Category Archives: NZ author

Poetry Shelf summer reading: Amy Brown’s neon daze

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neon daze, Amy Brown, Victoria University Press, 2019

 

 

 

The title of Amy Brown’s new collection neon daze hooked me. Having published extracts from the book on the blog, I knew the collection came out of motherhood. I mused on the way you can be caught in a blazing daze as you invent your own mother role. How moments can also gleam with light, the miracle of a newborn baby you are responsible for. Not everyone chooses or can be mothers and there is no standardised mothering role. Thanks heavens. Women have written mother poems for centuries despite denigration from men. I came across the denigration in my Wild Honey travels, but I also came across a rich harvest of mother poems that shed light on the multiplicity of experience, experience that shaped the way poems were written as well as the content. I also encountered relentless doubt – doubt about whether what women were writing could be claimed as poetry when it retained a domestic or maternal focus.

I still encounter this!

At the Poetry & Essay conference in Wellington (2017), I sat with Amy, Joan Fleming and Brian Blanchfield over lunch and we talked about how being a mother does not shut down the option of being a poet, of being a published poet, of being read and valued. And most importantly, about the significance of publishing poems about motherhood, about sons and daughters and domestic matters.

Amy’s glorious evocation of motherhood tests how poems form on the page. neon daze raises questions about both writing and mothering and resists turning away from the difficult, the intensely private. There is a sense of inquiry, contemplation and play, along with the doubt and constrained time. Amy discusses the genesis of the title – she had ‘Neonatal’ to being with and then began playing:

 

(…) Too clinical to be appropriate now,

I play with the cursor, like the baby plays with the

nipple when he wants comfort rather than food.

I keep Neon: a bright, new, elemental word

like a swipe of highlighter over these days

in the calendar. I add Days, then change it

to Daze. This is where I am, in a floodlit

stupor, so bright I can barely see, like in Dante’s

Paradise, shadowless knowledge so pure it’s empty.

 

from ‘9 October 2016’

 

Amy admitted she told people she was writing even when she privately thought ‘this writing didn’t count’. She kept a verse journal for three months after her baby was born – subsequently editing and adding footnotes which pick up on a word or idea prompted by the poem.  The footnote titles track a mind musing, raising questions, allowing doubt to surface and resettle. They are like an infinitive-verb poem:

to admit, to edit, to push, to sate, to repeat, to define, to expect, to hallucinate, to dream, to dance, to address, to winter, to resolve , to heal, to regret, to visit, to abstract, to doubt, to donate, to sever, to touch, to cringe, to name, to eat, to earn, to permit, to wake, to care, to wean, to wave, to finish

The footnotes ( I want to call them something else) form their own vital presence, not as asides, but as a sequence of numbered prose pieces that enervate the poetry.

I cross the bridges between poems and prose. Sometimes I make a clearing for the poem and surround it with silent beats like the white space on the page. Sometimes I dwell on the pirouetting trains of thought in the prose and let the questions gain momentum. I am particularly interested in Amy’s double self-exposure in both poetry and prose. The writing is called into question. Is it poetry? Is it poetry of value? Does it make a difference that the writer is a woman? A mother? What lines are crossed? What lines are tested?

I am affected by this collection because it draws me deep into the challenges of writing and motherhood. How can I write when I am so depleted? How can I write anything of worth? I still feel this.

The poetry exposes both physical and emotional realities. At times it underlines the relentless day-in-day-out routines that both exhaust and provide uplift, while at other times the poetry holds a scene (still, luminous) for us to absorb. This is a personal record of mothering: of baby stages, breastfeeding, a need to avoid baby bragging, to settle baby to sleep, to listen to baby coos and baby cries. This is a personal record of climbing to the rock summit, behind baby and father, like a baby mountain goat up the less than easy walk. The poem reverberates with feeling (sharp, understated, complicated)

 

(…) I have seen you fall, your father replies.

And I think it has something too do with you thinking

you are a mountain goat. The words are said tensely

as he holds his left arm around you and balances

with his right palm against a rock. The sky is

granite too – shimmering, hard and slick.

 

from ’16 0ctober 2016′

 

For me neon daze satisfies on so many levels. Lines spring out with musical and visual agility. Scenes shimmer with a sensual underlay. The poetry is fluent, intricate, detail-rich. A question could stall me all day such as the thorny issue of writing the lives of others; of making public what is intimate and private. Amy admitted when she was younger she ‘had no qualms / about giving air and light to what now / seems better off private’. But now she is more inclined to keep secrets yet is compelled still ‘to expose private parts of life’. She claims: ‘now I see that even if it is just / me on display, there is still a problem: / I no longer own myself’. After Amy heard Jenny Bornholdt read a poem about the death of her father and her friend Nigel Cox at the Poetry & Essay conference she asked Jenny a question:

 

During the reading, Jenny invited questions, so I asked about the responsibility of writing about loved ones – Where I asked, do you draw a line? I don’t, she replied, firm and gentle at once. I don’t draw a line.

 

from ’26 To Permit’

 

Ah, this is a question pertinent to the making of neon daze. But the strongest presence is the mother poet, the poet mother. I am drawn into her world, her challenges, her delights, her epiphanies. She has placed herself on show but she had to think equally hard about putting her son and husband in the poetry frame. This questioning of the line Amy may or may not cross, and the various revelations she makes that place family and friends in good and bad lights, affected me as I read. How to write those closest to us?

I love this book. I love navigating the alleys and the undergrowth. I love coming across the hard stuff and then falling into a piquant scene. The mother rests on the sofa with her baby sleeping and watches the men in the garden working. This exquisite juxtaposition of stillness and movement is heightened by the poet’s movement of thought. She meanders from clods of earth and labour to dreams of the future, of what may or may not be. It enters me like the wind. I am replete with the movement of this book. Grateful this book exists.

 

What if, I wondered, looking at Alison Lester’s illustrations

of things parents want to give their child – a cosy bedroom

with a view of a tree full of wattlebirds; a garden rippling

with tulips and roses; a perfectly weeded vegetable patch

with benign insects for a child to discover; friendly cats,

dogs and horses; a rock pool full of rainbow-coloured fish;

a kaola above us in a tree; a woollen blanket and a steaming

mug of tea at the fireside. What if we never have a garden?

Or pets. or perfect holidays. At least he will know

that we wished such pleasures would be his. This book

is a petitionary prayer of sorts, and I realise now

that the answer to these requests is here, dilapidated

and overgrown and snake-infested, but here.

 

from ‘8 October 2016’

 

 

 

Amy Brown is a poet, novelist and teacher. In 2012 she completed a PhD in creative writing at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of The Propoganda Girl (VUP, 2018), which was shortlisted in the 2009 NZ Book Awards, and The Odour of Sanctity (VUP, 2013), a contemporary epic poem. She is also the author of Pony Tales, a series of children’s novels.

 

The Spin Off – ‘Turning on the Light Ladder: Amy Brown on motherhood and writing neon daze

Radio NZ – Harry Ricketts reviews neon daze

Poetry Shelf – excerpt from neon daze

Victoria University Press author page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Michael Fitzsimons’s ‘Lifeboat’

 

Lifeboat

 

You are rowing a lifeboat around a little garden in summer.

You are happy like that,
just you and a few birds and some swaying trees.
Just you and some herbs and a yellow rose.
You could be praying.

You dip your oars in the quiet,
forget everything that has happened.
All your questions are unanswered,
your beliefs unimaginable.
No matter.

You row on, thinking:
I can hop into this boat anytime,
on any disastrous afternoon.
When push comes to shove, when words fail me,
this boat is mine. There is no other.

 

Michael Fitzsimons

 

 

 

from Michael, I thought you were dead, illustration by William Carden-Horton  (The Cuba Press, 2019)

Michael Fitzsimons is a proud member of the three-person South Wellington Poetry Society and co-founder of Wellington communications and publishing company Fitzbeck Creative. Michael, I Thought You Were Dead (The Cuba Press) is his second collection. His first, Now You Know, was recommended in RNZ’s annual poetry highlights. Michael lives in Seatoun with his wife, Rose, in a hillside house overlooking Wellington Harbour.

The Cuba Press author page

 

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Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Lynley Edmeade’s ‘The Day’

 

 

The Day

Cambrian Valley

 

 

The dog lies down in the shade of the table.

Knives lie down with pieces of lunch on them.

The mountains lie down across the valley

and the sunlight lies down across everything.

 

When we drive Neil says I love this:

the car and the music and the dog

and the sun and the spring and the lambs

and the light and the mountains and the sky.

 

The sky is so blue you can almost hear it skying.

 

 

Lynley Edmeades from Listening In, Otago University Press, 2019

 

 

Lynley Edmeades is a poet, essayist and scholar. Her debut collection As the Verb Tenses (2016) was longlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry and was a finalist in the UNESCO Bridges of Struga Best First Book of Poetry. She has a PhD in avant-garde poetics, and lives in Dunedin with her partner.

Otago University Press author page

Poetry Shelf review of Listening In

 

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Poetry Shelf summer reading: Lynley Edmeades’s Listening In

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Listening In Lynley Edmeades, Otago University Press, 2019

 

Most of the time things slip

 

The seed on your plate slides

in the mess of leftover dressing

 

the hum of three street lights

making bright for no one

 

But every now and then

it feels as if things might hold

 

like here in this room

with its air and its airlight

 

from ‘Blue Planet Sky’

 

 

This is my summer holiday: reading gardening cooking walking on the wind-whipped beach. Trying to get better at sour dough. Most of all it is reading. Most of all it is reading novels. But some Aotearoa poetry books I dipped into in 2019 have been tugging at me, diverting me from the glorious satisfactions of fiction. I would hate to be a book-award judge this year as my shortlist of astonishing NZ poetry reads is Waikato-River long!

Here is another one is one to add to my list: Lynley Edmeades’s Listening In.

I adore this book. I adore the the extraordinary scope of writing.

The playful title evokes the reader bending into the frequencies of the poems but also underlines the attentiveness of the poet as she ‘listens in’ to her life, her preoccupations, the way words sing, misbehave, connect, disconnect, soothe, challenge. The linguistic play is breathtaking. You get different rhythms: from stammering staccato to sweet fluency, wayward full stops that introduce breathlessness, pause, discomfort, further pause. Verbs are signed posted (as is Lynley’s debut book As the Verb Tenses), as though each poem is a movement, as though each thing made visible is movement. A poem becomes a matter of being and doing in the now of the present tense.

 

The day unravels in the precarious throws of verb.

It’s everywhere we look: kitchen, bathroom, garden.

Even the floor waits in its doingness.

 

from ‘Things to Do With Verbs’

 

This is poetry as the flux of life where things are in place and out of place, where a great swell of language repeats and sidetracks and repeats again. You get to laugh and you get to feel. If we had all day, sitting together in a cafe or atop the dunes, I would tell you about the delights of each poem because there is such variation, such diverse impact as you read. ‘The Way’ is a knife-in-the-heart love poem and you have no idea the knife is coming and the love heat makes way for heartbreak. ‘Where Would You Like to Sit’ is an anxiety poem where questions pose as statements in a therapist’s chair.

You have to read the poems to see how they gather inside you. How the language gathers inside. How you can’t stop feeling the poems: the wit, the music, the originality.

Lynley takes three politicians as poem starting points. ‘Speetch’ is a transliteration of ex Prime Minister John Key’s valedictory speech in parliament. ‘Again America Great Make’ quantifies Donald Trump’s inauguration speech. ‘Ask a Woman’ juxtaposes Margaret Thatcher quotes that Lynley found online. All three poems are quite disconcerting!

 

(..) But long

before Wall Shtreet my political views hid been shaped by my Aushtrian Jewish

mutha Ruth, who single handedly raised me and my sisstas in now the infimiss

state house at nineteen Hollyfird Av Christchurch. My mutha wazza no nonsense

womin who refused to take no in answer. She wuddun accept fayure.

 

from ‘Speetch’

 

 

On other occasions a single word (stone, because) prompts a poem like an ode to a word that shadows an ode to experience. ‘Poem (Frank O’Hara Has Collapsed)’ spins on the word ‘collapse’ like a free wheeling stream of consciousness unsettling whirlpool. I adore these poems. ‘Islands of Stone’ leads from physical stones to language play. A quote from Viktor Shklovsky heads the poem and it is how I feel about the book: ‘Art exists that one may recover the sensation of life, it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony.’

 

Stone-sober stone

Getting-stoned stone

Stepping-stone stone

Sticks-and-stones stone

 

Leave-no-stone-unturned stone

Blood-from-a-stone stone

Two-birds-with-one-stone-stone

A-stone’s-throw stone

 

Then there are the poems that glow. That fill you with poetry warmth. I am thinking of ‘Constellations’, a in which Chloe tells us ‘we draw stars/ around the adjectives/ to identify them’. She is writing a story about friends and lunchtime at school and whether friends are kind or nice.

 

It has little shadows

of very and kinda

that reach out

towards the stars.

 

Perhaps another way to view Listening In is as translation.  A small poem ‘The Order of Things’ makes multiple appearances (it originally appeared in As the Verb Tenses) as half-translations and iterations. I am thinking each book we write is enmeshed in the books that we wrote before, and the books we write foreshadow the books to come. Lynley is translating the world (life) with an exuberance of words, out-of-step syntax (a nod to Gertrude Stein), repeating motifs, word chords, word cunning and delicious humour. She tests what a poem can do by testing what words can do and the effect is awe-inspiring. It makes me want to write. It makes me want to put the book in your hand. Because. Because. Because. Life is here out in the open and hiding in the crevices. Because. Because. Because. Her words open up like little explosions inside you and you know poems can do anything. I have barely touched upon what this poetry does. I love love love this book.

 

 

Otago University Press author page

Lynley Edmeades is a poet, essayist and scholar. Her debut collection As the Verb Tenses (2016) was longlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry and was a finalist in the UNESCO Bridges of Struga Best First Book of Poetry. She has a PhD in avant-garde poetics, and lives in Dunedin with her partner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Emma Neale’s ‘Global’

 

Global

 

Search for counter-attack

Replace with hold

Search for attack

Replace with attach
Search for murdered

Replace with heard

Search for killed

Replace with serenaded

Search for ambushed

Replace with invited

Search for missile launchers

Replace with, oh, red silk fans

Search for front line

Replace with lamp-lit threshold

Search for grenades

Replace with iris bulbs

Search for smart bombs

Replace with crayoned paper folded into lilies, swans

Search for generals

Replace with farmers, orchardists, gardeners, mechanics, doctors, veterinarians, school-teachers, artists, painters, housekeepers, marine biologists, zoologists, nurses, musicians

Search for combatants

Replace with counsellors, conductors, bus drivers, ecologists, train drivers, sailors, fire-fighters, ambulance drivers, historians, solar engineers, designers, seamstresses, artesian well-drillers, builders

Search for profits

Replace with prophets

Save as

New World.doc

 

Emma Neale

from Tender Machines  (Dunedin: OUP, 2015)

 

 

Emma Neale is the author of 6 novels and 6 collections of poetry. She is the current editor of Landfall.

Otago University page

 

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Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Vaughan Rapatahana on Poems from the Edge of Extinction

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Read full article here

The anthology Poems from the Edge of Extinction (Chambers, UK, 2019) edited by well-known English poet, Chris McCabe, was launched at Poetry International, The Southbank Centre, London  in mid-October, 2019. He was the MC on this occasion, as well as for several other events during the festival. It is an important collection of poetry written in indigenous languages — including my own, te reo Māori — which are being threatened by dominant Hydra-like languages — like English and to a lesser extent others, such as Mandarin.

My perspective on why languages are under threat:

I have written extensively previously as regards the several agencies pushing English language Hydra-like dominion over indigenous languages across the globe, for primarily cultural-power and pecuniary reasons. Agencies such as the British Council, which continue to press for a worldwide spread of the language into traditionally non-English as a first language communities — so as to seek financial and cultural benefits for Britain. An approach as exemplified in their own words from their December 2019 Request for Proposal

‘… the organisation is seeking to investigate not merely the direct benefits of the spread of English (in terms of the direct financial benefit to the UK of the provision of English services and the improved skills and life chances of those learning it, both of which are relatively well known and have been widely explored in the past), but in particular the indirect benefits — in terms of greater knowledge of English driving the UK’s influence and attractiveness for trade, and improving the access of those learning English to opportunities, information and culture.’