Wednesday, August 24, 2016



Inside the browned and mottled skin,
the banana’s creamy-white with the merest
hint of haematoma. The taste is still delight:
thick liquid in solid state; that neatly
round, boomerang shape, fitting the hand,
redolent of bawdiness; the skin so easily
squished beneath blank-faced comedians’
feet slipping in the street, slipping and
toppling in silent movie humour.

A yellow bucket left in the road

A yellow bucket left in the road, as if a
warden intended to preserve a parking space.

Not the yellow of dandelions, or daisies,
of daffodils, or buttercups. Not the

yellow, either, of some pale almost green
leaves on various bushes, related but not

alike. Not the colour of the large torch in the
hall, more like the Pak-n-Save plastic bag, though

without the bag’s flexibility, a bucket that
will survive innumerable droppings and

throwings, and will only succumb to
continual weathering, which will bring

cracks, and an eventual all-round
deterioration, at which point the

bucket will head for the tip via the
Envirowaste bin. In the meantime, the

daisies, and daffodils, and dandelions, and
buttercups will have long gone, being

much more environmentally-friendly,

biodegradable, and much more short-lived. 

A small dog considers being rubbed

Just in time for National Poetry Day, which is tomorrow, the 26th August, 2016. A poem written some while ago...

A small dog considers being rubbed

Oh, I can be rubbed until the
veritable cows come home,
those large dociles not of my
own ancestry.

I can lie on my back while you
massage my tummy
(infantile word)
as though I had no organs inside
excepting one organ, a
heart already pulsating
fast, pulsating
faster at every stroke of
your rough hand.

I can have my ears mangled and tangled
around my head as though my
brain barely knew anything beyond the
scratching and rubbing, though
if the need arose, alert
would be my first instinct ˗
if I could choose between
alert and rubbing.

I can have that monstrosity of a
tail, that appendage which is in
reality a curled sausage,
one found after being
left the pantry too long,
that hanger-on covered in
fine fur flailing, a
peacock’s tail, though of course it
lacks some degree of iridescence; I
can, as I say, have it flicked and
fluttered by you without

It is your touch I crave, not
respectability, not honour, not
pride in the self that I am through
God’s own design; I acquire such a
deep intensity through your touch that
all I am as Dog is affirmed.

Food I can fast from; walks can wait
(though not indefinitely);
sleep is pleasant but never the
ultimate necessity. There is only one
necessity: that when I sit snuggled beside you,
or lean my chin on your knee, or
push my head between your shins
like those aforesaid cows calmed before any
possible storm by heads enclosed in a
padded containment; or stand on your
lap, front paws on your chest where the
beat pulsates at a rate
slower, heavier, than mine,
snout to nose, greatly tempted to
lick you, the necessity is
only to be stroked.

Sweep my fur back to front,
I will love you.
Clean gunk around my eyes,
I’ll love you.
Thrust me in a bath and wash my bum,
I’ll love you.
Take me frantic to the Vet’s,
I will love you,
Perhaps that’s putting
something too
fine of a point on it:
I will love you

if you rub me. 

The reference to the dog pushing his head between my shins and its connections to cows comes from Temple Grandin's research into cattle behaviour, where cows were made less stressed by being put into a device called a squeeze chute. At least that's how I remember it from the movie where Grandin used a smaller version of this to calm herself during anxiety attacks. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015


In silly celebration of a National Poetry Day in New Zealand...28th Aug, 2015


Okey-dokey, I don’t know whether
argy-bargy between us (or maybe
argle-bargle) will bring on a display of
hari-kari. That’s hardly super-duper
suitable for a namby-pamby,
wishy-washy, dilly-dallying,
shilly-shallying sort of
person who can never make up their
mind – I’m assuming the
indefinite gender here (unrelated to
my indefinite mind).

Indefinite, in itself, is a clear case of
zig-zaggying around a mumbo-jumbo
subject, the kind of subject only
some hoity-toity riff-raff,
some arty-farty ping-pong,
(or whiff-waff)-playing person,
heading helter-skelter,
higgeldy-piggedly into the
nitty-gritty hokey-pokey
hodge-podge, will manage to
make sense of. 

Jeepers-creepers, all you
lardy-dardy raggle-taggle,
you topsy-turvy-thinking
flim-flam fiddle-faddling
harum-scarums, you
fuzzy-wuzzy hobson-jobsons,
you hugger-muggers, you
see-sawing mish-mash of
pell-mells rushing nitty-
grittied into a chock-a-block
heebie-jeebied hocus-pocus
hubble-bubble willy-nilly:

why don’t you get up early?
Just a teensie-weensie, itsy-
bitsy little bit early?

That’d stop the hurly-burly. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

From a louse

The results of the Dunedin Robert Burns Poetry Competition were published in the Otago Daily Times this morning. The winning poems aren't in the online edition, though they did appear in the printed version today. I'd imagine they'll turn up on the Public Library website in due course.

Once again I didn't make the cut (out of a surprisingly small number of entries - only 32 in all) The three entries that did win their respective sections all went in for Scots dialect strongly (requiring translations alongside the originals!) and are quite lengthy. Mine has the merit of being short and mostly not using Scots dialect, apart from a couple of words. It's also not autobiographical, in case anyone thinks it might be.

From a louse

On reading Robbie’s To a Louse
(Preferring it to To a Mouse)
I stomp all sullen round the house
And strunt so rarely
I waken up my sleeping spouse
Who hits me squarely.

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
Here from discerning spouses free us
With all their earthly power to see us
Clearly near and far;
Would enable us to safely be us
As we truly are.

Then in our smeddum we would strut,
(Pulling in our gut and butt)
And criticism out would shut
With deafened ears,
Cast off each unwanted smut
While downing beers.

We’d view ourselves forever young,
Climb safely up each corporate rung,
Fling curt bon mots from off our tongue,
Be never in a flap;
Each beauteous thought not seen as dung
Or spoken of as crap.

No longer louse to great giraffes
We’d climb up on the PowerPoint graphs
Fly far above our better halfs...
Yes, dreams are free,
And dear departed Robbie laughs:
O wad the giftie gie.

Dialect words:
Strunt: swagger
Smeddum: spirit

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

#gigatowndunedin twibe goes to lunch launch

#gigatowndunedin twibe goes to lunch launch

Dedicated to @GigaKath

Tyre hits the kerb with a graunch,
shake my head, tell myself to stay staunch;
don’t know what’s bigger: the haunch,
or the paunch.

We’re meeting for a lunch launch
But we’re not launching a lunch.

From Twitter I’ve gleaned, had a hunch,
that a bunch have come for a munch
at this cafe, the Large Mouthful Crunch ˗
and some punch.

We’re meeting for a lunch launch
But we’re not launching a lunch. 

The twibe says we’re all going Dutch
though they know I’m a really soft touch;
I order Pie Peasgood NonSuch.
There’s too much.

We’re meeting for a lunch launch
But we’re not launching a lunch. 

Inside LMC there’s a stench
Not from a wench but a Mensch:
a zombie's come out of his trench ˗
for to quench.

We’re meeting for a lunch launch
But we’re not launching a lunch. 

And now there’s a hold-up, a hitch ˗
some tweeters say it’s a glitch ˗
the zombie has started to itch
and to twitch.

We’re meeting for a lunch launch
But we’re not launching a lunch.

I dive for the big serving hatch,
but its shape mine doesn’t quite match,
and the haunch and the paunch they both catch ˗
and attach.

We’re meeting for a lunch launch
But we’re not launching a lunch. 

The whole things a bit of a botch,
a regular Twitter hotch-potch
(there’s a terrible pain in my crotch)
Need a Scotch.

We’re meeting for a lunch launch
But we’re not launching a lunch. 

So Twitters who go out to dine
To keep things right on cloud nine.
Leave the zombies at home
And don’t let them roam ˗
If you want to avoid being the equivalent of a gastronomic land-mine gag-line.

This piece of nonsense is the result of a tweet written by @GigaKath amongst those using the hashtag gigatowndunedin which read: that's the time we're aiming 4 but I'll confirm as I'm trying to organise food as well for launch lunch

Friday, February 28, 2014


My name is Jerome and I’m coming home.
Homecoming, homecoming.

No more down-dumbings,
no more other people’s flats-slummings: I’m
homecoming, homecoming.

No more side of the road lift-thumbings,
no more all of my life up-gummings,
no more soul-numbing depth-plumbings,
homecoming, homecoming.

My name is Jerome, when I last took a comb
to the hair on my dome and it shone like chrome
I was guitar-thrumming, some birds humming.
Now I’m homecoming, homecoming.

And I know Ma ‘n’ Pa could have brung me by car,
cos it ain’t all that far through the Muzzipat Scar...
Still: homecoming, homecoming.

My name is Jerome. I’m coming home.
Homecoming. Homecoming.

Friday, January 17, 2014

At Night…

At Night…

this house tells of
sudden thumps
and untouched cries.
I discover a hall full of
leftover footfalls,
the aftertaste of
unmade beds,
mantels not dusted,
stacked plates
gasping for water.
A fly wakes at four
desperate for daylight,
and an orphaned cat
whispers at the door...
with claws.

 First draft 1998 - this is a revised version

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Mysteries of poems

I don't normally comment on other people's poems on this blog, and I doubt that this post will be the beginning of a trend....  However, I came across a poem the other day by a poet previously unknown to me, Joan Naviyuk Kane, and I made some notes on Evernote about it. The poem appealed in some way I couldn't put my finger on initially, and yet strictly speaking I couldn't make much sense of it.  I've written a few poems of my own that didn't make much 'sense' either, because basically they were collage poems, or 'found' poems (words taken from somewhere else and 'formed' into a poem) - examples: Twitter Collage Poem, Zen Poem, and Evernote Collage 2.  So I can't in any way criticize other poets who write in a surreal sort of way. However, I thought I'd review the notes I wrote and add them here, as a way of reflecting further on the poem. 

Here's the poem, which Ms Kane has very kindly given me permission to reproduce. 

Mysteries of Light
Joan Naviyuk Kane
Loosen the ropes.
Seven lances in her heart put forth blossoms.

Beneath a torrent, refuge—
As a little child with a medallion of chased gold

Aboard a ship, with birds
About her shoulder and a magpie on her hand.

An axe lodged in the roof,
A wolf whose mouth will proclaim.

One breast on a plate. Stone in hand.
Red egg, wool, sometimes a wound in her forehead.

Called to the ditches alongside the mine roads,
A continuation of things we do wrong.

Already, coming back to it, I see I've misread something in it. This is the advantage of taking time over a poem. You begin to see what the writer actually said rather than what you think they said. This is why it's good to memorize poems: you get behind the apparent facade and discover more of the house inside.

Nevertheless, be aware that these notes are fairly bitsy, hardly what you'd call a concerted critical opinion. 

Firstly, a poem like this leaves the readers to do most of the work, leaves them to find meanings and connections. This isn't to say there isn't any meaning intended by the author, just that the author hasn't plainly set the meaning out for the reader to see. It's a bit like a cryptic crossword: you have to learn to read the clues the way the compiler intended them before you can begin to work out the answer.

So what do readers do with a poem like this? If they're already of a poetic bent, I guess they get on and try to discover the meaning(s), or, maybe more likely, find the meaning slipping away from them just when they think they've grasped it!  If the reader is a person struggling with poetry, then this sort of poem may put them off...unless they happen to 'get' something about it. I guess this is part of what happens when we collide with a poem, especially a poem like this where everything seems to be set in place for a reason yet the reason isn't obvious. Even the title appears to have no connection to the rest of the poem. 

The first stanza has a kind of sense, but apart from the assonance of 'loosen' and 'blossoms' what do the two lines have to do with each other? Does the reader decide? Are there clues from the author?  Is the woman with the heart someone who appears elsewhere in the poem?

The second stanza starts with a seeming paradox, a kind of variation on the calm inside the storm. But while that latter phrase speaks of a real thing, this torrent/refuge idea takes a bit of thinking about. Under what torrent could you find a refuge? I guess a refuge from other circumstances, or other troubles. 

When I re-read the poem again just now, I realised the fourth line moves on into the fifth and sixth. I don't know that I'd ever heard the expression 'chased gold' until now. Seemingly it means this: Chased gold is a sheet of gold on which patterns have been cut. If artistic and beautiful designs are cut or indented on metals like gold or silver, they are chased.

Okay, that's a clearer picture, though how does the child with the medallion aboard ship, amongst birds, connect to the refuge beneath the torrent?  This is where a proper critic would probably bring up all sorts of references that I'm missing, and I would go, Oh. That's what that phrase refers to. The proper critic, however, is apparently on annual leave, and hasn't taken his cellphone or laptop, so I'll have to rely on my own limited thoughts here.

Apart from the meaning of the third stanza, there's a nice assonance between the phrases 'aboard the ship' and 'about her shoulder.'  There's a surreal feel to this picture, as though suddenly Salvador Dali or Magritte had climbed up the rope ladder into the poem and hung up some of their typical surrealist props. Birds about the shoulders almost brings in a Madonna-like picture, but who does the magpie belong to?

Initially, in relation to the next stanza, I wrote: an axe lodged in a roof is a phrase that has a sense of violence about it, a contrast to the previous birds imagery. But why does the wolf have a mouth that will proclaim, and anyway, who invited him in?  Could the axe and the wolf be indicative in any way of the 'torrent' that the woman needs to take refuge from?  

Okay, the one breast on a plate in the fifth stanza is an interesting image; if a reality, then where's the other breast? (Forgive me if this sounds facetious.) Is the woman leaning on the table, one breast on the plate, one on something else? Is she so bound up in her thoughts she doesn't realise quite where she's placed herself?

Again these next lines are what I wrote as my first can see I'm not quite drowning, but the life jacket doesn't seem to be properly in place either. Stone in hand? This is the first of several concrete images that seem not to have any connection - 'red egg?' - what's a red egg? - red inside an egg might signify something to do with insemination, conception, etc, but 'wool?' - that seems very random, except for the way it's echoed by 'wound.' Stone, hand, wound, forehead, all have connecting consonants, but...what's their connecting meaning? 

And lastly: who's called? To do what? And how is this a continuation of anything, let alone what we do wrong?  

You can see that I'm plainly no literary/poetic critic.  I'm plugging along here pretending that I'm getting somewhere but feeling more than a little lost.  This isn't Ms Kane's fault in the slightest. While I've quibbled in the past about poems such as this that seem random (to me), I've slowly, over the years, mostly found ways to get to grips with them. That doesn't mean to say I've got to grips with them in the same way the poet intended (!) but perhaps that isn't the point. An abstract painting may speak differently to different people, and it's unlikely the artist is going to complain. An art critic may find all sorts of things in that painting that the average Joe won't necessarily see - or maybe even want to see. As long as the work speaks in some measure to them, that should be enough for the artist. For composers it's even worse/better: the majority of serious compositions have no programme, no intention except to be music. I guess there are some composers who set out to write something that says this at this point and that at that. My suspicion is that many composers 'merely' write, and let the music do its own thing with its audience. Which it will.

One last thought. It sometimes helps to know something about the author of a poem, about their circumstances, what their passions are. The link under Ms Kane's name leads to an interview with her. It may well help in the reading of this poem.