John Clarke 1948-2017

I’d just pulled into a parking space about an hour ago when the terrible truth dawned – I was listening to someone (Tom Scott, as it turned out) talking about John Clarke in the past tense.

And they played We Don’t Know How Lucky We Are and I sat there with tears rolling down my face. (The lyrics were included in a ‘best New Zealand poetry’ collection a couple of decades ago.)

I never met John Clarke, but he did take the time to hand write a letter to a young fan after Fred Dagg took off on New Zealand television in the 1970s – I was 12 or 13 and he was only 10 years older, which means more to me now than it did then. Then, he was simply a ‘grown up’ like almost everyone else around me. Now, I realise he was only young himself and didn’t have to take, or make, the time to be polite to a child. But he did.

He hadn’t flown for years, after a bad experience, and so his adopted homeland of Australia got all his later work and charm. But he still loved New Zealand. Read an (early) obituary here.

Here’s a magically rural New Zealand medley of songs by Fred Dagg, John’s wildly successful comic creation:

Fred, in case you’ve never met him, farmed somewhere around Taihape and had six sons all named Trev. His first appearance on New Zealand television was in 1974 on what was the otherwise serious farming show, Country Calendar (still going strong today).

One of the peaks of John Clarke’s success was The Games, a television series also starring Bryan Dawe and Gina Riley as the slightly chaotic, cynical and inept team bringing the Olympic Games to Sydney for 2000. It was, simply, genius. Watch, for instance, the clip (4:56) where they work out how to solve a major political problem (the Australian prime minister at the time was John Howard) with a moving, and sincere, apology to the Aboriginal people:

John Clarke voiced Wal Footrot in the much-loved 1986 animated movie Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale. Footrot Flats comic strip creator Murray Ball died on March 12.

Keep your gumboots on and God speed, you two.


Recent publications

New editions of Kokako (26) and NOON: journal of the short poem (13) landed this week, plus I spied a hard copy of Frogpond 39.3 on someone’s coffee table the other night so quickly flicked through (a sampler of haiku from each edition appears on the website but, alas, mine weren’t among them).

Reproducing this haiku – on the second day the remnants of Tropical Cyclone Debbie have been pouring down on us – seems appropriate. (Thoughts are with those affected by landslips and flooding in the North Island and the full force of Debbie in Queensland, Australia.)

thrumming rain

the deeper sound

of rhubarb 

for RB

– Sandra Simpson, Frogpond 39.3

Bar-tailed godwits at Miranda on the Firth of Thames, New Zealand. Photo: Sandra Simpson

new year’s day –
black begins to inch up
the godwit’s bill

– Sandra Simpson, Kokako 26

We toddled off for a couple of nights in Miranda just after New Year as I particularly wanted to see the bar-tailed godwits that come for the summer from Siberia and Alaska, and that part of the coast along the Firth of Thames is one of their preferred migration spots. The Miranda Shorebird Centre has a hide and over the summer had a couple of volunteer guides there daily to chat and inform, plus share a high-powered telescope with visitors. One thing I learned is that as the males come into their breeding plumage, their bills also change colour, turning from mostly pink to mostly black with the change starting at the tip (they breed only in the Arctic).

I’m always slightly astounded that my work appears in NOON: journal of the short poem, it being a publication that favours the cutting edge and me not seeing my work as even a little bit ‘out there’. However, editor Philip Rowland often selects my haiku and two are in the latest edition.

wisteria in full bloom the rest escapes me

– Sandra Simpson, NOON 13: journal of the short poem

And, finally, a Senryu appears in the online anthology of this year’s Sharpening the Green Pencil Contest, organised in Romania. The poem tells it like it was.

new year’s eve –
a bare-chested man hollers

– Sandra Simpson