Tag Archives: ruby solly

Poetry Shelf Lounge: A National Poetry Day gathering

Kia ora poets and poetry fans

Welcome to the Poetry Shelf gathering on National Poetry Day. One of my favourite Poetry Days was in Wellington when I jumped in a taxi and went from one event to the next: Vic Books, the National Library, Unity Books, the Book Hound, Miaow. Listening to others read, reading a snippet myself or mc-ing, it felt like the best thing in the world (well right up there with early morning beach walks, and cooking meals, writing secret things, reading books for hours on end).

These days it feels good to count blessings because there is so much toxic stuff out there. I feel utterly privileged to get sent loads of poetry books published in Aotearoa, and to celebrate some of them on the blog. So many times this year I have picked up a new book and felt goosebumps as I settled into the poem thickets and clearings. You know the feeling – when the music and the mystery and the freshness, the challenges and the sensualness and the connective currents – make you feel so darn good.

I invited a handful of poets to send me an audio or video to celebrate National Poetry Day – it was over to them what they did: read their own poems, read the poems of others, share a favourite book or poet, muse on poetry. Bernadette Hall drove 30 km to hook up with Doc Drumheller and Rangiora Library staff at the band rotunda to create her video. Amy Brown did two versions, one with interruptions and a wee poem from her son Robin. I posted both for you! Student E Wen Wong recorded a poem by Cilla McQueen.

I have been getting these files as Auckland is in level 3 – and everyone else level 2 – and what a treat to listen to them. Poetry can do so much! The past few months it has been of immense comfort, and the way so many of you say yes to my requests.

As some of you know I had a melt down yesterday as WordPress has put us onto a new system that I find hard to manage yet. My daughter helped me a bit, but I had to make a few compromises, and one poet will make a future appearance. Thank you for the boosts on social media.

Happy National Poetry Day everyone. Dip and delve into this glorious and utterly special poetry gathering.

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Amy Brown reads two poems of her own: ’16 August 2016′ and ‘Pacing Poem’ from Neon Daze Victoria University Press, 2019. She also reads Airini Beautrais’s ‘Flow’ from Victoria University Press, 2017. Amy sent me two versions, one with interruptions by her son Robin (he does a poem at the end) and one without Robin present. I couldn’t pick as I loved so both, so you get to choose which one to listen to. I think the Robin one is rather special.

Amy Brown reads two poems with the help of Robin

Amy Brown reads the two poems without help

David Eggleton reads ‘The Sound and the Fury’ filmed by Richard C. Wallis in Waikouaiti, North Otago, on Wednesday 19.08.20. Not his tokotoko but a walking stick. Still waiting for the tokotoko ceremony at Matahiwi marae.

Erik Kennedy reads ‘There Is a Man Dancing on the Rudder of an Enormous Cargo Ship’

Bernadette Hall reads two sonnets, one published in Aotearotica and the other in Landfall 239. Her guest Doc Drumheller reads his haiku in Landfall 239. Bernadette had travelled 30 kms to the band rotunda in Rangiora to film this reading with the help of Paula and Daniel from Rangiora Library.

You can listen to Bill read here

You can find texts of the original poem and Bill’s translation here

Emma Neale reads ‘Polemic’ from Tender Machines Otago University Press, 2015

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You can listen to Marty read here

Marty Smith reads ‘Agnus Dei’ from Horse with Hat, Victoria University Press, 2013

Ruby Solly reads two poems, a very early one and a very new one

Chris Tse reads ‘(Green-Nature)’

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Louise Wallace reads three poems on a women/mother/daughter theme: by herself, (from Bad Things Victoria University Press, 2017), and by Naomii Seah and Modi Deng (from the latest issue of Starling).

E Wen Wong reads ‘Vegetable Garden Poem iv’ by Cilla McQueen from Axis: Poems and drawings Otago University Press 2001

The Poets

Amy Brown is a New Zealand poet, novelist and teacher, living in Melbourne. In 2012 she completed a PhD in creative writing at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of The Propaganda Poster Girl (VUP, 2008), which was shortlisted at the 2009 New Zealand Book Awards, The Odour of Sanctity (VUP, 2013), a contemporary epic poem, and Neon Daze (VUP, 2019), a verse journal of the first four months of motherhood. She is also the author of Pony Tales, a series of children’s novels.

Doc Drumheller was born in South Carolina and has lived in NZ for more than half his life. He has worked in award-winning groups for theatre and music and has published 10 collections of poetry. His poems have been translated into more than 20 languages. He lives in Oxford, where he edits and publishes the literary journal, Catalyst.

David Eggleton is a Dunedin-based poet and writer. He is the current Aotearoa New Zealand Poet Laureate. His Selected Poems is forthcoming.

Bernadette Hall is Otago born and bred. Following a long career as a high school teacher in Dunedin and Christchurch, she has now lived 17 years in a renovated bach at Amberley Beach in the Hurunui, North Canterbury where she has built up a beautiful garden. Her 12th collection of poetry, Fancy Dancing (VUP), will be launched at the WORD festival in Christchurch in November. ‘It’s as close as I’ll ever get to writing an autobiography,’ she says, laughing. And as for the wilful sonnets that explode in the final pages of this book, she wonders where on earth they came from. ‘It was such fun writing them,’ she says, ‘as if I‘d kicked down the stable doors and taken to the hills.’ In 2015 she collaborated with Robyn Webster on Matakaea, Shag Point, an art /text installation exhibited at the Ashburton ArGallery. In the same year she was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for outstanding achievement in Poetry. In 2017 she was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to New Zealand literature.

Erik Kennedy is the author of There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (Victoria University Press, 2018), and he is co-editing a book of climate change poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific forthcoming from Auckland University Press in 2021. His poems and criticism have recently been published in places like FENCE, Landfall, Poetry, Poetry Ireland Review, the TLS, and Western Humanities Review. Originally from New Jersey, he lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Bill Manhire Aside from publishing his own widely acclaimed poetry, Bill Manhire has edited a number of anthologies and written extensively on New Zealand literature. He was New Zealand’s first Poet Laureate. His most recent collections include Tell Me My Name and Things to Place in a Coffin.  Victoria University Press are publishing his new collection Wow November 2020.

Emma Neale is the author of six novels and six collections of poetry. Her most recent novel, Billy Bird (2016) was short-listed for the Acorn Prize at the Ockham NZ Book Awards and long-listed for the Dublin International Literary Award. Emma has received a number of literary fellowships, residencies and awards, the most recent of which is the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for 2020. Her first collection of short stories, Party Games, is due out late 2020/early 2021. Emma lives and works in Ōtepoti/Dunedin, and she is the current editor of Landfall, New Zealand’s longest-running literary journal.

Marty Smith’s Horse with hat won the 2014 Jesse Mackay award for Best First Book of Poetry. Some of the book looks at the cost to her father of not talking about the war. ‘Agnus Dei’ is a poem that crosses religion over into war, although it looks like farming. She grew up riding beside her father, hence the horse strand in Horse with hat, hence the book she is writing about the obsession of people who risk their lives to ride racehorses. She would risk her life right now to ride a racehorse, if she were allowed.

Ruby Solly is a Kai Tahu / Waitaha writer and musician from Aotearoa, New Zealand. She has had poetry and creative non-fiction published in Landfall, Sport, Poetry NZ, Starling, Mimicry, Minarets, E-Tangata, The Spinoff, and Pantograph Punch amongst others. Victoria University Press will be publishing her debut book of poetry ‘Tōku Pāpā’ in 2021. Ruby is also a scriptwriter and her film ‘Super Special’ which aims to share knowledge around traditional Māori views and practices around menstruation has been featured in film festivals within New Zealand and the US. As a musician, she has played with artists such as Yo-yo Ma as part of his Bach Project, Trinity Roots, Whirimako Black, Rikki Gooch, and Ariana Tikao. Ruby is a taonga puoro (traditional Māori musical instruments) player and therapist with a first-class master’s in music therapy where she conducted kaupapa Māori research into the use of taonga puoro in acute mental health. As a taonga puoro player and therapist, she is privileged to work around Aotearoa with people from all walks of life sharing the taonga of her ancestors. She will be beginning a PhD to further her research this year. Her first album, ‘Pōneke’, which also features poetry, is available from rubysolly.bandcamp.cpm

Chris Tse is the author of How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes and HE’S SO MASC, both published by Auckland University Press. He is a regular book reviewer on Radio New Zealand and contributor to Capital’s Re-Verse column. He is currently co-editing an anthology of queer writers from Aotearoa.

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 currently working on a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Otago on women, [domestic] paralysis and poetic form.

E Wen Wong is in her final year at Burnside High School, where she is Head Girl for 2020. Last year, her poem Boston Building Blockswon first prize in the Year 12 category of the Poetry New Zealand Student Yearbook Competition.

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Ruby Solly’s ‘Dedication’

 

Dedication

 

This one’s for the aunty

that taught me

how to knead bread

properly.

Not with love,

but like you hate it.

The warm skin

of someone whose skin

doesn’t deserve it.

The aunty who calls out;

Beat it down girl

when the air bubbles

gasp through the dough.

And so you beat them

so far down

that you beat them

all the way out.

 

This one’s for

the girl in the tutu

and gumboots.

Shit covered

and tractor riding.

Pāpā doing her hair in loose braids,

those old farm ropes

swinging.

Tug of war fighting

to the sugar plum fairy.

 

This one’s for

the boy who thinks himself magic

then throws himself off

the top of the monkey bars

then doesn’t fly

but falls.

For the smashed nose,

for the freckles falling

from the face

in patterned rain.

Salt water cleaning the eyes

of a not special boy.

 

This one’s for

the girl with white skin

but black everything else

Pig dog! Pig dog!”

They say,

pulling her hair

until she barks.

Reaching out

from behind black eyes

to find nothing.

The ladder out

already pulled up

to a light that emanates

from everywhere

but below.

 

This one’s

for the man

who speaks not with words

but with hands in the soil.

Roots coiling down

towards magma core.

Digging to Rangiatea,

he knows he’ll get there

if he just digs and digs.

 

And now

you are all here

and we are ready

to begin.

 

Ruby Solly

 

 

Ruby Solly is a Kai Tahu / Waitaha writer and musician living in Pōneke. She has had poetry and creative non-fiction published in Landfall, Sport, Poetry NZ, Starling, Mimicry, Minarets, E-Tangata, The Spinoff, and Pantograph Punch amongst others. Victoria University Press will be publishing her debut book of poetry ‘Tōku Pāpā’ in early 2021. Ruby is also a scriptwriter and her film ‘Super Special’ which aims to share knowledge around traditional Māori views and practices around menstruation has been featured in film festivals within New Zealand and the US. As a musician, she has played with artists such as Yo-yo Ma as part of his Bach Project, Trinity Roots, Whirimako Black, Rikki Gooch, and Ariana Tikao. Ruby is a taonga puoro (traditional Māori musical instruments) player and therapist with a first-class master’s in music therapy where she conducted kaupapa Māori research into the use of taonga puoro in acute mental health.

 

 

Ruby Solly premieres a video for her new album Pōneke and a wānanga with essa may ranapiri

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf connections: Ruby Solly premieres a video for her new album Pōneke and a wānanga with essa may ranapiri

 

Today we have a poetry and music video premier from Ruby Solly with film created by Sebastian Lowe and Viktor Baskin, as well as a wānanga around toi kupu, music, and writing into place between Ruby Solly and essa may ranapiri.

 

The video can be watched here:

 

 

 

Pōneke can be streamed and purchased here

 

essa may ranapiri Kia ora Ruby

I’ve been reading your poetry forever (since before I even knew you) and have been so privileged to hear you play and sing in public, and these songs on Pōneke are just giving me so much life recently! Just stilling those anxious jitters I’ve been struck with after the end of lockdown. It feels so of the outside as well. To me the songs create this river where you dip in and out of such a strength of emotion, I go from chilling and vibing to crying and humming along; face wet! It feels like something I’ve been needing for a long time. And there also poems that go with each one!

Before I ask you anything about the album could you talk a bit about how you got to where you are, your whakapapa and journey here to this time/place?

 

Ruby Solly Kia ora Essa!

Kā mihi nui for opening this wānanga space. I was a reader of yours before we met too! I love how we get to be woven together in this way, it’s very special to me. I really like the idea of these pieces forming a river as when I was recording them, I looked at a lot of old river routes from pre-colonial times. I like to think of the water under the concrete and how it can be heard in these pieces. After I finished the album I was actually gifted some of the original river stones from the Te Puni Stream which runs under my street, which joins up to the Waimapihi which features on the album. Was a perfect taonga to be given to mark being able to bring those songs and sounds out into the world again.

I whakapapa to Kai Tahu and Waitaha on my taha Māori, but I also have Jewish, Irish, Scottish and English whakapapa within me. I whakapapa back to Waihao as my tino marae in Te Wai Pounamu, from the Rōpa whānau. I was really lucky to grow up on the foot of Mount Ruapehu where I learnt koauau from my primary school teacher, Maria Kuppa, which was my first time meeting ngā taonga puoro. I started playing cello when I was about seven when we lived in Taupo, which also features on the album.  I started playing taonga puoro again at university under the korowai aroha of mentors such as Al Fraser, Ariana Tikao, and Rob Thorne. I’ve lived in Pōneke for seven years and over that time have been lucky to receive teachings on our whakapapa here from Kai Tahu kaumātua, as well as learn from locals and historical records about this place and how my histories are placed within it.

 

essa Sounds like the album is such a culmination of things for you, everything is of course, but it’s cool to pay attention to the whakapapa of our mahi so thank you for sharing that e hoa.

So the songs are lyricless but you wrote these little pieces of toikupu to go with the waiata (which i love!) it really gives context to the music but they work so well as pieces of music themselves. They are full of stories from around the region, what was something (or some things) you learnt that really stuck out to you and why?

 

Ruby Completely, I think with me when I get an idea it’s not necessarily a poetry idea or a music idea or an art idea; it’s just an idea in and of its self and I get to grow it into whatever direction I choose depending on how I treat it and feed it.

I did! It was hilarious because I wrote these very dry factual explanations of each track and then showed one of my cousins who pointed out how academic and dry they were. I’d just finished my masters so I was in this very academic Pākehā writing frame of mind and it reminded me to break out of that. I thought about how so much of our histories have been given to us and passed down through toikupu and song, and that maybe this work is adding to that tradition. I wrote all the poems in one big day during lockdown, but I had all the info in my head from the descriptions I’d written previously which took a lot longer. That’s often how I work as a writer anyway with a research and thinking phase taking up a lot of time and the actual writing just coming in at the end, I call it the internal blackboard a lot to explain it. The original descriptions can still be seen on the bandcamp page though in case that style suits people better.

I think the things that stuck with me the most were the places that I could whakapapa too, which says a lot about representation within arts and the importance of it. Pieces like the two Karaka poems / songs, and the ones with tohu from ōku mātua tūpuna like Koukou are so special to me. Something I love about taonga puoro is the presences that show up for you when you play, and learning to not only read those tohu but play with them.

I thought about you for this wānanga because one, I love your work, and two, because I’ve heard you read some hōhonu, beautiful pieces about place and your connection or disconnection with it. I love the way you unpack these things like taking things out of a messily packed suitcase, then show us everything inside then pack it neatly so we can see the whakapapa behind these feelings. It really inspires me as a writer and an artist. For you personally, how does writing about place affect you as a Māori writer?

 

essa I just want to speak to something you were saying at the top there before answering your question. It’s so true that the lines between forms are colonial constructions and it makes so much sense for me for this art to take on many forms, I often have paintings and poems and songs that speak to similar things like a little family work. I don’t know I just think that smooshing of form is really cool!

Writing about place is everything really, it hurts a lot, it challenges me, it makes me feel everything I lack, but also it’s everything we are and will be and have been. Because it’s all about place right? The whole state of things is due to where we are placed, where we are displaced. I wrote a poem about my marae, a place I have only passed on the highway or “visited” via the google maps and the work really does summon something, like just putting words into the world establishes some tenuous connection point. Like a little gift from my ancestors. But also I do worry I fetishize that disconnect sometimes, make my life about the things I don’t have rather the opportunities and connections that I can make. It’s also funny as well because growing up I feel like a lot of things teach you that place doesn’t matter like all the names of the streets are some dead colonizers from Britain and the shows on TV are American, none of us present on the box. It has really been a learning experience for me over the last ten or so years finding place or even coming to see it.

And that is another thing about Pōneke that I really love is how it seems to cuts through that noise – that hypermarketed, hyper commercialised, there is always an ad waiting noise, especially with the melodies that keep returning and returning (we see that spiral again) and the all that incidental sound of place itself. And also it’s so layered, taonga puoro, instruments, found sounds, voice, and bird’s song. Would you be able to talk a little bit about the recording process?

 

Ruby Yes! The idea of art, or just expression in general being placed into different categories is really colonial when you boil it down. Being able to communicate across mediums and languages is a strength we have inherited from our ancestors that we continue to build upon.

I feel that sense of being challenged. Place is so… present in te ao Māori, we’re asked where we’re from before we’re asked who we are which is both a beautiful thing, and a very complicated thing for those of us who have not been privileged to have that relationship with turangawaewae cultivated in the physical sense. Writing into a place is a very Māori way of creating I think, and yes, it hurts to do it and to move through it. But it definitely gave me a deeper sense of understanding and helped me work through the kind of fetishizing that can happen with any diaspora. I’ve heard it referred to as “competitive pain” within our Jewish diaspora, and I really wanted to be able to choose how I presented that pain and how I wove it with all the other emotions that come with it, the full spectrum of it.

Thank you! When I create complete works like a book, or album, or a large piece without a major prompt I like to try and have it so even if no one was ever to see it but me (and my descendants possibly); we would still grow and learn from it. Then I decide whether I want that to be shared wider. I think in many ways that can cut out the subconscious desire to make something to fit the norm or to serve others, which in many ways serves people who don’t always have their needs met in media usually.

For the recording process I recorded taonga puoro within the different environments, responding to them in real time. Then I layered up cello at home afterwards to support the taonga puoro. Some tracks have some extra layers of sounds from the places when I wanted to really tune in to particular sounds like the gulls on Matiu-Somes island for example (they were also dive bombing me so I had to have a few goes). The whole thing was actually recorded on an iPhone four which I haven’t told anyone until now because I was super whakamā about it! But I learnt a lot about recording and took principles from how jazz bands recorded around one singular microphone in the 1920s with things being placed different distances from the mic. The mixing really added to the sound too which was done by Al Fraser.

 

essa I have listened to a lot of pro stuff recorded on phones there is a lot of life in those kinds of set ups I think! There is even a strange ideology I think behind those pristine soundproofed spaces set aside for recording, it benefits the subject matter so much for the recordings to done in the spaces they’re responding to!  The mix is awesome, brings it all together so well, Al did a great job!

Some final questions, what would you want people to take from this record if just one thing?

Also you have a book of poetry coming out next year do you feel there is an overlap between that work and this?

 

Ruby Completely! It’s given so many people so many more options! I think as well it can be used as a tool to remove the ’sacred room’ element of recording where we try to eliminate all noise in a studio, and through that it can bring the environment back into the music as a contributor. I think acknowledging the space you’re in and all that brings is a big part of te ao Māori and it feels really good to be able to look at recording in that way as a method of decolonizing the recording process. Al is awesome! We both had finishing off the album and all its components as a sort of lockdown project, and it was so good to have someone who really understood the work and how I’ve developed as a player and a person through it.

I think if I could pick one thing for people to take away… it would be an increased ability to listen to and feel histories in places, with more of a sense of presence. To show people that idea that the repercussions of the past are still here, and we kind of get to look back at them in a way where we see the good and the bad all mixing together, and we get to decide where we go with that information. I’ve had lots of conversations with friends and whānau recently about matakite and te ao wairua, and I think my path into that world is being able to hear places and their histories. It’s deep work to be able to share that and I feel grateful to be walking on that path.

I do! I think for me there again is that creative process where there is a seed of an idea or an experience, and I get to choose what I feed it with and how I grow it. With the book, I started writing it long before I realised. So many of my pieces were about growing up on mount Ruapehu and Turangi, or my family histories and relationships, and then I just saw this thread with my connections to Kai Tahu and all these other people and places through my Dad and that was what was growing as the book. I’m excited for people to read the book because it does that same thing I think, it acknowledges that there is the good and the bad and all of it is our history and has lead to us. There’s a real narrative of me starting to see and hear that through my childhood and figuring out how I choose to live with it. I’m super fascinated too with the parts of our culture we don’t always acknowledge. Things like how we raise children, or the things we value, or the way we structure our speech. I think those things are often the parts that colonisation struggled to remove, and through them that’s often how we find and reclaim our ways of being and so much of our matauranga. Dad used to get me to swim down this river every summer, while everyone else had boats and life jackets, because he wanted me to be a strong swimmer because it was a survival skill for us and our environment. Little pieces like that are often misunderstood, but can be great gifts. I’ve saved myself from drowning many times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf celebrates NZ Music Month: a comfort book list picked by musicians and music fans

 

 

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Two more lists after this one because I want to support New Zealand bookshops.

But today I want to celebrate NZ Music Month –  music has been such a go-to comfort for me in the past few months. I find myself awake listening to and loving Trevor Reekie’s world-music selection on RNZ in the middle of the night, or Nick Bollinger’s sweetly crafted music reviews along with Jeremy Taylor’s (also RNZ). I found myself playing Nadia Reid latest album over and over again when I was trying to meet an anthology deadline and work seemed impossible.

Earlier this year Michael and I sat on the slopes and listened to Don McGlashan and the Mutton Birds along with The Black Seeds at the Hunting Lodge in West Auckland and it was bliss. Another day and I popped over to Kumeu’s summer Folk Festival and loved everything about it. These outdoor / indoor music events seem like a miracle now, a mirage in my mind to which I keep returning. To hear live music is perhaps one of the most extraordinary human experiences because it transcends everything – all the toxic crap in the world and it brings us together. It makes you feel good: both physically and emotionally.

 

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Hard times for musicians, especially with live music events not on the calendar yet.

Just as we can support NZ books in NZ book shops, we can support our local musicians  and purchase their music. I am hanging out for Reb Fountain’s amazing new album (physical one due June).

 

This week I invited musicians and music fans to pick a book or two that has offered comfort or that they have loved, recently, or at any point in time!

Thanks to everyone who contributed. This a treasure house of books that sets me all aglow as a reader. Ruby Solly has assembled the most wonderful list of books ever and because I have read and loved all of them bar two – those two are now on my must-purchase list! I plan to keep buying books from local bookshops once a week and buying NZ music.

 

A list of books picked by musicians, music critics, music bookshops and music fans

 

 

 

invisible-women

 

Marysia Collins (Singer)

I’d like to recommend the book Invisible Women – Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez.

Why do I Iove it?

This book is PACKED with data and examples of biases (i.e. ways the world is way worse for women) which at first punch you in the chest and then make you feel armed with this new power of knowledge. Admittedly it comes with a heavy serving of frustration and sadness, but served in a clever and witty way that in itself reinforces the hope drawn from the good things we know happen when women take an equal place on the stage.

A musical reference from the book is the mention of the fact that a standard piano was designed around the average size of a man’s hands – which are larger than the standard size of a woman’s hands. The obvious implications of this being that it’s harder and more painful/injury-provoking for women to play the piano.

 

 

9780099800200

 

Victoria Kelly (Composer, performer and producer of music – and also the Director of NZ Member Services at APRA AMCOS)

Funny you should ask… just last week I was compelled to return to a book I have read more times than I can count. It’s my favourite book – Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut – and the only thing I’ve felt like reading during this entire lockdown period.

I think it comforts me because Vonnegut has the gift of being able to take the reader by the hand and lead them kindly and generously through the brutality and strangeness of humanity.

I love the fact that it changes as I get older, and that it still surprises and enlightens me.

Perhaps my favourite passage in the book is one I read aloud to my 13 year old daughter just the other night because she was worried about school and finding it hard to get things done at home.

“Billy had a framed prayer on his office wall which expressed his method for keeping going, even though he was unenthusiastic about living. A lot of patients who saw the prayer on Billy’s wall told him that it helped them to keep going too. It went like this:

God grant me
the serenity to accept
the things I cannot change,
courage
to change the things I can
and wisdom always
to tell the
difference.

Among the things that Billy could not change were the past, the present, and the future.”

That last sentence that gets me every time.

 

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Don McGlashan (Musician)

I’ve been reading a lot. First CivilWarLand In Bad Decline, a set of short stories by George Saunders, where grotesque but vivid characters scratch out lives in the wastelands and theme-parks of a post-apocalyptic America. I love how funny and bleak Saunders can be at the same time, and sometimes he just floors you with a piece of imagining so true and strong you have to put down the book and breathe deeply for a bit. Like that, for me, was a story called “Offloading for Mrs Schwartz”, about a man who is forced to sell memories to get by; first other peoples, then finally his own.

Then I read Sea People – by Christina Thompson, an utterly engrossing investigation into the history of Pacific peoples, and their voyages of discovery. Thompson, a US/Australian who teaches writing at Harvard, examines what we know, through the work of greats like Dame Anne Salmond and Te Rangi Hiroa; what we are only just now learning, like the re-vitalisation of ancient navigational knowledge by such scholar-voyagers as Nainoa Thompson – and what we still don’t know, like what happened to the Lapita and Rapa Nui civilisations who left such striking footprints and little else. “Sea People” uses multiple lenses: Polynesian oral history, linguistics, archeology, anthropology, the uniquely Western knack of suggesting radical (and wrong) theories rather than ask the locals – and Thompson has skin in the game, too: she writes from the heart because she’s married to a Maori man, and their children carry Polynesian DNA. I picked it up because I wanted to understand more about the Pacific and its people, but after a while, I found that the timeless fog already brought on by the lock-down became even more hazy, as I missed appointments, meals and sleep so I could cram in another chapter.

 

 

 

51ocF2RwDRL._SX409_BO1,204,203,200_  9781877577833

 

Trevor Reekies (Musician, writer, Trip To The Moon member, Producer and Presenter of Worlds of Music RNZ)

These 2 gentlemen remain my favorite Poets

SAM HUNT is one of Aotearoa’s most loved and respected Poets. He has lived the life, walked the walk (usually downhill in his treasured Cuban heels) and entertained audiences from all walks of life with his unique perception of his world, his endearing humour and personality and, of course, his poetry. Living the life of an artist in Aotearoa takes considerable motivation in one’s own belief. Sam may give the perception that he arrived as a fully formed poet and that his work comes to him easily. But the reality is that he applies himself to his art every breathing moment of his day. He rehearses, he reads and writes daily. He chucks his creative line into the pool … sometimes he may get a nibble and other times he may arrive at a finished piece, but crucially, he chucks his line into the pool on a daily basis. Sam is equally a brilliant raconteur. He entertains. Sometimes his introductions to the poem are longer than the poem itself but that is part of his charm. I’ve seen him perform shows with bands like The Warratahs and just take command, such is his presence. This place would be the poorer without him. I don’t own many of his books but one title I enjoyed immensely is his book Backroads, Charting a Poet’s Life (2009). It’s a treasure of a book filled with a collection of yarns that reveal his integrity, eloquence, humour and unique charm.

 

PETER OLDS I met when I was a student at Otago University in the 70’s. From memory it was at a flat in Cumberland street where the Editor of Critic magazine lived. He is the first person I met who described himself as a poet. Peter’s poems are as appealing as many of the ‘Beat’ poets and City Lights’ fraternity. Peter is uniquely himself and writes the way he talks. He was always good company who was totally focused on his work and that is the sort of dedication I admire most. It’s hard work being a ‘poet’ in a country that for years has denied the arts as being ‘work’. .. more a case of being a ‘dole-bludger’ .. Peter Old writes a lot about Dunedin, the  city where I was born, walking the same streets that my parents once walked in their youth.

I can read Peter’s  work easily and relate to it with the same fondness that I have for the city itself. Peter Olds writes of relationships, hitch-hiking the country and nights at the Captain Cook Hotel with old friends and new, all the time collecting mental notes and anecdotes for future resource. Peter wrote intelligently to a cultural and generational divide. A working class poet blessed with a whimsical humour and a keen ear that (for me) gives his work a significant point of difference.

Favourite Collections: Beethoven’s Guitar (1980) and Under the Dundas Street Bridge (2012)

 

 

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Nadia Reid (Musician, songwriter)

My recommendation would be a non-fiction book called Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.

Something about her writing just gets me right where I need it. This book is a book about writing ultimately and also about Life. I found it quite relevant to songwriting too. She talks about ‘getting your butt in the chair’ and just turning up. My favourite quote from the book:

For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.

O and this quote! This is actually my favourite:

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

 

 

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Will Ricketts (Musician, Phoenix Foundation)

A book that gave me some comfort …..

The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar Roald Dahl

Perfect little windows into ingenious scenarios, a collection of miniature mental holidays.

I find Roald Dahl’s style of writing transfers that essential spark or signal within the constant noise, something that is intangible if one tries to encapsulate it in essence.
The formula of doing, the gift of story telling, the gift of the imagination.

 

 

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Grant Smithies (Music critic/ journalist/ broadcaster)

As a kid, I could often be found in my bedroom, touching my tongue to the terminals of a transistor battery. Ow!… Zzzt!… Ow…Zzzt…Ow!… Zzzt! Why? I grew up in Whanganui in the early 60s, where a cheap thrill was better than no thrill at all. And I like a good jolt.

Perhaps that’s why I read mostly short stories, to the extent that whenever I make my way into a novel, it feels like an interminable journey with far too many people to meet along the way. Give me short, surprising, vivid, weird. Give me Denis Johnson and Joy Williams.

Joy Williams: The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories (2015) is a ripping comfort read, assuming you’d find comfort in visiting a succession of skew-whiff worlds rendered by a preacher’s daughter who believes everything, no matter how mundane, has deep cosmic undercurrents.

So many qualities I love in other writers are there in Williams, plus more besides. She is Anton Chekhov in dark glasses and wraparound skirt; a rural Grace Paley; John Cheever stuck fast in the surrealistic groove that gave us The Swimmer and The Enormous Radio. She cops the minimalism of Ray Carver and Lydia Davis, then blows it all sideways with a humid waft of Flannery O’Conner gothic.

She’s a compassionate misanthropist with bold comedic chops, welding rage and despair to belly laughs within sentences so elegant, you sometimes have to read them twice before moving on with the story.

“What a story is, is devious,” Williams once told an interviewer from The Paris Review. “It pretends transparency, forthrightness. It engages with ordinary people, ordinary matters, recognizable stuff. But this is all a masquerade. What good stories deal with is the horror and incomprehensibility of time, the dark encroachment of old catastrophes.”

Her subject is American failure and its repercussions. She’s interested in the way people deal with loneliness, and regularly sets up occasions in which her characters are forced to confront their own insignificance, facing the fact that they are just another anxious critter struggling to find safety within nature.

Animals provide a mystical non-human dimension to many of her best stories- members of some secret parallel society, bearing witness, hanging out at our side while living in an utterly different world.

And Denis? Let’s just say that Johnson’s Jesus’ Son (1992) is a book every aspiring short story writer worth their salt reads and rereads like a sacred text, eager to unlock its mysteries.

Again, funny and bleak are bedfellows throughout these eleven interlinked tales of lost souls crashing cars, breaking into houses, shooting up, committing murder, hanging out in bars where some drinkers are still clad in wee plastic bootees and hospital gowns after going “over the wall” from rehab.

The action moves between 1970s Iowa, Chicago, Seattle and Phoenix. Someone gets stabbed in the eye by his wife. Bad things happen to bunnies. A naked woman with long red hair hovers above a speedboat while two men strip electrical wire from the walls of a house to sell for drug money.

Leaps in logic, time, focus and tone mirror the addled mental state of the central protagonist: shaky memories/ wishful thinking/ drug hallucinations/ obsessions/ pathologies/ outright lies are all rolled together into sentences so poetically compressed, I sometimes finish a story and go straight back to the start.

Johnson once described his own writing as a “zoo of wild utterances”, and it’s a zoo worth visiting. Jesus’ Son makes you either want to become a better writer or give up writing altogether. And it will give you more pleasure than putting your tongue on a transistor battery.

 

 

 

 

Ruby Solly (Musician, poet, performer)

Curating this book list was super interesting as I realised books are not really something I turn to much for comfort nowadays. Mostly I turn to books to challenge myself and turn to other things like music for comfort which makes sense as I work with both fields so listen and read a lot. But when I need comfort, there are a few favorites I return too. All of these books are set in strange otherworldly places in one way or another. Be that 1970s New York, or a land stuck in perpetual winter. They also help us to answer big questions, or at least to add a little bit more to what we already know so we can live with not knowing all the answers. They show us parts of who we are, and parts of who we can be. I hope you pick up one or two, and I hope you enjoy them as much as me.

 

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Light Boxes by Shane Jones

I bought this beautiful little poetic novel on a whim when I was about fourteen before a car trip home, and it lasted me the exact space from Hamilton to Turangi. Shane Jones is an excellent writer in the alt-lit scene and this, his first book, looks at a close-knit town that is perpetually stuck in winter, which is personified as a man called ‘February’ who lives in the sky beyond the clouds. Jones weaves together poetry, drawings, prose and a sea of surreal characters and scenes to make a book that takes you from the depths of depression into a new world. I use this book almost medicinally when I’m feeling really low.

 

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How To Live Forever by Colin Thompson

As part of my job, I spend a lot of time with kids and books. This one has stuck with me for life and comes as both a picture book (with Colin’s detailed and otherworldly illustrations) and a children’s novel. Colin Thompson is my favorite children’s author / illustrator as he managed to weave these incredible worlds filled with magic, and humor; all while examining some really heavy questions around topics such as purpose, greed, and death and dying. But don’t let that put you off. This book is full of magical characters, homes that pop up in books, and helps children (and let’s be honest, adults) understand that good things need to come to an end for us to truly appreciate them.

 

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Just Kids by Patti Smith

I’m a huge Patti Smith fan, and this book sums up a such a specific and special relationship that young artists starting out have with each other. It reminds me in part of the girls and gays essay by Tayi Tibble, and describes this beautiful (in Patti’s case, mostly) platonic love and how that support and nourishing of each other creates such beautiful work because both parties feel so loved and supported. In typical Patti fashion, the book is littered with beat celebrities and includes her first encounters with Allen Ginsberg (who initially thought she was a handsome boy) and William Burroughs to name a few. The book has this rich sense of wonder at the size and magic of 1970s New York and feels full of hope.

 

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In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan

This book is described as an American post-modern post-apocalyptic novel; which I admit does not sound comforting from the get-go. Richard Brautigan is also described as being one of the grandfathers of alternative literature, and his influenced can be seen in many other writers including Shane Jones. In this book, he creates a commune in a village that has its own bizarre way of being where nearly everything is made from different colored watermelons, more specifically, the sugar that comes from them. The sky changes color each day of the week and the different colored watermelons must be harvested on the day that the sky matches them. One of the days is a ‘black soundless day’ which is when the black watermelons are harvested. This book is a sensory treat and can take you away from anything with the strength of its imagery and bizarre scenes that can feel almost animated or film like.

 

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Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

Written by the first Native American poet Laurette of the United States, this book is filled with wisdom and hope in the face of so many impossible things. Joy’s voice has this incredible way of looking at difficult and awful situations through love and ancestral wisdom in order to survive and honor those who have brought her there. She talks in this book of ‘the knowing’ which is a powerful thing to bring into one’s life during times that comfort is needed. Anything by Joy is a real comfort book for me.

 

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Under Glass by Gregory Kan

I love poetry books that are bigger than just the individual poems. This book is a journey into a strange world with two suns (which light boxes has as well!) and gives us a winding path to follow through the new places we find ourselves in. There’s this subtle percolating, calm sort of insistence in this book. Willing you to read on. The pacing in this is beautiful and always leaves me feeling like if been on a journey and now am ready for a gentle sleep and wherever dreams may take me, I can handle it.

 

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Ruby-Fruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown

This was my big, queer, coming out read and what a way to start. The story follows Molly Bolt and her life, starting with her in primary school scheming with her best friend getting him to ‘show himself’ to girls for a price that they then split 50/50. Molly is a bulshy, queer little grifter who makes her way around America making friends, art, and discovering herself and the dangers that being yourself can have for someone like her. It’s light, beautiful, and hilarious.

 

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Mophead by Selina Tusitala Marsh

My Mum bought me this book after we read it together in a bookstore and she cried saying “It’s so like you!”. I felt very embarrassed to be compared to Selina even by my Mum, but I’ve returned to this book again and again when I’ve had a rough day. Selina’s writing has a vivaciousness that’s infectious, it’s impossible not to feel powerful and special reading this book. It shows you that no matter where you are at in your journey, you’re exactly where you need to be.

 

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Wāhine Toa by Patricia Grace and Robyn Kahukiwa

This book outlines the female whakapapa of ngā tangata Māori with the deepest words and illustrations. Pūrākau show us how to live our lives, and all of them are filled with multitudes of lessons where we take what we need at the time and leave the rest for others or for when we may need it in future. This is a book to be read again and again, and to discover something new every time.

 

(Paula: Thanks Ruby! This list was like a comfort blanket to me! I so loved being taken back to books that have meant a lot to me too.)

 

 

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Simon Sweetman (music journalist, music blogger, short story writer and poet

Greil Marcus Mystery Train (1975)

I have a few non-fiction books I return to – some to just dip in and out of, others where you read it again from cover to cover – Mystery Train by Griel Marcus is both. I’ve read this book start to finish a half-dozen times but I’ve dipped in to it for just a few pages in one gulp on so many occasions. It’s a history of rock’n’roll through four essays – four artists mark the development of American music, are the signposts. The Band, Sly Stone, Randy Newman and Elvis Presley. But with Marcus it’s all about the links and distractions – the way he uses these artists to also tell the story of many other musical acts and cultural moments. The writing is brilliant – and the final chapter is the best writing on Elvis Presley that you’ll ever find. And by extension it’s some of the best writing about America. “Mystery Train” is that rare music book where you could read it without having too much interest in reading about music – it is worth it for the journey and the language and the command of writing. But it would be impossible to close the book not being curious about so much of the music discussed in its pages. One of my all-time favourite books and easily one of my favourite volumes of music journalism.

 

 

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Jeremy Taylor (Slow Boat Records, RNZ music reviewer)

If I were to name one book that I have genuinely loved, and that has stood up to continued re-readings, it would be Luke Haines’ Bad Vibes: Britpop, and my part in its downfall.

It is alternately hilariously funny, bleak, cruel, tender, and self-aware, and has the best anecdotes (returning home to his dingy flat in Camden to find Metallica sitting on his couch!). The history of Britpop as told by someone smart enough to realise it was all, actually, bullshit. Thoroughly recommended!

 

 

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Ariana Tikao (Taonga puoro musician, singer & composer )

Death of a River Guide, by Richard Flanagan. Penguin Books, 1994.

I’ve just started reading this book again. It was a birthday gift from my then boyfriend, who wrote a beautiful mihi to me on the inside cover. We were about to go our separate ways while he went off on his OE, and I headed back to New Zealand after living together in Sydney for a year. It was February 1998, and we’d just finished the Overland Track, an epic seven day tramp through the mountainous heart of Tasmania, down to its lush West Coast. The book is set in Tasmania, and includes not only the drowning river guide Aljaz Cosini’s personal and family history, but touches upon the wider history of Tasmania. It starts with a description of his traumatic birth, which has certain similarities to his pending death. By the way, the boyfriend didn’t stay away on his OE all that long, and now we have two adult children. Our youngest is planning his own OE – once borders open again. Things tend to have a cyclic nature, and in the meantime I will enjoy ‘returning’ to Tasmania via this beautifully told story.

 

 

Thank you!

Long may we support and cherish NZ music