Ōtepoti Dunedin, May 2021
“Though we don’t often think consciously about the connection, it is nearly impossible to separate colour and feeling.” Ingrid Fetell Lee, Joyful.
It’s our first meeting. Carlos and I have been introduced via a mutual friend. I rush into Morning Magpie Cafe on Lower Stuart street. I’m late, I’m upset from a difficult meeting at work. Poetry is my other life and here I am, escaping into it again. Carlos greets me warmly. He has a bag full of gear. We order tea. Carlos hands me a large folio of photographs. He’s wondering if I know some poets who could write poems for his sky photos? He wants to make a book. My tea arrives. Goes cold. The folio has me. Are these, photos or paint? The intensity of colour is —
‘Are you crying, my friend?’ Carlos asks.
‘No,’ I say.
‘What do you think?’
I think I need to race home and start writing.‘Yes, we can make this work,’ I say. ‘I’ll contact some poets.’
The poets said yes. We started writing. Our writing deadline was March 2020. Poems arrived in my inbox. Incredible work which captured mood and nuance, translating sky into human experience, uncovering emotion layered in colour.
The world stopped.
We kept working.
Steve Smart, (Scottish poet and graphic designer) and I began the work of putting the collection together. I edited the poems, Steve put images with poems, eventually developing a design for the entire collection.
The New Zealand lockdown ended, and the poets and I, mostly known to each other from a distance, and via email, started to meet and talk regularly. Whatever the outcome of our book project, we realised we needed each other.
Which brings me back to the folio: Carlos’ photos contain and allow an intense vulnerability – the ability to state: I love. As well, and perhaps as part of love, he captures confusion, rage and loneliness, saturating awe, and fearless, unmasked delight. Themes that emerge in the poetry are: separation, connection, longing, climate crisis, anger and aspiration.
Developing a book together has been a beautiful project, collaborating rather than competing, encouraging each other, and becoming friends. In doing something grand, and engaging with Carlos as a person and a photographer, this project has drawn something out from within all of us: that glimmering thing, that feels like a stream of light.
The 14 poets contributing to CUMULUS are: Claire Arthur ~ Claire Beynon ~ Jonathan Cweorth ~ Judy Fisher ~ Cynthia Greensill ~ Megan Kitching ~ Claire Lacey ~ Kirstie McKinnon ~ Lissa Moore ~ Martha Morseth ~ Steve Smart ~ Nicola Thorstensen ~ Rushi Vyas ~ Iona Winter
In April 2021, Attitude Pictures came to Dunedin and filmed a television episode about Carlos Biggemann, and our work together on the book project.
In addition, we developed an exhibition of selected work from CUMULUS at Dunedin Public Libraries, City Library Digital Cube Space, as a way of celebrating what we’ve achieved together. The exhibition (more here) runs until the 31st of May 2021.
And the book? Our book proposal is ready, the collection is together, and we’re exploring publication options.
“Color is energy made visible.” Ingrid Fetell Lee, Joyful.
A Selection of work from our book-in-progress CUMULUS: an anthology of skies
Love, dark has lifted —
won’t you turn your face
to the window and look.
In the paddock the Clydesdale
has let himself fall to the ground
to feel the new grass
under his back, under his skin.
Even with all his bulk and bones
and the old legs that fold
stiffly as a rusted gate,
he meets the earth
with a clap of dust,
tail waving like a showday flag
and the sun finds out
the thick musk and mud and weight
of his beautiful, unseen belly
and lays its hands on him
and the old horse kicks his hooves
in the spring air like a dance.
Won’t you turn your face
to the window, love
and look at the day.
by Lissa Moore
Are you still holding the corners?
Then let the skeined light lead you on
hanging a scarf on horizon’s gate
to blaze your way back to tomorrow.
Now and then we all like to shuck off the dust,
tilt back and test our buoyancy
though that softly beheld, uplifted world
takes it out of us every time.
Such colours, heightened to pain, break upon
shoals lacking depths or shallows
where you’re likely to glimpse what you lost
streaming indifferently by.
Words you try to shape fall apart
and drown before the clouds can utter them
till at last we sift down to the lees.
Look back up: can the picture contain you?
by Megan Kitching
ash rends dreams to dust
I’m a lapsing lava stone
with tulle feathers
the ground is hard
I want to hear
evolves to anthems
blue wings beat to
love’s low thunder
smell the sulphur fallout
hot bitter words to bite down years
rust cuts blind the thought wind
stumble the old scar ridges
again, lay flat the sky
or taste the hint
of brine and wake
dive down the path
of flash lightning
fly into rain
by Kirstie McKinnon
Come, walk the beach
Come, walk the beach with me.
Let’s risk – wet feet. Let’s
survey high Saharan cirrus dunes,
catalogue tyrannosaurs or bears,
thread Paisley swirls with contrail twist,
or speculate a continental teapot.
We’ll lip and taste and tongue the air,
on our interstitial donder,
gather close some tidal volumes,
and spy accommodating Rubenesques,
cheerfully rolling into Africas,
far beyond the mackerel dews.
Our drift-net cast might catch
a pearl-string archipelago,
each island sinking in curlicued wisps
shiver-fine as a desert scent,
teasing the last possible slake
of an as yet unseen oasis.
Tooth-sore in Tentsmuir chills,
I’ll tell you about once wading
moonlight that photographed slow purple,
far out into chest deep slack,
to return warm with cold,
and more alive.
Perhaps you’ll drawl a dawdling tale,
idling from some South Sea languor,
of pacific tang, surf swum, bright spray flown,
while I cosset the northern breeze,
heat it, wet it, and huff it out,
fly my own nimbus of dragon’s breath.
Seventy redwoods up
where black dithers this thin skin blue,
land to sea, spray to sand, two lands,
it’s all one shore to an atmosphere.
Come, walk the beach with me,
even though you are not here.
by Steve Smart
the incoming tide engulfs the island and reminds me of you
its approach to the shoreline mindful guided by Papatūānuku-etched-tracks conscious of channels unhindered by stormy weather
the flow returns because all of this is unquestioned
like the view from your window where headlands stay anchored and trees
hug the whenua against harsh winter winds
the substance we shape into meaning is aroha woven throughout me
with emergent tendrils that lace graciously when my skin meets yours
in seamless unison
by Iona Winter
Four works in this
the same sky
green bands below
just as today
a layer of grey cloud
covers the city
green gold shines
over St Clair
knew that Dunedin sky
carried it with her
all the way
by Cynthia Greensill
Give me thunder
I’m fed up with things
abstract. I cannot wrestle
the invisible and balancing
on air is no easy task. Tripping
sees me float upwards or sideways
but never down.
Give me a beam to bump my head on,
trees to climb, stones on which to stub
my toes, blood I can see and sto
with neon plasters from a cluttered
kitchen drawer. I’ve had enough
for now of words and drawing images
out of words. Enough of untangling love
from need for love, discerning the difference
in bottomless pools.
Give me white-ribbed cowries,
an amber ball to roll beneath my feet
down to sand and salt water’s edge.
And give me thunder.
I want thunder that rams through rocks
and rain that thuds into rivers
in large, hot drops.
by Claire Beynon
The Constable of Doubt
Sworn to defend the unresolved
I know nothing of distinction
Positioned between seas and lands
to which I’ve no claim I
know nothing of my sure neighbors
My gait stutters face red as the intersection’s
blinking hand red as the blooms
of Rāta and Pohutakawa the difference
between whom I know nothing of
Who holds their boundary unquestioned?
Every evening I return sworn to my gelatinous
state like an oath stuttered through the sable gait
of night Shadow the breath that colors me
Solitude my ritual communion with oxygen
gifted by the succulent and carbon by the plant
across the harbor All I know is a wisp rising
between here and there
by Rushi Vyas
About Kirstie McKinnon and Carlos Biggemann
Kirstie McKinnon lives, writes and surfs in East Coast Otago. Her poetry has appeared in Landfall, takahē, the Otago Daily Times and online at https://corpus.nz/. She has contributed poetry to, and coordinated the following exhibitions for the digital Cube Space in Dunedin Public Libraries City Library: The Fossils of Foulden Maar: creative responses; Antarctica Poetry; and CUMULUS: photography + poetry.
Award winning photographer Carlos Biggemann has lived in New Zealand for 14 years. He completed his studies at Aoraki Polytechnic graduating with a Certificate in Digital Photography in 2012. Since graduating, Carlos has spent the majority of his time photographing — the majestic Carnaval de Oruro, dramatic skies, travel photography and marvellous New Zealand landscapes. Through Carlos’ work and lens he wants to make a better world. Attitude Pictures https://www.attitudepictures.com/ recently filmed a television episode about Carlos Biggemann and the development of CUMULUS, which will be available at https://attitudelive.com/ later in 2021. https://carlosbiggemannphotography.com/
About the poets
Claire Beynon is a Dunedin-based artist and writer. She works collaboratively on a diverse range of on- and off-line projects with fellow artists, writers, scientists and musicians in NZ and abroad. These interdisciplinary activities are buoyed and balanced by the contemplative rhythms of her solo practice. www.clairebeynon.com | www.manyasonemao.com
Cynthia Greensill is a retired teacher who gardens, reads, looks at paintings, listens to, and makes music and poems. She is a member of Tight Lines poetry group. Her work has been published in the NZ Poetry Yearbook, The Otago Daily Times, and Tight Lines: an anthology, and displayed at Dunedin Public Library in exhibitions The Fossils of Foulden Maar: creative responses and Cumulus: photography + poetry.
Born in Auckland, Megan Kitching is a Dunedin-based poet, research assistant and tutor. She holds a PhD in English Literature from Queen Mary University, London, and was awarded the Journal of New Zealand Literature Annual Prize for her 2010 article on former Poet Laureate Cilla McQueen. Since 2018, she has taught English and Creative Writing at the University of Otago. Her poetry has appeared in The Frogmore Papers (UK), takahē, Landfall, and the 2021 Poetry New Zealand Yearbook. She was the 2021 Caselberg Trust Elizabeth Brooke-Carr Emerging Writer Resident. www.megankitching.com
Lissa Moore lives near Palmerston, East Otago. Her poems have appeared in New Zealand journals Landfall, takahē, Turbine/Kapohau and the Otago Daily Times as well as the Tiny Gaps anthology. She’s also been published in UK publications Strix and Reactions (UEA).
Steve Smart is a poet and artist living in a small village in Angus, Scotland. His poems have appeared in Atrium, Firth, The Poetry Shed, The Writer’s Café, The Curlew, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Poet’s Corner and others. Lately Steve has been involved as filmmaker and co-ordinator on a project called ‘Poems for Doctors’, an online collaboration between the Scottish Poetry Library and the Medical School at the University of St Andrews. Other recent projects include ‘Frankenstein’s Poetic Progeny’ a pamphlet and performance produced for ‘Being Human’ with the Wyvern Poets group in working with the University of Dundee, and a collaboration about trees, time and physicality with Edinburgh based visual artist Tansy Lee Moir. Most recently Steve has been designing an exhibition about research into humpback whale song in the South Pacific. Steve blogs regularly here.
Rushi Vyas is the author of the Poetry Chapbook Between Us, Not Half a Saint, with Rajiv Mohabir (Pre-Order Available Now through GASHER Press), and When I Reach For Your Pulse (forthcoming Four Way Books, 2023). He was born in the US and recently immigrated to Aotearoa New Zealand where he is working toward his PhD in Literature at the University of Otago. He has been twice named a finalist for the National Poetry Series (US), Runner-Up for the Center for Book Arts Chapbook Contest (NYC), Runner-Up for the Indiana Review Poetry Prize, and has received support from Tin House Writers’ Workshop and VONA Voices. He has degrees from the University of Michigan (Bachelor of Science) and the University of Colorado-Boulder (MFA in Poetry). Recent poems have been published in Adroit Journal, Landfall (NZ), Tin House, Boulevard Magazine, 32 Poems, The Offing, Waxwing, Alaska Quarterly Review and elsewhere.
Iona Winter (Waitaha/Kāi Tahu) lives in Ōtepoti Dunedin. Her hybrid work is widely published and anthologised in literary journals internationally. Iona creates work to be performed, relishing cross-modality collaboration, and holds a Master of Creative Writing. She has authored three collections, Gaps in the Light (2021), Te Hau Kāika (2019), and then the wind came (2018). Skilled at giving voice to difficult topics, she often draws on her deep connection to land, place and whenua. More here.