The Poem in the World: Sam Goodchild and Chesney McDonald

More from the students of the Poetry off the Page programme at the University of Auckland, who took stanzas of Ian's 'Shadow Stands Up' into the world.


'Shadow Stands Up' on the Link Bus at Rush Hour

Sam Goodchild and Chesney McDonald

Our part of the poem was stanza 1 and stanza 2.

Taking the poem into the community

'Shadow Stands Up' is a poem that has many allusions to memory, surfaces, reflections, depths and text. In the first two stanzas fragments of aurality, visuality and memory create a narrative that has punctuated areas of heightened response to the world that the poet inhabits, much like the alighting of people at bus stops - images mix and merge. This apparent movement and lingering is part of the essence of the poem, it reflects the process of its creation as disparate entries through the medium in which it was first published - the NZ Poet Laureate blog. The stanzas are posted there in between other bits and pieces of Ian Wedde’s musings and so on its first reading on the site it isn’t possible to interact with the poem without picking up other chunks of text and therefore experience. To take these stanzas out into the community we - Phoebe, Tara, Chesney and I, decided to give a public performance of them on the oft mentioned green link bus in the afternoon rush hour past Victoria Park. The poem which was originally embedded on the (digital) page and whilst there, Charles Bernstein would say, remains soundless and inert, was to be heard by being vocalised. In this instance a performance for the community on the bus and at the same time it was going to be recorded and digitally archived on the Poetry off the Page website.

I read the first stanza of the poem and Tara the second on a moving green link bus whilst it was recorded by Chesney and Phoebe who had mounted a transparency of the stanzas on the bus window to create worded shadows during the ride. The words would be silhouetted, reflected and projected on the inside of the bus. I was positioned at the front of the bus whilst Tara was towards the aft. Two readers were chosen in two different places to enhance an effect that the poem was both being derived from the community and being given back to it. The performance was to 'ameliorate a state of poverty [of public poetry] and provide for the needs of those who were without' as described as part of the gift economy (Joel Harrison).

The performance competed with the noise of traffic and the sound of the bus’ engine, and though every effort was made to deliver a clear performance it may well have been fragmentary for some of the audience. Sound bouncing off the hard windows with the added noise of traffic, as well as the jerking of the breaks required me to hold up my body against the prevailing velocity, creating the potential for the words to get squeezed out forcefully or fade in the humdrum just as chalk words faded away under the weather and underfoot in our earlier poetry on the pavement assignment - creating unintended partial readings from the disparate fragments. The bus too is an iconic representative of the city, a location where "we undergo connections and disconnections" with a mass of conflicting experiences (Paula Green). The performance highlights the transience and temporality of communities we form on a bus. The articulation of the poem at that time and place highlighted the shared geography of the city with all its diverse states of mind focused on the sense of place and community, giving a snap shot of the mind of a commuter’s experience of what appears to be the mundane bus ride and to my mind and hopefully others reminded us that we all inhabit these little worlds, cocooned by our thoughts and memories even in such a public place. Reading the poem in that time and place added "another semantic layer to the poem’s multiformity" its untotalisability, because "to perform... is to recompose it, to change it, to move it" and to be heard it must be sounded (Bernstein). Hopefully the community heard.

Bibliography

Bernstein, Charles. 'Close Listening.' Introduction to Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word (Oxford UP, 1998). Rpt. Electronic Poetry Center, SUNY Buffalo.

Paula Green, 'Curating the city.' Poetry on the Pavement 2005. nzepc feature.

Harrison, Joel. 'Web poetics and the gift economy.' Ka Mate Ka Ora: A NZ Journal of Poetry and Poetics 2 (July 2006).

Wedde, Ian. "Shadow Stands Up", "Shadow Stands Up #2", and "Shadow Stands Up #5". New Zealand Poet Laureate.

Biography

Sam Goodchild is a recent graduate of the University of Auckland in Geology, Biology and English. He has a keen interest in the natural world and how we humans fit into it and create our own spaces. The way we convey our experiences in the world is highly modified by language-hence my interest in English. Poetry and literature in particular provide an avenue to explore the continuum of our existence by their reflexivity.

Chesney McDonald is in the process of completing his final year at the University of Auckland, studying English and Film, Television and Media Studies. After University Chesney will be diving head first into the working world and writing for film and theatre.