Tag Archives: John Campbell

A Book Launch: John Campbell writes to Nick Ascroft


Back with the Human Condition Nick Ascroft, Victoria University Press, 2016

John Campbell couldn’t make Nick Ascroft’s book launch but sent a letter for Ashleigh Young to read out. It made me laugh out loud and want to stop my job at hand (writing my book) and get reading Nick’s new poems. Be warned: it might have you dashing out in traffic to pick up a copy.


Dear Nick,

Hello, it’s John Campbell here.

I’m so sorry I couldn’t be there tonight. I’m in a coma. Or hosting Checkpoint, which, depending on who I’m interviewing, may feel like the same thing.

Ashleigh kindly invited me. And I would have loved to have come. I think your book’s fantastic, not withstanding the inexplicable mystery of why you didn’t help that Chinese grandmother with her shopping bags?


for the complete letter

for the book details

Three cheers for Going West’s 21st



My Place/ View

‘Now our literature shapes how we see ourselves and our cultures – challenging stereotypes’

Albert Wendt Going West 2016


There was a lot of talk about place and where you come from at Going West this year. I live in West Auckland but seem to come from many places so don’t think of myself as a West Aucklander. I have anchors here and anchors elsewhere, but I have strong attachments to my local literary festival. I like the way it embraces a literary whanau. We share very good food and we share stories.


Like other New Zealand writers I am very grateful for the local festivals that celebrate local writing no matter the degree of international presence. Earlier this year I flew to Wellington to see The National Library’s fabulous Circle of Laureates event. It was a very special occasion but I was hard-pressed to find many other local fiction or poetry events at the festival. I see this as such a loss – not just for Wellington readers and writers but for all of us.

Auckland seems to be upping its game at their major festival. The dedication to New Zealand writing of all ilks is tremendous. It is a huge festival, overwhelming in terms of crowds and choice, but every year I come away rejuvenated as both reader and writer.


Going West is one of our key local festivals —  100 per cent devoted to New Zealand writing that crosses a range of genre, subject matter and format. This year was no exception. With new programme directors (Nicola Strawbridge and Mark Easterbrook) things were slightly different but the end result immensely satisfying. My only regret was the little poetry slots that used to pop up between longer sessions. I missed those.

The sun shone, the food was as good as ever, and I came away with a stack of books to read. Hearing Damien Wilkins read from Dad Art (two extracts) and share ideas and anecdotes with Sue Orr was so good, I raced to get the book. I loved the detail, the humour, the premise of the book, the absolute warmth and human pulse. This book deserves a wide readership.

I got to hear Emma Neale read as the Curnow Reader with her pitch-perfect melody, tender eye and acute detail of family  (among other things). Emma was also in conversation with Siobhan Harvey about her new novel, Billy Bird, and again an extract from the book and a fascinating conversation made me race to get the book. Already I am drawn to this curious boy who thinks he is a bird. Emma will also read from this at The Ladies LiteraTea in October.

Albert Wendt gave a terrific speech on Friday night that rattled our literary complacency. Where are the Pacific voices? he asked with both fire and poetry in his belly.

I missed the Poetry Slam but saw Robert Sullivan in conversation with Gregory Kan and Serie Barford. Thoughtful questions that included rocks, sediment and the thorny issue of revealing family. I came away thinking if I were a book-award judge this year I would honour This Paper Boat as it resonates so deeply with me.

Then there are the sessions you have no familiarity with. I loved a session on NZ rivers, for example, and came home with books on that topic (Dr Marama Muru-Lanning).

I ended the festival (I missed the beer session sadly) with the conversation between John Campbell and Roger Shepherd. A perfect close for me because it took me right back to listening to music in Auckland in the 1980s when I wasn’t listening to music in London (82-86). It was funny and sad and surprising and nostalgic and inspiring. How lucky we are to have John on National Radio bringing us stories that matter and ask questions that matter even more.


Thanks Going West. It was a privilege to be a small part of your festival on stage and a member of the audience over three days. I came away exhausted yet full. Festivals like this ( I am thinking of the ones in Nelson and Wanaka too) matter. Congratulations team – it was a fine occasion – like a family picnic in a way. There was warmth, prickly questions, delicious connections, challenging ideas, good stories told, a generosity of ear and mouth. Bravo!


PS I went early one morning so I could breakfast on delicious Turkish eggs at Deco, the Lopdell House cafe. Great view. Very good food and coffee! Highly recommended.


Going West Festival programme now out


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This is the first festival with new programme directors.  The programme offers the usual eclectic mix of conversations in a great setting with good food. A family festival, in a way.

There are a few poetry highlights but gone are the little poetry interludes breaking up the sessions. I miss that.


Emma Neale is the Curnow Reader.

Albert Wendt is giving the keynote address.

Serie Barford and Gregory Kan are in a session with Robert Sullivan.

On Saturday night there is the poetry slam with judges yet to be announced.


I am chairing a session with Sue Orr and Helen Margaret Waaka: ‘In Small Places …’


A few things I don’t want to miss:

Emma Neale: What happens when trauma transforms our children? Emma Neale offers up a lyrical exploration of parenthood that is both funny and disarmingly frank. She’ll discuss her new novel with writer Siobhan Harvey.

Damien Wilkins and Sue Orr in conversation on writing, teaching and Damien’s Dad Art, a vibrant novel about the capacity for surprise and renewal.

Barbara Brookes shares the story behind her ground-breaking A History of New Zealand Women with Judith Pringle, looking at the shaping of New Zealand through a female lens.

Flying Nun founder Roger Shepherd joins lifelong music fan John Campbell to share his memories of the label’s early days and the spirit of adventure and independence that took its sound to the world.


Full programme here.

Counting blessings @JohnJCampbell @CampbellLiveNZ


Running (again) into the beauty of Bethell’s this morning and instead of the zen-like empty head breathing in and out, or the line for a poem or a picture-book story flicking though, I began to count blessings. It has been a punch in the gut of many to axe (that brutal word) Campbell Live. And now a flurry of why this is so on social media and other places. I felt like I was running into a pocket of grief. A word that crops up in tweets, blogs and articles is John’s humanness. His ability to care. To take a stand. He is a good person and in this age of greed, violence and hunger we need good people. He shows us  … us. The little stories, the big stories. The famous people, the Joe Greens. Yes, I should be at my desk starting work on this fabulous new project I have invented, but today I feel stalled by grief at the implications of this loss.

The balm. To count sidetracking blessings as I ran into the wild beauty pitch of the West Coast.

1. National Radio and all its presenters, reporters. Thank heavens for Morning Report. For Guyon and Suzie. For the astute and searching mind of Kathryn Ryan, her humanness and that warmth. For Lynn Freeman for drawing us into our wider arts, so beautifully.

2. To courageous blogs such as Public Address. Thank you Russell Brown.

3.  To The Listener (thank you Jane Clifton) and Metro for showcasing New Zealand books and issues.

4. For The Herald for publishing incisive commentary. Thank you Toby Manhire (see Toby on John Campbell here).

5. For New Zealand publishers publishing New Zealand books against all odds. Thank you.

6. For New Zealand booksellers selling New Zealand books against all odds. Thank you.

7. For Anne O’Brien and her team creating an astonishing literary festival in Auckland that celebrated us here and now as much as the wider world. Thank you.

8. For everyone who has the courage to stand and make a difference in both a world and a ‘here’ that is damaged by greed, hunger, violence. To what extent are our decisions always motivated by the good of ourselves as opposed to the good of the whole?

Campbell Live, in whatever measure we care to assign, acted as a conscience of society — a role universities once exemplified in their ability to critique the ideologies, the customs, the structures, the laws, the expectations, the narratives and the images that both sustain and constrain us.

Thank you John Campbell. Heck, that moment when you came out to introduce Carol Ann Duffy, and there was this extraordinary lingering applause, with whoops and heartfelt cries, gave us goosebumps. Even then we were on the verge of tears. That is us now. In that auditorium, giving the whoops and the claps. But now it is a standing ovation. Cheers, John.


NZ Poetry Shelf: A new venue for poetry reviews and other things

In his speech for the New Zealand Post Book Awards’ shortlist, chief judge John Campbell said: “It is a reflection of the extraordinary strength of the new and young writers we read, particularly in poetry, where New Zealand is blessed by so many fine writers (at all ages and stages) that we respectfully suggest poetry could stand beside rugby as our national sport.” I have heard some stadiums overseas get packed to the brim to hear a poet.

Having read so many of the poetry books published in the past 17 months and with much admiration, John’s declaration prompted me to put a floating idea into concrete action. The past year has produced a feast of New Zealand poetry from the addictive syntax and poetic reaches of Janet Charman to the utter loveliness and warmth of Elizabeth Smither, from the familial pathways of Emma Neale to the musicality of Vincent O’Sullivan, from the measured lines of CK Stead to the storytelling of John Newton, from the vibrant poems of Kerrin P Sharpe to the light touch of Kiri Piahana-Wong. Many of the books have been produced with such love and care that the object you hold in your hands pays perfect tribute to the love and poetic joys within (for example, Bill Manhire’s exquisite Selected Poems and Maria McMillan’s handcrafted The Rope Walk). The list of poetic treasures that have emerged in the past year is immense.

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Thus, my new blog: a New Zealand poetry page for reviews, interviews and other such things. As with its sister, NZ Poetry Box, the blog will develop over time. At this stage I welcome poetry books to review. I won’t review all poetry books that come out, but I aim to review a range of books from a range of publishers writing in a range of styles by a range of voices, including poetry from abroad. However, the main focus is New Zealand.

To launch the blog I will shortly spotlight some books that I have enjoyed over the past year (excluding those books that I have already reviewed for The Herald‘s Canvas magazine).

I applaud the list of finalists for The New Zealand Post Book Awards for Poetry including Best First Book. My review of Ian Wedde’s The Lifeguard can be found at this link  and my review of Kate Camp’s Snow White’s Coffin will be in The Herald this weekend. Thanks to the generosity of Auckland University Press, Victoria University Press and Hue & Cry I have a prize pack of these books to give to someone who follows this site within the next week.

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I would also like to thank Sarah Laing for designing the header background.

So welcome!