introduction to a poem

This is an introduction to a poem called ‘All it Takes’ or ‘Clay Birds.’ Although I hesitate to call it a poem. But that’s my problem. Not yours. And I’ll be talking about that in another introduction.

I was listening to the editor of The Economist magazine. When was it? It doesn’t matter. The magazine’s been going for 36 years so they’re probably still doing it now. Every year they do a report on the year. And this one was for 2021.

Asked about what he felt was going to happen with the pandemic—the announcer covered himself and sort of undid the question by saying nobody can know—whether it was going to develop from pandemic to endemic, the Economist editor said Omicron looked like it might be the bridge from a pandemic situation to the situation of an endemic. Where we get vaccinated every year for Covid along with our other flu jabs. Then he went on.

He said that the first two decades of the millennium were very settled. Talk about rolling back neoliberalism, and so on. Local issues, but issues raised within a period of global stability, so it felt. Then 2020 hit.

People say they’ll hunker down, that they’ll wait for things to get back to normal. I don’t think they will. He said I think the shape of 2022 is the shape of the coming decades, where we have more chaos.

We have it at all sorts of levels. From climate change to our fragile democracies. People living under autocracies, like China, although I think they prefer to call it socialist democracy, and in Eastern Europe are asking political leaders to do something. Rising prices for basic goods, housing. Distribution networks strained and disrupted and supply chains breaking down.

We are going to have to get used to chaos and this poem is about that. Called ‘All it Takes,’ because all it takes is a little chaos. At the social level and for nature. It’s natural to want to preserve the status quo.

We can see it in this country, how conservative forces can take advantage, because all it takes is a little chaos. These forces can mean well. They often do. Take the minor level of the national library. The so-called book cull. The chaos that’s been unleashed.

What has changed I think, which the poem addresses, is you can have your little chaos, you can indulge in it if you will. You can have your little coup. You little revolution. But conservative forces, and by that I mean forces of conservation also, whose good intentions are taken advantage of, because this is what has changed, conservative forces know it suits them. It suits the oligarchs. It suits the corporate hierarchy. It suits the rich and getting richer.

They know that all it takes is a little chaos to preserve the status quo. And the funny thing is that the left, perhaps the reason for the other title of the poem, are made of straw, easy to ignite. To sow more chaos, and, like clay birds, to take potshots at.

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a musical interlude–takes me back to chapter two you know who

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a present, small piece for Z.

what do I still want to know about the world?

	will it it take me under its wing

	it will not take me under its wing



do I fight in the storm of it? do I fight the storm

	I do not fight storms

	and its cruelty do I call it out on that?



who do I tell

I don’t

	tell on the world



I would praise who I would tell

	and no one is worth that praise

	is no one worthy of that praise?



no

that praise

	is due the world






6 . 1 . 2022 on the occasion of 
my son’s birthday

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sketches of Kawaeranga


don’t trust bird stories

they have short lives

	are pleased to please themselves

	tell of quick movement

quick and alive and

don’t trust the pain of trees

	they bear up the sky

	look

the sky is blue


…


	the big kauri on the ridge

supports half the sky

	calls endlessly for help

distresses the children

for brothers and sisters’

	assistance

to the wind

	distresses its

over a thousand

	children


…


my ankle gave way on the tramline

	coming down the cutting

no tram

	no trestle

the dams remains

	no kauri

numbers to support the efforts

	taken to remove them

the exorbitant efforts


…






4 . 1 . 2022

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the déjà vu of an extensive and multifarious declaration of perplexity, Juan Gabriel Vásquez, The Shape of the Ruins, the past that is ruined, in its jealousy, by the present’s 2 minutes hate

… the worst vices of our digital societies: intellectual irresponsibility, proud mediocrity, implausible denigration with impunity, but most of all verbal terrorism, the schoolyard bullying the participants got involved in with incomprehensible enthusiasm, the cowardice of all aggressors who used pseudonyms to vilify but would never repeat their insults out loud. … our modern and digital version of the Two Minutes Hate: that ritual in Orwell’s 1984, in which they project an image of the enemy and the citizens give themselves over to physical aggression (they throw things at the screen) and verbal aggression (they insult, shriek, accuse, defame), and then go back to the real world feeling free, unburdened and self-satisfied.

— Juan Gabriel Vásquez, The Shape of the Ruins, translated by Anne McLean, 2018, pp. 180-181

– Gordon Matta-Clark

I don’t know when I started to realise that my country’s past was incomprehensible and obscure to me, a real shadowy terrain, nor can I remember the precise moment when all that I’d believed so trustworthy and predictable–the place I’d grown up, [the] language I speak and customs I know, the place [the] past [of which] I was taught in school and in university, [with a] present I have become accustomed to interpreting and pretending I understand–began to turn into a place of shadows out of which jumped horrible creatures as soon as we dropped our guard. With time I have come to think that this is the true reason why writers write about their early youth: you don’t write about what you know and understand, and much less do you write because you know and understand, but because you understand that all your knowledge and comprehension are false, a mirage and an illusion, so your books are not, could not be, more than elaborate displays of disorientation: extensive and multifarious declarations of perplexity.

— Ibid., p. 439

– Majestic Theatre, Wellington, 1987

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Rodrigo Garcia: Gabo, Mercedes & an image of death as impenetrable, as object of a singular encounter, as departure

each person has their own singular encounter, not just with the deceased but also with the event itself, … death … Nobody can be denied their relationship to it, their membership in that society. And death as something that is, rather than as the lack of something, is sobering to behold. That seems to be the case even for the nurses in the room. They go about their business, but it seems to me that they are now in their heads, unable to avoid reflection. It’s not an occurrence that must ever get old.

— Rodrigo Garcia, A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes: A Son’s Memoir, 2021, printed in the typeface of Sabon, created by Jan Tschichold between 1964 and 1967, p. 59.

The men move expertly, but nothing in their demeanor betrays any excessive familiarity, let alone boredom, with a task that they have performed innumerable times, with people of all ages and in all circumstances. Their attitude imbues the task with dignity. It’s what even strangers do always and everywhere for people who have died: take care of their bodies with seriousness. As he is carried down the stairs slowly, the stretcher has to be tilted until it is almost vertical, to negotiate the turn at the landing. For a moment I imagine my father upright, as if at attention, unseen and unseeing in the dark. We are all standing at the top or at the bottom of the stairs, watching in silence. Only my mother is seated, looking on, inscrutable. Unlike the death earlier, or the cremation later that evening, the feelings regarding this moment are devoid of mystery. They cut to the bone: he is leaving home, and he will never return.

— Ibid., p. 73.

The captain looked at Fermina Daza and saw on her eyelashes the first glimmer of wintery frost. Then he looked at Florentino Ariza, his invincible power, his intrepid love, and he was overwhelmed by the belated suspicion that it is life, more than death, that has no limits.

— Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, at ibid., p. 105.

The sight of my father’s body entering the cremation chamber is mesmerizing and numbing. It feels both impossibly pregnant and meaningless. The only thing I can feel with any certainty at that moment is that he is not there at all. It remains the most impenetrable image of my life.

— Ibid., p. 84.

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for Neill

           I lay on a deep land mountain high dreaming around the spaghetti

tonsilled bird awallow

       hello on a brassfretted dawn


was a coldlicked clear day

a smoke wisp blue tongue sky


       in a hemhigh coat hat combo

say a patchjacket headjazz throwback affair for a hat

       shouldering a sky set brick hard

                 a doorknock studio

       on an alley narrow street


  
a note played till dawn under a lemonade sky

       you don’t have to be sick

like his mum brought and he brought to drink

                 when we lived in a cave



love held sobre steady

sailtaut like a cablecar wire



for the sheer drop

notes like boltcutters



swoopfingered on the loose

from highbrow to low toe

       the full jazz



gingering that slackwire

       toeing that line link that ear rig

no luck in it



from chance start to at last

       out



to occupy the vast reaches of space

I occupy the stars.







31 . 12 . 2021

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completing a short series up to christmas


my mother and my father are far away

and huddled together

	against the weather



they look hopefully out
 
to the sea as if one of us is coming

	to pick them up



and the odd thing is that they
 
show no resentment at the lateness
 
	in their faces



as they would normally do and

are unconcerned by the violence

	of the weather



I suppose in some way it

is in them too yet

	they huddle



my father slightly taller

than my mother

	they are small people



their faces set and looking out

as I have said

	without resentment



without acceptance as they have

never accepted anything to be

	given



they are not two people in a storm

not a microcosm or a couple

	for whom



the other suffices

is satisfactory

	and provides



not everything the other

needs that would be even
 
	for the most ideal couple



if not impossible then unlikely

no but since they are not looking

	out for others



it seems each is looking out

to the sea for something

	that the other needs



and they are looking out

together for each other

	and if



they are looking out for us

it has got to be precisely

	because a mother



needs a son to come and

pick her up and a father too

	needs a son



whom he has not finished

saying everything he needs

	to say to and

 

never will and a mother needs
 
her children not to know

	she needs them as much

 

as they need her

...

	if not more






24.12.2021 – 28.12.2021

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antinomy–or the opposite is true, even the opposite of the opposite, oddly

Narratives of crisis emplot events to create a meaningful sequence. The way they construct this sequence is prior to and entails the choice of explanatory mechanisms and the fingering of guilty parties. To speak about “post-truth,” declining trust in science, and/or the “death of expertise” is to sketch the faint outlines of a sequence, a set of slots into which the usual suspects will slip naturally and self-evidently. The sequence of events is linear, leading to a break: a long-term process of decline that ultimately leads to a “collapse of the relationship between experts and citizens,” a breakdown of trust that threatens to send “democracy itself [into…] a death spiral.” Sketched in this way, the linear sequence implies a culprit: the “foundation of all these problems,” the soil in which all the other dysfunctions have taken root and prospered,” is the “abysmal literacy, both political and general of the … public.” The public is worse than a phantom; it is willfully ignorant. Enter the Great Multiplier–the internet and social media–and the secular trend combusts into full-fledged crisis: “a google-fueled, wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laypeople.”

— Gil Eyal, The Crisis of Expertise, (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2019), 82.

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a short series up to christmas


I think of the demands of people

	they fill my dreams and I

cannot satisfy them. Perhaps
 
	they can’t be satisfied. Yet,

woken by birds and the light of day

	that is always sudden, I still

hear talking. Being polite’s been

	overtaken by the demands of

sociability. That’s a fact. So why do I

	find it so hard to get my head

around? I mean, now children are

	to be heard, and not seen, and,

I mean, it’s a fact of growing up that

	we communicate more and more,

but, by saying we, I don’t know what

	I mean. Who, after all, is
 
growing up? If there’s a threshold of

	respect, I can honestly say

I have not crossed it. So the demands

	turn to insults, with the full meaning

the word has of a physical insult, that is
 
	worse than an injury. And like the

victim of injury, even sleeping I have

	a sense of shame and harbour it

when I am woken. And carry it, like a

	small broken heart or a bird,

hidden in my palm, throughout the day.






23 . 12 . 2021

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