The Contagion

Despite Google and experts, it’s fair to say
it caught us off guard – by surprise.
There was not a lot of joined up thinking,
and early on in the piece, some wondered
how such an antique doom could still
stalk the land with scythe and skull.
Towns slammed their gates,
the plague already inside the walls.
Measures were taken, and when those
measures did not suffice, other methods
reclaimed from shadowed past.
The aged and weak abandoned
in long moaning corridors,
breath crushed out by winged goblins
crouched on their chests.
Our isolated selves gathered by screens
and we followed by tweet, post, insta,
the leisurely progress of an end.
Kings must once have gaped
at flames eating the mounds of dead
in town squares. Our leaders,
versed in modern politics,
negotiated with the contagion.
They spoke of stimulus, negative growth
for consecutive quarters,
and soothed our intimations of mortality.
The living must eat, after all.

Great South Desert

My poem ‘Great South Desert’ was recently featured in the New Zealand Poetry Society 2019 anthology The Perfect Weight of Blankets at Night. It features many iconic landmarks of the future.

Te Ika a Maui and Te Wai Pounamu are amalgamated,
welded by the gnarled spine of a metamorphic taniwha
who manifested in the Great Uplifting of 2035.
Shattered cliffs bombard the Kaikoura coast with rubble.
Genetically reimagined moas gently graze amongst
abandoned dairy installations of the Maniototo badlands.
Goat herds, feral and feckless, wander the Great South Desert.
Typhoons deconstruct malls, peeling roofs like bananas
throughout the Golden Triangle conurbation.
A permanent storm cell hovers from Karamea to Haast
sluicing depopulated extra-terrestrial terroramas
of munted infrastructure and imploded mine shafts.
Ten metre hi-voltage fences fortify the opaque globe
of Club Xanadu on Wakatipu’s privatized lakefront
where drones emerge from ash clouds delivering pods
of platinum class refugees to the shimmering pleasure dome.
Waves trace salty fingers on the lip of coast, exposing landfills
of toner cartridges and mummified, post-dated vindaloos.
Dull humid heat baffles survivors hiding from the killer sun
in their valleys, and above the hypersaline, blood warm lagoon,
the skeleton of a dead stadium stands sentinel.

How good is this?

After I got back from Hawaii, there were fireworks
for New Year, then the cricket, not that I’m complaining,
it’s always a busy time of year – a family time.
I was having a look at the business pages one evening
when the wife said look outside at that will ya?
To be honest I couldn’t see anything much.
The horizon was a lovely pink colour, or perhaps maroon
or red. The sun was a ball of fire sinking into it.
How good is this? I said to her. But she was
on the iPad, frowning. Uh-oh I thought.
I went into the kitchen and turned up the air con.
I can read a room! Sure enough she followed me through
and said what about this fire then? Haven’t heard anything
I said, looking at my phone – of course it was flat.
But then her iPad rang. It was Gladys on Skype.
Where the bloody hell are ya? I heard her crackle.
We’ve all got to get out of town!
I’ve just got back I shouted, people will start talking if I head off again.
But Gladys told me to look out the window and sure enough
there were these big flames coming over the back fence.
Fuck, said the wife, the joint is going up!
I didn’t say anything but I really can’t bear it
when a woman uses language like that. I’m old fashioned
at heart. But she was off like the clappers so I went down
after her, and the security bloke who sits at the gate
was waiting for us in the SUV, in fact he was already
off down the drive but the wife waved him down
(the poor bugger nearly ran her over.)
I got in the front and gave him a wink
and said brakes a bit sticky on her mate?
You’ve got to use a bit of humour to break the ice.
So we were all in snug and I was fiddling around
with the door when this little compartment opened
and a can of lemonade popped out. Cold as.
I said how good is this! but the wife was still on the iPad.
There was this smell, it was pretty disgusting actually,
and I said to the driver someone’s burned the prawns
but he said nothing, just turned on the lights and sped up.
I knew then he was a quiet Australian – one of my people.
Anyway we ended up down at Bondi. How good is that?
Everyone was down there. Gladys was waving a torch
and came up with a couple of special branch on either side.
Afternoon boys! I said. For God’s sake what are you doing here
she hissed at me. I don’t like the Lord’s name taken in vain
but she was upset and I didn’t take it personally.
I could see a few of the punters pointing to me,
they were waving and yelling G’day I think.
But I couldn’t see much with all the smoke.
They must have put on more fireworks because
there were all these bangs – very loud actually,
some of the ladies screamed a bit – then a big cloud
of burning stuff went flying overhead.
I thought it might be a good time to call it a night
but that bloody driver had gone off.
It all got a bit confused after that. We ended up going
for a bit of a paddle and more people started arriving.
I said, is that Kylie Minogue over there?
But the wife was in a lather and had started crying
so I tried to give her a cuddle to cheer her up,
but she was being difficult about it to be honest,
so I had to really try hard to get my arms around her
to give her a big squeeze. Women can be a bit like that.
God, get us out of here, I thought to myself.
Then just like that the waters opened.
I mean the ocean went out like the plug had been pulled
and I thought someone up there likes you, fella.
I yelled out come on everyone, follow me!
So we walked over the sand and the rock and the mud
where the sea had been, and to be honest
it wasn’t that pleasant since there were all the plastic bags
and an oil platform lying on its side and the dead fish,
although not as many as you might think.
At one point all these kangaroos went racing past.
But the flames kept following us, it was like
the fire knew where we were going. Then all the
grey dead coral sitting on the mud went up like kindling
and it was quite hot so I started running
and when I stopped I was on my own. What to do?
I’m a simple man of faith. So I stood there
and raised my hands to the burning clouds far above
and beseeched O Lord give your humble servant a hand
in his hour of need. Sure enough when I opened my eyes
this big crack in the ground had appeared before me.
I thought to myself, twice in one day! How good is this?
So I clambered down into the black crevice
but it was warm and quiet so I kept on
and felt my way and finally came around a corner
and there spreading out in front of me
was an endless plain of fire.

It was the whole world burning.

I turned around because it would have been good
to talk to someone else or get a hug, or just even
shake someone’s hand, but there was no one there:
just the darkness and the fire.

UK election 2019 : lumps, bumps and pimples

As the dust settles on another wall collapsing in the crumbling house of parliamentary democracy, this time in the (currently) United Kingdom, there are many interpretations of what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. These range from AI Facebook bots to the new nationalism. The realignment of political forces around strange new fault lines did make for a curious spectacle.

We never really know how we look to other people, and now the British nation, just like the United States, has paraded itself in front of the world, all lumps, bumps and pimples on full display. One explanation that I am favouring is that voters as a group made a really dumb mistake, both for themselves (in most cases) and for their society in general. This is likely to be dismissed as the sour grapes of a cosmopolitan elitist, which may or may not be true, but doesn’t affect the obvious truth of the judgement. 

As a joint UK citizen, I have never had much enthusiasm for the European Union’s neoliberal bureaucracy, but the longer the unspooling of the British collective mind went on, the further I had drifted into the Remain camp. 

There were plenty of arguments for and against Brexit but over time the Leave camp had been absorbed into the machinations of chancers like BoJo and the risible Nigel Farage, to whom truth is less a stranger and more an existential threat. Rather than an ennobling conversation about sovereignty or the best way to improve Britain’s relentless social decline, we were treated to a ya-boo fest, laden with racist innuendo, buzz bombed by a constant stream of lies and propaganda, all stirred along by the malignant Murdoch media system. This approach was naturally a complete success for the perpetrators.

The election was an entirely contemporary phenomenon in many ways but also seemed to reached back into the dim recesses of the ‘reptile core’, that part of the human brain that deals with the base functions. When reporters with their TV cameras went out to the streets to ask the people about their concerns, their motives, their aspirations, they recorded a dogs dinner of reverse logic and outright gibberish. BoJo had screaming rows with his girlfriend, made up policy on the go and hid in a commercial fridge. Corbyn however was seen as the weirdo. “I don’t like his mannerisms,” stated one Tory convert as the hapless Labour leader made another stump speech about saving the NHS. “Britain’s most dangerous man” shrieked a tabloid headline.
Corbyn made a honest mistake in thinking that people may have been concerned about waiting lists at hospitals. It turned out that voters are happy about queues as long as they don’t have any foreigners in them, or doctors with ‘foreign’ looks at the end of them.

If anything the election cleared up any doubt about the priorities of the majority of British voters. Pre-election, with a small majority in the polls wanting to Remain, it seemed obvious that surely there would be a pushback against boot boy tactics to negotiating with the Europeans. 

On the day the reverse happened. People went out and voted for the Conservatives in clear support of their maximum damage gambit, where upon being firmly escorted out of the EU nightclub they behave like an angry drunk flinging stray punches and shouting insults.

This is something of a pyrrhic victory for Johnson and his faction. He has ridden on the tiger of nationalism, a beast that is notoriously unpredictable, and been carried along so far. It has been a very long opening act to what could be a very short main feature. It is the end of the beginning, or at least the beginning of the end of the beginning. As anyone who pays attention can see, leaving the EU will be like pulling a hippo backwards through a cat door. The idea that Britain will somehow latch on to “other” trading partners (Burundi? Uruguay?), but not the 400 million across the road, is a laughable conceit. 

Left outside the tent are the losers. The minority of Conservative remainers, the the crushed Liberals, and the Labour Party, which will now enter into a period of internecine warfare as revenge minded Blairites seek to purge the party of any taint of social democracy. 

Compare this jigsaw of parts that don’t fit with the victorious blob of Little Englanders. Whether unemployed Northern pigeon fanciers or time warp anomalies like Jacob Rees-Mogg in his top hat and spats, the Brexiteers are hot tubbing in a pool of warmed over backwardness. Old, angry and missing the point entirely , the  doughty Northerners and village fete brigade from the Home Counties, shot out of their front doors like funnel web spiders and stabbed at their ballot forms with spite. The main complaint seemed to be the concern that “the people’s voice” was in danger of being thwarted by the now open evidence the Leave Camp, or specifically the far right nerve centre, had been pouring out complete bilge to a bewildered electorate in the previous referendum.

This has all locked in the chain of events that will see the inevitable dissolution of the United Kingdom. Scotland will be out of the UK and back into the EU, and one suspects will do very well out of it. Northern Ireland is a mystery prize who no one wants to unwrap. The old will see their golden years as a long wrangle over trade deals and the young will add another cross to the grudge list in a simmering demographic war. The North has gone Tory but Liverpool holds out. Cosmopolitan London might as well be in a different dimension now to the nation it is supposed to be the capital of.

A curious aspect of the election is how the behaviour of the leaders seems to be measured by a new matrix of values. The more boorish, and arrogant, the better, in a kind of pale reflection of the troglodyte Trump in the midnight dim of his tweet bunker. BoJo, a blustering, buffoonish figure with a colourful personal life and the cocksure confidence of an Old Etonian, can be contrasted to the measured and entirely decent Corbyn with his Tube pass and allotment. Perhaps this is an inevitable side effect of the growing rage and alienation that bubbles under the surface of society, providing the gravitational pull towards the ‘strong man’ who will ‘make our nation great (again)’ in a world of other people who aren’t like us.

The nefarious Farage, with his olive tweed and pint of Real Ale, whose various Brexit political fronts have simply been creatures to drag the Tories to the right and bring bigotry into the mainstream, has yet again tweaked the world’s model democracy and will depart with his personal brand intact to create havoc elsewhere.

Britain is a country of two souls: on one side clinging to the ruins of Empire, divided by class, weighted by tradition and prejudice, and on the other side, its love of fairness and justice, tolerance, and the home of an immense cultural heritage that has been enriched by the centuries of cross pollination and melding of global influences. 

In this battle, the former has emerged victorious.

Phoning it in

I thought hard about publishing this. There’s been enough of a media circus around the publishing of a deeply offensive cartoon already. But this situation is too close to home. I’ve written for this newspaper and know that the journalists and other staff are deeply upset. The cartoon published by the Otago Daily Times was wrong on every level. This is my response. It’s a bit angry, a bit satirical, but mostly it is just sad that suffering people have been hurt even more.

Phoning It In

I’m phoning this one in from the Deep South,

last stop before the road runs out,

the land where time stood still, ran backwards,

dripping a slimy thick shake of shame.

I’m phoning this one in from Dunners, Dun Vegas,

Dudsville, where dunderheads hit bum notes 

and sing from the same sheet of dunny paper

in fifty shades of Persil automatic whiteness.

I’m phoning this one in via Jurassic Park  

where carbuncled has beens clap themselves on the back

for their stand against Political Correctness

and snowflakes who are looking to be offended.

I’m phoning this one in for the sniggerers,

the gigglers, the harden up get over itters,

while lifeless children are lowered into graves

before their parents disbelieving eyes.

I’m phoning this one in from Pig Island, 

South Polynesia, downtown Ōtepoti, Dunedin 9054, 

where someone forgot to send the memo

that the natives have feelings too.

I’m phoning this one in from the edge of the map,

the eternal Pacific blue that embraces us,

and joins us together, sea people, island people,

so one day we may see into each other’s hearts.

O Samoa, from this small place,

for your pain and grief and sorrow

we send our love and ask for forgiveness

Fa’amālūlū atu

Antarctic Poetry Exhibition

Join us for the launch of this special exhibition featuring work by twelve international poets, photographs, and photography of the poems taken in Antarctica by Blake Antarctic Ambassador Harry Seagar. The exhibition is curated by Laetitia Laubscher.

Finalists were judged and chosen by critically acclaimed New Zealand poet Bernadette Hall and expert in Antarctic literature, Dr Elizabeth Leane. The exhibition hopes to use poetry as a way to help people connect with climate science in an emotive way and give communities a deeper sense of connection with the Antarctic.

Professor Pat Langhorne will speak at the opening event about Antarctic Science, with poetry readings by Claire Beynon, Victor Billot, Jilly O’Brien and Kirstie McKinnon.

Poets: Xiaole Zhan, NZ | Jilly O’Brien, NZ | Jenny Powell, NZ | Ruby Solly, NZ |Rachael Mead, AUSTRALIA | Michael Leach, AUSTRALIA | Victor Billot, NZ | Steve Smart, SCOTLAND | Piet Nieuwland, NZ | Claire Beynon, NZ | Eric Elshtain, USA | Kirstie McKinnon, NZ

Tuesday 8th October, 6pm (light refreshments served at 5.30pm)
Ground Floor Exhibition Space, Dunedin City Library


Facebook event

30 arguments against the climate strike

The climate has always been changing
Greta Thunberg is mentally ill
Dinosaurs didn’t drive cars
Greta Thunberg is flying back on a plane
The world was ending 50 years ago
Greta Thunberg should be in school studying
It is a plot by the United Nations
Greta Thunberg could be having fun like a normal teenager
They go to McDonalds on the way home
Greta Thunberg’s extremist parents are to blame
Protesting achieves nothing
Greta Thunberg’s yacht sails are made of oil
Teenagers think they know everything
Greta Thunberg is a globalist puppet
No one would go if it was the school holidays
Greta Thunberg is paid by George Soros
It snowed last week
Greta Thunberg is alienating moderates
It is part of God’s plan
Greta Thunberg is a false flag op by the Deep State
Socialism doesn’t work
Greta Thunberg is an over privileged brat
Plants love carbon
Greta Thunberg is an enemy of freedom
So called scientists are on the climate gravy train
Greta Thunberg is needlessly worrying young people
In the long run we’re all dead anyway
and they all have mobile phones

Changing Minds: Memories Lost and Found

The Changing minds: Memories Lost and Found poetry competition was sponsored by Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day, and presented by Dunedin Public Libraries in partnership with the New Zealand Neurological Foundation, with the support of Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature, Alzheimer’s Otago, poet Sue Wootton and Dr Yoram Barak, Associate Professor of the Department of Psychological Medicine, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago.

The (deservedly) winning poem was “Harsh Light” by Elizabeth Brooke-Carr, and I was happy to be a finalist in this interesting new competition.

Given Words Poetry Competition 2019

My poem Meridian is published on the Given Words site as part of this competition held as part of National Poetry Day 2019.


Pulse softly, wounded world.
Slow breathing, listless tides.
Life is glass thin. Crude sutures stitch years.
Solitude is a border to the day.
Halfway to the end, with cracking knees,
I inhabit myself.
Self-acceptance means life
is familiar as an old blanket,
unrecognized as a foreign city.
Circles spiral inwards,
moving towards silent endpoint.
Pulse softly, wounded world.

Great South Desert commended

The New Zealand Poetry Society are pleased to announce the results of the 2019 International Poetry Competition. With over 1,400 entries, the four judges were delighted at the amount of talented writing that was entered from around the world. OPEN SECTION Judge: Kiri Piahana-Wong1st Place: ‘Alumni Magazine’ by Margaret Moores from Cockle Bay, Auckland. 2nd…
— Read on

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