Tag Archives: Amy Brown

Poetry Shelf connections: Amy Brown’s ‘If we’re lucky we have time’

 

If we’re lucky we have time

 

to divide batter into bowls and drop a different colour into each, then tip the mixtures

into a tin and use a knife to drag pink through blue and yellow through green knowing

in this, at least, there’s no getting it wrong

 

to lie on the driveway, arms angelic, and be tickled with chalk tracing our edges

 

to say, This is how big you are – enormous! – look at how much space is yours

 

to adopt kittens and not be annoyed when they pad across our faces overnight because

really we aren’t sleeping

 

to read little and slowly, attention brittle and bracketed

 

to turn the spare bedroom into a quarantine zone for when he comes home

from the COVID ward with symptoms and should no longer touch us

 

to count the hairs that come away between my fingers

 

to order three plain grey T-shirts because the world has sold out of scrubs

 

to answer teenagers’ emails which begin, As you know these are uncertain times and

I’m truly sorry I haven’t submitted my essay yet, and end, I hope you don’t get sick

 

to hear fear in his language that reminds me of his dearness

 

to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or The Barrel as our hands turn into volcanoes –

Look at my lava!

 

to spray all the handles with Ajax and feel like an Ancient Greek propitiating Apollo

to ward off the plague

 

to find glitter on my cheek three months after New Year’s Eve

 

to smile at the three-year-old announcing, The kitten’s pooing in her glitter tray again

 

to imagine holding a social proximity party at which everyone must be within 1.5 metres

of more than one other person

 

to consider how to get our wills witnessed from a safe distance

 

to listen to a kids’ podcast about why leaves fall off trees; when the days get too dark it is

right to let go of what allows you to grow

 

to decide

 

to hibernate

 

 

 

Amy Brown

 

 

Amy Brown is a poet, novelist and teacher. In 2012 she completed a PhD in creative writing at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of The Propoganda Girl (VUP, 2018), which was shortlisted in the 2009 NZ Book Awards, and The Odour of Sanctity (VUP, 2013), a contemporary epic poem. She is also the author of Pony Tales, a series of children’s novels. Amy’s most recent collection, neon daze, was published by Victoria University Press in 2019.

 

My review of neon daze

The Spin Off – ‘Turning on the Light Ladder: Amy Brown on motherhood and writing neon daze

Radio NZ – Harry Ricketts reviews neon daze

Poetry Shelf – excerpt from neon daze

Victoria University Press author page

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf summer reading: Amy Brown’s neon daze

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neon daze, Amy Brown, Victoria University Press, 2019

 

 

 

The title of Amy Brown’s new collection neon daze hooked me. Having published extracts from the book on the blog, I knew the collection came out of motherhood. I mused on the way you can be caught in a blazing daze as you invent your own mother role. How moments can also gleam with light, the miracle of a newborn baby you are responsible for. Not everyone chooses or can be mothers and there is no standardised mothering role. Thanks heavens. Women have written mother poems for centuries despite denigration from men. I came across the denigration in my Wild Honey travels, but I also came across a rich harvest of mother poems that shed light on the multiplicity of experience, experience that shaped the way poems were written as well as the content. I also encountered relentless doubt – doubt about whether what women were writing could be claimed as poetry when it retained a domestic or maternal focus.

I still encounter this!

At the Poetry & Essay conference in Wellington (2017), I sat with Amy, Joan Fleming and Brian Blanchfield over lunch and we talked about how being a mother does not shut down the option of being a poet, of being a published poet, of being read and valued. And most importantly, about the significance of publishing poems about motherhood, about sons and daughters and domestic matters.

Amy’s glorious evocation of motherhood tests how poems form on the page. neon daze raises questions about both writing and mothering and resists turning away from the difficult, the intensely private. There is a sense of inquiry, contemplation and play, along with the doubt and constrained time. Amy discusses the genesis of the title – she had ‘Neonatal’ to being with and then began playing:

 

(…) Too clinical to be appropriate now,

I play with the cursor, like the baby plays with the

nipple when he wants comfort rather than food.

I keep Neon: a bright, new, elemental word

like a swipe of highlighter over these days

in the calendar. I add Days, then change it

to Daze. This is where I am, in a floodlit

stupor, so bright I can barely see, like in Dante’s

Paradise, shadowless knowledge so pure it’s empty.

 

from ‘9 October 2016’

 

Amy admitted she told people she was writing even when she privately thought ‘this writing didn’t count’. She kept a verse journal for three months after her baby was born – subsequently editing and adding footnotes which pick up on a word or idea prompted by the poem.  The footnote titles track a mind musing, raising questions, allowing doubt to surface and resettle. They are like an infinitive-verb poem:

to admit, to edit, to push, to sate, to repeat, to define, to expect, to hallucinate, to dream, to dance, to address, to winter, to resolve , to heal, to regret, to visit, to abstract, to doubt, to donate, to sever, to touch, to cringe, to name, to eat, to earn, to permit, to wake, to care, to wean, to wave, to finish

The footnotes ( I want to call them something else) form their own vital presence, not as asides, but as a sequence of numbered prose pieces that enervate the poetry.

I cross the bridges between poems and prose. Sometimes I make a clearing for the poem and surround it with silent beats like the white space on the page. Sometimes I dwell on the pirouetting trains of thought in the prose and let the questions gain momentum. I am particularly interested in Amy’s double self-exposure in both poetry and prose. The writing is called into question. Is it poetry? Is it poetry of value? Does it make a difference that the writer is a woman? A mother? What lines are crossed? What lines are tested?

I am affected by this collection because it draws me deep into the challenges of writing and motherhood. How can I write when I am so depleted? How can I write anything of worth? I still feel this.

The poetry exposes both physical and emotional realities. At times it underlines the relentless day-in-day-out routines that both exhaust and provide uplift, while at other times the poetry holds a scene (still, luminous) for us to absorb. This is a personal record of mothering: of baby stages, breastfeeding, a need to avoid baby bragging, to settle baby to sleep, to listen to baby coos and baby cries. This is a personal record of climbing to the rock summit, behind baby and father, like a baby mountain goat up the less than easy walk. The poem reverberates with feeling (sharp, understated, complicated)

 

(…) I have seen you fall, your father replies.

And I think it has something too do with you thinking

you are a mountain goat. The words are said tensely

as he holds his left arm around you and balances

with his right palm against a rock. The sky is

granite too – shimmering, hard and slick.

 

from ’16 0ctober 2016′

 

For me neon daze satisfies on so many levels. Lines spring out with musical and visual agility. Scenes shimmer with a sensual underlay. The poetry is fluent, intricate, detail-rich. A question could stall me all day such as the thorny issue of writing the lives of others; of making public what is intimate and private. Amy admitted when she was younger she ‘had no qualms / about giving air and light to what now / seems better off private’. But now she is more inclined to keep secrets yet is compelled still ‘to expose private parts of life’. She claims: ‘now I see that even if it is just / me on display, there is still a problem: / I no longer own myself’. After Amy heard Jenny Bornholdt read a poem about the death of her father and her friend Nigel Cox at the Poetry & Essay conference she asked Jenny a question:

 

During the reading, Jenny invited questions, so I asked about the responsibility of writing about loved ones – Where I asked, do you draw a line? I don’t, she replied, firm and gentle at once. I don’t draw a line.

 

from ’26 To Permit’

 

Ah, this is a question pertinent to the making of neon daze. But the strongest presence is the mother poet, the poet mother. I am drawn into her world, her challenges, her delights, her epiphanies. She has placed herself on show but she had to think equally hard about putting her son and husband in the poetry frame. This questioning of the line Amy may or may not cross, and the various revelations she makes that place family and friends in good and bad lights, affected me as I read. How to write those closest to us?

I love this book. I love navigating the alleys and the undergrowth. I love coming across the hard stuff and then falling into a piquant scene. The mother rests on the sofa with her baby sleeping and watches the men in the garden working. This exquisite juxtaposition of stillness and movement is heightened by the poet’s movement of thought. She meanders from clods of earth and labour to dreams of the future, of what may or may not be. It enters me like the wind. I am replete with the movement of this book. Grateful this book exists.

 

What if, I wondered, looking at Alison Lester’s illustrations

of things parents want to give their child – a cosy bedroom

with a view of a tree full of wattlebirds; a garden rippling

with tulips and roses; a perfectly weeded vegetable patch

with benign insects for a child to discover; friendly cats,

dogs and horses; a rock pool full of rainbow-coloured fish;

a kaola above us in a tree; a woollen blanket and a steaming

mug of tea at the fireside. What if we never have a garden?

Or pets. or perfect holidays. At least he will know

that we wished such pleasures would be his. This book

is a petitionary prayer of sorts, and I realise now

that the answer to these requests is here, dilapidated

and overgrown and snake-infested, but here.

 

from ‘8 October 2016’

 

 

 

Amy Brown is a poet, novelist and teacher. In 2012 she completed a PhD in creative writing at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of The Propoganda Girl (VUP, 2018), which was shortlisted in the 2009 NZ Book Awards, and The Odour of Sanctity (VUP, 2013), a contemporary epic poem. She is also the author of Pony Tales, a series of children’s novels.

 

The Spin Off – ‘Turning on the Light Ladder: Amy Brown on motherhood and writing neon daze

Radio NZ – Harry Ricketts reviews neon daze

Poetry Shelf – excerpt from neon daze

Victoria University Press author page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: from Amy Brown’s Neon Daze

Excerpt from Neon Daze

 

8th December 2016

 

A friend warned me months ago

that my baby would start to smell

of other people – perfumes, creams,

colognes, sweat – your baby’s head

will press against strangers’ throats

and décolletage, held close and warm.

Sure enough I recognised the musky,

woody scent of our family friend in his hair

and skin yesterday long after she’d left.

Babies are olfactory creatures, happiest

emanating their own or their parents’

odour. We squirt Johnson’s shampoo

under the running tap for the manuka

sweetness it leaves behind his ears.

Now, he is strapped against me and

I am afraid the sunscreen on my chest

will distract from the baked tussock,

sandy fragrance fresh and familiar

as a wave [1], blue and white as the baby’s

eyes. We walk along Ocean Beach towards

Cape Kidnappers, which is only ever a haze

of coast in the distance, past macrocarpas,

painted black in the Dick Frizzell print

on my parents’ bedroom wall. We walk and

the baby’s sleeping cheek sticks to my skin.

 

—————————————————

 

[1] To Wave

To move to and fro, from the Old Norse vagr meaning billowing water. Waves, Robin, look! I told him today, both of us squinting into the glare of the mid-morning horizon, paddling along the edge of the Bass Strait. His right hand lifted and twisted back and forth, to and fro at the breakers.

I am wavering between then and now. This is our third time at Skene’s Creek. The first was the first weekend away with my partner – my first conventional weekend away with any partner. He booked a cabin whose view from the bedroom window was dense and private with eucalypts and which was all sea and sky from the balcony, where I sat typing away at my thesis with a beer while he barbecued us fresh fish. I had about $36 in my bank account then and was both luxuriating in and anxious about the incongruity of this experience. In the spa bath we sucked each other’s toes and played lavishly with the jets. The photos I took were all of us – our feet the same size and sandy, only distinguishable by my red nail polish; him on the swing, a joyful blur of beard and beer.

The second time we came to this beach we stayed at the same cabin, but the weather was miserable. I photographed the food we made and the special bottle of wine we drank and my partner’s back as he walked away from me in his red jacket along the deserted beach. We brought our yoga mats and held postures together while rain hung white in the trees, obscuring the sea. I had just got my period for the twelfth time of hoping it wouldn’t come and was allowing myself to drink the wine, which tasted of nothing. We still didn’t know why I wasn’t getting pregnant, or how to fix it, or how lucky we would be when the weeks of injections started.

This time we are staying in a family’s beach house. I move the bowls of shells and driftwood ornaments to higher ground. My partner blocks the steps from the deck to the wild garden with three chairs. We coax our toddler to not use the length of timber dowel locking the sliding door in place to drum on the glass coffee table. We find empty snail shells, stones of all varieties and point at the sulphur-yellow underside of the wings of the cockatoos, which shriek en masse as they fly. I photograph the baby in the hammock, the baby in the sea, the baby scooping sand into his bucket; his face is always behind a broad-brimmed sunhat patterned with leaves. After seven, when Robin is asleep, we play quiet games of Scrabble and Monopoly at the outdoor table, drinking wine and eating chocolate to keep warm. On every visit I’ve forgotten how cold the beach gets at night and pack inadequately. This time I bring socks but no shoes, and many T-shirts but no heavy jersey. Like an eighteen-month-old I wear socks and sandals and eccentric layers. To warm up after swimming in the sea, we all shower together. I show Robin how I wash my face by closing my eyes and dipping my head under the stream. Nick demonstrates how he washes his face, carefully with a flannel. We both applaud when Robin’s wet eyelashes open and he smiles.

 

 

 

 

9th December 2016

 

There are creases in the back

of my father’s tanned neck, like

Hemingway’s old man. He spends

two hours longer than usual out

in his boat, trying to catch enough

kahawai for our dinner. It is filleted,

barbecued and served with a Persian

marinade from a cookbook I gave

my mother two Christmases ago.

The recipe calls for dried rose petals.

She laid them out in the sun (and

later microwave, to speed the process)

herself, picked from her own garden.

She lets the baby take handfuls

of petals off the aging bunch in

the dining room. He scatters them

romantically across the floorboards.

Later, I find one still clutched, bruised

perfumed and bright as blood in his fist.

 

Amy Brown

 

 

Amy Brown lives in Melbourne, where she teaches literature and philosophy. Her first poetry collection, The Propaganda Poster Girl (Victoria University Press, 2008), was shortlisted for a Montana New Zealand Book Award in 2009. Her next work of poetry, The Odour of Sanctity (Victoria University Press, 2013) was the creative component of a PhD on contemporary epic poetry. Her next book, Neon Daze, will be released by Victoria University Press in 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Amy Brown reads 13th August 2016

 

 

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The image is by Auckland artist, Peter Gouge, who drew it for Amy’s son Robin.

 

 

’13th August 2016′  is the first entry in what I’m calling Neon Daze: a verse journal of the first four months,

 

Amy Brown grew up in Hawkes Bay and now lives in Melbourne, where she teaches Literature and Philosophy. Her last book, The Odour of Sanctity, was published by VUP in 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The NZ edition of Poetry

 

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I know I find it hard to listen.

I read too much. I often need a drink.

It isn’t the world that makes us think,

it’s words that we can’t come up with.

Sure, I can work up fresh examples

and send them off to the committee.

But the poetry is in the bird. And in the pretty.

 

Bill Manhire, from ‘Polly’

 

International poetry traffic is so often dependent upon fortuitous connections. The degree of familiarity with poetry from elsewhere is utterly paltry compared with the degree of familiarity I have with local writing. Yes I have studied American and British poetry but I am more aware of the luminous stars in these poetry constellations than the grassroot outings.

On the other hand, we are no longer dependent upon ocean voyages and the constraints of distance, but to what degree does our poetry travel (compared say with fiction)? Or our poetry conversations extend beyond our lapping tidelines.

I am acutely aware of my impoverished relations with contemporary Australian poetry. Perhaps Joan Fleming and Amy Brown could guest edit a local journal with an Australian focus? But then again our journals are often annual and offer vital but scant opportunities for local poets.

This is not the first time an overseas journal has showcased New Zealand poetry, but it is perhaps the example I am most excited by. The editors – Stephanie Burt (USA), Paul Millar (NZ) and Chris Price (NZ) – have worked hard to present a distinctive and diverse overview of our current poetry. The selected poets cross all manner of borders: age, geographical location, style, university affiliation, gender, ethnicity. This matters if we want to move beyond the legacy of white male predomination, urban bias and privileged poetry models. I cannot name a NZ journal that has achieved such movement.

Yes the five books Daisy Fried reviewed – from the fifteen 2017 publications she was sent – were all Victoria University Press. Her selection certainly does not reflect the contours of that year, and we can all stand on the sidelines and shout (or sing) about the books we loved, but I have no issue with reviews reflecting individual taste. However I do take issue that a short intro and five VUP books can respond to her opening question: ‘How to characterise a national poetry?’ Why would you even try! It is a personal take on five excellent books.

The rest of the journal is an altogether different joy. The effect of reading is symphonic in the different hues and chords. Every single poem lifts off the page and catches both ear and eye. Such freshness, such lightness, darkness, musicality, room to breathe, surprising arcs and links and undercurrents. I keep swaying between Anna Jackson’s glorious bee poem and the flickering titles that coalesce in Nina Powles’s offering or the infectious wit of James Brown, Ashleigh Young and Tim Upperton.  I am pulled into the bite of Anahera Gildea, Chris Tse and then Tayi Tibble and stop in the tracks of reading. Travelling with Janet Charman and the revelatory suite makes me weep. Switching to Anne Kennedy and the momentum coils and overlaps and poetry transforms a starting point into elasticity on the line. Bill Manhire flips me over into the second stanza, and the lacework of reading – intricate yet full of holes – offers mystery, surprise, wit, curious things.

 

The time of breathing into clasped hands

hovering over a lighter to make a flame

 

not knowing

that an angry man threw his eyes into the night

 

the belly of his shattered father

weeping rain for separation of earth and sky

 

Jessie Puru from ‘Matariki’

 

 

The editors did not feel beholden to poetry that targets versions of New Zealand/ Aotearoa; our poetry might do this and then again it might not. The poems have the freedom to do and be anything whether they spring from spoken-word rhythms or  talkiness or thinginess or anecdotal revelations or sumptuous Baroque-detail or story or slanted humour or cutting political edges.

The poets: Anna Jackson, Kate Camp, Michele Leggott, Therese Lloyd, Jessie Puru, Essa Ranapiri, Tayi Tibble, Robert Sullivan, Kerrin P. Sharpe, Hera Lindsay Bird, Dylan Horrocks, James Brown, Murray Edmond, Jenny Bornholdt, Anne Kennedy, Bill Manhire, Nina Powles, Janet Charman, Anahera Gildea, Bernadette Hall, Vincent O’Sullivan, Courtney Sina Meredith, C.K. Stead, Chris Tse, Tim Upperton, Gregory O’Brien and John Pule, Faith Wilson, Ashleigh Young, Albert Wendt, Steven Toussaint, Erik Kennedy

This issue is a cause for celebration – I absolutely love it – and my celebration will take  the form of a subscription. New Zealand poetry has been well served – congratulations!

 

Poetry here

 

everything I never asked my grandmother

I can understand but I can’t speak

no one has played that piano since

New Zealand is so far away from here

let me translate for you the poem on the wall

 

Nina Powles from ‘Some titles for my childhood memoir’

Amy Brown’s Ekphrasis Lessons – this is really useful

Amy Brown has provided an easy, approachable introduction to ekphrasis for students, teachers and anyone who wants to do some creative writing but isn’t sure where to start.

The project was supported by the Ian Potter Museum of Art – all the images come from their wonderful Grimwade ‘Miegunyah’ Collection.

Here’s the link.

Eleanor Catton’s Horoeka/ Lancewood Reading Grant kicks off with a fabulous essay by Amy Brown

‘The conditions, in the wake of this reading, are ideal for beginning to cultivate my own barren planet, to write my new poem, and for that I am very grateful.’      Amy Brown 2015

 

 

Eleanor Catton on the grant she has established and to date funded (contributions are welcome!):

‘I established the Horoeka / Lancewood Reading Grant to give New Zealand writers the means and opportunity not to write, but to read, and to share what they have read with their colleagues in the arts.

I hope that this endeavour will challenge our tendency to measure the value of art in the proof of artistic production and productivity, and that it will restore value to the crucial but in many ways unquantifiable activity of reading. Most of all, however, I hope that the grant will encourage free and curious discussion about books.

Each grant is worth NZD$2000, with half awarded at the beginning of the reading period, and half at the end, whereupon the recipient submits a short essay that discusses what they have read and what they thought about it. These essays are then published on this site along with a bibliography.’

For the rest of her statement see here.

The inaugural recipient of this timely project is Amy Brown whose debut poetry collection, The Odour of Sanctity, was published in 2013. She teaches at the University of Melbourne where she was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing.

‘Cultivating the Barren Planet’ by Amy Brown

  • ‘For the last year or so, I have been drawn to news items such as:

    The Country Fire Authority implores residents in rural areas to make Fire Plans so that when it becomes imperative to leave their homes the temptation to stay may be over-ruled by a rational list of instructions.

    Asylum seekers intercepted in Australian waters are being stripped of their personal effects — hearing aids, spectacles, prosthetic limbs and medication — on arrival at detention centres.

    Hundreds of Mars One applicants are hoping to participate in a small Dutch not-for-profit organisation’s plan to send four civilians on a one-way mission to Mars in 2026.

    These stories have struck me, I believe, because I’ve been interpreting them as extreme extensions of my own expatriate situation. In 2014, I applied for permanent residency in Australia, married an Australian, and so began legally relinquishing New Zealand as my home. My country of birth was not being consumed by fire tornadoes or bombed to pieces; I was not fleeing anything. Nor was I choosing to fly for seven months to a planet whose atmosphere could not support my life. However, these news stories gave me a new, oblique angle from which to question when and why I felt ‘at home’ in Australia, how that affected my connection to New Zealand, and, generally, what it means to belong to a place.’

You can read the rest of her essay here.

Current recipients include Craig Cliff, Alex Lodge, Rosabel Tan and Alex Mitcalf Wilson.