After Arp


The flat, black mushrooms
grow luxurious green hair.
Green hair edged
with a band of white.
Green hair as luminous
as underwater plants.
Green hair that can be fashioned
into horsehair whisks.

The flat, black mushrooms
exhale clusters of stars.
They live in a section of the forest
where no flies can settle.


The Great Slug

The great slug rides his bicycle.
His baggy pants can barely contain
his baggy pants.
He leaves behind
a trail of gray foam.

The great slug is a connoisseur
of sofas and lazy boy recliners.
He merely rides his bicycle
to rid himself
of certain metallic parasites
which inhabit the deeper recesses
of his sagging flesh.

If only the great slug
were a hermaphrodite.
But his penis
remains firmly fixed
in the centre of his forehead.

The slug and I have a long history
of altercations.
He’s nothing but an impostor,
a provocateur,
a guzzler of kerosene.
Someday we’ll settle old scores.
Someday we’ll slug it out.


The Lozenge Box

fire of flamingos
smoke of bats
ash of ants

On one bleak
mid-winter’s day
you offered me
the key to the lozenge box
and ever since then
multicoloured pastilles
continue to tumble out.

a flywheel
a watering can
Fidel Castro’s
fountain pen

Multicoloured pastilles
continue to tumble out.


The Empress of Emptiness

What a belle,
what an absolute
fashion plate.

The Empress of Emptiness
puts on her tinsel crown
while the black bluejays
attack her battlements
with toothpicks
and tape recorders.

Serious tinnitus is sweeping through
Tintagel Castle
and Titus has gone to ground.

The Empress of Emptiness
gathers together her long dress
and disappears
down the elastic corridor.


My Uncle

My uncle
the acquirer of spoons
blind as a bat
skimming over the Astroturf.

Old polaroids
lie scattered like tiles
in his abandoned garden.

For a joke he once placed
a small, cloth sailor
inside a condom.

My uncle
who would break into a sweat
at the sight of a dead matchstick.

He loved the air
the letter H
the sound of castanets.

My uncle
who hypnotized
the King of Thailand

When I open the door
to his garden shed
sparrows fly out
from the rusted hinges.



Elephants are never
They use adjectives
to extract
honey from honeycombs.



It’s wrong to compare ourselves with dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs didn’t use power tools.
Dinosaurs didn’t do jigsaw puzzles.
Dinosaurs never put a man on the moon.
They tore each other to pieces
and fell into tar pits.
It’s wrong to compare ourselves with dinosaurs.


André Breton’s Inflatable Octopus

André Breton’s inflatable Octopus
occupies a portion of Belgium.
On Google Earth you can see the way
it sprawls across Brussels
with one tentacle reaching Antwerp
and another touching Ghent.

André Breton had a penchant
for anal eroticism.
On the other hand
his inflatable octopus
is not only immaculate
but ready, willing and able
to release a magnificent cloud
of perfumed ink.


Circadian Rhythms

Tapping on a toadstool
the sun comes up.

The crickets chirp
as they go to work
their little briefcases
filled with sesame seeds.

Tapping on a capped tooth
the moon goes down.

Slipped into a black folder
then filed away
deep in the archives
with all the other moons.


Our Ancestors

They found a billiard table
at the centre of an iceberg,
proof that our Neolithic ancestors
engaged in recreational activities.

The skeletons of hairy mammoths
still bear the scars

of their billiard cues.

And look—
over the horizon
kicking up the tundra
a great, enraged herd
of magnetic wildebeest!


Captain Cook’s Hat

There’s a tree growing
on Captain Cook’s hat
two trees in fact,
one on the top
and one on the side.

The erratic navigator
likes to swim
with his dorsal-finned compass

and the blue almond sky

and the blue almond sky.

Richard von Sturmer is a New Zealand writer and filmmaker. He has published three books: We Xerox Your Zebras (Modern House, 1988), A Network of Dissolving Threads (Auckland University Press, 1991), and Suchness: Zen Poetry and Prose (HeadworX, 2005). A collection of his prose, On the Eve of Never Departing, will be published by Titus Books later in 2009.

As well as being a lyricist for several New Zealand bands, including Blam Blam Blam, he and his partner, Amala Wrightson, toured the country in the 1980s as the performing duo, The Humanimals. From 1993 to 2003 he lived and worked at the Rochester Zen Center, a Buddhist community in upstate New York. During that time his work appeared regularly in literary journals and anthologies. His poetry was also included in Best New Zealand Poems 2003 and 2006.

von Sturmer comments: ‘In the 1990s, living in upstate New York, I was separated from my library. A modest library in many respects, but one which I had created, willy-nilly, since my teenage years. One of the joys of relocating back to Auckland in 2004 was to be reunited with my collection of books. Since then many have remained unopened on their shelves, but once and a while I like to take down an old favourite and open its pages. One such volume is The Collected French Writings of Jean Arp, edited by Marcel Jean and translated by Joachim Neugroschel. Although Arp is better known for his sculpture and painting, he produced wonderfully imaginative poetry all his life. His surrealistic poems have a very pure quality, and when I happened to read through them once again last year, they triggered atavistic surrealist tendencies in my own writing. The result was “After Arp”, which I produced in two quick bursts. Arp stated that “It was in dreams that I learned how to write, and it was only much later that I laboriously learned how to read.” So it happened that “Mushrooms”, the poem that launches the series, came from a dream I had about black mushrooms with long green hair. According to the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem, “A dream can only be where there is a reality to return to.” In this spirit the series closes with “Captain Cook’s Hat”, which is a small outcrop of rock, visible from the shore of Vanuatu’s volcanic island of Tanna. And yes, there is one small tree growing on the top and one on the side.’

Poem source details >



Trout 15: After Arp (displays over three web pages)
New Zealand Book Council writer file
Best New Zealand Poems 2003 and 2006
Auckland Zen Centre
Mudlark 11