Tag Archives: Ockham NZ book Awards

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.

     

  • Full award list here

 

Poetry winner, David Eggleton’s seven best things to make a poem memorable

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David Eggleton won the Ockham Book Award’s  Poetry category this year. Here are his Seven Things That Make A Poem Memorable. Gems.

1. The first thing is the poetic license, the dispensation, a poem grants allowing the poet to take liberties with language, with literary form, to yoke together like with unlike, the probable with the improbable, in a tiny space, and create a kind of explosion — sometimes thermonuclear, as in T.S.Eliot’s Modernism-defining 1922 poem ‘The Waste Land’. Virginia Woolf wrote shortly after this was published: ‘I sun myself upon the ravishing beauty of one of his lines, and reflect that I must make a dizzy and dangerous leap to the next. . .line.’

2. The second thing is the wonderfully mesmeric power of a poem’s metre, the entrancement of its heartbeat, its rhythm, its breathing, as these two lines from a Samuel Beckett poem indicate: ‘the churn of stale words in the heart again/ love love love thud of the old plunger. . .’ Allen Ginsberg shows another way the metre can memorably become stirring, march-like, uplifting, as well as amusingly sardonic, in his poem ‘Howl’: ‘buried alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue amid/ blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regiments of fashion/ & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of advertising/ & the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors. . .’

 

for the rest of the list on The Ockham Book Award site see here

Poetry Shelf congratulates the winner of the poetry category at the Ockham NZ Book Awards

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Photo credit:  F. J. Neuman

 

‘Stone clacks on stone

so creek lizards slither,

runnels slip through claws,

each cloud’s a silver feather.’

from ‘Raukura’ in The Conch Trumpet (OUP)

 

I was chuffed to see David Eggleton win the Poetry category for his terrific collection, The Conch Shell.

David did a wonderful interview to coincide with the publication of this book last year. He is a very fine poet who has contributed much to our writing communities.

My hearty congratulations.

 

from the interview:

These new poems offer shifting tones, preoccupations, rhythms. What discoveries did you make about poetry as you wrote? The world? Interior or external?

My poems like to dwell on the silver wake of a container ship, or the wet sand beneath the upturned hull of a dinghy, or the half-seen, the overheard. Poets re-arrange, but they have duties of care. X.J. Kennedy has pointed out that: ‘The world is full of poets with languid wrenches who don’t bother to take the last six turns on their bolts.’

It’s been five years since my last poetry collection Time of the Icebergs appeared, and one reason my collections have been regularly spaced that far apart is the need for more elbow-grease and line-tightening to get the burnish just so.

The poet’s mind, like anyone else’s is made up of reptilian substrate, limbic empathy and neo-cortical rationality. These shape your reveries and hopefully together lift them out of banality. Our ideas are dreams, styles, superstitions. We rationalise our temperaments, draw curtains over our windows, but poems carry an anarchic charge that reveals the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.

A poet is in the business of the unsayable being said, showing you fear in a handful of dust. A poet is amanuensis to the subconscious ceaselessly murmuring, and indeed to the planetary hum, the gravitational pull of the earth, the wobble of placental jellyfish in the womb — anything alive, mindless and gooey.

the rest of the interview here

Best first poetry book at the Ocklam NZ BNook Awards is

 

 

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big congratulations go to …. Chris Tse for his very fabulous book .

 

Here is my review:

 

How to Be Dead in a Year of Snakes Chris Tse, Auckland University Press

Chris Tse is a writer, musician and actor whose poetry first appeared in AUP New Posts 4 (Auckland University Press, 2011). He resides in Wellington, his home town.

Chris’s debut collection, How to Be Dead in a Year of Snakes, responds to a moment in history not so much by narrating that history but by installing a chorus of voices. He takes an event from 1905 when Lionel Terry went hunting for a Chinaman in Haining Street, Wellington and ended up murdering Joe Kum Yung. Within the opening pages, the chilling event is situated in a wider context where laws proscribe the alienness that situates  Chinese as outsiders. This is what gets under your skin as you read.

The poems draw upon and draw in notions of distance, defeat, guilt and forgiveness. There are the unsettled imaginings of what it is to be home, to be at home and to be out of home to the extent that home becomes difficult and different. Mostly it is a matter of death (and casting back into life) whereby phantoms stalk and cry about what might have been and what is: ‘You spend your thoughts drowning in your family-/ missing from this vista- and contemplate a return with nothing to show/ for your absence.’

The collection harvests shifting forms, voices and tones that promote poetry as mood, state of mind, emotional residue. Yes, there is detailed evidence of history but this is not a realist account, a story told in such a way. Instead the poetic spareness, the drifting phantom voices give stronger presence to things that are much harder to put into words. How to be dead, for example. How to find the co-ordinates of estrangement, of that which is unbearably lost and is hard to tally (family, home, what matters in life). On page four you move from a matter-of-fact representation of the law to page five and the wife in Canton (‘you carry her bones in your body’). Two disparate but equally potent aches.

At times the poems are syncopated, with words stretched over little bridges of silence or white space. It adds an accumulating breathlessness. At times it feels like the intake of breath associated with the silence you grant the dead. When you stop and remember. Thus (as it appears in one poem), it also becomes static: ‘Listen: there’s a hunger in the air. It’s reciting prophecies./ It’s doubled up.’

Many lines sing out and stick as they haunt:

‘to kill a man is to marry a shadow’

‘We must divide the world around us into safety sets or else it splinters/ of its own accord into anarchy.’

‘The world is full of murder and words are usually the first to go’

‘Peace is a loose ideal for the abandoned/ left to sing their songs/ to themselves’

‘there will be voices to say your name/ to clear the way. The rest is up to you.’

There are many vessels of emptiness (the body, the head, the memory, the thing) and in a way each poem is a version of a vessel that becomes provisionally and movingly full. Just for a moment: ‘Now your onus is to surround/ yourself in objects    of your former permanence// a bone flute that stores folk songs and lullabies within,/ chopsticks that remember the taste of every meal.’

This collection shows so beautifully, so movingly, the power of poetry to give renewed presence to history; so that the silent bridges billow with a new awareness of how we get to this point.

 

The Ockham NZ Poetry short list- two reviews, an interview and a book in my bag

I am heading off to Wellington this morning to go to A Circle of Laureates, the Lauris Edmond prize event and do a smidgeon of reading in between. Thought I would share these first:

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How to Be Dead in a Year of Snakes Chris Tse, Auckland University Press

Chris Tse is a writer, musician and actor whose poetry first appeared in AUP New Posts 4 (Auckland University Press, 2011). He resides in Wellington, his home town.

Chris’s debut collection, How to Be Dead in a Year of Snakes, responds to a moment in history not so much by narrating that history but by installing a chorus of voices. He takes an event from 1905 when Lionel Terry went hunting for a Chinaman in Haining Street, Wellington and ended up murdering Joe Kum Yung. Within the opening pages, the chilling event is situated in a wider context where laws proscribe the alienness that situates  Chinese as outsiders. This is what gets under your skin as you read.

The poems draw upon and draw in notions of distance, defeat, guilt and forgiveness. There are the unsettled imaginings of what it is to be home, to be at home and to be out of home to the extent that home becomes difficult and different. Mostly it is a matter of death (and casting back into life) whereby phantoms stalk and cry about what might have been and what is: ‘You spend your thoughts drowning in your family-/ missing from this vista- and contemplate a return with nothing to show/ for your absence.’

The collection harvests shifting forms, voices and tones that promote poetry as mood, state of mind, emotional residue. Yes, there is detailed evidence of history but this is not a realist account, a story told in such a way. Instead the poetic spareness, the drifting phantom voices give stronger presence to things that are much harder to put into words. How to be dead, for example. How to find the co-ordinates of estrangement, of that which is unbearably lost and is hard to tally (family, home, what matters in life). On page four you move from a matter-of-fact representation of the law to page five and the wife in Canton (‘you carry her bones in your body’). Two disparate but equally potent aches.

For the rest of the review see here

 

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From an interview I did with David Eggleton last year:

I love the title of your new collection (The Conch Shell, Otago University Press). The blurb suggests that this collection ‘calls to the scattered tribes of contemporary New Zealand.’ What tribes do you belong to? What literary tribes? How does the word ‘contemporary’ modify things?

Yes, I’m blowing my own (conch) trumpet at sunrise. That title refers to tide-lines of life, to surf-like sounds, to gathering good vibrations, to gods of the sea who, clarion-like, lull the waves, and to the summer of shakes, the year of quakes. And so on, to the final burnout of the run-ragged consumer. The rest is the tribal outcast, and everything you cannot pin down, or ascribe a bar code to.

In fact, the word ‘tribe’ is fraught. I think James K. Baxter brought it into the literary realm. My own tribal background is distinctly heterogeneous rather than Fonterra-homogenous, but if I look around at my contemporaries, poets and otherwise, I see most of them making it up as they go along. A poem tests a proposition; it doesn’t always prove it.

 

These new poems offer shifting tones, preoccupations, rhythms. What discoveries did you make about poetry as you wrote? The world? Interior or external?

My poems like to dwell on the silver wake of a container ship, or the wet sand beneath the upturned hull of a dinghy, or the half-seen, the overheard. Poets re-arrange, but they have duties of care. X.J. Kennedy has pointed out that: ‘The world is full of poets with languid wrenches who don’t bother to take the last six turns on their bolts.’

It’s been five years since my last poetry collection Time of the Icebergs appeared, and one reason my collections have been regularly spaced that far apart is the need for more elbow-grease and line-tightening to get the burnish just so.

The poet’s mind, like anyone else’s is made up of reptilian substrate, limbic empathy and neo-cortical rationality. These shape your reveries and hopefully together lift them out of banality. Our ideas are dreams, styles, superstitions. We rationalise our temperaments, draw curtains over our windows, but poems carry an anarchic charge that reveals the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.

A poet is in the business of the unsayable being said, showing you fear in a handful of dust. A poet is amanuensis to the subconscious ceaselessly murmuring, and indeed to the planetary hum, the gravitational pull of the earth, the wobble of placental jellyfish in the womb — anything alive, mindless and gooey.

 

Is there a single poem or two in the collection that particularly resonates with you?

Every poem resonates on its own wavelength, but I found constructing an immediate elegiac response to my father’s death one of the most turbulent. A bit like getting to grips with a storm, with a howling wind that has shape and substance.

 

Returning to the notion of detail, I see the accumulation of things in your poems as an overlay of highways to elsewhere whether heart, issues, ideas, fancy, memory. Yet the things also pulsate as things in their own right. What draws you to ‘the thisness of things’ (the blurb)?

Things accumulate in my poems in almost haptic fashion, wrestled there like sculptural ingredients. They accumulate, as in the random haphazard assemblages of the Dadaist Kurt Schwitters, built out of found objects in the streets. Yes, I want to acknowledge the ‘thisness’ of things, but not in the sense of ‘property’. Rather, in the sense of: he who kisses the joy as it flies, lives in eternity’s sunrise.

 

For the complete interview see here

 

Tim-FB 9780473288396-TU

Tim Upperton, The Night We Ate The Baby HauNui Press, 2014

Tim Upperton’s debut poetry collection, A House on Fire, was published by Steele Roberts in 2009. Since then, his poetry has been published in numerous journals and he has won awards for a number of them. The poems for this new collection were written with the assistance of a Doctoral Scholarship from Massey University of New Zealand, so perhaps they form/formed part of his doctoral submission. Tim will be reading as part of the Haunui Press ‘Deep Friend Poetry Reading’ series at Vic Books on 26th March. Details here.

This latest book is unlike any other collection I have seen in New Zealand; chiefly in terms of the measure of discomfort. The forms are various, scooping an edgy wit into prose blocks, villanelle, triplets, couplets and freer patterns. Yet there is connective glue at work here, and that is what makes this collection stand out. I think it comes down to voice (whether or not it is the personal voice of the poet doesn’t really matter) because the voice steering the poems is sharp, forthright, witty, edgy, grumpy. It unsettles. It keeps you on your toes. On the back of the book, Ashleigh Young suggests that ‘[t]hese willfully, calmly disagreeable poems have tenderness and courage at their heart.’ I would agree. Therein lies the pleasure of reading these poems; there is more to the brittle edginess than meets the initial eye.

The first poem, ‘Avoid,’ very clearly announces that this is a poet who loves language, that is unafraid of rhyme and rhythm working arm in arm. The poem is a miniature explosion of sound effects — with sliding assonance, bounding consonants, near rhyme and sumptuous aural connections. It brought to mind the refrain in Don McGlashan’s song,  ‘Marvellous Year,’ and Bill Manhire’s glorious ‘1950s’ in the use of rhythm and rhyme, and aural trapeze work that is ear defying. Whereas Don’s song represents a potted portrait of the world in all its warts and glory (in a marvellous year), and Bill’s poem is a nostalgic recuperation of things, Tim sets up the collection’s  negative disposition and itemises things to avoid!

For the rest of the review see here

 

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Roger Horrocks Song in the Ghost Machine

I haven’t read this book! Last year I picked it up to review then found something about it was very close to a fragile starting point I had for a book in my head. I can’t talk about poems I am writing until they are written. I didn’t want to scare my starting point off so left in the pile to read.

Now that I am hard at work writing about NZ women’s poetry, my starting point is in a little holding bay where it may or may not survive. It has been there for over a decade though and has moved to second place in  a queue.

So I am throwing caution to the wind and taking this book to read on the plane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.