Monthly Archives: October 2019

Poetry Box noticeboard: Mary Macpherson’s poetry launch

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Unity Books, Wellington, 6 pm

Mary Macpherson, Unity Books and The Cuba Press warmly invite you to the launch of Social Media, a playful and provocative debut collection from an established Wellington poet and photographer that drills into our social and media selves using elements from short stories, art projects and films.

With readings by The Meow Gurrrls.




Poetry Shelf fascinations: Frankie McMillan’s The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other small fictions



The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other small fictions, Frankie McMillan, Canterbury University Press

Canterbury University Press page


What a gorgeously produced book! A purple marbled cover with gold lettering and dark marbled section dividers inside. The book was designed and printed at Ilam Press, Ilam School and published by Canterbury University Press. I do hope more books emerge from this genius partnership.

Not far into reading I began to muse on the idea of original writing because the book is so invigoratingly original – I am fascinated by the origins of these short fictions that are shaped by an aeronautic imagination and (perhaps) specks of real experience. The realness is luminous – the sharp compounding detail does its work beautifully – yet each fiction offers tilts and kinks and little spikes of strangeness.


The opening piece, ‘Seven starts to the man who loved trees’, is like a test pot of beginnings that overlap with scene and foreboding  to the point of fluidity and connection. The book’s dark swirly cover with its murky possibilities seems a perfect match because this fiction, like all the fictions we read here, arrives in tantalising pieces. We will never get the full story but we do get sensual and emotional impact. I love that.

The water-presence in the first section is a thematic link. There is a father who gets put in an aquarium, a sister who holds tight to her sinister secret by a river, there’s too much plastic in the ocean, an Amsterdam canal. There are multiple movements ( I am thinking of the movement of water that is both predictable and unpredictable). Movement is a way of going forwards; elsewhere someone is moving through Ireland’s eerie rock-clad Burren.

Frankie’s writing flows like honey and is so sweetly crafted with its shifting rhythms. In ‘The honking of ducks’ the first long sentence is like a breath held (a secret held) and we all come up gasping for air:


The thing to do with a secret is to swallow it, and just as you’re not bothered by thoughts of a plum’s progress through your intestinal tract, neither will you think of your sister running hand in hand with a strange man to the river bank and when your sister goes missing you will have to borrow words to explain why you never told and when the police say who put those words into your mouth you will think only of the loveliness of weeping willows, the sshhh sweep of fronds over the sandy bank, all the fun you will have when your sister sets up house under water and you have to swim through the clefts in rocks holding your breath against the squeeze.


The collection is a reading banquet: I am feasting on scenes, situations, relationships, human challenges, desires, loves, losses.

Situations – In ‘How we occupy ourselves’, after parental bickering, the family home gets physically split in half, and the father lives by the river and the mother lives on the flat, and the grandmother makes roly poly pudding and says ‘how lucky we are, all of us alive with roofs over our heads and telling each other stories’.

Situations – In ‘A good match’ a husband wants to know if his shirt looks good with his green jeans (third one tested). The wife looks at the clothes strewn on the bed after he has gone out and stares and muses: ‘Wonder again about what goes best, this or that, blue with green, him with me or her.’ I get a whole whoosh of feeling when I read the this final sentence.

Frankie’s short fictions (you could also say prose poems) have poetry’s ability to screen most of the detail but with a few deft strokes and admissions reach a poignant kernel of human experience.

Situations: In ‘Reading the signs’ a miniature but dynamic biography of a hospitalised father emerges. To his visiting offspring he admits regret over a chimp he had raised like a human child in a zoo. The visitor sees him at the window as they leave:


I waved, knowing that it was probably the last time I’d be seeing him but wanting the wave to convey all the love I had inside me, all the things I was wanting to do and all the things I was wanting to say but couldn’t.


Ah such a whoosh of feeling as I read these lines. The way a story, a situation, a scene twists your heart until it hurts.


Here I am breaking my rules and telling you the endings. The beginnings are equally good. Here is the the start to ‘Salt’, a piece that pivots on salt and a woman who is forbidden to eat it on the hospital ward:


Sometimes you can ask for something as small as salt only to be refused, the rules won’t allow it. Then salt becomes a big thing in your mind and all you can think of is salt; how it’s responsible for the salinity of the ocean, and then you imagine all the seas in the world, all the whales, then all the camel trains across deserts to bring salt to people like the big woman in the bed opposite. It puts it all into perspective when the nurse says, sorry no salt allowed on this ward.

You forgot to add salt is also good for mistakes.


And here is another favourite beginning (‘Jesus and the ostriches’): ‘Soon after Roland began sleeping in the caravan I saw Jesus.’


The Father of Octopus Wrestling offers many satisfactions. Yes it is a book in pieces but it is also a book of echoes, hinges, connections. Fathers are every which way you look, along with birds, Jesus, fish, mothers. The strangenesses will jolt you – like when you think you saw a wild cat but it’s the bending tree – and the human experience will make your skin prickle. Within the surprising anecdotes (think bizarre surreal unexpected) wisdom takes seed. This is a book that maps human existence, past present future, and I am all the better for having read it. I recommend you do too! I just love it to bits if you will forgive the pun.


The mothers of the mothers of the mothers


She tells the child that if all the great grandmothers were

to climb out of the ground to drift though the cemetery,

it wouldn’t be long before they came across each other,

laughing to see each other’s old faces and say they were to

hold hands, the long line of them would reach the other

island, but they couldn’t complain that their feet were in

the cold salty ocean, in fact the mothers of the mothers of

the mothers were used to much worse, some having only a

potato to eat at night or soldiers burning down their whares

and others having to wear corsets of whale bones that go all

the way to their knees but the child says that’s going too far

and she likes the part best where the mothers of the mothers

of the mothers wonder about the little girl who rides to

school in a car that does not eat hay but only drinks lakes

and lakes of petrol.






Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Lynley Edmeades ‘Nodding is Soft’


Nodding is Soft



I can only tell you. What I saw.

And all I can. Say is that you.

Wouldn’t have wanted. To see it

yourself no. Sir it was not.

For public. Consumption it was

very hard and very. Bad probably

the hardest and. Baddest thing

to see but yes. I saw. It I saw

it hard and it was. Bad but even

when I. Saw it I didn’t say. Wow

that is the hardest. Thing I’ve ever

seen I just. Said when. Are we

leaving and you. Said well we

can leave when. You’ve finished

looking at the. Thing you’re looking

at. And so I turned. Away but

already I. Knew it was. Not

worth telling you. About this

most hardest and. Baddest thing

it is not. Soft not like your. Nodding

is soft. But why are. You nodding

don’t you know. That this is. The

hardest and baddest. Thing. No you.

Don’t understand it is. The worst.

I can only. Tell you what.


Lynley Edmeades, Listening In, Otago University Press, 2019


Lynley Edmeades completed an MA at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 2012. Her first collection of poetry, As the Verb Tenses (Otago University Press, 2016) was longlisted for the Ockham NZ Book Awards for Poetry, and shortlisted for the UNESCO Bridges of Struga Best First Book Award. She has a PhD in avant-garde poetics and teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Otago.


Otago University Press page

Lynley in conversation with Lynn Freeman (it’s terrific) Standing Room Only


Poetry Shelf noticeboard: New NZSA President Mandy Hager on earning potential for NZ writers

Mandy Hager – newly elected NZSA President 2019-2021


Full piece here


Mandy Hager is the author of both fiction and non-fiction, for adults and teens. Her work has won multiple awards and this year she received the Storyline Margaret Mahy Medal for life-time achievement and a distinguished contribution to New Zealand’s literature for young people. Her most recent book, Hindsight: Pivotal moments in New Zealand history, is launched later this month. She has just been appointed as President of the NZ Society of Authors.

A recent Spinoff article (25.9.19) to mark Arts Week headlined a quote from Jacinda Ardern which said: ‘We can’t say we value our art if we don’t value our artists.’ This opinion piece from the PM states that, ‘as someone who is passionate about the arts and the role they play in our communities,’ she believes art is all about wellbeing. ‘Being able to create and access art contributes not only to our individual wellbeing, but is also an important factor in the wellbeing of our communities, and our society as a whole.

For anyone working in the arts, this sentiment is very welcome, especially from our Prime Minister, whose predecessor, John Key, said at the launch of the Literary heritage Trail in 2012: ‘while our literary heroes may never challenge the glory and respect given to our All Blacks, we still need role models to inspire us’ and who described our most recent Booker Prize winner, Eleanor Catton, as a ‘fictional writer.’

In the Spinoff article, Ms Ardern points to several good initiatives currently being undertaken to support sustainable careers in the arts, saying ‘creative industries, and the artists that work in them, already make a significant contribution to our economy, and our government is committed to supporting this growth . . . However, we cannot say we value our art if we do not value our artists. We know our artists are often marginalised. Recent data confirms that our artists’ average earnings are well below the New Zealand average, and even the most talented and resilient can find it challenging to establish a sustainable career . . . all New Zealand workers deserve a fair wage, because this government is focused on wellbeing, and because I believe in the power of art to make change.

It’s refreshing to hear someone championing the arts at such a high level but, unfortunately, on the ground, NZ writers are grappling with several serious issues that may have gained a sympathetic ear but little traction to date. These issues very much affect our wellbeing and our ability to achieve a sustainable career; in fact, I’d go as far as to say they currently breach our human rights under the Berne Convention and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). New Zealand is a signatory to both.

Our sister organisation, Copyright Licensing NZ (CLNZ), recently conducted a survey of writers that discovered, on average, writers earn around $15,200 per annum from their writing — below the minimum wage for a 40 hour week (approx. $20,000) and substantially less than a living wage (approx. $44,000). Just over half cited the need for further support from partners and/or relied on other employment to pay the bills (42% in jobs unrelated to writing.) This information comes at a time when failing youth and adult literacy is a hot topic — and funding for literature through Creative New Zealand appears to be falling. The 2020-2022 CNZ investment client funding for literature equals 2.09% of the total funding pool (3 years of funding at $4.1m from a pool of $198.8m), compared to, say, 4.83% in 2019, or visual arts, at 5.57%.




Poetry Shelf noticeboard: David Eggleton’s talk on Peter Olds

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David Eggleton‘s first post as our current Poet Laureate is a talk he gave on Peter Olds at Noticing Peter Olds, an informal symposium on the poetry of Peter Olds, organised by Jacob Edmond, Jenny Powell and Anna Jackson, and the University of Otago English Department, and held on Friday 27 September, 2019 in the University of Otago Business School building.

Rad full talk at the Poet Laureate site

I want to argue that in the poetry of Peter Olds, any day is a good day for taking a line for a walk. As his numerous small publications over the years indicate, his poetry steadily accumulates day by day, made up of lines jotted down and going in and out of notebooks. These lines are the notations of a self-trained observer — gnostic gnawings on the bare bones of reality mayhap, but they always grounded in empirical observation, in tactile factuality. Whereas for some poets to make chin music is to offer a ruminative chewing on the cud of cliché at the pitch that flying insects enter the room, Olds resists falling into that trap by a certain alertness, a certain mental toughness, and by his hard graft of material fought for and processed in an attentive logic of sounds, as in the poem ‘Bad Omakoroa’ from the 2001 collection Music Therapy, published by the Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop, which opens:

Walking past the place where Mrs D
was smashed to death by a speeding car
as she crossed the road to check her letterbox.
A pheasant breaks loudly from
the avocado, flies out of sight
behind a hedge of feijoa.
A blue heron circles the sky.
Pukeko scatter from a vegetable plot.






Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Madeleine Slavick reviews Hinemoana Baker’s Live at Aratoi


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Photo by Nicola Easthope


Madeleine Slavick is a poet, photographer and communications manager at Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History, Masterton. She has reviewed Hinemoana Baker’s recent performance there – a thoughtful review that is as much poetry as it is critique. Brava!


Read Madeleine’s full piece here but here is the beginning:



Funkhaus – the working title of Hinemoana Baker’s upcoming collection.  ‘Funk’ as in funk, and also ‘broadcast’ in German, as the ‘haus’ in Berlin where the poet-singer-songwriter once lived, or squatted, had been a GDR radio station.  A saxophonist was also there, and Hinemoana would be sleepless in her tiny cubicle.  Born in 1968, Hinemoana says she’s too old to live like that, but I don’t see her living any other way. She lives and dives at once. Follows the river out to sea. Hinemoana. Woman of the Ocean.





Poetry Shelf noticeboard: The 2020 Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat


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The 2020 Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat
28 February – 1 March 2020
Waikanae, New Zealand

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. Happening from 28 February – 1 March 2020 on the beautiful Kāpiti Coast north of Wellington, the Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat is a two-day gathering for writers that encompasses intensive morning workshops, lively discussions and space to write, relax and engage with topics critical to your work.

Kahini is delighted to host established and award-winning New Zealand writers– Anahera Gildea, Catherine Chidgey, Chris Tse, Kerry Lane, Paddy Richardson and Pip Desmond –at the 2020 Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat. Each writer will teach morning workshops: in fiction, poetry, lyric essay, creative non-fiction, world building and editing. In the afternoons, they will lead discussions on topics pertinent to craft and literature in Aotearoa.

You’ll find community, encouragement, and a safe place in which to take artistic risks.

Find out more (including full programme) here