Tag Archives: Joan Fleming

The NZ edition of Poetry

 

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I know I find it hard to listen.

I read too much. I often need a drink.

It isn’t the world that makes us think,

it’s words that we can’t come up with.

Sure, I can work up fresh examples

and send them off to the committee.

But the poetry is in the bird. And in the pretty.

 

Bill Manhire, from ‘Polly’

 

International poetry traffic is so often dependent upon fortuitous connections. The degree of familiarity with poetry from elsewhere is utterly paltry compared with the degree of familiarity I have with local writing. Yes I have studied American and British poetry but I am more aware of the luminous stars in these poetry constellations than the grassroot outings.

On the other hand, we are no longer dependent upon ocean voyages and the constraints of distance, but to what degree does our poetry travel (compared say with fiction)? Or our poetry conversations extend beyond our lapping tidelines.

I am acutely aware of my impoverished relations with contemporary Australian poetry. Perhaps Joan Fleming and Amy Brown could guest edit a local journal with an Australian focus? But then again our journals are often annual and offer vital but scant opportunities for local poets.

This is not the first time an overseas journal has showcased New Zealand poetry, but it is perhaps the example I am most excited by. The editors – Stephanie Burt (USA), Paul Millar (NZ) and Chris Price (NZ) – have worked hard to present a distinctive and diverse overview of our current poetry. The selected poets cross all manner of borders: age, geographical location, style, university affiliation, gender, ethnicity. This matters if we want to move beyond the legacy of white male predomination, urban bias and privileged poetry models. I cannot name a NZ journal that has achieved such movement.

Yes the five books Daisy Fried reviewed – from the fifteen 2017 publications she was sent – were all Victoria University Press. Her selection certainly does not reflect the contours of that year, and we can all stand on the sidelines and shout (or sing) about the books we loved, but I have no issue with reviews reflecting individual taste. However I do take issue that a short intro and five VUP books can respond to her opening question: ‘How to characterise a national poetry?’ Why would you even try! It is a personal take on five excellent books.

The rest of the journal is an altogether different joy. The effect of reading is symphonic in the different hues and chords. Every single poem lifts off the page and catches both ear and eye. Such freshness, such lightness, darkness, musicality, room to breathe, surprising arcs and links and undercurrents. I keep swaying between Anna Jackson’s glorious bee poem and the flickering titles that coalesce in Nina Powles’s offering or the infectious wit of James Brown, Ashleigh Young and Tim Upperton.  I am pulled into the bite of Anahera Gildea, Chris Tse and then Tayi Tibble and stop in the tracks of reading. Travelling with Janet Charman and the revelatory suite makes me weep. Switching to Anne Kennedy and the momentum coils and overlaps and poetry transforms a starting point into elasticity on the line. Bill Manhire flips me over into the second stanza, and the lacework of reading – intricate yet full of holes – offers mystery, surprise, wit, curious things.

 

The time of breathing into clasped hands

hovering over a lighter to make a flame

 

not knowing

that an angry man threw his eyes into the night

 

the belly of his shattered father

weeping rain for separation of earth and sky

 

Jessie Puru from ‘Matariki’

 

 

The editors did not feel beholden to poetry that targets versions of New Zealand/ Aotearoa; our poetry might do this and then again it might not. The poems have the freedom to do and be anything whether they spring from spoken-word rhythms or  talkiness or thinginess or anecdotal revelations or sumptuous Baroque-detail or story or slanted humour or cutting political edges.

The poets: Anna Jackson, Kate Camp, Michele Leggott, Therese Lloyd, Jessie Puru, Essa Ranapiri, Tayi Tibble, Robert Sullivan, Kerrin P. Sharpe, Hera Lindsay Bird, Dylan Horrocks, James Brown, Murray Edmond, Jenny Bornholdt, Anne Kennedy, Bill Manhire, Nina Powles, Janet Charman, Anahera Gildea, Bernadette Hall, Vincent O’Sullivan, Courtney Sina Meredith, C.K. Stead, Chris Tse, Tim Upperton, Gregory O’Brien and John Pule, Faith Wilson, Ashleigh Young, Albert Wendt, Steven Toussaint, Erik Kennedy

This issue is a cause for celebration – I absolutely love it – and my celebration will take  the form of a subscription. New Zealand poetry has been well served – congratulations!

 

Poetry here

 

everything I never asked my grandmother

I can understand but I can’t speak

no one has played that piano since

New Zealand is so far away from here

let me translate for you the poem on the wall

 

Nina Powles from ‘Some titles for my childhood memoir’

Are NZ poetry reviews an endangered species?

 

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I have a swag of poetry books from 2017 that I have not yet got to – but over the next months I am flagging them through a suite of Summer Postcards.

How important is it that our poetry books get reviewed?

Poetry books get so little attention in the media these days. NZ Books still offers a handful of poetry reviews.  Not sure about Takahe. There is Landfall-on-line steered by poet Emma Neale and the occasional attention in print media (Siobhan Harvey in The Herald). For members there is the quarterly NZ Poetry Society Review. There are a few reviews at The Spin Off or in The Listener. Poetry (USA) recently did a NZ cluster and you find some in the Poetry New Zealand Annual. Pantograph Punch has supported poetry, but until they can pay reviewers a decent amount, they are no longer doing reviews.

 

From The Pantograph Editors:

The Hardest Call

Because of these changes, we’ve made the difficult decision to hit pause on publishing reviews. It’s been one of the toughest decisions we’ve made.

During the existential crisis of 2017 (refer above) we came to the somewhat crushing realisation that in underpaying our writers (sometimes as low as $50 a review), we were contributing to a structure that systematically devalues those writers and privileges voices who can afford to write for low pay. In trying to support critical culture, we were simultaneously contributing to its decay.

It’s one of the hardest decisions because it feels so contradictory: we’re stopping doing one of the exact things we believe in the most.

We strongly believe in critical dialogue, and one of our areas of focus for 2018 is finding a way to bring reviewing back. We’re committed to creating a sustainable pathway for future critics, so one of the things we’ll be doing is creating a fund which will be dedicated to commissioning reviews. Our commitment is to be able to pay reviewers a minimum of $300 per review, and if you feel as strongly about this as we do, we invite you to donate to that fund here.

Pantograph Punch

 

You can read the full piece and contribute to the funding call here. They favour posting less (one a week) and building a climate of critical dialogue. This is exciting news. Bravo PP!

 

We are hungry for critical forums. Joan Fleming recently started a vital discussion on reviewing with her Facebook friends:

 

The Question of Claws

As I step into a new role at Cordite Poetry Review – that of NZ Commissioning Editor – I have been troubling my head about how critical to be of New Zealand poetry books that strike me as undeveloped. Particularly when I’ve admired a writer’s poems in journals, and am frustrated by their book; or am struck by the first few stunning poems of a collection, which then disappointingly levels out. It is tough to be honest in a poetry culture that is so intimately small. Often in our poetry reviewing, there is gentleness where I want rigour, and there is faint praise where I want productive disagreement. We are overly careful because we are reviewing friends and colleagues. We don’t want to offend. It is tricky. Do aesthetic battles push writers to better writing, or ought we to only support and encourage each other, trusting that we are all already pushing ourselves?

On the one hand, the stakes are so low: there is no money, there is no fame (except for the occasional meteoric anomaly!), and poetry is hardly a career. On the other hand, the stakes are painfully high. We are talking about our raw-edged souls on the page here. In a Facebook thread, I asked the question (provocatively worded, I suppose): “Should we be showing our claws more often?” For claws, read: Do I dare to write a thoughtful yet unfavourable review?  I hope to think there is nothing in me that wants to tear down other writers because of agendas, grudges, or jealousies – but we all have our lenses and leanings, our sometimes-unconscious preferences and biases.

I, myself, am trying to thicken up my own dreadfully thin skin. A solution to this bind (and this is not an original thought – I think Ellie Catton suggested this way back) is to foster more trans-Tasman reviewing: New Zealand poets reviewing Australians, and Australians reviewing New Zealand books. At Cordite, we’re doing a little of this. We have lots of NZ books on our review list. I wonder if a New Zealand publication might take up this challenge? (Pantograph Punch: I’m looking at you!)

Joan Fleming

 

Last week I posted a piece on my Poetry-Shelf aims to see if it was worth keeping up the blog. Is it relevant? Does it matter that I do this? I want to post poems and do reviews, interviews, news, events, musings on local and international poetry. And at times involve other people (as I have done), but in the current drive for decent payment, how can this possibly work?

I strongly believe we need a go-to-place for NZ poetry that crosses borders of all kinds. I like the idea of a mix of reviews (long and short) so that a decent number of published books catch your attention. Ha! so there is a new James Brown out! Or Joan Fleming is reading from a new book at TimeOut (if only!). 

To have a long review of your book where the reviewer has paid utmost attention is ideal. But to have no reviews and feel like your book has drifted into the ether is heartbreaking.

I posted this on Joan’s Facebook feed:

I review books on my blog that I love. My life is too short to absorb the toxic fallout of writing about books that I don’t love. I aim to celebrate and explore what a book of poetry might do.

I so often read negative reviews that incense me because the writers seems straitjacketed by a narrow reading and clear bias (I don’t like experimental poetry but here I am reviewing it kinda thing!). Or poets and reviewers who insist there are certain things a poem must do, and if it doesn’t, then it is a failure.

I am not afraid to put my claws out when an important book warrants it – as with the AUP literary omnibus. That attracted utter venom towards me on social media and affected me in all kinds of other ways – but I would still do it. My doctoral thesis (Italian) challenged the way the academy is driven to deconstruct and tear apart, rather than forge connections and produce different intellectual models of thought.

That said, in a world that continues to privilege the status of white men, we still need claws to unpick the ideas that shape us and that we so easily become immune to and accept.

Ellie Catton once used the word kindness in talking to students about writing. Our PM has used the word in view of governing a nation. I want to review out of kindness. That doesn’t mean I will say things I don’t mean when I talk about your poetry. It doesn’t mean I only say good things. It means I pay attention to the fact a human being has written it. It means I work hard to find path ways through a book that might present itself with shuttered windows on foreign pathways on a first reading.

Sometimes the bridge between the reader and a book fails. When I can’t cross that bridge, I am going to share a book where I can.

I believe we can have critical discussions and write out of state of kindness.

This may not be the majority point of view, but it is my view. I have almost finished a book that rescues some of the women from the past who have been misread, unread, muted and sidelined by men with their claws out because in their view the women were not writing poetry.

We, as women poets, have come a long way since our banishment to the shadows, but things are still not ideal. So I will continue to be part of the small (and it is SO very small) group of writers who go public on what they love (outside institutions, financial reward and so on, so beholden to nobody) because I want you (in the widest reach a pronoun is capable of) to fall in love with poetry and what a poem can do.

As I said at the Poetry & Essay conference in Wellington in December this is a matter of JOY!

 

 

A new poem from Joan Fleming: ‘Was the night before’

 

Was the night before

 

[because fast and faster aren’t necessarily

[this lucky and the lights burning her feet like

[angry because people are saying “happy hols” and the jingling

[was the first sign the roast was too long in the

[wondering if burnt feet stay burnt like

[decorations and shoved them onto the coffee table like here

[dry streets don’t you remember how we always

[someone is always closing them again, “it’s the flies”

[her favourite, marshmallows liquefying into the mashed

[a skin on it because we left it too long or

[not the smell that sets the alarms off, it’s the smoke’s

[makes my soul slack out she said, those tunes you want to claw your

[“over here” said the Santa, because where were all the little

[crackling, that’s my favourite part even though my mouth can’t

[if I’m going to do it, I’m not going to do it wearing

[be always telling you shut the

[not the family I thought I

[happens when I lit the pine

[bauble just comes right apart in your hand

 

©Joan Fleming 2017

 

Joan was one of the highlights for me at the recent Poetry & the Essay conference at Victoria University. Her paper raised important questions on borrowing, acknowledging, taking risks, building conversations, processing different ways of doing and being, especially of being white woman alongside aborigine women. Having had a taste of the poems, I can’t wait for a book to emerge. And I just loved listening to her reading.

This poem, however, is a little – as Joan said – slightly prickly toast to Christmas.

A week of poems: Joan Fleming’s ‘The mattress’

 

 

 

 

The mattress

 

The mattress

dumped

several hot

winters ago

on the dune

is a fantastical

ruin

postgraduate

art students

fevering

in the coastal

cities

with their backs

to the reddirt

desert

the thing

is being

eaten by

fantasise

of making

such an object

with its look

of casual

devastation

its tessellate

padding

its industrial

stitching

its coil

and cushion

insides

rupturing

gorgeously

its once-

whiteness

scuppered

its purpose

brindling

its sense of history

dense

yet

without

statement

(perfect)

anything

is possible

in the white

cube

of the gallery

(not so much

in Nyirripi

Yuendumu

Papunya

Kintore)

between

the sorry

camp

and the

kardiya

houses

Art Mattress

disintegrates

and convolutes

without

audience

back at camp

the wire

bedframe

serves

as a butcher’s table

then later

we sleep

on it

 

©Joan Fleming

 

 

 

A week of poems: Joan Fleming’s ‘The kids’

 

Thousand apologies but I had to take this poem down as I couldn’t get the format right on the blog (crazy to have tried!) and my screen shots didn’t work in all browsers.

I am posting another fabulous Joan-Fleming poem instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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Full review here

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

Eleven NZ women’s poetry books to adore and some fiction – Happy International Women’s Day!

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Book Award lists should promote debate. Ideas and issues should be raised. As long as judges and authors don’t come under personal attack. It is a time of celebration, let’s not forget that, but it is also a time when diverse opinions may draw attention to our healthy landscape of books.

I have just started writing a big book on poetry by New Zealand women. I have carried this project with me for a long time, and it something I care about very much indeed. It is a book I am writing with a great sense of liberation and an equal dose of love.

I bring many questions to my writing.

The shortlist for poetry and fiction in the Ockham NZ Book Awards includes 0ne woman (Patricia Grace) and seven men. There are no women poets.

This is simply a matter of choice on the part of the judges and I do not wish to undermine the quality of the books they have selected. However, in my view, it casts a disconcerting light upon what women have been producing in the past year or so.

Women  produced astonishing books in 2015. I reviewed their poetry books on this blog and praised the diligent craft, the exquisite music, the sumptuous detail, the complexities that challenge and the simplicity that soothes. I have lauded books by women that have moved me like no other, and that have contributed much to the possibilities of what a poem might do.

I am gobsmacked that not a single one made it to the shortlist.

Men have written extraordinary poetry in the past year, but so too have women.

Today is International Women’s Day. In celebration of this, here is a selection of poetry and fiction I have loved in the past year and would have been happy to award.

This list is partial. Please add to it.  Some of these women are my friends, so yes there is unconscious bias. Some of these women I would recognise in the street, some I would not.

 

Eleven Poetry Books by women to adore

(I have reviewed all these to some degree on Poetry Shelf or interviewed the poets)

Emma Neale  Tender Machines This is a domestic book that is utterly complex. Yet it moves beyond home to become a book of the world. The music is divine. I am utterly moved. The Poetry Shelf trophy is yours Emma.

Joan Fleming Failed Love Stories Poetry that dazzles and shifts me. This book is on replay!

Holly Painter Excerpts from a Natural History Startling debut that blew me out the window and made me want to write

Sarah Jane Barnett Work Poetry that takes risks and is unafraid of ideas. Adored this.

Johanna Aitchison Miss Dust Spare, strange, surprising, wonderful to read.

Anna Jackson I, Clodia and Other Portraits The voice gets under my skin no matter how many times I read it. So much to say about it.

Jennifer Compton My Clean & The Junkie This narrative satisfies on so many levels.

Airini Beautrais Dear Neil Roberts Risk taking at the level of politics and the personal.

Morgan Bach Some of Us Eat the Seeds Beauty of the cover matches the surprise and beauty of the poetry within.

Hinemoana Baker waha/ mouth This poetry lit a fire in my head not sure which year it fits though. But wow!

Diane Brown Taking My Mother to the Opera This is poetry making pin pricks as it moves and gets you chewing back through your own circumstances.

 

…. and this is just a start. Ha! Serie Barford with her gorgeous mix of poetry and prose.

Yep I am going over board here just to show you that women have footed it with the best of the men. Whichever year you look at, a different set of judges would come up with a different mix of books. Yes let’s celebrate that worthy shortlist but let’s also remember that canon shaping only revels in and reveals part of the story.

 

Fiction (I haven’t read so widely here and have a wee stack to get too – Laurence Fearnley and Charlotte Grimshaw here I come!)

Anna Smaill The Chimes This book – plot character, setting, premise, events – still sticks to me. The sentences are exquisite. Some books you lose in brain mist. Not this one.

Sue Orr The Party Line I see this book becoming a NZ classic – a novel of the back blocks. The characters are what move you so profoundly. So perfectly crafted.