Posts Tagged: Poetry


Coles Notes (1967) Dictionary of Poetical Terms. Toronto: Coles.


This book is very old, and a slim students guide. It’s OK but not great - it is very difficult to elucidate meanings in a dictionary when it just refers you to another term instead of explaining it directly e.g. ‘measure’ sends you to 3 other terms.  And it was definitely not brave enough to go into the quagmire (it seems) of differentiating imperfect rhyme, near rhyme, slant rhyme, half rhyme etc. However this is all a bit pedantic, and definitely not necessary at this level of writing poetry (and maybe any level!)


Bornholt, J. (1997) Miss New Zealand: selected poems. Wellington: Victoria University Press

Cover blurb: ‘This is a generous selection of the four books that have made Jenny Bornholt one of NZ’s most popular and widely read poets.’

Yep – chose 4 poems at random – all good (IMHO):

1)      ‘MAKE SURE’ – prose poem. Meaning is straight forward. Word flow great - no superfluous words, minimal punctuation (only where needed), really good series of images (in lines with ‘lip tremble’ and ‘he’ll be alright”)

2)      ‘READING THE BODY’ - Yay – free verse, very variable line length, straight forward images that sing (I’m getting fond of this poet already). Love the first two longer stanza’s on an X-rayed body

‘the way the hip bones

lie like an open book’

How many times have I looked at that gracious expansion of bone: it flowers out like a welcome on X-ray. All of the poem is successful (IMHO) e.g. here’s the last of the little ‘painting’ stanzas:

The body as desire

‘The body


A body

Any body

Just not its

Own body.’

She really gives the body an independent life of its own – integrity.


A LOT of enjambement. A real NZ poem in topic. Very easily read, totally easy to follow – e.g. uses italics for speech (which is often inside lines), great images e.g.

“ …He tapped the coil

And the fuel pump to try to

make it go. Greg came back

with petrol but that didn’t help.’

2)      ‘WHALE.’ Then, of course (because I’m bloody-minded?) I had to search for one that jarred on me. Obscure meaning but beautiful words. I’m too busy to try and sort out her meaning, or assign my own meanings. But lovely words and images:

‘trace the salted slipstreams

of blue journeys

swim with the sleek sides gentle roll’

The whole second half of the poem makes sense, but what has her father (in the first half) got to do with it? e.g. ‘My father is a whale/ I want to save him from extinction.’ The obvious meaning doesn’t quite gel - and I have no time for this! (Such puzzles are for quiet places where one has time, not for busy NMIT semesters!) Anyhow: free verse with lots of rhythm and alliteration (e.g. ‘learn the lingo’/ ‘walks out into the waves’/ and see all those ‘s’s in the lines above).


Hi Dad,

Gone away now

Dead in the greenhouse

And I never had the chance

To say…

              to talk…

                            to know you.

I was too young

Twenty years too young

To understand what you knew.

So our talk was just surface

And I never did find out what you were.

You were honed in the war

Five years on the North Sea convoys

And in the Pacific Fleet.

You never talked about the war

But when it was necessary you

wrapped wadding around an iron bar

and sorted the men out.

Those big Samoans and Tongans

Their blood up

Found something else to do

When you broke up fights in the smoko room

You’d been honed Dad

By the war.

You knew yourself

Then used your strength to endure

The next 40 years.

Oh Dad

I wish I could have talked to you

Now that I am honed by five similar years

And have had the same long life

For strength to come to fruition

We could have talked, you and I


Edmond, L. and Sewell, B (eds.) Essential New Zealand Poems. Auckland: Godwit.

I opened it at random and chose 6 consecutive poems to read:

·        Bob Orr: My Fathers bomber jacket. Easy to read, one simple image. 

·        Bob Orr: Container Terminal. First reading jarred – ‘tracks across the tide’ = tracks conveys earth not sea to me, but I worked out what he meant (ships’ wakes) on second reading. The poem has half a dozen connected images that flow into each other quite easily.

·        Chris Orsman: Ornamental gorse. Some words didn’t feel right to me (obsequious, reprise, tangential, reluctant). Maybe reading it again tomorrow will improve my enjoyment. (Familiarity with the image can often defuse initial irritation with words)

·        Chris Orsman: The Last Tent. Again occasional irritating word (why does he use the ‘providential’ cry). His thought a bit obscure – ‘the grief he’d all but tutored himself in’ = death? And ‘for which he must soon be bound’ – on his legs, or in a skua’s belly? (Need to read again.)

·        Vincent O’Sullivan: In Parliament grounds. Not too keen on ‘preordinations’ and ‘perdurable’. I had to look up the words in a dictionary, and still feel they don’t fit.

·        Vincent O’Sullivan: July, July. Obvious rhyme (X, A Y A) which is done well, even glove/love! Some lovely images e.g. stanzas 3 & 5, and lines ‘there’s a shine and flicker to the wind’ and mountains ‘with their withers of snow’. But overall? Ho Hum!

         It’s obvious I didn’t get much pleasure out of reading these poems the first time. Why?

·        Perhaps I need familiarity with some poems. (Not all though, I must say.)

·        I know I like ‘nature poems’ and, if it’s about humanity, complex ideas expressed simply. I am NOT into obscurity. Say it plainly hey?

         So, after another couple of readings:

·         I’ve realized some poems are immediately accessible (plain English) – think of TS Eliot’s Journey of the Magi, and it’s not unique –there are umpteen thousand of poems where you walk right in to the image and/or writers thoughts. So if poems are more obscure I tend to take a ‘pass it by - I haven’t got time for this’ attitude. Along the lines of George Wither’s poem: Shall I, Wasting In Despair

And unless that mind I see,

What care I how great she be?

·        However, having been stuck in some strange places with nothing but my trusty book of verse with me, I know by experience that if I put some effort in, I can supply my own images and understandings (probably not at all what the poet intended), and then the lovely rhythms and words will sing along to me.

·        So reading these poems again has been productive. I have puzzled thru the more obscure one’s to supply meanings that suit me. Then of course, I get the treat of clear images – e.g. In the Last Tent I’ve decided he’s going to die in that blizzard and get carted back to the coast in a skua’s belly (most satisfactory). I have also assigned my own images to the words that jarred me (e.g. preordinations > groundsmen cleaning the statue). July July is no longer ho hum, because I have got that Wellington weather firmly in my mind’s eye. And ‘perdurable shacking’ is firmly entrenched in my mind as a bird’s nest (which the writer intended I think).

·        I also played around looking at some technicalities: full-rhyme, slant rhyme, some lovely alliteration, syllabic poems (no), sonnet forms - the search for forms is tedious actually.


Manhire, B. (ed) (1993) 100 New Zealand poems. Auckland: Godwit.


Golly – this is fun. There are a lot of NZ poems here I don’t know from my trusted 1960 NZ anthology. I spent a few days enjoying these poems. Here’s a couple:

1.      Fleur Adcock ‘For a Five-Year-Old.’ Has a fabulous flowing rhythm, and the rhyme scheme is not at all clunky (a bb cc dd a). Is not at all obscure, and generally the poem is just great! (Now if I could write like that it would be worth doing…)

2.      C.K.Stead “At the Grave of Governor Hobson’. Starts as blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter) – I didn’t follow it all the way thru, but last line the same. I love the meaning (esp. after the Treaty week we have been thru), and it’s got some great images (e.g. Kiri Te Kanawa and ghetto-blasters.)

Just heaps of enjoyable poetry in this anthology: e.g. Margaret Mahey’s ‘Bubble Trouble’; A.R. Simmons ‘Pathway to the Sea’. I shall keep this book out for as long as possible and just cheer myself up reading poems (without analyzing anymore – I’m too busy!)


Cohen, L. (2011) Leonard Cohen: poems and songs London: Everyman.


I struggled with this book of poetry. Perhaps being caught up in Tenancy Tribunal cases with two of the more irresponsible of my tenants has made me uncharitable this week.

·        The poem ’I have two bars of soap’ where he has no money, so steals and kills instead – even if hyperbole – doesn’t appeal to me at all at the moment.

·        However the ‘Cuckold’s song’ is bearable, in fact really good - so I’ll have a look at that. Very low on obvious poetic imagery & language, but high on elegance of language and thought. (He’s thinking in verse.) Free verse, no rhyme; I started sounding out the stressed and unstressed beats (metre) then thought, why bother - I bet he didn’t!

·        Oops – maybe I’m assuming too much - the poem “One night I burned’ is in iambic pentameter and has 3 stanzas each of four lines, with the second and fourth lines of each rhyming. It’s very high on poetic language (‘sings’ etc) and imagery. (I think he deliberately decided to ‘write a poem’ rather than think aloud) E.g. stanza two;


 ‘Certain creatures of the air

Frightened by the night,

They came to see the world again

And perished in the light.’


Lovely, hey?

A few days later – in a much better temper (the little darlings who tried rooking their landlord are having their DPB docked), I pulled out the book again.  Not only am I now in a better mood for reading poetry, but later readings are always better than the first one for me. Wow – I really lit up with these poems this time. ‘The Cuckold’ has at least a half-dozen ‘pictures’ (scenes) that leap into the mind. It’s definitely the sort of poetry that appeals to me straight off – direct & clear language leading straight to the meaning. However on re-reading ‘One night I burned’ I saw the metaphor, and so now I wasn’t just delighted with the poetic form, but also had fun with the meaning. (No meaning to me = no fun for me!) As for the first poem ‘I have two bars of soap’ - I suspect it may have an underlying meaning (apart from what it is obviously saying.) But nothing (charitable!) occurs to me at present – the images and language are very pretty though.


During our poetry session on Ted Kooser, the topic came up of how certain you could be of your word count of nouns, verbs etc.

 Recently I talked to  Alison Taylor, a English teacher. She said the English language is so flexible you can use words any which way e.g. verbs/nouns - high-country run (noun) or he can run fast (verb)

Jan Venolia (2001) Write Right Berkeley Ca.: Ten Speed Press ‘The English language is remarkably adaptable. It allows us to shuffle parts of speech around, turning nouns into adjectives (milk carton), verbs into nouns (on the mend), nouns into verbs (to face), and adjectives into nouns (seeing red)’.

My conclusion = confusion! I’m still not sure: if a word is written in a sentence, in the place it is written – is it definitely a noun or verb etc, or can the reader still interpret it as he feels? Frozen still as a stone at the corner* of morning’(Ted Kooser).‘Corner’ would normally be a noun, but here I feel it is being used as a poetically descriptive word, and so an adjective. Or maybe it’s being used as a verb – in the sense of moving (cornering)?

I still need to check this further. If anybody knows - please share!


A little boy slapping hands,

With strangers along the walkway.

His skin like cool silk.


Re:  My found poem taken directly from Coetzee ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’

‘And what,’ Cliff wondered, ‘did the found poem say beyond Coetzee’s own ambit?’ Um - that’s an interesting question.

Wikipedia: ‘Found poetry is a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry by making changes in spacing and/or lines (and consequently meaning), or by altering the text by additions and/or deletions. The resulting poem can be defined as either treated: changed in a profound and systematic manner; or untreated: virtually unchanged from the order, syntax and meaning of the original’.

So (by accident) I wasn’t too far off (if at all) what is acceptable. But that’s not important at all. What is important to me is that I got a huge emotional effect out of the exercise. The found poem said nothing more than Coetzee said. All I did was change his prose to poetry with the word order unaltered, but to me the meaning was profoundly enhanced by doing so:


This is my own poem in appreciation of Coetzee’s prose passage:


He leans his forehead against the winter-pane,

I feel the cold glass too.

He waits,

I wait.

Boots shift on wooden boards -

I do not need to ask what he is feeling,

I see what he is seeing.

The dust rises orange,

It puffs along the ground.

The sentries stand cold at their posts,

The barbarians wait out the winter,

Together we await the spring invasion.

I do not need to ask what he is feeling,

There is only the thinnest separation between the man and me.


‘Now listen’ I say, sitting at the kitchen table. Liz laughs as she tears the lettuce. Ben looks up from a spread newspaper and sighs. ‘I am just reminding you …’ ‘Again,’ they chorus. I ignore them. ‘It’s a beautiful place,’ I say. ‘But remote,’ interjects Ben. ‘…Where you will spread my ashes when I die…’

‘The Poolburn Reservoir is a lake,’ I say, ‘a few acres in size. It’s high in the Central Otago tussock country. There’s a 4WD graveled track that comes in from the west.’ I hesitate. ‘Don’t try the eastern access,’ I say, ‘it’s usually impassable except to horses. And, oh – you can’t get up there during the winter – it’s all snowed in.’ Ben sighs. ‘I don’t even drive’ he says. ‘Well Liz does,’ I say, ‘so listen.’

‘The pipits will flick along in the grass, and there may be an occasional sheep, but otherwise it’ll be all quiet. Near the lake-shore is a small island; the grass is close-cropped by ducks. You can get to it if you take a kayak, but don’t try swimming - it’s too cold. Spread my ashes on the thin soil, or you can put the cardboard box in a shallow scrape.’

‘What’s the point of this Mum?’ Liz asks. ‘It’s the Paradise Ducks,’ I say. ‘They’ll graze the grass that grows on my ashes. Then I’ll be in their bones, and away I’ll fly.’

‘But don’t make the mistake of going to the Poolburn Gorge,’ I add anxiously. ‘I don’t want to be a falcon.’ The kids laugh.

‘Other mothers,’ Ben says, ‘are happy to be put under rose-bushes.’

‘Not me!’ I say. ‘Remember!’