Poetry Shelf interviews Michael Harlow – recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry

 

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Photo credit: Courtesy of Creative New Zealand. Photographer: Neil Mackenzie

 

Warm congratulations to Michael Harlow on receiving the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry this year. To celebrate this well-deserved honour, Michael has shared a few poetry memories and thoughts.

 

Paula:  Name a favourite poetry book by another poet that has stuck with you over time.

Michael: Wallace Stevens’ Harmonium.  And then I have to include Emily Dickinson’s Selected (especially the one edited by James Reeves, the best commentary on her work in the Introduction).

 

Paula:  A favourite poem that has also endured.

Michael: ‘The Emperor of Ice-Cream’ by Stevens.  And it’s only fair to include Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’.  They do share first chair in the orchestra.

 

Paula: A performance or reading by another poet that has had an effect upon you.

Michael: Robert Frost reading on a number of occasions.  And I can’t forget a reading by e.e. cummings at the Poetry Y in NYC near the end of his life.  I’m not sure why, since he read in a very flat, slightly monotone style.  And must include Dylan Thomas, especially his ‘Child’s Christmas in Wales’.  And closer to home, the first time I heard Cilla McQueen read: one could hear that ‘Writing [poetry] is the painting of the voice’, in the original ‘L’écriture est la peinture de la voix’ (Voltaire).

 

Paula: A poetry epiphany in terms of your own writing.

Michael: When I realised, fairly early on in my music studies, that ‘Poetry is when words sing’. At the same time I was trying to impress the girl next door (literally), who played the piano and the flute, and who said she really liked poetry.  As it has turned out, ‘to tell love one must write’.

 

Paula: If you got to select a group of poets (dead or alive say) who could read at a festival with you – who would you pick?

Michael: Oh, and oh, here we go. Sir Thomas Wyatt (I can hear him so musically on the page); Emily Dickinson, if she could ever be enticed; Gertrude Stein; Henry Miller (the prose that is in poetry); Dylan Thomas (because he’s Dylan Thomas); Cilla McQueen; Michele Leggott, because she reads the words and not the ideas (that’s where the music is); Gerard Manley Hopkins, to hear the voice of ‘sprung rhythm’; Elizabeth Smither, such clarity; the late Christopher Middleton, English poet long resident in USA, and one of the foremost translators from the German (we did read together on a few occasions, and I learned a lot from him); Emma Neale (as poet) for the way she does ‘make words sing’, exemplary in the sound-and-sense converse; Joseph Brodsky (in Russian and English); Charles Simic, who always knows how to ‘say’ a poem; Robert Frost, who always ‘says’ his poem; Brian Turner, because you can hear that he has not only ‘thought’ his poems but has lived them…

 

Paula:  A poem of your own that has really sung for you.

Michael: A poem entitled ‘And yes’, a lyric, love poem (the heart poems are the hardest ones to write and they seem somehow to be inevitable sooner or later).

 

 

And, yes

 

Sometimes your touch

love’s homecoming is

Not to put too fine a call

on what heart knows

despite head’s long

success in all silly else;

that is, by ‘all flowers’

and these candles,

love’s invitations

you light up a parcel of dark,

the way your breasts

wear sunlight: the heart

has reasons reason

cannot know. The green

wild call of spring

that waits over the hill,

and here in love’s bed

wants me you to kiss

and all our trulys touch.

And that is the story

about yes: never trust

a god who does not dance.                        –

 

©Michael Harlow from Cassandra’s Daughter (Auckland University Press, 2005)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hoopla Poetry 2018 – Auckland book launch

 

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Mākaro Press, Elizabeth, Reihana & Jo invite you to celebrate the Auckland launch of the 2018 Hoopla poetry collections.

Come to the Women’s Bookshop on Saturday 3rd November from 5pm to hear some wonderful poetry from our 2018 poets, have a glass of wine and some nibbles.

Books will be available for purchase at the launch.

HOOPLA aims to entice people to buy and read poetry books through the quality of its poets, the attraction of a series with three books launching at once, vibrant design and the accessibility of a clear narrative or theme. We like strong work that steps onto the tightrope without hesitation and gives the performance of its life.

Hoopla series

 

 

Three poems from Peter Bland’s new collection

 

In the praise of the familiar …

 

like the same worn chair

that’s shaped

my body, the same

smooth cup that soothes

cracked lips, the same

old view through

the same stained window

of birds in the bird-bath

fighting for crumbs. It’s

wonderful knowing

what to expect, the way

night follows day

no matter what. I thrill

to the clatter

of what’s done and dusted

presenting itself

as eternally fresh.

 

 

Age

 

These are the years

of the lone park bench,

of empty harbours

and sunken ships. And yet

there’s a spaciousness

to this abandon

that keeps

insisting

it’s a sort of love. So

why should I fear

such a rich aloneness

when I’ve spent  lifetime

creating it for myself?

 

 

 

Now there can only be love poems

 

Now there can only be

love poems. All

those angry words

will, in the end,

have to let go

and live where only love

can live. Its got

something to do

with passing time

and earth’s deep silences

and your shy smile,

and everything we did

or didn’t do. But now

there can only be

love poems. There’s

no time for anything else.

 

©Peter Bland, from Voodoo  (Steele Roberts, 2018)

 

Peter Bland recently sent me his two latest poetry collections from Steele Roberts – Voodoo and The Happy Garden: New & Selected Poems for Children – and told me to use them anyway I liked on my blogs.  In his letter, Peter was concerned about the visibility of poetry in bookshops and review space. The NZ Book Council’s 2018 book reading survey  suggests we are definitely reading poetry but I wonder if we are buying it to the same degree? Our National Poetry Day suggests we have myriad poetry communities doing all manner of things with an explosion of small presses and journals matching the output of the university presses dedicated to poetry. Yet as much as I try, it is a real challenge keeping a finger on our local poetry pulse. Often a publication escapes my attention because I just don’t know of its existence.

So I am delighted to celebrate the arrival of two books from Peter Bland, one of our poetry elders.

I posted a poem from the children’s collection on Poetry Box (he is one of our best children’s poets) but I was hard pressed to pick just one from Voodoo. I wanted to post the whole book! The poems in the new collection exhibit the species of reflective state that often appears in old age and that produces fertile and thought-provoking poetry. Peter pares everything  back to the essential detail, an idea that lingers, a mood that governs an image, a recollection, a pulsating thing. Peter  has gifted us numerous much-loved poetry collections – this one is also a real treasure. The world slows down as you read, to the vital moment, the person and place that matters.

 

Steele Roberts page

Peter Bland talks to Karyn Hay about his two new collections

NZ Book council author page

 

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Emma Farry’s large-format Freedom Song

 

 

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Freedom Song is a large format, sumptuously produced book of poetry where the image carries as much impact as the text.   (Be Loved Press, August 2018)

Artist Ewan McDougall has produced bright paintings.

Emma Farry’s poem steps off from personal experience. She had worked on a television documentary that looked at poverty and violence in everyday lives. She has a background in the mind body spirit genre.

Joy Cowley has endorsed the book: ‘There is so much balm for the soul in this book and I hope many people find healing in Freedom Song. It’s a wonderful gift to the world.’

Think of this as a spiritual song to a better world, truth, good, harmony, peace. The paintings are glorious.

 

Emma Farry web site

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Bill Manhire’s ‘He Loved Her Lemonade Scones’

 

 

He Loved Her Lemonade Scones

 

They fell in love between the end of the footie season
and the start of shearing. Sheep gazed, bewildered.
The paddocks stretched up into the hills,
mostly scrub and a few old stands of bush.
‘Now listen here,’ he said, and that was it really.

 

 

 

 

 

 

©Bill Manhire

Bill Manhire’s most recent poetry collection is Some Things to Place in a Coffin. His new project with Norman Meehan, Bifröst, is now in the studio.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the hammock: reading Anne Kennedy’s The Ice Shelf

 

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The Ice Shelf, Anne Kennedy, Victoria University Press, 2018

cover by Ant Sang

 

my little reading response

Anne Kennedy has delivered a range of poetry and fiction unlike any other local writer; in its linguistic agility, keen intelligence, mesmerising characters, playful elements, local attachments, elsewhere roving and ultimate daring. Two poetry collections have won the New Zealand National Book Award for Poetry: Sing-Song (2004) and The Darling North (2013). Her previous novel, The Last Days of the National Costume, was shortlisted for the New Zealand National Book Award for Fiction in 2014. She was Writer in Residence at Victoria University in 2014.

Victoria University have just released Anne Kennedy’s latest novel, The Ice Shelf, and it is one of the best books I have read in ages. I don’t say that lightly.

The Ice Shelf is the story of Janice, a writer about to take up an arts fellowship in Antarctica after recently separating from her boyfriend. It is set on the eve of her departure, as she makes her way to the award presentation at the National Library in Wellington. The novel, in a most original and invigorating way, represents the life of Janice through a book-length montage of acknowledgements. She reflects back through childhood to adulthood, through searing challenges (heartbreaking!) and an unshakeable need to give thanks. Everything that has happened to Janice (and I have no intention of spoiling the unfolding edges of the narrative), in her view, makes her a better writer. If her life had been a bed of roses, her ability and determination to write would have been compromised.

This is the novel’s first breathtaking grip: the voice of Janice as she reflects back and negotiates the equally challenging present (she has nowhere to stay and a fridge to find a home for on a tempestuous night). The narrative comes together in the fragmented pieces of her telling, yet like viewing a mosaic that depends upon unity out of pieces, the narrative achieves glorious fluidity.

The second breathtaking grip is the way in which this is a novel of disintegration: as Janice moves through the storm-battered city with her fridge to the awards night, she keeps removing The Ice Shelf manuscript from the fridge, and abandoning chunks in a ruthless endeavour to pare back her novel. She is editing her own life, the life I read in my copy of the published novel, the life of disintegration: family, relationships, friendships, homes, her place within the writing world. Gut-punching stuff.

The third breathtaking grip is the way the montage of recollection and self-assessment occur within a fertile layering of the real. Wellington, a northern commune, flats, makeshift homes, all are searingly real. Janice’s separated parents are acutely rendered, achingly so. I was so caught in the scene of the novel’s making I could not sleep last night. I kept returning to locations and characters and situations.

The fourth breathtaking grip is the fact this is a novel about writing: about the drive to write, to be published, to be supported, to be recognised, to be reviewed and to be read. Anne traverses the writing world with a bright torch. We get to see the conflict and harmonies of a writing life within any number of writing communities. It is both funny and recognisable (not in individual people but in situations and yearnings).

The fifth breathtaking grip, perhaps the most gasp-worthy for me, is the counterpoint of emotion; this is a novel that is downright funny but that is equally tragic. I adored the humour that shapes Janice’s voice, an utterly original voice as she attempts to be glad in the face of all that is bad. But I was side-smacked by the sequence of sadnesses and difficulties that hide inside that humour. The life of both child and adult in Janice’s witty exposures made me weep. I cannot think of a book that has made me laugh and weep to such a degree.

The sixth breathtaking grip is the way this is a book of love: you might wonder how this can be when Janice is so much under threat, and has endured and suffered a lifetime of wrongs. But this is a book of love because Janice never yields to complete disintegration. Writing is a force that saves her along with an ability to rescue herself. It seems to me that Anne herself has written a book out of intense love: a love of family, the world, Wellington and above all writing. It is as though each sentence is steered by the heart of the author and thus becomes a novel of connection and insight a much as it is a novel of collapse.

 

I have written these brief musings on the back of scant sleep and a novel haunting because I want to celebrate its arrival in the world. I cannot think of a novel that is so rich in effect, so intricately crafted, so grounded in a real world with all its grit and glitter, so in debt to prodigious reading and thinking, so pertinent to the unstable world(s) we inhabit, so anchored and so humane. I just love it.

 

 

Victoria University Press page