First time in my god
damned life I forgot
opening lines to ‘So Buttoned Up’
for the poem go here
First time in my god
damned life I forgot
opening lines to ‘So Buttoned Up’
for the poem go here
This is like many good stories that hold you tight: heart-moving, funny, generous. Hinemoana tells her story of a kingfisher and trying to have a baby. I just love it.
‘I went to ‘The Bear’, true stories told live each month here in Berlin. I told a story and ended up being chosen as the night’s winner — a great honour among the amazing storytellers there.’ Hinemoana
You can listen on YouTube
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 déjà vu
Because the trees
Because the population
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.
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.
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.
You can also go to the Landfall Exhibition if you live in Dunedin. Opening is Thursday May 25 at 5.30 pm.
Last night The Arts Foundation recognised Bill Manhire and Albert Wendt as Icons. Both Bill and Albert have produced writing that is a significant part of our literary landscape, yet both have done so much more. Their mentorship of and generosity towards other writers is noteworthy. Their writing stands as uniquely theirs, offering nimble and wide ranging voices, an ability to tap into the humane, the surprising, the musicality of the world. I find their poetry utterly nourishing.
Congratulations from Poetry Shelf on this well deserved honour.
See here for more details. The other Icons were: artist Billy Apple, composer Dame Gillian Karawe Whitehead and sculptor Fred Graham.
Albert’s poem ‘New Coat’
Bill Manhire talks to Poetry Shelf
‘While New Zealand is most famous for its astounding natural beauty, friendly people and now legendary cinematic prowess, it has also been called home by some truly exceptional poets. Here’s a top 10 of New Zealanders who’ve graced the world with their poetry.’
Go here for the ten poets.
This on Janet Frame whose poetry keeps pulling me back, year after year:
Janet Frame was probably one of – if not the – greatest writers that New Zealand has ever produced. More than that, she was one of the most thought provoking and powerful writers of recent times. So much so that she was frequently spoken of as a Nobel Prize candidate for literature. She was more prolifically a writer of fiction – and that was what she will be chiefly remembered for – but she also published a single book of poetry.
If you’ve never read Frame’s work then you really should. She spent about a decade in mental hospitals after being incorrectly diagnosed with schizophrenia. Of this time she wrote: “I inhabited a territory of loneliness which … resembles the place where the dying spend their time before death, and from where those who do return, living, to the world bring, inevitably, a unique point of view that is a nightmare, a treasure, and a lifelong possession …” Her poetry collection is called The Pocket Mirror.
This is a tip-of-the-iceberg kind of list! Iceberg is not exactly the best trope though.
I wanted what happened to be something
I could know
and I wanted what I knew to be something
I could describe
something to which others could say
I know this
this happened to me also.
At the back of the room is a mirror
dreaming it’s become itself at last.
I keep walking
as if I know all the parts
and could play them.
Gregory Kan is a writer and coder based in Wellington. His poetry has been featured or is forthcoming in literary journals such as the Atlanta Review, Landfall, The Listener, SPORT and Best New Zealand Poems. His poetry and philosophical works have also featured in exhibitions and publications for contemporary art institutions such as the Auckland Art Gallery, Artspace, the Adam Art Gallery, the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and the Physics Room. Auckland University Press published his first book, This Paper Boat, in 2016. An earlier incarnation of This Paper Boat was shortlisted for the Kathleen Grattan Poetry Prize in 2013. The book was also a finalist in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for Best Poetry in 2017. He was a Grimshaw-Sargeson Fellow for 2017. His second poetry collection, Under Glass, is forthcoming.
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
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 …
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.