Tag Archives: Ashleigh Young

Wellington’s LitCrawl -‘LitCrawl was a whole fireworks display’ ‘a clarion call’

Wind

We are swept by currents of air that swoop
and tease like unseen birds.
The wind is not often a warning here, in this city.
©Diana Bridge

 

 

The literary grassroots keep on doing stunning things through out New Zealand; there is boutique publishing, on and off the edge publicity, along with vibrant events.

It feels necessary and vital that we keep doing so. I was tempted to fly down to Wellington for their recent LitCrawl weekend (12 -13th November) but I am up to my elbows writing my new book and not ready for another research trip quite yet.

So I invited locals to send photos and pieces of writing- LitCrawl postcards. Then the earthquake and the incessant aftershocks swiped hard at Wellington residents (sleepless nights, anxious children, floods, uncertainty) along with so many elsewhere.

Understandably not everyone has been able to write anything but I ‘ve decided to post what I have because it seems like this was a joyous occasion for writers and readers.

Diana Bridge sent me some poems which I thought was so lovely – like my own private LitCrawl. The fragment above seems prescient. I have posted two more below.

The way the pieces have pulled this hard hard week – tufts of an election off shore and the earthquake – and managed to produce such gorgeous writing – heck it moved me to tears posting this. I can’t thank you enough Bee Trudgeon, Sarah Forster, Helen Rickerby, Sugar Magnolia Wilson, Catriona Ferguson.

 

 

The programme:

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What is LitCrawl?

LitCrawl =  a fast-talking, street-loving celebration of writers, publishers, performers, editors, musicians, journalists, lyricists, artists, comedians… and the people who want to hear them speak. For 2016, the programme stretched over three nights and two days with the main event, the crawl itself, on Saturday night. Over 100 writers appeared before over 2500 audience members in 19 venues. All ticketed events sold out.

Claire Mabey (organiser, along with Andrew Laking) You can hear Claire in conversation with Jim Mora this afternoon at 3pmish on RadioNZ

 

 

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True Stories Told Live –Featuring Paula Morris, Emily Perkins, Khalid Warsame and Anahera Gildea. In partnership with the New Zealand Book Council. Wellington Central Library

‘True Stories Told Live has become a regular part of the LitCrawl programme. Despite the howling gales we had a fabulous turn out for our storytellers, Mayor Justin Lester, Emily Perkins, Khalid Warsame, Paula Morris and Anahera Gildea on Saturday night. Our theme for the evening was Metamorphosis with the subtext being how reading and books can change us. The storytellers responded to the theme with brio, generously sharing some intimate and life-changing moments. It was a wonderful start to the audience’s LitCrawl journey.’

Catriona Ferguson  CEO NZ Book Council    

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Playing Poetry

 

And in the world outside these Gardens
canals of silver-beet arrive to part our city streets.

©Diana Bridge

 

 

 

 

Bee Trudgeon from Porirua Libraries sent in these LitCrawl postcards:

(‘It’s been a great weekend here in Wellington, in spite of the wild weather Friday night through Saturday night. Lit lovers proved themselves a resilient bunch, and great times were in abundance. I walked past more packed venues than those I’ve reviewed for you at the Lit Crawl. Here’s hoping you’ll get some more accounts to do this brilliant event justice.’)

Crip the Lit, CQ Hotels, 223 Cuba Street, 7.15PM

Proud feminism met disability fellowship when writers Robyn Hunt, Sally Champion, Trish Harris and Mary O’Hagan reclaimed the word crippled and put inspiration porn in its place at their packed panel session. This was a clarion call to bust open the closets disabilities of all kinds (visible and invisible, self- and externally-imposed) can erect around those living with them.

Robyn read a blog post regarding the hurdles sight impairment threw up for a budding reader with limited access to appropriate resources. Sally remembered early days far from parents in hospital, where her soul craved the attention her body was getting. Trish read from her newly published memoir The Walking Stick Tree (Escalator Press), which mixes memoir and essay to explore a life lived both in and far beyond the presumed cage hampered physicality suggests to those with a limited grasp on the transcendent power of the human spirit. Mary read from her memoir Madness Made Me (Open Box, 2014), honouring the highs of mental illness as human experiences more rich than those untouched might recognise.

Mary summed up the prevalent mood by poo-pooing any suggestion of bravery, pointing out the need to simply get on with what must be done.

 

Essays, Meow, 9 Edward Street, 8.30PM

Simon Sweetman (Off the Tracks) proved the perfect emcee for this heaving session of superior essayists, in a venue renowned for treating the literary like rock stars. Ashleigh Young (Can You Tolerate This?) may have been uncomfortable behind the mic’, but killed nonetheless, with tales of bizarre childhood Mastermind sessions under the spotlighted scrutiny of her father the quizmaster. Rarely is a child’s inner life so intimately given voice. International guest Khalid Warsame (reluctant and rare poster boy for Australian African masculinity) read two sentences spanning 15 years and a well-founded distrust of the police. It was a masterful and extreme test of the form.  Aimee Cronin nostalgically evoked an idyllic, salt-sprayed, ice-cream sticky childhood summer, hard-won from the ashes of broken marriage. The effect was a sigh just the safe side of a scream. Naomi Arnold took us to the places family and lovers would rather we couldn’t go. She provided a fine reminder that, if not for voyeurism, the essay would be too polite to be as compulsively palatable as this crew proved it can be. A brilliant set gobbled up by a crash keen crowd.

 

Selina Tusitala Marsh: Tala Tusi: The Teller is the Tale (A New Zealand Book Council Lecture) National Library, November 11, 2016 Reviewed by Bee Trudgeon for NZ Poetry Shelf

For many, it had been a raw few days of uphill battling. Not 48 hours since hearing He Who Shall Not Be Named had won the White House, and just three hours since hearing Leonard Cohen had died, people were sorely in need of some serious attention to the issues of diversity and what was threating it, and the comfort that poetry was alive and well. With the Wellington weather closing in, and turning to bed or drink (or both) a panacea being broadly touted by my distraught American friends, I had a strong feeling Selina Tusitala Marsh’s New Zealand Book Council Lecture could be as close to a cure as I could count on.

Her lecture in five parts and an epilogue, Tala Tusi: The Teller is the Tale, was a lyrical series of ruminations and recollections on the importance of culturally diverse voices, reading as fuel for writing, the holy nature of second-hand bookshops, and a significant encounter with the Queen.

Aptly dubbed the Smiling Assassin by her Muay Thai kickboxing trainer, her regal presence sets a fine example of how we all might face the differences of opinion so hard to understand, during a week when the Ku Klux Clan had been photographed on a bridge crossing a highway during workday commute hours.

In the same vein, consider the time earlier in the year when, as the Commonwealth Poet and guest reader at Westminster Abbey, Selina extended a hand to a certain Baron What’s-his-face, only to have her hand left hanging. Selina refused to let him reduce her to the level of his apparent opinion.

As she says, it is part of her name – the proto-Polynesian ‘ala’ – to be a path, not a wall. In a year when far too much has been said in the name of a certain proposed wall, such words are balm to all humanity.

In addition to an ironically instructional excerpt from Paula Morris’s ‘Bad Story (so you don’t have to write it’, four poems were performed: Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Requiem’ (as we were transported to Samoa in the late 1800s), ‘Tusitala’ (Selina’s 1996 manifesto piece), ‘Pussy Cat’ (penned for the potential racist, and the Duke who dared question the ‘post’ in ‘postcolonial literature’), and (thrillingly) the royally commissioned ‘Unity’

‘There’s a U and an I in unity / costs the earth and yet it’s free…’

Never have the lines been more necessary.

Near closing, Selina acknowledged, “People will walk over me and if they do so ungraciously, that’s their karma; but people will walk over, and that’s about connection.”  If the world had not exactly been put to rights, the battle cry for continued attempts to affect so had certainly been sounded. Round One to diverse poetry.

Fa’afetai, Selina. ‘What you do affects me.’

Complete lecture available here.

 

 

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Poetry = Medicine at the Apothecary (more photos from here below)

‘Wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of
Humanity’ – Hippocrates
They say writing is therapy – so’s listening to it. Come along for
readings from those who fuse medicine with poetry.
Featuring John Dennison, Chris Price, Sue Wootton, Rae Varcoe
and Paul Stanley-Ward.

 

A LitCrawl letter from Helen Rickerby:

LitCrawl 2016

LitCrawl was more than a bright spark in the middle of a crazy and hard week – a week filled with the alarming US election, torrential rain and slips, earthquakes, tsunami and then more torrential rain, flooding, wind and more slips – LitCrawl was a whole fireworks display. It seems quite a long time ago now, being before the 7.5 earthquake that woke so many of us up after Sunday night had just tipped over into Monday morning. But it’s important to celebrate such a wonderful event, especially in the midst of everything else.

When LitCrawl started two years ago I was a bit worried that having multiple events on at the same time would split the audience – I thought I knew by sight, if not by name, everyone who was likely to come to a literary event in Wellington. But that first year I realised this was something special: every event was well attended – if not full – and there were people there who I had never even seen before. Where did they come from? we wondered. And then the next year, they came out again – even more people to even more events. And this year, even more events, and more people – despite more rain!

I think one of the strengths of LitCrawl – by which I really mean a strength of event organisers, the wonderful Claire Mabey and Andy Laking – is that they have drawn together people from many different parts of the Wellington literary community and beyond to perform and curate sessions. So it feels like something that everyone owns and has helped to make, rather than a top-down thing organised for us.

The heart of LitCrawl is the Saturday night, where multiple events are held around the city in three different time slots, but since the beginning there have been some satellite events on different days. This year the first one was Friday night’s My First Time, where three short theatre pieces by first-time theatre writers were performed, for the first time. The pieces were very different from each other: Sarah Jane Barnett’s relationship drama set in the not-too distant future; Pip Adam’s wonderful nuts post-modern take on contemporary life that might have just been snippets from the internet; Faith Wilson’s slam-poetryish musings on race, economics and what she’d like to do with and to her dentist. The audience was invited to be part of the process by emailing in their feedback about the pieces, which are still in development.

On the night of LitCrawl proper it is always really hard to choose what to attend, and your heart gets a bit broken about the things you have to miss. Because I was running a session in the middle block, that took care of two of my choices – the time I needed to be there to set up made it too difficult to get to the first session. My session, Polylingual SpreePoetry in and out of Translation, was at Ferret Bookshop, and there was a good turnout to hear poetry from and in Māori, Greek, Mandarin and Italian from Kahu Kutia, Vana Manasiadis, Ya-Wen Ho and Marco Sonzogni (with me reading a couple of English translations). I had wanted to curate that session to celebrate the fact that English isn’t the only language spoken in New Zealand, and it seemed especially timely to be celebrating diversity. Afterwards, people were really enthusiastic about the session and hope to see it return, so we’ll see.

Next I was planning to go to the Essays session (see above PG!), which I’m told was fantastic and full, but it was also much further away than several wonderful poetry sessions in the Cuba Street area. I ended up at Pegasus Books, or, rather, outside Pegasus Books, which was just as well because there was quite a crowd there and we would never have fitted in the shop. Thanks to a good sound system we could mostly hear the readers: Steven Toussaint, Hera Lindsay Bird, Greg Kan and Lee Posna, over the diners behind us at Oriental Kingdom and other revellers in Left Bank. After that, most people headed to the after party at Paramount, generally via some kind of eatery, to mingle and catch up with other LitCrawlers and possibly have their fortunes read by the resident tarot card reader.

The next day I was really delighted to be part of a panel discussion with Sarah Laing and Anna Jackson about why we have found the life and work of Katherine Mansfield so compelling. The event was especially special because it was at the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace, in an upstairs room amid an exhibition of Sarah’s drawings for her graphic bio-memoir (I think I have just made up that term) Mansfield and Me. The sun came out in time for us all to have our afternoon tea on the lawn, which was very pleasant. It was a bit alarming to hear a few hours later, in the early hours of the morning, that there was damage to house after a neighbouring brick wall fell on it during the quake. Fortunately, it now sounds like there is no serious damage, so we can all go back and have a proper look at Sarah’s exhibition and sketchbooks when it reopens.

A friend visiting from Auckland was told on Saturday night ‘You should move back to Wellington, it’s having a literary renaissance’, and I thought – you know, I think she might be right. And I think it’s because there are quite a few ordinary people who are just organising things and doing things here at the moment, and I think that if LitCrawl wasn’t the start of this little renaissance, it certainly is one of its shining stars. Thanks Claire and Andy, we really appreciate it!

photos from Helen:

 

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Polylingual – some of the audience at Polylingual Spree at Ferret Bookshop

‘The more languages you know, the more you are human’
– Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk Come and hear lively readings of poetry in languages from around the world, read by poet translators Marco Sonzogni (Italian), Vana Manasiadis (Greek), Ya-Wen Ho (Mandarin) and more. Hosted by Helen Rickerby (mostly English).

 

 

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Mansfield 1 – Some of the Mansfield event-goers having afternoon tea on the lawn, including Sarah Laing

 

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Mansfield 2 – Another view of the afternoon tea-ing, including Anna Jackson talking to Vana Manasiadis. The offending brick wall (which fell down in the quake) can be seen beside the house, on the left.

Yes, after a splendid event at the Katherine Mansfield House with the sun shining and afternoon tea and poems, the place suffered damage in the quake.

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A letter from Sarah Forster from NZ Booksellers:

Hi Paula

I didn’t go to any poetry last night, mores the pity, but the three events I did go to – True Stories Told Live, Toby & Toby and Essays were all brilliant. I have attended every year since it began. Here are a few bits and pieces for you to weave in.

At the end of LitCrawl 2016, Juliet Blyth noted to me that the most special thing about LitCrawl is that everybody sees it as being for them. There is no demographic that didn’t turn out, despite the terrible Wellington weather.

At True Stories Told Live at the Wellington Central Library, I sat in front of a family of five, the three girls aged roughly 5-11, and though they were bickering beforehand and saying ‘This is going to be boring,’ as soon as the stories began I didn’t hear a peep. As Wellington’s Mayor Justin Lester told of his upbringing with his father searching for white gold, as well as a new mistress in every port they lived in; as Paula Morris wove the spell of the Little House on the Prairie; Emily Perkins told of the changes wrought by self-help books, and an enduring, changing, friendship; Khalid Warsame told of his panic attacks and how the pain of an anonymous other – and a book – somehow eased his own pain; and as Anahera Gildea pulled us through the most painful experience of her life – but the one that led to her finally publishing her writing, and selling her art – these kids sat spellbound. True Stories Told Live at its best is utterly brutal – the laughs are always there, but the truth-telling takes your breath away. I am not sure how we didn’t float out of there on a sea of tears after Gildea’s story, and I want to thank her if she is reading this, for sharing it.

At Toby & Toby at Caroline Bar, it was standing room only, as Toby Manhire interviewed first Susie Ferguson, then Ashleigh Young. This was a louder crowd, but engaged nonetheless. There were probably about 300 of us all crammed in the back of the bar, standing – I had a handy barstool to kneel up on, which made me only 3 inches taller than my friend Harriet Elworthy was standing. How do we deserve Susie Ferguson on our airwaves,  Shannonn Te Ao  in our art galleries, Ashleigh Young as one of our best editors and writers?

It was a one-two for me with Ashleigh, as she was one of the speakers at the final event I attended, at Meow Bar. Again there was a huge range of ages, though starting from 18 this time, as well as those in the more traditional festival-going age group (the boomers). Essays featured three female essayists – Ashleigh plus Aimie Cronin and Naomi Arnold – and again I was privileged to see Khalid Warsame in performance.
As well as reading from their work, each of them talked a little about essay-writing, and the difficulty of deciding how much of your family and friends’ experiences you are allowed to use. Khalid was fascinating – he is the director of the Young Writer’s Festival in Newcastle, and as an African Australian, he has realised his point of view is incredibly unique. He talked about being pigeonholed as other, and read aloud half of a four-sentence essay, on this theme.

Everything I saw at LitCrawl opened my eyes and my mind in one way or another. Pirate and Queen (aka. Claire Mabey and Andrew Laking) are geniuses: the only complaint I have was that I had to choose from at least 2 options per session that I desperately wanted to attend: an excellent problem to have. While most of the events I attended were very packed, most didn’t need to send people away. The volunteers were better deployed than previously as well. What could have been just another soggy Saturday night in Wellington was touched with magic, thanks to this generous, informative, inspirational event.

cheers, Sarah

 

Some photos from Mary McCallum:

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Sue Wootton reads at The Apothecary, with Jayne Mulligan VicBooks

 

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Chris Price reads at The Apothecary

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Happy litcrawlers at The Apothecary in Cuba Street, listening to readings around medicine and poetry.

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Launch of the 4th Floor Journal at Matchbox in Cuba Street

 

From Sugar Magnolia Wilson:

My take on it was – once again litcrawl was a really fun, loving and positive event where people got a chance to meet new folk and bond over writing and literature. I especially love having new contributors in Sweet Mammalian, one of whom came to Wellington especially for litcrawl and to read at our launch. So great to meet new people and always great community vibes at litcrawl.

issue four is now live

Photos from the Litcrawl Sweet Mammalian launch:

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What a glorious, sumptuous, heart-boosting occasion. Thank you so much everyone who sent me things. In the light of what you are enduring, to have sent these treasures in is quite special. The last words goes to a poem Diana sent me. The early NZ women poets I am currently reading found much solace in the sky, the bush and the sea. This is a poem of solace. Thank you everyone!

 

Footing it with the magnolias

As the track winds steeply down
trees thin and gaps appear in leafy walls.
Broadening view-shafts open

on the Garden’s settled old world heart.
Here is the showcase that changes
with the seasons. Colours co-ordinate

an artist’s take. Spotlight on ceremony
when stately tulips bright as guardsmen bloom.
Though things are not so cut and dried

even in classical spring. Sunlit tussocks
fountain beside paths. Artful inclusion
of the indigenous, the vegetable patch.

Beds hemmed with parsley. Cineraria or
phlox held in evergreen embrace. No plant
undercutting any other – a gorgeous

composite is what they aim for here.
And in the world outside these Gardens?
Canals of silver-beet arrive to part our city streets.

©Diana Bridge

The Ladies’ Litera-Tea -‘like warm honey in your mouth too good to swallow’ Urzila Carson

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The Ladies’ Litera-Tea is an annual event organised by bookseller taonga, Carole Beu, and the Women’s Bookshop: eleven authors, a full auditorium and an excellent afternoon tea with delicious cakes and savouries. It usually lasts about five hours if you include the book signings. I always come away with a bag of new books, often unexpected choices.

This year I felt like I was walking the fine line between voice and no-voice, with a fuzzy head and a sway that wasn’t to do with reading poems on stage. Luckily I was third up so delivered my poems and then sat back to listen. Usually I take notes to replay on my blog but all I seemed to do was doodle as a counterbeat to the feasts of words.

My head isn’t up to scholarly focus today so I am in bed blogging and reading.

Not sure why there were so many doodle birds. Birds were barely mentioned. Apart from Billy Bird. Or hats. Apart from the steampunks and their creative shed and steampunk hats.

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First up was Catherine Chidgey talking with exquisite clarity about her new novel, The Wish Child. I loved the way she made something of obstacles and detours and can’t wait to read the book. Next up Helene Wong talking about: Being Chinese: A New Zealand Story. This is also on my must read list. It feels like essential reading particularly in view of the enduring racism Helene faces.

 

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Helene Wong and Marilyn Jessen (Marilyn went on a road trip tracking creative spaces)

Helene recounted an anecdote that resonated (with a few details missing). She was at an undergraduate Chinese paper with a fairly indifferent bunch of students. The white middle-aged bloke started reading a poem in Cantonese. Helen was captivated by the undulating pitch and tones despite not understanding a word. She was struck by this ordinary white man’s pleasure in the Chinese language. His ‘gesture of respect astounded’ her. She almost ‘wept in gratitude’ that he showed so clearly Chinese culture is not to be ashamed of.

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Emma Neale and Paula Green

There is no right formula for authors on stage – especially in view of what to say. I can go either way – just hearing the work or also hearing anecdotes and inroads into the writing experience can hit the spot. I loved the way Emma Neale talked about lexical exhaustion on completing a novel. She borrowed a quote from a musical composer who replayed his piece when asked to explain his work. Emma said she had decided to let the extracts do the talking. I agree with Emma on ‘the joyous creative anarchic energy’ of Billy, the central character of her new novel, Billy Bird.  I have just finished this book and it is a top fiction read for 2016. So beautifully written, so moving, so funny, so gobsmackingly good.

 

The very lovely, very inspirational, Yael Shochat wrapped up the first half. She was celebrating the arrival of Ima Kitchen. I was hooked on the video of grandmothers in the kitchen in Israel making lunch. At half time, the queue for Ithe cookbook never stopped. Both cafe and book are terrific additions to Auckland’s eclectic food scene. We have had such a wide cultural culinary seasoning for decades and it adds so much to who we are as a city. When I arrived back from London in the 1980s my tastebuds were popping. Will be cooking out of this book tonight!

 

a f t e r n o o n    t e a    interlude    was   worthy of    a n       a f t e r n o o n    t e a  p o e m

sweet lamington and asparagus roll

the poem unfolds like spanikopita

spinachy peppery cream on the tongue

 

(thanks Yael, so delicious)

 

A long time fan of Kerrin P Sharpe’s poetry it was such a treat to hear her read for the first time. I adore the mother poems in her new book, Rabbit Rabbit – the audience did too as it was oohs and aahs and beautiful (just as I heard after the lyrical fiction of Emma Neale). I also loved the entry points gave into the book as it provided me with new discoveries.

Having recently (two posts back maybe!) gushed to you about Ashleigh Young’s witty  debut collection of essays, Can You Tolerate This?, a highlight was hearing her read. She selected a section from ‘Big Red.’ I have quoted several times from this essay, so it felt like a favourite album was playing and I was word perfect. Wonderful!

 

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Emma Neale and Gina Cole (in the 6pm shadows!)

 

I was hooked on Gina Cole’s ancedotes, lucidity, warmth and story extracts all pivoting on the “L” word: lighthouses, law, literature. Her new book, Black Ice Matter, went in my shopping bag! I want to post about this soon!

 

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Janice Marriot’s book on Grandparents Talk also went in my shopping bag. It  was good to meet a poet who has writtn some of my favourite poems in the Treasury!

Finally a dose of laughter. Urzila Carlson used her new book, Rolling with the Punchlines, to deliver a stand-up routine/reading/musing/confession that was pure gold. Like most of us she was anxious about following on from people so much wittier or funnier or more erudite. She says it best. She had been hearing all this writing that was ‘like warm honey in your mouth and too good to swallow.’ She then compared it to an effervescent something on the tongue [and then a riff on that]. ‘Holy shit,’ she says ‘What am I doing here? I should leave. I should say I’ve got to get a flight with Ashleigh.’  But then she had us in fits of laughter, tears streaming for twenty minutes, with a few piercing moments of inbreath and gasp at something sad or hard to talk about. Such a tonic.

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It was a rollercoaster occasion: warmth, ideas, humour, sad things, happy things, connections. I think I came home with six new books.

 

Thanks Carole and the Women’s Bookshop – it was a very happy audience.

 

 

 

 

Ashleigh Young’s Can You Tolerate This? – Perhaps it’s all to do with a mind that likes to roam and fossick

 

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Can You Tolerate This? Personal Essays,  Ashleigh Young, Victoria University Press, 2016

The other day I was on a plane about to fly to New Plymouth to go to the Ronald Hugh Morrieson Literary Award ceremony in Hawera. It was tight timing. I was going to jump off the plane into a car, drive for an hour, and walk into the function in the nick of time. But the plane’s lights kept switching on and off, the engine sounds rising and falling. It was faint-inducing heat. Babies were screaming, a high pitch of chat drowned out the safety talk. I had Ashleigh Young’s book of essays on my lap to finish on the plane. In my head I shouted, I just want to get off this place. Seconds later as though my wish made it true, we were told the plane had been cancelled and we needed to get another. I was right down the back of the plane and still not up to running in my foot-recovery regime but knew I really really wanted to do my job as judge. So I started running towards the ticket counter, foot alarmed.

I am running like an elephant or our duck-waddle cat. I can hear all these other flights that have been cancelled due to engineering problems. Everyone is running and scrambling and agonising. Three-quarters there and I hear our plane has now switched to delayed. I limp back to the regional cafe and start reading Ashleigh Young to blot out the panic. She is on an aeroplane. She is sitting next to a woman who tells her life story and her life story is extravagant. We hardly know what to trust – and that is what makes it such a gem. I can’t focus though. I can’t pick another story now with my skewy focus so hobble back to the ticket counter and hear all sorts of rumours. Our new plane was the cancelled Taupo plane. Everyone else is being bussed. I keep thinking about the woman with her extravagant stories and it reminded me of an Italian author Gianni Celati who collected the stories of others where the feather line between real and unreal is flighty. I am in the muddlewash of queues when a woman calls out asking if anyone needs special assistance. I ask for a wheelchair. I am being wheeled. I am back on the new plane next to the same young woman. She is studying physiotherapy.  I could embroider my life.The fact I even tell her where I am going is like a little character warpslip as usually I don’t say a word on planes. We talk about injuries and homes. I have two of Ashleigh’s stories to go. I don’t get to read them. I walk into the ceremony 40 minutes late.

Asleigh Young’s collection of personal essays is an addictive read, but it is the kind of book I wanted to eek out (I read the last two stories on the plane home!). What would fill the gap? What would deliver the same sustaining mix of wit, revelation and aromatic detail. Ashleigh gathers in stories from her own life and replays them in sentences that flow so sweetly. Each essay is like a musical composition but it is the content that offers the reader gold. I love the shift in perception from child to adult, in reflecting back. I love the way stories harness what is intimate and personal but also venture out into the world, a world filtered through reading and the experiences of others, fascinating or strange.  Perhaps it is all to do with a wry and agile mind that likes to roam and fossick.

 

Here’s a tasting plate of things I loved

Now and then you fall upon the way story comes into being. This one is especially good. It’s in in a terrific essay on her brother, JP:

‘My enthusiasm for the story was such that I felt it would write itself. The story was virtually already made. All I needed to do was grab hold of one end and pull the rest up behind it like an electric wire out of the ground.’   from ‘Big Red’

In the same essay this gem:

‘Just as JP was abandoning fashion, Neil and I were finding it, and fashion equipped us with new ways of being embarrassed.’

Still in the same essay, Ashleigh gets thinking about story again when she thinks about her film-making brother Neil:

Write your way towards an understanding, a tutor told me in a creative writing class. But what if you went backwards and wrote yourself away from the understanding?’

This strikes me as the kind of thing a Chinese philosopher might say in that going backwards is in fact your way forwards; in not knowing what you know, in knowing you don’t know.

One of the poems in New York Pocket Book picks up on Frank O’Hara’s accent. I loved reading the Frank O’Hara segue (pp70-71).

‘I returned to his lines over and over.’

Reading Frank’s lines from ‘Adieu to Norman, Bonjour to Joan and Jean-Paul,’ got Ashleigh thinking about continuity:

‘I fixated on these lines because they made me think about ways in which to continue, and what continuing meant. Getting up in the morning was one way. Getting dressed, facing the people around you–these were ways of continuing that kept your life open to possibility. But there was another way of continuing, and this was the continuing of silence. Our family had always continued to continue through events that we did not know how to speak of to one another.’

 

This from the plane story ‘Window Seat’:

‘I made my mind up to not decide there and then whether she was telling the truth. I wanted to stay open for as long as I could. I was wide awake when she said with resolve, ” Now, I’m going to tell you about you.”‘

I found this story moved me on so many surprising levels. The woman and her extravagant tongue. Especially the portrait of Ashleigh. I was holding the book on a plane and squirming. Squirming too at the way we reveal ourselves in shards that might embarrass. The  book made me laugh out loud. Or just smile at that coiling thought. Or the deep-seated warmth of family, whatever the ups and downs. I thought the last essay, ‘Lark,’ an essay in which Ashleigh’s mother is encouraged to write, was the perfect ending. The mother rode her bike alongside them on the way to school, she used jackhammers and stripped paint off furniture. I adored the shadowy overlap between mother and daughter. Here is the gorgeous last paragraph of both book and essay:

‘A wine glass with tidal marks is on the table beside Julia’s father’s desk lamp. The lamp is doubled over like something in pain. From our desk inside the house where we are studying, we can see her through the caravan’s oblong window. Tonight she is at work on the book. She is trying to remember things. It is like practising another sort of language. It leads her to herself and it leads her away. Sometimes it unsteadies her until she finds another small friend to hold on to. A moonish light comes from her window. Her cloudy head bends over the table as she writes.’

 

This is a fabulous, symphonic collection. Ashleigh dares to imagine as much as she dares to admit. She has no doubt prompted us, from Cape Reinga to Rakiura, to get out pen and paper and write our way backwards, pulling electric cables, making room for extravagant tongues and familial love. I cannot recommend this collection highly enough.

 

Victoria University Press author page

 

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National Poetry Day event at the National Library in Wellington this year. Ashleigh is also appearing at the Ladies Litera-tea event in Auckland on October 3oth (sold out!).

Extraordinary Anywhere: Essays on Place from Aotearoa New Zealand – a vibrant, heart-boosting, head -juddering collection

 

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‘To investigate something properly we need all three: archives, dreams, memories …”

Martin Edmond

 

Extraordinary Anywhere: Essays on Place from Aotearoa New Zealand (VUP, 2016), edited by Ingrid Horrocks and Cherie Lacey, is a collection to linger over. That the essays are in debt to the personal heightens the effect on the reader because place matters to all of us. One reviewer suggested that New Zealanders are obsessed with place to an unusual degree. I find that hard to believe. We may all have different relations with place whether shaped by cultural, familial or historical factors. We may talk about place in different ways and how it shapes who we are as both as individuals and nations. But place matters.

What I love about this vibrant, heart-boosting, head-juddering collection is that it heads off in a thousand directions—both in view of what is said and how it is said. The recent (and not so recent trend) to filter scholarly thinking through the personal tethers abstract thought to the gritty real world we inhabit on a daily basis, and intellectual thought is all the better for it (although the sublime joy of following abstract argument is still an appealing option).

I love the feel of the book in my hand, the shape and internal design.

 

Ashleigh Young’s opening essay, ‘The Te Kuiti Underground’ revisits a place from her past and it is like refreshing a home page in your head. When she was young, Ashleigh thought, despite her father’s forensic knowledge, that this home place was vacant. The essay opens on a gravel road with a view of paddocks, a sewage pond and the airport. Ashleigh bumps into Paul McCartney, a mutable figure who morphed into George and then later Beck. This warm, wry account of teenage yearnings and adult returns finds effervescent detail to make the threads between home, place and people glow. Yes, the writing is lucid, and that is a certain kind of glow, but the essay delivers such an open and moving insight into familial roots, I got a readerly glow. And that’s gold, if you will forgive the pun.

Other writers take different tacks. Sally Blundell uses quotes from children’s books and characters (Alice, AA Milne, Dr Seuss, the Mock Turtle, Where the Wild Things Are) to structure a moving account of the revival of Christchurch, post-earthquakes: ‘There should be a place where only things you want to happen, happen’ (Sendak). Place and space are questioned and are participants in processes, proposals and discussions that both disconnect and connect the city. This essay is an essential reminder that this place is rebuilding and the grassroots activity is extraordinary. The gap between blueprints and the people is equally so.

Lydia Wevers approaches the Brancepeth Library archives through dirt (they arrived at Victoria University Library in a filthy state!). Much to think about. That image sent me reeling upon the purity of the archives and our relationship with what we read. Lydia sees the drive to find ‘original archival truth’ as somewhat deluded (she borrows this notion), but underlines the way the archival dirt of the Brancepeth collection established a flash of overlap between past and present. This essay was compulsive reading with my current status as researcher. I loved her admissions. This is the final sentence: ‘At some points of recognition, it would be untruthful to remove yourself from the narrative you are trying to make.’

Ingrid Horrocks goes out walking with Creative Writing students on campus and near campus  as part of a research project set up by Massey University ‘in response to a perceived “thinness” of place within the 21st-century multi-campus university.’ The project asks ‘how experience in a particular place might be “thickened” by making connections to that place’s contested histories, its topographies, its inhabitants and uses, its origins.’ Fascinating.

Cherie Lacey was a discovery and I can’t wait to read her memoir (of a failed psychoanalysis). She takes us to reclaimed land behind her dad’s place in Napier. She had been studying psychoanalysis in Melbourne and felt a real aversion to key underpinnings. Chiefly, that ‘we are not the authors of our own texts.’ She ached to be poet rather than poem. The essay, in the spirit of what essays ought to do, puts things on the line in a risky way:

‘This text-that-was-not-my-own didn’t work when it was overlaid on this place. It demanded a different story be made, one that included dog’s brains and a taniwha and a buried lagoon, an earthquake, shards of ceramic and the complicated life of a family.’

Glorious!  ‘This place only exists for me, as me.’

 

Alex Calder stayed in a small Southland lodge, miles from anywhere. He wanted to work on a piece on classic new Zealand fiction of the 1930s and 1940s. Harry Ricketts, having lived in numerous places, admits he doesn’t have a standing place of his own. He has imaginary places (borrowed from Rushdie) and reminds us of the ‘here’ hidden in elsewhere. Lynn Jenner places two texts side by side, in pieces, with dialogue and sideways tracks, in  a way that feels like poetry, uncertain, drawing on the past, with a taniwha hovering. This: ‘I think the place and time of one’s birth act like anchovies in a sauce; not discernible as themselves but present as a salty essence, deep and influential.’

For Alice Te Punga Somerville, place ‘folds and unfolds dynamically.’ The essay is both personal and political as it keenly draws close to the names of places, and then to Māori writers, not just where they come from but where they have gone. This essay is essential in the way it mourns the lack of visibility of Māori writers in all our media and publishing platforms.

Annabel Cooper looks at childhood haunts and lives that lived and loved them: ‘In all these lives, places were “passings that haunted” leaving their imprints in the adults who were one children there.’ Annabel makes the vital point that places are impermanent yet conversely act as anchors.

Tina Makereti responds to the insistent question: ‘Where do you come from?’ Tina cannot give ‘a direct or simple answer’ to the query so the essay, in its pathways through, is fascinating, moving, vital. She returns to a place where her tupuna are. ‘I can’t remember who said it first. We could live here. We should live here. Look at the hills. Look at the sea.’

 

I haven’t finished the book. I have still to read Giovanni Tiso, Martin Edmond, Ian Wedde, Jack Ross, Tim Corballis and Tony Ballantyne. Ha! Looks like I picked out all the women first reflecting my current focus on women’s writing.

This is a terrific collection of essays and I cannot recommend it highly enough. An absolutely productive reading experience for me. Bravo Victoria University Press for publishing it.

These Rough Notes: Ashleigh Young

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Can You Tolerate This? Personal Essays by Ashleigh Young.

Release date: 11 August. Paperback, $30.

 

With her new collection of essays to be launched by VUP on August 11th, Ashleigh Young answered a few questions for These Rough Notes.

Five questions and answers here

Here’s a sample:

This book has been a long time in the making – from when you won the Adam Prize in 2009 with a portfolio of essays, to now, 2016. How does it feel to finally be publishing your essays in a book form? How much has the work evolved in the time between your MA portfolio and the published book?

That’s a long time! I feel glad and a bit nervous, but mostly tired because I’ve been so busy avoiding this book for seven years. I know all the avoidance tricks now. I could probably organise a special conference on avoidance, or a festival. My favourite trick for avoiding this book – because it was full of problems that I didn’t want to think about yet – was to write things that weren’t this book. So I finished writing a book of poetry and started writing a blog. The blog allowed me to write my way into things I probably wouldn’t have written otherwise – cycling, odd encounters, mental health, phrases and gestures, friendships, members of my family, inner voice … Sometimes the posts were intensely personal and sometimes detached.

 

The launch:

Victoria University Press warmly invites you to the launch of

Selected Poems
by Jenny Bornholdt

&

Can You Tolerate This? Personal Essays
by Ashleigh Young

6.00pm–7.30pm, Thursday 11 August
at Unity Books
57 Willis St, Wellington.
All welcome.

Buy both books on the night for only $60 (normally $70).
This offer applies at the Unity Books launch only.

Book Launch: Jenny Bornholdt’s new poems and Ashleigh Young’s essays

 

 

Victoria University Press warmly invites you to the launch of

Selected Poems
by Jenny Bornholdt

&

Can You Tolerate This? Personal Essays
by Ashleigh Young

6.00pm–7.30pm, Thursday 11 August
at Unity Books
57 Willis St, Wellington.
All welcome.

Buy both books on the night for only $60 (normally $70).
This offer applies at the Unity Books launch only.

For more information click on the titles below:
Selected Poems by Jenny Bornholdt
$40, hardback
Can You Tolerate This? Personal Essays by Ashleigh Young
$30, paperback

On editing – Sarah Jane Barnett interviews Ashleigh Young

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A new post at The Red Room:

 

I like to read and review New Zealand poetry, and because I live in Wellington quite a few of these collections come from Victoria University Press. When Ashleigh Young began working as their editor, I began to notice her careful hand on the collections. I asked Ashleigh a few questions about being an editor.

Sarah Jane Barnett: I was watching the show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and Jerry Seinfeld asked Barack Obama, ‘If politics was a sport, what sport would it be?’ So, if editing was a sport, what sport would it be?

Ashleigh Young: I was about to say cricket – long bouts of brooding interrupted by sudden bouts of high-speed action and head-clutching – but you can say that about almost anything. About life. I wonder if maybe editing is a bit like tenpin bowling. Every bit of editorial interference is a small act of violence, essentially trying to knock things down – but there’s this attempt at elegance, at the graceful flourish. And then there’s the stubborn beauty of the pins that remain standing. Also, tenpin bowling is the sport of grudging office team-building that ends up being quite fun.

Just contradicting myself, though, I think there’s something intrinsically un-sporty about editing. The writer and the editor shouldn’t feel like they’re adversaries grappling for ultimate power. No one should be spraying champagne around if they ‘win’. They can do that at the book launch.

 

For the rest of the interview go to Sarah’s blog: here