Rob Allan has retired from a career as a teacher of deaf children in Otago. In 1991 he published the prize-winning Karitane Postcards (Hazard Press), noting:
The poems are a sustained post-modern attempt to write a long poem with an epic scope.This work has been widely anthologised. He collaborated with Jenny Powell Chalmers on the poem Showbiz, which was collected in Double Jointed (Inkweed Press, 2003). He is currently researching and writing the sustained work Harbour.
The poem is living in the place of language to capture the 'real'. Karitane is the focus:
a mix of politics, poetics, pushed in and out of place by listening, reading, and talking about – the right words in the right place, for example.
For example Andropov is dead. That was the news
caught in its announcement.
Another world dreaming out a persona life
it’s a personal world in successive moments.
I saw these features in the coast of Karitane
green dips of distance a return to the old place
approximating the dream where I started
to desire entreat wish myself in the world.
In New York City 30 cm. of snow fell today.
I pour myself more tea. I am reading Rivers and Mountains
by John Ashberry.
Mr. Leach is 93 years old and wishes to be remembered to me.
Some plants I know by smell and some by their
feel in my hands.
Sometimes I can taste them
at times like sunlight all this going on forever.
If I catch myself staring at an object
I must decide what I will tell you.
Gertrude Stein struggled to get rid of the nouns
– the nouns had to go
I want history to go and politics and art
and images and symbols. I am looking at a plate
of shells named after Captain Cook
and I hear my boy sleeping in the bedroom
next door. I want description to go
I want the hoons revving up over the road to go
Captain Hook that’s what Richard calls him
and his breath is a small surf through the wall.
Karitane it breathes all around my body
and the stars of the visible universe
I want the past and future to go
and my single mindedness.
In the Book of Hours I found on the shelf
pressed flowers selfheal groundsell
speedwell placed there some twenty years ago
by Betty Bell to Betty it said in the fly leaf
with love from Bella San Francisco May 1953.
Such quietness there’s space to panic.
I like to hear my breath
its noise the noise and heart’s clamour
of direction and purpose.
Truby organized the local residents to sand bag
the river so it didn’t flow again into old channels.
On wet nights he roused them
under God’s full glare sandbagging the insolent
We are sunk in history drilled in it.
The seaweeds have names from war
the earth is divided by the names we give
I have dug in five nut trees
it’s a plan for peace and not being involved
in future wars.
Groundsel is a rapid growing plant of waste ground
and selfheal a low growing plant
explains itself simply living
as if I could be pure and simple and good.
I know how life feels
it’s art’s disguise it’s a handle on existence
and word’s ignorance
I come back to.
The Poet Follows the Janet Frame Heritage Trail with His Beloved and Her Daughter
I think we were getting to know each other
of signs along the streets.
It was Autumn or nearly Spring
the Spice Girls
were the most popular thing
and a deep feeling
wherever we were going
was nowhere very interesting
see here a gully
and a tree
this was the site of a house
a pear tree and a plum
over the rise of the hill
a motorway bringing us back
from the place we had come from.
A secret of the imagination
a place to entangle.
Something in the air the salty sea
the rich earth and froth and foldings.
Overpowering I would say
any personal intention.
I remember men working in their gardens
they handled spades like precious objects
they drank tap water
with much affected smacking of their lips
a recipe for a long and happy life
a joke for the children.
Now my son leaves home
he is going to a party
he is not looking back
– enjoy yourself – I could have said
on the mainland.
The Poet Renunciates
Well that’s better as James Joyce said
now where was I
now what was I about to say
I stood up but I did not stand aside
I went first through the gates of paradise
I went last through the gates of hell
because good manners patronize
I was rebranded and considered new
I went first through the gates of hell
I forgot to say please and thankyou
How do you do pleased to meet you
and I survive
and I survive
though I aim to please
I stand up for what I believe
my aim is appreciated, a sign said so
I washed my cup and saucer
as the support person in the office
is not my mother like me she only works here
All that is clear
my aim is appreciated
I aim to please
I stand up and I do not stand aside
I enter first through the gates of paradise.
To hold oneself in place
to count the cost, to be contained.
I look across the dearest country
hills harbor in a sun crossed thoroughfare
a sight more fair
of water, earth, and light and air.
I look out where the wax eyes count
the ready reckoned angles
of sunlight and ripening.
I rehearse the names of settlements,
the renamed hills,
and watch the fretting clouds
take care of distance and the familiar rain.
Keeping the World in Place
Keeping the world in place, and we believe
it is for us, this love: – expedience,
vanity of intellect, beauty, propriety of friendship.
Of words themselves, as language turns the syntax: –
you see the humour in the situation;
the power in you allowed a trick or two.
Once my wife and child, climbing the steps of the white liner.
NO ENTRY. The smell I carry entirely personal.
A desire to retain the past; the word collection,
with meanings (no use gathering what might after all be
meaningless unless there is a predetermined shape
guiding an idea of unity or at least
a radical stance to indifference.) How can love fail,
words seep the no less real?
Finding a Way
Finding a way out of the old sectors,
the memorials, terrific collections and points of view.
I clutched at maps and guidebooks,
the fainter promises of me and you,
of the world always being there.
A series of increasingly complex tasks;
do you remember my ame?
I tumbled through history to belong here,
to sleep and dream again, out from the way back,
pushed by natural and human atrocity,
the cruel inconsequence of well known facts.
You couldn’t reach further or climb higher,
to get a decent view, already the gates close,
on riddles of trust and commitment.
News of Otago
Tuhawaiki drowned in the kelp beds
News of Otago slight but bad,
his monies paid as claimant
to the Otago Block, unaccountably missing.
A public calamity, the natives alienated.
These were the dark hours, but out of the sunny side,
brief messages of hope.
Cargill tenacious and Burns rigidly sublime;
they were figures in a dreaming landscape,
Otago whispered to them,
of a different truth:
a gateway on emptiness, a path
along unfamiliar routes.
Language is the Sea
You know I searched for you
language is the sea that unites us.
I saved your footprints from the frosty meadow.
I addressed a loving embrace,
to the present from the past.
No getting back feelings and beliefs.
Oneself as suspended
in dreams, in skin’s satiny imagings.
Love imbued and love mistaken –
what is life if not an enigma?
And all for love, the dreams of conquest.
And all for love, the dreams of freedom.
An open archaeology of the life.
The missed prompts, the muffed line, the mysterious.
My own story, turning away from time
I turn within. You turn in silence
these tears, the refusals
denying the denials.
I read until I expressed myself
your expression, there is a landscape here
a history of trade, a history of war.
I found myself in the earth’s shape
in the horizon of the word, the word’s edge.
I match myself, I make myself sure.
I line up the familiars, I discover your indifference
I am made of the same store
we are joined by the waters of the ocean
infidelities of common sense. You are my signature.
A text lies fallen at Burns’ feet,
who sits in timeless thoroughfare:
words try to balace and express,
thoughts and feelings
grown out of place,
limber hopes of unwinding air.
Ascend the zodiac of future days,
waste not words that spoke outloud,
we walked processional to celebrate,
a world that served a common state;
wordfast images, of power’s filigree,
the leaf and branch and trunk set deep,
into the earth of the kingdom come,
imagined yet unknowable.