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 where and 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.
Paula Green 15 May 2019
Seraph Press author page