Thursday, November 29, 2012

Kids' stuff

I heard a story about a coffee group for new Mums whose members decided, at one of their weekly cafe gatherings, to hold a vote on which of their number had the most beautiful baby. The contest was tied, with each baby getting a single vote. When Skyler and I decided to make a book of baby photos to give to friends and family at Christmas, I remembered the story about the coffee group's beauty contest, and urged that we include photos of friends' and relatives' babies as well as our own in the book.

I also suggested that we combine photos of kids with poems about childhood, and for the past few weeks I've been pulling books off my shelves and flicking through them looking for half-remembered texts.

Of the sixteen poems which have ended up in the manuscript we sent off to a vanity publisher yesterday, my favourite is 'A Boy's Head', which was written by Miroslav Holub and translated from Czech by Ian Milner, the Oamaru-born Rhodes Scholar and alleged spy who hid himself behind the Iron Curtain after World War Two:

A Boy's Head

In it there is a space-ship
and a project
for doing away with piano lessons.

And there is
Noah's ark,
which shall be first.

And there is
an entirely new bird,
an entirely new hare,
and entirely new bumble-bee.

There is a river
that flows upwards.

There is a multiplication.

There is anti-matter.

And it just cannot be trimmed.

I believe
that only what cannot be trimmed
is a head.

There is much promise
in the circumstance
that so many people have heads.
Holub and Milner worked on poems like these in the years after the Soviet invasion of 1968 had replaced Czechoslovakia's experiment in 'socialism with a human face' with neo-Stalinist rule. Holub's short, playful, apparently apolitical texts were often able to sidle past Czechoslovak censors, yet they are capable of stimulating all sorts of seditious sentiments. 'A Boy's Head' can be read as a celebration of imaginative freedom, as well as an innocent description of laddish enthusiasms.

A pregnancy is a drawn-out business, and while Skyler and I sat about in the waiting rooms of clinics and hospitals, looking forward to ultrasounds and appointments with midwives and obstretricians, I filled up an exercise book or two with scraps of scrappy poetry and pseudo-sociological observations of radiologists (why, I wondered, do they all seem to have semi-translucent skin and permanent squints?) and orderlies. Here's something dodgy I've dug out of an exercise book for our Christmas gift:

Six Archaeological Poems


baby's heartbeat
the hooves
of a galloping horse


a word with watery


a word chipped as hard
as a bone-tipped

The prehistory of language

hollow stone
in a stream
my baby nephew

Before the excavation

the obstetrician

Archaeologist's note

Tane, carved on totara, then
wrapped in flax -
wrapped carefully, wrapped bravely,
during a Nga Puhi raid -
and left in a swamp,
in the anaerobic waters
which are helpful
for the preservation of

saved, in the swamp's
amniotic fluid

[Posted by Maps/Scott]


Anonymous Jono said...

A Boy's Head is magnificent, thanks for digging it up for us, Scott.

Those conversations with our newly minted four year old are always the highlight of my day.

And really, when I start excavating at Ruapekapeka you should come up for a visit, and shake some of that romance and poetry out of your bones on one end of a spade and one side of a sieve.

Bring Paul and Echo, and we can follow the campaign trail back to the muddy Kawakawa.

With that in mind, and I apologise for link whoring, but feel free to wander over and visit at I am still finding my feet and my voice in this medium, although twelve or thirteen years ago (when I absolutely knew everything) I was blogging before there was such a thing, with a collective of Auckland cybergoths and freaks. I wont link to that, though (the horror!)

10:41 am  
Anonymous earwash said...

When we were kids we'd make fun of colors kids were wearing (even ourselves).

Red, red wet the bed, wipe it up with gingerbread.

Blue, blue you got the flue you just puked all over you.

I'm sure there were others, but I can't remember them.

12:21 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Thanks for the link as well as the invitation Jono! I hung out a little with Edward Ashby while he was doing a field survey of Mahinepua in the far north a few years ago, and really enjoyed the experience. It'd be fantastic to look at some of the work you're doing up north, and there's a very good bookshop, if I remember rightly, in Whangarei...

9:52 pm  

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