Tag Archives: Dinah Hawken

Poetry Shelf review: Dinah Hawken’s There is no harbour

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cover image by Marian Maguire

 

When I trained in social work

in 1968—the year we saw Earth from space—

I found the History of New Zealand

could shake me like an earthquake

and make me cry.

 

from ‘”All the history that did not happen'”

 

Dinah Hawken’s eighth poetry collection, There is no harbour (Victoria University Press, 2019), presents three entwined Taranaki strands. The first comprises her family history during the years of early Pākehā settlement, the second a brief history of the Taranaki wars and the third reveals her thoughts and feelings as she researched and wrote her long poem. Dinah always gifts her poetry with musicality, breathing room, heart and contemplation. This new book is no exception. It is an addictive mix that inspires me as both reader and writer.

In her brief frontnote Dinah writes:

The completion of the poem has not lead me to any sense of resolution. It has led to something less measurable, perhaps more valuable—greater clarity, particularly of the depth of injustice Māori have endured in Taranaki. At the same time it has strengthened my attachment and my gratitude to my great and great-great grandparents, whom I know as essentially good people. And it has led me back to Parihaka: to profound respect for Te Whiti and Tohu, the art of leadership, the art of passive resistance, and their refusal of human war.

Dinah brings together family voices, anecdotes, settings, facts and musings to re-present history in poetic form—history that was hidden, manipulated and muted in the past. She stands as a Pākehā in multiple places, searching for other points of view, other ways of seeing and feeling. I am looking through her poem view-finder and the effect is significant. I am mourning the arrogance and the atrocities, I am celebrating the courage.

 

Tītokowaru

fired his tūpara in the air

in front of 600 people

threw it down at his feet

and kicked it.

 

The evil weapon, he said,

which has caused so much mischief and ill-will

and been loaded with the blood of men,

should never hereafter

be taken up again.

 

from ‘1867, “The Year of the Daughters”‘

 

As a poet Dinah utilises economy on the line to build richness above, between and beyond. That plainness of talking makes the impact even stronger, deeper, wider.

 

Wherever you looked at it from,

whoever lived inside it,

a whare was a welcome shelter.

One in which a family could sleep,

in which a child could be born.

 

It was the kind of house

that could easily

go up in smoke. And it did.

 

from ‘Oswald, from his notebook’

 

How to imagine the past? How to imagine the cruel past? How to imagine the day and its sheen of sun on the leaves? How to imagine both sides of  an unforgivable war? How to imagine how to proceed in your Pākehā skin with your Taranaki family tree and the ancestral tree in Britain?  This is what Dinah does as she creates her chain of connections towards the present and back into the past.

Individual lines stand out and they feel like entrances into the stories I /we need to hear:

 

‘I am the beneficiary of injustice.’

 

In one poem the voices of Robin Hyde, Virginia Woolf, J. C. Sturm and Te Whiti sit side by side.

 

In 1940 Virginia Woolf said:

 

Unless we can think peace into existence

we—not this one body

but millions of bodies yet to be born—

will lie in the same darkness and hear

the same death rattle overhead

 

from ‘Found Poetry’

 

I adore this book, this contemplative, self-vulnerable exploration that faces a past that makes me feel shame, but that offers empathetic heart-lines out in the open. I can’t take it all in, in my first reading. I have read it again, and then again. There is no harbour is a vital reminder to bring our stories into the open and to keep finding ways to build peace in our homes and our villages and our cities. And our hearts. I want you to read it and find your own connections, your own lines to treasure, because this is a poetry book that matters so very very much.

 

‘Loss of possessions is a kind of freedom;

loss of land is exile’

 

This is what it comes down to:

Taranaki land was stolen.

My people—at first lost—were then

steadied by it. Pakakohe

were wrenched from it.

They were promised reserves,

instead they were jailed.

 

When you come down to it

everything comes back

to the vital, absorbing land.

And although a poem

can enclose you

like the rocky arms

of a Cornish cove,

justice is so much stronger than injustice

and this poem

has no solace to offer:

it is a phrase or two in a story

being written and woven together

by numerous, various,

generational hands.

 

©Dinah Hawken There is no harbour

 

Victoria University Press page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Spring Season’s poetry fans: Nicola Strawbridge picks Dinah Hawken

 

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©Dinah Hawken Small Stories of Devotion Victoria University Press, 1991

 

 

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Note from Nicola:

Dinah Hawkin’s Small Stories of Devotion was the first collection of contemporary NZ poems that had a big impact on me as a young woman. The collection was published the year I went flatting for the first time.  My flatmate had a copy, and I was attracted to this beautiful small blue book and it’s pocket-sized format. I hadn’t been exposed to much contemporary poetry, and it was a revelation to find work that spoke to me so directly. ‘Her Body’ is all tangled up with that time in my life where I was emerging and coming into myself as an adult. A time when I was encountering lots of new ideas about how to live, how to be in myself and in my body. This poem in particular spoke to those themes, as well as being a gateway into the world of NZ poetry. Now I read it and appreciate a layer of memory folded into its mix including a fondness for that younger woman and her questioning self. I love the poem’s rhythm, the place of the poem playing itself out, that long beach, those sandhills, the island and its two clouds. It surges and retreats, echoing the waves and the words lapping up the beach and across the page.

I enjoyed its anger (“accumulating & accumulating”), its passion and release.  I was spending a lot of time myself walking on beaches while having big existential conversations with my new friends about the world we wanted to live in, and about our sexuality and gender politics in particular. ‘Her Body’ encapsulated that exploration and the feminism that was so often at the heart of our conversations. I was she, the powerful sensual voice of the poem, the woman abandoning herself into her body. And alongside all that, entwined, the natural world, informing everything, settling on everything. A potent combination and one I’ve continued to enjoy in Dinah’s work.

 

Nicola Strawbridge is Programme Director of the Going West Books & Writers Festival.

Dinah Hawken is a poet who lives in Paekakariki on the Kapiti Coast. Her seventh collection of poems, Ocean and Stone, was published by Victoria University Press in 2015.

 

Poetry Shelf interviews Jenny Bornholdt: ‘There’s always a feeling, a kind of charge, when a poem is making itself known’

 

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Photo credit: Deborah Smith

 

‘The moon came up

and all our thinking

went sideways.’

 

from ‘Full Moon’

 

 

Jenny Bornholdt is one of my favourite New Zealand poets, so a new Selected Poems is an occasion worth marking. Her poetry traverses decades; her poems never lose sight of the world at hand, are unafraid of the personal or little ripples of strangeness, and underscore a mind both roving and attentive. There is an ease of writing that might belie slow craft but Jenny’s poetry is exquisitely shaped from line to form. Returning to the early poems, I was taken once again by their enduring freshness. A lightness of touch, honeyed lines. As poet, Jenny harvests little patches of the world and transforms them into poems. Patches that might be ordinary or everyday, offbeat or linked to feeling something – patches that stall me as reader. I love that. When I read the poems, I get access to a glorious poetry flow yet there are these luminous pauses. If I were writing an essay, it might explore the poetics of pause and currents.

When I was editing Dear Heart, I pictured a little chapbook of Jenny Bornholdt love poems because she has written some of my favourites whether for husband, father or child (‘A love poem has very long sentences,’ ‘Poem,’ ‘Pastoral,’ ‘Mrs Winter’s Jump,’ ‘The inner life’ ‘Full Moon’ for starters).

To have this new book is a gift. Thanks Jenny for the interview.

 

 

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Selected Poems Jenny Bornholdt, Victoria University Press, 2016

 

 

Did your childhood shape you as a poet? What did you like to read? Did you write as a child? What else did you like to do?

Yes, I think it did. I was one of those kids who read a lot – anything that was going. I loved the Readers Digest. My mother took us to the library every week and I got out four books, which was the limit then. I also spent a lot of time outside – we had kids our age next door and over the road and we spent most of our time with them.

 

When you started writing poems as a young adult, were there any poets in particular that you were drawn to?

I didn’t write any poems til I was about 18. I read a lot of novels and if I thought about being any kind of writer it’d would’ve been a novelist, or journalist, which is the direction I headed in.  I’d read some of the Mersey poets when I was younger and I remember liking Roger McGough’s casual, ‘talky’ style.

 

Did university life transform your poetry writing? New discoveries or directions?

University was where I discovered poetry. I really had no idea about anything before I went there.  Everything was exciting – from Middle English to contemporary American poetry. And I did the ‘Original Composition’ course, which changed everything.

 

 

‘So careless the trees—

having remembered their leaves

they forget them again

so they fall on us, big

as hands.’

 

from ‘ Autumn’

 

 

Your poetry reflects a quiet absorption of the world that surprises, moves and astonishes. Sometimes it feels as though you tilt the world slightly for us to see. What are key things for you when you write a poem?

Each poem is different, but there’s always a feeling, a kind of charge, when a poem is making itself known. It’s a matter of trusting yourself and following the direction of the poem.

 

Reading your new Selected Poems sent me back to the original collections with admiration and delight. It is fascinating reading across the arc of decades—gathering echoes, favoured motifs, shifting melodies. Do you think your poetry has changed over time? Did you spot points of return such as leaves, the garden, or baking?

There are many points of return. One thing that surprised me was the number of tea towels in my poems.

It was really interesting making the selection for this book – there seemed to be such a strong sense of continuity. I can see changes, though, and that’s good. I think I’m writing better poems – they seem stronger to me. Over time I think I’ve let myself get a bit weirder.

 

Ha! I love the idea of tea towels. I never spotted them. I think I need to send you a poetry tea towel to celebrate. I am always drawn to the conversational tone that is both of the everyday and rises beyond it in your poems. How do you see your poems working as conversation?

They’re probably a conversation with myself. Me saying things out loud to see what happens.

 

Some of your most moving poems document illness. Do you think illness made your writing life more difficult or did writing give you solace and energy? Or something altogether different?

Illness definitely made my writing life difficult. I was out of action for a year with bad hip pain and didn’t write anything. I could barely get out of bed. Then, after surgery, I spent a year recovering and during that time my writing life began to surface and I found enormous solace in it. Writing gave me a way of processing what had happened – of making it into something else. It was like turning the awfulness around and sending it off in another direction.

 

‘For six weeks now I’ve been outside of weather

and of reading. Outside of myself.’

 

from ‘Along way from home’

 

 

The result for the reader is a cluster of poems that draw you into that experience of illness, then lead you in so many other directions. You have never been afraid of a longer poem, of longer lines and and a slow unfolding of subject matter like a storyteller holding a listener in the delicious grip of attention. Do you have one that particularly resonates for you?

I love all the poems in The Rocky Shore. You’re probably not meant to say that about your own work, but there you are. Those poems resonate because they’re so much about my life and what’s important in it. Those poems really found their form.

 

I love the Rocky Shore too. I agree they have found just the right form and within that form a perfect alchemy of ingredients. It is on my shelf of classic NZ poetry books. When you were putting the selection together was there an older poem that surprised you – like coming across a long-lost friend?

I was surprised by ‘Waiting Shelter.’ I think that one’s still got something.

 

‘How you remember people. To remember

them as well as they remember you.

To remember them with abandon. To

 

abandon remembering them. Which is

better? or worse? Rooms and rooms

and always people moving in

 

and out of them. Love,

love, a knock on the door. A

heart murmur to remember you by.’

 

from ‘Waiting shelter’

 

What poets have mattered to you over the past year? Some may have mattered as a reader and others may have affected you as a writer.

I’ve read and re-read Mary Ruefle’s book of essays Madness, Rack, and Honey – it makes me want to write. I find prose writers often affect me strongly – I’ve just read by Elizabeth Strout, for the third time this year. It’s one of the most affecting books I’ve ever read. Alice Oswald’s new book of poems Falling Awake is a marvellous, strange thing.

 

What New Zealand poets have you been drawn to over time?

Dinah Hawken, Bill Manhire, Andrew Johnston, James Brown, Mary Ursula Bethell, Geoff Cochrane.

 

Michele Leggott has talked about a matrix of early women poets in New Zealand who supported each other. Have you sustained a vital conversation with poet friends on your own work and on the whole business of writing poetry?

Greg (O’Brien) and I talk about poetry a lot – it helps to live with someone who does the same thing you do. And I often talk to friends (some of them writers) about writing and reading. It’s so much a part of my life that I can’t imagine not talking about it.

 

Some poets argue that there are no rules in poetry and all rules are to be broken. Do you agree? Do you have cardinal rules? Do you have rules you particularly like to break?

I think it’s more that there are conventions and, as in any art form, these can be done away with as long as what happens ‘works’. Poems are strange things – they have their own logic and find their own forms.

 

‘This poem was always going to end there, with Frankie

and the toast. That image has been the engine

 

of the poem, but then

more happened.’

 

from ‘Big minty nose’

 

 

The constant mantra to be a better writer is to write, write, write and read read read. You also need to live! What activities enrich your writing life?

Most things, except doing my tax return.

 

Finally if you were to be trapped for hours (in a waiting room, on a mountain, inside on a rainy day) what poetry book would you read?

Elizabeth Bishop’s Compete Poems.

 

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Victoria University Press author page

 

Landfall Review Online showcases great writing (reviewer and the poets): Elizabeth Morton on Joan Fleming Dinah Hawken Claire Orchard

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Full review here

On Joan Fleming: Failure makes lemonade; slams one door only to shake others open – sometimes. Failure has a knack of forcing its protagonist down substitute alleyways, leaving one to navigate unorthodox routes in pitch black. Joan Fleming’s latest collection, Failed Love Poems, is about Love, but more so, it is about a lengthy, howling procession of Loves gone kaput. There is love clinging on by tooth-strings, love in absentia, love as apology, love treading on eggshells, love cemented in verse, and love that ebbs in spite of itself.

My two poetry readings to launch my new book feature some of my favourite poets

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!

Auckland:

 

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Wellington:

 

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Maria McMillan on Wordsongs

 

 

Wordsongs, St Peters Hall, Paekākāriki, 3rd March 2016

 

I go partly because there’s like a major poetry type gig in Paekākāriki and I’m a Paekākāriki poet and it feels a bit rude not to go. Imagine, I think, if there’s only six people there without me and they decide never to have anything poetry related in our village ever again. Yes, we call it a village and I needn’t have worried. Having scoffed down as much of a delicious fried-rice concoction as I possibly could in 94 seconds  I arrive three minutes late and take the Very Last Seat. It’s an actual excited crowd, in carefully arranged tiers. They’ve turned St Peters Hall around so we face the direction of the sea and one long side of the hall with its cool house-shaped wooden-window shutter things. The huge red velvet curtain hangs over the stage to our left and the doors to the village main street to our right.

I love this hall but truthfully, I’m a bit wary of poetry set to music. It’s the puritanical killjoy in me which says, honey, you need to decide, music or poetry. Just get away with your weird, not very interesting bongo drumming interspersed with a man saying two words usually something like organic tomatoes in  a quiet yet loud, yet well modulated, yet with working-class-solidarity voice and then pausing a full minute while making eye contact with every member of the audience before saying wet. But I know it’s kind of prudish of me and I need to open myself to new experiences so I am willing and here and listening.

Local poet, Dinah Hawken, who starts us off, makes me feel very comfortable. She reads her poetry sans music, the way it should be (sorry) and she starts with a good long poem about environmental catastrophe. The poem earns its length and I enjoy Hawken’s meditative delivery. She reads slowly and thoughtfully and the poem turns from lament to challenge to conversation. I feel like I’m hearing more and more poetry like this, laced with planet grief and helplessness and wonder. I’m glad it’s being written.

The main act is  Bill Manhire with singer Hannah Griffen, pianist Norman Meehan and Hayden Chisholm on saxophone and clarinet. To begin with I think Chisholm is tuning up, his sax is breathy and rough and understated and there’s no clear strong notes but then I realise this is part of it all. He’s throat clearing and then the other clear notes come, but through the set I see this replication of human noises, and also the absorbing of other sounds and instruments. I hear reverb and the plucking of a guitar, slow growling, didgeridoo and the noise of traffic all through his instruments.

In this first song, an interpretation of Baxter’s High Country Weather, the piano and singing come in beside the brass and I’m startled by how much action, how much sound can be produced by just three people. Griffin’s voice is like some really good jazz club singer. I get that vibe through the night. I want to be sitting at a small lamped table having intimate conversations. She sings big, beautiful and clear, high and low.  Next Bill, congenial and with charming anecdotes that thrill the poetry nerd in me, reads Rain by Hone Tuwhare and then the three musicians play it back to us. I get it now. I can listen to the poems read as poems, and listen to the music as music. No bongo drums. No organic tomatoes and soulful stares. It’s a relief. And when I hear Rain sung I’m struck by how lineation changes with the music, the words become split and lumped in different way. We can hear hidden rhymes and rhythms which may be a subtle backbone to verse on the page but in music are drawn out and played with. Cool.

Meehan tells us the set is pretty much the album Small holes in the silence, featuring versions of  Manhire and other poets’ work as songs. We hear interpretations of Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, Manhire, David Mitchell, and my favourite piece, two poems by Eileen Duggan. I can’t actually hear the words as Griffin sings so perfectly in tune with the sax, so my liking this all the same proves how thoroughly mature I’ve become about the whole poetry and music mash up. What I love in this song is the way the sax more than ever takes the role of a voice; for a moment the sax and the singer are a duet and in a kind of heady triumph. After that the two seem to swap places; Griffin no longer singing words but sounds become another instrument and the saxophone becomes a human voice. It’s a meandering interesting work. I also love Manhire’s stories about and poem for Cornish poet Charles Causley. The evening ended with a spoken and then musical interpretation of Manhire’s rhyming list poem ‘1950s.’ The crowd loved it, they threw flowers, they cheered, they stomped. Well, they didn’t but I’m sure if they thought of it they would have. They applauded long and hard. I wander out into the Paekākāriki night. Now the traffic sounds like a saxophone. The crossing signals go off. A train, windows bright, rumbles past us on its way to Waikanae. I wave.

Maria McMillan

 

 

Dinah Hawken to open WORDSONGS

I seem to have been a roving poetry reporter these past few weeks but time to shut the hatches and stay at home. This event will be good – I judge this on my experience of hearing Hannah sing Bill at the AWF a few years ago. Transcendental experience.

I urge you to check this poetry event out and would love a wee response from a poetry patron to post on the blog.

 

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Tickets $20 from Eventfinder or Darcey’s Fruit Shop.  Limited door sales at $25.

QUERIES: Gilbert Haisman.  Tel 04 904 8428 or 022 0122 103. Email: thewordshop@paradise.net.nz