Monday, 17 February 2020

Birds of a feather

Today's writing was inspired by an event listed in the upcoming Dunedin Fringe Festival (19-29 March). Local artist Manu Berry has a bird themed exhibition and is asking people to provide stories about birds based on their personal experience. Birds are a wonderful theme as everyone is bound to have multiple stories to share. The trick, from a literary perspective, is to not just say what happened but to wrap it up in a story that is compelling and interesting to read.


Streams of golden sunlight pierces native bush. I hear the distant trickling of a far off stream, A rustle behind me. Silently and slowly I turn and before me a cheeky curious kea scooping up its lunch. A foot away from me, it follows brazenly, footsteps to hops. I approach the rest of my hiking party. It flys off with a flash. I am left in awe of nature's wonders.

- Sarah Williams


The bell rings for lunch. I gather my jam sandwiches and venture forth towards the playground. I take a bite when I hear the distinctive squawks of the seagulls as they come swooping into the lunch area, chasing each other away for the chance of a meal. I gobble my lunch and rush inside as the flock of gulls dive bomb for the chance of a snack.

- Sarah Williams


"Rats", he said. "They were eaten alive by rats."
Leaving the bedroom, I walked out into the lounge. From the fireplace I heard a thumping.
"Oh my God", I thought. "The rats are here to eat us alive."
Following that thought came a scream. Inside myself I felt my stomach twist and turn. as the screaming subsided I looked at the logburner.
"Oh my God," I thought. "It's a bird."
Fluttering, thumping against the door of the logburner was a sparrow. It had flown into the chimney and got stuck. I opened the logburner door and out it flew. It was flying into the windows but not the one I had opened to let it fly free.
Something had to be done.
Grabbing a ruler. I pushed it out the window, thinking of it as my good deed for the day. That ruffled up sparrow was my ticket to a better hereafter.

- M.F.


    Suddenly it was upon us; that supposed night of stillness, when the Christmas star shone brightly overhead... But the cold despairing ebb of day, presented anything but!
   Wild winds of torrential velocity had swept the country and pounded our shorelines for three solid days, with no let up. The sky was obscured to an impenetrable dimness; at an even earlier hour, by the unpredictable elemental onslaught.
   I had arrived home without hope in my heart and my body desperately wanted sleep.
   But my eyes were drawn to the window in the half light, to a shape which I almost convinced myself was imagined. However, in keeping with the nature of curiosity, I found myself drawn to the back door which kept appearing to recede within the enveloping darkness and the rude onslaught of the vicious blast.
   Experimentally edging my way out of the long forgotten sun room, around the side of the rear decking, now only visible to the soles of my feet, I realised at first; only by my tenuous sense, that there was indeed a shape which perceptibly took the form of a bird in trouble.
   My heart appeared to provoke the simultaneous weakness I began to experience in my legs, as the thump of its sinus rhythm pervaded my being atypically. Edging closer to the delicate creature increased the intensity of the delayed moment, as I began to virtually sense its breathing; under duress. A palpable fear gripped me; both for the desperate plight of my visitor and beyond that; whether I could maintain the presence of mind to attempt to assist it on such an occasion.
  Another face drenching of dark rain later, swirled into my whipped and ever tangling hair; artistically modified by the increasingly treacherous gusts, (in disagreement about abating), practically rendering me vision-less for the interminable next minute.
 ...There came a warmth towards me by way of my arms, which knew their purpose independently; unlike the trajectory of my thoughts, but embodying a deep emerging joy, as the life in its shallowness, nestled in my breast.
   Reaching the house was forgotten, as the contrast of comfort, warmth and dryness, by way of a box and mild warm hot water bottle sufficed, to carry my little feathered friend through the long uncaring night ahead.
  By morning, my heart smiled on hearing promising movement from the sleep nurturing confines of the box.
  Recovery had been a near miss, but sometimes in life there is an epiphany.
  I knew that it was what was in my heart that really mattered.
  That day I saw the hope of Christmas.
  I was rescued by a beautiful white dove.

- AH-B



Wednesday, 12 February 2020


Odes are fun to play with as they are generally about something we love or are passionate about. So we sing its praises far and wide. What better subject to start us off than Baldwin Street, the world's steepest street, according to Dunedin at least. And then onto any subject dear to our hearts. These are perhaps irregular odes in that they do not follow any prescriptive formula though most rhyme. All however are praiseworthy contributions you will hopefully enjoy. 


O what delicious small divine,
worthy of the finest wine,
as the bread from oven comes;
crispy crust and squishy crumbs.
The pundits say that you should wait
24 hours from bake to plate.
But, ah, who is there can resist
a slice with melted butter kissed.
Hail to the breadmaker's craft;
if you don't like it you must be daft.

- Helen Ledger


Oh wondrous street, I look at thee
And think you are too steep for me.
How will I get to the top
Without having to stop, and stop?

The houses hang off the edge
I wonder if they make a pledge
To hang on tight, with all their might
Or do they simply slide off at night?

The tourists come by car and bus
To see why there is all this fuss
While those who live there are outspoken
As once again, a fence is broken.

Oh wondrous street
Oh steepest street
What will we do to solve the clash
Between locals and the tourist cash?

- Christine Philp


This wondrous vessel I see before me
Made to carry coffee or even tea
Or hot chocolate if you desire
Particularly if you're beginning to tire.

You can be coloured, or just plain white
To lift and carry, heavy or light
Two handles when young, one when older
Or maybe none if we get bolder.

Such a simple shape and yet so complex
The last thing we want is for it to flex
As we carry our drinks, usually hot
To that extra special spot.

But let us not restrict its use
It's size and shape can give us clues
Breakfast cereals are a fave
Or scrambled eggs in the microwave.

A simple vessel with so much potential
It can become a decorative jewel
Yet a plain white one will suffice
When using it to shake game dice.

- Christine Philp


Twisting, twirling, a column of steam
A distinctive odour pushes its way up my nose
You are the object from which I rise from my bedclothes
Dragging myself out of bed to taste and smell your rich aroma

I prefer you sustainably harvested and Fair Trade
But sometimes my wallet confines me to a cheaper brew
My favourite is a round rich full-bodied beverage from a cafe
A treat I can only afford monthly

I like those posh Moccona and Golden Roast Nestle
But can only afford one vice, alas not coffee
I love the cinnamon sprinkle in my latte
The delicate heart-shaped swirl on my coffee's froth

Tactile, with an odor, warm and visually appealing
It just about stimulates all the senses
Sitting on and incubating my cup of coffee
I wish I could make a cup last for ever.

- M.F.


Well I have at least once dragged my legs
up your sloping pavement

Also at least once, I have been driven
up your incline and lazily meandered my way down

Does the wind blow colder at the top?

Walking, hiking, limping
to the pinnacle of Baldwin Street

I can view from the top and see the world

a wonderful view
an awesome view
a steep view

No one can equal this
at least I think not

I'll be "high as a kite by then"
In the words of Elton John

It's been a long time - eh Baldwin Street
But still you remain in my memory

I push and pull myself along your sloping pavement
There is nothing in the world that beats your jaffa roll

The street coming to life with thousands of rolling jaffas
(not from Auckland)

Enjoying the dizzying heights at your pinnacle

I will always love you, but
probably won't walk you again

- M.F.

Monday, 27 January 2020

Urban Grids and Garden Beds

From studying and reflecting on maps to artworks, the process can be similar. Describing what we see, what the artwork makes us think and feel, what it might be telling us. Establishing a connection. Looking, really looking. These poems are reflections on the work of Emmellee Rose, an artist from Dunedin.


Lines and lines
and rows and rows
of intersecting strips.
Colours muted
into shades of grey
and black,
no white.
Like cars on a highway
racing off to sights unseen
leaving shadows in their wake.
Roads intersecting
and interlocking
creating squares and rectangles of space.
but irregular,
but disordered,
but not.
Like nature
nothing uniform
nothing perfect.

- Christine Philp


Life is not a journey
not a pathway, roadway, airline flight, or rail, to
a place, terminus, initiation, euphoria, being-ness, un-being
It is made in pieces
each part fine, apparent, short, finite, long
conversing, intercoursing, communicating, touching with
the being / dying / living of others,
meeting / greeting / chatting / arguing /
orphaned / loving / lost
A quilt, a cloth, a pile of matchsticks
coloured / toned / aligned / randomised / uncontrolled

BUT  each touch, thought, look, memory
holds my Art-Work together

- Kate Jenkins


lawn, shrub
tamed, tidied
light reflects
colour of leaves
strategic placement

- Kate Jenkins


scattered lines
like all my thoughts
less black and white
but a changing shade
across and up
at every level

- Simon Little

Monday, 20 January 2020

Maps of the Imagination

Inspired by the Phaidon book 'Maps' (2019), this week we used some ancient and contemporary maps as inspiration. We chose a photocopy of a map and described what we saw, what we felt, what it made us think; the map a starting point on our poetic journey rather than an end in itself. Reading very different responses to the same map was an interesting finale to our exercise and shows how much of ourselves we bring to our perception of the world around us.

MAP 1.

Choose a map
And write a response
He said
I did
(you might get the dregs)
She said
A fortified circle
Enclosing a belief, a faith
Crosses and towers
White and Black
Good and Bad

I am drawn
More to a plain
Black, circular line
Nothing within
Or without
Freedom to journey

- Pauline

MAP 2.

Empty things
The intensely cluttered
Making space
For one`s Self
A park maybe
A seat overlooking
St Kilda beach

Inner Space
Matching the outer

- Pauline


A sprawling body and legs above head
in a yoga pose.
I don't know what the pose is but I imagine
he is pretty flexible.
His moustache looks painted on - an afterthought I suppose
Twirling into two spirals, each a mirror of the other.
His face appears to be in complete symmetry
excepting the text, which is an artwork.
I've tried learning foreign languages
but the delicately formed sprawling script
took me completely by surprise.
Sometimes I think the way something is written
is more important than what is contained in the letters.
People call on the drawing to ascertain the luck of the letters.
The moon in all its phases is usually invoked as a sort of Goddess
a sign of passing time and when to plant seeds.
I look out my window and see the moon shining
faintly on the garden path.
A silver light show - quite different from the harsh
unblinking light of the sun.
I notice in my figure that he sports two giant round earrings
inscribed with astrological signs that he himself carries.
A replica of the moon where ever he goes.
Now I'm not superstitious.
I don't throw salt over my shoulder or touch wood.
But I somehow feel drawn to this image.
Do I vaguely believe it's true?
Well maybe not, but it's invoked a lot of emotion in me
And I'm pleased to have seen it.

- M.F.


My ancestors sailed these seas long before you came
with shells and coral they mapped the islands
palm fibre traced the ocean swells
They know where they were before you discovered them
generations of navigators
charted each atoll
in their outrigger canoes they travelled
many miles
When you plotted with pen and ink
for the benefit of
future explorers
They were there first.

- Helen


Map of Jerusalem as the Centre of the World
maps are political statements
my nation
my capital
takes the position of central attention
Places of historical importance are highlighted
ancient buildings and battlefields
we apply thet names
that we the conquerors
have bestowed
renaming or erasing
those that came before

- Helen

Monday, 13 January 2020

The Shipping News

This week's writing is inspired by Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize winning book, 'The Shipping News'. This darkly comic novel is packed with idiosyncratic characters, places and happenings. Four lists were developed - names of people, names of places, names of knots and names of boats. These were all placed on small pieces of paper and made into four piles. Each writer chose one from each pile and had to use them in a short story. The results speak for themselves!


    Alvin Yark stretched and yawned. He was in the space between dreaming and waking - a surreal mix of colours and thoughts.
    "Oh what the hell," he thought, turning to the bedside cabinet. On it lay a classic piece of Victoriana -his great grandmother's brooch -a breast-pin of hair.
    He remembered what they said about his grandmother, that she was frugal and hardworking, bringing her children up to be free of vice. He'd held that close to his psyche - not to lie, steal, or defraud anyone.
    Beside the brooch there were the remains of his last relationship - knitting needles with the fragments of her last project. With a feeling of emptiness he pushed the needles away. Perhaps he was too moral. That's why his girlfriends walked out on him. They said he was too critical and expected too much of them.
    He crawled out of bed fingering his telephone directory. He was leafing through the numbers hoping to find someone who would talk to him. "Hello" said the voice on the phone. "Oh, it's you," it went on. "Are you sure you're not a saint yet?" Then he heard the dial tone.
    After a few calls, which were about the same, he gave up in despair. Was it him or them he wondered? Decided it was a combination of both. Personalities at odds with each other. A clash like a clash of cymbals, a horrendous noise.
    Then he remembered his best friend who had taken the plunge and joined a dating site. A friend who had got married eight months later. "Worth a crack Alvin," he thought to himself.
Fingers trembling with anxiety he keyed in some dating websites. That's when he saw her. A redhead with green eyes. In her intro it said, "I enjoy reading and gardening. Am interested in science and I work as a lab assistant in the local hospital."
    "Perfect" he thought. "Beauty and brains."
    It was only about half an hour later he received a reply to his email. "You sound lovely" it said and "I would love to meet you."
    They arranged a time and date in three days time. For the next three days he could hardly eat. Anxiety in knotting up his stomach like a half-hitch.
    The morning of the big day he dressed carefully. "Not too formal" he thought, tossing aside his one suit he used for job interviews. He put on his dressy yet casual moleskin and jersey.
    He was waiting at the museum at the specified time, but he couldn't see her. She said she'd be wearing red. There was no one that he could see.
    Then wincing with horror, he saw a fat lady with a bad dye job walk towards him.
    "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, beauty comes from within," he chanted inwardly to himself.
    "Alvin, is that you?" she slurred. She'd been drinking, he could tell.
    Surprised and disgusted, he turned to leave. Then he saw her face. She was crying.
    "I know you weren't expecting this," she said. "It's my sister's photo," she explained with sadness.      "No one likes me in a romantic way. But I am a lab assistant. I only got drunk because I knew you wouldn't like me."
    He weighed up the possibilities and gave it a go.
    He looked back a few years later and knew he'd made the right decision. They got on like a house on fire, married and lived reasonably content ever after.

- M.F.


     Wavey gulped, and the sea water coursed across his tongue and up into his nostrils.  Coughing and spitting he lunged upwards to the broken surface, tangling in line and ropes, buffeted by fishing boxes and the earlier catch of the day, now limp but with eyes that regarded him, unemotionally, as an equal at one with the ocean and the tide.
     Grasping the boat's rail, now underwater and on its side, he first knelt then stood, and as he raised himself his head cleared the smashing waterline and he coughed himself back to life.
    High above him on the deck he could see the dutch cringle tantalizingly out of reach, his only life raft locked away securely so it couldn't roll overboard in heavy weather.  Now unattainable the cringle taunted him, mocked his years of experience and skills, and his always careful preparation.
    Old Jackie from the Finger club had warned him about this;  not to be so careful that your lifeline is out of reach.  Wavey looked at his hands, split and bleeding from trying to stay out of the water.  One was missing a finger _ that was a marlin, twenty years ago.  It had flipped and rotated on the line and the snaking nylon had looped around his finger, taking it away with the fish.
    How long could he stand here, up to his neck in the ocean?  The water was cold but it was the waves' chop and swell would take him, he knew, down into Capsize Cove.

- Kate Jenkins


    Bunny pointed the bow of the boat toward the shore.  She'd never been here before, but thought it looked like a safe place for the night.  The Polar Grinder could withstand most currents and weather, but Bunny didn't like sailing her at night.  Fred jumped overboard with rope in hand, tying up tight to an old wreck on the shore.
    "Handy you taught me the mooring hitch yesterday," he yelled back.
    "Yeah, I was getting sick of getting wet every time we stopped anywhere," she replied.
    On shore they got a fire going, before pulling out their maps to find out exactly where they were.  Running her finger down the coastline, Bunny noted Narrow Cove, Lost Cove, Middle Cove, and then the one where they'd stopped - but it had no name.
    Bunny picked up an old piece of board lying in the sand and carved out some shapes, before stabbing it into the ground.  "I hereby name this No Name Cove," she declared, before taking her baked potato out of the fire embers and settling down for a well-earned meal.

- Christine Philp


    The wind was always wild at Home Rock; it blew off roofs, knocked down gates and made the horses skittish. Mavis Bangs hated living there, the perpetual howling gale made it impossible to have a civilised conversation; impossible to hear the gramophone; almost impossible to think.
    The wind was especially wild that Good Friday; it whipped up the waves into a towering crescendo and dumped detritus all along the beach rocks. When Mavis came down to gather periwinkles, she found the seaweed piled in strangle knots a hundred yards from the water's edge. As she walked over it, it made a shrill sound, as high as a horses's whinny. It was the sea song, calling to be free, and it echoed the call for freedom in her own soul.
    She walked slowly and purposefully, pausing now and then to scoop up a jewel of seafood entrapped in the green tangle, and listened with all her might to the ocean music; telling her to forget her gentle English upbringing and embrace this new untamed natural beauty to which her fisherman husband had brought her. With each step Mavis felt the trappings of civilisation recede further into the past and happiness and acceptance rushed like a wave over her.
    And for a moment, the wind ceased its relentless blowing, so she could hear more clearly.

- Helen Ledger


    It was a day and night of the howling Autumn winds which were gaining strength, but never once did it demolish the lodger’s household. The daily hunger pains and the average mans’ great capacity to down a few ales’ led to yet another guinea fowl (hereby known as the Gammy Bird) being decapitated ready for yet another guests’ meal.
    There were times when Benny Fudge would have been grateful if his young lady friend would saunter by, and in thinking so, Benny Fudge would play with the love knot of her platted hair.
    There after the open fire crackling with the odd sparks from burning red pine logs would hasten to burn to ash totally when it was time for a silent night in other parts of the lodger’s house.
    After a couple of nights of dodging treacherous and relentless winds on land and at sea, Benny Fudge gave up his activity of playing Roma Numbers (with all players who lost a round having to forfeit a few silver coins). Even the ship’s new captain could never surpass Benny Fudge, the Sergeant At Arms, at a game of Roma Numbers!
    The ship’s captain was never to be seen out of it, or as we say, totally wasted. Until now the ship’s crew could always hold their liquor like those in the story of Jason & The Argonauts. And at 5am on this, a fine Autumns morning, Benny Fudge commanded all crew to embark for another few days of relentless trips among a few other seasonal transporters!

- Graeme Wilson

Monday, 6 January 2020

Homonyms and Other Funky Words

There are many words that are written the same way but mean different things (a homograph. eg. wind blows, wind the clock). Then there are words that look different but sound the same (homonym. eg. eight and ate). This week we attempted to include examples of homonyms and homographs in our poems. A printed sheet of examples was very useful and the end result at times amusing! 

The Countrie Chicken Show

The latest Great Fowl of the Fair
Ate boar on a stick from his chair
The fare it was foul, it grated his bowel
As the public gave out a fine cheer

A test was made of his genes
at eight of the clock, so it seems
The jeans of the Marker grew darker and darker
as the Cockerel gave way at the seams

I shall not belabour this tale
The fowl is no more, I hear wail
The speech it was coarse
as they cooked him, of course
and that was the end of his tail

-Kate Jenkins


She had a ball
at the ball
and then at the ball game.

Her date was polite
and gave her a call
to remind her of the time and date.

He rose to greet her
when she walked in the room
presenting her with a red rose.

He was definitely her type
as the letters he wrote her
were typed impeccably.

They played in the leaves
she knows she'll be sad
when he leaves for good.

- Christine Philp

Monday, 16 December 2019

Miraculous Poetry

This week one we had a guest poet, Vanessa Paton-Myers, lead our group. She brought along two inspirational quotes to inspire us:

The future belongs to those who believe in their dreams

Miracles happen to those who believe in them.


In the everyday
And takes your breath away

A kind word
An act of grace
In time and space

- Pauline


This sense of doom
A fore-shortened future
A long shadow
Falling forward
The sun

I know
Deep down
I know
And dream
Of something

- Pauline


what are they?
Something to aspire to?
Or something that's pointless cos I'll never get there anyway?

I wish I could dream
And hope
And fantasise of a better future,
Of being able to walk along the beach
Of travelling the world
Of making and selling enough art to live comfortably
Of writing a book, having it published, and sold.

Or maybe there's the dream
of being content with myself
with how I am
with who I am
with maybe even believing
that I'm ok as I am
that I'm `gud enuf'
I guess that's my true dream.

- Christine Philp

Birds of a feather

Today's writing was inspired by an event listed in the upcoming Dunedin Fringe Festival (19-29 March). Local artist Manu Berry has a bir...