Landfall 233 edited by David Eggleton
Last Sunday I was feeling travel worn, flat, depleted, sick and I could not settle on anything. The kind of day where you pick this up and put it down. You pick that and then this and then that and then this. And then find yourself back at the start again. It was only when I opened the new Landfall I found my self settling back and reading.
The 70th Birthday issue is terrific. It includes testimonies from Chris Price and Iain Sharp (both candid on the difficulties of editing a key literary journal), Philip Temple (on the controversial dismissal of Robin Dudding and efforts to revive the flagging enterprise) and Peter Simpson on Charles Brasch and Landfall. Simpson quotes Brasch musing on when to quit editing. He decided he must stop at 15 years – although it stretched to 20. He concluded:
‘I shall have nothing to live for, nothing I badly want to do, nothing I am forced to do in order to live …’
Sometimes I like to read a journal from first page to last page in order to follow the contours and harmonies of editing. This time it was pick n’ mix poetry. As I read I jotted down:
vibrant fresh vital diverse essential reading unfamiliar voices much-loved voices direct indirect
Adore the Art Portfolios by Chris Corson-Scott and Heather Straka.
Two prose pieces caught me eye first. Both surprising and stick like biddibids.
‘Last-ditch Daisies’ Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor
‘It’s All I Had’ Joanna Cho
Then the poetry:
‘Four Transformations on a theme of Philip’ by Anne Kennedy is like a return to her brother (1951 – 1973). Every time I pick the book up it falls open here and I read it again. The short lines shift patterns on the pages like little twitches of contemplation, memory, bright retrieved detail with indents, parentheses, fluency.
Catch me in the garden
and put me in a jar
the air where I was
in the palm of your hand
‘Morning Song’ by Emma Neale builds a loving grandfather portrait that weds sharp detail with war undertones spiky within a family’s daily life. It is sumptuous writing with things hiding off the edges.
Gramps stole eggs, green seeds of song, from their nests
to show us wonder; hairline cracks ran
our sooks’ hearts as we watched the robbed mothers fly home.
‘Mr Anderson, You Heartbreaker’ by Helen Rickerby teases and bites into Hans Christian Anderson and his depiction or wooing of women and harnesses Helen’s adult eyes on the Little Mermaid.
And really, if she’d just held onto her tongue
she could have sung him to her
reeled him in, drunk him down
one prince, on the rocks, coming up
‘Storm’ by Amanda Hunt is a glorious lyrical snapshot that slows down the pace of contemplation to the point each detail is under an enviable spotlight. ( I am reminded of how Janet Frame wanted to slow down the pace of her poems)
a butterfly flutter
of moth-soft feathers
glancing across my shoulder
‘Fear of Feathers’ by Michael Gould delivers a surprising passage through the lines to the final enticement ‘life is good.’
Some sounds of birds (unseen but heard)
may confound those with no sense of the absurd
‘Personal Space’ by Johanna Emeney refreshes the domestic poem beautifully and needs to be read in its completeness to catch the humour, the pathos, the politics, the poetry, the feeling. I am including the last stanza.
She should clear a space
beneath the sudden worry of crowded floors,
the scatter of feet; the shock of doors,
run downstairs and shut herself in
the last room at the bottom,
then spin, arms open,
to see just how wide
she has forgotten.
‘Inflammable’ by Anna Jackson is a poem that catches the dark and light of life and living beneath the flicker of candle light. It reminds me of the way a particular moment, against all the millions lost and faded, that is luminous on return.
The world was flammable we knew it was.
‘Art Is Weak’ by Nick Ascroft is smart and sharp and hooks you from the first line.
Conceptual art is not so empty sleeved
‘The Bee Elle’ by Lynley Edmeades curls and coils deliciously around a physical view and subterranean ideas.
Everyone is hooked up
to various elsewheres
as if our bodies don’t matter.
‘How a New Zealand Sunrise is Different from Other Sunrises’ by Erik Kennedy is like a landscape poem standing on its head and is thus invigorating to read (I am a landscape poem fan for all kinds of reasons).
Pinks and yellows collude to orange the hillside,
but they trick you into thinking the hills are proper orange
on their own, like an oyster catcher’s lurid bill
©Anne Kennedy, The Darling North, Anne Kennedy, Auckland University Press, 2012.
Bernadette Hall comments on the poem:
I first read these lines in 2012. Anne Kennedy’s book had just come out. I read the lines and I fell in love with them. I held onto the poem that held onto them as if it was a life-raft. Every time I read that poem, Hello Kitty, Goodbye Piccadilly, (and I read it often) I have the same feeling of home-coming. The thinking is within the same territory I’m fixated on: the tension between the dream places, the places of beginning, of origin, the places that arise from myth. And the materiality of here and now, the stuff that arises from star dust just as our world does and everything including us within it.
On the one hand there’s the ancient dreaming, the naming and the renaming of myth and ritual. Of religion and philosophy. The stuff of the mind, the soul and the imagination. The stuff of desire. And then there’s the solid ground beneath our feet. There’s a collision here surely. How are we to shape a language that it is capacious and mobile and courageous enough to handle collision and complexity?
It’s an ancient curiosity, this, to ask the existential questions : unde? whence? quo? whither? cur? why? Philosophers and theologians are the professionals. But so often their thinking has been disembodied. Maybe it was up to poets to explore the connective tissue between concrete and abstract, to make new alliances between thought and matter. The body, the mind, the heart, the soul. How serviceable the old language was. But how are we to reveal ourselves to ourselves today?
The framework of Hello KittyGoodbye Picadilly is the shift from New Zealand with its theatre of memories to Hawai’i. It’s a move north, away from the cold wind – ‘you wish you had gathered it up / and kept it in a suitcase’ – to a Pacific ‘Paradise’. The kind of place the French sailors with Marion du Fresne thought they’d found in Tahiti. But then they went on and found a Pacific ‘Hell’ when they landed in the Bay of Islands in 1772. (I’m fresh from reading Joanna Orwin’s marvellous novel ‘Collision’ that explores these things with spectacular success.)
What I love about the poem is that it arises out of uncertainty, out of questioning. Out of a sense of what’s missing.
There are those repeated lines, the repeated negatives : ‘I don’t have Hawai’iki’ ‘I don’t have Heaven’. Isn’t this the Socratic method, using negatives to slash away the debris and then see what’s left standing? ‘In Paradise you will sit for a long time / looking at everything as if for the first time / and you will understand.’ So we’re back to the very beginning, in need of language, in need of thinking. But then ‘You wonder in passing / about your body, its whereabouts’. And there’s the female body, the human body, the body, not as something corruptible but as an equal.
Maybe memory is the cache where everything holds together, where everything lasts:
Almost at the very end of the poem there’s a recounting of losses:
And my heart turns over. I guess these lines just get richer as I age. As the whole question of getting up and leaving the room becomes more present. How is this to be done?
There’s a scene in J. M Coetzee’s novel ‘ Elizabeth Costello’ where the aged academic finds herself at the gates of what we might call heaven. She has to face judges there, she has to answer difficult questions. Her life as a writer, a life spent of making up things, is under scrutiny.
‘Is childhood on the Dulgannon another of your stories, Mrs Costello? Along with the frogs and the rain from heaven?’
‘The river exists. The frogs exist. I exist. What more do you want?’
The final move in the poem is from loss to uplift. Once again it’s repetition that’s the key turning in the lock, multiplying the ways to enter the text:
I love this kind of thing. The depth and the nourishment I find here. The way Anne Kennedy’s writing, like that of Coetzee, opens up new rooms in my head and in my heart.
Bernadette Hall lives at Amberley Beach in the Hurunui, North Canterbury. She has published 10 collections of poetry, the most recent being Life & Customs VUP 2013 and Maukatere, floating mountain, Seraph Press, 2016. The latter includes drawings by the Wellington artist, Rachel O’Neill. In 2015, Bernadette received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry. And in 2017, she was invested as a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her Services to Literature.
Photo credit: MW Sellwood
You know that the year is settling into its groove when Tuesday nights are again occupied with a trip to the Thirsty Dog for Poetry Live. The first session for the year was held on the 7th of February, with Anne Kennedy as the featured poet.
Anne has recently returned to Auckland from her year as Writer in Residence at Victoria University, to resume her teaching position at Manukau Institute of Technology’s creative writing programme.
Anne’s poems through the night were in turn political, and personal, and always wrapped in her wry humour. Her stage presence was somehow ethereal, and compelling. (Okay, I know, I’m fan-girling, but it really was that good!) She began by dedicating her first poem to the group of Indian students currently facing deportation from New Zealand due to their association with immigration fraud. She touched on Trumpism and its seed stock from observations during her Hawaiian years, with her sonnets.
on the rim of the glass is the sun going down
There were familiar favourites, such as ‘Island Bay has a new sea wall’, but we were also privileged with new material; Anne read from a series ‘Transformations’, based on a poem by her late brother. Her final poem was by fellow MIT lecturer Tusiata Avia, published in Ika 3, ‘We are the diasporas of all of us’.
The scene was set for the evening by the raw blues of MW Sellwood. Finally, the Poetry Live team announced the appointment of Sophie Proctor, to fill the vacant MC spot.
Come one, come all, to our opening night of the year!
GUEST POET: ANNE KENNEDY
Anne Kennedy is a poet, novelist and screenwriter. Her awards include the NZ Post Book Award for Poetry for Sing-song and the Montana New Zealand Book Award for Poetry for The Darling North. Her novel, The Last Days of the National Costume, was shortlisted for the NZ Post Book Award for Fiction in 2014. In 2016 Anne was Writer in Residence at IIML, Victoria University of Wellington. She teaches fiction and screenwriting at Manukau Institute of Technology.
GUEST MUSICIAN: MW SELLWOOD
MW Sellwood is an up-and-coming Auckland blues artist from the city’s thriving underground music scene. Equally at home performing tunes on stage or a street corner, his groovy electric guitar riffs and playful vocals combine for a fresh take on Blues music in the new millennium!
POETRY OPEN MIC
Island Bay has a new sea wall
The old sea wall was so grey
The new sea wall is so grey
The old sea wall was heavy as plutonium
The new sea wall is warm under my hand
Boats in the bay were from a painting
Boats in the bay wiggle their hips,
white and nerdy
Old sea wall
New sea wall
Old sea wall met the sea like a fist bump.
Hello! Why, hello.
New sea wall fits with the sea
like lovers spooning
on and off
The old sea wall was a statue of a wall
The air trembles with sand and salt and light
There was the storm, the ravage, the pieces
Old sea wall was so Marguerite Duras
New sea wall is so Marguerite Duras
Old sea wall
New sea wall
Was curved like a public bar and Italian
fishermen leaned on it smoking
looking out to sea
New sea wall is so straight
glittering in the sun
Old sea wall was so wall
New sea wall is so new
After the storm the city council wanted
no wall at all!
Because all things
Old sea wall was so sea levels
New sea wall is so sea levels
The pieces, the people, the fight
Old sea wall was so gonesville
New sea wall is so concrete
so warm and gritty
island and sea
This is a terrific interview (interviewed by Evangeline Riddiford Graham and Elizabeth Baikie) from Anne Kennedy as her Residency at Victoria University draws to a close.
Full interview here.
In this place, at this time, what are you reading?
I’ve just finished Helene Wong’s memoir, Being Chinese, which is a beautiful and moving book. I felt ashamed and inspired at once reading about the racism that was dealt to the Chinese community here, and how despite that they just got on with it. I’ve been reading what I bring home from Wellington book launches: Nick Ascroft’s Back With the Human Condition, hilarious and serious poetry, a good combination; Sarah Laing’s Mansfield and Me which I binge-read one weekend and then found myself with a Laing-like running commentary in my head. Lee Posna’s riveting Arboretum. I’m reading a novel by Susanna Moore, Sleeping Beauties, which interests me because it’s set in Hawai`i.
Some favourite quotes:
‘Writing is in defiance of the material world even though it’s often a representation of it.’