Category Archives: Poetry

Singing, acting, writing

Last time I blogged, I’d just spent 10 days in LA researching my novel. Since that time I’ve been incredibly busy. But instead of hunkering down during the cold winter months and working assiduously on the novel itself, I busied myself with entirely different projects… it’s weird how procrastination works.

Here are the things I’ve been up to:

SINGING

James Summerfield, a UK-based muso and Americana-meister, asked me to sing on one of his tracks. I agreed of course, and was pleasantly surprised when he actually sent me four tracks to sing on. It was my first experience of making music with someone I’d never actually met. Here’s a little sample of the songs on the album. You can pre-order it here. The female vocalist – yup, that’s me.

 

ACTING

My brother is the actor of the family. He starred in New Zealand’s longest-running soap opera Shortland Street for about four years, as well as starring in Spartacus and various other shows and films. Acting is something I’d never considered doing myself…

But then, suddenly, I felt like trying it. And with the help of Pigville Productions I created the pilot episode of a weird little comedy called ‘Immi the Vegan’. More Immi the Vegan to come soon!

WRITING

Most of my writing time has been spent co-writing a found-footage horror web series, along with writer Guy Pigden. It’s been a very different experience for me, writing with someone else, and also writing to commission – with very clear outlines given by the producers. The most important thing I’ve learned so far is to not write too much before showing it to the production company – because in all likelihood you’ll have to scrap the whole damn and start again. The shoot for this show is in October, and I’ll post about it then!

But in other writing news, three of my poems were published in the latest edition of takahe magazine, and can be read here. The first poem, in particular, is very special to me.

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National Poetry Day and Broken Egg

Today is New Zealand’s National Poetry Day. There have been heaps of cool events this past week, and still a few more still to come. You can check them out here.

In celebration of the day, I thought I’d share one of my poems, titled Broken Egg. I wrote it in 2013, and it was published in the February 2014 edition of Writing Tomorrow. I hope that you like it.

 

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Broken Egg

1

They come bounding at me bow-legged,

expecting beaks like upside down spoons and brass eyes unblinking.

Oi, get off, I skip backwards, I gave you the wheat!

Don’t you remember pecking my hand and hearing me squeak?

 

I check for eggs inside the roosting shed, poke my head in,

perceive a hen-like shape and beak swiveling my way.

Oops, sorry – I say, retreat, retreat.

A rock in your place, a sleeping cat, even,

so stuffed with shadows, I’d think it a hen.

 

Sometimes I hear you wailing all the way from the front fence.

With misshapen eggs, I wonder why you lay.

Maybe because, secretly, you enjoy the quiet, dark,

the rustle of your feathers in the straw,

the curve, the release.

 

2

My mother owns sixty-one eggcups

though seldom eats her own eggs.

They sit in a brown cabinet

beside the lamp whose height hides a layer of dust.

The rest of her house is spotless, of course.

She’s a short woman, it’s not her fault.

 

She tried to have more kids but was stuck with just the one,

then my dad won big with the bonus bonds and moved away

with the lady who cut all our hair.

Two of the eggcups were wedding presents.

They sit front, centre, polished brightly.

Mum doesn’t receive many gifts.

 

In the early eve she’s sleeve-deep in the garden

speaking to her hens, upturning rocks.

Beetles and millipedes have no safe nooks.

I’ll never understand the pleasure she gets, digging potatoes,

wrenching sticky weeds from the mischievous earth.

 

She lays her carrots with care,

side by side on the lilac rug we used to take to the beach.

It’s covered in holes, I don’t know why she doesn’t biff it.

I sit with her till dusk while she shovels compost, full of broken shells.

She told me once that when hens eat a broken egg they get a taste.

 

3

Dad could catch a wave with his body, like a rocket,

arms stretched straight in front, strong legs kicking.

Mum and I skulked beneath the parasol, watching him.

I hear he has three kids now – probably brown, and fit, like him.

 

As a teenager I hated this farm.

I’d climb the overgrown rhododendrons,

perch like a pissed-off gargoyle, listing unfairnesses.

There’s nothing fun about being a kid.

When the doctor told me I couldn’t have any I was glad.

 

Dad sent me a postcard once, from France,

wrote it like he wrote them every week.

I didn’t recognise the handwriting

till Mum pointed out his name at the bottom.

I remember she cried.

She told me once she would’ve liked grandchildren.

 

Sometimes I see you running wide-armed at me,

scabby knees and bright eyes unflinching.

I’ve seen plasters with pictures on them, at the supermarket, just for kids.

Oi, get off, I tut, holding you at arm’s length

and poking your tummy till you squeak.

 

For a downloadable copy, click here.

 

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JAAM 33 – Small Departures

On New Year’s Eve, one of my best friends introduced me to one of his other friends as “a philosophy major, and a writer of short science fiction stories”. It struck me how weird it is that we do that – that we categorise people, choosing a few attributes and defining them as a combination of those things. Probably they were the most interesting attributes he could think of (you don’t want your friends to seem boring, do you?), and I guess it would have taken him too long to list everything he knew about me… “She’s 165cm tall, which you can see, she prefers peanut butter without added salt or sugar, she’s allergic to the powdery stuff on the skin of grapes…” Luckily our friends also miss out the embarrassing stuff when they categorise us for the benefit of a stranger.

Where was I going with this? Oh yes. I apologise for the small departure from the real topic of this post, which is my newest publication. My poem ‘Across so much water’ has just been published in JAAM 33, Small Departures.

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It’s a very non-sci fi poem, based upon my experience as a child when my mother told me she was leaving our family and moving to the United States to be with an unknown man whom she’d met on the internet (which was a lot less common over twenty years ago). This was a traumatic part of my life – and I spent nearly two years off school, recovering. The poem means a lot to me – as my poems nearly always do. Writing them is a whole different experience to writing my speculative fiction stories, which are more about the weird ideas I have in my mind, rather than the feelings and memories I want to try and make sense of. If you’d like to have a read of this poem, here’s a link to bookshops that sell JAAM’s publications.

I received my copies only a few days ago, and haven’t done much more than flick through their pages. But I’m thrilled to see my name alongside some of New Zealand’s great writers.

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Haikus and Mindfulness

What is a haiku?
About three years ago I picked up a small, slim book of haiku poetry from a person selling books on a suburban street in Whakatane (a small town in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty). It was only $1 and I thought, “what the hey”. I’d never read any haikus before and the book looked quick to read. It’s called “Haiku Poetry Volume Four”, by James Hackett.

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Floating with fallen
petals on a pool of sky:
a fledgling sparrow.
(James Hackett)

 I read the author’s preface (a sign that I’m getting older, I think) and was unexpectedly struck by the profoundness of what he was trying to express. A haiku, I learned, wasn’t simply a poem that goes 5 syllables – 7 syllables – 5 syllables (Mrs Hines, why did you put me so wrong?). To write a haiku is to capture a moment in time truthfully. To “hold a mirror to nature”. To observe (nature) without judging or analysing. You don’t bother with analogies. You don’t try to be clever or arty. You sit, you watch, and you capture what you’ve seen in 17 simple syllables (though it seems most people will allow you some artistic license to break this rule if you really must fit in that eighteenth syllable, God what a glutton).

I’ve since learned that you can write other 5 syllable – 7 syllable – 5 syllable poems, say about human nature or human things, but these aren’t haikus. They’re  senryūs. You can be as arty or as clever as you want with those.

Her bull-like snorting
is so mechanical it’s
like a train, or sex.
(I.K. Paterson-Harkness)

What is mindfulness?
The reason I started thinking about haikus again is that I’ve just begun a yoga teacher training course. I’m not entirely convinced I want to teach yoga, but I was offered a scholarship, and well… I’m sure it’s good for me. When most people visualise yoga they imagine people with their legs tied in a knot around their neck, so I’m going to disappoint you right now by letting you know I actually can’t do that. And I’m not sure if being able to do that would really help me much in life, except to impress/disturb people at parties. The real purpose of yoga is to “calm the fluctuations of the mind”, and this can be achieved with more practical bodily positions. (Disclaimer: I’m not saying tying your legs around your neck is bad for you per say. Just that you don’t have to do it to be doing yoga.)

Mindfulness is when we observe what is happening to our mind and to our body, without judging or analysing. We simply notice – our breath, our racing thoughts, the noise of the truck outside, the feeling in our knee – and fully accept what is occurring. The point of being mindful is to bring you into the present moment. So often we’re reflecting on the past (“Did I tell John I’d be home at 6?”) or we’re projecting into the future (“I hope Mary likes the present I’ve bought her”). If you take the time to think about it, it’s kind of sad that we do that so often. The present is where we are now. It’s the only place we’ll ever be.

How to link the two?
To be honest I’m not all that good at being mindful. I find it nearly impossible not to analyse or judge, or even more impossible to stop my racing thoughts. It’s true that yoga does help, but let’s face it, I’m no guru.

But I am a writer! And I’ve decided that to write a haiku properly one must be mindful – at least mindful of the present moment that we observe with the senses of our body: sight, sound and touch. So my general conclusion is that writing haikus will help me practice being mindful. And being mindful is good for me. So writing haikus is good for me. There’s some unbreakable logic for you, so go on – go write a haiku.

Watching only to his
right, the strutting seagull
walks in a circle.
(I.K. Paterson-Harkness)

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Kiwi Diary 2015

Today being the 46th day of 2015, I realise this post is a little late in coming. But hey, by the time I was actually sent this sweet little piece of New Zealand culture it was already 2015, and I figure y’all had your diaries already. Okay? Okay.

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Full of local art, poetry, prose, recipes, historical and environmental tidbits, this is more than just a book to keep your year’s worth of ‘to do’ lists in. And once again I’m privileged to have a couple of pieces of mine included, including my poem Home (written about my home town Dunedin) and a very short story titled ‘Time to Get Up’.

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And for those who don’t have microscopic eyes to read the text above (err… I mean eyes that act like microscopes, not eyes the size of pinpoints) I’ve pasted this fit-on-one-small-page story below:

TIME TO GET UP

“It’s time to get up Jo,” the voice said beside her head.

Jo’s eyes opened, her heart racing.

“It’s time to get up,” it repeated.

Oh crap, the alarm! Jo reached over, feeling its sides for a switch. Her mother had bought it for her yesterday as an early birthday present, told her it would “revolutionise” her pre-9AMs.

She gave up and rolled over.

“Jo, you must get up.”

“I don’t need to.” Apparently these things were intelligent, like the new microwaves that stopped when the food was perfectly cooked.

“Don’t lie to me.” The voice was soothing, female.

“Oh god, seriously?” Jo mumbled, wrapping her pillow around her head.

“WAKE UP!” It shouted.

“Stop it!” Jo’s head ached. What was it, 3am when she got home last night? “I’m not working today, okay? Just let me sleep.”

“You set me to high priority.”

“What?” Jo reached out again, fumbling for the switch that wasn’t there. “I didn’t know that.”

“You must get up Jo.”

Jo seized the clock. She tapped the screen. “What command turns you off?”

“When you get up I stop.”

“This is stupid!” Grumbling, Jo staggered to the kitchen, placed the clock on the bench, then collapsed back into bed.

There was a clatter.

A moment later something bumped against her door.

“GET UP! GET UP! GET UP!”

Jo leaped from bed, hands over her ears. The clock had turned a vivid red. It rolled towards her on nonperceivable wheels.

Jo screamed. Grabbing the nearest solid thing, a steel-capped Doc Martin boot, she struck the clock, cracking it straight down the middle. Colour seeped out and the screen went blank.

Breathing rapidly, Jo dropped the boot.

Just as she finally lay back down she heard a fizzing. From the broken clock came a line of smoke, immediately followed by flames.

It’s time to get up,” it said.

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Small things, and climbing

On Thursday morning I visited Karekare, a west Auckland beach and one of the most beautiful places in the world (and, incidentally, the beach where The Piano was filmed). When I was first introduced to Karekare (sceptical that it could really be the magical wonderland it had been described to me as) I felt I had stepped back in time. I imagined dinosaurs placidly stomping through the lush grass. I felt like the first human on earth. I wanted to pack up our inner city life and move out west immediately. It amazes me every time I return that the beach isn’t swarming with tourists. On a weekday you’ll see only one or two others on the vast stretch of sand.

I love to take photos – am obsessed with taking photos, to be truthful – and this time I concentrated on the small things.

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These photos reminded me of my poem Climbing, written about another west Auckland beach, and published in the 2014 Kiwi Diary. You can read it here: Climbing I K Paterson-Harkness

And on a completely different topic: I recently read God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. It was as good as I’d hoped – poetic, beautiful, tragic. I wished I’d read it before I went to Nepal earlier this year (since it deals with the cast system, and I would have had a better response to the man on the local bus who told me he was an ‘untouchable’ – and seemed to be waiting for more of a reply than my indifferent shrug), but hey, there’s always a next time.

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Fetching Coal

When the sky gives up and falls down white,

I can’t see the main road

where logging trucks skirt our boggy lagoon each day and night.

In the night-day the pines are headless,

and past our washing line, where the buses stop

our island ends.

 

Shapes traipse through the harbour mouth,

loaded with cargo, heavy with sky.

I create holes to see through and make them out, just,

as dark bodies spotted through ice.

Ghosts come out in all the hours.

 

She tosses me my gumboots, says, “your turn to fetch the coal.”

Drawing hoops through the early kitchen steam,

skittish flue prattling uneven, I stop, all a sudden,

peek-holes unfilled.

Bad things hide inside the coal shed.

 

I need two hands to heave the bucket down the stair,

mittens slipping.

Nose pinched with chill, I huff white clouds at it.

At the path’s edge grasses stand, stiff as green twigs.

There’s a frozen puddle in the mud.

I press the tip of my gumboot down, testing strength.

 

They say you mustn’t walk home alone

or the man with no pants will get you.

They say you shouldn’t crawl through the drain beneath the main road

or the rain will come wash you away.

They say the man at the top of the lane was blinded in one eye by a possum.

I don’t much like him anyway, because of his smell.

 

Wood block, wood pile and axe,

I’m nearing the shed.

Darker than the cave I make inside my bed at night.

When my fingers find the coal vat

I have to haul myself and bucket over the side

to grovel in the black.

 

Down by the creek, deep pools and stones,

I crawl through the drain pipe beneath the main road.

Across the lagoon, through the teeth, and flying.

Faster than ships, out of the fog.

 


percival

The poem was published in the Kiwi Diary 2014, and is based on true things. The painting is of the house where I grew up. Painted by my Mum, who sent all of us out to fetch coal.

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