Tag Archives: Auckland University Press

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Anna Jackson’s launch speech for Helen Rickerby’s How to Live

 

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Helen Rickerby, How to Live

 Helen Rickerby’s ‘Notes on the Unsilent Woman, Note 2’: ‘Perhaps the first thing you need to know is that women in ancient Athens didn’t get out much. No dinner parties, no debate, no public life. Unless you were already ruined. Or unless you were Hipparchia.’

Times have changed – and here we all are – to launch Helen Rickerby’s How to Live alongside AUP New Poets 5.

Before I talk about How to Live, I want to thank Sam Elworthy for supporting my wish to see the AUP New Poets series relaunched, for sharing my enthusiasm for poetry and projects generally, and for all he does for New Zealand poetry. I’d also like to acknowledge Elizabeth Caffin’s role in launching the series of AUP New Poets in 1999, and Anna Hodge’s support of the series under her editorship, and I’d like to thank the whole AUP team for everything they have done to support this beautiful collection of poems I love so much from Rebecca Hawkes, Sophie van Waardenberg and Carolyn DeCarlo. Most of all I want to thank the poets themselves for the extraordinary poetry which is setting this series back in motion.

I first knew Helen Rickerby when we were both fairly new poets ourselves, and I knew her poetry before I met her. I was very taken by her Theodora character in her first collection Abstract Internal Furniture, and the way the whole collection glitters with dark comedy, rapid shifts of scene, and exuberant detail. ‘I think I’ll edit out those long   silences’, she writes in one poem from that book, though even back then she was deciding to ‘leave in some of the shorter ones for effect.’

Now – several books of poetry and many years later – we have the book-length considered take on silence – and outspokenness – of How to Live: book-length because the ‘Notes on the Unsilent Woman’ which opens the book sets up questions and ideas that resonate all through the collection.

Notes on the Unsilent Woman, Note 53:

Hipparchia wrote treatises such as Philosophical Hypotheses, Epicheremas and Questions to Theodorus. Letters, jokes, philosophical refutations. All are lost. (Crates wrote Knapsack and Praise of the Lentil.)

A small note can say a lot, and it is a characteristic Rickerby move to pair the loss of intellectual history represented by Hipparchia’s lost treatises with the pointed addition of the titles of the work of Hipparchia’s more famous philosopher husband, to whose life she typically appears as a footnote, at best. His place in this note, in parentheses, after the main point is made, is just one of the many lightly undertaken total overhauls of intellectual history this book of poetry offers.

Its own title – How to Live – indicates its philosophical reach: this is a book that asks the biggest questions. The title poem references Susan Sontag, Helen Keller, Empedocles, Adorno and other philosophers and writers, alongside friends discussing the big questions in person and on facebook – ‘I am forever putting my friends in’, Helen confesses, and her friends are forever finding themselves caught up in extended conversations that take in the details, big and small, of their own lives.

The collection as a whole takes in questions such as how to choose a good fork or how to choose a house; how to read and how to listen; when we choose to suffer – ‘It all depends on / what the other choice is’ – and the question of what poetry is for, what is poetry? It is an urgent question for a poet constantly questioning her own practice, constantly experimenting with form: about the prose-like appearance of some of these poems on the page, she says, ‘I have long struggled against the tyranny of the line break. Am I afraid that if I let the words leak out, they’ll mix with oxygen and become prose?’

What happens in fact is a collection which rewrites the boundaries of poetry and prose to dazzling effect, as, for instance, the interest in portraiture that goes right back to the Theodora character of her first book now gives rise to entirely new forms of biography – the sharply comic, occasionally personal, often poignant and brilliantly illuminating verse essay on George Eliot, in thirteen numbered sections (with sub-sections); the ‘poem for three voices’ moving between the perspectives of Mary Shelley, Victor Frankenstein and the monster himself; the meditation on the life of Ban Zhao as palimpsest, pillow book and personal essay.

If Helen Rickerby is New Zealand’s most intellectually exciting writer (and I think she is), it is not although but because she writes always as a poet, with a poet’s interest always in form.  And it works just as well to turn the equation around to say she is one of the most formally innovative poets in New Zealand, because her interest in formal innovation is always driven by the intellectual ideas she grapples with.

And she’s funny. For all its formal interest and intellectual brilliance, what I really most love about the book is the voice – but for that, I can do no better than to hand over to Helen herself.

 

– Anna Jackson, 7 August 2019

 

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Poetry Shelf in conversation with Amy Leigh Wicks

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Who doesn’t hope

for a fishing net

to come heavy

from the water with

an old locked box

caught in the net?

 

from ‘Loretta’

 

 

Amy Leigh Wicks holds a PhD from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University. Originally from New York, her debut collection Orange Juice and Rooftops appeared in 2009 while her poetry has also appeared on The Best American Poetry blog and in several local journals. She lives in Kaikōura with her husband.

Amy Leigh’s new collection The Dangerous Country of Love and Marriage is an intricate weave of themes, motifs, forms and sound effects that offers much for the reader. Strangeness and discomfort sit alongside beauty and soul searching as a woman writes between her birthplace and her new home. The enigmatic gaps in the narration are counterbalanced by sumptuous detail, exquisite images, tiny admissions; the melodic lines build both the music of place and the music of character. As much as it is a physical world marked by mountains, oceans, anchors and salt, it is an abstract world marked by conversations with God. It is a collection that has stuck with me.

 

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Amy Leigh Wicks, The Dangerous Country of Love and Marriage, Auckland University Press, 2019

 

Paula:  When did you first start reading and writing poetry?

Amy Leigh:  I remember coming across a box in my grandparent’s attic when I was about seven.  The box was filled with mostly handwritten poems by my Grandma.  They mostly rhymed, and her writing was in cursive, so I couldn’t make out all the words. I felt I had found a treasure box.  Later, I locked myself in Grandpa’s office and emerged however many hours later with a poem I’d written that I gave to Grandma.  She cried a little when I read it aloud to her, and took me out for an ice-cream sundae, which was as good as winning the lottery as far as I was concerned.

 

Paula: Oh what a wonderful memory. Were there any poetry turning points and/or epiphanies between that young girl writing and your recent collection?

Amy Leigh: A whole sky full of stars map the journey between little Amy Leigh writing and this collection.  The epiphanies and turning points are bright pinpricks against a darker subconscious, and the constellations that I see, clear as Orion, are comprised of poems, lectures, exhibitions, drawings on napkins.  Reading Nikki Giovanni’s poem Ego Tripping in high school alongside Shakespeare’s sonnets; sitting in Lorene Taurerewa’s Brooklyn studio as she described walking to school beside the barefoot James K. Baxter in Whanganui; working on sestinas and villanelles with locals in Kaikōura after the 7.8 earthquake: these are some of the influences that shape the way I read and the way I write.

 

The house is quiet and then the sound of bees

gather at my head. Will you let me be swallowed

by this? Another wave, another scalloped

rim of water on top of quiet water.

 

from ‘Impasse’

 

Paula: Your new collection weaves multiple themes and poetic effects. I view it as both a long narrative poem and a sequence of intensely connected pieces. What do you like your poetry to do?

Amy Leigh: When selecting poems for this collection, I wanted the reader to be able to let the book fall open and read a single poem without feeling they’d missed something vital. I also wanted a cover-to-cover reading to feel like one unfolding narrative that moved forward in time and backwards through memory in order to recover things that may have been lost along the way.

 

When the roof is pried from

the house and I am a sardine

(blinkless before you)

 

what will you say to me?

I see your hills, and yes,

every night a different

sun leaves slamming the door,

rattling the handle behind it.

 

from ‘Psalm III’

 

 

Paula: At times it felt like poetry as prayer. Did it ever feel like that to you?

Amy Leigh: Very much.  The sestinas offer a sort of liturgical reprieve, and Epiphany deals directly with the uncertainty and catharsis of prayer—‘it was just me, alone with the bruise/ of a bad decade, finally asking toward the sky/ for a little help, shuddering ugly tears until/ I was dry in the silence of an answer I’m still/learning to understand.’

 

expatriate

 

it is like heaven

here and every

where else too

but some sad

-ness hangs in

the air and I do

not know if I

carried it or of

it carries me

 

Paula: I am drawn to the way the collection layers the strange, unknowable and the unsettling within the context of a marriage and multiple homes. Does it make a difference where you are when you write?

Amy Leigh: Yes, I believe it does.  I’ll write where I am, regardless of the environment, but Kapiti Island at sunset in Plimmerton, wooden tables cluttered with tea cups at writing group in Kaikōura—these things affect my writing the way altitude, rainfall, and sunlight affect the flavour profile of a coffee bean.

 

Where else is there to go once I’ve got

paper, a new pencil with a green eraser

and half a peanut butter and jam sandwich? If

I could erase one year of my life

what would fill the hole? (..)

 

from ‘August’

 

Paula: How much of yourself do you let into the sequence and how much do you hold at arm’s length? In some ways I see the poems as both losing and finding things (including self).

Amy Leigh: While the poems in this collection are based on happenings in my life, the only confessional elements of the work that I’ve retained, are those elements that feel necessary to the advance the poem, or the collection. I have kept and discarded facts intentionally while putting this book together, in an attempt to perform the artist’s task as Louise Gluck describes, which ‘involves the transformation of the actual to the true.’

 

Paula: I have many favourites (‘Psalm II’, ‘Psalm III’, ‘Water Song’, Psalm X’, ‘Log No. 4’) but which poem particularly resonates for you? In either subject matter or resolution?

Amy Leigh: It depends on the day for me. Usually my favourite poem is the one I’ve just finished writing, until a bit of time goes by and I can look at it more objectively and less like an offspring of mine that needs nurturing. At the moment I’m fond of ‘Remnant’.  Just a little poem, but it makes me smile to be sharing a personal revelation that I find a little embarrassing in such a public way.

 

Remnant

 

Once I said, I want

to be a lawyer, a doctor,

and a ballerina—

 

I woke twenty years later

writing these poems.

 

Paula: Are there any poetry books that you have read in the past year or so that have particularly mattered?

Amy Leigh:  I’m reading Sugar Magnolia Wilson’s Because a Woman’s Heart is Like a Needle at the Bottom of the Ocean at the moment.  I met her at a reading in Wellington recently, and I felt as if someone had filled the room up with champagne while she read her work and we were all floating in it. Her voice and her words had this incredibly soft effervescent quality. Then when I held the book in my hands and let it fall open (which is what I like to do first before I begin reading a collection from start to finish) I opened to Full moon celebrations and I thought, this is really something.  To feel such resonance and joy at reading a stranger’s words is an incredible thing.

 

Paula: What do you love to do when you are not writing?

Amy Leigh: I love to dance and cook, and paint, although not usually at the same time. I also love to curl up with a stack of books on a rainy day, but if I’m not careful, before long I end picking up my pen and notebook.

 

Auckland University Press page

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf in conversation with Gregory Kan

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Photo credit: Time Out Bookstore

 

 

Gregory Kan’s poetry has featured in various literary journals including Atalanta Review, Cordite, Jacket, Landfall, The Listener and Sport, in the annual Best New Zealand Poems, and in art exhibitions, journals and catalogues. His debut collection, This Paper Boat (Auckland University Press, 2016) was shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. His new collection, Under Glass, has gripped me as much as his debut. While his first book was unified by themes – he contemplated the poet Robin Hyde, his family, ghosts – Under Glass is also unified by form. A dialogue develops between a sequence of prose poems and a sequence of verse poems. The former features a protagonist moving through a strange and at times estranging landscape with its blazing sun. The latter establishes an interior landscape where the speaker struggles to make sense of things in a glorious interplay of gaps, knots, silence, physical things, ideas, yearnings, dream, hinges, contact, light, dark. The title underlines the way everything trembles and meaning is both prolific and unstable. The glass is a barrier, a way through, transparent, a longing to see, breakable, dangerous, a distortion, a view finder. I loved this book, this poetry haunting, and set about an email conversation with Gregory over nine weeks with pleasure.

 

 

 

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Gregory Kan, Under Glass, Auckland University Press, 2019

 

 

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Paula: Your new book is beautiful,  mysterious and haunting, I really like the idea of skirting its edges rather than breaking through the ‘glass door’ of its making. What psychological, physical and heart states did its writing place upon you?

Gregory: Writing the book was a process of discovery from start to finish. For me, writing poetry involves a set of transactions or exchanges with the unknown. It is a fragile but ecstatic space to inhabit. I was privileged enough to be on the Grimshaw-Sargeson Fellowship when I wrote the bulk of it. I bounced a lot between our place in Wellington and the Sargeson Centre in Auckland. Perhaps that complemented the liminal, the interstitial states that come to characterise a good portion of my work: in-between, incomplete, on-the-edge-of, peripheral, fragmentary, perforated with holes. Radically finite. Distant but not disconnected. The Sargeson Centre is a beautiful but haunting place in and of itself. There’s a long bookcase in the apartment lined with portrait photos of all the previous fellows. At night there is nobody around except for passers-by and the occasional reveller in Albert Park. Ghosts everywhere. There is sometimes nothing more haunting than the process of writing, and the artefacts of writing. The overwhelming sense of the past in the present meant that my sense of linear time dissolved severely. I went looking for things to see if I could escape them.

 

Paula: Hmm. I wonder if all writer’s residences are like this? I had a similar experience at the Robert Lord cottage in Dunedin.

As I read the various hauntings in your collection three motifs stood out: the map, the mouth, the maze: ‘I started marking the walls with my knife / so I’d know where I’d been.’

The reading of the poetry took me into a maze of sea, land and self. I got ‘lost’ in reading. And that was a joy. The unconventional ‘maps’ were the navigational points. I am reminded of the blurb on Hinemoana Baker’s book, waha | mouth: ‘I’d like to think that opening this book to read is like standing at the mouth of a cave, or a river, or a grave, with a candle in your hand.’ So much for skirting the edges! Here I am drawing in close on a stanza like this:

 

Today the world overwhelms me.

I feel a garden

growing in my mouth

and eventually touch stone.

I am afraid of appearing sentimental about sentimental things.

 

Was the mouth also important as you wrote? Along with the maze and the map?

Gregory: Thanks for sharing that image from Hinemoana Baker’s book/blurb. I love it. Yes, I suppose the mouth marks several interrelated ideas for me: gap/hole/gate, threshold/limit, transition/passage, entry vs. exit, inside vs. outside, private vs. public, and a lot more. Someone, I can’t remember who, writes about the mouth being a place where the soft inside opens up to meet the outside. At the same time, I should qualify that this wasn’t part of any conscious or conceptual intent when I was writing the book. It’s something that I can see in hindsight. On the other hand, the map and the labyrinth were both entities I was conscious of letting loose in the strange game of writing the book. In retrospect, I think of all these entities constitute the problem-space of finite agents, with finite resources and knowledge, trying to understand a volatile and alien world.

It’s always fascinating to me, the differences between what one anticipates, speculates and discovers, when writing. I look forward to hearing about what other people notice when they read the book!

 

You think I don’t know you anymore

and I never read your emails

but I wonder if we have the same nightmare

about some final thing

for which there is no forgiveness.

 

Paula: I think the movement between the unconscious and conscious that a poet leaves in a poem contributes to the way a poem is both fertile and open. And that is exactly why Under Glass is a joy to read; mysterious yes, musical yes, multilayered yes. The movement is also heightened by the open pronouns. Who speaks? Who is playing? Who hides? In your last collection you engaged in self-revelations by way of Robin Hyde. Do you do so here by way of ambiguous pronouns? Or are the speaking characters both porous and invented?

Gregory: Yes, the “I” and “you” in the book are varying mixtures of real, imagined and abstract. I’ve been interested in the fragility of the address and of the self for a long time.

Both the “I” and “you” in the book are fluctuating identities. Some of the poems involve addressing real individuals in my life to begin with, but then depart from them. Sometimes they are completely abstract and/or imaginary addressees. The “I” also shifts within and from each poem. In all these ways (and many others besides), there is an intense fragility to the transmission of information and intent. I wanted to challenge the transparency of the lyric poem and the lyric “I” and “you” in this particular way. I wanted to push it to a kind of limit, to de-privatize the self. I wanted something both incredibly personal and incredibly abstract.

 

 

Paula: Such movement, such uncertainty, fluctuations, flickers. Reading this has sent me back to the book to follow those tremors. Conversely, do you think a poem or a line or even a word can offer a temporary but comfort-rich anchor? For me: ‘Every day the coast looks the same, as/ though I haven’t moved’.

Gregory: In order to write, I need to believe so. I need to believe that hope and overcoming are as universal as hardship. We have seen how a single event can completely rewrite the way we see the past, and the future. Despite such an event, some good things persist, and some new good things can even grow. While a lot of my poems imply a world of flux and uncertainty, where little can be taken for granted, I hope they can also provide a sense of solace, of possibility. The exceeding of limits and thresholds. The possibility of change and doing some good. The strength of being together and moving with others. The relief from pain.

In an idealised model of the world, there is an answer to every question. There is a reason for every event. Things can always be explained, if not anticipated. Everything is as it seems. But this is not the world I know. I think many of us experience a world far in excess of this idealisation. Flux and stability, pain and comfort, despair and hope, uncertainty and understanding – they walk together. The book is in a constant dialectic between entrapment and escape.

 

Paula: Indeed. The event in Christchurch tilted us at such a human level. I am a great believer in hinges as opposed to confrontation, connections rather than disconnections.  For me that is what marks the pleasure of my reading experiences, such as your book. What poetry books have offered you solace or connection or breathtaking possibilities over the past year or so, but at any point in your life?

Gregory: I agree. The world can be seen in terms of its disconnections, animosities – its radical otherness. But I see that as the enabling space for bridges, for empathy and understanding. This is the condition for knowledge and for being together with others, for the grasping mindsoul looking for an island to rest on, awash in a dizzying ocean.

As for poetry books, there are so many! Since we’ve been talking about my book, I’ll use that as my constraint. Reading and writing are almost indistinguishable for me (you gotta eat to live), and these books were absolute pillars when I was writing Under Glass

Tusiata Avia’s Fale Aitu | Spirit House. Soul-slaying. I often lament the lack of action and politics in New Zealand poetry. I sense a general sentiment that politics in poetry is “too prescriptive” or “ham-fisted” but I think that’s a cop-out. Those are not reasons to remain silent. My opinion is that our poetry community needs to speak up more, to do more work, to not be lost in the complacency of this privileged bubble of liberal high (and white) culture. Race, class, gender – they’re all here, beautifully woven into Tusiata Avia’s work. She’s not fucking around.

Anne Carson’s Nox. A sparse and fragmented work. Grief and memory. Love. Such a beautiful object, too. What she makes of the scant traces of her brother.

Raul Zurita’s Dreams for Kurosawa. Otherworldly. Heartbreaking. A very strange combination of elements: traces of trauma under the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, homage to Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams, and ghosts everywhere.

Mary Burger’s Sonny. This book has been very influential to me – even since my first book, This Paper Boat – in form, in diction, in tone, in subject matter. I think it was Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle who recommended it to me. It showed me the power of plain prose and diction, and the power of arrangement and organisation. Like me, Burger is invested in interrogating and pushing the limits of the writing of selves. Like me, she is also invested in interrogating the conditions and limits of knowledge. The writing about her past collides with that of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the American physicist who was credited for being the “father” of the atomic bomb.

 

Paula: This is a terrific list. Thank you. I have been thinking about the fingertip traces your book has left on on me – that sometimes act as tiny questions and that sometimes resemble little melodies. Did writing this book raise a question for you – large or small? In the process of writing or upon completion?

Gregory: All kinds of questions. A lot of self-centred ones, especially if I’m in an anxious mood. Will people accept this book as poetry? Is it even any good? Did I do my best? What constitutes success for this book, and for myself? What does my poetry mean to me? These are questions that have no real answers, and I’ll be taking them to my therapist, ha.

And some bigger, more difficult questions, after the book’s release and after Christchurch. What are the possible functions of poetry in our contemporary world? At one of its lowest points, poetry, for me, is so often an institutional and institutionalised form of nostalgia and conservatism. Why is it so enamoured with its own past? I don’t know if I’ve encountered another medium that is as hell-bent on dogmatically validating itself based on historical precedents and norms. At another low point, poetry is a site of postmodern whimsy, irony and impotence. If I were being charitable, I can understand that perhaps this is driven by the belief that almost everything can be and is subsumed under the totality of capitalism, and that resistance involves finding the most non-utilitarian, non-functional gesture possible. At other times, I think that this is simply a sneering cynicism. And I find that to be incredibly lazy and dispiriting. When our world is confronted by planetary annihilation and the increasing visibility of fascism and white supremacism, these attitudes are unacceptable to me. So what does it mean for poetry to adapt, and move forward?

What should the New Zealand poetry community be asking itself? I am afraid of particular kinds of silence. The silence of grief and shock, and the impossibility of witness and testimony, is of course understandable. But why do I also have the sense that there is also the silence of privileged complacency and passivity? The roots of colonialism – and the conditions of white supremacism – run deep, and I believe it’s our responsibility to start digging in our own backyards. It is a necessary labour for all of us.

 

Paula: I utterly agree. A necessary labour for all of us.

What do you like to do as a counterbalance to poetry?

Gregory: I work as a programmer and that offers me a world with a lot more certainty. There is still a lot of creativity and imagination involved in programming, especially in how you approach a problem. There is a caricature of programming that implies there is always a correct way to do things but that isn’t accurate. There are many possible solutions to any one problem. However, in the context of my work, the ends of programming are often certain – the problem itself is usually fairly determinate. What you are trying to get out of the program is usually fairly determinate. With poetry, utility and ends are always in question, and I may never know ultimately what “purpose” or function a poem serves. So having this kind of existential stability in my working world as a programmer can be a real comfort, as a point of difference. At the same time, there is such a thing as speculative programming, but I don’t yet have the intent, vision or skill to get there. In saying all of that, sometimes programming and poetry can feel very similar to me, both language-driven, both world-building. From that perspective my escapes become more recreational and indulgent ones. I love hanging out with my partner and watching Netflix. I love playing video games. I love watching trashy horror movies. Also activities that involve my body to a greater degree than the mind – swimming, cooking, listening to music, playing with the cat, eating, sleeping!

 

 

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Auckland University Press page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf conversation with Sugar Magnolia Wilson

 

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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.

 

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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

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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.