vice versa party
dressed as Groucho in a pinstriped
suit with a slouched Fedora dipped
acidly over one eye
horn-rimmed glasses a mournful stare
and a black bootbrush moustache smeared
above her lip, smudged like a sigh
my mother darkly taking stock
my father in a floral frock
grins beside her, legs astride,
a pastiche of Margaret Dumont
stripped of all hauteur, an affront
to grace, to feminine pride
he holds a beer, she a cigar;
she’s bound her chest, he’s in a bra,
but bare-legged for the hair
later they’ll dance
she’ll take the lead,
but he’ll stumble backwards on heels
and she’ll have to hold him there
the foxtrot, the Boston Two Step
the Valetta Gay Gordons – cheap
laughs at his armpits, bum roll,
the floor is chalked, slippery
she’ll hold him there, her mockery,
her sugar, her honey, her doll
James Norcliffe was born in Greymouth in 1946. He has lived in Christchurch most of his working life but has lived for extended periods in Asia.
He has published widely in New Zealand and overseas and, in addition to a number of novels for young people and a collection of short stories his previous work includes four collections of poetry: The Sportsman & other poems (Hard Echo Press, 1988), Letters to Dr Dee (Hazard Press, 1994), which was shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Awards, A Kind of Kingdom (Victoria University Press, 1998), Rat Tickling (Sudden Valley Press, 2003) and Along Blueskin Road (Canterbury University Press, 2005).
In 2000 he was the Burns Fellow at the University of Otago during which time many of the poems in Along Blueskin Road were written.
Last year he was the featured poet in Poetry NZ 30 and other recent work has appeared in the Greensboro Review, Verse, Nimrod, Poetry International, the Cincinnati Review, the Asheville Poetry Review and the London Magazine. Work is forthcoming in Islands and Southerly. In 2005 he spent time in Hobart as part of the Island of Residencies Programme. He is poetry editor for Takahe Magazine.
Norcliffe comments: ‘The content of this poem was prompted by a photograph of my parents, taken in more innocent days when vice versa parties were popular in such places as the small West Coast settlement where they lived. The photograph was probably taken in the early 1950s. The men would dress as women and the women would dress as men. In the photograph, my mother is wearing a pin-striped suit and looked quite dapper, whereas my father seemed a gross parody, especially as an anonymous hand is drawing up his skirt. The form of the poem is a little in-joke. I don’t often use metrics, but in this case the metrical pattern, both in terms of syllabics and rhyme scheme, derives from the text of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, a performance of which I’d been to at Otago University’s Marama Hall. Given that the poem imagines the feelings of my mother, the link seemed apposite somehow.’