Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Gary Langford’s NZ cricket poems

I first came a cross Gary Langford’s name in the Arthur Baysting anthology, The Young New Zealand Poets (1973). He was one of the emerging young poets of the ’70s in New Zealand. He later moved from Christchurch to Australia working as an academic in writing programes at the University of Western Sydney. I kept track of his Australian-published work through the volumes I found in the Wellington City Library.
Recently, I’ve been re-reading his work. We have a number of his books in the Poetry Archive in Wellington, including his beautifully-produced first collection The Family. The Family (which includes old photos) as its title suggests looks at family members and includes mention of his grandfather, who was a cricketer in the poem ‘The Silver Brooch’:

A small house, stoking the furnace
on mornings when the room creaked
with frost, white lashes over
The macrocarpa hedge. Voices fluttered
In her skull, cold, sniffing.
He was apart, forgiven. She nagged,
he drank, she cooked stews and
dumplings, he became a life member
of the Working Men’s Club.
Pedalling home on their tenth
anniversary, he gave her a silver
brooch with MOTHER cut
into it in gold.
During the summer he’d sit under
the apple tree eating fish and chips
and thinking cricket scores,
the days when he played
for the province, then stumble
inside and collapse in bed,
dribbling on the pillow.
She slept badly, things got her down,
growing fat like a dumpling
as she fussed and clucked and cooked
and knitted. His heart gave up
clogged by whisky, not knowing
how to open the windows and cry for help.
No-one knew what she really thought,
dust to ash, ash to dust, Pop became
a good husband.

  Always bringing me
  something home--did
  you know he gave me
  this brooch?

Clever with his hands--
he made all the furniture--and
good at sport--he
played for the province.

In a later book of Gary's poetry, Jesus the Galilee Hitchhiker, there is an update on this poem relating to the death of his grandmother:

Grandmother's Funeral Service

She outlived most of her children, or did she,
guardian of the first door,
as though this in itself was an adventure?
Each generation locked dentures,
marching side by side without a dream,
love becoming an empty section,
houses like people falling down,
too spare to escort the vacuum to another room.
She received a telegram from the Queen,
scorer of a maiden test century,
calling out in the night
which blew and grew underneath her eyelids,
given out by the Umpire of death,
old lady before wicket,
ordered to the far away pavilion,
exactly a run to the day
he tried to order me out,
head hit by wicket,
it's so poor when people argue,
I'll be back, I always win,
no matter how many times you slip through my fingers.
She was clutching a silver brooch
with MOTHER cut into it in gold,
calling for a man given out years ago,
he was offered a drink, that was enough,
the finger went up, he went down,
glass in hand, drunk before wicket.
She was never a drinker, took longer to sink her.
When she walked she walked hand in hand,
thinking of a younger man, a forgotten name,
and she was a young woman,
held in the loving arms of long ago.

This year, Steele Roberts published a substantial new book of Langford’s called Rainwoman & Snake. Langford is no longer an academic and is currently what he terms a ‘pure’ writer living between Melbourne and Christchurch. He is also a New Zealand co-ordinator for the Poetry Archive sound recordings project in England. In the second part of his new book, Snake, is a cricket poem.
Snake works around the theme of snakes in our lives and Langford gives a colourful and humourous vision as to how he thinks the snake appears in various sports, including football, cricket and swimming:

Sporting snakes are renowned for cheating.
They seduce umpires and referees with style.
We play for the sheer money of the game.

In his cricket poem, the snake appears on the field in various guises as both ‘stump’ and ‘bat’, snakes, as Langford alludes, appear everywhere:



Bones are struck in the grin,
hanging on the umpire’s call,
out, pain before wicket.

There is no particular enjoyment of bruised joints.
Snakes dream of cracking us open,
sinewy stings under helmets and pads.

Balls change into a snake’s head,
aiming to hit us between the eyes.

Our defence is another snake,
wood carved into a hard shape.

These splinter when the snake yawns,
then hisses, lightning up your fingers.

We wonder why we play the game.
Snake is in our thoughts, licking long.

Stump = snake.
Each of us sighs
and waits to be in a kiss-hit.

When the time comes, you walk away,
back to the far pavilion,
unable to pick the final sting.

© Gary Langford 2011

Gary Langford’s new book, Rainwoman & Snake, is available from Steele Roberts Ltd, email info@steeleroberts.co.nz or visit their ordering information page: http://www.steeleroberts.co.nz/orderinfo.html

Article © Mark Pirie 2011

Post-script: Gary Langford writes: "Ginninderra Press, Adelaide, Australia, just did The Family Album this year too, which is my final sequence of my family poetry books: The Family (yes, Fragments Press did a beautiful job on that one), Four Ships and The Family Album which covers the period from those 2 books till now. Comic seriousness. Just as my novel Newlands was for my homeland, and why I wrote it. I have just written a sonnet called 'Percy's War' as I found my uncle's gravestone (he died when he came off a motorbike at 20, and is a chapter in Newlands) earlier this month. It was in a field and needed searching among the sheep who baa-ed at the idea of 'Percy's War' - not in our paddock, thank you. The Family Album is notable for using 3 of my paintings."

Thanks Gary, and for permission to reproduce the poems.

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