Tag Archives: Otago University Press

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

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