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Poetry Shelf review: No Traveller Returns: the selected poems of Ruth France

 

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No Traveller Returns: the selected poems of Ruth France, Cold Hub Press, 2020

 

 

While Trying to Study Phonetics on a Spring Morning

 

This immense arch of sky

Is a palate, on which ring

Day’s consonantal sounds

 

Voicing the clarity of bell air

Which breaks about and above us

Like tumbled, exploding plosives

 

Tripping on the teeth; these

Rear up, far off; sharp sounding-board

Or white, guardian mountains.

 

Here all is implicit; perhaps we have

No need of such conceits;

Yet without them words remain dumb

 

Where we, tiny on the tongue

Of the plains, consider how sweet

How sweet is the taste of morning.

 

Ruth France

 

 

Ruth France was one of a number of women poets who didn’t make it into Wild Honey; not because I wasn’t fascinated by her poetry or ideas. I made it clear I was offering a provisional home that needed more rooms, more poets, and more versions written by others writers, especially Māori and Pasifika. When Ruth was writing, most women poets were not lauded to the degree men were, and too often praise was offered on the judgement scale of men. Anthologies only ever included a handful of women and ‘women’s writing’ was often disparaged, undervalued, silenced. I am sitting at the kitchen table where I wrote Wild Honey and I am feeling an overwhelming sadness at the historic invisibility of twentieth-century women poets that is still in effect today. I spent four years writing Wild Honey and didn’t have room for everyone. This has to be an ongoing project.

Ruth France (1913 – 1968) was a poet and novelist. She wrote two novels, with her debut The Race (1958) winning NZ Literary Fund’s Award for Achievement. She published two collections of poetry under the name Paul Henderson, a handful of which made it into two anthologies (not all women of her era were selected). Editor Robert McLean (himself a poet with a new collection out) has selected poems from Ruth’s published books (Unwilling Pilgrim 1955 and The Halting Place 1961) along with poems from an unpublished manuscript, ‘No Traveller Returns’. To have this lovingly edited collection of her poetry underlines what readers have missed with her work not readily available.

Robert’s introduction considers the poetry and states that as the poems do not offer explicit biographical details neither will his introduction. Yet her biography (not that we have easy access to much) is as intriguing as the poetry. Yes, we can let poems stand on their own feet and we can find our own invigorating pathways through, but autobiography can make poems glint in unexpected ways. In fact, as is my habit, I read the poetry first, wrote most of this, then read Robert’s introduction and hunted out her appearances in New Zealand anthologies. She is largely invisible.

Te Ara / The Encyclopedia of New Zealand has a biographical entry. She was born in Canterbury, her mother wrote poems and short stories and was published in the Christchurch Press while her father was a shopkeeper. Ruth attended secondary school and then worked as a librarian before marriage at 21. For over three years, she and her husband lived on a yacht at Lyttelton; she rowed her husband to work and her son to kindergarten. After the second son was born they settled at Sumner. Her father had been a devout Catholic and was incensed his daughter had married a non-Catholic.

 

Ruth published her first collection of poetry at the age of 42 as Paul Henderson. According to Te Ara she wrote letters to the press under her own name and had a strong social conscience and her poems were published in various newspapers and journals. Te Ara also suggests her contemporaries claimed she wrote under a male pseudonym as it freed her from ‘poetess mannerisms’. Crikey! I am so infuriated by these two words. Ruth is said to have held herself at arm’s length from the Christchurch writing community as she didn’t like the way women were treated as inferior. I am thinking of the Caxton Press and all the power it exerted but also of the gatekeepers at a national level (there were notable exceptions). This is what it says in Te Ara:

 

Already well known for her poetry written under her own name, it is unclear why she felt a need for a male pseudonym. Contemporary male critics suggested it freed her from ‘poetess mannerisms’ and contributed to her success. Today, the best features of her poetry are judged to be the plain, serviceable language and syntax in, for instance, ‘After flood’ or ‘New Year bonfire’.

 

I am so infuriated by this dismissiveness, I want to write another book. Ruth’s poetry is so much more than ‘plain, serviceable language and syntax’. Where do I begin? For a start plain serviceable language can offer a thicket of copious reading delights. Secondly her beautifully crafted lines offer all manner of musical rewards. Economy and richness coexist.

I am sitting at my kitchen table with a thousand questions mounting. Why wasn’t her last ms published? Her poetry had a vital political edge to it yet, for whatever reason, her poems did not raise questions about the status of women, whether as wife, mother, poet or woman. Ruth refers to ‘men’ to denote all people encompassed in her narrating ‘I’: ‘All men I, and I, living, all men’. It was the convention of the time to subsume women within ‘men’, but some women poets were resisting this tradition. I am reminded of Mary Stanley’s ‘I’ in Starveling Year (1953) as she navigated what it was to be a woman writing (see ‘The Wife Speaks’). Yes I am a little disconcerted that women (and ‘she’) do not make an appearance in Ruth’s poems but we see the world through Ruth’s eyes.  It in no way detracts from the myriad rewards her work offers. But it makes me curious about her views on the status of women.

As with many women poets, global issues mattered to Ruth – war, the bomb, atomic energy, equality of men, invasions. You will find clear evidence of her political acumen, along with heart-moving love poems and an attraction to the seas, hills, mountains, shifting tides, seasons. Her poetry is a sumptuous feast of ideas and physical layers. I think she needs a book devoted to her writings, her opinions, her life.

 

While you are there I am nested among leaves;

As sparrows come each morning for breadcrumbs

So I look for your still face beside me;

Without your calm in the face of what wild storm

I am no longer nested, but desolate among these leaves.

 

from ‘Always, on Waking’

 

 

No Traveller Returns: The Poetry of Ruth France

 

‘Living’, an early poem from Unwilling Pilgrim intrigues me. Here is the first verse:

 

What shall I sing?

It has all been sung before

But time did not begin

Till child my mother bore.

 

The poem faces the haunting and perhaps persistent nag that however we write our experience it has all been written before. Yet when I read this potent line – ‘Tears bit me in the brief / Salt stream for the first time’ – I am on reading edge. Shortly later I read this: ‘So for each one was new / The shattering love and war’. The poem was written around  the year of my birth and I am spinning on its axis. Grief, love, war, pain – poetry has never abandoned these topics, poets have never lost the ability to affect us, to present unique versions of experience that challenge or soothe or inspire.

Ruth concludes the poem with this:

 

So let me sing for all

And sing old songs again.

 

I am filled with curiosity about this poem. Ruth is galvanised into song, and I am wondering if the reclaimed subject matter is also a reclaimed how. How we sing matters as much as what we sing. And in this context how we make poems. Is she singing the songs of men? Is she singing her own cerebral activity into poetry?

 

In ‘Object Lesson’, also from the first collection, the idea that human experience is individually unique is key (although connected by countless universals such as our need to eat and love and grieve). In this poem a hill is a hill but when a particular hill is filtered through a man’s knowing, it is ‘a hill through the eyes of one human’. I see the seeds of subsequent theory here on the role of the reader, the spectator, the creator.

 

I am finding Ruth’s poetry utterly unique – she is a poet both thinking and feeling, hiding and exposing. Her poems are intricate considerations on what it is to love, write, exist. Never fully in the open. This from ‘How Shall I?’:

 

Then how shall I do this?

Confine the mind to a reasonable process

Beguiling thought by beguiling thought through a tight

Web to a firm conviction? No moonlight

Must persuade, nor smile chance

To alter the grave march of circumstance.

 

There is song and there is not song. There is love and there is not love. There is also and always uncertainty, a mind open to movement and a resistance to absolutes. Time and time again I divert the overground ideas to the making of a poem; the way poetry is uncertain, open to multiple interpretations, steered by gut and daring as opposed to rigid maps and regulations. I love the way the landscape is a constant presence – think of it as an anchor, homeplace and a series of travel routes. The poem ‘Road Map’ reiterates the inability of a map to catch everything. The traveller’s aid may guide us across physical terrain, but equally it references the terrain of the mind. It is the blank page of the poet writing.

 

For all was unexpected that we found;

Rivers were marked, but what map could foretell

The scouring of spring floods, the changed ford,

How the great boulders fell?

 

There is no absolute of place to be drawn

In neat precision with a mapping pen:

Lakes are hemmed in by thought as well as hills,

That has branched through many men.

 

Ruth keeps returning to the idea that we are in the land and the land is in us, and how the relationships will be marked by memory, experience, uncertainty, hesitancy, predilection. Here are the final two verses:

 

Place will be integrate, but not on paper;

The mind’s net flung and hauled, it is a silver catch;

Here was the limestone bluff, the sharp bend,

There was iced snow to watch.

 

But later, in what deep valley of hesitation

We consider time, and place, and thought

As tiny scratches on what surface, an ultimate

No map, or mind, has caught.

 

The poetry of Ruth France is a treasure house of gold-nugget poems. Like any good treasury, it reveals its physical and abstract luminosity across the course of many readings. I am utterly fascinated by this writer, by her inquiring mind and her poetic deftness. Go hunt this glorious book down. Bravo Robert McLean and Cold Hub Press.

 

 

The island belonged to my father,

Or rather it belonged to nobody.

It wasn’t even real considered against

Men and Material, War and Atomic Energy.

Reality rejected too the hut I built, now ruined,

But then, so did the island. Its own core

Was a reality immune even from wind the eroding stranger.

 

from ‘The Island’

 

Cold Hub Press author page

 

My first edition copy of the second collection

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Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Ash Davida Jane’s ‘undergrowth’

 

 

undergrowth

 

at dusk the birds by the road

are loud as a fire                      so much noise

from such small lungs

we say

it seems impossible but what’s worse is

we should be able to hear this anywhere

the branches

always ripe with nests

in spring

 

birdsong so big

we could almost dance to it

but the next day

we’re overheating in the park

& everyone’s too busy worrying

to notice our spot under the trees

I’m imagining a giant ballroom with

this leafy canopy for a roof

the floor a pool of cool green light

 

nobody’s been here for centuries &

most of the birds are gone too

but an ant crawls

across the cracked marble

& somewhere in the silence our buried

forms turning

back into earth             are still

in love

& the flowers pick themselves

up & carry on

 

 

Ash Davida Jane

 

 

Ash Davida Jane is a poet and bookseller from Te Whanganui-a-Tara. She has a Master of Arts from the International Institute of Modern Letters. Some of her recent work can be found in Peach Mag, Turbine | Kapohau, Best New Zealand Poems, and Scum. How to Live with Mammals is due to be published by Victoria University Press in 2021.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: The Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems

International Writers’ Workshop NZ Inc (IWW) is delighted to announce that renowned New Zealand poet Siobhan Harvey, who lectures at AUT in Auckland, will judge The Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems later this year.

Harvey was the winner of the award in 2019 for her sequence of poems titled Ghosts.

The prize of $1000 – which is made possible due to an ongoing bequest from the Jocelyn Grattan Charitable Trust – is for a cycle or sequence of unpublished poems that has a common link or theme. This is the twelfth year IWW has had the honour of organising the Prize.

The Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems is sometimes referred to as the ‘Little Grattan’ as the Jocelyn Grattan Charitable Trust also funds the biennial Kathleen Grattan Award, run by Landfall / Otago University Press. Harvey won the Kathleen Grattan Award in 2013.

The competition is free for IWW members to enter. It is very easy for aspiring poets and writers to join IWW to be eligible to enter their poetry in the competition.

Previous winners over the past six years include: Harvey (2019) Heather Bauchop (2018), Janet Newman (2017), Michael Giacon (2016) Maris O’Rourke (2015) and Julie Ryan (2014.)

Harvey said: “I’m honoured to be asked to judge the 2020 IWW Kathleen Grattan Award for a Sequence of Poems. IWW does such important and integral work to foster and support writing talent within Aotearoa, and it’s humbling to think I have the task of judging this significant poetry competition. As a previous winner and runner up of the competition, I know the high standard of submissions I am already looking forward to receiving. In these challenging times, poetry continues to offers us the power of story, song and vision; all of which are needed now as much as ever.”

 

About the Judge

Siobhan Harvey is an award-winning author of six poetry books.

She is a Lecturer at The Centre for Creative Writing, Auckland University of Technology and has taught creative writing across New Zealand and the UK.

In 2019, Harvey judged the National Flash Fiction Competition and as well as winning the Kathleen Grattan Prize, she won the Robert Burns Poetry prize.

 

Preparatory Workshop

As well as judging the competition, Harvey will conduct a workshop on Writing Poetry at IWW’s meeting venue, the Lindisfarne Room at St Aidans Church, 97 Onewa Road, Northcote, Auckland on Tuesday June 16. Doors open at 10 am and the workshop runs from 10.30 am to 12.30 pm.

Visitors are welcome to attend the workshop for a $10 visitor fee. Any visitor who attends the workshop and joins IWW by the third Tuesday in July will be eligible to enter The Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems and will have the visitor fee deducted from their joining fee.

 

About the Competition and about IWW

The rules for the competition, details of how to join IWW, meeting times and other activities of the workshop, which meets on the first and third Tuesdays of the month from February to November and runs several competitions a year, are available from the IWW website

 

Key Dates for The Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems in 2020

16 June: Workshop with Siobhan Harvey on writing poetry.

21 July: Last day for new members to join IWW to be eligible to enter this year’s Prize.

6 October: Closing date for entries.

17 November: Announcement of the 2020 winner of The Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems.

 

Contact

For further information about the Prize or about IWW, or if you would like photographs, please contact IWW President, Duncan Perkinson (email iww-writers@outlook.com) or check out the website

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf noticeboard:NFFD 2020 Online Events

 

 

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Welcome to 2020 National Flash Fiction Day!

NFFD 2020 ONLINE – all programme events are free – all welcome!

 

Forthcoming events livestreamed at the Flash Frontier YouTube channel Saturday in NZ/ Friday in other parts of the world — check your time zone and don’t miss it!

 

Friday, June 12 in NZ / Saturday, June 13 elsewhere

 

Language and Writing Small: A Roundtable with Journal Editors Around the World (Saturday, June 13, 9am NZ time / GMT + 12)

Featuring:

  • Christopher Allen, SmokeLongQuarterly (Germany)
  • Nuala O’Connor, Splonk (Ireland)
  • Grant Faulkner, 100 Word Story (US)
  • Ingrid Jendrzejewski, FlashBack Fiction(UK)
  • Rupert Dastur, The Short Story(UK)
  • Vaughan Rapatahana, Flash Frontier (Aotearoa New Zealand)
    • Moderator: Jordan Hamel (Aotearoa New Zealand)

 

Sunday, June 13 in NZ / Saturday, June 14

 

Imagination Unbound: Five Women on the Poetic Narrative Form (Sunday, June 14, 4pm NZ time – GMT +12) – including:

  • Nod Ghosh, author of Filthy Sucre(Truth Serum Press 2020)
    · Diane Brown, author of Every now and then I have another child(OUP 2020)
    · Helen Rickerby, author of How to live (AUP 2019)
    · Anne Kennedy, author of Moth Hour (AUP 2019)
    · Gail Ingram, author of Contents Under Pressure (Pukeko Publishing 2019)
    • Moderator: Michelle Elvy (Aotearoa New Zealand)

Forthcoming: Best Small Fictions and Best Microfictions: an international reading; Youth Voices; and the June 22 Online Awards Celebration – livestreamed to you!

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Nina Mingya Powles’s Magnolia shortlisted for UK Poetry Prize

Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection (£5,000)

 

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Ella FrearsShine, Darling (Offord Road Books)
Will HarrisRENDANG (Granta Poetry)
Rachel LongMy Darling from the Lions (Picador)
Nina Mingya PowlesMagnolia 木蘭 (Nine Arches Press)
Martha SpracklandCitadel (Pavilion Poetry)

 

Forward Prize for Best Collection (£10,000)

 

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Caroline BirdThe Air Year (Carcanet)
Natalie DiazPostcolonial Love Poem (Faber & Faber)
Vicki FeaverI Want! I Want! (Cape Poetry)
David MorleyFURY (Carcanet)
Pascale PetitTiger Girl (Bloodaxe Books)

 

Forward Prizes for Poetry Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Adrienne Jansen reads ‘Bread’

 

 

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Adrienne Jansen reads ‘Bread’ from All of Us, poems which tell small stories of migration, co-written with carina gallegos. Published by Landing Press, 2018, and longlisted for the Okham NZ Book Awards 2019. Adrienne is a Wellington writer who writes poetry as well as fiction and non-fiction. She’s also involved with Landing Press, which publishes poetry that many people can enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: call for submissions for anthology about cleaners and cleaning

 

Tēnā koutou poets, friends and whānau of poets, teachers, organisers, and great poetry people
Here is Landing Press’s exciting new project: an anthology of poems about cleaners and cleaning.

If you are working as a cleaner, or have ever worked as a cleaner, write a poem which catches that experience in some way. Send it to us. These poems are our first choice.

If you haven’t worked as a cleaner, but have a poem about cleaning or cleaners, send it to us. These poems will also be considered.

We want poems by/about cleaners in offices, hospitals, churches, rest homes, marae, on boats, in factories, on the streets, at beaches and rivers. Cleaners are everywhere, and we are interested in everywhere.

Please send us up to 3 poems. Maximum length 40 lines. On the same page as the poem include your name, email address and a very brief note about your experience as a cleaner. Or there might be another small story behind your poem you want to briefly include.

Send your poems to landingpresscleaners@gmail.com by Monday 27 July.

And please forward this information to anyone who might be interested.

This anthology will be published in late 2020 or early 2021. We had hoped to pay all writers, but the Covid 19 situation has affected fundraising for this book. If we can pay, we will, but we can’t promise. All included writers will get a complimentary copy of the anthology.

Landing Press is a small Wellington publisher of poems that many people can enjoy.

 

Hei kona i roto i ngā tūmanako

The Landing Press team

 

Poetry Shelf connections: Grace Iwashita-Taylor’s ‘my heart is in my mouth’

 

 

my heart is in my mouth

 

 

my mama didn’t prepare me for this, but her illness did

a forced pause for the heartburn of a worlds over consumption

isolation, a foreign concept for villages of homes

with more bellies than the home-belly can house

but indeed the sky has stopped bleeding, is now naked and breathing

standing outside under nights blanket I try to sink my breath in tune with it

the mouths of the monsters to our own making are now unveiled, are you listening?

my heart is in my mouth

baited

&

breathing

 

 

Grace Iwashita-Taylor

 

 

 

 

Grace Iwashita-Taylor, breathing bloodlines of Samoa, England and Japan. An artist of upu/words led her to the world of performing arts. Dedicated to carving, elevating and holding spaces for storytellers of Te Moana nui a Kiwa. Recipient of the CNZ Emerging Pacific Artist 2014 and the Auckland Mayoral Writers Grant 2016. Highlights include holding the visiting international writer in residence at the University of Hawaii 2018, Co-Founder of the first youth poetry slam in Aoteroa, Rising Voices (2011 – 2016) and the South Auckland Poets Collective and published collections Afakasi Speaks (2013) & Full Broken Bloom (2017) with ala press. Writer of MY OWN DARLING commissioned by Auckland Theatre Company (2015, 2017, 2019) and Curator of UPU (Auckland Arts Festival 2020).