January 2022

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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