Tag Archives: Otago University Press

Poetry Shelf review: Janet Charman’s The Pistils

The Pistils Janet Charman, Otago University Press, 2022

little lapping waves
to inundate
the shoes of makers
whose texts
i’ve addressed
and assessed
in the dark inland towns
of my imagination
the large waves of the fire siren
call me out
in the middle of the night

from ‘welling’

I started reading Janet Charman’s poetry when I emerged from my poetry cocoon with Cookhouse, my debut collection, and she knocked my socks off. First up it was Janet’s musical ear: an elasticity with words, linguistic play, surprising syntax. And then, so essential when my academic research focused on women and writing, her feminist core. Not an adjunct, nor a side track, but an essential feminist core. When I walked across the university threshold onto Simmonds Street, with my PhD and carton of books, I walked out of the academy into life as a poet. And a hunger to immerse myself in an Aotearoa New Zealand context. To discover the women who had written before me, who were writing alongside me, and who would write ahead of me. Janet Charman was busting out of the men’s canon and opening up notions of ‘she’, ‘i’, ‘we’, ‘you’, ‘they’. The ink in her pen and her preferences were placed centre stage, whether in trousers or skirts, folding nappies or building houses.

Janet’s new collection The Pistils opens with a terrific sequence, ‘High days and holy days’. Twelve poems that mark holidays or significant occasions (Waitangi Day, Parihaka Day Guy Fawkes Night, Wahine Day, Matariki, Picnic Days). Each poem contributes to a life – within a sequence of panels. Bare bones. Ample white space. A miniature narrative of excavation. Remember when. Remember how. Remember why. The sequence opens scenes, moments, places – and we enter the collection grounded.

winds drain to the horizon
tides
lap below the wrought-iron railing

here
we are sheltered in the hollow of the year
the hollow of the day

blowflies
loll and bang the afternoon to a close
the windows

from ‘1. Northland Panels‘ from ‘high days and holy days’

Move into the heart of the book, and the mind leaps and bounds along the rhythm of the line. Exquisitely crafted. Scored. Composed. In ‘Mrs Valentine’s instructions’, the rhythm of revelation shapes memory. On the next page, in ‘hometime’, attention to the sound of the line is equally arresting. Memory is translated into music and image. It is a portrait of the child but it is also a portrait of the mother. In parings and traces. Surprising arrivals. It is religion and Freud, a mother lost in a novel, it is fingers worn to the bone, the news on the radio, family dinners, walking home. Life and death. It is home.

and the mother weighting at the top of the hill
her red roof tile her front windows
black blank shine
her white two-storeyed weatherboard authority of home time
—untangle the latch race the path
hunt through the house to find her where she sits
adrift in a novel
or conducting her day in some regimen of intellectual longing
with Freud and Jung in the sunroom
—on three sides light pulses in
Father Son and the Holy Ghost
summer on summer through glass the great gum nods

from ‘hometime’

Rhythm is so important. It renders Janet’s poetry fully charged, and accumulates life, detail, confession, insight, opinion, grief, reflection. It feels real, it feels personal, it feels political. The mother is a constant presence, in the shadows and in the light, a vital connection. Rhythm accommodates the feminist spotlight on life. The stamen and the pistil, the difficulty of childbirth and a baby in an incubator, a war memorial, waste management, Pakehā privilege, an aging body image, a breast removed, James K Baxter’s rape boast, literary criticism, sex, grief, having breakfast while watching John Campbell rather than listening to National Radio because your beloved has gone. It is the rhythm of mourning. Ah. So many layers.

i waited into the summer for my diagnosis
saw how a benign White Island
only became Whakaari
for the pakehā
after an eruption with deaths

from ‘bra dollars’

I speak of rhythm in such glowing terms but it is of course part of a sonic festival. Janet’s poetry strikes the ear (as Rebecca Hawke’s debut collection does). This leaning in to listen is rewarding: the leapfrogging alliteration, assonance, short lines, slightly longer lines, punctuating breath, free flowing currents. Again Janet’s agile music enhances my engagement with her roving subject matter. With the sharp edges and the necessary subterranean questions. How to live? How to live and love on planet Earth? How to speak against subjugation based on gender or skin colour? How to see your parents? How to go on when your beloved is no longer there? How to continue probing and resisting? How to be yourself? Ah. Such layerings.

Reading Pistil is exhilarating. I am loving this book because it is vulnerable and open, it is edgy and crafted, and because it shines a light on how it is for women. We still need that persistent light. We still need poetry that misbehaves as much as it makes music on the line. The poems call out and call for, stand out and stand for. It is a stunning collection.

Janet Charman is one of New Zealand’s sharpest and most subversive writers. In 2008 she won the Montana Book Award for Poetry for her sixth collection, Cold Snack. In 2009 she was a Visiting Fellow at the International Writers’ Workshop of Hong Kong Baptist University. In 2014 she appeared as a Guest Reader at the Taipei International Poetry Forum. Her collection 仁 Surrender (2017, OUP) chronicles her writing residencies in Hong Kong and Taiwan. This is her ninth collection of poetry.

Otago University Press page

Interview: Janet Charman on Standing Room Only with Lynn Freeman Listen

Review: Sophie van Waardenberg for Academy of New Zealand Literature Read

Review: Chris Tse for Nine to Noon Listen

Poetry Shelf review: Janet Newman’s Unseasoned Campaigner

Unseasoned Campaigner, Janet Newman, Otago University Press, 2021

Poet Janet Newman lives at Koputaroa in Horowhenua, where she farms beef. Her debut collection, Unseasoned Campaigner, is nourished beyond description of scenic beauty to a deep love and engagement with the land and farming. Women writing the land is not without precedent. Ruth Dallas comes to mind initially. She spent time as a Herd Recording Officer during WWII and found cities restrictive and dull afterwards. When she was living in Dunedin in later years, writing enabled returns to her beloved rural settings. Janet dedicates several poems to her. The second poet that springs to mind is Marty Smith, whose rural background has featured in her poetry, and who is also unafraid of over and underlaying an idyllic landscape with the grit and reality of farming life.

Janet’s first section, ‘How now?’, places the reader one hundred percent in rural experience: managing livestock, a diarrhea-soaked calf that doesn’t make it, drenching, the slaughter house in graphic detail, blood and sweat. There are water restrictions, water anxiety, drought. A dead river. More dead stock. Horses led to shade and grass. Scenic routes and beauty spots are off the menu.

I applaud this revised view but it is the people who hold my attention to a significant degree. While farmers are currently under scrutiny for diverse reasons, particularly climate change, some are speaking out about how tough it is. Listening to RNZ National’s excellent Country Life, it is clear there is no hold-all definition for the contemporary farmer and their diverse practices. In the book’s middle and final sections, Janet also opens up what “farmer” means, and that adds significant and poignant layers to the first poems.

In the second section, ‘Tender’, Janet draws us to close to a father, and I am assuming her father. He was a complicated, multifaceted human being: a farmer, father, husband, war veteran. He was a man of few words and myriad actions, toil and more toil. He cursed war on television and kept a belt by the door. He is memory, because he has passed, and he fills the speaker with mourning. The poems are vividly detailed with the physicality of daily life, and it is through his presence farming is made prismatic, beyond stereotype. When I pivot on the word “tender”, I see the poems as an offering to both mother and father, to us as readers. I see too the tenderness in the care of animals, and tender as the sore spot that is parental absence, maternal and paternal memory.

His language is electric rhythm of pump and wire,
gush of couplets from the artesian bore,

a flighty heifer enjambed
with a low rail,

stanza of cloud over the back paddock
threatening rain,

the fuck, fuck, fuck
of a dead bull in the drain.

from ‘Man of few words’

The mother is an equally haunting presence with her preserves, her baking and her plums. She too is drawn close through a focus on the physical detail of everyday actions. She is mourned and, in dying first, is an unbearable hole in the father’s life. The parental poems scratch the surface of my skin. Preserving, for example, brings back my own pungent memories. And preserving is also the tool of the poet, poems are stored in sweet and salty brine, held out to be savoured by both poet and reader.

Preserving

Red plums give up
round plump bodies
when I cut out their stones.
I hear my mother’s long-ago voice:
‘Don’t overdo it.’ The boiling
and much else. In the photograph
she is smiling behind glass, my memory
of her steeped in absence. Now,
even that faithless call sounds sweet
as in preserving jars sour plums
surrender to sugar syrup.

The third section, “Ruahine”, moves and adjusts to loss. It also finds footing on scenic routes. In the final poems, the poet is out driving and absorbing the birds and trees, mesmerising hills, the land bereft of vegetation. The landscapes have widened further to carry farm practices, daily challenges, connections to the land and to making a living. But of course it is not as though the farmer is blind to beauty. The final cluster of poems become song, act as sweet refrain, where upon in each return to a view, the view shifts in nuance. Just like poetry. Just like the way life is nuanced and resists deadening dichotomies. ‘Beach’ catches the elusiveness of what we sometimes see and feel so exquisitely:

Some days the clouds disappear
on the drive to the coast

the way the things you wanted to say
evaporate when you get there.

Sentences float to the pencil-line horizon
between sky that is nothing but blue

and sea that is as blue as …
but words fail you,

smudge like fishing boats
in the distance without your binoculars

from ‘Beach’

Janet writes with poise, each line fluent in rhythm and accent, and in doing so achieves a collection that matches heart with sharp and bold eye. Her collection belongs alongside the very best of Marty Smith and Ruth Dallas, a fine addition to how we write the land, whoever and wherever we are.

Janet Newman was born in Levin. She won the 2015 New Zealand Poetry Society International Competition, the 2017 Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems and was a runner-up in the 2019 Kathleen Grattan Awards. Her essays about the sonnets of Michele Leggott and the ecopoetry of Dinah Hawken won the Journal of New Zealand Literature Prize for New Zealand Literary Studies in 2014 and 2016. She has worked as a journalist in New Zealand and Australia, and a bicycle courier in London. She has three adult children and lives with her partner at Koputaroa in Horowhenua, where she farms beef cattle.

Otago University Press page

Review: Siobhan Harvey for The NZ Herald

Interview: Standing Room Only, RNZ

Feature: Koputaroa farmer and poet Janet Newman writes thesis on ecopoetry

Interview: Janet Newman discusses ecopoetry, RNZ

Interview: The Big Idea

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Paula Green reviews Bryan Walpert’s Brass Band to Follow at Kete Books

Brass Band to Follow, Bryan Walpert, Otago University Press, 2021

Bryan Walpert, professor of creative writing at Massey University, has published three previous poetry collections. His fourth, Brass Band to Follow, is a rewarding read with distinctive tones and exquisite layers. The book’s opening quotes suggest we are entering poetic engagements with middle age. Yes, age is a visible concern but the poems are alive with movement that includes but stretches beyond time passing.

The book is thoughtfully structured: you move in and out of dense single-verse poems along with airy multi-versed examples. A rocky outcrop on one page, thistle kisses on the next. It is like listening to music that favours both solo violin and the greater orchestra.

Full review here

Bryan reads poems on Poetry Shelf

Otago University Press page

Bryan Walpert website

Bryan in conversation with Lynn Freeman Radio NZ National

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Bryan Walpert reads from Brass Band to Follow

Brass Band to Follow, Bryan Walpert, Otago University Press, 2021

Bryan reads ‘In the lull’

Bryan reads ‘Brass Band to Follow’

Bryan Walpert is the author of four collections of poetry—Etymology, A History of Glass, Native Bird and most recently Brass Band to Follow (Otago UP). He is also the author of a novella, Late Sonata, winner of the Viva La Novella prize (Australia); a collection of short fiction, Ephraim’s Eyes; and two scholarly books: Poetry and Mindfulness: Interruption to a Journey and Resistance to Science in Contemporary American Poetry. A novel, Entanglement, is forthcoming with Mākaro Press in October. His work has appeared in New Zealand, Australia, UK, U.S., and Canada and has been recognized by, among others, the Montreal International Poetry Award, the New Zealand International Poetry Competition, the Royal Society of NZ Manhire Award Creative Science Writing Award (fiction), The Rattle Poetry Prize (US), and the James Wright Poetry Award (U.S). He is a Professor in Creative Writing at Massey University, Auckland. More on Bryan can be found at bryanwalpert.com.

Otago University Press page

Bryan Walpert website

Bryan in conversation with Lynn Freeman Radio NZ National

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: David Eggleton reads from The Wilder Years: Selected Poems

David Eggleton reads ‘The Burning Cathedral’

The Wilder Years: Selected Poems, Otago University Press, 2021

David Eggleton is a poet and writer of Palagi, Rotuman and Tongan descent based in Dunedin. He has published a number of poetry collections, and has also released a number of recordings with his poetry set to music by a variety of musicians and composers. He is the former Editor of Landfall and Landfall Review Online as well as the Phantom Billstickers Cafe Reader. His book The Conch Trumpet won the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry. In 2016, he received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry. His most recent poetry collection is The Wilder Years: Selected Poems, published by Otago University Press in May 2021. He is the Aotearoa New Zealand Poet Laureate for 2019 – 2022.

Otago University Press page

Michael Steven review at Kete Books

Standing Room Only interview RNZ National

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Siobhan Harvey reads from Ghosts

Siobhan Harvey, Ghosts, Otago University Press, 2021

Siobhan Harvey is the author of eight books, including Ghosts (Otago University Press, 2021) and 2013 Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award-winning Cloudboy (OUP, 2014). She received the 2020 NZSA Peter & Dianne Beatson Fellowship, and won the 2020 Robert Burns Poetry Award and the 2019 Kathleen Grattan Award for a Sequence of Poems. Her work appears in recent anthologies: Arcadian Rustbelt: Poets Emerging 1980–-1995 (University of Liverpool Press, 2021), Feminist Divine: Voices of Power and Invisibility (Cyren US, 2019) and, translated into Italian, in Alessandra Bava (ed.), HerKind: Anthology of Contemporary New Zealand Poets (Editione Ensemble, 2021).

Otago University Press page

Siobhan in conversation with Lynn Freeman, Standing Room Only, RNZ

The Friday Poem: ‘If befriending Ghosts’ from Ghosts

Kiri Piahana-Wong review for Kete Books

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