Tuesday, September 01, 2015

At Onetangi with Peter Olds

I've been offline for a few days, as I've settled into a house on a hillside above Onetangi beach, on the northern side of Waiheke Island. I'll be writer-in-residence here for the next three months, though I plan to revisit Auckland whenever my supplies of paper, coffee, and interlocutors run low. By the beginning of December I hope to have written a long essay or short book about New Zealand's involvement in the nineteenth century slave trade, and to have edited my writings about Auckland's Great South Road into something resembling order.

Waiheke is perhaps the most literary of Auckland's small islands. Mike Johnson and Maurice Shadbolt have written tens of thousands of words of prose poetry about the place, and historian Paul Monin has described Waihekeans as 'bookish hippies'.

Peter Olds' 'Anxiety at Onetangi' is one of the less celebrated literary celebrations of Waiheke Island. After graduating from the rural crashpad that James K Baxter ran beside the Whanganui River in the late '60s, Olds made a career writing poems about drugs, madness, and V8 engines. His Selected Poems is full of titles like 'In Hospital', 'Mandragorite Blues', and 'Music Therapy'. Olds has spent much of his life in Dunedin, where he has a loyal and perceptive audience, but he seems to have made at least one visit to the beach that stretches out below my balcony.

Here is Peter Olds' ode to Onetangi. With its fused visions of public and private disaster, the poem reminds me of the 'domestic apocalypses' that Kendrick Smithyman wrote and repressed in the late 1960s and early '70s.

Anxiety on Onetangi Beach

Another nuclear explosion in the city.
The temperature jumps from 25 to 2000 deg. C.
A windowdresser covers a dummy
with a thin veil. 
Silky stretch of clean white sand
wind in the punga.

Sandals, beachbag
Christmas Humphreys' Zen, a Way of Life,
expensive sunglasses,
two busloads of elderly beachcombers
up from Feijoa Country estate for the day
browsing along the shoreline.
Bathe only between flags
the sign says. 

A fleet of towtrucks
pulls into Onetangi garden tavern,
arrival of the carwreckers' annual get-together. 
Hairless men and toothpick women
in skin & leathers
erect their tent between beach flags -
We fuck anything that moves.
The sea is a mass of vibrating radiators 
& dismembered elderly...

When the pupil is ready
the master appears.
I open my eyes expecting to see 
my ex-psychiatrist standing waist-deep
in Freudian-foam shouting
Castration anxiety!
but instead I see a man & woman
& a small fluffy dog
playing in the surf -
children squealing in the waves
a collapsed sand mermaid dressed 
in seaweed & shells
the smell of chilli sausage.

The moment passes.
The glass is cleared away
& the elderly go home in a fern-covered bus
chanting like Lunatics.
Christmas Humphreys is put aside.
One rips the beachbag apart searching
for the emergency pills,
lies gingerly back on the blazing sand
& listens to the morphine sounds
of AKA singing Free Nelson Mandela
on the personal stereo.

The holiday begins. 

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


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