A poem about apples and famous people

Analysis by Chris Tse

Featured in Capital #63
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The First Apples of a New Season

By Paula Green

Gertrude Stein entertains everyone
on the picnic blanket
by talking like one of her poems.
‘Rhubarb is single not fish not
single in bunch fish not eggplant
and single not in little fish not in sight
and sweet not in win coal less not noisy,’ she says.

Albert Einstein watches the clouds overhead
and thinks he sees goldfish in a goldfish bowl.
Simone de Beauvoir watches the clouds
and thinks she sees the Eiffel Tower on its side.
I pass the first apples of the season around
and I listen to Gertrude make sparks between nouns fly.
I think I saw a monarch butterfly land on her shoulder
but that would make no sense at all.

About the poet

Paula Green is a poet, anthologist, and vocal champion of New Zealand poetry. In 2017 she received a Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement and was admitted to the New Zealand Order of Merit for Services to Poetry. The First Apples of a New Season was first published in Paula’s poetry collection The Baker’s Thumbprint (Seraph Press, 2013).

In brief

Oh to be a tui perched on a branch observing this party of poets and thinkers enjoying a picnic on a crisp summer’s day. In this poem, Paula Green pulls together an intriguing gathering of real-life personalities for an outing that would no doubt be filled with wonderfully thought-provoking conversation. This seemingly straightforward picnic scene is a chance for Paula to dig deep into what it means to read a poem, while also acknowledging that every reader’s individual interpretation of a poem is just as valid as someone else’s. It’s very meta, but playfully so.

Why I like it

Poems are containers for ideas and allusions, even when the label on that container at first appears fanciful or whimsical. Paula’s allusions to the works of her picnic pals are like little winks to the reader, drawn from different philosophical and academic canons. In this poem these references come from a place of celebration and joy, as is often the case with Paula’s own writing about poetry. The subjectivity of reading and interpreting poetry is emphasised with the appearance of the American poet Gertrude Stein, whose famous 1914 collection Tender Buttons experimented with language to make mundane everyday objects unfamiliar. In this poem, Paula has conflated two of Stein’s actual poems (‘RHUBARB’ and ‘SINGLE FISH’) to give life to the imagined dialogue. By choosing to use Stein’s “difficult” poetry as a case study, Paula questions the value placed upon sense-making in poetry as a measure of enjoyment

Best quotable line

The phrase “make sparks between nouns fly” is an electrifying description not only of Stein’s work, but what really great poetry does with words.

Read more

Paula has published a number of books including poetry collections for adults and children, and the non-fiction work Wild Honey: Reading New Zealand Women’s Poetry (Massey University Press). She also runs two blogs dedicated to New Zealand poetry (NZ Poetry Box and NZ Poetry Shelf) where you’ll find her reviews as well as contributions from other poets.


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