Thursday, December 20, 2012

Notes on Ekphrasis

Creating poetry is more than just sitting down and writing “stuff” in a particular form. “Stuff” rarely materialises like manna, it must be found from somewhere.

Finding “stuff” to write about can be difficult. The notions of “writing what you know”, “write what you see around you” and “write from experience” are all good in principle, but when these sources seem exhausted, dry or repetitious and unchallenging, it can be useful to take a break and borrow material from somewhere else. I do not believe that everything should be written from direct experience and as a scientist, I would be peculiarly stunted if I started experimenting or theorising based only my own experience.

Other artists provide a useful source of material, usually “pre-sorted”. I suspect few artists create work from material they think unimportant, so looking at a piece of art gives an already considered source. I often chose paintings and photographs as a source, often for an exercise rather than with the deliberate intention to write a poem. Interestingly, I choose the work, I am not forced to a given work. I tend to approach this material in different ways, sometimes taking them at face value, sometimes with a more cynical eye. Sometimes my approach changes during the exercise.

The choice provides more than a source, it also provides constraints to the writing. The style of the source is often reflected in the writing style, for example, the impression of simplicity in Spencer’s “St Francis and the Birds” is reflected in the simple style of the resulting poem. Constraints may be subverted when the source acts as a catalyst to a wider ranging piece as in “So we all find the shore before sunset”, based on Turner’s allegorical “War.The Exile and the Rock Limpet”.

Although it is dangerous to mix sources, I find contrasting pieces, often in different genres, can provide a mid-ground that provides valuable thinking space. The poem “Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère, Édouard Manet, 1882″ was originally based not on the painting itself, but on Copolla’s film “Lost in Translation”. The painting provided the material, the film the constraints.

Sometimes it is not the image that provides the material, but the technique. My Marilyn poems are often based on photographs, but one in particular “The digital enhancement of photographs of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio” is based not on the image, but the enhancement techniques.

Ekphrasis has moved on since the days where it just involved detailed description of other artists’ work and this progress makes it a valuable resource for writing. By providing already processed material it provides constraints but also different approaches for the writer and even new ways of thinking.

Friday, December 7, 2012

War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet

So we all find the shore before sunset

War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet
J.M.W. Turner, 1842

A cat may look at a king,
an exile may look at a rock limpet.
In rust-red, a doomed sun rides down,
haunts the sky and sea.
Tents on a battlefield look beautiful,
ethereal ghosts blown by wind
from fight to failure, ripped and ruined,
hanging from barren orchards, orange
in the salt marsh dusk.
                       Limpets grip
grimly to hard hats, strong
against gyre and flow, ever resisting,
grinding moats and entrenching
sockets into hollowed rock.

Mists sink as spectres, clean
of mire and mortality, stare
from eyeless orbits.
                        A cat may look at a king,
an emperor may look at a rock limpet,
while we, each one of us,
watched by an all-seeing guard,
cling on.

© Martin Porter 2012

This poem is an exercise piece, based on Turner’s painting in the Tate Britain. The poem uses a combination of colour palette and composition, scene setting and the introduction of ideosyncratic imagery in an attempt to emulate Turner’s vision. The introduction of the cliche (dating from as far back as 1562) “a cat may look at a king” is intended to reflect the odd image of the rock limpet in the painting. Using the cliche also aids the inversion of the emperor looking at the rock limpet and it is this inversion that is one of the crucial elements of the poem’s central question of who is in control here.

Other elements are also in play. The ghost-like tents as a metaphor of the spectral group of presumed dead army also reflects the conical shell of the limpet, and the hard hats of the limpet reflect the armour of the dead infantry. The motion of the sea is used as a metaphor of the ebb and flow of military campaigning. The similarity of sound between “guard” and “god” is also intentional.

What else is central to the poem? The inclusion of the audience, perhaps of the painting or perhaps of the poem, to make a final thought was important. I did not want to leave without the thought that we, all of us, may be in some way responsible for war, not necessarily directly, but possibly by our lifestyle choices, our wilful ignorance (or ignore-ance) of the desperation of others or just sheer indifference to our societal responsibilities.

Although an exercise piece, this poem has something to say, difficult as it must be to anyone who comes to it cold. This has grown from a simple collection of ideas from a painting to encompass contemporary and disturbing concepts.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Horse in Winter

Horse in Winter

Uffington, 1964

chalk supple
stretch in mid-stride
holds my stare
to the downs

sharp silhouetted
clean profiled
the eye a stop
to my eye

snow fall
from nowhere
covers the grass

look to the scarp
to see the horse
as nothing

© Martin Porter 2012

This is a simple descriptive piece with no punctuation. The “i” is left lower case as using a capital “I” gives it a significance that is not necessary in the poem.

Poems with limited punctuation can raise controversy. Avoiding the obvious punctuation maintains the simplicity of the description, relying on the line and stanza breaks to provide the indicators for the reader.

To further assist the reader the location and date of the event being recalled is included.

The Uffington Horse is one of the more famous ancient monuments in England and has been well preserved, despite the occasional defacement as an act of vandalism of for ill-judged publicity.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Poetry on the Move in Guernsey

I am honoured that “My Lover is a Rainstorm” is one of the poems features in the Poetry-on-the-Move project in Guernsey.

The poem will be displayed on Guernsey buses and at Guernsey airport in time for the Second Guernsey Literary Festival featuring Roger McGough, Gillian Clarke, Carol Ann Duffy, Candy Neubert, Michael Morpurgo, Louis de Bernières among others. Click on this link to visit their website.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Lagoon at Ngunguru

Lagoon at Ngunguru is a poem written as an exercise. I have three versions here, each using different line lengths, with only minor changes to the text. I have maintained three stanzas in each version.

Lagoon at Ngunguru
A spit in the sea, a dribble of sand,
white tussocked and strong,

haunt of hidden birds, their soft secret calls
skimming the surface, crying over

water, smooth, polished and buffed
for crossing with delicate footsteps.

Lagoon at Ngunguru
spit in the sea
dribble of sand
white tussocked

haunt of hidden birds
soft secret calls
skimming the surface

water so smooth
polished and buffed
for crossing with delicate

Lagoon at Ngunguru

in the sea

of hidden birds
secret calls
the surface

so smooth
for crossing
with delicate

The line length changes the speed of reading. Interestingly I find the first slower to read on the page, but faster to read aloud. I prefer the second version because it splits the observations into line-sized chunks, but the coupling of ideas in the first version has an appeal,as does the detail offered by the third version, with one “concept” on each line. The third version also provides a fulcrum at the mid-point, the line “secret calls” as well as pleasing mid-points for each stanza.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Shell (Easter Monday, April 9th 1917)

(Easter Monday, April 9th 1917)

“I simply watched the shells changing the landscape”
- Edward Thomas

No man can take this land, it is nature’s own
Shimmering under full moon, and poppies autumn sown.
A long night exposed, watching, peaceful in the dark,
Listening to the thud, a dud, so close but still, no blast.

A shell of frost on mud in early dawn of day
Turns quick to blood red streams throughout the clay
Into the ditches, limp bleeding streams,
Along the other tracks he might have been.

Nettles have no peace to grow among the plough
Shares rusting in the burnt barns wrecked by fire.
Empty shell of snail holed by the thrush, now
Beak bladed open in the filthy mire.

A watcher turns field glasses towards an armoured sky
To the projectile falcon, at its summit,
Ready to drop. The shell still hovers higher.
Incessant noise, then autopsied flesh, then quiet.

“He was killed on Easter Monday by a shell”
- Helen Thomas

Shell (Easter Monday, April 9th 1917) is a simple poem paying homage to Edward Thomas, an English poet with a long writing career but short duration writing poetry. Thomas was a professional writer and was encouraged to publish his poetry by Robert Frost. A brief outline of their friendship and the consequences of Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is available in an article in the UK newspaper “The Guardian”. Edward Thomas enlisted in the British army during the First World War and died on the first day of the Battle of Arras.

Thomas wrote at a time of immense change, breaking free from the constraints of Georgian poetry but not stretching as far as the modernist approach of Eliot, for example. Nevertheless, Thomas provides a peculiarly structured yet loose portrayal of England (rather than Britain) at the time of WW1.

In this poem there is a reference to Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” as well as Thomas’ poetry, particularly “Tall Nettles” supplemented by Yeat’s “Second Coming”, a post-war poem containing savage and mystical imagery and sharing the evolutionary path in British poetry that Thomas might have taken, had he not been killed in 1917.

Rhyme in this poem has been carefully controlled and disrupted in an attempt to display the evolutionary state of poetry at the time, as has the metre. Formal rhyming schemes come in and out of focus, initially aabb, but moving to a slant-rhymed abab at the final stanza.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Reading at the Mokaba Bar, Whangarei

New Zealand National Poetry Day is today, and Whangarei celebrated early with readings at the Mokaba Bar on Wednesday. I read new poems spread over two slots. The poems are all unpublished and included “Downtown”, "The Evolution of the Universe”, “Hare in a Glacial Sequence”, “Sunday after the Abbatoir”, “Lazarus and Martha at Tikipunga Falls” and “Maiden Voyage Wreckage”.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

For... - Not Haiku

For Yuri

Filling new space moves
In circles, then falls back to Earth.

For Neil

Fly a figure of eight
To the Moon
For the dust of your age.

For my son

There are no secrets.
We offered you space
And gave you nothing.

© Martin Porter 1995

This is a sequence of three poems, dating from 1995 but somehow has managed to stand the test of time and may even be more relevant now than when it was written.

The poems are not haiku, nor were they ever intended to resemble haiku. The syllable count does not correspond to the usual 5,7,5 of a modern english-language haiku and the sequence of thoughts in each line does not follow the seasonal aspect, cutting through or reconciling that is frequently found in haiku.

The sequence is built from three poems of three lines, a structure that appealed to my sense of elegance in structure. Each poem contains fifteen syllables. The poems become increasingly structured, until the last poem which consists of three lines of five syllables. This movement from relative freedom to a more restricted form was intended to convey a corresponding movement from sixties freedom, to the more restrictive eighties. The final poem reflects the sense of disappointment as the idealism of the sixties collapses into the unregulated “greed is good” era ushered in by the mid-eighties. As such there is a polemic in both the structure and presentation of subject matter, perhaps not obvious. Even if this had not been intentional (which it was), living through the passing of manned Moon missions and the resultant change in perspective and subsequent disappointment would most likely have coloured my writing at the time.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

How to Grow Avocado

How to Grow Avocado

I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do
- Willa Cather, “O Pioneers”

Choose your sapling carefully.

If planting bare rooted,
Ensure the roots can spread
In an elegant fan, else
Dig a pit just deep enough,
But not too deep,
To take the root ball,
Gently guide
The root tips downward to ensure
A good, firm anchor.

They say it takes
Seven summers
For this tender tree
To mature. That’s not
Too long to wait.
Rich, oily fleshed and puckered
Dark skinned fruit
Worth waiting for

Weigh down its broad leaved
Reaching branches,
So vigorous I have to prune it
To perhaps three
Or four times my own height,
Or reduce it by the
Careful grafting of its leg
Onto another foot.

And at its centre
The polished nut,
Seems almost systole, pumping
Future sap in woody veins to
Wrinkled skin on sunburnt lips, or
Palms of a gardener’s hands.

I lean on one leg on my spade
And wonder “Should I
Dig this pit through
The midpoint of the Earth
And out the other side?"

But here, the air
Is much too warm,
The soil too rich,
To lose, by just one
Careless footfall
Slipping gently
To cold winter,
Rotting windfalls.

© Martin Porter 2006

"How to Grow Avocado" is a poem that benefitted from comments made by critical friends.

The origins of the poem come from a workshop several years before the poem was conceived (see entry in this blog: Lunch in Marco's Kitchen) where recipe poetry was discussed. The recipe has been replaced by a set of instructions on avocado cultivation. The movement from these basic instructions to the more personal wistfulness evolved naturally as the poem was written.

The poem in its original draft was less disciplined. It had the same movement as this version, but the conclusing two stanzas were considerably longer, and the first few stanzas had longer lines. By editing the final two stanzas, the poem became more compact and elegant, but the longer lines of the start of the poem became top heavy and inelegant. Splitting the lines and editing out unnecessary adjectives gave the poem greater internal consistency. Critical friends then gave their opinions on the poem and the final stanza, in particular, was further edited making it less explicit and more meditative.

The poem was published in the 52/250 A Year of Flash blog in 2011.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Reading at the Thirsty Dog, Auckland

Poetry Live has regular performances and open mike at the Thirsty Dog on the K. Road in Auckland. I read three poems, “The Wrong Place”, “Callan in Black and White” and “The digital enhancement of photographs of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio”.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Encountering the Other

>Language>Place Blog Carnival edition #15: Encountering the Other features the blog entry “The Ghost at the Old Lychgate, St Mary, Berkhamsted” as one of the exhibits. If you have not visited a blog carnival before, take the chance to visit this multinational offering when you can.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Tree at Michaelmas

The Tree at Michaelmas

The tree at Michaelmas was always bare,
Its pale branches stretched across the sky.
In contrast to the grey clouds there
Were ruddy veil like twigs held high.

The veins of sap were still alive
Hid deep below a show of death.
And we feared it might not survive
As the cold air could freeze our breath.

Just one bold robin filled its twigs with song
And blue tits perched in rings around its crown,
Until one day a strong man came along,
Took up his axe and chopped it down.

© Martin Porter 2001

“The Tree at Michaelmas” is an original poem, written on a chilly day in September in an office but recalling the view from a conservatory window. The details are straightforward, the rhyming scheme is a similarly simple abab, and the scansion is unsophisticated, despite the variation from pentameter to tetrameter and back again. The three stanzas each appear to handle single concepts on first reading, until the final stanza, where the last two lines introduce some humour, or tragedy, or both.

Generally, I tend not to write consciously humorous poetry, although humour does seep through some of my work. An example of the more subtle humour occurs in 1:25000 with the opening line “Only slightly lost” implying the possibility that the narrator holds the belief that “lost” is relative. It is a gentle nod to times when walking companions acting as navigators have marched us into bogs because they knew roughly where we were.

On a more horticultural note, a tree being bare at Michaelmas would be unusual as most deciduous trees would not be shedding trees that early in the autumn., Michelmas falling on September 29th and "Old Michaelmas" on October 10th or 11th. The weather is usually less harsh than described at this time of year. But in law, the Michaelmas term covers October to December, allowing a degree of accuracy, and some schools also speak of the autumn term as the Michaelmas term.
 Many years after completing “The Tree at Michaelmas” in this form I came across Housman’s “Loveliest of Trees”. Interestingly, “Loveliest of Trees” also has similar but not the same scansion, simple, but not the same rhyming scheme, and three stanzas. Perhaps I had seen "Lovliest of Trees" before and it had been buried in my unconscious thoughts, producing a poem with the same subject. Perhaps there is just something about the form that particularly suits trees.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Line length and long lines in "The Ghost at the Old Lychgate"

One of the characteristics of "The Ghost at the Old Lychgate, St Mary, Berkhamsted" is the length of the lines. Long lines have been used to control development of the narrative, the movement of the poetry, the speed of reading and to give impact at certain points.

Long lines tend to add a prose-like nature to a poem and prose is often used to develop a narrative and tell a story. There is an implicit narrative to this poem and the use of long lines allows the reader to develop the "back story" without making it explicit.

Using a long line length to control the speed of the poem is important here. The time it takes to read each line, or each narrative item of importance in the poem, slows the reader. This gives time for the item of importance contained in each line, perhaps simple description, implication of a back story, the properties such as the speed of occurance of an event or setting, to be realised and appreciated. This allows for a more meditative and considered reading of the poem to take place.

This poem is elegaic. Long lines allow the poem time to drift, rather than the "bang-bang-bang" impact of short lines. In this poem, the story uses a dreamy drifting progression to build an atmosphere. There is a development of innuendo and implied events to allow the reader to anticipate or even predice the ending, which contains the unusual event of the groom being jilted, rather than the bride.

The long lines also reflect techniques often used in ghost stories to build and maintain suspense, where little seems to happen but much is implied. This builds up suspense which is often released by a sudden shock. This poem does not have a shock at the end, but a twist which I hope is unexpected.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Ghost at the Old Lychgate, St Mary, Berkhamstead

The Ghost at the Old Lychgate, St Mary, Berkhamstead

Sometimes, when the rice has not been properly swept from the ruddy path
And the footprints from each wedding guest scar the surface with erratic scuffs,
When the cherry blossom petals, stirred into little eddies, stack like confetti on the grass
You might catch the leaf like rustle of a congregation long gone from the church,
Glimpse the shadow of a rain cloud when there is empty sky, shaped like a young girl in a pleated frock,
Always a bridesmaid…

In the heat of the May morning you can sometimes hear the sighing
Behind the sound of birdsong from the cedar, mixed with the rustling of a thrush
Scrubbing below the border hedge. The words can be just made out
By the more discerning listener, the one who hears the scraping
Of the beetle on the hoggin, or the whisper of a butterfly or moth in nervous flight,
No, always a butterfly…

“Never a bride”. The words are uttered in light breathy murmurs
That send ripples through the unmown grass beside the graves,
Bending blades in a melancholy breeze. The shade of oak trees
Leave their cool spots by the porch wall, where the last of the snails shelter from the morning heat.
Sometimes the sounds of marriage can be heard across the glebe land, drifting in the shimmering air,
And the more perceptive watcher, the one who sees the movement of the lichen on the tombstones
May see an apparition stand beside the church gate, drowned out by sunlight, or so the locals say,
Always a bridegroom…

© Martin Porter 2005

This elegaic poem is based on an accidental visit to a church one evening while I was walking near Tring in the United Kingdom and is not intended as a description of the building, but more an attempt to capture the atmosphere and emotions experienced.

The church described is a synthesis of the now "retired" church of St Mary the Virgin, Pitstone, the church of St Andrew, Little Berkhamsted and the Parish Church of St Saviour, Jersey. The actual church and consequentially the old lychgate does not exist as a single entity.

The poem relies on detail to give it realism. The setting is described throughout the poem. The brown hoggin church path, the cherry blossom, oaks and cedar within the hedged unmown grounds, the porched church and all there to fix the experience into a geographical location. None of this is real.

The ghost story is also an invention. There are, of course, a great many ghost stories set in church grounds. These often feature jilted brides who, no doubt because of the shock, go on to commit suicide. This poem uses this formula, but adds a variant. This change is not entirely capricious but based on the related experience of a family relative.

The only real aspect of the poem is the ghost in the story, although even this has a twist. On first reading the audience is led to believe that the ghost is the bride, as might be expected in a traditional story. The last line twists this to identify the bridegroom as the spectral presence. But such ghosts are just the substance of fiction. The real ghost in the poem is perhaps better identified as the church of St Mary, Berkhamsted as mentioned in the title, no longer a "living" church, but rather drifting in-between the existence it once had and its ultimate fate as a dead building.

Monday, March 26, 2012

An Aotearoa Affair #2: Past Myths, Present Legends

Frankfurt Bookfair 2012: An Aotearoa Affair edition #2: Past Myths, Present Legends features the blog entry St Helier Migrates after his Martyrdom as one of the contributions. Take a look at the home site that introduces German and Kiwi poets, storytellers, bloggers and artists as part of the approach to the Frankfurt 2012 book fair, where New Zealand is the guest of honour.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

St Helier Migrates after his Martyrdom

"St Helier Migrates after his Martyrdom" is obviously a migration poem, but deals with more than just movement in space. It also tackles movement through time and, less obviously, the power of a name.

When I moved from Jersey to New Zealand, I was hugely entertained to find myself living in St Heliers, an Eastern suburb of Auckland. Being born and raised in St Helier, Jersey, this seemed almost like living in a reflection of what I had left behind. St Heliers had the feel of St Helier in my childhood, with its sense of community and self-containment, right down to being able to go into town, to parkland like Dingle Dell reflecting my early playground on Westmount, and to the beach being on our doorstep. Of course, there were huge differences as well, but the circularity of the movement was unexpected and startling.

This set me to asking how this could happen, or rather, how St Helier could have been imaged in such a way. The history was displayed in the St Heliers library, but this seemed too prosaic and actual, unable to satisfy my sense of root. So I set about the thought experiment of migrating St Helier himself across the planet, a migration in both space and time. This poem was the result.

I chose to migrate St Helier in a raft, a simple vessel for a simple saint. But I chose to reference a canoe or waka in the Moon, as something cross-culturally spiritual, referenced across so many cultures. (recently in a visit to Vancouver I learnt about the canoe "Loo Taas", built by Bill Reid and its journey from Haida Gwaii to Hydaburg as part of a campaign to revitalise indigenous peoples of the region).

I also migrated St Helier in time, maintaining the original myth of him being beheaded by saxon invaders only to pick up his head and walk away before transporting him forward to the 19th century and New Zealand in the poem, then on to present migrations. In some ways the myth has become real, with migrants cutting themselves off at the roots - their historic roots. In other ways the poem has a hidden irony - the saint becomes the invader.

The poem is ambitious and difficult for the outsider to interpret. I have never made apology for that, and do not expect my poetry to necessarily mean the same to a reader as it has to the writer. However, the central motif of St Helier is clear cut in this poem. For me, the poem is as much about the power of names and the naming of places to fix them into a heritage. To most readers this poem will be no more than a restatement of the St Helier legend. Does this matter? Not if you enjoy the poem.

St Helier Migrates after his Martyrdom

Saxon ships ride across the reach,
The fresh whet axe falls on the neck,
The waves curl up the muddy beach.

Heavy breakers cushion the head,
The saint gathers it in his arms
And walks away to leave the dead.

They cannot take away his corpse,
They cannot steal his power away,
Assimilate his vital force.

The tides they ebb, the tides they flood,
The sand lies exposed on the shore,
The rip carries body with blood,

Transported on a bed of gull,
White as the surf, white as the spume.
Slicing, the raft bisects the swell.

Sun floats above a drift of cloud,
Moon rises carved as a canoe,
And land appears, slender and proud.

The platform drifts towards the land
Beneath the white bar in the sky.
The bow cuts deep into soft sand.

Now he will grasp the life he lost,
Will not reject the knocks and cuts,
Will not regret the sea he crossed.

He will construct the island home,
Will excavate the hermit cell,
He will be buried here alone.

© Martin Porter 2005

I have posted this poem partially in response to Kes Young's blog entry "Naming Places", which I found reference to on "An Aotearoa Affair Blog Carnival #1: Crossings".

Postscript: St Heliers also has a Maori name "Whangi Nui", or "Large Bay". The name St Heliers dates back to 1883, only a short time in the past.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Crepuscule with Nellie

Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane
Carnegie Hall November 1957
They were not in his canon. Dizzy,
Billie, Ray, he stomped the same boards,
Chet and Sonny too
Humph he did not meet
but that did not stop
him writing
Effortless his playing
Unique undoubtedly in genius fashion
as peculiar as his hat
The angular notes
strike from the piano strings
like crimes
of Epistrophy:
angular dancesteps, complex,
astringent, roll like a spiked ball
John’s sax is calming. Laminated
sheets of space flow in long solos, probing
discovered corners of this difficult man. The joy is evident
while he plays, not one, not two, but
Many notes, all at once, or in rapid

Do you feel you have to get up
And dance?

Do you feel you have to sit down
To seize the opportunity?

Well, you needn’t.

© Martin Porter 2009

First of all, let me make it clear I was not at the concert listed at the start of this poem. "Crepuscule with Nellie" is based on the serendipitious discovery of a film clip from this concert which I stumbled across by accident and by which was instantly fascinated. I do not know much about jazz, and cannot say what is jazz and what is not. But like many inexperts, I like what I like. I tend not to discard the remainder out of hand, having learnt that some works can gradually develop an understanding and affection for me. Other works, of course, also become less interesting with time and end up somewhere in the back of the memory to be almost forgotten.

In "Crepuscle with Nellie" I have tried to capture the spirit of the concert through my responce to one piece in particular. But I have only concentrated on that piece, and not dealt with it exclusively. In that sense the title is misleading, but by stating the time and location I have tried to clarify these expanded boundaries to the reader. The poem is rather more irregular than the piece itself, something that has raised comments, but I wanted the structure to reflect the canon, rather than the individual piece. Perhaps this is a failing in the writing.

The poem is structured in its placement on the page, but I have also tried to capture the lyricism when the poem is read aloud. It is a poem that I take great delight in reading aloud, much to my surprise. In particular, the contrast between Monk and Coltrane pleases me considerably, offering a challenge during a recitation.

The subject matter embeds the titles of works by Monk. This needed a degree of caution when writing to integrate the actual words into the piece in such a way that they entertain the knowlegable reader or listener, while not detracting from the poem for the reader who does not know Monk as well as others. In the poem there are clear hints that something is going on. "Humph he did not meet/ but that did not stop/ him writing" hints at this without being too explicit (Monk never played with Humphrey Lyttleton but did write a piece by this title). Much to my entertainment, "Well you needn't" is often missed as a Monk title, being tucked away at the end.

I have tried to evoke the jazz nature of the poem using some techniques that I normally avoid. "Uniquely undoubtedly in genius fashion" is not easy phrasing, but has the sensation of the detailed semi-rhythms that excite me in jazz. The placing of "Erratic", dislocating it from the central justification of the sequence in which it is placed, stresses the angular nature of much of Monk's playing.

Much to my surprise, the most unusual part of this poem did not occur in the section about the main protagonist, but in the section based on the secondary character of John Coltrane. The punctuated ",fluent," has also given me some entertainment by allowing me to start a line with a comma, but is deliberate as an attempt to capture that way Coltrane would occasionally pause unexpectedly before playing a note or phrase, rather than after the previous phrase. Yes, a pause before, not after, something only an avant garde artist with the skill of Coltrane could express. It should be remembered this is a poem, not a prose work, and I have felt free to use punctuation to express the lyricism rather than to conform to a set of rules more suited to the syntax of prose. This is one of those times where I begin to crystalise my thoughts in the rather fluid mix of distractions when dealing with the perrenial issue of "what makes a poem different to prose?".

One of the deepest impressions left by the clip was the contrast between Coltrane and Monk. Initially I thought Monk to be the complex, unpredictable musician, with Coltrane the smooth artist. This soon changed with my re-discovery of Coltrane's penchant for bebop and the avant garde, something I had vaguely registered and then forgotten because it simply did not interest me at the time. I have tried to capture this contrast by the change in style at "John's sax is calming".

The last section deals with my initial astonishment on discovering this particular performance. I did feel I had to get up and I did feel I had to sit down to grasp it, both, simultaneously. I also felt the freedom of the performance and its absence of compulsion. That was the magic for me, the competing impulses and sense of sheer exhilaration. I wish I had been there!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

An Aotearoa Affair #1: Crossings

Frankfurt Bookfair 2012: An Aotearoa Affair edition #1: Crossings features the blog entry Pasifika Queen Mab as one of the contributions. Take a look at the home site that introduces German and Kiwi poets, storytellers, bloggers and artists as part of the approach to the Frankfurt 2012 book fair, where New Zealand is the guest of honour.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Poetry Unplugged

I visited the Poetry Cafe last night to take part in Poetry Unplugged, their open mike evening. I read "shell" and "Pasifika Queen Mab", over-running my slot to my shame!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Torriano Meeting House Reading

I visited the Torriano Meeting House last night to hear Katherine Gallagher and Clare Crossman read. I also read "The Travails of the Wise Trainer" from the floor.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012



“Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace” – Amelia Earhart

Sometimes she dreamed she was flying,
And sometimes she was flying,

Navigating the journey with a sextant
While floating in thin air,

Sinking to the beckoning seas
Without expectation of end.

It takes one mirror,
One fleck of glinting silvered glass,

To catch the sun and send a ray of light
Down the dusty hollow of a dark hallway

Catching each dancing mote in the path
Of confused locations.

And she was not.
Lost in a peculiar eternity, hopeful

In anticipation of foreverness,
Dreaming over the empty ocean,

Not sitting outside a mediocrity
Of boarding houses and noon-time darknesses.

© Martin Porter 2012

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Innominate Group and other Travels

I will be visiting the innominate poetry group in Jersey on Friday February 3rd.
I will be reading "Floaters", a yet unpublished poem.

I will be travelling to the UK, Rome and Canada soon after.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sealed Tombs - notes on negativity

Sealed Tombs is a poem of negatives, not a negative poem. It maintains a positive description by defining subject matter through a set of boundary conditions. The confinement of possibilities gives opportunity for the reader or listener to interact and create their own image, making the experience a potentially positive experience. It also adds an element of risk, making the reader work harder to create their own vision of the subject.

The poem is not entirely consistent. The vocabulary becomes increasingly positive as the poem progresses, offering development from imagination to substance. The poem climaxes with the most clearly defined positive, the ironic negative action of gasping their curses.

Even so, there is still plenty of space for the reader to use the imagination by the use of ambiguity, for example “no spectres/ rattle the bones” offers the possibility that the bones are not rattled or that “no spectres” are doing the rattling. Now, I’m not sure what that means, but the possibilities have kept me thinking. Certainly, bones seem to be disturbed in most excavated tombs, either by natural actions such as earth movement, or by collapse of the framework that holds them in position or even internal decay.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Gently lifting with the ocean,
Sweeping slowly up the shore,
She is resting on the boundary
Somewhere between air and more
Substantial fluids on her body
Offer her to turquoise light
Looking down from cloud free heavens
Looking to the Sun which might
One day drift from daily motion
Sinking into nightly rest
Glowing dim in richest crimson
Falling sea-ward in the west
Where wheeling terns once congregated
Against a foaming faded moon
Suspended in the paling sunshine
Framed by marram stubbled dune
Salt spray seasoned sea-sage sweetened
Breeze blown clean of vraic and sand
Swept branches stick black fingers upward
Urging gulls to leave the land
And forge out from their earthy havens
Venture forth without a notion
Of where to go or where to settle
Gently lifting with the ocean.

© Martin Porter 2000

Floating is a single stanza poem structured around metre and rhyme. It explores the understanding of boundaries, in this case the boundary between sea and sky. The metre is semi-regular and is based more on rhythms of speech than any formal metric. The forward motion of the poem is maintained by not adhering to a regular or strict metre and this is also meant to reflect the semi-regular movement of waves on the sea.

Floating is also published on Take Flight Whangarei.