Poems are listed here
in the order in which they appear
in the printed book.
Creation, considered as an act of violence. Mud was not necessarily delighted at being awakened into flesh. Existence did not necessarily rejoice in itself.
In the Garden of Eden there is, quit apart from any other consideration, no high-speed Internet connection. The serpent knows the script, but Adam, who hasn't seen the script, improvises.
A glimpse of the mythos, of a creature whose experience includes the galactic environment of the sun.
THE KRAKEN WAKES
And, waking, announces civilization, and what follows from civilization, chiefly war.
MEN WITHOUT AMNESTY
A poem about torture. Humanity at play!
Everyday life, beginning with waking up in the morning and with domestic routines. No thought, here, of what might lie over the horizon. We are now firmly in the realm of the quotidian. Which is immensely preferable to being dead.
The demostic morning continues.
SOMEWHERE FAR FROM THE SEA
And off to school, in the writer's case a commute through rural New Zealand of about thirty minutes each way.
At school, the delights of science, including cutting up dead animals.
Also, at school, microscopes and the discovery of crystals. This is a poem from my long-ago, very mcuh a poem written by a high school student, a poem written by an adolescent: I don't think I would be capable of having such an emotional reaction now.
As the title indicates, a poem about fishing. Very simple, very direct. No tricks. Just going out fishing.
At a certain point in life, I entirely lost the appetite for fishing, though I am still perfectly happy to buy them dead at the supermarket. This extremely short poem perhaps marks the moment of transition.
A poem about the natural world in the form of the surf.
Another poem about the natural world. Water, falling. Energy in motion.
Camping by the river and waking in the morning.
The wider world goes by, on motorbikes.
DREAMS OF LOTHLORIEN
Out in the real world, and feverish with influenza. That prolonged hallucination known as "real life" has definitely begun. April, in the city of Auckland, down in the southern hemisphere, is autumn, with the oak trees, of which there are quite a few in the hear of the city, particularly in the old cemetery in the vicinity of Grafton Bridge, shedding their leaves. Lothlorien, for those who have not read Tolkien, is a forest which is a happier place for the spirit than any place found on planet Earth. The reference to the Globe chambers is to a building which caught fire and which was burning up as I was lying in my sick bed burning up with fever.
GRAFTON IN SPRING
And this poem is about being alive, very much alive, in the spring, and not just in the spring of planet Earth but in the springtime of my youth.
RETURN TO THE CITY
And this poem, I guess, is just scratching at the surface of a large theme which I never grappled with because I never realized, except in retrospect, that it existed. The theme? The business of integrating yourself into society, of becoming part of the whole rather than a single atom in isolation in the universe. There's a poetry of marginalisation that I could have written had I realized that the theme was there to be written about, but I didn't. And the moment for writing that has passed. I have my family. I have built my own world within the larger world. These words are offered to explain why this very slight poem still speaks to me, across many years, though it may not be obvious to others why it does.
TOWARD TEN O'CLOCK
The city, late at night. Pubs closing, people going home. Late? Well, heading toward ten at night, and, yes, back in the quieter world we used to live in, that used to seem late. This poem, then, is a souvenir of an earlier age. These days, the city has a night life which never seems to close.
WAKING FOR THE WATCHGUARD
Living alone, dreams become more important than they would otherwise. Who or what is the watchguard? Construct your own thesis, if you need one. But the poem doesn't. There is no inner message. The poem is its own surfaces: the night, the stairs going down, the cat perceived in the darkness. Living in the skin of reality. A "Dis world" we can take as being a kind of limbo, a place of disembodied spirits, a nowhere place, a place of the dead.
An insomnia poem. As I edit this poem, written many years ago, it's 0134 in the morning, and I'm the only person awake in the house. Judging from the silence of the night, I'm the only person awake in the neighborhood.
SLEEPING NAKED ALONE
Sleeping, all of us are naked to our dreams. "Skinship" is a term invented in Japan, and means to communicate socially by skin-to-skin touch, typically in the context of the family. (Outside the family, Japan is pretty much a zero-touch society.)
And yet one more poem about the difficulties of getting a good night's sleep. With a little more effort, I could have made serious progress in the direction of becoming the acknowledged masterbard of insomnia. But how many poems on sleeplessness does our civilization really need? A note on "Tellos": this word is just one more name for the planet we happen to be living on.
And here, again, is a poem which is, if only in the title, scraping the outer surface of the theme of marginalisation, of alienation.
THE FACE FEARFUL
An imagined exile from sanity, hypochondria being conceived of as the lever engineering this exile.
And here is a poem which is definitely about social dislocation, though the experience it deals with is not my own.
Moving even further from the personal, a poem about an insect, the ultimately alienated alien, meeting its death in agony, ignored by the wider world, which is oblivious to its existence.
Contemplating the death agonies of an insect is not going to do much to advance the cause of civilization, and neither is writing a poem about snails. Nevertheless, here it is.
At a time when there was nothing about levitational hedgehogs on my website, it mysteriously took a hit for someone searching, for what reason I cannot begin to imagine, for exactly that. Since there was plainly an unmet need, somewhere on planet Earth, for material relating to "levitational hedgehogs", I set myself the task of meeting this unmet need. This poem is the result. To the standard forms of poetic inspiration we may now add a new one: logfile analysis.
In my ideology of poetry, there are no excluded themes, and, while there are themes I have not touched on yet, that doesn't mean that they're necessarily off limits. This poem is a little out of sequence, and was written fairly late in my life. The inspiration for this particular poem was the spectacle (seen globally, and unforgettably) of the American military at play in Iraq, digital cameras shamelessly in hand, recording the details of their indulgences. Obviously the situation deserves a sterner response than this lightweight exercise in levity, but I'll leave the business of sterner chastising to those with sterner tastes.
And similarly unconcerned about what's going on in the world is this poem about spam. But once our brains are all wired together to make one big interconnected megacomputer, then this spam stuff is going to start to become a real problem.
And the theme of alienation, of marginalisation, of being pushed to the fringes of society, it's back. Though, writing this poem, I did not realize it. I thought of the poem as a one-off piece, and did not see it as part of a larger whole.
PETITION FOR A FLAT EARTH
Having written this, I wasn't sure how to read it, and that lack of certainty persisted for many years. One possible reading would be to see it as a person who is being remorselessly bulldozed out of their familiar reality trying to fight back, to hold on to what it left of the known in the face of the threat of the new, as exemplified by this weird notion that the Earth is round.
COMING INTO HARBOUR
And here is the first poem I wrote about the death of a living person, my maternal grandfather, a seafaring man who had a hard life but who succeeded in making his way in a difficult world. Who had two ships sink under him during the Second World War (he couldn't swim) and who was on a ship carrying ammunition at the D-Day invasion of Europe toward the end of that war. He lived a good age. When I think about it, this is the first poem I ever wrote which flows out of being a member of a family.
An example of a poem in a rather slender genre: poetry written about oil refineries. For some reason, the industrial processes which underpin our global society have, as a rule, failed to receive their poetic due. Even this poem, as the title would suggest, it more about memory than about the oil refinery.
The context of this poem is a peacetime medical aid mission to the Third World with a military unit.
A kind of mnemonic device for remembering the principles of camouflage.
Meditation on the firing range. The zen of weapons. Despite many hours spent in meditation, I never, unfortunately, achieved enlightenment.
THIS IS A PISTOL
Training for war in a society where war is a living memory. In New Zealand, the major museum in the city of Auckland is a memorial to war. Note that the references to "the sea" and "gulls" in the two shooting poems are because the setting is the shooting ranges on the seaward slopes of the northern end of the Whangaparaoa Peninsular, north of Auckland. The military base which once featured these shooting ranges no longer exists: suburbia has swallowed it.
THE DRAFTING OF ODYSSEUS
To kick off a sequence of poems on the theme of war, a poem about a draft resister.
THE DEATH OF PATROCLUS
Death in battle of one of the Argives, the Argives being the people we refer to as "Greeks" when speak of the Trojan War as being a war between "Greeks" and Trojans. When the Argive hero Achilles refused to fight, Patroclus begged the arms and armour of Achilles, and, thus equipped, went forth to battle and was killed on the plain of Troy by the Trojan hero Hector. Who also, in the fullness of time, proved mortal.
THE DEATH OF ACHILLES
Death in battle. Death demands death, and Achilles, in vengeance for the death of Patroclus, accomplished the death of Hector. And then himself, in the fullness of time, met his own death on the field of battle.
WOUNDED, NOT YET DEAD
Lying wounded on the battlefield at the mercy of rapacious carrion-eating birds which will not necessarily wait until you are dead. You would prefer to read of heroes helmed with bronze and shining with immortal glory? Well, wouldn't we all?
The aftermath of war.
ODYSSEUS ON DELOS
The warrior, having fought and killed, goes through a ceremony of cleansing.
THE DEATH OF NESTOR
Death of a war veteran. And once, out of the blue, I got an e-mail from a kid somewhere in Austrlia, doing homework, and he needed to know, who was Nestor? The kid's mum thought maybe he was a seafaring man. Well, good try, mum. A very reasonable supposition. But, for the record, Nestor was a king, the King of Pylos and Chloris, and his kingdom was in the part of the world we now call Greece, and he was one of those who fought at Troy in the company of Patroclus, Odysseus and Achilles. Some people take these characters to be purely mythological, and that will be our fate, too, when a sufficient number of years have passed: to be reduced to disbelieved mythology, us and our demented world of enitrely unnecessary wars.
A poem written during the days of the Cold War, the context being the always-anticipated threat of nuclear annihilation.
A final reaction, many years on, to a visit to the city of Nagasaki during the days when the Berlin Wall was falling, when the long nightmare of nuclear termination which we had all lived with for so long was, perhaps, coming to an end. As much as anything, this poem is a response to my reading of the standard Western reaction to the bombing of Nagasaki, which I read as bieng, if anything, congratulatory, the destruction of the city seen as the extermination of a nest of inconvenient insects. And if this is not so, if I misread this reaction, then why are we still in the age of thermonuclear enthusiasms, bunker busters sitting in the warehouses and some of the guys at the top all too openly enthusiastic about the possibility of using them? Humanity written large gets reduced to a bucketful of zeros, and this poem is my judgement on my culture's reaction to the incineration of that bucket. Yes, I pass judgment, and what qualifies me to do so is that I happen to live on this planet, and, when it comes to passing judgment, that is all the ground I need to stand on. The poem refers to a cathedral because Nagasaki was, to an extent, a Christian city, and the atomic bomb museum at Nagasaki includes relics from that cathedral, which, presumably, was like the cathedrals that I have seen in other places where Christianity has taken root, such as Chartres in France and Hanoi in Vietnam.
A "war is sexy" poem about enthusiasm for war, the grotesque enthusiasm of those who, when given the chance, meticulously evaded their own military obligations. In this case, the poet is most definitely committed to the poem.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A WAR
The population of Japan is well in excess of one hundred million people (there were about 127 million people in Japan at the time at which this poem was written) and it may reasonably be surmised that each and every Japanese person has written at least one cherry blossom poem in his or her lifetime. Well over a hundred million cherry blossom poems having been written in the days of living memory, does the world really need yet one more? Well, need it or not, here it is. A cherry blossom poem, complete with appropriate cherry blossom sentiments about the fragility of life and the transience of mortal existence.
MOZART THE FISH
And my wife is pregnant with our child, gender as yet unknown. Genesis redux.
BIRTH ON PLANET GRAVITY
A very hard birth on Planet Gravity. Still, both mother and child survived. Just. (Line the hospital staff up against a wall and shoot them, that's what I'd like to do, but the poem does not go into this aspect of the situation.)
Milk is made from blood.
I believe that death is dissolution. And that, in all probability, I am facing my death.
Most definitely facing my death.
AFTER I WAS DIAGNOSED
After I was diagnosed, I exited normative reality. It was not, all said and done, a fun trip. But I brought back this poem as a souvenir.
TWELVE HOURS DISTANT
And so what, in the final analysis, is important to me? A poem about my hopes for the future of we who are three: me, my wife and my daughter. Who is no longer a baby but a little girl.
Surviving, at least for the moment. In a collection featuring a number of poems about alienation and marginalisation, a poem about being reintegrated with life and the world.
ARC OF LIGHT
In closing, a poem about survivorhood. And, right here, at this point, let me add my closing words: win or lose, live or die, I leave to the world my book.
This ARC OF LIGHT collection is introduced by the author, who has some words to say about poetry at high school, and about the reason why these poems were selected for this collection, and about his hopes for a readership.
A bibliography for the ARC OF LIGHT collection, stating when and where each of the poems was orignally published. Dates of publication range from 1975 to 2005. This collection, then, spans a little more than thirty years of the poet's life, from 1975 through to 2005.
All materials on this website can be read for free online. However, note that the website contents are copyright © 1973-2006 Hugh Cook - all rights reserved. For permission to use any of the material on this website