Tuesday Poem-Singing Frogs from “Settler Culture” by Barbara Strang

Perched on my bed

in a room shared with sisters

 

I opened the window on

the dewy Invercargill night

 

and drank in the chant

coming from the bottom

of Nichol Street.

 

Once, on a back porch

at Ohai, I caught

a small brown creature

 

and held it in my cupped hand.

 

I always thought whistling frogs

were native—they fitted in.

 

Now I find that in 1875

Mr W. Perkins shipped them

from Tasmania in a bottle

 

and liberated them into a

drain at Alexandra Street, Greymouth

 

They spread along the

south bank, Grey River—

it took longer to reach the other side.

 Singing Frogs is the first in a series of six poems that chronicle the spread of a number of species as a result of the spread of new settlers into Aotearoa. Amidst the carefully crafted words of the poems Barbara drops in surprising facts in a surprising way; the Monarch butterflies who eventually made their way south, in Mexico,

shrouding the trees

concealing the ground

often eaten by Mexican cows

the twelve absconding hedgehogs as they ‘escaped into the new land.’

Settlers Culture comes from Barbara’s book “Duck Weather” I chose this poem because I had been reading work from early New Zealand poets in The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse. Great poets many of them, but their work reminds me how hard it was for early women poets, many of whom who were virtually pioneers. And I refer to the Europeans among them. ‘White’ New Zealand society held some rather prim and strict values in those days.

Barbara under the Cretan skies, on a visit to a Minoan site, “Chamezi Minoan House” near Sitia, on the NE coast of Crete.

By contrast Barbara’s was uplifting and reflected her interest and love of the topic.  Bill Mannhire described the poems in this book as having a ‘great richness of flora and fauna and a fascination with the actualities of belonging in a particular terrain.’ He continues, ‘If there is such a thing as  a “South Island School,” then it will have to make room for Barbara Strang.

Barbara’s work is widely published, most recently it is included in two new anthologies, “Bonsai: best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand” (Canterbury University Press), and “Wishbone Moon” (Jacar Press, US) an anthology of women’s haiku.”
To read more about Barbara and link to some of her award winning haiku go here

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