Stuff idol (poem about decluttering)

Two poetry books: Eight Poems 2018 and The Friday Poem

Two poetry books featuring myself: an almost forgotten thrill

On shelves and hooks it hangs and hovers
always verging on too much
and next year and every year
there will be more of such and such
and more. More stuff.

Gently gently let us unstuff
all our aggregates of things
too dull too bright too wrong too tight.
Every item needs a vote
or out it goes.
Gently gently let us unclog
all our mucked-up super-shelves
of yellow books and speckled nouns
and safety pins and rusty crowns.
Someone else may want that stuff
someone else may vote for it.
And when we die, remainers
will bless the day we started
on the road from heap to hollow
gently gently pondering
every item in our selves
and gently gently holding on
or letting go.

Why I wrote this poem and where it was published and why this was an extraordinary event in my little life

Last week was a beautiful week for New Zealand poetry by any standards, and especially for me. In the mail separately came two books, each featuring one of my poems.

The Friday Poem is a rush of 100  poems chosen by Steve Braunias from his Spinoff column of the same name over the last three years. It’s sparkly and lively and varied, and captures this magic moment when hordes of young New Zealand poets are bursting out of the starting gates, and numerous older poets, like me, are still alive and writing, and a splendid parade of poets in their prime is performing at the top of their game.

By contrast,  Eight poems is an art book designed and letterpress printed at The Pear Tree Press, Auckland, New Zealand, by Tara McLeod in an edition of — wait for it — 30! So that’s a rare and beautiful book from the word go. The eight poets are Richard Von Sturmer, Karl Stead, Brian Gregory, Paul Thompson, Riemke Ensing, Daryl McLaren, Glenn Colquhoun, and me.

I’m still smiling. The reason why I’m so chuffed by these two books is that for about 20 years I never submitted my poems for publication — I never stopped writing, but I got blackballed, I got sidetracked, and then, I suppose, I got forgotten. But then, independently, Steve asked me for a poem for Spinoff, and Tara and Christine McLeod asked me for a poem for Eight Poems. Steve got “But when?”, which I have since published in a little book, Templates. And for The Pear Tree Press I wrote a new poem, which you see above. Decluttering… the idea can feel oppressive to some people, but the act is both cheering and spiritual.

Thanks for reading!

Below, I want to show you the glorious handwriting of Steve and Tara. It’s no accident that these are poetry addicts. These are the most beautiful letters a poet can receive. I had forgotten the thrill. (Poem and photos by Rachel McAlpine CC BY 2.0.)




39 thoughts on “Stuff idol (poem about decluttering)

  1. In my never-ending battle against stuff, I decluttered an upper cabinet in the hall in the minutes I waited for time to leave for yoga. Most papers and workbooks from old training I took looooong ago. Clearing physical and mental soace. 🙂

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Wow. Strike while the iron is hot, at? That must have been satisfying.

  2. Clutter is public enemy number one.
    I love how this poem says that new owners could vote for an item and value it.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      It’s a thought!

  3. Congratulations!

  4. Elizabeth says:

    What delight to be published in such exquisite books.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I couldn’t agree more. All the sweeter for the long accidental pause.

  5. simplywendi says:

    congratulations on being published, what a wonderful accomplishment!
    love the clutter poem, i work very hard at keeping things to a minimum, clutter causes so much stress.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      It does cause stress, yes. At first we may not notice that.

      1. simplywendi says:

        so true!

  6. prue11 says:

    Such wonderful news on this miserable morning dear Rachel! And having just decluttered my books, your line about the yellowing pages resonates strongly.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That’s cool. And thank you.

    2. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Good news for all the Prues!

      1. prue11 says:

        Hehehe! This is Prue Densem…. WordPress just gave me this username and having trouble changing 😊

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        I should have guessed. And you don’t look a day under 10 🙂

  7. Congratulations Rachel. I constantly declutter, it’s quite addictive once you really get started. I do not intend to have anyone have to clean out my junk when I go, so I’m doing it for myself. It’s very cathartic to only have the items you love around you ( Marie Kondo of the Konmari Method). I love your new poem. “Safety pins and rusty crowns” out they go.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Right, that’s a superpower within our reach.

  8. alison41 says:

    Congratulations! how satisfying to see your work in an anthology. Years ago I had a similar experience – its a great feeling. And clutter – I’m constantly turfing STUFF out. I swear it breeds inside the cupboards!!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks Alison. Luckily poems don’t count as stuff in my world.

  9. rummuser says:

    Congratulations. Must feel great seeing your poems in print of such high calibre.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thank you. Yes, it’s like a blast from the past.

  10. kersten says:

    ‘ On the road from heap to hollow ‘ yes I loved this.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      A bit scary maybe…

  11. albert says:

    Great news about the books! Those two publications not only validate and honor your work, they also mean the poems will live on in homes or libraries. That way they can enrich the lives of whoever picks up the books and sits quietly with your small and large visions.

    About the clutter poem, I am especially encouraged by the possibilities for success by dealing with excess “gently, gently.”

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Yes, please be gentle with your foibles.

  12. Jonno says:

    Congratulations on being published not once but twice. How exciting. Love the clutter poem too. We completely decluttered everything in our lives and now live out of two small suitcases so a lot of it rings very true.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That’s quite an achievement, two suitcases! It’s more the timing than the fact of being anthologised again that delights me, but thank you!

      1. Jonno says:

        Well we have never been possession orientated so living out of bags on the road wasn’t too traumatic for us. Took a year to downsize from a 3 bedroom house though.

  13. WhyToStop says:

    Congratulations… this poem actually is great..

  14. having lived in the same house for over 40 years and being a bit of a hoarder – all 4 of us are eek- we need to declutter yet again.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      It’s not a oncer, is it?

  15. hilarymb says:

    Congratulations Rachel on being asked to produce two poems … the poetry books sound so different, yet obviously very precious … that I understand. They haven’t decluttered you … so keep on writing and storing those poems – perhaps on the new shelf space … cheers Hilary

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Sure thing.

  16. JOY journal says:

    “The road from heap to hollow.” This is my prayer for our basement. 🙂

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      You can do it. It’s going to be fun!

  17. It seems that as much as I declutter there’s always something else to chuck out. These days, whenever I’m tempted to buy something (say, an item of clothing) I ask myself: Do I really need it? Most times the answer is no. Thanks for your lovely poem. It was a sweet reminder, especially during the holiday season when we tend to accumulate too much. 🙂
    Congratulations on being part of the Eight Poems collection. Really neat. 🙂

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Isn’t it a great feeling when you hear yourself say no? I love that especially when I have admired it to the full. Thank you so much for your appreciation 🙂

  18. lindakerr36 says:

    I loved your thoughts on decluttering. My kids and I recent had a wonderful day cleaning out the shed.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks Linda! It does feel good to clear out the mess.