Category Archives: nz poetry review

Reading CK Stead’s That Derrida Whom I Derided Died: Poems 2013 – 2017

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CK Stead, That Derrida Whom I Derided Died  Auckland University Press  2018

 

 

Frank and Allen, Robin, Ron and Rex

rode the North Shore ferries, while Rangitoto

pictured itself sunk in a stone composure.

Eeven the Golden Weather would have to end

where a small room with large windows disclosed

geraniums wild in the wet and a gannet impacting.

 

from ‘That summer cento sonnet, 1950s’

 

In September I listened uncomfortably as Steve Braunias questioned CK Stead and Charlotte Grimshaw about the truth of happy childhoods in the Stead family. Steve insisted but Karl and Charlotte sidestepped with tact and grace. I have since read and loved Charlotte’s novel Mazarine – I was caught up in both the momentum of a thriller and entranced by the interior struggles of the main character. I savoured the novel for the novel’s sake rather than muse upon autobiographical tracings. In this world on edge the novel felt vulnerable, driven, humane. It was writing I felt as much as I thought.

Here I am writing about the daughter when I have just read the father (his novel waits me).

When I first picked up Karl’s new poetry collection, That Derrida Whom I Derided Died, the title catapulted me back into the gated community of literary theory.  I wanted to open the book and travel lightly but I was carrying the Going West session into the collection; that tension between what you write and what you live. I can’t think of a New Zealand literary figure who has courted greater controversy, maintained lifelong enemies along with lifelong friendships, and who has irked so many writing peers. I scarcely know the details of these relations or want to but I have had a long history of reading and admiring Karl’s poetry and fiction. Really I wanted to banish all this external hubbub from my reading and engage with the poetry on its own terms.

 

In the dark

of the 15th floor

Bill Manhire woke

thinking the building

had turned over in sleep

and groaned

or ground its teeth

 

from ‘Apprehension’ in ‘Christchurch Word Festival, 2016’

 

Karl’s collection is deeply personal; the poetry is a meeting ground for dream, memory, retrieval, old age. It is a book of friendships with the living, with ghosts of the past and with writers that attract such as Catallus. He obliquely and briefly returns to arguments and enmities that persisted but for me it is the love of poetry that is the greatest fuel.

The poetry is deftly crafted – like honey at perfect consumption – with shifting forms, syllabics, subject matter. You move from the exquisite opening poem ‘An Horatian ode to Fleur Adcock at eighty’ to the challenge of writing war poems to the final poem written at ‘ten to midnight’.

The 80 plus poems almost match Karl’s age (86) – and maybe that changes things for me as a reader. I am brought closer to death as I am reading, not because death is a protagonist, but because the long-ago past is returned to the frame. And I have had close shaves. What do we want to bring close and find poetic ways to make present? I am asking myself this as I read. Mysterious, dreamlike, moving; yet there is an intensity about these replayed moments. Perhaps luminosity is a better word for these poems that make things utterly present.

 

She was, she tells me

the one without a partner

until I came

with a bottle of bubbly and two plastic cups

and a small box of rose petals.

‘You realise my age?’ I ask

(uncertain what it is).

‘Of course,’ she says.

‘This was half a century ago.’

So we danced and danced

until just before midnight

when I walked out

into the Bavarian dark.

‘I’ve never forgiven you,’she says.

‘Where did you go? Where have you been?’

 

from ‘Ten minutes to midnight’

 

In one poem, ‘By the back door’, Karl responds to Damien Wilkin’s review that suggests Karl’s writing suffers from a glut of lucidity and that his novels yearn to be poems. I can’t say I have ever felt that but Karl suggests in his endnote he wrote this as a semi farewell to fiction. Ah the way we get thrown off kilter. This is what I mean by deeply personal. We are being brought in close to the man writing, the man living, the man and his little and larger anxieties, the man and his little and larger fascinations. And how this might shift and resettle at ten to midnight. In a footnote Karl tells us that he ended up writing at least one novel (The Necessary Angel – it’s on my pile) but maybe two (Risk) after writing the poem.

As I move through the book, lingering over poems with admiration and feeling uncomfortable at others, the outside stories come clamouring. But I hold them at arm’s length. Even when Karl is doing the signposting. Instead I relish the dreamlike moment that the writer, on this occasion, in this instant of almost urgent return, renders lucid, gleaming. This is a book to be celebrated.

 

I was the one who believed in poetry –

that it could capture the gull in flight

and the opening flower

and in the blink of an eye

a knock on the door of death.

I believed with Shakespeare

there was a trick that unlocked

the mystery of

the named stars.

 

from ‘I was the one …’

 

 

Auckland University Press page

CK Stead is an award-winning poet, literary critic, novelist, essayist and Emeritus Professor at The University of Auckland. He was the New Zealand Poet Laureate (2015 -2017), has received the Prime Minster’s Award for Literary Achievement in Fiction and is a member of the Order of New Zealand, the highest possible honour in New Zealand.

 

 

 

 

Landfall Review Online offers bilingual review of Tātai Whetū

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‘The ‘stars’ of Tātai Whetū, a collection of seven poems by seven Māori women poets, take the reader on a wistful journey that traverses the boundaries of the spiritual and physical realms. The poets who composed these poems will inevitably pass on from this physical world – he tātai whetū ki te whenua, ngaro noa – but their words and thoughts are hung in the metaphysical space of the heavens above as guiding lights never to be extinguished – he tātai whetū ki te rangi, tū tonu.

A highly charged current of feminine strength underlies the poems in this collection. Māori history is rich with narratives featuring strong female figures who defy the odds and are a powerful force to be reckoned with: ‘I heard their karanga, the dawn voice, centuries of women rising up in a vocal wiri from the motu …’ Anahera Gildea reminds us that we are a continuation of those who have gone before us and our karanga will add to the resounding echoes of quivering voices that will be heard for generations to come.’

 

‘Ko ngā whetū o te pukapuka nei, Tātai whetū, he kohikohinga o ngā rotarota e whitu kua tuhia e ngā kaiwhakairo kupu wahine Māori tokowhitu. Ka kawea te kaipānui e ā rātou kupu i tētahi haerenga whēnakonako e whakawhiti ana i te ao wairua me te ao kikokiko nei. Tāria te wā, ka matemate haere ngā kaiwhakairo kupu nei – he tātai whetū ki te whenua, ngaro noa – engari ka whakairia ō rātou whakaaro, ā rātou kupu ki te rangi hei tohutohu i a tātou mō ake tonu – he tātai whetū ki te rangi, tū tonu.

He roma mana wahine e rere ana hei pūtaketanga o ia rotarota i tēnei kohikohinga. E hia kē nei ngā kōrero pūrākau a te Māori e whakanui ana i te mana o te wahine, i tō rātou kaha, i tō rātou ūpoko mārōtanga i tā rātou i kōkiri ai. ‘… I heard their karanga, the dawn voice, centuries of women rising up in a vocal wiri from the motu …’ Ka whakamaumaharatia tātou e Anahera Gildea, he uri whakaheke tātou nō rātou kua mene atu ki te pō. Ka āpitihia ā tātou karanga ki ā rātou karanga e whakapaorotia ai i ngā reanga e haere ake nei.’

 

Full review here

 

 

 

 

 

 

A gorgeous trio of poetry reviews by Anahera Gildea at Landfall Review Online

‘He waka eke noa: we’re all in this together’

 

Go here to read 3 divinely crafted reviews of new poetry collections from

Tayi Tibble, Sam Duckor-Jones and Jan Fitzgerald.  Best review treat in an age.

 

A taste of Sam’s review:

If the waka analogy holds, then Duckor-Jones’s waka is his tribe, his allied kinship group, and in this case his golems. ‘Bloodwork’ is easily the most arresting piece. It’s a sequence of 20 poems that speak to the ‘making of a man’. Throughout his work, the poet evokes tropes of masculinity like lovers: dandies, brutes, pools boys, dudes, blokes, Jeff and more. These crowd his pages, but it’s the hoard of clay men that affix in my mind, along with the keen instructions on creation:

to wield the tools

to make an eight-foot man

to make him look like he’d sweat

 

 

 

 

 

In the hammock: Mary McCallum’s XYZ of Happiness

 

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XYZ of Happiness by Mary McCallum (Mākaro Press, 2018)

 

 

She’s an open window with curtains flapping

whatever the season, one eye always on the outside

from ‘Quick’

 

Mary McCallum is a novelist, poet and songwriter; her novel, The Blue, won the NZ Book Award in 2007 and she won the inaugural Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize. Her children’s book, Dappled Annie and the Tigrish, is an exquisite read and one of my favourite NZ novels for children. In 2013 she established Mākaro Press with its annual Hoopla Poetry series and Submarine imprint. She lives in Wellington.

Mary’s debut collection is like an alphabet of moods that draw upon the weather, love, life, death and family. She writes with an inviting mix of warmth and attentiveness, acute observations of the physical world and an ear tuned to the musicality of the line. I am pulled into feeling her world from the poem that faces the death of Hat (Harriet) and her engagements with life (‘C) to a poem that navigates a drowning with sublime fluidity (‘Vessels’) to the everyday presence of food and domestic gestures, sky and space.

 

Snapping off the ends of beans is like lips

popping, a pork cookbook is the best place

to find that picture of you and your mum

at Taupō one summer, a turkey too late

in the oven can make a grandmother

cry with hunger (…)

from ‘Things they don’t tell you on Food TV’

 

There is a steady momentum in the reading, a slow-paced rhythm that grows upon you, yet individual poems are varied in key and style. ‘Sycamore Tree’ is missing vowels as though life becomes hiccupy and fragmented.  ‘Returning’ is a lyrical feast with potent physical detail. ‘Quick’ pulsates with love and image. ‘Things they don’t tell you on Food TV’ is a sensual autobiography.

 

I know you’re watching

from your house by th path

with a desk by th window

today we’ve stopped

right n front f you

but I can’t move th childrn on

not while they’re spnning

like littl propellers              like

lttl worlds

from ‘Sycamore Tree’

 

This slim collection might so easily be missed, with its quietness, its loveliness, its pitch to the way we are, but it is a book that holds you immeasurably with both feeling and fluency.

 

Here it is that we are,

a breath outwards

returning—the gate

on a slant, paint

pulling from the wood,

closes—let it,

let go of the road,

the run of fences, the tin-cut

tilting hills, the world’s

rim—let the dog out

and drive, windows

wound down, the pink

evening light, lavender,

olive trees, cypress.

from ‘Returning’

 

Mākaro Press page

Read ‘C’ here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the hammock: Reading Landfall 235

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Landfall 235 launches Emma Neale as the new editor. The cover aptly features ‘The House Party’; Kathryn Madill’s monoprint is strange and seductive with sunken black space and textured skin. It is like a poem that tempts and then holds you in an intricate grip. There is a Madill sequence inside that is equally sumptuous, surprising, lyrical.

This is an addictive issue – think of it as a musical composition that carries you through diverse and distinctive reading effects across an arc from first poem to final story. I do hope more Pasifika, Māori and Asian poets send in submissions for the next issue to increase the diversity of voice.

The two visual sequences (by Madill and photogapher Russ Flatt) are stunning. Flatt’s photographs reconstruct memories from the ‘subconscious grief’ and experience of growing up gay in Auckland in 1970s and 1980s. Wow. This is the power of art to take you some place that transcends ideas and feeling but that is ideas and feeling.

Landfall 235 also includes the winner of the Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Competition,  Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor, fiction (including a keenly observed piece by Airini Beautrais) and reviews. It welcomes established elders such as Elizabeth Smither and Bernadette Hall and barely published authors such as Sarah Scott and James Tremlett.

 

 

Here are a few poetry highlights:

Tracey Slaughter has turned from her dark, edgy must-read fiction to poetry. She was recently shortlisted for the 2018 Peter Porter Poetry Prize and I can see why. Her poem, ‘the mine wife’, with short-line fluidity, fictional momentum building, spiky detail, gritty feeling, is all about voice. A vulnerable, risking, space clearing, ‘self’ admitting voice:

 

the hand is a useless

surface for showing

the love it takes

to clear a path. Under

layers you wait for me to sift

your face from its mask.

 

from ‘the mine wife’

 

Lynley Edmeades‘ list poem, ‘The Age of Reason’, kicks off from Jean Paul Sartre’s title to move from ‘longing’ to ‘baby’, scooping up Simone de Beauvoir on the way, and all the staccato thoughts that propel a micro portrait: because why because how because who. I adore this!

 

Because fear of death

Because a dog might do

Because antidepressants

Because déjà vu

Because the trees

Because the population

Because plastic

 

from ‘The Age of Reason’

 

‘A Love Letter to My Mother: A work in progress’ by Wen-Juenn Lee is layered and probing and direct. I am wanting to read the whole work:

 

She takes astronomy classes at night.

I do not ask her why she stargazes

what she looks for              in the oily darkness

we go to a poetry reading on migrant women

I do not tell her

I remember her crying on the plane

 

from ‘A Love Letter to My Mother: A work in progress’

 

Nick Ascroft’s playful word shenanigans in ‘A Writer Wrongs’ are a delicious shift in key as rhyme binds  writer, hater and waiter:

 

So my fish is pallid.

So there’s a little pebble in my freekeh salad.

Is it necessary a balladeer batters

out a ballad?

 

from ‘A Writer Wrongs’

 

I haven’t encountered Rachel Connor‘s poetry before. She is a medievalist and a  postgraduate student in Otago University’s Department of English. I want to read more of her poetry! Her poem, ‘Home’, captivates with its quirky tropes and agile pivots upon ‘swan’:

 

A swan like a carved radish kickstarts its way across the water.

It should be easier

to temper my words and make iron gates of them,

to remember the names picked out in gold

that echo a memorial garden.

 

from ‘Home’

 

Tim Vosper offers my favourite ending in ‘The False Way to the Real’

 

When it comes time to kill the lamp

the leaf will turn into a shade.

 

from ‘The False Way to the Real’

 

I am fan of Sugar Magnolia Wilson’s poetry and have fingers crossed she gets a book out soon. ‘Betty as a Boy’ is lush with detail and movement:

 

And you, outside the upmarket  grocer’s, camouflaged top, khaki pants

slashed with a silk of red, a backpack strung with things that clink,

disappearing into your androgyny— the inverse of a newly minted drag queen,

appearing like a flaming comet, burning to be noticed.

 

from ‘Betty as a Boy’

 

Here is another unfamiliar poet I want to see a collection from. Susan Wardell’s poem pulsates with glorious surprising life. I will quote a piece but I urge you to read the whole thing: place rich, lithely troped, visually sparking, enigmatic, humane.  I am drawn to the voice, to the word hunger, to the portrait built.

 

They say

when meaning is gone, all that is left

is the grain

of the voice.

 

Well, hers sweeps the room like salt-flecked taffeta.

 

from ‘Grain of her Voice’

 

Writing journals, literary journals open up new avenues of reading and engagement. Landfall 235 is no exception. I have not finished, I have not yet read the reviews and all the fiction, but congratulations Emma Neale, you have taken the literary torch from David Eggleton, and the boost he gave, and turned your astute editorial eye to our advantage. I have new poets I am keen to track  down. I have seen familiar poets with fresh eyes. Kind of like a poetry house party in my head.

 

Landfall page

You can also go to the Landfall Exhibition if you live in Dunedin. Opening is Thursday May 25 at 5.30 pm.

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