beautiful monsters: May 2004 Archives

May 26, 2004

Five ways of looking at Cat

At Cam’s house we drink iced tea while poetry dribbles from the walls. There are robots on the windowsill. I wonder if I should point out that the bananas are hypocritical. Or maybe it’s not about politics.


It’s not the whole cat I’m allergic to, just the saliva. Sammy had eyes like the full moon in Bangkok, but he lost his grip on the willow. Slip, slip. Now we have an absence of cat, but the flip flap still keeps Cara awake at night.


Graffiti is just another word for the collision of art and poetry.

Words overwrite the landscape. What is landscape? Is it out that window? Is it in this painting? Is it here, under our feet? Cam produces a box of Sante bars. "Yum," says Airini. Light slides over the walls and we both notice the sun.

Every flat has a blue and white checked tea towel and a sound like a thirsty dog.

Posted by Fionnaigh at 12:10 AM

May 24, 2004



Our first practicum for our marae course was to organise a hui, and my role was head chef. I never got around to finishing this post so it’s really out of date...

Well, it took more than bread and a few fishes, but the masses were fed. Whew. That was one of the most stressful 48 hours of my life. It wasn’t the cooking that was stressful, cos that was so much fun. It was just the fact that we had four different people telling us what to do with conflicting results. There’s one main course co-ordinator, but she hasn’t been there for a few weeks. Then there’s another who has been helping out. Then there’s the co-ordinator of the course that runs alongside this one. And then there’s someone who helps out for this particular practicum.

So anyway, we haven’t had the course co-ordinator for several weeks, and so we just went ahead and planned as much as we could. The person standing in for the classes gave us advice, like “spend as close to the budget as you can, cos if you overspend, that’s not good, but if you under spend, that’s telling a different story. No one will be impressed if you run out of food and there's still money in the budget.” Made sense to us. So we choose a theme, I made up some recipes using indigenous herbs and we came up with a menu. And I went off and harvested some of the herbs during the holidays, as some were easier to find up the island.

Then we got back this week, and the day before the hui, the woman who was involved just in this particular assignment and the co-ordinator of the other class were running the session. And they suddenly told us stuff like “you can’t have two white meats,” and also our budget was $200 smaller. So the menu plan and the budget went out the window, and as there was only one night left we had to make some quick decisions. I reprinted the menus, and did some research about how to cook big chunks of cow (something I have never attempted before, having been vegetarian for years, and coming from a practically vegetarian upbringing...)

Then we turned up on the morning of the hui, with our shopping lists and everything... and we were told we had to go to see the course co-ordinator. And she told us we shouldn’t have done this, and we should have done that, and she couldn’t give us the money until we gave her a full detailed budget, and we explained that the menu had changed the previous afternoon and we hadn’t had time to redo the whole budget, and she tut-tutted, and told us if we wanted two white meats that was up to us... and then we should do this and this, and not that... and we were sitting there quietly, but thinking “where have you been the past three weeks when we were doing all the planning and had no guidelines?” She also told us we needed to set aside a koha for the marae. First we’d heard of it.

So finally we were allowed to take the charge sheet, though our budget was docked by a further $200. And when we went back to our other chiefs, they grumbled and said “she can’t do that, not on the day,” but we piled into the van anyway and headed into town to do the shopping. I was forced to buy a chunk of cow, one piece, which cost $89 and would feed 60 people. That’s a big piece of cow. That’s a big piece of a big cow. Especially for someone with vegetarian tendencies.

Luckily one of the guys on the course used to work in a butchers, so I just said to him, “here’s the sauce, the cow is over there, I don’t want to know about it.” It was so cool having culinary minions! We still had all our tutors coming in and saying “don’t do it like that, do it like this,” but mostly it went smoothly and was lots of fun. The menu we ended up serving was;

Chicken with kawakawa, mango and coconut salsa
Beef with horopito seasoning
Raw fish
Garlic Pikopiko
Mussel & pasta salad
Green salad
Assorted vegetable dishes (broccoli with passionfruit sauce!)
Chocolate kumara cake with vanilla icecream.

It must have tasted alright, because the wharekai went so quiet while everyone chowed down. The chocolate kumara cake was such a hit! And then people started standing up to mihi to the cooks and we all glowed with pride. The course coordinator asked if she could take home some of the leftovers!

After we’d cleared the tables and set up for breakfast, do you think we could get some rest? No, we got dragged into the wharenui for impromptu debates. My team was arguing against the moot “he kūpapa ngā Māori Mema Paremata” – that the male Māori MPs are traitors. This, you realise, is taking place at about midnight, after one of the longest days of my life, and I have to try and work out how to say, “they’re not traitors, cos that implies a conscious decision, and actually they’re just slaves to their nature, they know not what they do…” in Māori. (Before you get started I don’t really believe this ok, do I need to explain the concept of impromptu debates?)

In the morning I went into the office out from the kitchen, and the plastic bag my wallet had been in wasn’t there. Suddenly it all came back to me. Everyone else had been fed, and finally we had a chance to eat ourselves. I collapsed into a chair. Some people from another class were helping to do the dishes, and clearing the decorations (ferns and stuff) from the tables. Then someone called out to me, “do you want these ferns and shit?” holding up some plastic bags. “No,” I said, because to my sleep & food deprived brain it seemed like the easiest option. Now I realised that he’d accidentally thrown out my wallet. The bags had already been collected from outside the marae, so I nervously made my way over to the office where the cleaners hang out. A few of them were on their smoko, and they came down to where the rubbish gets taken, and helped me to look. Yup, we had to pull on some gloves and pick our way through all of the universities rubbish. And yes, there is a lot of it. Weirdly, most of it consists of empty latex glove boxes. My wallet was at the bottom of rubbish bag No. 49, concealed inside a bag of ferns. Yay for not having to go through the hassle of replacing drivers licence, ID, bank cards, etc... I gave the guys who helped me a big box of biscuits that we hadn’t used.

some of my team!

note the stylish tohu Māoritanga 2004 apron

Update: We got 100% for the practicum! Go us!

Posted by Fionnaigh at 01:51 AM


This follows on from rotorua adventures part 1 in which I met Gerry Brownlee, and a Ngati Whakaue kaumatua, Pihopa Kingi, gave me the kupu for this waiata.

Kaore te Aroha is the tangi of a father for his daughter, who drowned swimming across from Mokoia island to meet the first minister at Ohinemutu. I wasn’t sure if it would be suitable to research for our course, cos none of the waiata we study have any Christian stuff at all, and this one, it’s all “we will grasp the word of the Lord, and embrace Jesus Christ…” So I thought I’d keep looking and see if I found anything else. I called up this woman, Ngawara Gordon, who runs the Hei Tiki gallery. She organised an amazing week of workshops for Taonga Puoro and traditional Celtic music earlier this year. Anyway, we talked for a while, and she came up with the same waiata, and said it was like the Te Arawa anthem (which I could believe, because it was so familiar). I explained to her my reservations, about the Christian stuff, and so she told me about a different waiata, about the Tarawera eruption. She said she could get the words from her office.

Meanwhile I talked to another of my mum’s contacts, this guy, Mauriora, who’s the council iwi liaison officer. I went in to see him at the council, and to my surprise he said “My whanaunga, Ngawara, has just been in and told me about your project.” He explained that the Tarawera one went on for about eight minutes, and wasn’t used so much. “But I can tell you about this other beautiful waiata…” Then the woman who works in his office piped up, “oh, are you talking about Kaore te Aroha?” “Yeah,” he said, and he asked me “have you heard of it?” I went bright red and mumbled, “yeah, I think I might have come across it…” Mauriora was able to write down the whakapapa of the composer, so that was a bonus!

After having affirmations from four people, I figured, he tohu. It’s a sign, this is the one I’m meant to do. So what if I’m the only one to do one that has Christian stuff in it? I am a Sunday school teacher after all! And it’s such an important part of Te Arawa.


Pihopa told us the story about how the Anglican missionary came to Rotorua first, and a lot of people converted. And then a Catholic priest came along, and the chief thought he was a decent guy too, and it wasn’t fair he’d missed out just because he came later. So the chief said “everyone on my right side will remain faithful to the Anglican Church, and everyone on my left will join the Catholic Church.” And his mana was such that everyone obeyed him, even though some families were split up, some on his left, some on his right. Even today there are families that are half Anglican, half Catholic, living in Ohinemutu.

Posted by Fionnaigh at 01:20 AM

May 10, 2004


-----Original Message-----
From: William Wordsworth [mailto:ww@lake.district.england]
Sent: December 1799
Subject: Prospectus to ‘The Recluse’

Hi Bill,

Thanks for sending me your poem and asking for my opinion. I know you will expect an honest opinion and I will give it to you. It’s an ambitious project you’ve taken on here (if not downright impossible). Did Sam put you up to it?

In this poem you set out to write a versified treatise on “man, on nature and on human life”, which is bound to be an overwhelming subject. Like Paradise Lost this piece is both a moral and political treatise and an epic poem. But while Paradise Lost depicts the battle of good and evil on a grand scale, this poem focuses on the battles of the individual mind. You have made yourself the hero of this epic, and your quest seems to be to surpass Milton and write the ultimate philosophical poem. You prophesise a marriage of mind and nature, and yet in this piece you turn inwards and get caught up with interminable psychoanalysis. Though the life cycle of the poem begins with youthful enthusiasm, it sinks to despondency and desperation.

> On man, on nature, and on human life,
> Thinking in solitude from time to time

Right at the beginning of the poem you have set yourself up as a solitary figure, someone who finds nature and humanity stimuli for poetry. You have also set this up as a poem that is primarily to do with “thinking”. I find it interesting that you begin with man, nature, and human life. Surely man and human life are the same subject? If you are attempting to write a total philosophical system then there is something missing from this trilogy. Where is God?

> I find sweet passions traversing my soul
> Like music; Unto these, where’er I may
> I would give utterance in numerous verse.

Why have you chosen to write this prospectus in “numerous verse”? Maybe because you are attempting to impart an order to life and the world, and in turn you are imparting an order to the rhythms of natural speech. Do you think it adds something to your cause? Well, as yet I’m unconvinced. As this is a “prospectus”, perhaps prose would have been more appropriate. I can’t help feeling that you’re clinging to the mechanics of poetry - I thought you were against the limitations of traditionalism? Why reinforce them with this piece?

However, if you insist on writing this as verse rather than prose, then blank verse is a good choice. It feels less forced than rhymed verse would in this case (the more subtle internal rhymes work, e.g. traverse/verse). The rhythm is somewhat closer to natural speech.

> Of truth, of grandeur, beauty, love, and hope,

You use lists like this several times during the piece. It’s almost as though, by putting these abstract words together you hope to give them form and a meaning greater than they would have standing alone. But the effect of listing them like this actually seems to speed up the rhythm, and so they are only skimmed over lightly.

I know it is meant as an exposition, but since you’ve chosen to express your aims in verse, it seems to me you should strive to make them a little more... poetic. “Show, don’t tell” as they say. IMHO a few more specific images would add balance and contrast to the abstract concepts. Words like love and hope are so overused they have become meaningless. What kind of love? What does the hope you sing of taste like? Sometimes the most specific details can carry universal truths. If you take care of the details, I believe the universal concepts will take care of themselves. A host of daffodils, for example, can convey something powerful about gladness and the goodness at the heart of all.

>tt>> Of joy in various commonalty spread,
> Of the individual mind that keeps its own
> Inviolate retirement, and consists
> With being limitless – the one great life –

This, I suspect, is your aim; to move people to realise “the one great life”. To be one with nature and with all humanity; this concept is found in many religious teachings and is also fundamental to the principles of deep ecology.

> I sing: fit audience let me find, though few!
> ‘Fit audience find, though few!’ Thus prayed the bard,
> Holiest of men. Urania, I shall need
> Thy guidance, or a greater muse (if such
> Descend to earth, or dwell in highest heaven),

In this poem you use a lot of Miltonic language, and borrow a lot of phrases and imagery from Paradise Lost. Bill, the trouble with trying to be Milton is that you’re not. If you truly want to achieve something greater than what has gone before, you must be true to yourself. Fear, awe and terror are fitting in a Miltonic epic set on the grand scale of heaven and hell, but in this poem they seem to be expressions of your own anxiety. It seems to me that in part this anxiety may stem from trying to surpass the impact of Paradise Lost.

The grandeur of the language seems somewhat out of place and dissonant from your general aims. If you value natural speech, why refer to Greek Mythology? This is hardly the speech of humble and rustic life. You speak of “fit audience though few”, but I was under the impression you believed poetry should be accessible to the common man. What do you think your more “rustic” subjects would make of these lines? What muse would they call on? Isn’t there a danger that by seeking an ideal audience, you protect yourself from criticism that might ultimately enrich your work?

It is interesting that you choose to call on Urania – muse of astronomy. She alone among the muses inspires scientific endeavours. She holds dear philosophers, not poets.

> For I must tread on shadowy ground, must sink
> Deep, and ascend aloft, and breathe in worlds
> To which the heaven of all heavens is but a veil.

I love the line, “breathe in worlds”. I think it’s because you’re starting to use more imagery. Breath, veil, they’re both lovely delicate images. A nice change from all the empty abstractions.

> All strength, all terror, single or in bands,
> That ever was put forth by personal forms –
> Jehovah with his thunder, and the choir
> Of shouting angels, and th’ empyreal thrones –
> I pass them unalarmed. The darkest pit
> Of the profoundest hell, night, chaos, death,
> Nor aught of blinder vacancy scooped out
> By help of dreams, can breed such fear and awe
> As fall upon me when I look
> Into my soul, into the soul of man –
> My haunt and the main region of my song.

Here you seem to claim that the journey into the mind is both darker and more sublime than the journeys through heaven and hell in Paradise Lost. But what are heaven and hell except aspects and creations of our own minds?

> Beauty, whose living home is the green earth,
> Surpassing far what hath by special craft
> Of delicate poets been culled forth and shaped
> From earth’s materials, waits upon my steps,
> Pitches her tents before me as I move,
> My hourly neighbour. Paradise and groves
> Elysian, blessed islands in the deep
> Of choice seclusion – wherefore need they be
> Once wedded to this outward frame of things
> In love, find these the growth of common day?

This, I believe, is the essence of the poem; you believe that through the consummation of a marriage of mind and nature it is possible to create paradise here on earth. But in this passage you move straight from the darkness of your soul, the soul of man, to the beauty inherent in nature. If your aim is to move people to realise that a Utopia is made possible by the union of mind and nature, then why do you set man and nature against each other as such stark contrasts? Are we not part of nature? Are we not made of the ashes of dead stars? Do we not return to the dust of the earth? By creating this dichotomy you are undermining your own goals. In fact you are giving yourself an excuse to avoid acting. By retreating into an idealised nature you avoid engaging with the challenging dimensions of life.

You might also want to consider that “Mind” is not limited to humans, or even to animate beings. Mind can be understood as the self-defining principle that is present in all matter; in the stars and the spaces between stars, in water, stone, leaf and bird, in nucleic acids and atoms, blood, sweat, heart, lungs, mind, in music and poetry, laughter and tears. Is this the “one great life” that you speak of? Many people name this “God”. Whatever name you choose, this (God, Universe, Mind, Love) cannot conform to such arbitrary divisions, as man / nature, mind / matter.

> Such pleasant haunts forgoing, if my song
> Must turn elsewhere, and travel near the tribes
> And fellowships of man, and see ill sights
> Of passions ravenous from each other’s rage,
> Insult and injury, and wrong and strife;
> Must hear humanity in fields and groves
> Pipe solitary anguish; or must hang
> Brooding above the fierce confederate storm
> Of sorrow, barricadoed evermore
> Within the walls of cities, to these sounds

This passage seems to express your disillusionment with the French Revolution, and again hints at the anxiety you must be experiencing. You are placing huge demands upon yourself – or perhaps you are accepting the demands of others. I know Sam is worried that the masses are giving up on their own amelioration. Don’t lose sight of the big picture, Bill. Humans have always had bloody revolutions, “insult and injury, and wrong and strife”. But surely humans have also always been the creators of beauty, music and poetry.

> Let me find meaning more akin to that
> Which to God’s ear they carry, that even these
> Hearing, I be not heartless or forlorn.
> Come thou, prophetic spirit, soul of man,
> Thou human soul of the wide earth, that hast
> Thy metropolitan temple in the hearts
> Of mighty poets, unto me vouchsafe
> Thy foresight, teach me to discern, and part
> Inherent things from casual, what is fixed
> From fleeting, that my soul may live, and be
> Even as a light hung up in heaven to cheer
> The world in times to come. And if with this
> I mingle humbler matter – with the thing
> Contemplated describe the mind and man
> Contemplating, and who he was, and what
> The transitory being that beheld
> This vision, when and where and how he lived
> (In part a fellow-citizen, in part
> An outlaw and a borderer of his age) –
> Be not this labour useless.
> Oh great God!
> To less than thee I cannot make this prayer;
> Innocent mighty spirit, let my life
> Express the image of a better time,
> Desires more wise and simpler manners, nurse
> My heart in genuine freedom, all pure thoughts
> Be with me and uphold me to the end.

Oh dear, as I read these last passages the poem seems to deteriorate into desperation. You claim to have discovered unity with nature and humanity, and yet you give nature only ten lines of this poem. The rest is devoted to tortured introspection. This is the “Egotistical Sublime” only without the sublime. Perhaps this is the price of too much solitary thinking.

I’ve highlighted the words that emphasis the mind and intellect. As a romantic poet, I would expect you to give more value to the heart and passion. You do mention the heart in the second to last line, but then you once again bring it back to “pure thoughts”. This echoes the second line of the poem “thinking in solitude”. It is possible that you intend for the term mind to encompass matters of emotion and soul, however this poem still reads as a piece of psychoanalysis – not literature. You speak of such grand concepts as love and Utopia, but love is not a word, it’s a way of interacting with the world. Creating Utopia requires action as well as thought. If people are feeling disheartened after seeing the high ideals of the French Revolution crumble into conflict and calamity, what makes you think they will have faith in a poem? Words are cheap, Bill.

This poem claims to be about man, nature and human life, but mostly it is about mind. Specifically, yours. Not only that, but instead of being about the growth of a great mind, it is about the decline from idealism to anxiety and desperation. It’s less poetry and more psychoanalysis. Maybe if you took out the line breaks you could submit it as a proposal for a paper in some journal of metapsychology, but as a piece of literature, I really don’t think you’re doing yourself justice sending it out into the world. There is something missing. In many of your other poems you use concrete, almost tangible details to create a powerful sense of location and you have used the forces of nature to echo the forces of human emotions. That, IMHO, is the stuff of poetry. In this prospectus you let go some of your poetic strengths. Perhaps you need to let the heart take the reins for a while. Perhaps you need to give nature more equality with mind. Most of all I think you need to dismantle the dichotomy you are creating between man and nature, mind and matter. Both man and nature are capable of beauty and creation, destruction and chaos. Both are permeated with the energy of God. Both are in fact aspects of the same interdependent dynamic system.

Leonard Cohen once said, “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.” I think you need to stop contemplating and start living more. The last thing I am intending is to say is that you’ve failed because you’re not a good enough poet. The problem is that you’ve set the bar too high. Sam seems to think that all poets must be philosophers, and he may be right. But that doesn’t mean that all poets have to tackle vast and overwhelming subjects such as life the universe and everything... let alone tackle them all in one poem. Such a task is likely hang around your neck like a stinking dead albatross. Leave this one in your notebook, Bill. Go climb a mountain in the predawn hours before colour seeps into the world. Take a notebook with you and see what comes of it.

Hope this helps,

Posted by Fionnaigh at 01:23 AM


Oooh, look, I alphabetised my blogroll, cos, well, everyone else was doing it and it looked like fun. Also some new additions.

And I did a google search, just in case it picked up more fionnaighs than the last time I searched. Conclusion? Nope. Still the same old same old; a cat with an impressive pedigree, a breeder of cats with impressive pedigrees, someone who works at the Dublin Adult Learning Centre, the the daughter of a soccer fan and a very odd photograph of Mr and Mrs MacSween.

Also I have been reading an old friend’s plog about building an Uber Desk, which reminded me of Xander; Yeah, blueprints, not a bad idea. That and getting straight, "measure twice, cut once." You know, for the longest time, I had it backwards. Messy.

So yeah, the essays are coming on nicely. I should have at least half of one done by Christmas.


In the 1980s the actor Ian McKellen, crusading for gay rights, asked Alan Bennett whether he was homosexual or heterosexual. Bennett replied, "That's a bit like asking a man crawling across the Sahara whether he would prefer Perrier or Malvern".

Posted by Fionnaigh at 12:49 AM

May 06, 2004

hikoi ki paremata





Posted by Fionnaigh at 11:38 AM

May 05, 2004

Some points about the foreshore and seabed

The Crown has always assumed it owned the foreshore and seabed.

Ever since the treaty was signed iwi and hapu have claimed that the foreshore and seabed are covered by article two of Te Tiriti. Maori had exercised rights over the foreshore and seabed for centuries before the treaty was signed.

The new policy vests the “full and beneficial ownership” in the Crown.

The new “customary right” created by the legislation is limited to those “traditional activities” that have “continued to be undertaken, substantially uninterrupted, in accordance with tikanga from 1840 to the present.” So, if Maori have taken hangi stones from the beach from 1840 until now (no breaks) they can continue to do so. If the court establishes that they have that right. Once the court does give Maori “customary rights” this is effectively meaningless, and can be extinguished by the Crown at any time.

“Since 1940 it has been private owners, exploitative commercial enterprise and government agencies rather than iwi and hapu, who have denied public access to the foreshore and seabed. Tangata Whenua have not excluded others, provided wahi tapu are respected and natural resources are not damaged or depleted.” – PMA

If Maori have customary rights over land below mean tide, how are they going to impede open access to coastal land and beaches?

Maori representatives have put together some awesome proposals, such as covenants of access and non-saleability. These have not been acknowledged by the media or considered by the crown.

The government did not consult Maori. They didn’t even consult their own Maori MPs.

“If a ruling came out about the exclusive property rights of Pakeha with riparian ownership rights, or even the claim to ongoing rights by Pakeha who have built baches on Crown land, would there be such a national uproar?” – David Williams

The government is not permitting due process of law. By not waiting for a proper judicial enquiry into the land rights involved, and insisting on ownership, they are going against their own Pakeha law values going back to Magna Carta in 1215.

“The foreshore/seabed litigation was a magnificent opportunity to acknowledge that the tikanga Maori stream of law does have status alongside English law in the common law of Aotearoa New Zealand. That opportunity with be lost, and a new Treaty of Waitangi grievance will arise, if we cannot just take a breath, and find out a bit more about Maori Customary rights, before we jump up and down.” - D Williams.

Points poached from Revd Dr David V Williams, Associate Professor of Law, University of Auckland & Peace Movement Aotearoa Bulletin.

Still confused? Do your own google search, I’m going down to join the hikoi.

Posted by Fionnaigh at 07:45 AM

May 03, 2004


Oooooooh look at all the pretty colours.

I have tiny little green pills
small pink pills
purple and turquoise capsules
pink and blue capsules that you can hear rattle as they go down
I have big white pills
and two kinds of small white pills
brown capsules
white capsules
and bright yellow pills
I have an orange inhaler
a green inhaler
and a blue inhaler
assorted creams and ointments
and a daily handful of herbs and multi-vitamins.

My insides must be singing a rainbow by now.

(Sometimes I hate my body).

Posted by Fionnaigh at 10:43 AM