Full piece and a few poems here
Bob Orr has been a well-regarded New Zealand poet for several decades, having eight collections of poetry produced to date, with a new collection due out soon. He is also rather different to so many ‘modern’ poets, in that he has always paddled his own poetic waka (or canoe) in and through his own currents. Oaring across his own ocean, if you will.
Bob never completed any tertiary education. He never attended any university ‘creative writing’ classes in an endeavour to craft his poetry ‘better.’ Up until very recently, when he was the 2017 University of Waikato Writer in Residence, he eschewed any applications for literary grants. He rarely, if ever, uses a computer to write with or on — he doesn’t even have an email address. Indeed, he continues to write with an old style ribbon-fed typewriter. Bob Orr is a bit of a Luddite — all of which ensures that his stream of poetry flows deep from his heart and mind and is never obfuscated by the trends, tropes, and trivialities of the latest poetic fad. Like another key New Zealand poet, Sam Hunt, Bob Orr has always remained a people’s poet, by which I mean, a writer who keeps it simple, who never overreaches into pretentiousness and amorphous cleverdickism.
What I want from a poetry journal
More and more I witness clusters of poetry communities in New Zealand – families almost – that might be linked by geography, personal connections, associations with specific institutions or publishers. How often do we read reviews of, or poems by, people with whom we don’t share these links? Poetry families aren’t a bad thing, just the opposite, but I wonder whether the conversations that circulate across borders might grow less and less.
I want a poetry journal to offer diversity, whichever way you look, and we have been guilty of all manner of biases. This is slowly changing.
When I pick up a journal I am on alert for the poet that makes me hungry for more, that I want a whole book from.
I am also happy by a surprising little diversion, a poem that holds me for that extra reading. Ah, this is what a poem can do!
Editor Jack Ross has achieved degrees of diversity within the 2018 issue and I also see a poetry family evolving. How many of these poets have appeared in Landfall or Sport, for example? A number of the poets have a history of publication but few with the university presses.
This feels like a good thing. We need organic communities that are embracing different voices and resisting poetry hierarchies.
Poetry NZ Yearbook Annual offers a generous serving of poems (poets in alphabetical order so you get random juxtapositions), reviews and a featured poet (this time Alistair Paterson). It has stuck to this formula for decades and it works.
What I enjoyed about the latest issue is the list of poets I began to assemble that I want a book from. Some I have never heard of and some are old favourites.
Some poets I am keen to see a book from:
Our rented flat in Parnell
Those rooms of high ceilings and sash windows
Our second city
Robert Creeley trying to chat you up
at a Russell Haley party
when our marriage
from Bob Orr’s ‘A Woman in Red Slacks’
Bob Orr’s heartbreak poem, with flair and economy, reminds me that we need a new book please.
There is ‘Distant Ophir’, a standout poem from David Eggleton that evokes time and place with characteristic detail. Yet the sumptuous rendering is slightly uncanny, ghostly almost, as past and present coincide in the imagined and the seen. Gosh I love this poem.
The hard-edged portrait Johanna Emeney paints in ‘Favoured Exception’ demands a spot in book of its own.
I haven’t read anything by Fardowsa Mohamed but I want more. She is studying medicine at Otago and has written poetry since she was a child. Her poem’ Us’, dedicated to her sisters, catches the dislocation of moving to where trees are strange, : ‘This ground does not taste/ of the iron you once knew.’
Mark Young’s exquisite short poem, ‘Wittgenstein to Heidegger’, is a surprising loop between difficulty and easy. Again I hungered for another poem.
Alastair Clarke, another poet unfamiliar to me, shows the way poetry can catch the brightness of place (and travel) in ‘Wairarapa, Distance’. Landscape is never redundant in poetry – like so many things that flit in and out of poem fashion. I would read a whole book of this.
Another unknown: Harold Coutt’s ‘there isn’t a manual on when you’re writing someone a love poem and they break up with you’ is as much about writing as it is breaking up and I love it. Yes, I want more!
Two poets that caught my attention at The Starling reading at the Wellington Writers Festival are here: Emma Shi and Essa Ranapiri. Their poems are as good on the page as they are in the ear. I have posted a poem from Essa on the blog.
I loved the audacity of Paula Harris filling in the gaps after seeing a photo of Michael Harlow in ‘The poet is bearded and wearing his watch around the wrong way’. Light footed, witty writing with sharp detail. More please!
I am a big fan of Jennifer Compton’s poetry and her ‘a rose, and then another’ is inventive, sound-exuberant play. I can’t wait for the next book.
I am also a fan of the linguistic agility of Lisa Samuels; ‘Let me be clear’ takes sheer delight in electric connections between words.
Finally, and on a sad note, there is Jill Chan’s poem, ‘Poetry’. I wrote about her on this blog to mark her untimely death. It is the perfect way to conclude this review. Poetry is everywhere – it is in all our poetry families.
Most poetry is unwritten,
denied and supposed.
Don’t go to write it.
Go where you’ve never been.
And it may come.
And where is poetry?
What is it you seek?
Jill Chan, from ‘Poetry’
Poetry NZ Yearbook page
From Poets to the People:
In July, Airini Beautrais and Maria McMillan complemented each other beautifully with their fabulous readings. Hightide was the last gig of their North Island tour promoting their new books, Flow: Whanganui River Poems (Airini) and The Ski Flier (Maria). Despite some sun dazzle during Open Mic we were gifted a stunning Kapiti sunset as a backdrop to their fine poetry.
Sunday August 27 we welcome Bob Orr as our guest. Bob has published seven books of poetry, most recently Odysseus in Woolloomooloo (Steele Roberts), and his work appears in numerous anthologies. Born in the Waikato, Bob has spent most of his adult life in Auckland where he works as a boatman on the Waitemata Harbour and the Hauraki Gulf. In 2016 he was the recipient of the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Poetry, a prize given biennially in recognition of a distinguished contribution to New Zealand poetry. He is currently Writer in Residence at the University of Waikato.
This month, to celebrate National Poetry Day (August 25), we’re opening Open Mic to people reading a favourite poem by another poet. We’ll be giving priority to readers who don’t usually perform at Open Mic, those keen and supportive listeners who play a big part in the pleasure of our event. Of course you’re welcome to read your own poem if you prefer.
Here are the rules:
· One poem, no longer than 30 lines, no exceptions
· Maximum of 17 readers
· Cut-off time 4pm for getting your name on the board
So come and celebrate winter’s end with some favourite poems, and one of New Zealand’s most distinguished poets:
Sunday, 27 August, 4–6pm, Hightide Café, 43 Marine Parade, Paraparaumu Beach, $5 entry.
P2P dates for your diary
September 24: guest poet Tim Jones
October 29: guest poet Chris Tse
November 26: guest poet Mary Cresswell
We look forward to seeing you all there.
Also a chance to celebrate the arrival of Iain’s new book.
Swordfish . . . Far Hotel
That’s me up there cast in plaster
above the wide window
of a coastal pub’s vista bar.
I am the trophy of some forgotten fisherman.
Cigarette smoke fogs my vision
but I still see that day the trophy of my life was taken.
Again I feel. I feel the hook deep within me catch
I feel my anger whip
I feel the tackle tighten
I feel my guts explode
I feel the rainbow strength of colours in me leap
I feel the sky like a mirror smashing
I feel the sun across my dorsal fin get torn
I feel the waves beneath me again and again split open
I feel the blood in the protein church of my heart begin to chant
I feel the hook in my brain burning
I feel the trace against my jawbone cut
I feel time tight as a nylon line almost breaking
I feel the great poem of my life and I know that it is ending.
©Bob Orr Valparaiso Auckland University Press, 2002.
I found myself hesitating between two very different poems I could choose, Janet Charman’s “pin unpin pin unpin pin,” which so vividly recalls the intensity of new motherhood, or Bob Orr’s Hemingwayesque fishing poem, “Swordfish…Far Hotel,” told from the point of view of the fish, now caught and cast in plaster. My reason for choosing the fishing poem is the experience I had of reading it out loud once at a National Poetry Day event at Te Papa, and feeling myself caught on the line of the poem just as it describes the fish caught on the fishing line. It is an extraordinarily taut and powerful poem and reading it was one of the great poetry experiences of my life. It can be found in Bob Orr’s 2002 collection Valparaiso, which is full of favourite poems of mine, including “Eternity” (“Eternity is the traffic lights at Huntly…”), “Remembering Akhmatova,” and “Friday Night…Alhambra Bar,” amongst others.
If we weren’t limited to New Zealand poems, I’d choose “Viewless Wings,” by Mark Ford, the poem which best captures the “lyric strangeness” that Alex Hollis and Simon Gennard have been talking about as what poetry is for, and what poetry needs. It is the poem I would most wish to have written myself, and now am looking for some way to write past.
Anna Jackson lives in Island Bay, Wellington, lectures at Victoria University, and has published six collections of poetry, most recently I, Clodia (AUP, 2014). With Helen Rickerby and Angelina Sbroma she quite often runs conferences and other events for talking and thinking about writing, this year a conference on Poetry and the Essay.
We are well served by literary journals at the moment. Each delivers slightly different treats, biases, focuses but all offer high quality writing that resist any singular NZ model.
The latest Landfall (as you can see) has a stunning cover with its Peter Peryer photograph.
Inside: poetry (37 poets!), fiction, non-fiction, art and book reviews (including an excellent review of Anna Smaill’s The Chimes, one of my top fiction reads of the past year).
The poets range from the very familiar, whether young or old, to those new to me. And that is as it should be. David Eggleton is keeping the magazine fresh whilst giving vital space to our literary elders and maintaining a strong and welcome Pacific flavour.
A tasting plate of lines that got me (I seem to have been struck by mothers, fathers, surprising images, little twists):
from Brian Turner’s ‘Weekends’:
think of what a place could be
when it’s not what we possess
that counts most
but what we are possessed by
from CK Stead’s ‘One: Like a bird’ (for Kay):
You were beautiful, and I
sang, as I could in those days
all the way home—like a bird.
from Leilani Tamu’s ‘Researching Ali’i’:
I searched for you in boxes
the archivist muttered poison
from Rata Gordon’s ‘A Baby’:
I want to make a baby out of one peach and one prickle.
I want to use the kitchen sponge, sticky rice and a rubber band.
I want to use the coffee grinder.
from Siobhan Harvey’s ‘Spaceboy and the White Hole’:
he pictures matter barely visible, the light
of white holes as they transmit their secret
messages, sharp elegies, about letting go.
from Ruth Arnison’s ‘The Visit’:
Even from the road her house gave us the creeps.
Pale, communion wafer thin, and disapproving,
its severe windows three-quarter blinded.
from Heather McQuillan’s ‘In which I defend my father’s right to solitude’:
our father has a fine tooth way
of finding vulnerabilities
on the outward flanks
the wolf is always at his door
from Doc Drumheller’s ‘My Father’s Fingers’:
Days after my father died I felt a sense
of urgency to take care of his hot-house.
from Koenraad Kuiper’s ‘from Benedictine Sonnets’:
Mother always knitted particularly socks.
Knitting socks is a fine skill under the lamplight.
from Elizabeth Smither’s ‘Three “Willow” Pattern Bowls’:
My father thought I meant the plate
and wrapped one from the china cabinet
I carried it close to my heart
all the way back for a second reprimand.
from Bob Orr’s ‘Seven Haiku’:
I don’t care about
from Will Leadbetter’s ‘Three Variations on “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams’:
Nothing depends upon
the green wheelbarrow
Great winter reading!