A thing to confess, to have sat here at my age,
a Catholic as much by repute as by mundane choice,
craving to shelter from rain in Knox’s church,
Dunedin – grey as thinking grey on the greyest day,
grateful to stone-jawed Reverend Stuart on his plinth
at the side of the church, my assuming his brow
in itself enough to harden local granite.
And to read, for the first time, that ripping yarn,
the Book of Joshua until the rain’s eased off
like fingers that insist then decide to relent.
And how detestable I find him – not Joshua, only,
so proud of his badges, thumbing his diligent
sword, flushing out back-sliders, but
the Merciless Presence too commanding his heart,
so chuffed at how Jericho fell to the old oom-pah,
how its families were scraped, disposed of, dog-shit
from his shoe. And the one man I care for, the one
I would like to meet, Achan who fancied ‘a goodly
Babylonish garment’ as the city was sacked –
something in the cut, I suppose, the weave, the beauty,
that abandoned word. Achan who could not accept
Verboten once glamour flared him beyond
the rules. This late in the day, less use, I know,
than the finch’s tiny feather on the sill beside me,
yet still, I insist, ‘Achan, I’m glad you kept it,
the lovely cloak. You are more to me than
the Reverend Stuart even on his marble stand,
than Joshua swooping nastily down on Canaan,
Yahweh’s dripping hawk; than the Big Gun
behind him, a voice like Kalashnikovs riddling a village.
I would like you to shelter here too, in Dunedin rain.
You could share my coat, Achan, which is not forbidden.
As Vincent says himself, Catholicism was part of his upbringing, one of his main environmental influences. Had I not heard him say this I would still be intrigued by the way in which his poetry collections and sometimes the poems themselves are a combination of sacred and earthy, an apposition of the ordinary with ritual and mystery. And then there are the allusions to original sin and the confessional. We are invited to do some serious thinking about God, death, love and hate. But let’s be clear here, throughout Vincent’s collections there are many quirky poems – small stories – about human situations. In his latest book for example, the one about picking blackberries with a young one, or the woman talking about the hard working writer or was it an artist, remembered chiefly for his umbrella collection.There is satire too and contentment…see Being here on this week’s hub page. And so much of that ‘Irish Catholic humour’, as above, where he talks of reading ‘that ripping yarn, the Book of Joshua,’ while sheltering in a Presbyterian church. And in this extract below, from The proof complete The movie may be slightly Different, 2011
‘My God,’ says the almost-to-be-sainted saint,
‘there is little that rattles me in this long-
term pod of mine, but this does, truly.
If I may ask one thing, as I’ve never done
(and I’ve worked enough, surely, over the years
for the Faith to ask it), refrain from miracling…’
Not included in the footnotes, is from Vincent’s latest collection, Us, then (Victoria University Press 2013) a most entertaining and thought provoking read! It is here with his permission.
Us, then, won the Poetry category of the NZ Post Book Awards 2014.
“The judges praised this book, saying that Vincent O’Sullivan’s work simply gets better and better. ‘There are poems in Us, then that leave something on the air that feels like human longing, the brevity of life, its incongruities and fleeting beauty. Humans are at the centre of it, in all their contradictions. This is something Vincent has never shied from exploring in his honed and sensuous language.’ ”
Brief Bio: Vincent was born in Auckland, NZ in 1937 and is one of New Zealand’s leading writers. He graduated from the universities of Auckland and Oxford and has lectured in the English departments of Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Waikato. Read more here.
It is my turn to edit the Tuesday Poem Hub and I am delighted to host Vincent O’ Sullivan. He is halfway through his term as New Zealand’s Poet Laureate and we are lucky to have someone so approachable and enthusiastic. When I heard him speak in Takaka recently, I was impressed at his demystification of the poetic craft and asked if he’d join me in discussion on the Hub page. He readily agreed. It was a fascinating and challenging experience for me and I very much appreciate the time and thought Vincent put into debating these topics so openly. Go to the Tuesday Poem Hub December 16th 2014 and scroll down to December 16th to read this discussion and also his poem ‘Being here’, a very present and calming poem, which reminds us of what is really important in life. Thank for sharing with us Vincent.
This is my last post for the year. Thank you for your support. Have a relaxing and contented holiday break. Merry Christmas everyone and a Happy New year!