In the hammock: Martha Batalha’s The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao



The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao, Martha Batalha, One World, 2017 (originally published by Companhia das Letras, 2016)


After studying journalism and literature in Brazil, Marta Batalha moved into publishing, and to California. This is her first novel. It was translated form Portuguese by Eric M B Becker.

This was another book I discovered in authors’ picks in the Guardian for 2017. The binding of the novel made it one of the most difficult books I have read in an age – at times I got sick of  trying to bend back the book. Truly I found myself skimming the edges because it was such a pain holding the book wide open.

Maybe that fits a character who is invisible in the eyes of her husband because he decided she was not a virgin on her wedding night – I just upped the degrees of invisibility. To compensate for her housewife role and lack of status – this reads more like offbeat realism than kitchen sink grit – she invents intense projects for herself that always amplify neighbourhood suspicion. She cooks with flair and invention beyond the expected daily staple and assembles a cookbook that ends up in the trash. Cooking is replaced with sewing – she sews herself into visibility by making the best clothes for the neighbourhood. The sewing machine ends up in the trash.

Her sister had vanished and near the end she returns with her own complicated story and the sibling relationship becomes one of rescue, of finding a way to be visible in the world, to matter and be of worth. The issue of female invisibility has affected women for centuries, along with shaping self to suit oneself. How do we make ourselves beyond the stereotyped role of mother and wife? How do we speak ourselves and make choices the furnish presence, worth?

Writing also has a role to play in Euridice’s invisible life and quest for presence.

If I had not felt like throwing the novel in the trash half the time, because I couldn’t keep the book open, I might have loved it 100 percent – but something, perhaps the strangeness coupled with the acute reality, the caustic wit and the pulsing Rio, the intricate and subtle rebellions, still made this compulsive reading.

12 Questions for the Ockham NZ Book Awards poetry finalists: Elizabeth Smither





Congratulations on your short-list placing Elizabeth!


What poetry books have you read in the past year?

Everything by Wislawa Szymborska and the Penguin Modern Poets series (3 poets in each clutch purse-sized collection): Emily Berry/Anne Carson/Sophie Collins; Malika Booker/Sharon Olds/Warsan Shire etc.


What other reading attracts you?

Almost anything. At the moment I am re-reading Rex Stout and the yellow pyjama-wearing detective Nero Wolfe.


Name some key starting points (or themes) for your collection.

I never discover a theme until a collection is put together. The connections between individual poems can be as subtle and perverse as the most delicate rhyme or rhythm.


Did anything surprise you as the poems come into being?

Perhaps the secret life of animals?


Find up to 5 individual words that pitch your book to a reader.

‘The heart heals itself between beats’ because it was a commission with an extra scoop of fear attached.


What matters most when you write a poem?

Depth and uncertainty.


What do you loathe in poetry?

Nothing. It’s important not to loathe anything.


Where do you like to write poems?

Propped up on a bank of pillows in bed, with the concert programme on the radio and perhaps a glass of wine.


What are strengths and lacks in our poetry scenes?

The chutzpah of our independent publishers; a tendency for too much adulation.


Have you seen a festival poetry session (anywhere) that has blown you off your seat (or had some other significant impact)?

Margaret Atwood and Hans Magnus Enzensberger at the Aldeburgh festival. I read first and sat down between them, shivering.


If you could curate a dream poetry session at The Auckland Writers Festival which poets would be there and who would mc or chair it?

I think I’d do a Dead Poets session. Keats and Shelley, Robert Lowell, William Empson, John Crowe Ransom, Tomas Tranströmer, Szymborska, of course… the possibilities are endless. It might have something of the bitchy tone of ‘The Real Housewives of Melbourne’.  To chair it one of the Paulas: Green or Morris.


Night Horse AUP author page




Albert Wendt is reading at The Thirsty Dog




Talofa, Everyone,

I’m giving a poetry reading at the THIRSTY DOG TAVERN, 469 Karangahape Road, Auckland, on Tuesday 3 April, starting at 8 pm. Musicians will also be performing.


Al Wendt

David Hill asks whether writers exist in Taranaki on the Spin Off

A lot of authors born in Taranaki have left the province on a permanent basis, to become successful or dead. The successful ones are Anthony McCarten and Stuart Hoar from New Plymouth; Dinah Hawken, Gaelyn Gordon, and Fiona Kidman from Hawera; June Opie from Mokau; Fleur Beale from Inglewood; Shonagh Koea from Eltham; Graeme Lay from Opunake, also Jackie Sturm, quondam wife of James K Baxter, and a much nicer human being to deal with; and Sylvia Ashton-Warner from Stratford. The dead one was Frank S Anthony of Midhirst, who wrote his gentle, innocent Me and Gus stories of dairy farms up skinny shingle roads and tongue-tied young men in hairy sports-coats, then sailed for England with a suitcase – a suitcase of manuscripts, and died from TB in a Bournemouth boarding house in 1927.

See full feature here




Lots of poets have connections to Taranaki but I would spotlight Michele Leggott who was born and raised in Stratford and whose latest book Vanishing Points offers  numerous returns. I am going to talk about this glorious book with Michele at some point this year for my blog. I loved it. One of my top poetry reads in 2017.

In the hammock: Jane Harper’s The Dry






Jane Harper is coming to AWF this year. I will miss her session as it clashes with mine but her debut novel is a top read. Now based in Melbourne, Jane has worked as a print journalist in both the UK (her first home) and Australia. The Dry won the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an an unpublished manuscript and was an international bestseller. Her second novel, Force of Nature, awaits me – I got it in the revitalised Paradox Books in Devonport this week.

This is what Ron Rash says on the back cover: ‘The Dry is a marvelous novel that once begun is hard to put down, and once finished even harder to forget’.

Federal Agent Aaron Falk goes back to his small home town after the shocking murder of his childhood best friend and his family. He enters a spider’s web of suspicion and recrimination that is sticky with revelation and side swerves. To be snared in a weblike plot, with no idea of how things will unfold, with writing that is both fluid and evocative, is utterly satisfying. On the one hand you get a thrilling story, but on the other hand, you move deep into the humanity of place. People struggle to survive; they mourn, they fight, they deceive, they aid and they love.

I read this book in one afternoon and for the rest of the day it stuck to everything I did. Highly recommended.


Jane Harper website here








The Poetry Books Society UK list of 100 women poets to read now includes a few New Zealanders

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I encouraged locals to vote on this so delighted to see some of my picks  made the list: Tusiata Avia, Jenny Bornholdt and Hera Lindsay Bird.

This seems like a very timely time to have my book on reading New Zealand women’s poetry in the production pipeline.

You can see the full PBS list here

Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh on TVNZ’s Sunday


    • Sunday 18 Mar

    She’s a runner, a writer, a fighter, a scholar, a mother and a teacher. She’s also New Zealand’s Poet Laureate. Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh is a dynamic academic who wants to bust open people’s ideas of poetry and where it belongs because – she says – poetry belongs everywhere.


  • watch here