Elizabeth Smither (1941– ) poet, novelist and short story writer, was born in New Plymouth. From 1975 onwards, she has published twelve collections of poems. Literary and legendary figures often provide starting points for poems, a number of which are also characterised by a strong interest in Catholicism. In addition to more perennial subjects, her poetry, though never merely self-referential, celebrates the slipperiness and paradoxical nature of language. She has remarked that the poets she most admires are ‘tough’, citing as examples Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, e. e. cummings, Elizabeth Bishop, William Empson and John Berryman: “They don’t pull any punches; they’re like Humphrey Bogart. You have to use all your senses to crack them open.” The Lark Quartet won the Poetry category of the 2000 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. Elizabeth Smither was the 2002 New Zealand Poet Laureate.
Simone de Beauvoir’s Warning
Kevin Roberts strides into the Adidas store
meets a fired-up assistant, spends
US$600 and bounces down Wooster Street.
I buy one pair and want to pump
submachine bullets into a Coke machine.
The holy wars of Pepsi and Coke
or wearing – I’m the victim – the name
of the Grand Inquisitor over my heart
like a sulphur tabard and paying for
the privilege. Simone de Beauvoir wrote
of the desirable purchase and its props
then, unwrapping it to find, deceased
all the ambience of Printemps: the mannequin,
the lighting, the fake cloth autumn leaves
and the crowds that gazed at it. And I –
quelle chance – am privileged to buy it. The
wrapping by the assistant kept up the pretence.
I see her still, all scented obedience
as she bends over fine layers of tissue
ties a ribbon to hook around my finger.
The cynosure of all eyes I leave the store
carrying a chalice: Hermes, Lacoste, Dior
only to get it home and find it’s fled.
Just another coat hanger, un autre jour.
I need to shop again to recover it.
An endless Visa charging of Oh la las
until the cemetery. One brand, my name
upon a stone and the dates I was alive to shop.
A dear friend dies and on her blog
beside her name her last breath appears
and stuns. All time until then stretched
in my memory of her. There would be
no more emails, sent or received, winged
birds to feed or not. Now 2005
in bold black figures completes
all the poems she was writing. They’ll find
others but they’ll be preserves. Write up
from notes those half-articulated hopes
complete the novel’s last sketched chapters.
All brands in the cemetery stones have died
and only love, false or true, remains.
No one here mentions dislike or crime
indebtedness or drinking bouts. All
evened out in this great leveling
where coins once closed eyes. That use
is gone and every trinket dashed by weather:
the beer bottle, the Barbie doll, the tiny teddy
under a glass dome, suffocating Let me out.
Sometimes an old sneaker, its stitching
coming loose, its brand, a Zorro Z, faint
as an operation scar. Requiescat
has no brand in it, unless it’s Ratzinger.
From the little rising hill behind
camellias offer their blossoms like rosettes