Poetry round-up – November 2017

Ahem. I haven’t posted a poetry update since September last year, but I have been posting poems to Twitter, if intermittently. Here goes…

 

The library

How imperfectly
these myriad spines
reflect
the worlds within;
Infinities of
allusions
bound to
a single plane.

 

Soft White

This lump
this privilege
isn’t hard-won.
It can’t be felt
or seen
or even smelt –
But man,
can it speak

 

Delicacy

So fragile
a figure –
your fragrance
floating
where you
fled the floor –

a figment only
of my form.

 

Don’t speak

One word
half-bitten
that’s all it took
before the rot set in.
Undone
from inside-out
all
because your fangs
don’t retract

 

Aspiration

You cannot feint the fury of the storm
into a fall
Nor can the wind be wounded with a weapon
or a wall
And yet, unarmed you stand, alone
And yet unarmed defy
You cannot win this battle –
but you’re damned well gonna try.

 

Ride Apart

The moan
of mounting
urgency
throbs beneath –
the last gasp
of a suffocating
clown;
Yet cornering,
you caress
every curve.

 

Whispered tears

The jagged edge
of your tongue
once caught
and cut
my ear
too deep –

I hope it
never heals.

 

Eyelids shutter
the world
corralled
into coral-crisp
conch cries
whose keen
flutters
are the
trailing threads
behind your shroud

 

The boundless bias
of your blush
that urges me
undone
Where sightless scenes
remain my dreams
and you, my only
one.

 

When the cathedral
cave
is empty
save
the trickling
tide
and you.

 

These false hungers
seep into
seconds
second thoughts
devouring deception
till the feasting
is unfeigned
and the hours
truly ours

 

Misuse

When wars
wage words
with weaker
wants
we worsen

What wicked weapons
write
where whimsy
weeps

 

Suspicion

Let’s keep it
dark
and ill-defined
that rumour
that tickles
the back of your neck

until it bites

 

Glisten

Plump droplets
condense
dance
upon the
rotted husk

until

decay
shines brighter
than all
your gold

 

USA

A broken bullet
clipped the eagle
now it spirals
to the ground;
For the wings
won’t work together
and the wound
will not be bound

 

Fool’s Infatuation

The poet did her curse enshrine,
Whose melancholy made her mine,
And thus possessed did she decline,
The Lady of Shalott.

 

Stand

The warning was
indelible
the reprimand
severe
yet still we crossed

and still transgress

for legends
gather here

 

Lovecraft

When each rare
glint
tears another
hole
through the mundane

What formless
terrors
turn your eye
away?

 

I miss
again
the slamming
door
that missed
my fingers
years before
And every
time
I hear
instead
A Miss
whose kisses
I misled

 

When that tremulous
timid
tiptoe
wakes itself

it stirs
the shit
that stains
and stinks
and makes more motion –

Tread true

 

She wrapped the
whisper
in a whim
then worried
it away –
Where secrets
sigh
on silent
shelves
Now all
her dreams
decay

 

Comey

He stares
into space
while the space
between words
wraps the whole
conversation
and warps
the whole
world

 

How do you
float
when the witches
I loved
are drowned
deep
as the falsehoods
tripping
from your
tangerine tongue?

 

You still smoulder
even
when the wind
blows ill –
But borrow my
breath
and be
ablaze

Your fire matters

 

Grave thoughts

It’s difficult to
read you now
The edges worn
to vague relief
But while I yet
have sight
I’ll trace
your name
then join
my love
beneath

 

I’m done with
asking nicely

But I beg you
just the same:

Set aside this
petty bullshit

We share a
love
If not
an aim

This is not a primer on white privilege…

It is a snapshot of one white, straight, cis-gendered male’s approach to white male privilege in the context of the 2017 election in Aotearoa New Zealand.

So why post it? There are many better resources out there, authored by people who experience the sharp end of privilege.

I’m sharing this because we are approaching a tipping point. Awareness of privilege is higher than at any point in history, simply by the diffusion of communication channels. However, cultural pushback is also on the rise, as people struggle with specific understandings and (often incorrect) assumptions about privilege.

The filter bubble is usually blamed for this – but that blame perpetuates another misconception: that filter bubbles are absolute.

In most cases, our self-selected groups do overlap, in small but significant ways: and here is where the work of allies is vital. My voice on this is not as important as the voices of those affected. But my silence would be taken as assent to the status quo.

A few people have asked what I meant by “white male privilege” in my last post – and it’s telling about my own biases and filter bubble that I took the phrase for granted.

In some ways, privilege is an unfortunate term because it is ambiguous. In the context of white privilege, we’re not talking about people strutting around savouring gold-plated cigars – that’s a whole different problem.

White privilege in Western-majority countries, as defined by numerous studies on unconscious bias and equity, is about the disadvantages you don’t encounter by being born into a dominant cultural group.

You’ll never be pulled over by the police because you’re a white man driving. You’ll never have to fear that a wolf-whistle will escalate into an assault. You’ll never be subjected to “jokes” about claiming back people’s land, or reparations. You’ll never have to fear that you’ll be labelled a bitch for being too assertive in that meeting.

It’s about the luxury of being able to call yourself “colourblind” when every other segment of the population is constantly made aware of their skin colour, and when our collective biases have measurable negative effects on those demographics.

But more than these examples, and at its core, white privilege is about being able to see yourself as the norm, the default expression of humanity. It’s never really being othered, marginalised, in any context, because your whole life has taught you that you belong anywhere. That implicitly makes it harder to empathise with marginalised groups and individuals.

There’s no sin in being privileged. It’s often called invisible precisely because white males can’t see barriers that they don’t face. But if you’re convinced of its reality, I believe you have a duty: to listen, to try to understand and to ally yourself with those around you who do encounter such obstacles, and against the institutional and cultural constructs that penalise them.

Are there other forms of institutional and societal bias? Absolutely! We all, irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation and philosophy, think using stereotypes and other mental shorthand. Many of these biases, when not critically appraised and factored for, have a similar tendency to cause harm. But as a dominant, visible problem in Aotearoa, that shapes the assumptions behind our public and especially our political discourse, I believe white male privilege has a lot to answer for.

If you prefer facts and figures to my generalised and imperfect synopsis, I’d recommend Google and Facebook’s Unconscious Bias workshop materials as a comprehensive introduction, along with the many independent resources, papers, books, articles, and infographics available with a quick search.

Aspirational voting in 2017

There are many ways to frame this election, but the one I keep coming back to is that Saturday will show us, by the numbers, how strong white privilege is in Aotearoa New Zealand.

We (white males) have a disturbingly pervasive subtext that minimises and condescends to questions of culture, values and politics, dismissing anything other than the status quo as self-evident idiocy.

And we wonder why the outside world still sees us as parochial, ignorant and naive.

This election is about whether a party with a record of lies, claiming the work of others, changing definitions to “solve” problems and denying the consensus of experts across multiple fields retains its mandate to govern, with the (false) justification that politics has always been done that way.

It is about whether we want to endorse greasy backroom smear campaigns and reward fearful, defamatory rhetoric.

It is about whether the joke that is politics should be met with a shrug, a laugh, and a concession that this is the best we can do.

This election is about giving National another three years to make problems go away by clinging to outdated understandings of brand and message. For someone who criticises Labour for being stuck in the past, Bill English has a very retro grasp of identity and vision.

Do we perch in complacency, because everything is superficially okay for us, personally, at this instant?

Do we rely on philanthropy to solve poverty, turning survival into a lottery for our most vulnerable?

Do we accept that the numbers on a screen are more meaningful – even when misrepresented – than the people and the society that we want to be?

Or is this election not really about us at all?

The wealthy, the privileged, the educated, and the well employed aren’t going to see their world shaken by this election.

We vote not for ourselves, but for our society – that is the essence of democracy. And we need to look to the outliers. To vote for the poor, the sick, the addicted, and the oppressed. For them, this election may be the difference between life and death.

We need a vision.

We need to admit that the status quo is never “good enough” while people are starving. While there remains systemic and cultural discrimination against specific minorities – and majorities, in the case of women.

We need to strive – as we do in our jobs, in our families, in our relationships – to be better people, and to do that we need above all else a clear, cohesive vision for the future. For an Aotearoa that acknowledges and learns from the mistakes of our past. For an Aotearoa that seeks better ways forward. For an Aotearoa that actually wants to be “100% Pure:” in our motivations, in our self-critique and in our care for our people.

We need integrity. We need hope. We need a social conscience.

But in the face of stupefying resilience by White Male New Zealand (never Aotearoa) we may also need, to quote an unlikely source, a little stardust.

#changethegovt #letsdothis #nzpol #decision17

A home for my words

“I could sit in the middle of Sunset Boulevard and write with my typewriter on my knees.” Louis L’Amour once said. “Temperamental I am not.”

I grew up seeing those words as the terrifying mark of a great storyteller: someone so engrossed in the flow of the art that their surroundings became something lesser. And this transcendent state too often eluded me.

Later, advice from Stephen King, Jim Butcher and other greats provided a different way to parse L’Amour’s words: as a challenge. A quiet prompt to let go of all preciousness and pretension. To write, because you write, irrespective of where you are or how you’re feeling.

This distinction matters, because otherwise environment too easily becomes justification for procrastination and defeatism.

Those writers are simply better, that’s why they can write anywhere/are so prolific/are so inspiring, yet eternally beyond my reach. When my internal monologue offers such helpful input, I now edit it. Because they choose to write anywhere, those writers are prolific and have grown great, and if I let their example inspire me, my writing might grow in kind.

My favourite place to write, then, is beside my sleeping wife at 2amsuffocating under the sheets to shield her from the light — tapping a sudden turn of phrase into my phone before it’s snatched away by slumber.

It’s sitting on the beach where I first encountered heartbreak, scribbling in a notebook and letting those long-ago stirrings play with the pen.

It’s at my desk, internet blocked, and a list of chapter outlines on the screen.

Desk, dark, couch, mountain, café: there are places that colour my writing, and places that facilitate the craft, but any environment can provide both context and constraint, which is the space in which writing feels truly at home.

This article was first published in The Writing Cooperative on Medium.com, and won the 2016 Autumn Writing Challenge.

Poetry round-up – September 2016

I spent a good chunk of July and August working on our (unsuccessful) house sale, which involved scaffolding, replacing siding, water-blasting, cleaning windows, painting the roof and far, far too much gardening. This didn’t leave much time for writing, and it’s really good to be back behind the keyboard.

Autumn by stealth

How eagerly
we awaited your bloom –
casting sweet
unbidden
names to the wind.
How easily
time bent the
bough;
Please don’t fall.

Irrational pause

Suspend
all that matter
bluster and billow
tamed and trapped
in cheap frames.
Still they move,
as hands fumble
and images

tumble.

Vexed

Untangle please
this knotted gut
and iron flat
my brow –
My worries can’t
be cleanly cut,
but you,
you do –
somehow.

Gene

Smile, so defiantly vapid
and self-aware
one last time
let that thin skein of delight
fray across your face
until it tickles mine.

August 2016

Present Dreams

“Obstruct the rays of incidence,”
the Ancient One advised,
“And bend them to a single point,
until the embers rise.”
I held the glass and watched his words
come flickering to flame –
but as it spread he vanished,
leaving me to take the blame.
If you look upon the ashen shell
or taste these charred remains,
you’ll know his crooked fingers
and the throbbing of his veins.
He doesn’t come to hurt you,
but delights in nasty games –
and when that breath infests your ear
you’ll know his many names.

And so my story issued out,
yet still these children sleep!
So I sit and strop my sickle
while the sultry shadows creep.

If you should stir,
or leave the bed –
or even make a peep –
Well, my games are made for playing
and the Reaper lives to reap.

Divination

This blue isn’t;
it’s clear
where it surrounds
suffuses
the boy
who drifts
buoyed and blown
away, but unable to blow
those last lung-lingering
bubbles that divide
and yet define
the deep, the dreamer
and the day
still floating above.