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Sue Wootton: The Yield

I love words that lean in more than one direction at once. ‘Yield’ is one of those excellent, very old English language words that does that, whose meaning changes depending on how it’s used. As a verb (I yield, you yield, he yielded), it refers to the act of giving. I think in our culture we tend to unconsciously put a negative gloss on this, understanding it as ‘giving up’ or ‘giving way’, which many people seem to think is a bad thing, a sign of weakness. I beg to differ – sometimes yielding is the strongest response; it can be the route to co-existence and mutual flourishing; it can make fruitful a seemingly barren situation.

And so to The Yield: note the noun form and the definite article. This is a collection about the results that flow from yielding – and from not yielding. The poems explore the various ways that give begets give. They are very much about restoring connections and creating nourishing environments. It was written over several years during which I found myself making serious decisions about how best to thrive: what to give, and to whom; what to stand up for, what to let go.

Nature is everywhere in the book, because we live as part of Nature (or should, or there’ll be no living left). It’s as I write in my poem “Wild”: in love we nest, and on Earth. We are, to paraphrase another line from that poem, membrane animals, skin mammals under the osmosis moon. There are plenty of animals in the book – worms, mice, cockroaches, lice, a spoodle, flounder, blue whales, pukeko, wasps, sea lions, ants and squirrels (to name a few). Likewise there are heaps of plants and flowers too, such as (also to name a few): bluebells, moss, weeping willows, sycamores, irises, lilies, plums, daffodils, wisteria, red currants, Sitka spruce and the Belle de Boskoop apple.

Here’s one poem from The Yield with a fair few (a fear few?) animals in it. It talks of the way that children are so closely, so naturally, connected to the actual and mythological animal world, but how so many of us in our culture lose this rich internal resource as we grow up.


Of animals

Children are inhabited by animals: tiger, lion, bear. Nothing they’ve ever seen in the flesh, but roaring, but clawing, but fangs, fur, fins, feathers, fear. Dinosaurs inhabit them, and wolves and sharks. Blue whales, killer whales. Dolphin, unicorn, coyote, fox. Animals inhabit them until they inhibit the animals, inhabit the uniform, achieve the standards, become adults, accumulate, accommodate. The animals hibernate. Hot breath builds in the blocked black cave. When the animals wake they are parched and famished. They howl, they gnash. Naturally, they roam and hunt.

Sue Wootton lives in Dunedin where she writes fiction and poetry and, as a PhD candidate at the University of Otago, is researching the importance of literature to a holistic view of health and wellbeing. Her debut novel, Strip (Mākaro Press), was long-listed for the fiction prize in the 2017 Ockham NZ Book Awards, and her most recent publication, The Yield (Otago University Press), is long-listed in the 2018 poetry category of the awards. She is the selecting editor for the Otago Daily Times Weekend Poem column and edits the weekly Health Humanities blog Corpus: Conversations about Medicine and Life, found at corpus.nz. Sue has won several awards for her writing. Read more on her website

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