the Words Out
The Collaborative Poetry of Catherine Mair and Patricia Prime
friend, Catherine Mair, and I began writing and publishing mainstream
at about the same time. Catherine was
a dairy-farmer°s wife, bringing up four children in the rural town
of Katikati in the Bay of Plenty, whilst I was widowed early, bringing
up four children and working as a teacher in Auckland.
and my poetry was first published in the New Zealand magazine Spin. The editor of Spin,
David Drummond, who has since died, encouraged his new writers to
try various forms of poetry from mainstream poems to haiku. A subscription
to Spin also included membership to an orbit. Orbits are
collections of recent poetry written by members and passed around
a group of four or more poets for criticism and feedback. Catherine
and I were in the same orbit. When it failed to appear at one time
I wrote to members asking what had happened to it and the only answer
I received was from Catherine. I suggested that we correspond with
one another and criticize each other°s work. We decided shortly afterwards
to meet and thus a friendship was born that has continued for fourteen
Catherine went on to write haiku, tanka and haibun
and later instigated, as part of the millennium project in her town,
the Katikati Haiku Pathway. She also became involved in short short
story writing, wrote the text for two books for school children with
disabilities, judged poetry and haiku contests and has had her work
My writing career took a different path: I write
mainstream poetry, articles and reviews, and am now focusing on publishing
interviews with New Zealand poets and editors. I began writing haiku
at the time of the publication of the first New Zealand Haiku Anthology
and have written tanka and haibun for the past three years.
Our collaboration with each other began with the
publication of a collection of our poetry in the place where
. . ., the shortcut home, and other small publications. We published
a collection of our haiku with an Indian poet in a book called Every
Drop Stone Pebble.
We began writing linked verse in collaboration with
each other several years ago, and have since published two collections: sweet
penguin and last rays of the sun. These are lines which
are ¿moments in timeî captured in a haiku-like form. The links may
be subtle, created by writing in the same place at the same time.
For this informal type of linked verse to work there needs to be
balance and empathy between the writers. In much the same way that
renga evolved in Japan, as enjoyable entertainment and communication,
so our collaborative verse began, and continues. We don°t see our
linked verse as haiku or renku, but rather as ¿stream-of-consciousnessî lines
written when we are in close proximity: walking, talking, visiting
places of interest.
those readers who haven°t seen a lot of our writing,
I would suggest that our links follow certain themes of time, place,
feeling and ¿togethernessî, rather than following the Japanese idea
of the mind ¿leapingî from one image to something totally different.
This, we have been told, is part of the ¿rebelliousî nature of our
work, and is what makes it different from the formal style of renga.
It is what makes it popular and gives it a certain charm, and makes
it more accessible to many readers. An example of one of our linked
verses from first rays of the sun is the following poem
which was composed on a visit to the Mount in the Bay of Plenty:
an extremely popular place for visitors to walk around and enjoy
The White Shell Path
the historic stone jetty he casts his line
boys è their
bright yellow life jackets
a backpack filled with
mussels for bait
in the shade è carved bench seats
climbing the stile,
I hold open the wire gate
standing at Stoney Point Reef, the warmth on our
from the cliff walk
my shadow moves along the sand
of children°s footsteps behind us on the shell
naked the bronze warrior
crouches in spring sunshine
one white boulder among all the black ones
a rock his suitcase full of video gear
In 2002, about the time that we thought of publishing
a second collection of our linked verse, we began writing linked
tanka and linked haibun.
Numerically, a tanka is similar to a haiku with two
seven-syllable lines added on. The form is less concentrated than
haiku, more casual and conversational, less mysterious, less spiritual.
Image is important, but there is room for statement and metaphor.
Influenced by Chinese poetry a few centuries old,
tanka succeeded the long poem (or choka). The new form gained popularity
in the seventh and eighth centuries. Tanka was often used as a means
of communication between lovers, and it is this communication, one
with the other, that we seek to emulate.
Werner Reichold, editor of the online magazine LYNX, who has
been particularly supportive of our work, published the first of
our linked tanka. A poem of which I°m particularly fond for its memories
and images is ¿The Perfumed Airî, which was written on the occasion
of a visit to the Lavender Gardens in Katikati, during which we were
looking for a small gift to send to Janice Bostok in Australia, who
is both a friend and mentor, and is herself a world recognized haijin.
choosing a card to send her
from the display
I break a sprig of flowers
to carry home
thin jet of water
the lion°s mouth
you caution me
on the bank°s brink
you work-out at table tennis
in the garage
my first short story
takes shape on the computer
photographers have gone
their talk & laughter
Catherine and I next
decided to try our hands at writing linked haibun. Haibun is a Japanese
form in which prose is interspersed with verse, specifically haiku,
although other forms of short verse have been successfully employed.
Haibun often takes the form of a diary or travel journey.
We simply write down
what we experience as inspiration for the prose part of the haibun,
then add the haiku to create a new dimension, to change or alter
the scene, voice or time, in a similar way as the two parts of a
tanka are related.
In 2003, Catherine
and I were asked to be guest poets at a haiku reading, where most
of the audience knew nothing about haiku, and the following collaborative
haibun came from that gathering. It was published in the New Zealand
The Clapped-out Microphone
of the audience dressed as ¿poetsî è flowers
and ribbons in the women°s hair, a man with a goatee and beret. Fred,
the compere, not able to place Sarah (one of the guest poets),
calls her by the wrong name again. For the first
bracket of the evening the microphone remains obstinate: voices whisper
around the room.
collapsing on the floor
From the back of the group a little old lady comes
forward to fill her five-minute slot and reads, with panache, one
haiku. A bowl of hot chocolate splashes across a folder. In the corner
some of the children are writing haiku at a table. Shaking
like a leaf, but not wanting to explain her Parkinson°s again,
Sheila comes to the mike, nearly tripping over the leads on the
for a lectern
Many of the audience have come to have their first
experience of haiku. A chuckle is heard when a poet reads
bounces off seats
through the evening they sort out the microphone and Moira says, ¿Our group nearly bought the temperamental thing!î Fred
declares he°s having a bad hair day. ¿When things start to go wrong
at the beginning, it°s hard to get them back on track!î
for effect, but merely losing the place in her notebook, Judy shows
off her Library of Congress t-shirt. Exotic
Tamsin (a nutritionist) reads her poem ¿The Sugar Demonî, whilst
nearly swallowing the microphone.
the end Fred salvages his credibility by quoting one of the guest
haiku without missing a beat.
tucked into the microphone
falls to the floor