Category Archives: NZ poetry interview

Poetry Shelf interviews Manon Revuelta

 

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girl teeth Manon Revuelta, Hard Press, 2017

 

Manon Revuelta’s chapbook, girl teeth, prompted me to track her down and do an email interview over about a month. It was such a pleasurable conversation I didn’t want it to end. 

 

Paula: A number of years ago I picked your poem as the winner of the New Zealand Post Secondary School Poetry Competition. While I had to ponder for ages on the shortlist, your poem lifted above the rest and stuck to me with its glorious intricacies. It was a clear winner. In my speech on the night I borrowed from Ruth Padel and talked about the poem’s ‘chewiness’. All these years later I discover your chapbook, girl teeth, and am once again caught in the luminous effects of your writing. Can you build a little portrait of your writing life in the intervening years?

Manon: Thank you Paula, these are such kind words. It was such a lift to win that prize. That was all the way back in 2008, a whole ten years ago and my final year of high school. Since then my writing life has continued as more of an undertow, as I think it does for many. I studied English and Film in Auckland, where I took some wonderful courses with Lisa Samuels and learned all about language poetry. I also met Greg Kan, who became a good friend and as a fellow poetry nerd introduced me to some tremendous writers like Ariana Reines and Aase Berg. After university, I worked as a bookseller at Time Out Bookstore for a couple of years. That was such a blessing; I got to read a lot and organise poetry events and work amongst the most loving and inspiring group of people. I moved to London a few years ago, and when that became too exhausting and I fell in love, I moved to Berlin, which is where I am now.

 

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It’s taking a very long and occasionally dispiriting time to sort out what I’d like to do to earn a living, as I don’t think poetry is that. I’ve worked in countless subsidiary post-graduate roles from check-out girl to nanny to unpaid intern, but writing seems to be a really comforting constant in my life and all these things in their own ways have come to inform what I write and allow freedom for it. I have had poems published here and there, and last year my dear friends Anna and Owen published girl teeth, my first chapbook, with Hard Press. That was the accumulation of a couple of years of writing, and a very special project to me.

 

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Paula: I can really identify with this! London was a significant struggle and turning point for me as a writer (there were more to come though!). I find poetry fits so beautifully in the gaps of living – for me doing my degrees, being a parent, earning a living – yet it is so essential that poetry is larger than a gap. When I read your collection I am immediately struck by the right-hand pages that are uniformly devoid of text like little white pauses. It is akin to the silence after a piece of orchestral music that allows what you have heard to reverberate. The poems themselves are a satsifying mix of silences and sumptuous detail. What matters as you write a poem?

Manon: Oh London! It’s a beast. Everyone you meet seems so driven and everything is moving at such a fast pace and sometimes that means you’re inspired to seriously think about what you want and other times it means you just drown in everything you don’t want. I agree, it is important for poetry to be larger than a gap… but it’s sometimes barely possible for it to exist at all and I’m impressed that it makes its way in.

I suppose what matters to me as I write a poem is just that it at some point causes that indescribable glint? And that I can feel attuned to what that is for me, not someone else, and most importantly, enjoy the process. Poetry is my only opportunity to do strange things with language; to turn it into something elastic. For a long time I was really interested in formalism, and then swung the other way entirely, and I guess I have wanted to reconcile those… Italo Calvino quoted Paul Valery (I only seem to have read him in quotes) who said “one should be light like a bird, not like a feather”. I think that’s a great and far too quotable way of putting it, this velocity we respond to and attempt. That being said, I wouldn’t want to ever apply a rule to anything. I don’t know! You always find new ways of achieving things.

 

Paula: Italo Calvino is great – he is what inspired me to study Italian until there were no degrees left. I love his Six Memos for the Next Millennium. He has a lecture in there called ‘Lightness’. There is also quickness, visibility, multiplicity, and exactitude. He died before he wrote the sixth (consistency) or delivered any of them. I love your quote and fits your writing. There is both economy and agility on the line.

 

are poems shells

bone caves

gentle blunt beaks

lived in and left

for others to crawl into

Your first poem, ‘Shells’, is a delight. It reminded me of what Hinemoana Baker wrote on the back of her book, waha | mouth: ‘I’d like to think that opening this book to read is like standing at a mouth of a cave, or a river, or a grave, with a candle in your hand.’  Your tropes pull in multiple directions. On the one hand a poem might be held to the ear like a shell and who knows what you will hear. On the hand there is the mysterious dark space that Hinemoana draws upon. Do you ever relinquish music and mystery?

 

Manon: Yes that’s exactly where I got it from! The ‘Lightness’ lecture. I really love that book.

I liked posing a sort of question in that poem; I feel uncertain sometimes what poems are, what they are for. There is this intense inhabiting when writing and then they can later feel like such foreign things. Not in the sense of being possessed by some genius that flows through you; just that writing is a thing you are present in and then the written thing feels almost like a by-product. Mary Ruefle writes about a friend of hers whose poems, after time has elapsed, “look like handkerchiefs. Something I needed to blow my nose in, wipe some tears with, with a little lace at the edges and my initials in the corner. Poetry is so weird.”

That’s an incredible quote from Hinemoana; I love that image of a flame held up to illuminate a tiny part of something immense. I think the last two pieces in the chapbook, the more essayistic ones, were an effort to cast a wider light on things, to relinquish some mystery. Poems can be quite ciphered and condensed, which I love, but it felt good to write something more sprawling.

 

Paula:  What poets feel close to the way you write? Are there poets who write so differently to you but whom you admire?

Manon: That’s tricky… I can only look at what I like, rather than see if my work is close to it. I know some poets I’ve been reading lately are Carl Phillips, Anne Carson, Jean Valentine, Dorothea Lasky. I have always carried a torch for Paul Celan. There are of course poets who write differently to me but whom I admire greatly- perhaps someone like Alice Notley- her poems are very long! Also Hera Lindsay Bird. She makes me laugh and weep, a rare combination, at least in poetry.

 

Paula: I am moved by the arrival of a mother (your mother?) in the poems.

 

as a girl i watch my mother’s earlobe

pulled down by an earring and

the tiny hole

i can see right though and

i plant the sea there

from ‘girl teeth’

 

A mother (your mother?) reappears in the more essay-like longer poem, ‘Duchess’. There is such tenderness at work here, surprising in detail and revelation, it refreshes how we as adult daughters can write (our) mothers. Your Louise Bourgeois quote sets up the poem: ‘She shows herself at the very moment/ she thinks she is hiding’. Elizabeth Smither has a breathtaking poem, ‘My mother’s house’, in her latest book, Night Horses, where she watches her mother move through the house from her car.

What drew the mother, her various visibilities and invisibilities, into your poems?

 

Manon: Perhaps as a starting point, I have always been close with my mother; she is an incredible woman and occupies a huge space in my heart. I also think mother/daughter relationships are always to some degree complex and fraught and intense. There are so many invisible histories that make up what is visible in ourselves, our lives… I think in recent years I became fascinated by tiny signs of my mother’s influence coming through in me, and started to think about the deeper roots of my behaviour habits. A sort of psychoanalysis, I guess, which in turn led to an analysis of my mother, and of her mother, and of the ripple effects trauma can have in generations; the inheritance and expression and rectifying of those effects in and on the (particularly female) body. I was reading a lot of women who were interested in these ideas too; Louise Bourgeois’s journals, Chantal Akerman’s No Home Movie, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. It’s also both disturbing and important to me to look at the way femininity is constructed, and so much of that for me has happened through my mother, and by her mother, and so on. It felt very right to try to map these things out in writing. Is motherhood/daughterhood something you’ve explored in your poetry?

 

Paula: Yes! My first book, Cookhouse was criticised for its domestic focus, as unworthy of poetic attention, but the key thread, the white-hot core, was maternal. My doctoral thesis explored the maternal as it asked whether it made a difference if the pen held by an Italian writer was a woman. I argue for hinges and connections and the power of ‘and’. I am also interested in the ripple effects that pass from mother to daughter (and daughter to mother) but that also pass through generations of women writing. We have inherited so many freedoms, as both daughters and writers, yet we still face a need to speak out on myriad issues that affect women detrimentally. I write about this in my new book within the context of reading New Zealand women’s poetry.

 

Breadcrumbs

What a rarity

to appear in my own map

like when

I’m watching my hands

wash each      other

or pulling a rope of my own hair

out of a drain

like its     pondweed

or even seeing the ham

chewed into something different

when I spit it into a napkin

 

Your poems are like lacework; they hook the personal along with intense visual detail and a delight in thought. Are you cautious about self revelation? About appearing in your own map? Do you have any taboo areas?

 

Manon: Well you can probably tell I like banality! I hope we are moving on from a hierarchy of ‘poetically worthy’ material … I know Lauris Edmond was really criticised for writing about domesticity and motherhood too, and she is still overlooked. I guess, I hope, all that fuels a fire and a revision. Your book sounds so wonderful.

I don’t feel cautious about self revelation, I think it would be strange to be writing poetry if that were the case. But it also isn’t really something I do on purpose. I think it feels very free and private, even though you kind of know it isn’t? It can be a bit unsettling (in a nice way) when that all gets turned inside out and you publish something, but I don’t think that makes me omit things. I love reading writing that is TMI, so that reassures me.

 

Paula:  Is there a poem in the collection where the stars aligned and it particularly resonates for you?

Manon: I think the essay about the week with my grandmother resonated a lot. We had only met once before and weren’t able to speak each other’s language, so it was quite an intense experience, observing the ways disconnected families connect, speaking in the absence of words, the shapes we make out of silence. There were all these things that seemed to slot in with it; going to see the ruins of a nearby castle, my reading surrounding rocks and this story of Pyrrha. It was initially conceived as a voiceover for a film – which is still in progress – so it feels like an ongoing project with things falling into place. It also resonates in the context of living in a place where I don’t speak the language properly.

 

Paula: I loved that poem. There is a poetic finesse that depends on fluidity, storytelling,

sharp images, slow-pitched discovery and absolute tenderness.

 

So: still alive. And so henceforth:

another cup of instant coffee and

toast, another bath, clothes put

on, cooked lunch, another long

afternoon nap while I go out

walking. We don’t know what to

do with each other: we sit together

at her table eating over-ripe

bananas, peeled grapes, carefully

de-pithed segments of mandarins.

The refrigerator humming. She

examines my hands in her hers.

from ‘Bec/Nid/ Vent/Rêves Beak/Nest/ Wind/Dreams’

 

PaulaWill Berlin slant your writing?

In my research for my book I have noticed New Zealand poets living overseas have such different relations with home in their writing (Katherine Mansfield, Fleur Adcock, Lola Ridge). Some are nostalgic and the poem becomes a surrogate home while others are almost patronising. I am intrigued to read what Hinemoana Baker produces in Berlin. Will poetry ever become a way of writing home?

Manon:  As far as writing from Berlin goes, I think I haven’t changed what I’m doing at all… at least as you say, the poem feels a surrogate home wherever one goes. The only thing is that living here allows a lot more time to write (cheaper living than NZ = working at a day job less, etc.) so I do feel I can have more of a balance.

 

Words open and close and open;

breathing through their sutures.

from ‘Bec/Nid/ Vent/Rêves Beak/Nest/ Wind/Dreams’

 

Your book is a joy to read Manon. Thank you so much for the conversation. I want everyone to race out and find a copy of the book. It is my chapbook of 2017.

Hard Press page

 

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At Jacket 2: Vaughan Rapatahana interviews Robert Sullivan and includes new poems

Vaughan Rapatahana’s interview here

 

What would you like to see more of in Aotearoa poetry from your point of view as a poet? In other words is there sufficient recognition, publishing scope, critical space given to poets who craft their work in ‘different’ ways?

I’d love to see new voices find publication from a wide range of styles and personal backgrounds so that we reflect our diverse community in terms of race, class, gender, sexuality, and beyond to be as inclusive as possible. Poets have never had greater access to media and to publishing than now, although our mainstream publishers no longer have deep pockets. It’s always a writer’s task to convince, or make curious, or satisfy, or entertain a readership, and it’s a lyric poet’s task to evoke the particulars of being and a sense of the flow state that created the feelings attached to being ‘somewhere’ at the time. A poem might be on the fridge next to a flat roster, or on the edge of a windswept cliff facing the ghosts of Kapiti Island. There are so many other kinds of poetry I wouldn’t know where to begin, except to encourage that too.

 

Paula: I am dead keen to see a new book of poetry – love the new ones.

 

 

 

12 questions for Ockham NZ Book Award poetry finalists: Sue Wootton

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Congratulations on your short-list placing!

Thank you Paula!

 

What poetry books have you read in the past year?

And this is why you should always keep a reading diary … I’ll have to cobble this together from flawed memory and my messy bookcase. Here goes: most recently, a ‘slim volume’ in the Penguin Modern Poets Three series with work by Malika Booker, Sharon Olds and Warsan Shire. In contrast, also Sentenced to Life and Injury Time by Clive James. Before these: Undying by Michel Faber, the poetry collections on the Ockham longlist, Bill Manhire’s Some Things to Place in a Coffin and Tell Me My Name, Walking by a River of Light by John Gibb, South D Poet Lorikeet by Jenny Powell, Getting it Right by Alan Roddick, Alzheimer’s and a Spoon by Liz Breslin, Taking my Mother to the Opera by Diane Brown, Fracking & Hawk by Pat White, The Trials of Minnie Dean by Karen Zelas, Taking My Jacket for a Walk by Peter Olds, Wolf by Elizabeth Morton, Where the Fish Grow by Ish Doney, Family History by Johanna Emeney, Possibility of Flight by Heidi North-Bailey, Withstanding by Helen Jacobs, Conscious and Verbal and Learning Human by Les Murray, Poems New and Collected by Wistawa Szymborska, Poems 1962-2012 by Louise Glűck, and X  by Vona Groarke.  

I like keeping an anthology handy too, and in the past year have been dipping in and out of two: Andrew Motion’s Poetry by Heart (on the bedside table) and Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke’s The Map and the Clock (next to the sofa).  

 

What other reading attracts you? 

Oh boy, you should see the pile of books by my bed – too many to list here. I enjoy both fiction and non-fiction (especially essays, biographies or memoir). Fiction-wise, I’ve recently finished Fiona Farrell’s wonderful Decline and Fall on Savage Street and am now reading Where My Heart Used to Beat by Sebastian Faulks, and some short stories by William Trevor. I’ve recently reread Olive Kitteridge and My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (I love all of  Strout’s work!). Vincent O’Sullivan’s All This By Chance is standing by for Easter.

Nonfiction-wise, I’m itching to start neuroscientist Antonio Damasio’s The Strange Order of Things and Marilynne Robinson’s new essay collection What Are We Doing Here? (I love all of Robinson’s work!).

 

Name some key starting points (or themes) for your collection. 

This is quite a hard question for me to answer because The Yield wasn’t pre-planned as The Yield – it grew very slowly into The Yield, and I only recognised that I had a coherent  collection very late in the process. In hindsight I can see quite clearly that the poems are bound together by themes of give and take, love and loss, flexibility and rigidity, toil and harvest. This finally clicked into place for me after I wrote the poem called ‘The Yield’. It was only after that that I felt I had a potential collection in my hands. But most of the poems in the collection were written in the couple of years preceding that moment, and during those years I had no idea whether a book would eventuate. I had hope, but not much evidence!

 

Did anything surprise you as the poems come into being? 

Every poem I write is a surprise to me. I can never get over that fact – it amazes me, always.

 

Find up to 5 individual words that pitch your book to a reader.

These words are from The Yield: haul, reach, lift, roam, home.

 

Which poem particularly falls into place for you?

Not sure if I can select one – they all have their place.

 

What matters most when you write a poem?

I like a tight synthesis of sound and sense.

 

What do you loathe in poetry?

 Sometimes in an art gallery I stand in front of a painting I find ugly or too obvious or (conversely) too obscure – challenging, anyway, a canvas that maybe bores me or offends my personal sense of aesthetics, perhaps even my values. But still, alongside my ‘this is not one for my living room wall’ reaction, I can still respect the graft and the craft that went into making it – so long as it’s well made. Ditto, poetry. What I appreciate, above all else in poetry, is knowing that the poet has really leaned in. That’s a fundamentally appealing quality for me, even if I can’t adore the finished product. But if a poem is attentively made, and it somehow moves me – then I’m all in.

 

Where do you like to write poems?

 In my study or on the kitchen table (though I scribble scraps in my notebook anywhere, any time).

 

What are strengths and lacks in our poetry scenes?

We seem to have a lively open mic scene all over the country, with a new fizz of high energy youthful involvement alongside the different – no less intense – energy of more experienced voices. I love the diversity of this, the way it opens our ears and hearts and minds to each other. It’s good, too, to see extroverted poets out there connecting with audiences, attracting media comment and generally flying the flag for poetry. But don’t forget the page! I’m a big believer that poetry is a craft learned by practice. Getting better at it is done through serving a kind of apprenticeship, learning the tools of your trade, and being supported, mentored and informed by more experienced practitioners, so for me it’s really great to see newer literary journals like Mimicry and Starling rising up (though I’m sad to see the end of  JAAM).

Nothing matches the developmental push that comes from submitting work to a well-read editor to be scrutinised word by word. It’s healthy, too, to have enough possible publication places to be able to avoid only submitting work to your friends or classmates. So, I think we can do with still more editor-curated poetry publications to nourish the development of poetry in Aotearoa-New Zealand. Another lack: we need more platforms for the kind of stimulating and informative longform poetry review that critics like Lynley Edmeades, for example (in a recent Landfall Review Online), are so good at writing. But also, no one should be expected to write a seriously-considered review for nothing. Work is work, even if at the end of the day it’s not mud, but ink, on your hands. Funding, funding, funding: there’s a permanent problematic lack!

  

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

I was at the 2010 Granada Poetry Festival in Nicaragua – truly a festival, a celebration of la poesia. The readings were held in parks and plazas. The Nicaraguan people have a passionate regard for poets and poetry – they turned out in their thousands to hear readings from their own and international poets. One particular event stands out for me. It was an evening reading, outside, warm and dark in the main town plaza, with about 2000 people in the audience – all ages, children, teenagers, parents, grandparents. Their listening was so attentive (most poems were voiced twice, once in the poet’s language and again in Spanish translation) – I watched face after face absolutely blossom in response to some lines. There was a feeling of us all being tapped into a high-voltage current – such power. Sheer zappery! And all from words.

 

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?

Sharon Olds, Louise Glück and Rita Dove in conversation with Carol Ann Duffy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf interviews Anna Jackson

 

On my way elsewhere. 

  

My shoulders are sore, and my feet.  But I have my vision.

I will look past the old man whose beard drips

down like a stalactite, to the light

at the end of the tunnel – it isn’t a cave

he sits in, but a tunnel, and out

the other side there is a path as white

as sand.  There is a break in the clouds to the East,

but the light falls from the West – it is later

than I thought.  I should have gone home long ago

and he, no doubt, has come a long way himself,

is no doubt just resting a moment, not living in a cave. 

Though it isn’t a cave, but the mouth of a tunnel, and I 

should be getting home, though I have no family

to go home to and the fireworks can be seen

from here, through the tunnel, which could

be seen as a frame, almost.  Would you rather

have twenty-twenty vision of the fireworks or be blind

with five children around you, five children

clamouring for fireworks that you cannot light? 

I would ask the old man this question, if

he were close enough to hear me – I don’t know

how well he can hear.  But what I thought

was the sound of the fireworks I think is the old man, light

catching his eyes suddenly so they shine in the dimness,

calling out from inside the tunnel to me:

“even if you lit them, you wouldn’t be able to see.”  

 

©Anna Jackson in Pasture and Flock

 

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Anna Jackson debuted in AUP New Poets 1 and has subsequently published 6 poetry collections with Auckland University Press. She has a DPhil from Oxford, and is an Associate Professor of English at Victoria University. She has organised several poetry related conferences with Helen Rickerby (most recently Poetry & the Essay) along with the Ruapehu Writers Festival (much loved by participants). In 2009, with Charles Ferrall, she published  British Juvenile Fiction 1850 – 1950: The Age of Adolescence, and in the following year, Diary Poetics: Form and Style in Writers’ Diaries 1915 -1962.

When Anna Jackson’s Pasture and Flock: New & selected poems arrived in my reading lap, I stalled on the perfect cover and the perfect title for curated travels across 25 years of poetry. There is new growth, myriad viewpoints, shelter and flight. My relationship with the poetry extends back to the first publication as does my friendship with Anna. Opening this book is like opening a poetry album where the ghosts above the line are our shared conversations, celebrations and confessions. Yet when I enter the poem, our interlinked history dissolves, and it is just the poem flaring and gliding in my mind.

 

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An unfolding email conversation with Anna

Paula: Right from the start your poetry has touched a chord with me. I am reading the early poems, and the litheness on the line, the measured wit, the roving curiosity are as captivating as when your debut poems appeared in AUP New Poets 1 and The Long Road to Teatime. Reading the poems from the early collections, I wondered what it is like musing back on the young woman who wrote them. Are you startled to see what you wrote? What do you love about these first outings? Was there difficulty?

Anna: It is more startling finding unpublished things I wrote at the time, when I really don’t know where they are going to go or what I was thinking.  Because these poems were published I have never forgotten them so completely, but I like returning to that sense of who I was, and who we were, when I was writing poetry for my friends at the age of 23 (“looking as young as the teenagers at the bar” – well of course I did, I was only 23!).  I wasn’t writing for publication except we found we could use the old printing press at the university, so we wrote some things to play around with the letterpress with, and then we got more ambitious and made little chapbook anthologies of our writing, with a photocopier and woodcuts, or maybe they were linocuts.

 

Paula: I am really drawn to the ‘friendships’ you set up with other writers and the way the poem becomes conversation or story, surprising in the paths taken.

 

The sun has taken to me.

It rarely comes out now

without stopping to talk.

I am expected to drop everything.

 

from ‘My friendship with Mayakovsky’

 

Often your family and friends are drawn into the other scenes. I especially love the Dante poems where you are all lost in a thicket of autobiography, musings and literary engagements.

 

In the middle of the journey

we found ourselves lost.

‘This is the jungle,’ said Johnny.

Roe asked if we had a map.

‘Not a road map,’ said Simon.

‘So what sort do you have?’

We looked for a life map.

 

from ‘The road to Karekare’ in ‘The long road to teatime’

 

 

Were these early literary friendships like a support crew as you started out, or a way to take risks and refresh the inherited page, or something in between or altogether different?

Anna: Yes and yes…In Dunedin, writing and publishing poetry was a way of taking part in an arts scene I wanted to be a part of.  There were empty warehouse buildings, scavenged equipment, all sorts of projects people were trying out, some of which never amounted to anything, some which were just one-off experiences.  One evening Alastair Galbraith, a musician, writer and artist, read through a Marguerite Duras script with me, I can’t remember why, but it was an extraordinarily powerful theatrical experience for me, except more intimate than theatrical because we were performing for no one.  And making friends with Mayakovsky, travelling with Dante, was part of this way of living in connection with other writers and artists, on and off the page.

  

Paula: Were there losses in not including the whole sequences? From my point of view there is a greater economy of travel, yet the underlying pulse of intersections is not diminished. So the family refreshes Dante and Dante refreshes the family—and that ‘would of selves’ hungry for ‘hot buttered toast’.

Anna: The collection includes six sequences, two from my first book, and I only edited them a little, for “economy of travel” as you say and also to cut out some lines or stanzas that still embarrass me.  I selected six whole sequences rather than fragments from more sequences, to tell whole stories as much as I could, and I think another story tells itself through the sequence of sequences too maybe.

 

Paula: I have edited earlier poems when performing them in public on the spot! There is the little nag hovering above a word or a line that I finally pay attention to. When an editor coincides with that nag, I sit up and listen.

It is fascinating how this new version of sequences retains the original chords yet makes the synchronicities between books sing with different intensities. I am thinking of the voice of the child (Johnny, Elvira, Rufus), relations with writing, the imagined and longed for, the lived.

With The Gas Leak you step into narrative, but family is still in acute focus. There is a humaneness at work, little wisdoms, a playful yet serious pushing at familial boundaries. What freedoms and advantages did you find in writing this book? How did the sonnet help?

 

Has someone broken in?

I wouldn’t know what was missing.

For years I have left

the door open

thinking even mud

from the break-in would be

a gain

 

from ‘A master key is easy to procure’

 

Anna:

The family in acute focus, I like that.  The sonnet form allowed for a very taut story-telling voice, the sonnets in the book being reduced sonnets, with fourteen lines but very short lines.  I would put as much as I could in each poem and then cut it back, and when I couldn’t cut it back any further, I would add an additional element and then cut again.  Perhaps I was doing something like that with the narrative too, with the rearrangement and fictionalization of elements of autobiography and elements of narrative I’d taken from Gerrit Achterberg’s Ballade of a Gas-fitter – a “ballad” that is also written in sonnet form.  It is a heightened, fraught version of a family that only incidentally resembles, sometimes, my own.  I wrote it very quickly, between classes, making use of whatever material was to hand, a discussion of Xeno’s arrow with a colleague, an attempt to use the barre around our office lifts for leg stretches, the children’s soccer game in the weekend, a song on the radio.  There isn’t a word I would change, but I’ve already found changes I would make to two of the poems in the new selection at the end of Pasture and Flock.

 

 

Paula: What draws you to poetry rather than narrative?

Anna: I went to a novel-writing workshop run by Curtis Sittenfeld once, and she said writers reveal a lot about themselves in fiction in details they don’t think are giving anything away – how much characters drink, or what they worry about, or how they respond to a telephone ringing.  I think poetry offers more secrecy, but maybe I am giving away more than I mean to.  I do think I am writing narrative though – sometimes little narratives in individual poems, sometimes a narrative sequence across a series of poems.  I like the possibility for different forms of narrative, shorter stories, or stories that leap across gaps and shifts in perspective.

 

 

Paula: Catullus is your point of return. What attracts you to his poetry? In meshing your voice and his, your preoccupations and his, again you freshen poetic possibilities. There is daring and there is conversation, particularly when you turn your attention to Clodia. The I, Clodia poems have always resonated for me.

 

I might cry over your verses –

tears of laughter

but these are real tears,

I’m grieving.

Look at what wax my little bird,

yesterday – this was

somebody, closer to me than …

you had better be leaving.

 

from ‘Pipiabat’

 

Anna: Yes, the Catullus for Children poems were a kind of translation game, domesticating Catullus not just into a contemporary New Zealand setting but revisiting his poetry in terms of the preoccupations of a seven-year-old child.  I liked how the excess and passion of his poetry translated into the different kinds of excesses of the playground, and also was interested to see what was left with the very adult themes of his poems taken away.  I, Clodia is a more serious engagement with the poetry, putting the love affair with Clodia (or Lesbia as he calls her), that several of his poems return to, right at the centre of a narrative I construct through a series of poems in her voice.  I was drawn to the narrative possibilities that the Catullus poems suggest but do not resolve, and I was also drawn to the romantic intensity of the poetry, and wondered what it would be like to be on the receiving end of it, and perhaps to match it.

 

Paula: I enthused wildly on the blog about your chapbook with Seraph Press (Dear Tombs, Dear Horizon). Much of these poems were written when you had the Katherine Mansfield Fellowship in Menton. You have included ‘Dear Tombs’ that comes out of that cluster of experience. On my blog I wrote:

The poem steps off from graffiti witnessed on rocks: ‘You are my most lovely horizon’. Each experience, thought, recalled page or vista steps off into the mysterious elsewhere of thinking, and from the elsewhere of thinking into the paradoxical here yet elsewhere of writing. The horizon is the translucent line where Mediterranean sky meets Mediterranean sea, a sensual hook of beauty that stalls the walker, but it is also the indefinable lure that poses a need to write, to think, to experience. It is Katherine Mansfield, the other authors, the conversations that stick, the not-home-ness that becomes a home-ness. (see here for review)

What prompted the ‘Dear Tombs’ narrative? I do think these poems lift from the page in glorious ways. Did your French writing sojourn make a difference?

 

Dear Tombs, I do not see anything here but dust.

Dust, dust, dust and beyond your hollows

and pillars, some trees still clinging to the dust

that gives them nothing, not a swallow

of water in it, a good winter one with rain,

a bad winter the one they have just had, and the one to follow.

 

from ‘Dear Tombs’

 

Anna: Yes, I was wonderfully home and not-home in France, and at home and not-at-home in my own writing as well.  Poetry is something I can write in between what I ought to be doing, as a form of procrastination or resistance, so it was both liberating and unnerving to feel an obligation to write, and to write something I couldn’t otherwise have written.  The Dear Tombs, Dear Horizon chapbook was made up of notes I wrote to myself, work towards writing rather than writing itself, not a way I usually work, but a way of writing I could do every day.  It did come to take on a kind of life and rhythm of its own and I was really pleased Helen Rickerby would publish it as a Seraph Press chapbook.  I feel it has a lightness and spaciousness like our life in France.  It wouldn’t really have worked to work up the notes into a different kind of poetry, except I did work up the dream at the very end of the chapbook about the tombs, exactly as I half-jokingly planned in those notes, in terza rima.  And then that set me off writing a few other poems in terza rima – but none of the others have the depth and glittery darkness of Dear Tombs.

 

Paula: The new poems continue this uplift. I love all of them, but especially ‘Flammable’, ‘On my way elsewhere’, ‘Bees, so many bees’, ‘Pasture and flock’. Really any page I land on becomes a favourite. There is a pulse of love that is always surprising and that is steered by shifting melodies. Which poems have particularly fallen into place for you? What mattered as you wrote these?

 

The world was flammable, we knew it was.

Our hair lit up with candle-light, we peeled off

the wax from the table and made it into

something beautiful, tender as the high voices

of the castrati, fine as smoke through the grain

of an old LP, a radiance through their song

like the flame of a wick slowly burning,

burning in its casing of wax. We all felt it.

 

from ‘Flammable’

 

Anna: ‘Flammable’ and ‘On my way elsewhere’ I think have something of that glittery darkness of Dear Tombs.  They both, in fact, have darkening skies and glittering lights, candlelight again in ‘Flammable’, and fireworks in ‘On my way elsewhere’, but I also mean a kind of coming from elsewhere, a sort of charged darkness.  They are about what we can’t see, can’t have, don’t know about ourselves, and I think they have something of an oracular quality about them, represented in ‘On my way elsewhere’ by the old man in the tunnel.  Maybe they are also a bit silly, a bit absurd, or at least a bit comic.  Most of the poems have been published in journals and I sent “On my way elsewhere” out to a few in turn but couldn’t place it anywhere, but it is one of my favourites.

 

Paula: I like the idea of glitter and darkness in a poem. You often draw real people into your poems, as we have already discussed. Does this ever make you uncomfortable?

Anna: I have written some I won’t publish because they draw too closely on real life, in ways that might be uncomfortable for the people I’ve written about. To make a poem work, often you want to push it as far as you can into discomfort.  And sometimes you will take risks for the work, at the risk of other people as well as yourself.  I mean, I have.  It is the same in fiction and essays – Brian Blanchfield’s brilliant, compelling book of essays, Proxies, was written with the method of keeping going from any starting point until he reached a point of personal discomfort or shame.  It makes for brilliant reading but it is very exposing, for himself and sometimes for other people he writes about.  I think he is extraordinarily brave.

 

Paula: Writing is the most important thing, but there are so many other aspects to a poet’s life: public readings, festivals, reviews, interviews, book awards, teaching. How do you feel about these extra demands?

Anna: I think most poets probably write because it is such a secret art, no one watches you do it.  You can be very controlled about what you release, no one has to see the early drafts or the work that goes nowhere, or goes somewhere you don’t want anyone to know about.  So public events are everything the poet has chosen against.  I love teaching and I have really brilliant, engaged students this year who constantly surprise me with new insights, but it is always still a little frightening standing at the front of the lecture hall, hoping the hour will go well.  There is a poem in Pasture and Flock, ‘The Cooking Show’, about the dread of lecturing, wishing I could lecture in secret, under a blanket with a torch.   You want people to read your work, and so the invitations to take part in events are very welcome, but I always wish I didn’t have to do them.  I don’t want to put people off inviting me by saying this, I’m grateful too to be asked.  I think it is the same for most writers.  And it isn’t as if publishing the work isn’t also an act of exposure you sometimes dread.  You still want to do it.

 

Paula: Why write poetry? Why read it?

 Anna: I read poetry almost every day.  It allows for a different kind of thinking and seeing.  I love fiction too and the way you can be immersed in a whole other world, but poetry allows for micro-immersions, intense unfinished experiences like dreams, that can have that same urgent resonance a dream can have.  Some poems I have held in my head for years, a poem is very portable.  I would like to think a poem of mine could have that kind of resonance for another reader.  Writing poetry is itself a micro-immersion in a developing dream, a dream you can partly control, even as it takes control of you.  It is like a more active form of reading.  And then you have written a poem, that wouldn’t be in the world if you hadn’t written it.

 

Pasture and flock

 

Staring up into the sky my feet

anchor me to the ground so hard

I’m almost drowning, drowning

in air, my hair falling upwards

around my shoulders, I think I’ll hug

my coat closer.  I’m standing

on hundreds of blades of grass, and 

still there are so many more

untrodden on.  Last night, in bed,

you said, “you are the sheet

of linen and I am the threads,” and

I wanted to know what you meant

but you wouldn’t wake up to tell me

and in the morning you didn’t

remember, and I had forgotten

till now when I think, who is

the blades of grass, who is the pasture?

It is awfully cold, and my coat

smells of something unusual.

It almost seems as if it is the stars

smelling, as if there were

an electrical fault in the sky,

and though it is almost too dark

to see I can see the sheep

moving closer, and the stars

falling. I feel like we are all

going to plunge into the sky

at once, the sheep and I,

and I am the sheep and I am

the flock, and you are the pasture

I fall from, the stars and the sky.

 

©Anna Jackson

 

Auckland University Press author page

‘Meet Viva la Novella shortlistee Anna Jackson’ – interview with Seizure Press includes her new project!

‘What are you working on now?

I am writing a book about poetry and at the moment I am finishing a chapter on sprawl in poetry, while thinking about a chapter on dead poets and what it means to write in anticipation of being dead.’

 

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12 Questions for the Ockham NZ Book Awards poetry finalists: Briar Wood

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Congratulations on your short-list placing!

Kia Ora.

 

What poetry books have you read in the past year?

 

Say Something Back – Denise Riley

The Bonniest Companie – Kathleen Jamie

Dark Sparring – Selina Tusitala Marsh

Citizen – Claudia Rankine

Deep River Talk Hone Tuwhare

 

What other reading attracts you?

 

Fiction – La Rose Louise Erdrich; Parable of the Sower Octavia Butler; A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing Eimear McBride; Sleeps Standing Moetu Witi Ihimaera with Hemi Kelly; Foreign Soil  Maxine Beneba Clarke

History  – Tuai Alison Jones and Kuni Kaa Jenkins; Inglorious Empire: What the British Did To India Shashi Tharoor

Journalism and Essays –   Feel Free Zadie Smith; False River Paula Morris; The Best and the Brightest David Halberstam

 

Name some key starting points (or themes) for your collection

wāhi, places, the ambience and etymology of words, kupu kōtuitui

 

Did anything surprise you as the poems come into being?

Yes, the thematic intensity and interconnections as the collection e-merged.

 

Find up to 5 individual words that pitch your book to a reader.

negotiating,  rerenga, ecoconscious, beò, karadow

 

Which poem particularly falls into place for you?

‘Kuramārōtini’

 

What matters most when you write a poem?

Aligning kupu

 

What do you loathe in poetry?

I don’t loathe anything or nothing in poetry.

 

Where do you like to write poems?

Near Maungatapere.

 

What are strengths and lacks in our poetry scenes?

Te reo writing and performance is a strength – there should be more promotion of it.

The performance and publishing scene is quite inclusive and can be more so.

More consistent newspaper reviews of poetry and media outlets paying to publish poems.

 

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

 

Performances at hui for Te Hā ki Tāmaki – Contemporary Maori Writers by Whaitiri Mikaere and Te Kahu Rolleston pass on their energy and  aroha for te reo with an integrated intensity.

 

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?

 

Any of the poets could mc or chair it.

Kiri Piahana-Wong

Jacqs Carter

Te Kahu Rolleston

Paula Morris

David Eggleton

Brian Turner

 

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Anahera press page

12 Questions for the Ockham NZ Book Awards poetry finalists: Elizabeth Smither

 

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Congratulations on your short-list placing Elizabeth!

 

What poetry books have you read in the past year?

Everything by Wislawa Szymborska and the Penguin Modern Poets series (3 poets in each clutch purse-sized collection): Emily Berry/Anne Carson/Sophie Collins; Malika Booker/Sharon Olds/Warsan Shire etc.

 

What other reading attracts you?

Almost anything. At the moment I am re-reading Rex Stout and the yellow pyjama-wearing detective Nero Wolfe.

 

Name some key starting points (or themes) for your collection.

I never discover a theme until a collection is put together. The connections between individual poems can be as subtle and perverse as the most delicate rhyme or rhythm.

 

Did anything surprise you as the poems come into being?

Perhaps the secret life of animals?

 

Find up to 5 individual words that pitch your book to a reader.

‘The heart heals itself between beats’ because it was a commission with an extra scoop of fear attached.

 

What matters most when you write a poem?

Depth and uncertainty.

 

What do you loathe in poetry?

Nothing. It’s important not to loathe anything.

 

Where do you like to write poems?

Propped up on a bank of pillows in bed, with the concert programme on the radio and perhaps a glass of wine.

 

What are strengths and lacks in our poetry scenes?

The chutzpah of our independent publishers; a tendency for too much adulation.

 

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

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

 

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?

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.

 

Night Horse AUP author page

 

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