Tag Archives: Frankie McMillan

Poetry Shelf video spot: Frankie McMillan reads ‘ The Winter Swimming of my Grandmother’

 

 

 

Frankie reads ‘The Winter Swimming of my Grandmother’  (first published by New Flash Fiction Review, 2019)

 

 

 

 

Frankie McMillan is the author of five books, the most recent of which, The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other small fictions was listed by Spinoff as one of the 10 best New Zealand fiction books of 2019. Her previous book, My Mother and the Hungarians and other small fictions was long listed for the NZ Ockham Book Awards, 2017. She was awarded the NZSA Peter and Dianne Beatson Fellowship in 2019. Frankie currently teaches at the Hagley Writers’ Institute in Christchurch.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf connections: Frankie McMillan’s ‘We are not out of the woods yet’

 

We are not out of the woods yet

 

 

In the Netherlands during the war

the news came from watching

the windmills, sails set to indicate

good news or bad.

 

Here we shelter in place

in a city street and watch the one o’clock

Ashley Bloomfield show.

We wait for the numbers,

the dip and rise

 

of probable and confirmed and

the suspected cases who remain suspected

who drag their bodies from one day’s count

into the next, perhaps peering from their window

at the dark and tilted trees.

 

Meanwhile from our thick and boundless dreams

the scuffle of an unknown beast

rough nose pressed against the pane

checking to see if there has been change

in what was once our living room.

 

 

Frankie McMillan 2020

 

Frankie McMillan is the author of five books, the most recent of which, The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other small fictions, was listed by The Spinoff as one of the 10 best New Zealand fiction books of 2019. Her previous book , My Mother and the Hungarians and other small fictions was long listed for the NZ Ockham Book Awards, 2017. She was awarded the NZSA Peter and Dianne Beatson Fellowship in 2019. Frankie currently teaches at the Hagley Writers’ Institute in Christchurch.

Poetry Shelf fascinations: Frankie McMillan’s The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other small fictions

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The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other small fictions, Frankie McMillan, Canterbury University Press

Canterbury University Press page

 

What a gorgeously produced book! A purple marbled cover with gold lettering and dark marbled section dividers inside. The book was designed and printed at Ilam Press, Ilam School and published by Canterbury University Press. I do hope more books emerge from this genius partnership.

Not far into reading I began to muse on the idea of original writing because the book is so invigoratingly original – I am fascinated by the origins of these short fictions that are shaped by an aeronautic imagination and (perhaps) specks of real experience. The realness is luminous – the sharp compounding detail does its work beautifully – yet each fiction offers tilts and kinks and little spikes of strangeness.

 

The opening piece, ‘Seven starts to the man who loved trees’, is like a test pot of beginnings that overlap with scene and foreboding  to the point of fluidity and connection. The book’s dark swirly cover with its murky possibilities seems a perfect match because this fiction, like all the fictions we read here, arrives in tantalising pieces. We will never get the full story but we do get sensual and emotional impact. I love that.

The water-presence in the first section is a thematic link. There is a father who gets put in an aquarium, a sister who holds tight to her sinister secret by a river, there’s too much plastic in the ocean, an Amsterdam canal. There are multiple movements ( I am thinking of the movement of water that is both predictable and unpredictable). Movement is a way of going forwards; elsewhere someone is moving through Ireland’s eerie rock-clad Burren.

Frankie’s writing flows like honey and is so sweetly crafted with its shifting rhythms. In ‘The honking of ducks’ the first long sentence is like a breath held (a secret held) and we all come up gasping for air:

 

The thing to do with a secret is to swallow it, and just as you’re not bothered by thoughts of a plum’s progress through your intestinal tract, neither will you think of your sister running hand in hand with a strange man to the river bank and when your sister goes missing you will have to borrow words to explain why you never told and when the police say who put those words into your mouth you will think only of the loveliness of weeping willows, the sshhh sweep of fronds over the sandy bank, all the fun you will have when your sister sets up house under water and you have to swim through the clefts in rocks holding your breath against the squeeze.

 

The collection is a reading banquet: I am feasting on scenes, situations, relationships, human challenges, desires, loves, losses.

Situations – In ‘How we occupy ourselves’, after parental bickering, the family home gets physically split in half, and the father lives by the river and the mother lives on the flat, and the grandmother makes roly poly pudding and says ‘how lucky we are, all of us alive with roofs over our heads and telling each other stories’.

Situations – In ‘A good match’ a husband wants to know if his shirt looks good with his green jeans (third one tested). The wife looks at the clothes strewn on the bed after he has gone out and stares and muses: ‘Wonder again about what goes best, this or that, blue with green, him with me or her.’ I get a whole whoosh of feeling when I read the this final sentence.

Frankie’s short fictions (you could also say prose poems) have poetry’s ability to screen most of the detail but with a few deft strokes and admissions reach a poignant kernel of human experience.

Situations: In ‘Reading the signs’ a miniature but dynamic biography of a hospitalised father emerges. To his visiting offspring he admits regret over a chimp he had raised like a human child in a zoo. The visitor sees him at the window as they leave:

 

I waved, knowing that it was probably the last time I’d be seeing him but wanting the wave to convey all the love I had inside me, all the things I was wanting to do and all the things I was wanting to say but couldn’t.

 

Ah such a whoosh of feeling as I read these lines. The way a story, a situation, a scene twists your heart until it hurts.

 

Here I am breaking my rules and telling you the endings. The beginnings are equally good. Here is the the start to ‘Salt’, a piece that pivots on salt and a woman who is forbidden to eat it on the hospital ward:

 

Sometimes you can ask for something as small as salt only to be refused, the rules won’t allow it. Then salt becomes a big thing in your mind and all you can think of is salt; how it’s responsible for the salinity of the ocean, and then you imagine all the seas in the world, all the whales, then all the camel trains across deserts to bring salt to people like the big woman in the bed opposite. It puts it all into perspective when the nurse says, sorry no salt allowed on this ward.

You forgot to add salt is also good for mistakes.

 

And here is another favourite beginning (‘Jesus and the ostriches’): ‘Soon after Roland began sleeping in the caravan I saw Jesus.’

 

The Father of Octopus Wrestling offers many satisfactions. Yes it is a book in pieces but it is also a book of echoes, hinges, connections. Fathers are every which way you look, along with birds, Jesus, fish, mothers. The strangenesses will jolt you – like when you think you saw a wild cat but it’s the bending tree – and the human experience will make your skin prickle. Within the surprising anecdotes (think bizarre surreal unexpected) wisdom takes seed. This is a book that maps human existence, past present future, and I am all the better for having read it. I recommend you do too! I just love it to bits if you will forgive the pun.

 

The mothers of the mothers of the mothers

 

She tells the child that if all the great grandmothers were

to climb out of the ground to drift though the cemetery,

it wouldn’t be long before they came across each other,

laughing to see each other’s old faces and say they were to

hold hands, the long line of them would reach the other

island, but they couldn’t complain that their feet were in

the cold salty ocean, in fact the mothers of the mothers of

the mothers were used to much worse, some having only a

potato to eat at night or soldiers burning down their whares

and others having to wear corsets of whale bones that go all

the way to their knees but the child says that’s going too far

and she likes the part best where the mothers of the mothers

of the mothers wonder about the little girl who rides to

school in a car that does not eat hay but only drinks lakes

and lakes of petrol.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Frankie McMillan reads ‘The Honking of Ducks’

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‘The Honking of Ducks’ is a prose poem from Frankie’s new collection The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other small fictions, Canterbury University Press, 2019.

 

 

Frankie McMillan is a poet and short fiction writer. She has published five books including My Mother and the Hungarians and other small fictions, long listed for the 2017 NZ Ockham awards. In 2018 she co edited Bonsai best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand. She has won a number of awards and in 2014 held the Ursula Bethell writing residency at Canterbury University. In 2017 she held the University of Auckland/Michael King writing residency. Her forthcoming book The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other stories will be launched by Canterbury University Press on August 31st 2019.

 

Canterbury University press author page

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Frankie McMillan’s ‘In Mama Mancini’s guest apartment, two racquets above the bed’

 

In Mama Mancini’s guest apartment, two racquets above the bed

 

What travellers would gleefully arise

from their beds, seize the wooden racquets

to wander through narrow alleyways

stumbling over the detritus, the restaurant rubbish

past the legless man, now sleeping across

his home made trolley, to search for a court —

whites whiter than white, the promise of fair play

the powerful Medicis on either side of the square

aced out by love

a back hand, a double fault, an under spin.

What fancies, what flights of imagination

possessed Mama to furnish a guest

with such pursuits? We do not ask and if, late at night

a tennis ball comes softly thudding though our open shutters

we will know it is only the previous travellers

foot weary

returning from their wondrous sport.

 

©Frankie McMillan

 

Frankie McMillan is the author of four books, the most recent of which, My Mother and the Hungarians and other small fictions ( Canterbury University Press ) was longlisted for the 2017 NZ Ockham awards. In 2005 she was awarded the Creative New Todd Bursary. Other awards include winner of the New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition in 2009 and winner of the New Zealand Flash Fiction Competition in 2013 and 2015. In 2014 she held the Ursula Bethell writing residency at Canterbury University and in 2017 the University of Auckland/Michael King writing residency. Her latest project is Bonsai: best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand ( CUP, 2018) edited with Michelle Elvy and James Norcliffe.

Frankie McMillan has tips for Hysteria Writing Competition

Waxing lyrical about poetry

The third category for the Sixth International Hysteria Writing Competition is poetry. That means a poem with the very loose theme “things of interest to women.” Oh, and a maximum of twenty lines, not including spaces. Our writer in residence Alex Reece Abbott has asked some award-winning poets and judges from around the world to share their best pointers for writing poetry for her post this month – big thanks go to the fabulous Frankie McMillan; Camille Ralphs; Jane Clarke and Aki Schilz for their support and valuable insights.

Camille has also kindly shared a poetry generator, so even if you’ve never written a poem before, there’s plenty of ideas to get you started for our deadline of August 31 2017. You can enter the poetry category on the Hysteria website.

Remember, you can make as many entries to Hysteria as you like, and you are not restricted to any category, so you may like to check out our other pointers and generators for flash fiction and short stories too.

So, here’s what my cyberkuia (wise women online) around the world had to say about poetry…

Frankie McMillan

frankie mcmillanAll the best for this project – here are my top tips for poetry…

  • Consider what you’re doing a kind of exploration. See the poem as an interesting journey – be alert and curious as to where it leads you.
  • Let things spill out even if they seem wild or unrelated. Let one thought catch on to another.
  • Don’t record what you already know; fresh insights are more interesting. Judges want to feel as if their view of the world/humanity has been enlarged by reading the poem.
  • Write what you really feel, not what you think you should feel.
  • Stick to the truth, the truth of your perceptions, the truth of your imagination.
  • Use interesting words to texture the poem. Do some research around the topic of the poem, gather a ‘word bank’ together.
  • Write freely and bravely but edit ruthlessly.

Frankie McMillan is a New Zealand short story writer and poet. Her latest book ‘My Mother and the Hungarians and other small fictions’ (Canterbury University Press) was longlisted for the 2017 NZ Ockham Book Awards.  In 2005, she was awarded the Creative New Todd Bursary.

Other awards include winner of the New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition in 2009 and winner of the New Zealand Flash Fiction Competition in 2013 and 2015. In 2014, she held the Ursula Bethell writing residency at Canterbury University and in 2017, the University of Auckland/ Michael King writing residency.

 

For the rest of the piece see here

Poetry Shelf Autumn Season: Poets pick a word – Frankie McMillan picks slouch

 

Recycling the Slouch

Lately, I’ve been thinking of the word, ‘slouch.’ And how being a writer exacerbates my poor posture.  I tell myself to sit up straight, that if I keep on writing, crouched over the lap top, my internal organs will get crushed, I’ll develop a dowager’s hump, my spine will be misaligned, nobody will like me. Then as if on cue I come across ‘Its Face’ by Imtiaz Dharker.

The poem, full of the imagery of menace, suggests the threat ‘ …will not come /slouching out of the ground/ It walks along a street /that has a familiar name.’  Familiar.  I see the shaggy haired beast slouching along a street, leaving behind a beery breath, the smell of onions. The lines are clearly a reference to Yeat’s ‘Second Coming’: ‘and what rough beast its hour come round at last/ slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?’

I google ‘slouch’ because now I’m saying the word out loud and the more I say it the more it seems peculiar, as if I might have got it wrong. (And yet the sound has some relation to the meaning, maybe not onomatopoeia but a sort of sound symbolism).

It appears the ‘Second Coming’ may well be the most pillaged piece of literature in English. References to it crop up in book titles, movies, video games, heavy rock metal bands and pornography.  Even a Russia Today headline recycles a line suggesting that ‘Europe is slouching towards anxiety and war.’

The most interesting definition of slouch comes from the Urban dictionary where it’s cool to be in a ‘slouch.’ A slouch is a period of time usually 2- 4 days when a group of people stay in a confined space to play video games and binge on large quantities of food.

Suddenly my posture straightens.  ‘Slouch’ I say out loud. I hear it as the title of a new poem, and like  others before me, I leap up from my desk, begin to walk the poem into existence.

©Frankie McMillan 2017

 

Frankie McMillan is a Christchurch short story writer and poet. Her latest book, My Mother and the Hungarians and other small fictions, was longlisted for the 2017 NZ Ockham Book Awards. In 2005 she was awarded the Creative New Todd Bursary. Other awards include winner of the New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition in 2009 and winner of the New Zealand Flash Fiction Competition in 2013 and 2015. In 2014 she held the Ursula Bethell writing residency at Canterbury University and in 2017 the University of Auckland/ Michael King writing residency.