new zealand electronic poetry centre

Ian Wedde 

Friday 23 August  7.30-10pm  once and for all
Saturday 24 August 10.15 – 11.30am  scoop:  ten poets read new poems
Sunday 25 August 4.00 – 5.30pm  poetry/music/painting

Ian Wedde, poet, fiction writer, critic and art curator, was born in Blenheim in 1946. When he was 7 years old his family went overseas for 8 years, living first in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) and then in England. They came back to New Zealand when Ian was 15 and he attended King’s College, Auckland, and then the University of Auckland, where he gained a MA in English.

From 1966 his poems began appearing regularly in journals, including Landfall and Freed, and he has now has published nine collections of poems including The Commonplace Odes, three novels, short stories, essays and criticism. He has edited several anthologies including The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse (with Harvey McQueen) and The Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Poetry (1989).

Ian Wedde won the 1977 Book Award for Fiction for his first novel, Dick Seddon’s Great Dive and the 1978 NZ Book Award for Poetry for Spells for Coming Out (AUP). He was the Burns Fellow in 1972 and other recognition of his writing includes the Writers’ Bursary 1974, the Scholarship in Letters 1980, 1989 and the Victoria University writing fellowship 1984. He was a member of the Literary Fund Advisory Committee 1977–79 and of the Queen Elizabeth II Visual Arts Panel in 1990.

He has been heavily involved with the visual arts at Te Papa Tongarewa / The Museum of New Zealand since 1994.

from Three regrets and a hymn to beauty



The bottle of oil I was late sending John

This poem will mimic ordinary speech
So well, you won’t tell the difference,

Even though ordinary speech would never say
Something like that. Ordinary speech

Does not know it is ordinary
Until we make it say extraordinary things.

Is that true? For a start, ‘ordinary speech’
Doesn’t know anything, it is we who know things

Which we express using speech both ordinary and
Unusual, in the way a great athlete can make

Running across the South Island appear achievable.
This morning a grey, slab-shaped mountain

Appeared above the domestic horizon of rooftops
At the southern end of our street. It was there

And then it wasn’t. While it was there
I was not surprised, because it appeared so

Naturally, and when it was gone I was also not surprised
Because things had returned to normal. Ordinary

Speech can do that.
I’d have to say, John, that running all the way

From west to east across the Southern Alps
Would be a day at the office if a gaberdine alp

Can materialise at the southern end of the street
I turn the western corner of

Every day on my way to work, or somewhat earlier
Every day, the eastern corner, when I walk the dog.

Every day I know I have a choice.
I can be the docile servant of

Ordinary speech, even of ordinary speech
Describing the southern traverse of icy tarns,

Matagauri, lichened rocks, and rabbit bones
Freeze-dried in the hawk’s nest, I can have my day

Project-managed by human resource clerks,
I can put a two dollar coin in the slot machine

That dispenses chocolate bars
And get twenty cents change, I can say yes

When I mean no, and when I come home in the evening
Turning east at the end of the street

Where the dun mountain appeared and
Disappeared that morning, I can remain unsurprised

By ordinary speech’s failure to make something
Unusual appear so. Or

I can choose to be reborn.
Let’s face it, ordinary speech does not have the cunning

To trapeze around the end of a line of poetry
Stranding ‘or’ on the other side of the hyper-dramatic line

‘I can choose to be reborn’.
What right have I got

To make ordinary speech say things like that?
I should know better, as I turn west (but earlier, east)

Every morning, and east every evening,
Half expecting the slab-like shape of Mount Martha

To be there above the roofline of Wareham House
At the bottom of our street, the ‘functions

Venue’ where bridal cars draw up festooned with ribbons,
And whose balcony fills with

Singing drunks. Later, the ‘happy couple’
(in the language of ordinary speech)

Depart in another car encouraged by boastful cheers
From the balcony, and I sometimes wonder

If the brides have, for a moment at least,
Seen the slab-like form of Mount Martha

Rise up behind the noisy balcony of
Their pissed cousins, and if just for a moment

They have imagined their newly wedded lover
Running tirelessly, with evenly panting breath, across

The high screes and hawks’ nests like bell-jars
Of specimens – lean, grinning with fitness, his

Skin the thin papyrus of quasi-Biblical survival, his
Sponsors the makers of tents and kayaks

In which the happy couple could live comfortably
In Antarctica, their adventure rendered plausible

In the ordinary speech of Discovery Channel.
But then the honeymoon car drives on, it

Changes gears at the end of the street, as
History seems to some days, lurching forward into a future

Not yet ready for consummation, like an athlete
Getting too far ahead of the

Record books, implausible in his own present, isolated,
Lonely, and finally embittered – accelerating

Towards the bridal suite in
A motel at Pekapeka. They may be in time

For sunset over the Cook Strait horizon, they may
Walk the salty tideline feeling good about

The way their footprints in the damp sand are
Close together and pointing in the same direction, and

They will feel diminished together by the
Grandeur of the sunset display on streaming clouds

Above Mana Island – whose plain, altar-like bulk
Is like a memory of something dark glimpsed,

Briefly, looming above the
Brashly lit balcony of singing wedding guests. Romance

Is good, and the language of ordinary speech
Does a good job for it, making articulate

What the young lovers know matters more than anything
They have ever done, this moment with the plume tips

Of toitoi aflame as the sun sinks into
The red and black sea. It’s probably a relief when

The prospect of resurrection fades, the memory of
The blunt mountain reminiscent

Of Lazarus’s ‘gentle sister’ fades into the lovers’
Dreams, and is gone for good in the morning

When he hands over the keys to the Honeymoon Suite
And goes whistling to the car. Why, John, does this story

Fill me with horrible rage and sadness, and a vengeful desire
To take ordinary speech by the neck

And choke the life from it? Why, despite what I’ve learned
Over the years, do I want the young lovers

To drive straight from their love motel into the dark
Shadow of the mountain they fled, and to

Wake every morning of their lives with a refusal
On their lips, like those mad athletes

Refusing to lie down? The deal was, you’d give me tips
On quirky titles addressing the Sublime, like the almost-

Forgotten Ernest Tuveson, and in return I’d send you
Obscure treats, like Columela Picual oil. You kept

Your part of the bargain, but half way through the
Turgid Tuveson I got distracted by the term

‘technocalypse’ and lost interest in
Moral philosophy, especially Ernest’s version of it,

And I regret to say I forgot
To send you the thick green oil in its heavy bottle, and I regret

That it’s taken me this long to confront
The spooky mountain beyond Wareham House,

To refuse the comfort-stops of ordinary
Speech, and to keep on running past the

All singing all dancing balcony
Across a kind of darkened upland plateau.


© Ian Wedde 2002



Last updated 14 July, 2002