Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published September 5th 2019
Fall in love 100 times
Every so often you come across an artist that makes you sit up, groan and wonder what you've been doing with your life. And when those people go it alone, eschewing the big corporations to have their own say over their works, it is even more impressive. Musical artists I have looked at here at Weekend Notes like Aiden Hatfield or writers like Drew Melbourne, both of whom write stuff I have attempted to write, make me question my own life choices in pursuing this writing career.
But then you meet a writer/artist who can do it all, and you really think about what on Earth you're doing, you'll never be that good.
N.E. (Nikki) Teeuw is just such an artist.
(Taken from her website, by permission of the author.)
Slight deviation before I get into this: Poetry. I actually do like poetry. My favourite type is the bush ballad, rhyming/rhythmic style. It's what I tend to write (and what I have generally sold), although I am a sucker for a well-written haiku. Unfortunately, when I was at high school, we were force-fed Judith Wright and Bruce Dawe and they turned me off the non-rhyming blank verse style poetry. And for years, I would not even give it the time of day. Then I met a few poets (one of whom was Lilliana Rose) and they got me into appreciating all forms of poetry, not the bog-standard stuff I still enjoy and still write.
So we come to One Hundred Valentines.
I came across this book by accident. Basically, I was looking at some of Teeuw's songs on YouTube, bought one, and through contact with her, I discovered this book. I bought it (available on Amazon, though a new edition is coming soon without the illustrations) and read it through. I could not put it down. Then I read it a second time. And a third, in the space of half a day.
I loved this collection.
As the title says, it is a book of love poetry. But it is not all "I love you" sort of musings – there are poems of heart-break, of breaking up, of getting over a love, of being unsure, of being one of a pair… every facet of the love process is there in writing. It is at times stark, at times beautiful, at times pained, at times enraptured. But, most importantly, it is so well-written.
Now, of course, not all of the poems resonated with me. Some I found a little confusing, and some I just felt nothing towards. But that was by far the minority. Most of the poems in this collection are really good and if they can speak to a (nearly) 50 year old man, then N.E. Teeuw did something right. Further, many poets today have a habit of writing poetry that drags on and on, page after page. None of the poems here exceeds two pages. They are all a perfectly manageable size, and that is a huge positive. However, I did find that some of the pictures did nothing for me. I understand having artwork in the book – and bravo for having original works – but, again, some I just did not get.
All right, before I get into the poems I liked most, I had the opportunity to ask her a couple of questions.
1) Are all the poems autobiographical? Some? None? A lot of the book is autobiographical, but not all of it. Some of it was observational, listening to others and the dynamics of the relationships. Poems like 'The Painting' and 'Vessel' were all me, though when I look back at them even though I did write them, at the time they felt like they just came through me. It was a very strange and somewhat spiritual experience. Others, like 'Cover', came from a conversation with a friend about what a powerful hold love can have on you but the prose itself was not my personal experience. Just an intensity that a lot of people can probably relate to and again, something I just kind of tapped into. I realise that may sound weird.
2) How long have you been writing poetry?
I've been writing poetry since I was a teenager but I've always ended up developing them into songs. It was much later, when the words I was writing seemed to stand alone and seemed to need to do so that I really started to allow myself to write in a poetry style without a need for rhyme or the structure that a song requires. I began writing One Hundred Valentines around 4-5 years ago but never knew until I'd written about 50 poems that I was writing a book. Then it was like, "Ok, I'm writing a book now aren't I?" It just happened.
Now, here's my favourite 15 poems, in the order they appear in the book.
'Ocean' The first blush of a new love, diving right in, not taking any heed to what might happen. Short, but direct.
"I only thought
I knew love before then
But I did not
And I was intoxicated"
'The Fire' Another poem about that first pang of a new love, but this one with the doubts included. It is a universal "should I/shouldn't I?" dilemma, starting to head towards the "maybe I should" side of the ledger. There is doubt, but there is affection. I think this poem probably speaks to way too many in society.
"Is it right, to feel like this?
Will I be ok?
I feel so alive that I'm frightened"
'Veils' You are with your love, and with them alone you feel comfortable enough to remove the masks we all wear so often, the different faces we have in life. You are exposing your vulnerability, and this poem puts that right there.
"All the masks I wore
People I think people want me to be"
'You' One of the few rhyming poems, this one has some very stark imagery. Going into a new love, but not throwing into it, stepping forward, bit by bit, this poem, with its short lines and flowing rhythm has that sense of acting like you don't care, but really, you do. But it's the imagery here… one of my very favourite poems in the book.
"To my unhealed wound
They'd have only been the salt"
'Breathtaking' This poem could have been written about the first time I saw Clare not in school uniform, way back in 1986. No dress, but the experience was what is there, in this poem. And then when I saw Mel before the 1988 school formal (Australian version of the prom), same thing. This is a universal sensation, and it is captured vividly and perfectly.
"Can I relive this moment in its simplicity?
In its innocence?
In its breathtaking beauty?"
(The answer is, "Yes," and I relive those moments often…)
'Of Me' A love has gone and you're clutching at straws to try and make the hurt go away. Easy. But, again, written in such a way that anyone could read it and say to themselves that, yes, this is how it is. The simplicity makes this one work as well as it does.
"If I could just grab hold of a memory…
One that is not a good one
Then I wouldn't feel this weight"
'The Death Of Love' A very short poem, 7 lines, and it is almost exactly how my marriage ended. Wow.
"I knew you'd made up your mind
And in that moment
I died inside"
'Take Joy' Grab hold of what life gives you when things go well. That's the message, but it is not a purely positive affirmation of a poem. There is acknowledgement there is pain as well. There is a bit of everything.
"Take joy where joy comes
Appreciate all that is and was"
'The Rain' Another short one, about how the rain reflects closer what is in the poet's heart. It does not beat you over the head – it just is what it is.
"The sun comes with a guilt trip
The rain allows me to self indulge a little bit"
'The Perfect Mess' Nothing is perfect and we need to accept that. Again, not a complex message, but, again, put forth in such a way that it seems self-evident. Another of my very favourite poems on the collection.
"Because I like flaws, you see
For most, most endearing are imperfections"
'Sobriety' A different way of looking at acceptance. With that metaphor of the sobriety of the title, and acceptance by another, it has a slightly different feel.
"I want this
Sober with you
To numb nothing"
'Parallel' Another great metaphor, of there being three worlds where the relationship could have gone a different way, but being stuck in what could be the worst of them. This is my favourite poem here.
"The one where the great creator
giveth and taketh away
'Safety' Maybe it's better not to go into a new relationship and so not risk being hurt again. Maybe. That is the crux of this poem, and it has a sad feel about it, despite the poet being adamant that they want to be safe.
"It may be true that you make me feel alive
when I see you
But right now I am living
I am not hurting"
'The Devil is my Ego' Following on from 'Safety', again being cautious in love.
"My guard reflex still retaliates
Like a stupid little ego
Still fighting for its place"
'In my own Skin' Waiting for love, not rushing it, and wanting it to be better than before. Simple, really, and so well put.
"I've learned not to settle for less
It doesn't work"
So, there you have it, fifteen of my favourites out of the book.
If you enjoy poetry, then grab this. Do it. It is beautifully written, wonderfully presented and filled with genuine emotion. Again, we are talking a book by an independently published author, an Australian, and supporting these artists should be something we all do, getting different voices more exposure and putting them out there in the world. She can be found at https://www.nikkiteeuw.com/
To finish, here is a song by Nikki Teeuw called 'Shakespeare' (2016), which I fell in love with, and which started me on this journey of discovering her works.