Crossing the Line
This project began with a group of photograph albums found in a second-hand shop in 1994. Most of the photographs had been taken by an amateur photographer in the late 1890s-early 1900s; they included travel scenes, informal portraits, landscapes and domestic interiors, some of them captioned with phrases such as ‘No. 2 Bluff, Yokohama’, ‘Sado Maru at Singapore’, and ‘Ada. Feb ’99. Yokohama’. Two of the larger albums were inscribed with the name of James B. Neilson, Antico Street, Wellington South, and dated January 1908. I was interested in finding out more about the photographer and the photographs, and used public records such as street directories, census data, company records and death notices to piece together an initial biography for Neilson (and for Ada, who had become his second wife). Like the photographs, the discoverable facts provided glimpses of their lives but left many gaps in their story.I wrote a piece relating to the Neilson albums for the New Zealand Journal of Photography (November 1998). Several years later, I found myself writing poems about James and Ada, drawing on information about them and the times and places they inhabited, but imagining voices, personalities and events for them. This work developed into a narrative sequence of poems in my MA thesis, ‘Crossing the Line’ (Victoria University of Wellington, 2005).
from Fourteen Days in Yokohama
Exploring the Bund with Murray,
who was finding his land-legs.
Not much to see, so took
a rickshaw ride around the
foreign settlement, wrapped in
oiled paper against the rain.
Back to the Bund. Finding friends,
Murray put to sea again
at the Yokohama Club.
Our first tea house. Yellow tea, multi-
coloured cakes. An old woman with
blackened teeth. We sat on mats,
aware of our unshod feet, wishing
the woman spoke more English
so we might see more of her teeth.
I walk without a map across the town.
Word-picture flags and lanterns
thicken the streets. Paper flowers
drift in conflicting currents. Heavy
poles hold the rigging of wires high
overhead; they stand out like the men in
black suits and bowlers, descendants of
Samurai run through with umbrellas.
In winter 2000-2001, my partner and I held six-week residencies at Straumur International Arts Centre, on Iceland’s south-western coast. Poems resulting from my residency appeared in a joint publication (Straumur, photographs by Wayne Barrar, poems by Kerry Hines) as well as in Millionaire’s Shortbread; the following poem appeared in Landfall 204, 2002.
One night, swans.
And the next morning.
Ice floes at the edge
of the tide, beneath
A silence of swans,
of swans, a
politeness of swans
Rising from the
leaving the ground.
There are swans,
and no swans.
a question mark,
Where five swans feed
there is a sixth invisible.
The fine needlework
of swans overlocking
Weather, tides, fish,
the hope of swans.