You ask what love is


( I found this prose poem written back in 2018 when our

darling Emma Aroha was born and we were in Seoul soaking up the joy)

It’s the coffee cup beside the phone charger on the floor.

the mobile playing nursery rhymes bolted from above

her hair splayed across the TV remote as she sleeps

a folded clean nappy, discarded singlet, a portable fan

paper covering the fluorescent lighting but not entirely

the white noise and green lights of the air conditioning

water bottles, protein shake, milk powder on the microwave

French, German, all of them eventually abandoned for

breast milk…  the sucking reflex as she sleeps beside you

you are together on the foam mattress on the floor

it’s four types of baby carriers and the fact you love

the traditional wrap – just a piece of fabric tied tightly

heartbeat on heartbeat or head against her back

the composting machine with its hungry worms will

eventually eat all your uneaten rice, seaweed, banana

on the fridge is a photo of your Appa on his grandfather’s

knee, looking down on you confirming those cross cultural

genes and a box of grapes like pearls in tissue from your

Korean Halmoni who comes to make seaweed soup for her girl

your Appa’s ripped jeans hang from the door, belt still attached

the white rabbits dangle, and turn. I am sitting in the feeding chair

we purchased for your Omma. I can stretch my legs out full.

I’m on guard, awaiting your awakening, ready to take you from her sleeping arms.

I am your Kiwi Halmoni.

Unpacking Cliches


On Saturday, I left home at 7.30 am to drive over the hill to Carterton. The reason for this, was the lure of a free Poetry Workshop and later on, performance by Chris Tse.  What’s not to like?

The Poetry Workshop was at the rather flash new Carterton Events Centre (well, it looks very new). We were in the Hurunui o Rangi Room.  Rather like a Corporate Boardroom with Chris and his whiteboard at the top table.

One and a half hours to unpick the meaning of two poems and have a go a writing something ourselves (with several song lyric prompts on the whiteboard).

But, first we had to introduce ourselves and tell the group what sparked joy for us, or in us.  Of course cliches abound with such a question. One group member had both a mother and a granddaughter named Joy, which was rather special.  One woman claimed that joy for her was elusive and she needed to work out how to find it. A dog licking a waking face was another rather lovely image. Grandchildren, the night sky… You get the drift.

We looked at Jenny Bornholdt’s now very famous poem ‘Make Sure’. It is a perfect example of how to undercut, and distill what is for sure, a Kiwi cliché – man lost in the bush – grieving wife talking to the news. The discussion around this poem was interesting because love was the enduring theme in responses to it. The clever final shift of pronoun from you to I in the last line, owning the whole poem.   It’s easy to read this poem several times and find new ways to inhabit it. It had an extra resonance with the shadow of Cyclone Gabrielle stalking our thoughts.

We then read a poem by Sam Duckor-Jones ‘Allemande in G by J.S. Bach. I’d read this poem before and to be honest, I’d dismissed it as pretentious modern and who cares. But, when I had it explained to me by Chris and what Sam was doing with musical notes, I finally ‘got it’.  No longer pretentious, but clever, ingenious and great fun. Poetry that has constraints is something I admire. The Villanelle, Sestina or even a Sonnet.

The final exercise was to write for about ten minutes (maybe a little longer, but not long) – just the first response without thinking too hard, to prompts from the whiteboard.

Here’s my effort… yet to be tamed.

I didn’t start the fire

Mum did, she sharpened
the axe first, in the shed
cobwebs overhead, the
smell of lawnmower petrol
and freshly cut kindling

what was she thinking
falling for the returned
soldier who proposed
in the graveyard
threatening to kill himself

as she scrunches paper
into tight balls to build
a cushion, allow air in
before setting the wood
before striking the match

does she hesitate
does she wait
to strike the match
to smell the sulphur

sometimes, peeling onions
she stuck a struck match
in her mouth, evidently
folklore has it this
will stop you crying

Chris generously gave out pencils at the end of the workshop and I grabbed two – see my photo.  He really is an inspirational poet.  His journey as a young Chinese Gay man and the story he told us at his performance later in the day…. He talked to his Mum about ‘coming out’ and she said to him ‘you’ll be lonely’…. His reply ‘I’m already lonely’.   Wow.  Right to the heart.  He owns the stage, he owns his poems and he’s generous to boot.  After reading several of his own poems, he chose to read some of his favourite poems from other poets he knows.  Applause.