Category Archives: NZ author

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Vaughan Rapatahana reads ‘mō ōtautahi’ [for Christchurch]

 

 

 

 

Vaughan Rapatahana is a New Zealand writer, anthologist and reviewer whose work is published both in New Zealand and internationally. Though perhaps best known for his poetry, his bibliography also includes prose fiction, educational material, academic articles, philosophy, and language critiques. Vaughan is of Māori ancestry, and many of his works deal with the subjects of colonial repression and cultural encounter.  In 2016 he won the Proverse Poetry Prize and Atonement was nominated for the 2016 Philippines National Book Awards, for the category Best English Book in Poetry. In 2019 he edited an anthology of Waikato poets: Ngā Kupu Waikato. He is currently writing a new series of commentaries regarding Aotearoa New Zealand poetry for Jacket 2. A new poetry collection ngā whakamatuatanga/interludes was recently published by Cyberwit, Allahabad, India.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf review: Landfall 237

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Landfall 237 edited by Emma Neale

 

Landfall 237 offers rich pickings for the poetry fans: familiar names (Peter Bland, David Eggleton, Elizabeth Smither, Ria Masae, Lynley Edmeades and Cilla McQueen) to emerging poets (Rebecca Hawkes, Claudia Jardine, essa may ranapiri) and those I am reading for the first time (Robynanne Milford, Jeremy Roberts, Catherine Trundle to name a few). The reading experience is kaleidoscopic, pulling you in different directions, towards both lightness and darkness, risk and comfort. And that is exactly what a literary journal can do. I was tempted to say should, but literary journals can do anything.

Landfall has a history of showcasing quirky artwork – and this issue is no exception. Sharon Singer’s sequence, “Everyday Calamities’ with its potent colour, surreal juxtapositions, strange and estranging narratives, and thematic bridges, is an addictive puzzle for heart and mind. I am circling humanity, the power of connection, the individual both tenacious and frail, the state of the planet. Paintings whirling and tipping you into moments that soothe, bewilder and provoke. I adore these.

I turned from these to Rachel O’Neill’s prose poem ‘The Supernatural Frame’ and get goosebumps:

You may look upon the painting through these special

foiled binoculars. We are at a safe distance. Afterwards you

may feel a chill or a fever linger for two days and a night,

accompanied by an infernal cough.

 

 

On the centennial of the birth of Ruth Dallas in Invercargill, I am also delighted to see John Geraets spotlight her poetry. Certain Dallas poems have always had a place in NZ literary anthologies (think ‘Milking Before Dawn’) but as readers we may less familiar with the wider expanse of her work. Like so many women poets of the twentieth century she is in the shadows. In his intro John suggests it is not clear how to include her ‘within more recent nexus based on gender, ethnicity, ecology, avant-gardism, faith or political affiliation’. He responds by assembling her words – culled from Landfall editor-contributor responses and her autobiography Curved Horizon – on the left-hand pages and his words on the right. He first sees in her poetry – compared with contemporary writing choices – predictability, regularity, un-excitement, regionalism; and then, by paying attention and refreshing his routes, he opens up poems to different movements. He moves in close to the poem. I love that. Much I could say on how we approach the women from the past! Expect 568 pages soon.

 

I absolutely love the poetry in this issue; it is both fresh and vital! I see neither formula nor dominating style but shifting stories, musicality, feeling, political bite, muted shades, bright tones.

 

Here are some highlights:

 

Joanna Preston’s poem ‘Allegrophobia’ carries you from birth to tardiness to spring in a layered on punctuality – a perfect little package.

Jasmine Gallagher’s ‘Be Still’ sent me to her bio because I want to read more by her. She is a doctoral student at the University of Otago and has previously been published in brief. Her poem is poetry as brocade – glinting for the eye and chiming for the ear.

 

Slattern: a

hoar frost:

a rime

Cold see bed

Roat and slime

 

Another poet, Catherine Trundle, also sent me scavenging for more. She writes poetry, flash fiction and experimental ethnography. Her poem ‘The Caravan behind the Plum Tree’ is also an exquisite brocade.

 

This lush cusp of spring rides

pinkish, amoebic, wilding

the inside, every flesh ’n’ cranny

while the sunlight lunges in

through winter tidelines

of curtain rot

 

Tam Vosper’s ‘Ailurophilia’ was an equal hook for me. He is working on a PhD at Canterbury University that considers Allen Curnow and the poetics of place. Again this is brocade poetry: so rich in effect.

 

All Gallic pluck

and casual loft

you claim a suntrap,

slump sidewise down,

and unhinge your barbed yawn:

           a shark to shoaling mice.

 

And I want to add Medb Charleton’s ‘I think I Saw You Dreaming’, Rebecca Hawkes’s ‘If I could breed your cultivar / I’d have you in my garden’ and Gail Ingram’s ‘The Kitchen’ to my list of brocade poetry. Glorious.

In contrast you have the spare deliciousness of Ariha Latham’s ‘Waitangi’. Another poet whose work I want to track down.

 

When I read Ria Masae’s “Jack Didn’t Build Here’ I can hear her performing its sharp mix of personal and politics  – and it cuts into my skin. Six houses built. She carries us from the father’s house full of stories to David Lange’s Mangere home open to the locals: he ‘understood the pressures of fa’alavelave,/ cos he brown on the inside like that’. She bears us from the house her mum built with its’ celebration tables’ to the house Key built with its ‘security code gate’. She ends with a question (the house to be built?):

 

What house will Jacinda build?

Will it enable my daughters to build their own homes

of tangata whenua foundations and fa’a Samoa roofs

in this palagified City of Sales?

 

You can move from political bite to the glorious wit you often find in an Erik Kennedy poem. His ‘All Holidays Are Made-Up Holidays’ is no exception. Meet Cabinet Day – ‘we went along/ from house to house hanging little doors / around each other’s necks to hide our secrets’. Or the Feast of Holy Indifference. Genius!

Claire Orchard’s poem, ‘Breakages’, swivels on a set of shelves, on the objects that they hold, and in that satisfying movement speaks of so much more; the poem resembles a shelf of family history with peaks and troughs.

 

I enjoyed the way it had begun to display time

in the style of tottering, elderly people

 

I heard Joan Fleming talk about new poetry she was writing at the Poetry & Essay conference at Victoria University in 2017. The poems came out of her experience of camp life in Nyrripi and surrounding areas in Australia’s Central Desert. I was moved by her discussions of collaboration and consent, her attentiveness to the local. Two poems here – ‘Alterations’ and ‘Papunya is Gorgeous Dirty and I Second-guess my Purposes’ – come out of this experience. I can’t wait to see this in book form.

 

Finally a treat from Cilla McQueen. She has written ‘Poem for my Tokotoko’; it is personal, physical and abundant with the possibilities of poetry. Pure pleasure.

 

Sometimes I see you as an enchanter’s staff,

scattering poems like leaves to the west wind;

at others you’re practical, a trusty pole

by means of which, through quarrelling

undercurrents, I can ford turbulent water.

By means of which I put myself across.

 

This is such good issue – there are reviews and fiction I haven’t read yet, and the announcement of the Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Essay Competition 2019 – but on the poems only, it warrants a subscription. Yep – Landfall has its finger on the pulse of NZ poetry.

 

Landfall 237 page

 

 

Poetry Shelf review: Reading Mary Kisler’s Finding Frances Hodgkins

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Mary Kisler Finding Frances Hodgkins Massey University Press, 2019

 

 

At First Glance

 

At first glance you are a bird in flight

wings flapping and paper flailing

feet above the cobbled bridge

ready to land on a blank page

as happy as the lark,

Dorothy behind with strings let loose.

 

At first glance you carry a pigeon on your head

a thousand pictures and a thousand words

colours to cry for and lines to settle on

the tools of art tucked tight beneath your arm

in the blackest of winters and the blackest of springs,

Dorothy behind with her feet on the ground.

 

At first glance you are a moth to the flame

wings beating and cloth shivering

feet above the water

ready to land on windmills and cabbages

the cloud effects magnificent,

 Dorothy behind with an eye on the light.

 

Paula Green

from Making Lists for Frances Hodgkins Auckland University Press, 2007

 

One summer I was invited to write something for a Frances Hodgkins exhibition – I lay on my bed surrounded by catalogues of her work and pitched deep into her paintings. It was a curious experience, because the more I looked, the more I became entangled in her artwork and the more her artwork became entangled in me: my back story, my obsessions, my predispositions, my failings. I ended up writing a poetry collection that I named Making Lists for Frances Hodgkins.

All these years later I am lounging back after finishing Wild Honey and find myself entangled in Frances’s paintings again; but this time it is a little more intricate – thicket like – because I am entering the artwork by way of Mary Kisler’s terrific new book Finding Frances Hodgkins. The book is beautifully produced by Massey University Press, with a generous serving of Frances’s paintings and drawings, and photographs from the archives and from Mary’s travels. Mary is the Senior Curator, Mackelvie Collection, International Art at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

In 2013 Mary was updating an unpublished catalogue raisonné of the works of Frances, and it proved a challenging task solving the unnamed titles and places. Keen to track the changes in style and subject matter in the work of such a nomadic artist, Mary decided to trace Frances’s travels through Italy, France, Spain, Morocco and Britain. Armed with the artist’s work on her iPad and her letters, Mary journeyed through Europe. The final result is a little treasure; a book that stitches you as reader to Mary as traveller/memoirist and to Frances as artist. It is a concertina booklet; Frances’s paintings folds onto Mary’s vivid descriptions, musings and anecdotes which fold onto Frances’s anecdotes which fold onto Mary’s photographs which fold onto your own experiences which fold back onto the paintings themselves. Unfold the whole sequence and your breathtaking absorption of a painting is rich and surprising.

Mary immerses you in the world of Frances – her daily routines, the physical scenes, the painter’s observations –  the writing culled from letters, the lexicon of paint and from standing in places where Frances once stood/painted. A particular painting, Hill Landscape (1936), with its juxtaposed motifs and borrowed elements, is described as ‘a memoir, so pleasing and much richer than a postcard or a photograph that captures only a single place in a single moment’.  Herein lies the joy of the book – the way Mary’s engaging travels have produced a book that offers postcards and photographs yet is so much more. It is travel guide, art guide and twinned memoir that draws you close to place, both past and present. As much as it illuminates the workings of an artist does it illuminate the workings and preoccupations of a scholar. Everything seems to bound off and rebound against each other. I love that.

Take Frances on truth and how she is perceived:

I wish the papers wouldn’t make me out a sort of freak artist. I am really a very sober minded thoughtful sort of person with nothing slapdash or offhand about my work. Every stroke I put down comes from real conviction & is a sincere aspect of truth – if not the whole truth. If I can only live long enough the world will have to acknowledge me – I am horribly stubborn & I haven’t lived these long years of privation & hard work for nothing.’

By 1929 Frances is pleased to be in the news and exhibiting alongside Len Lyre and emerging modernists Henry Moore, Ben and Winifred Nicholson and Paul Nash. In a letter to her brother Bert she writes:

It is about time they realise I exist and am doing something a little more significant than the usual ruck of artists who come to Europe – even it is unpopular now people will in time grow used to the strangeness of my technique, a “handwriting” unfamiliar to them and therefore ‘eave a brick at its ‘ead!

To view the paint stroke as a form of handwriting is genius – with its subjective gestures and colour palette. Her autobiographical script was affected by the art of others, as Mary often points out, but Frances was always forging her own visual voice. It affects me as spectator at the level of both feelings and ideas. I am reminded of Robin Hyde’s pull to flee New Zealand and her ache to write. Frances was also pulled to Europe (and Africa) but in her ‘ache to paint’ she navigated what she felt and witnessed in front of her. She would stick to her own painting impetus but she would also wipe her canvases clean when her galleries saw ‘flaws’ and demanded new work. ( Interestingly I have lived with an artist for over 30 years and have never witnessed such gallery demands). She was both alone and not alone – alone in the moment of putting brush on canvas but often touring with friends or teaching students to earn money.

Behind any painting (or poem or movie etc) is the narrative and context of its making. Sometimes traces are glimpsed in what is disclosed or hinted at but often it is impenetrable. Frances’s life-long struggle to survive for example. This was a matter of finances, of crippling contracts with galleries and of maintaining her own ‘painting voice’ regardless of the ‘isms’ she rubbed against and the scant recognition back home. Mary highlights this independence: ‘Other English modernists were constantly battling over the right “ism” to follow, but Hodgkins kept her head down and followed her own path, sometimes weaving certain surrealist elements into a partially abstracted tapestry of motifs.’

I am drawn to the way Frances produced a strong bond between place and objects. Sometimes place took the form of an armchair, at other times a Mediterranean vista. The objects were often dreamlike and mnemonic, often a potent symbol. In this sense her paintings become poems – rich in visual chords that activate multiple engagements. This is what attracted me when I was lying on my bed with her catalogues. Mary comments on ‘Self Portrait: Still Life’:

(..) we know what she physically looked like, but encompassed in her self-portrait are aspects of everything that was important to her: objects she loved and which held particular symbolism for her, her favourite scarves reflecting her love of pattern and design, and her ability to construct a work rather than simply paint what was in front of her. It states clearly: judge me by what I do and what I believe, not by how I look.

Finding Frances Hodgkins is a book to linger over, savouring sumptuous detail, along with joyful discoveries and sidetracks. It is kaleidoscopic in its reach, it enhances viewings of Frances’s paintings and the real/imagined woman painting. I love this book because it resists straitjacketing the artist within specific theories in order to explicate her work. The way we write about art, the way we ‘find’ art cannot fit into a single reductive box. We can critique within the critical climate of our time but we can also choose independent paths (whilst brushing up and absorbing traces of contemporary thinking, styles, tastes).  Mary has followed in the path of Frances but she has made that path her own.

Of course no one really ‘finds’ Frances Hodgkins, because she will never fit comfortably into a single box. But what I hope to have done on this journey is cast some light on how important place became in her search for modernity, and her individuality as an artist, respecting the work of others but always taking her own path. (Mary Kisler)

This is a book I will treasure for a long time.

 

 

Massey University Press author page

Mary Kisler in conversation with Kim Hill on RNZ Saturday morning

 

 

Evening

 

Between the skeletal tree and the blue grape, my ears ring.

Between the black roof and the soft drape, my skin yellows.

Between the support of the loggia and the altar table, my voice holds back.

From the pink hill to the fallen leaf, and upon black sand, my limbs burn.

From the little windows to the muddy goblet, I make out the women dying.

From the white wall to the sensual fruit, my hands seek slim comforts.

Between the streamy clouds and the blue jar, I rest upon crisp sheets.

Between the blood shadows and the chalky highlights, my stomach empties.

Between the eye of the house and your eye, I am in limbo.

 

Paula Green from Making Lists for Frances Hodgkins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Maringikura Mary Campbell’s ‘How we loved’

 

How we loved

for Meg and Te Ariki Campbell

 

i always wondered why
the dogs never pissed inside the house
How the house gripped onto the hill
the wind
and how we never fell
How you lived even though
you wanted to die, my mother
How we loved and hated
but mostly loved
How we doubted the sincerity
of those whose lives seemed easier
How we hated the Nats
because they hated the poor
How we tolerated those who voted for National
because they thought their wealth would rub off on
them
How our family, our mokopuna, surpassed all others
and how every time we looked at each other we saw
out Tupuna
staring right back at us
How we loved our parents right to the end
of their lives and ours
My beloved parents
How we loved.

 

Maringikura Mary Campbell

 

Maringikura Mary Campbell lives in the family home in Pukerua Bay. She is a mother of three and has one mokopuna whom she adores. She published Maringi in 2017. She also published Smells like Sugar – poems by rangatahi young people in psychiatric care and What it takes to fly – poems by mental health consumers from around New Zealand.

You can listen to Maringikura Mary Campbell read another poem (for her grandmother), ‘Ethell Mary’, here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Friday talk spot: Saradha Koirala on Teaching Poetry

 

In Praise of Teaching Poetry

 

English teachers are often condemned for ruining poetry for everyone. For making poetry seem harder than it needs to be, flogging a dead verse and generally turning people off it. We’re told we teach too much haiku, too many “dead white guys” or that we look too closely for meaning that’s probably not actually there. If teachers are destroying your love and enjoyment of poetry, then I’m deeply sorry. On behalf of all teachers everywhere, I apologise because I can assure you, the last thing we’re trying to do is ruin something we hold in such high regard.

Most English teachers I know are secret poets anyway, many with our own published work. We have our favourite poems that we like to wheel out on special occasions, we recite lines to each other over mugs of instant coffee in the staffroom, we gasp involuntarily when we see Keats or Plath or Eliot on the latest book list. If anything, we’re trying not to appear too excited, too beguiled by the magic of language and metaphor and that we get to read, pore over, discuss it in our working days.

 

When I started my current job two years ago, I was sent the outline for the coming term. Every year level in English was studying poetry in some form. We had lovely NZ/Australian writer Lia Hills as our poet in residence doing workshops with the Year 7s and 8s, culminating in a poetry evening for parents. The Year 10s were writing a poetry portfolio based on close studies of the work of Darwish, Neruda, Transtromer, Akhmatova, Yeats, Heaney, Hughes, Bobbi Sykes, Eliot and Dylan Thomas. I added a few more women to the list – Grace Taylor, Grace Nichols, Dorothy Porter, Kate Tempest, Sarah Holland-Batt – and couldn’t believe my luck.

But what of the students? I’ll admit some struggled to write their own poetry. Lia Hills talked a lot about gathering “raw material”, having something to say and crafting words purposefully. Students learnt about the power of line breaks and moving a poem away from a narrative retelling to something more suggestive. Many of them created things you probably wouldn’t have expected from 13 year olds.

The Year 10s completed their portfolios and while some relished the opportunity – compiled their work into titled anthologies and ordered them carefully beneath beautifully designed covers – others squeezed out the bare minimum. But isn’t that just teaching for you? My main concern was, having studied poetry for a term, did they now hate it?

Poetry, like Maths, is often one of those things that young people have a fixed mindset about. They might have encountered something tricky early on and decided it wasn’t for them, but the teacher’s job is to open their minds and to help them find a way back in. It’s therefore almost surprising when I hear students say they love poetry and enjoy reading, studying and writing it. It seems I too have been conditioned into thinking teaching poetry is an up-hill battle.

I’m very lucky to teach at a school that values poetry. We have staff members with PhDs in poetry and translation, we are writers, we are daily readers of poetry. In previous schools, I’ll admit I’ve had to go down the haiku route a bit, but for some young minds having a formula, a rule and something to count out on fingers while writing makes the whole process more manageable, while not detracting from the magic of language.

I started this year again with poetry all round. The Year 7s wrote their own version of Carl Sandburg’s ‘Wilderness’, the Year 8s studied a range of poetry about ‘outsiders’ and created amazing digipoems with stop motion animation and cleverly edited soundtracks using software I had never seen before. My Year 11 Literature class enthusiastically read the work of Gwen Harwood. I didn’t once hear anyone groan at the idea of poetry and can only hope that when they encounter it in another form next year and the year after that their eyes will light up like a newly recruited English teacher looking over her poetry-filled syllabus.

 

 

Saradha Koirala’s latest collection of poetry is Photos of the Sky (The Cuba Press, 2018). She teaches English and Literature in Melbourne.

 

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Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Johanna Emeney picks Michael Jackson’s ‘Green Turtle’

 

Green Turtle

 

Sam smashes its head in

with the same sledgehammer

I used this afternoon

to ram our tent pegs home.

 

A hemisphere turns

turtle; Sonny hacks

its mildewed, sea-marbled

breastplate free.

 

It recoils from the sky.

Head lolls.

A flipper feebly pushes

Sonny’s knife away.

 

They empty

the long gray rope of its life

onto the sand by the thudding boat

that holds two more

 

And its carapace is a vessel

filled with a wine lake

in which clouds

float, birds fly, leaves fall.

 

Michael Jackson

From Walking to Pencarrow: selected poems Cold Hub Press (2016)

 

 

This poem was occasioned during Jackson’s one-year stay with a Kuku-Yalanji family in the Bloomfield rainforest. The butchering of the turtle was carried out by his host’s brother and brother-in-law, and it was an incident that clearly raised conflicts within Jackson, both cultural and emotional. It is described in his nonfiction books The Accidental Anthropologist (Longacre, 2013) and As Wide as the World Is Wise: Reinventing Philosophical Anthropology (Columbia University Press, 2016). Jackson includes the poem in the memoir and the textbook.

The speaker’s complete vulnerability to the experience (not openness, vulnerability) is one of the main things that makes the poem so powerful for me. The narrative position of the speaker is that of an outsider endeavouring to be respectfully uninvolved in the spectacle. The reader can feel his reluctance to place judgement on this cultural encounter. However, it impossible not to intuit the initial shock of the first lines and the reverence of metaphor describing the turtle—I see him almost like an old general being denuded of his armour when “Sonny hacks/its mildewed, sea-marbled/breastplate free”. The diction and imagery create a perfectly credible awkwardness and humility to the speaker in the face of the turtle’s brutal death.

The other aspect of “Green Turtle” that I find very powerful is the transcendence of the final image. The last stanza is a distillation of everything that has gone before, and, as an ending to the poem, is exquisite, raising the narrative recollection of the killing of the turtle to a lyric contemplation of this event in the scheme of things, especially within a Western, Christian model. Here, in the final lines, is the shell of the turtle, a vessel containing a blood-wine, literally reflecting the things of the world that go on as normal despite the creature’s violent death just moments before. With this ultimate image, the poet invites his readers to undertake their own reflection on humankind and nature, on life and death, on religion and culture. The poem ends with such opening out, and such unexpected beauty.

Johanna Emeney

 

Jo Emeney holds a PhD in Creative Writing, and has taught at Massey, Albany, for the past nine years. She also runs the Michael King Young Writers Programme with Ros Ali.
Jo read English Literature at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and then taught senior school English Literature for twelve years. She has written two books of poetry (Apple & Tree, 2011; Family History, 2017), and one nonfiction book on the topic of lyric poetry and the medical humanities (2018). She has just finished drafting a chapter for Routledge on Disability and Poetry.

Michael Jackson is internationally renowned for his work in the field of existential anthropology and has been widely praised for his innovations in ethnographic writing. Jackson has done extensive fieldwork in Sierra Leone since 1969, and also carried out anthropological research in Aboriginal Australia, Europe, and New Zealand. He has taught in universities in New Zealand, Australia, the United States and is currently Distinguished Professor of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School. His most recent books include The Varieties of Temporal Experience (2018), Selected Poems (2017), and The Paper Nautilus: A Trilogy (2019). Cold Hub Press author page.

 

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