Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tuesday Poem - Everything Is For A Very Short Time by Jennifer Compton

Everything Is For A Very Short Time
                       The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse
                      Edited by Ian Wedde and Harvey McQueen

There is no question of regret - I write hastily, in the shadow of my hand –
we left off loving - I'm not good I'm not peaceful I'm not wise – collapsing
out of Heaven – good intentions - other disappointments - such an ecstasy
of bewildered weeping – we had to be terrible news – in these terrible times.
Nothing innocent lasts long – the tragic scent of violets – in a broken vase -
her face moves like the face of a thief at the window – her face unclenches
like a fist – yes, the cold has come again – with a diffident explanation.
Theology and a patchwork absolute – the bare longing of the imagination -
treacherous as an avalanche poised above – and the white snake dead too -
the translucent hyperboles of art – saying Bravo Bravo to the Invisible -
eyes lit up by eager, cruel fires – as the taniwha is raised up from its den -
prodded into stuttering rage – his gnarled his dazzling his stubborn heart -
where the visions start – among immortal things – and all this in fidelity
to death - the iron bells toll – my story comes to its end. But picture me.

Cento from – Mary Ursula Bethell, Michael Harlow, Meg Campbell, Brian Turner,
Ian Wedde, Bill Manhire, Hilaire Kirkland, Allen Curnow, Tuini Ngāwai (Translation
by Kumeroa Ngoingoi Pēwhairangi), Tony Beyer, A.R.D. Fairburn, Christina Beer,
Elizabeth Nannestad, Sam Hunt, K.O. Arvidson, Denis Glover, Heather McPherson,
Murray Edmond, Alistair Campbell, Fleur Adcock, C.K. Stead, Janet Frame, Keith
Sinclair, Waikato (Translation by Margaret Orbell), M.K. Joseph, Kevin Ireland,
Charles Brasch, Vincent O'Sullivan, James K. Baxter, David Mitchell, Keri Hulme.

I am an absolute fusser I know but I felt quite devastated when this poem was published in the recent Poetry NZ and the layout was a dog's breakfast. Layout, the picture on the page, means a lot to me. But thank heavens for Tuesday Poem and I have redress.
Cento comes from the Latin word meaning patchwork quilt, and I like to write them from time to time when I am feeling inchoate. And because I live in Australia most of the time I like to dwell sometimes in the familiarity of the canon of NZ poetry. I spent hours reading through the book. It was a refreshment.
I also notice now that the book was co-edited by Harvey McQueen, who was a Tuesday Poet, who I didn't get a chance to know because he died soon after I joined. Vale Harvey. I loved browsing the book and taking what I wanted from it to tell my own story.    


  1. Jen, I love this. A 'cento' you say - I am hooked. The 'mind shards' hold together somehow expressing that feeling of brokenness....

    I lifted bits of Auden for a recent poem on my blog, felt a bit guilty, kept thinking of Witi and his plagiarism issues... but my 'lifts' were phrases referencing Auden - the title was clear - and transforming them to my ends... the double life of the words creates something deep moving like a river.

    And now a 'cento' to think about... wonderful. And yes, Vale Harvey - I love that collection to - his thoughtful voice is there in every page. Thank you, Jen.

  2. The deliberate inchoate to give not only freshness but glimpses of a bigger picture, and deliberate broken thought. Very cool. I'll never remember the name (cento) but the structure - and the poem are very memorable.

  3. i think a cento is more or less legal - i have written a couple in the past which have been published in reputable mags and there has never been a come back

    but i am aware of the air of illicitity and provided a list of the poets i used at the bottom - i think that is part of it actually

    since i discovered rosalie gascoigne i have been emboldened

  4. Viva the Cento: if only, Jennifer, because it is the first time I have really read what presents as a prose poem (in format anyway) that actually 'speaks' to me as poetry. I know I am undoubtedly a poetic Luddite in this respect, but prose poetry almost always reads as straight prose to me! :(