21 June 2010

Tuesday Poem: The new church, by John O'Connor

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/

1 comment:

Helen Lowe said...

Helen, I like John's poetry and have enjoyed many of the 'working class poems' he has read at the Madras Cafe Bookshop & Canterbury Poets' Autumn Reading series over past years. Some tend to be a little more hard edged than this one, but I agree that 'The new church' catches the child's voice and child's view of the world without being remotely childish. A fine example of John's work.