Tag Archives: Otago University Press

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Victor Billot reads from The Sets

The Sets, Victor Billot, Otago University Press, 2021

Victor Billot reads ‘The Sets’ from his collection plus two new poems: ‘An Award Winning Campaign’ and ‘The Youngest One’.

Victor Billot was born in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1972. He has worked in communications, publishing and the maritime industry. His collection The Sets was published by Otago University Press in February 2021.

In 2020 he was commissioned by the Newsroom website to write a series of political satires in verse and is now embarking on a new series. His poems have been displayed in the Reykjavik City Hall and in Antarctica.

Otago University Press page

Victor’s website

Poetry Shelf celebrates Ockham NZ Book Award poetry long list: Elizabeth Morton reads from This is your real name

Elizabeth Morton reads two poems from This is your real name (Otago University Press, 2020)

Elizabeth Morton is a poet and teller of yarns. She has two poetry collections – Wolf (Mākaro Press, 2017) and This is your real name (Otago, 2020). She is included in Best Small Fictions 2016, and was feature poet in the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017. She has an MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow, and is currently completing an MSc through King’s College London.

Otago University Press page

Poetry Shelf review

Poetry Shelf review: Fiona Farrell’s Nouns, verbs, etc

Nouns, verbs, etc. Fiona Farrell, Otago University Press, 2020

Once upon a time there was

a story.

It lived in the mouth of an

old woman.

It was a bad-tempered story

that kicked the door in and

threw plates. It did not behave

itself.

But she gave it shelter.

She had made it herself.

She had fed it with her own

blood. She had spat her own

stomach into its straining

beak. She knew why it cried.

from ‘The old woman’s story’

Fiona Farrell, much loved poet, novelist and nonfiction author, began writing poems in childhood, at times in ‘wonky capitals’ with the delicious ‘thump’ of end rhyme. She discusses her evolution as poet in the terrific preface to her selected poems published last year. There were comic poems that made her class laugh, the earnest poems of high school with elevated expectations of what a poem ought to be, and the kick in the gut when, at 19, a young man laughed at the poem she showed him. She stopped writing.

It’s so difficult in 2020 to convey just how it felt to be in this world where men, past and present, stood about booming to one another like so many kākāpō on a steep hillside.

from ‘Preface’

So many other women in the 1960s through to the 1970s were writing on scraps of paper in scraps of time getting scraps of attention and rarely making it onto the hallowed ground of men, their journals, their university course material, their poetry gigs.

Today I’ve embroidered relativity

polished the Acropolis

knitted Ulysses

and baked two trayloads of cantatas

for the kindy.

Now, if the baby sleeps another hour

I’ll just about have time

to whip up some of that

Instant Immortality.

from ‘Preface’

Fiona’s ‘Preface’ echoes so many women’s voices I read in my Wild Honey travels. I think of how long it took me, along with other women, to move from hidden notebooks to going public and getting published. For Fiona it was the death of her father, and his complicated presence in her life, that started her poetry pen moving again: ‘The way the simple act of choosing words can give the illusion, however temporary, of control when emotion threatens to overwhelm’ (‘Preface’). She showed the poem to someone she shared a teacher’s college office with and took up the suggestion to get it published.

Fiona’s Nouns, verbs, etc. (selected poems) includes extracts from her four collections: Cutting Out (1987), The Inhabited Initial (1999), The Pop-Up Book of Invasions (2007) and The Broken Book (2011). Interspersed between the extracts are clusters of uncollected poems and, at the end, my favourite endnotes ever, a suite of fascinations that complement the joys of reading the poems, unexpectedly, beautifully. Fiona said she heeded the positive response to the endnotes in The PopUp Book of Invasions.

Nouns, verbs, etc. is a Poetry Treasure House. Across decades of writing, the poems are guided by inquisitiveness, linguistic nimbleness, a freshness of voice that survives over time, an exposed heart, the presence of I and we, political undercurrents. There are human and humane attachments because the recurring revelation is that this poet cares. Poetry stands as a means of care: for self, for loved ones, for the world, for the present and the past, for the stretch and possibilities of languages. In particular Fiona has cared about women; in their daily lives, in a history of writing, in genealogies, in other places and other times, in the need to resist subjugation and erasure.

She sits in the dark

on the rough side of

Sunday. The wood is

bare down here, torn

from a tree. She gets

her woolly hat. The

table is saw scrawl

screw and scratch.

She brings a cushion

and some crackers.

The table is a bare

bivvy. Brace and

bruised knuckle.

She flings a sheet

over. She will

live here

for ever.

from ‘The table’ – The Broken Book

The poem Fiona wrote upon the death of her father signalled the way poetry can be a necessary part of our lives as both readers and writers. I know through the extraordinary number of letters and poetry I received during our various lockdowns how vital poems were, whether we were writing or reading.

Each of Fiona’s books, both poetry or prose, has been necessary reading for me, right from the goosebump discovery of The Skinny Louie Book in 1992 to a suite of books responding to the earthquakes in Christchurch. The Broken Book transmuted from a book of walking essays to an earthquake book where the essays were interrupted by poems like quake jolts. It was written because of the Christchurch quake, and it makes the everyday voices away-from-the-cameras visible, the living with damage and daily fear and little blessings palpable. Again poetry becomes necessary.

The PopUp Book of Invasions was prompted by Fiona’s writing residency in Donoughmore, Ireland, the manuscripts her book borrows its title from, and the layering of contemporary invasions along with those in her whakapapa and Aotearoa. She wrote: ‘It was a strange feeling, being there. I wrote to express that’ (from ‘Endnotes’).  Again the book becomes necessary reading.

I love the insertion of the unpublished poems in thematic clusters. There are a handful of love poems – so you get to enter a poetry love glade and imbibe the heat and shimmer and connectivity of love. I have no idea when the poems were written, but they feel so vital and fresh. Original. I want to quote from all of them but here is a taster:

They tied the knot.

It was a knot of their

own devising. They

went over and under,

over and under many

times, and it held. So

they could fly, tied

to earth by the knots

around their ties.

So they could always

find their way home.

from ‘Knot-tying for beginners’

Another cluster centres upon travel, upon home and not home, upon hills and mountains, lakes and harbours that anchor you into the guts and grit of the land, and then sets you drifting through place to people and back to the way place shapes and nourishes us. I especially love ‘Our trip to Tākaka’. I want to hear this poem read aloud, to hear the mood ripple through the understated repetitions and motion, the effect travel has upon us, the surprises that become part of our luggage, as we move along, and as we arrive back home.

Some poems carry whiffs of fable – I am picturing the poet blowing on the white page as though it were glass, with a fable presence making its subtle mark. There is always the everyday commonplace experience, relationships or objects in Fiona’s poetry, but there is also the way the poem transcends the realism and makes the ordinary glow.

The fathers swayed beneath us

walking like mountains on

their big legs. We looked

about, seeing the way ahead.

The fathers said hang on!

They held us by the ankles

lest we fall. And sometimes,

they flung us out into empty

air, and we were lost. We

squealed, flailed, knowing

already the pain of solid

ground. But the fathers

caught us on the downward

flight. Gathered us to the

knotting of old jerseys

smelling of fish and vege

gardens and Best Bets and

the whole wide place we’d

glimpsed from their tops.

from ‘The fathers’

Fiona Farrell’s poetry sparks language into dynamic combinations because, as the title of the book suggests, words have mattered to her – from the origins of words, to ancient languages, to codes and punctuation. In The Inhabited Initial endnotes – a collection that celebrates the organic states of words and languages – I discover the origin of the question mark and the punctuation mark. The original exclamation mark was a word that monastic monks inserted to denote moments of joy. I love this! Little glades of joy in the flow of a text. Nowadays the exclamation mark can be a form of shout and exhibitionism. Equally fascinating: Roman scribes used full stops to mark rest bays for breath in the flow of a text. I am thinking poets have a more open relationship with punctuation and how it adds to the reading of poetry.

Nouns, Verbs etc is a reading delight. It offers distinctive travel itineraries that set you drifting in unfamiliar skies, lingering in some poems as though you stall in the familiar rooms of your house, daydreaming between the lines, wondering at the power of nouns and verbs to provoke such intense feelings and connections. Let me raise my poetry glass and toast this glorious book (and loving Otago University Press production). Thank you Fiona, this necessary book is a gift.

FIONA FARRELL has published poetry, fiction, drama and non-fiction. Uniquely among New Zealand writers, she has received awards in all genres. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Awards and has been widely anthologised. Her first novel, The Skinny Louie Book, won the New Zealand Book Award for Fiction. Three later novels have been shortlisted for that award, and five have been longlisted for the prestigious International Dublin IMPAC Award. In 2013 she received the Michael King Award to write twinned books prompted by the Christchurch earthquakes and the city’s reconstruction. The non-fiction work, The Villa at the Edge of the Empire, was shortlisted for the 2017 Ockham NZ Book Awards. In 2018 she edited Best New Zealand Poems for the International Institute of Modern Letters. Farrell has received numerous awards, including the Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction and the ONZM for Services to Literature. She made Dunedin home in 2018.

Otago University Press page

Kete Books review by Renee Liang

ANZL review by Stephanie Johnson

Fiona Farrell: interview with Robert Kelly, Standing Room Only, Radio NZ

Readings and interview with Morrin Rout, Bookenz, Plains FM

Poetry Shelf interviews Fiona Farrell

Poetry Shelf review: Diane Brown’s Every now and then I have another child

Every now and then I have another child, Diane Brown, Otago University Press, 2020

Sometimes you reach for memory,

an impossible task in this throw-away

world. What choice is there but to slip

on your new self as if you come clean

without story

from ‘This Is How It Is for All of Us’ in Every now and then I have another child

Diane’s Brown previous book, a poetic memoir entitled Taking My Mother to the Opera, was ‘a rollercoasting, detail-clinging, self-catapulting, beautiful read’ (from my review ). I loved the book so was very interested to see how I engaged with Diane’s new one: Every now and then I have another child.

The new book is narrative poetry; a narrative comprising individual poems with a cast of characters that offer multiple viewpoints. For me it is a collection of border crossings, with notions and experiences of motherhood the key narrative propulsion. Everything blurs and overlaps as the fictional touches the surreal and brushes against the real.

I am reminded of Luigi Pirandello’s play, Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921), but in this case it is an author in search of characters and characters in search of each other. Joanna is a writer, poet, creative writing teacher and mother. Anna, her doppelgänger, is homeless and gatecrashes funerals. There is a mysterious baby, both phantom and pseudo-real. There are two sons, one a geek on the spectrum scale and one a sensitive surfer. There is a stepmother, a missing mother and an alcoholic father. Add in a detective, a former lover and a baby in the mural on the wall.

Life is dislocating; the borders are porous with movement between what is real and what is not real, what is present and what is missing, what is longed for and what is abandoned. Reading your way through the poetry thickets is reading symphonic psychological effects. It is reading deep into the shadows and discovering shards of light. Being mother and being daughter is complicated and complicating. There are cryptic clues, a dead body, another dead body, a crying baby, a need to imagine, a need to name and be named. Reading the list of characters underlines the way in which the narrative is also genre crossing: think fiction, memoir, poetry, detective fiction, flash fiction.

I can’t think of another book like it in Aotearoa. The spooky porcelain doll photographed by Judith White on the cover (my standard reaction to porcelain dolls) sets me up for various hauntings. Joanna is haunted by a phantom baby and her missing mother. Anna is haunted by Joanna, and by life itself. There is the way in which writing itself is a kind of haunting. How do you start? How do you keep going? How do words matter? And i would add reading. Reading this is a kind of haunting. I am thinking of the way the past – with its shadows and its light – has the ability to haunt.

Issues of creative writing are touched upon, and make you reflect back on the making of the narrative, on the author herself. If there are multiple border crossings, are there also ways in which ‘Diane’ hides in the thickets, leaves traces of herself in various characters, encounters, epiphanies? You cannot package this sequence within a neat and tidy story where everything makes sense and the real outweighs the dream or imaginary scape. Nor would you want to. We are reading poetry that draws upon rich genre possibilities, the slipperiness of writing when you try to pin it down, the evasiveness of memory, the multifaceted prongs of experience.

And that’s what makes the collection such a rewarding read. You will bump into the calamitous real world with the homeless, conspiracy theories, alternative facts, North Korean missiles. You will move from Dunedin to Auckland to Alice Springs and London, with Dunedin being the physical heart of the narrative. Geographic movement, temporal movement, emotional movement: with all roads leading to motherhood and creative processes. It is a sumptuous and haunting book that you need to experience for yourself without a reviewer ruining the startles, the surprises, the puzzles and the moving connections. I am going to do something I have never done before and leave you with the terrific last poem so you can read it, then get the book, open it at page one and find your own way to the ending. Listening hard along the way. Poetry is most definitely a way of listening. ‘Listen.’

Written on the Body

The Baby

I’ve heard the narrator give

borrowed advice: writers

need to kill their ego.

Never easy to follow yourself,

harder still to coax children

from cocoons into the light,

tracing every inch of skin

and reading what is written

with indelible ink.

Word that may unearth

the buried and extinct,

can re-ice glaciers,

turn petrified trees back

 into lush green leafiness,

repopulate the seas,

and extinguish fires

raging out of control

at the top of the world.

But to see such words,

you have to strip bare, hold

nothing back and listen. Listen.

Diane Brown

DIANE BROWN is a novelist, memoirist and poet who runs her own creative writing school, Creative Writing Dunedin. Her publications include two collections of poetry (Before the Divorce We Go to Disneyland and Learning to Lie Together), a novel (If the Tongue Fits), a verse novel (Eight Stages of Grace), a travel memoir (Liars and Lovers), a prose/poetic memoir (Here Comes Another Vital Moment) and a poetic family memoir (Taking My Mother to the Opera). In 2013 she was made a Member of New Zealand Order of Merit for services to writing and education.

Otago University Press page

Poetry Shelf review: Elizabeth Morton’s This is your real name

 

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This is your real name, Elizabeth Morton, Otago University Press, 2020

 

There were days I spent gulping sky,

picking every star off the plate

with the stub of a thumb.

 

from ‘The eating of sorrow’

 

 

Elizabeth Morton grew up in Auckland. Her poetry has been published in various journals, both in New Zealand and internationally, and has achieved a number of award placements, including the 2015 Kathleen Grattan Award. Her terrific debut collection, Wolf, was published by Mākaro Press. She recently finished an MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow with Distinction.

This book was one of two poetry collections that I kept returning to during lockdown (plus Oscar Upperton’s). I found I could drift in and out of a poem, I could write phrases on sheets of paper, but I couldn’t string sentences together, let alone articulate a reaction to a book. What I could say was I loved it.

The epigraph felt uncannily fitting: ‘For people who wait and people who are alone.’

I had written down the word ‘detail’. Elizabeth’s deft handling of detail forms the visible stitching of a poem. It offers hue and texture to the multiple poem threads. The detail is a gateway to threads that are personal, universal, engaged in storytelling, recollection, contemplation, association, inquiry.

There are reading footholds and there are wobbly boards, especially in poems that are a mix of real life, memory, fable, fiction, enigma.  The real is often elusive, but lands in shards, both striking and evocative. In ‘After’, two lines in particular catch this movement, and echo throughout the collection as a whole (and with me during lockdown):

 

Night comes apart, like everything else.

We know the landmarks for their hardness.

 

At the poem’s start, the speaker suggests closing one’s eyes is enough. Shutting one’s eyes is contemplative, an escape device, a pause. This is me in lockdown. I keep shutting my eyes and waiting. The poem features the last polar bear cage-pacing at Auckland Zoo and a butterfly caught on a truck’s windscreen. Two sad notes that alter the way we view the ‘you’ whom the poem addresses. It is the kind of poem you keep reading to absorb the dislocation, the absences, the mournings, the complexities. The ending catapults you back to the beginning which then returns to the eyes closing at the start. The ending:

 

When I open my eyes I’m in the same cage I was in yesterday.

I am the same yellow bear driving the same haulage truck

over ice sheets, thin as a prince’s hairline.

What night is this? We talk about the butterfly like it got away.

We talk abut you, like you are here. Like you never left.

 

Every poem works its magic on me – and the breathtaking effects are now heightened by lockdown. I am musing on how I have read this book before, during and after levels 3 and 4. I am writing this review in level 2, and I am wondering when everything I read and write won’t be touched by my Covid experiences. Yet this was the book that held my fuzzy attention.

Most of the poems are dense thickets, interconnected threads, offbeatness and misty bits to get lost in. The beginnings of poems are exquisite hooks:

 

You might make it, if you sprint.

 

from ‘Gap’

 

 

I’m not going to cry. All winter the television

sulks in the corner of our love. You put the lentils

in a colander to flush the ugly bits.

 

from ‘You can’t, always’

 

Here I am turning the pages of the book, writing a review with my thoughts and feelings close up, because I stall on every poem and want to set up a coffee club in a cafe so we can talk about how we move through the poem thickets. Take ‘Aubade with hold music’ for example. You start with the image of a phone booth: ‘The phone booth was skull-cracked, / and caulked with soggy directories.’ Again the uncanny link. The reference to all the people we never know reverberates acutely in lockdown because that’s how I feel about the global Covid statistics. And how I have often felt when I drive down streets and wonder at the lives of the people I see.

The poem moves about a phone call to a mother, but then a central cluster of lines ‘shake’ the phone booth and you wonder what is going on behind the scenes of the poem:

 

The morning smelled like fire,

like the sun projecting simple stories

against the warehouse brickwork

and I wonder whether you know

you are melting.

 

Yes I could say this poem is about a phone call, a phone call about to be made; there is a small boy with coins, there are the White Pages, but then there is this: ‘This poem sets you apart, and / you are a small forest pressed against the city’. So mysterious. So ripe with meaning and possibilities. Each poem is like a little forest. Each poem is like a little forest pressed against us. How can we not stall and wonder. These lines stand out.

 

Writing a poem is a political act.

I want you to know, what you feel

is more than politics.

 

This is the joy of poetry: you think a poem and you feel a poem. It might be political or personal or a dense thicket, with multiple pathways and myriad connections to a peopled world. Elizabeth’s subject matter is wide ranging. Stories appear like neon lights or fleeting shadows or veiled self exposures. Sometimes it feels like the sun is out and sometimes like pitch-black night. The reading rewards are glorious. Find the book, make a coffee, and then let me know what you think. I am ever so grateful for the arrival of this book.

 

Otago University Press page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf connections: celebrating Landfall 238 with a review and audio gathering

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Landfall 238 edited by Emma Neale  (Otago University Press)

 

I am finding literary journals very satisfying at the moment. They suit my need to read in short bursts throughout the day. Landfall 238 came out last year but the gold nuggets keep me returning. Is our reading behaviour changing during lockdown? I read incredibly slowly. I read the same poem more than once over the course of a week.

Helen Llendorf’s magnificent ‘Johanna Tells Me to Make a Wish’ is a case in point. It is slow and contemplative, conversational and luminous with physical detail. She starts with chickens, she stays with chickens, she intrudes upon herself with long parentheses. It feels like a poem of now in that way slows right down to absorb what is close to home.

 

 

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Landfall 238 also includes results from the Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry 2019, with judge’s report by Jenny Bornholdt; results and winning essays from the Landfall Essay Competition 2019, with judge’s report by Emma Neale; results from the Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize 2019, with judge’s report by Dinah Hawken.

Tobias Buck and Nina Mingya Powles’s winning essays are terrific. Two essays that in different ways, both moving and exquisitely written, show distinctive ways of feeling at home in one’s skin and navigating prejudice. Both have strong personal themes at the core but both stretch wider into other fascinations. Would love to read all the placed essays!

 

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I also want to applaud Landfall on its ongoing commitment to reviewing local books, both in the physical book and in Landfall Review Online. Review pages whether in print or on our screens seem like an increasingly endangered species. Landfall continues to invite an eclectic group of reviewers to review a diverse range of books.

 

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To celebrate this gold-nugget issue – I have invited a handful of poets to read one of their poems in the issue.

Make a cup of tea or a short black this morning, or pour a glass of wine this evening, and nestle into this sublime poetry gathering. I just love the contoured effects on me as I listen. I have got to hear poets I have loved for ages but also new voices that I am eager to hear and read more from.

 

Welcome to the Landfall 238 audio gathering!

 

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Louise Wallace

 

 

Louise Wallace reads ‘Tired Mothers’

 

Louise Wallace is the author of three collections of poetry published by Victoria University Press, most recently Bad Things. She is the founder and editor of Starling, and is looking forward to resuming a PhD in Creative Writing. Her days in lockdown are filled with visits to the park, bubbles, playdough, drawing, and reading the same handful of books over and over with her young son who she loves very much.

 

 

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Cerys Fletcher

 

 

Cerys reads ‘Bus Lament’

 

Cerys Fletcher (she/her) is in her first year at Te Herenga Waka, splitting her time between Te Whanganui-a-Tara and her home city, Ōtautahi. When possible, she frequents open mics and handmakes poetry zines. She was a finalist in the 2018 National Schools Poetry Awards and the winner of the Environment Canterbury Poems on Buses competition in 2019. She has been published in Landfall and A Fine Line. She does NOT like men who hit on you while you’re making their coffee. She is online & probably wants to talk to you (instagram: @cerys_is_tired. email: cerysfabulousfletcher@gmail.com).

 

 

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Rachel O’Neill

 

 

Rachel reads ‘The place of the travelling face’

 

Rachel O’Neill is a writer, filmmaker and artist based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Aotearoa. Their debut book One Human in Height (Hue & Cry Press) was published in 2013. They were awarded a 2018 SEED Grant (NZWG/NZFC) to develop a feature film and held a 2019 Emerging Writers Residency at the Michael King Writers Centre. Recent poems appear in Sport 49, Haunts by Salty and Food Court, and Ōrongohau | Best New Zealand Poems 2019.

 

 

 

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Peter Le Baige

 

 

Peter reads ‘what she knows’

 

Peter Le Baige has been writing and performing poetry since the first session of the legendary ‘Poetry Live’ weekly poetry readings in Auckland in 1981. He has published two collections of his very early work, ‘Breakers’ 1979, and ‘Street hung with daylit moon’, 1983, and whilst living abroad for 23 years, mostly in Asia and China in particular, has continued to write. He has been previously published in Landfall and was one of the cast for the ‘Pyschopomp’ poetry theatre piece at Auckland’s Fringe Festival in 2019.

 

 

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Jenny Powell

 

 

Jenny reads ‘Not All Colours Are Beautiful’

 

Jenny Powell is a Dunedin poet. Her latest collection of poems is South D Poet Lorikeet (Cold Hub Press, 2017). She is currently working on a new collection based on New Zealand artist, Rita Angus.

 

 

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Annie Villiers

 

 

 

Annie Villiers reads ‘Bloody Awful’

 

Annie Villiers is a writer and poet who works in Dunedin and lives in Central Otago. She has published three books; two in collaboration with artist John Z Robinson and a novel. She is currently working on a travel memoir and a poetry collection.

 

 

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Iona Winter

 

 

Iona reads ‘Portal to the stars’

 

Iona Winter writes in hybrid forms exploring the landscapes between oral and written words. Her work is created to be performed, and has been widely published and anthologised. She is the author of two collections then the wind came (2018) and Te Hau Kāika (2019). Iona is of Waitaha, Kāi Tahu and Pākehā descent, and lives on the East Otago Coast.

 

 

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Stacey Teague

 

 

 

Stacey reads ‘Kurangaituku’

 

Stacey Teague, Ngāti Maniapoto/Ngāpuhi, is a writer from Tamaki Makaurau currently living in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. She is the poetry editor for Scum Mag, has her Masters in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters, and has three chapbooks: Takahē (Scrambler Books, 2015), not a casual solitude (Ghost City Press, 2017) and hoki mai (If A Leaf Falls Press, 2020). Tweets @staceteague

 

 

 

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Mark Broatch

 

 

Mark Broatch reads ‘Already’

 

Mark Broatch is a writer, reviewer and the author of four books.
He is a former deputy editor at the NZ Listener and is a fiction judge
for this year’s Ockham NZ Book Awards. His poetry has been published
in Landfall and the Poetry NZ Yearbook.

 

 

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Susanna Gendall

 

 

Susanna reads ‘Spring’

 

Susanna Gendall’s poetry and short fiction have appeared in JAAM, Takahē, Sport, Geometry, Landfall, Ambit and The Spinoff. Her debut collection, The Disinvent Movement, will be published next year (VUP).

 

 

Landfall page

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Lounge: Elizabeth Morton launches This is your real name

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Elizabeth Morton This is your real name (Otago University Press, 2020)

 

Elizabeth Morton’s launch scraped in by the skin of its teeth recently, but I thought it would be lovely to do an online version and get Poetry Shelf Lounge rolling. You can read and listen for morning tea with a short black, afternoon tea with your favourite tea, or a glass of wine or beer this evening.

At the bottom of the post, I have put a selection of good bookshops where you can buy or order the book online (this is a list in progress, please help me fill the gaps).

 

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Tracey Slaughter launched the book.

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Split the pages of Elizabeth Morton’s This is your real name anywhere & you are in the pulsing presence of questions that cut to the very heart of poetry: How much, if anything, can language actually touch? How much of our experience can we ever name? How much can poetry reach past the stars smashed into the emergency-glass of daily-living & offer the kind of voice that leaves more than a bloody trace, that makes a vital difference. ‘Poetry wallows between question marks/police? fire? ambulance?’ says a piece that opens with telephone lines exploding in a gaze pushed to the edge – how much can language ever hope to halt pain, to offer connection, to help in such a crisis? ‘Deep breaths,/say the operator’ within that poem, but ‘inside the communications centre/the desks are inconsolable.’

‘There is no touching the black heat at the centre of things’ another early poem entitled ‘Inside-out’ declares – and yet travel through the bolted internal doors and bleak domestic corridors, the blighted global landscapes and glinting dystopias of Elizabeth’s collection & you know you’re in the hands of a poet who, like Plath or Sexton before her, has all the dazzling surreal command of language to reach to the core of that black heat, to make it speak.

‘Inside-out’ concludes with a widespread vision of ‘a wreckage of stars’ – but the volume goes on in piece after luminous piece to chronicle the work of salvage, of a self bent on using every particle of language to dig through the ruins, rewire the evidence, sustain the spark, relight every shard.

These are poems that speak again and again from both the inside and the outside, from both the blasted solar plexus of private traumas and the slow-mo devastations of the wider planet – over and over the poems flicker from hallways tremoring with personal pain to the ‘casual terrorism’ of history, taking an ‘aerial photograph’ of a suffering earth with the same kind of acute irradiated poetic lens that it turns on the lone & isolated heart. Whether it’s the stranding of a single life caught in the driftnets of personal desolation, or the mass beaching of a populace oblivious to the global damage they’ve done, Elizabeth’s language zeroes in on the waste & makes us see the interconnections: whether it’s steering the reader through burning towerblocks or coldblooded wards, past disinterested drone strikes or through achingly-handled small-scale solo losses, the breathtaking scope of poetic skill with which she charts her urgent scenes makes the reader feel every detail, feel the meds and the headlines catch in our throats, feel the doors locked and the altitude dropping, feel the kiss blown against the quarantine window & the distant ‘circle[s] of blood’ left on political screens.

These are poems that detonate and sing, that ring in the ear and sting in the political consciousness, and linger in the bloodstream long after they’ve stained your eye. They’ll also make you outright belly laugh: ‘I’d marry Finland. I’d blow Nicaragua. I’d shag Australia if she wore a paper bag’ states a slapstick look at politics that plays wicked & sacrilegious footsie with stereotypes. With the same comedic weaponry ‘How I hate Pokemon but I can show restraint and just talk about my adolescence’ gives a gore-soaked rundown of methods to slaughter innocent anime, and ‘In the next life’ tracks Wile E. Coyote speeding to collide with another booby-trapped piano or hurtling freight train. But of course, under the cartoon bloodsport there’s another violence being expressed: ‘I’m from the wrong cartoon she says…There is no/acid in my stomach to digest the sadness’; ‘I spent my teens/hyperventilating in elevators…yanking at emergency cords’ – that’s what lurks beneath the funny foreground of these onscreen critters and their messy calamities.

‘This is not a joke’ warns another poem, parading a cast of backwoods bar-leaners and big boned nobodies, its humour always ready to brim with ‘a metaphor so sad it makes grown men sob and jerk off into the same handkerchief.’ The counterstrike to comedy is always coming, the punchlines always poised ready to gut you. We might snicker when we’re introduced to a blowsy homespun oblivious America, but when she ‘order[s] Big Mac’s and Napalm’, lazily erases continents & watches bodycounts rise from her consumerist couch, the smile is wiped off our faces. And when the pronouns shift in this poem to fold us into complicity, as they do to such clever & ethical effect throughout the collection as a whole, we too are left standing with supermarket bags and shotguns/baffled and alone.’ That moment of aloneness – whether it’s the self turning figure-eights of final need or the last polar bear ‘pacing his cell, as the credits go down’ – is the place which the poems often return us to: ‘I wonder whether you know/you are melting’ this poetry asks with chilling economy. Over and over we find trapped ourselves in that phone booth, as in the masterpiece ‘Aubade’, where the glass is ‘skull-cracked’ and the world seems only to have ‘hold music’ to offer us. But even in this moment of exigency, with our ‘hearts in []our horror mouth’ & all the lines crossed, language is held up as ‘the loneliest miracle’: because we still use it to ‘pray, into the receiver’ hoping for a sign on the other end, some voice to come back from the empty page. ‘Writing is a political act’ the poem insists, even from this place. Even if all it can sometimes do is trace ‘the face of the enemy,’ or chalk round the bodies of selves and lovers we’ve lost; even if all it can sometimes do is echo the bleak dialtone inside our chests, its utterance ‘sets you apart’ the voice of ‘Aubade’ repeats to the sufferer.

Elizabeth had already set herself apart as a poet of breathtaking force, edge, intensity and empathy – This is your real name is another stunning, irrefutable, crucial book, a fearless personal testimony and a blistering political act. It goes to the places we need poetry to go to, places that only a language loaded with heart and shimmering with pressures can name. It smashes the glass.

Tracey Slaughter

 

Listen to Elizabeth read ‘Tropes’:

 

 

 

Stranding

 

We were never alone, pushing up loam on a blackened beach.

We kicked our tails like we were trying to escape
the outline of ourselves. We came ashore, two by two
with our cutlasses and compasses, with our baleen smiles

and bad attitudes, with our dead-end marriages and dreams that choked

in drift nets. We were never lost. We knew the shoreline better
than we knew our own purposes. We were a quarter into lives
that stood us up from the water-break, that left us gasping

by the river mouth, blistering under wet sacking,
our eyeballs fierce with the evening sun.
We wanted the attention. We wanted to arrange ourselves

upside down and scattered like something infinite. Like stars.

We follow each other to the end of the beach
and sing something that reminds us of bone
and the million land-flowers our mothers spoke of,
and the kamikaze heritage, our fathers and their fathers,

who recognised a vague phosphorescence
and shadowed it into the salt marshes, dreaming of air.

 

Elizabeth Morton

 

ELIZABETH MORTON grew up in suburban Auckland. Her first poetry collection, Wolf, was published by Mākaro Press in 2017. She has placed, been shortlisted and highly commended for various prizes, including the 2015 Kathleen Grattan Award, and her poetry and prose have been published in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, Ireland, Australia, Canada and online. She has completed an MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow.

Otago University Press author page

 

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Let’s support our books and authors. Most importantly you can order this book online or visit your local bookshop. Here are a few choices (new books):

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Poetry Shelf new books: Jeffrey Paparoa Holman celebrates Michael Steven’s The Lifers

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7
Halide compounds hum inside the floodlights

pouring down lumens on the prison yard

across the service lane. Sleep is futile.

Antarctic breezes rattle loops of barbed wire.

Pairs of men in dark coats milled from rough wool

make laps of the yard’s fenced interior.

I lean out the window, into the brumal air

of tonight’s vision. The lifers carry on.

They walk their fates in thick woollen coats,

addressing each other inaudibly—

confessing and sanctifying their stories

with hand gestures, glowing tips of cigarettes.

You sleep. It is too late to show you them.

Their cold cells are a museum, open at 9 a.m.

 

Michael Steven

This is poem 7 from a sequence called ‘Leviathan’ in The Lifers (Otago University press, 2020).

 

 

 

 

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman:

There is a whakapapa of prison poetry that links Michael Steven’s poem on men behind bars in The Lifers, his recent second volume from Otago University Press. The poems in this book have gritty echoes that François Villon would hear and feel; a deep well of humanity also that Oscar Wilde would appreciate, from his cell in Reading Gaol. Whether we are watching users scoring, thieves preparing a raid, a friend mourning the suicide of a kindred lost soul, there opens up before us a vision of brokenness elegised with compassion through an unsparing binocular lens. The poem considered here – Sonnet 7 from a series, Leviathan – captures precisely the cold realities of those sentenced to life for the most serious of crimes. The effect is so visual, it returned to me a memory of Van Gogh’s ‘Prisoners Exercising’, painted in 1890 while he was in the asylum at Saint-Rémy, suffering deep depression. Most Fridays, with two other poets, Bernadette Hall and Jeni Curtis, we take part in a reading group at Christchurch Mens Prison; I recently took copies of this poem and shared it. The silence that greeted its reading attested the truth Michael Steven has captured, from the inside. This poem – and the rest of his fine and developing oeuvre –  invite your close attention.

 

 

 

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman is a Christchurch poet and non-fiction writer. His most recent poetry collection, Blood Ties: selected poems, 1963-2016 was published by Canterbury University Press in 2017. A memoir, Now When It Rains came out from Steele Roberts in 2018. He is currently working on a book chapter for a collection of studies on early 20th century ethnographers. He makes his living as a stay-at-home puppy wrangler for Hari, an eight-month old Jack Russell-Fox Terrier cross. Hari ensures that very little writing happens, but Victoria Park is explored and mapped daily.

 

Michael Steven is the author of the acclaimed Walking to Jutland Street (Otago University Press, 2018). He was recipient of the 2018 Todd New Writer’s Bursary, and his poems were shortlisted for the 2019 Sarah Broom Poetry Prize. He lives and writes in West Auckland. The Lifers (Otago University Press) was recently launched at Timeout Bookshop.

Otago University Press author page

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Lynley Edmeade’s ‘The Day’

 

 

The Day

Cambrian Valley

 

 

The dog lies down in the shade of the table.

Knives lie down with pieces of lunch on them.

The mountains lie down across the valley

and the sunlight lies down across everything.

 

When we drive Neil says I love this:

the car and the music and the dog

and the sun and the spring and the lambs

and the light and the mountains and the sky.

 

The sky is so blue you can almost hear it skying.

 

 

Lynley Edmeades from Listening In, Otago University Press, 2019

 

 

Lynley Edmeades is a poet, essayist and scholar. Her debut collection As the Verb Tenses (2016) was longlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry and was a finalist in the UNESCO Bridges of Struga Best First Book of Poetry. She has a PhD in avant-garde poetics, and lives in Dunedin with her partner.

Otago University Press author page

Poetry Shelf review of Listening In

 

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