Friday, August 30, 2013

Richard von Sturmer

Richard von Sturmer was born on Auckland’s North Shore in 1957. He is a writer, performer and film-maker. His written work has appeared in many anthologies and literary journals, including Landfall, Sport, brief, and the NZ Listener. As well as the poetry collections mentioned in the notes, two collections of his prose have also been published: We Xerox Your Zebras (Modern House, 1988) and On the Eve of Never Departing (Titus Books, 2009). His film work can be viewed at CIRCUITa website featuring New Zealand film and video.

Joachim Makes a Sacrifice

Wings sprout between shoulder blades
(no, only a battered hat
hung over the back).

The flames flap – strips of flesh
pulled up to reveal
my bones being burnt
old sticks carbonized.

When cooled
I’ll remove them from the fire
lay them on the white stones
sketch a mountain
or two rams colliding.

No bitterness, no chilling wind
of any description, not even
mosquitoes to be bothered with.
What else is missing?

No stars, no signs, no messages
from another system, only
a landscape indifferent
to what has taken place.

Joachim Falls Asleep

Small metallic triangles
trickle over stones.

Beyond the wall of dried bramble
sheep are grazing.

In the shadow of a cypress
their bells become a halo.

And while the sleeper sleeps
an oblong city sails
a marble slab transporting
copper domes between the branches.

The unknown is familiar.
I have spent time observing
how grass changes in the sunlight
how frogs are more organized than lizards.

Now comes
a responsibility of vision
to depict the human
and leave the dream behind.

These two poems are among my first published works, and appeared in Landfall 146, June 1983. They form part of series of poems, The Story of Joachim and Anna, and were inspired by the cycle of frescos painted by Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel, Padova.

Monday 25 September

A walking stick stands in the corner,
placed against the wall.

The day is a pale green Volkswagen,
heading towards a pale green sea.

Arms at the surrounding tables
are moving in slow-motion.
Each movement has a specific weight
(the weight of a coffee cup,
 of a piece of cake)
as if the people exist
in the middle of a long sea voyage,
and not at the end of a day
in early spring.

The tap-tap-tap of the walking stick
now passes through the doorway.

I could cry out: ‘man overboard’.
But it’s simply ‘man returning’.

Into the outside world.
Into the late afternoon.

This poem is from my second book, A Network of Dissolving Threads [Auckland University Press, 
1991]. It forms part of a sequence, Expresso Love Letters, and also featured in an Auckland Grammar 
bursary exam years ago. According to a friend, a teacher at Auckland Grammar, students came up with
all sorts of interpretations for the walking stick.

Monday 9 October


Kim says she won’t know it’s Monday
when I’m gone.

Days sometimes disappear.

A man strides past the window,
his white shirt billowing behind him
like a parachute.

Everyone has a particular wind,
a way of animating themselves.

The posters lift from the wall
each time the door is opened.

And the words run through me . . .


rebirthing, homeopathy, futons, meditation . . .

The Samuel Beckett man
finishes his toast and butter,
skimming the crumbs from the table
with his finger-tips.

A teaspoon drops onto the floor.
This is a preparation.

A telephone begins to ring.
This is another preparation.

I’m anchored to my chair.
There are sheets and blankets of rain.

Another Expresso Love Letters poem. Expresso Love was a coffee bar in Ponsonby Road, Auckland. 
In the 1990s I would often write poems there on Monday evenings, before attending a regular Zen 
meditation session at the nearby Leys Institute. At the time, Kim worked behind the counter.

Joshu’s Stone Bridge

In the middle of a long journey
I stand on Joshu’s stone bridge
with sore legs and an aching back.

The points of light overhead
are almost too faint to be called stars.
And you would have difficulty
describing the water below.
Is it sluggish or simply meandering?
Is it tar-black, or does it retain
a trace of purple?

Near the opposite bank
where the reeds are brushed together
a pair of ducks glides downstream.

This poem is from a sequence, Blue Cliff Verses, and was published in my third book, Suchness: Zen 
Poetry and Prose [HeadworX, 2005]. Joshu is the Japanese name of the great Tang Dynasty Chinese 
Zen Master, Zhaozhou. His stone bridge still exists and I crossed over it in 2001.

Barrier Crossings


cooking my porridge
at dawn
I feel aligned with
those ancient
Chinese hermits

seated on a tree stump
at my stone table,
cold in the morning
still cold
in the afternoon

admitting that I have
nothing more to write,
I receive

the voices of tuis
the pulse of the river

a green haze
deep in the valley,
when I finish my paragraph
the wind tells me
it’s time to turn the page

Also from Suchness: Zen Poetry and Prose, this is the first part of a tanka sequence written in the winter of 
2003 when I had a writer’s residency on Great Barrier Island.

Um Velho Baiano

The old writing desk enjoys
soft Brazilian music.
The round handles of its drawers shine
like the eyes of cartoon creatures.

In the outer circle
a rain of fire is reported to be falling
while throughout the city
each unbroken plate
is regarded as a treasure.

Dogs, thought to be lost,
return home.
Some seem to smile
as they curl up in their beds.

I’m peeling ginger.

Caetano’s still singing.
Everything will be okay.

This is the part of a sequence of four poems with a Brazilian theme, composed while I was living at the 
Rochester Zen Center in the United States. For many years now I have been an absolute fan of Brazilian 
music, and “Caetano” refers to the great Brazilian singer and songwriter, Caetano Veloso, who 
sometimes refers to himself as “um velho bahiano”, an old guy from Bahia.

Frank Sinatra’s Hat

Under the brim
of Frank Sinatra’s hat
there are small maps
of hotel corridors

(with arrows pointing
to specific rooms),

and slightly off-colour cartoons,
and witty one-liners.
You’d think that Frank
wouldn’t need to consult his hat
to find a broad
or crack a joke.
And yet it’s all there,

pasted beneath the brim:
a circle of faded signs
for navigating
the uncertainties of this world.

Another poem from the 1990s, when I was living in Rochester, upstate New York. Mrs Sorrentino, the 
mother of a friend, gave me a book of photographs of Frank Sinatra. Frank was always stylish and 
remains a hero for many Italian Americans.

The Great Slug

The great slug rides his bicycle.
His baggy pants can barely contain
his baggy pants.
He leaves behind
a trail of grey foam.

The great slug is a connoisseur
of sofas and lazy boy recliners.
He merely rides his bicycle
to rid himself
of certain metallic parasites
which inhabit the deeper recesses
of his sagging flesh.

If only the great slug
were a hermaphrodite.
But his penis
remains firmly fixed
in the centre of his forehead.

The slug and I have a long history
of altercations.
He’s nothing but an impostor,
a provocateur,
a guzzler of kerosene.
Someday we’ll settle old scores.
Someday we’ll slug it out.

This poem is part of a sequence, After Arp, which was initially triggered by reading the surrealist 
writings of the sculpture and painter, Jean Arp. After Arp appeared in Best New Zealand Poems 2008

One Bright Pearl


You know you’re close
when every plate
shines with its own light.
You watch steam rising
from a cup of tea,
the bursting of bubbles
in a bowl of porridge.
You notice the blades of a fan
reflected in a spoon
and the way a fork rests
on a white napkin.

I sent my book
of snow and ice
to Albert in Honolulu.
Once unwrapped
it melted away
on his kitchen table
leaving behind
a square of dampness
which shrank
to the size
of a postage stamp.

In the films of Ozu
there is always
for the light to fall.

Between the rows
of factory chimneys.

Between the red tea kettle
and the railway station.

At night
on the slopes of Mt Fuji
Kurosawa is painting
the pampas grass gold.

All for the one bright pearl.

All for a discarded hubcap
which could be the moon.

Ingrid Bergman
has packed her suitcase
and is climbing the volcano.

On the beach you can find
pieces of scoria
mingled with the seashells.

In a dreamtime painting
of the Last Supper
damper and billy tea replace
the sacramental bread and wine.

Standing on a sandstone ridge
I wrote in my notebook
“the blue haze of eucalyptus”
while down below
cockatoos formed a scattering
of white dots among the trees.

We’re in a cave painting.
We’re in a Portuguese song.

We’re in a dinghy
rowed by old men
far out at sea.

As my stomach
rises and falls,
clouds pass by
outside the window.

A constellation of anxieties
came and went last night.

Now there is simply
the promise of rain,
flowers in the wallpaper,
a watch that needs

The cooing of a dove
the one bright pearl.

Although I often write brief verses — in the tradition of haiku and tanka — I have also completed a series 
of longer poems, and One Bright Pearl is part of this cycle. The title comes from a statement by an 
ancient Zen master that the whole universe is one bright pearl.

Book of Equanimity Verse 31

It’s in the space between
the pillar and the lattice windows.
It’s drawn to scale
by a blind person in a dream.
Look — when the kingfisher flies
into a phoenix palm
all the colours of the Nile
carry you across the evening sky.

Book of Equanimity Verse 52

The donkey looks at the well.
A bank of nasturtiums.
The well looks at the donkey.
A field of violets.
It’s midsummer
and by the slowly moving river
blackberries are ripening
lobe by lobe.

Book of Equanimity Verse 63

Of course you lose your life.
They paint the walls
after your departure,
place ancient artifacts
into cardboard boxes.
Someday, if you do return
it will be a different season,
and you’ll enter by a different door.

These last three poems are from a new work, Book of Equanimity Verses, which will be published in 
November by Puriri Press. The hundred verses in this collection are inspired by The Book of 
Equanimity, a Zen text comprising 100 koans, compiled in China during the Sung Dynasty. Other 
Book of Equanimity Verses can be found in Best New Zealand Poems 2012

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