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Sport 25: Spring 2000


page 175


Born in Wanaka in 1926, F.H. Ribbons began writing poetry in a tree house his parents built. He used a green pencil, and a lined pad printed with an elephant on the cover. ‘The paper was the colour of an overcast sky;’ he once said, ‘my pencil nib was the nose of a plane, flying blind through moody weather.’ After his schooling, he served in the armed forces and continued to write poetry while travelling on board fighter vessels during World War Two. In the virile atmosphere of the time and environment, he had to claim that the poems were letters to his sweetheart. Consequently, his line breaks and line lengths are some of the strangest in the language. To perpetuate his clever ruse, Ribbons used to post these poems to a lady cousin, who lived next door to his parents. While we might see this as a literary forerunner of the off-site back-up copy, his concerned family used the poems as evidence that he had become unfit for service. They cited, in particular, several instances of synaesthesia or sense transposition: such as ‘the lemon ticked like an hourglass’, or the assertion that loud, unexpected noises at night startled sharp lights across the vision. Following complicated bureaucratic procedures and considerable paperwork, Ribbons was discharged from service. Upon his return to civilian life, he spent some time as a psychiatric outpatient. Records hold that Ribbons was an animated and invigorating conversationalist, whom consultants and registrars alike looked forward to interviewing each week. One comment from his files reads, ‘Ribbons is a real tonic. Wish he were genuinely ill so could continue sessions.’ Ribbons was then, in rapid succession, a fire-safety officer for the travelling, animal-free, Zippo's Circus, a sales executive for his father-in-law's biological glass firm, and a high-school literature teacher. His poetry was largely overlooked until it was revealed after his death that he was medically classified as a hermaphrodite. Upon this discovery, literary critics enthusiastically reassessed his work, recent opinion concluding that its earlier obscurity was possibly deserved. For this reason, we cautiously withdraw the Libretto for Milk-truck, Tricycle and Rider included in this issue's table of contents, and apologise to our readers.