Wednesday, November 28, 2012

He wahi taoka. He wahi taima: A special place. A special time.

Travel Poetry gets a bad rap. Do you ever see poetry published in main travel publications? Nope, I never see any.
I guess editors don't want it because verse needs space around it. Great poetry can't be swamped, unlike straight narrative which can have more info crammed into the allotted space. Do editors think precise info has to be presented to the reader, rather than encouraging the reader to interpret meaning for themselves?

Shame on editors for not grabbing the style, and encouraging writers to explore poetic interpretations of place and time as much as the narrative writer or the photographer. It quietly surrounds and journeys with the traveller expanding their dimension of experiences, and should be just as much a part of our travel publishing as the best picture or narrative of place. In fact the best poetry has a longer staying power in our written history and conscious memory than the best travel narrative. The earliest travel writers were after all poets - the Iliad and the Odyssey are still well read classics.

And having learnt the joys of Tennyson, Burns, Wordsworth (gee, I've even been to his house) and the host of other great poets, do we ever forget their words?

You can still recite your favourite poems...but can you recite any travel narrative?

I'm sure it can't just be me. I keep going back to "Worst Journeys: The Picador Book Of Travel" and re-reading Carolyn Forche's 'Return', and each time find something new in her poem. As for the narrative authors in that collection- once read, their story is laid aside or forgotten. I don't need facts - I need impressions.

So why is travel media obsessed with narrative or list articles?
How many ways can a place be written about after all?
More and more travellers writing about the same places....the future doesn't bear thinking about...that word 'boring' is hovering on the horizon....

Ho hum, let them scramble all over each other. I'll just explore my way of doing things.

Even so, it's quite an unjustified situation, as wherever one looks poetry abounds - if you open your eyes.

During our recent 3 week trip around the South Island I was really impressed to find poetry wherever we went. I didn't search for it, it was just there waiting to be seen. Prose records and displays history in museums, it is framed on heritage hotel walls, etched in granite on roadside memorials and walkway markers, or chiselled on headstones of long neglected cemeteries of remnant gold or coal towns.

Click on these pics and bring them up full size in slideshow format and enjoy.

Denniston open-air coal mine museum. West Coast.

After reading this, don't you feel as if you have imagined just a little of how a coal miner felt in those days of hard, dirty and claustrophobic work with danger lurking all around you? Would a narrative have conveyed the same feelings?
Denniston  Read here.

Now try this article- Nugget Point Walkway - by a noted NZ traveller and writer, and not once does she mention the sterling effort our Department of Conservation has undertaken along the Catlins Coast walkway to provide walkway markers that entice you with information in a unique poetic manner!
Space constraints? Well if so, then print publishers are failing to adapt to the unfettered possibilities offered by online publishing where formats can be more expansive.

Nugget Point Walkway to the lighthouse.
Along the walkway there are many markers displaying poetic interpretations of the experience, but have you ever read a travel article that mentions these? That travel writer would be looking for a unique pitch for a story, and yet she ignored this angle!

I feel they add an extra dimension to the walkway experience, encouraging the reader to stop and imagine more about the environment and the forces of Nature that shaped this coast. You pay a lot of money to travel, so why ignore all the offered ways to enjoy a place?
Read the markers so you can always recall this place through the words in your memory. You can take away more than just pictures...your own impressions.

Here are pics of just two of the many markers.

Nugget Point walkway markers, Catlins Coast, Southland.

Positioned so you can look up from the words and see the pounding surf, the wheeling flocks of seabirds setting out or returning to rookeries on the cliff faces, the swirling of bull kelp in the wind-driven crashing waves, or the gentle, almost musical rippling of wind-shorn manuka and kamahi vegetation sheltering yellow-eyed penguin or seal pups.

 He wahi taoka. He wahi taima. A special place. A special time.
Nugget Point Walkway markers, Catlins Coast, Southland, 

The newly created Lake Dunstan, behind the Clyde Dam (completed 1993), flooded most of the old gold mining and sluicing operations throughout the Cromwell Gorge. At a roadside lay-by at the northern head of the lake, just before you reach Cromwell, is a memorial to the gold-rush era pioneers.

Here again, an important fragment of our history memorialised in poetry: a narrative just wouldn't convey the same immortal reverence or importance somehow.

Memorial to our early gold miners, Cromwell Gorge roadside.

St Bathans
St Bathans, in the Maniototo, Central Otago, is reached by a detour off the main highway north of Alexandra. The Loop Road takes you to this historic gold mining village where a few of the original buildings remain. Built of mud brick, the Vulcan Hotel (formerly The Ballarat) stands proud, offering overnight accommodation, ghost included, and great cooking by excellent hosts. Your tour guide around the man-made lake through sluice-tailing mounds of the gold workings, now eroded into a Cappadoccia-like troglodyte landscape, will be the hotel's dog! 

While enjoying coffee and muffins, and a great conversation with Jude, we spied these framed newspaper cuttings.
Once again, poetry brings a deeper immersion in an historic place- yes, you'll hear the ring and clatter of picks and shovel if you just let that imagination have the rein...

Vulcan Hotel, St Bathans, Otago. 

Vulcan Hotel, St Bathans, Otago.

We explored NZ's early history, investigating old coal mining centres, wandering the remnants of goldfields, and browsing country museums.
And each museum memorialises, like a temple of reverence, the history of these small rural communities where families lost their sons, wives lost husbands, and young women faced a life of spinsterhood: a whole generation of men lost! From a population in 1914 of 1,150,000,  just over 100,000 New Zealanders served overseas. A staggering 58,000 casualties ( including over 18,000 dead ) incurred!
Static displays of photos, equipment, and personal diaries and letters record the huge personal loss to these communities. In each museum, maps show the farms and villages that lost so many young men, and women, who are buried on the far side of the world in Belgium, France, Egypt, and at Gallipoli in Turkey. These displays brought home to us an appreciation of the deep effects on our young country's development subsequent to the First World War.

And of course one of the most remembered of war poems is proudly but poignantly displayed in every one of our country museums, drawing one's mind to imagine the bitter consequences of that great human folly.

In Flanders Fields.
By John Macrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn,saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from flailing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Yes, poetry surrounds the traveller. Seek it out, or better still, write it and let's get some published!
He wahi taoka. He wahi taima.

Yeah OK, glad you read to the end. Was supposed to be a few pics of poetry we found on our travel but it ended up a rant on the wider issue of the lack of travel poetry being published today!


Monday, November 19, 2012

Deny me hope- arm me with anger.

Van Gogh: The Olive Trees

Deny me hope: arm me with anger
Just another rocket coming down
Deny me safety: place me in danger
Just another war coming around.
Instead of rainbows colouring our blue skies
Rocket trails criss-cross our lines

You spell God YHWH: I spell God Allah
Your God is the same God as mine
You see through blue eyes: I see through brown eyes
You see the same world as I
But from our shelters, we see no sunshine
Without hope we're both just wasting time.

I have a rocket: you have an airplane
Is this land yours or is it mine?
You have a bulldozer: I have a landmine
there are some who'd love to see us die
You have Merkava: I have the Kornet
Without love your child's as dead as mine.

There is a sandstorm raging with these desert winds
threatening to smother all with sand
Where is the rain cloud to settle this sandstorm
bringing rain upon this thirsty land?
You bring the water, I'll plant the tall trees
Without hate we both could share their shade.


The current conflict in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza territory is really concerning. Casualties mount on both sides while the threat of an Israeli ground invasion appears imminent. We can argue rights and wrongs of both sides but with a situation that has roots deep in history the future can only come from compromise and co-existence... if they can be found.

On my Facebook page two friends were firing verbal salvoes at each other on a post I had made about the conflict.
At the same time in my workshop Ray Wylie Hubbard was quietly crooning a song that has always fascinated me. He sings of conflicting elements bound together but ready to break if love cannot hold them together.
"You are a rainbow spread across the blue sky
the sunrise is your next of kin
I am am like a whirlwind roaring across the desert
the kind some hope to never see again
You are a rainbow, I am a whirlwind 
without love, we're both just wasting time."

While listening I began to write down the words above about the conflict.

I have no wish to plagiarise Ray Wylie Hubbards awesome words. He inspired the style and I have borrowed a line from him.
The way he weaves disparate elements together then makes the statement -"..without love, we're both just wasting time " seems to sum up the situation and his words need to be out there.
Without goodwill, hope or compromise where will this end?


Friday, November 9, 2012

Bendigo, of Bygone Year.

The remains of an old gold mining settlement are found at Bendigo Historic Reserve, 15 minutes drive north of Cromwell, Central Otago, a place we made time to visit on one of the very few sunny mornings of our 3 week trip around old stomping grounds in New Zealand's South Island. Take State Highway 8 along the east side of Lake Dunstan, turn right at the signpost and drive past vineyards lining the slopes. Central Otago Pinot Noir is becoming recognised as the best Pinot Noir New Zealand the World has to offer!

Here we found the sunshine for a few hours! The stone ruins were anchors to gloriously expansive views across the plains striped with yellow-flowering acacia, dotted with golden tussock and patched with green fields, all backgrounded with the deep grey-blue of Lake Dunstan, and mountain ranges on the horizon - a brilliant blue in the distance and capped with late snow. Layer upon layer of colours! Spring is an excellent time to see Central Otago!

Bendigo, once referred to as Welshtown, was settled by miners from Wales who escaped depressing lives working for a pittance in what were at the time very dangerous coal mines, and travelled 'Steerage' class to new lives seeking alluvial gold in Central Otago's scarcely roaded mountains and valleys. When the easy pickings panned out, the quartz hills were mined by pick and shovel, and later by machinery, creating deep mines still there today.
Hard times and tough work for the men, but often even harder for the womenfolk in those early pioneering days on our goldfields of the late 1860's onwards.

And when the gold was gone their livelihood finished, and they would have to walk away from the home they had built and start a new life wherever they could find work. That resourcefulness and adaptability to whatever harsh fortune they faced forged a tough part of the Kiwi character somewhat missing in today's world of  'Nanny State welfarism' expected today.

Muse a while on their lives when you sit inside the remnants of their tiny stone-walled, canvas-roofed cottages.
These hardy people helped build our country.

N. B. Click on the pictures below to bring them  up in large slideshow format.

Bendigo, of Bygone Year.

So choose your rock and sit by where
the window frames yon view so clear
and muse a while, on lives by here
in Bendigo of bygone year.

Clear your mind, let this place surround
and envelop you with ancient sound
of doughty miners that dig this ground.
We welcome you to look around.

Where crystal waters long 'ere flowed
over yellow treasure Nature sowed,
came we men with eyes that glowed.
We covet Earth's bounty, long bestowed.

Allow your mind through ages span,
when pick and shovel, sluice and pan
chased dreams of gold where waters ran.
Do you not admire this resourceful man?

Slaves to mine-owning aristocracy,
we escaped harsh life of poverty
and risked our lives on distant sea
in hope for better life in far country.

Forever forsaking our home island,
this house I built with my own hands
from rock, and mortar of river sand
to stake my claim in this virgin land.

Fern and tussock line our floor,
the trees I felled frame sash and door,
behind this curtain our wee boudoir.
By here, we could not wish for more.

Can you see that dark-haired girl so coy
with dancing steps and skipping toy?
Her flashing green eyes tease longing boy:
this life is hard, 'tis best enjoy.

Young women age before their time,
those flashing eyes soon lose their shine
hauling wood and water to bend young spine.
The child must fill that washing line.

Childhood is short, work needs be done,
a father desperately needs his son
to toil and dig where waters run.
Survival by here, needs gold be won!

We're glad you came to be with us
by here this hill so glorious
and experience this life laborious
so hard and short but ne'er tedious.

When speaking English at that time, Welsh would often preface the words 'here' or 'there' with 'by'.

N. B. The above poetry style is an exercise to rhyme each line in each verse similar, and remain credible without being forced, and at the same time attempt to convey good information about Bendigo and the hard lives of these early goldminers.


Sunday, November 4, 2012


In 2014 Scotland will hold a referendum on independence from the UK. This historic occasion will be celebrated by many whatever way the decision goes.
As for those, like myself, living in many countries around the world who are descendants of the Scottish Diaspora which has its roots in the failure of the Jacobite Rebellion culminating in the massacre at Culloden Moor on 16th April, 1746, and the later Clearances and abject poverty of the 1800's, while we may all feel that deep inner need for independence as part of our psyche of our Scots heritage, we should remain neutral on the independence vote! It is the resident citizens of Scotland who will live with the consequences, good or bad, of the decision they make, which may include having to re-apply to re-enter the EU.
News -scottish-independence

"That which has been long denied is most mightily desired."

The following verse attempts to explore the roots many of us feel for our 'Homeland', and what calls us back, even if just to trace ancestry as a tourist.
Here I give you- love and commitment, war and defeat, history past and times present, but above all a hope for the future. This poem has its genesis with words spoken by my wife when we stood within the lines where Mackintosh Clan stood on Culloden battlefield prior to their valiant but futile charge on English bayonets and grapeshot.

"If we had lived in that time I would have seen you and our son go off to this battle and never return."

So what were the effects on the women and children left behind, the families that starved with no man to provide, or of the loss of leaders in the wee villages, the subsequent suppression of Scottish culture throughout the Highlands, and the deportation of Jacobite sympathisers to England's colonies in  North America?

In 2014 the cycle of history turns again.

Click on the photo to bring them up in large slideshow format.
All photos and verse by Jim McIntosh.


Where ancient rock lanely and lichened
marks yon barrow mounded high,
there ma shattered bones are cold aneath,
and amang Clan Chatain's best I lie.

Freedom proved so ephemeral
'twas no for glory that we vied
but for our country, Clan, and family
that we fought, and for those we died.

Where the Highland Cat is stealthing
where the doe and stag do ply
there you'll find ma wraith a-flying
above the place we once did lie.

Amang purple heather and green bracken
deep within the Glen of Spean,
'twas on the brae of Beinn a' Chaorinn
when our bodies came together,
you grasped ma heart my bonnie lassie,
ma ain true love, Eilidh.

When you feel a wind on red cheek
and warm breeze lifts your golden curl
'tis ae fond kiss, ma tentie touch upon you:
'tis all I can give you now ma bonnie girl.

When purple flowers surfeit with honey
as the heather blooms once again
'tis there we'll seek again sweet nectar
of that elusive flower of Freedom in vain

Freedom cannae be found in these fair glens
it has long e're fle'en across the sea.
Now your lane a task of love I set you
to raise our bonnie wee boy bairnie
and bear him safely to the new country.

Raise in Freedom's embrace our boy bairnie
in your new hame across the sea
there my wraith will breeze you from above
and salve your aching spirit's need.
Will you do that for me, ma ain true love Eilidh?