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Stateside with Rosalea: Poem Envy

Stateside with Rosalea

Poem Envy

Thirty years ago I stepped ashore at Southampton, England, on my big OE. I'd travelled by the line known (stomach in cheek) as Chundris to the thousands of young Aussies and Kiwis who spent five weeks on one of its ships to get to the UK for $250. Much cheaper than flying and lots of fun, but during that voyage the demise of cheap sea travel was writ large on the world stage - the oil embargo of 1973.

I arrived in autumn and was met by fellow Kiwis who'd already been there for several months, and who had jobs and a flat above a laundromat in SE London and a little Triumph to tootle around in. I recall we stopped at a lake in a park on the way to London, and I was excited to see so many trees in autumn foliage. I was equally excited to see bluebells in bloom in the woods in springtime - these were things I'd seen in the books we'd had in the classroom as a child.

By then I'd moved to Leeds and was friends with someone who wanted to get out of the UK and see the world beyond. She lived in a trailer park with her father and had a penchant for cheap alcohol, as artistic types so often seem to do. She was a painter and a writer, and when she said she'd like to broaden her horizons I changed the travel plans I already had to go to Sydney, and we flew to Singapore in 1974.

I've long since lost touch with her. I moved back to New Zealand and she stayed in Australia except for a brief time she lived in Auckland, where something happened to her that I envy to this day: the Listener published one of her poems. Aspiring poet as I was at that time, there was no shade green enough to describe my reaction! Of course I congratulated her, and my envy isn't why we lost touch, but a poem in the Listener is a glorious thing.

So I'm glad that I can read them on-line, and especially glad of this week's poem by Karlo Mila, which wrenches at the heart of this old ex-pat. In the same way that autumn leaves and bluebells were incomprehensible to me, Sante bars and the Mangere motorway are incomprehensible to the folks I now live with. They've never heard of Paul Holmes.

But they understand what this poem is about. Which is why getting a poem in the Listener is a glorious thing.


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