Poems, Imitations & Translations



[Coptic Papyri]


  1. Papyri: Love-poems & fragments
    from Sappho & elsewhere

  2. Ovid in Otherworld (2006)

  3. The Puppet Oresteia (2008)

  4. The Britney Suite (2003)

  5. 31 Days (2009)

  6. Case Studies (2001)

  7. Flying Blind (2009)

  8. Theme & Variations (2010)

  9. Celanie: Poems & Drawings after Paul Celan (2010-12)

  10. Melbourne Notebook (2011-12)

  11. A Clearer View of the Hinterland (2014)

  12. Poetry Specials (2008-2018)

  13. Collage Poems (1997-2005)

  14. Can Poetry Save the Earth? (2018)

  15. Fernando Pessoa (2000)

[Bruegel the Elder: The Tower of Babel (1525)]

Fernando Pessoa (2000)

Fernando Pessoa

A Photograph of the Poet

There’s a girl
behind Pessoa. Hurrying over
the paving stones, she
turns her head. I wonder

what happened? No doubt
she was off to market
for a few bits of fish, not knowing
she’d be snapped. She’ll be dead

now. Maybe not. She’ll have
grandchildren, never have cared about poetry
and won’t suspect she’s been found
out. I doubt Pessoa saw her

coming, no friend to the looming
woman on the poet’s left –
and as for the thoughtful man
further back …

Where did the girl end up
that morning? Perhaps a car
idling around the corner
knocked her

down. It worries me, this
image from sixty years ago,
a tricked-out self
in a Portuguese town. What’s the good

of being here?

There’s a curious history behind this poem (just as there no doubt is for the girl behind Pessoa in the photograph above). The Spanish original, “Fotografía de poeta,” by Argentinian writer Jorge Accamé was originally shown to me by a friend of his, Gwenyth Perry, who’d asked him specifically for a poem for me to translate.

David Howard (2015)

I found the original a little difficult to get into, and so enlisted the help of another poetic (albeit Spanish-less) friend, David Howard. David and I came up with the version above, which I duly included (with the original en face) in the poetry magazine I was editing at the time.

Spin 36 (2000)

Shortly afterwards I received a letter from a High School Spanish teacher, chiding me for my inaccuracies, and including a complete literal version of the poem to help me correct them.

Spin 36 (2000): 6-7.

I was, of course, quite aware of the liberties we’d taken – working as a duo seemed to embolden us to take ever greater licence in recasting Accamé’s original – but it still seemed a bit ridiculous to think that an English poem should be judged solely in terms of the accuracy of its reflection of the original. Who knows, though? Maybe she was right.

David Howard & Fiona Pardington: How To Occupy Our Selves (Wellington: HeadworX, 2003): 39.

David must have thought otherwise. The next thing I heard, he’d written some additional sections, and wanted to include the whole piece in his latest book of poems, called How to Occupy Our Selves (2003). This seemed to me to be going a bit too far in the opposite direction, but I nevertheless granted permission for my part, at least, in this unusually collaborative work.

“What’s the good / of being here?” – our version of the original’s “Ni siquiera tendría un buen motivo para estar allí” [it’s not certain that she had a good reason for being there] – came in for particular censure from the Spanish teacher, as I recall. Certainly we’d tweaked it up a notch (or so we thought): extending a rather offhand conclusion into something more “philosophical.”

David Howard : The Incomplete Poems (Governor's Bay, Lyttelton: Cold Hub Press, 2011): 106.

Who’s the author, then? David clearly thinks he is. He includes one of the later segments of his own poem under the original title “A Photograph of the Poet” in his Incomplete Poems (2011), the most considerable collection of this work to date. I tend to think I am, since most of the actual translation was contributed by me. Others would attribute it more straightforwardly to Jorge Accamé, given that the original poem – most of which has survived even into our free adaptation – is definitely and definitively by him.

Perhaps the real answer is Pessoa himself. So potent is the influence of his identity-less persona, that the mere idea of it can still confuse us all eighty-odd years after his death.

Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935)


Can Poetry Save the Earth?

Our Changing World: Yearn to Learn (2018)

Can Poetry Save the Earth?
Our Changing World
Public Lecture Series

Albany Campus, Massey University, Thursday 31st May, 6-7.30 pm

Book and flowers Can poetry save the Earth? 

Thursday 31 May 2018  | Associate Professor Bryan Walpert, Dr Jack Ross, Dr Jo Emeney
Can Poetry Save the Earth? A Field Guide to Nature Poems is the title of poet and critic John Felstiner's 2009 exploration of how the human and natural worlds connect. Can writing and reading poetry change both? It’s a question that resonates with one of the most pressing issues of our time – the impact of climate change. Poets and editors Associate Professor Bryan Walpert, Dr Jack Ross and Dr Jo Emeney, from Massey’s creative writing programme, discuss how imagination and thinking about nature can be opened up through poetry and will read from their own work.

  1. John Clare: The Skylark (1835)

  2. I ♥ NZ (1999)

  3. Family Plot (2015)

  4. v

  5. What to do till the sentinels come (2018)

  6. 1942 (2016)

  7. My Uncle Tommy (2018)

  8. Paul Celan: Matter of Britain (1957)


The Skylark (John Clare)

John Clare (2008)

The Skylark

The rolls and harrows lie at rest beside
The battered road; and spreading far and wide
Above the russet clods, the corn is seen
Sprouting its spiry points of tender green,
Where squats the hare, to terrors wide awake,
Like some brown clod the harrows failed to break.
Opening their golden caskets to the sun,
The buttercups make schoolboys eager run,
To see who shall be first to pluck the prize –
Up from their hurry, see, the skylark flies,
And o'er her half-formed nest, with happy wings
Winnows the air, till in the cloud she sings,
Then hangs a dust-spot in the sunny skies,
And drops, and drops, till in her nest she lies,
Which they unheeded passed – not dreaming then
That birds which flew so high would drop agen
To nests upon the ground, which anything
May come at to destroy. Had they the wing
Like such a bird, themselves would be too proud,
And build on nothing but a passing cloud!
As free from danger as the heavens are free
From pain and toil, there would they build and be,
And sail about the world to scenes unheard
Of and unseen – Oh, were they but a bird!
So think they, while they listen to its song,
And smile and fancy and so pass along;
While its low nest, moist with the dews of morn,
Lies safely, with the leveret, in the corn.


Thomas Bewick: The Skylark (1790)


I ♥ NZ

Mairangi Bay Beach (2012)

I ♥ NZ
– Bumper-sticker

love is not love
which alters when it alteration finds
beach-shelf eroded, Richard III gulls
in paroxysms of unholy rage.

We walked here barefoot
before the tar, swam here before
the sewerage outlet, sand-fought
by that wall.

Today I’m pelted by the wind,
“The Caribbean, boys, in full roar!”
Two kayakers

are dumb enough to try it.
Brown sturdy girls
wade bare-legged through the surf.


  [evasion 1 [Flint 2] (2000): 15]

Carl Barks: The Flying Dutchman. Uncle Scrooge #25 (1959)


Family Plot

My father feeding the seagulls (2011)

Family Plot


I noticed him late last year
as I climbed the back
stairs at work

a beetle
spindly legs upflung
on the first flight down

among the dustbunnies
and detritus
of a busy office

in a while he was joined
by a tiny dead

now every morning
I say hello
and pass the time of day

illimitable spans of air
above him
his ship of eternity

lofty as the sky


d. 1976

d. 18.3.86

d. 23-2-90


d. 30.9.93

d. 5.4.94

d. 31.10.05

written on our back fence


At North Shore Memorial Park
on Schnapper Rock Rd

in Central Div
Bronze 6

Block B
Row H

Plot 17
beside Grandma’s grave

my sister’s ashes
have been joined

by my father’s wooden

we haven’t yet
ordered made

the little plaque
wishing him

quiet sleep
and a sweet dream

when the long trick’s over


John Masefield: Sea Fever (1902)


What to do till the sentinels come

Roy Thomas: Avengers #102 (Marvel Comics, 1972)

What to do till the sentinels come

Yes, astronaut and cosmonaut – report, indeed! Warn, if you can, your half-waking, half-sleeping planet! Tell them, if you can
– Roy Thomas, Avengers #102

So how was Zero?
oh she was fine
did you have any trouble getting in?
no no

when we got home
Zero’s dish was empty
meat left unopened
in the fridge

the thunderstorm
had driven her outside
to cringe
under the garden shed

she had quite a lot to say
when Bronwyn ran out
crying and calling out
her name

it’s not that my mother
neglected her task
on purpose
she’d written in her diary

it’s just that her mind
now fills in blanks
with certainties

not doubts
there was a slight pause
before that “fine”
all I know is our cat

left alone
in the storm
my mother alone
in the fog of her brain


Bronwyn Lloyd: Zero in a paper bag (2009)



Harry Flockton Clarke: June feeding a wallaby (c.1939-40)


The picture is sepia-toned
like the not-too-far-distant war

the need to stay silent at mealtimes
so her father can hear

every radio news report
the need to pose paramount

in the stiff lines of this schoolgirl
reaching out a tentative hand

to the strangest of beasts
in the latter stages of dementia

my father removed her photos
replacing them with snaps

of his militaria
I don’t think she understands

what we see in this picture
the meekness before authority

the gentleness of the pose
the dark fringe of trees

in a faraway world
where my mother

has just been told
to pretend to feed

a wallaby


  [Dianne Firth, Poetry and Place: Catalogue for the Poetry and Place Exhibition, Belconnen Art Centre, 25 August – 17 September 2017 (Canberra: University of Canberra, 2017): 10]

Dianne Firth: Poetry and Place (2017)