Monthly Archives: October 2018

Registrations are now open for the 2019 Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat!

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Immerse yourself in writing and conversation this summer. There’s something for everyone–whether you’re new to writing, an established writer, or somewhere in-between.
Dates: 22-24 February 2019
Location: El Rancho, Kāpiti Coast, New Zealand
Registration:  Register securely online or contact kirsten@kahini.org with any other questions.

Join us for the 2019 Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat and renew and recharge your writing and your life. The Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat is an immersive, two-day gathering for writers, happening on the Kāpiti Coast. The retreat includes intensive morning workshops, lively afternoon discussions and space to write, relax and engage with topics critical to your work. Read about last year’s event here.

 

 

 

This looks very good indeed!  See here

Louder: A conversation with Kerrin P Sharpe on politics, poetry and a new book

 

 

 

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Kerrin P Sharpe has published poetry in a wide range of journals, both in New Zealand and overseas. Louder is her fourth collection of poetry (Victoria University Press, 2018). She lives in Christchurch.

I was immediately drawn to Kerrin’s new title because I envisioned poetry that spoke out. Politics and poetry have had a long relationship in New Zealand, with diverse forms and registers, whether on political or personal issues.  When I was doing my Italian studies I encountered politically motivated poets who wanted their message to be clear; tricky poetics were not to get in the way of issues at hand, the message was paramount, particularly with feminist women writing and thinking outside the academy. At the time, I felt that here, we had often addressed political issues in softer voices and in subtle ways; and that poetry that used loud political voices was more open to criticism. Yet the more you look, the more you discover a rich vein of political poetry. I am thinking of the way the political bite of Hone Tuwhare’s ‘No Ordinary Sun’ is sharpened by the solar metaphor, the searing detail.  Or Selina Tusitala Marsh’s various responses to racism in Tightrope. Or Mary Stanley’s 1950s poem, ‘The Wife Speaks’. I loved writing a chapter for Wild Honey on women poets speaking out because the poetry, and the issues, were so diverse. Women have spoken out from the messy knot of the personal and the political since they first started publishing in New Zealand with loud voices, quiet voices, veiled messages, clear ideas.

2108 seems to be a time when we need to speak out from the comfort/discomfort of our lives, from  the shelter/shelterlessness of our own homes, from the fullness/emptiness of our own stomachs, from the embrace/diaspora of our own communities, from the wound of our own healing/abuse, from the shared earth we stand on that is under wide threat.

Kerrin’s reflective book is utterly personal yet entirely political. She leads us from threatened species to unjust power plays to dislocated refugees to the toxic waste of human greed. To celebrate the arrival of Louder, we embarked on an email conversation.

 

 

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Paula: Your new collection struck me because it gives voice to issues that affect us all. I am really fascinated by the myriad way politics and poetry meet in New Zealand poems. When I asked if you would like to have this email conversation, you made some important points. I wondered if you would like to share those as I think ‘personal’ and ‘politics’ forge vital relationships.

Kerrin: Though as I said earlier I’m not really a ‘political person’ – not in a party-political sense anyway – I do believe ‘political poems’ in a broader sense of the phrase, have the power to sometimes influence and change thought and even behaviour at times. This was what I wanted my poems in LOUDER to do.

As anyone reading the poems in LOUDER will have noticed, they spring from a personal well of concern for endangered animals, refugees, global warming and pollution. When I came to shape the final collection into specific sections, the poems all seemed to work together and together they became even LOUDER.

The volume of the voices vary of course. Some poems are soft but yet still insistent; others clamour for our attention. But none of them whatever their individual volume, let us forget what we should be doing.

 

Paula: I really like the title because it suggests you have to speak your concern for these important issues a little louder without necessarily yelling. I was reminded of some of our early women poets who expressed deep concern for issues of the time. I am thinking of the way Jessie Mackay and Blanche Baughan spoke out for the suffragette movement, for prison reform, displaced people, the underprivileged and so on. They wrote poems but they were more inclined to write articles and letters to newspapers. They kept in touch with global issues through letters, journals and newspapers that travelled by ship. How do you keep in touch with the issues your poems navigate, whether global or local?

Kerrin: To use the stolen phrase ‘the writer as a thief’, I keep in touch with important issues through reading and watching environmental programmes on TV. I saw the idea for the poem ‘louder’ and the direction of the whole collection, when I was in the barber’s one day waiting for a haircut. In one of the magazines was a picture of an elephant with his tusks cut off. I could hardly look at the picture, but it gave me a powerful image I’ll never forget. Naturally, the barber himself is a recurring character in the LOUDER collection.

 

Paula: ‘Louder’ is the opening poem in the collection. It makes it clear that the poetry is linked to issues and that the poems move in intricate ways. It moved me as reader. The poem juxtaposes the beauty of a tribe of elephants with the mutilated bodies, tusks removed.

 

and if you can imagine

thousands of elephants

all in outdoor studios

painting themselves and their tribe

as whole elephants

even as guns are raised

and calves stumble

 

from ‘louder’

 

I was also moved by the sequence, ‘where will the fish sleep’. The poem is equally intricate. It looks like water lines, long ripples across the page that connect different places in the world. What prompted this sequence of vignettes? How difficult (or easy) is it to write of issues located elsewhere along with the way we are affected locally?

Kerrin: The fourth and final section of LOUDER offers the reader 10 multi-choice answers to the question ‘where will the fish sleep?’. I like your analogy that they are ‘water lines’ or ‘ripples’ and for me, writing about issues outside New Zealand gives me a greater freedom to explore connections that interest and intrigue me. This group of poems is all concerned with water and its behaviour due to weather events or global warming. We have just seen again the destructive effects both to land and life in Japan and more recently Indonesia. I like to think many of the poems in LOUDER carry on working beyond the covers of this collection. It is deliberate on my part that in the last poem, ‘how they leave the world’, polar bears in their ‘bubbles of blurry fur’ use soft but very firm voices to beg the reader to now act.

 

he tickles a thick-bodied trout that throws itself

back to unveil the path of the Arahura River

what remains in his square hands?

bones of water enough to mix with shingle

river sand wild grass to grow a daughter

up on the steep riverbank his empty fishing kete

with soft shearwater feathers

 

from ‘from the Arahura River’ in ‘where will the fish sleep?’

 

Paula: Water becomes the vital link in this sequence as it highlights such basic human and planetary needs. Selina Tusitala Marsh’s latest poetry collection, Tightrope, is also a form of ‘louder’. She speaks on issues that matter and affect her. In ‘Apostles’, Selina refers to Alice Walker’s claim that ‘poetry is revolutionary’. Selina is not quite sure that she believes Alice but Tightrope becomes a form of speaking out. Do you ever feel helpless when contemplating so many issues, so many injustices? And what point is poetry?

Kerrin: The many obvious injustices in the world inspire me to write with more conviction. They empower me to feel I must try to raise awareness of what is happening around me.

When I am writing I frequently ask of my writing, ‘What is the point of this? What is its purpose in the poem?’ If I have just written a series of word images that have no real or meaningful ideas or concepts underlying them, then I feel this isn’t the direction in which I should be going with this piece of writing.

As a poet I feel poems should be real, urgent and necessary of themselves and evoke a response in the reader. At least this is what I am attempting to do with my writing.

 

Paula: Did you read any poetry books that explored similar issues in ways that were perhaps ‘real and urgent’ – or simply stuck with you?

Kerrin: The British poet, Alex Houen’s poetry collection Ring Cycle (Eyewear Publishing) impressed me. He explores the world in a real, urgent and innovative way. Another British poet, John Clegg’s Holy Toledo, (Carcanet Press) has also influenced my writing with his poems; they are both playful yet also powerful.

For a long time, George Szirtes, a Hungarian poet living in England, has intrigued me with his writing which is often concerned with social issues. He raises challenges and perspectives that can only come from an ‘outsider’. His latest collection is Mapping the Delta (Bloodaxe).

I met all three of these poets when I was last in England and I talked with them about many of the issues and topics that come up in my poems in louder and I felt reassured by their feedback that I was on the right track. In fact they told me that the social and environmental topics I explore in louder were also starting to emerge in poetry written in Britain and in some cases were being explored by British poets in a very vigorous way indeed.

 

Paula: How wonderful to have that acknowledgement from writers you admire. There is something quite magical about conversations with people who get what you are doing. Are there any local writers who have caught your attention with issue-inspired poetry?  I was really taken with Airini Beautrais’ Flow: Whanganui River Poems. The politics of the river, the land, the everyday lives infused the work on so many levels. I also wondered whether you have a support crew of local writers in terms of both poetry and speaking out?

Kerrin: Yes, Erik Kennedy a local writer from Christchurch has just released his new collection of poems, There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (VUP) and many of the poems in his collection are quite innovative and fresh in the way they address important issues like war and climate change.

Gregory O’Brien’s two poems ‘Mihi’ and ‘Conversation with a mid-Canterbury braided river’ are clever and strong in the way they challenge us about our threatened waterways.

I tend to do much of my writing alone. I am well known for heading down to a local cafe in Merivale, Christchurch each Saturday and Sunday morning to write. I love the atmosphere and the buzz of people about me.

I often chat with Frankie McMillan a well known Christchurch writer, and we frequently discuss our writing with each other; I read her my recent work and she gives me feedback and suggestions that send me back to refine what I’ve written. I also chat with other writers about my work and theirs and they too keep me grounded and encouraged.

 

Paula: I really like the shifting tones and forms in your collection, from the little poem breaths in ‘what we hear’ (like haiku) to the personal revelation, the mother’s appearance in ‘my mother darns the windsock’. It suggests there are multiple ways to speak louder and draw attention to issues that matter. Is there are poem that particularly worked for you?

Kerrin: Yes Paula, I do tend to employ changes in tone and form in my poems though sometimes I must admit it is as likely to be unconscious as conscious. One of the ‘drivers’ of this is that I have a fear that my poems will all look and sound alike if I don’t look to innovate in the way they sound, their shape and in their tone and form. Often the changes in my poems arise from ideas I get when reading the poems of other writers who themselves are experimenting with tone, shape and form.

Obviously in the context of my louder collection you picked up that I have experimented on several levels with some poems in an attempt to make them speak louder and more insistently.

To give you an illustration. When I visited England earlier this year, I was shown around the historic chapel designed by Sir Christopher Wren at Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge. Inside this beautiful chapel was a blue cross made from a refugee boat and some votive candles. As I was looking at this fascinating symbol, I began to think of the beginnings of a poem that I began to write in my head and the title of it of course became wick which I later included in my new collection.

I wrote the first draft of ‘wick’ on the train coming back from Cambridge and when it was complete I recognised that it had very strong links to the other poems in the collection about refugees: ‘they are found in the sea’ and ‘the bear’.

It probably sounds a bit quixotic but I like the way that ‘wick’ as a poem seemingly jostles to be heard and to extend itself beyond the written words on the page.

 

wick

 

from the flicker of a boat

in the Aegean Sea

they took the heart

they built a cross

a twisted pale blue beak

they sky they followed

still and blue like the toddler

carried ashore by a soldier

carried through our televisions

the terrible cries of his father

that cross and a bowl

of votive candles

in the chapel at Pembroke

every candle a voice

between wick and flame

a Syrian refugee

who never arrived

 

 

Paula: You work a lot with school-age writers. Do you think they are concerned with issues that threaten our world? Do you ever explore political and ecological issues with them through poetry?

Kerrin: I love working with school-age writers. And yes, I find them very open and aware of issues that threaten our world and they are not at all afraid to write passionately about many of the things we as adults are concerned about as well.

Recently one of my students designed a set of tea towels each with a haiku she had written printed on the tea towel. Her haiku were from a series of haiku she had written called ‘Haiku for Humanity’. Among her haiku are ones that draw our attention to the sad plight of many refugees in different parts of the world – a subject that as you know, is very close to my own heart. As a postscript, last I heard, her haiku tea towels were very popular with her student customers; I even have a couple myself!

Other creative writing students I work with participate in the Young Poets’ Network, based in London and have had poems on subjects such as global warming published on the Network.

 

Paula: We have a Prime Minister who uses the word ‘kindness’ in her discussions on governance, she keeps the well-being of children (and a nation) centre frame and resists attack politics and bullying. We have yet to see how Jacinda’s talk is converted into widespread action, but this approach, with the initial welcome moves, gives me hope for people and for the planet. What gives you hope?

Kerrin: As I said earlier, while my poetry in Louder is often about environmental and social issues and can therefore perhaps in that sense be described as political, I don’t have a lot of faith in politicians, whether it be the current Prime Minister or anyone else.

What does give me hope in our world are people, the people I meet every day in my local community, the people I work with, the children I teach creative writing – a creative writing class full of children is a magical place for me – my husband, family and friends.

I don’t expect politicians to bring about a better world. Positive change in our world, if it comes, will come because there are more and more people in our world with open, loving hearts, people who are honest and people who care deeply about others who need caring for.

One of my greatest joys is working with children. When I am in a class of children and we are all working on our creative writing; it’s then that I feel most a sense of hope in our future and what we can become.

 

Victoria University Press page

 

 

 

 

 

From Jess at Wellington City Libraries: Read these before you LITcrawl… a Poetry Showcase

 

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If poetry is your thing then get ready to be excited for this year’s line up because poets are out in numbers! Mark your calendars for November 10th and start planning your crawl! For lovers of prose make sure you check out the LitCrawl Extended Programme as well, the Poetry Showcase is a must see! With so many poets, musicians and wordsmiths to chose from, here are our selections for must reads before the crawl!

 

For the pre-LITcrawl poetry must reads go here

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Rhian Gallagher reads ‘Into the Blue Light’

 

 

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‘Into the Blue Light’ appeared in Stand Magazine (UK).

 

 

Rhian Gallagher’s first poetry collection Salt Water Creek (Enitharmon Press, 2003) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for First Collection. She received a Canterbury Community Historian Award in 2007- Feeling for Daylight: the Photographs of Jack Adamson was published by the South Canterbury Museum, 2010. In 2008 she received the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award. Her second collection Shift, (Auckland University Press 2011, Enitharmon Press, UK, 2012) won the 2012 New Zealand Post Book Award for Poetry. Gallagher’s most recent work Freda: Freda Du Faur, Southern Alps, 1909-1913 was produced in collaboration with printer Sarah M. Smith and printmaker Lynn Taylor (Otakou Press 2016). Rhian was awarded the Robert Burns Fellowship in 2018.

 

 

 

At The Hook: Nafanua Kersel’s breathtaking review of Tusiata Avia’s breathtaking Wild Dogs Under My Skirt

22 October, Blyth, HBAF18
Written by Tusiata Avia
Directed by Anapela Polata’ivao
Review by Nafanua Kersel

‘I’m starting at The End.  The End, with standing ovation done, when lights return to remind us of where we are in time and space.  When patrons look around them for reconnection with belongings, or companions. It’s the space where some leave quickly, while others are left sitting with questions.  Where I see strained faces, some with eyes that shuffle more than the feet of their owners. There is a sense of “what did we just see”. I turn to a friend, a wahine Māori, we talk, smile and cry. I hear someone say “well, that was eye-opening”. Yes, for some it was. For others it was heart-expanding.  For me there was also gut-wrenching where I felt exposed down to the bone, to the guts, with the intricacies of my inner make-up being inspected and clucked over, deemed too complex to put away. My heart is racing, my spine and scalp tingling.’

Find The Hook review  here

 

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Poetry Shelf interviews Michael Harlow – recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry

 

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Photo credit: Courtesy of Creative New Zealand. Photographer: Neil Mackenzie

 

Warm congratulations to Michael Harlow on receiving the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry this year. To celebrate this well-deserved honour, Michael has shared a few poetry memories and thoughts.

 

Paula:  Name a favourite poetry book by another poet that has stuck with you over time.

Michael: Wallace Stevens’ Harmonium.  And then I have to include Emily Dickinson’s Selected (especially the one edited by James Reeves, the best commentary on her work in the Introduction).

 

Paula:  A favourite poem that has also endured.

Michael: ‘The Emperor of Ice-Cream’ by Stevens.  And it’s only fair to include Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’.  They do share first chair in the orchestra.

 

Paula: A performance or reading by another poet that has had an effect upon you.

Michael: Robert Frost reading on a number of occasions.  And I can’t forget a reading by e.e. cummings at the Poetry Y in NYC near the end of his life.  I’m not sure why, since he read in a very flat, slightly monotone style.  And must include Dylan Thomas, especially his ‘Child’s Christmas in Wales’.  And closer to home, the first time I heard Cilla McQueen read: one could hear that ‘Writing [poetry] is the painting of the voice’, in the original ‘L’écriture est la peinture de la voix’ (Voltaire).

 

Paula: A poetry epiphany in terms of your own writing.

Michael: When I realised, fairly early on in my music studies, that ‘Poetry is when words sing’. At the same time I was trying to impress the girl next door (literally), who played the piano and the flute, and who said she really liked poetry.  As it has turned out, ‘to tell love one must write’.

 

Paula: If you got to select a group of poets (dead or alive say) who could read at a festival with you – who would you pick?

Michael: Oh, and oh, here we go. Sir Thomas Wyatt (I can hear him so musically on the page); Emily Dickinson, if she could ever be enticed; Gertrude Stein; Henry Miller (the prose that is in poetry); Dylan Thomas (because he’s Dylan Thomas); Cilla McQueen; Michele Leggott, because she reads the words and not the ideas (that’s where the music is); Gerard Manley Hopkins, to hear the voice of ‘sprung rhythm’; Elizabeth Smither, such clarity; the late Christopher Middleton, English poet long resident in USA, and one of the foremost translators from the German (we did read together on a few occasions, and I learned a lot from him); Emma Neale (as poet) for the way she does ‘make words sing’, exemplary in the sound-and-sense converse; Joseph Brodsky (in Russian and English); Charles Simic, who always knows how to ‘say’ a poem; Robert Frost, who always ‘says’ his poem; Brian Turner, because you can hear that he has not only ‘thought’ his poems but has lived them…

 

Paula:  A poem of your own that has really sung for you.

Michael: A poem entitled ‘And yes’, a lyric, love poem (the heart poems are the hardest ones to write and they seem somehow to be inevitable sooner or later).

 

 

And, yes

 

Sometimes your touch

love’s homecoming is

Not to put too fine a call

on what heart knows

despite head’s long

success in all silly else;

that is, by ‘all flowers’

and these candles,

love’s invitations

you light up a parcel of dark,

the way your breasts

wear sunlight: the heart

has reasons reason

cannot know. The green

wild call of spring

that waits over the hill,

and here in love’s bed

wants me you to kiss

and all our trulys touch.

And that is the story

about yes: never trust

a god who does not dance.                        –

 

©Michael Harlow from Cassandra’s Daughter (Auckland University Press, 2005)