Category Archives: NZ Literary Festivals

Some questions for poets reading at Paula Green’s Poetry Shelf Live (Wellington)

 

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Paula Green with Jane Arthur, Lynn Jenner, Simone Kaho, Gregory Kan, Karlo Mila, Tayi Tibble and and special guest, US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo.

 

Prompted by the arrival of Wild Honey, Claire Mabey (Verb Wellington) invited me to curate a session for NZ Festival of the Arts Writers programme. It morphed into a Poetry Shelf Live session at Claire’s suggestion. I have always wanted to do this and would love to curate seasons of Poetry Shelf Live in other places, even my hometown Auckland! But I am a big fan of the poetry verve in our capital city, and have multiple Wellington attachments, having lived there twice in my life (I started school at Petone Central way back when).

So am delighted to be hosting this session!

Picking just a handful of poets was hard as there are so many recent poetry collections that I have adored, along with poets whose work has inspired me for a long time. And it’s something special to have American Poet Laureate Joy Harjo read with us.

As a prelude to the reading, a few of the poets answered some poetry questions.

 

Why write poetry?

Gregory Kan: Poetry is a way for me to process the world and also to build new worlds.

Simone Kaho: My mother used to read me and my brothers and sister bedtime stories, and we all loved reading growing up. When I first came across poetry at school, I saw how much energy there was in it. It seemed to me, to be a wild and condensed version of stories in books. I was drawn to the way a poem could tell a story, or create powerful emotion with very few words. I liked how much the writer collaborates with the reader to create meaning. It looked like magic to me and I had to try and see if I had some in me.

Jane Arthur: I think it’s because my brain suits short, intense bursts of thoughts and words, thinking about poem-sized ideas and doing poetry-shaped crafting. Which is why it’s bizarre and terrifying that I am working on a children’s novel right now.

Lynn Jenner: 

Because poetry is an arrow.

Because it can also be  as wide as a sea.

 

What  attracts you in a poem as a reader?

Gregory Kan: Leaps of the mind, eye and imagination.

Simone Kaho: I like poetry that is dark and funny, but in any poetry I’m looking for the moments where you have to stop and look away from the page, to savour what the poem has said or done. I find in many poems, times where there’s a feeling of spiritual connection. What the poem is saying becomes so true for you it’s like you are experiencing it yourself, you suddenly blend with the poet and understand, deeply, something they are saying or feeling. This can happen in any type of poetry, but for me, it’s probably more likely to happen in poetry that is slightly narrative, or grounded in the real world.

Lynn Jenner: I like the poet to tell me about what they know and what they have learned in their life. I like politics in poems. Other than that, I probably like what everyone likes; surprising language, some building up of themes and some swing and lurch in the rhythm and cadence.

 

What matters to you in a poem as a writer?

Gregory Kan: Movement beyond what I know.

Lynn Jenner:It is important to feel that the poem has done enough, that it has brought something into the light and examined it quite a bit. Because of this, I tend to write long-ish poems! I also aspire to write poems that have an emotional punch to them.

Jane Arthur: Authenticity, voice, surprise.

Simone Kaho: When a poem works, to me, it’s like it holds it’s own energy. You can read it back and see things you didn’t necessarily intend at the time of writing, and it communicates new things back to you. It feels a bit distant – like a memory of being in that moment.

 

I just hosted a festival of tree poems on Poetry Shelf – do you have recurring things in your poems?

Lynn Jenner: Trees, actually, and people dying. Also people talking.

Gregory Kan: Funny you should mention the tree poems – trees!

Jane Arthur: There’s a constant oscillation between rage and apathy. At least, those were the two states I found myself in while writing Craven, and I can still sense them when I read it now.

Simone Kaho: Yes, trees is a recurring them in my poems. Also family, the natural environment generally, and how it feels to be human. Lately, I’ve been writing poetry that is perhaps more overtly political – it’s talking about gender dynamics and trauma.

 

Name 3 to 5 books that you have loved at different points in your life.

Lynn Jenner: Seamus Deane,  Reading in the Dark;  Amos Oz, Tales of Love and Darkness; Leo Tolstoy, Hadji Murad; H.G. Sebald, The Emmigrants

Gregory Kan: Nox by Anne Carson, Sonny by Mary Burger, Dreams for Kurosawa by Raul Zurita, Penury by Myung Mi Kim. Just off the top of my head. But really there are so many.

Simone Kaho:  Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain, In the line of Beauty – Alan Hollinghurst, Bunny – Selima Hill, All of Tusiata Avia’s books, The Book of the Black Star – Albert Wendt

 

If you were to host a festival poetry session with poets from any time and any place who would you include?

Lynn Jenner: Adrienne Rich, Bill Manhire, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Leonard Cohen, Paul Muldoon, Seamus Heaney, Rumi

Gregory Kan: I don’t know!

Simone Kaho: The poets in this reading definitely. Selima Hill, Tusiata Avia, Albert Wendt, essa may ranapiri, Hone Tuwhare, Jacquie Sturm, Maya Angelou, Staceyann Chin. I could go on to include 100’s but these would be my first picks.

 

 

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Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Elizabeth Morton picks Janet Frame’s ‘I Visited’

 

I Visited

 

I visited
the angels and stars and stones;
also, adjectival poets, preferably original.
There was an air of restlessness
an inability to subside, a state of being at attention,
at worst, at war with the immediately beating heart and breathing lung.
I looked then in the word-chambers, the packed warehouses by the sea,
the decently kept but always decaying places where nouns and their
representative images lay together on high shelves
among abbreviations and longlost quotations. I listened.
Water lapped at the crumbling walls; it was a place
for murder, piracy; salt hunger seeped between the shelves;
it was time to write. Now or never. The now unbearable,
the never a complete denial of memory:
I was not, I never have been.

 

Janet Frame from The Goose Bath: Poems, Vintage, 2006

 

published with kind permission from The Janet Frame Estate (note in The Goose Bath states that this appeared as a section in a long untitled sequence)

 

 

Notes from Elizabeth Morton:

Veni Vedi Veci is a T-shirt-perfect slogan, gloating in its victory of ancient history, and its facility with Latin grammar. As an undergraduate I likely sported such an item of casual alliteration. I may have stood at the fence of Albert Park, smoking a Wee Willem cigarillo, mispronouncing the words to passing first-years and telling a bastardised yarn about Julius Caesar. Janet Frame’s poem, ‘I Visited’ relates a quieter, more tentative conquest – that ends in brute self-nihilation – ‘I was not, I never have been’. This is no Caesar. Here is a concession that our words are things to be borrowed, not usurped. There is a sense of things in flux, things that spill through the gaps in your fingers – ‘decaying places’ and ‘crumbling walls’. There is no pillaging of intangibles. The world of words is a lending library with ‘word chambers’ and ‘high shelves’.

Frame’s poem is gently playful. Through it, I recognise this impossibility of ownership. Words are slippery; words alter to their context; words are shared but never spent. I have supermarket bags full of words – words for ‘angels and stars and stones’, earthly and metaphysical – words like ‘turophile’ and ‘oleaginous’ and ‘eosophobia’ and ‘absquatulate’. They can never be conquests. I visit them. Visito. And I try to shake the dust off the words that have been left for dead. Words are people too, you know – ‘with beating heart and breathing lung’. Frame’s poem captures an excitement, a vitality, and also an humility. Also, ‘salt hunger’ makes me shiver.

 

 

 

Auckland writer, Auckland writer, Elizabeth Morton, is published in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, the UK, Canada and the USA. She was feature poet in the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017, and is included in Best Small Fictions 2016. Her first poetry collection, Wolf, was published with Mākaro Press in 2017. She is completing a MLitt at the University of Glasgow, usually in her pyjamas.

Janet Frame (1924-2004) published eleven novels, five story collections, a previous volume of poetry (The Pocket Mirror, 1967), a children’s book and a three-volume autobiography. She won numerous awards and honours, including New Zealand’s highest civil honour when she was made a Member of the Order of New Zealand in 1990. In 2003 she received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement and was named an Arts Foundation Icon Artist. Pamela Gordon, Denis Harold and Bill Manhire edited The Goose Bath, Janet’s posthumous collection of poems in 2006.

 

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Poetry Shelf review: Murray Edmond’s Back Before You Know

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Murray Edmond, Back Before You Know, Compound Press, 2019

Jonas Bones, Jonas Bones esquire,

whale-stabber, seal-clubber,

great hands held like tongs in the fire,

road-digger, gold-grubber—

JONAS: Never did have no blasted luck,

every plan came unstuck—

Always up to his ears in muck

couldn’t make two ends meet.

So one last chance to call a stop

one last throw on a crumbling life,

on the King Country line he set up shop,

with one lone child and one sharp wife.

from ‘The Ballad of Jonas Bones’

 

 

Murray Edmond is a playwright, poet and fiction writer; he has worked as an editor, critic and dramaturge. Several of his poetry collections have been finalists in the New Zealand Book Awards:   Letters and Paragraphs, Fool Moon and Shaggy Magpie Songs. He has worked extensively in theatre including twenty years with Indian Ink on the creation of all the company’s scripts.

Murray’s new collection comprises two long poems that play with other sources; with fable, allegory, history, theatre, poetics, the ballad form. The first poem, ‘The Ballad of Jonas Bones’ steps off from Robert Penn Warren’s ‘The Ballad of Billie Potts’ (1943), from Kentucky to the Waikato / King Country. Murray claims his version as a palimpsest or adaptation, leaving traces of the original version, ghost-like and haunting. We may find vestiges of place, the story that gets passed down the line from ear to mouth, the innkeepers who rob their well-off guests, a character’s return to origins, the cutting shards of history, the kaleidoscopic turns of humanity. I haven’t read Warren’s poem but I sense its eerie presence.

Murray’s fluctuating rhythm and rhymes are like shifting river currents, his poem a river poem carrying the debris of story, hand-me-down anecdote. There’s gold and there’s mud, there’s error and there’s incident, there’s greed and there’s survival. Dialogue gives it life as a theatre piece, staged to the point I invent the presence of audience and a live version runs through my head. I am watching as the past is made present and the future present is gestured at in the revised story along with the original skelton. A wider context is superimposed and hides in the seams: ‘frontier’ stories that mutate in the telling, the more significant misrepresentations that shaped our histories, the way individual stories are muffled within the dominant narratives.

Ah but alongside these fertile underground veins is the fact this is a cracking good story with its blinding twists and wounding heart. For some reason I kept thinking of Blanche Baughan’s affecting long ballad, ‘Shingle Short’.

The second poem, ‘The Fancier Pigeon’, is equally arresting with Murray characteristically playful. I am reading with a wry smile, every sense provoked, my reading momentum both fluid and addictive.  We meet the fancier pigeon and the pigeon fancier (she with her hair aglint) when they meet perched on stools at a bar:

 

She had hair the colour of apricot

she smelt like a cake just taken

from the oven and her father played

drums in a band in the only night club

in town

 

I am always reluctant to spoil the unfolding of a poem, long or short, in ways that ruin the reading experience, that spotlight the darkened nooks and crannies, the poem’s pauses or digressions. That dampens the joy of reading. But I will say when the two characters kiss a pigeon drops a ring at their feet – they decide they will each keep the ring for a week and then only met when they exchange the ring. Such an emblematic hook.

The poem feels cinematic (visually sharp, moody hued), theatrical (with both dialogue and action body gripping) and fable-like (overlaying universal themes of love, betrayal, mishap and destiny). The poem also feels cinematic with its smudged lighting as though we can’t quite be sure what happens between this scene and the next, with the cue to fable never far off, the characters, a quartet, shifting and sliding in and out of view.

 

and it was there

the girl had stopped her

as she walked

“Has he come asking for me”

of course he had so she said “No”

and as if she were granting wishes

she asked

“You wanna come out on the lake

with me in the canoe?”

and she had lead her down

among the bulrushes

 

What I love about the poem – beyond the supple language play and the sensual images, the addictive and offbeat characters, and the narrative tug – is the way the world adheres. As reader you can’t just stick to the poet’s diverting fable – because the real world intrudes, the hurt and broken world if you hold the bigger picture, and the miniature daily stories if you hold the way humanity is formed by individuals. Both things matter at the level of the humane.

The book’s punning title, like a cypher, a tease, is also a ‘dropped ring’. It is re-sited as the last line: ‘BACK AGAIN BEFORE YOU KNOW’.  And I am looping back on the unknown and the achingly familiar, the beginning that is ending that is beginning and so on, the switch back roads and the clifftop vantage points, the downright miraculous and the daily mundane. Ah setting sail on this poetic loop, with its blurs and its epiphanies, is sheer bliss. Poetry bliss.

 

Compound Press author page

Ten reasons to read Sport 46

 

 

 

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1. Anna Smaill’s long interview with Bill Manhire. The advantages of  slow-paced email interviews are evident as Anna and Bill explore the personal, ventriloquism, creative writing programmes, reading poetry, writing poetry, weirdness, holding back, trauma, God, mystery, parents, memory, drinking jugs of beer with Hone Tuwhare through the night. Life and poetry still maintain the requisite cloudy patches, private life and inner life are signposted but not made specific. This is a cracking interview – it refreshes my engagements with Bill’s poems, and writing and reading poetry in general.

2. Oscar Upperton’s poem ‘Yellow House’ because it has bright detail in the present tense and I am in the scene reading on a glorious loop.

The stream crosses the bridge. Pūkeko flicker

from blue to white, bikes rust into each other.

We rust at table.

 

(and the fact this poem is followed by ‘Explaining yellow house’ where Pip Adam gets a mention)

 

3. Sarah Barnett’s long poem essay ‘One last thing before I go’. Wow. This piece of writing is one of my treasures of the year because it goes deep into tough dark experience. It is measured and probing and hits you in the gut. Yet the fact of it on the page in front of me, so crafted and exposed, is uplifting.

 

4. Jane Arthur’s poem ‘I’m home a lot’ because it’s strange and real and unsettling.

 

This one sounds loudest against the front windows

and this one across the roof, nearly lifting it,

in an angry violent way. not like a bird taking off.

And even the birds here are massive and prehistoric.

Silence is rare. It’s eerie when it happens. Our dreams are mute.

 

5. Morgan Bach’s poem ‘carousel’ because when you read this your breathing changes and you enter a glorious mysterious complicated experience in the present tense.

 

but now having swallowed full moons,

coupled with mirrors of reticence, I find

life is not an experiment like that

and soon the body gives up its hunt

how soon the body becomes a cliff

how soon the body becomes a full stop

 

6. Discovering new-to-me poet Nikki-Lee Birdsey – she has a collection out with VUP next year and is currently an IIML PhD candidate. Her first-person storytelling in the form of a poem gripped me from the first lines.

7. essa may ranapiri’s selections because I find myself picturing them performing the poems and then I take supreme delight in the detail on the page.

8. Lynley Edmeades’s “We’ve All Got to Be Somewhere’ because it left a wry grin on my face. Poetry can do that.

9. Emma Neale’s ‘Unlove’ because this poem sings so beautifully.

 

My friend whose mind has frozen

sends me small gifts she says to keep her sane —

a cornflower-blue watch;

a box carved of light with a green latch;

a pink soapstone egg she says will one day hatch

a small, exquisite monster, its teeth sharp as love.

 

10. Rata Gordon’s poem ‘Mango’ because the writing is spare but it makes you feel so many different things.

 

This is all you have

to look forward to

your heartbeat and a

mango

everything else has dissolved:

your family

your intentions

 

 

Sport page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A feast of poetry at Going West

 

 

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Serie Barford: The Curnow Reader

 

Going West always dedicates a significant part of its programme to poetry and this year is no exception.

‘New Zealand’s leading authors, poets, playwrights and musicians offer audiences a fortnight of fresh ideas, future-thinking, language and laughter at the 23rd Going West Writers Festival 1-16 September.’   Good location & food!

 

8 September                          Going West Poetry Slam. Glen Eden Playhouse

14-16 September               Going West Writers Festival weekend. Titirangi War Memorial Hall

 

Full programme here

 

 

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Word Up! is an exciting performance competition which gives 13–21 year-olds the opportunity to present their original work

If you think poetry is all about fields of daffodils and iambic pentameters, think again. Here, at the Going West Poetry Slam, poets lay it on the line to see who’s got the chops to rise to the top.

The weekend poetry events (14th -16th September):

Poet Serie Barford is the Opening Night’s Curnow Reader

Does a city a writer make? Three visiting Wellington poets – Chris Tse, Helen Heath and Anna Jackson – explore what it’s like to live, work and write in the windy city with Paula Green.

Going West is honoured to partner with Auckland University Press to host the launch of a new collection of poetry from C.K. Stead, That Derrida Whom I Derided Died: Poems 2013-2017.

 

As we incorporate artificial intelligence, automation and robotics into our lives and even our bodies, we continue to wrestle with what it all means for us as humans. Helen Heath and Dr Jo Cribb are joined by Vincent Heeringa to discuss these issues.

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Celebrating Elizabeth Smither’s Best Book of Poetry Award

 

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Elizabeth Smither, Night Horse – winner of the Best Poetry Book Award at the Ockham NZ Book Awards 2018

 

Paula: Your new collection is a delight to read and offers so many poetic treats. I was thinking as I read that your poems are like little jackets that can be worn inside out and outside in. In stillness there is movement and in movement there is stillness; in musicality there is plainness and in plainness there is musicality. In the strange there is the ordinary and in the ordinary there is the strange. What do you like your poems to do?

Elizabeth: I want them to do everything. Everything at once. I want them to feel and think (and feel the thinking in them as you read). I want them to be quick, in the old sense of the word: the opposite of dead. I want them to not know something and try to find it out – I would never write a poem with prior knowledge – I think ignorance can be bliss or at least start the motor. And as I write more I find out more and more about musicality. Isn’t one of the loveliest moments in music when harmony breaks through discord as though it is earned and you know that discord, instead of being a thicket or a dark wood, is part of it?

 

Paula: I especially love the ongoing friendship and granddaughter poems, but I particularly love the first poem, ‘My mother’s house.’ Kate Camp and I heard you read this at the National Library’s Circle of Laureates and were so moved and uplifted that we asked for copies! Unseen, you are observing your mother move through the house from the street (you gave us this introduction) and see her in shifting lights. The moment is extraordinary; are we are at our truest self when we are not observed? There is the characteristic Smither movement through the poem, slow and attentive, to the point of tilt or surprise. The final lines reverberate and alter the pitch of looking: ‘but she who made it/who would soon walk into the last room/of her life and go to sleep in it.’  Do you have a poem or two in the collection that particularly resonate with you?

Elizabeth: I’m fond of ‘The tablecloth’ after I observed my friend, Clay, scrubbing at a corner of a white damask tablecloth in the laundry after a dinner party. It reminded me of the old-fashioned way of washing linen in a river. It’s both a doll-sized tablecloth and something almost as large as the tablecloth for a royal banquet around which staff walk, measuring the placement of cutlery and the distance between each chair. ‘Ukulele for a dying child’ tumbles all over itself in an incoherent manner because the subject is so serious and no poet can do it justice. The grandmother poems will probably be ongoing because it is such an intense experience: something between a hovering angel and a lioness. Going back to your remark about ‘My mother’s house’ I agree with the truth that is available in our unobserved moments. Perhaps there is a balance between our social and our private moments which might comprise something Keats called ‘soul-making’.

from our interview

 

 

Tenderness

 

                           I

 

A tree in the centre of a corn field

the corn rising in its ranks like braided hair

to meet the lowest branches

 

a tree that has replaced at least twenty

corn stalks with their divided leaves

twenty golden cobs sweetly surrendered

 

for this lovely grace: leaf sweep touching

leaf sweep, the whole field given by

this rising trunk, a focus

 

the pattern drawn from the edge of the field

to the centre where the tree

delivers a blessing.

 

II

 

The forest planation blankets hills.

Neat-ankled, swift-running

the dark pines descend

 

except on one little hilltop a ride

of grass begins and runs

with the trees which seem to bend

 

tenderly towards it: a bed from which

a child has risen and begun walking

the solicitousness of pine branches over grass.

 

©Elizabeth Smither from Night Horse

 

 

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Paula: Have you seen a festival poetry session (anywhere) that has blown you off your seat (or had some other significant impact)?

Elizabeth: Margaret Atwood and Hans Magnus Enzensberger at the Aldeburgh festival. I read first and sat down between them, shivering.

Paula: If you could curate a dream poetry session at The Auckland Writers Festival which poets would be there and who would mc or chair it?

Elizabeth: I  think I’d do a Dead Poets session. Keats and Shelley, Robert Lowell, William Empson, John Crowe Ransom, Tomas Tranströmer, Szymborska, of course… the possibilities are endless. It might have something of the bitchy tone of ‘The Real Housewives of Melbourne’.  To chair it one of the Paulas: Green or Morris.

 

from Poetry Shelf  ’12 Questions for the Ockham New Zealand Book Award Poetry finalists’

 

Elizabeth will appear at the Auckland Writers Festival 

Sunday May 20  1.30 – 2.20 Disappearances  (4 readings) Limelight Room, Aotea Centre

 

Auckland University Press Night Horse page and author page

Booksellers review by Emma Shi

Radio NZ National review by Harry Ricketts with Kathryn Ryan

 

Award night

 

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Chris Tse to join LitCrawl 18 as a programme curator

 

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Well this is good news! It seems the Wellington literary extravaganza just gets better and better.

Looks like a trip to Wellington is in order!

Chris Tse to guest curate LitCrawl 2018

Poet Chris Tse is the inaugural guest curator for LitCrawl. We are tremendously excited to welcome Chris to the programming team where he will be conjuring up events alongside directors Claire Mabey and Andrew Laking. 

Chris is the author of two poetry collections published by Auckland University Press: How to Be Dead in a Year of Snakes (finalist at the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards and winner of the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book) and HE’S SO MASC. Chris has a long history of involvement with some of Wellington’s leading arts and culture events, including roles with the New Zealand International Film Festival, Wellington on a Plate, Young and Hungry, and the New Zealand Young Filmmakers Showcase. As well as writing, Chris is an occasional actor and musician, and a keen photographer.

We know Chris will help curate an amazing programme for LitCrawl. Why? Because he gets what it’s all about:

‘LitCrawl is the biggest little literary festival in New Zealand. I wish I could say that I’ve seen it grow from the beginning, but I missed the very first LitCrawl in 2014 (I was bawling my eyes out at a Tori Amos concert in Melbourne). But! I’ve had the privilege of appearing in each LitCrawl since then and I’m thrilled to be on board this year as a guest curator.

The audiences at LitCrawl are some of the most diverse you’ll see here in New Zealand or abroad. Survey the faces present at any given event and you’ll see people from all walks of life brought together by a common curiosity. Although literature is front and centre, I love the cross-pollination with other arts and culture circles that happens during LitCrawl. There’s an exhilarating energy at every event, and the post-match party has become the social event in Wellington’s literary calendar.’