Tag Archives: Emma Neale

Emma Neale’s introduction for Wild Honey’s Dunedin celebration

 

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Just back from a wonderful visit to Dunedin. We got to celebrate Wild Honey last night thanks to Massey University Press, Kay Mercer and Dunedin Libraries, and Bronwyn Wylie-Gibb and the University Book Shop. There was a great turn out of poetry fans, and a set of readings that prompted both laughter and tears. We even got to hear Fiona Farrell sing! The occasion felt even more precious because that afternoon local poet, Elizabeth Brooke-Carr, had passed away, and so many local poets were together. Jenny Powell read one of Elizabeth’s poems as a tribute.

Heartfelt thanks to the readers: Sue Wootton, Carolyn McCurdie, Fiona Farrell, Kay McKenzie Cooke, Diane Brown, Jenny Powell, Eliana Gray, Emer, Lyons and Emma Neale.

Wild Honey continues to place women’s poetry under a warm and receptive light. I was humbled by the joy, the warmth and the generosity in the room. I am humbled by the way it continues to be an open home.

Emma Neale’s introduction was so good I want to share it with you – plus a few photos taken by Kay.

 

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Wild Honey introduction

 

Tena kotou katoa

Ko Emma Neale toku ingoa ….            

 

What a fabulous, upbeat reason for us all to be together tonight. It is very happily my role to introduce Paula Green to you all and talk a little about Wild Honey.

I noticed at around page 200 of Wild Honey that in my reading habits, I was inadvertently reflecting the structuring principle of the book. For those of you who haven’t looked into it yet — the book gathers small communities of women poets in separate rooms of a capacious imaginary house: so we move from the Foundation Stones of 19th-century authors Jesse Mackay and Blanche Baughan and of early 20th century writer Eileen Duggan, through to spaces such as the study, the music room, the hearth, the hammock and the garden, where Paula reflects on the thematic concerns, the psychological spaces, the poetic techniques, and also the lives of the writers she gathers there.

I realised last week that I’ve been carrying the book with me into every nook and cranny of my own house – brushing my teeth while reading it – burning dinner while cooking from it, or rather, by miming cooking while actually travelling deep into the passageways and chambers of the book itself. I didn’t twig to all this until I found myself nearly braining the family rabbit with it, as I tried to dish out pellets and straw to him in his outside hutch while Wild Honey was still tucked under one arm. Clearly this potentially book- and rabbit-wrecking approach is a mark of how compelling the prose is – capable of supplanting a cell-phone as the glued-to object to stare at. I suspect this won’t just be true of fellow poetry obsessives: the prose is pellucid, generous, and welcoming.

The book embraces myriad voices; it’s receptive to multiple styles, and it actively celebrates the writers it discusses. It doesn’t pit one writer against another, try to champion one above another, or upbraid writers for perceived political derelictions, but it listens attentively to what each writer has to say, and aims to capture and characterise the tone of their preoccupations. It’s a history of women’s poetry here in Aotearoa, yet one that is also a memoir of reading, as Paula laces the analysis with vivid personal responses and descriptions of how reading other women’s work has bolstered and boosted her — not only as a professional writer, herself interested in aesthetic questions, but as a person moving through time, dealing with love and loss, memory and projection, physical injury and philosophical problems, seized by the beauty of the natural world, shocked by social toxicity …  it’s a vast and varied coastline of human experience.

I think it’s important to say that even as we encounter generations of writers here, learn of their preoccupations and savour the sensuous aspects of their expression, one of the delights of reading this book is finding Paula’s own poetic signature throughout. It travels with you like a piwakawaka flitting along at shoulder height on a hiking trail – so you can start to feel kind of blessed and graced yourself with the ability to communicate in the same free, light and spirited way … until you actually try to express all the things this book achieves.

Wild Honey is so embracing, so capacious, that what I would really like to do before starting the readings and our conversation, is to ask everyone here —but particularly the poets —  to both congratulate and thank Paula for her diligence, her energy, her curiosity, her own creative gifts and above all tonight for her generosity. You can whoop, clap, dance, sing, stomp your feet – pull out a clarinet or a trombone if you have one — just make a bloody great non-library- like racket.

Introducing …. Paula!

 

 

 

 

 

 

PS The welcome racket was splendid! – pg

Poetry Shelf review: Emma Neale’s To the Occupant

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Emma Neale, To the Occupant, Otago University Press, 2019

 

Emma Neale has published five novels and five poetry collections, edited several anthologies and is the current editor of Landfall. She has won numerous awards including The Kathleen Grattan Award for her collection Truth Garden (2011). Her novel Billy Bird was shortlisted for the NZ Book Awards (2017). Emma’s new poetry collection To the Occupant is a textured reading experience; it is both visually and aurally ornate while never losing touch with its humane core.

The complex melodies, an Emma Neale trademark, employ diverse harmonies and counterpoints, and are always the first glorious reading effect. Take ‘Morning Song’ for example. The poem resembles an ode to a grandfather, the familial figure shining bright with life in  memories that stand out: drying dishes, hearing his whistle, spotting hidden cigarettes. Cat Steven’s song ‘Morning Has Broken’ is like the poem’s axle as grandfather details spin off the fragments of song.

 

Better warble down the past’s wind

mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning.

We grinned, raised eyebrows at its no-fail return;

praise with elation, praise every morning

the tune all whiskered trill, all rheumy-eyed wink

as he’d pop a dishcloth over his shoulder,

a clown’s epaulette; praise for the sweetness

 

The melody favours compound words (sun-speckled kitchen), chords built upon assonance, alliteration, repetition, clipped words next to those drawn out (‘it meant Gramps and damp tea towels; thin coffee cups and saucers / glazed with flowers that could be owls’). But there is more to the grandfather than the daily occurrences and to his happy song whistled; behind the gladness is past trauma, a lucky escape.  Herein lies the second joy of a Neale poem – moving through both the aural and the visual to the humane core.

The subject matter is always on the move: poems carry you from a season of teenagers, to politics of the homeless to mother anxiety. You shift from a fable to everyday vignettes, from old diaries to tightly held secrets. The younger son enters the kitchen with a secret in ‘Small Wonder’; he barely holds it in he is so desperate to tell his mother.

 

He pushes in hard at the sides of his mouth

as the blue-green fire of his irises

brims and flickers, swells and burns.

 

Such tension, such mother promises, as she bends in close and listens, and by not telling us, by sharing the intensity of the moment rather than the revelation, it makes the promise even sweeter. She will:

 

protect the pale-pink nimbus

of his secret

as it buds, opens.

 

Again a single poem transports me through music that works on my body, the sharp visuals move to the human core that makes a poem matter.

Emma’s collection is the sort that demands a summer sojourn; you can sunbathe at leisure within the light and dark of each poem. At times I am reminded of Elizabeth Smither’s ability to achieve both movement and stillness within the same poetic terrain, with the physical world exposing byways to an internal state of being, to the subconscious even. In ‘Doorway’, we stop to absorb a scene:

 

On the pavement outside the famous patisserie

a slender, chignon-haired woman sits inside her fortress

 

of backpack, tote bags, suitcases

which she arranges and rearranges

 

with the worn sobriety of a new mother

or a nurse in a recovery-ward hover.

 

Increasingly open-cast politics is finding its way into our poetry – poets might adopt strident voices or weave in opinions and grievances at more of a whisper, and I welcome all of this, whatever the tone or poetic form. In ‘Withdrawn’, Emma describes a scene where the poem’s speaker gives a ‘thin young man / in a sleeping bag’ a pack of bread rolls:

 

with our conscience burning holes

in the sleek, fat satin of our well-fed hearts

 

I read of the ‘big old drunk’ who knocks his paper cup of coins over and I am sent skating back to the first verse and the way the unfolding scene makes me ache and ponder at the ‘glaring discrepancies’. This is what a poem can do.

 

It is not within the scope of this poem

to discuss the failure of successive governments

to address the glaring discrepancies

between all the different weights and shades

of human pain —

 

Emma’s breathtaking new collection is wide in scope and reading impact. She is one of my favourite New Zealand poets because she never fails to fill me with joy, awe and musings at what poetry can do. This book is a sumptuous word treat.

 

Otago University Press author page

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Friday talk spot: Celebrating poetry and communities at the NZ Booksellers Conference

Auckland

25.08.19

 

The dirty dishwater sky

I see a rainbow

the harbour gleaming white

the sparkling nighttime sky tower

a strange statue of Moses

an early morning cleaner

the crinkled-slept-in-sheets sky

 

a collective poem made up on the spot by NZ Booksellers

 

On Sunday I was a key-note presenter with poet Gemma Browne at the booksellers conference in Auckland. The conference theme was Creating Communities – which feels really important as both an adult and children’s author. I dedicated Wild Honey to four women: Elizabeth Caffin, my first publisher; bookseller Carole Beu who has done so much for women readers and writers through The Women’s Bookshop; Michele Leggott who has brought women’s poetry to light and has written dazzling poetry of her own; Tusiata Avia who has inspired young and older women as both a teacher and inspiring poet, and who is a dear friend.

Most of my time as a writer is private, secret, quiet, and I like it like that. It is the writing process that gives me the greatest joy as a poet – not winning prizes or being famous or getting picked for anthologies or festivals. These can all be lovely surprises that give your ego little boosts, and more importantly boost book sales, but nothing beats that moment when pen hits paper and the words start flowing and you think – Where did that come from? How did I write that?

Yet I also write in multiple communities and that is important to me. I have a number of publishing families for a start. Then there are the two communities I have created through my blogs – Poetry Box and Poetry Shelf – that are made up of diverse readers and writers. I wanted to create a go-to place for poetry because poetry was becoming less and less visible in the media. Books would be published and I wouldn’t know unless I spotted them in a bookshop or got a launch invite.

Even now it is very rare that Poetry Shelf will be included in a list of online sites, newsletters or links devoted to advancing our engagement with New Zealand books. Yet Poetry Shelf keeps poetry fans in touch with what is happening in our diverse book/writing communities, signalling the books that are released, events, opportunities. I am building up an archive of recordings, interviews, commentaries and reviews. What will happen to all this material when I can no longer care for it? It seems so fragile.

One part of me wants to switch off my computer and phone, and tuck up into a novel in the hammock – because some days I am just treading water and making no difference.

As an author I am also part of our community of booksellers and am more than happy to do events in bookshops, yes to help promote my books but also to promote NZ poetry through various initiatives. I want to start a Bookseller Spot on both my blogs where booksellers recommend a NZ book they have loved or any poetry book they have loved. Or record a poem from a NZ book they have loved. Please get in touch: paulajoygreen@gmail.com

I want to build and nurture a community of poets writing for children and make it easier for readers to find children’s poetry books. Is this possible? Do we want our children’s lives to be enriched by New Zealand poetry? It is the hardest thing – to get children’s poetry published,  reviewed and in prominent places in bookshops. Can we show that poetry – the liberating place of word play – is the most glorious tool for any child. The reluctant writer can juggle words in the air, the sophisticated writer can advance their skills, take up challenges, explore their engagement in a challenging world. Poetry makes a child feel warm inside and itch to read and write.

I want to build bridges and nourish sightlines between our distinctive, diverse and wide roaming poetry communities. Is this possible? Is it vital? Can we draw together in attentiveness across cities, regions, cultures, generations, styles, preoccupations, politics, poetics, voices? For example, I see Louise Wallace (The Starling) and Emma Neale (Landfall) trying to do this in diverse ways. I see Anne O’Brien working hard to do this with her team at AWF. And Claire Maby through Verb Wellington.

And there is nothing wrong with nourishing your own poetry family, your go-to community that supports and listens to and reads what you do. As VUP do with their breathtaking stable of poets, their elders and emerging voices. As do the grassroot presses, such as Seraph, Cold Hub and Compound Press. The small journals such Mimicry and Min-a-ret.

I turned up at the conference after three hours sleep (max!), a poached egg and a short black and had the loveliest conversation with Gem. We talked about poetry, Wild Honey and building communities. I felt invigorated to be in the same room as people who work so hard, imaginatively, passionately, inventively – to sell our books. These are booksellers but they are also most importantly readers.

We wrote a poem to break the ice – and now I have broken the ice I want to keep making poetry visible and making poetry connections. How do I do it? How do we do it?

If I were rich and bounding with energy I would visit every bookshop that invited me and get children and adults hooked on the joy and curiosities of poetry.

I would start up a children’s poetry press.

But I am not rich and I am not bounding with energy at the moment so I will keep thinking on my feet and inventing ways for my blogs to make connections, start conversations, and celebrate the way our book community is comprised of many communities. And keep telling myself that I am not alone. Poetry Shelf has done that!

PS At Mary Kisler‘s conference session dedicated to her fabulous book, Finding Frances Hodgkins, Nicola Legat and Sam Elworthy talked about the new initiative, Coalition for Books. Various organisations are coming together under the one umbrella to work for the collective good of authors, publishers, booksellers and festivals. And of course readers.

PPS After such an intense and wonderful month I am now back to sleeping. Thankfully. Wild Honey‘s arrival in the world had shocked me into a constant state of awakeness.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf review: Landfall 237

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Landfall 237 edited by Emma Neale

 

Landfall 237 offers rich pickings for the poetry fans: familiar names (Peter Bland, David Eggleton, Elizabeth Smither, Ria Masae, Lynley Edmeades and Cilla McQueen) to emerging poets (Rebecca Hawkes, Claudia Jardine, essa may ranapiri) and those I am reading for the first time (Robynanne Milford, Jeremy Roberts, Catherine Trundle to name a few). The reading experience is kaleidoscopic, pulling you in different directions, towards both lightness and darkness, risk and comfort. And that is exactly what a literary journal can do. I was tempted to say should, but literary journals can do anything.

Landfall has a history of showcasing quirky artwork – and this issue is no exception. Sharon Singer’s sequence, “Everyday Calamities’ with its potent colour, surreal juxtapositions, strange and estranging narratives, and thematic bridges, is an addictive puzzle for heart and mind. I am circling humanity, the power of connection, the individual both tenacious and frail, the state of the planet. Paintings whirling and tipping you into moments that soothe, bewilder and provoke. I adore these.

I turned from these to Rachel O’Neill’s prose poem ‘The Supernatural Frame’ and get goosebumps:

You may look upon the painting through these special

foiled binoculars. We are at a safe distance. Afterwards you

may feel a chill or a fever linger for two days and a night,

accompanied by an infernal cough.

 

 

On the centennial of the birth of Ruth Dallas in Invercargill, I am also delighted to see John Geraets spotlight her poetry. Certain Dallas poems have always had a place in NZ literary anthologies (think ‘Milking Before Dawn’) but as readers we may less familiar with the wider expanse of her work. Like so many women poets of the twentieth century she is in the shadows. In his intro John suggests it is not clear how to include her ‘within more recent nexus based on gender, ethnicity, ecology, avant-gardism, faith or political affiliation’. He responds by assembling her words – culled from Landfall editor-contributor responses and her autobiography Curved Horizon – on the left-hand pages and his words on the right. He first sees in her poetry – compared with contemporary writing choices – predictability, regularity, un-excitement, regionalism; and then, by paying attention and refreshing his routes, he opens up poems to different movements. He moves in close to the poem. I love that. Much I could say on how we approach the women from the past! Expect 568 pages soon.

 

I absolutely love the poetry in this issue; it is both fresh and vital! I see neither formula nor dominating style but shifting stories, musicality, feeling, political bite, muted shades, bright tones.

 

Here are some highlights:

 

Joanna Preston’s poem ‘Allegrophobia’ carries you from birth to tardiness to spring in a layered on punctuality – a perfect little package.

Jasmine Gallagher’s ‘Be Still’ sent me to her bio because I want to read more by her. She is a doctoral student at the University of Otago and has previously been published in brief. Her poem is poetry as brocade – glinting for the eye and chiming for the ear.

 

Slattern: a

hoar frost:

a rime

Cold seed bed

Rot and slime

 

Another poet, Catherine Trundle, also sent me scavenging for more. She writes poetry, flash fiction and experimental ethnography. Her poem ‘The Caravan behind the Plum Tree’ is also an exquisite brocade.

 

This lush cusp of spring rides

pinkish, amoebic, wilding

the inside, every flesh ’n’ cranny

while the sunlight lunges in

through winter tidelines

of curtain rot

 

Tam Vosper’s ‘Ailurophilia’ was an equal hook for me. He is working on a PhD at Canterbury University that considers Allen Curnow and the poetics of place. Again this is brocade poetry: so rich in effect.

 

All Gallic pluck

and casual loft

you claim a suntrap,

slump sidewise down,

and unhinge your barbed yawn:

           a shark to shoaling mice.

 

And I want to add Medb Charleton’s ‘I think I Saw You Dreaming’, Rebecca Hawkes’s ‘If I could breed your cultivar / I’d have you in my garden’ and Gail Ingram’s ‘The Kitchen’ to my list of brocade poetry. Glorious.

In contrast you have the spare deliciousness of Ariha Latham’s ‘Waitangi’. Another poet whose work I want to track down.

 

When I read Ria Masae’s “Jack Didn’t Build Here’ I can hear her performing its sharp mix of personal and politics  – and it cuts into my skin. Six houses built. She carries us from the father’s house full of stories to David Lange’s Mangere home open to the locals: he ‘understood the pressures of fa’alavelave,/ cos he brown on the inside like that’. She bears us from the house her mum built with its’ celebration tables’ to the house Key built with its ‘security code gate’. She ends with a question (the house to be built?):

 

What house will Jacinda build?

Will it enable my daughters to build their own homes

of tangata whenua foundations and fa’a Samoa roofs

in this palagified City of Sales?

 

You can move from political bite to the glorious wit you often find in an Erik Kennedy poem. His ‘All Holidays Are Made-Up Holidays’ is no exception. Meet Cabinet Day – ‘we went along/ from house to house hanging little doors / around each other’s necks to hide our secrets’. Or the Feast of Holy Indifference. Genius!

Claire Orchard’s poem, ‘Breakages’, swivels on a set of shelves, on the objects that they hold, and in that satisfying movement speaks of so much more; the poem resembles a shelf of family history with peaks and troughs.

 

I enjoyed the way it had begun to display time

in the style of tottering, elderly people

 

I heard Joan Fleming talk about new poetry she was writing at the Poetry & Essay conference at Victoria University in 2017. The poems came out of her experience of camp life in Nyrripi and surrounding areas in Australia’s Central Desert. I was moved by her discussions of collaboration and consent, her attentiveness to the local. Two poems here – ‘Alterations’ and ‘Papunya is Gorgeous Dirty and I Second-guess my Purposes’ – come out of this experience. I can’t wait to see this in book form.

 

Finally a treat from Cilla McQueen. She has written ‘Poem for my Tokotoko’; it is personal, physical and abundant with the possibilities of poetry. Pure pleasure.

 

Sometimes I see you as an enchanter’s staff,

scattering poems like leaves to the west wind;

at others you’re practical, a trusty pole

by means of which, through quarrelling

undercurrents, I can ford turbulent water.

By means of which I put myself across.

 

This is such good issue – there are reviews and fiction I haven’t read yet, and the announcement of the Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Essay Competition 2019 – but on the poems only, it warrants a subscription. Yep – Landfall has its finger on the pulse of NZ poetry.

 

Landfall 237 page

 

 

Poetry Shelf New Poetry: Landfall 236 is a beauty

 

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We have a wealth of literary journals (online and hard copy) at the moment that draw upon diverse communities and regions and that underline the fact poetry is currently piping hot in Aotearoa. Pick up a journal and you will find emerging voices, our poetry elders and everything in between – and that is as it should be. Loud quiet political personal inventive funny heartbreaking groundbreaking traditional mesmerising …. the list is endless when it comes to local poetry.

Landfall offers poetry, prose, reviews and artwork and comes out of Otago University Press with Emma Neale the current editor. It  boosts its poetry review section by posting a bunch on line at the beginning of every month, and hosts the annual Landfall essay competition and the Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize.

The latest issue is a hit with me on the poetry front because there is a pleasing diversity of voice and style, and a number of poems that have stuck to me like glue, and that I have shared with others.

 

But first the essays. The Landfall Essay competition is always on my annual must-read list. Emma selected the 2019 winning entries. In her introduction she talked about the way the best essays might be self-essays but also move beyond that to the gritty or glittery challenges of the world. I always think of an essay as a testing ground for ideas and at times a testing ground for how you convey those ideas which is why I love to read them. Essays can generate contagious feelings; but again, how that feeling is stitched into the writing gets tested. Emma’s introduction made me want to get back to an essay I have been working on for a year or so but, more importantly, read the winning entries.

Alice Miller’s winning essay, ‘The Great Ending’, closes in on the year 1918, on a false armistice and on Armistice Day. She juxtaposes events and anecdotes gleaned from newspaper cuttings and books and produces one of the best end paragraphs I have read in ages. A glorious read. I mused upon a future little handbook of essays that offer a selection of collaged years and a re-invigoration of history.  Susan Wardell’s runner-up essay, ‘Shining Through the Skull’, is equally captivating. After reading Emma’s notes I was really keen to read the other placed essays.

Landfall has always promoted local poetry. Emma has selected an exquisitely contoured mix. On this occasion I find I am drawn to poems featuring various kinds of migration, movement  and intimacies.

In Harry Rickett’s standout poem, ‘Pink Blanket’, the poet greets his 92-year-old mother and tries to tell her of his trip to India but she only (seemingly?) pays attention to her bared knee. This is the power of poetry – it takes you to a moment and makes you feel its intimacy. It felt like age as a form of migration.

 

I replace the blanket, try camels,

horses, donkeys, dogs, finally

an old photo of my long-dead father,

taken by her. ‘Do you know who

this is?’ She shakes her head.

She refolds the pink blanket,

exposes her bare left knee,

gives me a nose-crinkling grin.

 

Aiwa Pooamorn’s ‘A Thai-Chinese Stay-at-Home Mother gets Political’ gets both political,  personal and utterly topical in a must-read kind of way. Home is both movement and necessary anchor.

I’m as Thai as Pad Thai noodles

invented to be the national dish

by military dictator Phibun

when actually it’s quite Chinese

all to create the myth

of a homogeneous monoculture

Thailand the land of smiles

pledge allegiance to

chaat (the Thai nation state)

satsana (the Buddhist religion)

phramahakesat (the demi-god King)

 

Siobhan Harvey’s ‘Someone Other than Yourself’ moves out from the sharp point of her migration from the UK, in a poem that completely unsettled me with its slender but potent admissions and wavery pronoun. The writing is sure-footed, the images clear, and the overall effect strange, intimate, puzzling. This is the kind of poem that adheres. I tried to select a piece to quote but the poem needs to stay together as if taking a bit out is a form of damage.

Landfall issue is rich in poetry that leaves its traces upon you in diverse ways: poems by essa may ranapiri, Tusiata Avia, Jodie Dalgleish, Elizabeth Kirkby-McLeod, Trevor Hayes, Helen Yong, Jane Arthur, Michael Mintrom, Jessica Le Bas, Richard Reeve do just that.

A bonus: In June 2017 a poem, ‘StreetNOISE’, attached to a building in Moray Place, closed down Dunedin’s central business district. The bomb squad was called, a court case ensure but charges were dropped. Justin Spiers offers seven images of the poet, artist and musician, L.$.D. Fascinating.

Plus David Eggleton’s picks for the Caselberg Trust prize, loads of fiction and reviews to get your reading teeth or heart into (so to speak).

 

Well worth a subscription I reckon.