Friday, November 19, 2010

Gregory O’Brien’s NZ cricket poem

When I published A Tingling Catch, I knew I wouldn't find every cricket poem written in New Zealand. Here’s a great one that got away.
Gregory O’Brien told me he once wrote a cricket related poem-letter to a friend Nicholas Jones while taking his son Jack-Marcel Haddow to the Basin Reserve. It was first collected in O'Brien's 7 Letters (Animated Figure, 1997 [a limited edition of 36 copies]) and later anthologised by Andrew Johnston and Robyn Marsack in Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets (VUP, 2009).
O’Brien comments:

‘Whole forgotten days' is an informal letter-poem, the manner of which owes a lot to Baxter’s poems from his late Jerusalem period. In the early 1980s I spent a year or two in Sydney, where I started avidly reading the Australian poets Laurie Duggan and Ken Bolton...This poem is part of an ongoing correspondence with those exemplary figures (TCNZP, p. 118).

The poem appeals to me as cricket is often the backdrop for the poem and at the same time, the metaphors of cricket are behind the life-actions of the people in the poem. The humorous portrait of ‘a day at the Basin’ is expertly painted. The poem shows in profound ways how cricket affects people’s daily lives:


Whole forgotten days
A letter to Nicholas Jones concerning a day spent with Jack-Marcel
Haddow and Anand Gaskin at the Basin Reserve

A fine day for the cricket. Which means for everyone
apart from the poor fool who has to fetch these balls,
which probably means
     me. The fanaticism of children is what amuses

then frightens me. After all we're only watered down
versions of them, perched on the edge of the
non-members stand between two beer cans, reading a book

about the Australian painter Brett Whiteley, about whom
I am, like my two accomplices, m two minds. Or, more
appropriately, a
grandstand of minds. (Apart from 'The Cricket Match' -1964 –
           which is a great painting.)

The trouble surrounding yourself with small children
is you find yourself
   in the First Eleven
without even knowing the rules, then spend your summer

there. As well as bowling the best balls
children spin the best lines ... Jack-Marcel last month
orienteering in the wilderness at Port Waikato

'miles from the nearest adult' -
       some of the children got so lost they actually found themselves
in suburbs. The thing about getting lost, he says, is
what you discover ... The year ends, children walk past

the front wall of our property, grabbing the flaking paint
then continuing down the road, peeling strips
     the length of the wall, like streamers,
ribbons, while we lie a few feet away on our well-tended lawn,

talking with our neighbours who were once 'reliably' informed
           a layer of old carpet was just the thing
to enrich their garden soil, only to discover
           later it had to be
wool carpet. For years now they have been unearthing nylon

from their garden, along with patches
     of lino. Another year, another ill-founded theory.
Heroic moths of the mind! I had every reason to exclaim, the day
a moth flew into my ear drum, went crashing around

the left hemisphere of my brain (the same morning
there was a sparrow inside the house,
   beating against the front window)
and later the doctor's predictable remark, 'we could just sit here

and wait for it to fly out the other ear', before finally
floating the intruder out on a tide of
warm wax. A time of marvels - Jack-Marcel present at the birth of his
sister: 'the amazing thing, you know, was

it was so
realistic’. The best lines, as someone else said, are ours
on loan. Or ours alone? My nieces are back home
in Rarotonga, clinging to an atoll, enjoying the weather,

the odd, distant explosion. They do not write
                 but send teeshirts.
In Zimbabwe, according to Jack-Marcel, you're more likely
to be hit by lightning
    than die in a road accident. Which makes
cricket a hazardous sport, and brings us back around

to the Basin Reserve like a Mexican Cheer circling the ground
followed by carloads of hoodlums. Then queuing outside the
Baxter's Caravan for a filled roll, half expecting James K. to

hand it over. A role he could fill,
                   you would have laughed -
like my mother who, every time a rubbish truck drove past
would say, 'Greg, that's the kind of job you could do.'

Late afternoon, a shadow
crosses the lawn: the crowd on the embankment
standing. Then, Just as suddenly, it is earlier in the day
again. Between the last ball of the over and
the end of the over. The moth that flew into my ear last

week, the experts inform me, I should have seen it coming,
          should have fielded
that one. And even if Chris Cairns says cricket is his religion,
you'd like to think it meant more to him

than that. The day ends, but the questions remain
like what was the score and
      who were we
During the break, I follow the two boys across

the in-field for signatures, mob someone I have never heard of
as clouds shuffle about on the grandstand roof and
the play of rain on the pitch
    ends play.

December 1995

Poem © Gregory O’Brien

(from Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets, selected by Andrew Johnston and Robyn Marsack, VUP: Wellington 2009)
TCNZP = Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets

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