Tag Archives: Gregory Kan

Poetry Shelf poem festival: Wonder

 

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Gregory Kan wrote a terrific article for Verb Festival on writing his book-length poem Under Glass (longlisted for 2020 Ockham New Book Awards). It prompted me to choose ‘wonder’ for my February poem festival. I love Under Glass and picked Gregory to read at my Poetry Live Session at the Wellington Writers Festival in March. He talked about writing trauma yet resisting the need to make a spectacle of it. He also spoke of  ‘an increasing drive and demand for the narratives of women, Queer and Trans people, people of colour, immigrants, refugees, etc., etc.’ but that we don’t need tokenism. Pronouns and symbols, things, the paths we follow as readers, wonder, love, empathy – these are open, mobile, able to be reformed, replenished in the form of a poem. Alienness and alienated are two different experiences:

 

I think everyone experiences alienness, i.e. encountering something in the world that one finds alien. To me, alienness is the experience and feeling of one’s internal models of reality being exceeded and/or disrupted. And I don’t think alienness always needs to be framed negatively. It is also a condition of the most beautiful things in the world, such as empathy, love and wonder. All these experiences that begin in the encounter of the unknown. Impossible gaps and impossible bridges. The beauty and terror and noise of being in a jungle.

But not everyone experiences being alienated. Those who are particularly privileged stand at the centre of their respective worlds, and may not often experience what it’s like to be on the other side of those borders. I wanted the text to be able to invoke, at times, the sensation of being outside, even in the places that we find most comfortable and familiar.

Gregory Kan

 

Poetry is wonder. So is science, dance, music, mathematics, sport, growing things, cooking things, the landscape, sky, crashing ocean, having a family, breathing clean air and watching the sun rise.  These things fill me with awe, they challenge, raise questions, leave me lost for words, curious. I witness beauty and I marvel. But I also witness tragedy ignorance violence hatred greed and I wonder. I wonder at humanity. Poetry is a place of retreat when I don’t quite understand, when something puzzles, when something astonishes. Poems set me wandering, with skin pricking, with uplift. Reading and writing poems can be transcendental, like experiencing a rush of utter well being. I completely agree with Reihana Robinson that poetry can fill children with wonder – and that that carries on to adulthood!

 

 

A festival of poems: wonder

 

 

 

 

Their own mind was a kind of wunderkammer, and they kept themselves in the smallest box of all. A parrot with a bird’s keen eye for colour and flash, its memory of jungle and the blue infinite. How eloquently they decorated the tiny space, a slow but relentless process of removal. First one object disappeared and then another. But they were still there, the last to leave, curating their beautiful absence.

 

*A place where a collection of curiosities or rarities is exhibited

 

Alison Glenny

 

 

 

I think the beginning of anything

is always a secret.

I love myself when my mind is fucking the hinges of events.

 

Gregory Kan

 

 

The Houses  II

 

On the asphalt a gas light pools: a child looks out

Swinging against the slotted fence and grey,

And eats the three nasturtium seeds: all day

She kept them in her pocket for the doubt

They might be poison, as her sisters say.

But now their delicate, dubious taste can sting

Her tongue curled: snails’ horns curl: they drop and cling

On round nasturtium leaves, green-saucered here.

 

Now she has evening all her own; the hot

Cream scent of cabbage palms, trying to flood out

Like man’s love, or the Blessed Sacrament:

Sunset peaks over her, a copper net,

Wind like God’s breath goes past her in a shout:

Behind this street shine houses that are not,

Playmates she loves, or loved: but then forgot.

 

Robin Hyde

from ‘The Houses’ in Houses by the Sea and the Later Poems of Robin Hyde, ed Gloria Rawlinson, Caxton Press 1952

 

 

 

Poem to my nearest galaxy

 

Yes, I had forsaken curiosity, let it

dull. Now, a most delicate bell,

it chimes as if a monk at meditation’s

end gently tapped the brass, a call

 

to wake. Stirred. Beguiled.

Not simply interested. Agog. The stars

above (if they’re above) recede

in an ever expanding universe

 

and here by your side at midnight

I’m startled childish by wonder.

Galaxies? Infinite question, red-shift

reply. But you, you helped me remember.

 

Sue Wootton

from The Yield  (Otago University Press, 2017)

 

 

 

Wonder

 

Is one

of my core values.

 

It sits in the twelfth

House of Soul Growth

and the Unconscious.

 

Wonder might end

the marriage.

 

Wonder is the Shotover

Moonlight mountain

marathon trail

 

each step pushed

on by the destiny

toe edging its way

along the barren

ridge line

and what the Bible knows:

 

That mountains

and marriages

are earthed scaffolding

for Atua

seeded in the lava ash

of Pouliuli

sown in the rays

of Ra

grown under

the cratered cracks

of Mahina

where thigh-splitting

Va lies supine

between us

watching the woman

coming to the end

of herself

at 2000 metres elevation

at the 41st kilometre

after the seventh and final

water station

 

when each step

is a leap

towards or away from

an infinite love.

 

Selina Tusitala Marsh

 

 

 

                                                Dance of Sina

 

You are a tiny flutter, a marigold on water

flung out calling the dead. You are the Tūī

across four winds, an armour of feathers

bone and light soaring over mountains

climbing the day.

 

You are the core, spilling seeds deepest

blue, head first into soul. You are blood

woven into silk piercing night to sun. You

are a child. A child at sea anchored on your

mother’s lips.

 

Coral holding the shore, fingers caressing Tāmaki

river. Young girl breaking into woman unfurling

on the Waitematā. You are Sina, sung from

the bones of ancestors, always swimming

towards the sun.

 

Kim Meredith

 

 

What to say and how to be *

Lively eyes lively eyes lively eyes
Square as a box white hair on top
Darrin is thinking HARD about Hiroshima

His teacher has set an
Assignment. It is August 6 three days
until Fat Man dropped on Nagasaki

History is such a funny idea

The fact of men and maybe women men and
maybe women in tiny offices and laboratories
scattered in some other continent
scheme a burning up of people
A burning up of people

And so Darrin writes

All Japan is waiting for
WONDER WOMAN
in your star tights

She is craven she is the last twig
on the cliff-face the last air before
going under that final fast car of rescue
Get away get away sinking wreck
punctured lifeboat wretched sickness

Her grace betraying comic perfection

as if a child could stroke her arm
and be imbued with safety and love

Darrin is wishing for WONDER WOMAN
in her star tights

to catch the falling weapon
in her saving arms like a baby
an infant who is truly a Little Boy

To save all children from

a brief but never-ending childhood
To save schools and satchels and bentos
and laces from ashes more ashes

To save shy smiles and perfectly
folded ‘kerchiefs
Ah! The etching of dark shadows

Shadows fall on Darrin’s classroom

35 small years after Enola Gay rose up
from Tinian amid floodlights and cameras
to fly into history

this funny thing called history
counting a quiet 43 seconds

Tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick

 

* As a teacher of 11 to 13 years olds at one period in my life I loved the way poetry exploded in the hands and hearts of children who otherwise may have been overlooked in classroom chaos.

 

Reihana Robinson

(First published as ‘After the fall or the power of reading’
in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal Hong Kong)

 

 

 

Fireflies

 

Last summer I sat amongst a swarm of fireflies while night fell into place around me. I wanted to know if one firefly could ever fly far enough from the rest to see the pulse of their collective light. But there was no one to ask. I raised my arm and held my fingers outstretched towards them but the movement caused them to disappear in a flickering panic—

just as I imagine she might have walked every night to a spot in the bush, not far from the house, where there is a mossy bank riddled with holes and crevices and inside those crevices there are clusters of glow worms, pinpricks of bluegreen light, brightening as her eyes adjust to the dark. She reaches out to touch them and the lights extinguish so suddenly she is not sure they were even there at all.

 

Nina Mingya Powles

from Whale Fall a chapbook in Luminescent (Seraph Press, 2017). This chapbook focuses on Betty Guard (1814 – 1870) who arrived in Aotearoa as a 15 year-old-bride and was the first Pākehā woman to settle in the South Island.

 

 

 

Cambridge Trilogy

 

KETTLE’S YARD

 

The kingdom will have its own colours,

and the unfashioned light will let itself be mastered

in a bottomless, Brancusi pool.

Metal refined by its own thinking force

retains that mercury peril,

continues

to reflect the furious pleasure

of a man being listened to, the one who explains,

art become epiphenomenon of explanation,

a nuclear residue cheaper to tame,

grace nostalgia

strident, even here

where the Gaudier-Brzeska

holds the uncomfortable end of her posture,

sinews bright in the light nursery,

and light in the pits

and mistakes.

 

 

JESUS GREEN

 

The kingdom will have its own spices

whose fore-scent is the privilege of a retriever

lifting her nose at last from the carcass.

When assorted corvids take her place

I will not whisper any of their names

to the tutelar of the college.

The blue

roman candle advance of liberated students,

crossing the moat, appear from this distance

to embarrass the jogger,

the avenue

of plane trees a parlour

for homeless

who paddle through bugs like playing a harp,

plucking and smoking at once,

labour given lightness by caution.

I follow the sun down the darkening aisles

as if it were criminal.

The wind is animal with cannabis.

 

 

ST. MARY THE LESS

 

 

The kingdom will have its own currency.

I cannot see any from the pew,

but I know the rivers of this country

sing with cancelled sterling.

Like silver under water

mercy

will flicker through the feeling

of the reader

infinitesimally warming the air

until all of our salvos begin with forgive me.

We pray today

in a national rope

for the brokenness of what we do

here

in memory, pray

the discordances

of an amateur choir perform that brokenness better

than harmony, pray like the nonagenarians

cough

and infants bray

from the back

the Angelus domini.

 

Steven Toussaint

from Lay Studies Victoria University Press, 2019

 

 

 

The Good Husbandwoman’s Alphabet 

 

When people fall in love with love

they fling themselves in the abyss

Marina Tsvetaeva (translated by. Elaine Feinstein)  

     

 

(Animals)

 

Languages we never learn to speak,

although in books they taught us how to read:

tiger, tapir, timber wolf—T was all of these—

each a name in which I find myself again,

I, who see him coming from the hill.

Now I turn the barbecue to ‘full’.

     

(Bridle)

 

These words: throat-lash, brow-band, bit—

how a horse gets broken in.

Each night I am unbridled.

Never try to understand a marriage.

It’s beyond the wonder of all but the finest

gentlemen: how the bridle’s said to fit the bride.

 

(Cattle)

 

Heedless ones who never knew

their names, the oxen were unyoked in

Happy Valley, where the years will pass

easy as eels in a creek. I was of the alphabet they made,

slipping across the wet grass at night—

eel among the cattle, gone in a scribble of water.
(Dog)

 

No one knows but the dog—

dog-sense, dog’s-chance, dog’s life.

So why should I care if he has changed

His name—for if he reads, he must read backwards.

I is what I am. No more or less. So, go on,

say what you will—but go and spread the word.

   

(Earth)

 

Consider the earth he works up rich beneath the plough,

or a tilth of crumbly soil—

didn’t Virgil say these were best for corn?

‘Earth yields to us its bread, each cartload

drawn into the barn by slow-

moving oxen.’

 

(Fires)

 

Even when the fire was lit, I knew that

sex would never be the thing.

Say that this is true—

an alphabet of husbandry might burn in other ways.

G would be for glimpses of this,

even as he flared beneath my skin.

 

(Glimpse)

 

I will make myself absolutely clear—

whatever glimpses you gain of me,

as string of letters, or random word, it was

nothing would ever be easy. Believe me when I say,

to be the good husbandwoman, I tried at every turn

to turn myself into any other thing.

     

(Husbandry)

 

Only when he’d love and

care for all the animals on this, my farm;

only when he could name and

number all the cravings of my body—only in such

fidelity would he learn to play their song, though

even then, I’d keep an eye on him.

 

(Information)

 

Something’s trying to tell me that

something’s going on. Oh yes.

This morning at sunrise he woke me with his

‘old ways’—then laid them on the floor.

He placed them where the sun’s first beams would alight

on them and opened the blue window.

 

(Jump-cut)

 

Whenever he wanted anything,

I recited this, my alphabet to him.

Fevers of words fastened in the needy

evening of his brow, a projection of

letters that flicker in this jump-cut to his eyes,

lifting his eyelids silent as a rose.

 

(Knowing)

 

In the first glimmer of knowing that

nothing will come of nothing,

life was all we could make

of those swiftly passing days: I was the golden

violin that he would touch into

echoes­, as the echoes gathered us in.

 

(Lovers)

 

Whisper it once more in my ear. Oh, that

I would have you hold me still,

tenderly touching me into my skin:

how is it that we render our souls to

love’s fine place, in the rivery light of this:

oh, the pillow and the kiss.

 

(Money)

 

Vouchsafe for me these days of

eminence, though in my bag lies nothing but

a worn-out empty purse. Oh,

nothing will come of the nothing that

declines with each transaction. Oh,

I stared back at the checkout girl. And oh I

     

(Nothing)

 

waited for the earth to take me in,

as though this were the

nub of it all, the rub of the nothing

that plies between the echo and its

testament to what I pledge to you,

out of the hills, and echoing over again.

 

(Over)

 

My name is this: the day that passeth over.

Ancient in the making, now it will be broken over.

Keepsake, my heart, oh will you ever make it over?

Easeful now, I wake when the night is over.

Ashes in the wind: and then its fragrances blew over.

Carry me, sir, carry me on, into the going over.

 

(Providence)

 

Apple-blossom drifting down the creek.

Still the rooster wants to crow, though

evening’s almost here.

Forgo these things, though fate or commonplace

ordain us with this dream—our conveyance into

rapture, or the idea that provides.

 

(Quotidian)

                                                             

As though this were the remedy for everything—

delight indeed will arise

unto these indigo-tinted skies;

latitude will restore us to the brightness of

the sun, to the spindle of this dreaming

earth that turns for everyone.

 

(Release)

 

Release me into the somewhere of the dream—

you will remember where, when you were

brother to me.

Unhook me from the steely world of

tractors, sheep-shit, shearing shed—

I am the one who has already gone into the giddy now.

 

(Sky)

 

Cherish the way you held me in your arms—you, he . . .

as usual I confuse the one with the other,

nattering my way through the rain, seeking out

the tarradiddle, the silver-tongue that touched

me once with truth: my good husband was

a pillar whose love could hold earth and sky apart.

 

(Tarantella)

 

Knowledge is this, with the heart in mind:

everything you ever did can always be undone.

Absolution never is never quite complete.

Cast yourself in the spider’s web:

a day would come and then the dust would settle.

Some days we would dance the wildest dance.

 

(Underworld)

 

Easier by far to see where the stars let out.

Friday. And then he said he really came from

Orion’s belt, the buckle star: Epsilon Orionis.

Riding in the hills that afternoon, he declared another name—

Alnilam . . . O you of the three Maries, I said. And then,

declare that name again . . .

 

(Vespers)

 

Usually at around this time it comes to this:

leaves in the poplars start to rustle,

the Empyrean gives forth its heron to the roost.

Except for this, the evenings are ordinary.

Round here they say the poplars are a kind of a people, too.

You’ll believe it when you hear the heron speak.

 

(Whisper)

 

It was thus that I came to quietude.

Came into the silence

and the redress of the mind. For

no one thinks to ask

of me what the horses say,

nor guide them on the way, although . . .

 

(Exhale)

 

Let me take you back to when

you first could take this in, this breath that is

my husbandman and this my

alphabet—and I, oh I whose breathing

knew of each his suck and sigh of life, each eddy in the

ebb and flow, wherein I now exhale.

 

(Yet)

 

a day would come when he would be gone.

Commend to me to these last things: a rustic table,

a bowl of fruit, the music-box that sang

‘Sally is my sweetest heart’. As though the mountains might

exalt his name, even as he flees through

falling shadows and the warbler’s plaintive voice.

 

(Zero)

 

Oh and only when the last of words is

ruled and underlined, only when you see the

love that learns itself again,

only when you find the text that declines into the

vertical, will you read in its acrostic that

everything is this: the sweetest of the nothings that are love.

 

Cliff Fell  (Last Leaf Press, 2014)

 

 

 

 

The contributors

 

Cliff Fell is the author of three books of poetry. The Good Husbandwoman’s Alphabet came out in 2014, published as a chapbook by Last Leaf Press, with illustrations by Fiona Johnstone and photographs by Ivan Rogers.

Alison Glenny‘s Antarctic-themed collection of prose poems and fragments, The Farewell Tourist, was published by Otago University Press in 2018. In 2019 she was, with Lawrence Patchett, a recipient of an Ursula Bethell writing residency at the University of Canterbury. She currently lives in Kāpiti.

Robin Hyde (Iris Guiver Wilkinson) (1906–1939) was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and moved to Wellington with her family in 1907. She was a poet, novelist and journalist. She worked for the Dominion before becoming Lady Editor at the Wanganui Chronicle, and subsequently the New Zealand Observer. She published three poetry collections (and one posthumously), along with two anthologies of her work (edited by Lydia Wevers and subsequently Michele Leggott).

Gregory Kan’s latest collection Under Glass was longlisted for the Ockham NZ Book Awards 2020.

Selina Tusitala Marsh (ONZM, FNZRS), former NZ Poet Laureate, is a Pasifika Poet-Scholar and graphic mini-memoirist. She is an Associate Professor at the University of Auckland and lives on Waiheke Island.

Kim Meredith (Samoan, Tokelauan, and Portuguese descent). Her poetry and short stories are founded on reclaiming space for the female narrative and have been published in Aotearoa, Hawaii and Mexico. She has collaborated extensively with partner Kingsley Spargo performing to audiences in New Zealand and China. She is co-producing an upcoming album on spoken word and soundscapes ‘Swimming Toward the Sun’ due for release later this year.

‘Dance of Sina’ was written for her daughter Courtney Sina. Courtney was named after her maternal grandmother Rita Sina. Rita Sina was named after her paternal grandmother Sina le pua (Sina the flower). There was a sense of awe and wonder about Sina, continuing her journey down the family line. This beautiful and incredible creature daring to push boundaries and seeking out her own path.

Reihana Robinson:  2019 highlights included poetry readings for Mākaro Press with Jo Thorpe and Elizabeth Welsh (including Poetry Live in Auckland and the Fringe in Wellington), as well as reading at Lounge Poetry at Auckland University and with the remarkable Bob Orr at Carson’s in Thames. Reihana is working on her next collection tentatively titled ‘Grassfire’ but may end up with the title ‘NO’.

Steven Toussaint is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the IIML and is currently studying philosophical theology at Cambridge. He has been a Grimshaw Sargeson Fellow and is the author of poetry collection The Bellfounder and the chapbook Fiddlehead. His new collection, Lay Studies, is longlisted for the 2020 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Sue Wootton lives in Dunedin. Her most recent publications are her novel, Strip, which was longlisted in the 2017 Ockham NZ Book Awards, and her poetry collection, The Yield, which was a finalist in these awards in 2018. She will travel to Menton, France, later this year as the 2020 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellow.

Poetry Shelf in conversation with Gregory Kan

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Photo credit: Time Out Bookstore

 

 

Gregory Kan’s poetry has featured in various literary journals including Atalanta Review, Cordite, Jacket, Landfall, The Listener and Sport, in the annual Best New Zealand Poems, and in art exhibitions, journals and catalogues. His debut collection, This Paper Boat (Auckland University Press, 2016) was shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. His new collection, Under Glass, has gripped me as much as his debut. While his first book was unified by themes – he contemplated the poet Robin Hyde, his family, ghosts – Under Glass is also unified by form. A dialogue develops between a sequence of prose poems and a sequence of verse poems. The former features a protagonist moving through a strange and at times estranging landscape with its blazing sun. The latter establishes an interior landscape where the speaker struggles to make sense of things in a glorious interplay of gaps, knots, silence, physical things, ideas, yearnings, dream, hinges, contact, light, dark. The title underlines the way everything trembles and meaning is both prolific and unstable. The glass is a barrier, a way through, transparent, a longing to see, breakable, dangerous, a distortion, a view finder. I loved this book, this poetry haunting, and set about an email conversation with Gregory over nine weeks with pleasure.

 

 

 

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Gregory Kan, Under Glass, Auckland University Press, 2019

 

 

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Paula: Your new book is beautiful,  mysterious and haunting, I really like the idea of skirting its edges rather than breaking through the ‘glass door’ of its making. What psychological, physical and heart states did its writing place upon you?

Gregory: Writing the book was a process of discovery from start to finish. For me, writing poetry involves a set of transactions or exchanges with the unknown. It is a fragile but ecstatic space to inhabit. I was privileged enough to be on the Grimshaw-Sargeson Fellowship when I wrote the bulk of it. I bounced a lot between our place in Wellington and the Sargeson Centre in Auckland. Perhaps that complemented the liminal, the interstitial states that come to characterise a good portion of my work: in-between, incomplete, on-the-edge-of, peripheral, fragmentary, perforated with holes. Radically finite. Distant but not disconnected. The Sargeson Centre is a beautiful but haunting place in and of itself. There’s a long bookcase in the apartment lined with portrait photos of all the previous fellows. At night there is nobody around except for passers-by and the occasional reveller in Albert Park. Ghosts everywhere. There is sometimes nothing more haunting than the process of writing, and the artefacts of writing. The overwhelming sense of the past in the present meant that my sense of linear time dissolved severely. I went looking for things to see if I could escape them.

 

Paula: Hmm. I wonder if all writer’s residences are like this? I had a similar experience at the Robert Lord cottage in Dunedin.

As I read the various hauntings in your collection three motifs stood out: the map, the mouth, the maze: ‘I started marking the walls with my knife / so I’d know where I’d been.’

The reading of the poetry took me into a maze of sea, land and self. I got ‘lost’ in reading. And that was a joy. The unconventional ‘maps’ were the navigational points. I am reminded of the blurb on Hinemoana Baker’s book, waha | mouth: ‘I’d like to think that opening this book to read is like standing at the mouth of a cave, or a river, or a grave, with a candle in your hand.’ So much for skirting the edges! Here I am drawing in close on a stanza like this:

 

Today the world overwhelms me.

I feel a garden

growing in my mouth

and eventually touch stone.

I am afraid of appearing sentimental about sentimental things.

 

Was the mouth also important as you wrote? Along with the maze and the map?

Gregory: Thanks for sharing that image from Hinemoana Baker’s book/blurb. I love it. Yes, I suppose the mouth marks several interrelated ideas for me: gap/hole/gate, threshold/limit, transition/passage, entry vs. exit, inside vs. outside, private vs. public, and a lot more. Someone, I can’t remember who, writes about the mouth being a place where the soft inside opens up to meet the outside. At the same time, I should qualify that this wasn’t part of any conscious or conceptual intent when I was writing the book. It’s something that I can see in hindsight. On the other hand, the map and the labyrinth were both entities I was conscious of letting loose in the strange game of writing the book. In retrospect, I think of all these entities constitute the problem-space of finite agents, with finite resources and knowledge, trying to understand a volatile and alien world.

It’s always fascinating to me, the differences between what one anticipates, speculates and discovers, when writing. I look forward to hearing about what other people notice when they read the book!

 

You think I don’t know you anymore

and I never read your emails

but I wonder if we have the same nightmare

about some final thing

for which there is no forgiveness.

 

Paula: I think the movement between the unconscious and conscious that a poet leaves in a poem contributes to the way a poem is both fertile and open. And that is exactly why Under Glass is a joy to read; mysterious yes, musical yes, multilayered yes. The movement is also heightened by the open pronouns. Who speaks? Who is playing? Who hides? In your last collection you engaged in self-revelations by way of Robin Hyde. Do you do so here by way of ambiguous pronouns? Or are the speaking characters both porous and invented?

Gregory: Yes, the “I” and “you” in the book are varying mixtures of real, imagined and abstract. I’ve been interested in the fragility of the address and of the self for a long time.

Both the “I” and “you” in the book are fluctuating identities. Some of the poems involve addressing real individuals in my life to begin with, but then depart from them. Sometimes they are completely abstract and/or imaginary addressees. The “I” also shifts within and from each poem. In all these ways (and many others besides), there is an intense fragility to the transmission of information and intent. I wanted to challenge the transparency of the lyric poem and the lyric “I” and “you” in this particular way. I wanted to push it to a kind of limit, to de-privatize the self. I wanted something both incredibly personal and incredibly abstract.

 

 

Paula: Such movement, such uncertainty, fluctuations, flickers. Reading this has sent me back to the book to follow those tremors. Conversely, do you think a poem or a line or even a word can offer a temporary but comfort-rich anchor? For me: ‘Every day the coast looks the same, as/ though I haven’t moved’.

Gregory: In order to write, I need to believe so. I need to believe that hope and overcoming are as universal as hardship. We have seen how a single event can completely rewrite the way we see the past, and the future. Despite such an event, some good things persist, and some new good things can even grow. While a lot of my poems imply a world of flux and uncertainty, where little can be taken for granted, I hope they can also provide a sense of solace, of possibility. The exceeding of limits and thresholds. The possibility of change and doing some good. The strength of being together and moving with others. The relief from pain.

In an idealised model of the world, there is an answer to every question. There is a reason for every event. Things can always be explained, if not anticipated. Everything is as it seems. But this is not the world I know. I think many of us experience a world far in excess of this idealisation. Flux and stability, pain and comfort, despair and hope, uncertainty and understanding – they walk together. The book is in a constant dialectic between entrapment and escape.

 

Paula: Indeed. The event in Christchurch tilted us at such a human level. I am a great believer in hinges as opposed to confrontation, connections rather than disconnections.  For me that is what marks the pleasure of my reading experiences, such as your book. What poetry books have offered you solace or connection or breathtaking possibilities over the past year or so, but at any point in your life?

Gregory: I agree. The world can be seen in terms of its disconnections, animosities – its radical otherness. But I see that as the enabling space for bridges, for empathy and understanding. This is the condition for knowledge and for being together with others, for the grasping mindsoul looking for an island to rest on, awash in a dizzying ocean.

As for poetry books, there are so many! Since we’ve been talking about my book, I’ll use that as my constraint. Reading and writing are almost indistinguishable for me (you gotta eat to live), and these books were absolute pillars when I was writing Under Glass

Tusiata Avia’s Fale Aitu | Spirit House. Soul-slaying. I often lament the lack of action and politics in New Zealand poetry. I sense a general sentiment that politics in poetry is “too prescriptive” or “ham-fisted” but I think that’s a cop-out. Those are not reasons to remain silent. My opinion is that our poetry community needs to speak up more, to do more work, to not be lost in the complacency of this privileged bubble of liberal high (and white) culture. Race, class, gender – they’re all here, beautifully woven into Tusiata Avia’s work. She’s not fucking around.

Anne Carson’s Nox. A sparse and fragmented work. Grief and memory. Love. Such a beautiful object, too. What she makes of the scant traces of her brother.

Raul Zurita’s Dreams for Kurosawa. Otherworldly. Heartbreaking. A very strange combination of elements: traces of trauma under the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, homage to Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams, and ghosts everywhere.

Mary Burger’s Sonny. This book has been very influential to me – even since my first book, This Paper Boat – in form, in diction, in tone, in subject matter. I think it was Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle who recommended it to me. It showed me the power of plain prose and diction, and the power of arrangement and organisation. Like me, Burger is invested in interrogating and pushing the limits of the writing of selves. Like me, she is also invested in interrogating the conditions and limits of knowledge. The writing about her past collides with that of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the American physicist who was credited for being the “father” of the atomic bomb.

 

Paula: This is a terrific list. Thank you. I have been thinking about the fingertip traces your book has left on on me – that sometimes act as tiny questions and that sometimes resemble little melodies. Did writing this book raise a question for you – large or small? In the process of writing or upon completion?

Gregory: All kinds of questions. A lot of self-centred ones, especially if I’m in an anxious mood. Will people accept this book as poetry? Is it even any good? Did I do my best? What constitutes success for this book, and for myself? What does my poetry mean to me? These are questions that have no real answers, and I’ll be taking them to my therapist, ha.

And some bigger, more difficult questions, after the book’s release and after Christchurch. What are the possible functions of poetry in our contemporary world? At one of its lowest points, poetry, for me, is so often an institutional and institutionalised form of nostalgia and conservatism. Why is it so enamoured with its own past? I don’t know if I’ve encountered another medium that is as hell-bent on dogmatically validating itself based on historical precedents and norms. At another low point, poetry is a site of postmodern whimsy, irony and impotence. If I were being charitable, I can understand that perhaps this is driven by the belief that almost everything can be and is subsumed under the totality of capitalism, and that resistance involves finding the most non-utilitarian, non-functional gesture possible. At other times, I think that this is simply a sneering cynicism. And I find that to be incredibly lazy and dispiriting. When our world is confronted by planetary annihilation and the increasing visibility of fascism and white supremacism, these attitudes are unacceptable to me. So what does it mean for poetry to adapt, and move forward?

What should the New Zealand poetry community be asking itself? I am afraid of particular kinds of silence. The silence of grief and shock, and the impossibility of witness and testimony, is of course understandable. But why do I also have the sense that there is also the silence of privileged complacency and passivity? The roots of colonialism – and the conditions of white supremacism – run deep, and I believe it’s our responsibility to start digging in our own backyards. It is a necessary labour for all of us.

 

Paula: I utterly agree. A necessary labour for all of us.

What do you like to do as a counterbalance to poetry?

Gregory: I work as a programmer and that offers me a world with a lot more certainty. There is still a lot of creativity and imagination involved in programming, especially in how you approach a problem. There is a caricature of programming that implies there is always a correct way to do things but that isn’t accurate. There are many possible solutions to any one problem. However, in the context of my work, the ends of programming are often certain – the problem itself is usually fairly determinate. What you are trying to get out of the program is usually fairly determinate. With poetry, utility and ends are always in question, and I may never know ultimately what “purpose” or function a poem serves. So having this kind of existential stability in my working world as a programmer can be a real comfort, as a point of difference. At the same time, there is such a thing as speculative programming, but I don’t yet have the intent, vision or skill to get there. In saying all of that, sometimes programming and poetry can feel very similar to me, both language-driven, both world-building. From that perspective my escapes become more recreational and indulgent ones. I love hanging out with my partner and watching Netflix. I love playing video games. I love watching trashy horror movies. Also activities that involve my body to a greater degree than the mind – swimming, cooking, listening to music, playing with the cat, eating, sleeping!

 

 

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Auckland University Press page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: from Gregory Kan

 

 

 

 

Moving from one world to another

is like dying in a dream

of hands and water.

Nothing is forgiven because

nothing is remembered

but the desires remain the same:

to be in a room with others

satisfied

tired of wonder

holding each other

with the good secret

of no longer having to insist on going

where we think we have to go.

 

 

 

©Gregory Kan

Gregory Kan’s work has featured in literary journals including Atlanta Review, Cordite, Jacket, Landfall, The Listener, SPORT and Best New Zealand Poems, as well as art exhibitions, journals and catalogues. His first book of poetry, This Paper Boat, was shortlisted for the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. His second book of poetry, Under Glass, is forthcoming with Auckland University Press in 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday Poem: by Gregory Kan

 

 

I wanted what happened to be something

I could know

and I wanted what I knew to be something

I could describe

something to which others could say

I know this

this happened to me also.

At the back of the room is a mirror

dreaming it’s become itself at last.

I keep walking

as if I know all the parts

and could play them.

 

 

©Gregory Kan

 

 

Gregory Kan is a writer and coder based in Wellington. His poetry has been featured or is forthcoming in literary journals such as the Atlanta Review, Landfall, The Listener, SPORT and Best New Zealand Poems. His poetry and philosophical works have also featured in exhibitions and publications for contemporary art institutions such as the Auckland Art Gallery, Artspace, the Adam Art Gallery, the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and the Physics Room. Auckland University Press published his first book, This Paper Boat, in 2016. An earlier incarnation of This Paper Boat was shortlisted for the Kathleen Grattan Poetry Prize in 2013. The book was also a finalist in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for Best Poetry in 2017. He was a Grimshaw-Sargeson Fellow for 2017. His second poetry collection, Under Glass, is forthcoming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Group Two of Phantom Billsticker’s 20/20 online poetry collection goes live today – here’s Kevin Ireland’s pick (Gregory Kan)

 

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After lunch my mother walks into the dining room

and my father and I both

blow our noses.

 

In the past when I thought about people my parents

were somehow

not among them. But some wound stayed

 

wide in all of us, and now I see in their faces

strange rivers and waterfalls, tilted over with broom.

You are watching the brown-paper covers of books grow

 

out around your father, as he dreams there

against the wall, thinking perhaps

how rocks are not quite lands.

 

Gregory Kan, from untitled sequence in This Paper Boat (Auckland University Press, 2016)

Kevin Ireland picked Gregory’s poem and had this to say: “Gregory Kan’s sequences in This Paper Boat are full of self-discoveries and surprises. The words really do swirl around and head off in different directions — just like the paper boats that inspired them.”
Group Two (go here for poems)



Tusiata Avia
‘I cannot write a poem about Gaza’
Fale Aitu/ Spirit House
(VUP, 2016)

picked:

Teresia Teaiwa
‘Fear of Flying (in broken Gilbertese)’
Poetry Foundation site

 

Kevin Ireland
‘Flying across Australia’
Looking out to sea
(Steele Roberts, 2015)

picked:

Gregory Kan
[Any of the sequences]
This Paper Boat (AUP, 2016)

 

Diana Bridge
‘Big Bang’
In the supplementary garden
(cold hub press, 2016)

picked:

John Dennison
‘Sleepers’
Otherwise
(AUP, 2015)

 

Andrew Johnston
‘Deuteronomy’
Fits and Starts (VUP, 2016)

picked:
Bill Nelson
‘The whys and Zs’
Memorandum of Understanding (VUP, 2016)

 

Michael Harlow
‘The late news’
Nothing For It But To Sing (OUP, 2016)

picked:

Paul Schimmel
‘With Words’
Reading the Water (Steele Roberts, 2016)

 

Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day celebrate 20 years with diverse

poetry collection

To mark the 20th anniversary of Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day (NPD), 20 leading Kiwi poets were asked to select one of their own poems, something they felt spoke to New Zealanders now. They also chose a poem by an emerging poet, writers they feel make essential reading for us in 2017.

The result is the 20/20 Collection – 40 poems by New Zealand poets who represent the diversity and vibrancy of talent in our contemporary national literature. The list includes Poet Laureates, Ockham New Zealand Book Awards winners, and strong new voices from recent collections and anthologies.

NPD has been running continuously since 1997 and is always celebrated on the last Friday in August. Poetry enthusiasts from all over New Zealand organise a feast of events – from poetry slams to flash and pop-up events – in venues that include schools, libraries, bars, galleries, surf clubs, and parks. This year’s NPD will be held on Friday 25 August.

Launched on May 24, the 20/20 Collection will be published in groups of ten poems between now and NPD. Featured poets are: Jenny Bornholdt and her pick, Ish Doney; Paula Green and Simone Kaho; Vincent O’Sullivan and Lynley Edmeade; Apirana Taylor and Kiri Piahana Wong; Alison Wong and Chris Tse; Tusiata Avia and Teresia Teaiwa; Kevin Ireland and Gregory Kan; Diana Bridge and John Dennison; Andrew Johnston and Bill Nelson; Michael Harlow and Paul Schimmel; C.K. Stead and Johanna Emeney; David Eggleton and Leilani Tamu; Elizabeth Smither and Rob Hack; Richard Reeve and Michael Steven; Robert Sullivan and Ngahuia Te Awekotuku; Bill Manhire and Louise Wallace; Selina Tusitala Marsh and Reihana Robinson; Cilla McQueen and David Holmes; James Norcliffe and Marisa Capetta; and Brian Turner and Jillian Sullivan.

 

Paula Morris, NPD spokesperson for the New Zealand Book Awards Trust, said that she was “excited to see the range of voices selected here, and the ethnic and geographic diversity in the poets chosen by our twenty established writers. This list speaks to a ‘new’ New Zealand literature, and reflects how much our culture is changing and growing.”

Many of the poets featured in the 20/20 Collection will take part in events on 25 August, Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day 2017. Event organisers are encouraged to register their poetry event online as soon as possible: http://www.nzbookawards.nz/national-poetry-day/how-to-register-your-event/.

 

Now into their second year of naming rights sponsorship of National Poetry Day, Phantom Billstickers will support NPD and 20/20 on the ground, online and in print, with funky billstickers that celebrate our nation’s poets. Business Development Manager Kelly Wilson says, “If given a platform, poetry speaks to people. We are very proud at Phantom to support National Poetry Day and provide platforms all around the country for the poetic voice of New Zealand.”

 

Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day is proudly administered by the New Zealand Book Awards Trust.

 

 

 

Notes to Editors

National Poetry Day was established in 1997 with a mandate to celebrate discovery, diversity, community and pushing boundaries. It is a one-day national poetry-event extravaganza held on the last Friday of August each year. This is the second year of National Poetry Day operating under the sponsorship of Phantom Billstickers.

 

Phantom Billstickers is a street poster company which has consistently helped New Zealanders express themselves since 1982. Recognising and supporting home-grown talent has always sat comfortably alongside its commercial campaign work. Phantom actively promotes New Zealand music, art, poetry and culture around the country and across the world, putting poetry on posters and a literary mix of work into cafes via its quarterly magazine Café Reader.

The New Zealand Book Awards Trust was established as a charitable trust in 2014 to govern and manage the country’s two major literary awards – The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards and the New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults – as well as National Poetry Day, and to ensure their longevity and credibility.

The 20/20 Collection features work by living New Zealand poets with one exception: Tusiata Avia’s selection of a poem by Teresia Teaiwa. Sadly, Teresia died of cancer in March, aged just 48. She was a much loved and influential

figure in Pacific studies, and ​the committee hopes that her inclusion in 20/20 encourages more people to seek out her important creative and critical work.

 

Paula Morris (Ngati Wai, Ngati Whatua) is an award-winning novelist, short story writer and essayist. A frequent book reviewer, interviewer and festival chair, Paula holds degrees from universities in New Zealand, the U.K. and the US, including a D.Phil from the University of York and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is convenor of the Master in Creative Writing programme at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

 

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Reviewing the very fabulous poetry books on the Ockham NZ Book Award short list

I have gained much pleasure from reading the books on the long list. Of course – how can it not be?! – excellent poetry books did not make the cut.  Take Chris Price’s glorious Beside Herself for example. I was transported by the uplift in Chris’s writing and celebrated it as one of her very best. I have said good things about all of the books because they gifted me reading experiences to savour. In my view, the long list was a go-to-point for the terrific writing that we are producing. I could not have picked four if I tried. I would have headed for the hills!

Boutique Presses are doing great things in New Zealand as are the University Presses, but in this showing, and with such noteworthy books appearing each year, and in quite staggering numbers, I am sendingsend a virtual bouquet of the sweetest roses to VUP. Three extraordinary books on the shortlist! Wonderful.

I adored the books shortlisted and will share my thoughts.

 

 

Tusiata Avia’s book is so rich and layered and essential. I have been reading and writing about this book in the past few months, and the more I read and write, the more I find to admire and move and challenge me. I wrote this after going to the launch:

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Fale Aitu / Spirit House Tusiata Avia, Victoria University Press, 2016 (VUP author page)

Last night I drove into the city into some kind of warm, semi-tropical wetness —like a season that no longer knew what it ought or wanted to be — to go to the launch of Tusiata Avia’s new poetry collection. Tautai, the Pacific Art Gallery, was a perfect space, and filled to the brim with friends, family, writers and strong publisher support. I loved the warmth and writerly connections in the room. I have been reading Tusiata’s book on planes as poetry now seems to be my activity of choice in the air. I adore this book and have so much to say about it but want to save that for another occasion. I was an early reader so have had a long-term relationship with it.

 

the launch

The room went dark and an MIT student, bedecked in swishes of red, performed a piece from a previous collection, Blood Clot. Mesmerising.

Tusiata’s cousin and current Burns Fellow, Victor Rodger, gave a terrific speech that included a potted biography. I loved the way he applauded Tusiata not just as a tremendous poet, but as a teacher and solo mother. Her names means artist in Samoan and he saw artist in the numerous roles Tusiata embodies. Writing comes out of so much. He identified her new poems as brave, startling, moving and political. Spiky. I totally agree.

Having dedicated her book to her parents, Tusiata said that it was hard to be the parent of a poet who wrote about family. When she told her mother what she was writing, her mother embraced it. She opened her arms wide. She said the skeletons need to come out. The atua. Tusiata’s speech underlined how important this book is. It is not simply an exercise in how you can play with language, it goes to the roots of that it means to be daughter, mother, poet.  It goes further than family into what it means to exist, to co-exist, in a global family. When a poet knows how to write what matters so much to her, when her words bring that alive with a such animation, poise and melody, it matters to you.

Four poems read. Lyrical, song-like, chant-like, that place feet on ground, that open the windows to let atua in and out, that cannot turn a blind eye, that hold tight to the love of a daughter, that come back to the body that is pulsing with life.

Yes I had goose bumps. You could hear a pin drop.

Fergus Barrowman, VUP publisher, made the important point that these poems face the dark but they also face an insistent life force.

Congratulations, this was a goosebump launch for a goosebump book.

 

Hera Lindsay Bird’s debut book broke me apart, gushed oceans of reaction through me and quite simply filled me with the joy of poetry. This is what I posted earlier on the blog:

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All I care about is looking at things and naming them’

‘I love life’

Hera Lindsay Bird Hera Lindsay Bird, Victoria University Press, 2016

 

For the past week or so, after visits to our key research libraries,  I have been writing about Jessie Mackay, a founding mother of New Zealand poetry. What I am writing is under wraps but my relationship with both the woman and her poetry is not clear cut. She moves me, she astonishes me, she irritates me, but I am always filled with admiration. One question bubbling away is: how different is it for women writing over a hundred years later?  Sure, contemporary poems are like a foreign country, we have changed so much. But what of our behaviour as poets? Our reception? What feeds us? What renders us vulnerable and what makes us strong?

I want to draw a pencil line from Jessie Mackay to Hera Lindsay Bird and see what I can peg on it. But I want to save these thoughts for my book.

Hera Lindsay Bird has attracted the biggest hoo-ha with a poetry book I can recall. It felt like I was witnessing the birth of a cult object. Images of the book cover on the side of a bus or a building (photoshopped?!?!) created a little Twitter buzz. Lorde tweeted. Anika Moa tweeted. Tim Upperton reviewed it on launch day on National Radio. Interviews flamed the fan base on The Spin Off, The Wireless and Pantograph Punch. The interviews promoted a debut poet that is hip and hot and essential reading. Poems posted have attracted long comment trails that apparently included downright vitriol (I haven’t read these and I think just applied to one poem). The Spin Off cites this as one of a number of factors in the shutting down of all comments on their site. The launch was jam packed, the book sold out, and took the number one spot on the bestseller list. Hera is a poet with attitude. Well, all poets have attitude, but there is a degree of provocation in what she says and writes. Maybe it’s a mix of bite and daring and vulnerability. Just like it is with JM, Hera’s poetry moves, astonishes and irritates me, but most importantly, it gets me thinking/feeling/reacting and prompts admiration.

 

A few thoughts on Hera Lindsay Bird by Hera Lindsay Bird  (VUP author page)

 

This book is like rebooting self. Each poem reloads Hera. Click click whirr.

At first you might think the book is like the mohawk of a rebellious punk who doesn’t mind hate or kicking stones at glass windows or saying fuck at the drop of a hat.

The word love is in at least two thirds of the poems. It catches you at times with the most surprising, perfect image:

‘when we first fell in love

the heart like a trick candle

on an ancient, moss-dark birthday cake’

 

‘it’s love that plummets you

back down the elevator shaft’

 

You could think of this book as a handbook to love because Hera doesn’t just write love poems, she riffs on notions of love:

‘It’s like falling in love for the first time for the last time’

or: ‘What is there to say about love that hasn’t already been’

 

Some lines are meant to shock you out of reading lethargy:

‘I feel a lot of hate for people’

or: ‘My friend says it’s bad poetry to write a book’

or: ‘Some people are meant to hate forever’

 

or:

‘It’s a bad crime to say poetry in poetry

It’s a bad, adorable crime

Like robbing a bank with a mini-hairdryer’

 

Hera reads other poets and uses them as springboards to write from: Mary Ruefle, Bernadette Mayer, Mary Oliver, Chelsey Minnis, Emily Dickinson.

Sometimes the book feels like a confessional board. Poetry as confession. It hurts. There is pain. There is always love.

This poetry is personal. Poems (like little characters) interrupt the personal or the chantlike list or the nettle opinion the honey opinion as though they want a say and need to reflect back on their own making, if not maker.

Love hate sex girlfriends life death: it is not what you write but how you write it that makes a difference, that is the flash in the pan, not to mention the pan itself.

Hera writes in a conversational tone, sometimes loud, sometimes quiet, as though we are in a cafe together and some things get drowned out but the words are electric and we all listen spellbound.

 

She uses excellent similes. On poetry:

‘This is like an encore to an empty auditorium

It’s a swarm of hornets rising out of the piano’

 

‘Neither our love nor our failures will save us

all our memories

like tin cans on a wedding car

throwing up sparks’

 

‘I can only look at you

Like you are a slow-burning planet

And I am pouring water through a telescope.’

 

Hera likes to talk about bad poems; like the wry punk attitude that says look at my bad style. I am not convinced that there is much in the way of bad poetry here unless you are talking about a vein of impoliteness. It kind of feels like a set of Russian dolls – inside the bad poetry good poetry and inside that the bad and then good and so on and so forth. There is always craft and the ears have been working without fail.

One favourite poem in the book is ‘Mirror Traps’ but I am saving that for the Jessie Mackay pencil line.

Hera’s sumptuous book comes out of a very long tradition of poets busting apart poetic decorum, ideals and displays of self. It’s a while since we have witnessed such provocation on our local poetry scene. What I like about this scintillating writing is that each poem manifests such a love of and agility with words — no matter how bad it tries to be. It is addictive reading. Yes there is a flash that half blinds you and spits searing fat along your forearms, but you get to taste the sizzling halloumi with peppery rocket and citrus dressing.

 

‘I love to feel this bad because it reminds me of being human

I love this life too

Every day something new happens and I think

so this the way things are now’

 

PS I adore the cover!

Hera Lindsay Bird has an MA in poetry from Victoria University where she won the 2011 Adam Prize for best folio. She was the 2009 winner of the Story! Inc. Prize for Poetry and the Maurice Gee Prize in Children’s Writing. She lives in Wellington with her girlfriend and collection of Agatha Christie video games.

 

 

In a spooky moment of synchronicity, I was walking along Bethells Beach this morning in the crisp gloom hoping Gregory Kan’s book made the shortlist, not realising the decision was out today. I loved the inventiveness, the heart, the attentiveness, the thrilling electricity of his language and so much more:

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Gregory Kan This Paper Boat Auckland University Press 2016 (AUP author page)

 

Gregory Kan’s debut poetry collection, This Paper Boat, is a joy to read on so many levels.

Kan’s poetry has featured in a number of literary journals and an early version of the book was shortlisted for the Kathleen Grattan Poetry Prize in 2013. He lives in Auckland.

Paper Boat traces ghosts. We hold onto Kan’s coat tails as he tracks family and the spirit of poet, Robin Hyde (Iris Wilkinson). The gateway to family becomes the gateway to Iris and the gateway to Iris becomes the gateway to family. There is overlap between family and missing poet but there is also a deep channel. The channel of difficulty, hard knocks, the tough to decipher. There is the creek of foreignness. The abrasiveness of the world when the world is not singular.

Kan enters the thicket of memory as he sets out to recover the family stories. He shows the father as son fishing in the drains, the mother as daughter obedient at school. Yet while he fills his pockets with parental anecdotes, there is too, the poignant way his parents remain other, mysterious, a gap that can never be completely filled:

 

In the past when I thought about people my parents

were somehow

not among them. But some wound stayed

 

wide in all of us, and now I see in their faces

strange rivers and waterfalls, tilted over with broom.

 

The familial stands are immensely moving, but so too is the search for Iris. Kan untangles Iris in the traces she has left – in her poems, her writings, her letters. He stands outside the gate to Wellington house, listening hard, or beside the rock pool. There is something that sets hairs on end when you stand in the footsteps of ghosts, the exact stone, the exact spot, and at times it is though they become both audible and visible. Hyde’s poems in Houses by the Sea, are sumptuous in detail. I think of this as Kan muses on the rock-pool bounty. When he stands at her gate:

 

I have to hear you to keep you

here, and I have to keep you

here to keep coming back.

 

I think too of Michele Leggott’s plea at the back of DIA to listen hard to the lost matrix of women poets, the early poets. To find ways to bring them close.

Kan brings Iris (Robin) close. His traces. Iris becomes woman as much as she does poet and the channel of difficulty fills with her darknesses as much as it does Kan’s. There is an aching core of confinement: her pregnancy, her loss of the baby, her second pregnancy, her placement of the baby elsewhere, her mental illness. His confinement in a jungle. His great-aunt’s abandonment as a baby.

 

The strands of love, foreignness and of difficulty are amplified by the look of the book. The way you aren’t reading a singular river of text that conforms to some kind of pattern. A singular narrative. It is like static, like hiccups, like stutters across the width of reading. I love this. Forms change. Forms make much of the white space. A page looks beautiful, but the white space becomes a transmission point for the voices barely heard.

At one point the blocks of text resemble the silhouettes of photographs in a family album. At another point, poems masquerade as censored Facebook entries.Later still, a fable-like poem tumbles across pages in italics.

The writing is understated, graceful, fluent, visually alive.

I want to pick up Hyde again. I want to stand by that Wellington rock pool and see what I can hear. I have read this book three times and it won’t be the last.

 

In the final pages, as part a ritual for The Hungry Ghost Festival, Kan sends a paper boat down the river ‘to ensure// that the ghosts find their way/ back.’

The book with its heartfelt offerings is like a paper boat, floating on an ethereal current so that poetry finds its way back to us all (or Hyde, or family).

 

Auckland University Press page

A terrific interview with Sarah Jane Barnett

Sequence in Sport

 

 

 

 

Finally Andrew Johnston’s book caught me in a prolonged trance of reading. This from my SST review:

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Andrew Johnston, Fits & Starts Victoria University Press (VUP author page)

Based in Paris, Andrew Johnston writes poetry with such grace, and directs his finely-tuned ear and eye to the world and all its marvels. The poems in his new collection, Fits& Starts, luxuriate in white space and they are all the better for it. You want to savour each set of couplets slowly.

The middle section filters Echo through the chapters of the Bible’s First Testament; the final section runs from Alpha through to Zulu and forms an alphabet of exquisite side tracks. With Echo coasting through the sequences, it is not surprising rhyme catches the deftness of Bill Manhire.

Ideas drift like little balloons in and out of poems, experience lies in gritty grains. What is off-real jolts what is real. A taste: ‘How I married distance/ and how close we are.’

This book replays the pulse of living, dream, myth. I am buying it for a poet friend.

 

 

 

Ockham New Zealand Book Award Poetry Short list – Congratulations!

book

  • Fale Aitu | Spirit House

    Victoria University Press

    Tusiata Avia

    This is an urgent, politicised collection, which finds eloquent ways to dramatise and speak out against horrors, injustices and abuses, both domestic and public. The poems are tough, sensuous, often unnerving. Prose poems, pantoums, short lyrics, list poems, hieratic invocations: the passionate voice holds all these together. We teleport between geographies and cultures, Samoa to Christchurch, Gaza to New York. The world we think we know is constantly made strange, yet disconcertingly familiar; the unfamiliar seems normal, close to home.

  • book

    Hera Lindsay Bird

    Victoria University Press

    Hera Lindsay Bird

    The twisty, aphoristic, wrong-footing poems in this striking debut collection play the deliberately crass off against the deliberately ornate: ‘Byron, Whitman, our dog crushed by a garage door / Finger me slowly / In the snowscape of your childhood’. Similes, once a poetic no-no, perform exuberant oxymorons and flamboyant non-sequiturs: ‘I write this poem like double-leopard print / Like an antique locket filled with pubic hair’. Bird’s poems readjust readers’ expectations of what poetry can do, how it might behave.

  • book

    Andrew Johnston

    As the marvellously titled opening poem, ‘The Otorhinolaryngologist’, puts it, these poems ‘hunt[] for something / in the hollow spaces // in the voiceless spaces’. These spaces include: found material from ancestry.com, the thoughts of an Afghani, the books of the Old Testament, the myth of Echo, the radio alphabet. The reader is trusted to puzzle, to fit, to start all over again. This hugely impressive, challenging collection is scored through with a broken music that sings in the head.

     

  • book

    Gregory Kan

    This ambitious debut collection is built around slivers of life-narrative, principally drawn from the life of Iris Wilkinson (Robin Hyde) and — with moving laconic restraint — from the lives of the poet’s parents, before and after coming to New Zealand. These strands are made to intertwine with, and haunt, each other, not least through the evocation of various Chinese ghosts. The collection aches with bewildered loss, a sense of emotional loose ends and pasts only half-grasped.

     

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