The Threepenny Kowhai Stamp Brooch

If I get lost someone will pick me up and post me.
I am already licked and stamped on my green lapel.

The brooch from Te Papa will see me safely home.
It's 3D – as in LSD – pounds, shillings and pence.

Let us go out and do the passegiata on the waterfront.
If and when I get lost, you can slide me into the red box.

Of course I will be posted back into the past –
back to when kowhai was pronounced kowhai.

LISTEN to ‘The Threepenny Kowhai Stamp Brooch’ by Jennifer Compton

Jennifer Compton was born in Wellington in 1949 but now she is based in Melbourne. She is a poet and playwright who also writes prose. Her stage play The Big Picture, published by Currency Press, which premiered in Sydney and was also produced by Circa, was produced last year by the Perth Theatre Company. Her next book of poetry, Barefoot, will come out with Red Wheelbarrow Press later this year. Recent work has appeared in Queen's Quarterly (Canada), Poetry LondonPoetry Ireland ReviewQuadrant (Australia), Takahe and Bravado. In 2008 she was in residence at the Randell Cottage in Wellington. She will be the Visiting Literary Artist at Massey this year.

Compton comments: 'It had been many years since I had spent time in my home town when I set up residence for six months at Randell Cottage in Wellington. And so much had changed. My friend Pam, who lives in Matamata, came to visit me, and gave me a brooch from the Te Papa gift shop which was a threepenny stamp, mounted in a metal frame, from back in the days when it was the usual postage for a letter. At least I think it was. I know I saw so many of them about that I think it must have been. It's a sprig of kowhai, with its beautiful yellow blossom, on a dark green background. Of course, pounds, shillings and pence have gone the way of so many other things. But there were wonderful new things that I noticed. The waterfront development had encouraged the strollers, the runners, the bikers, the skateboarders. I had recently spent time in Italy and enjoyed their promenade, their 'passegiata' and it struck me that Wellington now had one of its own, with a local flavour. And now, of course, unlike back in the old days, everyone pronounced kowhai as it should be pronounced.

I doubted that this poem could work on the page, because I couldn't reproduce the difference in pronounciation of kowhai. But I wrote it anyway, because I wanted to. I thought I might read it a couple of times at gigs. It just goes to show you shouldn't distrust the intuitive intelligence of the reader.

And already I have written more words than the poem contains.'

Poem source details >



Quadrant online, Jan – Feb 2009: 'The Threepenny Kowhai Stamp Brooch'