Monthly Archives: September 2017

Poetry Shelf reviews Nina Powles’s Luminescent – Every poem is a jewel of a thing

 

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Luminescent, Nina Powles, Seraph Press, 2017

 

Nina Powles’s debut poetry collection, Luminescent, is a set of five slender chapbooks in a night-sky sleeve. Each book is like a constellation, with a particular woman, its luminosity. (Auto)biography of Ghost catches a ghost who was said to haunted Queen Margaret College’s bell tower where she fell to her death; Sunflowers becomes a conversation and an homage to Katherine Mansfield; Whale Fall imagines the world of Betty Guard, perhaps the first Pākehā woman to have lived in the South Island; Her and the Flames draws upon Phyllis Porter who died at 19 when her costume caught alight in a theatrical performance; The Glowing Space Between the Stars turns to Beatrice Tinsley, a New Zealand cosmologist. There are notes in the back of each booklet that background each woman.

 

I love the way the poems talk to each other within each booklet and between booklets.

 

The poetry extends itself in imaginings, yet grounds itself in the light of an autobiographical presence and research. Motifs such as dust, moths, ghosts and dreams are like connecting lacework that render a sense of ethereal wholeness to the set. The poems accumulate exquisitely textured voice; confident and idiosyncratic, searching and still, melodic and spare, intricate and warm. Every poem is a jewel of a thing.

 

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Sunflowers takes several Mansfield experiences as starting points for poems: she burnt all her letters and journals when she was in her early turbulent twenties; she wrote about a writing epiphany after seeing a Van Gogh painting for the first time; she recorded a dream after her brother’s death. In an early chapbook, Girls of the Drift, Nina put New Zealand poets, Jessie Mackay and Blanch Baughan together in poetry. The poems offered surprising pathways into our first women poets in print alongside a young contemporary poet forging her own poetic trails. With the Mansfield poems, I feel like I am sitting in a room in the South of France, and each poem resembles an aperture in the wall that pulls me into a Mansfield dreaming.

‘Fever dream’ is without punctuation, a slim short-lined poem that sizzles with ‘s’ alliterations that cut into the feverish night. In the midst of the hissing heat (stinging scorching nerves skin simmers inside struck bones sky she rising), two words cut into the fevered skin (teeth cracking). The poem is visually alert with its storm inflected sky. What stamps the poem indelibly is the final image:

 

bones cracking under

a New Zealand sky

and she is the wave

rising to meet it

 

‘She’ is Mansfield, and in that wave of fevered self, I am hooked into Mansfield musings.

The poems tap nostalgia, calling upon the senses to electrify the page. ‘Silver dream’ is set in a London garden in 1915, where Katherine bites into the pear her brother hands her:

It tastes like jam sandwiches

and sunshine on her mother’s hair.

 

After physical details that light the scene, the poem shifts to dream again, to the ghost-like vein that runs through all the poems, and it’s a surprising nudge. The pear leads us to ‘where everything is silver/ and he is alive again’, and the idyllic setting shifts. We are also lead to the collection’s title, as the whole poem glows with ache and loss in subtle overlaps:

 

Later she plants a pear tree

in one of her stories,

 

makes it glow in the window,

makes it touch the moon.

 

Several booklets feature erasure poems, where blocks of ghostly grey enable certain words to shine out as a poem. That we can see the journal entry in ‘Lucid dream’, through the grey veil, adds to the dream-like state of shiver and float. I pictured the whole journal translated into grey-veil poems. The lines that lift up feel so apt: ‘Time/ was shaken/ out of me.’ The final word, ‘violet’, pulls back to sweet-scented earth, to that nostalgic hunt for elsewhere places and elsewhere memories.

 

I love this set of poetry booklets, because we still need light shining on the shadows to recover the women who did extraordinary things, or everyday things, so they form a constellation, a suite of coordinates that might shift our contemporary means of navigation.

 

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The Glowing Space Between Stars again links to the collection’s title, and underlines the idea that poetry can light up things, experiences, relations, ideas, feelings, memory. Beatrice, the cosmologist, shows how the space between things is the domain of curiosity. And for me, that feeds back into the way poetry is also curious about the gaps between. When you enter the poem gap, you enter a luminous field that so often surprises or delights or upturns.

Nina lists things in Beatrice’s childhood room; out of these things grew the adult curiosity (did anyone do this for Einstein or Newton?). She imagines the girl at 16:

 

then rushing home immediately

to write down what she’s seen,

noting especially

the glowing space between stars,

how it seems to have changed

since the night before.

 

Nina is making poems and she is making biographies, the one coming out of the other, and it is as though she is not tied to the rules of one or the rules of the other but can imagine and detour and intrude. In ‘Minutes’, the poet moves behind the galaxy facts, and the ongoing discoveries, to reveal the hiding narratives, the domestic underlay:

 

The light emitted by distant galaxies

takes billions of years to reach us.

It comes from a far younger universe,

somewhere where no one ever worried

about ironing their husband’s shirts

or arranging after-school childcare

because there were no ironing boards

and no children and no husbands

 

Five glowing booklets of poems that shine beyond the individual poems to gather a necessary and inventive, a lyrical and seismic, view of five very different women. I love this collection with its feminist energy, its poetic agility and its warm heart.

 

This, too, was the perfect time

to measure things in infinities.

 

from ‘Red (ii)’

 

Nina Powles, half Malasian-Chinese and half Pākehā, is from Wellington where she graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University. There, she won the 2015 Biggs Family Prize for Poetry for Luminescent’s first draft. She writes poetry, non-fiction and makes poetry zines. Her chapbook, Girls of the Drift, was published by Seraph Press in 2014.

 

Seraph Press page

Nina Powles web page

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Given Words poetry competition for National Poetry Day 2017 – the winners

 

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Given Words is delighted to announce the winners of the ‘Given Words’ poetry competition for National Poetry Day 2017.

The winner of Best Poem is Elizabeth Brooke-Carr for her poem All this and the winner of the Under-16 category is Hannah Earl for her poem A Magical Visit.

They will receive a copy of the New Zealand Poetry Yearbook 2017, courtesy of Massey University Press, and Lonesome When You Go by Saradha Koirala, courtesy of Mākaro Press, respectively, and their poems have been translated into Spanish and published on Palabras Prestadas. They will also be included in the forthcoming collection ‘Palabras Prestadas 6’ to be published in Spain.

In the run up to the competition we asked Kiwis to send us words via video and from these we chose the five words: exhilarated, static, finish, kaitiakitanga and biscuitchip. You can see the video of the five words here. All New Zealanders and NZ residents then had until National Poetry Day 25 August to write a poem that included these five words. The competition was judged by New Zealand poet and artist, Charles Olsen, who commented on the entries:

“I have enjoyed many of the images created such as a couple (I assume) who ‘huddled into curiosity’ as they contemplated a find on the beach; the sea – Hinemoana – ‘daggered with a cracked splinter of ice’ bringing a different take on climate change as does another poem pointing out ‘this earth is not our mother/fond and ever-forgetting’; the topical reflection on the elections with ‘media static posing as fact’; a reflection on life and death as ‘paua eyes weep tears of rain’. Kaitiakitanga was not an easy word to fit into a poem and I liked the originality of ‘the kaitiakitanga of your days… slips from you’, in The Finishing Time, and the delightful ‘kitchen floor act’ in Our Dog Pleads for Food. The poem All this stood out for me because it tells a simple story full of wonderful details. A conversation with a gull on a windswept beach introduces the concept of kaitiakitanga and we move on towards a second conversation and unanswered questions…

“I was also impressed by the creativity of our younger poets and was particularly drawn to the opening imagery of Songbird where the unexpected phrasing has something of the otherworldliness of birdsong. In the end I have settled on A Magical Visit with its vivid imaginary world – the way poetry can open thought spaces – and the particularly creative way the five words have all found a place within the story.”

We invite you to read the winning poems along with the other poems received.

 

 

 

National Library poetry event – Six o’clock: Poets under the influence

  • Date: Thursday, 19 October, 2017
  • Time: 5.30pm light refreshments for 6pm start
  • Cost: Free
  • Location: Te Ahumairangi (ground floor), National Library, corner Molesworth and Aitken Streets
  • Contact Details: For more information, email events.natlib@dia.govt.nz

A bevy of poets mark 50 years since the end of six o’clock closing

Iain Sharp presents Gregory O’Brien, Freya Daly Sadgrove, Bill Manhire, Jenny Bornholdt, Lindsay Rabbitt, and more.

The end of the ‘6 o’clock swill’ was a defining moment in New Zealand’s social history, one which changed the way we drank and socialised. New Zealanders’ unique and often fraught relationship with drink has been both a stimulus and an inspiration for some of the country’s great poets from Denis Glover to Apirana Taylor.

To mark 50 years since the end of ‘the swill’ the National Library is bringing together some of the country’s best poets, and poetry, both new and old, featuring ‘the drink’.

The event will comprise some special related Alexander Turnbull Library collection items, music from the collection of the National Library and films from Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision.

Refreshments available with tastings and craft beer and cider.

VUP Launch – Hard Frost: Structures of Feeling in New Zealand Literature 1908–1945 by John Newton

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Victoria University Press invite you to the launch of
Hard Frost: Structures of Feeling in New Zealand Literature 1908–1945
by John Newton

on Wednesday 11 October, 5.45pm–7.15pm
at the Stout Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington,
12 Waiteata Road, Kelburn, Wellington.

Refreshments will be served.
Hard Frost will be available for purchase courtesy of Vic Books. PB, $40.

The launch for Hard Frost will be preceded by a seminar given by John: “‘All the history which did not happen’: Allen Curnow’s critical nationalism”. The seminar commences at 4.10pm at the Stout Centre. You are welcome to attend both the seminar and launch.

Finalists for the Ronald Hugh Morrieson Writing Awards

Energy, action and quirky plots as finalists announced

The wait is over! Finalists for the Ronald Hugh Morrieson Writing Awards, Taranaki’s premiere literary competition, have been announced.

The bumper 237 entries have kept this year’s judges busy since the competition closed in August.

There are five categories in the Awards; The Secondary School Poetry and Short Story categories, the Open section Poetry and Short Story categories and the Secondary School Research Article category.

Research Article judge, Matt Rilkoff, says this year’s entries demonstrate how many fascinating people live among us.

“It is a courageous thing to allow someone into your trust to tell such a personal story as that of your life. Just as it is a daunting responsibility for the writer to attempt to sum up a lifetime of experience and character in a handful of words,” he says. “You all deserve a round of applause.”

Short Story judge, Rachel Stedman, says there was a lot of energy, and in general, action seemed to be central to many entrant’s plots.

“I was really impressed at how the high school entrants managed to write from such diverse perspectives, and I really enjoyed the quirky plots of some of the school entries,” she says. “In the open section, I enjoyed the vernacular used – very rural kiwi, very RHM!”

Poetry judge, Apirana Taylor, congratulated every entrant.

“Poetry reaches beyond the mere bread and butter of our existence. It casts the poignant light of insight onto the human condition. It seeks to and raises our consciousness,” he says.

The Awards ceremony is being held at the TSB Hub in Hawera on 25 October from 7pm. All are welcome to attend to find out the winners and listen to a performance by Apirana Taylor, this year’s Poetry judge.

Secondary School finalists (all categories)
Denzal Adlam – Patea Area School
Hope Baker – St Mary’s Diocesan School
Nell Brown – Sacred Heart Girls’ College
Niall Clancy – Hawera High School
Maddison Cossey – Hawera High School
Puaawai Meihana Eiffe – Opunake High School
Sasha Finer – Hawera High School
Ashley Harrop – Opunake High School
Courtney Hatcher – St Mary’s Diocesan
Noah Hunt – Hawera High School
Megan Jackson – St Mary’s Diocesan School
Stevee-Jai Kelly – Opunake High School
Myah Kemsley – New Plymouth Girls’ High
Heather Phillips – Hawera High School
Yani Remoto – Hawera High School
Georgia Sparks – Hawera High School

Open Finalists (all categories)
Elizabeth Bridgeman – New Plymouth
Nell Brown – Sacred Heart Girls’ College
Emma Collins – Stratford
Maria Cunningham – Hawera
Anya Darling – Sacred Heart Girls’ College
Bruce Finer – Hawera
Stuart Greenhill – Stratford
Pip Harrison – Hawera
Janet Hunt – Inglewood

The Awards, sponsored by the Lysaght Watt Trust, honour the work of one of New Zealand’s most preeminent authors, Ronald Hugh Morrieson (1922 – 1972). Morrieson wrote four novels: a coming of age tale The Scarecrow (1963), Came a Hot Friday (1964), Predicament (published in 1975) and his only contemporary novel Pallet on the Floor (1976). All have been adapted for the cinema, the only New Zealand writer to have acquired this achievement. Two short stories were published posthumously, in 1974; ‘Cross My Heart’ and ‘Cut My Throat and The Chimney’.