Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Emily Dobson

Emily Dobson grew up in Kereru, Hawkes Bay, at the foot of the Ruahine and Whakarara Ranges of New Zealand. Her mother and father kept bees, and Emily worked in the holidays at Arataki Honey, a family business set up by her great-grandfather and grandfather. After high school she spent a year living and traveling in Italy, France, Crete, Spain and England. She won the 2002 Takahe Poetry Competition. In 2004 she won the Aoraki Festival Poetry Competition, the same year  she  completed an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University. She was also awarded the Adam Prize for best folio and the 2005/2006 Schaeffer Fellowship to the Iowa University Creative Writing Program.

I have just moved into the house I grew up in, with my husband and two small children, Ralph and Thea. I have not been an active poet for several years, which is as it should be. I hope to help make life as poetic and magical as possible - well, real really - for my children, and for myself. I am 32.

It was a rush job choosing these 13 poems from 'over the years' - it has been a crazy week - and there haven't been that many years! The 'box of bees' poems are all really part of the same poem - I do think I seem to work best with poems that all work together. My next MS, possibly to be published sometime, is the same. This is what I mostly wrote in Iowa, when I was the Glen Schaeffer Fellow. I am a graduate of the IIML at Victoria.

Perhaps the poems I like best are notable for what they lack rather than what they have - i.e. the lack of any thing that irritates me!


We turned the lights off
and stole away silently through the night like thieves.

And then we were pouring into the city like gold.
Tiredness fell heavily in us.

Your blue back rose
almost imperceptibly on the warm stone step.

When we left Iowa City for the last time, coming into Chicago on our way to a train trip west across the top of America.

for my mother

You acquisitioned a heavy collection of maps

and sat there, at rock bottom over your work, saying her name like a river.

I borrowed your boots to walk to market –
everywhere I went flocks of small birds were bursting into the sky above me.

I sent you on your way with instructions, an untidy map
and some food, but still you got lost on the return home

(well it was dark), and this pleased you
because you had to make your own way,

noting, as you passed, houses I had lived in in earlier years.
I was pleased, too, to be waiting for you,

in a light, warm place. I heard the rain spatter lightly on
the window and could feel you coming.

The question in everything I said was:
Do I go shod or bare?

‘They walked some ten miles to this remote but beautiful shore.’
‘A north gale blew us onto the rocks.’

There are forever scraps of paper that need to be carried
from one place to another.

The fenceline here is white-tipped and chaotic.
I came upon this and I know you’ll like it:

A brain cell is a winter tree.

‘Saying her name like a river’ is actually very mundane, it refers to Mum’s cat, Anna, which I believe means river in some language?

'My mother is a poet' (from a box of bees)

My mother is a poet. Once,
she put poems on our doors –

used an overhead projector
to trace the shadows of letters

onto fresh, off-white paint.
The doors became the pages of a book.

Small questions hang about in doorways.
My mother fell in love with a poet

and left. When Judy moved in,
she scoured the poems

off the doors and repainted them,
because the poems were not hers.

Leaving these simple things we take ourselves
away and come back and back.

One of the reasons I like this poem is because I like Mum’s lines so much. It is quite present with me at the moment in particular having just moved back into the house where there used to be poems on the doors. Mum had made a book out of our doors for an exhibition called ‘Doors and Doorways’ at the Hastings Community Arts Centre in 1995.


In Creel we wake up
vaguely sad –

asleep we’d believed ourselves
still at home.

I think travelling is a very strange thing. I can never quite believe that the other side of the world exists when I’m not there.


Like biting into stones, like rough sheets

I did not wash the spinach,
so the spinach was gritty.
Small stones sang in our teeth.

The new blue sheet
has pilled something chronic.
It’s rough.

And the rain – it’s
really coming down,
after so long.


The man

He drank glass after glass of Sierra Mist
& after crunched the ice – a sound I couldn’t bear
like the slow grinding of rocks.

His belly made cavernous creaking sounds
& then, the drum-skin beat of his heart –
faster than I’d expected, and far off.

When he scratched his knee it sounded hollow.

His arse was like seawater against my feet.

You, the sound of water,
in the other room –
a passing whistle.

This is a love poem to my husband Daniel. He’s a Pisces so I associate him with water. I think the bowls is very spiritual.

Joke:  What can be held without touching?

A shiny new penny
and a shiny new dime.

Or was it the sunlight
on concrete?

The whole thing
was bright with guilt.

We sat quietly side by side
eating thin slices of rock melon.

A conversation

My step brother told me this joke. It takes pieces of Newtown poems too. But it seems to sum up something of how I felt at the time.


Construction man

I’d like to be
on a roof today too,
like you –
construction man –

with a white hard hat,
a hammer
and a
measuring tape.

I always hear Mark Levine saying ‘construction man’, after he read this aloud in his office in Iowa. I liked Mark but I didn’t enjoy his poetry reading, which we attended with my mother in law. I felt it was too intellectual and didn’t offer anything to ‘ordinary’ people, or me.

The lonely nude, I

Buck naked

I am standing

On the flattening sole

Of one foot

It’s nothing

But blue sky

And a soft bottom

In the plain light of day

I smile like a madonna

I am nothing like a boulder

The title comes from Janet Frame’s ‘Daughter Buffalo’. I worked for several years as a life model at The Learning Connexion in Island Bay.


Rusty green
thing, untrustworthy –

your rubber bung thodded
onto the new concrete
sections and I
screeched downwards

on the spring

and then it graunched as it
uncoiled, propelling me
up. I kept count of hundreds

of unbroken bounces.

Seems to signify something of life..?

'The hexagons of waxcomb are ingenious' (from a box of bees)

The hexagons of waxcomb are ingenious:
maximizing structural integrity and space

with the most efficient use of wax.
The bees produce the wax, chew it

to make it malleable, and work it
into place. Such a laborious process!

I prefer the square, clean lines
of bee boxes;

scraping the flat edges
of frames.


For some years now I have done this.
I break a small piece of beeswax off a candle,

chew it, slowly swallowing
‘til it’s gone.

A pretty obviously self-referential metaphor for writing poetry. It makes me think of beehives in art too. I haven’t eaten any candles for a long time.

The house

The house faces south
and we are couched in the dark side of a hill.
The grass is long and always wet.
We envy the hill opposite: we long for its sun.
There are holes in it, tunnels,
like a pencil had been poked through.
The two pines are always black as pitch.
A guitar in the corner keeps creaking.
At night the little train all lit up inside
rattles briefly around the hill,
in and out of the tunnels.

I don’t know why I like this poem. It was written soon after we had arrived back in New Zealand and it all felt very strange. We were staying with my brother in an incredible little hidden away cottage up Old Porirua Rd, almost like it resided in a slightly different dimension. I went on to be do a postie run on the opposite hill.

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