the poetry workshop

for Paula Green

I was late, didn’t bring a pad of paper or a pen

to a workshop — hadn’t registered that

I might have to work. My subconscious though

at work, perhaps I didn’t want to be there.

Not when I sat down anyway, at the front,

where the only empty chair was, within reach

of the teacher, a problem child, who with a sigh

had to be given a pen and paper to work on.

‘What matters to you about poetry?’

I muttered a few things about line breaks,

brevity, emotion, Pablo Neruda and humour.

Then it was into the warm-up: quick flash

lines, responding to prompts, which lightened

my ‘denim blue mood.’ Fun with alliteration

‘rumbling down the rudimentary road.’
‘An aubergine and a bicycle at one in a line.’

Next, childhood memories after Bill Manhire

using the music of rhyme and near-rhyme:

‘Marmite sandwiches, all I ate, playing

with battleships, short shorts and T-shirts,

bedroom curtains with a herd of lions, zebras,

elephants and giraffes, unable to sleep 

in summer, everything brown and ochre,

walking barefoot, burnt-off grass with prickles,

Star Wars, wondering who John Lennon was.’ 

That was OK, decided I wouldn’t leave

in the break. One poem done, onto the second.

Your direction: ‘No feelings but in things.’
My thing a moldy mandarin. Only ten words

at first, a forced economy, then twelve lines.

The mandarin went off, like a bomb.

I read the poem out: my phrasing was praised.

I felt like a pupil, receiving the approval

of the teacher.
 You finished with a reading
of your own poems, where you bobbed about

to the rhythm of your words. I was pleased

to get your reference to Sweet Virginia

off Exile on Main St. I liked your story

about hearing a wild, hairy James K Baxter

on stage in the Kamo High School hall

six days before he died, when you decided

you were going to be a poet.

And I wish 
after seeing Sam Hunt at Whangarei Boys

that I’d decided to be a poet. But I’m trying now

to arrange, as best I can, the lines I wrote

in a poetry workshop, which I had to rescue

from the wind that blew them from my hands

outside, all around the carpark. I had to chase

each page, as you watched, surely amused

at the antics of your pupil who arrived late.

Published in Poetry NZ 47, September 2013.