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BooksApril 7, 2017

The Friday Poems, by Jeffrey Paparoa Holman: part 5 of our week-long series on Greymouth writer Peter Hooper

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To conclude our week-long series on Greymouth writer Peter Hooper: two poems by his former student Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, from his new collection of verse, Blood Ties.

 

Poem for John Pule: the last days of Peter Hooper

 

Stoned on Waiheke

on Pule’s grass

that was a surprise:

 

“Well, yes and no, Jeff, because you know

I’d long seen iridescence everywhere:

in the rain on people’s souls

and the shine on rusty tracks

where coal trains thundered.

 

When I lived for a while up the Grey Valley

in the night you would hear them above the rush

of the river, hauling all those miners’ dreams

to warm the city.

 

It wasn’t that I needed to be stoned.”

 

Fêted by the Auckland crowd

who thought you must

be dead by now:

 

“That’s true, it was a complete surprise

when I went there and came right out.

People who’d read the novels back in school

came up and hugged me.

It was like they’d seen a long lost father

return from foreign wars. Yes, indeed –

I was Ulysses, for a moment, at the last.

 

I have John to thank for so much, you know.

Art and artists kept me sane.”

 

Back in the bush

and soon to die

there on your own:

 

“I admit it must seem a lonely death

but I came prepared. I had shared the feasts

of love and grief, there was no more left

and my bowl was full.

 

I’d been reading Po Chu-I again

that day and as I closed

the book, still breathing, everything

 

seemed right and good: sunset

soon, a rising moon.”                   

 

We cross live to the Bonzai Pizzeria in Greymouth for the book launch of Blood Ties by poet Jeffrey Paparoa Holman.

Re-reading you (Peter Hooper, 1919–1991)

 

I traveled back to the Coast

from London, for an Easter

school reunion, tracked your

grave to Karoro, but the sexton

said you weren’t in the book.

 

Moving south to Hokitika on

the Ōkārito road, passing flax

arrows, lichen-bloodied wooden

bridges, I found you’d never

been laid in an orderly plot.

 

Typical bloody writer: had to wring

maximum suspense from the least

promising material. A four year old

corpse long burned to ashes, so

tenderly – with no traces – scattered.

 

That Hokitika gravedigger read the face

on my Dylan Brixton ’95 T-shirt, snorting,

“Seen him at Western Springs in ’78:

he was bloody crap!” His ice cream dribbled.

“Ever heard Jimmy Barnes and Chisel?”

 

I left him to his Snowflake and his bones.

I found a copy of your Selected Poems

in Smith’s Bookshop, Manchester Street,

Christchurch – snapped up for $4.50 – and

three lovelorn copies of Strange Children.

 

Read your poem on Eliot’s death in ’65

and one with you homesick in London.

Then the torture chambers of Huia Villa:

a mother, your mother, marooned on a

blank antiseptic island of chlorpromazine.

 

I found no trace of your vital signs.

I stopped the car at Poerua.

Your image stained the lake.

Your signature dripped in the bush.

 

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman at the Hooper family memorial (Peter Hooper is Hedley Colwill), Karoro Cemetery Greymouth, erected by Peter’s sister Jennifer for her parents and her brothers | John Pule reading from Peter’s book, Earth Marriage, near to where Peter Hooper lived and died in Rutherglen, Paroa.

Blood Ties: New and Selected Poems 1963-2016 by Jeffrey Paparoa Holman (Canterbury University Press, $25) is available at Unity Books.

The Spinoff Review of Books is proudly brought to you by Unity Books, recently named 2020 International Book Store of the Year, London Book Fair, and Creative New Zealand. Visit Unity Books Wellington or Unity Books Auckland online stores today. 

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