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Elizabeth Smither: Night Horse

Flora and fauna? I flicked through the contents of ‘Night Horse’ to see what I could find.
There were plenty of animals, not so much about plants. There is a white viola shivering in a
winter wind in ‘Spring bulbs’ and two black Labradors adapting to a little girl who can barely
toddle in ‘Ruby and the Labradors’.

Of course in poetry you can take liberties. You can move trees, you can concentrate on one
white viola when there is a bed of them. You can try to see inside the mind of a little girl
confronted by two exuberant black dogs taller than she is. You can see the Labradors
becoming Nana dogs.

Spring bulbs’ has a lot to do with my own love of gardens but general carelessness as a
gardener. Sometimes I think it is because gardening requires a similar discipline to writing
and having invested in one my discipline is used up and I have become a dilettante in the
other. I have a secret love for huge gardens (the Capability Brown style) that can withstand
great storms, where trees are spaced to grow to their full glory and the weather is part of the
scene. I doubt if Capability Brown would have liked a viola. The viola in the poem – I am
concentrating just on the end of the poem, not the bulbs stuck in the ground at the beginning
– was in a narrow bed outside a restaurant and as we ran past to get to the car with our teeth
chattering I looked down into the white faces flecked with mud and thought how frightened
they looked. So I moved a tree (not immune to its own sort of shivering) to give it a little bit
of shelter.

Ruby and the Labradors’ makes an imaginary painting. The two very black Labradors,
Maddie and Stella, greet visitors with tail thumping, body wiggling, salivary toys in their
mouths. How will a two-year-old girl cope? They must appear as tall as buildings; she cannot
see over their backs; she is walled in by blackness. Have you ever noticed how black a black
Labrador is? But instinctively they come to an accommodation: they will be her guards, like
the security men around Obama: black suits, dark shades, eyes scanning the horizon.

As for Flora and Fauna- their importance cannot be overestimated. It is so good to see them
featured in this month’s Flash Frontier.


Spring bulbs

Plant them carelessly. The earth straightens them. Already they have divided and multiply. They stand straight up like pencils among last year’s survivors, also thicker for a year’s disregard, a feeble weeding an intention to reform as a gardener knowing nothing will change: the philosophy is too broad, too many variants the huge tree, the little viola one shivering, the other sending shivering down on a white head near the ground, sheltering its tremulousness a little, in its shadow.

Ruby and the Labradors

Taller than her chaff-blonde hair two black shapes have sucked the air from a ring around her. First night the Labradors are banned though she peers through the French door moving like darkness across the land. This morning they become her guardians of light by emphasising its outline around her no other darkness can get close. Every dark danger can stay back they make a circumference, a fence and move with her, wherever she steps.

Elizabeth Smither is a poet, novelist and short story writer. Her numerous collections of poetry have been published alongside several novels and short story collections. Her poetic style is considered idiosyncratic while it moves beyond the self-referential into the areas of legendary characters, Catholicism and the workings of language itself. Of her poems she writes, ‘you have to use all your senses to crack them open.’ As well as receiving numerous other awards, Elizabeth Smither was named the 2002 Te Mata Poet Laureate.

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