Tag Archives: Auckland University Press

Poetry Shelf conversation with Sugar Magnolia Wilson

 

Magnolia photo.jpg

 

The night sky is full of

stars but

we are more clever than

most – we know

they are just

      burned bones.

 

from ‘Spent’

 

 

Sugar Magnolia Wilson is from Fern Flat, a valley in the far North. In 2012 she completed her MA in creative writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington. Her work has appeared in a number of journals, both in New Zealand and overseas, and she co-founded the journal, Sweet Mammalian, with Morgan Bach and Hannah Mettner. Auckland University Press is launching Magnolia’s debut collection, Because a Woman’s Heart is Like a Needle at the Bottom of the Ocean on March 13th. The new collection is a reading treasure trove as it shifts form and musical key; there are letters, confessions, flights of fancy, time shifts, bright images, surprising arrivals and compelling gaps. Lines stand out, other lines lure you in to hunt for the missing pieces. There is grief, resolve, reflection and terrific movement.

 

Mags book.PNG

 

 

Paula: Tell me about the cover of your book. I just love it. I love the way it is rich in miniature things, a little like your poems are.

Magnolia: Isn’t it totally amazing? When I first received the email from Keely O’Shannessy with several cover design options, I was so blown away by it that I almost couldn’t see it. It was weird, like I was looking at running water in a stream or something and I felt like I might faint. I guess I’d never expected her to ‘get’ my work so completely or so quickly, I was prepared to have to go back and forth to fight for a cover I loved, but that never happened. My friend Kerry Donovan-Brown said it’s like someone took a blood sample from me, put it in a petri dish and looked at it under a microscope, and that the cover is what close up Magnolia Wilson blood looks like! Haha. I wish! Best compliment ever. It’s what my dream blood looks like. I wish my blood was jewellery.

And yes, rich in miniature things. One external review of my book mentioned that I seem to be obsessed with accumulation in my work, and it’s true. Lots of little collections of pins and clips, of food in bowls, jewellery, flowers. I grew up as an only child and I lived a rather sylvan kind of life. I loved to collect bits a pieces and when I was nine Mum, Dad and I travelled around the world (yes, lucky me), and I came home with a giant collection of buttons from different countries. I think it’s an innate desire to hang on to what is beautiful in life, to have proof that beautiful things happened, and is probably tied into grief somehow.

 

Paula: I first heard you read poems from this book at the National Library Poetry Day celebration and your ‘Dear Sister’ poems – they open the book – blew my socks off. The letter-writing voice drew me in, the sparkling detail, the mood and the mysteriousness. Where did this haunting sequence spring from?

Magnolia: I can kind of trace where they have come from, but like most creative stuff, the true meaning flutters off just before I can pin it down. So, ‘Pen Pal’ was written in 2012, and that’s a letter sequence, and I think that’s where I got the love for the freedom and mystery that epistolary poems allow, and in that same year I wrote a poem called Anne Boleyn, which is also in the book. I started writing the ‘Dear Sister’ sequence with the idea that is was Anne (pre-Henry) writing to her sister, Mary. But, I wasn’t trying to be factually correct I just sort of followed what the letter writer had to say. Slowly it morphed away from being Anne and simply became a woman from another time, struggling with a sense that she was immensely powerful but with no place to express that power. Hence the onset of a kind of ‘madness’ or, more accurately … going full Sybil / turning into a ‘witch’.

 

Paula: It is such a magnificent way of building a voice in a poem – fierce mixes with doubt, vulnerability, tenderness. This was poetry that I felt. Can you tell me a couple of poetry books that you have felt?

Magnolia: One of the first books of poetry ever gifted to me was Mary Oliver’s collection, American Primitive. My dad set off and travelled around the States after my mother passed away, and he must’ve come across it in his travels and sent it to me with the inscription, Magsie darling, I know you will love this. And I did! It makes me grieve for the majesty of the natural world. I love the way she honours the idea that beauty and love are inseparable from pain and the brutality of nature.

I also love that she is a Christian woman. Usually I would run a mile from a ‘Christian’ poet (probably because I am a bit basic in my thinking and have stereotyped Christians, as though there aren’t a billion different variations on what a Christian can be), but she was Christian in some kind of arcane, pagan way that I love – or that’s what I like to imagine, at least. Also, Mary Reufle’s poetry always makes me feel a lot of hard-to-put-words-to/liminal-space feelings. Her work is a kind of déjà vu. Also, Atsuro Riley’s collection, Romey’s Order, is completely beautiful and was a huge influence for my Pen Pal sequence – the tender, ever so delicate construction-work a child does to build their world.

 

Paula: Poetry may or may not be something you feel as either reader or writer; it might be a matter of music and mystery, story or ideas. Yet so often a poem knots a complex (scarcely visible) string of effects. Take your poem ‘Home Alone 2 (with you)’, for example. At the core of this poem are multiple loves (a movie, a lover, a mother) and a punch-gut moment. And the after effects last and the questions surface. This is the joy of poetry. You move in and out of self-exposure in the collection. Do you have limits? Is it a form of discovery?

 

Christmas time and we’ve been out all night.

You’ve been speaking mix of Korean and English,

the way you do when you’re drunk – and

because English is your second language

people can’t be sure if you’re

talking over their heads or if

you’re freestyling your own

kind of poetry.

 

from ‘Home Alone 2 (with you)’

 

Magnolia: Interesting. Yes, I definitely have limits. And not purposeful ones for creative constraint etc. They’re the limits of being the specific person that is me with my specific voice and set of issues, trying to write poetry. It’s 100 percent a form of discovery for me, a way of making sense of my world and of growing. I think going back to my interest in accumulation, of objects and imagery, I think maybe it’s a kind of armour.

 

The lake has a long memory a long

memory, a large imagination.

 

When my mother left the spring

on our land didn’t change. The water didn’t

stop didn’t stop bubbling up from below.

It didn’t cover itself in a shawl of blackbirds

to indicate grief.

 

Each litre of water that came up

was different from the next and the next

and each time and each time after that

when I took a drink a drink I became

a deep blue lantern teeming with invisible life.

 

from ‘The lake has a long memory’

 

In my poetry I definitely move between self-exposure/vulnerability and then away from it, and I tend to build my poems up and up with imagery like a larva building itself a protective pupa, in order to do its work within, safely. Lol. I think in my poems I build a space where I can work things through, maybe without confronting them directly. And I find that my poems keep on revealing things to me. ‘Muddy Heart’ is an old poem, but only two weeks ago I finally ‘got’ what it was saying. I read it out in an interview and suddenly I was like whoa! That’s what it means! It was so clear and I’d never seen it.

Maybe it’s totally obvious to the reader, I don’t know, but to me I only just got that it was about feeling abandoned by my father after my mum died. I think all creative work is like this, a process of many lives and many mini-deaths, which allow for new life and new understanding in turn.

 

Muddy heart

 

You’ll lie down one day on the field behind

your house and your heart will turn

to mud.

 

Dandelions will push up through the earth, your

blood mingling to a rich beet-coloured soil,

your bones some kind of ash like your father uses

around the strawberry plants.

 

Clover and pennyroyal will take seed on you.

You’ll call out in the fading light for your father,

who is, after all, just over the fence in the house – but you’ll

sound like the long grass, the frogs, the dogs herding cattle.

When eventually he comes looking for you,

how ever many years later

 

there will only be the green flush of land down toward

the road, the river and a patch of grass

where he will tend to st from now on.

 

Paula: It is such a layered sensual poem; I can feel the earth and smell a sharp kick of dandelions just as the image of the father in the fading light who ‘eventually comes looking for you’ is also a sharp heart-kick. And the potent last lines. I adore this poem. The main story might be missing but the feeling is acutely present.

What do you find hard when you write poetry? What gives you pleasure? Does doubt aid or hinder?

Magnolia: I think doubt is something I’m always struggling with in terms of writing. Before I did the IIML masters course, I never really thought much about writing, it was just something that happened to/for me from the age of nine! The IIML course was mostly a blessing and partially a curse. There’s a lot of shit poetry floating round in the world. Honing your editorial eye/ear is key if you want an audience for your work and want to grow as a writer, but, thinking critically about my work pushed me into a place where I felt like nothing was really good enough. I’m only now, seven years on, getting free from that thinking, I am no longer giving fucks.

I am a lyrical, image-laden, nostalgic, confessional poet and that’s totally fine. What I find hard when I write: getting started! I have so, so many failed starts at poems. For every one poem there are maybe 10 or 20 failures. What gives me pleasure: when the creative duende / spirit shows up, and writing just happens in a way that seems outside of my control. It doesn’t happen often but when it does it makes all of the failed attempts worth it.

 

Paula: Ah yes, I don’t think doubt ever leaves. But that mysterious hard-to-describe poem flow can be such a joy. Have you read any poetry books in the past few years that have given delight? Challenged you? Taken you outside your comfort zone. Given your pure reading uplift?

Magnolia: I’m more likely to love individual poems rather than have entire favourite collections. The poems that’ve struck me in some way or other recently (but aren’t necessarily ‘new’ works) have been: Kiki Petrosino – Witch Wife. Alice Te Punga Somerville – time to write (for Larry), Hannah Mettner, her whole book Fully Clothed and So Forgetful, Emma Barnes – all her poems but especially Ohio. Lynn Jenner – many poems, Rebecca Hawkes – the cave draws u in like a breath, Michael Steven – a sequence of poems he wrote about his son, August. Nina Powles – in the end we are humanlike. Jenny Bornholdt – Flight. Anna Jackson – her whole incredible chapbook, Dear Tombs, Dear Horizon. Faith Wilson – Lynette #1. Cynthia Arrieu-King – her whole book People are Tiny in Paintings of China. Alice Oswald – the whole collection Dart. Morgan Bach – her two new poems in Sport. SO MANY MORE.

 

Paula: Ok – books for me to track down there. I haven’t read that poem by Nina for a start. Where was it published? I love reading books outside my comfort zone, that are nothing like I will ever write in terms of style, form and content, but I also love those books that refresh my own writing preoccupations. What are key things when you write a poem? Could you narrow it down to three words?

Magnolia: The Nina one was published in The Shanghai Literary Review online.

Three words: really quite random! I don’t know how I write poems. It seems like a bizarre miracle every time it happens, and then I’m convinced I’ll never be able to write another one again.

 

Paula: I know that feeling – and the way you can pick up an old poem and it reveals new and surprising things to you (as you did with ‘Muddy Heart’). That feels like another miracle. Was there a poem in the collection that just arrived with ease and flow (almost in one sitting) and another that was much harder to form?

Magnolia: ‘The sleep of trees’ was a poem that was just ready and waiting to be written. There had been fragmented, short incarnations of it the year leading up to writing it, but they never worked, and then they all magnetically found their way into that poem, and it was written in about fifteen minutes. And then edited a bit over time.

 

this is the sleep of mothers – of

five thousand lit candles burning hot in the

dark hall of the body, eyes open

and flaming over the bars of a cot

the sleep of babies – restless turning

a sweet and angry clock

bending in space as it draws earthward, pushing

out and protesting against

                            the constraints

                                the boredoms

                                    the repetitions.

from ‘The sleep of trees’

 

‘Glamour’ also kind of wrote itself. Harder to write – Newton gully mixtape – trying to capture the feeling of growing up in the 80s and visiting fashionable Aucklanders, the party scene my parents were involved in, but the emptiness of the scene at the same time. Don’t think I nailed it – because of course, it was way more nuanced than that. Lots of love and happiness too.

 

Paula: Your collection offers poetic pleasure because it has music, space and heart and that makes it both open and fertile. I was flying home from Wellington musing on your book and was drawn to the two-part ‘Conversation with my boyfriend’ where you ‘translate’ your experience together from English into Korean, and from Korean into English, not as language translations but as experience translations. I was thinking then how every poem is a form of translation – so capturing the 80s scene is like a flickery translation. I guess if you think of poetry as translation it becomes something new and intriguing with fragile lines to the original experience-thought-feeling.

 

You are always full of rice because you eat rice and you love rice and

your skin feels like rice when we hug – our bodies mould together

and we are a bread yin and a rice yang and although traditionally

Korean people don’t eat bread you are more than hungry to have me.

 

from ‘English into 한글’ in ‘Conversations with my boyfriend’

 

 

We should always be filled with rice: cooking it and eating meals

together, and rice is important before we die, too. We hug and your

skin is learning to love rice, or, at least starting to star the healthy

map of rice. Traditionally, Korean people don’t eat bread, but there

are now many patisseries in larger cities, and many children long to

be pastry chefs, and I am not so sure about this.

 

from ‘한글 into English’ in ‘Conversations with my boyfriend’

 

I loved the way as I closed the book the two translations merged; yin overlaying yang, yang overlaying yin. Would you ever see a poem as translation or at times as performance/acting out or as walking into discovery (like some poets do) or as an opening of the writing valves into a mysterious process (as you indicated above) that is never the same and simply happens?

Magnolia: Love the fact that they close over one another! Hadn’t even noticed that. I think all of those things are true about poems – they are translation, performance, an act of discovery and totally mysterious. Art is a way to translate human experience and I think life is a constant act of translation, layer upon layer of meaning being filtered through our own specific set of circumstances, beliefs and experiences, that have been filtered through someone else’s before us, and will go through someone else’s after us. That’s why I am not really into black and white dichotomies – left vs right, Labour vs Nats, the right thing to say vs the wrong thing to say, male vs female. Life is way, way too nuanced and strange for such basic framing. Hannah Mettner passed on the most excellent quote about poetry to me, by the poet Robin Robertson and it sums up all my moods: I’ve always thought that writing poetry has very little to do with the intellect. It’s not something one can explain and chat about very easily: certainly not about the making of it. It’s very resistant to explanation. It comes from a place that is occult, in the sense of being hidden. It attends to some of our deepest anxieties and hopes in the same way that dreams do.

 

Auckland University Press page

Magnolia reads ‘Betty as a Boy’

 

1251989-557485-7.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Elizabeth Smither picks Kendrick Smithyman

 

Cutty Sark

 

In company with Cutty Sark at sea

only once, on Himalaya off Brazil.

They sailed into the doldrums.

Day after day another sail came into sight,

would lose the wind, then idle.

Forty-two ships counted from the masthead.

 

Sent up with a glass at daybreak

to mark if anything stirred, reported

a clipper coming from the south carrying

canvas, the mate observing from the poop

later was first to say ’That’s Cutty Sark.’

They watched her through the day.

At last she was hull down, northing,

had sailed right through the might as well

have been derelict fleet, forty-plus of them,

some getting on for four weeks there.

 

That’s what poetry may be about, the impossible

part of it which achieves insubstantial

fact, as little material as Sybil Sanderson’s

G in alt or Fonteyn’s unpredicted change

(‘if you didn’t see why I did it when I did

it then it didn’t work’) not to be described;

when seen, if seen, in a kind of dumbshow

to strike dumbstruck any who looked out

hearing something beyond likely hearing,

seeing something not likely seen, gone

without leaving words for.

 

©Kendrick Smithyman from Imperial Vistas Family Fictions (AUP, 2002)

 

 

On the poem

If you’ve ever been aboard Cutty Sark at Greenwich your head will be full of

legends. The figurehead of Nannie, the witch, clutching the tail of a horse in

her fist; The fabulous races with its rival tea clipper, Thermopylae;  the romance

of sail before the advent of steam. Kendrick Smithyman has captured all this

and more in his wonderful poem.  It begins with the facts: location, doldrums,

number of ships becalmed. Then the manifestation, like an opera star, a

ballerina assoluta. Cutty Sark appears and those lovely nautical terms: ‘carrying

canvas’, ‘hull down, northing’; the other ships might as well be derelict; Cutty

Sark cuts right through them. The last stanza, the longest, turns to the mystery

of poetry, the sighting which not everyone sees, the thing ‘not to be described’

that strikes dumb anyone who is looking or hearing, something that is moving

away as fast as Cutty Sark.

 

Elizabeth Smither

 

Elizabeth Smither, an award-wi9nning poet and fiction writer, has published eighteen collections of poetry, six novels and five short-story collections, as well as journals, essays, criticism. She was the Te Mata Poet Laureate (2001–03), was awarded an Hon D Litt from the University of Auckland and made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004, and was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry in 2008. She was also awarded the 2014 Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature and the 2016 Sarah Broom Poetry Prize. Her most recent collection of poems, Night Horse (Auckland University Press, 2017), won the Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry in 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating poetry 2018 in pictures and words

 

m y    h i g h l i g h t s

 

I have had endless opportunities to transform the days and nights of 2018 with poetry musings. What good is poetry? Why write it? Why read it? Because it energises. Because it connects with the world on the other side of these hills and bush views. Because it gives me goose bumps and it makes me feel and think things.

I am fascinated by the things that stick – the readings I replay in my head – the books I finish and then read again within a week – the breathtaking poem I can’t let go. So much more than I write of here!

I have also invited some of the poets I mention to share their highlights.

 

2018: my year of poetry highlights

I kicked started an audio spot on my blog with Chris Tse reading a poem and it meant fans all round the country could hear how good he is. Like wow! Will keep this feature going in 2019.

Wellington Readers and Writers week was a definite highlight – and, amidst all the local and international stars, my standout session featured a bunch of Starling poets. The breathtaking performances of Tayi Tibble and essa may ranapiri made me jump off my seat like a fan girl. I got to post esssa’s poem on the blog.

To get to do an email conversation with Tayi after reading Poūkahangatus (VUP) her stunning debut collection – was an absolute treat. I recently reread our interview and was again invigorated by her poetry engagements, the way she brings her whanau close, her poetry confidence, her fragilities, her song. I love love love her poetry.

My second standout event was the launch of tātai whetū edited by Maraea Rakuraku and Vana Manasiadis and published by Seraph Press. Lots of the women read with their translators. The room overflowed with warmth, aroha and poetry.

At the same festival I got to MC Selina Tusitala Marsh and friends at the National Library and witness her poetry charisma. Our Poet Laureate electrifies a room with poems (and countless other venues!), and I am in awe of the way she sparks poetry in so many people in so many places.

I also went to my double poetry launch of the year. Chris Tse’s  He’s So MASC (AUP) – the book moved and delighted me to bits and I was inspired to do an email conversation with him for Poetry Shelf. He was so genius in his response. Anna Jackson’s Pasture and Flock: New and Selected Poems (AUP) delivers the quirkiest, unexpected, physical, cerebral poetry around. The book inspired another email conversation for the blog.

Tusiata Avia exploded my heart at her event with her cousin Victor Rodger; she read her challenging Unity and astonishing epileptic poems. Such contagious strength amidst such fragility my nerve endings were hot-wired (can that be done?). In a session I chaired on capital cities and poets, Bill Manhire read and spoke with such grace and wit the subject lit up. Capital city connections were made.

When Sam Duckor-Jones’s debut collection People from the Pit Stand Up (VUP) arrived, both the title and cover took me to the couch to start reading until I finished. All else was put on hold. I adore this book with its mystery and revelations, its lyricism and sinew; and doing a snail-paced email conversation was an utter pleasure.

I have long been a fan of Sue Wootton’s poetry with its sumptuous treats for the ear. So I was delighted to see The Yield (OUP) shortlisted for the 2018 NZ Book Awards. This is a book that sticks. I was equally delighted to see Elizabeth Smither win with her Night Horses (AUP) because her collection features poems I just can’t get out of my head. I carry her voice with me, having heard her read the poems at a Circle of Laureates event. I also loved Hannah Mettner’s Fully Clothed and So Forgetful (VUP), a debut that won best first Book. How this books sings with freshness and daring and originality.

I did a ‘Jane Arthur has  won the Sarah Broom Poetry Award and Eileen Meyers picked her’ dance in my kitchen and then did an anxious flop when I found Eileen couldn’t make the festival. But listening to Jane read before I announced the winner I felt she had lifted me off the ground her poems were so good. I was on stage and people were watching.

Alison Glenny won the Kathleen Grattan Award and Otago University Press published The Farewell Tourist, her winning collection. We had a terrific email conversation. This book has taken up permanent residence in my head because I can’t stop thinking about the silent patches, the mystery, the musicality, the luminous lines, the Antarctica, the people, the losses, the love. And the way writing poetry can still be both fresh and vital. How can poetry be so good?!

I went to the HoopLA book launch at the Women’s Bookshop and got to hear three tastes from three fabulous new collections: Jo Thorpe’s This Thin Now, Elizabeth Welsh’s Over There a Mountain and Reihana Robinson’s Her limitless Her. Before they began, I started reading Reihana’s book and the mother poems at the start fizzed in my heart. I guess it’s a combination of how a good a poem is and what you are feeling on the day and what you experienced at some point in the past. Utter magic. Have now read all three and I adore them.

At Going West I got to chair Helen Heath, Chris Tse and Anna Jackson (oh like a dream team) for the Wellington and poetry session. I had the anxiety flowing (on linking city and poet again) but forgot all that as I became entranced by their poems and responses. Such generosity in sharing themselves in public – it not only opened up poetry writing but also the complicated knottiness of being human. Might sound corny but there you go. Felt special.

Helen Heath’s new collection Are Friends Eectric? (VUP) was another book that blew me apart with its angles and smoothness and provocations. We conversed earlier this year by email.

A new poetry book by former Poet Laureate Cilla McQueen is always an occasion to celebrate. Otago University Press have released Poeta: Selected and new poems this year. It is a beautiful edition curated with love and shows off the joys of Cilla’s poetry perfectly.

Two anthologies to treasure: because I love short poems Jenny Bornholdt’s gorgeous anthology Short Poems of New Zealand. And Steve Braunias’s The Friday Poem because he showcases an eclectic range of local of poets like no other anthology I know. I will miss him making his picks on Fridays (good news though Ashleigh Young is taking over that role).

 

Highlights from some poets

 

Sam Duckor-Jones

I spent six weeks reading & writing poems with the students of Eketahuna School. They were divided on the merits of James Brown’s Come On Lance. It sparked a number of discussions & became a sort of touchstone. Students shared the poems they’d written & gave feedback: it’s better than Come On Lance, or, it’s not as good as Come On Lance, or, shades of Come On Lance. Then someone would ask to hear Come On Lance again & half the room would cheer & half the room would groan. Thanks James Brown for Come On Lance.

 

Hannah Mettner

My fave poetry thing all year has been the beautiful Heartache Festival that Hana Pera Aoake and Ali Burns put on at the start of the year! Spread over an afternoon and evening, across two Wellington homes, with readings and music and so much care and aroha. I wish all ‘literary festivals’ had such an atmosphere of openness and vulnerability!

 

Jane Arthur

Poetry-related things made up a lot of my highlights this year. I mean, obviously, winning the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize was … pretty up there. I’m still, like, “Me?! Whaaaat!” about it. I discovered two things after the win. First, that it’s possible to oscillate between happy confidence and painful imposter syndrome from one minute to the next. And second, that the constant state of sleep deprivation brought on by having a baby is actually strangely good for writing poetry. It puts me into that semi-dream-brain state that helps me see the extra-weirdness in everything. I wrote almost a whole collection’s worth of poems (VUP, 2020) in the second half of the year, thanks broken sleep!

A recent highlight for me was an event at Wellington’s LitCrawl: a conversation between US-based poet Kaveh Akbar and Kim Hill. I’m still processing all its gems – hopefully a recording will show up soon. Another was commissioning Courtney Sina Meredith to write something (“anything,” I said) for NZ Poetry Day for The Sapling, and getting back a moving reminder of the importance of everyone’s stories

This year I read more poetry than I have in ages, and whenever I enjoyed a book I declared it my favourite (I always do this). However, three local books have especially stayed with me and I will re-read them over summer: the debuts by Tayi Tibble and Sam Duckor-Jones, and the new Alice Miller. Looking ahead, I can’t wait for a couple of 2019 releases: the debut collections by essa may ranapiri and Sugar Magnolia Wilson.

 

Elizabeth Smither

Having Cilla McQueen roll and light me a cigarette outside the Blyth

Performing Arts Centre in Havelock North after the poets laureate

Poemlines: Coming Home reading (20.10.2018) and then smoking together,

cigarettes in one hand and tokotoko in the other. Then, with the relief that

comes after a reading, throwing the cigarette down into a bed of pebbles, hoping

the building doesn’t catch on fire.

 

Selina Tusitala Marsh

To perform my ‘Guys Like Gauguin’ sequence (from Fast Talking PI) in Tahiti at the Salon du Livre, between an ancient Banyan Tree and a fruiting Mango tree, while a French translator performs alongside me and Tahitians laugh their guts out!

Thanks Bougainville
For desiring ‘em young
So guys like Gauguin
Could dream and dream
Then take his syphilitic body
Downstream…

 

Chris Tse

kiwis-in-london.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year I’ve been lucky enough to read my work in some incredible settings, from the stately dining room at Featherston’s Royal Hotel, to a church-turned-designer-clothing-store in Melbourne’s CBD. But the most memorable reading I’ve done this year was with fellow Kiwis Holly Hunter, Morgan Bach and Nina Powles in a nondescript room at The Poetry Cafe in London, which the three of them currently call home. It was a beautiful sunny Saturday that day, but we still managed to coax people into a dark windowless room to listen to some New Zealand poetry for a couple of hours. This is a poetry moment I will treasure for many years to come.

 

Sue Wootton

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing and reading plenty of poems by plenty of poets this year. But far and away the most rejuvenating poetry experience for me during 2018 was working with the children at Karitane School, a small primary school on the East Otago coast. I’m always blown away by what happens when kids embark on the poetry journey. Not only is the exploration itself loads of fun, but once they discover for themselves the enormous potentiality in language – it’s just go! As they themselves wrote: “Plant the seeds and grow ideas / an idea tree! Sprouting questions … / Bloom the inventions / Fireworks of words …” So I tip my cap to these young poets, in awe of what they’ve already made and intrigued to find out what they’ll make next.

 

Cilla McQueen

1

25.11.18

Found on the beach – is it a fossil?

jawbone? hunk of coral? No – it’s a wrecked,

fire-blackened fragment of Janola bottle,

its contorted plastic colonised by weeds

and sandy encrustations, printed instructions

still visible here and there, pale blue.

Growing inside the intact neck, poking out

like a pearly beak, a baby oyster.

 

2

Living in Bluff for twenty-two years now, I’ve sometimes felt out on a limb, in the tree of New Zealand poetry. I appreciate the journey my visitors undertake to reach me. A reluctant traveller myself, a special poetry moment for me was spent with Elizabeth Smither and Bill and Marion Manhire at Malo restaurant, in Havelock North. Old friends from way back – I haven’t seen them often but poetry and art have always connected us

 

Tayi Tibble

In September, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend The Rosario International Poetry Festival in Argentina. It was poetic and romantic; late night dinners in high rise restaurants, bottles of dark wine served up like water, extremely flowery and elaborate cat-calling (Madam, you are a candy!) and of course sexy spanish poetry and sexy poets.

On our last night, Marcela, Eileen and I broke off and went to have dinner at probably what is the only Queer vegan hipster restaurant/boutique lingerie store/experimental dj venue in the whole of Argentina, if not the world. Literally. We couldn’t find a vegetable anywhere else. We went there, because Eileen had beef with the chef at the last place and also we had too much actual beef generally, but I digress.

So anyway there we are eating a vegan pizza and platter food, chatting. I accidentally say the C word like the dumbass crass kiwi that I am forgetting that it’s like, properly offensive to Americans. Eileen says they need to take a photo of this place because it’s camp af. I suggest that Marcela and I kiss for the photo to gay it up because I’m a Libra and I’m lowkey flirting for my life because it’s very hot and I’ve basically been on a red-wine buzz for five days. Eileen gets a text from Diana, one of the festival organisers telling them they are due to read in 10 minutes. We are shocked because the male latin poets tend to read for up to 2584656 times their allocated time slots, so we thought we had plenty of time to like, chill and eat vegan. Nonetheless poetry calls, so we have to dip real quick, but when we step outside, despite it being like 1546845 degrees the sky opens up and it’s pouring down. Thunder. Lightening. A full on tropical South American storm!

It’s too perfect it’s surreal. Running through the rain in South America. Marcella and I following Eileen like two hot wet groupies. Telling each other, “no you look pretty.” Feeling kind of primal. Throwing our wet dark curls around. The three of us agree that this is lowkey highkey very sexy. Cinematic and climatic. Eventually we hail a taxi because time is pressing. Though later that night, and by night I mean at like 4am, Marcella and I, very drunk and eating the rest of our Vegan pizza, confessed our shared disappointment that we couldn’t stay in the rain in Argentina…  just for a little while longer….

We get to the venue and make a scene; just in time and looking like we’ve just been swimming. Eileen, soaking wet and therefore looking cooler than ever, reads her poem An American Poem while Marcella and I admire like fangirls with foggy glasses and starry eyes.

“And I am your president.” Eileen reads.

“You are! You are!” We both agree.

 

Alison Glenny

A poetry moment/reading. ‘The Body Electric’ session at this year’s Litcrawl was a celebration of queer and/or non-binary poets (Emma Barnes, Harold Coutts, Sam Duckor-Jones, essa may ranapiri, Ray Shipley ). Curated and introduced by poet Chris Tse (looking incredibly dapper in a sparkly jacket) it was an inspiring antidote to bullying, shame, and the pressure to conform.

A book. Not a book of poetry as such, but a book by a poet (and perhaps it’s time to be non-binary about genre as well as gender?). Reading Anne Kennedy’s The Ice Shelf I was struck by how unerringly it highlights the salient characteristics of this strange era we call the anthropocene: crisis and denial, waste and disappearance, exploitation, and the destruction caused by broken relationships and an absence of care.

A publishing event. Seraph Press published the lovely tātai whetū: seven Māori women poets in translation, with English and Te Reo versions of each poem on facing pages (and a sprinkling of additional stars on some pages). An invitation, as Karyn Parangatai writes in her similarly bilingual review of the book in Landfall Review online (another publishing first?) ‘to allow your tongue to tease the Māori words into life’.

Best writing advice received in 2018. ‘Follow the signifier’.

 

essa may ranapiri

There are so many poetry highlights for me this year, so many good books that have left me buzzing for the verse! First book I want to mention is Cody-Rose Clevidence’s second poetry collection flung Throne. It has pulled me back into a world of geological time and fractured identity.

Other books that have resonated are Sam Ducker-Jone’s People from the Pit Stand Up and Tayi Tibble’s Poūkahangatus, work from two amazingly talented writers and friends who I went through the IIML Masters course with. After pouring over their writing all year in the workshop environment seeing their writing in book form brought me to tears. So proud of them both!

Written out on a type-writer, A Bell Made of Stones by queer Chamorro poet, Lehua M. Taitano, explores space, in the world and on the page. They engage with narratives both indigenous and colonial critiquing the racist rhetoric and systems of the colonial nation state. It’s an incredible achievement, challenging in form and focus.

I’ve been (and continue to be) a part of some great collaborative poetry projects, a poetry collection; How It Colours Your Tongue with Loren Thomas and Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor, a poetry chapbook; Eater Be Eaten with Rebecca Hawkes, and a longform poetry zine; what r u w/ a broken heart? with Hana Pera Aoake. Working with these people has and continues to be a such a blessing!

I put together a zine of queer NZ poetry called Queer the Pitch. Next year I’m going to work to release a booklet of trans and gender diverse poets, I’m looking forward to working with more talented queer voices!

The most important NZ poetry book to be released this year, it would have to be tātai whetū. It was published as part of Seraph Press’s Translation Series. It features work from seven amazing wāhine poets; Anahera Gildea, Michelle Ngamoki, Tru Paraha, Kiri Piahana-Wong, Maraea Rakuraku, Dayle Takitimu and Alice Te Punga Somerville. These poems are all accompanied by te reo Māori translations of the work. I can only imagine that it would be a super humbling experience to have your work taken from English and returned to the language of the manu. By happenstance I was able to attend the launch of tātai whetū; to hear these pieces read in both languages was a truly special experience. It’s so important that we continue to strive to uplift Māori voices, new words brought forth from the whenua should be prized in our literary community, thanks to Seraph for providing such a special place for these poems. Ka rawe!

 

Anna Jackson

This has been a year of particularly memorable poetry moments for me, from the launch of Seraph Press’s bilingual anthology Tātai Whetū in March and dazzling readings by Mary Rainsford and Tim Overton at a Poetry Fringe Open Mike in April, to Litcrawl’s inspiring installation in November of essa may ranapiri and Rebecca Hawkes hard at work on their collaborative poetry collection in a little glass cage/alcove at the City Art Gallery. They hid behind a table but their creative energy was palpable even through the glass. I would also like to mention a poetry salon hosted by Christine Brooks, at which a dog-and-cheese incident of startling grace brilliantly put into play her theory about the relevance of improv theatre theory to poetry practice. Perhaps my happiest poetry moment of the year took place one evening when I was alone in the house and, having cooked an excellent dinner and drunken rather a few small glasses of shiraz, started leafing through an old anthology of English verse reading poems out loud to myself, the more the metre the better. But the poems I will always return to are poems I have loved on the page, and this year I have been returning especially to Sam Duckor-Jones’s People from the Pit Stand Up, while I look forward to seeing published Helen Rickerby’s breath-taking new collection, How to Live, that has already dazzled me in draft form.

 

 

happy summer days

and thank you for visiting my bog

in 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading CK Stead’s That Derrida Whom I Derided Died: Poems 2013 – 2017

1536809900755.jpg  1536809900755.jpg  1536809900755.jpg

CK Stead, That Derrida Whom I Derided Died  Auckland University Press  2018

 

 

Frank and Allen, Robin, Ron and Rex

rode the North Shore ferries, while Rangitoto

pictured itself sunk in a stone composure.

Eeven the Golden Weather would have to end

where a small room with large windows disclosed

geraniums wild in the wet and a gannet impacting.

 

from ‘That summer cento sonnet, 1950s’

 

In September I listened uncomfortably as Steve Braunias questioned CK Stead and Charlotte Grimshaw about the truth of happy childhoods in the Stead family. Steve insisted but Karl and Charlotte sidestepped with tact and grace. I have since read and loved Charlotte’s novel Mazarine – I was caught up in both the momentum of a thriller and entranced by the interior struggles of the main character. I savoured the novel for the novel’s sake rather than muse upon autobiographical tracings. In this world on edge the novel felt vulnerable, driven, humane. It was writing I felt as much as I thought.

Here I am writing about the daughter when I have just read the father (his novel waits me).

When I first picked up Karl’s new poetry collection, That Derrida Whom I Derided Died, the title catapulted me back into the gated community of literary theory.  I wanted to open the book and travel lightly but I was carrying the Going West session into the collection; that tension between what you write and what you live. I can’t think of a New Zealand literary figure who has courted greater controversy, maintained lifelong enemies along with lifelong friendships, and who has irked so many writing peers. I scarcely know the details of these relations or want to but I have had a long history of reading and admiring Karl’s poetry and fiction. Really I wanted to banish all this external hubbub from my reading and engage with the poetry on its own terms.

 

In the dark

of the 15th floor

Bill Manhire woke

thinking the building

had turned over in sleep

and groaned

or ground its teeth

 

from ‘Apprehension’ in ‘Christchurch Word Festival, 2016’

 

Karl’s collection is deeply personal; the poetry is a meeting ground for dream, memory, retrieval, old age. It is a book of friendships with the living, with ghosts of the past and with writers that attract such as Catallus. He obliquely and briefly returns to arguments and enmities that persisted but for me it is the love of poetry that is the greatest fuel.

The poetry is deftly crafted – like honey at perfect consumption – with shifting forms, syllabics, subject matter. You move from the exquisite opening poem ‘An Horatian ode to Fleur Adcock at eighty’ to the challenge of writing war poems to the final poem written at ‘ten to midnight’.

The 80 plus poems almost match Karl’s age (86) – and maybe that changes things for me as a reader. I am brought closer to death as I am reading, not because death is a protagonist, but because the long-ago past is returned to the frame. And I have had close shaves. What do we want to bring close and find poetic ways to make present? I am asking myself this as I read. Mysterious, dreamlike, moving; yet there is an intensity about these replayed moments. Perhaps luminosity is a better word for these poems that make things utterly present.

 

She was, she tells me

the one without a partner

until I came

with a bottle of bubbly and two plastic cups

and a small box of rose petals.

‘You realise my age?’ I ask

(uncertain what it is).

‘Of course,’ she says.

‘This was half a century ago.’

So we danced and danced

until just before midnight

when I walked out

into the Bavarian dark.

‘I’ve never forgiven you,’she says.

‘Where did you go? Where have you been?’

 

from ‘Ten minutes to midnight’

 

In one poem, ‘By the back door’, Karl responds to Damien Wilkin’s review that suggests Karl’s writing suffers from a glut of lucidity and that his novels yearn to be poems. I can’t say I have ever felt that but Karl suggests in his endnote he wrote this as a semi farewell to fiction. Ah the way we get thrown off kilter. This is what I mean by deeply personal. We are being brought in close to the man writing, the man living, the man and his little and larger anxieties, the man and his little and larger fascinations. And how this might shift and resettle at ten to midnight. In a footnote Karl tells us that he ended up writing at least one novel (The Necessary Angel – it’s on my pile) but maybe two (Risk) after writing the poem.

As I move through the book, lingering over poems with admiration and feeling uncomfortable at others, the outside stories come clamouring. But I hold them at arm’s length. Even when Karl is doing the signposting. Instead I relish the dreamlike moment that the writer, on this occasion, in this instant of almost urgent return, renders lucid, gleaming. This is a book to be celebrated.

 

I was the one who believed in poetry –

that it could capture the gull in flight

and the opening flower

and in the blink of an eye

a knock on the door of death.

I believed with Shakespeare

there was a trick that unlocked

the mystery of

the named stars.

 

from ‘I was the one …’

 

 

Auckland University Press page

CK Stead is an award-winning poet, literary critic, novelist, essayist and Emeritus Professor at The University of Auckland. He was the New Zealand Poet Laureate (2015 -2017), has received the Prime Minster’s Award for Literary Achievement in Fiction and is a member of the Order of New Zealand, the highest possible honour in New Zealand.

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf in conversation with Alice Miller

 

IMG_4840.jpg

 

Alice Miller’s debut collection, The Limits was published in 2014. She has also published Blaue Stunde (2016), an English/German edition of poems which features letters with the Pakistani author Bilal Tanweer. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the International Institute of Modern Letters, Alice was recently a fellow at the Akademie Schloss Solitude. She now lives in Berlin where she is on the faculty for the Creating Writing MFA programme at Cedar Crest College. Her latest poetry book, Nowhere Nearer, was published in 2018 by Auckland University Press and Liverpool University Press. It is a UK Poetry Book Society Recommendation.

Nowhere Nearer is kaleidoscopic in its reach for heart and mind; silence matters as much as a delight in words and linguistic connections. You move between countries, ideas, memories, hauntings, loss. The past makes way for the future and the future makes way for the past. It is a joy to read, and a joy to read again. To celebrate its arrival in the world Alice and I undertook an email conversation over the course of a month or so.

 

1536809939795-2.jpg  1536809939795-2.jpg  1536809939795-2.jpg

 

Epilogue

 

I’m not here to repair the world.

No one here’s here for much, except

perhaps these high windows boasting sky.

My friend says love is easier the less

you know a person. The more you know

the less you love. I say love’s

an exhausted word, used for everything.

I turn the tap on, cold, the stream smooth,

and I can’t remember why in Hell

I should turn it off.

Doesn’t language get tired?

Doesn’t it get sick of

lulling us into believing

all the **** we say? In the Prater a willow dips herself

into water and stirs her own image, and

in the lake her leaves retract, refuse to repair.

Isn’t love also the kind of cruelty

you give to someone because you can’t hold

all that cruelty in your own hands?

All I know’s I’m overflowing.

All I know’s I’m overflowing and I’m not sure

how much of me the world can hold.

 

©Alice Miller, from Nowhere Nearer

 

 

Paula: I have just finished reading your new book of poems, a collection that is lucid on the line and bright with ideas. The attentiveness to a peopled and physical world as well as preoccupations of the mind struck me. This is a book of musings unlike any other. The title of the book, Nowhere Nearer, and an early poem, ‘Out of this World’, underline the cerebral movements. Do you feel these titles speak of human existence but also the very process of writing poetry?

Alice: Absolutely. Poetry is a form of rescue for me. I’m terrified of death, and poetry is the closest I come to feeling comfortable about my relationship with it. I can be in dialogue with it; I can dislodge it with music. I can call it “it.” In life I have no power over death, but in poetry I have a little. I feel as though something is happening between us. So yes, for me writing occurs “nowhere” but also gives this sense that we’re getting closer.

The book’s title also leans towards other things. One is not knowing where you belong (that weird thing that happens when you live away for a few years, during which time you describe yourself as a proud citizen of Aotearoa New Zealand, but when you return to NZ the locals say “but where’re you really from?”). Another is that absurd tendency we all have of striving towards a goal, that, once it’s achieved or abandoned, is immediately replaced with a new, different goal. In a secular world, what does it mean to get nearer? And where the hell is nowhere?

 

Paula: I have carried a thought from the French feminist author, Julia Kristeva with me: that writing postpones death. I guess with a history of illness and accident it resonated. I wonder if death affects other writers?

 

                                 (..) This morning

inside other mornings, as the city nests

inside other towns, the sun steps in

to blast the snow back

so my eyes must shut,

see only blood.

 

from ‘Outside Vienna’

 

Notions of belonging – of here and elsewhere – form such vital and various threads in the collection. I am thinking of cities (Vienna in particular) to begin with and the way you can be both inside and outside place. I was reminded of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities where the sequence of cities is in fact the shifting facades, interiors and intricacies of Venice. Have Vienna and Berlin changed things for you as a poet? Does a poem form a provisional self-anchor in a particular city?

 

Alice: The first time I read Invisible Cities, I felt like I was waking from an old world – I was filled with a vast awe and also a strange envy, that it was exactly the kind of book I’d wanted to write. What it captures is rather like that Éluard quote, There is another world but it is in this one. In this sense, perhaps everywhere I go is the hill above Mahina Bay where I used to walk around as a kid, taking myself awfully seriously, and failing to find my way out of thinking.

On the other hand, Vienna and Berlin are not just stage sets, because we live in time – in 2018 – which is exhibiting noisy echoes of another moment in the 20th century, in which Vienna and Berlin were central. My grandmother, a German Jew, had to leave Germany in the 1930s, and eventually ended up in Wellington. I spent time looking after her at the end of her life, when I was sixteen and she had lost much of her memory. All this seems connected to me in ways that can’t be approached directly. Once more Europe – and the world – feels precarious, and part of this must be tackled in prose, and part of it can’t be. Poetry’s music gets at a different slant of it, something fixed and floating and true.

 

IMG_3527.jpg

 

Paula: I am thinking too of the way your collection represents the lure and float of home. Home is the playful musing in ‘The Roof’:

 

 

(…)  When a psychoanalyst

says adults have no notion of home, a

nomadic woman says rubbish

and in America rubbish perches on gutters

and won’t wash down. A gull has a sense of home?

A bumblebee is bumbling home?

We bumble but we do not gull, only

cull our belongings as we wait to board

     our next plane out. In our bold age. In our bumble back

         to riches and our gull back to rags.

 

In ‘Fourteen Mistakes’ the traveller cannot be admitted home until ‘we have re-mapped our own insides’. The poem, ‘Maker’, is equally powerful: ‘Home’s far and grown old.’

What are the key navigation points as you write this moving attention to home? The discoveries that surprise or unsettle or soothe?

Alice: Home! I stumbled on this question because there are so many ways to tackle it. Home is not one thing. On the most obvious level for me, Aotearoa NZ is most obviously my home; I have a strong physical reaction to the bush and the ocean, my entire family live there, I love it with a fierceness – but oddly I’m most easily at home right now, day-to-day, in Berlin, which is noisy and dirty and unfinished (and gentrifying with wild rapidity) and is also where a couple of the people I love most in the world live.

I like music as a metaphor here; in a Western tonal tradition, we are dragged towards the home key, we know what the resolution is. We yearn for it and feel it in our body when we hear it – and yet we can also distrust its perfection, its cleanness. When we did piano exams as kids they’d play a few bars on the piano and you had to say whether it was a “plagal,” “interrupted,” or “perfect” cadence. I always thought “plagal” meant related to plague; it was infected somehow, imperfect. I think home is all three of these things, perfect, plagal, interrupted. For that matter, so is poetry, making it perhaps the perfect (and plagal, and interrupted) vehicle to carry a sense of home.

 

Paula: I love bringing that trio to both home and poetry. Silence becomes a form of interruption in your poetry; a feature of its exquisite musicality. Occasionally there are long gaps between stanzas like pauses for thought as though the writing process is slow paced. Or the unsaid is paramount. What attracts you to the white space of poetry?

 

The hold I have’s not one I want to lose

though it’s caught in the flick of the clock through this blood

which knows it can’t gulp down tides, can’t tear out time,

needs a rest from the world I have wrinkled

in fingers, questions, musics. I try to teach my breath a new north,

      new east

 

from ‘The Hold I Have’

 

Alice: Poetry is all about gaps, about what’s conjured, what’s beyond definition. I’ve always been fascinated (and occasionally paralysed) by the swirling counterfactual possibilities inherent in all our decisions. In a way this book could be described as an attempt to let our counterfactual existences live: to forge those counter-narratives – our seemingly false futures – into an essential strand of the story.

 

Paula: Oh I love that way of approaching your collection. Such an idea generates all manner of movements. There is the movement between remembering and forgetting, between the adequacy of telling and an inadequacy. Are you plagued with doubt as a writer? With forgetting? Was there a poem that was particularly difficult to write?

 

How today in a haunted town

the rain is patient

and windows promise

to split our faces

How today in a hunting ground

we tell our stories in the only

wayward inadequate way

anyone knows how

 

from ‘How to Forget’

 

 

Alice: I’m plagued with doubt as a person! I am plagued by fears of death and failure and shame. But I believe I need that doubt and fear to push through what’s easy and get to the mystery. So I’m happy to be an anxious, stubborn, stumbling person who takes a long time to finish a book. There’s also a very strange disconnect between the luminous space where you are alone playing words like an instrument, and the bit where you have a book in your hands and you’re supposed to thrust it upon people. The object of the book has such a distant relationship to the luminous space. And the luminous space is why we do what we do.

After my first book came out, I thought every time a book of mine was published I would feel a kind of shame. But it was different with the small book I published in Germany a couple of years ago, and again with Nowhere Nearer. I feel extremely lucky that I can point to this new book and say it’s mine without feeling completely mortified. I can see that people might not like the book, but that’s okay with me. At the moment it’s the best answer I have for how to live in what James Wright called “this scurvy/ And disastrous place.” And I know I write for the luminous space, and what comes after is beyond me.

 

Paula: Did you read any poetry books that stuck with you as you wrote this book? Any other books that stuck or affected your writing?

Alice: Elizabeth Bishop is always somewhere nearby, and she’s the best on that idea of home, too: the line “Should we have stayed at home/ wherever that may be?” appears a simple question, but while keeping this idea of staying home, it also rips away the very notion, questioning whether it exists at all. The title Nowhere Nearer is also a hat-tip to her abstract, geographical book titles: North and South, Geography III, Questions of Travel. She is so skilled at control and the lack of it: her seemingly distant tone tries to control the emotion that she also lets you glimpse.

 

Paula: Are there one or two poems in your collection that have really worked for you? Where the subject matters profoundly and/or the making of the poem just fell into place and it sang for you.

Alice: They’re all songs! An example follows. And I want to say thank you so much for this conversation, which has been lovely — and thank you for the extraordinary amount you do for poetry in Aotearoa. I’m definitely not the only person who is extremely grateful for everything that you’ve done, and continue to do.

 

Born Breathing

 

Because I have never quite caught the moment when you

stand and breathe on top of a mountain in a country where

you were born, and

 

because I have never been trapped in an underground cavern

with a single candle and no water, and

 

because a man I was once in love with just sent me a

photograph from Colorado of a famous man’s baby booties

and his gold death mask,

 

and because he was so gentle I had to push him away,

 

and because because means by cause of, and causes multiply as

a matter of course, and because our arguments come to us like

breath,

 

I am trying to keep the seconds still, in this bed overlooking a

window blasted white by mist

 

while I look on the dark web for a definition of the seconds

after a wisdomflash, where

 

you re-see each tip of tree, each gasping leaf, each scrape of

thin snow, when

 

your naked, foolish self can’t be argued with, and

 

your death mask is, for that second, wiped clean.

 

©Alice Miller, from Nowhere Nearer

 

Auckland University Press page

Liverpool University Press page

Poetry Book Society recommendation

 

Liverpool University Press edition:

Nowhere Nearer .jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Elizabeth Smither’s Best Book of Poetry Award

 

dsc_0067.jpg

 

Elizabeth Smither, Night Horse – winner of the Best Poetry Book Award at the Ockham NZ Book Awards 2018

 

Paula: Your new collection is a delight to read and offers so many poetic treats. I was thinking as I read that your poems are like little jackets that can be worn inside out and outside in. In stillness there is movement and in movement there is stillness; in musicality there is plainness and in plainness there is musicality. In the strange there is the ordinary and in the ordinary there is the strange. What do you like your poems to do?

Elizabeth: I want them to do everything. Everything at once. I want them to feel and think (and feel the thinking in them as you read). I want them to be quick, in the old sense of the word: the opposite of dead. I want them to not know something and try to find it out – I would never write a poem with prior knowledge – I think ignorance can be bliss or at least start the motor. And as I write more I find out more and more about musicality. Isn’t one of the loveliest moments in music when harmony breaks through discord as though it is earned and you know that discord, instead of being a thicket or a dark wood, is part of it?

 

Paula: I especially love the ongoing friendship and granddaughter poems, but I particularly love the first poem, ‘My mother’s house.’ Kate Camp and I heard you read this at the National Library’s Circle of Laureates and were so moved and uplifted that we asked for copies! Unseen, you are observing your mother move through the house from the street (you gave us this introduction) and see her in shifting lights. The moment is extraordinary; are we are at our truest self when we are not observed? There is the characteristic Smither movement through the poem, slow and attentive, to the point of tilt or surprise. The final lines reverberate and alter the pitch of looking: ‘but she who made it/who would soon walk into the last room/of her life and go to sleep in it.’  Do you have a poem or two in the collection that particularly resonate with you?

Elizabeth: I’m fond of ‘The tablecloth’ after I observed my friend, Clay, scrubbing at a corner of a white damask tablecloth in the laundry after a dinner party. It reminded me of the old-fashioned way of washing linen in a river. It’s both a doll-sized tablecloth and something almost as large as the tablecloth for a royal banquet around which staff walk, measuring the placement of cutlery and the distance between each chair. ‘Ukulele for a dying child’ tumbles all over itself in an incoherent manner because the subject is so serious and no poet can do it justice. The grandmother poems will probably be ongoing because it is such an intense experience: something between a hovering angel and a lioness. Going back to your remark about ‘My mother’s house’ I agree with the truth that is available in our unobserved moments. Perhaps there is a balance between our social and our private moments which might comprise something Keats called ‘soul-making’.

from our interview

 

 

Tenderness

 

                           I

 

A tree in the centre of a corn field

the corn rising in its ranks like braided hair

to meet the lowest branches

 

a tree that has replaced at least twenty

corn stalks with their divided leaves

twenty golden cobs sweetly surrendered

 

for this lovely grace: leaf sweep touching

leaf sweep, the whole field given by

this rising trunk, a focus

 

the pattern drawn from the edge of the field

to the centre where the tree

delivers a blessing.

 

II

 

The forest planation blankets hills.

Neat-ankled, swift-running

the dark pines descend

 

except on one little hilltop a ride

of grass begins and runs

with the trees which seem to bend

 

tenderly towards it: a bed from which

a child has risen and begun walking

the solicitousness of pine branches over grass.

 

©Elizabeth Smither from Night Horse

 

 

1497223465774-1.jpg    1497223465774-1.jpg

 

Paula: Have you seen a festival poetry session (anywhere) that has blown you off your seat (or had some other significant impact)?

Elizabeth: Margaret Atwood and Hans Magnus Enzensberger at the Aldeburgh festival. I read first and sat down between them, shivering.

Paula: If you could curate a dream poetry session at The Auckland Writers Festival which poets would be there and who would mc or chair it?

Elizabeth: I  think I’d do a Dead Poets session. Keats and Shelley, Robert Lowell, William Empson, John Crowe Ransom, Tomas Tranströmer, Szymborska, of course… the possibilities are endless. It might have something of the bitchy tone of ‘The Real Housewives of Melbourne’.  To chair it one of the Paulas: Green or Morris.

 

from Poetry Shelf  ’12 Questions for the Ockham New Zealand Book Award Poetry finalists’

 

Elizabeth will appear at the Auckland Writers Festival 

Sunday May 20  1.30 – 2.20 Disappearances  (4 readings) Limelight Room, Aotea Centre

 

Auckland University Press Night Horse page and author page

Booksellers review by Emma Shi

Radio NZ National review by Harry Ricketts with Kathryn Ryan

 

Award night

 

Screen Shot 2018-05-16 at 8.35.48 AM.png

Poetry Shelf Audio Spot: Chris Tse reads ‘I want things that won’t make me happy’

 

 

1520467973785.jpg      1520467973785.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Tse, ‘I want things that won’t make me happy’, He’s so MASC, Auckland University Press, 2018

Auckland University Press page