National Poetry Day Series
The Poets’ Birthday by The Tuesday Poets 2012
The shyest sparrow’s supplications in the early evening trees
are a careful arpeggio — each note liberates a flotilla of leaves
fleeting, indeed, left scattered as archipelago in a dew-grass sea.
The song’s begun: feathered entreaties lift from every hedgerow, every
field, join in one great arc of beak and wing and downy plume —
brief benediction for the worker trudging home, a heart-lifted pause
at day’s end. Summer’s pages fall. Leaf by leaf, they shorten days,
strip bare the trunks, spill forth a concertina of split, sagging plums,
crimson globes — Demeter’s heart strung low against the blue note
sky. Furrowed fields lie flat beneath the tramp of corn-fed feet.
The scene is set, two candles lit, another year opens a window
through which we pass in streak of silver, burst of wheels’ screech, breath
of horns’ bright blasting. Inside, the chink of glass against china,
bubble of laughter tossed from one guest to the next draws us
to warmth, the blissful promise of shared experience. How it swells
the soul’s bright plumage! A winking flame copies itself on the clean
slope of the knife before it passes. The reflection flickers: and beyond
the window frame, a final guest hesitates in mauve-hued shadow, ghost
of Keats maybe, listening still, reticent, reluctant to eschew
autumn’s arias. And hear now, along the bay,
the pulse of song ticks out again in joyous iteration, a boy kicks
a ball against a wall, a sole finch adds bebop syncopation. Gabble,
and its consistency of warm honey dampen the tenor, the tune — best
left out in the tang of sharpened daylight. Shadows unwilling to retreat
stand shoulder-to-shoulder and beat the day’s thrum chanting come, cold,
come, dark, come firelight, we too have our part. Gladly, watch effulgence fade,
into this gentler glow of murmured crackle and spark-fed thoughts. Each year
is gathered and falls away in a clap of digits, up from nothing to where
we find ourselves surrounded. It’s come to this: the riffle of breath, the winking
flame. One is out, then the other. Stay with us, poet, it’s time to start over.
A global birthday poem written line by line by 26 poets from six countries and 12 cities over two weeks: from Tuesday April 3 to April 17 2012. It has been written to celebrate our second birthday.
The Tuesday Poets are (in order of their lines): Melissa Green, Claire Beynon, Saradha Koirala, Janis Freegard, T. Clear, Catherine Bateson, Renee Liang, Elizabeth Welsh, Alicia Ponder, Tim Jones, Kathleen Jones, Helen McKinlay, Helen Lowe, Eileen Moeller, Orchid Tierney, Susan T. Landry, Keith Westwater, Belinda Hollyer, Harvey Molloy, Bernadette Keating, Andrew M. Bell, Michelle Elvy, Catherine Fitchett, P.S. Cottier, Helen Rickerby, Mary McCallum.
Unable to post this year: Sarah Jane Barnett, Robert Sullivan, Zireaux, Emma McCleary
EDITOR COMMENTARY, MARY McCALLUM:
Tuesday Poem is two years old, and The Poets’ Birthday is a magnificent way to celebrate. It kicked off on April 3 with a line from Boston poet Melissa Green, title: Birthday Poem (working title) and has been criss-crossing the globe ever since like a digital marathon, with all the adrenalin and excitement you can imagine it generating.
The posts were twice a day, usually around 8 am and 6 pm NZ Time. As soon as a poet had logged into the TP blog and posted a line, s/he emailed the next poet on the roster to pass on the baton.
I love this image of the Tuesday Poet hard at work, it comes from our own Susan Landry in Maine: ‘… sitting in her bathrobe in Maine, hair sticking out in nine different directions, coffee cup rings marking her desktop…’ There is something very familiar about this.
My co-curator Claire Beynon contributed the poem’s second line from Ibiza, Spain, ten hours after Melissa Green posted, and Saradha Koirala from Wellington, New Zealand, came up with the third. And on it went. We passed the baton around the world from Dunedin to London to Canberra to somewhere in Italy to Seattle to Auckland to Maine and many other places besides. And look what came out! A poem about song and celebration, light and company.
There were remarkably few hiccups with the posting despite the time differences — most notably the poem disappeared twice due to a pesky ‘update’ button and some mis-scheduling. But it came back again. Phew. We tidied up some lines and line breaks as we went along but the lines are mostly as posted. For example, ‘it’ appeared five times in three lines – some ‘its’ clearly had to ‘hit’ the dust, and early on we realised the growing poem was better in longer stanzas rather than the three-lines we started with.
I was quoted on Beattie’s book blog last week as saying: ‘It’s an exciting process watching the lines go up one by one – seeing the thinking behind each line: the language, the line-breaks, where it’s left for the next poet to pick it up. It’s like watching one poetic mind at work with each poet acting like one of the many competing voices that a poet hears as s/he writes: ‘break the line there’ ‘no don’t’ ‘rhyme it’ ‘don’t you dare’ ‘how about plums to echo plume?’ ‘what are you thinking?’ and so on.’
Tuesday Poem co-curator Claire Beynon and I are once more delighted to raise a glass to our remarkable bunch of poets and devoted blog readers who come together in this place once a week to enjoy and celebrate poetry. We are a community built on trust, generosity, flexibility and a mutual obsession — and long may it last.
Happy Birthday! Ra whanau ki a korua!
For a complete list of National Poetry Day events around the country, go here.