Monday, June 27, 2011

'War and Peace' and a Poem about New Zealand


They always say ‘retrace your steps’,
‘Click your heels three times: There’s no place like home,’
‘Where do you last remember them?’

But what if you’re far from the familiar, not in but out,
if they’re not to be found on the carpet
beneath a pile of half-folded laundry,
in the kitchen in the fridge in the vegetable bin with the broccoli,
still in the ignition, with the doors locked?

And what if your steps are slides
against the current, pushing past fear
into a coastline not as civilized as soap,
but lethal, dark, peopled with voices
not yet heard by men?

Then, if you are Kupe, what they say
will not do.
To find your keys, look up.
They’re in the clouds.

I wrote this for the "Word and Question" monthly challenge at Shredded Cheddar.  You submit a word and a question, then the host mixes and matches the words and questions at random and sends you a new word & question, from which you create a poem.   Many thanks to Enbrethiliel for organizing this monthly play-for-mortal-stakes: Talk about a creativity-booster!

My word was Aotearoa (the Maori word for New Zealand which translates roughly as 'land of the long, white clouds') and my question was, "Where are my keys?"  It took me three tries to get here:  first a villanelle that turned out lifeless and static, then a haiku that just didn't say enough, and then finally this free verse, which seems closer to the mark. 

What's the poem about?  Well, I researched Aotearoa and found the legend of Kupe, original explorer of Aotearoa, who used the clouds as guides and whose canoe was named after clouds as well.  I decided that he could ask the question, and I would offer the answer.  I think that the shift to something decent came when I decided to free up the form (more like Kupe's exploration), and to directly address the disjunct between the contemporary question and the mythic word.

War & Peace Summer Read-Along (6/24/11-8/22/11)
And now, on a completely different note:  Details for the War & Peace Summer Read-Along.
Let's try talking about it weekly, on Mondays, starting a week from today.  I'll make that section shorter so you can go get the book. Just "sign up" in the comments; I'm working on a button...

7/6: Book One, Parts 1 & 2
7/13: Book One, Part 3 and Book Two, Part 1
7/20: Book Two, Parts 2 & 3
7/27: Book Two, Parts 4 & 5
8/3: Book Three, Parts 1 & 2
8/10:  Book Three, Part 3 and Book Four, Parts 1 & 2 
8/17:  Book Four, Parts 3 & 4
8/24:  Epilogue & Whole Book Discussion

FYI:  No pressure.  If you jump in late or if nobody wants to read-along right now, that's actually fine because I'm reading it for my book group anyway - we're breaking it into two discussions, 1/month, but if you decide you want to read it with me, that'd be swell.   I'll just post a few thoughts on each Monday, trying to avoid spoilers.  Maybe my musings will pique your interest...



Enbrethiliel said...


"Aotearoa" was my word/place! Interesting twist on the use of the name. =)

I chose New Zealand's Maori name partly because I've lived there and treasure my memories of those days. And I wish I could tell you that the country I saw resembles your poem, which bridges the mythical and the contemporary quite beautifully, as you'd hoped . . . but it was closer to being "as civilised as soap." =P Then again, there was much contention over the coastline the last time I was there . . . Hmmmm! ;-)

Laurie said...

Thanks for your thoughts here, E, and for your info re: wordpress. I'll get on it tomorrow...
Ah, so it was your word! I enjoyed learning more about New Zealand and taking on this challenge. Interesting to hear that the coastline is still contested (shifting like clouds?).

Booksnob said...

OK, I will join you on your war and peace readalong. I think i already have a copy. My post on Roots is up.

I may not be able to post on the 4th but I will try to on the 5th on Tuesday. Hey if may I suggest since Roots is posting on Mondays, could War and Peace post on Tuesdays?
Let me know.

Jackie said...

I've got my copy of War and Peace but am out of town till Saturday, so I'll be starting it when I get back--looking forward to reading along with you!

Laurie said...

B - I hopped by your blog and posted a response. Let me know what you think... And I am so happy that you're joining the W & P read-along!
J - Yay! Looking forward to reading with you too - go ahead and spread the word: The more, the merrier!

Enbrethiliel said...


You're welcome, Laurie! Or as the natives say in New Zealand, "Cheers!"

vvb32 reads said...

into a coastline not as civilized as soap - loved that bit!
and i liked how the end of your w&q poem left me up in the clouds.

Salome Ellen said...

I love your imagination! Since I spend much of my time with laundry and vegetable bins, this drew me to a fresh viewpoint. Thank you.

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