Monthly Archives: July 2015

Morgan Bach’s Some of Us Eat the Seeds — sets every part of your readerly self on high alert

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Morgan Bach Some of Us Eat the Seeds Victoria University Press, 2015

I agree with Bernadette Hall. Morgan Bach’s debut poetry collection is ‘both ordinary and extraordinary.’ Morgan is a graduate of the MA in Creative Writing at IIML where she was awarded the Biggs Family Prize in Poetry.

First up a stunning cover (cover design Rowan Heap) and a title that hooks. An allure of blue, the words a cascade downwards in white, the lush red pomegranates spilling their seeds. Gorgeous. The title resonant, already establishing a set of relations (‘us’).

What I especially love about this book is the way it plants anchors in the ground through an attachment to the real yet is unafraid to step into the smudged edges of the worlds that a mind both inhabits and produces. This is a book of collecting fruit, doing the high jump, cooking shows and vampire movies, but it is also a book of dread, heartache, anxiety, love, dreams, foreignness. The three sections are distinctive clusters (family, travel, adulthood), yet there is a satisfying drift of motifs and themes throughout the collection.

The opening poem, ‘What they made,’ is secured in self as it walks into physical detail (these feet, these eyes) and beyond that into a roving  ignition of ideas (by way of a trope: ‘A person// is a weak rope’). The opening question (‘What do I inherit?/ A split face// the eyes of one/ the sighs of another’) is particular apt in a book that faces memory, and in doing so represents myriad versions of self. The resulting poems are both invigorating and effervescent.

Take the title poem for example. The poem houses a jiggety mind at work, a mind walking (walking is a reoccurring device) into the fuzzy, elusive and utterly fascinating pull of memory, with its shifting and established myths, where ‘our country’ is not entirely accessible let alone knowable.

(..) The past is a tether

you don’t need to wear. Time has

its own ways of making people disappear.


Poems become frames for disappearances, for a vanishing (after terrific citations from Mary Ruefle and Adrienne Rich). You can link these unsettling and uncanny departures to memory, to the way things can not remain present reachable fathomable. The way in recuperation things change. Reading through the collection with this fertile knot is provocative yet nourishing. In anther poem, ‘His binding land,’ the disappearance is like a plot cog. A father walks away and off to ‘the paddock/ he called the back of beyond’ to lie ‘in the dew, unblinking/ as the morning changed/ with the cambered spring sun/ into full day.’ This little paternal disappearance resonates so beautifully and is a perfect example of how Morgan leaves a trail of physical traces to spark miniature narratives connections possibilities. Delicious. And then the end of the poem that is poignant, the language sweet in its simplicity: ‘When evening/ slid up and over, his wife/ walked out to find him.’

I posted ‘In pictures’ on Poetry Shelf awhile ago with a note from Morgan and a note from myself, and was surprised to learn the story of the deaths. Morgan’s father was the actor, John Bach, and the countless deaths she had witnessed were on stage. This constitutes another disappearance and is the hallmark of much poetry; what the poet chooses to reveal and conceal. and whether not  to use endnotes, can alter the navigation of a collection. Notes to the poem’s genesis can be fascinating and enlightening but I am equally happy to enter without guy ropes.

The first section, with its poems that draw upon family, family relations and childhood struck a chord with me. I stalled in this section. I got hooked and sent flying, hooked and sent flying. Here there is a richness of line, striking invention, a muscular layering. ‘The swimming pool’ evokes childhood to beautifully, through physical detail yes (Most of the day you’d lie/ on warm concrete/ beside the pool that was cold as needles’), but through so much more than this. The poem shows how childhood is also a state of mind to resist and adore.

I also loved the inventiveness of some of these poems, audacity even. In ‘Vampires,’ Morgan meshes together watching a British cooking show with family, choosing a vampire movie and walking through devastated Christchurch. The result, a sweet interplay of striking connections and overlap.


Here is a sampler of some of the lines that have stuck with me:

‘In that season life was ripe for the feast– plums and lemons, figs, apples; everything fell.’

‘We’re at the centre/ of what we know. We’re brains// and sight.’

‘I see myself alone on a swing/ and watching’

‘Forgive me then if I always// write about watching,/ it’s what a lonely child// does, even when she ventures/ over oceans.’


There is a strong sense of composition to the collection as a whole.  The middle section begins and ends with the cold, inventively, fascinatingly so. In the first poem, ‘Cold,’: ‘In that time we ate only the darkest snows/ and felled lights, brittle paintings.’ The poems travel, they take to the core people and places, otherness foreignness. This line stood out: ‘There are never the right postcards.’ And so it is as if the poems become surrogate postcards with willowy lines leading us to elsewhere. And always the roving mind, the courage to layer ideas alongside heart and acute observation: ‘Take as much time as you have, build the house in your head.’


The final section with its adult yearnings displacements recognitions  pulls uou from betrayals to desire, from love to heartache. I adore ‘This is how to write a love poem’; the way it is aware of its own making (could be old hat as self-reflexivity has been done to death, but here it is refreshed and vital. This is a cluster of love and not-love poems that burst at the seams with flavour impact  vulnerability.,

Reading Morgan’s debut is utterly rewarding as it sets every part of your readerly self on high alert, every bit paying attention to the pulse of the poem, each poem needing the grit of daily life, the surprise and flight of a daring mind, the traces of real life, the miniature stories, the lines that move in the ear so beautifully. Ordinary, extraordinary and yes, astonishing.


Within the next  week or so I will be posting an interview with Morgan.

VUP page here

‘In pictures’ on Poetry Shelf here

Posts about Morgan Bach in The Red Room




Ahh another reason to be in Wellington: James K Baxter’s prose: a launch and a seminar

Victoria University Press warmly invites you to the launch of

James K. Baxter: Complete Prose
edited by John Weir

on Saturday 29 August
at Te Taratara ā Kae, Level 2, Rankine Brown Building, Kelburn Campus Library
Victoria University of Wellington

Seminar: 3.15pm–4.45pm
Launch: 5.00pm–7.00pm
(see below for programme details)
A seminar on aspects of Baxter’s writing life

Fergus Barrowman, publisher at Victoria University Press will introduce the seminar’s speakers:

Dr John Weir on his experiences editing Complete Prose;

Colin Durning, close friend and confidant of Baxter’s on his friendship with the writer;

Eli Kent, playwright and grand-nephew of Baxter, reading a Baxter manuscript on drama;

Dr Paul Millar, Baxter scholar, who will talk about his Baxter research.
Launch of Complete Prose

A karakia for the books will be followed by a performance from Dave Dobbyn singing Baxter’s ‘Song of the Years’.

Guests are invited to stay on for refreshments following the launch.

Copies will be available for purchase courtesy of Vic Books.

This four-volume set contains over a million words, from Baxter’s first draft of ‘Before Sunrise’ as a teenager in 1942 to his ‘Confession to the Lord Christ’ shortly before his death in 1972.

Edited with scrupulous care by John Weir, the Complete Prose is a testament to Baxter’s huge contribution to New Zealand literature, culture and society.

2662 pages: 4 hardback volumes with cloth spines presented in a box.
The box reproduces three details from ‘Poet Three Times’ (Tryptych) by Nigel Brown, acrylic on canvas, Fletcher Trust Collection. $200rrp
The seminar and launch are free to attend, however we do require guests to indicate their attendance by RSVP to Kirsten McDougall by Tuesday 25 August.

Please indicate if you will attend both the seminar and launch, or just one part of the programme
by email:
by post: VUP, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140
by phone: 04 4636531

The Rankine Brown Building is located on the harbour side of the main campus entrance off Kelburn Parade. You enter the library through the Hub (the old Quad). Te Taratara ā Kae is located on Level 2 of the library. Library staff wearing red vests are located on Levels 1 and 2 of the library and can help give directions.
Copyright © 2015 Victoria University Press, All rights reserved.
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Our mailing address is:
Victoria University Press
PO Box 600
Wellington, Wgtn 6140
New Zealand

The Going West Books and Writers Festival celebrates 20 years with a line-up of outstanding home-grown authors, playwrights and songwriters

I am delighted to be chairing a poetry session with Kerry Hines and Leilani Tamu.


The Going West Books and Writers Festival celebrates 20 years with a line-up of outstanding home-grown authors, playwrights and songwriters in a packed programme of events this September.

Featuring enthralling new non-fiction by David Slack, Roger Horrocks, and Geoff Chapple; new novels from Greg McGee, Stephanie Johnson and Anna Smaill and poetry by Harry Ricketts and Leilani Tamu, audiences will also be treated to an appearance from Rachel Barrowman talking about her just-published biography on Maurice Gee and biographer Lucy Treep offers a tantalising insight into the life of Maurice Shadbolt.

Festival founder and director Murray Gray says this year’s writers will become part of the considerable legacy of conversations built up over two decades.

Going West Festival audiences have been treated over the years to extraordinary events featuring such literary luminaries as Allen Curnow, Michael King, Nigel Cox, Ian Wedde, Anne Salmond, Lauris Edmond, Maurice Gee and Maurice Shadbolt.

The festival is named after its Patron, Maurice Gee’s novel Going West. “I’ve been to many writing festivals but none as relaxed and friendly as the Going West…Long may it continue,” says Gee.

Gray adds that this year’s festival sees some landmark announcements.

I am delighted to say the Going West Trust,  in association with the Waitakere Ranges Local Board, will be offering a new creative residency from 2017, in Maurice Shadbolt’s home of some 40 years, here in Titirangi.

“The house has plenty of material for writers to draw on. Shadbolt loved a party, and there were many in his home. He had a colourful personality and lived here through four marriages.  We are so pleased the Waitakere Ranges Local Board has entrusted us with the lease of this culturally valuable property,” says Gray.

The Festival also announces a partnership with Auckland’s  new home for Māori theatre, Te Pou who will be holding  a Koanga (Spring) Festival offering a range of performances, writing workshops and readings and culminating in a community Whānau Day of storytelling on Saturday 12 September at the theatre’s home 44A Portage Road, New Lynn.

Te Pou will present a development season of The Great American Scream by award-winning playwright Albert Belz in the Going West Festival from 17-19 September.

Going West Festival welcomes lauded theatre work, Sister Anzac, by Geoff Allen,  which runs from 3-6 September at Te Pou Theatre in New Lynn.

Stand-up poets have time to sharpen their acts before the Going West Poetry Slam takes place on 12 September. Directed by Doug Poole, this will be a fun, fast-paced evening featuring some of the country’s best known bards. Handsome cash prizes to be won.

Stephanie Johnson, who made her first festival appearance, with an early  novel at the first Going West Festival in 1996, will be the Sir Graeme Douglas Orator this year. This will be part of the festival weekend’s opening night celebrations on Friday 11 September.

The full Going West Books and Writers Festival programme will be online at from July 9. For tickets go to:

The Festival is grateful for support from the Waitakere Ranges Local Board, Creative New Zealand, The Trusts Community Foundation, Foundation North and the Douglas family Trust.

Key dates:

9 July                                     Going West Books and Writers Festival LAUNCH


11- 13 September            Going West Books and Writers Literary Weekend. Titirangi War Memorial Hall, 500 south Titirangi Rd, Titirangi

12 September                   Going West Poetry Slam. Titirangi War Memorial Hall, 500 south Titirangi Rd, Titirangi                 

WRITERS ON MONDAYS In the company of a master: Vincent O’Sullivan


In the company of a master: Vincent O’Sullivan

We kick off our 2015 programme in grand style with one of New Zealand’s finest. Poet Laureate Vincent O’Sullivan’s impressive writing career includes poetry, biography, novels, plays and short stories. His recent publication Being Here is the first to survey the entire span of O’Sullivan’s poetry, from 1973’s Bearings to new poems first published in this volume. Join us as O’Sullivan and longtime publisher and friend Fergus Barrowman take a journey back through an illustrious writing career, discussing favourite themes and preoccupations, recent work, and the public role of poetry.

Writers on Mondays is presented with the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa with support from National Poetry Day and Circa Theatre.


DATE:  Monday 13 July

TIME:   12.15-1.15pm

VENUE: Te Papa Marae, Level 4, Te Papa
(Please note that no food may  be taken onto the Marae).

Welcome back the NZ Book Awards with a gift for fiction

New Zealand Book Awards Return with Major Fiction Prize

After a 12-month hiatus, the country’s premier book awards will return in 2016 with a new structure, a new judging process and a significant, annual fiction prize of $50,000.

The New Zealand Book Awards winners will be announced at an event during the country’s largest literary gathering – the Auckland Writers Festival – in May 2016.

The New Zealand Book Awards Trust chair, Nicola Legat, says she is delighted to announce the changes, and in particular the major fiction award, which is provided by the Acorn Foundation, through the generosity of one of its donors.

“It creates a tremendous and lasting literary legacy. The sum of $50,000 will be awarded to the top fiction work annually, in perpetuity. This will make a difference not only to the receiving writer, but also to the literary fabric of New Zealand. It is a huge gift for us all.”

The Acorn Foundation is a Western Bay of Plenty-based community foundation that encourages people to leave bequests in their wills, or gifts during their lifetimes.

Acorn Foundation’s Operation’s Manager, Margot McCool, says it is humbling to witness such generosity.

“Since 2003 we have been encouraging generosity, so that people who really care about their community can fulfil their wish of enabling organisations and causes they believe in. We are so pleased that this award will make such a difference to New Zealand novelists’ careers,” says Mrs McCool.

In addition to an annual fiction winner, there will be a poetry, a general non-fiction and an illustrated non-fiction winner and, should there be sufficient entries, a Māori language award. The three Best First Book Awards will also continue.

Ms Legat added that including the awards in the Auckland Writers Festival programme ensures they reach more people.

“The New Zealand Book Awards will be the first public event in the festival’s line-up. With the festival growing exponentially year-on-year (55 percent in 2014 and a further 17 percent in 2015), we are taking New Zealand writers to a huge reading audience.”

Auckland Writers Festival director Anne O’Brien says embracing the New Zealand Book Awards was a natural fit.

“The festival is committed to sharing a love of books and reading and to championing and supporting New Zealand writers through exposure to thousands of festival-goers each year.  The New Zealand Book Awards are a celebration of writing excellence and we’re delighted to offer them a home in the festival’s programme,” says Ms O’Brien.

The four main categories will be judged by specialist judges, three per category, plus a Maori language adviser for the Maori language awards.  The judges will select a long list of around eight books in each category. It will be announced in November 2015.

The shortlist of four books in each of the categories will be announced in early March 2016.

“The changes to the judging process are a direct result of the consultation process carried out by the Book Awards Trust in 2014. Having fewer books for each judge to read, and having more specialist depth in each genre, will allow a more detailed examination of the works,” says Ms Legat.

The call for entries in the awards is scheduled for August 1 this year.

For interview opportunities and further information please contact: Penny Hartill, director, hPR 09 445 7525, 021 721 424,

Full article go here

Dunedin’s Writers Salon

Please join us for our next
Writers Salon

Please join us for our next Writers Salon

Monday July 6th, 2015
The Thistle Café and Bar, 23 The Octagon

Featured writers:

Breton Dukes
reading from his novel in progress, Betty Dean

Emma Neale
reading from ‘The How Do We Begin,’ a prose/poetry extract from a longer work, Billy Bird
(published in Landfall 229)

Neville Peat
reading an essay from Wild Central, and a narrative from Coasting: The Sea Lion and the Lark

All welcome

Please come at 6.00 pm if wish to eat.
Readings start at 7.00 pm.

A shameless plug for poetry

My book The Letter Box Cat and other poems is a finalist — most unusual to have poetry there. So this seems like a golden opportunity to make a national show of children’s hands for poetry. Do get children to vote! (the other books are excellent too, I have to say!). So few children’s poetry books get published here. Bottom of rung in my view.

Only children can vote.

2015 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults

Children’s Choice 

Would you like to choose the winners in the 2015 New Zealand Children and Young Adults Book Awards?


Be part of the Children’s Choice voting and have your chance to vote for the New Zealand books you think are the best.

Children and teenagers across the country have been busy reading and reviewing their favourites amongst all the New Zealand books entered in the 2015 NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Their votes created a list of 20 books they think are the best.

So get voting: we want to know what New Zealand kids think. Choose your favourite in the Top 5 in each category that’s relevant to your age group. (We have adult judges separately deciding on the overall winners, but we also want to know what kids think are the best books.)

Everyone kid who votes (you’ll need to be 18 years old or under) will be in the draw to win some books for yourself and for your school. On the second page we will ask you questions to help us contact you via your school if you win. If you are unsure about anything ask mum or dad or your teacher to help you.

Voting closes at 12 noon on Friday, 31 July.

So vote now and tell your friends to vote too. Just click here to vote!

Voting button