I really like the idea of Poems in the Waiting Room. Poetry is a wonderfully portable form of writing – most poems are so small, you can read them anywhere, in any amount of time. I used to love the Poems in the Underground in London. I’d like to see poetry everywhere – on buses, in shop windows, outside lifts, in all sorts of waiting rooms and waiting stations. Poems are a good size for facebook posts and for emailing too, so let’s.
I read poetry pretty much every day. I go the The Page – a website which collects up essays and poems from all over the internet – and see what has been posted. I get terrifically excited when a new book comes out by someone like Kate Camp, Bill Manhire, Anne Kennedy, Paula Green, Robert Sullivan, Jenny Bornholdt, Helen Rickerby or Ian Wedde. I looked forward to Ashleigh Young’s Magnificent Moon for months, and read it from cover to cover without putting it down. C K Stead’s “Jump” sequence in his book The Black River is one of the most powerful and terrifying pieces of writing I’ve ever read – I began to fear and thrill to the word “jump” as it accrued more and more metaphysical power throughout the sequence.
This year has been taken up for me with writing poetry set in Late Republican Rome (round about 62 – 54 BC) in the imagined voice of Clodia Metelli, usually identified as the real life lover of Catullus, the poet who wrote a series of love poems addressed to the character he calls “Lesbia.” Writing poems that tell a story, and that address another person, and respond to poems already written, has been so much fun. I never wanted to finish, except at the same time I wanted to be able to read what I had written. Some of the poems I wrote in metre – Sapphic, elegiac and hendecasyllabic – which I recommend also for the fun of it.
I have a job lecturing at Victoria University. Sometimes I run a course in poetry, which I love more than anything else, but I also lecture in a literary history course (I do the more modern sections, from Victorian literature to postmodern), in American literature and in children’s literature. I live in Island Bay with my husband and two children. No one is very interested in my poetry, the children (teenagers) not at all. We have two cats and a couple of years ago, having had a pet hen as a child, I bought myself hens which I love to distraction. I have to remind myself not to keep talking about them all the time to everyone, and then I discover that there is someone who has never even once heard the story about how the chick nearly got eaten by a cat. When the children were smaller we kept mice, and for years afterwards I continued to have dreams in which I was rescuing mice from cats or, often, from flood waters, having to find them safe havens. My son, now eighteen, has recently moved back home and this weekend rescued a mouse from a cat which he is now keeping in a box in his room. Dream material for years to come.
The poem selected for Poems in the Waiting Room is called “Johnny’s minute,” and it is about my son needing my attention as a small child. Now he is eighteen it is more complicated. This poem “Hansel in the house” takes the first part of the Hansel and Gretel story as a way of thinking about how much harder it is to accommodate a teenager in the house, how hard it is from the teenager’s point of view, why they need to get out.
Hansel in the house
When you lie in your bed at night
hearing your parents talking?
That’s the sound of your coffin
being assembled for you to climb in.
That’s when you have to get out
of the house, of their life.
And all you want from them
is to leave the door open.
All you want…
All you want is for them
never to wish you were gone.
And the poem “Sabina, and the chain of friendship” has a hen in it, which I think adds a bit of interest to a poem that is mostly just based around a bit of friendship-theory. I quite like poems that offer up small ideas or theories, and this loyalty theory I thought was quite a good one. I think I might have made it up myself.
Sabina, and the chain of friendship
Sabina sits holding a hen looking more
like a hen than the hen looks.
It is her face, lifted up, the way
hens lift up their faces, wary,
or the way they eye each other up
a little lofty, a little haughty.
Sabina has a theory about loyalty:
talking behind their backs
is only disloyal down the chain:
you don’t criticise your best friend
to a new friend but you can criticise
a good friend to your best friend or
the new friend to a better friend.
Boyfriends gradually get worked up
the chain till, when you can criticise
your best friend to them, but
not them to your best friend, that’s
how you know it is time to marry them.
The dream that you are walking over glass
to reach the other man?
You don’t tell that to anyone.