Monthly Archives: February 2015

Poem Friday: Nina Powles’ ‘Josephine’ — This is a poem of curvature and overlap

 

Nina

 

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Author bio:  Nina Powles studied English literature and Chinese at Victoria University, where she is now studying towards her MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters. Her poetry and non-fiction has appeared in Salient, Turbine and Sweet Mammalian. Girls of the Drift (Seraph Press 2014) is her debut poetry collection. She will spend the upcoming year working on a new collection of biographical poems.

 

Author note: ‘Josephine’ is one of a pair of poems that I wrote in response to my favourite short story by Katherine Mansfield, ‘The Daughters of the Late Colonel’. The two sisters, Josephine and Constantia, have only ever known a life of duty and obedience to their father, until he dies, and then the world begins to open itself up to them in a series of small moments of colour and brightness. In my reading and writing, I always find myself thinking about people and places stuck in the in-between, caught in phases of transition. So I think I wanted this poem to sit on the verge of brightness. I wanted to crawl into the dark bedroom where Josephine feels trapped—and maybe start to show her the way out.

 

Note by Paula: I read this poem out of context, without linking it to Katherine Mansfield’s story, and I was struck by the luminous detail that sets the poem in marvellous shifting lights. The adjectives pulsate (‘the dark shell’).  I love the jarring counterpoint of expectation and discovery in the opening lines. I love the way the beginning and end take hold of each other in that sticky, candied link. This is a poem of curvature and overlap. Time folds in on itself as it does like rock striking rock to produce a spark of elsewhere. So the marmalade leads you to the core of the poem and core of memory with its emotional kick. And the image of the hand (‘thin like spindly bones in a/ small purse’) with its little potent bite,  again leads to small child and old father. Poems can reach you in small, perfectly formed packages such as this, and the joy is in the alluring rustle of tissue paper. This detail shining through here, that discovery shining through there. I use the word, ‘rustle,’ as this is a poem of sweetly composed music; there is the rustle of vowels and consonants that lifts beyond meaning, beyond feeling and then adds to each. I read Nina’s note after I wrote this and smiled at the notion of ‘small moments of brightness.’

 

Seraph Press page here

 

 

 

 

100 Metre Poem Mystery — a poem to be saved!

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Hidden in the middle of Wellington is New Zealand’s largest artwork, a poem on the foreshore that is 100 metres long. Who wrote it? Can it be saved before it perishes?

Thanks to the sleuths at the Dompost we now know the name of the poem and the author. It is ‘Ruamoko Crescent’ by David Eggleton. It was installed by Stewart Griffiths in 1994. So the mystery is solved. But now we need to muster support to save the poem from imminent destruction by – literally – time and tide.

To help raise awareness of this hidden art please go to this YouTube link and this Facebook page and share.

Nina Powles’ Girls of the Drift – I love the way lines turn a corner and surprise you

 

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Nina Powles, Girls of the Drift Seraph Press 2014

Nina Powles was the Books Editor for Salient last year, has an Hons Degree in English Literature and Chinese from Victoria University and is about to commence an MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters.

Nina’s debut chapbook is handbound and in striking pink with owls peering off the cover. Eye-catching. Exquisite. Borrowed from a poem in the book, the title, too, is eye-catching. It takes its name from a pamphlet Jessie Mackay wrote and published in 1928 on the social and moral responsibilities of young women (Girl of the Drift). Nina’s endnote discusses the passion that Jesse and fellow poet Blanche Baughan felt for social justice. Nina’s poems also seem to be sparked by a passion for writing, living and navigating the world beyond the doorstep, that is paradoxically the doorstep itself.

This is a collection of poems that engages with the lives of women, fictional or otherwise. Holding this book, I am reassured we write out of the women (and men for different reasons) who paved the way for us, not just in the pioneering poems and stories they wrote, but in the lives lived that stepped out of the norm (the first female lighthouse keeper for example). Nina also acknowledges her ENGL422 Modern Poetry class of 2014 run by Anna Jackson and the Alexander Turnbull Library with its storehouse of letters and documents. While the poems feel light and refined on the page, you also get a sense of the wider world — a world of books, thinking, discussions. A bit like what Blanche and Jessie engaged in.

I love the richness of context of the poems (Katherine Mansfield and her characters, a ghost at an old school, real things and invented things, a history of the poet’s reading), but I also love the way lines turn a corner and surprise you.

 

from Pencarrow Lighthouse

The wind spins dead things in circles.

Collect up the wintertime, won’t you,

crack it on a rock,

drop it from a height.

 

The glint of detail is so mouthwatering, it is as though the poems become miniature packages  of story — of this place and that woman, of this weather and that ocean. The detail, so good at animating poetry, augments the life of the poem, visually, aurally, emotionally.

 

from Volcanology

[ … ] I keep

pieces of the volcano on my

windowsill, next to the honey

jars, so they don’t forget.

 

Nina’s collection stretches with the agility of a wordsmith who knows just where to break a line, shift a point of view or the pitch of a phrase. The poems take flight from the reading and research that a university offers, and the experience and insight you bring to that reading. I loved this collection and to celebrate its arrival I am posting a poem from it, with notes by both Nina and me, as my first Poem Friday of 2015 on February 27th.

 

Seraph Press page

 

Kerry Hine’s Young Country: a sense of humour and a fearless inventiveness

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Kerry Hine, Young Country, Auckland University Press, 2014

Kerry Hine’s debut poetry collection is an offspring of her doctoral thesis, ‘After the Fact: Poems, Photographs and Regenerating Histories’ (Victoria University, 2012). Her thesis considers the photographs of William Williams amongst other things and these alluring photographs act as prompts for her poems. William was a well-regarded, nineteenth-century photographer with a passion for the outdoors, and for railways in particular.  He walked and camped and canoed. He photographed both rural and urban settings. Kerry’s poetry comes out of scholarly endeavour; the research is acknowledged at the back of the book in the bibliography and the extensive notes on both image and text. The thesis title, ‘After the Fact,’ resonates with intellectual and poetic movement. The writer takes a step back into history (to view the images, read material), yet she steps off from the fact of the matter (the staged scene, the fallible anecdote) to her own territory. The photographer has framed a set of circumstances selectively with his own eye/slant, and the poet does likewise. You could say the poem, ‘after the fact,’ is a second framing where invention rubs shoulders with historical records. Reading the poems in this context raises questions. What links are made to history/histories? Can we spot the personal predilections of the poet? Do we need facts? Can poetry reframe history in a way that draws us deeper into the past. Can we track both minor and major narratives in image and poem?

Before I started reading the book, I decided I had three options. First option is to read the photographs and follow the melancholic edge of the dead scenes, the fascination of the frozen moment, without the poems. I did this a little and loved the movement that each image ignited, belying both death and the stoppage of time. Always that trace of melancholy though. Second option is to read just the poems and try and ignore the mesmerising flicker of image in the corner of my eye. That was tough as the photographs tugged me away. Yet to stop and enter the heart of the poems was rewarding. I got carried into the territory of elsewhere. Third option is to read page by page, poem and photograph, and enjoy the flavoursome link and sidesteps. This is what I did in the end.

Young Country is a beautifully produced book with its sheen of paper, white space, terrific reproductions, inviting openness of font and internal design. Auckland University Press is exemplary in its book design and this book is no exception.

Kerry’s poems do take you back in time where men are catching eels, felling trees, smoking pipes, drinking whiskey, tenting, pondering the meaning of life, being alone. What of the women? I especially loved the multifaceted portraits  of the women. There are the wives, the mothers — but then, the surprise of the butcher’s wife who darns a man’s hand. Or the rising  questions of the new wife (‘Not doubts. Little questions.’). Or the woman whose ‘bed has grown around her,/  trying to accommodate// her illness.’ An illness defined as feminine hysteria with the cure a prescription to breed, constantly breed. Or the little resistance of the widow:

 

The Widow

An apple is an apple

is a simple fruit.

 

What women are supposed to need

I can do without.

 

What men can do

I can do without.

 

The photograph opposite this poem is an empty, gravel road heading into the bush in Masterton. A scene awaiting the pitch of the axe, the hearty yarn, the doing and the not-doing, and the needed and the not-needed.

 

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Photo credit: Forty Mile Bush, Masterton William Williams c1885 (1/1-025950-G)

There is both elegance and economy at work in the poetry; a judicious use of detail that is like the  visual snag of a photograph. Context becomes enlivened. In ‘Wellington,’ the scene is set perfectly in the opening lines: ‘Young men in bowler hats/ spring up like weeds.’ Or this in ‘After the Flood’: ‘Over our heads, debris in the trees.’ In the same poem, a scholarly observation adds historical detail: ‘Geometry gave way to geography. The settlement found its own course.’ In ‘Sarah,’ the detail of living: He writes of ‘his eel and/ spinach pie, cooking/ with gorse,’ while she answers ‘with trees/ blown down, a bee-stung/ tongue.’ The weather, too, refreshes the page with inventive detail (the best weather lines I have seen in ages!): ‘The absence of moonlight/ a kind of weather.’ ‘The river, rinsed of sunlight, is running/ clean along the bank.’ ‘[T]he scraped canvas of the sky/ the sky dropped and put back before/ anyone could notice.’ ‘Rain stings the window,/ rattles the wall.’ ‘The rain snaps at house./ The house recoils as if bitten.’

Detail animates the terrific extended sequence, ‘Settlement.’ The detail accumulates satin lining on upside down spout, grown boys  on the smell of grenadine. This is the portrait of a woman, a wife and mother that moves and astonishes. Always the achingly real detail that ties interior to exterior, man to woman, place to person. Some lines are quick to the bone as you read:

 

No stepping stones, but

rocks in a river.

 

A storm of summer insects,

lightning birds.

 

She says the things that

someone ought to say.

 

The water’s arguments run

for and against.

 

The cold is shocking

but she keeps her feet.

 

William’s photograph a few pages earlier, with the empty chairs,  the tea cups in the dresser and the guns on the wall, is also a portrait of the woman (a woman). You fall into this photograph and you fall into a thousand household stories. The chores, the time passing, the world outside, order, expectation, internal and external means of survival.

 

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Photo credit: House Interior William Willams 1888-? (1/2-140288-G)

 

 

As much as I loved the way the poems transport me back within a historical frame, to those men and women bending into the strangeness and toughness of new lives, two things stood out for me in this collection: a sense of humour and a fearless and inventive use of tropes. Many contemporary poets hold tropes at arm’s length as they seek out a plainness of line (although other complexities and delights take hold of the ear). Kerry’s tropes so often fan the visual impact of a poem. Crackling with visual impact. Deliciously fresh. Here are a few of my favourites: ‘The bush grows back/ like a balding man’s hair.’ ‘He sang like an organ making up the fire.’ ‘The breast-stroking sea/ turns at the wall.’ ‘Night surrounds her like mint cake./ She feels its grit in her teeth.’ ‘[H]is consciousness of her/ was like a trunk of empty/ clothes; he was embarrassed/ to be caught holding them/ against himself.’ Glorious.

The humour is another gold vein. Sometimes it is a mere word. In ‘Tom at Board,’ a new word is coined that wickedly catches the sameness of dinner: ‘served up with/ muttononous regularity.’ Or the irony  of the lost pipe: ‘For the others’ sake/ he tried to keep it safe// between his teeth.’ Or the way humour takes root in the familiar in this case of insomnia: ‘the ill-mannered sheep/ have forgotten how to be sociable/ except with rocks and bushes.’  Humour is one way Kerry sidesteps from the photograph. It is way of ensuring her poems are visually and emotionally active.

Yet this collection is not all humour and eye-catching tropes — in this astutely crafted collection there is balance. You fall upon a line here and a line there that shows you the poet viewing the world and our myriad ways of inhabiting it. Now the poet becomes part philosopher: ‘Home is a road/ in a glen.’ ‘We have no seasons,/ only tides.’ The oxymoron: ‘A land of opportunity, a land of/ narrow possibilities.’ ‘The photographer’s wife’s sister/ is a kind of sum.’

I loved too the epigramatic poems. Without titles they act as delightful poetry interludes in the way Bill Manhire’s billowy couplets do. Here a few favourites:

 

he sings the old songs,

enjoys a couple of good notes

 

Or:

afterwards he waited as

she sewed his buttons back on

 

Or:

Three in the morning. Tui,

morepork. No, but. No, but.

 

Kerry’s debut collection is haunting and complicated. Down to earth and resonant. One line is like an entry point to the whole collection: ‘She had been thinking something other,/ out of the photograph.’ Reading my way out of the poem, is a prismatic experience. Into history yes, but the poems are also a way back into the present. How we live now overlays how we lived then. Still labour. Still love. Still loss. Still hunger. Still narratives. The poems are held against the light. Luminous. With shifting points of view. This wife and that husband. This river bank and that shingled street. This suffering and that loneliness. This bridge and that glass in hand. I am hard pressed to recall a collection quite like it — a whiff of John Newton or David Howard or Jeffrey Paparoa Holman perhaps. Angela Andrews. Chris Price. Marty Smith. This is worth reading.

 

Auckland University Press page

Kerry Hine’s page

National Radio interview with photographs

 

 

Hue & Cry’s first event of the year features Alison Glenny and John Summers

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We’re excited to announce our first reading event for 2015: Alison Glenny and John Summers at Six Barrel Soda Co.

Next Friday evening, Alison Glenny will be reading the final installment (part 16) from her epic online serial FARLIGHT. You can catch up on the previous installments here. John Summers will be reading from his forthcoming book, THE MERMAID BOY. His book will be published by Hue & Cry Press at the end of April.

Alison Glenny & John Summers
6PM, Friday 27 February
Six Barrel Soda Co.
Level 1, 33-35 Dixon Street
Wellington

All Good Poems Wear Travelling Shoes: A Dunedin Fringe Festival event

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As part of the Dunedin Fringe Festival, a new Dunedin ‘City of Literature’ event combines literary luminaries with the cream of the new ‘Dunedin Sound’.

Some of New Zealand’s top poets have combined with the cream of the new ‘Dunedin Sound’, acting and creative talent.

Eight Dunedin poets have had one poem each interpreted and embodied by a team of musicians and actors to produce eight distinct and unique works.

These works will be performed by the musical and acting teams during the event, which also includes the poet’s own reading of their featured poems; this way the audience can compare the created piece with the poets own reading.

The combination of the distinct art forms of Poetry, Music and Acting will ensure an energetic and diverse event that is sure to hold something for all tastes.

This provocative and engaging event showcases some of the literary talent that underpins Dunedin’s status as a UNESCO City of Literature while at the same time heralding the quality of Dunedin’s musical and creative talent.

Poets featured : Emma Neale, Sue Wootton, James Dignan and Carolyn McCurdie, Shae McMillan, Giles Graham, Ian Loughran & Sas Ambicus.

Musicians featured include members of Dunedin bands Strange Harvest, Opposite Sex, Kilmog and acclaimed Christchurch Cellist Nicole Reddington.

Players include: Kiri Martin, Dell Mcleod, Tim Player & Ian Loughran.

The event was created and devised by Dunedin Poet, writer and broadcaster Ian Loughran

Where: Taste Merchants, Lower Stuart Street, Dunedin

When: 14 March 7.30pm & 15 March 6.30pm

Contact: Ian Loughran

Email ianloff@yahoo.com.au

Tel: 03 467 5425  mobile: 0210 272  5165