Sunday, January 28, 2007

Richard's trees

The other day Muzzlehatch, who is one the of the proprietors of Titus Books, sent me three proposed covers for Richard Taylor's volume of poems Conversation with a Stone, and asked me to give an opinion on which was the best. He might as well have asked a blind man to judge to a beauty contest, or a baseball player to assess the New Zealand cricket team's performance [apologies for egregious dig at John Bracewell - ed]. Muzzlehatch is one of the several AWOL contributors to this blog, so I thought I'd spite him by putting the images here and asking for the judgment of you, the people.

All three cover designs come from the cunning Ellen Portch, and show macrocarpa trees growing on the side of Mt Wellington, one of Auckland's fifty or so extinct volcanoes. Mt Wellington's southern slopes back onto the working class suburb of Panmure, which Richard Taylor has called home for most of his life.

The macrocarpa is often simply called 'the farm tree', because when dairy and sheep farms were established by Pakeha up and down the country at the end of the nineteenth century it was planted extensively as a windbreak. That wasn't always a good idea: the tree is native to California, and because it grows too quickly in the wetter conditions of New Zealand it sometimes lacks what engineers call 'structural soundness' when a gale comes calling. When I was a boy I remember a row of ten massive macrocarpa trees on the edge of my parents' farm; today only three survive. The morning after a storm toppled one of the monsters the whole neighbourhood would turn up with chainsaws to restore the flow of traffic and stock up on firewood.

The young Kendrick Smithyman wrote this poem in 1957, when macrocarpas were still being widely used as windbreaks:


Torn sea, if only as the wind makes.
The winds come. Before long they go.
These are bergs that will be blocks –
The winds have risen, saying No
To our clutch and stay; to our comfort,
Once more No. A small dismay is brought
Home fast, flagged down by a mad saw.
Death smells of wood. At five, your day quakes.

What sound will dazed waves beat in their blown
Jaded caves, but briefly here? We’ll to
These woods no more; your trees resign
To charring indignity. Let fires row
Back through breakers of day’s ragged fall
Only to ash – Troy was, Mai Dun, all
Yesterday was, think, to one line descends.
Not quite. Yet what your fondness was, is mown.

(In case you were wondering, 'Mai Dun, also known as Maiden Castle, near Dorchester in England is a large earth mound with three concentric ramparts, originally an ancient Celtic settlement; in 43 AD, the hill fort was invaded by the Romans'. Thanks Margaret and Peter.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't get it. What's the diff between the three? Is this some wacky postmodern joke?


10:11 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maps, there are some other images -
I recall you talking about the Macroacrpas near your parents' house - I was confusing them with Norfolk Pines - my tree knowledge is far less than Smithyman's. Those trees are fascinating the are near the top of Mt Maungarei ("The watchful mountain") and they remind me of a Chinese character set against the blue back ground. Some of the branches of that tree we see around here broken or have been sheered off by wind, although those ones have survived a lot of buffetting - it is pretty exposed there. The wife of Mr Holloway - of The Holloway Press at the Tamaki Campus of the Auckland University (which publishes such as Smithyman and where the poet and publisher Alan Loney was working at one stage (in his role as a Printer) and (the Tamaki Campus) is also not far from me); she - Mrs Holloway -wrote a book called "Maungarei" - she was a teacher at my old school Tamaki College - the Holloways have only just passed on - they used to live locally for years. Mrs Holloway also did excavations etc on Mt Maungarei in the 60s.

What I like about Smithyman (there are so many aspects to him as a writer of course) is his range and his constant "quoting" or his "echoing" of other writers

"Those are bergs that will be blocks"

"Those are pearls that were his eyes" (Eliot in 'The Waste Land' via Shakespear's 'The Tempest.'

"We'll to these woods no more.." is another echo - haven't identified it yet.

(It is a poem that begins "No more unto the...." etc or it goes "We'll to the ('breach' once more -that's Henry the V) once more.." something,someone.

The "think" echoes Eliot's the reiterated; "Think how the refusal propogates a fear." etc in 'Gerontion' e.g, "Think now/, [History has many passges, contrived corridors, ..."] etc

and the line

"let fires/ row back.." is probably an echo of - forget the poet - possibly Tennyson's "How many centuries roves back the rose"...and so on. But the subject is New Zealand, and history (hence it is for everyone everywhere ultimately) the macrocarpas etc all remind the poet of history and give rise to ideas and thoughts...

7:19 pm  
Blogger Skyler said...

The first proposed cover has instant appeal for me :-)It feels balanced and looks good graphically and artistically.

11:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll leave it up to Comrade Muzzle -
they all are interesting.

Thse decisions are of momentous revolutionary importance.

12:36 am  
Blogger maps said...

Well, just to be difficult, I'm going to say I like the third one. Seriously, I do. Nice and uncluttered...

11:23 am  
Blogger muzzlehatch said...

great, and I like the second one, casting vote anyone?

11:39 am  
Blogger Skyler said...

well, i think the 3rd one could be a winner if the image was slightly larger. Otherwise number 1. Number 2 has no chance !! :-)

3:49 am  
Blogger muzzlehatch said...

you have forgotten the power I wield skylar! at the moment number 2 is in first place!

8:06 pm  
Blogger Skyler said...

What happened to public opinion and taste! Or has the fact that you wield the power gone to your head!? :-)

11:22 pm  
Anonymous quick growing trees said...

You need beautiful Fast Growing Trees, Perennial Flowers, or bearing-age Blueberry plants, our state certified plant nursery has the quality you trust.

12:02 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home