Nathan's Reviews > 100 New Zealand Poems

100 New Zealand Poems by Bill Manhire
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's review
Jan 02, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: poetry
Read in January, 2011

Bill Manhire has done a standout job of selecting and grouping 100 New Zealand poems by 100 New Zealand poets. I'd say about 60 to 70% of them resonated with me, which is a stellar strike-rate for poems. No doubt the challenging and worthy have been omitted to make this collection accessible (purchased in Whitcoulls for $29.95 in 2003 says the sticker). It worked.

Five favourites.

Living Here by Cilla McQueen

Well you have to remember this place
is just one big city with 3 million people with
a little flock of sheep each so we're all sort of
     little human centres each within an outer
circle of sheep around us like a ring of
covered wagons     we all know we'll probably
be safe when the Indians finally come
down from the hills     (comfortable to live
in the Safest Place in the World)
     sheep being
very thick & made of wool & leather
being a very effective shield as ancient
soldiers would agree.
     And you can also
sit on them of course & wear them & eat them
aso after all we are lucky to have these
sheep in abundance     they might
have been hedgehogs — Then we'd all be
used to hedgehogs & clothed in prickles
rather than fluff
     & the little sheep would
come out sometimes at night under the moon
& we'd leave them saucers of milk
     & feel sad
seeing them squashed on the road
Well anyway here we are with all this
cushioning in the biggest city in the world
its suburbs strung out in a long line
& the civic centre at the bottom of
Cook Straight     some of them Hill Suburbs
& some Flat Suburbs & some more prosperous
than others
     some with a climate that embarrasses
them & a tendency to grow strange small fruit
some temperate & leafy     whose hot streets lull

So here we are again in the biggest
safest city in the world     all strung out
over 1500 miles one way     & a little bit
the other
     each in his woolly protection
so sometimes it's difficult to see out
the eyes     let alone call to each other
which is the reason for the loneliness some
of us feel
     and for our particular relations
with the landscape     that we trample
or stroke with our toes or eat or lick
tenderly or pull apart
     and love     like an
old familiar lover who fits us
curve to curve     and hate because it
knows us & knows our weakness
We're calling fiercely to each other
through the muffled spaces     grateful for
any wrist-brush
     cut of mind or touch of music,
lightning in the intimate weather of the soul.

Time by Donald McDonald.

Upon the benchy hillside
Where hoggets love to lie,
With noses pointed to the wind
And half-closed eye,
I walked alone on Sundays,
And wished my love was nigh.
For oh! the hours went slower
Than the moon goes in the sky.

Upon the benchy hillside
Raked with wind and sun,
Where the gray hawk hovers
And little rabbits run,
My love and I did linger
A few short hours;
But time slipped through our fingers,
As the wind slips through the flowers!

Other standouts: A Small Ode on Mixed Flatting by James K. Baxter, Pathway to the Sea by Ian Wedde, and Don't Knock the Rawleigh's Man by Vincent O'Sullivan:

Don't knock the Rawleigh's Man
when he opens his case and offers you
mixed spices, curry powder, chiblain
ointment, Ready Relief, brilliantine,
don't say Not now, don't think
Piss off, but remember:
think of a hill called Tibi Dabo
behind Barcelona and the legend
that up there Satan
showed J.C. just what he was missing.
What he offered was not simply
that vulgar thing — the girls
with buttocks like mounded cream
or enough money in brewery shares
to take a Rotarian's mind off mowing lawns
for octogenarian widows,
or the sort of drink we all know
Vice-Chancellors drink when they drink
with other Vice-Chancellors —
not that but more deftly
the luciferic fingers fondled
buttons nostalgic with little anchors
as in the Mansfield story
and bits of coloured glass from old houses
and variously, these: good punctuation,
unattainable notes, throaty grunts
at bedtime, the nap of the neck
of lovely ladies caught in lamplight
like the perfect compliance of the pitch
in the last over when the last ball
takes the intransigent wicket —
yes, he did. Satan offered those things,
those were the things turned down,
that's how serious it was.
And what was round the corner as we know
was a tree already chopped
waiting to be a cross and a woman
at home rinsing a cloth white as she could
and Joseph of Arimathea still thinking the rock
he had hollowed at phenomenal expense
was going to be his, forever,
not Some Body Else's, for a spell . . .
So when the bag snaps on your doorstep,
flies open like leather wings
and you see instead of feathers
the tucked-in jars, the notched tubes,
the salves the spices
the lovely stuff of the flesh,
ask him in, go on, in for a moment.
There's no telling what else he might show you —
what mountain he has in mind
you may cast yourself from,
what price that your hair shimmer
like a diving hawk.

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