Cats in Cilla McQueen’s ‘Markings’

Pirate and Lucille and Wombat

Markings is a collection of maps. The poems are the markings of record keeping, of laying out the land and laying out memory. At its core is ‘The Autoclave;’ a poem that crosses the globe back and forth across 18 pages. Journeying through a burnt out home in Dunedin to Madrid and the Mediterranean via objects lost in the fire, to St Kilda in the Scottish Hebrides, aboard the Priscilla to St Kilda in Melbourne Australia, and to Bluff where the anchor of the poem holds steady. It is a wayward map of memory and time conflated and interwoven. Throughout the journey is Lucille, a refined marmalade coloured cat. Two more cats, Pirate and Wombat bookend the collection.

The collection begins with ‘Pirate and the Mirror.’ He is totally uninterested in the mirror or its gold frame, despite his piratical name. Ultimately though, he is uninterested the mirror’s reflection and its ability to reflect. When he walks behind it he “forgets / the image thin as ice.” (5) It has no meaning. His attitude to the mirror guides the question of what we do with reflection, particularly when we reflect on a memory, one worthy enough to be kept in a gold frame. How accurately can we reflect upon a memory? What is a memory’s truth?

‘Pirate and the Mirror’ is immediately followed by ‘Lucille in Winter;’ she is the second cat to be found in Markings. She is thick furred and sleeping. She ‘might be dreaming of Te Rauone,’ a bay in Dunedin. She is dreaming and remembering of a place where she once lived. Unlike Pirate, she elegantly peers into the reflection for its memory.

The third cat, who appears in the same poem, is Wombat. This is the only poem in which all three cats appear, although it is clearly focussed on Lucille and the interactions between her and each of the other cats. Wombat “cleans his toenails with his tongue” in contrast to Lucille who elegantly “licks her white wrist.” Wombat “gazes at her absently,” while Pirate “pounce[s] around her, lunging with bared fangs.” (6) Each of these cats is clearly personified in their behaviour and ultimately symbolise very distinct reactions to the act of remembering. These three cats are the three faces of memory. Lucille is the face that remembers without intending, Wombat is the face that unabashedly picks through memory and Pirate is the face that oscillates. He does not ignore the past altogether but cannot seem to look at it. Pirate rejects the act of memory in ‘Pirate and the Mirror’ and reacts badly to Lucille who elegantly lounges in the act of remembering.

Lucille, the cat that remembers, appears in the middle of the epic poem ‘The Autoclave,’ and again nearer the end. Each time she is warm and comfortable; she’s  “curled up on the sheepskin” on page 26, and later

by the fire Lucille
little light
marmalade and white
purring into the flames
with her clean white front
like an unruffled duck (31)

Lucille’s character is extended by the knowledge that she survived the burning of the house. That she settles into memory having lived through it. “She is not afraid.” (31)Pirate and Wombat regard it diffidently.

In ‘Two Biscuits on a Stump,’ Wombat eats through his biscuits quick smart and goes after Pirate’s that have been carefully stashed. In carrying through with this notion of memory: it is Pirate who stores up the past with the expectation that he will return to it, but never does. He hides them away like biscuits. At the beginning of the collection, Pirate pretended such things did not exist. By the end of the collection he is starting to see the value in acknowledgment of the past. Wombat is unchanged; he eats them immediately. He is not bothered by the past, interested only in the present. That Pirate plays with his memories without experiencing them, means he never fully sees them, “Pirate makes a dash at the biscuit / Wombat gets there first” (59). The past is lost to Pirate, his delay in addressing it means an ongoing anxiety that he should have just looked at it properly before it was lost.

Having appeared in the very first poem, Pirate bookends the collection with his appearance in the final poem ‘Slinky’ in which “Pirate rests his chin on the windowsill / considering the sky” (64). After losing his catch of memories in the earlier poem ‘Two Biscuits on a Stump,’ perhaps Pirate’s attitude has become more like Lucille’s. A slow look at the sky as an overarching reflection of the land beneath it. The change in Pirate maps out how differently we can feel about the past. Lucille is almost lost in it completely; Wombat is little concerned by it. But Pirate cannot decide whether a foray into the past would be useful. His contemplation at the end here contrasts with his disinterest in ‘Pirate and the Mirror.’ The changes in his interaction, depicts a changeable attitude to memory and how situation colours not only the memory but our ability to face it.

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my poems in spanish!

The amazing Andrea Rivas has translated three of my poems into Spanish for the journal CÍRCULO DE POESÍA.


Gendered Poetics / Poéticas de género

How we land / Cómo llegamos a tierra

Mother / Madre

I don’t have a word of Spanish. But I do know that translation is quite a feat. I know what goes into it, and how involved with a poem the translator has to be. And so I am honoured that Andrea has given my poems that attention and that energy to bring them to a new audience.

Aurally, it is quite fun to look at these new poems (because they are new poems, these versions are as much by Andrea as they are by me – co-authored!)

In particular the ending of ‘Mother’ which ends




and ‘Madre’ ends




Which becomes less sinister and more guttural. I love it!


I am in good company in Andrea’s translations of NZ poets:
Ria Masae
Mariana Isara
Kiri Piahana-Wong
Anne Kennedy
Louise Wallace
Amber Esau
Kim M. Melhuish
Hera Lindsay-Bird


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Abstract Comics

Defining genres usually means drawing a box around it. Like a comic frame. The frame defines the moment and the frames butting up against it influence and further determine the frame in focus.

Abstract comics can be defined as sequential art consisting exclusively of abstract imagery [and also comics that] contain some representational elements, as long as those elements do not cohere into a narrative or even into a unified narrative space. – Andrei Molotiu

Molotiu’s frame around abstract comics seems somewhat limiting. We find stories and narratives everywhere. We can’t help it. And unless in my quest to create some abstract comics I try to thwart our constant need for stories at every turn (with no guarantee of success) how do I make a comic abstract?

line drawing comic blue bg

Instead – I suggest that the term ‘abstract comics’ is a permission slip to borrow the aesthetic of the comics, the sequential storytelling mode of framing, and combine them with my own preoccupations in line drawing, mark making, asemic writing and other not necessarily representational modes. Or rather, that these modes are self referential. For me abstract comics are sequential storytelling of imagery that is concerned with its method of creation and the act of making a mark both literally and figuratively.

The permission slip of ‘abstract comics’ opens up the page of potential for me. The frames offer me no end of inspiration. The page is never empty. I can always begin with the frames and play from there.

abstract comic three row

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Mapping the Coast

I’ve been thinking a lot about mapping, map-making, cartography and mark-making recently. A whole bundle of thoughts going into reading poems as verbal maps. But I’ve also been thinking about the futility of mapping. There are quandaries as to what we consider mappable. The biggest obstacle in our way of thinking about maps is our insistence on a ‘true map.’ Such a ‘true map’ must be of a physical place and must fit within our expectations what a map -is- and also what is should look like, i.e. like google maps or wises road maps.

This is a very rigid way of looking at space but also a rigid way of looking at time and experience, which are also very mappable.

This is a recent poem that regards the futility of the ‘true map’.

Mapping the Coast

I walk toe to heel along the lines drawn
from memory

of the place in which I now stand. The lines’ representation
is askew.

I know that the line I am on was meant to be
a coastal line.

But the coast is neither here nor there. The tracing
of a pencil

craggy along an un-walked shore
hides the tides.

Beneath my feet is the intermediary of
land and sea.

The lapping of white frothed seawater licks
at my feet

as it does, the coastal line is drawn closer
to the shore

as the sea recedes, leaving bubbles between my toes, the line
goes with it.

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KMKO #14 is now live

and it includes my honours dissertation!

Ngā Toikupu o Ngā Reo Taharua: e Tākiri ana te Aroā Pānui/  The Poetics of Bilanguaging: an Unfurling Literacy

Click the image below to link through to KMKO online.

KMKO14 now live

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Poetry Reading

Totally stoked to be the guest poet at the home of poetry in Auckland, Tāmaki: Poetry Live. Tonight! Come along, it’s koha entry with an open mic. I’ll be performing a series of poems around language, place and identity.

Poetrylive poster 16aug16

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Tika Tonu a Tu ki a Koe: A Poetry Reading

TikaTonu 12 Aug 16 - Poetry Reading

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26/07/2016 · 1:01 pm

New Zines

jul16 zines

Auckland Zinefest is tomorrow, 11am-4pm at the Auckland Art Gallery and these are my new zines finished this evening just in time.

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Case layout mō te tātai reta Māori

So this is my initial design, well, it’s about the fourth design so far – but it’s the initial design before trying to set type with it.

maori lay out design mcurtis 0716

I originally wanted to leave as many letters in the same place as in the NZ Printing Museum lay. But, in the end, having the ‘g’ so far away from the ‘n,’ just doesn’t make sense.

But I have kept the uppercase in alphabetical order.* And I have kept the vowels in place, and moved whatever was next to them to allow for the tōhuto (macron) version.

A wee quandary I am having about what to include, punctuation wise, is the ampersand. As someone who loves printing, is interested in typography, as well as someone who is interested in mark making and the forms of lines, I LOVE the ampersand. But is it needed in te reo Māori? There are so many ways of saying ‘and’ for different contexts, that a single ampersand doesn’t really cut it. And the ampersand is also a symbol for a whole word, rather than a sound. Perhaps it can be used in place of ‘me’ as ‘and’ or ‘with’ when listing? I’m not sure. Any thoughts from fluent speakers would be very welcome!!


* I wonder what order the alphabet would be in if it had been designed by Māori?

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Letterpress i te reo Māori

This week, in honour of te wiki o te reo Māori, I have begun a project that will enable me to letterpress print in te reo Māori.

Of course, I could print in Māori now, but there are no macrons and the typecase layout is not ideal for setting in Māori. So many of the letters and symbols are entirely superfluous, and there aren’t enough letters of the ones I do need, (especially w and k).

I am currently researching William Colenso, who was NZ’s first printer,* and his work. Primarily I am looking at the first few years after he arrived in the Bay of Plenty and the Printery he set up there as part of the Church Missionary Society (CMS). When Colenso arrived in late 1834, the orthography had only recently been decided by a panel of missionaries. Early spelling had Waikato look like Wykatoo. The new alphabet had only 13 letters (15 when you include the diagraphs ng and wh, which you should when you’re thinking of the Māori language, but 13 when thinking about letterpress). The CMS was pretty lacklustre in setting Colenso up with proper printing supplies and didn’t send him any typecases at all, just loose metal type. These two issues instigated a new Māori specific type layout.

colenso type layout imageColenso designed type cases specific to his task to print the bible i te reo Māori and had them constructed by a carpenter in Russel. He combined regular and italic into the same tray, but upper and lowercase were separate. This split layout was used for bookwork and longer texts in the 1800s. A ‘Job Case’ which combines the upper and lower case didn’t become common until late in the 19th century and then they were only used for smaller jobs and housed smaller founts.**

Job cases are what is in common use today. Most of the trays I use are in the New Zealand Printing Museum lay out, though I do also use the California Job case. Both are standards for New Zealand. These two images of these layouts are oddly proportioned but they are in fact the same shape, and the structure of the actual wooden case is the same.

nz printing museum typecasecalifornia job case***

I have decided to alter one of the standard job cases for use in setting Māori. This is for a number of reasons.

1. Talterations 1he shape of Colenso’s cases wouldn’t fit into the type cabinets I already use.
2. Job cases are what is used in contemporary printing, rather than separate upper and lower case cases.
3. I want a layout design that specifically makes room  for the new letters that I am getting cast at the Printing Museum foundry in Wellington – each of the five vowels with tohutō (macrons) in both upper and lower case.

So on Sunday, I set about removing some of the cross bars to make for larger sections for the type seeing as I don’t need so many letters and each of the letters I do need, I’ll use more of. There are more w’s in Māori than in Pākehā English for example.alterations 2

The wood was far harder and tougher than I expected and the nails at each juncture just wouldn’t come out. So in the end I employed some barbaric hacking at it to remove the parts I didn’t want. So some sanding is now in order.

I am yet to confirm my exact new design, but it is coming along nicely and I will post that up when it is closer to being finalised. But I do think the final say of the design will come down to how good it is to set type from!

E hiamo ana au mo tēnei kaupapa.


* William Yate was sort of technically the first printer, but he was so shit at it that people disregard him entirely.

** or fonts, if you like – a fo(u)nt is a complete collection of type, all the bits, not just the design (which is a typeface). There is some argument about the contemporary uses of these terms, but to my mind, when talking about letterpress, these terms are useful when understood in this way.

*** Layout images sourced from

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