the poetry workshop

for Paula Green

I was late, didn’t bring a pad of paper or a pen
to a workshop — hadn’t registered that
I might have to work. My subconscious though
at work, perhaps I didn’t want to be there.
Not when I sat down anyway, at the front,
where the only empty chair was, within reach
of the teacher, a problem child, who with a sigh
had to be given a pen and paper to work on.

‘What matters to you about poetry?’

I muttered a few things about line breaks,
brevity, emotion, Pablo Neruda and humour.
Then it was into the warm-up: quick flash
lines, responding to prompts, which lightened
my ‘denim blue mood.’ Fun with alliteration
‘rumbling down the rudimentary road.’
‘An aubergine and a bicycle at one in a line.’

Next, childhood memories after Bill Manhire
using the music of rhyme and near-rhyme:
‘Marmite sandwiches, all I ate, playing
with battleships, short shorts and T-shirts,
bedroom curtains with a herd of lions, zebras,
elephants and giraffes, unable to sleep
in summer, everything brown and ochre,
walking barefoot, burnt-off grass with prickles,
Star Wars, wondering who John Lennon was.’

That was okay, decided I wouldn’t leave
in the break. One poem done, onto the second.
Your direction: ‘No feelings but in things.’
My thing a moldy mandarin. Only ten words
at first, a forced economy, then twelve lines.
The mandarin went off, like a bomb.
I read the poem out: my phrasing was praised.

I was like a kid receiving the approval
of a teacher.
 You finished with a reading
of your own poems, where you bobbed about
to the rhythm of your words. I was happy
to get your reference to Sweet Virginia
off Exile on Main St. I liked your story
about hearing a wild, hairy James K Baxter
on stage in the Kamo High School hall
six days before he died, when you decided
you were going to be a poet.

And I wish 
after seeing Sam Hunt at Whangarei Boys
that I’d decided to be a poet. But I’m trying now
to arrange, as best I can, the lines I wrote
in a poetry workshop, which I had to rescue
from the wind that blew them from my hands
outside, all around the carpark. I had to chase
each page, as you watched, surely amused
at the antics of your student who arrived late.



Published in Poetry NZ 47, September 2013.


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