Tag Archives: Anne Kennedy

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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’

Poetry Shelf Winter Season: Anne Kennedy off-piste

 

Die die, live live
1.

A puff of air
like a lover’s
sweet speech
bubble, blue
as sky. A brown
horizon turning
fast into tomorrow
and tomorrow, etc.
Mud and leather
and a man
who runs like rubber
drawn from itself
over mud
born from
its muddy
mother field.
A kick-off
and the howl of
a moon’s dog.
They kick
the tender thing and kick and kick the tender thing
and wail and sing.
Five-nil to them.
Fuck. And fuck
the conversion
too. More
points for them.
The ball sings.
The wind
sings a hymn
down the Saint
Patrick’s Day
parade-length
of field
and the wind
blows the ball
where it shouldn’t
go. You have to
hope these idiots
grasp softness
the idea of it
its air and
innocence.
Twelve-nil to
the other side.
Conversion? No.
A rose blooms.
The fullback
there he goes
into a scrum. He’s
in the scrum
for his girlfriend
the girl he loves.
A torn ear a red rose the love-song of the fullback
a big man a
fucking giant
look at him
run. A lot of blood.
He runs for the
invisible woman.
He’s a moving tree
a flowering
tree. The Aussie
should be sin-binned.
Oh. He is.
Penalty. Twelve-
three. Tenderness
and the terrible
wind-sound
necessary for
play. They kick the tender thing and kick and kick
the tender thing
and wail and sing.
A man jumps
to his feet
throwing the hand
of his girl into
the sky. He flails
and beseeches.
Go go go go go!
It’s her envoi.
A guttural
call Moss has
never heard before
coming from
here and here
a beating on
the edge of seagull
i.e. clarinet.
There’s a rolling
maul, players
scragging faces
with sprigs. The referee
runs and blood
runs like tears.
Penalty. Twelve-six.
Go man boot
the groaning
air cradle it
as your child.
Don’t fucking
drop it idiot.
A moan goes up.
It rests in
the bodied
stadium staying
there, living on
among the people
as damage.
They kick the tender thing and kick and kick the tender thing
and wail and sing.
Rain starts. Good
for the home team
(used to it).
The visitors gnash
their teeth. Mud
sprays men
into fossils
memento mori.
They’re covered
in the game
head to foot.
Outrageous penalty
fifteen-six. Fuck.
A scrum in mud
and more rain.
The field is
ankle-glass
sometimes shattered as a dance once seen moved in water
a splish and trail
like scarves.
Half time
(FW).

2.

The land shaved
of trees made
useful by
its nakedness
and water. Men
stand as if cattle
mirrored at
a trough. A whistle
like a cast
in a roving
eye roving
over the field.
The men swarm
towards the ball
flicking earth
and sky.
The Centre’s
butchering
down the field
as a lion hunts
prey in the late
afternoon.
As a boy he
loved animals.
Off-side. Fuck.
Blood and
sweat and blood
and the crack
of bones. They kick the tender thing and kick and kick
the tender thing
and wail and sing
and wail and sing.
A man is carried
off by St John’s
Ambulance. Ah well
Fifteen-eleven
but missed the
conversion the
egg. Another
kick-off and
before long
a line-out whatever
that is. A player
hurling himself
into infinity
running and falling
and not caring
his body everything
and nothing
hovering
on the brink of
his death, death
of a small
nation. He is
a carcass
or palace. He’s carried off by St John’s Ambulance.
But there’s a penalty.
Fifteen-fourteen.
They kick
the tender thing
and kick and kick
the tender thing
and wail and sing.
Howl and a face
coated in the season
and the game
is a season
imperative
compulsory
gone again and
a girl who walks into a woman. And rain drums length
of rain
drumming.
It’s late
and the sun dips
below the cap
of cloud touching
the heads of
the crowd limning
a moment blue.
They kick
the tender thing
and kick and kick
the tender thing
and wail and sing.
On the field
blood squelches
underfoot.
Twenty-fourteen.
Paul weeps
on her shoulder.
They’ve lost.
If they’d won
there’d be
just the same
weeping like a
well a stream
or cataract. She holds his bones under her hands
his back
where wings
might once
have been.
A good man
full of tenderness
giant i.e. a lot of
tenderness.
The small mercy
of no conversion.
A minute to go.
A man runs
down the field
like a doctor
in a field hospital.
A try to us!
Forty seconds
to go. The
half-back
lines up the
wet egg
of the universe
and after some
deliberation kicks
the tender thing.
And wails.
And sings.
Converted.
The sun sinks
The whistle blows.
They won!
(i.e. We won
apparently)
Paul and his mates
leap to their feet.
Hell we won.
They leap one
by one. Fintan
leaps to his feet.
Look even
Forest is leaping
to his feet. Moss
carried away with
the win and
Paul weeping
and giants leaping
and without thinking
she stands.
She looks down
at the long body
her old favourite.
And glances up
at the great giant
there beside her
a head taller
(no matter, he will
soon go away now
the game is over
and there is just
Finnegans Wake
to read or whatever
tall tale it was).
Light from
the tall lamp casts the giant shadow of the girl over Paul.
He is bathed
in a quick new
coolness, as
dusk falls suddenly
in the Tropics
and feels it
and stares up
at the girl and
backs and backs
(the love song
of the full-back).

© Anne Kennedy from The Time of the Giants (Auckland University Press, 2005)

 

 

Author note: Writing poetry at all was a jumping of the tracks for me, and although my prose was ‘poetic’ and my poems prosey, the change still felt enormous, like doing something other than writing. (I still think of it as not really writing, more arranging.) Boiled down, the change to poetry for me was to do with noticing the cool juxtaposition between freedom of language (a poetry reader is more likely to make leaps with you), and the restraint of form that is always there on the page in front of you.

The poem here (which I call my ‘rugby poem’) is from a verse novel, The Time of the Giants. It represents for me a few realizations. The first is the power of line breaks. They are marvellous things! Always have been, but with this poem I began to regard them anew, not just aurally, but visually – as a means to isolate words like stones in a Japanese garden.

With Giants I also realized I wanted to use a quite honed three-act structure to tell the story. In this poem, I knowingly brought together the whole cast at the end of Act III.

But why use this form to tell this part of the story? (I ask myself.) Because it’s fast, and the narrative is on full-throttle at this point; and because I wanted it to be high-energy like a pre-match haka, and a bit funny, and the line-breaks are ludicrous. (When you think about too much, all line breaks are ludicrous.)

 

Anne Kennedy‘s last book was the novel, The Last Days of the National Costume. Among other awards she has won the NZ Post Book Award for Poetry and the Montana Book Award for Poetry. In 2016 she was writer in residence at the IIML. Anne teaches creative writing at Manukau Institute of Technology.

 

From Paula: For Poetry Shelf’s Winter Season, I invited 12 poets to pick one of their own poems that marks a shift in direction, that is outside the usual tracks of their poetry, that moves out of character, that nudges comfort zones of writing. It might be subject matter, style, form, approach, tone, effect, motivation, borrowings, revelation, invention, experimentation, exclusions, inclusions, melody …. anything!