The Poetry Cat – Neva Kastelic – Comments

Matilda
The Poetry Cat
Janne's tabby cat sat not on the mat 
She preferred the top of the sofa back
She purred now and then, not often, though –
a brindled enigma, this cat in the know.
Sometimes I'd catch her watching us
her eyes open thin, with a look just
this side of smugness. Call that poetry?
Those marks on the page? Without trying
I could show you that the real poem is a body curled into herself then 
stretched out then curled in then arched high as the sky then curled
in and the sun on soft fur and a purr and a hiss and a shiver as the
shadow of the tenth life draws near
but I won't
She yawns with a smile, I think it's a smile 
Our sweet poetry cat. Was it a smile?
Neva Kastelic

If you read the context below you will see that the cat ‘Matilda’ is watching the work of a poetry workshop from her vantage point. In fact, she has been part of many of the sessions. Neva uses her presence as fuel for writing at the same time using her photographic skills to create this ekphrastic presentation. I do like the strength of eye intensity caught in the photograph.

The eye focus of the cat looking down on the writers marries so well with the smug arrogance of her words – ‘this side of smugness. Call that poetry’. And as she is a tabby with distinctive markings she is more special. Perhaps cats are naturally smug unlike dogs.

And Matilda is of course a very knowledgeable cat. She will tell you what poetry is all about with cat authority, if you care to listen. And words on paper, those markings, they are totally redundant stuff. The projection of her italic cat speech is all cat, as it should be, as any cat will tell you without hesitation – and that is true poetry.

And that inward cat smile, if it is there, is an appropriate end line, engaging a sense of subtle humour.

This had me thinking of the poem The Orange Tree – John Shaw Neilsen – Analysis | my word in your ear in which any attempt at description of an event destroys the appreciation of that event by removing focus.

Context –

Neva was one of five ladies associated with the University of the Third Age Poetry Appreciation group in Canberra. They met on a regular basis to workshop their poetry creations. The outcome of their deliberations was a book of poetry entitled ‘The Moorings’ (published by the Interactive Press, Brisbane).

‘Matilda’ was a tabby cat who sat in for many of the meetings. She used to climb up on the back of the couch to survey the proceedings after the visitors took her usual spot. So she was entitled to be a little indignant.

This poem is a very apt introduction piece to the book.

What I particularly like about this publication is the great variety of poetic form used across the selection of poems presented, including ekphrastic, journals, Japanese traditional structure, and the playing of shape in the visual representation of words.

Photograph of Me Holding the Cat – Janet Frame – Comments

A Photograph of Me Holding the Cat
I see I have fallen into the trap. 
I hold it against my breast
but not on the side of my heart.  If you observe closely
you will see my fingers pressed into the fur
of my liable cat my escape-cat who would much rather be
                             stalking
in the great elsewhere at ground or sky level, seldom in
                             between where people’s heads are.
There is a tenderness in the way I balance its back paws
                             on my palm.
It’s all quite by chance.
I am frowning hard.  I too would much rather be
at my own level where I seldom meet a soul
except perhaps a travelling word or two, hordes of memories,
and because there is a tomorrow, a few meditative dreams
that will accompany me in my pleasurable inward world
my secret mirror of your great here and my great elsewhere.
Janet Frame (1924 – 2004)

The actual photograph is not available for the reader to sight, at least to my knowledge. But we can imagine based on JF’s words. What is more important is the detail and underlying interpretation. It is both a liable and an escape cat – implying a cat that likes the outdoors. And JF, a cat person, is very gentle in her holding.

But then in the last six lines she uses the cat’s likeness for its own level to define her own level.

JF states that she is content with being away from people but still connects using letters (travelling words) and she also connects by recalling the hordes of memories. This indicating the poem was written late in life.

But the key to her soul is her pleasurable inward world – and her secret mirror.

And if you read her autobiography (written in 1984); especially the last of the three-volume trilogy (An Envoy from Mirror City) you will glean clear meaning to that association. The Mirror City is her understanding of life experience created by imagination – her mirror city. It is her very special personal world as she looks into that hazy glass called reality. And she becomes a messenger in the form of an envoy. An envoy from another world … the world of imagination … where she devoted her life to literature and writing.

I do like that last line – your great here (life) and my great elsewhere (interpretation).

She was very gifted and led quite an amazing life. Her literary talent was discovered in her writing of short stories and the winning of a prestigious award while incarcerated in a mental institution in New Zealand. She was awarded a grant and travelled to London in 1956 at the age of 32. This was the opening to many adventures and eventually literary success and recognition in London after spending time in Ibiza and Andorra.

A film was made by Jane Campion based on her life called – An Angel at My Table. The title of the second book of her three book autobiography.

Janet Frame – Wikipedia

A link to her poem The Icicles.

My heart leaps up … Wordsworth – comments

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began,
So is it now I am a man
So be it when I grow old
  Or let me die!
The chid is father of the man
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

William Wordsworth (1770 - 1850)

When you see the word ‘behold’ you know it is vintage literature. But what a strong word; far greater than see or observe. You are instructed to hold in your mind and contemplate. You must be still and hold for awhile in deepest consideration. And perhaps this is very appropriate in today’s constant 24 by 7 business rush.

This is a clear statement that Wordworth’s religion was nature. And that if he could not appreciate nature then life is just not worth living.

I came across the line – the chid is father of the man when at school not knowing the context and not understanding the meaning. I could not see the child growing to become a man. And I definitely could not see a child as father to the man. It does enforce the natural progression of humanity and the importance of children.

William Wordsworth on Wikipedia

I was lucky to be in the right place for the following heart leap photo –

The rising of the moon at Glasshouse Rocks, Narooma NSW on 24 July 2021
caught between two rocks
out of the unknowing deep
her sorrowful face

The Icicles – Janet Frame – Comments

The Icicles

Every morning I congratulate
the icicles on their severity.
I think they have courage, backbone
their hard hearts will never give way.
Then around ten or half past,
hearing the steady falling of drops of water
I look up at the eaves. I see
the enactment of the same old winter story
– the icicles weeping away their inborn tears,
and if they only knew it, their identity.

Janet Frame (1924 - 2004)
'The Icicles' from The Goose Bath (Vintage, 2006), and in Storms Will Tell:
Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, 2008)

This is all about the personification of an icicle. And of course like most of nature the movement from one state to another is without thought and if you like a total acceptance; humans are a little different!

There are perhaps some deep underlying thoughts promted by the text. The question to consider is whether we weep our way through life traveling through the winters of experience. And what do we become as we change state in our final dissolution? And do we transform into a new identity?

I will leave it for readers to ponder such questions, if they so desire!

The following are some details on the New Zealand writer Janet Frame; mainly from Poetry Archive webpage –

She is known primarily as a prose-writer, but Janet Frame’s passion since the age of nine was for poetry. Desperately unhappy because of family tragedies, later judged as ‘abnormal’ and spending years in mental hospitals, she never stopped writing poems, expressing the recurrent themes of nature, animals, people, death and writing itself, and aiming for a “truthful vocabulary of what is and is not”. Yet she only published one volume of poetry, The Pocket Mirror, during her lifetime. A posthumous selection of the overwhelming number of poems she left behind was published in The Goose Bath, the title referring to the container in which Frame kept the poems.

Janet Frame on Wikipedia

Footnotes on a timeline – Ellen Van Neerven – Commentary

Footnotes on a timeline

Burnt in blue to circumnavigate the strange land of
evanescence, the blue line they call time moving all forward,
blueing the blackfellas they dared call savage –
you can’t steal from savages. There was infinite wealth to steal.
Do you understand what it means to be a beneficiary of
colonisation? Can we creep through the timeline and draw
against the ancient-modern binary?

I can point on one side of the wave to my ancestors’ story,
I trace it through. They thought they cleaned it up but they
built the shallowest grave. They sold their soul for gold and
coal and oil and we line our stomachs with water, it will
be our armour, we are the people that can live inside our
dreaming, live inside the sea, live inside a turtle’s heartbeat,
live inside the sun on the sand, warm this country for
centuries because we are the real entities.

Don’t turn a blind eye, please, all we need for you to see is
that climate is our only bank. If we don’t have healthy water,
air, earth, we got nothing. So where does your money go,
where does your time go? My time and your time are on this
timeline.

There’s time for us to read out all of the footnotes, go over
the fine print. They burnt records of us in fires, they stole
the evidence of our survival. But check my blood, I’m from
here. This country is a haunted house, governments still
 playing cat chasing marsupial mouse. How many lies on
your timeline? Have you ever felt like you’re just killing
time? We’re still smoking sores. Let’s carbon date it, baby.
We have time to read out all the footnotes of a timeline in
Reckitt’s blue .

Ellen Van Neerven (1980 – ) from her book ‘Throat’

Ellen van Neerven is an Aboriginal Australian author, educator and editor. The timeline refers to the colonisation of Australia in the eighteenth century.

Reckitt’s Blue was a product used in hand washing as a whitener, to help delay the yellowing effect you can get when cotton gets older.

It is also an ekphrastic poem as there is a painting of the same name. See this link … Wall Composition in Reckitt’s Blue (detail) 2017 – The Drawing Room – ABC Radio National.

The poem is based on the colour blue and the product ‘Reckitt’s Blue’ in reference to the clash of cultures and the destruction occurred by the white invasion of the country. And as you can see Reckitt’s Blue was an appropriate product in connection with the whitening of Australia that took place against the indigenous culture.

The title is very apt as Aboriginal peoples associate so strongly with the land. Bare foot walking gives a sense of home. These notes is the vein of a poem come straight from the heart of Aboriginality.

Looking at each stanza –

S1 … Well, it is all to do with the ancient-modern binary; the coming together of two very different peoples due to the journeys across the blue. And in a different understanding of blue, the blueing of the blackfellas. And the infinite wealth to steal is not the wealth from mining exploration. And we have the reference to the Reckitt’s Blue painting with that verb draw. And this is the big question – what are the benefits of colonisation?

S2 … The painting has a wave of blue and this is used to portray two different sides of the story. The selling of the land for what it contained; gold, coal and oil within the shallowest of graves. Implying a loss of Aboriginal life. Against this that which is impossible to steal articulated using Aboriginal culture such as the living inside the dreaming. And the deep association with the land and nature with that metaphoric statement to live inside a turtle’s heartbeat.

S3 … A telling statement on the environment for we are all on the same timeline – my time and your time are on this timeline. Care of environment is paramount to survival.

S4 … Here the timeline of the colonisation years is shrouded in the lies of non-recognition of what happened in those years of destruction; the stealing of the evidence of survival. Often a timeline is a continual statement across time denoting a whole list of events. This might not be a true representation from a white interpretation; but the poem ends providing that marvelous metaphoric footnote in terms of Reckitt’s Blue.

It seems appropriate to include this poem as last week was NAIDOC (National Aborigine and Islanders Day Observance Committee) week which is always the first full week in July.

And here is a link to a poem from Oodgeroo Noonuccal famous for promoting acceptance many years ago – We are going – Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) Comments | my word in your ear– with similar sentiments on the nature of the impact of  colonisation on the indigenous peoples of Australia.

And Ellen Van Neerven on WordPress – Ellen van Neerven | Mununjali author (wordpress.com)

On Wikipedia … Ellen van Neerven – Wikipedia

After great pain – Emily Dickinson

After great pain

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like tombs –
The stiff Heart questions “was it He, that bore,
And “Yesterday, or Centuries before”?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the snow –
First – Chill – then stupor – then the letting go –

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

This poem was written in 1862 and in the life of ED what great pain she experienced is not known. However, the generic nature allows the reader to make personal association based on life experience.

S1 – the poetic structure of the opening first line stresses great pain …

After / great pain, / a for / mal feel / ing comes – (using trochee – long short stress and spondee long long) … iambic pentameter is used elsewhere.

The nerves are equated to tombs in that sensitivity of body becomes a dead holding place. A numbing effect takes place. The heart, the central piece of the body, becomes stiff equating to why, why is such pain happening. And then there is the religious connotation on the ‘He’ perhaps relating to Jesus who was the answer to all sin both past and present in the act of atonement on the cross. An immeasurable pain unknown.

S2 – This is the aftermath of a painful event, whatever the nature of that pain. Life carries on but in a numb sort of way as everything turns to cardboard. But something happens from this pain and something of value internalises in the person like the forming of quartz -a common hard, crystalline mineral. And there is a contentment in this hardening of life. A contentment after coming to terms with what has happened.

S3 – This is the way of life defined in the hour of lead … by the example of a person experiencing snow then the chill and the subconscious stupor as all sensitivity is lost in the letting go. This continue process is shown poetically by the discrete break up of the words and the use of the hyphen in that last line – First – Chill – then stupor – then the letting go –. But does that ever happen?

ED defines the nature of life as we experience a succession of falling pain. But there is never total closure for we carry the scars despite moving on and hopefully growing as a person. And whether quartz can become diamond is another matter; especially if forgiveness is involved.

Emily Dickinson on Wikipedia

Depression: A personal poem

A personal Haibun poem on depression – (a poem which incorporates text, an image and haiku)

We all have a wide span of emotive feeling. That is the natural way of life. It is just that some have very high extremes at both ends of the scale. And this can be quite devarstating to all concerned. This is especially so if medical intervention is required.

The following happened in the early nineteen fifties in England.

When we were growing up; I can’t remember exactly how old I was but still at primary school. I was probably around about nine or ten years old. I was behind the garage wall with my younger brother. We peeped around to the front of our house and saw our mother being taken out of the front door on a stretcher to be put in the back of an ambulance. We were young and did not recognise that it was in fact an ambulance.

She was taken to a ‘Fair Mile’, then called a Lunatic Asylum, near Wallingford in Berkshire and for many weeks our Father would drive us to visit her; mainly at weekends. I can remember summer days when the fields were full of wheat. Quite often my brother and I spent a lot of time in the grounds waiting for the return trip home in the Morris Isis. It is funny how you remember little things in life and I can remember the number plate. On the home front we children were looked after by one of my Father’s sisters, Auntie Gwen.

What is relevant to this text is the fact that something had to change with Mother so that she could recover and return to our home. Many years later Mother told me that she went into an empty church nearby and when she came out of the stillness something had happened inside, both in the church and in herself and it was the beginning.

damp afternoon
reaching for the light switch
depression

Richard Scutter May 2021

In Jerusalem – Mahmoud Darwish – Analysis

In Jerusalem
In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy ... ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy,
because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself:
How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a
stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah’s messenger
mouth: “If you don’t believe you won’t be safe.”
I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white
biblical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension’s presence. But I
think to myself: Alone, the prophet Muhammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted: Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me ... and I forgot, like you, to die
Mahmoud Darwish
translated by Fady Joudah

Mahmoud Darwish was a Palestinian poet and author who was regarded as the Palestinian national poet. He won numerous awards for his works. Darwish used Palestine as a metaphor for the loss of Eden, birth and resurrection, and the anguish of dispossession and exile. According to the Internet he has been described as incarnating and reflecting ‘the tradition of the political poet in Islam, the man of action whose action is poetry’.

Born in a village near Galilee, Darwish spent time as an exile throughout the Middle East and Europe for much of his life. He was imprisoned in the 1960s for reading his poetry aloud while travelling from village to village without a permit. Under the influence of both Arabic and Hebrew literature, Darwish was exposed to the work of Federico García Lorca and Pablo Neruda through Hebrew translations.

‘In Jerusalem’ is considered one of his most important poems. Jerusalem is the centre city of the three religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And remains the centre of conflict on legitimacy over it. This poem was a popular response after Donald Trump supported Israel in making it capital.

Jerusalem is first depicted as the personification of love and peace (lines 1 -7). And then the rising-up from the ashes. A personal rising as well as the rising of Palestine. A forgetting of any past religious association – I walk from one epoch to another without a memory. A bathing in the pure light of the holy – all this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. The stone could refer to the Foundation Stone behind the ‘Wailing Wall’ which could be regarded as the fountain of all true light from God.

Then the transformation and transfiguration to a true state outside both time and place. The message from Isaiah that redemption is possible on belief. The white biblical rose has a flavour of Christianity and purity but there is no ascension and the reference is to the prophet Muhammad.

The poem ends with a return to Earth and the dramatic ending by a woman solider shouting: It’s you again? Didn’t I kill you? This is followed by that wonderful response – I said: You killed me … and I, forgot, like you, to die.

Death cannot destroy; and the survival of Palestine is inferred – or in fact life in general, whether Jew or Arab. A poem that transcends all the waring religious factions. Perhaps, in due time, Jerusalem will revert to the love and peace denoted in the opening lines.

Muhammad Darwish on Wikipedia