August On the Shelf: Poetry picks from Emily Dobson, Siobhan Harvey, Harry Ricketts, Jack Ross, James Norcliffe

Siobhan Harvey: Conversations by Owl-Light, Alexandra Fraser, Steele Roberts, July 2014 Conversations by Owl-Light is the first collection by Auckland author, Alexandra Fraser who is one of the finest contemporary writers engaging with scientific themes in New Zealand. Chemistry, love, botany, family, astronomy, tarot and ancestry: this heady mix of themes is delicately and decidedly well handled by Fraser’s evocative language, pinpoint accuracy and sumptuous concern for human interaction. See here for more details.

Autobiography of a Margueritte, Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle, Hue & Cry, June 2014 See here. Each time I read this first collection of prose-poems by Butcher-McGunnigle I’m staggered by its depth, skill, astuteness and vibrancy. A workbook for illness; a diary of familial dysfunction; a finely tuned navigation through self-representation and identity: Autobiography of a Margueritte is all this and more. A must-read.

Siobhan Harvey‘s recent books are 2013 Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry winning Cloudboy (Otago University Press) and, as co-editor with James Norcliffe and Harry Ricketts, Essential NZ Poems – Facing the Empty Page (Penguin Random House NZ, 2014). Recently, a poem from a new work she is creating was runner up in 2014 New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition.

 

Harry Ricketts:  I Knew the Bride, Hugo Williams, Faber & Faber, 2014  Hugo Williams is my favourite contemporary English poet. His line in mordant wit and lurching loss gets me every time. Here the suite of poems called ‘From the Dialysis Ward’ really hits the spot.

Harry Ricketts recently co-edited Essential NZ Poems – Facing the Empty Page (Penguin Random House NZ, 2014). Harry has a new collection of poems out next year with Victoria University Press.

 

James Norcliffe: A couple of the poetry books I have been reading recently are Siobhan Harvey’s Cloudboy and James Tate’s Return to the City of White Donkeys.

Cloudboy is a remarkable achievement: passionate, imaginative and sustained. It’s hard enough to pull off a short sequence but Siobhan negotiates a book length sequence effortlessly. It is easy to see how this book won the Kathleen Grattan Award last year.

I returned to James Tate’s book because I wanted to talk about flash fiction to a class at the Christchurch School for Young Writers just in advance of National Flash Fiction Day on (appropriately) the shortest day. I’ve been a huge admirer of James Tate ever since I came across The Lost Pilot years and years ago. Return to the City of White Donkeys is a collection of prose poems wry, often funny and often unsettling. Wonderful. I really enjoy Tate’s deadpan surrealism and I was lucky enough to hear him read in America a few years back. There was standing room only on a bleak rainy night.

James Norcliffe recently co-edited Essential NZ Poems – Facing the Empty Page (Penguin Random House NZ, 2014).

 

Jack Ross: First of all, there’s  the Collected Poems of Jack Gilbert (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012). I picked this up secondhand and have been reading it with increasing delight and respect ever since. There’s something plain and straightforward about this guy that really appeals to me. When the book was nominated for the 2013 Pulitzer prize, the citation read: “a half century of poems reflecting a creative author’s commitment to living fully and honestly and to producing straightforward work that illuminates everyday experience with startling clarity,” which I think is quite nicely put. He’s the very opposite of a showboat poet (not that they can’t be fun too, sometimes). He died shortly after the book appeared, so it really is the last word on a lifetime devoted to the craft.

Another book I’ve been reading in this month is the final, complete version of Doc Drumheller’s 10 x (10 + ’10) = 0 (Christchurch: The Republic of Oma Rāpeti Press, 2014). I first met Doc last year, at the Hawke’s Bay Poetry Conference (though we’d been corresponding on and off for years), and found him a very interesting person to talk to. This huge, ten-part poem, compiled over the past decade, consists of a series of poems compiled according to stringent writing restrictions, rather in the mode of an Oulipo project. The tenth and twentieth poem in each volume is a palindrome, reading the same backwards and forwards. Give the popularity of such poets as Christian Bok (Eunoia), it’s nice to know that New Zealand has its own workshop of potential literature humming away down there on the Canterbury Plains (and finding periodic expression in the journal Catalyst, which Drumheller also edits).

Jack Ross teaches at Massey University Albany.  He has a poetry book coming out later in the year from HeadworX. It’s called “A Clearer Look at the Hinterland: Poems & Sequences 1981-2014.” Catch up with what he is doing on his blog here.

 

Emily Dobson: On my bedside table for the last little while has been Marty Smith’s Horse with Hat (VUP: 2014). Any adjective I think of for this book I quickly think of its opposite – it is loud, but also quiet, wicked but also exquisitely tender, you get this primal sense of the horses but it is utterly human – the affection the poems have for their characters is palpable. The collaboration with Brendan O’Brien is brilliant. One of my favourite poems is ‘A mile here, a mile there’, which completely floored me when I first read it on Turbine. Knowing what Marty has put into these poems from when I first met many of them 10 years ago on the MA, I can’t think of a more deserving winner of the Best First Book of Poetry in this year’s NZ Post Book Awards. I’m very proud of her.

Emily Dobson‘s new collection of poems, The Lonely Nude, was published by Victoria University Press in July. I will review this on Poetry Shelf.

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