Saradha Koirala

Tag: Poetry

Missing my own metaphors

We’ve been studying Sylvia Plath in Year 11 Literature, reading too much into her work, perhaps and trying to avoid linking every poem to the one tragic thing everyone knows about her. The truth is, Sylvia was smart, worked hard, she crafted her poetry carefully, attended creative writing classes. She cared about what was happening in the world around her, she was a mother, she questioned society’s expectations. She wrote poems on good days and she wrote poems on bad days. Her poetry represents all of these things.

I’ll be launching my third collection of poetry in Wellington on Monday. It represents good days and bad days too; tough decisions, optimism and disappointment. It ends just before everything in my life fell astoundingly into place. All my poetry is personal, but in this collection, I feel like I’ve achieved a kind of honesty I’ve avoided all my life.

So, I’ve been nervously wondering if readers will notice.

One of the poems that looks least personal is ‘Building consent’, in the section Shift. I genuinely wrote it because I always had a dream of buying an old house and doing it up, but saw a renovation in progress and decided it looked exhausting, loud and messy. I like the poem. It says what I wanted it to, but as I read through it in the context of this book I realised I’d missed my own metaphor.

The poem represents a shift in my dreams: what once excited me just looked like hard work at that point. I was in the middle of trying to make an unfixable relationship work, a relationship I’d travelled miles to be in. Making it work was my dream, but sometimes you just have to know when to quit.

On one level, the poem’s not a metaphor at all. I looked at the physical labour going into the renovation and had no capacity to embark on such a task myself. I was tired and anxious from my situation. Doing up a house was far from my mind.

On another level, it’s creeping into metaphor – homes represent a kind of stability, a decision couples might make together, a project to establish partnership. My relationship was nowhere near that point of joint purchase and effort.

On yet another level, it’s all metaphor. The house is the relationship. Pure and simple. It was time to give away my desire to fix things that are so obviously a broken mess…

Or am I giving myself too much credit here?

Building consent

The romantic notion of buying a rundown clapboard villa
pouring heart and soul into doing it up by hand
spending all of your time loving it
back to life – gutting out the back half, sourcing
sustainable surfaces for breakfast bars and just the right shade –
is quickly debunked as I walk past a weathered
rusted bungalow, boards rotted through
shirtless men shouting across the trampled front garden
propped with piles of Bunnings purchases
and a ‘dunnys R us’ in pride of place
sounds of dropped steel and hammered edges
everything shifting slightly in the relentless
heat of yet another day on this damned project
too many chiefs, too many cooks and not one chef in the kitchen
that currently looks like a workshop
sawdust lining surfaces and can’t even make a cuppa
with all this mess
all these people coming and going
traipsing through our idealised disaster.

From Photos of the Sky, The Cuba Press available 5th November

Ubud

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A hummingbird the size of a large bumble bee hovers through bougainvillea. We watch from the pool’s edge. In the same day, my legs turn brown and my new cat-shaped two-piece leaves cat-shaped tan lines on my chest.

We’re trying out all the recommended eating spots: tofu curries, too much tempeh, supplemented with bags of chips and unfamiliar biscuits from convenience stores dotted down the main road. Our villa feels far from that traffic as we spend hours in the hammock or on day beds, under the mosquito net or by the pool, reading, snoozing, swimming with a view of improbable jungle.

The river lulls us further into laziness with its white noise rapids, or ferries squealing tourists in red rafts through the valley. It’s 30 degrees until it’s not. A complete downpour in straight lines brightens already lush greenery, highlights crimson bougainvillea, red birds of paradise, frangipani in yellow and pink clustered on leafless branches.

The river rises then, villas across the valley obscured in mist. Fat drops fall until the clouds are empty, drip musically from the edges of the thatched roof. Fallen logs of bamboo gather at the river’s sharpest bend and the sun’s revealed again just in time to set pink behind palm tops and gold.

I still call writing days writing days

but really they’ve become

sleeping late under a pile of cats days

letting my washed hair dry in the sun days

lunchtime yoga class followed by lunch days

reading poetry in a café, scribbling notes in my journal days

 

slow stride along the bike path back to the space

where maidenhair ferns its way down one wall

devil’s ivy curls its lips like leaves to the light

thick arms of monstera press against the corner window

obscuring a laundry line of last week’s life

 

the heartbeat rhythm of solitude, solace, self-solicitude days.

Stories that shaped the world

BBC Culture has just published a list of The 100 Stories that Shaped the World from international writers’ contributions. I was stoked to be one of the contributors! Check out the whole list at BBC Culture and read about my top 5 here: 

  1. Leaves of Grass.jpgSong of Myself (Walt Whitman) and, indeed, Leaves of Grass as a collection, reads like a Humanist manifesto that celebrates a love of land, freedom, self and the connections between these. Whitman embodies a universal and omnipotent “I” into which readers can place themselves and have done over generations. It’s very much an epic poem, but plays with structure and language, the long lines moving with the breath, and surprising, explicit imagery. The shift away from traditional spiritual reflection – rumination on the connections between nature, God and the human mind – marks an important change in how we view the body and physical world. The many references to Song of Myself in pop and high culture over the years are testament to its potency, endurance and relevance. (number 87!)

 

  1. HowlHowl (Allen Ginsberg) marked a cultural shift, not just in literature (although this is hugely significant), but also in the way people view literature and art as something powerful and dangerous. The poem spoke to a group of marginalised writers and musicians and challenged the expectations of language and ‘high art’. Post-WWII when people were feeling either a strong desire to settle into familiar comforts and gender stereotypes, or anger at the establishment, Howl opened a gate for freedom of expression and allowed discussion, anger, excitement and all kinds of love out into mainstream society, subverting and questioning the norms. The Howl Obscenity Trial (1957) sent a message to the world about just how powerful language can be and the idea that a poem could incite legal action is thrilling. (number 53!)

 

  1. To kill a mockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) has been read and studied year after year in high schools and today, nearly 60 years after its publication, it’s still a deeply loved book by people of all ages. The links to American history and race relations are both specific to the Deep South in the 1930s and hugely relevant to today’s society. The themes of prejudice and empathy are quoted and referred to time and again to highlight aspects of our own society that need examining. To Kill a Mockingbird documents important historical ideologies that must never be forgotten as well as asking us to examine the way we treat all members of our communities. (number 27!)

 

  1. Romeo and Juliet.pngRomeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare) is considered a deeply romantic play, but there is less to learn about love here than there is to learn about the petty differences that keep factions of communities separated. The tragedy is in the secrecy of the love between Romeo and Juliet and it’s a constant reminder to always questions our prejudices, whether they be newly formed or ancient grudges. This play has also been studied and read in classrooms for generations, influencing the way people view human behaviour and highlighting those aspects which are centuries old; deeply engrained notions of love at first sight and the lengths some will go to. Of course, Shakespeare has also influenced literature and pop culture in more ways than we can count. (number 13!)

 

  1. The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood), a powerful cautionary tale, has never felt more relevant. Ideas around the treatment of women and the dystopian society created are perhaps extreme, but feel like a plausible future for societies where women are continually being marginalised and their bodies legislated. The novel is a harsh indictment of gender stereotyping and patriarchal societies, reminding us how important it is to empower women to be agents of their own destinies and not allow their voices to be silenced. People have turned to Atwood’s horrifying view of the future time and again when reflecting on the current status of women in society. (number 16!)

Love Poem for Taika

Sunday 4pm

I saw you. Sunday 4pm, old hood

until then I hadn’t known for sure if you’d stayed on

although sometimes I’d find selfies framed with the familiar

white walls of a kitchen we briefly shared.

 

I knew what you were doing. Sunday 4pm

rounding the corner with your reusable shopping bag

well-trod path to TT Mart, well-browsed aisles of not-quite-fresh-enough bread

potato chips whether on special or not, the endless search for kale.

 

Most days we would laugh, dance down those aisles

criticising pop that blared through shop speakers, but falling for it too.

Wasn’t that always your way? The world is awful, you’d say

and move to its beat nonetheless.

 

Sunday, so perhaps you were headed for apple pie

to stand in front of the freezer door

staring into reflected childhood traumas

explaining away the guilt you felt at wanting dessert.

 

Deep-dish psychological reasons why

no one in your adult life should deny you your desires.

You could talk yourself into anything

with those qualifications of yours.

 

I don’t remember bad times at the TT Mart with you

but there were moments when neglecting to go

resulted in empty cupboards. I copped it.

And at least once we walked home in blue-stone silence

 

your face sinking to the shadowy state

that made my stomach flip and clench, my whole system in a holding pattern

until it could work out what I’d done wrong. Always searching for

that mysterious thing I’d done wrong.

 

Cobbled silence reached crescendo back in the kitchen

you hurled the filled bag at white walls, settled into that hollow place of yours

while I cleaned up scattered vegetables

smashed mushrooms, broken bottles.

 

Sunday 4pm and we were driving past your corner

on our way to play tennis. I hadn’t held a racket in years

six of us piled into my boyfriend’s car, a week’s worth of news

bursting to tell them we’re moving in together.

 

My new friends had heard all about you

so when I pointed to your shape moving along the footpath

they joked unrepeatably.

Jason kept an eye on you from the rear-view mirror

 

but I knew exactly where you were headed

walking solo with your empty bag.

*

Last week I spotted my ex in the neighbourhood we used to live in together. I hadn’t seen him in over a year and had at times been curious as to how I would feel if I did. I wrote this poem to show how that simple walk to the supermarket could be a microcosm of an entire confusing, anxiety-provoking and often emotionally abusive relationship. It felt so perfect that I was happily crammed into a car with some of the lovely new people in my life, being driven by a much calmer, kinder man when we saw him. Everything’s symbolic, of course, but it’s also just how things are now: safer and better; far less lonely and much more fun.

New Year

I didn’t realise the front yard’s potential until you took to it in gardening gloves, trimmed back the privet.

As last year changed from this year, and I could stop saying ‘last year’ with such portent, such regret; a phrase loaded with the weight of an on-coming sob-story, we were camping by the Wellington river. A settlement of pegged-out shelters, fairy lights and bonfires. I was miles from my Wellington home.

I say the h word again with a kind of inflection, trying it out for size, sighing out the həʊ, the m buzzes past my lips. I hold it in my mouth like a pill. This constant starting over exhausts me. Always has. Newness of a cleared front yard. I’ll dig in my toes, resolve to thicken like the trunk of a grapevine, let the porch be built around me for a change. Feathered things perch in my branches.

Disturbing the privet seems to be making my eyes stream, but on New Year’s Day I sprained my finger, slipped on rocks in flimsy jandals, a little drunk. There were bull ant bites on the tops of my feet and a blush of sunburn between my breasts. What I mean is, these things pass, they clear up. We heal and adapt. We look back and see fairy lights strung between trees, flickering with comforting regularity, we move closer to each other on an old brown couch. We look back and then we don’t look back.

Reading Medea on the Train

I stand for the woman whose feet

strain at the straps of her shoes

stare daggers at the snorer

slumped in priority seats.

 

The 7.17 chorus tells

of a recent Greek wedding

her brother’s? The audience invested as

festivities fill the carriage from a phone.

 

Jason’s woken early, texts a busy day ahead

we’ll be promised an ending

as long as we plan the next beginning.

His paged namesake remains oblivious.

 

Medea’s children smile at her

and she breaks down again.

 

I give her one more station

to change her mind.

 

Ride

In the 80s bikes were

handed down from someone taller

gearless

back pedal braking

daydreamer

I rode so slowly I

ended up on the ground

daily lessons in

momentum and

the way a knee-scab dries, lifts

from the outside edges in.

 

90s bikes faux mountain bikes

Shimano gears a point of pride

fluorescent touches on the frame

double towbar car rack family weekends

there have always been bikes.

 

The red one that moved

house to house with each break up

makeshift shelter beneath outside stairs

or leaning against a laundry wall

still so much to learn

about hills and hearts

about maintenance, about holding on.

 

Red was my favourite

my next bike was blue

bought days

after I changed my life

for a love that matched in hue

I fell off into a rosemary bush

smelt amazing, sure

but that feeling of betrayal

again and again

flat tyres

slackened chain

forever loosening the brakes

so a buckled wheel can still turn.

 

Balance

The last time we were strangers was on the roof of a party / you’d climbed higher to photograph bands playing at one end / view of whatever suburb we were in / I’d lost my sense of direction long ago

I pictured a fall, but you reassured me / only on your second drink and I guess I’ve always liked that about you / always only on your second drink / always just that little bit higher / even when the rest of us are on top of a roof

I was dancing solo to Paul Simon’s Graceland / not my favourite track on that album, but a definite favourite album / a link to my past in a place still so new / I was only a little self-conscious at that point

you introduced yourself and I felt this kind of safety, like, my situation was difficult then – disappointed in the man I’d moved here for                    struggling

to fit in –

but there would be people to know and to meet, I mean, if the roof collapsed out from under us…

I’d be okay, you know?

and with that clumsy realisation, clunky metaphor

my awkwardness around you was born

it’s hard for me not to look back searching for signs / even though I’m coming to understand there is no fate, no destiny, just good old-fashioned cause and effect / although that in itself can get pretty metaphysical

like the retroactive significance of you being / the first person I bumped into in the city. As in / my first ‘bumping into someone I know in the city’ experience / I was counting things in firsts / until they recurred

less mystical, more meaningful the moment you brought me / all the chocolate you could find from your cupboards / sat with me under a tree / I was pale that summer and in need of your blue-eyed chatter

I ride the two right angles / between your house and mine / lights if you let me stay late, or with you / your arms wide on the bike path, because of course you don’t need to hold on / of course you’re not going to fall.