Category Archives: NZ author

Tina Makereti’s University of Auckland Public Lecture: Poutokomanawa — The Heartpost

An essential lecture from Tina Makareti: ‘Stories can save your life’

This is an edited version of Tina Makereti’s University of Auckland Public Lecture: Poutokomanawa — The Heartpost, which was given as part of the Auckland Writers Festival last week. It is posted here at E-Tangata: A Maori and Pasifika Sunday Magazine.

 

I want to begin by acknowledging Tāmaki Makaurau, who I have a history with. I lived here for five years while I was a teenager. When I lived here, I think I was like many Aucklanders. I didn’t know who I was or where I came from. I knew nothing of my whakapapa. I knew nothing of half my family. Nothing at all.

And though I didn’t know what I didn’t know, I felt haunted by that loss. I was as awkward and lost and damaged as a person can be in that situation. But I could write, even though I soon forgot it for a while, and I did write, and creativity kept me alive.

I tell you this now because I want you to know I do not come from privilege, even of the cultural kind. I come from not knowing, and that is how I know how important this kaupapa is. Stories can save your life.

If I could do anything in the world it would be to sit in the corner and read and write books. I would happily lose myself in stories for the rest of my life. I never planned to find myself a podium and talk on it. But here I am because when I started writing seriously I looked around me and I was startled by what I saw, and I knew we were missing something vital, and I wondered how it was we had gotten ourselves into this position.

And I’m not very good at ignoring problems. But I don’t want to start there, with the problems.

Poetry Shelf interviews Ian Wedde: ‘writing – or thinking about writing – poetry really is a tremendous pleasure’

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With Donna in Berlin, New Year 2013/14.

 

You have to start somewhere

in these morose times,

a clearing in a forest say,

filled with golden shafts of sunlight

and skirmishes. A little later

your itinerary will take you past

weathered churches on plains that stretch

as far as the eye can see.

 

from ‘The lifeguard’ in The Lifeguard (2013) and Selected Poems

 

To celebrate the arrival of Selected Poems (Auckland University Press, 2017), Ian Wedde agreed to talk about poetry with me.
Born in Blenheim (a twin of Dave) in October 1946, Ian has lived in Bangladesh, England, Jordan, France, Germany, now lives in Auckland with his wife Donna Malane, a screen-writer and novelist, they have five children and five grandchildren, has published seven novels and sixteen collections of poetry as well as books of essays and assorted art books and catalogues. Most recent book is Selected Poems (AUP, 2017) with marvellous art work by John Reynolds. New Zealand poet laureate 2011-12, Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement (poetry) 2014.

 

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Cover and internal art work: John Reynolds

 

The Interview

PG: Did poetry feature in your childhood? What activities delighted you as a young boy?

IW: There wasn’t a lot of poetry in my childhood, though my father chanting John Masefield’s ‘Cargoes’ as he rowed across Waikawa Bay in the Marlborough Sounds was memorable – the rhythm was right but the words were deeply weird to me, which was what I liked.

 

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,

Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,

With a cargo of ivory,

And apes and peacocks,

Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

 

PG: What were some key influences when you first started writing?

IW: A link between the deeply lost-in-it world of reading stories and the hypnotic secret ecstasy of writing things, or trying to. Also the fascination of not understanding either what I was reading sometimes (I happened on Browning’s ‘Sordello’ by accident) or why writing was so mesmerising. Also Kipling, because of the poems associated with the Jungle Books, which I was addicted to.

 

PG: Or at university?

IW: At university I was obsessive about getting my hands on contemporary American poetry after or off the shoulder of the great modernists – post Pound-and-Eliot if you like. Post-Beats, for that matter. William Carlos Williams above all, though of course Spring and All and Kora in Hell were published in the 1920s – but those early books like Spring and All and Kora in Hell incorporated prose and poetry, they seemed to be experimental and interesting in ways that the accredited modernist masters were not. I loved Williams’ humanity and love of sparrows and weedstalks, but also the marvellous delicacy of thought that articulated his lines. Robert Creeley was important, his frugal counterpoint; Denise Levertov’s makeover of the exhausted lyric; Gary Snyder’s ecological ethic that made for a new kind of eclogue; Frank O’Hara’s urbane vernacular and before long Ted Berrigan, especially Berrigan’s Sonnets. John Ashbery’s ‘The Tennis Court Oath’ amazed me. Also French poets, but always sheeting back to Rimbaud. Pablo Neruda in bulk, his marvellous relish for the sensuous world and its political demands on our responsibilities. Elizabeth Bishop’s The Complete Poems. John Wieners because he broke so many rules without showing off.

 

I study my son’s face, to treasure it.

Each day (now, & now) it’s changed & I’ve lost

what I love, loved.

from ‘Paradiso Terrestre’ in Earthly Sonnets for Carlos (1975) and Selected Poems

 

PG: The birth of your first son prompted Earthly: Sonnets for Carlos. While some New Zealand men have written fatherhood poems (notably Graham Lindsay) I cannot think of another extended sequence such as yours. The prolonged contemplation allows greater complexity when facing what might at first seem unsayable – the miracle of a new-born baby. Did your son’s arrival throw your relationship with writing in the air?

IW: I usually threw my infant son in the air. It was a time of wonder. I also walked around with him quite a lot at night, those rhythms shaped how I thought and how the poems moved.

 

PG: What draws you to the longer sequence?

IW: A disinclination to get to the point in timely fashion or to admit there is one worth ending with. There are dear friends whose conversations and phonecalls I love because they do go on. Mostly I like giving in to the drifts and swerves of language that takes me to places I can’t get to by intention. A tendency rapidly to lose interest in the self-centred, anecdotal lyric in which a certain kind of modesty often strikes me as sham.

 

PG: Have other things elbowed your writing—refreshed, transformed, derailed, sent askew in good ways, sparking in new directions? A book or theory or idea or chance encounter or unexpected experience?

IW: Probably art more than anything, and music. The ways in which our perceptions of phenomena trigger thought I find fascinating and seductive. I’m an easy weeper – I’ve been known to sniffle during the opening credits of movies just because it’s so amazing that we can do this stuff. I love art in its many guises because at its best it can be so capable of subversion – of subverting representation as mimesis, subverting personal testament, or markers of class and taste – and because at its worst it can be all those things, and boring to boot, especially as cultural capital. Music perhaps because it’s just off the camber of what language does in poetry, unless of course we’re talking about poets as song-writers, that fabulous ancient lineage. During the time I spent in Jordan in 1969-70 the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish and others was a revelation – how it had a vast, loyal, politically disenfranchised radio audience of Palestinians and at the same time reached deeply into classical histories, reached the audiences of the Egyptian singer Oum Kalsoum and spoke to intellectuals such as Edward Said.

 

(..) If trees &

suchlike don’t tell on me I understand

my son will & soon, too. His new blue eyes

see everything. Soon he’ll learn to see

less. O the whole great foundation is sand.

But the drought has broken today, this rain!

pecks neat holes in the world’s salty fabu-

less diamond-backed carapace & doubt comes

out, a swampy stink of old terrapin.

What shall I say? ‘I hid nothing from you,

but from myself. that I dream, little one,

 

from ‘for Rose’ in Earthly Sonnets for Carlos (1975) and Selected Poems

 

PG: For me Sonnets for Carlos is a collection imbued with love deep within the roots of the line. Yet when I regard the expanse of your writing across the decades, love seems to be an active ingredient whether it is for the dead poet Horace, blistered peppers on the hot plate, the beauty of a city street, family or the wide stretch of home. Do you agree? What do you see as active ingredients that have endured?

 

Late autumn’s good up around

The neighbourhood mountain’s misty flank in the morning

When the piss-trail of the morning’s promenade’s fresh

And even an old dog can still feel

The sac of earth trembling under his running feet.

 

from ‘5.4 To Mount Victoria’ in The Commonplace Odes (2001) and Selected Poems

 

IW: ‘Love’ is an easy word to utter and an even easier one to claim. Looking at what’s in this new book of selected poems, what I think I see repeated quite often is a claim that I ‘love’ the commonplace world – William Carlos Williams’ world of sparrows and weedstalks, if you like. I love appetite and enjoyment and relish and so the preparation of meals and so forth. I love thought that has a vigorous appetite, that enjoys tasty discussion. But I think you have to love this kind of ‘love’ knowing it comes at a cost, that grief or anger are its stalkers. I think there’s quite a lot of anger and frustration in my poems.

 

PG: In your introduction, ‘Enjoyment,’ you talk about the joy of writing poetry. That feeling must be contagious because in my view your poetry is a joy to read. For some writers, writing is a dark and painful process while for others it is energising. Do you also have patches like these? Do you have writing patterns, routines or rituals?

IW: For me writing – or thinking about writing – poetry really is a tremendous pleasure, at once a kind of rapture or abeyance of self, and a complete deployment of the self’s capacities. I’d never describe it as painful, though it can be tough when the critical phase kicks in and you realise that your rapture has generated a steaming heap. But then there’s a certain pleasure in consigning the pile of shit to its bucket. Much of what I write starts with walking around with a little notebook, and in a sense nothing in the notebook is ever wasted, even if what happens to it ends up getting chucked.

 

PG: You refer to the pleasure generated when ‘a poem veers off, carried along by a momentum that’s not quite mine, towards a direction neither I, nor the poem’s reader, is anticipating.’ There is a sense of writing into the unknown, but could you conversely say you write into into the known in unpredictable ways?

IW: No, I’m really talking about how my let’s call it ‘overarching concept’ can be highjacked by language itself – I go along with that, in a sense, and try to keep a very light hand on the tiller (as in that mixed metaphor).

 

PG: I am thinking, for example, of The Commonplace Odes and Three Regrets and a Hymn to Beauty where home infuses the poems in searing physical detail along with home-nourished states of mind. I rate these two books in my handful of sublime New Zealand reading experiences ( I am thinking too of the way your books have been long-term, book mentors along with those of Michele Leggott, Bill Manhire, Bernadette Hall, Cilla McQueen). The language is pitch perfect but it is that glorious tension between the known and the unknown that elevates me—along with the roving intellect and the physical beacons. I am reminded of Kafka’s yearning to read books that, like an axe, cut through the frozen sea within us. Do you have a book in your oeuvre that has particularly worked for you?

IW: Do you mean books I’ve read? I think there have been lots of them, over time. Perhaps the one that keeps on being non-negotiable is Rimbaud’s Oeuvres complètes (Gallimard, 1972) and subsequent translations, including those by Samuel Beckett, John Ashbery and Jeremy Harding, among others. Rimbaud’s pronouncements in May 1871 at the age of seventeen in letters to Georges Izambard and Paul Demeny that ‘I is somebody else’ (Je est un autre) remains for me one of the most potent codes with which to approach the way in which the poet (at seventeen) can become a ‘drunken boat’ that morphs into the child the poet was ten years earlier, playing with his toy boat on a pond, and finally the ship that swims under the frightful gaze of the prison hulks that incarcerated the Communard prisoners of 1871 that were the seventeen year old Rimbaud’s heroes. But if you mean one of my own books that I think has come close to that kind of sorcery, then pass.

 

Beauty

you’re the trouble I’m in

because there’s a lot of sweetness in my life

with that rude kind of magnificence

as when they hung Le Bateau upside down,

unusually animated and sparkling.

Happy birthday Montgomery Clift:

where did I see this guy – in Red River

or From Here to Eternity?

Accept and you become whole

bend and you straighten.

 

from ‘A hymn to beauty: days of a year’ in Three Regrets and a Hymn to Beauty (2005) and Selected Poems

 

PG: The allure of language in its slippery elusive glory, its ability to make music and bear all manner of freight, is a potent force for the poet. When a poem succeeds for you, or comes close, what is language doing? Do you have a poem or two that continue to resonate at the level of language? For me, there is an ongoing musicality, an enviable musicality, that provides shifting keys harmonies and chords.

IW: I think any poem that’s worth reading ‘resonates at the level of language’, which is to say the language doesn’t just do what it’s told to, rather it subverts or distracts the task of making itself understood. ‘Musicality’ in the language of poems can be a distraction or, at worst, an indulgence, an invitation to the categorisation ‘poetic’. I like the idea of meaning-chords as riffs, vertical rather than linear.

 

(..) the lovely world has everything I need,

It has my kids, my sweetheart, my friends, it has a new book

With mouth-watering risotto recipes in it,

The kind of plump rice you might have relished,

Horace, in the Sabine noon, yellowed with saffron.

‘The zen poet’ is another of you, he wrote a poem

About making stew in the desert which changed my life.

A good cookbook is as good as a book of poems

Any day, because it can’t be any more pretentious

Than the produce you savour with friends as night falls.

 

from ‘1.2 To the cookbook’ in The Commonplace Odes (2005) and Selected Poems

 

PG: In ‘To the cookbook,’ we read that ‘A good cookbook is as good as a book of poems.’ Women have long been denigrated for domestic traces in their writing. I take issue with this on so many levels. Food, including the cooking of food, adds a sensual zest, like finely judged salt and pepper, to your poetry, and indeed opens fascinating windows upon relations between food, life and writing. How do these connections work for you? Are you offended if I describe some of your poems as mouth-watering?

IW: Not in the least offended. It’s a compliment, thank you. And then, Neruda’s ‘Ode to Tomatoes’ is one of the most slyly political poems ever written, as is Gary Snyder’s ‘How to Make Stew in the Pinacate Desert’.

 

PG: The word subversion crops up in your introduction. You relish subverting expectations of what language ought to or can do. Do you see other subversions at work?

IW: I try to subvert myself, not always with much success.

 

PG: The Selected Poems underlines how important your reading life is and how it has sustained and infiltrated your writing life. Name three books from any time or any place that have mattered deeply.

IW: Geoff Park’s Nga Uruora: The Groves of Life; May Gibbs, The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie; Ovid, Metamorphoses.

 

PG: Name three New Zealand poetry books that have resonated with you.

IW: Nga Moteatea (4 vols.); R.A.K. Mason, Collected Poems; take your pick of poets who are also song-writers, we have some great ones: Hinemoana Baker, Teremoana Rapley, Bill Manhire, Dominic Hoey known as Tourettes, the Dam Native crew, lots more in this country.

 

PG: Have you been attracted or influenced by any poetry movements? Or conversely repelled?

IW: Constantly.

 

If I wanted to translate

silence I would have to be

deaf, to remember silence

I would have to recognise

its opposite, for instance

singing, a miracle, not

too much to ask I hope, and

why wouldn’t I hope, why not?

 

from ‘Shadow stands up’ in The Lifeguard (2013) and Selected Poems

 

PG: In your introduction you suggest it is over to the reader to make sense of the way your writing has changed—over to us to decipher the recurring motifs and predilections, the side steps, the shifts in attention and concerns. Time and age are under the spotlight right from the start, in the first poem addressed to Matisse. Just one question then. Do you feel you have greater freedom at 70 when you pick up your writing pen?

IW: I have less compunction about putting the pen down and going for a walk. With or without my notebook.

 

Henri Emile Benoît Matisse je vous salue!

Let me tell you a secret.

Your work goes on.

I’d only seen your things in art books

bite sized. I dreamed there was a bright room

in my head somewhere

which you were making real stroke

by counterpointed stroke

& where I would some day retire

to an armchair in the corner:

the final element of a composition

that perfectly described itself.

 

from ‘Homage to Matisse’ in Homage to Matisse (1971) and Selected Poems

 

Auckland University Press page

Radio NZ review

Herald piece with Greg Fleming

Discussed in Anna Jackson’s essay on the Epistle Poem

 

 

 

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‘Dear Epistle’ an essay by Anna Jackson in PNR

This article is in Pen Review 235, Volume 43 Number 5, May – June 2017.

Anna’s wide roaming essay is a terrific read especially the bit on Ian Wedde’s Commonplace Odes. Here is a taste:

 
‘Wedde wrote The Commonplace Odes after ‘a dry spell’ of not writing poetry at all, having become bored, he writes, ‘with mundane unpretentiousness, writing as small talk’, while at the same time he ‘choked on the grandiloquent’.16 If these odes elevate ‘the marvellous, surreal details of ordinary life’ they do so without waxing poetical in the ironic way Sharon Olds does in the spoon ode, or Heather Christle does addressing her ‘Dear forest.’ And this creates a different relation to time. The ‘O’ of the ironic ode at once collapses time, in the way the belatedness of postmodernism uses the quotation marks of irony to bring any traditional element into play in an indistinguishable present, and marks an unbridgeable gap in time between the present and a past that can never be taken straight, can never be truly accessed. In his long engagement with the classics, Wedde has always acknowledged the distance in time that inevitably alters a reader’s relationship with an author ‘Whom I know only by the garlands / laid daily on this tomb,’ as he writes of Horace, ‘and whose tomb / I know only by the books I read, hoping / To hear in them, in their different accounts of the work done, / The equitable voice of the poet, wine cup in hand…’ But to acknowledge this gap in time is not to collapse time – quite the opposite. Shane Butler offers a useful approach to thinking about this difference in his recent work to direct classical reception theory away from thinking of reception only in terms of the immediate present – so that every translation, every reading of a text, is regarded as an entirely new reading best understood in the context of current and local concerns – to thinking, instead, in terms of a ‘deep classics’ that positions our engagement with the classics as an ongoing process taking place across (if not beyond) time, that recognises that our engagement with the classics is, in part, an engagement with the very passage of time that comes between the reader and the text (or, to put it more intimately, between the reader and the poet).17′

 

 

Sport 45 and other musings

 

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I picked up the latest Sport the other day and the cover was so good that I didn’t want to open the issue for ages. Sam Duckor-Jones’s drawing is like a poem that is strange, off-kilter, mesmerisingly good (someone is adrift awkwardly in the sky).

Just inside there is list of books that Victoria University Press are publishing this year: 8 fiction, 11 poetry, 2 plays/poetry-music, 9 non-fiction. I have been musing lately on VUP’s productiveness and how it is to be utterly lauded. In a tough publishing climate, VUP  work hard to showcase New Zealand writing in diverse forms and with diverse preoccupations. I hear niggles (especially when VUP got such a clean sweep at the Book Awards) yet I have no time for such gripes. This is a chance to celebrate a publisher sticking its neck out and publishing quality writing whichever way you look. I don’t see the VUP stable as a set of clones – the exact opposite. On my blog I only have time to review the books I love (and even then I don’t get to them all) and interview poets that have struck a chord at some point. It is very seldom I skip over a VUP poetry book because it has missed the mark for me as a reader. If I look back at books published over the past few years, I see an eclectic mix as opposed to a restrictive school of poetry. Think of the wry wit of James Brown, the  breathtaking musicality and heart-stopping moves of Bill Manhire, the grit of Geoff Cochrane, the anarchy and surrealism of Hera Lindsay Bird, the contemplative detail along everyday trails of Jenny Bornholdt, the inventive, unpredictabliity of Hannah Mettner. I have adored this poetry and yes, I will sing its praises from the rafters.

In ‘The Old Guard New Guard’ session at AWF17 and in response to Andrew Johnston raising the clone issue, Bill Manhire summed up his aims and ways of working when he was teaching at IIML.  The conversation utterly resonated with me and a few things he said corresponded perfectly with my idea for Poetry Shelf’s Winter Season (to be posted in July!). The essential aim was for students to find their own voice (Teju Cole talked about this a little too). I loved this idea: ‘Write what I don’t know but it will somehow be mine.’ In workshops, Bill wanted students ‘to jump the tracks, to go sideways from themselves.’  He wanted them ‘to turn themselves into other poems’ and ‘to produce poems that mattered to them.’ Bill also applied this to himself and talked about the way he might get too comfortable and thus seek out ways to elbow himself sideways off the writing tracks (my words sorry as I didn’t record this).  These notions really resonated with me. As poets we are all attached to the mysterious thing called voice: our voice, how to sustain it, how to tilt or transform or nurture it. I love the idea of sidestepping the usual ruts and paths.

The latest issue of Sport is chiefly a celebration of writing that has come out of Wellington or is part of the VUP stable. I don’t have an issue with this and I applaud the range and diversity of writing within. There is a fabulous interview (Bill Manhire interviews John Gallas). I now want to track down John’s poetry – the taster of poems confirms he is a poet to add to your shelves. Hope the poetry interview (or of other genres) becomes a regular feature of Sport particularly if it is conducted over months at leisure by email as this one was. Great reading!

Also loved the cluster of essays in the middle by John Newton, Virginia Were and Giovanni Tiso. Another essential ingredient that adds verve and challenges.

The poets range from James Brown to Frances Samuel ( conjunctional wit produced out of found material to slightly strange, reader-hooked storytelling); from the luminous detail of Elizabeth Smither to the surreally personal and personally surreal of Rata Gordon; from the bolt in the eye of Claire Orchard to the tender detail of Harry Ricketts. One of my favourite  new poets, Amy Leigh Wicks, haunts me, as does Bill Nelson, in the unfolding detail and the way the poems move. Good to read Bob Orr sharply conjuring place, Rachel O’Neill’s prose-like agility,  Jake Brown’s bright jumpcut portrait of a town, the stark, sharp tug of Natalie Morrison’s fairytale-ing.

I haven’t finished reading yet: still Anna Jackson, Vincent O’Sullivan, Jake Arthur, Helen Heath, Kerrin P Sharpe and more. In my bag for today. Ha! A poetry bag!

So this seems like the perfect occasion to say congratulations to Fergus Barrowman and his team at VUP. As a writer, reader and commentator on NZ poetry, I am in debt to the extent of your gifts to NZ literature. As for Bill Manhire, I reckon it is about time a poet got the top Honours in a Queen’s Honour’s list along with those who have done extraordinary things in the business world. Bill has gifted so much with generosity and humbleness, he has enhanced what we both read and write, and has written poetry collections that sing like no other.

Yes there is magnificent poetry in all its forms  accruing the length and breadth of NZ, fabulous poets and poetry projects, tireless ambassadors (Michele Leggott, Bernadette Hall, Emma Neale, David Eggleton)  but this is VUP’s year and I applaud you!

 

Poetry Shelf Autumn Season: Poets pick a word – Anna Jackson picks vinegar

I could have chosen any of these words – there is a lot to say for velocity in a poem for instance – but I have just read Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl so I am choosing vinegar.  Vinegar Girl is a reworking of the story of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew – a play I have always liked.  Anne Tyler has the heroine, Kate, courted by her father’s research assistant, Pyotr, for visa reasons, and the title comes from his perplexity over the proverb she uses in an argument with him: you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.  But why would you want to catch flies, he wonders.  Actually what I liked about the book was how sweet it was – I am still buzzing about it – but I think there is a place for sharpness in poetry.  To move from flies to fleas, Donne’s flea poem makes a witty courtship poem because of his acerbic disparagement of the conventional pieties of the girl he is courting – and because he includes in the poem her equally quick disparagement of his self-serving arguments with her squashing of his flea.  I like a certain acerbity in a poem, a sharp-sighted view of the world, that I find in the poetry of Helen Rickerby for example, with her historical portraits in My Iron Spine that are somehow unsparing and sympathetic at the same time, or in the poetry of Anne Kennedy, with the attention she pays to the gaps between what we say and what we think, how we say things and what we mean (perhaps not quite the gap we think), what we begin to say and the revisions we make.  And in Janet Charman’s writing, too, I find the same unsparing sympathy, the same rather unnerving attention to the way language works to express and betray us, and the same resistance I find in both Helen Rickerby’s work and Anne Kennedy’s to the way women’s lives have been told in stories that are not the stories we might want to tell if we were the ones telling them – and we are.

©Anna Jackson 2017

 

Anna Jackson lives in Island Bay, Wellington, lectures at Victoria University, and has published six collections of poetry, most recently I, Clodia (AUP, 2014).  With Helen Rickerby and Angelina Sbroma she quite often runs conferences and other events for talking and thinking about writing, this year a conference on Poetry and the Essay.

Poetry Shelf Autumn Season: Chris Tse picks mother

 

 

Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida is a personal meditation on the nature of photography. In the first half of the book, he uses photographs from well-known photographers as case studies on how the meaning or “worth” of a photograph can differ from person to person. The second half untangles his response to a photograph of his mother as a child. Though he describes and considers the photograph in detail, notably the way in which it has shaped his understanding of photography, he writes: “I cannot reproduce [the photograph]. For you, it would be nothing but an indifferent picture, one of a thousand manifestations of the ‘ordinary’; it cannot constitute the visible object of a science; it cannot establish an objectivity, in the positive sense of the term; at most it would interest your studium: period, clothes, photogeny; but in it, for you, no wound.”

The ‘wound’ he refers to is a photograph’s punctum: a detail “which attracts or distresses [the viewer]”. Since reading Barthes’ book, I’ve been pondering the possible application of studium and punctum to the reading of poetry. There can be details in a poem that stand out to us as mere documentary or social intrigue ­– and then there are the details, lines and images that wound us and draw us in far deeper than we are sometimes willing to go. As readers we will be drawn to different aspects of a poem, but what I love about poetry – much like photography and most other art – is how it can meld historical facts and context with personal viewpoints and unexpected imagery.

I was particularly interested in Barthes’ assumption that his reader would be “indifferent” to this photograph, and as such chose to withhold it from us, claiming some sort of “ownership”. At first, I thought this was disingenuous of Barthes. This means we cannot make a call ourselves and determine whether his assertion is objectively true. He has told us but not shown us, and I felt slighted by his withholding of an integral part of his examination of photography.

This got me thinking about whether or not anyone can determine who a poem might be “for”. When we write a poem, do we cast our poems into the world knowing (hoping) that they will find their way to a very specific reader that we had in mind when we wrote them? I’ve written many poems about my family; in some ways they are also “for” my family – a record, an acknowledgement, a bridge. Despite that, my mum has said that she doesn’t understand some of these poems, even though they’re based on stories she told me about her childhood and she and her siblings appear in them! I’m surprised when people share their (sometimes intimate) responses to these poems. They’re often not the type of reader I imagine reading my poems, so it pleases me that such personal, reflective poems can move others.

On the flipside, I also wonder what sort of poetry is out there “for” me. I enjoy reading a broad range of poets, but I’d be reticent to say I’m the sort of reader these poets were hoping to attract. I like to picture poems and readers as particles floating out in the ether, waiting for a slight nudge or stroke of chance to bring them together. Nothing is ever made for everyone, though reading the vitriolic comments hurled at writers, musicians, filmmakers, artists etc on the internet would have you believing otherwise.

 

©Chris Tse 2017

 

 

Chris Tse is the author of How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes, which was named Best First Book of Poetry at the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. His poetry and non-fiction have recently appeared in Mimicry, The Atlanta Review and The Pantograph Punch.

 

 

A few thoughts on the Old Guard and the New Guard #AWF17

 

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Hera Lindsay Bird (winner of Best First Book of Poetry at the Ockham NZ Book Awards and winner of the Sarah Broom Poetry Award 2017)

 

I am currently writing a book on New Zealand women’s poetry which means I have spent the past year exploring the way women have come into their own on the poetry stage.  The Old Guard and the New Guard session featured Hera Lindsay Bird and Bill Manhire  in conversation with chair, Andrew Johnston.  Hera and Bill decided the labels were fluid as indeed they are. I loved that!

I wrote a swag of notes based on Bill’s conversation and readings and scarcely anything on Hera because for some inexplicable reason she was sidelined on stage.  She got to talk about the fizzing international reaction to a couple of her provocative poems and to read one of them (after saying these poems were her least favourites in the book). Bill was invited to read several. Hera did not get a chance to read another poem (until I invited her to do so in question time) or to talk about the way her book offers so much more to the reader. The quirkiness, the sharp surreal detail, the blurred borders, the fluency, the sense of confession that may be grainy truth mixed with grainy lies. The exuberant joy in language. The electric switches and dovetails as the poem moves. It felt like Hera had 20% of talk time but maybe that was not quite accurate. There was scant if not zero engagement with what her poetry is doing beyond the shock factor. The audience would have had difficulty taking away diverse entry points into her poetry after this event.

The session felt like a step back in time where if a woman speaks it is claimed she is dominating.

I don’t know why this happened but in my view there is no excuse because it appeared to be downright sexist. There are of course countless other possible reasons. Gender issues aside – panelists need equal time in the spotlight and a wide-ranging engagement with what they do.

I loved what Bill had to say and I plan on sharing that at a later date.