On reading Sport 43

Sometimes a literary journal is just the ticket for rainy-day blues, diversion, or the need to put a finger on a literary pulse. Ha! The notion of a literary pulse is where debate ensues. Each finger will be sensitive to different nuances, different implications.  I strongly believe that national anthologies that claim to represent a wide group ( New Zealand, for example) must be challenged if gender, ethnicity, age or geographic-location biases fuel significant blind spots. For decades, women were the blind spot in anthologies and journals, and now, at times it seems there is token representation of  work by Māori, Pasifika and Asian authors. Literary journals, however, are often the bloodline of a place, a niche, a literary disposition, and nearly always reveal the predilections of the editor. Sport comes out of Wellington, and it is to a great degree of Wellington (not in subject matter, but in terms of authors selected). It is a celebration of the writing by both established and emerging writers that have some connection with the city, often through Victoria University or its Press.  I have no problem with this.  I most definitely have no problem with this when the work included catches my attention and sends me in directions both familiar and unfamiliar.

The latest issue worked a treat for my rainy-day blues.

Seven essays are sprinkled through the selection of poetry and fiction, and if this is a new feature, it is a feature I applaud in this climate of idea-sharing in creative and stimulating forms. Long may it continue.

When I first picked up the book, I went straight to Chris Price (out of longing for a new collection perhaps) and immediately did a tweet review. Tucked away at the back of the book, it felt like the best had been saved for last with the playful, audacious flick and flash of words that catch your ear and send you flying to a nursery rhyme or Murphy’s Law or cheeky wit or the subtle twist and let’s-be-serious of the last word, ‘unspoken.’

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This time I went to an unfamiliar name first, ‘Ruth Upperton,’ and what a discovery. Think I must have yearning for the comfort and absolute pleasure of poetic musicality (why I like the poems of Michele Leggott and Bill Manhire so much). Ruth has appeared in other journals, has just finished a law degree and lives in Palmerston North. Her five poems are different, the one from the other, but are linked by gorgeous rhyming (off, aslant, sliding), infectious repetitions, aural chords, sumptuous words. There is poetry out of sentences and there is poetry out of curiosity. You shift between comfort and strangeness.


from ‘The lonely crow’

Nothing sadder than a lonely river.

Nothing darker than a single crow.

Shiver at the strong’s surrender.

Play a tune on your June piano.


James Brown’s terrific poem, ‘Mercy,’ made me hungry for a new James Brown collection.

Anna Jackson’s three cooking-show poems suggest she is just getting better and better ( I am working my way through Catallus so I can review her new collection soon). I love the way the ingredients (excuse the pun) in these poems shift and flicker from one poem to the next, and in their new baking dishes taste a little different. The sort of poems that evoke a steady engagement at the level of sound and narrative.

Sarah Jane Barnett’s sequence of poems, Addis Ababa,’ caught me by surprise. They take me to an elsewhere, the elsewhere of  displacement, of otherness, of immigrants. The poems step up from everything Sarah has previously written, and then take another step into risk, empathy, inquiry, experience. What a combination.


Rachel Bush’s ‘Long and short,’ is a poem that moved me with its exquisite detail and revelation, a family story (true or false) that catches in the throat. The poetic glue: the baked bread.


So many things accumulate. They weigh us

off balance. We struggle to stay upright,

we lurch and are precarious. Our feet are flat

and sudden. It was easier when we had

a mum and dad. Easily we could blame them

when we were less than we desired.



Still most essays and fiction to read, but started here: Damien Wilkinson’s lecture/essay navigates a subset of the ‘ought’ and ‘ought not’ of narrative: the way it ought/ ought not represent some kind of personal change (character based). Fascinating following the thread of argument. Is this a requisite ingredient in poetry? That poems ought to navigate some kind of change? I raise this because, and I am shifting tack a little here, I am fond of poems that exhibit some kind of movement (and movement may be zen-like and hold change within its sameness and vice-versa). Poetic movement need not be on a grand, spectacular scale. It might be miniature shivers in the poem, sweet little movements that you catch out of the corner of your eye, or a flicker in your ear, or a faint tremble of your heart, or the tug of an idea that is itching to confound, challenge and pull you elsewhere. That is what I felt when I read, ‘She cannot work,’ Ashleigh Young’s foray into fiction. It is what I felt reading this issue of Sport, a catalogue of movements that displaced my state of fatigue.


Sport: miniature shivers in the writing, sweet little movements that you catch out of the corner of your eye, or a flicker in your ear, or a faint tremble of your heart, or the tug of an idea that is itching to confound, challenge and pull you elsewhere.









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