posted by Michele Janet Charman and Cold Snack, winners of the 2008 Montana Poetry Award announced as part of Poetry Day, Friday 18 July. Janet was reading with others at Lopdell House in Titirangi that evening to a packed house. Across town at Poetry Central 08 in the Auckland City Library we were launching Bob Orr’s Calypso and the third of Jack Ross and Jan Kemp’s CD/text anthologies, New NZ Poets in Performance. Great to hear Chris Price, John Pule, Therese Lloyd, Mark Pirie, Anna Jackson and Jack read from their own work and then for someone who wasn’t able to be present (Anne Kennedy, Robert Sullivan, Jenny Bornholdt, John Newton, Greg O’Brien and Olivia Macassey respectively).
Bob’s new book is trenchant and full of delights. Try these (courtesy of Auckland UP):
I didn’t sail away because of Helen
she meant nothing to me in particular –
I had always found her vain
self centred and shallow.
Certainly she was beautiful
but no more so than any other Greek celebrity.
No I didn’t sail away because of Helen
as it happened she was just my great escape
away from my wife’s stony silences
from ploughing the poor soil of a rocky island
from mending nets ripped apart by sharks
from the small talk of fishermen
down at my local tavern –
that was the reason I sailed away.
thanks to our Greek drama queen Helen.
When she turned her face toward Troy
her nose like a beautiful rudder
altered the course of my life.
In her eyes there were peasant girls dancing
but when she smiled a viper slithered out of her lips –
to think that she gave birth to my twin epic poems.
I signed on with Odysseus
first as an AB and later on as bosun –
our spars made a forest all the way to the horizon.
As for Troy it was a plain of dust and death
best forgotten –
the retsina was so bad I took to lacing it with opium.
What a joke
we had to build a wooden horse as a weapon of mass destruction.
Drunk in a back street I was rolled for my last euro.
Blinded and left for dead after a battle
a veteran of that mad mid east adventure
in the guise of an old hag
I begged the long and lonely road home overland.
Sometimes in a village I would recite a poem for a salt sardine
and always in the back of my mind this crazy story getting bigger
like a purple octopus when it floats up to the surface.
This sharp beaked fair timbered well caulked deep sea epic.
I now sit bent in a dark question
by the salt violet Aegean.
A very old part of me sleeps beneath this pine.
A sadder and a wiser man
in the loom of these waves
I hear the living and the dead both speaking out of time.
Listen while I spin
An Orange Tree in Lebanon
I was not the burning girl in Vietnam
the ghostly child of starvation in Africa
neither was I the freedom fighter rotting in a field of sugar cane
I was not buried in a mass grave in Bosnia
tortured in a stadium in Chile
neither was I impounded in a dog kennel in Cuba.
I was not beaten to death in a police cell in Soweto
and I was never shot beneath the innocence of an orange tree
Yet all these disappearances have happened in my time.
In the back streets of my soul
which is a country with no name
poppies always bloom beneath the wall of midnight.
Therefore I must call the girl in Vietnam my daughter
the child in Africa my son
the freedom fighter in Nicaragua I could have known as a brother.
In a mass grave in Bosnia I saw the face of my best friend
the woman tortured in a stadium in Chile could once have been my lover
the forgotten man held in a cage in Cuba my neighbour.
In Soweto the blood on a police cell wall
was the last painting of my sister.
In Lebanon the orange tree was the tree of my own garden.