Selected Poems

Selected Poems

by Ian Wedde, John Reynolds

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Ian Wedde has been a major presence in New Zealand poetry since his work began appearing in journals in the late 1960s. His first book of poetry appeared in 1971; his sixth book won the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry in 1978; his sixteenth and most recent was a finalist in 2014. By the mid-1980s, as well as shaping his own verse, he had become an influential critic and shaper of larger trends in poetry as one of the co-editors of The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse (1985) and The Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Poetry – Nga Kupu Titohu o Aotearoa (1989). After a quiet spell in the mid- to late 1990s came the much celebrated The Commonplace Odes in 2001, in which Wedde offered the Horatian/Keatsian ode as transformative a moment as Baxter had given the sonnet back in 1970. Three excellent books followed, most recently The Lifeguard: Poems 2008–2013, published at the end of his tenure as New Zealand Poet Laureate. While Wedde has constantly experimented with and pushed boundaries of form and influence in his poetry, his work returns often to key themes and ideas, preoccupations and effects that this book throws into brilliant relief: a politics of language, social and ecological relationships, how memory works, the perceptual world. The son Carlos of Earthly: Sonnets for Carlos (1975) is now a father himself; Ian Wedde's poems are now more likely to feature grandchildren. But the ranging, tenacious, conceptual-romantic poet, with his linguistically rich but intellectually rigorous voice, is the same, and tracing that voice through nearly five decades will be one of the many pleasures readers take from this book. With selections from 1971's Homage to Matisse all the way through to 2013's The Lifeguard, Ian Wedde's Selected Poems will introduce readers new and old to one of New Zealand's most distinguished contemporary poets.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781775589006
Publisher: Auckland University Press
Publication date: 05/18/2017
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 340
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

John Reynolds has featured in many key exhibitions and publications on contemporary New Zealand art. He has shown widely throughout the country, and been commissioned to produce projects for a wide range of New Zealand galleries, and the National Art Gallery of New South Wales (Sydney Biennale, 2006) becoming known as one of New Zealand's foremost painters and printmakers. Ian Wedde is the author of sixteen collections of poetry, seven novels, two collections of essays, a collection of short stories, a monograph on the artist Bill Culbert, several art catalogs, a memoir, and has been co-editor of two poetry anthologies.

Read an Excerpt

Selected Poems

By Ian Wedde

Auckland University Press

Copyright © 2017 Ian Wedde
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-77558-900-6



Homage to Matisse

I am unable to distinguish between the feeling
I have for life and my way of expressing it.

1 Nature morte : the room

Henri Emile Benoît Matisse je vous salue!
Let me tell you a secret.
Your work goes on.
I'd only seen your things in art books
bite sized. I dreamed there was a bright room
in my head somewhere
which you were making real stroke

by counterpointed stroke
& where I would some day retire
to an armchair in the corner:

the final element of a composition
that perfectly described itself.
& three years later saw the first good
real one / Basel Switzerland:
Still Life With Oysters. As expected

it cleared the room. I sat humming in a corner of /
homesick. Others came & sighed round the walls
searching for deep truffles. Outside

nature was dead.
Civic Swiss had combed her hair for press-releases.
Her rigour was bourgeois & precise.
Children clambered upon her in
mid-summer in knee socks.

Come away Master.
At our place we can still snap life
open like oysters.

Yon were one instructor.
Matisse, Matisse.

2 Fait du premier coup

When I first gaped my gums to receive the world

you were seventy-seven years old.
Your age didn't show. You exhibited
with Picasso in Brussels.

The day you died I was eight
& I wasn't interested in you.

In 1965 you had rotted eleven years Lyndon
Johnson was in his prime.

By 1967 humus clogged your bones utterly.
I clasped a girl's pale hips
among Motueka tobacco plants.
It was 105° Fahrenheit high summer.
Her sweat scoured me.
I wasn't much concerned about you
though I'd quoted you to the girl.

& now you've fallen apart through
more than a quarter century.
By that much time again I shall be getting old
& may know something perhaps
about the fact of that first right stroke falling
like a chopper on the block.

3 Falling

We get left behind thank
god. Destruction & success
: two sides of the same blade &
keeping each other honed.
Who needs that kind of death?
When we fail or fall
we can get stoned / go fishing.

Your eyes

twinkle like some vibrant old
men I know whose destructions
will lift up love & wonder from us all.

4 The lever

You have a lot to teach me.

& it should come easier Master:
those endless articulations walking
eating talking to friends (silence
& listening) & lying
rocking & hunched with women / anywhere
when mind spreads to clutch
body when body eats mind

the way embraces of colour passed from your brush,
rhythms flowing out of your fingers, conceived /

the upright of the shaduf rooted
while its bucket swings down & dips
water for dry animals brings a
stain of rich colour to the dust where
spring's green wash
spreads round the motionless fulcrum –

all rhythm contained there, motionless

& I rooted in my armchair
motionless /
Can we begin please here.

5 Une harmonie d'ensemble

The sun comes up Henri & goes down.
In between is a long split-
legged slow-motion dancer's leap.

Did we break the sound barrier?
I saw cities / chipped stacks of dominoes.
Hah! cried the old crookback
players slapping down stakes
shaking the last coins in their vest pockets.

Beyond them was the sea moving /
the clonic hips of a loving woman
& a feathered man falling into
her. She blinked

like a deep blue eye. His image
disappeared in its frank distances.
So be it Henri / so
be it.

6 'The dance' / 'music': 1910

I whip my head from side to side.

The dance. they dance /

& ahead of me

musicians gape mouths

from which only groans can issue
deep in the throat /
of simple pleasures.

O Old Dead Man /

freed from age by age.

7 Paris

The clouds lurch down Henri /
heavy levers. Billy & Captain America
explode off Saint Michel.
It's all good stuff. Luxe calme et
/ the townsfolk leave
for the beach & we

dance northward lugubriously.
Perhaps the cold will sort out our heads.
Perhaps I'll write a song about it all /
imagining the dark mouths of musicians
open inward upon rooms
of wit & melancholy.

8 London

Sometimes it comes down to this:
Ségal plaster people hurtling
underground, or propped around the squares
rigged out in swords & cocked hats.
Watch the articulated ones move.
They do it fast, eyes shut,
e.g. 'art' & 'music' are extras we are bound
to feel grateful for. Rather
thank god for friends Henri,
for the woman who takes you in,
for the good quality of apples,
for untidy neighbourhoods where
these cataleptic protocols get no grip.
I kick up autumn leaves & spend my money.


If I dreamt less & left my room more
I would be good at figures.
My visions clock themselves in on schedule.
I gap my mouth.
I'm lazy & well looked out for.


New place new view
& Rose in the kitchen cooking stew.
Traffic dances past moon comes out.
It's cold. Like you
I sit in a long overcoat
looking at what I must do
& glad to be about to do it.

11 The rules

Some double the odds on violence.
Their backs are to the wall.
They become stone / they fall.
The blind explore them with white fingers
imagining all men are scored & bitten
& that flowers pushed up among them
when they lay half buried.

Hearing feet clang
in & out of the museums.





Beneath the splintered bridge dusty oleander & lupin
hang upon the untidy banks of the
Jordan which is perhaps

one of the smaller & scruffier rivers.
If you were a farmer you might think
about alluvial wash & the melon crop. You
wouldn't think about the blond mentholated
cigarette girl

whose teeth signal the good things of
her culture, whose armpits have the cool
fragile curves of the rims of fine jade vases,
whose feet dabble in the stream.


It flows from one big lake into
which is lower & more
poisonous. If you dive into this
one head first you will remain
suspended in the brine head

downward like a pale jellied
half-pear & you will drown.

I remember that at Panmunjom
they had worked up some good routines.
For instance the North Koreans though
lacking doves had taught pigeons to land
only on green North Korean
roofs thereby indicating to the world
the peaceful connotations of the roofs

& an American colonel or maybe
general blew his nose into an outsize
red handkerchief thereby indicating
red etcetera.

At the bridge

they lack the gimcrackery of a
secure & complex organisation such as
an armistice compound or a Schloss
tour up the Rhine by steamer
in which the mentholated girl hangs

out her white gentle breasts upon
the rail like little flags & whispers
capitulations to her escort's ear.


The beams of the bridge have
splintered into knives. They are
honed by the one-way traffic.
In the deep Jordan lowlands
you can drop with
heatstroke inside half an hour.
On the Western side the soldiers
sit beneath a broad tree
supervising the one-way
traffic & discussing
cool white mentholated shikse.


Vanishing point

Our remorseless impulse to the grotesque.
Tell it like a rosary. How else. The
voice sliding off, sliding off into
nothing, the steppe road clear &

straight out of sight. A pair
of yellow oxen lug their plough
among black basalt stones, turning
red soil, blue wild stocks.

On the Druse hills a fragile green
wash. Bare walnut trees,
white almond blossom, tough scrub oak,
asphodel spindle-shanked & scarlet anemones.

& they told me I would find desert here.
The old men pass two by two,
their beards resemble new scarves.
The ground falls away to the west where

at the horizon the spring snows of
Mount Hermon tower like storm-heads.
Through village streets the children blossom in
gift clothes. It is the Eid-El-Adha, the

end of the Pilgrimage, repose of the faithful.
Newly cut branches deck graveyards.
The fighter-bombers pass overhead with
a sound of torn fabric westward
toward some vanishing point.




If I call you Ruth. She lay
at the big man's
feet & covered them.
Charity flowed from him
like good sense. He had cut
corn all day, dirt
filled his body's flaws, he
snored. I have not

so much as stepped
outside the front door.
The sound of wind in the cypress trees
is like you turning over.
If your breath
touched my face now I would
not call you Ruth. You
are not here. You are Ruth.
You looked back two or
three times trying
not to cry. This vacant image

is with me, the
knowledge of your absence,
a space you turn towards
doubtfully, having no choice.
The rest I
grope my hands through
like latticework, the negative

light in which my eyes
blaze, pearly cataracts.
There are things you
touched, they have gone.
My lips move upon a word, Ruth.
You are trees, a sound. You turn
to me with a sound
of wind stirring the cypress trees.
Your breath touches my face.


The blood rose out of me
for some who had not died
in makeshift ambulances along the
pitted Damascus road. I remembered

an evening in that white city
when my blood rose towards
you. Kites hung in the summer convections.
Your pale body on the white bed, long

scars across it, green jalousie shadows.
My life crowds up in me.
My thoughts tug like
kites above the dry upward currents.


Night wind in the dusty
cypress trees. No part of you
is whole to me, my blood rises for the wind
turning in my bed. Ideograms
of the blind, the violence of memory.
In the light cast upward
beyond your white body your tongue
is a dark fuse your eyes are
touched with red. You grip
me & tread my body drawing
blood. Each dove-twilight, each
morning they have brought up
mangonels against your tower-cote.
You turned sadly towards a
space, each morning
something more of you has gone.
It does not atrophy, I

cannot hold it, your image grows
into what surrounds me. Ruth
how long before
you cover me again,
simple & small as something done.
The red factor canary turns
out its wings, the cat goes daintily
across the garden the
wind touches my face.




I gotta right.


* * *

Responsibility is to keep / the ability to respond.


* * *

Something generative, since it determined the as yet uncertain
'content' of which it became, in return, an aspect.



5 to start with & in memoriam Ezra Pound

1 Madonna

The world stretches out
time yawns
your head, lost
hours, on the pillow burns in its halo
of boredom. So what are we waiting for?
A birth, naturally.
O forgive me, this

is no light matter ... you no she stretches
till your joints crack. You, I do not know you.
She watches little fists & knees in your
belly, I watch her watching your famous
blue tits. She yawns with your mouth,
with your voice
she tells me 'it's not long now', her halo,
lost hours, burns east of me in bed, I think
this lovely strange madonna has no choice

I think that in the end she will whelp you,
biche, it will be so good to have you back.

* * *

2 It's time

A beautiful evening, early summer.
I'm walking from the hospital. His head
was a bright nebula
a firmament
swimming in the vulva's lens ... the colour
of stars /
'Terraces the colour of stars ...'
I gazed through my tears.
The gifts of the dead
crown the heads of the newborn She said
'It's time' & now I have a son time for

naming the given
the camellia
which is casting this hoar of petals (stars?)
on the grass ... all winter the wind kept from
the south, driving eyes & heart to shelter.
Then came morning when she said 'It's time, it's
time!' time's
careless nebula of blossom /

* * *

3 Paradiso terrestre

The room fills up with smoke. Their faces are
imprecise with the imprecision of
their perfect intentions, all that loving
menagerie which the old man's left for
good & which the newborn entered in a
rage & through which he now sleeps: a profound
indifference he will lose the knack of
in spite of love or because of it more
likely ... oh, I'd be glad if he became
a carpenter & built a house for my
old age: a paradiso, well ... but earthly
anyway, straight planks above a plain
or seacoast, the trees & mountains known, high
familiar stars still bright in heaven's hearth.

* * *

4 A light

I study my son's face, to treasure it.
Each day (now, & now) it's changed & I've lost
what I love, loved.

At dead of night we coast
about the safe house to look at the lights,
I swing them, monstrous shadows veer & fight
along the sumptuous Cornish. Our hosts
all unaware are sitting to the feast,
the dancing girls, the rebec – O those fat
assured Phoenician burghers! our shadows
race across the rooms, & back, back, to us

the unbidden.
He is so much smaller
than me, I can't remember how he was
before he got this big.
A light, love is,
swinging (now) above plundered silent halls.

* * *

5 He is

Wrapped up in a plaid blanket he is while
we're standing like so on the broken
porch in the photograph. We can be seen
to be young but he is younger, can't smile
& I don't have my hand on her shoulder.

There's no date on the precious token
but I know it, a sepia tint in
my mind tomorrow O how joyful all
this is & how time curls up at the edge.
Carlos he is, as of almost now, a
sentimental fellow with any luck,
Carlito for short. ....
.... & for thanks.


Excerpted from Selected Poems by Ian Wedde. Copyright © 2017 Ian Wedde. Excerpted by permission of Auckland University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Homage to Matisse. London: Amphedesma Press, 1971.,
Made Over: Poems. Auckland: Stephen Chan, 1974.,
Earthly: Sonnets for Carlos; with drawings by Joanna Paul. Akaroa: Amphedesma Press, 1975.,
Pathway to the Sea; with drawings by Ralph Hotere. Christchurch: Hawk Press, 1975.,
Spells for Coming Out; with drawings by Joanna Paul.,
Auckland: Auckland University Press / Oxford University Press, 1977.,
Castaly; with drawings by Jeffrey Harris. Auckland: Auckland University Press / Oxford University Press, 1980.,
Georgicon. Wellington: Victoria University Press, 1984.,
Tales of Gotham City. Auckland: Auckland University Press / Oxford University Press, 1984.,
Tendering. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1988.,
The Drummer. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1993.,
The Commonplace Odes. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2001.,
Three Regrets and a Hymn to Beauty. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2005.,
Good Business. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2009.,
The Lifeguard. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2013.,
Index of first lines,
Index of poems,

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