Tag Archives: Kona Macphee poems

Congratulations to Kona Macphee: Perfect Blue wins the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize

   
    
 
 
Kona Macphee was born in London in 1969 but grew up in Australia, where she experimented with a range of occupations including composer, violinist, waitress and motorcycle mechanic.
 
Eventually she took up robotics and computer science, which brought her to Cambridge as a graduate student in 1995.
 
She now lives in Perthshire, where she works as a freelance writer and tutor, and moonlights as the co-director of a software and consultancy company.
 
Kona received an Eric Gregory Award in 1998. Her first collection, Tails, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2004, and her second collection, Perfect Blue, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2010. 
 
 
 
 

  
 
 
In Perfect Blue, Kona Macphee applies her versatile and polished technique to a characteristic diversity of themes – from the natural world to war and politics, from memories of childhood to bittersweet snapshots of everyday life, from wry asides to fantastical flights of narrative fantasy.
 
Her eclecticism is never more apparent than in the ‘Book of Diseases’ sequence, which launches from its simple premise into a delirious medley of forms and subjects.
 
The meticulously crafted lyrical poems of Perfect Blue reflect the growing power of a distinctively original, musical and compassionate voice that laments the transience and fragility of life while celebrating the joy of truly living it.
 
 
 
 
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The invention of the electric chair
 
All the slow purposes that make a tree
were in you once – to grow; to gauge
in every measured angle of your leaves
that moving target, light; to hold
through winter like an indrawn breath; to feel
the buzz of resurrection borne on spring.
 
As neutral wood suborns to dark intents
of blame, in icons hewn and nailed –
the scaffold and the catherine wheel,
the cross and gallows: symbols of
a skill that’s more than carpentry,
and deeply less than human – so, lost tree,
 
this timber rictus of your supple green
has made a foursquare chair. Now history
awaits in thrall the painted scene
that might beatify your sacrifice –
those drooping limbs surrendered to your arms;
that smoking moment held: a Pietà.
  
  
  
This poem was first published in New Welsh Review,
Issue 86, Winter 2009.
 
 
 
 
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Newsbites
 
These conflicts always stem from faith or race.
(Subtitle: Leading Academic’s views.)
[Now cut to close-up; linger on ravaged face.]
 
There’s fear the growing violence might displace
the farmers, with their yearly crop to lose.
These conflicts always stem from faith or race.
 
Another bombing struck the marketplace
this morning, near the long employment queues.
[Now cut to close-up; linger on ravaged face.]
 
The children here have vanished without trace.
[Slow pan across a blood-stained pile of shoes.]
These conflicts always stem from faith or race.
 
The overflowing camps have no more space
for victims trickling back in ones and twos.
[Now cut to close-up; linger on ravaged face.]
 
The ceasefire holds, but nothing can erase
the painful memories. More in tomorrow’s news.
These conflicts always stem from faith or race.
[Now cut to close-up; linger on ravaged face.]
 
 
 
This poem was first published in Magma, Issue 43, 2009.
 
 
 
 
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Pheasant and astronomers
 
For GTR
 
 
Burnished, finicky, picking his headbob way
across the asphalt path, into the leafy scrub
behind the twelve-pane window of our office,
 
we can’t not watch his colours in the sunlight.
Our measures and projections fall aside
as coarsest calculus to his most perfect curve;
 
so we observe.
                         Can such a day-star brave
the midnight sky whose glaring spectral eyes
seethe down the invert shrinkage of a telescope,
 
or does he sleep all clouded in the hedgerows’
straight-line rays of green restraint to roads
that sling his slow kin cockeyed in the gutter?
 
On foot and unconcerned, he patters out of view,
out of our world again; the sunlit room
falls just a lumen dimmer with his passing.
 
 
 
This poem also appears in the Identity Parade anthology
from Bloodaxe Books.
 
 
 
 
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Marchmont Road
 
Above the tarmacked voids that breach
the ranks of tenements, a reach
 
of sky to which the day has lent
a calibrated gradient
 
of northern blue. Along the road
the pelt of antlike cars is slowed:
 
a hearse in mirror-faultless gloss
precedes its cavalcade of loss,
 
and while this dark skein passes, I
cast out for where its gist might lie …
 
Stop it. No moment must encore
itself in some pert metaphor.
 
Suspend that distanced commentary.
Take a deep breath. Now be here. Be.
 
 
 
This poem was first published in Northwords Now,
Issue 13, December 2009.
  
 
 
 
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Order Perfect Blue here or here.
 
Visit Kona’s website.
 
Visit Kona’s blog, that elusive clarity.
 
 
 
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Kona Macphee: Five Poems

  
 
 
Born in London in 1969, Kona Macphee grew up in Australia. She flirted with a range of occupations including composer, violinist, waitress and motorcycle mechanic. She took up robotics and computer science, which brought her to Cambridge as a graduate student in 1995.
 
She now lives in beautiful Perthshire, where she works as a freelance writer and moonlights as the co-director of a software and consultancy company. She has been writing poems since 1997, and received an Eric Gregory Award in 1998. Her first collection, Tails, was published by Bloodaxe in 2004. Her second book of poems, Perfect Blue (Bloodaxe, 2010) is now available. Visit Perfect Blue’s Bloodaxe page, Perfect Blue’s dedicated website, Kona’s professional website and her personal website (which includes her Poem of the Week).
 
 
 
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Prodigal
 
Would you leave it, then, leave it all behind,
take nothing but an apple and the open road
and what you’re standing up in (even a change
of clothes, of shoes, being too much freight
for the liberation of this light new way)?
Would you wrack, in going, your old life’s webwork,
feeling the snap as each drawn strand
reaches some secret limit and lets go?
 
Would you know, in the early weeks and miles,
some heady freedom, going your way
on a whim or a coin-toss, scrabbling your meals
light-fingered or by luck or miracle,
making your bed where the nightfall finds you,
waking with the sun and without fixed plans,
shedding fears, eschewing mirrors,
seeing it all for the very first time?
 
Would you go on, drunk on brief acquaintance
and the endless vanishings of the horizon,
stoned by the roll of day to night to day,
until you sense that finer net
cast in the wake of every other face –
a loop of feedback amping touch to slap
and speech to shouting, love to prison,
liking to demand – and think you comprehend?
 
Would you shun all ties in some bleak fastness,
slip last bonds of custom with your shoes,
your coins, your name, only to find
a screen impeding: your mind drawn round
like a curtain, one day tautly thrummed
with the buzz of struck drumskin, one day slack
as the wattled folds of an old throat,
but always a veil between you and what’s real?
 
Would you learn, at last, that any heart
will shred to tatters when what hauls it on
is some crazed engine hulking in the dark
of what it can’t unlearn and can’t outrun?
Would you ask yourself what’s real?, look down
and stare at the empty, dirty palms
of the hands upturned in a mocking question,
the feet that bore you nowhere, here?
 
 
This poem was a commission for the “Impossible Journeys” exhibition for Edinburgh’s Hidden Door 2 festival. It was subsequently recorded as a filmpoem by Alastair Cook, with an original score by Rebecca Rowe, and now available for online viewing.
 
 
 
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Mary Porter’s questions
 
If I spread my fortunes like a deck of cards
across the marked baize of a table,
what chance will be foretold? Into the yard
  
our gentlemen don’t go – and yet, what evidence
might Bertha find today, concealed
behind the wash-house, lapping at the fence?
  
Why does the weary drape of counterpanes
across the drying-ropes still bring to mind
that one night at the theatre? Jane,
  
when Mother spoke of wickedness, of shame,
why did she never mention this? – the way
the mended roof of sinners shrugs the rain?
  
   
This poem first appeared in Ambit magazine. 
 
 
 
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Inland
 
There’s a river, but here’s a long haul
uphill from its pebbly burble. A cold spring
threads the stepped streets, over, under,
pooling in a neighbour’s garden, lipping,
spilling back into a pipe. When gutters fill
with storm-wash, skimming cars cast ankle-waves
at walls that harbour sodden gardens.
Daily in the square, gulls shark
and bicker round the carrion of lunch
while lorries moor at High Street shops
and crewmen ferry wares. The stopping edge
of town is thin and final as a strand;
beyond it, pylons float, tied buoys becalmed in seas
of barley, haygrass, sheep-cropped choppy stubble.
At nightfall, every full-moon streetlight
dons its yellow glare; there are no tides.
 
 
This poem first appeared in New Writing Scotland.
 
 
 
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An announcement
 
The dropping bomb was real, the blastwave
merely hypothetical, until it took
its coarse-grained quota of collateral:
his father’s wounded scowl, his mother’s look
 
of willed incomprehension, while, behind their eyes,
the partisans fell back to teenage rooms
they’d fantasied, those wardrobe mirrors tiled
by Miss July, her lush barrage-balloons;
 
and here’s the aftershock: he’s quivering;
that unexpected recoil’s ripped him wide.
Oh come on now, his sister fires, across
the grey roast beef. It’s not like someone died.
 
 
This poem first appeared in Poetry London magazine.
 
 
 
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A postcard

StAnza Poetry Festival 2010

 
Rough winds hoarsen
all the night,
then morning’s aftermath:
 
a roof-slate, slipped
from tight-lapped ranks,
lies dashed and scattered;
 
tall bins, wind-felled,
loll square tongues
across the gutter.
 
Visitor, you thrust
and vanish. We abide,
fragmented and agape.
 
 
 
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