Singing the blues

She grips the felt-tip pen with that kind
of determination you’d never argue with,
hunched over the table and her drawing:
I’ve gotta finish the blue before we go!

It’s the only thing that’s being said here
in this waiting room where blue means
something else:
                             this feeling you have
for instance after getting the results of
your latest blood test;
                                        or the evident
anxiety of the young pregnant mother
with colourful headgear and yellow-grey
            or the sadness of an older couple
bent and folded in towards each other
waiting between specialists, weighted by
the prospects;
                          or this grizzled old bloke
wheezing as he works a finger round
his gums, a sound more like a punctured
tyre than a tune you’d ever recognise.

But the girl with the blue felt-tip pen
colours and hums, and her father hums
as she colours, and looks out the window
at dark clouds and their promise of rain:

Yep, he says, it’s always a blue sky day
even though all of the clouds are grey ...
Yes, I say, we’ve got to finish the blue
before we go, out of the blue it comes,
then into the bright blue yonder we’ll go.

The girl glances up at us, and laughs:
You and my daddy should make a song.
And she hums and doesn’t stop the blue
yes, she hums and doesn’t stop the blue.

author photo of John Allison

John Allison (1950-2024) was born in Blenheim and lived most of his adult life in Christchurch and Melbourne. Throughout the 1990s his poems appeared in numerous literary journals here and overseas. Three collections of poetry (Dividing the Light, Hazard Poets, 1997; Both Roads Taken, Sudden Valley Press, 1997; and Stone Moon Dark Water, Sudden Valley Press, 1999) were published during that time. Subsequently, while living in Melbourne a collection of new and selected poems, Balance, was published by Five Islands Press in 2006.

His fifth collection of poetry, A Place to Return To, was published by Cold Hub Press in 2019. A chapbook of new poems, Near Distance, came out from the same publisher in 2020. Most recently, Cold Hub Press published his seventh collection of poetry, A Long Road Trip Home, in 2023.

The poem ‘Singing the blues’ was selected from this latter collection for Ōrongohau | Best New Zealand Poems 2023. Previously the poem ‘Father’s axe, grandfather’s machete’ was included in Ōrongohau | Best New Zealand Poems 2020.

A poem-sequence ‘Poetics of water’ was set to music by Pieta Hextall for voice and the chamber ensemble Les Bon Vivants (comprising string quartet / clarinet / flute / harp) and premiered in The Piano Recital Centre on the 7th October 2021.

A note from Series Editor Chris Price: 'We are saddened to learn that John Allison passed away on 14 March. On behalf of the Canterbury Poets' Collective, James Norcliffe writes:

"Of course, what we’ll remember is not John’s nuts and bolts committee work, but his passion for poetry. This passion, of course goes well beyond his own meticulously crafted, beautifully perfected work. It goes beyond his resonant public readings. What we’ll remember is his support for his fellow poets and their work. John was a generous man. So many poets, just embarking on their poetry journey, have spoken of his kind words of encouragement, words that gave them confidence and a sense of inclusion.

Vale John, good friend, marvellous poet, generous man."

An article marking John’s passing was published in The Press on 18 March 2024 (see link below).'

​Poem source details >



John Allison's Cold Hub Press author page

John Allison's poem 'Father's axe, grandfather's machete' in Ōrongohau | Best New Zealand Poems 2020

Poets, friends and family mourn the death of wordsmith John Allison (The Press, 18 March 2024)

Photographer credit: Melissa Leighton