new zealand electronic poetry centre

David Howard


Something Else

From SOMETHING ELSE: Bernadette Hall, David Howard & Graham Lindsay.
Brochure text. Christchurch, August 1990


David Howard was born in Christchurch (1959). He has been a freelance writer since his eighteenth birthday, supporting this remorseless habit with part-time positions as baker’s labourer, library assistant, nanny and bookseller. He is a past winner of the Gordon & Gotch Poetry Award and the Poetry Society Competition. He has never won any money. Divorced (with one son), he does not find celibacy an inspirational aid. He is also bored by the third person and is about to forgo it.

I’ll ride your smile
into the night. Here,

take the nails
from my index fingers
for security: I’ll come

back. Carefully
adjust your kiss
until it slips

under this collar
bone. Open

my body: pick
the rib that carries
the curve of your breast –

that bone between
an oak and an elm

as a cradle
for our child.


Why poetry?

As a child I played dominoes alongside a bookcase filled with the collected impertinence of Reader’s Digest condensed books. In the formica kitchen I listened to my father listening to local radio’s racing commentaries. I was introduced to the vernacular.

Some Sundays we took the bus to my grandparents’ house. When the weather was fine I climbed fences – there were no trees on their property; when it rained I played dominoes alongside a bookcase which contained Burns’ Poetical Works. I was introduced to the vernacular.

Without understanding the implications, I was on my way to becoming a poet – a New Zealand poet. Now ‘New Zealand literature’ is a difficult intellectual construct. Writers are international by virtue of their eclecticism; they assimilate influences irrespective of national borders. Every writer reads to isolate precursors from the mass of world literature who can inform his (or her) work. This personal tradition is distinct from received literary opinion. It takes no account of academic fashion. As a first generation New Zealander of British descent I naturally looked to the Northern Hemisphere for my personal tradition; if it started with Robert Burns then it continued with Arthur Rimbaud, Fernando Pessoa, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Andrew Marvell, Henry David Thoreau, Denton Welch, Guido Gozzano and Vicente Aleixandre.

I hold you as my lips hold
this voice. Your name is
a kiss which turns the earth

blue. You lure flowers
out with a mouth that swells
men, leaving them
wretched in the light
they dreamt of. Dying –

it’s not a name you forgot
from childhood: it isn’t
your pitch hair flaring

as the moon collides
with our campfire,
as black birds fly
through your pupils
to pick at my words....

Dying is the silence after
the silence after
I hold you.

                        (from ‘The Voices That Get Up’)

I first read local poets in my early twenties, while living in sheep-shearers’ quarters (yes!) near Wellington. This belated discovery of Allen Curnow, Owen Leeming, C.K. Stead, Michael Jackson, Ian Wedde and Tony Beyer was paralleled by a developing rapport with the physical landscape. I had to place my self.

in the beginning was the Word
            I prefer the quiet of water-striders
                        or the stream’s formless discourse
                                    the way wind scans and scales it

                        (from ‘The Last Word’)

In particular Wedde’s espousal of the demotic proved stimulating given my general preference for work of a more hieratic nature. Although eschewing his manner I view him as a significant influence: my apprehension of man’s fallen state is greater and, consequently, so is my nostalgia for the mythical Golden Age.

This vitiates an interest in the literary vanguard – as Man Ray noted: ‘There is no progress in art, any more than there is progress in making love. There are simply different ways of doing it.’ With a fundamental distrust of ‘the fast lane’ as no more than a marketing ploy, I have worked to make my home in language without regard for the signpost. I hope to go the distance in my own good time.

Moreporks pick at robbers’ corpses
(‘to publish the glad tidings
of the Gospel’) on the Roman cross
over Kawakawa River

while a Maori dyes flax
black with hinahina berries
for basket-work

When mackerel cloud swims
over the moon
Reverend Kendall’s campfire spears
the river’s eel.

A heron’s leg measures
the shallows. A skipping stone
‘moves in mysterious ways’
to cripple the bird.

Concentric circles
clone the missionary’s shadow:
every curve refers
to its centre.

                        (‘A Darker Purpose’)  


Last updated 12 April, 2006