Author Archives: Paula Green

Poetry Shelf review: Diane Brown’s Every now and then I have another child

Every now and then I have another child, Diane Brown, Otago University Press, 2020

Sometimes you reach for memory,

an impossible task in this throw-away

world. What choice is there but to slip

on your new self as if you come clean

without story

from ‘This Is How It Is for All of Us’ in Every now and then I have another child

Diane’s Brown previous book, a poetic memoir entitled Taking My Mother to the Opera, was ‘a rollercoasting, detail-clinging, self-catapulting, beautiful read’ (from my review ). I loved the book so was very interested to see how I engaged with Diane’s new one: Every now and then I have another child.

The new book is narrative poetry; a narrative comprising individual poems with a cast of characters that offer multiple viewpoints. For me it is a collection of border crossings, with notions and experiences of motherhood the key narrative propulsion. Everything blurs and overlaps as the fictional touches the surreal and brushes against the real.

I am reminded of Luigi Pirandello’s play, Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921), but in this case it is an author in search of characters and characters in search of each other. Joanna is a writer, poet, creative writing teacher and mother. Anna, her doppelgänger, is homeless and gatecrashes funerals. There is a mysterious baby, both phantom and pseudo-real. There are two sons, one a geek on the spectrum scale and one a sensitive surfer. There is a stepmother, a missing mother and an alcoholic father. Add in a detective, a former lover and a baby in the mural on the wall.

Life is dislocating; the borders are porous with movement between what is real and what is not real, what is present and what is missing, what is longed for and what is abandoned. Reading your way through the poetry thickets is reading symphonic psychological effects. It is reading deep into the shadows and discovering shards of light. Being mother and being daughter is complicated and complicating. There are cryptic clues, a dead body, another dead body, a crying baby, a need to imagine, a need to name and be named. Reading the list of characters underlines the way in which the narrative is also genre crossing: think fiction, memoir, poetry, detective fiction, flash fiction.

I can’t think of another book like it in Aotearoa. The spooky porcelain doll photographed by Judith White on the cover (my standard reaction to porcelain dolls) sets me up for various hauntings. Joanna is haunted by a phantom baby and her missing mother. Anna is haunted by Joanna, and by life itself. There is the way in which writing itself is a kind of haunting. How do you start? How do you keep going? How do words matter? And i would add reading. Reading this is a kind of haunting. I am thinking of the way the past – with its shadows and its light – has the ability to haunt.

Issues of creative writing are touched upon, and make you reflect back on the making of the narrative, on the author herself. If there are multiple border crossings, are there also ways in which ‘Diane’ hides in the thickets, leaves traces of herself in various characters, encounters, epiphanies? You cannot package this sequence within a neat and tidy story where everything makes sense and the real outweighs the dream or imaginary scape. Nor would you want to. We are reading poetry that draws upon rich genre possibilities, the slipperiness of writing when you try to pin it down, the evasiveness of memory, the multifaceted prongs of experience.

And that’s what makes the collection such a rewarding read. You will bump into the calamitous real world with the homeless, conspiracy theories, alternative facts, North Korean missiles. You will move from Dunedin to Auckland to Alice Springs and London, with Dunedin being the physical heart of the narrative. Geographic movement, temporal movement, emotional movement: with all roads leading to motherhood and creative processes. It is a sumptuous and haunting book that you need to experience for yourself without a reviewer ruining the startles, the surprises, the puzzles and the moving connections. I am going to do something I have never done before and leave you with the terrific last poem so you can read it, then get the book, open it at page one and find your own way to the ending. Listening hard along the way. Poetry is most definitely a way of listening. ‘Listen.’

Written on the Body

The Baby

I’ve heard the narrator give

borrowed advice: writers

need to kill their ego.

Never easy to follow yourself,

harder still to coax children

from cocoons into the light,

tracing every inch of skin

and reading what is written

with indelible ink.

Word that may unearth

the buried and extinct,

can re-ice glaciers,

turn petrified trees back

 into lush green leafiness,

repopulate the seas,

and extinguish fires

raging out of control

at the top of the world.

But to see such words,

you have to strip bare, hold

nothing back and listen. Listen.

Diane Brown

DIANE BROWN is a novelist, memoirist and poet who runs her own creative writing school, Creative Writing Dunedin. Her publications include two collections of poetry (Before the Divorce We Go to Disneyland and Learning to Lie Together), a novel (If the Tongue Fits), a verse novel (Eight Stages of Grace), a travel memoir (Liars and Lovers), a prose/poetic memoir (Here Comes Another Vital Moment) and a poetic family memoir (Taking My Mother to the Opera). In 2013 she was made a Member of New Zealand Order of Merit for services to writing and education.

Otago University Press page

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Vaughan Rapatahana reviews Wild Honey with small interview – plus a plug for WORD!

Full review here

Vaughan Rapatahana has just a posted a terrific feature on Wild Honey on Jacket2. I am usually doing the reviewing and posting so felt nervous being on the other end of the critique. Especially when I am in a cycle of terrible doubt about what I do and write, the state of the planet, the covid issues, the political game playing at home and abroad, about whether people read things any more. I wake in the night and worry about this.

I felt incredibly moved and restored by Vaughan’s engagement with the book – by his acknowledgement that this was an important arrival in view of a history of women poets in the shadows, by his considered attention. I send a bouquet of thankfulness.

I am reminded that books are an important part of who we are – and that we must do everything in our power to create them, publish and circulate them, review them, celebrate them, even challenge them if needed. Read and talk about them. Gift them!

This paragraph in particular moved me so much – there are people in the world building houses of knowledge, peace, forging multiple connective links:

I am immediately reminded of the work of Hirini Melbourne and his concept of whare whakairo, or a carved meeting house, whereby everything in and about this construction fits into and lends support, stability and splendour to every other component. The parallels are manifest. Granted that I am transposing women poets into his words, however Melbourne’s description of te whare whakairo rings out as so similar to Green’s own kaupapa in Wild Honey, namely, “The whare whakairo is … a place of shelter and peace. It is a place where knowledge is stored and transmitted and where the links with one’s past are made tangible … [it] is a complex image of the essential continuity between the past and present …” (Melbourne, 1991). 

I also answered a few questions for the feature, after a run of wakeful nights with world and local worry, so my self-filter wasn’t on – I was answering from that secret-self-core that is private and wakes in the dark to dream, worry, invent and somehow find the truth.

Last year I did Wild Honey events throughout Aotearoa where women came and read, and I have never experienced anything like it. Such a strong feeling as younger and older writers made connections, different kinds of voices were heard together. I felt like I was holding something enormous that I created but that it got bigger than me as so many women told me what the book meant to them. It was overwhelming and it was wonderful.

I am due to do a Wild Honey event at the Word festival in Christchurch with a stunning group of women poets and I can’t wait. Come and say hello!

Poetry Shelf review – Leonard Bell’s Marti Friedlander: Portraits of the Artists

Marti Friedlander: Portraits of the Artists, Leonard Bell, Auckland University Press, 2020

This stunning new book from Auckland University Press is the perfect object to guide a day of contemplation, to move you from photograph to text, from a life to an artistic process, from light to shadow, to sideways thinking upon your own relationships, your own creativity, demons and angels.

There are 250 plus photographs by Marti Friedlander of artists – including painters, sculptors, potters, printmakers, writers, musicians. So many names I didn’t recognise – but am now curious about. The text runs like railway tracks alongside the images, transporting you into facts, anecdotes, interpretation.

Before reading the finely crafted text, I am drawn into the joy of the photograph gazing: the framing, the interplay of light and dark, frozen moments in the creative process, the work spaces, facial expressions, the eyes that hold you or lead you off-frame. Marti delivers such an intensity, such an intimate intensity of human presence. It is psychological, it is tactile, it is like you become embedded in the frame. Perhaps transcendental is the word. You get uplift as you look. For me, engaging with these astonishing photographs dislodges the toxic grip of a pandemic world, of unscrupulous political game play, insomnia. The fundamental importance of music, art, literature is placed under central lights and my desire to switch off becomes a need to switch on.

I am stuck on the portrait of potter Jeff Scholes. He is looking right back at me, his hands clasping a sticky mess of clay, caught mid-movement, textured with fingermarks, and it is as though I am looking at the blank page, the fresh musical score, the empty canvas. I can almost smell the clay, the moment before something emerges. That glorious and mysterious moment when art enters the world. It is important to be reminded of this now. To feel the utmost value of creativity – that no matter how tough and challenging things are, we are still making art that is read and viewed and listened to.

Reading Leonard’s piece on Jeff opens further windows – Leonard picks up on the idea of the tactile and effectively describes what is so alluring about the image: ‘Friedlander pictures the good looking Scholes so that he might appear both open and reticent – an instance of her ability to catch what might seem contradictory qualities in the one person.’

Marti is, as Leonard suggests, drawn to relationships. Two images of Pat and Gil Hanley are particularly gripping. I often face books and artworks and imagine the ghost narratives that circulate behind the scenes of art’s making. The domestic choices and labour, the relationship dynamics, the sacrifices, the epiphanies, along with the difference gender, ethnicity or class make. The silences, the conversations, the hierarchies. Marti took a number of photographs of the Hanleys. She commented on one of her Hanley portraits: ‘The moment you start trying to analyse your work, you’re telling viewers how they should look at the photographs which impedes receptiveness’.

The books I tend to write about on Poetry Shelf are books that fascinate me; books of any genre that hold my attention on numerous levels to the point I can’t look away and I carry them with me all day. There is so much that fascinates me about this book. I keep returning to the two Hanley portraits. In fact I can’t stop thinking about them. I show them to other people. In the portrait accompanying the piece on Gil, the couple are standing together barefoot, Pat in front, one hand tucked in jeans, one arm slung over to grasp the other, one leg forward in a swagger of a pose, Gil tucked behind, arm behind back to clasp the other, bare legged. Her pose merges into the posed arms in Pat’s painting on the wall. It is 1969 and the women are starting to emerge from the shadows, from the tucked-behind-men spots. Fascinating, looking at this image within the context of the times, knowing that that is an awful lot of weight to place upon one image. Musing on the personal narratives behind the scenes. along with how things were for women artists (whatever field).

The miniature biography of Marti that Leonard presents is as fascinating as the context of the times. So many things infiltrate the creative process. Marti was born in London’s poor East End, she and her sister were abandoned by their parents (perhaps Russian-Jewish immigrants), she was placed in a Dickensian-like institution until she was reunited with her sister in 1933 and placed in a Jewish orphanage. Marti had wanted to study dressmaking and design at Bloomsbury Technical School for Girls, but the course was full so opted for photography (1942-43). She worked as a technical assistant in a photography studio for a number of years, was engaged in the photography scene, married New Zealander Gerrard Friedlander, and came to live here with him (1957). Most of her photographs to that point were personal, and were of friends, family and visited places. In New Zealand her portraits began appearing in various journals, programmes, exhibition brochures, book covers, and over time she continued to do personal photographs along with commissions.

Bringing together Marti’s photographs of New Zealand artists is a genius idea. Each image is a lure, the text insightful. The production of this sumptuous book is also exemplary. I adore this book – maybe because I am a poet living with a painter – but mostly because the photographs are such an exquisite aide to contemplation. It is the kind of feeling I get when I walk up into the mountains or along Te Henga beach, watch the sky and incoming weather, and let ideas and feelings circulate. I love this book so much. I hope it sells by the bucket loads!

Auckland University Press author page

Leonard Bell has taught art history at the University of Auckland since 1973. He has held research fellowships at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C., and the Yale Center for British Art, and was the 2005 Daphne Mayo Visiting Professor in the School of Art History, Film and Media Studies at the University of Queensland. He is on the International Advisory Board of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art and on the editorial advisory committees of the New Zealand visual arts periodicals Reading Room and BackStory. He is the author of several major art and art history books, including Colonial Constructs: European Images of Maori 18401914 (AUP, 1992), Marti Friedlander (AUP, 2009) and most recently, Strangers Arrive: Emigrés and the Arts in New Zealand, 1930–1980 (AUP, 2017). All three books were finalists in the New Zealand Book Awards. He has also written catalogue essays and chapters in books on the portraiture of artists Gottfried Lindauer and C. F. Goldie and the photographer Frank Hofmann. (AUP site)

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Mohamed Hassan’s ‘Heaven is a window you can climb through’

Heaven is a window you can climb through

From the top of the sky-

tower we watch lovers

uncouple against

the sunset, red and screaming

light across faces of buildings

unbent by time, everyone belts

romance and the band plays over-

produced pop songs, a girl weeps

in disbelief, a boyfriend begs her

to calm down, two strangers long

for each other’s bones, a boy made

of scruff dances for every lost

night of wild, his heart unnerved, a hurt

like a heaven on his chest, we eat burgers

by the wharf, I make conversation

with people I’d rather not, practice my best

fake smile, the train smells like the morning

after, the earth is a flat plane, an endless reel

spinning on a loop, what if I never leave?

Mohamed Hassan

Mohamed Hassan is an award-winning journalist and poet from Auckland and Cairo. He was the 2015 National Poetry Slam Champion, a TEDx fellow, and represented NZ at the Individual World Poetry Slam in 2016. In 2017 he was awarded the Gold Trophy at the New York Radio Awards for his RNZ podcast series ‘Public Enemy’. His new collection of poems ‘National Anthem’ will be released in October by Dead Bird Books, and is available for pre-order.

A Poetry Shelf audio gathering: Dunedin poets celebrate Elizabeth Brooke-Carr (1940 – 2019)

Carolyn McCurdie introduces the reading

Carolyn McCurdie reads ‘When bright red was eclipsed by silver shoon’

Martha Morseth reads ‘On discovering your oncologist is a travel agent’

Jenny Powell reads ‘A spot on the map’

Maxine Alterio reads ‘The vein whisperer’

Claire Beynon reads ‘Poolburn’

Elizabeth Brooke-Carr (1940 – 2019) was a Dunedin poet, essayist, short story writer, teacher, counseller. Her writing appeared in newspapers, online journals and anthologies. She was awarded the New Zealand Society of Authors’ 75th Anniversary Competition and the Dunedin Public Libraries competition Changing Minds: Memories Lost and Found. She received a PhD from the University of Otago. Wanting to tell you everything was published by Caselberg Press in 2020.

Poetry Shelf review of Wanting to tell you everything

The readers

Jenny Powell, Martha Morseth, Maxine Alterio, Carolyn McCurdie, Claire Beynon

Maxine Alterio is a novelist, short story writer and academic mentor. She has published four works of fiction and co-authored a textbook about learning through reflective storytelling.

Claire Beynon lives in Broad Bay. An artist and writer, she works on a range of collaborative, interdisciplinary projects balancing group activities with the contemplative rhythms of her solo studio practice. She’s in the slow process of completing a second collection of poetry.

Carolyn McCurdie is a Dunedin writer of poetry and fiction, especially speculative fiction. Her poetry collection Bones in the Octagon was published by Makaro Press in 2015.

Martha Morseth has written articles for More Magazine and the NZ Woman’s Weekly since l982, and poems for The Listener, Landfall and other literary New Zealand magazines. She has published two collections of poetry, three collections of short stories and plays for high school English classrooms. She came to New Zealand in 1972 with her husband and two daughters.

Jenny Powell has published seven individual and two collaborative collections of poems. She is part of the touring poetry duo, J & K Rolling, and is the 2020 RAK Mason Writing Fellow.

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: submissions now open for Oscen

‘Or do they? Humanity seeks purpose. We seek order, truth, belonging. In times past, we looked to myths and gods in order to explain the world to ourselves and to understand why we should continue to endure. In Joseph Campbell’s words: It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward. Myths and religion are often seen in the western world today as something that only irrational fools would believe in — we have now science, empiricism, the provable world. We cast off the narratives that hindered us. What more could be left? Yet we make new gods to fill their places even though we don’t label them as such. We look to ideologies and technologies and new narratives that are meant to hand down to us the irrevocable truth, meant to build for us strong social structures, meant to take us into the next era of greatness. There’s a tight feedback loop between the gods we believe in and the societies we create, writes Aaron Z. Lewis of his 2019 pantheon of gods, which is why we must take seriously the metaphors we believe by. 

So we want to know: what are the myths of today? How are they propelling us forward or holding us back? Have they changed from old, or is it that we’ve strayed from some true essence our ancestors knew? What purpose do they serve? What of the monsters, the supposed villains? Do they hold a clue in dismantling the binaries that our present narratives bind us to? What is the relationship between myth, reality, and subjectivity, and how do we tell? How do we retell? What are the personal stories that have saved you? What should the myths of tomorrow be? ‘

Full submission details for forthcoming issue of Oscen here

Poetry Shelf: Anna Jackson’s equinox sonnet

Untitled spring equinox sonnet.  

I will not ever leave this winter

mood and be a winner,

I refuse, I insist on being wanner

than anyone, wander

where I will, past warder

and hoarder, walking harder

and faster, still harping on, harper

that I am, about my cold hands and damper

feet, my hair, too, damped

and darkened in the rain. Dammed

up I’ll remain like a gutter full of dimmed

autumn leaves, washed white but not dimmer

than I insist of remaining as I simmer

about your supposedly approaching summer.

Anna Jackson

Anna Jackson made her debut in AUP New Poets 1 before publishing six collections with Auckland University Press, including I, Clodia, and Other Portraits (2014). She has a DPhil from Oxford and is now an associate professor in English literature at Victoria University of Wellington. Jackson is the author of Diary Poetics: Form and Style in Writers’ Diaries 1915–1962 (Routledge, 2010) and, with Charles Ferrall, British Juvenile Fiction 1850–1950: The Age of Adolescence (Routledge, 2009).

Poetry Shelf interviews Rachel McAlpine

How to Be Old: Poems Rachel McAlpine, The Cuba Press, 2020

Nobody knows your neck squeaks.

Nobody knows your heart

is a bowl of poems.

 

Everything you do is very very good

and very very good is good enough.

 

The past supports us

like a trampoline.

The future? Face it.

Unlace it. Embrace it.

 

At dusk I want to be with you and stay.

I love it when you ask about my day.

 

from ‘Fortune  cookies’

 

 

 

Wellington writer Rachel McAlpine blogs and podcasts about old age. She has published novels, songs, plays, books about writing as well as a number of poetry collections. To celebrate her 80th birthday she has published a new book of poems, How to Be Old. She kindly agreed to answer some questions for Poetry Shelf.

The Cuba Press page

Rachel’s blog Write into Life

 

Paula: Like me, you are a Minister’s daughter. I am wondering what you read as a child?

Rachel: Everything available! We (six girls) went to the library every Friday and came home fully loaded with books. But the Book of Common Prayer had the most irresistible and enduring influence on my language.

Paula: What books stood out in your teenage reading?

Rachel: Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Tess of the Durbervilles spring to mind.

Paula: Can you name a few poets that have really mattered to you across the decades?

Rachel: Across the decades? Well, Allen Curnow was at university with my parents and was even engaged to my mother for two weeks: thus I was aware that some poets were living humans. This mattered to me because at school we read dead poets and only dead poets. My mother read Whim Wham in the Saturday Press which reinforced my arcane insider knowledge. Poets who first took my breath away include Pablo Neruda, Gerard Manly Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, Federico Garcia Lorca, Erica Jong and Adrienne Rich. Then a wave of young male New Zealand poets in the 1970s got me thinking hmm, maybe I could do that too…

When we bang on about our trips

and our memoirs and our blogs

and our grandchildren (best of kind)

our ills and pills and volunteering

our hearing aids and hips—

pay attention, don’t switch off

because this

is our first attempt at being old

and we’re wondering how to do it

not just for us but for you.

 

from ‘Templates’

 

Paula: I was really struck by your reaction to Sam Hunt’s contention in the 1970s that women either wrote very good or very bad poems: ‘just women scribbling their little women’s nothings’. So rather than mimic his lyrical voice–you wrote from life, and you wrote for women, and in doing so refused to see women’s writing (the how and the what) as mediocre. I love you for this. Your bolshiness. I see that inspirational bolshiness there in your new book! Am I right?

Rachel: Oh sure, I can’t help seeming bolshy even when I think I’m being most reasonable. Many of the poems in How To Be Old come from a bolshy approach to the clichés of old age. Come on now! What does that even mean, “age is just a number”? What is old age really, specifically, cold-bloodedly like—not to the observer but to the old person?

Paula: Do you think things have changed for women writers? I just checked out the latest Starling issue and its nearly all women (under 25s). Women poets are writing anything and everything, and are most definitely in the spotlights.

Rachel: Agree! Was it Arthur Baysting’s 1973 anthology The Young New Zealand Poets that included 19 men and one woman, Jan Kemp? With International Women’s year looming that was a red rag to a bull. Hard to imagine now.

Paula: Yes – although there is still a way to go. I talk about it in Wild Honey. I just love the energy and output from the current wave of young poets.

Your new book How to Be Old is a glorious evocation of old age. Such captivating self-exposure. Was this also a feature of your first collections? What angst made its way into your poetry then?

Rachel: Hey thanks, Paula! My first collection was basically shouting “I feel sad!” (as you need to sometimes). After that I jumped feet first into other issues, mainly feminist ones. My own experience is a good starting point for making a larger point digestible. Not much angst in How To Be Old, although some sadness tempers the joy.

In the seventies and eighties

as a mournful poet

and strident feminist

(there was no other sort)

I shouted loud and rude

mean and bold

waking up my sisters

with the stories of their lives.

 

from ‘Growing my brand’

 

Paula: You were a significant voice for me in the 1970s – did you feel part of a writing community, particularly women? What about now?

Rachel: In the 1970s and 80s I totally felt part of a community, a world of women who were busting to write about our own experience and women who needed to hear our voices, which were also theirs. Then I dipped out of the literary world for a couple of decades: I was very absorbed in my work with digital content until 2015. I did keep writing poems but didn’t publish. So as a poet I’ve been a bit of a loner since then, except for those who have followed my blog and podcast.

The bravest are millions

 

Out there living the bravest days

are the very old, the frail old

using every scrunch of the soul

for the next impossible chore.

The very old must win and win

on multiple fronts

day after trembling day.

 

Out there building the bravest lives

are the young

knowing what we knew

and did not do.

 

Rachel McAlpine

 

Paula: I think Wild Honey has really made me feel part of communities of women writing and supporting each other. Like you I am a loner poet but so many possibilities for connection these days.

Your new collection refreshes the way old age can be both viewed and lived. The poems are tender, vulnerable, provocative, entertaining. What prompted to you to publish a collection after a bit of a gap?

Rachel: Two things. A, I sold my business and had time on my hands. B, I turned 75 and abruptly realized that I might live another 25 years. So I needed a little hobby to keep me busy (joke). I went late and went hard at old age. Obsessed about it, researched it, decided to do at least one thing per month for a year to improve my chances of having a healthy old-old age. That project, my boot camp for the bonus years, shone a light on my own barmy ageism and society’s odd way of talking about old age. A year later, I started processing this strange interlude and the product was this book, How To Be Old. (Which of course is not a manual.)

I gave myself one year

to understudy for the role

of someone old.

I was confused but I was committed.

Month by month I tackled

housing and eating and exercise

finance and hobbies and friends and voice

happiness and brain and mind

and identity

and lastly, nervously

the existential bit.

 

from ‘My boot camp bonus years’

 

Paula: Let’s go back to old age. Just as there are continued pressures on young women to achieve ridiculous ideals there are equally ridiculous notions about old age: on ‘how to be old’. Your collection navigates this so beautifully – but can you comment on what delights and what bugs you about ‘how to be old’?

Rachel: That’s the nitty gritty, isn’t it? Well, no doubt about it, my own old age so far offers many delights. I’m alive, for one thing. At dawn I’m inclined to say, Good morning world! Thank you for having me! (I’m deeply privileged to have superannuation and a roof over my head and to live in this beautiful place.) I’m interested in my brain workings: my short-term memory is crap but the rest is working better and faster than ever… until too soon I get tired and it goes on strike. So in dance rehearsals I learn choreography at a perfectly acceptable rate—then instantly forget it. Puzzling, isn’t it? I like the So what? attitude that many old people report: that is rather obvious in my poems, I hope. What bugs me? Nothing so far except when I get a whiff of condescension from someone younger—but then that was me until I was 75, so I do understand.

A cold teabag on a sore eye feels good.

A cold mermaid on the eye

feels good too.

 

Tell you what, Granny.

What say I write a prescription

to stop you forgetting

that your friend is dead

because that makes you sad.

 

from ‘Alternative therapy’

Paula: Love love love this age attitude, and I love the tips for well-being in the last section of poems. Can you comment on this section?

Rachel: My lovely granddaughter Elsie was my life coach when she was little. I recorded her wise words for future reference and tickled them into poems. So the book ends with some of her tips. You could use them, Paula: then you would know how to breathe, what to do when zombies come up the toilet, and how to think. 

Paula: Thank you! What did you hope for the poetry as you wrote? In terms of the ‘poemness’ and the poems’ reception?

Rachel: Every now and then I let myself slip into something lyrical or mysterious. But the poems are intended to be read aloud by anyone and talked about over coffee (not studied at university) so I guess I wanted most of them to be clear, funny, challenging and sort of comforting. I’ve had great feedback from readers, who always bring so much to the table. An occupational therapist tells me she has been reading my poems to all her client groups. That is absolutely perfect: I couldn’t wish for more.

You are tourists in our land.

We are prisoners of slow.

That said, we’d rather be quick than slow

and we’d rather be slow than dead.

 

from ‘Slow’

 

Paula: I love the way you open pronouns wide – to embrace versions of you and welcome in the reader. Do you have no-go areas as a writer?

Rachel: I think in my old age I don’t judge people so much. (Or do I?) When it comes to aging, we’re all doing own best thing. And I have been many different people.

Paula: Do you bring autobiography and fiction together or did you navigate forms of truth?

Rachel: There’s no way I can control the way people read my poems so I might as well use myself as my own lab rat. My confidence is based on the certainty that I’m not a one-off. With How To Be Old I think I express ideas about aging that many others also think or have half-thought. That’s my wee gift to the world.

Paula: Indeed! What words fit you as poet? I think of provocative, personal, poetic fluency.

Rachel: I love hearing that, of course. Actually I mainly write for the joy of it so maybe that comes through?

Paula: Ah, my favourite poetry guide too – I write for love and joy! Do you have doubt tagging along? Is there a particular poem that was hard to write?

Rachel: I have a well of black muck inside me which converts to self-doubt if stirred. I’m human.

We take anecdotes and turn them to the light.

We polish them in private.

They are touchstones. So it goes.

 

from ‘How older people talk’

 

Paula: What else do you love to do apart from writing?

Rachel: Dance, sing, draw, read, think, do Pilates, tai ch’i, walk on Mt Victoria, watch Netflix and hang out with my friends and family.

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: the launch of Ko Aotearoa Tātou/We Are New Zealand.

Otago University Press warmly invites you to celebrate the launch of Ko Aotearoa Tātou/We Are New Zealand.
This is a free event but requires registration, which can be done here


We apologise if this system has caused any distress. We have been advised there are now limited numbers of tickets available and sincerely hope you are able to secure a place at what promises to be a very special event.
When: Friday 30 October, 5pm to 6pm, followed by a reception from 6pm to 7pm
Where: TBS Space, Tūranga, 60 Cathedral Square, Christchurch

  • This free event is part of WORD Christchurch Spring Festival 2020. Registration is required