February 25, 2011

Earthquakes were something we grew up with in New Zealand as a matter of course. Earthquake drill: crawling under a desk, standing in a doorway where the building was reinforced. One of my best friend’s father was a distinguished geophysicist: we knew we were safe when he was around, as although he studied them, he never coincided with a bad quake. Writers who use earthquakes as a metaphor may never have felt one: the ominous prelude, the rumbling after-shock. I hated being upstairs during an earthquake, even in our flexible old wooden house. As things tilted, you felt a little intimation of mortality, of crushing loss.

This is by way of saying thank you to everyone who has so kindly enquired about my family and friends: those dear to me in Christchurch have been spared, for which I am profoundly grateful.

New Zealand-Scottish links are strong and not only personal, of course. As I write, there’s a conference at the South Island University of Otago at which Glasgow academic and poet Alan Riach is giving a paper on ‘Modern Scottish Poetry and Paintings: Arts of Resistance’. And at the SPL we are expecting a fresh consignment of New Zealand poetry books any day.

For the poetry of earthquakes, I’m turning back to a blog post that came out of Christchurch’s experience in September last year, which catches some of the terror and the slow unfolding of catastrophe. Our thoughts are with those bereft citizens of Christchurch and beyond.


Day 1

it mobs us
leaves us

we are aghast and naked in the doorway
clutching each other, where’s the dog?
we are flying for the children, calling
their names, we are the woman up to her neck
in it, scrabbling for a handhold, calling —
the child behind her on the path stay there
the one she’s rushing to collect stay there
we are the boy running to the grandfather, calling —
we are the family watching the capsizing house

stay               there

earth in our ears
earth in our eyes
earth in our hair

Mary McCallum

~ Robyn

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