The new church
we drove all the way to Lincoln
to admire the new church
& I recall wondering (&
enquiring) why they made everything
so unlovely. this latter
ignored by embarrassed adults as
my plea to be allowed to be a
little girl. they were treated more warmly
you understand. across
the plains a line of snowy foothills
where the wind comes from, &
sometimes we would visit
Aunt Mag in her cottage
on Brougham St, the front room so
musty & small,
& Mag rocking before a banked fire
draped in shawls
her voice & nose just like a witch’s
John O'Connor is a Christchurch poet. He's published eight books of poetry so far.
This poem is from his most-recent book Cornelius & Co: Collected Working-class Verse 1996–2009. I had a similar reaction to Tim’s in that I had some preconceptions about what the subtitle could mean. It made mbe a little nervous at first, and I was geared up for some worthy, possibly rhyming (not that I'm actually against rhyme, just nervous of it), poetry. Well, I haven't finished reading it yet, but as soon as I got past the introduction about the working-class Catholic Addington of John O'Connor's childhood (which was really interesting), and got into the poetry proper, my fears subsided.
What I found was finely crafted poetry. In fact this poem, 'The new church', which is the second in the collection, made me feel 'Oh, this one!', like I was meeting an old friend. And indeed I was. I knew I'd read it before, and had a strong feeling I'd published it in JAAM. It took me a wee while to track down which issue it was, because it didn't seem that long ago, and I started worrying that I might have read it as a submission and rejected it (oh, how could I have been so stupid! - though I'm sure I've rejected poems I'd totally change my mind about in hindsight). But, after a bit more hunting, I found it! I'd published it in JAAM 9, all the way back in 1998.
My favourite part of this poem is the surprising and authentic sentence: 'this latter / ignored by embarrassed adults as / my plea to be allowed to be a /little girl.' Adults have drawn all those lines that divide things from other things, but children haven't drawn them yet. Why not become a girl?
You can buy Cornelius & Co: Collected Working-class Verse 1996–2009 from Madras Books, its New Zealand distributor, for $25.
And, as ever, you'll find more Tuesday poems via the blog: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com/