2: acrostic

An acrostic is a poem or other form of writing in which the first letter, syllable or word of each line, paragraph or other recurring feature in the text spells out a word or a message. – Wikipedia

To James K. Baxter

At Hiruharama, I did not visit your grave.

Moonlight in the bellied clouds,
As I waited out teenaged insomnia,
Drunk on your intoxication with the life I lived:
Macrocarpa, chooks, the hopelessness of couch grass,
And the flicker of eels in muddy water. For me,
Not the drama of your head-long penance but simply home.

At Jerusalem, I did not visit your grave.

Never a believer, I still thought
Of lighting a candle for you in the Sacre-Coeur
But, abashed somehow by the violence
Of your late-found faith,
Did not. Walking past St Mary’s, I often imagined
You beating at the door I never even tried to open.

At Hiruharama, I did not visit your grave.

Running short on time, I guess,
And not sure where it was anyway, we
Called it a day at Jerusalem and went
On to Oakune. It was not malice,
Not disenchantment that kept me away. It was just
That I was busy living and you were dead.
Enough to let you sleep
Under that gentle, hill-choked sky,
Reading your words half a world away.


I can see why acrostics don’t get much use. They seem simplistic and silly, something children do as a trick, but lacking in beauty or meaning. What is the relation between the two elements of the acrostic and the lines themselves? A mutual reinforcement, like the use of “HEAR” in Blake’s “London” for lines about the sounds of the city, seems sort of redundant, especially given how easy it is to not notice the acrostic at all (unless, as with the beautiful Christian poem in the Wikipedia article, it’s typographically marked.)

What I like about them, as a form of constrained writing, is precisely that they do disappear – that they form an invisible backbone to the poem, supporting and determining its shape. It not surprising, then, that two of examples cited in the Wikipedia article [relinky here] are devotional poems. This mechanic also works for the way that writers who influence us are folded silently into our own work. As such, I chose to use a quote from James K. Baxter, a poet who a read a lot when I was younger, as the acrostic here. The quote, “a madman, a nobody, a raconteur,” comes from the first of Baxter’s Jerusalem Sonnets, Baxter speculating on how his Catholic God sees him.

Here’s a photo of me at Hiruharama, on a road trip I took with my sister, when I did not visit Baxter’s grave. Judging by the unfortunate hair, I think I would have been 17 or 18.

Me at the Hiruharama sign


3 thoughts on “2: acrostic

  1. At Hiruharama, we visited your grave.

    At Hiruharama, we visited your grave.

    Miharo, Diana wrote in the visitor’s book –
    Awesome, miraculous – and the whole day was, the
    Drop from the road to the river, the single
    Massive ponga fern
    Asserting itself in the centre of the view, the
    Numinous, the sublime, in our faces.

    At Hiruharama, we visited your grave.

    Not sure exactly what we were looking for, we
    Owed, it felt, everything a reverence,
    Beginning with the horse we met at the gate;
    Only we were there, no other visitors, and we found ourselves
    Drifting far too far up the road before turning back to find, at last,
    Your small grave, so close to where we had walked past.

    At Hiruharama, we visited your grave,

    Really not at all sure it was respectful to photograph it
    And yet photographing it anyway,
    Cautiously exploring the garden,
    Offering obeisance to the dirty water in the fruit bucket, and placing
    Neatly on the grave the gingko leaves we had
    Taken for ourselves as mementos, talismans of sorts.
    Everywhere we looked we saw nothing, nobody, a madman
    Uncannily present in the fact of his absence, a
    Raconteur making everything around us speak volumes.

    • This is great. I’d still like to go but there is that oddness to those kind of sacred sites, like they (or you) somehow don’t quite measure up to what you’d thought they should be – both larger and smaller, and slightly off-kilter.

      • Yes that is it, exactly! But it was wonderful, and we did feel a strange displaced sort of reverence. We were there just a month ago, at New Year’s Eve, almost, you could befriend Robert Sullivan on facebook and see his photographs, including the giant ponga fern imposing itself infront of the view of the river!

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