little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: poem

Fourteen things

One: Going home
Vincent O’Sullivan has written a 14-episode account of Ralph Hotere’s journey home. The number recalls Hotere’s use of the number, his referencing of the Stations of the Cross and of his 14 siblings. Frustratingly, the full version is only available to subscribers (when did the Listener change that?).

Two: Favourite birds (my son will be so cross that I haven’t used the proper full names, but the truth is, I can’t remember them)
mandarin duck
black cockatoo
superb lyrebird

Three: Books that got me through my childhood, and my children’s
Corduroy, Don Freeman
Any of the Frances books, Russell Hoban (illustrated by Garth Williams)
Tell Me What It’s Like to Be Big, Joyce Dunbar (illustrated by Debi Gliori)
Mr Gumpy’s Outing, John Burningham
Big Momma Makes the World, Phyllis Root (illustrated by Helen Oxenbury)
The Ramona books, Beverly Cleary
Big Sister and Little Sister, Charlotte Zolotow (illustrated by Martha Alexander)
Virginia Wolf, Kyo Maclear (illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault)
Come On, Daisy!, Jane Simmons
The Raft, Jim LaMarche
The Tiger Who Came to Tea and the Mog books, Judith Kerr
Dogger and everything else, Shirley Hughes
far too much by Noel Streatfeild
Anne of Green Gables and all the rest, LM Montgomery
bonus: Kitten’s First Full Moon, Kevin Henke + about a hundred others

Four: Authors I’ve found myself consuming in bulk
George Perec
Italo Calvino
Primo Levi
Laurence Fearnley
Janette Turner Hospital
Nigel Cox
Sara Maitland
Jeanette Winterson
Maurice Gee
Philip Pullman
Ann Patchett
Jim Crace
Michael Ondaatje
(see the children’s list above)

Five: Foods that make life better
smoked salmon
salad, lots of it
roast chicken, then chicken soup
poisson cru
fennel seed and olive oil biscuits

Six: 14-letter words

Seven: What I want in a house
a chair by a window, just for reading
a kitchen that I can eat, cook, talk, and read in
a space for the kids to play
a front porch
a sheltered space to eat outside
plenty of trees
a glasshouse
vegetable patches
a workspace
bookshelves in every room
a woodburner

Eight: Condiments, loosely interpreted
lemons — fresh, juiced, zested, preserved
fennel seeds
sea salt
tomato sauce
a book
a friend

Nine: Punctuation that makes text prettier
fanciful ampersands
the Oxford comma
double quote marks
full stops
question marks, sparingly
well-placed commas
tidy, well-aligned bullet points
parentheses, occasionally

Ten: Plants I like to have in my garden

Eleven: The elements of a fine day
a small boy’s arms around my neck
that first cup of coffee
a shower
a walk, run, or yoga class
a kiss
seeing something through my children’s eyes

Twelve: A 14-year-old dancer

Thirteen: Colin McCahon’s Stations

Fourteen: A sonnet, of course
Not in a silver casket cool with pearls
Or rich with red corundum or with blue,
Locked, and the key withheld, as other girls
Have given their loves, I give my love to you;
Not in a lovers’-knot, not in a ring
Worked in such fashion, and the legend plain—
Semper fidelis, where a secret spring
Kennels a drop of mischief for the brain:
Love in the open hand, no thing but that,
Ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt,
As one should bring you cowslips in a hat
Swung from the hand, or apples in her skirt,
I bring you, calling out as children do:
“Look what I have!—And these are all for you.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay

Ralph Hotere

Ralph Hotere died in Dunedin yesterday.

The world feels emptier.

The news

What it means

From the north


With Hone Tuwhare*

Hotere Garden Oputae**

Documentary, 1974

Documentary, 2001


Tuwhare’s poem

* Janet Hunt. ‘Tuwhare, Hone’, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Oct-2012. URL:

** Malcolm McKinnon. ‘Otago places – Otago Harbour’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 15-Nov-12. URL:

What this day needs

This is for you if ― like mine ― your day needs a poem. Well, really, what my day needs is a bevy of friends and a gin and tonic and someone else to put the baby to bed, just for one night. And a walk in the clean, cool air and five minutes to hold together a sense of myself, underneath those pressing roles I hold ― mother, partner, daughter, editor. Anyway, I’m going to yoga, which is a bit like a gin and tonic, but with less garrulous laughter, so really, no, not like a gin and tonic at all. And I went hunting for a poem, then realised, again, that almost all our books are in storage and we really should get a house, if only to have somewhere for bookshelves to go. But my aunt did lend me a book of poems  when we visited, so I flickered through it, and this is what I found.


turn it off

listen to the cicadas
listen to that knock of branches
listen just to the wind ―
here it is, rolling now
like a pitching wave into the trees
erasing the crazed and cross-tracked footprints of static

in what you took for silence
listen to the dry wood
catching, at this perfect moment, in the stove

stop, and you’ll hear it;
the stretch and crack and tick
of the thin metal flue
expanding in the heat

oh, you are beaten so thin
and still the joins hold,
still that bloom of warmth
opening up
more than enough

and your hands
still feeling the shape
of the kindling, the axe, the tree;
the flexing
of your own bird-fine bones.

Cate Kennedy, “Quiet”, The Taste of River Water (Carlton North, VIC, Australia: Scribe, 2011), p. 36.

But hang on, isn’t this a business blog?

Oh, so you noticed. Noticed that along with the writing tips, the wordplay, and the grammar musings, some other things keep slipping into this blog. Bits of fiction. A poem (!). Stories about my children (good grief). Words like decolonisation (really?). Reflections on motherhood (enough already). Feminist analysis (settle down, ladies). Politics, family history, Christmas presents. What’s all that about? Am I confused? Do I know what I’m doing?

Well, “yes” and “not really”.



My main aim with this blog is to treat it like a scrapbook. To gather together snippets of the things that move or inspire me, that have me laughing in agreement or making sense of another day spent trying to fledge a business and hold together the threads of a full and busy household. To say, “Look, this is what writing can do. These are the words we need to guide us into a more hopeful future.”

And I’m also trying to be as open and generous as possible in my understanding of what a business can be. Because why shouldn’t a businesswoman think about colonisation or feminism or children or any of that? Because those things don’t go away when we say, “No, you didn’t see the boundary there; this is business, this is work.” Because I’m not going to cut myself into pieces and sanction one little bit to build this business up. What you’ll get is all of me, stroppy, reflective, silly, curious, ratbaggy as I might be. And I don’t expect anyone else to agree with my views, but I do think that there’s space in the business model for me to wander off the page and write about the rest of my life, about the questions and anchors and truths that keep me alert and keep me whole. And if there’s not that space, there should be.


“Not really”

But, of course, it’s not that simple, is it?

Because I do put my own boundaries on what I write, and I do worry away at the distinction between a personal and a business blog. I question my decisions. I self-censure. I link to other people’s words instead of putting my analysis and thinking on the line. I feel vulnerable when I post creative writing and a bit soft when I write about mothering or my children. I tell the funny or appealing family stories — not so much the ones where I am less than graceful and composed.


“Well maybe”

So, what to do?

You know, the thing I keep coming back to is the idea of wandering off the page. Of saying, “Yes, this writing is connected to my business, because it all stems from me and my writing self, but it’s a little bit to the side, a little bit meandering. It’s where my thoughts turn in my quiet moments, or where they snag as I’m playing with the kids or making dinner or listening to the radio or having a shower. It’s the writing I do when I’ve got something to say.” And what I’d really like is to live in a world where the page origamis into new shapes, where the centre no longer holds and the eye is free to follow those wandering, marginal lines.

Writing in the present

It’s el cheapo Christmas in our household this year, so I’m making my boys some wordy presents, and it got me thinking — what other presents could I make with a few dollars, a laptop, and a printer? I’d love to get more suggestions in the comments.


Recipe book

For the Cat, I’m making a recipe book. I’ve got a large notebook with ruled lines and divider cards, which I’ll use to divide the book into a few sections (snacks and salads, soups and stews, etc). I’ve used a photo of the Cat as the base for the cover, and I’m typing up his favourite recipes to stick in the first few pages of each section (spaghetti bolognaise, raw fish salad, chicken noodle soup, etc). I hope that as he gets more into cooking, he will add his own recipes in the blank pages.


Alphabet book

For the Rabbit, I’m making an alphabet book. I’ve got a folder with clear plastic sleeves, and for each letter of the alphabet, I’ll do a cover page with the letter in upper and lower case. Then I thought I could find pictures of animals and other Rabbit-friendly things for each letter. I’ll print out the pictures and stick them on bits of coloured card, which can slot into the appropriate sleeves. At this stage, the wee one will just pull out the pictures and look at them, but as he grows, he can start to learn which pictures go with which letters.


Bird migration map

This is not so wordy, but the Cat and I are working on a present for a little cousin. We’ll get a map of the world and trace the migration paths of different birds on it. We thought we could put pictures of each bird at their winter and summer homes.


Children’s books

The Cat likes to think big, and he’s writing a chapter book to give to friends and family. I’m not sure how it will turn out, but so far there’s bug collecting, animals, fancy equipment, and some very unusual names.


Homemade calendar

One of our best Christmas presents was a calendar illustrated with bird paintings done by the Cat. We photographed the paintings and imported them into a calendar-making application. Although I have to say that it didn’t work out all that cheap by the time we paid for the printing and binding.


Scrappy poem

The Cat and I are making poems out of words and phrases cut from magazines. The first poem is a little… odd. Maybe we need to up the quality of our source material?

A poem in our talking

I met with a friend today, and we talked, and talked, and talked. Of estuaries and words, of identity and relationships and what it is to make meaning in Treaty work. Of salt water and fresh, of holding true to the murkiness of an unsettled time.

And then I came home and dug out this old poem that I’ve been carrying around for some ten years now. And I think I may finally have finished the damn thing.

Harbour Poem

Down where the water
touches rock
a heron picks
its delicate line
between the blue and grey
of a clean
unfolding day;

dipping into the rhythm
of its withholding walk
with the soft-footed grace
found inside clocks, the held breath
of moonlit hallways, the hesitance
when rain begins;

the hollow as a decision turns
a slow circle
in the curve of an unmade moment.

Ships slip to port
and back, peripheral
as the tide
while you dream of birds
and flight through empty time,
your body shed
for feather and air.

And later

with the day worn on
and everything still unknown
the sea eases
to a washed and lustred green,
as old as the stone you hold
and turn
and turn
and turn
a small anchor in the night.

Three years on and it’s spring again

1 August 2009

We turned the corner into August today, Mum. Good,
You would say — we’ve made it through winter. It’s spring.
No matter that you changed seasons a month ahead of everyone else;
Nature always backed you, and this year is no different.
There’s a magnolia budding open on Hiropi Street, and
The gardens are full of bulbs. I imagine that at home,
It’s the same. The plum tree will be beauty incarnate
At the edge of the bottom block; snowdrops will greet every
Visitor. Dad will be mowing the lawns more often, and
Some nights may not even need a fire. The days will
Lengthen, and the rhododendrons be in full flight.
And I wonder, how can all this still happen, without you there
To name it? Will it be like this every year now?
A provisional spring? Or is that another job you’ve
Left for me — to witness, to hope, to sing?

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