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
Landfall Essay Competition winners share prize for radically different topics
Two New Zealand essayists writing on very different topics – life as an army recruit and the power of scent – are joint winners of the 2017 Landfall Essay Competition.
Laurence Fearnley, of Dunedin, and Alie Benge, of Wellington, will share the $3000 cash prize and both will receive a year’s subscription to Landfall.
The judge of the annual award was outgoing Landfall editor David Eggleton.
Of the 64 entries received, the two finalists’ essays proved especially difficult to separate, though their topics and their strategies are very different, he says.
“Alie Benge’s essay, ‘Shitfight’, which is about raw army recruits in Australia being prepared for a theatre of war in the Middle East, has a physicality and dynamic urgency to it that stopped me in my tracks,” says Eggleton.
Whereas he says Laurence Fearnley in her essay ‘Perfume Counter’ makes scents – at once treasurable, resonant, mysterious – synaesthetic emblems of how we perceive the world.
“Her assured and measured writing brings her surroundings alive with sharp, descriptive clarity.”
Their winning entries will be published in Landfall 234, available later this month. Landfall is published by Otago University Press.
There are five shortlisted essays: ‘Gone Swimming’ by Ingrid Horrocks, ‘Reaching Out for Hear’ by Lynley Edmeades, ‘A Box of Bones’ by Sue Wootton, ‘I Wet My Pants’ by Kate Camp and ‘Trackside’ by Mark Houlahan.
For more information about the Landfall Essay Prize and past winners, go to http://www.otago.ac.nz/press/authors/awards/otago065482.html
Alie Benge is a writer and copy-editor living in Wellington. She has previously been published in Headland and has work coming out in Takehē and Geometry. She is working on a novel inspired by her childhood in Ethiopia.
Laurence Fearnley lives in Dunedin. In 2016 she was the recipient of the Janet Frame Memorial Award and the NZSA Auckland Museum Grant and she is currently researching and writing a book of essays and stories based on landscape and scent. For the past year she has also been co-editing an anthology of New Zealand mountaineering writing with Paul Hersey. This work has been generously funded by the Friends of the Hocken Collections and will include non-fiction, archival material, fiction and poetry and will be published by Otago University Press in 2018.
Laurence has published ten novels and two books of non-fiction, as well as short stories and essays. She was awarded the Artists to Antarctica fellowship and in 2007 the Robert Burns fellowship at the University of Otago.
Accomplished poet, editor, art critic and journalist David Eggleton has been awarded the Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Writers’ Residency.
He will use the $30,000 award to complete a collection of poems exploring his Pasifika heritage. These will include poems inspired by the myths and legends of Te Moana Nui a Kiwa and will incorporate work about Mana Moana, the power of the ocean and ancient Pasifika connections.
“I hope to research and begin a prose memoir about my mother’s extended family, my cousins, scattered across the Pacific,” said Eggleton.
David Eggleton is of Rotuman, Tongan and Palagi descent. He grew up in Fiji and South Auckland, and now lives in Dunedin. Formerly a factory labourer and city council gardener, he is now a full-time editor, poet, art critic, reviewer and freelance journalist whose reviews, articles, essays and short stories have appeared in a large number of publications since the mid-1980s. These include the Listener, Art New Zealand, New Zealand Books, Art News, Architecture New Zealand, Urbis, Metro, Landfall.
“My Pasifika heritage runs all through my writing from the beginning as part of my personal context and background and I have always drawn from this heritage and history, but not necessarily overtly: instead it is there as a presence or part of a dialogue with ideas about cultural crossover,” said Eggleton.
As the recipient of this year’s award, David will be based at the Center for Pacific Islands Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa in Honolulu for the Spring (February-May) semester of the US academic year.
Hawai‘i has been identified as a strategic location for artists and is considered the hub of Pacific writing with its numerous universities, library resources, networks, writers’ forums and publishers. It is also an important link to the mainland US and has a strong indigenous culture.
“I heard about the Fulbright residency through conversations with a number of Pasifika writers and have been aware of it since its inception, but this is now the time I feel ready to take it up and use it to allow me to develop a particular Pasifika-based project, namely to complete a collection of poems exploring my Pasifika heritage.”
The Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Writers’ Residency is for a mid-career or senior New Zealand writer of Pacific heritage to carry out work on a creative writing project exploring Pacific identity, culture or history at the University of Hawai‘i for three months. One award valued at NZ$30,000 is granted each year, to be put towards the costs of three months of writing.
Previous recipients have included poets Tusiata Avia, Karlo Mila and Daren Kamali, filmmakers Sima Urale and Toa Fraser, and playwrights Victor Rodger and Miria George.
Landfall 233 edited by David Eggleton
Last Sunday I was feeling travel worn, flat, depleted, sick and I could not settle on anything. The kind of day where you pick this up and put it down. You pick that and then this and then that and then this. And then find yourself back at the start again. It was only when I opened the new Landfall I found my self settling back and reading.
The 70th Birthday issue is terrific. It includes testimonies from Chris Price and Iain Sharp (both candid on the difficulties of editing a key literary journal), Philip Temple (on the controversial dismissal of Robin Dudding and efforts to revive the flagging enterprise) and Peter Simpson on Charles Brasch and Landfall. Simpson quotes Brasch musing on when to quit editing. He decided he must stop at 15 years – although it stretched to 20. He concluded:
‘I shall have nothing to live for, nothing I badly want to do, nothing I am forced to do in order to live …’
Sometimes I like to read a journal from first page to last page in order to follow the contours and harmonies of editing. This time it was pick n’ mix poetry. As I read I jotted down:
vibrant fresh vital diverse essential reading unfamiliar voices much-loved voices direct indirect
Adore the Art Portfolios by Chris Corson-Scott and Heather Straka.
Two prose pieces caught me eye first. Both surprising and stick like biddibids.
‘Last-ditch Daisies’ Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor
‘It’s All I Had’ Joanna Cho
Then the poetry:
‘Four Transformations on a theme of Philip’ by Anne Kennedy is like a return to her brother (1951 – 1973). Every time I pick the book up it falls open here and I read it again. The short lines shift patterns on the pages like little twitches of contemplation, memory, bright retrieved detail with indents, parentheses, fluency.
Catch me in the garden
and put me in a jar
the air where I was
in the palm of your hand
‘Morning Song’ by Emma Neale builds a loving grandfather portrait that weds sharp detail with war undertones spiky within a family’s daily life. It is sumptuous writing with things hiding off the edges.
Gramps stole eggs, green seeds of song, from their nests
to show us wonder; hairline cracks ran
our sooks’ hearts as we watched the robbed mothers fly home.
‘Mr Anderson, You Heartbreaker’ by Helen Rickerby teases and bites into Hans Christian Anderson and his depiction or wooing of women and harnesses Helen’s adult eyes on the Little Mermaid.
And really, if she’d just held onto her tongue
she could have sung him to her
reeled him in, drunk him down
one prince, on the rocks, coming up
‘Storm’ by Amanda Hunt is a glorious lyrical snapshot that slows down the pace of contemplation to the point each detail is under an enviable spotlight. ( I am reminded of how Janet Frame wanted to slow down the pace of her poems)
a butterfly flutter
of moth-soft feathers
glancing across my shoulder
‘Fear of Feathers’ by Michael Gould delivers a surprising passage through the lines to the final enticement ‘life is good.’
Some sounds of birds (unseen but heard)
may confound those with no sense of the absurd
‘Personal Space’ by Johanna Emeney refreshes the domestic poem beautifully and needs to be read in its completeness to catch the humour, the pathos, the politics, the poetry, the feeling. I am including the last stanza.
She should clear a space
beneath the sudden worry of crowded floors,
the scatter of feet; the shock of doors,
run downstairs and shut herself in
the last room at the bottom,
then spin, arms open,
to see just how wide
she has forgotten.
‘Inflammable’ by Anna Jackson is a poem that catches the dark and light of life and living beneath the flicker of candle light. It reminds me of the way a particular moment, against all the millions lost and faded, that is luminous on return.
The world was flammable we knew it was.
‘Art Is Weak’ by Nick Ascroft is smart and sharp and hooks you from the first line.
Conceptual art is not so empty sleeved
‘The Bee Elle’ by Lynley Edmeades curls and coils deliciously around a physical view and subterranean ideas.
Everyone is hooked up
to various elsewheres
as if our bodies don’t matter.
‘How a New Zealand Sunrise is Different from Other Sunrises’ by Erik Kennedy is like a landscape poem standing on its head and is thus invigorating to read (I am a landscape poem fan for all kinds of reasons).
Pinks and yellows collude to orange the hillside,
but they trick you into thinking the hills are proper orange
on their own, like an oyster catcher’s lurid bill
from ‘The Andalusian Epilogue’
Because it’s our last evening on this earth we extract our days
From their leafy camouflage and count the coasts we’ll encounter
And those we’ll leave. There. On this our last evening
There’s nothing left to farewell and no time for fanfares.
This is how everything’s governed. How our dreams are renewed,
Our visitors. Suddenly irony’s beyond us
Because the place is set up to accommodate nothing.
Here, on the last evening
We moisten our eyes with mountains encircled by clouds.
Conquest and reconquest
And an earlier time that relinquishes our door-keys to the present.
Come into our houses, conquerors, and drink our wine
To the music of our mouwachah. Because we are the night’s midnight.
And no courier-dawn gallops to us from the last call to prayer.
Our green tea is hot, drink it, our pistachios are fresh, eat them,
The beds are of green cedar wood, yield to sleep
After this long siege, sleep on the duvet of our dreams.
The sheets are spread, perfumes placed at the doors
And by the many mirrors.
Go in there so we can leave, finally. Soon enough we’ll seek out
The ways our history wraps around yours in distant regions.
And at the end we’ll ask: Was Andalusia there
Or over there? On the earth . . . or in the poem?
(after the French translation by Elias Sanbar of Darwish’s poem in Arabic)
©Ian Wedde The Lifeguard: Poems 2008 – 2013 Auckland University Press, 2013.
The poem I have chosen, ‘Mahmoud Darwish’, is taken from Ian Wedde’s collection The Lifeguard: Poems 2008 – 2013 (Auckland University Press, 2013). This is a book mostly made up of sequences of interlocking poems. One of the sequences is called ‘Three Elegies’, and consists of three poems, titled, respectively: ‘Harry Martens’, ‘Mahmoud Darwish’ and ‘Oum Kalsoum’. These are connected through the life and work of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish (1941 – 2008). The elegy for Harry Martens remembers an exuberant traveller, linguist and poet, one Harry Martens, who translated Darwish, while the elegy for Oum Kalsoum celebrates a famous Egyptian singer and media star — acclaimed generally as the single most prominent Arab woman in twentieth-century history — who died in 1975. In this latter elegy, Wedde recalls hearing her in the early 1970s ‘singing Darwish in Cairo, /reprise after reprise’, a performance he watched at the time on a TV set in Amman, Jordan.
Of the central poem ‘Mahmoud Darwish’, it could be said rarely has a poem seemed more pertinent than this one right now, when, preening himself like an orange budgerigar, President Trump is obsessively chirping anti-Muslim, anti-Arab tweets on Twitter, intent on scapegoating and marginalising Arab citizens as the dangerous Other. Mahmoud Darwish (1941- 2008) was one of the most accomplished modern poets, not just of the Arab world, but internationally. Furthermore, he is one of the emblematic poets of loss of homeland and exile, of ‘destroyed identity’ — and the central literary figure in Palestinian culture.
The Israelis razed Darwish’s home village to the ground in 1948, when he was seven. He grew up in occupied Palestine. Emerging as a significant young writer in the 1960s, he was imprisoned for reciting his poems, harassed, banned, and eventually sent into exile by the Israeli authorities: a permanent refugee.
Ian Wedde, working with the Arabic scholar Fawwaz Tuqan, translated a number of Darwish’s poems into English in the early 1970s, and Carcanet Press in the UK published these as a Selected Poems in 1973. A copy of this slim volume in its now-faded yellow dust-jacket resides on my bookshelves.
‘Mahmoud Darwish’, however, is not a poem directly about the poet; instead it is a translation from an original poem by Darwish, filtered through a translation into French by Darwish’s friend and fellow Palestinian writer Elias Sanbar. One affinity between Darwish and Wedde is that they are both philosophical poets, ontological poets, concerned with exploring being-in-the-world through language. Another affinity is that they are both cosmopolitan poets, restlessly alert to contexts and cultural allusions. Many of the poems in The Lifeguard emphasise a kind of stream-of-consciousness effect, or are, in their reverie, even occasionally teasing reminiscent of Walter Benjamin on hashish.
‘Mahmoud Darwish’ picks up on the same phenomenological pressure, but then artfully opens out into a sort of liminal dream space. Its verbal music, at first acquaintance, seems to have an air of yearning, as it evokes what might be a mirage, an oasis, a sequestered courtyard. But gradually, reread, the poem becomes increasingly haunting, subtly plaintive, and the tone you might at first take for lassitude, world-weariness, melancholy, begins to resonate in a more complex way. Beneath the incantatory language and luscious imagery, the air of fatalistic resignation, is a smouldering anger and underlying bitterness.
Wedde has actually only selected the first of eleven poems in Darwish’s original ode sequence, titled by one translator ‘Eleven Stars Over Andalusia’, or as Wedde calls it ‘The Andalusian Epilogue’. All the poems in the original sequence are variants of classic Arabic verse forms, pushing and pulling and prescribed rhyme schemes and standard imagery.
Andalusia in southern Spain is a mythical homeland for the dispossessed Palestinians. It’s a region of medieval artistic accomplishments, where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together in harmony for centuries until Muslim Spain — al-Andalus — was conquered by Christians from northern Spain in 1492. Darwish wrote this poem on the anniversary of the Fall in 1992, in part in response to Yassir Arafat’s peace negotiations with Israel at that time, which Darwish regarded — rightly, as it turned out — pessimistically. ‘Mahmoud Darwish’, then, is a poem about harsh realpolitik, only cast in sensual cadences; it’s a poem of disillusionment, affirming a lost cause. The tribal bard calls on his people’s collective memory to mark the ongoing occupation of the homeland and the intransigence of the conqueror — that conqueror’s policies of eradication, subjugation, apartheid — in language reminiscent of the Song of Solomon.
David Eggleton lives in Dunedin, where he is a poet, writer, reviewer and editor. His first collection of poems was co-winner of the PEN New Zealand Best First Book of Poems Award in 1987. He was the Burns Fellow at Otago University in 1990. His most recent collection of poems, The Conch Trumpet, won the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry. He is the current Editor of Landfall, published by Otago University Press.