frank O’Hara for Charles

So it is 10.03 (this is when I still had my watch on)
and Charles and I are on our way through the rain
to Bill’s Frank O’Hara lecture and Charles says
but anyone could write a Frank O’Hara poem, why
bother? And he sits through the lecture
in his black leather jacket, his trainers
up on the metal ring bit of his chair,
his arms folded against his linen shirt,
and when I accidentally yell ‘goody’ when Bill
says he’ll play Frank O’Hara’s recording
of ‘Song’ he says ‘try and be a bit
more academic, Anna.’ Then Frank O’Hara
in a sweet and Ginsberg-like voice is repeating
his refrain, ‘you don’t refuse to breath
do you,’ and I am thinking, if anyone
can write a Frank O’Hara poem, isn’t that
a good thing? Doesn’t that make us all
potentially good people? As if Ginsberg
had got it right and ‘we’re all golden
sunflowers inside,’ as I try and tell Charles
who tells me to pipe down and listen
to the lecture, and I have to admit that later, in our
tutorial class, after listening to Ginsberg
giving a most elegaic and O’Hara-like rendition
of ‘America’ on the computer with Windows
Media Player, when we start looking at Plath,
she does seem to keep her inner sunflower
pretty much hidden although I try
and make a case for reading the poems
as a literary exercise and the suicide
as an accident and Frank O’Hara poetry
as what she could have been writing
if she weren’t so determined
to think up something new and different
to do to interest the critics. I still think
she could have. Anyone could! So let’s!
Who knows what it might save us from?
After all, anyone can talk,
and you don’t refuse to talk, do you?

– Anna Jackson, from Thicket, Auckland University Press, 2011.

Useful links:
“Song”, Frank O’Hara (audio and text)
“America,” Allen Ginsberg: audio, text
“Sunflower Sutra”, Allen Ginsberg (text)
Sylvia Plath @ Wikipedia; Tulips; a totally illegal collection of most of her work (you already know “Mad Girl’s Love Song”).

I had a different poem planned for today but it went out of the window when I read this for the first time; it gave me such a giggle. It’s a bit of a mean pick in a book which isn’t out yet and so can’t speak for itself, because it’s a little out of synch with the rest of the poems in the book – serious, or clever, or funny, or thoughtful – not that this poem isn’t those but, well, it’s a bit of fun, isn’t it? Other poems in the book are witty, but, as both the cover and title of Thicket suggest, they mostly have a little more darkness, either literal or metaphorical.

“Frank O’Hara for Charles,” though, I loved because it is screamingly spirited and has that perfect ability to sketch people out quite exactly in a few words that is one of my favourite things in poetry. I sometimes get the feeling that everyday people are one of the least appreciated topics in poems, which are after all supposed to be about the big things, serious weighty matters, or at least things that are somehow out of the quotidian: seriously miserable people, dramatic people, hypnotically compelling people. Ordinary people are just, well, you know. But a favourite thing of mine is the sketch, the clever wordplay that describes precisely the quotidian which somehow elevates it (Jenny Bornholdt’s “Being a Poet” springs to mind (and also my fave, “Women and Men”); so do William Carlos Williams’ “This is just to say” and Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro”, all of course extremely different poems [and very famous, because it’s late and I’m too lazy to go poking through books for examples that won’t be immediately accessible anyway]).

So can’t you just hear Charles saying “‘try and be a bit / more academic, Anna'”? And the fantastic meandering flow of the poem from Bill Manhire to Frank O’Hara to Allen Ginsberg (not himself a notable inner sunflower type, tbqh) to Sylvia Plath. Oh, it’s just a lot of fun.

The rest of Thicket, which comes out in July (a friend of mine worked on the book and therefore got a readers’ copy, which I borrowed like a sneaky sneak and unfortunately have to return tomorrow), is really really good. I liked several good fairytale retellings (“Red Riding Hood’s mother”, “Red Riding Hood”, “Hansel in the house” which has a killer last couplet, and “My brother, twelve swans”) and “Giving up” . I loved “It’s just glass”: “but if it’s really all up / for grabs I’m believing / in the Greek gods. Narrative / gods I’m looking for, / who’ll take an interest”. The book is packed with jokes and references, including a number of neat poems which bring out threads from the Aeneid, but it’s not inaccessible and it’s not snobbery. The careful lively images are a real delight.

I plan to run out and buy Thicket the second I can. You can too, or you can preorder it from AUP ($25), who describe Thicket thusly:

In Anna Jackson’s fifth collection of poetry, a rich and leafy life is closing in on the poet. ‘These are our thicket days’, she writes, ‘and it does seem darker, / though the sun is at its peak / over the crown of leaves.’ But a thicket is also something to walk out of, and Jackson offers us fairytale bread-crumb tracks to follow, through poems that consider badminton at dusk, Virgil at bedtime, theory over wine; shimmering, multi-faceted poems of swans and puppets, sons and brothers, a woman who has become a tree. Thicket is an accomplished book from a poet of unease, who constantly turns her attention to the brambled path, the track-less-followed, the subterranean presences in everyday life.

And that did a much better job than I could, so I’ll leave it at that. Even though it isn’t technically Tuesday any longer. Well, somewhere it is.


Tuesday Poem: What it’s Like, by Fiona Farrell, + Terrible Photos of Terrific Rosy Tin Teacaddy, Jess Chambers gig

25 Jan

What It’s Like

Well, it’s kind of like
you’re hanging over a
steep drop, fingers
cracking on some old
root or other and below
there’s sand or river,
boulders worn to solid
spheres, and you say to
yourself, ‘Now, I could
let go.’ And what do
you know?

You do.

And then, it’s kind of like
singing with your feet off
the pedals, bush lining a
damp black road downhill
to the corner and a creek
like a crowd hanging about
in dappled shade for you
to whistle by.

And then, it’s kind of like
lying on a hillside, sun
full on and a gum tree
rattling away like streamers,
and there’s a whole kind of
shining party going on,
and you’re at it.

– Fiona Farrell. From The Inhabited Initial (AUP, 1999); I got it out of Essential New Zealand Poems (ed. Lauris Edmond & Bill Sewell) (Godwit, 2001).

I like this poem tremendously, but I didn’t actually want to post it today; I wanted to post a poem about music to go with the rest of the post, but I absolutely could not find a thing I liked, which is all kinds of infuriating. Do any of you know any great poems about music? I don’t know if I can say anything thoughtful about this poem, except that it fills me with a feeling of anticipation – it has a tremendous power to evoke in me exactly the feelings it describes, which I think is a the best gift a poem can give. It takes tremendous skill, to my mind, to use words like this: an elegant, transparent window into emotion, so the words almost disappear in front of the feeling. It’s also a wonderful exercise in simile.

The Soundshell at night

I inflict on you my terrible gig photos!

So, last night I went to an awesome gig with my best friend. It was part of the ASB Gardens Magic series, actually a raincheck from Sunday night, when it rained and rained hideously and therefore was not a good night for an outdoor concert. The ASB Gardens Magic (terrible name, yes) is an annual series of free concerts Wellington has every year in the Soundshell, an outdoor venue in the Botanical Gardens. It’s accompanied by a basic but very pretty lighting show (I loved the neon nikaus this year) and, of course, BUBBLES to entertain the kiddies. And me.

this is my best bubbles photo. don't laugh!

Anyway, last night was a significant improvement on Sunday’s weather, so I headed down there after dinner with a picnic of nectarines, bananas, and terrible, terrible, delicious chocolate. (It was really bad chocolate but I couldn’t even bring myself to care.) Also my friend brought a half-eaten package of roasted, salted chickpeas (an OK snack if you can’t eat any other kind, which she can’t; I didn’t even know they *did* roasted, salted chickpeas) and delicious juice, so basically it was a lovely evening. Jess Chambers opened from 7pm.

this is the only photo I got of Jess because at this stage I didn't realise my camera could zoom way more if I turned the flash off.

I have to say I was really excited to see Jess Chambers, because I’ve never seen her play before. On the whole, however, I wasn’t that thrilled by the gig; Stringing Me Along was heaps of fun, I liked Reaching for the Moon too, and she did a few covers (Elvis Presley Blues, notably, a cover of Gillian Welch-or-possibly-Jimmy-Buffett-I-can’t-tell-who-wrote-it-first) that went off really nicely. On the whole, though, I found her a bit downbeat, I think she needs to pick it up a little when performing live (instead of slowing it down, which I’m pretty sure she did for Reaching for the Moon and Island, a song I love) and especially for this kind of show which wasn’t exactly intimate.

She was followed by Rosy Tin Teacaddy.

doing My Cup of Tea

cellist whose name I didn't catch and Betty

Billy on left and cellist on right, obscured by some random.

Billy, Cellist, Betty, I think this is during Telegrams and Ashes? IDK

I have seen Rosy Tin Teacaddy perform probably like ten times, and I think this gig was easily my favourite ever – although, to be fair, it had a lot going for it. I first saw them perform a few years ago (after some googling, must have been 2007) when they played some gigs my best friend’s brother, who’s in a couple of Auckland bands (The Broken Heartbreakers and Bond Street Bridge) was also playing in. I liked them a lot and instantly fell in love with a few songs. I saw them play a few more times in similar gigs, and then moved on to seeing them play solo. Early last year I saw their hilarious/weird show at Bats, which was a very good time and introduced a bunch of new songs they’d written in a DOC tramping hut up by Lake Tarawera. It also confirmed my opinion that they are the most twee indie folk band, not just existing, but even possible; look, when you’re drinking a cup of tea and using that for sound effects, not to mention sifting a whole lot of flour all over your set, also to provide sound (plus, obvs, AMBIANCE), I mean, it just can’t be beat. (Also their stage names are Billy Earl and Betty Gray, a joke which embarrassingly I didn’t get until like, a month ago. Also, their band name? Totally a reference to Under Milk Wood.) Then I saw them do bits from the new Bats repertoire a couple of other times last year (I think, off the top of my head, once at Happy and once at Meow).

wish this photo were sharper ...

Last night, I guess because it was quite a long time for them to play (about an hour and a half), they did a lot of their new repertoire and a lot of their old repertoire, which I hadn’t heard for ages, plus some songs I didn’t know, and basically it was just a really rewarding concert experience! I said to my friend before they started playing, “I really hope they play Deliverance tonight”, and they did – and they also played Chestnut, which I totally did not think they would, and Crossword, and Telegrams and Ashes which is easily my favourite song from the new repertoire – and it sounded absolutely incredible with the cellist; there’s a cellist on their first album, but I’ve never seen them perform with one, and it made some of the songs seriously chilling, and others just gorgeous. AND AND AND look okay, it was an AWESOME show. It was so interesting to compare them to Jess Chambers, and to my memories as well, because they’re clearly now much more confident, experienced performers; their stage patter has improved leaps and bounds, so has their presence.

They did this one last night, but way more upbeat, which I really liked.

I’m not wild about this video, but I love this song.