Tag Archives: Murray edmond

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Murray Edmond’s ‘The Chocolate for the Ants’

 

 

THE CHOCOLATE FOR THE ANTS

 

It was the ants who taught you pathos.

Your oldest aunt the only one not living

in Australia stern Methodist that she was

loved you best of all her many nephews

so when you had eaten all your dinner up

gave you a piece of chocolate which you

with your grasp of the Methodist ethic of

delayed gratification placed on the bedside

table when you had been tucked up in

your narrow bed so that the pleasure

to be taken on awaking in the morning

would be all the greater than had that

chocolate been eaten when it was received

except those ants had their own wayward

thoughts and there they were exercising

their own ideas when you woke. So thickly

did they coat that chocolate piece the pathos

was you could not see the chocolate for the ants.

 

Murray Edmond

 

 

 

Murray Edmond’s recent books include Back Before You Know (2019, Longlisted for the Ockham NZ Book Awards) and Shaggy Magpie Songs (2015), two poetry volumes; Then It Was Now Again: Selected Critical Writing (2014); and Strait Men and Other Tales (2015), fictions. He is the editor of Ka Mate Ka Ora: A New Zealand Journal of Poetry and Poetics; and works as a dramaturge – Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis’s Mrs Krishnan’s Party (2017) and Welcome to the Murder House (2018) and Naomi Bartley’s Te Waka Huia (2017/ 2018). Also directed Len Lye: the Opera (2012).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Friday talk spot: Murray Edmond on Ka Mate Ka Ora: A New Zealand Journal of Poetry and Poetics

 

 

 

‘To stiffen the sinews, to summon the blood’: Ka Mate Ka Ora: A New Zealand Journal of Poetry and Poetics

 

Ka Mate Ka Ora: A New Zealand Journal of Poetry and Poetics will be 15 years old in 2020. The latest issue contains a memoir of the last years of Baxter’s life, an essay about Mary Stanley’s poetry, an essay about David Merritt’s poetry and production systems, an essay about David Kaarena-Holmes’ poetry, and a reflection on the fictive lives of poets. But no poems. And no reviews of recent books of poetry. That’s what it’s like at Ka Mate Ka Ora. We don’t publish poems and we don’t run short reviews (though longer review-articles are definitely part of our kaupapa).

Ka Mate Ka Ora was designed to fill a gap – the lack of in-depth discourse about poetry and poetics within Aotearoa’s literary community. I guess you can say we are a specialist magazine, a niche product for an informed market. But this ‘informed market’ has many links to international poetries and poetics, which is where the electronic format is crucial. And this means KMKO is more than ‘just’ an academic journal. (I know that ‘just’ is not ‘just’!).  If you haven’t seen the magazine before and want a look, or if you want to go back and revisit this or that issue, click here.

Throughout Ka Mate Ka Ora’s existence, we have sustained a policy of looking outward to what is going on elsewhere via reports from local roving reporters: Pam Brown on Australian poetry (issue #1), Anne Kennedy on Hawai’i poetry (#3), Anna Smaill on poetry in London (#5), Murray Edmond in China (#5), Lisa Samuels in Spain (#12) and Erena Shingade from Mumbai (#16).

The magazine is open access on-line. Its inception dates back to a time when the internet was more innocent and idealistic. We are still holding out for this ideal.

 

But times pass and worms turn and poets die. Over its 15 years obituaries have also become a regular feature: we have said haere ra to Dennis List, Mahmoud Darwish, Jacquie Sturm, Leigh Davis, Martyn Sanderson, Trevor Reeves. Rowley Habib (Rore Hapipi), Russell Haley, Heather McPherson, Gordon Challis and John Dickson. This list is interesting because each of these names occupied a crucial niche situation in New Zealand poetry at various times; yet none would quite qualify for that brief eternity of media attention that is shone in this age of reincarnated celebrity on certain kinds of literary names at their passing. I like to think that Ka Mate Ka Ora’s attention to such figures as those listed above will provide a valuable doorway through from the future to the past.

The majority of issues of Ka Mate Ka Ora have been composed from the careful editorial selection, aided by outside readers, of unsolicited contributions. But there have been at least four ‘special’ issues. Hone Tuwhare’s death warranted an issue-sized response, and Robert Sullivan took over the editorship for this (#6). Then there have been issues about ‘Words and Pictures’ (#7), James K.Baxter (#8) and Translation (#11).

Special issues tend to bring in a swathe of special contributors, whereas an issue that consists of four or five substantial essays errs in favour of depth rather than spread. More than 100 different writers have contributed to KMKO over the past 15 years. Contributors range from those who are poets themselves to academics, to Masters and Doctoral students who are often both poets and scholars, plus photographers, illustrators, archivists, printers, designers, songwriters et al.

 

The contents of KMKO have become cumulative, as the editorial in the latest issue highlights in relation to the catalogue of contributions about James Baxter:

 

John Newton, ‘”By Writing and Example”: The Baxter Effect,’ No.1, Dec. 2005.

Paul Millar, ‘Return to Exile: James K. Baxter’s Indian Poems’ plus the unpublished Indian poems, No. 3. March 2007.

Dougal McNeill, ‘Baxter’s Burns,’ No. 8, Sept. 2009.

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, ‘”Reason not the Need”: John Newton and James K. Baxter’s Double Rainbow,’ No. 8, Sept. 2009.

Francis McWhannell, ‘Hunt’s Baxter,’ No. 8, Sept. 2009.

Reproduction of Baxter’s ms. Of ‘Jerusalem in Winter,’ No. 8. Sept. 2009.

John Petit’s photographs of Baxter at Hiruharama, Dec. 1970, No. 8, 2009.

Stephen Innes,’ The Baxter Papers at the University of Auckland Library,’ No. 8, 2009.

Paul Millar and Miranda Wilson, ‘”The Fire-bird Singing Loud”: James K. Baxter’s Relationship with Composer Dorothy Freed,’ No 15, July, 2017.

Keir Volkerling, ‘James K. Baxter – an Evolving Memoir,’ No.17, Oct 2019.

 

Threading one’s way through these disparate works of criticism and literary historiography, it is possible to trace the developing case study of Baxter criticism as it has taken shape in the 21st century up to (and with Keir Volkerling’s piece, even beyond) the recent controversy of Baxter’s ‘me/too moment’ with the publication of the Letters in 2019.

 

Ka Mate Ka Ora is named after the first line of what can be labeled Aotearoa’s most well-known and, at times, most controversial poem. The crass, commercial and appropriative imitations of the haka form that now get mounted world-wide with depressing regularity, do not touch upon Te Rauparaha’s words. The words of haka have always been of the most charged and sensitive kind. Robert Sullivan, in his editorial in issue #1 quotes Timoti Karetu with regard to this kind of kind of short, intense haka, he ngeri, to the effect that such a form is designed ‘to stiffen the sinews, to summon up the blood’: life or death?

I have been the editor of Ka Mate Ka Ora from the first issue until now. I have been greatly assisted in this role by Hilary Chung, Michele Leggott and Lisa Samuels. We are planning a new issue for 2020, #18, so if you wish to send a contribution, first spend a little time looking through some issues, then read about us by clicking on the red ‘about’ at the bottom right of the magazine’s home page, and email to Murray Edmond at m.edmond@auckland.ac.nz. All contributions are sent out for at least one reader’s report.

 

Murray Edmond

 

 

Murray Edmond’s recent books include Back Before You Know (2019) and Shaggy Magpie Songs (2015), two poetry volumes; Then It Was Now Again: Selected Critical Writing (2014); and Strait Men and Other Tales, (2015), fictions. He is the editor of Ka Mate Ka Ora: A New Zealand Journal of Poetry and Poetics (http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/kmko/ ); and works as a dramaturge (Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis’s Mrs Krishnan’s Party (2017) and Welcome to the Murder House (2018) and Naomi Bartley’s Te Waka Huia, 2017/ 2018). Also directed Len Lye: the Opera (2012).

Back Before You Know (Compound Press, 2019) has been longlisted for the Ockham NZ Book Awards.

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf questions: 7 poets name 3 poetry books that have mattered

 

 

My bookshelves are like an autobiography because books, like albums, flag key points in my life.

To pick only three poetry books that have mattered at different points in your life is a tall order but these poets have sent me chasing collectons and composing my own list.

Featured poets: Fiona Kidman, Joan Fleming, Hannah Mettner,  David Eggleton, Sam Duckor-Jones, Amy Leigh-Wicks and Murray Edmond.

 

Fiona Kidman

I was team teaching a creative writing group with my dear late friend, the poet Lauris Edmond, when she read Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “The Fish”. I remember the electricity in the air, as the dazzling images tumbled out, wonderfully read by Lauris. And then there is the moment where the caught fish is released back into the wild. I trembled when I heard the poem, the first I knew of Bishop’s work. This was in the late 1970s. Later, I bought Elizabeth Bishop The Complete Poems 1927 -1979, and discovered her inimitable Nova Scotian poems. I was working towards a novel partly set in Nova Scotia, and I carried the book with me – there, and on all my travels for years afterwards. I had a habit of pressing wildflowers collected along the way, and eventually, I realised that I was a danger to myself at the New Zealand border if I was to continue carrying them. I read the poems at home now.

Another book I have read and re-read many times, is Marguerite Duras’s last  book (I think) Practicalities (published in 1993). I had been influenced by her fiction as a young woman. But this was a tiny book of essays, fragments, interior monologues, about desire, housekeeping, her struggles with alcohol, domestic lists of important things to have in the house, reflections on death.

And one more.  On the bedside table I keep Seamus Heaney’s Opened Ground: Poems 1966-1996. I came late to Heaney’s work, but late is good, because I’m still making discoveries, there are still pleasures in store from the great Irish Nobel Prize winning writer. It’s like tracing my finger through language and feeling my own Irish blood singing its way through my veins. The collection contains, incidentally, a poem about Katherine Mansfield.

 

Joan Fleming

Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red was a gift from Amy Brown on my 23rd birthday. It blew my head off. It is the best and strangest failed love poem I have ever read. But more than that, it showed me how a book could perform an argument, and at the same time, exquisitely fracture the foundations of the kind of thought that makes argument possible.

Jordan Abel’s book The Place of Scraps is an erasure poem and a series of prose reflections, which explode and complicate the work of ethnographer Marius Barbeau. I had been searching for poetry that could do this mode of critical work all through my PhD, and discovered The Place of Scraps very late in the journey, on the recommendation of the dear and brilliant Brian Blanchfield. The book is a stunning example of a new kind of ethnopoetics – or, perhaps, counter-ethnopoetics. I was needing and seeking it, and its sensibility has offered me a kind of permission for my own work.

I wonder if all writers read as opportunistically as this? Maybe we’re all like exploration geologists, searching for those forms and sensibilities that we can mine for our own nefarious compositional purposes. The latest book of this ilk for me has been Rachel Zucker’s Mothers. What gets me about this book is the collage essay form, the candid revelations, and the way Zucker’s poetics walk the line between sentimentality and the rejection of sentimentality. I’m completely charged by the possibilities of this book’s form. Watch this space, I guess.

 

Hannah Mettner

Every birthday when I was a girl, my parents would get me an obligatory book. This wasn’t a problem, as I liked reading, but the choices were a bit hit or miss, and I was often far more thrilled by other gifts. One year though, they got me The Door in the Air and other stories by Margaret Mahy, and it has become my enduring favourite book, certainly the book I’ve re-read most. My current favourite story (it changes all the time) is about a woman who bakes her grown-up son a birthday cake, ices it, and leaves it in a glass dome for the month leading up to his birthday (I presume it’s a fruit cake, otherwise, ew). In a hilarious twist, the cake becomes the next big thing in art, when it’s “discovered” by two gallery owners. I think it’s the perfect take-down of the art scene, and I often wonder what had happened in Mahy’s life that had inspired this gentle trashing of “taste-makers”. It’s also a really beautiful allegory for women’s work, which is so often un-recognised and un-celebrated: by elevating a cake, made with love by the light of a new moon, Mahy draws our attention to how little we do recognise this work, in the usual course of things. In the end, much to the chagrin of the gallery owners, who are considering taking the cake on an international art tour, the cake is eaten when the son comes home for his birthday, as intended. And all the stories in the book are these complicated, magical-realism, gently humorous, domestic, relationship-centred stories that do so much in such a short space.

My current favourite book of poems is Morgan Parker’s There are more Beautiful Things than Beyoncé, which I bought for its provocative title. It is the perfect mix of pop culture, politics and outrageously beautiful lines of poetry. It’s the kind of book that you can’t read all at once because each poem slays you. One of the poems, ‘The Gospel According to Her’ opens with this couplet:

What to a slave is the fourth of July
What to a woman is a vote

I mean! Wow! I’m so tired of the kind of ‘flippant cool’ and ‘awkward funny’ poetic voice that’s been popular for a bit now, and this book feels like such an antidote to that. It’s really important writing about the intersections of race, gender, class and pop culture in America, and it feels fiercely genuine.

And obviously one of my all-time favourite books of poems is Mags’ (Sugar Magnolia Wilson’s) new collectiom Because a Woman’s Heart is like a Needle at the Bottom of the Ocean. I’ve been waiting for this book since I first met Mags in our MA course in 2012, and, though I’d seen (I think) all of the poems in it before it was published, having them gathered together in one place makes them all seem to glow a bit brighter. It possesses some of the magical realism that brings me back time and again to the Mahy, with a slightly darker, more grown-up edge. It feels like a book that has already lived a thousand lives, and lived them richly, and has picked up scraps and talismans along the way to adorn its stories, like the bower birds in the poem ‘Glamour’. It does what the best poetry does, which is to offer you something beautiful and immediate on the surface, but with more and more layers of meaning to unpick as you make repeat visits. I think what it has to say on how we define ourselves in relation to other people is genuinely complex and profound.

 

David Eggleton

The Walled Garden by Russell Haley, published in 1972 by The Mandrake Root, was one of the first poetry books I ever bought, and I bought it in order to read it over and over and internalise it. Its verses I found visionary, oneiric, hallucinatory. I had seen it displayed in Auckland’s University Book Shop, which was then in the Student Quad on campus. I picked it up off the shelf, began idly flicking through and became immediately ensnared by its strange chanting lines:

 

Invest the real with moths of dream

white paper is a time machine

 

and

 

six inches of semantic dust cover the carpet

he drew with his fingers

new maps of home

Grafton Road and Carlton Gore …

 

As I was living in Grafton Road at the time, just along the bustling hippie encampments in the grand old villas near Carlton Gore Road, my brain began to hum. I bought the book and it immediately became my guide to a certain state of mind a celebration of another, more phantasmal, Auckland in the decade of the 1970s:

 

Gagarin is finding a new way to walk

both the rock and the lion are starting to talk …

 

Russell Haley was a British migrant who grew up in the north of England and then served in the R.A. F. in Iraq in the 1950s, at a time when the oil wells of Middle East were relatively untroubled by the meddling of the United States, and archeological expeditions to the Fertile Crescent were proceeding in an orderly fashion, and Persian poetry was being celebrated as the ne plus ultra of the Islamic Golden Age. In Haley’s The Walled Garden, still to me a wondrous book, I was attracted to the private mythology, the prophetic quality, the dream-like imagery, the air of premonition, of the circularity of history he was invoking: a sense of time of time regained out of a kind of colourful rubble — the bric a brac of twentieth century international modernism — which seemed to me at the time seductively exotic. Moreover, he managed to make tenets of Sufi mysticism rhyme and chime with kite-flying in the small hours on Bethells Beach:

 

3.30 am …

 

There are two voices —

the first is that of the man

holding the kite string —

he says everything and yet nothing.

The second is the deep hum of the rope

linking the man and the kite  —

this voice says nothing and yet everything

(from night flying with hanly)

 

Published in Auckland by Stephen Chan’s Association of Orientally Flavoured Syndics in 1972, David Mitchell’s first, and for several decades his only poetry collection, Pipe Dreams in Ponsonby, was reprinted in a second edition in 1975 by Caveman Press, whose publisher was Trevor Reeves. That is the edition, acquired second-hand years later, that I have in my possession, knocked out by Tablet Print in Dunedin and, though in a similar thin black cardboard jacket, not quite as elegant and well-printed as the earlier one. Yet it still conveys the magic, the mojo, of a poet who celebrated the poem as spoken word. For me, David Mitchell is an exemplar of the shaman able to take a poem off the page and make it into something performative, transcendent, on a stage. In Auckland in 1980, David Mitchell established the Globe Hotel weekly poetry readings which became inspirational. Mitchell was a poet of the primal, one who had an ability to suggest and conjure up the electric atmosphere of raw improvisation. A master of syllabics, the man with the golden ear, he was actually all craft. He worked with silence, building up cadences out of short phrases and using the pregnant pause to create resonance. He was intent on emphasising the evanescence of the moment; with the use of subtle intonation and enunciation, seeking to establish an authentic encounter with the poem he was reciting, its mood, its music.

Kendrick Smithyman was another early enthusiasm of mine, in particular his 1972 collection Earthquake Weather in its drab olive green cover, containing the poem ‘Hail’ whose last lines give the book its resonantly memorable title: ‘We call this earthquake weather. We may not be wrong.’

But it is his later epic 1997 poem Atua Wera that spun my compass round as an example of what a truly ambitious New Zealand poem could be. Atua Wera, is a poem glued together out of bits and bobs. It muses on historical hearsay, folklore, museological keepsakes, and intertextual chunks of letters and journals. It requires you to latch onto the poet’s rhythms of thought, his oblique way of saying things as he tells the story of Papahurihia, a Northland Māori millennial prophet who was a tohunga descended from tohunga.

In this verse biography, Smithyman is a prose Browning, up to his elbows in the old colonial dust, breaking up journalistic reportage into cryptic fragments, into crabbed lines scattered across the page, except that where Robert Browning embroidered endlessly in his epic The Ring and the Book on a story that, as Thomas Carlyle said, might have been told in ten lines and were better forgotten, Smithyman’s effort is a superb revivification of an amazing chapter in New Zealand colonial history.

A master-ventriloquist, like his subject, Smithyman uses James Busby, Thomas Kendall and Frederic Maning to tell us about Yankee sailors encountering Moriori voodoo, and about the Garden of Eden snake in Genesis being transformed into a lizard, then a dragon, then ‘a fiery flying serpent’ who turns out to be Te Atau Wera himself, the shape-shifter. Atua Wera is itself a shape-shifting poem of ghost-riders and end-of-world portents, of the phantom canoe on Lake Tarawera before the eruption, and of a light in the sky which turns out to be a TV repeater mast. It’s a book which is a palimpest, a treasure trove, a landmark, a beacon.

 

Sam Duckor-Jones

DIFFERENT DANCES / SHEL SILVERSTEIN
This is a large coffee table book of drawings of naked men and women fucking and sucking and being impaled in various ways. There is straight sex, queer sex, and not-so-subtle nods towards fun things like necrophilia! incest! bestiality! We loved this book when we were kids, we poured over it wide eyed, impatient, tingling and desirous and competitively appalled or nonchalant, depending. A little later, ie adolescence, when my friends and I started liking boys but had no language or real world models with which to express it, we drew: cousins rutting in basements, fey teachers with debased secrets, musclemen kissing in pantries… Different Dances was my manual for lusty expression: put it on the page. To this day I still prefer a pen and paper to real life, sigh.

DEAR PRUDENCE / DAVID TRINIDAD
David Trinidad has this long prose poem called ‘Mothers’ in which he remembers all the mothers from his childhood neighbourhoods. It’s intimate and cinematic and filled with satisfyingly stifling pastels and veneers of conformity and simmering desperations and a serious deluge of kitsch, moving from comic portrait to heartbreaking confession. I read it in 2016 and immediately made David Trinidad one of my favourite poets and Dear Prudence one of my most frequently thumbed books. David Trinidad constructs his poems from celebrity interviews, soap opera scripts, trashy novels, idol infatuations, all with a serious wash of queer love and it’s associated traumas. He takes plain language and wrings it with tight margins til it becomes something crystalized. I love him.

BLISS / PETER CAREY
When I lived in Auckland I was a bad employee. I worked in a number of cafes, briefly. I was scared of the customers and didn’t have the cahones for kitchen trash talk. All I wanted to do was read and draw, why was this not allowed? On a lunch break at a Ponsonby spot where I was the lame FOH, I read Bliss in the upstairs staffroom. The barista came and sat beside me and talked and talked and would not stop talking so I picked up my book and climbed right out the window. I ran along the awnings and shimmied down a drainpipe, stormed righteously to Grey Lynn park, finished my chapter. Caught the next train home to Wellington. Ever since, Bliss has represented a real particular sort of escape to me, and is a reminder that a good book is worth it.

 

Amy Leigh Wicks

I came across Jack Kerouac’s On the Road in university. I resonated with his ability to articulate the insatiable longings of the human heart. The novel wasn’t the best written thing I’d read, but the timing of it, the casual language paired with a desperate feeling of urgency coincided perfectly with my itch for travel and spiritual discovery. Kerouac said in a later interview that the book was really just about two catholic boys in search of God. I think a lot of people might have trouble seeing it because of all the Benzedrine and riotous living, but it hit me in the guts as true.

I was in my early twenties when I read Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Collected Poems. Her sonnets continue to be one great sources of inspiration and reflection. From Sonnet XXX which begins, ‘Love is not all,’ and ends in a surprising turn, to her sonnet What lips my lips have kissed and where and why, which appeared in Vanity Fair in 1920, but reads to me as if it were written now, her poems are delicious, layered, and precisely crafted.

I started studying James K. Baxter while I was working on my Masters in New York, and found a very hard time finding his books. When I moved to New Zealand and came across New Selected Poems: James K. Baxter edited by Paul Millar, I felt I had struck gold. I carry it with me in my purse most days, as it is not cumbersome, and it has a selection of poetry from all of Baxter’s books as well as a selection of previously unpublished works. I find myself coming back to Farmhand, where ‘He has his awkward hopes, his envious dreams to yarn to […]’ to later in his life, the bittersweet but undeniably beautiful He Waiata mo Te Kare where he says, ‘Nobody would have given tuppence for our chances,/ Yet our love did not turn to hate.’

 

Murray Edmond

Plants of New Zealand by R.M.Laing and E.W.Blackwell (Whitcombe and Tombs , 1906)

Shanties by the Way: a selection of New Zealand Popular Songs and Ballads collected and edited by Rona Baily and Herbert Roth (Whitcombe and Tombs, 1967)

Hidden Camera by Zoran Zivkovic, trans. Alice Copple-Tosic, (London: Dalkey Archive, 2008)

I think I was given ‘Laing and Blackwell’ (as it was always called) for my 12th birthday, at the end of 1961. I would have asked for it. I had recently joined the Hamilton Junior Naturalists Club and had begun to discover ‘another world’ in the flora of Aotearoa, which was to be a gateway for understanding many other things about the country I lived in that no one had yet mentioned. Robert Laing and Ellen Blackwell’s Plants of New Zealand was the first serious, semi-populist, reasonably comprehensive book on New Zealand plants. Ellen Blackwell, an amateur botanist in her late thirties, had met Robert Laing, Christchurch school teacher, graduate of Canterbury University College, and botanist with a special interest in marine algae, on a ship heading for New Zealand in 1903. Laing was returning from an overseas trip, Blackwell was visiting her brother Frank at Pahi in the northern Kaipara, her first (and only!) visit to New Zealand. The fruit of this meeting was the publication of the evergreen ‘Laing and Blackwell’ in 1906, with Ellen contributing photos (along with brother Frank) and much of the northern botanical information. The sixth edition I received had been published in 1957. It’s a strange old hodge-podge of a book, with reliable basic botanical coverage, mixed with Maori ‘lore’ on plant use, plus some poetical diversions to William Pember Reeves and Alfred Domett. Pretty soon us budding naturalists had graduated to Lucy Moore and H.H.Allan’s properly scientific Flora of New Zealand, but we never forgot our Laing and Blackwell. Ellen Blackwell returned to England after three years in New Zealand, never to return, but she left a little gem behind her. I wrote a poem called ‘Te Ngahere’ (‘The Bush’), using my new discoveries, and next year, 1963, my first year at high school, it was published in the school magazine.

I bought Rona Bailey and Bert Roth’s anthology Shanties by the Way, when I was a first year student at Auckland University in 1968. It might be my favourite New Zealand poetry anthology. Of the 85 songs, ballads, chants, rhymes, jingles, ditties, shanties, broadsides, protests, burlesques, etc. 21 are by the illustrious Anon. It’s a history book and a poetry book at the same time, a collection of voices, registers and, indeed, languages of Aotearoa. When Russell Haley and I wrote our satire, Progress in the Dark, on the sordid history of Auckland city, for the Living Theatre Troupe in 1971, I raided the prohibition section of the anthology for our play:

 

I am a young teetotaller

And though but six years old,

Within my little breast there beats

A heart as true as gold.

 

Bert Roth, socialist, Viennese Jew, escapee from Hitler’s Austria, declared ‘enemy alien’ by the New Zealand Government, became the historian of the Union movement in New Zealand; Rona Bailey, physical education teacher, dancer, communist, activist, had studied modern dance and the collecting of folk dance and song in the USA just before World War Two. Together these two created a rich record in verse and song of the story of Aotearoa – read it, sing it, and you’ll get the picture!

Lisa Samuels gave me Zoran Zivkovic’s novel Hidden Camera not so long ago. It’s a scary, funny, dark, narratively powerful and hauntingly intoxicating tale that makes you question the very reality around you as you read. Zivkovic, who wrote his masters’ thesis at Belgrade University on Arthur C. Clarke, and latterly taught there for many years, knows his Lem, his Kafka, his Bulgakov and his Gogol. Perhaps his work evokes what a Robert Louis Stevenson thriller or a Henry James ghost story in the 21st century might read like. Aren’t we all being recorded, all the time? Are the narratives of us that are recorded more real than the lives we think we are living? Zivkovic is a writer who makes me want to record narratives myself, if only to fight back against the capture of ourselves, to escape the horror of the prisons we have built for ourselves.

 

Contributors

Sam Duckor-Jones is a sculptor and poet who lives in Featherston. In 2017 he won the Biggs Poetry Prize from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington. Victoria University press published his debut collection People from the Pit Stand Up in 2018.  His website.

Murray Edmond is a playwright, poet and fiction writer; he has worked as an editor, critic and dramaturge. Several of his poetry collections have been finalists in the New Zealand Book Awards:   Letters and Paragraphs, Fool Moon and Shaggy Magpie Songs. He has worked extensively in theatre including twenty years with Indian Ink on the creation of all the company’s scripts. His latest poetry collection Back Before You Know was published by Compound Press in 2019.

David Eggleton is a Dunedin-based poet and writer, who was formerly the editor of Landfall. He is working on a number of projects, including a new poetry collection.

Joan Fleming is a poet, teacher, and researcher. She is the author of two books of poetry, The Same as Yes and Failed Love Poems (both with Victoria University Press), and her third book is forthcoming with Cordite Books. She has recently completed a PhD in ethnopoetics at Monash University, a project which arose out of deep family ties and ongoing relationships with Warlpiri families in Central Australia. She is the New Zealand/Aotearoa Commissioning Editor for Cordite Poetry Review and teaches creative writing from Madrid, where she currently lives. She recently performed and served as Impresario for the Unamuno Author Series Festival in Madrid, and in 2020 she will travel to Honduras for the Our Little Roses Poetry Teaching Fellowship.

Fiona Kidman has published over 30 books including novels, poetry, memoir and a play. She has received a number of awards and honours including a DNZM, OBE and the French Legion of Honour. Her most recent book This Mortal Boy won the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize at the Ockham Book Awards 2019. She has published a number of poetry collections; her debut Honey and Bitters appeared in 1975 while her more recent collections were published by Random House: Where Your Left Hand Rests (2010) and This Change in the Light (2016).

Amy Leigh Wicks is the author of The Dangerous Country of Love and Marriage (Auckland University Press 2019) and Orange Juice and Rooftops.

Hannah Mettner is a Wellington-based poet from Gisborne. Her first collection, Fully Clothed and so Forgetful (VUP 2017), was longlisted for the 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, and won the Jessie Mackay Award for best first book of poetry. She is co-editor with Morgan Bach and Sugar Magnolia Wilson of Sweet Mammalian, an online poetry journal launched in 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf review: Murray Edmond’s Back Before You Know

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Murray Edmond, Back Before You Know, Compound Press, 2019

Jonas Bones, Jonas Bones esquire,

whale-stabber, seal-clubber,

great hands held like tongs in the fire,

road-digger, gold-grubber—

JONAS: Never did have no blasted luck,

every plan came unstuck—

Always up to his ears in muck

couldn’t make two ends meet.

So one last chance to call a stop

one last throw on a crumbling life,

on the King Country line he set up shop,

with one lone child and one sharp wife.

from ‘The Ballad of Jonas Bones’

 

 

Murray Edmond is a playwright, poet and fiction writer; he has worked as an editor, critic and dramaturge. Several of his poetry collections have been finalists in the New Zealand Book Awards:   Letters and Paragraphs, Fool Moon and Shaggy Magpie Songs. He has worked extensively in theatre including twenty years with Indian Ink on the creation of all the company’s scripts.

Murray’s new collection comprises two long poems that play with other sources; with fable, allegory, history, theatre, poetics, the ballad form. The first poem, ‘The Ballad of Jonas Bones’ steps off from Robert Penn Warren’s ‘The Ballad of Billie Potts’ (1943), from Kentucky to the Waikato / King Country. Murray claims his version as a palimpsest or adaptation, leaving traces of the original version, ghost-like and haunting. We may find vestiges of place, the story that gets passed down the line from ear to mouth, the innkeepers who rob their well-off guests, a character’s return to origins, the cutting shards of history, the kaleidoscopic turns of humanity. I haven’t read Warren’s poem but I sense its eerie presence.

Murray’s fluctuating rhythm and rhymes are like shifting river currents, his poem a river poem carrying the debris of story, hand-me-down anecdote. There’s gold and there’s mud, there’s error and there’s incident, there’s greed and there’s survival. Dialogue gives it life as a theatre piece, staged to the point I invent the presence of audience and a live version runs through my head. I am watching as the past is made present and the future present is gestured at in the revised story along with the original skelton. A wider context is superimposed and hides in the seams: ‘frontier’ stories that mutate in the telling, the more significant misrepresentations that shaped our histories, the way individual stories are muffled within the dominant narratives.

Ah but alongside these fertile underground veins is the fact this is a cracking good story with its blinding twists and wounding heart. For some reason I kept thinking of Blanche Baughan’s affecting long ballad, ‘Shingle Short’.

The second poem, ‘The Fancier Pigeon’, is equally arresting with Murray characteristically playful. I am reading with a wry smile, every sense provoked, my reading momentum both fluid and addictive.  We meet the fancier pigeon and the pigeon fancier (she with her hair aglint) when they meet perched on stools at a bar:

 

She had hair the colour of apricot

she smelt like a cake just taken

from the oven and her father played

drums in a band in the only night club

in town

 

I am always reluctant to spoil the unfolding of a poem, long or short, in ways that ruin the reading experience, that spotlight the darkened nooks and crannies, the poem’s pauses or digressions. That dampens the joy of reading. But I will say when the two characters kiss a pigeon drops a ring at their feet – they decide they will each keep the ring for a week and then only met when they exchange the ring. Such an emblematic hook.

The poem feels cinematic (visually sharp, moody hued), theatrical (with both dialogue and action body gripping) and fable-like (overlaying universal themes of love, betrayal, mishap and destiny). The poem also feels cinematic with its smudged lighting as though we can’t quite be sure what happens between this scene and the next, with the cue to fable never far off, the characters, a quartet, shifting and sliding in and out of view.

 

and it was there

the girl had stopped her

as she walked

“Has he come asking for me”

of course he had so she said “No”

and as if she were granting wishes

she asked

“You wanna come out on the lake

with me in the canoe?”

and she had lead her down

among the bulrushes

 

What I love about the poem – beyond the supple language play and the sensual images, the addictive and offbeat characters, and the narrative tug – is the way the world adheres. As reader you can’t just stick to the poet’s diverting fable – because the real world intrudes, the hurt and broken world if you hold the bigger picture, and the miniature daily stories if you hold the way humanity is formed by individuals. Both things matter at the level of the humane.

The book’s punning title, like a cypher, a tease, is also a ‘dropped ring’. It is re-sited as the last line: ‘BACK AGAIN BEFORE YOU KNOW’.  And I am looping back on the unknown and the achingly familiar, the beginning that is ending that is beginning and so on, the switch back roads and the clifftop vantage points, the downright miraculous and the daily mundane. Ah setting sail on this poetic loop, with its blurs and its epiphanies, is sheer bliss. Poetry bliss.

 

Compound Press author page

Ka Mate Ka Ora: A New Zealand journal of poetry and poetics Issue # 16 now live

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Ka Mate Ka Ora live

Featuring:
Hannah Lees on Vaughan Rapatahana
Owen Bullock on Michele Leggott
Susannah Whaley on Janet Frame
Erena Shingade sends a Letter from Mumbai
Ian Wedde remembers John Dickson
Peter Bland remembers Gordon Challis
Aorewa McLeod remembers Heather McPherson
and Murray Edmond ponders Closure with a Wrecking Ball

 

I was really delighted to read Aorewa’s memories of Heather and her poetry.

I loved Erena’s letter with its poem inserts.

Reading Murray’s editorial on The University of Auckland decisions to shrink The Arts along with sites of book culture and knowledge is essential reading. Heartbreaking to read as a graduate. What can we do?

 

An extract:

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Now back to the rest of the issue!

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Murray Edmond’s LOOKING DOWN INTO THE PROMISED LAND

 

LOOKING DOWN INTO THE PROMISED LAND

 

the place that I will

never go

no soft landing

if I jumped

no gazing back

to where a lover

turns to salt

small indentations

in the dust

in which my toes are curled

it’s just and only just

desire holds me up aloft

and thus that I am stopped

and shall not leap

down to the land below

but if I did

then I would leave behind

these curlings of the toes

like letters in the sand

where my lover

turned to dust

and I did not look back

desire for me was

no soft landing

in a place

that I will never go

the promised land

 

©Murray Edmond

 

Born, Hamilton, 1949. Home: Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. Poet (14 books, most recent Shaggy Magpie Songs, 2015); critic (most recent Then It Was Now Again: Selected Critical Writing, 2014) dramatist and fiction writer (most recent, Strait Men and Other Tales, 2015); editor, Ka Mate Ka Ora: A New Zealand Journal of Poetry and Poetics;  dramaturge (most recent Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis’s Welcome to the Murder House, Wellington May-June 2018 and Naomi Bartley’s Te Waka Huia, Basement Matariki season July 2018) and director (Len Lye: the Opera, Auckland, 2012).

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the hammock: Reading Min-a-rets (8)

 

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Min-a-rets issue 8 autumn 2018

 

edited by Erena Shingade

published by Compound Press

drawings by Harry Moritz

poems by:

Victor Billot

Freya Daly Sadgrove

Lee Thomson

Zack Anderson

Murray Edmond

Courtney Sina Meredith

Manon Revuelta

Naomi Scully

 

This is multi-note poetry – each poem a sharp turn to different effect but the poetry co-exists so sweetly.  There is not a dud note.

Today I am in the mood for surprise.

Zack Anderson’s ‘Vapor Wake’ is a lush string of words, a momentum of startling image and sound. A taste:

 

shadow the streaming track

the wormy spoor

the hex print

the luminous index

data streaming from me

like a wedding dress

a mantle, a mantis

a veil

 

Murray Edmond goes ‘Camping in the existential forest’ with tercets that wryly build a miniature narrative, strange, theatrical and evocative:

 

III

Someone coming in

gumboots. Tramp tramp tramp. Beat

of own tell-tale heart.

 

Courtney Sina Meredith hooks me with an off-kilter memoir-like cluster of little pieces, definitely luminous. From ‘Pony’:

 

Baths

Unless my memory is playing tricks on me. The rats

were white with blazing red eyes.

 

I’m translating myself from a time when I was sure.

 

I recently did an email conversation with Manon Revuelta where I enthused about her debut collection, Girl Teeth. This new poem, ‘Prayer’, shows the subtle along with the degrees of surprise and lyricism Manon is capable of. A taste:

 

Look at this busy dance I do with my hand

When I’m talking to people

Shredding paper in the darkness of my pocket

It is the quiet work of saying things

 

Min-a-ret 8 is a treat to be read on multiple occasions like a good album that needs multiple listenings.

 

Min-a-rets page

Erena Shingade is a poet and arts writer from Auckland, New Zealand. Her work has been published by platforms such as The Spinoff, Landfall, Mimicry, Blackmail Press, Atlanta Review, Ka Mate Ka Ora, & the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre. After completing an MA thesis on the Zen Buddhist poetry of Richard von Sturmer in 2017, she continues to research the intersection of the poetic and the religious. During the day she works as a publicist for Allen & Unwin.