Tag Archives: Rata Gordon

My SST review of the refreshed Poetry NZ Yearbook

Book review: Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017 edited by Dr Jack Ross

Dr Jack Ross.

Supplied

Dr Jack Ross.

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017

edited by Dr Jack Ross

Massey University Press, $35

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017 
edited by  Dr Jack Ross

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017 edited by Dr Jack Ross

Wellington poet Louis Johnson established the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook in 1951. It has just received a well-deserved makeover by Massey University Press. The new design is eye-catching, the writing has room to breathe and the content is eclectic. With Victoria and Otago University Presses publishing Sport and Landfall, it is good to see a literary magazine finding a home in Auckland. It is the only magazine that devotes sole attention to poetry and poetics, with an abundant measure of poems, reviews and essays.

Editor Dr Jack Ross aims to spotlight emerging and established poets and include “sound, well-considered reviews”. There are just under 100 poets in the issue, including Nick Ascroft, Riemke Ensing, Elizabeth Smither, Anna Jackson, Michele Leggott and Kiri Piahana-Wong. When I pick up a poetry journal, I am after the surprise of a fresh voice, the taste of new work by a well-loved poet, the revelatory contours of poetry that both behaves and misbehaves when it comes to questionable rule books. The annual delivers such treats.

A welcome find for me is the featured poet: Elizabeth Morton. Morton’s debut collection will be out this year with Makaro Press, so this sampler is perfect with its lush detail, lilting lines and surreal edges. My favourite poem, Celestial Bodies is by Rata Gordon (‘When you put Saturn in the bath/ it floats./ It’s true.’). Fingers-crossed we get to see a debut collection soon.

Mohamed Hassan’s breath-catching poem, the cyst, is another favourite: “In the small of my back/ at the edge of where my fingertips reach/ when I stretch them over my shoulder/ it is a dream of one day going home for good.”

You also get the sweet economy of Alice Hooton and Richard Jordan; the shifted hues of Jackson and Leggott (‘She is my rebel soul, my other self, the one who draws me out and folds me away’); the humour of Smither.

To have three essays – provocative and fascinating in equal degrees – by Janet Charman, Lisa Samuels and Bryan Walpert is a bonus.

Ross makes great claims for the generous review section suggesting “shouting from the rooftops doesn’t really work in the long-term”. A good poetry review opens a book for the reader as opposed to snapping it shut through the critic’s prejudices. However on several occasions I felt irritated by the male reviewers filtering poetry by women through conservative and reductive notions of what the poems are doing.

Ross’ review of Cilla McQueen’s memoir In a Slant Light highlighted a book that puzzled him to the point he did not not know exactly what she wanted “to share”. In contrast I found a poignant book, ripe with possibility and the portrait of a woman poet emerging from the shadows of men.

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook, in its revitalised form, and as a hub for poetry conversations, is now an essential destination for poetry fans. Not all the poems held my attention, but the delights are myriad.

 – Stuff

Poetry Shelf Postcard: Landfall 231

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We are well served by literary journals at the moment. Each delivers slightly different treats, biases, focuses but all offer high quality writing that resist any singular NZ model.

The latest Landfall (as you can see) has a stunning cover with its Peter Peryer photograph.

Inside: poetry (37 poets!), fiction, non-fiction, art and book reviews (including an excellent review of Anna Smaill’s The Chimes, one of my top fiction reads of the past year).

The poets range from the very familiar, whether young or old, to those new to me. And that is as it should be. David Eggleton is keeping the magazine fresh whilst giving vital space to our literary elders and maintaining a strong and welcome Pacific flavour.

 

A tasting plate of lines that got me (I seem to have been struck by mothers, fathers, surprising images, little twists):

 

from Brian Turner’s ‘Weekends’:

think of what a place could be

when it’s not what we possess

that counts most

but what we are possessed by

 

from CK Stead’s ‘One: Like a bird’ (for Kay):

You were beautiful, and I

sang, as I could in those days

all the way home—like a bird.

 

from Leilani Tamu’s ‘Researching Ali’i’:

I searched for you in boxes

the archivist muttered poison

 

from Rata Gordon’s ‘A Baby’:

I want to make a baby out of one peach and one prickle.

I want to use the kitchen sponge, sticky rice and a rubber band.

I want to use the coffee grinder.

 

from Siobhan Harvey’s ‘Spaceboy and the White Hole’:

he pictures matter barely visible, the light

of white holes as they transmit their secret

messages, sharp elegies, about letting go.

 

from Ruth Arnison’s ‘The Visit’:

Even from the road her house gave us the creeps.

Pale, communion wafer thin, and disapproving,

its severe windows three-quarter blinded.

 

from Heather McQuillan’s ‘In which I defend my father’s right to solitude’:

our father has a fine tooth way

of finding vulnerabilities

on the outward flanks

the wolf is always at his door

 

from Doc Drumheller’s ‘My Father’s Fingers’:

Days after my father died I felt a sense

of urgency to take care of his hot-house.

 

from Koenraad Kuiper’s ‘from Benedictine Sonnets’:

Mother always knitted particularly socks.

Knitting socks is a fine skill under the lamplight.

 

from Elizabeth Smither’s ‘Three “Willow” Pattern Bowls’:

My father thought I meant the plate

and wrapped one from the china cabinet

I carried it close to my heart

all the way back for a second reprimand.

 

from Bob Orr’s ‘Seven Haiku’:

I don’t care about

frogs

basho’s dead

 

from Will Leadbetter’s ‘Three Variations on “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams’:

Nothing depends upon

the green wheelbarrow

 

Great winter reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ten things to love about Landfall 229

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Shortly after Sport arrives in my box, I get a bright new issue of Landfall. My little list below maps my ‘loves’ so far — like little ‘like’ ‘share’ ‘favourite’ or ‘retweet’ buttons. Editors might compile a journal with an arc of contours (aural, thematic, emotional pitch, genre, experimentation, quietness and so on) as I have always done with an anthology so you move through shifting readerly experiences from start to finish. However, I never read a journal like this.  It’s dip and delve.

1. Straight to the review section to books I have missed, and books I have reviewed. Ha! I Have missed (all meanings intended) reading Ian Wedde’s The Grass Catcher: A digression about home (Victoria University Press). Martin Edmond’s scintillating review meditates on the implications of writing the past alongside his critique of Ian’s illuminations of his own. ‘Home’ was a key notion that came under scrutiny within my doctoral thesis and within the context of Italian women writing novels in the twentieth century. It still fascinates me. This review has sent me scuttling to buy the book. In particular: ‘This is not one of those writer’s memoirs that says: here is how I became the resplendent creature I am today. It is too multi-faceted, too in love with the world, you might say, to serve such a purpose.’

2. Rata Gordon’s poem  ‘Tinkering’ is like an electric train on electric tracks. You get to the end and you want to travel that route again. Wow!

3. Discovering Michael Harlow picked  Sue Wootton’s poem, ‘Luthier,’ as the winning entry in The Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize (2015). This poem is sumptuous in detail and that detail evokes mood, music, character, place in a transcendental kind of way. I would love to hear this poem read aloud to hear the poet lift and connect and pause, the hit of certain words on the line (flitch, slink, Sitka, bedrock). Sue demonstrates the way a poem can take a small moment/thought/action/thing and then open out intimately for the reader. A word that comes to mind and that is so overused when speaking poetry is luminous. But this poem is utterly and breathtakingly luminous.

4. Discovering Christina Conrad still writes poems.

5. Short poems can be very very good. So much happens in the white space that holds them This is the case with Louise Wallace’s ‘Mirage/Arizona.’

6. Tina Makeriti’s essay, ‘This Compulsion in Us.’ Strikes a chord because I am fascinated by museums too; enthralled by the things that stick to the objects that only you can see or hear or feel. Loved Tina’s exploration of a museum’s paradox, in that it preserves treasures yet ‘also captures and immobilises things that make sense only in motion, that should breathe and transform.’

7. Runner-up in The Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize (2015), the opening lines in Jessica le Bas’s ‘Four Photographs from a Window’ : ‘The first is a shot in the dark/ buttoned up and black suited’

8. An Elizabeth Smither short story that underlines what an exquisite hand she has when it comes to fiction (‘The Trees’).

9. The way Sue Reidy’s poem, ‘The primitive,’ became etched on my skin.

10. Lots more delights but I have to mention the Unity-Books, standout ad. A child reading a book, thank you!

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Poem Friday: Rata Gordon’s ‘Thumb in a House’ meaning and narrative spin on tiptoe surprisingly

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Photo credit: Amber McLennan

 

Thumb in a House

pinching flakes for gold

fish two piglets nose

my palm pink cheeks in

the light of a hut

bamboo poles and sheets

with pansies and holes

 

blue rope swing a stick

to sit on dust up

my nose when a car

speeds past a red streak

in our dog’s fur where

the neighbor shot her

 

polar bears live in

the toilet’s white ice

rabbits as big as

your thumb in a house

boat floating in the

hall the cat ate my

mouse and a fantail

 

swam through the window

to say our granddad

has gone somewhere else

but warm pajamas

by the fire a sip

of rain before bed

 

 

Rata Gordon is a seventh generation New Zealander who lives in Grey Lynn. Her life at the moment involves writing, drawing, dancing, and planting trees. Rata’s poems have appeared in LandfallDeep South and JAAM (forthcoming).

Rata’s note: This poem is built from memories of my childhood home in Waimauku, West Auckland. I wrote it while I was in Begnas tal, a wee village in Nepal. I noticed that the physical distance from home made some things float to the surface that I hadn’t thought about for years.

It was an exercise piece for Whitireia’s Online Creative Writing Diploma and was my first attempt at a syllabic poem. I enjoyed the way that the syllabic constraints broke up and stitched together my memories in strange ways. It seemed like a good match for swift and bewildered childhood perception.

Paula’s note: The title of this poem hooked me. Incongruous. Puzzling. The accumulation of detail is the second hook. Sensual. Vibrant. Strange. Earthy. I love the way the lack of punctuation amplifies the momentum of the poem—both the ambiguity and the surprise. This is the gold nugget in this poem. The way each line break holds you back and then in delivering you smashes your expectation. Glorious. For example, follow this thread: ‘the cat ate my/ mouse and a fantail/ swam through the window.’ Constant little dance flurries in your head as the meaning and narrative spin on tiptoe surprisingly. There is also a elastic stretch between home and elsewhere (‘warm pajamas’ and ‘hut/bamboo poles’). You stall and you pirouette as you read, but there is a honeyed fluency. Just wonderful!