You know, even if I hadn’t come on the plane, on a bus, in a taxi,
I’d get here at some point – cos that clever tektonos, that shifty carpenter,
poet, boat-builder in the sky, he’s been scheming all the while; been doing
a bit of backyard DIY, a bit of God-honest labouring and jack-hammering
on the boundary – right under that picket fence between the plates,
between the kanuka and manuka.
There’s a paratekstosyni afoot, a volcanic and magnanimous change,
a winching and an earthmoving: those alpine ridges, those glaciers,
plains and Hutt Valleys, they’re slap-hugging the rest of the North Island
goodbye – Ya old mudpool, ya long drawn out beach, ya tall and flashy
neighbour, I’m off to the Arctic Ocean – I hear you’re off to the Pontos –
never heard of it.
And all this in broad daylight, Yiayia – can you believe it?
Vana Manasiadis from Ithaca Island Bay Leaves: A Mythistorima, Seraph Press, 2009
From Helen Heath:
One of the things that draws me to Vana’s work is our shared Greek heritage. I feel a deep affinity to this part of my genetic make-up; my ancestors’ homeland, the island of Ithaca in Greece, plays a big role in my debut collection, Graft.
However, I feel awkward claiming Greek heritage because I am only 1/8th Greek and my family wasn’t close to the Wellington Greek community when I was young. I barely know any Greek language and the Greek alphabet does my head in. I suffer from imposter syndrome, although I’m frequently told I look very Greek.
Vana, on the other hand, has more Greek heritage, she speaks Greek and has lived in Greece. In my mind, she far more authentically Greek than me. However, because she is pale skinned and strawberry blonde, she experienced prejudice from members of the Wellington Greek community. As Vana says. “The criteria of inclusion were missing: we didn’t look stereotypically Greek.”
Vana’s collection: Ithaca Island Bay Leaves: A Mythistorima (Seraph Press, SSS), which this poem appears in, weaves her Greek heritage with her New Zealand experience. In it, I feel her working towards a different understanding – moving between worlds and time frames, inclusion and exclusion, reinvention and fragmentation. There is uncertainty and otherness, but also, she gives me hope for a new kind of belonging.
Vana’s new collection, The Grief Almanac A Sequel, was launched in May. by Seraph Press.
μπράβο – Bravo Vana!
Helen Heath is a poet and essayist from the Kapiti Coast, Wellington. Her debut collection of poetry Graft (VUP) won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book for Poetry award in 2013 and was the first book of fiction or poetry to ever be shortlisted for the Royal Society of NZ Science Book Prize. Her latest collection of poems – Are Friends Electric? (VUP) – is about people, animals and technology, and won Best Poetry Book at the 2019 Ockham Book Awards.
Vana Manasiadis is a New Zealand Greek writer, editor and translator who spent many years in Greece and Europe, and is now based back in Auckland Tāmaki Makaurau. She is the author of acclaimed collection and her writing has appeared in a many outlets including 99 Ways into New Zealand Poetry (Vintage, 2010) and Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page (Random NZ, 2014). As co-editor of the Seraph Press Translation Series, she has co-edited Tātai Whetū: Seven Māori Women Poets in Translation (2018) and edited and translated from the Greek for Ναυάγια/Καταφύγια: Shipwrecks/Shelters: Six Contemporary Greek Poets (2016). The Grief Almanac: A Sequel was published May, 2019 (Seraph Press).
Dallas Karangaroa (16) is part of a teen writing group run by Alisha Tyson at Hutt Central Library. His extraordinary poem takes you apart and then somehow, miraculously, wonderfully, puts you back together again. It’s stonishing! I hope to see more poetry from this young poet.
from Verses Quale Press, 2019 (with introduction by Michele Leggott)
Lola Ridge (Rose Emily Ridge) (1873-1941) was born in Dublin and travelled to Australia with her mother when she was three years old. When she was six the Ridges moved to NZ and her mother married a gold miner in Hokitika. After a failed marriage to a gold-mine manager on the West Coast, Lola moved with her mother and son to Sydney, where she studied at the Academie Julienne. After her mother’s death in 1907, she moved to USA under a new name, eventually marrying fellow radical David Lawson and establishing herself as a poet, painter and political activist within a prestigious circle of poets. Her collection The ghetto and other poems (1918) cemented her place on the New York scene, and she published four further volumes of poetry. Terese Svoboba has published a biography on Lola: Anything that Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge (2016). Verses is a selection of her Antipodean poems.
Rarotonga-based poet Jessica Le Bas is the winner of the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize 2019.
Sarah Broom website here with poems by the finalists and winner
On Saturday I had the honour of mc-ing the Sarah Broom Prize session, having acted as Prize Director for the past year. I welcomed international judge, Anne Michaels, the finalists, Michael Steven, Jessica Le Bas and poet Vana Manasiadis standing in for London-based Nina Mingya Powles, the Prize founder and Sarah Broom’s husband, Michael Gleissner, and their family, and a room packed to the rafters with poetry fans.
In 2014 when Michael established the award he told me he had created a financial prize to support writing time for a poet, as his wife Sarah had enjoyed. But the Sarah Broom Prize is more than this. It allows us to shine increased light on NZ poetry, local poets get to be read by an international judge and the finalists get to read at Auckland Writers Festival. This is a gift for our poetry communities and we are immensely grateful to you, and to the hardworking Sarah Ross and Greg Fahey. The Sarah Broom Trust has launched a new website and new plans for the future. This year there were over 320 entries. For the past six years The Sarah Broom Trust has worked in partnership with the Auckland Writers Festival.
Sarah Broom (1972 -2013)
The prize also enables an annual return to Sarah’s poetry and this is a joy. Sarah’s debut, Tigers at Awhitu, appeared post her Cambridge doctorate, at a time she dedicated her life to motherhood, poetry and managing lung cancer. Her second collection, Gleam, was published posthumously. I have found her poems shine with cadence and craft, exquisite wisdom and subtle movements. She wrote poetry for the well and for the dying; the world is to be cherished. Love is always intensely present. I carry her poetry next to my heart.
I read two of her poems: ‘anchor’ and ‘river come gently’ from Gleam Auckland University Press, 2013.
Nina Mingya Powles, of Pākehā and Malaysian-Chinese heritage is the author of field notes on a downpour (2018), two from Seraph Press Luminescent and Girls of the Drift She is the poetry editor of The Shanghai Literary Review and founding editor of Bitter Melon 苦瓜, a new poetry press. Her prose debut, a food memoir, will be published by The Emma Press in 2019. Poetry Shelf interview
Jessica Le Bas has published two collections of poetry with AUP, incognito and Walking to Africa and with Penguin, a novel for children, Staying Home. She currently lives in Rarotonga, working in schools throughout the Cook Islands to promote and support writing. Poetry Shelf interview here
Michael Steven is the author of four chapbooks and Walking to Jutland Street, a collection published by OUP, longlisted for the 2019 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. He was recipient of the 2018 Todd New Writer’s Bursary. He lives in West Auckland. Poetry Shelf interview
The Judge, Anne Michaels
Anne Michaels, poet and fiction writer, Toronto Poet Laureate, author of the beloved Fugitive Pieces among other splendid things, has produced breath-taking poetry. Poems that take up residency in your body, that savour silence alongside revelation, that tend to musical pitch and luminosity, that take you deep into human experience, both physical and imagined. These are some of her poetry treasures. [I held up All We Saw, Poems (her first three collections) and her magnificent children’s book, The Adventures of Miss Petitfour that I urged Kate De Goldi to read if she hasn’t already]. When I was in A & E on Sunday my daughter brought me Anne’s Infinite Gradations to reread. It transported me beyond injury, beyond hospital walls to the most glorious writing on poetry and art I know, on what it feels or means to write poetry or make art. So many lines felt utterly relevant in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks when we collectively asked and keep asking ‘what good poetry’ and collectively seek kindness, empathy and connection.
Let me share a few favourites.
We write and we read in order to hold another person close.
Sometimes language is the rescuer.
Poetry is the lonely radical precious expression of a single life.
Poetry suspends time. Poetry is time. Poetry gives us time.
Anne Michaels spoke on poetry and the finalists entries – she has also selected two highly recommended poets – Jess Fiebig and Wen-Juenn Lee.
Anne told the audience it it was an honour to judge the prize – and that she paid absolute attention to every entry. She said the poems provided a glimpse of New Zealand one could never have in any other way, and that questions arose on home, exile, language, belonging. She saw the poems as kinds of ‘seeking voices’, and that poets are a tribe with a shared love of the word, a compulsion to write, solidarity – and that we are all in it for the enterprise of it.
Anne wanted everyone who entered a poem to understand and feel to their very soul that they are part of this enterprise. She then introduced each of the finalists (I have included her comments on highly recommended):
Jessica Le Bas (winner)
Jessica Le Bas’s poems are alive with detail acutely observed. In the poet’s disciplined language and perception is a kind of tenderness – for the natural world, and for human frailty. It is a poetic vision that understands how inextricable hope and despair, beauty and loss: of a cracked mango, Le Bas wisely advises, “eat it now”. In these poems, the world is passionately perceived.
Nina Mingya Powles (finalist)
These poems express both the power of memory and the grace of a present moment. They are a deeply felt exploration of language – how it separates us and holds us close; how it can become, sometimes, the only home we have. The best compassion is born of clear seeing, and this is the compassion that imbues Nina Mingya Powles’s poems – expressed with a generous, gentle, authority. These are poems of beautiful depth.
Michael Steven (finalist)
These poems speak of intimate encounters, often wordless, and of communions – through music, plums shared along a path, a circling hawk, a gravestone. There is a quietude in these poems that reminds us just how loud the world has become, and how valuable those moments, the “tiny benefactions” that gently restore our attention to what’s important.
Jess Fiebig (highly commended)
By not turning away from a moment, these poems insist on understanding, finding meaning where it hurts. These poems are full of compassionate detail, direct and wondering, and “finding treasures” in plain sight.
Wen-Juenn Lee (highly commended)
These are poems of witness – vivid and fierce, seeking a kind of justice. In their passion to name what it means to live in exile – from a place, from a language – these deeply felt poems assert the right to be seen and known, not forgotten. Their seeking is a kind of restoration. Wen-Juenn reads ‘Prologue’ for Poetry Shelf
In announcing the winner Anne underlined how she loved all three poets, and she urged the audience to follow their careers, to buy their books and to spread the word.
At the beginning I asked, what good poetry? I took up from Anne’s point and finished by saying, as this session so beautifully demonstrated, that we read and write to hold things close: life, love, loss, people, experience, knowledge, connections. Friends and strangers come up to me afterwards and said that this session was full of heart and soul. I agreed.
Grateful thanks to the Sarah Broom Trust and to the Auckland Writers Festival.
Wednesday evening saw the launch of Vana Manasiadis’s new collection: The Grief Almanac: A Sequel published by Seraph Press. The guest poets were Jo Thorpe, Vivienne Plumb and Anna Livesey. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it so my launch speech stood in for me – special thanks to Ockham-award winning poet, Helen Heath, for reading it. From all accounts she did a great job and it was a gorgeous poetry occasion. A book well launched, I’d say!
Photographs courtesy of Mary McCallum.
Kia ora Vana, Helen, guest poets and poetry fans
I am so sorry I couldn’t make the launch as I very much wanted to be part of the celebration – but I have send some words to stand in for me.
Vana’s debut collection, Ithaca Island Bay Leaves, with its intricate and gleaming maternal threads, its use of myth and personal experience, struck a chord with me. This was poetry that sang its way into storytelling and into mother bloodlines. Vana produced poetry that demanded second and third readings.
Vana’s second collection, The Grief Alamanac: A Sequel, the one we are launching tonight, steps off from the navigations and musings of the first. There is a similar attention to poetic craft, to shaping and refreshing form, to making poetry vessels that set sail and then converse with one another across the ocean of their making. Because yes, The Grief Alamanac is both voyage and conversation.
But let me start again. Let me draw you into this glorious reading experience without spelling everything out –without ruining the delight in you making your own discoveries.
I am holding a handbook, a guide, a mapping, a maze, a labyrinth. We enter by way of a pronoun, the ambiguous ‘you’ in the first poem, ‘These are the places I’ve looked for you’:are you there / and whereand where under the stones and the granite down the misjudged / under alleys the thick coating of your hiding behind time zones
‘You’ might be the longed for mother, the missing city, the arm’s length country, the evasive memory, the drifting taste, the jittery feeling.
I am reading the first poems and I am following the tracks of a searching poet-daughter and it is like a world in pieces. This is archaeology, composition, fracture, connection. In ‘Strata of Invincible Bodies’ a letter to Natalie is intercut with found material from newspapers and other sources. I am reminded that poetry never stands still, that a poem sends you to and fro, inside a poem, between poems. And that is what is happening here. I am on the move. I cannot settle. I am finding the home anchor, the slow build of physical detail, the way Wellington comes into vital view. Vana leads us in multiple directions. This from ‘Strata of Invincible Bodies’:
Wiring, re-wiring: can you please tell me why I’ve been
going over the vintage details of your flats? Because
from this northern end, where the rooms for rent
are boarded up and the pizzeria’s been demolished, the
way forwards more like back: and I’m thinking of the
park at the end of Holloway Road, in the crease of Aro
Valley, the hiding place of the Waimapihi Stream
Yet for all this movement, for all this electric searching, The Grief Alamac has a white hot core, a fiercely beating heart – and the poems up to page 60, up to ‘Catalogue of 40 Days’, are its embrace. I see movement between New Zealand and Greece, the floating anecdotes, the tethered scene, the appearance of friends, family, characters and much loved poets, such as Anne Carson and Louise Glück, as a way of clasping the intense core: that is, the mother.
At page 60 we are drawn into the maternal core and it is intense and it is surprising and it is heartfelt. There is a compulsion to keep reading, to not stop, and then again to pause on the caps, to admire the intricate thought and the visible feeling, to cross the bridges between mother and daughter, daughter and mother, between this place and that place, between this memory and that forgetting. And this is where I don’t want to ruin your reading experience by telling you how the last section unfolds. This is for you. But I will give you a taste from ‘Catalogue of 40 Days’.
I can’t stop thinking now: were you reaching for my
hand? I was on the other side of you and didn’t take a
hold, thought that you were feeling for the light I’d read
about and swallowed. But what if you weren’t, and I didn’t
reach to pull you back?
Congratulations Vana – The Grief Almanac is both breathtaking and animated; it digs down into life and loss, into human conditions, pains and epiphanies. The reading pathways are manifold. You will lose yourself in this book. You will find so much more. Brava Vana! I love this book so much. Please raise your glasses as I declare this almanac launched.
Grace Teuila Taylor is of Samoan, English, Japanese heritage born and raised in South Auckland. Mother, Poet, Daughter, Theatre Maker, Performer and advocate for families affected by dementia. Grace has two published works with ala press (Hawaii), Afakasi Speaks (2013), and Full Broken Bloom (2017). Writer of Auckland Theatre Company commissioned poetic theatre show My Own Darling (2015 & 2017). Director of Auckland Theatre Company shows SKIN (2014) & MOUTH: TEETH: TONGUE (2016) and Hawaiian based poetry theatre show OUR WOMEN BODIES (2016). She won the CNZ Emerging Pacific Artist Award (2014) and the Auckland Mayoral Writers Grant (2016). Grace has been part of the leadership for the spoken word poetry movement in Aotearoa: co-founder of South Auckland Poets Collective and the first youth poetry slam in Aotearoa RISING VOICES. She held the International Writer in Residence at the University of Hawaii, Manoa in Spring 2018.
from like love poems: selected poems (Victoria University Press, 2006)
Posted with kind permission from JM Paul estate
Robyn Maree Pickens:
Recently I had the opportunity to write a review of Louise Menzies’ exhibition In an orange my mother was eating at Hocken Collections, Dunedin for The Pantograph Punch. Menzies, the 2018 Frances Hodgkins Fellow, produced an exhibition that foregrounded overlooked works by three artists, Frances Hodgkins, M.C Richards, and Joanna Margaret Paul. Of the three artists Paul seems to have been the most influential. This is evident in the enigmatic exhibition title In an orange my mother was eating, which is itself the title of a poem by artist and poet Joanna Margaret Paul (1945-2003). Published in 1981 on the occasion of the exhibition Mothers at the Women’s Gallery in Wellington, the poem records a dialogue between Paul’s daughter Maggie, and her friend Charles when they were five years old. In this poem Maggie and Charles spark off each other all the possible places they could have been born, including: “in a mirror / in a hot fire / in my gym / in my brain / in your hat.”[i] As engaging as this poem is—showing Paul’s attunement to and valorisation of her children’s world—I want to discuss another poem by Paul, one that invokes her interdisciplinary practice that included poetry, drawing, painting, photography, and film. The poem I have chosen is called for Felix and is published in like love poems edited by Bernadette Hall (Wellington: VUP. 2006, 99).
I chose for Felix because this poem has an extraordinary poetic breadth. While it is decidedly and primarily a poem, for Felix could also be a cinematic vignette, a black and white photograph, a series of graphite drawings, and a loosely gestural painting.
The corner is agentive; it has composed itself with a black shawl over a chair. In contrast to the black shawl, daylight is introduced and delayed on the slender stems of blue flowers and oak trees. From inside, the poem looks out to a tennis court in the distance (a grey stripe). The sport evokes male tennis players who again are viewed from a distance (& sometimes / arms). This distance, and the object and arc of the tennis ball lend their likeness to the moon, which Paul figures as batted between spheres, or tennis players. Paul charts this course from corner to cosmos with incredible lightness, a few sure brushstrokes, a gently panning shot. This lightness is accented formally with the short lines, lower caps throughout, ampersand symbol, forward slash, numbers, and a casually abbreviated word, “thru.”
I chose this poem partly in sympathetic response to a comment by arts writer Eleanor Woodhouse, who in a recent article primarily on Paul’s experimental film wrote, “yet the effect of dispersed critical attention—a little within the field of literature, a little within art, a little within film—isn’t additive; perversely, the effect is even subtractive.”[ii] Woodhouse’s observation—that writing done in silos on an interdisciplinary artist can be diminishing—has stayed with me. And I am conscious that writing about Paul’s poetry in a poetry forum could also be problematic. That is why I chose for Felix for its potentially “interdisciplinary” qualities, and gestured towards other possible resonances of this poem in other mediums. But it is only a gesture.
Paul was an interdisciplinary artist from the early 1970s to her premature death in 2003. In the early decades of her career she was “interdisciplinary,” or postmodern, before such a position was recognised and understood in New Zealand. This is partly why her presence is under-recognised in all the disciplines she worked in and across. Also she was a woman. In her introduction to Paul’s poems (to return to this particular discipline), editor Bernadette Hall writes:
The academic and literary worlds of the 70s were dominated by brilliant young men for
whom women might well be the Other, the Lover, the Muse. But not the Poet. Attempts
to express real womanly experience or the domestic were most likely to be sidelined as
Paul was triply marginalised, as a woman, a boundary-crosser, and for her predominately everyday subject matter. This short piece introduces one of her poems and makes an attempt to validate a multi-disciplinary artist who has been neglected from several canons because she didn’t fit the circumscribed model. Call it another (small) effort towards feminist retrieval and recirculation.
[i] From In an orange my mother was eating, a digital video work by Louise Menzies in an exhibition of the same name. Hocken Collections, 16 February – 30 March 2019.
[iii] Bernadette Hall. like love poems. Wellington: VUP (2006): 10.
Robyn Maree Pickens is a PhD candidate in ecological aesthetics at the University of Otago. Her poetry is forthcoming in Peach Magazine and has appeared in SAND, Cordite, Plumwood Mountain, Matador Review, Jacket 2, and at ARTSPACE. Her poetry criticism is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal and has appeared in Rain Taxi and Jacket 2. She was a finalist of the 2018 Sarah Broom Poetry Prize judged by Eileen Myles, and winner of the takahē Monica Taylor Poetry Prize 2018.
Joanna Margaret Paul (1945-2003), poet, painter and experimental filmmaker, was born in Hamilton. She graduated from the University of Auckland with a BA in Philosophy and English, and Elam School of Fine Arts. She was awarded the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship (1983) and the Rita Angus Residency (1993). During her lifetime she published several poetry collections while a range of her poems were showcased in the posthumous like love poems, edited by Bernadette Hall. Her debut collection Imogen was awarded the PEN Best First Book Award for Poetry. (1978). After her death the Wellington City Gallery exhibited her artwork in Beauty, even 1945-2003 with an accompanying book of poems.