Tag Archives: Bill Manhire

Riddling music of Manhire and Meehan launches Writers on Mondays

 

image006.png

Writers on Mondays 2017, hosted by Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML), brings together a line-up of new and established talent to showcase what’s happening in the world of New Zealand writing and beyond.
image006.png
To launch the 2017 programme the IIML is presenting the first free Wellington performance of Tell Me My Name, Bill Manhire’s sequence of thirteen riddle poems set to music by composer Norman Meehan and performed by vocalist Hannah Griffin and Victoria New Zealand School of Music violinist and lecturer Martin Riseley. The concert takes place at 5.30pm, Tuesday 11 July at Meow, 9 Edward Street.

The popular lunchtime series at Te Papa Tongarewa begins on 17 July and the first three weeks feature award-winning authors from America, Australia and New Zealand.

It kicks off with Catherine Chidgey, winner of the $50,000 Acorn Fiction Prize at the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, in conversation about her prize-winning book The Wish Child and her writing career to date.

On 24 July, 2016 Stella Prize winner Charlotte Wood, one of Australia’s “most original and provocative writers” (The Australian) appears with New Zealand novelist and convenor of the IIML Master of Arts fiction stream Emily Perkins.

On 31 July, American poet and essayist Marianne Boruch joins the IIML’s poetry and creative nonfiction convenor Chris Price to explore how her work approaches the big topics of love, death and human knowledge. Marianne Boruch’s restless curiosity ranges across science, music, medicine and art, asking questions such as “why does the self grow smaller as the poem grows enormous?”.

Director of the IIML Professor Damien Wilkins says the combination of new voices and established writers in Writers on Mondays is wonderful.

“This free series is a great way for readers and writers to get together for entertaining, informative, uplifting, even perplexing sessions of talk and performance.”

On 7 August poet and novelist Anna Smaill introduces a quartet of poets with exciting new books. Featuring work from the cutting edge of NZ poetry with Louise Wallace (Bad Things), Hannah Mettner (Fully Clothed and So Forgetful), Maria McMillan (The Ski Flier) and Airini Beautrais (Flow).

In Hopeful Animals, 14 August, Damien Wilkins, Tracey Farr and Pip Adam discuss and read from their recent novels, and consider how fiction continues to provide a vital lens on contemporary life.

Writers on Mondays will acknowledge National Poetry Day with the annual Best New Zealand Poems reading on 21 August. Best New Zealand Poems 2016 editor and Arts Foundation Laureate Jenny Bornholdt introduces this lively session featuring 13 poets at the top of their game.

On 28 August The Fuse Box gathers some of our best writers to shine a light on the creative process. Playwright Gary Henderson, novelists Rajorshi Chakraborti and Elizabeth Knox, and poet James Brown join editors Chris Price and Emily Perkins to take a look at the wiring of creative writers and celebrate the launch of this collection of essays on creativity from Victoria University Press.

Acclaimed playwright Victor Rodger, the Victoria University/Creative New Zealand Writer in Residence for 2017, has assembled a panel of writers to explore how the work of others can inspire and challenge. Mitch Tawhi Thomas, Moana Ete, Jamie McCaskill and Faith Wilson discuss the dynamics of creative communities on 4 September.

The final month of events showcases work from the current cohort of writers in the Masters in Creative Writing Programme at the IIML. It begins with fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction writers in The Next Page, 11 and 18 September, then moves to Circa Theatre for Short Sharp Script, 25 September and 2 October, where actors perform dynamic new work by participants in the Master of Arts scriptwriting workshop.

The Writers on Mondays series runs from 17 July to 2 October, 12.15–1.15pm, Te Marae, Level 4, Te Papa Tongarewa, with the exception of the opening concert at Meow and the two Short Sharp Script events at Circa Theatre. Admission is free and all are welcome.

The full 2017 Writers on Mondays programme is can be viewed and downloaded from the IIML’s website.

Writers on Mondays is presented by Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters with the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and additional support from Circa Theatre and National Poetry Day.

For more information contact Pip Adam on pip.adam@vuw.ac.nz or modernletters@vuw.ac.nz.

 

 

 

Stephen Burt’s Letter from NZ celebrates local poetry

Letter from New Zealand

by Stephen Burt
complete piece here at PN Review May-June, 2017
‘To live in Christchurch at the end of 2016 is to encounter, daily and seemingly everywhere, construction: cranes, scaffolds, burly workers in lemon-fluorescent vests, bright orange cones, PVC pipes jutting up from the ground, all of it part of the ongoing, city-wide multi-year recovery after the earthquakes of 2010-11. The fences and pits are a great inconvenience, a melancholy sight for those who grew up in what was (I’m told) the most sedate and stable of NZ cities. For me, on the other hand, the construction is mostly inspiration: I see a city that’s putting itself back together, a nation that has recognised (and chosen to pay for) a shared public good, while my own home country, the United States, is tearing itself apart.’

Poetry Shelf interviews Ian Wedde: ‘writing – or thinking about writing – poetry really is a tremendous pleasure’

2014-01-01 00.05.30.jpg

With Donna in Berlin, New Year 2013/14.

 

You have to start somewhere

in these morose times,

a clearing in a forest say,

filled with golden shafts of sunlight

and skirmishes. A little later

your itinerary will take you past

weathered churches on plains that stretch

as far as the eye can see.

 

from ‘The lifeguard’ in The Lifeguard (2013) and Selected Poems

 

To celebrate the arrival of Selected Poems (Auckland University Press, 2017), Ian Wedde agreed to talk about poetry with me.
Born in Blenheim (a twin of Dave) in October 1946, Ian has lived in Bangladesh, England, Jordan, France, Germany, now lives in Auckland with his wife Donna Malane, a screen-writer and novelist, they have five children and five grandchildren, has published seven novels and sixteen collections of poetry as well as books of essays and assorted art books and catalogues. Most recent book is Selected Poems (AUP, 2017) with marvellous art work by John Reynolds. New Zealand poet laureate 2011-12, Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement (poetry) 2014.

 

1494450203260.jpg   Wedde_Selected-Poems_backcover_AI.jpg

Cover and internal art work: John Reynolds

 

The Interview

PG: Did poetry feature in your childhood? What activities delighted you as a young boy?

IW: There wasn’t a lot of poetry in my childhood, though my father chanting John Masefield’s ‘Cargoes’ as he rowed across Waikawa Bay in the Marlborough Sounds was memorable – the rhythm was right but the words were deeply weird to me, which was what I liked.

 

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,

Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,

With a cargo of ivory,

And apes and peacocks,

Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

 

PG: What were some key influences when you first started writing?

IW: A link between the deeply lost-in-it world of reading stories and the hypnotic secret ecstasy of writing things, or trying to. Also the fascination of not understanding either what I was reading sometimes (I happened on Browning’s ‘Sordello’ by accident) or why writing was so mesmerising. Also Kipling, because of the poems associated with the Jungle Books, which I was addicted to.

 

PG: Or at university?

IW: At university I was obsessive about getting my hands on contemporary American poetry after or off the shoulder of the great modernists – post Pound-and-Eliot if you like. Post-Beats, for that matter. William Carlos Williams above all, though of course Spring and All and Kora in Hell were published in the 1920s – but those early books like Spring and All and Kora in Hell incorporated prose and poetry, they seemed to be experimental and interesting in ways that the accredited modernist masters were not. I loved Williams’ humanity and love of sparrows and weedstalks, but also the marvellous delicacy of thought that articulated his lines. Robert Creeley was important, his frugal counterpoint; Denise Levertov’s makeover of the exhausted lyric; Gary Snyder’s ecological ethic that made for a new kind of eclogue; Frank O’Hara’s urbane vernacular and before long Ted Berrigan, especially Berrigan’s Sonnets. John Ashbery’s ‘The Tennis Court Oath’ amazed me. Also French poets, but always sheeting back to Rimbaud. Pablo Neruda in bulk, his marvellous relish for the sensuous world and its political demands on our responsibilities. Elizabeth Bishop’s The Complete Poems. John Wieners because he broke so many rules without showing off.

 

I study my son’s face, to treasure it.

Each day (now, & now) it’s changed & I’ve lost

what I love, loved.

from ‘Paradiso Terrestre’ in Earthly Sonnets for Carlos (1975) and Selected Poems

 

PG: The birth of your first son prompted Earthly: Sonnets for Carlos. While some New Zealand men have written fatherhood poems (notably Graham Lindsay) I cannot think of another extended sequence such as yours. The prolonged contemplation allows greater complexity when facing what might at first seem unsayable – the miracle of a new-born baby. Did your son’s arrival throw your relationship with writing in the air?

IW: I usually threw my infant son in the air. It was a time of wonder. I also walked around with him quite a lot at night, those rhythms shaped how I thought and how the poems moved.

 

PG: What draws you to the longer sequence?

IW: A disinclination to get to the point in timely fashion or to admit there is one worth ending with. There are dear friends whose conversations and phonecalls I love because they do go on. Mostly I like giving in to the drifts and swerves of language that takes me to places I can’t get to by intention. A tendency rapidly to lose interest in the self-centred, anecdotal lyric in which a certain kind of modesty often strikes me as sham.

 

PG: Have other things elbowed your writing—refreshed, transformed, derailed, sent askew in good ways, sparking in new directions? A book or theory or idea or chance encounter or unexpected experience?

IW: Probably art more than anything, and music. The ways in which our perceptions of phenomena trigger thought I find fascinating and seductive. I’m an easy weeper – I’ve been known to sniffle during the opening credits of movies just because it’s so amazing that we can do this stuff. I love art in its many guises because at its best it can be so capable of subversion – of subverting representation as mimesis, subverting personal testament, or markers of class and taste – and because at its worst it can be all those things, and boring to boot, especially as cultural capital. Music perhaps because it’s just off the camber of what language does in poetry, unless of course we’re talking about poets as song-writers, that fabulous ancient lineage. During the time I spent in Jordan in 1969-70 the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish and others was a revelation – how it had a vast, loyal, politically disenfranchised radio audience of Palestinians and at the same time reached deeply into classical histories, reached the audiences of the Egyptian singer Oum Kalsoum and spoke to intellectuals such as Edward Said.

 

(..) If trees &

suchlike don’t tell on me I understand

my son will & soon, too. His new blue eyes

see everything. Soon he’ll learn to see

less. O the whole great foundation is sand.

But the drought has broken today, this rain!

pecks neat holes in the world’s salty fabu-

less diamond-backed carapace & doubt comes

out, a swampy stink of old terrapin.

What shall I say? ‘I hid nothing from you,

but from myself. that I dream, little one,

 

from ‘for Rose’ in Earthly Sonnets for Carlos (1975) and Selected Poems

 

PG: For me Sonnets for Carlos is a collection imbued with love deep within the roots of the line. Yet when I regard the expanse of your writing across the decades, love seems to be an active ingredient whether it is for the dead poet Horace, blistered peppers on the hot plate, the beauty of a city street, family or the wide stretch of home. Do you agree? What do you see as active ingredients that have endured?

 

Late autumn’s good up around

The neighbourhood mountain’s misty flank in the morning

When the piss-trail of the morning’s promenade’s fresh

And even an old dog can still feel

The sac of earth trembling under his running feet.

 

from ‘5.4 To Mount Victoria’ in The Commonplace Odes (2001) and Selected Poems

 

IW: ‘Love’ is an easy word to utter and an even easier one to claim. Looking at what’s in this new book of selected poems, what I think I see repeated quite often is a claim that I ‘love’ the commonplace world – William Carlos Williams’ world of sparrows and weedstalks, if you like. I love appetite and enjoyment and relish and so the preparation of meals and so forth. I love thought that has a vigorous appetite, that enjoys tasty discussion. But I think you have to love this kind of ‘love’ knowing it comes at a cost, that grief or anger are its stalkers. I think there’s quite a lot of anger and frustration in my poems.

 

PG: In your introduction, ‘Enjoyment,’ you talk about the joy of writing poetry. That feeling must be contagious because in my view your poetry is a joy to read. For some writers, writing is a dark and painful process while for others it is energising. Do you also have patches like these? Do you have writing patterns, routines or rituals?

IW: For me writing – or thinking about writing – poetry really is a tremendous pleasure, at once a kind of rapture or abeyance of self, and a complete deployment of the self’s capacities. I’d never describe it as painful, though it can be tough when the critical phase kicks in and you realise that your rapture has generated a steaming heap. But then there’s a certain pleasure in consigning the pile of shit to its bucket. Much of what I write starts with walking around with a little notebook, and in a sense nothing in the notebook is ever wasted, even if what happens to it ends up getting chucked.

 

PG: You refer to the pleasure generated when ‘a poem veers off, carried along by a momentum that’s not quite mine, towards a direction neither I, nor the poem’s reader, is anticipating.’ There is a sense of writing into the unknown, but could you conversely say you write into into the known in unpredictable ways?

IW: No, I’m really talking about how my let’s call it ‘overarching concept’ can be highjacked by language itself – I go along with that, in a sense, and try to keep a very light hand on the tiller (as in that mixed metaphor).

 

PG: I am thinking, for example, of The Commonplace Odes and Three Regrets and a Hymn to Beauty where home infuses the poems in searing physical detail along with home-nourished states of mind. I rate these two books in my handful of sublime New Zealand reading experiences ( I am thinking too of the way your books have been long-term, book mentors along with those of Michele Leggott, Bill Manhire, Bernadette Hall, Cilla McQueen). The language is pitch perfect but it is that glorious tension between the known and the unknown that elevates me—along with the roving intellect and the physical beacons. I am reminded of Kafka’s yearning to read books that, like an axe, cut through the frozen sea within us. Do you have a book in your oeuvre that has particularly worked for you?

IW: Do you mean books I’ve read? I think there have been lots of them, over time. Perhaps the one that keeps on being non-negotiable is Rimbaud’s Oeuvres complètes (Gallimard, 1972) and subsequent translations, including those by Samuel Beckett, John Ashbery and Jeremy Harding, among others. Rimbaud’s pronouncements in May 1871 at the age of seventeen in letters to Georges Izambard and Paul Demeny that ‘I is somebody else’ (Je est un autre) remains for me one of the most potent codes with which to approach the way in which the poet (at seventeen) can become a ‘drunken boat’ that morphs into the child the poet was ten years earlier, playing with his toy boat on a pond, and finally the ship that swims under the frightful gaze of the prison hulks that incarcerated the Communard prisoners of 1871 that were the seventeen year old Rimbaud’s heroes. But if you mean one of my own books that I think has come close to that kind of sorcery, then pass.

 

Beauty

you’re the trouble I’m in

because there’s a lot of sweetness in my life

with that rude kind of magnificence

as when they hung Le Bateau upside down,

unusually animated and sparkling.

Happy birthday Montgomery Clift:

where did I see this guy – in Red River

or From Here to Eternity?

Accept and you become whole

bend and you straighten.

 

from ‘A hymn to beauty: days of a year’ in Three Regrets and a Hymn to Beauty (2005) and Selected Poems

 

PG: The allure of language in its slippery elusive glory, its ability to make music and bear all manner of freight, is a potent force for the poet. When a poem succeeds for you, or comes close, what is language doing? Do you have a poem or two that continue to resonate at the level of language? For me, there is an ongoing musicality, an enviable musicality, that provides shifting keys harmonies and chords.

IW: I think any poem that’s worth reading ‘resonates at the level of language’, which is to say the language doesn’t just do what it’s told to, rather it subverts or distracts the task of making itself understood. ‘Musicality’ in the language of poems can be a distraction or, at worst, an indulgence, an invitation to the categorisation ‘poetic’. I like the idea of meaning-chords as riffs, vertical rather than linear.

 

(..) the lovely world has everything I need,

It has my kids, my sweetheart, my friends, it has a new book

With mouth-watering risotto recipes in it,

The kind of plump rice you might have relished,

Horace, in the Sabine noon, yellowed with saffron.

‘The zen poet’ is another of you, he wrote a poem

About making stew in the desert which changed my life.

A good cookbook is as good as a book of poems

Any day, because it can’t be any more pretentious

Than the produce you savour with friends as night falls.

 

from ‘1.2 To the cookbook’ in The Commonplace Odes (2005) and Selected Poems

 

PG: In ‘To the cookbook,’ we read that ‘A good cookbook is as good as a book of poems.’ Women have long been denigrated for domestic traces in their writing. I take issue with this on so many levels. Food, including the cooking of food, adds a sensual zest, like finely judged salt and pepper, to your poetry, and indeed opens fascinating windows upon relations between food, life and writing. How do these connections work for you? Are you offended if I describe some of your poems as mouth-watering?

IW: Not in the least offended. It’s a compliment, thank you. And then, Neruda’s ‘Ode to Tomatoes’ is one of the most slyly political poems ever written, as is Gary Snyder’s ‘How to Make Stew in the Pinacate Desert’.

 

PG: The word subversion crops up in your introduction. You relish subverting expectations of what language ought to or can do. Do you see other subversions at work?

IW: I try to subvert myself, not always with much success.

 

PG: The Selected Poems underlines how important your reading life is and how it has sustained and infiltrated your writing life. Name three books from any time or any place that have mattered deeply.

IW: Geoff Park’s Nga Uruora: The Groves of Life; May Gibbs, The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie; Ovid, Metamorphoses.

 

PG: Name three New Zealand poetry books that have resonated with you.

IW: Nga Moteatea (4 vols.); R.A.K. Mason, Collected Poems; take your pick of poets who are also song-writers, we have some great ones: Hinemoana Baker, Teremoana Rapley, Bill Manhire, Dominic Hoey known as Tourettes, the Dam Native crew, lots more in this country.

 

PG: Have you been attracted or influenced by any poetry movements? Or conversely repelled?

IW: Constantly.

 

If I wanted to translate

silence I would have to be

deaf, to remember silence

I would have to recognise

its opposite, for instance

singing, a miracle, not

too much to ask I hope, and

why wouldn’t I hope, why not?

 

from ‘Shadow stands up’ in The Lifeguard (2013) and Selected Poems

 

PG: In your introduction you suggest it is over to the reader to make sense of the way your writing has changed—over to us to decipher the recurring motifs and predilections, the side steps, the shifts in attention and concerns. Time and age are under the spotlight right from the start, in the first poem addressed to Matisse. Just one question then. Do you feel you have greater freedom at 70 when you pick up your writing pen?

IW: I have less compunction about putting the pen down and going for a walk. With or without my notebook.

 

Henri Emile Benoît Matisse je vous salue!

Let me tell you a secret.

Your work goes on.

I’d only seen your things in art books

bite sized. I dreamed there was a bright room

in my head somewhere

which you were making real stroke

by counterpointed stroke

& where I would some day retire

to an armchair in the corner:

the final element of a composition

that perfectly described itself.

 

from ‘Homage to Matisse’ in Homage to Matisse (1971) and Selected Poems

 

Auckland University Press page

Radio NZ review

Herald piece with Greg Fleming

Discussed in Anna Jackson’s essay on the Epistle Poem

 

 

 

Wedde_Selected-Poems_backcover_AI.jpg

Sport 45 and other musings

 

45_sport_cover_front__57214.1492999247.220.220.jpg  45_sport_cover_front__57214.1492999247.220.220.jpg  45_sport_cover_front__57214.1492999247.220.220.jpg

 

 

I picked up the latest Sport the other day and the cover was so good that I didn’t want to open the issue for ages. Sam Duckor-Jones’s drawing is like a poem that is strange, off-kilter, mesmerisingly good (someone is adrift awkwardly in the sky).

Just inside there is list of books that Victoria University Press are publishing this year: 8 fiction, 11 poetry, 2 plays/poetry-music, 9 non-fiction. I have been musing lately on VUP’s productiveness and how it is to be utterly lauded. In a tough publishing climate, VUP  work hard to showcase New Zealand writing in diverse forms and with diverse preoccupations. I hear niggles (especially when VUP got such a clean sweep at the Book Awards) yet I have no time for such gripes. This is a chance to celebrate a publisher sticking its neck out and publishing quality writing whichever way you look. I don’t see the VUP stable as a set of clones – the exact opposite. On my blog I only have time to review the books I love (and even then I don’t get to them all) and interview poets that have struck a chord at some point. It is very seldom I skip over a VUP poetry book because it has missed the mark for me as a reader. If I look back at books published over the past few years, I see an eclectic mix as opposed to a restrictive school of poetry. Think of the wry wit of James Brown, the  breathtaking musicality and heart-stopping moves of Bill Manhire, the grit of Geoff Cochrane, the anarchy and surrealism of Hera Lindsay Bird, the contemplative detail along everyday trails of Jenny Bornholdt, the inventive, unpredictabliity of Hannah Mettner. I have adored this poetry and yes, I will sing its praises from the rafters.

In ‘The Old Guard New Guard’ session at AWF17 and in response to Andrew Johnston raising the clone issue, Bill Manhire summed up his aims and ways of working when he was teaching at IIML.  The conversation utterly resonated with me and a few things he said corresponded perfectly with my idea for Poetry Shelf’s Winter Season (to be posted in July!). The essential aim was for students to find their own voice (Teju Cole talked about this a little too). I loved this idea: ‘Write what I don’t know but it will somehow be mine.’ In workshops, Bill wanted students ‘to jump the tracks, to go sideways from themselves.’  He wanted them ‘to turn themselves into other poems’ and ‘to produce poems that mattered to them.’ Bill also applied this to himself and talked about the way he might get too comfortable and thus seek out ways to elbow himself sideways off the writing tracks (my words sorry as I didn’t record this).  These notions really resonated with me. As poets we are all attached to the mysterious thing called voice: our voice, how to sustain it, how to tilt or transform or nurture it. I love the idea of sidestepping the usual ruts and paths.

The latest issue of Sport is chiefly a celebration of writing that has come out of Wellington or is part of the VUP stable. I don’t have an issue with this and I applaud the range and diversity of writing within. There is a fabulous interview (Bill Manhire interviews John Gallas). I now want to track down John’s poetry – the taster of poems confirms he is a poet to add to your shelves. Hope the poetry interview (or of other genres) becomes a regular feature of Sport particularly if it is conducted over months at leisure by email as this one was. Great reading!

Also loved the cluster of essays in the middle by John Newton, Virginia Were and Giovanni Tiso. Another essential ingredient that adds verve and challenges.

The poets range from James Brown to Frances Samuel ( conjunctional wit produced out of found material to slightly strange, reader-hooked storytelling); from the luminous detail of Elizabeth Smither to the surreally personal and personally surreal of Rata Gordon; from the bolt in the eye of Claire Orchard to the tender detail of Harry Ricketts. One of my favourite  new poets, Amy Leigh Wicks, haunts me, as does Bill Nelson, in the unfolding detail and the way the poems move. Good to read Bob Orr sharply conjuring place, Rachel O’Neill’s prose-like agility,  Jake Brown’s bright jumpcut portrait of a town, the stark, sharp tug of Natalie Morrison’s fairytale-ing.

I haven’t finished reading yet: still Anna Jackson, Vincent O’Sullivan, Jake Arthur, Helen Heath, Kerrin P Sharpe and more. In my bag for today. Ha! A poetry bag!

So this seems like the perfect occasion to say congratulations to Fergus Barrowman and his team at VUP. As a writer, reader and commentator on NZ poetry, I am in debt to the extent of your gifts to NZ literature. As for Bill Manhire, I reckon it is about time a poet got the top Honours in a Queen’s Honour’s list along with those who have done extraordinary things in the business world. Bill has gifted so much with generosity and humbleness, he has enhanced what we both read and write, and has written poetry collections that sing like no other.

Yes there is magnificent poetry in all its forms  accruing the length and breadth of NZ, fabulous poets and poetry projects, tireless ambassadors (Michele Leggott, Bernadette Hall, Emma Neale, David Eggleton)  but this is VUP’s year and I applaud you!

 

further unsettled thoughts on the Old Guard @AWF17 after reading two reviews

DSCN7378.jpg

‘Hera did not get a chance to read another poem (until I invited her to do so in question time) or to talk about the way her book offers so much more to the reader. The quirkiness, the sharp surreal detail, the blurred borders, the fluency, the sense of confession that may be grainy truth mixed with grainy lies. The exuberant joy in language. The electric switches and dovetails as the poem moves.’ PG

I wrote a short piece on The Old Guard New Gard event at AWF17 because for whatever reason Andrew Johnston did not give equal airspace to Hera Lindsay Bird. He had a conversation with Bill Manhire that roamed wider and deeper. I filled several notebook pages with thoughts to return to.

 

What has intrigued and unsettled me is the way some people are still immune to the fact a woman is given less talk-space in a public forum.

 

David Larsen sung the session’s praises but made no mention of the lopsided allocation of time; the simple fact Andrew invited Bill to read two poems (one longish) and Hera one felt wrong. Unlike David, I do not think there was a deep and wide ranging engagement with what Hera’s poetry is doing. From her mouth. By hearing her poems.

It felt like David was at another session: ‘They’re an uneven pair, in that Manhire has vastly more past to talk about, and all of it’s so interesting that the session could easily have edged into being MANHIRE! (…and Bird.) Johnston didn’t let that happen’

This statement almost implies the New Guard, with less life and writing experience, has less to talk about. I don’t think it works like that. And it did happen.

David also wrote: ‘Bird talked more than he did about the specific character of her work, and also about its reception and what the experience of sudden fame has been like.’

Again I felt the conversation was limited and did not expose the variety of things Hera’s debut collection is doing.

 

Briar Lawry’s review on The Booksellers site also remains blind to the partial eclipse of Hera but catches the conversation flow.

 

I do not know why the sideline happened, and I do not think it was deliberate, but I am drawing attention to it because it seemed like a replay of the Old Guard of New Zealand poetry where men ruled the poetry roost and women’s voices were sidelined, and even worse, denigrated, devalued and not given prominent visibility in the fledgling canon. And that felt like such an irony.

I have experienced several examples of being sidelined by a male poet in a public forum but I was not and am still not prepared to hang out personal anecdotes. However I am prepared to challenge or highlight ways in which women are disadvantaged by men in our literary landscapes.

A few thoughts on the Old Guard and the New Guard #AWF17

 

Hera Lindsay Bird copy (1)

Hera Lindsay Bird (winner of Best First Book of Poetry at the Ockham NZ Book Awards and winner of the Sarah Broom Poetry Award 2017)

 

I am currently writing a book on New Zealand women’s poetry which means I have spent the past year exploring the way women have come into their own on the poetry stage.  The Old Guard and the New Guard session featured Hera Lindsay Bird and Bill Manhire  in conversation with chair, Andrew Johnston.  Hera and Bill decided the labels were fluid as indeed they are. I loved that!

I wrote a swag of notes based on Bill’s conversation and readings and scarcely anything on Hera because for some inexplicable reason she was sidelined on stage.  She got to talk about the fizzing international reaction to a couple of her provocative poems and to read one of them (after saying these poems were her least favourites in the book). Bill was invited to read several. Hera did not get a chance to read another poem (until I invited her to do so in question time) or to talk about the way her book offers so much more to the reader. The quirkiness, the sharp surreal detail, the blurred borders, the fluency, the sense of confession that may be grainy truth mixed with grainy lies. The exuberant joy in language. The electric switches and dovetails as the poem moves. It felt like Hera had 20% of talk time but maybe that was not quite accurate. There was scant if not zero engagement with what her poetry is doing beyond the shock factor. The audience would have had difficulty taking away diverse entry points into her poetry after this event.

The session felt like a step back in time where if a woman speaks it is claimed she is dominating.

I don’t know why this happened but in my view there is no excuse because it appeared to be downright sexist. There are of course countless other possible reasons. Gender issues aside – panelists need equal time in the spotlight and a wide-ranging engagement with what they do.

I loved what Bill had to say and I plan on sharing that at a later date.

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf interviews Bill Manhire – I get great pleasure from a poem when at some point it pushes me sideways from myself

bill_manhire035-2.JPG

Photo Credit: Grant Maiden

 

‘Did you all survive?

On that first day of school, I mostly remember

being terrified: the dark interior, the children in rows

at their separate desks, and I was now to be one of them.

In a field by the school, there were bales of hay.

I remember inkwells.

That was perhaps a harder day.’

 

from ‘The Question Poem’

 

 

Somet_Things_to_Place_in_a_Coffin__40224.1482273596.220.220.jpg  Somet_Things_to_Place_in_a_Coffin__40224.1482273596.220.220.jpg   Somet_Things_to_Place_in_a_Coffin__40224.1482273596.220.220.jpg

Some Things to Place in a Coffin Bill Manhire (Victoria University Press, 2017)

 

Bill Manhire’s new collection of poetry offers the reader a sumptuous reading experience: there is coolness, heat, air, movement, suspension.  There are some poetry books that maintain a cavernous distance as I read, but I just click with Bill’s poems. My review of Bill’s book of riddles, Tell me My Name, is here.

Bill  lives in Wellington, and is an emeritus professor at Victoria University. His first book of poems, The Elaboration, with drawings by Ralph Hotere, appeared in 1972.

 

PG: What challenges you most when you write a poem?

BM: Getting properly underway.  I’m quite good at finding phrases that nag away at me, and I keep them in my head or on paper – but finding my way forward from them can be a problem, or even knowing if I can find my way forward.  I seem to know how long a poem is going to be, roughly what its shape will be and so on, but things often collapse about two thirds of the way through. I suspect there are quite a few poems over the years where it looks like I’ve landed on my feet near the end but I’ve actually broken my ankle.

 

PG: What delights you most?

BM: Knowing that a poem is actually there, but that it needs some work to be fully itself.  Doing that last little bit of work – so different from whatever inspiration is supposed to be – is strangely exhilarating.

 

PG: Your new collection, as with Lifted and Victims of Lightning, refreshes what poetry can do: how it can soothe and challenge and prompt wonder. Initially the Zen-like movement of the poems struck me (or you could track an oxymoron effect): silence yields music, stillness leads to activity, simplicity yields knots, economy yields richness. Such movement prolongs contemplation. Have you ever thought of your poetry in this way?

BM: I don’t think I think very deeply or coherently about poetry, especially my own. I don’t have any aims when I write, even with a commissioned poem like ‘Known unto God’. But I get great pleasure from a poem when at some point it pushes me sideways from myself, pushes me out of habitual assumptions, changes the pace of my inner life. I like it when a poem starts off quietly and then starts resonating – a sort of ripple effect – and I certainly like it when a poem looks innocent and amiable then suddenly gets dangerous and agitating. Tonal shifts – code-switching, logopoeia – seem to be key to individual poems, too; and maybe even more, inside a book, to the way poems keep each other company.

 

The window waits for light.

The path to the river waits

for twigs and stones ands feet.

The day hopes to be successful,

a prose day really, nothing untoward

and so it, too, waits. Also the car waits.

from ‘Waiting’

 

PG: There are several ‘waiting’ poems and it seems to me this book has benefited from a different relationship with time (a little like your Menton sojourn did for Lifted). Away from your hectic university life, has your time with poetry changed to the degree you are able to wait with a poem differently?

BM: It’s not in the least relevant, but I think Waiting for Godot is the great poem of the 20th century.

I don’t think this is what what you’re getting at either, but we all start out in the world full of appetite and desire and with a strong sense only of the immediate moment. And then I suppose there’s that troubling, invigorating phase later that mixes memory and desire, to borrow the start of Eliot’s The Waste Land.  Your past and future are fighting it out in the present. And then if you last the distance there’s a lot more past and much more of this thing called memory, which as someone said is pretty much the imagination in reverse. I think I’m in this last time zone. I’ve even prefaced the collection with a little poem about memory.

 

PG: I found the ‘waiting’ poignant because it felt both philosophical and political.

BM: That’s a generous way of putting it. I suspect it’s more that I’m very much a fatalist. This probably has something to do, someone once told me, with being the child of an alcoholic – you’re totally under the circumstances. The great human beings are the ones who change the circumstances, or have a shot at doing so. But my feeling is that most of the time most of us are under the circumstances, and so how you behave is what measures your worth as a human being.

 

They dug me up in Caterpillar Valley

and brought me home –

well, all of the visible bits of me.

Now people arrive at dawn and sing.

And I have a new word: skateboarding.

from ‘Known unto God’

 

PG: The collection seems open to anything (Chairman Mao’s impersonator, surveillance notes, the school bus, the trenches, a Sunday School mural, a body blown to bits, war, Ralph Hotere’s coffin). Do you have no-go areas as a poet?

BM: I’m pretty protective about my personal life.  No one could accuse me of oversharing. If you were to try and turn the first-person I in my poems into someone called Bill Manhire, it would all be pretty baffling. Sometimes it’s someone else altogether, sometimes someone with some of my features, sometimes (but rarely) the full myself. As Emily Dickinson says, ‘When I state myself, as the representative of the verse, it does not mean me, but a supposed person.’

Of course the life is there in certain poems, but displaced or approached obliquely.  ‘The Question Poem’ deals with the aftermath of an event like the Christchurch earthquake, but the speaker in the poem, trying to deflect the very direct questions about catastrophe, reaches back to memories of his first day at school – and I guess that’s essentially my own first day at school.  Likewise, ‘The Schoolbus’ is fairly true to a particular patch of my childhood.

But I’m never a completely missing person. I’m there in every poem in some form or other, even if it’s just via a small tonal inflection or a tiny hesitation.

 

How Memory Works

 

Come over here

we say to the days that disappear.

No, over here.

 

PG: You are the master of the miniature poem—I liken your examples to a drop of wine that dances on the tongue. What attracts you to this form? What holds your attention in a small poem?

BM: I think I’m drawn to the short poem for visual rather than auditory reasons.  There’s nothing more wonderful than a few words, just two or three lines, sitting in the middle of a white page. The words and letters start to grow out into the space around them  – which I guess is what you also want the reader’s imagination to do. In some ways the words look vulnerable, but to me they’re powerful.

I like putting little poems on Twitter, and that’s partly because I miss the days when I could type out a handwritten poem and see it as it as itself without my protective care.  You need to find ways of making poems remote, independent – there they are on the screen, out in the world. But there’s something undermining about the way Twitter clutters the screen, so it’s not the same.

 

 

Soon enough the enemy will come,

limping out of a place that will not heal.

And soon enough it will be gone,

this world that you once woke into.

from ‘The Enemy’

 

PG: Initially I view your poetry as steered by a mind drifting, stalling, looping. I was watching the surprising lines of a gull at the beach this morning, the way it arced and stretched, hovered with such grace, landed with light feet. I was fascinated by the beauty and the unpredictability and began to compare it to the way your poems move. Which led me to the way politics also feed the poems. There are subtle entries and there are toothpicks: ‘That is why China waits,/ and America waits.’ ‘You cannot reach the beautiful world.’ In this world under threat, is it now more important that political views are visible, whether overt or subtle?

BM: There are poems in the new book with a political dimension, and maybe there are more of them than there used to be. It’s highly satisfying to make a local-body politician say, ‘I do not think that I am rubbish’!  And sometimes a political element’s there but a little oblique. ‘Poem in an Orchard’, for example, is about rendition. I don’t set out to write politically.  I’m not into palpable design. But I’m a citizen who votes and signs petitions and tries to pay attention. And I’m a human being, so I can do gasping and outrage and anxiety and distress – and sometimes hopefulness – in poetry just as others can.  I think the US invasion of Iraq intensified some of those things for me, and that’s probably evident in some of the poems written since then.

I’ve always felt slightly ashamed that I let the Listener mildly censor a poem I wrote years ago called ‘Wellington’.  It was a piece against Muldoon, and included the lines ‘the boys from Muldoon Real Estate / are breaking someone’s arm’. They wanted to change it to ‘Beehive Real Estate’, and I weakly said yes.  Was it better for the doctored poem to appear in the Listener than not? I don’t know. I restored the true reading when the poem appeared in a book. But I don’t imagine either version would have hastened Muldoon’s downfall.  Labour’s Grant Robertson once told me  that there was briefly a Dunedin band called ‘Muldoon Real Estate’, which is nice. Probably one of those stories that’s too good to check.

 

PG: The poem, ‘Falseweed’ was originally published as a little pamphlet by Egg Box Publishing in Norwich. It has a different feel to your other poems. The words are scattered like seeds on the expanse of white page. There is linguistic inventiveness that boosts both music and image, particularly in compound words:

leafcandle  pencilheart  wintertwig  scribblegrass  anchorwhite  tongue-true.

What are the origins of this poem? Did it feel like you were shifting your musical key in terms of the words on the line?

BM: Yes. there’s some sort of musical shift – in some ways back to poems like ‘The Seasons/If I Will Sing There’ or ‘Wulf’.  Your seeds image is a good one, as the poem is pseudo-botanical. I started noticing, a bit obsessively, just how many poets in the UK and North America were using the vernacular names of plants in their poems: poets like Jen Hadfield, Alice Oswald, Robert Hass.  It’s maybe connected to Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks project recovering regional and dialect landscape terms. For a pakeha New Zealander like me it’s possible to feel envious of these language troves. About a year ago the English poet Sasha Dugdale tweeted: ‘Path on Seaford Head through restharrow, agrimony, moon carrot & selfheal.’ Now there’s a lyrical outing!

Anyway, I thought I would try to make a poem that teased that whole fashion – seed-packet poetry, I’ve heard it called – along with my own language inadequacies, by inventing my own weeds and grasses. But then as I wrote I found myself producing a poem very much about writer’s block and a kind of world-weariness.

 

Now darkness brings out

the little paperclip

plus a clump or two

of scribblegrass –

*

If we had seeds
we would scatter them

scatter them –

*

oh pencilheart –

oh smudge-of-lead.

 

PG: Is there one poem in particular that really works for you in this collection?

BM: I’d have to say ‘Known unto God’ – in part because of publisher generosity with formatting. I like the way it’s been able to sit like a small chapbook inside the larger book.  Each speaker in the poem gets their own page – so that that thing I was talking about earlier in terms of small poems, the mix of vulnerability and powerful presence, is made visible. The fact that the sequence effectively opens with a double-sided black page sets up the elegaic mood, too. The whole thing looks right.

 

PG: Which poem took you by surprise?

BM: Again, ‘Known unto God’.  I want to say I didn’t know I had it in me, but of course I didn’t have it in me – it was always out there in the world. My work was to catch it, edit it hard, and get the choreography right.

 

 

Victoria University Press page

Susanna Andrews shares her review on Radio NZ National

Bill describes his writing day for The Listener

‘This Reading Life: Bill Manhire’ for NZ Festival