Tag Archives: Claire Mabey

Poetry Shelf connections: 17 New Zealanders pick a book of comfort

 

 

This week I decided to invite a variety of New Zealanders to pick a book that has given comfort or solace during lockdown or at any point in their lives.

I do this but I feel like a butterfly adrift in my home – alighting here, stalling there, resting here. It is hard to settle. Writing gives me continued comfort, keeping both my blogs up, as does my stack of books. I have found Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2020 has given immense solace as I linger upon  poems, essays, reviews. The whole issue is a tonic, so much so I invited a handful of poets to read one of their poems for a virtual reading. I am also reading Richard Powers’s The Overstory – a mammoth book! – but I am reading it slower than a snail’s pace because I am so in love with the sentences. A single sentence fills me with joy. Then there is the thematic and crucial presence of trees. I can walk through this book like I am walking through the track on our land. Again it is just so restoring. I love what Bryan Crump says below about discovering his pick in a London bookshop and falling into the joy of the book in a cafe. You can just loose yourself in the bush tracks of your reading. Just what we need at the moment, like little cafe breaks.

Thank heavens for books. And thank you everyone who responded in these challenging times with a book and some thoughts, when all we might want is to drift like the clouds.

 

Tara Black (comic maker)

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Juliet Blyth (CEO ReadNZ)

My early reading in the lockdown was erratic, I found it hard to settle on one thing so to get me started I read Damien Wilkin’s new novel for young adults Aspiring (Massey University Press). Damien has so much empathy for his male characters and I thought this book portrayed with heart and humour the inner workings of the male teenage brain. That led me to reread his novel from 2016 Dad Art. Again the male characters are sensitively told and this book is both laugh out loud funny and really sad! Damien writes so tenderly about the relationship between his main character and his elderly father. Finally I liked Lloyd Jones comment in a previous post of yours about reading not for comfort but preferring something that rattles his cage. For me this book has been Halibut on the Moon by David Vann. This is a powerful and moving book but proceed with caution – this is a book about suicide and may be challenging for some readers. Despite the subject matter the author makes room for some dark humour and the utterly frank conversations between the main character and his parents were artful, making for some very uncomfortable but necessary reading.

 

 

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Paula Browning (CE of Copyright Licensing NZ & Chair of WeCreate)

Gabriel’s Bay, by Catherine Robertson (Penguin)

Our family of 4 came to New Zealand in the early 70’s and left the rest of the relatives back in the UK. This meant that holidays, particularly the long summer break, didn’t have to be spent staying with family, we could go anywhere we wanted, and we did. We spent those wonderful, carefree, childhood summers in small-town New Zealand – just like the setting for Gabriel’s Bay. Even though (according to the author) it’s a fictional town, there are hundreds like it all over the country and as you’re reading images of various places around the country will come to mind. The same is true of the characters. There’s a familiarity (stereotype is too harsh a word) with Mac, the GP’s militant receptionist who’s got a heart of gold she’s careful not to let too many people see. There’s Sidney, parenting alone (and doing a damn fine job) but beating herself up about what her boys might be missing out on. There’s lots of NZ-ism’s and glorious descriptive writing that takes you to another place – which is exactly what we need at the moment – to travel without traveling. Gabriel’s Bay will take you there and, when you’re ready to go back for more, What You Wish For (the second Gabriel’s Bay) is just the thing.

 

 

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Bryan Crump (Presenter Nights RNZ)

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

I was living in London at the time (1994) and was in singing with the London Philharmonia Chorus. We’d been performing Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Sea Symphony”; a setting of some of Whitman’s poems. The music drew me in first, but one day, with nothing to read, I wandered into a second-hand shop on Charing Cross Road and came across an 1897 edition of Leaves.

I wandered off to the Leicester Square McDonalds, or some cheap pizza joint. I can’t recall exactly now. I do remember sitting there, devouring the poetry; turning page after page, like no poetry I’d experience before. I heard this voice sing out like a secular preacher, celebrating the spiritual in everything “for every atom belonging to me as good as belongs to you”.

Clumsy? Yes! Repetitive? Again and again! Cheer leader for the rapacious American dream? Yes. But that idea, linking the quantum to the cosmic, nothing else in poetry has moved me like Walt did then.

 

 

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Lynn Freeman  (Presenter Standing Room Only RNZ)

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

 

I once met British Fantasy writer of Discworld fame in person, clutching a stack of his books for signing.

“Thanks for Discworld,” I whispered. Remember, I interview famous people for a living.
“Thanks for the money,” he quipped. I mentioned this exchange to him the first time of several times I interviewed him for RNZ.

Terry and his occasional co-writer unleashed dozens of titles in this world. I’ve read most of them, but not in order. So during the lockdown, I’m starting with the Colour of Magic and laughing my way through his satirical fantasy series from start to finish.

 

 

Karyn Hay (author and broadcaster)

I have to confess I never read for solace or comfort unless it’s some sort of spur of the moment self-help book that I’ve picked up in an airport and generally regret spending money on before the plane’s even taken off. Twenty chapters telling me something I already know and didn’t need to part with $39.95 to confirm. It depends on the nature of one’s distress of course. Poetry is always good for heartache, and I quite like quotations centred on the topic of one’s despair but, as these can both be googled, I don’t really need the hard copy.

If I was reading for a child I would look for something to take their mind off things, but then you always tend to do that with children, virus or not. (Mostly you’re just trying to take their mind off the fact that you’re about to turn the light off at any second.)

My advice when needing solace or comfort is to write something yourself. This is the greatest consolation of all.

 

 

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John Gow (Gow Langsford Gallery)

I just finished reading Witi Ihimaera’s Māori Boy – a memoir of childhood. Published by Random House in 2014, it is a book which I have been meaning to get to for quite some time.
In this strange isolation environment it was great to read a book so New Zealand focused, remind one of the treasures hidden in our country such as the amazing meeting house ‘Rongopai’ which is the Ihimaera house at Waituhi, Poverty Bay. I very much enjoyed feeling the Māori names of people and place rolling off the tongue and being mentally located in and around Gisbourne in the 1950’s 60’s. One is reminded that there is so much history to read about, Te Kooti, Rua Kēeana, Sir Āpirana Ngata, and the like and Witi, gives a great personal take on on Māori mythology and the importance of Whakapapa within Māoridom. He also reminds us of the many injustices, the racial prejudices and the hard road Māori have had since colonisation. All done in a way which is not confrontational, not offensive, but very much a reminder of our (the colonisers) less than auspicious roots in New Zealand Aotearoa.
Thoroughly enjoyed the read and now want to buzz off to the Gisborne regions and explore the landscape which was so beautifully laid out before me in this very personal biography.

 

 

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Claire Mabey (Director of Verb Wellington)

I have been re-reading The Absolute Book (Victoria University Press) by Elizabeth Knox lately. I felt a real urge to be back inside that world and I have loved every page of it. I think even more than the first time I read it because this time around I feel like I have more space to think about all of the aspects and layers of the characters, places and the happenings. While the book takes you off into other planes of existence, it also feels so real. I think that’s because Elizabeth has poured so much passion into the keystones of this story: Libraries, family, the environment, and our ability to figure all of the mysteries out and improve on ourselves.

 

 

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Judy Millar (artist)

Be My Guest – Priya Basil

“The dinner table, among friends, is where the best conversations take place.” These are the opening lines on the inside jacket of a small book sent to me earlier this year by author Priya Basil.

And of course, it is true that conversations fuelled by the simple act of sharing a meal are always memorable, special. But here we are part of a global lockdown, separated one from another.

So reading Priya’s small book has taken on special meaning as she explores food, race and family – asking what the simple act of hospitality means for our culture focused on selfishness and greed.

A timely read for sure. And an engrossing one by an author who was born in London to Indian parents, grew up in Kenya and now lives in Berlin. Her book takes you on a hurtling ride across cultures – spices, hard to pronounce ingredients, familial love, loss and the strangeness of living in communities other than your own. A small book filled with generosity.

 

 

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Jesse Mulligan (Host Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan RNZ, host of The Project, restaurant critic)

My favourite book is not even my book. It’s social suicide to admit this on a literary website but somebody gave it to me (Tim Wilson gave it to me) and I didn’t give it back. Not for the usual reasons – laziness or forgetfulness – but because I love the book so much I have convinced myself it’s mine.

The book is Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan – a collection of essays (my top ten books are all collections of essays) each of which is both factually dense and personal, vulnerable. After each piece you think “wow, how lucky was he, a writer, to be that closely associated with this remarkable thing/person/event” but of course that’s the trick of a great writer – she makes the commonplace urgent and the invisible luminescent. There’s a little celebrity in here too, as you’d expect from a guy who made his living writing essays for GQ, but even familiar, famous names are written about based on what’s interesting about them, not on what we already know. One profile begins “How do you talk about Michael Jackson except that you mention Prince Screws?” then gives you a brief history of the singer’s great great grandfather before concluding the opening section of the essay with this beautiful line: “so the ridiculous moniker given by a white man to his black slave, the way you might name a dog, was bestowed by a black king on his pale-skinned sons and heirs”. This sort of line is everywhere in the book and many nights, when I want something to read but don’t want to commit, I’ll pick up Pulphead and open it almost at random to remind myself how good writing can get and, more depressingly, how far I still have to go.

 

 

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Sam Orchard (Queer and Trans Illustrator, Comic Creator and Designer)

A beautifully drawn graphic novel about a young dressmaker and her prince employer. It’s a refreshing story that takes the best elements of fairy tale storytelling (centering beauty and human kindness), and the best elements of queer storytelling (valuing ambiguity, fluidity, and queer relationships) and weaves them seamlessly together. It’s beautiful visually and emotionally.

 

 

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Nadia Reid (musician, songwriter)

My recommendation would be a non-fiction book called Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.

Something about her writing just gets me right where I need it. This book is a book about writing ultimately and also about Life. I found it quite relevant to songwriting too. She talks about ‘getting your butt in the chair’ and just turning up. My favourite quote from the book:

For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.

O and this quote! This is actually my favourite:

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

 

 

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Victor Rodger (journalist, actor, playwright)

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road may seem like a strange choice.

It’s a pitch-black post-apocalyptic dystopian nightmare which follows an unnamed father trying against seemingly insurmountable odds to get his young son to something resembling safety.

But for all the unspeakable horrors that father and son must endure throughout The Road – and there are many –  the father never gives up on his quest.  As per Churchill’s edict, even though he knows he’s going through hell, he keeps on going, fuelled by the love he has for his son.

As bleak as much of The Road is, I ultimately find this to be one of the most moving books I have ever read.

 

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David Slack (Auckland writer, columnist at large)

Postcards by Annie Proulx

I find comfort and solace in a book about a man whose life dwindles away to nothing. Postcards was Annie Proulx’s first novel. I love them all but this one is special to me. I’ve read and reread it more than any other book I can think of. Why would I take comfort from a book about a man who makes a mistake and in living with it leaves his home and family behind, makes his way across America, now and then gains some purchase but always eventually is moving again and just when he’s down to almost nothing people back their truck up to the trailer that contain what’s left of his worldly life and tow it away?

I don’t read it to punish myself. I do it to delight in her writing. She can draw the arc of a life in a single paragraph, sometimes even a single sentence. She will find the interior life of a character in a name and a few words and you will sense their foibles, their sound, the tilt of their head, the smell of their clothes. So much vividily familiar humanity: the failings; the inconsistencies; the recognisable in life that is not so often set out in a sentence.

There’s a vividness and power to episodes she will set up, a kind of set piece that comes upon you unheralded; his mother in a car on a hill getting into trouble that escalates in the most astonishing and dismaying way. And even at this astonishing pace you find yourself resigned to the truth of it, the inevitability of misfortune in life in the smallest and largest ways.

The dwindling away is a metaphor for Vermont, his home state – her home state too – a commentary on the dwindling of American life. I know this because I asked her the stupidest of questions at a writers session in Auckland. Did it have to be that way, could she see another fate for him? No, she said, this was tracing the fate of the state. I said it was just so sad to see it happen. She smiled kindly.

 

 

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Nicola Strawbridge (Programme Manager AWF)

I’ve found consolation in the trees in my neighbourhood since Level 4 kicked in, looking forward to passing certain trees on my daily walks, lingering in the shade of a copse of Puriri and Pohutukawa in my local park. And by extension, writing that explores the natural world has provided much needed ballast in these uncertain times. Emergence magazine and their February ‘Trees’ issue has been one of my lockdown discoveries. There I found British writer David George Haskell’s Eleven Ways of Smelling a Tree – both in written form and as a podcast complete with short original violin compositions. The magazine also introduced me to American poets Wendell Berry and WS Merwin and has whet my appetite for work by our nature writers. I’m on the lookout!

 

 

 

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Jennifer Ward-Lealand (actor and director )

One Minute Crying Time by Barabra Ewing (actress, novelist and playwright)

(Massey University Press)

I’ve been a fan of Barbara’s writing for a long time – The Actresses being my favourite. Her new book is a vivid memoir of growing up in late 50s early 60s Wellington. What touched me so profoundly was her discovering a window into te ao Māori through her studying of te reo Māori – something I have experienced too. She worked alongside people at the Māori Affairs Dept that I’ve been fortunate enough to have been taught by – and of course through all of this was pursuing her love for the theatre, again a great love of mine. There were so many “YES!” moments for me as I read this book – and that has been comforting when a lot of doors have been closing for those of us working in the arts.

 

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Catherine Woulfe (Books Editor, The Spinoff)

When I’m scared or sad or shocked I like to read about plants. I read Richard Powers’ The Overstory late last year and it is an enduring comfort. It is a book about trees, and it works like a centrifuge, spinning your perspective out by a few millennia, until everything happening now seems somehow fine and minor. This too shall pass; life will find a way, etc. It also made me get back into the vege garden properly. (Bokashi is the way, the truth and the light.)

Xanthe White’s The Natural Garden (Random House) is another backstop. Beautiful photographs and very doable NZ gardens, even on horrible old clay. As a kid I used to spend hours pottering through Mum’s gardening books and watching Maggie’s Garden Show with her, so it’s very much a nostalgia thing.

Last weekend I read Wendyl Nissen’s upcoming A Natural Year: Living Simply Through the Seasons (Allen & Unwin) and I swear I could breathe more deeply after about 10 pages.

 

 

 

kia kaha

keep well

keep imagining

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wellington’s LitCrawl -‘LitCrawl was a whole fireworks display’ ‘a clarion call’

Wind

We are swept by currents of air that swoop
and tease like unseen birds.
The wind is not often a warning here, in this city.
©Diana Bridge

 

 

The literary grassroots keep on doing stunning things through out New Zealand; there is boutique publishing, on and off the edge publicity, along with vibrant events.

It feels necessary and vital that we keep doing so. I was tempted to fly down to Wellington for their recent LitCrawl weekend (12 -13th November) but I am up to my elbows writing my new book and not ready for another research trip quite yet.

So I invited locals to send photos and pieces of writing- LitCrawl postcards. Then the earthquake and the incessant aftershocks swiped hard at Wellington residents (sleepless nights, anxious children, floods, uncertainty) along with so many elsewhere.

Understandably not everyone has been able to write anything but I ‘ve decided to post what I have because it seems like this was a joyous occasion for writers and readers.

Diana Bridge sent me some poems which I thought was so lovely – like my own private LitCrawl. The fragment above seems prescient. I have posted two more below.

The way the pieces have pulled this hard hard week – tufts of an election off shore and the earthquake – and managed to produce such gorgeous writing – heck it moved me to tears posting this. I can’t thank you enough Bee Trudgeon, Sarah Forster, Helen Rickerby, Sugar Magnolia Wilson, Catriona Ferguson.

 

 

The programme:

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What is LitCrawl?

LitCrawl =  a fast-talking, street-loving celebration of writers, publishers, performers, editors, musicians, journalists, lyricists, artists, comedians… and the people who want to hear them speak. For 2016, the programme stretched over three nights and two days with the main event, the crawl itself, on Saturday night. Over 100 writers appeared before over 2500 audience members in 19 venues. All ticketed events sold out.

Claire Mabey (organiser, along with Andrew Laking) You can hear Claire in conversation with Jim Mora this afternoon at 3pmish on RadioNZ

 

 

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True Stories Told Live –Featuring Paula Morris, Emily Perkins, Khalid Warsame and Anahera Gildea. In partnership with the New Zealand Book Council. Wellington Central Library

‘True Stories Told Live has become a regular part of the LitCrawl programme. Despite the howling gales we had a fabulous turn out for our storytellers, Mayor Justin Lester, Emily Perkins, Khalid Warsame, Paula Morris and Anahera Gildea on Saturday night. Our theme for the evening was Metamorphosis with the subtext being how reading and books can change us. The storytellers responded to the theme with brio, generously sharing some intimate and life-changing moments. It was a wonderful start to the audience’s LitCrawl journey.’

Catriona Ferguson  CEO NZ Book Council    

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Playing Poetry

 

And in the world outside these Gardens
canals of silver-beet arrive to part our city streets.

©Diana Bridge

 

 

 

 

Bee Trudgeon from Porirua Libraries sent in these LitCrawl postcards:

(‘It’s been a great weekend here in Wellington, in spite of the wild weather Friday night through Saturday night. Lit lovers proved themselves a resilient bunch, and great times were in abundance. I walked past more packed venues than those I’ve reviewed for you at the Lit Crawl. Here’s hoping you’ll get some more accounts to do this brilliant event justice.’)

Crip the Lit, CQ Hotels, 223 Cuba Street, 7.15PM

Proud feminism met disability fellowship when writers Robyn Hunt, Sally Champion, Trish Harris and Mary O’Hagan reclaimed the word crippled and put inspiration porn in its place at their packed panel session. This was a clarion call to bust open the closets disabilities of all kinds (visible and invisible, self- and externally-imposed) can erect around those living with them.

Robyn read a blog post regarding the hurdles sight impairment threw up for a budding reader with limited access to appropriate resources. Sally remembered early days far from parents in hospital, where her soul craved the attention her body was getting. Trish read from her newly published memoir The Walking Stick Tree (Escalator Press), which mixes memoir and essay to explore a life lived both in and far beyond the presumed cage hampered physicality suggests to those with a limited grasp on the transcendent power of the human spirit. Mary read from her memoir Madness Made Me (Open Box, 2014), honouring the highs of mental illness as human experiences more rich than those untouched might recognise.

Mary summed up the prevalent mood by poo-pooing any suggestion of bravery, pointing out the need to simply get on with what must be done.

 

Essays, Meow, 9 Edward Street, 8.30PM

Simon Sweetman (Off the Tracks) proved the perfect emcee for this heaving session of superior essayists, in a venue renowned for treating the literary like rock stars. Ashleigh Young (Can You Tolerate This?) may have been uncomfortable behind the mic’, but killed nonetheless, with tales of bizarre childhood Mastermind sessions under the spotlighted scrutiny of her father the quizmaster. Rarely is a child’s inner life so intimately given voice. International guest Khalid Warsame (reluctant and rare poster boy for Australian African masculinity) read two sentences spanning 15 years and a well-founded distrust of the police. It was a masterful and extreme test of the form.  Aimee Cronin nostalgically evoked an idyllic, salt-sprayed, ice-cream sticky childhood summer, hard-won from the ashes of broken marriage. The effect was a sigh just the safe side of a scream. Naomi Arnold took us to the places family and lovers would rather we couldn’t go. She provided a fine reminder that, if not for voyeurism, the essay would be too polite to be as compulsively palatable as this crew proved it can be. A brilliant set gobbled up by a crash keen crowd.

 

Selina Tusitala Marsh: Tala Tusi: The Teller is the Tale (A New Zealand Book Council Lecture) National Library, November 11, 2016 Reviewed by Bee Trudgeon for NZ Poetry Shelf

For many, it had been a raw few days of uphill battling. Not 48 hours since hearing He Who Shall Not Be Named had won the White House, and just three hours since hearing Leonard Cohen had died, people were sorely in need of some serious attention to the issues of diversity and what was threating it, and the comfort that poetry was alive and well. With the Wellington weather closing in, and turning to bed or drink (or both) a panacea being broadly touted by my distraught American friends, I had a strong feeling Selina Tusitala Marsh’s New Zealand Book Council Lecture could be as close to a cure as I could count on.

Her lecture in five parts and an epilogue, Tala Tusi: The Teller is the Tale, was a lyrical series of ruminations and recollections on the importance of culturally diverse voices, reading as fuel for writing, the holy nature of second-hand bookshops, and a significant encounter with the Queen.

Aptly dubbed the Smiling Assassin by her Muay Thai kickboxing trainer, her regal presence sets a fine example of how we all might face the differences of opinion so hard to understand, during a week when the Ku Klux Clan had been photographed on a bridge crossing a highway during workday commute hours.

In the same vein, consider the time earlier in the year when, as the Commonwealth Poet and guest reader at Westminster Abbey, Selina extended a hand to a certain Baron What’s-his-face, only to have her hand left hanging. Selina refused to let him reduce her to the level of his apparent opinion.

As she says, it is part of her name – the proto-Polynesian ‘ala’ – to be a path, not a wall. In a year when far too much has been said in the name of a certain proposed wall, such words are balm to all humanity.

In addition to an ironically instructional excerpt from Paula Morris’s ‘Bad Story (so you don’t have to write it’, four poems were performed: Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Requiem’ (as we were transported to Samoa in the late 1800s), ‘Tusitala’ (Selina’s 1996 manifesto piece), ‘Pussy Cat’ (penned for the potential racist, and the Duke who dared question the ‘post’ in ‘postcolonial literature’), and (thrillingly) the royally commissioned ‘Unity’

‘There’s a U and an I in unity / costs the earth and yet it’s free…’

Never have the lines been more necessary.

Near closing, Selina acknowledged, “People will walk over me and if they do so ungraciously, that’s their karma; but people will walk over, and that’s about connection.”  If the world had not exactly been put to rights, the battle cry for continued attempts to affect so had certainly been sounded. Round One to diverse poetry.

Fa’afetai, Selina. ‘What you do affects me.’

Complete lecture available here.

 

 

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Poetry = Medicine at the Apothecary (more photos from here below)

‘Wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of
Humanity’ – Hippocrates
They say writing is therapy – so’s listening to it. Come along for
readings from those who fuse medicine with poetry.
Featuring John Dennison, Chris Price, Sue Wootton, Rae Varcoe
and Paul Stanley-Ward.

 

A LitCrawl letter from Helen Rickerby:

LitCrawl 2016

LitCrawl was more than a bright spark in the middle of a crazy and hard week – a week filled with the alarming US election, torrential rain and slips, earthquakes, tsunami and then more torrential rain, flooding, wind and more slips – LitCrawl was a whole fireworks display. It seems quite a long time ago now, being before the 7.5 earthquake that woke so many of us up after Sunday night had just tipped over into Monday morning. But it’s important to celebrate such a wonderful event, especially in the midst of everything else.

When LitCrawl started two years ago I was a bit worried that having multiple events on at the same time would split the audience – I thought I knew by sight, if not by name, everyone who was likely to come to a literary event in Wellington. But that first year I realised this was something special: every event was well attended – if not full – and there were people there who I had never even seen before. Where did they come from? we wondered. And then the next year, they came out again – even more people to even more events. And this year, even more events, and more people – despite more rain!

I think one of the strengths of LitCrawl – by which I really mean a strength of event organisers, the wonderful Claire Mabey and Andy Laking – is that they have drawn together people from many different parts of the Wellington literary community and beyond to perform and curate sessions. So it feels like something that everyone owns and has helped to make, rather than a top-down thing organised for us.

The heart of LitCrawl is the Saturday night, where multiple events are held around the city in three different time slots, but since the beginning there have been some satellite events on different days. This year the first one was Friday night’s My First Time, where three short theatre pieces by first-time theatre writers were performed, for the first time. The pieces were very different from each other: Sarah Jane Barnett’s relationship drama set in the not-too distant future; Pip Adam’s wonderful nuts post-modern take on contemporary life that might have just been snippets from the internet; Faith Wilson’s slam-poetryish musings on race, economics and what she’d like to do with and to her dentist. The audience was invited to be part of the process by emailing in their feedback about the pieces, which are still in development.

On the night of LitCrawl proper it is always really hard to choose what to attend, and your heart gets a bit broken about the things you have to miss. Because I was running a session in the middle block, that took care of two of my choices – the time I needed to be there to set up made it too difficult to get to the first session. My session, Polylingual SpreePoetry in and out of Translation, was at Ferret Bookshop, and there was a good turnout to hear poetry from and in Māori, Greek, Mandarin and Italian from Kahu Kutia, Vana Manasiadis, Ya-Wen Ho and Marco Sonzogni (with me reading a couple of English translations). I had wanted to curate that session to celebrate the fact that English isn’t the only language spoken in New Zealand, and it seemed especially timely to be celebrating diversity. Afterwards, people were really enthusiastic about the session and hope to see it return, so we’ll see.

Next I was planning to go to the Essays session (see above PG!), which I’m told was fantastic and full, but it was also much further away than several wonderful poetry sessions in the Cuba Street area. I ended up at Pegasus Books, or, rather, outside Pegasus Books, which was just as well because there was quite a crowd there and we would never have fitted in the shop. Thanks to a good sound system we could mostly hear the readers: Steven Toussaint, Hera Lindsay Bird, Greg Kan and Lee Posna, over the diners behind us at Oriental Kingdom and other revellers in Left Bank. After that, most people headed to the after party at Paramount, generally via some kind of eatery, to mingle and catch up with other LitCrawlers and possibly have their fortunes read by the resident tarot card reader.

The next day I was really delighted to be part of a panel discussion with Sarah Laing and Anna Jackson about why we have found the life and work of Katherine Mansfield so compelling. The event was especially special because it was at the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace, in an upstairs room amid an exhibition of Sarah’s drawings for her graphic bio-memoir (I think I have just made up that term) Mansfield and Me. The sun came out in time for us all to have our afternoon tea on the lawn, which was very pleasant. It was a bit alarming to hear a few hours later, in the early hours of the morning, that there was damage to house after a neighbouring brick wall fell on it during the quake. Fortunately, it now sounds like there is no serious damage, so we can all go back and have a proper look at Sarah’s exhibition and sketchbooks when it reopens.

A friend visiting from Auckland was told on Saturday night ‘You should move back to Wellington, it’s having a literary renaissance’, and I thought – you know, I think she might be right. And I think it’s because there are quite a few ordinary people who are just organising things and doing things here at the moment, and I think that if LitCrawl wasn’t the start of this little renaissance, it certainly is one of its shining stars. Thanks Claire and Andy, we really appreciate it!

photos from Helen:

 

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Polylingual – some of the audience at Polylingual Spree at Ferret Bookshop

‘The more languages you know, the more you are human’
– Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk Come and hear lively readings of poetry in languages from around the world, read by poet translators Marco Sonzogni (Italian), Vana Manasiadis (Greek), Ya-Wen Ho (Mandarin) and more. Hosted by Helen Rickerby (mostly English).

 

 

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Mansfield 1 – Some of the Mansfield event-goers having afternoon tea on the lawn, including Sarah Laing

 

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Mansfield 2 – Another view of the afternoon tea-ing, including Anna Jackson talking to Vana Manasiadis. The offending brick wall (which fell down in the quake) can be seen beside the house, on the left.

Yes, after a splendid event at the Katherine Mansfield House with the sun shining and afternoon tea and poems, the place suffered damage in the quake.

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A letter from Sarah Forster from NZ Booksellers:

Hi Paula

I didn’t go to any poetry last night, mores the pity, but the three events I did go to – True Stories Told Live, Toby & Toby and Essays were all brilliant. I have attended every year since it began. Here are a few bits and pieces for you to weave in.

At the end of LitCrawl 2016, Juliet Blyth noted to me that the most special thing about LitCrawl is that everybody sees it as being for them. There is no demographic that didn’t turn out, despite the terrible Wellington weather.

At True Stories Told Live at the Wellington Central Library, I sat in front of a family of five, the three girls aged roughly 5-11, and though they were bickering beforehand and saying ‘This is going to be boring,’ as soon as the stories began I didn’t hear a peep. As Wellington’s Mayor Justin Lester told of his upbringing with his father searching for white gold, as well as a new mistress in every port they lived in; as Paula Morris wove the spell of the Little House on the Prairie; Emily Perkins told of the changes wrought by self-help books, and an enduring, changing, friendship; Khalid Warsame told of his panic attacks and how the pain of an anonymous other – and a book – somehow eased his own pain; and as Anahera Gildea pulled us through the most painful experience of her life – but the one that led to her finally publishing her writing, and selling her art – these kids sat spellbound. True Stories Told Live at its best is utterly brutal – the laughs are always there, but the truth-telling takes your breath away. I am not sure how we didn’t float out of there on a sea of tears after Gildea’s story, and I want to thank her if she is reading this, for sharing it.

At Toby & Toby at Caroline Bar, it was standing room only, as Toby Manhire interviewed first Susie Ferguson, then Ashleigh Young. This was a louder crowd, but engaged nonetheless. There were probably about 300 of us all crammed in the back of the bar, standing – I had a handy barstool to kneel up on, which made me only 3 inches taller than my friend Harriet Elworthy was standing. How do we deserve Susie Ferguson on our airwaves,  Shannonn Te Ao  in our art galleries, Ashleigh Young as one of our best editors and writers?

It was a one-two for me with Ashleigh, as she was one of the speakers at the final event I attended, at Meow Bar. Again there was a huge range of ages, though starting from 18 this time, as well as those in the more traditional festival-going age group (the boomers). Essays featured three female essayists – Ashleigh plus Aimie Cronin and Naomi Arnold – and again I was privileged to see Khalid Warsame in performance.
As well as reading from their work, each of them talked a little about essay-writing, and the difficulty of deciding how much of your family and friends’ experiences you are allowed to use. Khalid was fascinating – he is the director of the Young Writer’s Festival in Newcastle, and as an African Australian, he has realised his point of view is incredibly unique. He talked about being pigeonholed as other, and read aloud half of a four-sentence essay, on this theme.

Everything I saw at LitCrawl opened my eyes and my mind in one way or another. Pirate and Queen (aka. Claire Mabey and Andrew Laking) are geniuses: the only complaint I have was that I had to choose from at least 2 options per session that I desperately wanted to attend: an excellent problem to have. While most of the events I attended were very packed, most didn’t need to send people away. The volunteers were better deployed than previously as well. What could have been just another soggy Saturday night in Wellington was touched with magic, thanks to this generous, informative, inspirational event.

cheers, Sarah

 

Some photos from Mary McCallum:

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Sue Wootton reads at The Apothecary, with Jayne Mulligan VicBooks

 

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Chris Price reads at The Apothecary

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Happy litcrawlers at The Apothecary in Cuba Street, listening to readings around medicine and poetry.

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Launch of the 4th Floor Journal at Matchbox in Cuba Street

 

From Sugar Magnolia Wilson:

My take on it was – once again litcrawl was a really fun, loving and positive event where people got a chance to meet new folk and bond over writing and literature. I especially love having new contributors in Sweet Mammalian, one of whom came to Wellington especially for litcrawl and to read at our launch. So great to meet new people and always great community vibes at litcrawl.

issue four is now live

Photos from the Litcrawl Sweet Mammalian launch:

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What a glorious, sumptuous, heart-boosting occasion. Thank you so much everyone who sent me things. In the light of what you are enduring, to have sent these treasures in is quite special. The last words goes to a poem Diana sent me. The early NZ women poets I am currently reading found much solace in the sky, the bush and the sea. This is a poem of solace. Thank you everyone!

 

Footing it with the magnolias

As the track winds steeply down
trees thin and gaps appear in leafy walls.
Broadening view-shafts open

on the Garden’s settled old world heart.
Here is the showcase that changes
with the seasons. Colours co-ordinate

an artist’s take. Spotlight on ceremony
when stately tulips bright as guardsmen bloom.
Though things are not so cut and dried

even in classical spring. Sunlit tussocks
fountain beside paths. Artful inclusion
of the indigenous, the vegetable patch.

Beds hemmed with parsley. Cineraria or
phlox held in evergreen embrace. No plant
undercutting any other – a gorgeous

composite is what they aim for here.
And in the world outside these Gardens?
Canals of silver-beet arrive to part our city streets.

©Diana Bridge