I love the new Christchurch poems that punctuated the interview. They are from the gorgeous book, In the Mirror and Dancing, that the National Library produced to mark the end of Karl’s Laureateship.
I love the new Christchurch poems that punctuated the interview. They are from the gorgeous book, In the Mirror and Dancing, that the National Library produced to mark the end of Karl’s Laureateship.
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!
Once again the AWF have delivered a gift to readers and writers. I applaud the fact they showcase NZ writers as much as they do those from overseas. I applaud the free sessions (ok I got used to sitting on the floor with my recovering fractured foot rebelling with all that queuing). I applaud the fact they cater for children. I applaud a programme that is so very diverse and that offers moments that shake you apart — that reminds us what is so very important about sustaining a book culture from birth to 100. Books do matter. Conversations about books matter, whether you are reader or writer. I applaud all the writers who were so very generous with their self/ideas/issues/stories/poetry exposures.
Thank you so very much Anne O’Brien and your fabulous team.
Saturday (I booked ended a full day at the festival with short stories and a feminist icon)
The short-story session was a standout event – the exact reason I am prepared to face parking issues, hordes of people, endless queues.
Sue Orr in conversation with Damien Wilkins and Elizabeth McCracken was such a treat. Genius idea to read a short story by another author and explore the craft. Elizabeth read Lucia Berlin’s ‘The Jockey,’ while Damien read Janet Frame’s ‘This Is My Last Story.’ Elizabeth responded to the potential workshop criticism that Lucia’s story gave the protagonist no biographical details. Elizabeth: ‘Her voice is so full of life you know that character.’ Damien even suggested the ending (‘This is so marvelous.’) might not survive a workshop – but that it works.
In the review I did with Bill he suggested he wasn’t straitjacketed by rules. Both stories read were perfect examples of this.
Damien said he goes to Janet’s collection of stories when he feels language can’t be fresh any more and is rejuvenated. Hearing him read her story so beautifully, with such verve, made me want to scoot back home, pick up her book and get reading.
Loved hearing their own stories too, and the fact Damien had to start rewriting his!
Second standout event of the day – Tusiata Avia in scintillating conversation with Maxine Beneba Clarke.
Both writers bemoaned the way they get pigeon holed as being writers of colour. The empathy between them was infectious, the poems read utterly vital.
Tusiata talked about the way the job of the writer is to bring the unseen into the world, bringing it out of the dark places, even it is painful, even if it’s not attractive.
Maxine added that the drive to pick up the pen is affected by the need to change something and that one might not write in a utopian world.
This session was polemical, uplifting, moving – and a reminder of the power and beauty of poetry.
Third standout moments were hearing Cilla McQueen and Lynn Jenner read in the Excavations session.
Having read both books, these two readings lifted me out of festival fatigue. Highly recommend Lost and Gone way and In Slanted Light. Lynn’s refreshing approach to nonfiction, Cilla’s refreshing approach to memoir.
Fourth stand out moment
I will do a separate post on The Sarah Broom Poetry Award.
Absolute standout moment of the festival Jeanette Winterson doing Shakespeare
Standing solo on the stage Jeanette delivered an impressive monologue on Shakespeare, on why she chose The Winter’s Tale to do her cover version (The Gap of Time).
I never thought-drifted off. Nor when she read two sections from the book. Read is hardly the right word to describe her electric-electifying performance.
I walked out gobsmacked. Speechless. It was like she was feeling Shakespeare with every twitch, every lift and rush of word, every pore of skin. She felt it, so I felt it.
She said we live in such a complicated world, you can’t reduce it with the karate chop of syntax. We want to expand us/the world. It is like the way, in another language, thought shrinks to the language available.
Book quote: ‘What is memory anyway but a painful dispute from the past.’
She referred to Dante’s idea that writers are putting into words things difficult to think. Jeanette adds: ‘and feelings.’
I kept bumping into people who were as blubberingly euphoric as me after this session.
Second standout session of the day Michel Faber in conversation with Paula Morris
The most poignant moment of the festival was seeing Michel’s wife Eva’s little red boots on the stage, standing in for her, this huge absence he carries on his travels.
I looked at this unbearable emptiness as he read poems from his forthcoming collection, poems that navigate her illness and death, his loss and grief.
Astonishing. And his declaration, well known, that he has written his last novel. ‘I only had this many novels in me,’ he says.
Again the tricky question of whether fiction and poetry make a difference to us came up. Michel didn’t used to think so. Now he says, ‘if a decent human being can feel something for an hour reading poetry or fiction regarding the evils of those who rule us, then it is a value, even though it doesn’t affect how things turn out. Maybe that’s enough.’
And bravo CK Stead stepping into Bill Manhire’s shoes to converse with Paul Muldoon.
A fascinating session. Hearing the poems with that Irish lilt again means reading the new collection with just the right musical inflections. The pauses were memorable. Best poetic pauses.
Like so many poets, I loathe people making speeches about me or my work. Much better to stage a poetry reading and celebrate the pull of cities.
My new poetry collection comes out of ten exceptional days I spent in New York with my family awhile ago. So I have invited a bunch of poets I love to read city poems by themselves and others. Big line-ups but it will free flow and leave time for wine and nibbles.
Once I got to fifteen I realised what poetry wealth we have in these places. I could have hosted another 15 in each place easily. That was so reassuring.
If I had time and money, I would have staged similar events in Christchurch and Dunedin where there bundles of poets I love too.
Please share if you have the inclination.
And you are ALL warmly invited!
From Mark Broach:
‘What is poetry? “Poetry is the other way of using language,” goes one definition. It’s what gets left behind in translation, goes another. It’s a hundred things: rhythm, harmony, metaphor, compression, juxtaposition, an obsession with the line. But what is poetry for? That topic’s up for debate this weekend, so we put the question to a group of poets.
The current New Zealand Poet Laureate, CK Stead, says poetry has many roles, some seemingly conflicting.
“It’s for pleasure, intellectual and emotional. It’s sometimes for what Yeats called ‘the fascination of what’s difficult’; and sometimes for a sense of ease, effortlessness, peace and harmony. It’s to remind us of the best uses that have been made, and can still be made, of what marks the human species out as unique on our planet – language. Shakespeare says ‘The truest poetry is the most feigning’, and Wilfred Owen says, ‘The true poets must be truthful’, and both are right without contradiction.”
Tim Upperton wonders if poetry is of any use at all. “If you go by the words of some of its famous practitioners, poetry’s not much good for anything.” ‘
For the rest of the article see here.
Mark also consults CK Stead, our current Poet Laureate, and the three poets performing here:
Kate Camp, Gregory O’Brien and Louise Wallace speak at “A Still Small Voice – What Does Poetry Do for Us?”, a session at Wanaka’s Aspiring Conversations on Sunday, April 24.
This weekend friends, family and poets gathered to join CK Stead celebrate his Poet Laureateship and the presentation of the tokotoko. It was a marvelous occasion that will stand in my memory for a long time. The weekend featured two key events. The formal and informal proceedings at Matahiwi Marae on the Saturday morning and a Poets’ Night Out in the evening.
With exemplary dedication to New Zealand poetry, Te Mata Estate’s Peter Buck and poet Bill Manhire established the award twenty years ago. In 2007, The National Library took over the administration, although the Buck family still remain involved, and donates a stipend of wine to the Laureates. Unlike most of the visitors, I got called onto the marae on the Friday evening with Chris Szekely and Peter Ireland from the National Library, and a number of their colleagues, including Oliver Stead and his son Isaac. Peter was the driving force behind detail of the weekend, and Ian Wedde’s moving tribute to him at The Circle of Laureates hit the mark. Thoughtful, attentive, committed to making a celebration fit for a Laureate. His back-up team are pretty special too (Joan, Cellia Joe, Lynette, Jason and Oliver).
Kaumatua Tom Mulligan and other members of the marae welcomed us with much aroha.
Joan, Cellia, Jason and I practiced some waiata back in the whare nui. CJ on ukulele.We crack up when CJ says all her family knows she can’t sing and she just fakes it. We are all fooled and I wonder what I can’t do but could fake and get away with.
On Friday night we hived off to Havelock North (one poet, five librarians) for dinner at Maine where the food was divine. We fell greedily into the comfort of the best hot chips ever and with that salty comfort digging deep into our bones were ready for whatever the weekend delivered. One plate of salmon with the best Niçoise salad and I was ready for a weekend of poetry and celebration.
I got up early to walk in the near rain and saw a black cat stock still on a fence post eyeballing my lack of sleep. Not budging an inch until a car came down the gravel road and sent the cat sliding down like a snake into the golden corn. I had no idea what it meant. But it glowed with options.
CK Stead was called onto the marae with his whanau (around 20), poets Gregory O’Brien and Chris Price, her partner Robbie Duncan, and other guests. To have such family support felt very special. He is poetry but he is most definitely family. His daughter had travelled from London with her children.
After the formal speeches and the waiata exchanges, the tokotoko was presented to Karl by a kuia. She had such presence. Jacob Scott, who carves the tokotoko for each Poet Laureate said he had wanted to make a tokotoko for a gentleman and a scholar that could be used on a daily basis if needed. He had gained inspiration from Karl’s poem, ‘Scoria.’
Karl responded with a speech that mixed graciousness, humbleness, love. He said he was not only honoured by the role but honoured by the marae: ‘by being here, by your presence, by your aroha.’
Before he read a few poems, Karl talked about place, about the importance of one’s childhood occupation of place, and the way that place becomes one of return. He grew up with three maunga facing him whichever way he turned. He also underlined the primacy of poetry for him since his teenage days and the way he has ‘always come back to poems.’ With much humbleness, he added,’that’s why it is extraordinary at this late stage in my career as a writer to be honoured as Poet Laureate.’
Karl paused in his korero and then said; ‘I am getting advice from the tokotoko. We have to get used to one another.’
At that we all paused.
I am delighted that the Poet-Laureate role honours our elders, our writing taonga. It felt good to be part of the protocol. The talking. The listening. The exchange.
MC-ed by Marty Smith, the informal part of the morning was like a miniature poetry reading. As his invited poets, Chris, Gregory and I read a couple of poems and Chris sang a Bill Manhire song with her partner Robbie. What made this section special were the performances from local secondary students. One student used the analogy of a bird to explore the Poet Laureate’s original function to write poems on dictated subjects. She was keen to let a Laureate fly free! A student played a solo violin piece, one sang a Māori version of ‘Hallelujah,’ while another wrapped up the morning with Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance.’ Wonderful! I pictured us all dancing slow motion with the wind in our hair. Instead the wind whipped the music sheet up and away.
It was a morning of korero, waiata, music and poetry and it felt good to inhale both words and song. Nourishing. We moved to the whare kai where a tremendous lunch of fresh local produce matched the hubbub of conversation. You don’t get to experience many days like this in your lifetime. Such warmth, and connections.
Marty Smith was the MC extraordinaire in a poetry reading of two halves. It’s ages since I have heard Chris and Greg read, but to hear them read in this context was something special with poems handpicked for the Laureate occasion. Greg read a terrific poem now showcased in the selection of Best NZ Poems from 2015, while Chris confirmed that her new book is her best to date (we have an interview in the pipeline!). Three young opera singers from Project Prima Volta wowed us with two arias. The room befitted the occasion: white cloths on tables, astonishing flower/plant arrangements, platters of food, Te Mata wine. Karl started and ended the night and showed very clearly why he is Laureate. He read across his range and his last set gave me goosebumps. The clarity of voice, the poetic strata, the acute detail that makes you want to pick up your pen and write.
Breakfast and poroporoaki for everyone on the marae. The goodbyes. At breakfast Karl and I talked about the weekend and how we both spent chunks of the night wide awake as though we had to rehearse the next day and analyse the day before. I probably had about two or three hours sleep a night and it seemed like a state of wakefulness that kept me on high alert. What had happened, what was about to happen. I had brought seven books to match most moods (everyone laughed at my big bag of duvet and books) but I only got to read snatches of The Lie Tree. The gap between YA fantasy and the marae was unbridgeable. I got up early and walked my way into wakefulness before Emma Scott, Jacob’s sister, took me out to the river mouth and then coffee at her brother’s house. To see the meeting waters, where river meets ocean, to soak up the gleam of sun on waves and estuary, felt like a poem on the surface of the world. We talked and we looked. Emma is a stone mason. We talked about poetry and we talked about stone. We talked about what holds things together. It matters that we hold up our treasured poets. Give them a place to stand and speak.
There was much korero after breakfast, and song. Chris and Robbie sang a mesmerising Bob Dylan number, almost lullabying me into necessary slumber.
Peter Ireland, running on empty after little sleep, spoke with characteristic thought and thanked everyone personally. It felt like a garland of words to wear out into the world of planes and trains and motorways. Or for me, a place of solitude and bush.
Jacob said it beautifully. He said that the Poet Laureate was significant for the marae. That it spread the hapu’s power and influence. That this is now Karl’s place as well. The undercurrent is that poetry matters. Jacob said it is significant ‘that the Poet Laureate can articulate the thoughts and expressions of who we are. Of what we can do. Of what we have got. And what we could do.’ Like a bird.
We all felt in debt to Tom Mulligan and his drawing together of this poetry clan. With much aroha and generosity of place, stories and a willing ear.
Our heads are full of days we cannot remember, but for many of us, this weekend will not be one of them.
Thank you. Especially Karl, The National Library and Matahiwi Marae.
A quick trip into Havelock North to drink the best coffee and eat the best lemon tart in a cafe on the brink of closing for the day. Peter was a very good guide.
The writers, friends and family ate at Pipi Cafe, a cafe renowned for its love of poetry and its excellent pizzas in Havelock North.
Poets’ Night Out
The last morning.
This event prompted me to hunt for cheap fares to Wellington because it seemed like a rare and special poetry occasion. And it was! A sold-out event!
The National Library, as current administrator of the NZ Poet Laureate awards, hosted the evening as part of Wellington Writers Week. John Buck from Te Mata Wines instigated the Laureateship in 1997, with Bill Manhire taking the debut spot. John was there with wine to share. He still retains an involvement.
Fergus Barrowman from VUP was the MC. He made the important point that the award is ‘an activist portfolio not just an honour.’ The earliest debut publication by a Laureate was in 1964 while the most recent debut was 1988. Three generations of poets! Cilla McQueen and Michele Leggott calculated over 700 years of life/poetry experience across the ten laureates to date.
Bill Manhire (1997) spoke about what the Laureateship meant to him and the two ways it expanded his sense of what he might do as a poet, as a public figure. Firstly he began to write poems with some kind of public dimension. Secondly he explored the way the role centred on the promotion of poetry. He wanted to ‘talk it up.’ Both are options we can be thankful for. Bill’s poems that stand on a public stage are poems that embrace the knots and crests of humanity. I talked about the way ‘Hotel Emergencies’ does this on Summer Noelle in January.
Bill read ‘Erebus Voices’ and I sat there thinking this is a poem that belongs in the world and can be heard again. And again. And then again. Because it both moves and matters. Bill shows so adeptly the way poems can shift us to laughter, to wry grins at the surprise of it all, but also lead to far more unfathomable movements of the heart.
‘I am here beside my brother, terror./ I am the place of human error.’
I especially loved the way he started with the poem of a fellow poet. He ‘talked her poem up,’ and I fell in love with it all over again: Rachel Bush’s ‘The Strong Mothers.’
Hone Tuwhare was represented by his son Rob. We listened to Hone read ‘No Ordinary Sun,’ we listened to Rob read Hone and then Rob picked up his guitar and sang a Graham Brazier version of one of the poems. A version of friendship. Quiet, haunting, utterly melodic. This was love. Hairs standing on your arm on end from start to finish in the Tuwhare bracket.
‘Oh tree/ in the shadowless mountains/ the white plains and/ the drab sea floor/ your end is at last written.’
Elizabeth Smither read a cross section of poems that delighted the audience. But one as-yet-unpublished poem in particular stuck to me. Kate Camp, her mum and I – all went ‘wow.’ I adored the story of Elizabeth seeing her mother move through her house, the windows bright, unaware of the daughter driving by. By the time I got to congratulate her, dear Elizabeth had already signed her copy for Kate. How lovely! Like a bouquet of flowers. Elizabeth emailed the poem so I can read and write about it for my book.
‘It was all those unseen moments we do not see/ the best of a mother/ competent and gracious in her solitude’
Brian Turner with his delicious wit said: ‘I’ve been called a political animal many times and it’s not always a compliment!’ And that is what makes his poems so enduring. The way he hits the right pitch of land and sky but with a deep love that is unafraid to match beauty with issues. He read a cluster of short poems where every word sang. Gee whizz this was good. Here are few lines I loved without the line breaks (sorry):
‘and the shadows are mauve birthmarks on the hills’
‘If the sky knew half of what we were doing down here it would be inconsolable and we would have nothing but rain’
‘where a river sings, a river always sang’
See what I mean!
Jenny rued the way Wellington Writers Week has dropped ‘readers’ from the title. She said she would reclaim readers, in the perfect setting (the library), with a longish poem: ‘A long way from home.’ This was a highlight for me. The poem is all about illness and reading; the ability to read and a time when it flees. Here are some sample lines:
‘How as a child, books were the lens// through which I eyed the muddy track to adulthood’
‘For six weeks now I’ve been outside weather/ and of reading. Outside of myself.’
‘I have tried to read but nothing/ sticks. That anchor of my life has been raised and// I’m all at sea.’
Michele Leggott, like Bill, brings poetry to a a public arena through her tireless promotion and expansive love. Michele read an extract from a long work (‘The Fasciclies’) that bridges Taranaki and Lyttelton, the 1860s and the 1970s, and the connections between two women.
My notebook is full of Persian-like doodles of birds and shapes interspersed with notes but, as I listened to Michele, my pen stalled. I felt like I could hear Robin Hyde with her luminous detail and observations in the seams. For this was luminous writing. There is a bridge between reader and poem. Sometimes you cross it. Sometimes it seems impassable. I just wanted to cross the bridge and read the whole poem.
You can find the whole piece here.
Cilla McQueen read ‘Ripples’ a long poem that showcases her strengths as a writer. It is in her latest collection, The Radio Room (2010). Another highlight. Other poets make an appearance, Joanna and Hone. Moving. Uplifting in a way.
‘After the funeral service you leaned down towards me out of a cloud;/ “Kia mau!” you shouted into my mind.’
Cilla McQueen’s memoir is due next week from Otago University Press.
Ian Wedde also has a childhood memoir out, The Grass Catcher, which is on my must-read list. Ian’s poetry produces my ideal poetry trifecta of relations: music, ideas, heart. Oh! And singing its way through, a sense of story. He read from ‘The Life Guard.’ Ha! It’s all here. Listen to the start:
‘You have to start somewhere/ in those morose times,/ / a clearing in the forest say,/ filled with golden shafts of sunlight// and skirmishes’
Vincent O’Sullivan has a new book out from VUP, which I am about to review for a newspaper, so perfect to hear him read his poetic contours. He has the ability to refresh anything. To tilt tropes, to enhance the music of a line, to poke you with an idea, to make you feel. Once again I got caught up in the moment of listening and didn’t catch lines in my notebook.
Ck Stead is the current Poet Laureate. He began with a poem about Allen Curnow, who he felt would have been Laureate if he had lived within the Laureate time span. Karl had struggled over whether to read a top-hit kind of poem or read new things. I know that feeling and first thought I would only ever read a poem once in public when first published. That soon fell by the wayside.
It was a moment of audience empathy as Karl confessed he thought he would read it, then wouldn’t, then finally after hearing Bill, decided he would. And we were glad, indeed, as he read an elegy for his mother. Utterly moving.
Poetry is such a love for Karl. He made this clear when I was filming his ‘thank you’ speech for the Sarah Broom Poetry Award. And hearing him read on this occasion, lifted the poems off the pages where I have loved them, to a new life in the air/ear.
from ‘Elegy’ but without that scattered layout that makes much of white space (sorry):
‘She’s there somewhere/ the ferryman/ assures me.// He tells me/ she was reluctant to go/ but silent – // stood in the prow/ no tears/ and never looked back.’
Karl filled the room with the warmth of poetry. Music. Heart. Ideas. A perfect end.
The tokotoko table, with all the talking sticks carved especially for each poet, was like a quilt with stories. I wished someone had held up the mother tokotoko for all to see and told that story. And indeed held up each tokotoko, for each tokotoko has its own.
Karl will get his at the Matahiwi ceremony in April. I am honoured to be part of this occasion along with Gregory O’Brien and Chris Price.
A Circle of Laureates was a magnificent occasion. I bumped into Elizabeth Knox the next day and we were both enthusing about how good it was. Peter Ireland from the National Library had put in all the hard work! Kindly acknowledged on the night by Ian. Every poet held my attention. There is a big age range here, but to me, it is a way of honouring our poetry elders.
As a poet, I write with one foot in the past and one foot in the future.I want to know who I’m writing out of. This is my tradition. This is my innovation. This circle.
It reminded me of Selina Tusitala Marsh’s’s poem ‘A Circle of Stones in her debut collection where she honours the women she writes from, towards and beside.
Thank you to everyone who made this event possible. It was worth my spur-of-the-moment cheap flight, my accidental data blow out, my misbooking home that meant a new booking, the chance to hear the Lauris-Edmond finalists, and losing myself in Jessie Mackay in The Alexander Turnbull Library. Thirty-six hours of poetry. Heaven.
Thanks! Ten Poets Laureate to celebrate!