Monday, December 18, 2006

Dream Poems

I was reading a post by Jen Crawford which included an old poem she'd found in a notebook, which got me to thinking about some of my old notebooks. I remember, at one period when I was very blocked, scribbling down some versions of my dreams in very loose blank verse.

It wasn't writing exactly -- more like somnambulism, but it was kind of interesting to dig them out (interesting for me, at any rate -- some very revealing comments here & there, but I've left most of those out). Anyway, here's a selection of a few of them. See what you think.

Stalin's Raven

I dreamt of a kind of fool, a court jester
beaten with sticks, me watching, heavy
blows on shoulders, back & legs.

a parallel unfolded, a black raven
pecking at other birds in a great mass
of feathers, sawdust: like a sand-pit.
The court, somehow, was Stalin's – like a Tsar.
A group of doctors stood around a bed,
– white masks, white faces – tending to his wounds.
Was I one? I think not.

Then the pip
of the alarm. Not a nightmare, tho' the blows
& pecking stabbed sufficiently at me: onlooker
on the fringes of the scene.


The War

I ran into an old friend on the street
(the scene: some future, broken-down New York)
she & her boyfriend were wearing overalls
& emptying the trash into a long
& complicated articulated machine.
They greeted me: Jack, whatcha doing here?
I answered: Hustling, since out of labour camp.
I'd turned the corner from another world,
a hotel run by gangsters – on the desk
a cute, dark girl, whom I'd addressed in
chin-Italian (their password: Chinese-Italian),
but from upstairs had come no nod
(But boss, the dormitory sleeps sixteen!)
Anne and her boyfriend sympathised with me –
the lucky ones, they'd been here doing this
all through the war – & now were moving house
to look after an apartment for a friend.
We got to talking – the friend had not been keen
on all their safety clothing – Anne confided
He told us that your body gets slip-streamed
from years of this exposure, so no problem.

I told her (I think truly) this was false
You must keep your protection – if he minds
construct a hallway closet with your things
ready for each morning – otherwise you'll die.

Anne – six-foot, slim, dark curly hair – had changed,
her hair was smoother, strung-out, she looked tired –
the opening, I felt, for something else.


Lion’s Head

Not an erotic dream – a dream of flight
& slaughter. The chase has bloody roots.
fleeing from a cabin full of death
(boyfriend among the dead), the girl
– shorts, t-shirt – waves down a white car.
The driver is an easy-going bozo, believes her,
pedal to the metal, u-turns with a roar.

[Next scene:] They are discovered, having driven
miles (America?), in one more cheap motel.
startled, late at night, they drive off the back porch
down onto clay, a grassless slope, with new-laid roads
that end in concrete dams. The choice is simple,
a youth below looks up – they fell him,
hold up his bent corpse. Above, inside the room,
three figures – one a lion’s head –
the sacrifice accepted? Who can tell?
They find the car, roar off on a dead end,
bump over grass ... till woken by a squeal,
a set of squeals – or barks? – or mechanistic
screeches. Nightmare-like, dissolves.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Pania Press

The very lovely Bronwyn Lloyd and I have started a small press together. It's called Pania Press, and will specialise in small limited editions of original texts by local poets and artists, with individual handcrafted covers.

The first three books (slated to go on sale next year) are:

1/ Jack Ross, Love in Wartime
(a sequence of poems with illustrations and accompanying texts)

2/ Therese Lloyd, many things happened
(a debut poetry collection from this promising young writer, who recently completed her Masters in Creative Writing at Victoria University's International Institute of Modern Letters)

3/ Michele Leggott, hello and goodbye
(a new sequence of poems by one of New Zealand's brightest poetic luminaries)

Future titles will be announced as they become available, but the point of this post is just to direct you to the Pania Press blogsite we've set up to advertise (and sell!) our wares. Get in quick -- there won't be many copies of each one to go around ...

Sunday, December 03, 2006


the rolling whale’s-eye
of the Farmers’ Santa
in its transplanted state
Queen St / Victoria
St corner

eyes fixed on your phone
– can I sit here?
– our bus is coming in 5 minutes, mate
– time to finish
up my smoke

plugged in – the Asian girl
cocks her head to one side
as if listening for it
for what? invisible
the sentence of her life


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Gabriel's Groundhog Day

“I’m both! I’m a celebrity in an emergency …”

This is my launch speech for the screening of Gabriel White's new film (see further details here):

There’s a scene in the movie Groundhog Day where the cameraman Larry is trying to pick up a girl at a party. “People think that I just point my camera at stuff, but there’s a heck of a lot more to it than that!” She’s clearly unimpressed, and makes a hasty excuse to get away before he even gets to show her the inside of his van.

I guess the first point to make about Gabriel’s work generally, but especially his new film Aucklantis, is that there’s a heck of a lot more to it than meets the eye. Yes, on the surface it’s all very simple. He walks along the street, filming himself, and talking. Sometimes he does the washing-up while he’s talking. Sometimes he discusses where he’s going to put the camera.

This conciseness and economy of means is a mask, though. Gabriel has understood that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The remorselessly quotidian and ordinary nature of the things he films is designed to wake us up to the myriad strangenesses in the ways we react to the world around us.

I guess the most obvious analogy is with Joyce’s Ulysses (which he actually invokes at one point in the film you’re about to see). Again, the concept is simple: the events of one day in Dublin, seen through the eyes of a number of different characters, but patterned on the events and people of the Odyssey.

Joyce undercuts the bourgeois complacencies of provincial Dublin by setting them against the heroic intensity of Homer. Or does he? Perhaps he means to say that Leopold Bloom really is as much of a hero as his original, Odysseus.

Gabriel’s own model is Plato’s Atlantis – does he mean to satirise our lifestyle or simply examine it? That’s for you to decide. He certainly succeeds in making provincial Auckland seem as much of a battleground for the gods as Plato’s lost continent ever did.

I’d prefer to posit a connection with Groundhog Day, which is (I have to admit) one of my favourite films of all time. Phil (or Bill Murray) is forced to repeat the same day over and over again until he exhausts every possible way of living it. He ends up becoming a better person through sheer boredom and failure to discover anything else to do with his time.

“One of these days someone’s going to see me interviewing a groundhog and decide I don’t have a future …”

Gabriel, too, is bound to the beat between Freemans Bay and the City Centre. He, too, resolves to get all he can from it. But is it Gabriel the character or Gabriel the filmmaker I’m talking about? Is there a difference? In Groundhog Day the weatherman Phil is constantly paralleled with the groundhog Phil. Every day the groundhog is frightened by his own shadow, and so the endless winter goes on. Phil the character tries kidnapping his alter ego, singing its praises, abusing it – nothing works. When he stops acting like a kind of human groundhog himself, though, the enchantment is broken.

At one point in his own film Gabriel speculates that his shadow is spying on him through stealth technology. He’s getting the better of it, though, by watching it spy on him, and thus getting an angle on how he appears to it. He even acts up to it at times to give it interesting things to watch …

Groundhog Day required a cast of hundreds, a set of Hollywood Stars, finding a more photogenic small town to stand in for Punxsutawney, Philadelphia, and a few million dollars. Aucklantis succeeds in covering substantially more territory at a fraction of the cost by the simple application of wit and ingenuity.

It came as a great surprise to the makers of Groundhog Day when they started to get letters from rabbis and monks and religious leaders praising them for the wisdom of their film. It was, after all, just supposed to be another frothy Hollywood comedy. Gabriel’s film is funny, too, and one can read it on that level with no problems at all. Go deeper, though, and it’ll repay your scrutiny.