Tag Archives: book review

Ben Brown’s The Kindling and the Blaze is poetry from the heart

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Ben Brown Between the Kindling and the Blaze (Anahera Press, 2013)

Ben Brown (Ngāti Paoa, Ngāti Mahuata) is an award-winning writer, performer and children’s author currently living in Lyttelton. His debut poetry collection, Between the Kindling and the Blaze, was completed during his residency at the Michel King Writers’ Centre in Devonport. He has previously released a CD of poetry entitled Dogtown (2010).

With scant collections by Māori writers making an appearance in New Zealand’s poetry scene, this book is an important arrival. Ben declares from the outset that these poems are ‘reflections on the concept of mana.’ A preface story introduces humans (a man) to the vastness and the smallness of the world: mountain, rock, grain of sand, tree. It speaks of how a human can furnish a shelter from sand, rock and wood, and how it can be built with both love and dignity. In this way, a family shelter becomes ‘a place of mana.’

The book, fittingly, is dedicated to whānau.

And so the poems, also a shelter for friends, family, whānau, are miniature edifices crafted with dignity and love. These poems become vessels for the poet’s loving kōrero. Mana is there between the kindling and the blaze, between an idea and and an experience. Mana is in the wisdom of the grandfather, but it is in a host of surprising things. Through this poetic contemplation, you are taken from moko to hui, from the ‘concrete cold of a city’ to Presidential dreamings, from James K Baxter to Hone Tuwhare. The poems become reattached to the world–to values and to customs.

Ben centres a lot of the poems on the page (Western poets have a habit of hugging the left-hand margin). It becomes a different way of reading with the billowing, silent beats on either side of the poems. It accentuates the music of the shortened lines that swell and contract like the belly of a vessel (that place for kōrero that comes from the heart, but that holds itself open to politics).

Listening to a selection of the poems on the CD, heightens the music and the sense of contemplation. I particularly loved ‘Taniwha’ (a subtle evocation of the force that ‘is there for all to see’), the lyrical delights of ‘The heron is God,’ the cheeky warm tribute to Hone Tuwhare in ‘Chur bro,’ the twists and turns of ‘I am the Māori Jesus’ as it jams with the Baxter original. Like Hone, Ben mixes up his language, mixes up the voices, the tone of the lines.

The book, like a good LP, demands to be replayed.

Anahera Press page

New Zealand Book Council page

Storylines page

Random House page

Interview with NZ Children’s Authors, Christchurch Public Library

Jenny Bornholdt’s A Book is a Book is the loveliest book I have read in years

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Sometimes a book arrives in the world and you know that it is a very special thing. It is a book you want to give everyone for Christmas and for birthdays and on days when you just feeling like giving someone a book.

A Book is a Book by Jenny Bornholdt (one of my favourite New Zealand poets) with illustrations by Sarah Wilkins is one such precious thing (Whitireia Publishing and Gecko Press, 2013). It is a little, hardcover book with a paper-dust jacket and exquisite drawings. It feels like it is from another age, perhaps the 1960s, so it takes me right back to when I was a young girl and I loved the magic of a new book (I still do!).

As the title tells us, this book is all about books — about reading books. Each page only has one or two sentences, but each page shimmers with wisdom, humour and truthfulness (I kept thinking that is so exactly right as I read!). Such a mix means that it is a very happy book! To sit down with a book that is so HAPPY it makes you feel HAPPY which is a very good thing.

To be honest, I couldn’t bear to finish this book for ages (in fact I left a little bit for today); like a box of chocolates I wanted to go on and on. Every page is a favourite page, but here is one I love:

‘If it’s Sunday and it’s raining,

a book is the perfect thing.

Even a small book, because

boredom can be very big.’

You will find places to read books, what to do if you don’t have a book, what’s inside books, about a -glow–in-the-dark book, games you can play with books …

… but as soon as I start to describe what the book describes, I know I have to stop because all Jenny’s word magic is gone.

This, my number-one-book-I-have-read-in-a-very-long-time book, you just have to read for yourself, and then get another copy to give your best friend. Because it is the perfect book to read when you want to feel good about life.

Thank you Whitireia Publishing and Gecko Press for the gorgeous production, thank you Jenny for the terrific words and thank you Sarah for the delicious, little paintings that are just perfect.

To celebrate my love of this book that has filled me with such book joy, I am going to host a three-week READING FESTIVAL on NZ Poetry Box starting on Monday with all kinds of prizes and surprises. If you want to paint a picture of your reading life as a child in 500 words or less let me know. paulajoygreen@gmail.com      http://nzpoetrybox.wordpress.com

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