Category Archives: nz poetry review

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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In the hammock: Reading Min-a-rets (8)

 

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Min-a-rets issue 8 autumn 2018

 

edited by Erena Shingade

published by Compound Press

drawings by Harry Moritz

poems by:

Victor Billot

Freya Daly Sadgrove

Lee Thomson

Zack Anderson

Murray Edmond

Courtney Sina Meredith

Manon Revuelta

Naomi Scully

 

This is multi-note poetry – each poem a sharp turn to different effect but the poetry co-exists so sweetly.  There is not a dud note.

Today I am in the mood for surprise.

Zack Anderson’s ‘Vapor Wake’ is a lush string of words, a momentum of startling image and sound. A taste:

 

shadow the streaming track

the wormy spoor

the hex print

the luminous index

data streaming from me

like a wedding dress

a mantle, a mantis

a veil

 

Murray Edmond goes ‘Camping in the existential forest’ with tercets that wryly build a miniature narrative, strange, theatrical and evocative:

 

III

Someone coming in

gumboots. Tramp tramp tramp. Beat

of own tell-tale heart.

 

Courtney Sina Meredith hooks me with an off-kilter memoir-like cluster of little pieces, definitely luminous. From ‘Pony’:

 

Baths

Unless my memory is playing tricks on me. The rats

were white with blazing red eyes.

 

I’m translating myself from a time when I was sure.

 

I recently did an email conversation with Manon Revuelta where I enthused about her debut collection, Girl Teeth. This new poem, ‘Prayer’, shows the subtle along with the degrees of surprise and lyricism Manon is capable of. A taste:

 

Look at this busy dance I do with my hand

When I’m talking to people

Shredding paper in the darkness of my pocket

It is the quiet work of saying things

 

Min-a-ret 8 is a treat to be read on multiple occasions like a good album that needs multiple listenings.

 

Min-a-rets page

Erena Shingade is a poet and arts writer from Auckland, New Zealand. Her work has been published by platforms such as The Spinoff, Landfall, Mimicry, Blackmail Press, Atlanta Review, Ka Mate Ka Ora, & the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre. After completing an MA thesis on the Zen Buddhist poetry of Richard von Sturmer in 2017, she continues to research the intersection of the poetic and the religious. During the day she works as a publicist for Allen & Unwin.

Poetry Shelf Review: Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2018

 

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What I want from a poetry journal

More and more I witness clusters of poetry communities in New Zealand – families almost – that might be linked by geography, personal connections, associations with specific institutions or publishers. How often do we read reviews of, or poems by, people with whom we don’t share these links? Poetry families aren’t a bad thing, just the opposite, but I wonder whether the conversations that circulate across borders might grow less and less.

I want a poetry journal to offer diversity, whichever way you look, and we have been guilty of all manner of biases. This is slowly changing.

When I pick up a journal I am on alert for the poet that makes me hungry for more, that I want a whole book from.

I am also happy by a surprising little diversion, a poem that holds me for that extra reading. Ah, this is what a poem can do!

 

Editor Jack Ross has achieved degrees of diversity within the 2018 issue and I also see a poetry family evolving. How many of these poets have appeared in Landfall or Sport, for example? A number of the poets have a history of publication but few with the university presses.

This feels like a good thing. We need organic communities that are embracing different voices and resisting poetry hierarchies.

Poetry NZ Yearbook Annual offers a generous serving of poems (poets in alphabetical order so you get random juxtapositions), reviews and a featured poet (this time Alistair Paterson). It has stuck to this formula for decades and it works.

What I enjoyed about the latest issue is the list of poets I began to assemble that I want a book from. Some I have never heard of and some are old favourites.

 

Some poets I am keen to see a book from:

 

Our rented flat in Parnell

Those rooms of high ceilings and sash windows

Our second city

after Sydney

Robert Creeley trying to chat you up

at a Russell Haley party

when our marriage

was sweet

 

from Bob Orr’s ‘A Woman in Red Slacks’

 

Bob Orr’s heartbreak poem, with flair and economy, reminds me that we need a new book please.

There is ‘Distant Ophir’, a standout poem from David Eggleton that evokes time and place with characteristic detail. Yet the sumptuous rendering is slightly uncanny, ghostly almost, as past and present coincide in the imagined and the seen.  Gosh I love this poem.

The hard-edged portrait Johanna Emeney paints in ‘Favoured Exception’ demands a spot in book of its own.

I haven’t read anything by Fardowsa Mohamed but I want more. She is studying medicine at Otago and has written poetry since she was a child. Her poem’ Us’, dedicated to her sisters, catches the dislocation of moving to where trees are strange, : ‘This ground does not taste/ of the iron you once knew.’

Mark Young’s exquisite short poem, ‘Wittgenstein to Heidegger’, is a surprising loop between difficulty and easy. Again I hungered for another poem.

Alastair Clarke, another poet unfamiliar to me, shows the way poetry can catch the brightness of place (and travel) in ‘Wairarapa, Distance’. Landscape is never redundant in poetry –  like so many things that flit in and out of poem fashion. I would read a whole book of this.

Another unknown: Harold Coutt’s ‘there isn’t a manual on when you’re writing someone a love poem and they break up with you’ is as much about writing as it is breaking up and I love it. Yes, I want more!

Two poets that caught my attention at The Starling reading at the Wellington Writers Festival are here: Emma Shi and Essa Ranapiri. Their poems are as good on the page as they are in the ear. I have posted a poem from Essa on the blog.

I loved the audacity of Paula Harris filling in the gaps after seeing a photo of Michael Harlow in ‘The poet is bearded and wearing his watch around the wrong way’. Light footed, witty writing with sharp detail. More please!

I am a big fan of Jennifer Compton’s poetry and her ‘a rose, and then another’ is inventive, sound-exuberant play. I can’t wait for the next book.

I am also a fan of the linguistic agility of Lisa Samuels; ‘Let me be clear’ takes sheer delight in electric connections between words.

Finally, and on a sad note, there is Jill Chan’s poem, ‘Poetry’. I wrote about her on this blog to mark her untimely death. It is the perfect way to conclude this review. Poetry is everywhere – it is in all our poetry families.

 

Most poetry is unwritten,

denied and supposed.

Don’t go to write it.

Go where you’ve never been.

Go.

And it may come.

Behind you,

love rests.

And where is poetry?

What is it you seek?

 

Jill Chan, from ‘Poetry’

 

 

Poetry NZ Yearbook page

 

Poetry Review: Heather McPherson’s This Joyous, Chaotic Place

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This Joyous, Chaotic Place, Heather McPherson, Spiral, 2018

(cover image by Joanna Margaret Paul with a portrait of Heather on the back by Allie Eagle)

 

 

Heather McPherson (1942 – 2017) published 4 poetry collections in her lifetime, with her first, A Figurehead: A Face, paving the way for future poets. It was the first poetry book by an out lesbian in Aotearoa/ New Zealand.  In 1974 she founded both the Christchurch Women Artists group and Spiral, a women’s literary and arts journal.

Before her death, Heather asked poet Janet Charman to edit her garden poems while Lynne Ciochetto and Marian Evans formed a Spiral collective to publish the volume.

When I think of garden poems, I think of Ursula Bethell and the decade she devoted to writing and gardening when she lived with her beloved companion, Effie Pollen. I have thought about these intensities a lot, and write about them in my forthcoming book.

To enter the glades of Heather’s final collection, lovingly tended by Janet, is to enter a garden rich in aroma, with diverse plantings and seasonal changes. As with Ursula, to view Heather’s writing through a garden lens is extremely productive.

 

This graveyard’s a bit like the one

where we buried my mum and dad. Oldish,

a small town Anglian acreage

 

from ‘At Rangiora’s Ashley Street Cemetery’

 

We begin at Ursula’s grave, and while the poem draws us in close, it also generates little waves that connect admired poet – mentor almost – to Heather’s parents: one grave seeking pilgrimage as much as the next. And herein lies the delight of the poetry, the way the visual piquancy (‘the bird droppings// and twigs’) interweaves with the many selves: daughter, poet, companion, political attendee.

Attendance is vital because this is a poet who paid attention to things, small and large, the one nestled in the other, crafted within the reflective surface of poems. At times it is the joy of the thing itself that matters:

 

but this shape-shifter tree blossoms

tight thick-skinned buds like thrusting rose-hips

 

from ‘fragment’

 

On other occasions the poem is a vehicle for story or anecdote, and a way of tending vital bonds, personal experience, inner movement. Age is a preoccupation as is the necessity of companionship.

 

No. No. See, it’s like old age, he says, eyeing my face.

Goes slack and perishes. Soon as I touched it, it gave way.

Dangerous. Gone holey. I’ll get you a tow.

 

from ‘Waiting for the breakdown truck’

 

I spend time in Heather’s poetic glades, because the senses are on alert, the description compounding, and it imbues my own contemplative state. I like that. I like the way my mind wanders through my open window to the kereru plundering the cabbage tree, and then I am back within an intensity of poppies:

 

Poppies poppies poppies … red-headed

black-bellied upright masses on light green

sea-milk stalks – surely such riotously

frilly leaves can’t be edible – can’t be

blanched – baked – boiled – toast …

 

from ‘Poppies’

 

In a poem for Fran, Heather responds to her friend’s paintings, and it seems to me, the astute observation might also be applied to the poems.

 

But I don’t have lots of things in

my work – like Anna does, you said;

ah, I said, but your painting traps

amazing movement in it – it moves,

it moves – whether or not your

subject does  – it moves internally

& moving, spills (…)

 

from ‘Things shift’

 

As much as stillness gifts Heather’s poetry a translucent layering, the internal movement – the links and arcs, the revelations, the richnesses and the reserve – offer an uplift along with countless movements. By paying attention to the garden in which she lived, and the people close to her, her poetry establishes contrasting intensities – from the joyful to the chaotic. It is a pleasure to read.

 

 

Until April 14th

‘This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi-ā-Tahu’ is a multi-media project to celebrate poet and lesbian activist Heather McPherson (1942-2017) and her peers in the Aotearoa New Zealand’s women’s art and literature movement of the 1970s and 1980s. It is a #suffrage125 project, funded by Creative New Zealand and includes an exhibition, a collection of Heather’s ‘garden poems’ and a shopfront cinema showing 70s and 80s short films and raw footage.

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Poetry Shelf review: Therese Lloyd’s The Facts

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Therese Lloyd  The Facts Victoria University Press 2018

 

For three months I tried

to make sense of something.

I applied various methods:

logic, illogic, meditation, physical exertion,

starvation, gluttony. Other things too

that are not necessarily the opposite of one another,

writing and reading for example.

But the absurdity of the thing

made all attempt at fact-finding evaporate;

a sort of invisible ink streamed from my pen

the more data I wrote down: facts are things driven,

as Anne Carson says, into a darkening landscape where other people

converse logically.

from ‘The Facts’

 

Therese Lloyd’s new collection resides in a captivating interplay of chords. You could say that any poetry book delivers chords whether aural, visual or thematic, and in the light of ideas and feelings. This book does it to a stunning degree. Once you start hunting for them – whether in harmony or not, between poems or within a single example – the rewards are myriad.

Hera Lindsay Bird endorses the book on the back cover: ‘The Facts is mesmerisingly beautiful, and shocking in its intensity. This is already one of my favourite New Zealand books. It won’t make you feel better.’

I didn’t read the back until I had read the poems as I like to start a book with a clean reading slate (if that is possible).  I am thinking of the way reading this book sets up an arc between comfort and discomfort; we are the interlopers into what Therese chooses to let us see.

We enter a collection in debt to a doctoral thesis (IIML), and I am curious about the ideas picked up in the academic component.

This might be the first cluster of chords: shifts between ideas and feelings provoked by the writings of poet Anne Carson and the experience of a broken marriage and a toxic love affair.  This might be an impetus to navigate relations with art, in itself forging a chord with Anne.

I am absorbing the chords as though they flicker between light and dark – and the poem resembles a cinematic space with the external world, and its pressing demands, blacked out so it is just you and the poem. This what flicks for me:

love notlove

truth lies

Carson LLoyd

facts notfacts

pain joy

mother daughter

daughter husband

daughter lover

presence absence

beginning end

end beginning

beauty beauty

deep breath shallow breath

here there

intimacy distance

heart mind

sweet sour

slow stalling

debris order

miracle incidental

share notshare

exposure kept hidden

where you live where you don’t live

mixed clarity

see see

poet poem

poem story

 

At the core of the book the title poem, the standout-lift-you-off-your-feet poem, achieves the blinding intensity that Hera speaks of: raw, surprising, probing, accumulative, fearless, cutting, detail rich, lucid, testing. On either side the poems offer more subtle chords. Yet any element in my list for ‘The Facts’ might drive a poem. I particularly love the surprising turns of ‘Mr Anne Carson’.

Therese’s collection takes you deep into personal experience that gets hooked up in the poetry of another, in matted ideas and the need to write as a form of survival. It makes you feel as much as it makes you think. It is a riveting read.

 

 

I moved all the holiday reading

to the spare room

to keep the literature and the art books

pure

I say squarely in the middle

of the fluffed-up sunroom sofa, I am

careful

not to disturb the cushions

cushion—a curious word

its function of support

is ancillary to its attractiveness

and that’s why cushions have covers

in colourful fabric—I become

an ornament

another word I like

because everything here is decoration

everything here is placed

The story of the things here is not new

 

from ‘Mr Anne Carson’

 

Victoria University Press page