Friday, 19 August 2016

R.I.P. Heathcliff

Today, sadly, we all said goodbye to our beloved family cat, Heathcliff.  He was quite a character - deserving of the name. Unfortunately his cancer had spread and he was no longer eating or drinking,so the vet suggested the only kind thing. He has had a good life - at least 17 years of it, so no regrets. This is Heathcliff in his prime: -

He once belonged to another poet, William Scammell, and came to me when Bill died of cancer in 2000.  Bill wrote a poem about the cat who walked through the door out of a stormy winter night to take up residence in his house, sleeping on his bed and giving him comfort in his last days.  Heathcliff was a very special cat.

We have been adopted by a black cat
with a white bib and paws.
Almost a designer cat,
who pushes his affections
into your stomach as though
he was making bread.
He's come from nowhere,
the exact spot you yourself are headed for.

Poem copyright the Estate of William Scammell, 2000.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Gone AWOL - Normal service to be resumed soon

I'm on holiday - having a much needed break.  No beach, I'm afraid. This is a stay-cation with children and grandchildren coming to me for a big family party. So I won't be around much over the next couple of weeks.  Have a great summer holiday everyone!

Thanks to Julia Smith, librarian, at Cover to Cover for the pic - it's a great YA site from KeriKeri High School in New Zealand and has an E-book library.  Take a look!

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Haida Gwaii and the Masters of the Pacific Coast

I've thoroughly enjoyed the BBC4 documentary programme on the First Nation people of the Pacific Coast of the US, Canada and Alaska.  The British Museum's Dr Jago Cooper made the same journey, both physical and historical, that I made last year in search of a people who have managed to survive for more than 10,000 years in the same environment without destroying it.   Very few other cultures have succeeded in doing that - most of them have been wiped out by Western 'incomers' who regarded their own cultures as 'advanced' and superior.  That's a viewpoint that has succeeded in polluting and exploiting the entire planet.
The Mortuary and Memorial poles of Ninstints, Haida Gwaii
Watching Jago Cooper canoeing round the coastal inlets and tramping through ancient woodlands made me very nostalgic for Haida Gwaii, Cormorant Island and the many other places I visited.  I longed to go back.  He met many of the people I met too - Haida artists and carvers, museum curators. But he stayed well clear of the politics.  The daily fight for their landrights against oil companies and forestry corporations was barely touched on.  But he did, in Programme 2, confront the genocide perpetrated by the government of British Columbia which left only 500 out of 30,000 people on Haida Gwaii alive.  It is a tribute to the strength of their culture that they survived.  As their declaration in the preamble to the Haida Constitution affirms:

'Our culture is born of respect and intimacy with the land and sea and the air around us.  Like the forest, the roots of our people are intertwined such that the greatest troubles cannot over come us.'

Jago Cooper
There's a very good review of the programme over at The Arts Desk.  I will be watching the repeats too, feeding my longing to return to the lands of the Haida Nation, the Tlingit and the Coastal Salish.  For anyone who wants to read more (with full colour illustrations) about the people of the Pacific Coast, my book, Travelling to the Edge of the World,  is available through Amazon and to be ordered from all good bookshops.  It can also be purchased by emailing for £9.00 + P&P

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Tuesday Poem: No News by Kathleen Jones

On this day
the sun shone on Eden
and the river gave back the light.

On this day
there were eight ducklings
instead of twelve; a feathered flotilla
under the willows where the hooked jaws
of the pike dapple in deep water.

On this day
a politician confessed
to falsifying his accounts and another
to being unfaithful to the electorate.
I have sinned, he said, it will never happen again.

On this day
a trillion dollars
found its way into a secret account
on a distant island where there are no politics
that are not to do with money.

On this day
six fighter jets, twenty tanks and
a hundred assault rifles were delivered
across an unmarked border.

On this day
two football teams escaped relegation
and a banker was cleared of corruption.
The real ale in the pub had the regulation amount of froth.

On this day
four hundred men, women and children drowned
in the Mediterranean, fleeing conflict.

On this day
the magnolia opened its white petals
for the first time and there is a wren nesting
above the door in the hole I drilled
for a lamp bracket.  I called my mother.
She was not at home.

Copyright Kathleen Jones, 2016

Every now and then I try to make sense of things - this contradictory, tragic, beautiful, upside-down world we live in.  I wrote this poem on one of those days - just an ordinary day.  Out shopping I overheard someone say there was 'no news today', meaning presumably that there was nothing new on the news that hadn't been on before.  It made me angry and set me thinking.  It's times like this I miss my mother - she and I would talk for hours on the phone about life and politics and how we felt and how could we deal with the kind of emotions aroused by the terrible scenes beamed into our living rooms by the media.  I still know her telephone number by heart and occasionally I give in to the temptation to ring it, though I know there is no-one there.  Anyone else do crazy things like this?

Monday, 1 August 2016

Climate Change and Katherine Mansfield

In 1907, more than a hundred years ago, Katherine Mansfield's father, Harold Beauchamp, bought what is called in New Zealand a 'bach' (pronounced batch) beside the sea.  It was a plain, wooden building without any creature comforts, described as having a 'small poverty stricken sitting room . . . A cabin-like bedroom fitted with bunks, and an outhouse with a bath, and wood cellar, coal cellar, complete.'  Behind it, oddly at the back of the original house, the sea lapped over the rocks, and at the front wild bush grew down to the narrow track that served as a road.

The bach is in a beautiful hamlet called Days Bay.  It's one of the inlets across the water from Wellington and you can visit it using the ferry that takes commuters and school children from village to city every day.  In 1907 it was more a summer retreat for weekends and the children's holidays. Katherine loved being there, and her story 'At The Bay' conveys the atmosphere of holiday, of being close to the wilderness, ocean and sky, and the influence of that release from the usual disciplines of polite behaviour on her characters. The opening of the story describes the place and the atmosphere, perfectly.

         ‘Very early morning. The sun was not yet risen, and the whole of Crescent Bay was hidden under a white sea mist. The big, bush-covered hills at the back were smothered.  You could not see where they ended and the paddocks and bungalows began. The sandy road was gone and the paddocks and bungalows the other side of it; there were no white dunes covered with reddish grass beyond them; there was nothing to mark which was beach and where was the sea.’

It was at Day's Bay, in the little chalet, that Katherine had what was possibly her first experience of female sexuality. She was staying there with an older woman, an artist, Edith Bendall, and Katherine was in love with her and hoped that it would be reciprocated.  'I cannot lie in my bed and not feel the magic of her body . . . She enthrals, enslaves me.'  Katherine suffered from night terrors and terrible dreams.  Outside the darkness and the bush beyond set her imagination racing 'until the very fence became terrible.'  The fence posts became 'hideous forms' gesticulating and taking on human appearance. Edith takes her into her bed to comfort her and then, Katherine writes, 'a thousand things which had been obscure' become plain.   It was her 'Oscar Wilde' moment. But Edith was unresponsive, perhaps aware that Katherine's parents were relying on her to look after the younger girl. Katherine was attracted by both men and women for the rest of her short life.

Wellington, despite being in a sheltered harbour, is famous for its storms, but Days Bay and the beach-side houses have always been safe. The worst storm in 117 years had only broken a window. But in 2013 a mega-storm wreaked unprecedented destruction. The little cottage, now altered for modern use, but still a site of pilgrimage for Mansfield readers, was almost completely destroyed.  The current owners described a night of terror. "My dad got up at about 12.45am after he heard a window smash. He went to the front door to get a piece of plywood and saw there was a lot of water building up around the house. He went back inside to get Mum, and a huge wave took out the dining room window, so they grabbed the dogs and made a run for it to the neighbours."  When they came back next morning, “pretty much everything had been washed out by the sea.” This is what it looked like.

For a long time it was thought that the cottage would just be bulldozed.  I visited in 2014 and it looked too damaged to be viable.  But there was a big campaign to raise money for one of Wellington's historic buildings to be rebuilt, and it has now been restored, though with an altered beach-front to help it withstand more big storms.

Despite that, there are a lot of people in Wellington who feel that, with the increasing frequency of mega-storms, the cottage remains vulnerable.  Climate change, and projected sea-level increase, could make such properties uninhabitable.

Katherine Mansfield's story 'At the Bay' (pdf)

If you like Katherine Mansfield you might also be interested in 'Katherine Mansfield - The Storyteller' by Kathleen Jones

The Katherine Mansfield Society has a wonderful website, full of photographs and information, well worth a visit.

My friend Gerri Kimber has a biography of Katherine Mansfield's early years in New Zealand coming out in October 2016.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Tuesday Poem: 'A Whole Day Through from Waking', by Jacci Bulman

A whole day through from waking -

allowing love.

Halt has been called,
by whom?  we forget.
It came like a heron to the river.

My bitch is set free,
(barked as far as Mars,
bit the air like a jackal).
His rats are scattered.

Now we sit quiet by the water,
he watches the deep pool for fish,
I look at his lips and
watch only that part of him.

Copyright Jacci Bulman 2016

A Whole Day Through From Waking, Cinnamon Press, 2016

This is the title poem of Jacci Bulman's first collection.  It seems to describe the  quiet moment after a quarrel.  Rats and terriers have gone, the heron has glided into place beside the river and the two lovers sit watching it, but with a new awareness of each other. This is how the poem feels to me, but it may resonate differently with other people.

These poems celebrate the small epiphanies of everyday living. 'Last night we watched a film,/ you stroked my feet,/ we ate peppermint creams', sounds very ordinary, but the memory is recalled in a hospital waiting room - a context that gives it a very different meaning. Life is precarious - in the midst of the ordinary, we are pitched into the extraordinary.  Context and hindsight change our perspective. Small domestic tasks bring relief  to the chaos of life because of their very ordinariness. A poem titled 'Evening after a disaster at work' begins:  'The fat tadpoles are a relief./ She peers down/ at their attempts to grab pond-weed,/ new legs taking a rest on submerged reed.'   The surface of the poem, like the 'skin of the pond', has secret depths.  The dangers that the frogs and tadpoles have to cope with - life and death issues - put the poet's own tribulations into perspective.  These are deceptively simple poems.  Jacci Bulman is one of  the north's new voices and her take on life is informed by her own private struggle with a brain tumour while a student at Oxford University.  She writes obliquely about darkness, obeying Emily Dickinson's advice:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise . . .

These aren't wildly intellectual poems, but the quiet narratives of everyday.  I like that.

A Whole Day Through from Waking
by Jacci Bulman £8.99
Cinnamon Press 2016

Quotes from reader reviews:

"This is poetry that is open-hearted, that reaches out to its audience with open arms. It is the kind of poetry which poets and non-poets alike can appreciate; it doesn’t buy into poetry snobbery or elitism, but also it never shies away from looking life full in the face."
" The work is sometimes an ode to the every day, the things we take for granted that retrospectively we may yearn for. This is the poetry of staying in the present, recognising the blissful beauty of life itself be it strewn with pain, sorrow, worry or joy. It is a generous book offering the reader a glimpse into the world of the author in whom we recognise aspects of our secret selves."
"Reading this book was like drinking a sparkling elderflower champagne, light and airy, yet born of earth. It is wonderful. I always enjoy poems that are taken from the lives we live, which offer every kind of subject imaginable."
"Jacci Bulman's work addresses the big questions and issues in life. It is shot through with love"

Monday, 25 July 2016

Masters of the Pacific Coast - the BBC travels to the Edge of the World

The BBC are finally devoting 2 programmes to the First Nation people of the northernmost coastline of British Columbia and Alaska, including Haida Gwaii.  Dr Jago Cooper is the narrator for Masters of the Pacific Coast, the first of 2 programmes beginning on Wednesday 28th July at 9pm (British Summer Time).  Worth watching, I hope.  (And if you're really interested you could just read my book which is now out in paperback!)

You can get it new in paperback for as little as £9.83 via Amazon.
Kindle edition £3.99