Tag Archives: Anne Kennedy

Poetry Shelf fascinations: Anne Kennedy’s Moth Hour

 

 

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Anne Kennedy, Moth Hour, Auckland University Press, 2019

 

1.

 

The thing in the jar

always dies!

The rice cooker steams

so the sun goes down

Deep in the house

sepia gathers

The pencil has eaten

the fragile book

 

from ‘Thirty-Three Transformations on a Theme of Philip’

 

 

 

I first read Anne Kennedy’s new collection Moth Hour as a piece of music that traces the contours of grief. Words form little melodies, solo instruments sound out, there is echo, overlap, loop and patterning. Above all there is a syncopated beat that leaves room for breath, an intake of pain, an out-sigh of grief, an intake of observation, an out-breath of recognition. There is the fragile word-dance to the light.

Moth Hour responds to a family tragedy; in 1973, at the age of twenty-two, Anne’s brother, Philip, accidentally fell to his death. Anne, her seven siblings (she was the youngest and aged fourteen) and parents now lived with unbearable grief and loss, separately, diversely, as a family.

The book is in three parts: the long sequence ‘Thirty-Three Transformations on a Theme of Philip’,  a coda poem ‘The Thé’ and an essay (‘Pattern/Chaos: Afterword’).

Over time Anne had read Philip’s book collection (think a 1970s gathering of books ) along with his poetry. She begins Moth Hour with one of his poems, an affecting piece that forms both the bony skeleton of her book and a fragile yet insistent pattern of echos. A voice calling out over the crevice, a voice that keeps returning. In Philip’s poem a speaker imagines being caught by a child and placed in a jar on a windowsill along with edible leaves, The Book of Tea, paper and a pen. The power of imagination is evoked.

These elements keep returning and if there is syncopation, a form of stutter, a difficulty of transmission, of speaking and retrieving, there is also fluency. The way both music and poetry can pull you into an utterly absorbing connective movement.

 

The second time I read Moth Hour I listened to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Thirty-Three Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli because Anne had listened to this as she wrote the book. She had first listened to it over and over after Philip’s death.

 

 

Catch me little child and put me in a jar.

Ajar is small and a view of everything.

Hopefully we will always want and want for nothing.

Shall I seize you? Yes, I mean no. Please seizure.

We will live in a jar.

I will live in a jar. And the jar is a house.

Place inside a place inside.

That is how we will look out. Look out.

I am being very straight with you.

Look no hands.

In the language.

 

from ’19’ Thirty-Three Transformations on a theme of Philip’

 

 

The poetic fluency of Moth Hour carries so much in its momentum. There are detailed locations: a Wellington family home, the contemporary Auckland of the poet. Signs of the times (the 1970s). Surreal intrusions. Politics (again think the 1970s). There are contrasts: new / dead / breath; some / any. There are the rebounding questions. Ideas, feelings, words waver as though nothing can be fixed and certain. Such movement evokes a sense of linguistic play but it also performs the difficulty of the subject matter. Death is impossible to pin down. Grief equally so.

Such a symphonic effect means the reader participates in dis-equilibrium – the unease of unknowing along with the whoosh of connection.

If there are no air holes in the jar we cannot breathe but this book is all about breath. Breath is life sustaining and freedom. And yet this breath, this sustained breath of writing and recall, comes in gasps and puffs.

The second poem, ‘The thé’, reflects the concerns of the first  – the reverberating motifs appear in a present tense of grief and observation – but now the short lines float apart on the page. A pattern of drift; the white space fractured like hicccupy breaths. Yet each line (melody) offers a moment of certainty. I am back to the music pooling inside me.

 

The poem burns off an hour.

We walk along the street many times.

The street is practice for death.

The chairs are aching in and out.

He staggers to his feet.

The the is ready to go through.

Ritual finally occupies the body.

Thoughts burst the shelter of the room.

The people swarm into the streets.

 

from ‘The Thé’

 

Like a mesmerising, lung-like piece of music, Moth Hour is a book of return-listening. Every time you place the poetry on the turntable of your reading you will hear something different. It blisters your skin. It touches you. But above all Moth Hour fills you with the variation and joy of what a lithe poet can do.

 

 

 

Anne Kennedy is a writer of fiction, film scripts and poetry. Her debut poetry collection Sing-song was named Poetry Book of the Year at the 2004 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. The Time of the Giants was shortlisted for the same award in 2006, and The Darling North won the 2013 NZ Post Book Award for Poetry. Her novles include The Last Days of the National Costume, shortlisted for the NZ Post Book Award for Fiction in 2014, and The ice Shelf was longlisted in the 2019 Ockham NZ Book Awards. She lives in Auckland.

Auckland University Press author page

 

 

 

 

Going West 2019: chickens and a fresh wild wind

 

 

I love the hens in the autumn.

They’re beautiful.

I couldn’t imagine my life without them.

They’re everything to me.

 

Ashleigh Young, from ‘Everything’ in How I Get Ready (VUP, 2019)

 

Going West 2019 is not over yet – but the weekend that brings writers and readers together in a warm bush setting is! Mark Easterbrook, the festival’s creative director, tweeted that every one was tweeting about chickens and not ideas – and here I am  wondering how many chickens will make their way into poems. Co-incidentally I finished my Wild Honey session by reading Ashleigh Young’s heavenly poem where chickens are much loved.

Actually when I arrived I switched my car off and thought it must need a new engine as my car sounded like a chicken! I panicked then saw the hen under the car. We all have our hen stories.

But yes the weekend was rich in kōrero, stories, poetry, conversations, connections. Listening to Apirana Taylor perform his poetry, Elizabeth Knox’s terrific oration on Friday night (I felt I was eavesdropping on the train!) and then talk about The Absolute Book with Dylan Horrocks the next day, (oh jumped to the top of my novel pile!) and Witi Ihimaera discussing his new memoir Native Son and seeking forgiveness from his younger self – was breathtakingly good. Restorative.

I loved hearing Vana Manasiadis read from The Grief Almanac. The writers in the museum session were a fresh wild wind blasting through my body reactivating skin and bones and I just adored them: Saraid de Silva Cameron, To’asavili Tuputala, Louise Tu’u, Lucy Zee.

And it was pretty special to sit on stage with Kiri Piahana-Wong and Anne Kennedy, talk about women’s poetry in Aoteaora and hear them read poems by other women.

I missed The Bellbirds on Friday night because I was so tired and had to drive back to Te Henga in the treacherous weather and got lost in the dark driving like an accident-prone snail and found myself driving up a narrow mountainous road ( I have never got lost coming back from GW) with nowhere to turn around and my heart beating wildly. I was on Mountain Road! I took me so long to get home I should have stayed for the Bellbirds. Fergus said they were gorgeous. Everyone was singing their praises. Ah!

This is always a family-like festival – relaxed, warm, empathetic, community building. Things were a little different this year – the seats arranged differently making audience flow easier, the food breaks were different but offered equally delicious fare, and pleasingly some sessions lasted an hour – but whatever changes were made the festival essence makes it a must-attend experience for me. Maybe with a bit more poetry! I was pleased to see many of the visiting authors listen to other sessions – I was disappointed to see so few Auckland writers in the audience. I find the support of writing communities so different in other cities. Ah – but the hall was full, and readers and writers got talking.

Thanks Going West team!

I loved this weekend. I just loved it.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anne Kennedy’s launch: The Ice Shelf

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

 

 

Richard von Sturmer launched Anne Kennedy’s new novel, The Ice Shelf, with a terrific speech. He had devoured a large chunk of the book then stopped because he was drawn to find the right place to finish it. He ended up in an elsewhere motel named Cicada, in  Kihikihi, a small town near Te Awamutu.

The readings of the book, both comic and serious, meant  today I can’t settle to anything else. I just want to open up the book and get reading.

Lovely to see The Women’s Bookshop packed with local writers and readers along with publisher Fergus Barrowman – as Richard said the book resembles an iceberg that has floated off into the world and will perhaps melt in our imaginations. Such an image matches the spectacular cover by Ant Sang and the spectacular presence of Antarctica – with its implications of silence, beauty, threat. I drifted off from the details of the book because there is nothing better than launching into a book from the spark of a cover and the pivot of a title. Into the exhilarating blast of the unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Launch for Anne Kennedy’s The Ice Shelf

 

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Victoria University Press & The Women’s Bookshop
warmly invite you to the launch of

The Ice Shelf
by Anne Kennedy

Tuesday 16 October,
6pm for a 6.30pm start
at The Women’s Bookshop,
105 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby, Auckland.

The Ice Shelf will be launched by Richard von Sturmer.

About The Ice Shelf, p/b, $30

Launch: Anne Kennedy’s The Ice Shelf

 

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Anne Kennedy with Carole Beu

Tuesday October 16th, 6 pm – 7.30pm
The Women’s Bookshop, 105 Ponsonby Road, Auckland
Please join us for the launch of Anne Kennedy’s novel The Ice Shelf (Victoria University Press) – a satirical look at love, life, writing and winning awards. Anne, an award winning poet, has just released her second novel – hear her read from and talk about the ideas behind this amusing story. All welcome.
see here

Monday Poem: Anne Kennedy’s ‘One of My Baxter Poems’

 

One of My Baxter Poems

(from Moth Hour)

 

Coming down off the spine of the Botanical Gardens

onto the green flank of the dragon, shadows arch

 

under my feet. In the dell below, the shell-shaped stage

is strewn with red Camelias. November 

 

and across the valley on the dense dark Tinakori hill

houses begin to light up like Guy Fawkes. 

 

At the top of Patanga Crescent the pared-down villa

trembles with young men thinking,

 

pens lost in the wide sleeves of their dead uncles.

They are ecstatic and do everything extravagantly

 

in the last light: read, drink, fuck.

On the windowsill – a stone, leaf, a twig with buds,

 

and the black cat left behind mewling by the old lady

now in the Home of Compassion. No change.

 

©Anne Kennedy

 

Anne Kennedy’s new novel The Ice Shelf is due from VUP in October. She teaches writing at Manukau Institute of Technology.