Tales of Gotham City

Tales of Gotham City

by Ian Wedde
Tales of Gotham City consists of three groups of poems that were written over a period of seven years, from 1977–83. Ian Wedde says of this collection: When I went 'greedily' looking for meaning among the poems I'd written since about 1977, I found the record of a withdrawal of curiosity, its replacement with a counterpart anger. I'd wanted to know why


Tales of Gotham City consists of three groups of poems that were written over a period of seven years, from 1977–83. Ian Wedde says of this collection: When I went 'greedily' looking for meaning among the poems I'd written since about 1977, I found the record of a withdrawal of curiosity, its replacement with a counterpart anger. I'd wanted to know why not, not why. I'd heard myself answering kids' questions with my own. There were too many experts. Who did they think they were, these people with such confidence in their cigars, their sex, their history. That's me trying to step out of that sentence. We leave in order to come back. We don't need heroes, we need us.

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Tales of Gotham City

By Ian Wedde

Auckland University Press

Copyright © 1984 Ian Wedde
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-77558-163-5




    How cool her skin was then and now

    six years later it's her daughter who's laughing
    playing peep under the table.
    The way time played peep with me.

    If I wanted to cry I would have to remember the cue.
    If I want to laugh I can always find a reason.
    This sadness is because it took so long.
    One day I looked round the corner
    and all the familiar faces

    weren't on the side either
    & they weren't hiding. Boredom
    had claimed them for some other game.

    Why don't we trust each other?

    A little tenderness and less velocity.
    It's so lovely to see her again:
    Why did it take so long.

    (That's the first line of the song.)


    Hunting whales among
    Te Whanau-a-Apanui, didn't
    take long to waste them. The whales

    I mean, people here are doing okay.
    They're out of work but it's me that feels it,

    photographing the old boatshed
    from sixteen different angles
    thinking how serious it all has to be

    and waiting for someone to shout
    e porangi te pakeha! It's a shed!

    Never felt so lonely in my life,
    all night

    acetylene flared in the great yard of the Lord
    whose fleet will heave cold barbs
    when I surface for my last breath.

    I wouldn't believe that anywhere but here.

    Take it or leave it but if you want some
    you got to do your share.

    You got to haul back on your springy tawa sweep.


    Nothing sentimental about old Paul Delamere (92)
    Ringatu Bishop of Omaio,
    going through it so he could say

    it was fine! and it also beat
    washing cows' tits
    which is what came later.

    Along with not enough work. And not enough
    land and too many gone away to fight

    who didn't come back
    to read their names writ in gold
    on the walls of Gallipoli Hall.

    After that they shut it all down.

    No more ploughs left harnessed in the maize paddock
    & men running for the beach
    or riding five to a horse

    while the horns brayed and the flags went up
    at Whitianga, Omaio, Te Kaha & Maungaroa

    & the whale who'd scraped her barnacles off on 'Whale Island'
    turned with her calf from the quiet boats
    putting out at Whakatane

    & swam towards the lucky one off Te Kaha.

    One day she looked around with her eyes
    that point 'the wrong way'
    and she was all alone.

    Some game had claimed the others.


    Funny how it all slips
    into quotation marks you could almost hear

    gulling away with carrion into the sky.
    It would be easy to say

    'infinite sky' if it weren't untrue.
    Dig it. How could you believe anything else.

    This feeling is not new or sentimental.
    (Second line of the song.)

    I want to say, nothing was wasted!

    Oh there are perils yet but what of them.


    If you think 'live in the present' sounds fraudulent

    try 'live in the past'. Forget it, it's
    not advice it's something else.

    The sun has burned through, that means
    fall silent & go out before I start talking to her
    a hundred kilometres back

    and to the others I love
    who are even further away.

    I suppose the bishop loved
    the whales he lanced
    as they began to sound and the water

    spread out their convenient paunches.

    I might settle for tenderness.


    Several butterflies are planning to mate in
    the heavy air. Soon it will rain again.

    Keep it simple. A long clear focus.

    So many miles from home & I love it
    and hate it. 'My mind'

    sinking into mesopelagic
    while my heart comes up for breath
    expecting a harpoon.

    Is there a place for nature poetry?
    This isn't it. Last night

    trout kissed the still river
    until ripples filled the stream.

    Westward Hikurangi burned
    at the back of the Kereu valley

    and I found my mark at the dark edge of the bush

    and went back to the hut
    and heard your voice in the small room.

    You were far away but I sat up half the night
    afraid of breaking contact.
    Let's face it, I'm a sucker.

    Love has always meant more to me than time.
    Now they have an arrangement, the hours
    are backloading on love's contract.

    If I don't see you again soon I'll go crazy.


    Loneliness, what's that. Drink & dope
    slow the senses, 'loneliness'
    doesn't. It's my newest habit.

    Had another job to do but I didn't:
    I came back up here
    along the empty riverbed.

    My heart whizzed into the bush like a quail.

    I set the door open to the rain.

    Sat breathless with the ease of this ascent
    to vantage: my life
    clear as wire on the sloping fence, water
    gondolas sliding between batons.

    Love it or hate it, it's mine.

    Some days chicken salad.
    Some days chicken shit.

    And I want to say: If I can't write what moves me
    I might as well be dead. Or might as well
    stay up here forever.

    Or until someone's hand
    gets forced, presumably mine.

    And that's okay: only I wonder
    how going back will affect the view.

    Will I still be lonely when I'm loved again.

  (Last line of the song.)


    Where I went for watercress stank of cattle
    but I wanted it (metaphor)

    An insect leg drops on the page.
    Thought it was a little twig but it had joints.

    A week ago I threw Kên and Tui:
    strong lines of change.

    Oh these affairs of the heart!
    If only we could turn to bite the place.

    MAHIA APRIL 1978


    The amazing stars! they
    still burned through the pines.

    The sea rushed in
    with its stellar sound.

    I thought, This is it.

    The whole firmament was whirling like a kaleidoscope.
    I nearly broke my neck looking at it.

    I was getting good at being lonely.
    I had the the 'whole' experience to myself.


    The Age of Aquarius was short. The two hundred
    Vietnamese orphans snuffed in that plane crash
    in, when was it? that

    was it. Howard Hughes & the CIA,
    a poor choice for godparents.

    Bad PR for an age.

    Let's not try to talk anybody into anything.

    In 1978 I consider the air I breathe
    and I refuse to thank anyone for it.

    I pick tuatua and pipi along Mahia Beach.
    A la Frank Sargeson I scatter bread
    persuading them to come clean.

    There is plenty of space for my lonely joy.
    I walked all of eight miles & met nobody.

    Swimming naked in a channel the tide
    was filling, thought
    it would be sweet to fuck like dolphins.

    Mokotahi Headland stood up there like a burning mirror.

    Now I sit in my cabin and listen
    to the sea beyond the pines. Near me
    the shellfish are sucking at my bread on their water.

    And I miss you so badly.
    And I feel so far from my borders.
    Will you barter with me for my solitude.


    I used to think, poetry
    was what you did when people stopped listening.

    Now I guess it's what you do when there's nobody.

    Message in bottle: Send help!
    They arrive and collect the bones.
    All around the evidence of an ordered life.

    Immortality is a longterm currency.

    The poor bastard could have done with a trip to town,
    something of ready exchange.


    Pausing to read bird encounters in the sand:
    two landing tracks, some circles and chalky turds,
    two flightpaths off. And we construct

    whole epistemologies with these
    vicious toughs. Even allowing for 'Percival Gull Six'

    Jonathan Livingston Seagull gulped worms and shit.

    Oh certainly he could fly.

    Don't look up to things because
    they're beautiful. Some very famous actresses
    have been known to kick & fire.


    I watch a family come down
    to collect pipi. One man
    with a walk-on part

    is overcome by greed

    and takes too many.
    A seagull chooses one, flies up
    & smashes it.

    I watch the waves run and fall,
    and the sky
    rising through mauve to blue ... What kind of

    predator am I
    lying back here on a dune thinking about Goethe.

    I should go & talk to someone who knows.

    But look at these hundreds of curious

    hairballs, maybe
    the fibrous skeletons of horseturds,
    maybe things a whale coughs.

    And always the sensation of there being something important
    to say

    but no one to say it to, worse still
    nothing is clear

    finally. Description is only
    an endless means. And sometimes

    you want to say stop.

    Action could hurry the moment to you.

    This loneliness that runs falling over itself
    coast after coast.

    This endless hunt for meanings,
    finally a kind of curious greed.


    poem beginning with a line by a 5 year old


    The turtle trampled on the
    small worm
so stop

    writing off last week
    against those accidents you haven't had

    yet. When the fire gets hot
    the green goes up with the dry.

    Snatch your dream back from that cute altar
    where the congregation is burning its toys.

    Danger has sometimes been known to vanish
    overwhelmed by such trivia.


    So you want to be some kind of punk
    while that blazing athlete (your heart)

    is 'in love'

    decadence (as in
    'sensibility') — now you'll protest

    and I'll have to point out your threadbare & dusty sleeves
    trailed across so many

    tough dawns
    & your sentimental taste in music.


      'nothing is wasted'

    In my heacrt
    the Contract goes out
    disguised as a family bistro.

    That man who refused protection
    spinning before he drops, guilty
    dog chewing bread, small boy
    alone with television, her
    stoop. In my heart

    these dirty images pile up.
    A bitter taste each time beauty reaches for me.
    Hate it when it gets this
    personal, how can you listen,
    such wasted emotion.

    I dedicate this minor rage
    to those who are angry not just
    disappointed, who are
    principled not just angry.

    Get with that set. Could be
    mum dad and the kids, why not.
    Not that sad man who thinks
    fame's greased with power & keeps forever.

    Best to pass when you're dealt those courses, & remember
    'full of shit' could read
    'alive with an appetite'.


Excerpted from Tales of Gotham City by Ian Wedde. Copyright © 1984 Ian Wedde. Excerpted by permission of Auckland University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Ian Wedde, ONZM, is the author of fifteen collections of poetry, six novels, two collections of essays, a collection of short stories, a monograph on the artist Bill Culbert and several art catalogues, and has been co-editor of two poetry anthologies. His work has been widely anthologised, and has appeared in journals nationally and internationally. In 2010 he was awarded an ONZM in the Queen's Birthday Honours, and in 2011 was made New Zealand Poet Laureate.

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