Unfinished Love Theorem

Like light
it can travel in waves
or lines
depending on the circumstances.

When I first noticed it, it was travelling in waves
and I could just see its sail pop hopefully up
on the horizon now and then
as it was keeling, or gibing,
or doing whatever brave ocean craft do
when the water is a little lumpy.

I admired its buoyancy, its neat fittings,
the way everything a person could need
was stowed in its purpose-built compartments.
I liked the way it was rigged, and aligned
with particular stars and magnetisms.

Now I’m in amongst it, I find it is travelling in lines,
the underground veins of a railway, hidden,
signposted, never drawn to scale on maps.
It is moving all sorts of things about,
taking good folk to their work, taking them out
and home to their rumpled bedrooms.

I admire its secret progress, how it can speed
or lull you on its beating window,
how it spills you out up silver
stairs and it’s unexpected sun, or night lights
shining, seeming so bright, so very surprising.

Kate Camp was born in Wellington in 1972. Her first collection of poetry, Unfamiliar Legends of the Stars (1998) won the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry at the 1999 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. Her second volume, Realia, was published by Victoria University Press in 2001. She is the University of Waikato writer-in-residence for 2002.

“By sandwiching ‘love’ between ‘unfinished’ and ‘theorem’ in the title,” she writes, “I think I was trying to escape from the essential soppiness of writing a love poem. Like a lot of poets, I’ve always been attracted to scientific ideas. There’s something exhilarating about science — the way it looks and looks and doesn’t know what it’s looking for and then suddenly notices something extremely important, just sitting there. Love can be like that too.

“This poem was recently used as a set text in an exam for secondary school students. One of the questions went something like: ‘Choose ONE phrase that speaks about the indefinable nature of love.’ Students wrote in their answers things like ‘Kate has obviously never been in love,’ and ‘Kate doesnt know anything about boats.’”

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New Zealand Book Council writer file