Tag Archives: erik kennedy

Poetry Shelf Friday talk spot:Rebecca Hawkes on the poem as a snowglobe to contain the Anthropocene

 

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At the moment it feels like pretty much every bright future I’d hoped for is at stake. On a grand scale the triple threats of economic precarity, bigoted populist political bullshit, and environmental degradation aren’t, uhhhh, great. And given human carelessness with our pollution, poisons, and climate apocalypse, basking in the glory of nature isn’t really cutting it anymore as a source of solace. Even David Attenborough is freaking out.

And still, to not be helpless, I turn to poetry. How else to process a planet-sized grief?

Ecopoetry as political activism and/or aesthetic impulse isn’t a new idea. But right now I’m interested in how others write about the effects humans have on nature, and how that affects us.

A poem that floats to the surface of my mind regularly, naming the current epoch, is ‘The Anthropocene‘ from Helen Heath’s Ockham winning (!!!!!!!!!) Are Friends Electric? The poem stars a tui and lyrebird mimicking the technological music of the species that destroys their native forests – cellphone trill, car alarm, camera shutter, chainsaw. Chainsaws in birdsong! I think of this too often.

Speaking of mimics, the new issue of Mimicry I just received contains two back-to-back poems on the drift of plastics through the furthest reaches of the ‘natural’ environment. Rhys Feeney’s ‘current mood’ and Erik Kennedy’s ‘Microplastics in Antarctica’ work to process the sheer scale of human junk, and model ways to respond to the guilt and arrogance of that phenomenon.

From Feeney:

“you thought you
were a god / but this sushi container
will outlive you /”

From Kennedy:

“Scratch the scalp of civilisation
and bits of it go all over the place.
Concerned about those embarrassing flakes?
You should be.”

Feeney’s poem is inspired by Pip Adam’s The New Animals which is great because I’d wanted to shoehorn that novel (with its hypnotic trajectory towards a widening gyre of sea-garbage) into this discussion somehow. Having dipped a toe in prose, it’s worth noting that my own poetry on nature (and the work of local poets like Gregory Kan and essa may ranapiri) has been influenced by Jeff Vandermeer’s novels too – testing out new ways to live in a changed world.

Poems about what people do to the environment, and what that means for us, help me work out how to rage and cope as well. When I’m overwhelmed, picking up a poem can help. Poems can help us look at the impact we have on our planet – but in a container compact as a snowglobe, enough to hold in two hands. A poem asks you to sit mesmerised by something and turn it over to see how it shifts. Shake the poem and watch what happens to the tiny landscape in the swirling glitter.

Showing off the capacity of a poem to be both moving and scientifically informative is a knack shared by Heath and Kennedy – their poems often incorporate research, like the press release that kicks off ‘Microplastics in Antarctica’. And ecopoetry is not always straightforwardly scientific – take Lucie Brock-Broido’s dreamy elegy ‘For a Snow Leopard in October‘. But each poem is also a way to pick up something about what’s happening to our world and ourselves. To write like this is a way to stake out what’s real and important. What vision of the world we should hold on to, what kind of mark we want to leave – from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to the snow leopard vanishing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rebecca Hawkes is a poet, painter, and reluctant corporate ladder ascender. She’s from a high country farm near Methven and is now making it biggish in the small-medium city of Wellington. Find Rebecca’s poems scattered through journals like Starling, Sport, and Sweet Mammalian – or on her website. A collection of her writing will be published in August 2019 in the revival issue of the AUP New Poets series, alongside the work of Carolyn DeCarlo and Sophie van Waardenberg.

Poetry Shelf poses a question to poets: Why write poetry?

 

This is an occasional series where I invite a group of poets to respond to the same question. First up: Why write poetry? I selected this question because a number of writers have mused upon the place of poetry when facing catastrophes that devastate our human roots. I pondered that question. I then asked myself why I have written poetry for decades regardless of whether it is published or applauded. It is what I love to do. It is my way of making music and feeling and translating and being happy no matter the life challenges. I also feel poetry is thriving in Aotearoa; at all ages, in multiple forms and in myriad places, many of us are drawn to write poems.

 

Albert Wendt

I write poetry because I can’t stop doing it: it demands that I do it, and it is ‘language’ that I feel most passionately about. When I’ve deliberately tried not to write poetry, I’ve ended up feeling unfinished, incomplete. When the poetry is shaping itself well in my tongue and throat, I feel healed, and healing.

 

Emer Lyons

I talk too much. A male Irish poet visited last year and said my poetry had none of the “jerkiness” of my personality. In writing poetry I find silence and the ability to give that silence space. After drinks with two men from the university last week, the one I had just met sent me a message on Twitter to ask me if I, like him, had Borderline Personality Disorder. Speaking in non sequiturs is not nearly as convincing as writing in them. As women, there are expectations about how we should speak, how we should take up space, how we should be more silent, more stable. Writing poetry is a minor release from social constraints, and the voluntary application of others. I can bind my breasts and write sonnets. On the page, I can be enough.

 

Erik Kennedy

I write poetry for the same reason that architects draw up concepts for floating cities: 1) to see what a better future might look like before it is possible, 2) to make the blueprints of progress public so that others can avoid making the mistakes that I have.

 

Therese Lloyd

Poetry remains mysterious to me. It’s such a strange beast and to be honest, sometimes I wish I had been bitten by the fiction bug instead. But I’ve been writing poetry for a long time. I think the first poem I ever wrote was when I was about 6. The poem was about fireworks and I remember the last line was “beautiful but dangerous”. Even at 6 years old I had a dark turn of mind! It may be a total cliché, but for me, poetry is a way to figure out how I feel about something. Writing poetry, especially that first thrilling draft, is an exercise in bravery. I love the feeling of having only the slightest inkling of what might appear on the page, and then to be surprised (sometimes pleasantly) by the string of lines that emerge.

Why write poetry? Because it’s confounding and liberating in turn. Because, as Anne Carson so famously says:

It is the task of a lifetime. You can never know enough, never work enough, never use the infinitives and participles oddly enough, never impede the movement harshly enough, never leave the mind quickly enough.

 

Michele Leggott

Why write poetry? To sound distance and make coastal profiles, to travel light and lift darkness. I go back to what I wrote about these and other calibrations: A family is a series of intersecting arcs, some boat-shaped, others vaults or canopies, still others vapour trails behind a mountain or light refracted through water. None is enclosed, all are in motion, springing away from one another or folding themselves around some spectral inverse of the shape they make against sea or sky.

 

essa may ranapiri

I write poetry because I love what poetry can be and can do. With poetry you can create these rather dense language objects that have the ability to confront many realities very quickly without sacrificing complexity. It is a space where I feel the English language can be at its most decolonised and queer and wonderful. And it also a space I feel most comfortable exploring the language of my tīpuna te reo Māori, a language I have only really just started learning. Poetry’s capacity for fragmentation and error, gives me permission to try out who I am and who I want to be. It also encourages in me a radical imagination about the society we live in and the societies that we could live in. A poem can be built in a day and take years to understand, it can both encapsulate and be the moment. A poem can give people who are marginalised a space to really embody their voice, make the air vibrate with their wairua, and in so doing provide an opportunity for community for those that struggle to find it wherever they are.

 

Bernadette Hall:

Why write poetry? Why not write poetry? Why should a poem choose you to be its vehicle? ‘Poetry is a terminal activity, taking place out near the end of things’ wrote John Berryman in a review article in 1959. I feel a great excitement when I read his words. An enchantment.  Since childhood, I have been immersed in language that’s not my own. In fact it’s dead. Or so the old school rhymes used to say about it, about Latin. And every now and then, a kind of ‘speech’ would emerge, in my native tongue, English, well out of the range of my everyday talking, things I would write down on paper. Secrets. Janet Frame has been quoted apparently as saying that her writing wasn’t her. Which would give you a huge amount of freedom, wouldn’t it, that embracing and distancing at the same time.  Berryman went on to say of poetry, ‘And it aims …at the reformation of the poet, as prayer does.’  The re-formation. No wonder I’m hooked.

 

Cilla McQueen

It seems healthy for thoughts to have an outlet into the real world.

Thinking is in the poem and is the poem.

You attend to the material and the spiritual. You perceive humanity, see inside yourself and other people, listen to the language of insight, catch words from the deep layers of consciousness.

Writing something down in concentrated form is mental exercise. The elastic syntax inside language asks for attention and skill so that it can be used with subtlety, to contain many shades of meaning and feeling.

Writing is a pleasure. Whether it ends up as a poem or not doesn’t really matter.

Words can unblock. The complete absorption in writing, in silent concentration, can provide a psychic release. A poem both releases energy and generates it.

The act of writing can be a refuge and comfort, also a way of talking things out in order to understand. The page is always listening, a patient companion in times of solitude or loneliness.

Don’t know what I’d do without it. I’ve spent most of my writing life thinking about poetry, but am still wary of defining it (this is part of its charm).

 

 

Albert Wendt has published many novels, collections of poetry and short stories, and edited numerous anthologies. In 2018, along with four others, he was recognised as a New Zealand Icon at a medallion ceremony for his significant contribution to the Arts.

Emer Lyons is an Irish writer who has had poetry and fiction published in journals such as TurbineLondon GripThe New Zealand Poetry Society AnthologySouthwordThe Spinoff and Queen Mob’s Tea House. She has appeared on shortlists for the Fish Poetry Competition, the Bridport Poetry Prize, the takahé short story competition, The Collinson’s short story prize and her chapbook Throwing Shapes was long-listed for the Munster Literature Fool For Poetry competition in 2017. Last year she was the recipient of the inaugural University of Otago City of Literature scholarship and is a creative/critical PhD candidate in contemporary queer poetry.

Erik Kennedy is the author of Twenty-Six Factitions (Cold Hub Press, 2017) and There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (Victoria University Press, 2018), and he selected the poetry for Queen Mob’s Teahouse: Teh Book (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2019). Originally from New Jersey, he lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime is shortlisted for the 2019 Ockham and New Zealand Book Awards – he will be appearing at the Auckland Writers Festival in May.

Therese Lloyd is the author of the chapbook many things happened (Pania Press, 2006), Other Animals (VUP, 2013) and The Facts (VUP, 2018). The Facts has been shortlisted for the 2019 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards and she will be appearing at the Auckland Writers Festival in May.

Michele Leggott has published eight collections of poetry, most recently Vanishing Points (Auckland University Press) and has edited and co-edited a number of anthologies including the poetry of Robin Hyde.She was the inaugural Poet Laureate (2007-9) under National Library administration and in 2013 received the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry. She founded the New Zealand Electronic zPoetry Centre and is professor of English at the University of Auckland. She recently contributed the introduction to Verses, a collection of poetry by Lola Ridge (Quale Press).

essa may ranapiri is a poet from kirikiriroa, Aotearoa and are part of the local writing group Puku. rir |Liv.id. They have been published in many journals in print and online, most recently in Best New Zealand Poems 2018. Their first collection of poetry ransack is being published by Victoria University Press in July 2019.

Bernadette Hall lives in a renovated bach at Amberley Beach in the Hurunui, North Canterbury. She has published ten collections of poetry, the most recent being Life & Customs (VUP 2013) and Maukatere, floating mountain (Seraph Press 2016). In 2015 shereceived the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry. In 2016 she was invested as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature.  In 2017 she joined with three other Christchurch writers to inaugurate He Kōrero Pukapuka, a book club which meets weekly at the Christchurch Men’s Prison.

Cilla McQueen is a poet, teacher and artist; her multiple honours and awards include a Fulbright Visiting Writer’s Fellowship 1985,three New Zealand Book Awards 1983, 1989, 1991; an Hon.LittD Otago 2008, and the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry 2010. She was the National Library New Zealand Poet Laureate 2009 -11.  Recent works include The Radio Room (Otago University Press 2010), In A Slant Light (Otago University Press, 2016), and poeta: selected and new poems (Otago University Press, 2018).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating the Ockham NZ Book Award poetry finalists

The Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry
Are Friends Electric? by Helen Heath (Victoria University Press)
There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime by Erik Kennedy (Victoria University Press)
The Facts by Therese Lloyd (Victoria University Press)
Poūkahangatus by Tayi Tibble (Victoria University Press)

 

Great to see we have new sponsors, Mary and Peter Biggs, for the Poetry Category at the Book Awards.

I have featured all four finalists on my blog because I have found much to love about these books – this therefore is a moment of celebration. Of course there are books not here that I loved immensely. Poetry Shelf is whole-heatedly devoted to celebrating local books and the fact that I don’t have time to feature all my poetry loves is testimony to the excellent poetry we publish – through both big and small presses. Victoria University Press is becoming a flagship for NZ poetry – publishing at least 9 books a year of high quality and diverse scope. I applaud them for that. And all the other publishers issuing standout poetry (there are many) and the booksellers who put local poetry books on their shelves.

Thank you!

Congratulations to the four finalists! And to VUP.

 

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Listen to Helen read two poems here

Helen’s book is a complex, satisfying read with enticing layers and provocative subject matter. It is a book of seeing, strolling, collecting; as though this poet is a bricoleur and   the book is a cabinet of curious things. What I love in the poems is the shifting voice, the conversational tones. The poems that link grief with the effect of technology upon our bodies get under my skin. Most importantly there is a carousel of voices that may or may not be invented or borrowed but that make you feel something.

 

I ask if you would like a body.

You say, ‘No I’m beyond bodies now,

I’m ready to be fluid, spilling out all over.

I’m ready to spread myself so thin that I’m

a membrane over the world.’ I’m not ready.

I take off my socks and shoes and walk

over a patch of grass very slowly.

 

from ‘Spilling out all over’

 

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Erik’s first-full length collection sparks with multiple fascinations, experience, thought, wit, politics, optical delights and aural treats. It is a book of harmonics and elastic thinking, and is a pleasure to read. The collection navigates eclectic subject matter but I was initially drawn to the interplay between a virtual world and a classical world. I began to muse on how poetry fits into movement between the arrival of the internet and a legacy of classical knowledge. I also love the idea of poetry reacting to collisions, intersections, juxtapositions. Interestingly when I was jotting down notes I wrote the words ‘detail’, ‘things’ and ‘juxtaposition’ but not just for the embedded ideas. Yes, the detail in the poems is striking in itself, but I was drawn to the ‘static’ or the ‘conversation’ or ‘kinetic energy’ between things as I read.

 

Two feet of snow at my parents’ place, in another season.

Here, the cicadas sing like Christian women’s choirs

in a disused cotton mill. Belief is a kind of weather.

I haven’t seen proper snow for three years.

 

from ‘Letter from the Estuary’

 

 

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Therese’s new collection resides in a captivating interplay of chords. You could say that any poetry book delivers chords whether aural, visual or thematic, and in the light of ideas and feelings. This book does it to a stunning degree. Once you start hunting for them – whether in harmony or not, between poems or within a single example – the rewards are myriad. At the core of the book the title poem, the standout-lift-you-off-your-feet poem, achieves a blinding intensity: raw, surprising, probing, accumulative, fearless. I particularly love the surprising turns of ‘Mr Anne Carson’. Therese’s collection takes you deep into personal experience that gets hooked up in the poetry of another (Anne Carson), in matted ideas and the need to write as a form of survival. It makes you feel as much as it makes you think. It is a riveting read.

 

For three months I tried

to make sense of something.

I applied various methods:

logic, illogic, meditation, physical exertion,

starvation, gluttony. Other things too

that are not necessarily the opposite of one another,

writing and reading for example.

 

from ‘The Facts’

 

 

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Tayi’s debut collection, Poūkahangatus, has already and understandably attracted widespread media attention. The poetry is utterly agile on the beam of its making; and take ‘beam’ as you will. There is brightness, daring and sure-footedness. The poems move in distinctive directions: drawing whanau close, respecting a matrilineal bloodline (I adore this!), delving into the dark and reaping the light, cultural time-travelling, with baroque detail and sinewy gaps. The collection charts the engagement of a young, strong woman with her worlds and words  – and the poetic interplay, the sheer joy and magnetism of the writing, is addictive. I treasure this book for its kaleidoscopic female relations and views of women; and the way women are the vital overcurrents and undercurrents of the collection. Above all I loved the kaleidoscopic effect of the book; the way it is edgy and dark and full of light. The way it catches living within popular culture and within family relations, the way it carries sharp ideas and equally sharp feelings.

 

Poūkahangatus

in 1995 I was born and Walt Disney’s Animated Classic Pocahontas was

released. Have you ever heard a wolf cry to the blue corn moon? Mum has.

I howled when my mother told me Pocahontas was real but went with John

Smith to England and got a disease and died. Representation is important.

 

from ‘Poūkahangatus’

 

I am not a journalist punting on a winner – I am a poetry fan and have read all these books several times – any one of these books deserves to win. A toast from me x.

Poetry Shelf in conversation with Erik Kennedy

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Erik Kennedy has followed his poetry chapbook, Twenty-Six Factions (Cold Hub Press, 2017) with his debut collection, There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (Victoria University Press, 2018). He edits the online journal Queen Mob’s Teahouse. He lives in Christchurch. His first-full length collection sparks with multiple fascinations, experience, thought, wit, politics, optical delights and aural treats. It is a book of harmonics and elastic thinking, and is a pleasure to read.

 

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To celebrate the book Erik and I embarked on a slow-paced email conversation.

 

 

Paula: Did you read, write or hear poetry as a child? As a teenager?

Erik: I wouldn’t say that I grew up in a poetical household, but it was certainly a bookish one. My early touchstones were mostly fact-filled books: The Book of Lists, Jacques Cousteau, The Rand McNally Encyclopedia of Military Aircraft, atlases. We had that two-volume complete OED that comes with a magnifying glass, which I never used, and instead I liked to bring my eyes quite close to the tiny, tiny type on the huge pages. I was born in 1980, so I am part of the last cohort that had a childhood without the internet.

I came to poetry in my early teens. I was converted by my father’s old university poetry textbook, which was an early edition of An Introduction to Poetry by X. J. Kennedy (no relation). Then I realised that we had a lot more of this ‘poetry’ stuff in the house, and that even bookshops in suburban New Jersey would sell you poetry if you wanted it. I became obsessed with it. I was an only child with addictive tendencies. I started writing my own poems, and I liked it so much that I thought I should write hundreds of them. For a while I kept a chart of my productivity. For a while I thought six poems per day was a decent target.

Eventually I became saner and realised that reading was more important than writing, but the funny thing is, I wasn’t wrong about the benefits of writing tons of poems. At the time I thought I should do it because I assumed they were all brilliant and worth recording. Now I do it because I know that half of them will be rubbish.

 

Paula: Oh I love the image of the chart. I wonder if you will look through the rubbish pile one day and see some of the poems glow? I am intrigued by the way relationships change with a poem over time. I am also wondering with your enviable productivity if you write a poem quickly or it is agonisingly slow?

Erik: These days I’m more likely to abandon a poem than to revise it extensively, so I guess I go along at a fair clip. (If taking a week on a poem is writing ‘quickly’.) A couple of poems in the book – like ‘The Shame’, for instance – were written in one sitting. Poets reading this will be familiar with how amazing a feeling this is. Like bowling a perfect game on Christmas Eve, or finding a fifty dollar note in a seldom-worn coat.

I’m not very sentimental about particular poems. I tend to revisit certain subjects regularly – climate change, the atheist’s perspective on religion, inequality, mortality and the fear of death – so it’s unlikely that any given poem I write will be my last word on the matter. This takes off some of the pressure to get it perfect. This isn’t to say that I don’t like my poems or have particular favourites. But often it’s reader or audience reaction that earns a poem a place in my affections. I want my work to connect with people, and that connection is something that’s probably more important than my own super-subjective feelings about my work. This is one reason why I send my poems out so much and why I do as many readings as I can. Hopefully it all adds up to something in the end.

 

Paula: Writing is such a private thing – we send our work into the world and so often don’t eavesdrop on the reader. When an audience gasps after you read a poem it is gold!

 

There’s no place like the internet in springtime!

Everything foals a new thing like itself,

and old things are respectful in their pastures

and only argue over if it’s best

to let the snow melt or to make it melt.

 

from ‘There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime’

 

 

The order within disorder

is a spice-rack in a shipwreck,

an abacus in the corner

at the ruined abbey of Glenluce,

or hill-roads amid the scree

where earthquakes preside.

It is also a probe

in orbit around a comet,

a self-tightening noose,

a precise polypeptide

in a gummy primordial soup

 

from ‘I Can’t Even’

 

Your collection navigates eclectic subject matter but I was initially drawn to the interplay between a virtual world and a classical world. I began to muse on how poetry fits into movement between the arrival of the internet and a legacy of classical knowledge. Do both feed your curiosities as a poet? Does the internet make a difference to you as poet? I really love the lines in ‘I Can’t Even’:

 

The things we write we transform:

the far becomes the distant,

the distant becomes the invisible,

the invisible becomes the new

 

Erik: I sometimes (over-ambitiously!) describe the book as a collision between the digital and the pastoral – like responding to Marlowe’s ‘The Passionate Shepherd to His Love’ with an image macro. It seems to me that poetry is good at representing collisions like this, given that so much of the art as it’s practised now is about surprising juxtapositions and skewed perspectives. Even some of the famous ‘definitions’ of poetry get at this. Take one of Carl Sandburg’s hare-brained formulations: ‘Poetry is a puppet-show, where riders of skyrockets and divers of sea fathoms gossip about the sixth sense and the fourth dimension.’ This is barking, obviously, but it’s a way of saying, ‘Well, I add a and b together and I get x, and I’m not really sure why.’ And I understand that. That’s how it feels to me, too.

You’re right to sense that I care deeply about history. I’ve always cared as much about the seed drill as I have about @dril. It seems to me that on the c. 2018 internet all of history exists simultaneously. This was previously possible in the arts, but I don’t think that our daily lives were filled with the disorientating, mind-bending glory of it all until we had social media. I’m thinking of the @medievalpoc Twitter account, Daniel Mallory Ortberg’s legendary art/lit/textspeak mash-ups on The Toast (a few years old, but not forgotten), even Jim’ll Paint It (if old British telly counts as history). I could go on forever. We are blessed to live in these times.

But, in a way, I don’t think it is internet culture itself that has primarily affected my work, although I like Weird Twitter as much as the next idiot. I think instead the ability to plug into existing literary cultures has allowed my work to be broader than it would have been otherwise. This is part of the general, larger process of globalisation and cultural cross-pollination that we’re all living with and contributing to. I’m not the first person to say this, but I feel like I just know a lot more about the various poetries there are out there than I used to. And if I didn’t, I’d probably still be writing the same kinds of poems I wrote when I was twenty . . . and trust me, that would not be a good thing.

 

Paula: Engagement with diverse poetries seems so important and for me that involves reading outside my comfort zone, my poetry loves. I also love the idea of poetry reacting to collisions, intersections, juxtapositions. Interestingly when I was jotting down notes I wrote the words ‘detail’, ‘things’ and ‘juxtaposition’ but not just for the embedded ideas. Yes, the detail in the poems is striking in itself, but I was drawn to the ‘static’ or the  ‘conversation’ or ‘kinetic energy’ between things as I read.

 

Two feet of snow at my parents’ place, in another season.

Here, the cicadas sing like Christian women’s choirs

in a disused cotton mill. Belief is a kind of weather.

I haven’t seen proper snow for three years.

 

from ‘Letter from the Estuary’

 

I can jump about this stanza for ages. How important are the connections or bridges (and perhaps disconnections) between things as you write? Is there a poem where it is particularly important?

Erik: Perhaps you already know that James Brown has (gently) mocked my thought processes in that stanza of ‘Letter from the Estuary’ in a poem called ‘Liking Similes’? From his poem:

 

When I hear cicadas, their singing always reminds me of
Christian women’s choirs in a disused cotton mill.
I picture the conductor’s arms bent in supplication
as she tries to draw forth the correct ‘cicadian’ rhythm
from the collective gasp of Christian women.

 

And it goes on in that vein for about 400 words! I recommend it enthusiastically. I’m a strong believer in trying to surprise readers. Maybe sometimes I try too hard. Maybe sometimes that effort borders on the absurd. But a certain amount of risk is necessary if you’re going to write either very good or very bad poems. I’d like to be remembered as someone who wrote both.

I think James has got my style down, though! Or at least he’s got the logic of it, if not the exact tone. I’m lucky enough to be in a great critgroup – four other poets I trust, with whom I meet once a month. I often get told that my poems operate in predictable ways because they argue more than they emote. I think that aspect of my writing is easy to parody, and I don’t mind that. What’s wrong with using poems to work out problems? One of the oldest, simplest, and most enjoyable poems in the book, called ‘Growing Fears That the Leadership Contest Has Been Hijacked by Far-Left Infiltrators’, is a series of propositions, which, if answered in the affirmative, all seem to say that the reader is a proper socialist. That’s the sort of connection that’s most important to me – connections that lead to a punch line rather than ones that merely establish a mood.

 

Paula: Well, heck, I love jumping about that stanza and indeed the whole collection. Do you have a favourite poem in the collection – where the poem just clicked into place and lifted?

Erik: When it comes to my poems, I’m like a parent. I’m like a parent who loves all his children equally. I’m like a parent who acknowledges his children’s limitations. I’m like a parent who hopes his next children will be better than the ones he already has are. I’m like a parent who thinks his children would have been better off if they had been born in another time and place, when children rhymed and scanned. Maybe this is a faulty simile from someone who hasn’t got any kids.

What I’m trying to say is that I have a lot of favourite poems, and they all do different things, and I’m not vain enough to think that they’re all perfect. In fact, I have frosty relations with some of my poems. I won’t renounce them, but I hope I can replace them with better ones in future.

So instead of a one-poem answer, I hope you’ll let me nominate a few poems that I think fulfil their ambitions pretty well:

 

Favourite love poem: ‘Love Poem with Seagull’

Favourite poem about aesthetics: ‘I Rank All the Beautiful Things There Are’ (which appears in a slightly different version in the book)

Favourite rambling philosophical poem: ‘The School of Naps’

Favourite ‘history poem’: ‘Public Power’

Favourite ‘New Zealand poem’: ‘Letter from the Estuary’

Favourite eco-poem: ‘I Am an Animal Benefiting from Climate Change’ (not online)

Favourite poem that isn’t online: ‘Double Saw Final at the Canterbury A&P Show’ (also not online)

 

Paula: Oh, how perfect. I have been thinking of running a series on my blog where I get a poet to recommend a favourite poem (and go through categories!). I was thinking of poems by other poets though. I love your list; it is a reminder that poetry does all kinds of things on all kinds of subject matter with all kinds of stylistic leanings and you enagge with them for different reasons.

I had a conversation with a writer who, like me, finds writing makes her happy. It can be a challenge, demanding much of/from you, but it makes me happy. I jotted down a couple of lines from three terrific poems near the end of your book that feature ‘happy’, ‘glad’, ‘contentment’. For some reasons these three poems gave me goosebumps.

 

From ‘The School of Naps’: When you’re happy you have a responsibility to those who are unhappy / to do your best with it.’

From ‘The Contentment Poem’: ‘I’ve got the garden just how I like it and that, obviously, / is just how I like it.’

From ‘Today’: ‘And I, alone and glad, have missed these things.’

 

Does writing make you happy or is it a painful part of your life as it is with some writers?

 

Erik: Are there really poets who cause themselves pain when they write? Of course I love writing. I’ll never be more alive – ever – than when I feel an unmistakably good line come into my head. To me, that’s what humanity is: the moment when you acknowledge yourself as a self-aware, clever being. (Knowing that you’ve written a good poem is like juggling in the mirror.) At the moment of my death I will probably say something like, ‘One more line, please.’ One line in Latin on one’s tombstone below one’s name: Magis. More.

Obviously, I hate the process of writing as much as everyone else does; 999 lines in a thousand are just craft, not art. But I will chase the feeling of that serendipitous line across all of time and space. I suppose it’s why I’m a poet rather than a novelist – I can capture that feeling more easily in ten choice words than in ten chapters. Poetry is a shortcut to pleasure, and none of us should ever apologise for taking that shortcut.

 

Paula: Bill Manhire quotes Randall Jarrell in his (Bill’s!) poem ‘The Victims of Lightning’ – good poets might get struck by lightning five or six times in a thunderstorm – a great poet maybe a dozen. Sometimes it feels like that – where did this poem come from? How on earth did it hit the page and sound like this!

I am really drawn to the lists in your poems – there is something that both surprises and comforts about list poems or poems that play with lists. What is the attraction?

 

Erik: A natural rage for order, I suppose! I hope I don’t write many ‘list poems’, though. I’m happy enough to write poems that contain lists, but when lists are the poem I’m not usually very happy. It’s the same with anaphora, parallel structure, whatever. Like any rhetorical gimmick, these devices make useful servants and oppressive masters. I was reading Clint Smith’s ‘the drone’ the other day and I was thinking that it is a good example of a poem that develops and emerges naturally from its confines to say something necessary. And the structure helped it say what it said; it wasn’t just there when it got said, hanging around or getting in the way.

 

So when I write things like this:

 

I rank all the beautiful things there are

starting with self-sacrifice, then supernovas,

the brain, love, virga, Korean pottery,

lemurs, cuckoo clocks, suits of armour for horses,

a child’s first words, mercy, bread, and so on.

 

from ‘I Rank All the Beautiful Things There Are’

 

Or this:

 

The human ingenuity I admire

is limited, implausible, post hoc,

folksy, unconsidered, overthought,

ecstatic, garden-shed, Corinthian,

exhausting, nebulous, and somehow sexy.

 

from ‘I’m Impressed’

 

I am indulging myself, yes, but I am also pointing to the richness and strangeness of experience, which is a subject that those two poems share. Lists are a nice way to establish breadth. As someone who (likes to think that he) writes on a broad range of subjects, many of them not personal ones, they help me show that I have considered things, that I aware of the possibilities and I love them. Maybe that’s why I like lists and deploy them.

 

Paula: I am reluctant to wrap our conversation up as it has been such fun, but can we finish with a list – around five New Zealand poems that have struck you for different reasons?

Erik: In no particular order, and with no comment: Nick Ascroft’s ‘Five Limericks on Grief’, Hera Lindsay Bird’s ‘The da Vinci Code’, Alistair Te Ariki Campbell’s ‘Waiting for the Pākehā’, Ashleigh Young’s ‘Ghost Bear’, and James K. Baxter’s ‘Elegy for My Father’s Father’. Thanks! This has been great!

Paula: Indeed! Poetry delight.

 

 

Erik reads ‘Tour Grandfather’s Stories’

Victoria University Press page

Erik’s website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Erik Kennedy reads ‘Your Grandfather’s War Stories’ from his debut collection

 

 

Erik-Kennedy-by-Victoria-Birkinshaw-web.jpg

 

 

 

Erik Kennedy, ‘Your Grandfather’s War Stories’, There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime, Victoria University Press, 2018. Originally published in The Interpreter’s House, no. 66, October 2017.

 

Erik Kennedy is the author of There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (Victoria University Press, 2018). His poems have recently been published in places like 3:AMMagazine, Hobart, LEVELER, The Manchester Review,and Poetry, and his criticism has been in the Los Angeles Review of Books and the TLS. He is the poetry editor for Queen Mob’s Teahouse. Originally from New Jersey, he lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kerrin P Sharpe and Erik Kennedy launch poetry books

 

 

 
Victoria University Press warmly invites you to this double launch for

There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime
by Erik Kennedy

&

Louder
by Kerrin P. Sharpe

5.30pm-7.00pm on Wednesday 29 August
at Scorpio Books, 120 Hereford St, Christchurch central.
All welcome.
Refreshments will be served.

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