"[Anne Kennedy] is one who surely will continue to find words for specifically located discoveries that cross cultures, providing ‘a new way to translate suffering / into another beautiful thing’.” —Cynthia Franklin, Contemporary Pacific on Sing-Song
The Darling Northby Anne Kennedy
In the seven long-ish poems of her new collection, multi-talented writer Anne Kennedy explores past and present, here and there, north and south, earth and paradise, hello and goodbye. In unfolding couplets, The Darling North’ engages with a woman’s past, her lover, her new landscapes, exploring the results of yearning and directional
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In the seven long-ish poems of her new collection, multi-talented writer Anne Kennedy explores past and present, here and there, north and south, earth and paradise, hello and goodbye. In unfolding couplets, The Darling North’ engages with a woman’s past, her lover, her new landscapes, exploring the results of yearning and directional possibilities on the shores of the Hokianga. F. E. Maning and Seamus Heaney hover in the background as touchstones. Hands On’ reconfigures the Little Red Riding Hood, Three Little Pigs and the Gingerbread Man stories; while other poems touch on a lost wedding ring, a significant birthday, remembered hills. Finally Kennedy offers two long poems about the dislocation of migration a loose sequence of here-and-there sonnets that deal with the upheaval of a family move from New Zealand to Hawaii; and a final poem, Hello Kitty, Goodbye Piccadilly’, in which the change and disturbances, effort and turmoils of adjusting to Paradise’ move towards acceptance and belonging. Though separate and various in tone and form, these poems wave and tip their hats to one another adding further pleasures to this sparklingly original collection by one of our most interesting writers.
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Read an Excerpt
The Darling North
By Anne Kennedy, Silver Image Photography
Auckland University PressCopyright © 2012 Anne Kennedy
All rights reserved.
THE DARLING NORTH
I have now all New Zealand before me to caper about in; so I shall do as I like, and please myself. I shall keep to neither rule, rhyme, nor reason, but just write what comes uppermost to my recollection of the good old days. – F. E. Maning, Old New Zealand
A Land Court
I woke in the morning when the clock dusted its hands
after an untidy night-time. Lips fluttered
travel plans into my back. My ribcage reverberated
like a cello. He had land so I called him Maning.
We were going up north, the thing to do
down here in the hemisphere.
I'd never looked at landscapes, only heard them,
which was safer, the ear a sieve for
devastation. I liked hubbub, how our apartment
undid the city like a corkscrew. A globe
webbed with lat. and long. and the tracks of former lovers
quivered in one corner. Every so often Maning or I
gave the Tropic of Capricorn a flick, exposing
the soft underside of the other, and the South Seas.
It was a disused schoolhouse in the Hokianga, a hang-out.
I'd been nearby, remembered mudflats, flatness,
nothing much, soundtracks mostly.
I had a compass. I'd had a friend (she moved to England)
who said you should always sleep pointing due north.
It sounded feasible. Finding her waterbed too big to shift
she slept crosswise, fitfully, due to the uncomfortable overhang
of her ankles. Maning and I favoured a clock tower.
All through the night bells rang changes. Half-waking,
I felt them in my heart and in my lungs. In sunlight
I lay close to the coiled hairs on his legs, degrees
Celsius, a cast in my eye, and I lived there
small, below decks. I liked the hardness
of his thighs compared with my own. They were landowners,
his people, crops, sheep, but what I discovered was
if there were no women in the world
he would starve to death. That's how the line
would die out. He was an artist: ideas, paint.
I once toppled through a sliding door he'd just cracked
a nut in. It jumped off its hinges. We lay on the bed,
rolls of dust under it: a childhood
belief that was where souls went and where they'd
come from. Air-born. Some afternoons
I mopped there and shook out the dead souls
into the wind above the clock tower. Evenings
I worked in a cardboard room, rather crowded, finding
mistakes in the newspaper. It was jovial – the proofreaders'
jokes, their anecdotes, although night was day
and up down. When the phone rang a subeditor's voice
was drenched in sunshine. After midnight
I'd find Maning with his pen dipped in a pool of rainwater
turned black by the action of many nights upon it,
drawing figures, scarved friends who bopped their heads
to the blues, to vinyl, vodka, moonlight. It got later
despite the clocks, which ticked towards the shores
of the Hokianga, and the weekend.
The friends said oh you'll love the north,
and not just north, Far North. The tip. Maning agreed:
Everyone goes north. I had listened to northness,
a hiss, a crackle, a buckle of air.
Auckland howled. A clock gonged at night, and at dawn
a bulldozer sorted the chunks
of a dream. I'd bought the alarm clock
so I could wake up in the morning. Maning took it,
set it every night for an obscure hour. At 8.23 a.m.
I blinked at his inventiveness, the way his hand
extended from his sleeve. I'd run my fingers
over my face to be sure of it. When we got to the land,
the disused schoolhouse on the shores of the Hokianga,
I would mop its floors. The night before
he is moving inside my body when the telephone rings.
At first I think it's the clock tower.
It rings and rings. By thirty rings he has shrunk away,
gone naked to answer the greater urge.
I lie on the bed watching him, my body like strewn hay
(I imagine). He replies yes to a question and laughs
into the receiver. A love-nest is disturbed.
Back in bed he says his friend from France (from the long.)
flies in and out dans le weekend. We'll be up north,
he says, so I'll miss her. He'll miss her
in the Hokianga. No no, I say, we don't have to go.
Oh we do, he says. We don't. (The deliberations.)
Shall we go north? No. Shall we go north? No!
We would stay in the south.
Stretch of Hokianga
His name by some stretch of the imagination is Stretch
and he lives with his parents in a little house
on the southern reaches of the Hokianga.
In a hundred years there's been small change
in the land,
the silver-dollar harvest of the Moreton Bay figs,
in the movements of the family
apart from the sandspit spend by the sea, a brother dipped
over the hill, they are keeping everything
just as it was. But lately, to make ends meet,
Stretch has taken weekend tenants. Friday evenings
are hilarious with car horns.
An uncle owned it. It stood on his ripped-off bit
of the family plot, biggest house on the Hokianga Harbour,
eighteen rooms at low tide. Being a bachelor, childless,
as is the wont of uncles, he left
the house to Stretch, younger brother, because the elder
had gone marae. Married. There were so many.
It's two-storeyed, wide-pillared, veranda attended by
Norfolk pines, a cypress thinner and more brooding,
wine bottles crooked in its arms,
banana palms shredded like important documents.
From the road at night, the house lit up,
a hundred diners rattle their knives and forks
and shake their frilly sleeves. In the house it's just Stretch
operating a circular saw. Weeknights he renovates.
On Fridays he bumps home to his parents' bungalow
across the valley, leaves the tenants
lugging their coffee-maker, their water-purifier. The tide
is stirred as it changes. They're professional girls
in the book trade, perhaps jilted. Stretch watches
in the rearview mirror as they drape the veranda
with ragged wedding dresses.
Once he told the lessee, a nice woman called Barbara,
he would like to live in the eighteen-roomed house with his wife,
whom he has not had the good fortune to meet yet.
(He is tall of course.) There are no eligible women
in the district. They all go to Auckland. His eyes
reflect all the blueness in the sky leaving the Hokianga
to silver. Later lights sit
in the cypresses, ghosts stalk the halls. He doesn't like
to think. He knows his history,
the way the north pulled his forebears (the Fortunes)
south with the moon, and on a neap tide
they entered the mouth. Coughed up
diddly-squat (said Barbara
later) through the Land Court. Clutching a document
and a cattle station, they called it Oke Hanga,
built a veranda'd house in the vicinity of a church, a pa,
flour-mill, fish-canning factory, a sprinkling
of cottages and a schoolhouse
for their many children, little north in the south
but better, better. They'd been peasants
in the true north, in the lemon-coloured last night,
and now they were squires. (Maning by the way
thinks the treaty should be ratified. His family land sits
on the land.) I'd never lived with strangers
but after six months cohabitating with the ghost of a man
who had left taking everything with him apart from
his presence which still hung in the wardrobe,
lay folded in drawers and beside me at night
making me gasp,
I also packed up and departed, moved in with
two women in the book trade. Monday to Friday,
dressing-gowns, wings, on the way to the bathroom.
In the weekend I met them: Barbara, Issy,
told me they hawked advance copies in the south.
Nice to meet you, they said, let's go north. Remember
The Navigator, when the boy shuts his eyes in order to see?
I soon found myself on the shores of the Hokianga
on the edge of a weekend
in the house next door to the disused schoolhouse,
Maning's (my Maning), that we planned to stay in
but we never did. Now I go north with
Barbara and Issy because you go north.
In my black car I buzz the coast like an insect. I watch
the mudflats hold the tide, quivering, indecisive,
until finally as if going back
for its dove jacket, the water floods in ... and so,
putting on the most unconcerned countenance possible,
I prepared to make my entrée into Maori land
in a proper and dignified manner.
The Fortunes bred a family of twins, something in the gregarious
nature of their genes. Three died all at once,
one and a half sets, an accident at sea, they're buried over the hill.
It is perhaps for this reason – the finality of land,
the fickleness of people – that Stretch advertised in the Herald
for tenants rather than live in the house himself.
Nothing secure but the permanence of newspapers.
(In the warm room someone proofread
his ad for errors, perhaps me. There was deliberation
over reaches or beaches, northern or southern.)
It was a hot Christmas Day, the last of the hot Christmases
seemingly, because after that the floods came.
In the morning a man came to the door with a key for Barbara.
I answered. They'd come from Oke Hanga,
a car full of kids, scorched as fillet. We're a bit
hung-over, he said, it's your turn.
I took the key in the palm of my hand. It made an imprint,
the long way. The next day it rained. It rained
all summer long. We drove through the torrents, white
like washday. Barbara, Issy, their friends in the book trade,
and me, because I was love flotsam.
We went north because everyone went north.
It was Boxing Day and people flooded into the rooms,
lay in the shallow multitudinous beds
and ran up and down the stairs which were carpeted
in green tartan as if it were Balmoral.
I took them two at a time.
Outside it rained down on the slime kingdoms.
I had never looked at land or given landscape the time of day,
wanting nothing of this land or of this light,
of the unthreading of Auckland as its beads rolled
due north. Now that I hated him,
his inventiveness, his thighs, I could walk
in the warm north, inoculated, the chances infinitesimal
of ink-rash or dust attack, of an amoeba or old record
finding me. I could walk among northness,
touching it, its leaves, water, movement.
Like everyone, I would see north.
Barbara is the only one among us who has met the brother.
Once he came to the gate, gun slung over one arm,
peered at Stretch replacing boards on the veranda.
Barbara asked would your brother
like to come in for a cup of tea to which Stretch replied
no he would not.
His sleeve, or the prevailing wind from these sleeves,
one afternoon brushed his disastrous love life
onto the carpet where it made a dark stain. He was minding
a house in the crook of Waitemata, Auckland,
its owner home in England. At that moment
she looked down involuntarily at the footpath in Sloane Square.
He reached for an afternoon's drawings to mop up the mess,
on hand on a roll in the kitchen. When people visited
he ripped off volleys of naked women to lie in their laps
while they ate takeaways, to mark with the imprint
of lipstick before they left. This was the way he talked,
not me. I visited the house at low tide.
I could tell a flow of vanilla had been there by the objects
beached at the high-water mark,
his abandoned jandals, a sweetness, too much talk, nothing left
unsaid – well, I hid things sometimes.
He told me everything he knew only leaving out the things
he had chosen not to know. Paths go down
to the sea through the suburban bush. He'd learnt them off by heart
acquiring a knowledge of these parts like a London cabbie.
I followed. He raced ahead, retrieved his jandals from the edge
of the ink stain. I tried not to be drawn. The sugar works
on the bay hummed like a small orchestra. Bags billowing
with confection destined for England
were being loaded onto a barge and sent across the harbour
to the port of Auckland. Behind it
the business district, the courts, the hotels flickered like
The harbour stirred, edgy from being watched.
I said I was going to the Hokianga for the weekend.
My life without him sounded interesting.
I told him I'd been dating in his absence, met a man,
not true, but thought he was very nice,
talked about him the way a man talks about a woman:
great legs. Maning says
you think I have everything but in a way I have nothing.
Under no circumstances would I be drawn.
Later we kissed or ate
against the banister. That day I talked in
sentences no more than four inches long.
When he shows me the remains of the ink stain
I want to get down on my hands and knees and lick
the last dark translation from the carpet
because I love his disasters – earth, minerals, fluids,
I want the smudge on my tongue.
His mother, he says, and other admirers have suggested applying
fuller's earth, vanilla essence, milk, to the stain.
Knowledge. At that point I flee home to my beloved
grief. The owner of the house will return from England
to find the piles of her house matted
from where he has been at them with a wire brush.
He will clear away all trace of what was there before
but not without drawing me in. What I realise,
as my black car copperplates over the bridge, is
love makes the land appear and disappear.
Evidence from the Veranda
In the end there is nowhere to go but back to the Hokianga.
It is summer but it rains every day. Friday evening
the party walks out in gumboots to a lake a mile away
blown in half by the prevailing northerly pushing
its cover of pale green slime to one side. It appears suddenly
in the landscape like a neenish tart. We trail
along the beach in drizzle to meet the nearest neighbour,
a man from Auckland who apparently
inherited the schoolhouse, the disused schoolhouse.
I know it will be empty.
The hydrangeas are ludicrous. The criss-cross balustrade,
polite keep-out, invites me up
to the ochre veranda. It's sanded bare, beveled. The foreshore
is taking it back. My palms make
safety glasses. Little desks, row of hooks, dead fireplace.
Dust bunnies rush helter-skelter.
We hurry away before the incoming tide cuts off our access
which would force us to use the long looping road,
and nobody wants to. Across the sludgy inlet
the late sun is fizzy with rain. We stop at the marae
and talk to a man leaning on a toothy fortification. You fellas
down from Auckland? Yes yes, from Auckland,
but up. Up. He talks in waves about the district,
mounds, mouth, flat, forest. Or used to be.
He bats across the water at the schoolhouse. Shut up
shop during the Depression, sold into private title.
A Pakeha farmer won it one drunken night of cards, 1935.
Still in the family, seldom there.
Back at Oke Hanga someone builds a fire, open as in naked.
On the lawn, derelict playground equipment rocks
to and fro in the gathering storm as if enormous grey children
play on it, branches caught in their hair. Barbara
says the house was once converted into a children's home.
That's why there are so many
little rooms. (Stretch is gradually knocking down
the flimsy walls.) Barbara would like to write a monograph:
the house and environs, its history. History
of the north, its future,
the house restored, empty during the week save for Stretch and his
phantom wife, their bed blown about on wild nights
from room to room. In the weekends
they give it over to the party in the book trade,
their children and their children's children's books.
How nomadic they are! Read The Songlines, spend two weeks
out of three in motels in the upper North Island,
on Friday nights at Oke Hanga
thankfully climb the tartan stairs to bed. One weekend
everyone will drive up to the tip, the northern-most point
where the Pacific and the Tasman shake hands, goodbye,
and souls jump off because there is no more north.
I had a forebear, apparently, manned the lighthouse
up there. Did I say that? And his wife and children.
At Oke Hanga the porch is as big as an apartment I rented,
half with a lover, half alone, blown apart
like the lake. The dining table seats twenty for dinner, it's strewn
with advance copies of books, a stuffed Penguin,
the claws of the wind, the sky gleaming
down on it. In the small south
hours, the party is drawn like sand
to the bedrooms. My room is big – sky, sea, light,
pressed into a straw-coloured cube. Big bed, little else
apart from the coming and going of net curtains
leaving a tidemark on the carpet. One weekend when there is
nothing else to do we will all drive to Cape Reinga.
Also a colony of bees in the wall – low-pitched drone at night,
in the mornings their coffee-crystal hour-glass figures hovering.
Once I heard a man say this to his mate on the bus:
she's got an hour-glass figure
only all the sand's gone to one end. At dinner (the big table)
we were talking about trees and Ian said
without trees there would be no bestsellers.
Pinus contorta, which grows thickly in all directions,
is becoming a problem at the military camp in Waiouru.
The army, rather than chop down the trees,
used them for target practice. And every splinter
formed a new tree. Maning is in Auckland,
his schoolhouse dark, and I am as far north as possible
without jumping off
into the place where the two famous seas meet
and sign a treaty endlessly in blue and turquoise.
Excerpted from The Darling North by Anne Kennedy, Silver Image Photography. Copyright © 2012 Anne Kennedy. 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
Anne Kennedy teaches creative writing at the University of Hawaii–Manoa. She is the author of A Boy and His Uncle and Musica Ficta as well as the poetry collections Sing-Song and The Time of the Giants. She is also the recipient of the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Short Story Award and the ICI Award. She lives in Honolulu, Hawaii.
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