Tag Archives: Sarah Broom Poetry Award

Kirsti Whalen makes a moving tribute to Sarah Broom

Kirsti has just posted this on her blog. She has the writing life within her, her mother would be proud, and as she took to the stage on Sunday, it shone out for us all.

In Memory of Sarah Broom

It was with a mild hangover and a brimming heart that I greeted the day following my first writers festival reading. I attended a great many luminous events, but read as part of the celebration of the inaugural Sarah Broom Poetry Prize.

I feel incredibly honoured to have been shortlisted for this very special award, especially alongside such distinguished poets as Emma Neale and C.K. Stead, the winner, to whom I offer my utmost, and sincere, congratulations.

This event held a special significance for me, in so many ways. Before I went on stage, my dad told me to do it for my mum, and to imagine her at the back of the room.

I lost my mum to cancer six years ago. Knowing how short these years feel only makes me more amazed at the courage of Sarah’s family and friends, creating this tribute to her life such a short time after she left it.

My mother was a staunch supporter of my writing, and in the diary I inherited after her death she stressed that she hoped I could find a life in which I wrote, above anything else. When I was informed that I had won the Katherine Mansfield Young Writers Award back in 2006, I remember clutching her hands and jumping up and down in the entrance of our old home, with shared excitement.

The submission that I sent for the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize was titled ‘i’m only here because she isn’t,’ a line from one of my poems. This statement is applicable to my both my mother and Sarah, two women who fought their cancer with incredible bravery, and both, in different ways, left a legacy of language.

See the rest of her blog here.

Emma Neale on being shortlisted for the Sarah Broom Poetry Award

This is a terrific piece of writing. Emma offers us a moving tribute to Sarah, her love of her poetry and a poem– amongst other things.

‘Now that I am settling down a bit from the giddy whirl of the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival, I want to repeat here how much admiration I have for Michael Gleissner and the other trust members who set up the Sarah Broom Award. To do this so soon after losing Sarah must have taken an enormous amount of energy and focus at a very raw and vulnerable time. I know from all the positive feedback and well-wishing I was lucky enough to receive even as a short-listee, that the wider poetry community has been highly aware of the award and the chance it offers to local poets.

It was a hoot to meet Sam Hunt at the session, and Kirsti Whalen showed really professional slam-background confidence. I’ve owned Sam’s poems since I was 13: though back then I didn’t have a clue what all the fuss about love and desire was. Adults seemed tortured by such bizarre emotions. Sam not only takes poetry to the people but also does a mean tap dance — look him up on YouTube. Also his interview on National Radio about the Sarah Broom Award is a marvellous recording. It’s the kind of radio that makes you forget how to multi-task. You just end up frozen in place, dishcloth at the window, struck in an attitude of intense distraction.’

See the rest of Emma Neale’s post here.

My thoughts on the Sarah Broom Poetry Award

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At the Auckland Writers Festival on Sunday, Sam Hunt announced the winner of the inaugural Sarah Broom Poetry Award.

Michael Gleissner spoke about the genesis of this award in his introductory remarks. He wanted to create something in honour of his wife, poet Sarah Broom (1972-2013) that would benefit the poetry community. This award is his invention with the help of various friends of Sarah’s from around the world. He worked hard to get funding and to put the award in place.

On the entry form, Michael made the aim of the award clear: That the award was to honour a NZ poet whether established or emerging and to provide a financial contribution towards writing a poetry manuscript. This then is an award open to any NZ poet regardless of age, style, experience or location.

I was delighted and moved as a friend and admirer of Sarah and her work to be part of the award panel. More than anything I wanted to help get this award off the ground in any way I could. My background role was to make suggestions for Sam Hunt, and to do any jobs that cropped up (such as filming Karl). It was an absolute pleasure to read all the submissions and as I have already said on this blog it prompted me to start a new feature, Poem Friday. I want to put you in touch with some of the astonishing poetry I have come across and will come across. NZ poetry is thriving.

On this occasion, Sam Hunt was Head Judge (or Chief Judge as he wittily said on Sunday) and it fell to him to pick the winner and indeed have the final decision on the shortlist–no easy task.

What blew me away about the Sunday session was hearing three very fine poets read. I am already a long-time fan of the poetry of Emma Neale but to hear the musicality of those poems  lift and soar through the air again made my skin prickle. I had not heard Kirsti before (bar a YouTube clip) but I now have her voice in my head with all its gorgeous intonations and I cannot wait to see her get a book out. I had filmed Karl but found myself catching my breath as he began to read. At his home I had been wondering if his cat was going to leap onto the couch (just as he read the word ‘cat’) but she settled back on the floor (or he!).

In my School Session on the Wednesday, I talked about two NZ writers who have shaped me as a poet. Yes, we were doing ‘sound’ and I was exploring the way poetry hits and hooks the ear– so to talk abut the aural delights of Margaret Mahy and Bill Manhire was so perfectly apt. But these two writers have also gifted us with a generosity that is humbling– a way of inhabiting the world with empathy, attentiveness to those around, an ability to listen to others, to support and promote, to be good and to be kind, to be gracious, to celebrate the power and versatility of words. It seemed to me I saw this in Emma and Kirsti. They embraced the ethos of the award to honour, celebrate and promote poetry. I was in awe of their graciousness and aplomb. And I found Karl’s speech very moving, particularly when he said he hoped the award would keep the name and poetry of Sarah alive to us all (off the cuff, a second after I told him he had won!).

Awards are tricky things– they bring out the best and the worst in people (thus the barrage of aggressive texts, emails and face-to-face comments I have endured over the past weeks and yesterday).

I want to thank everyone who has, in the spirit of the Award, remembered Sarah (and her poems!), who has opened up to the glorious poetry of the three finalists, and who has witnessed the way poetry can touch us. I did feel a little sad at the end of the session, I was holding onto my memory of Sarah, as I was hugging my publisher. I cannot thank Michael enough for the extraordinary amount of work he has had to do in what must have been a demanding and difficult year for him and his three young children. And to the real treat of getting to know Dr Sarah Ross, the other panelist judge, from Victoria University. The poetry community has benefited from this– not just the winning poet and not just the three finalists.

Thank you.

from my IPhone on the day (just learning!):

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Booknotes Unbound showcases Sarah Broom finalists (with poems and notes)

Sarah Ross and I have contributed to an article on the Sarah Broom Poetry Award for Booknotes Unbound (the New Zealand book Council online magazine). It includes a poem by each of the finalists.

Booknotes Unbound here

Poetry Shelf interviews the finalists for the Sarah Broom Poetry Award: Today Emma Neale

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Photo credit: Danny Baillie

Emma is a Dunedin-based poet (four collections published), novelist, teacher, mentor and anthologist. She has a PhD in English Literature from London’s University College, received the inaugural Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature (2008), the Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry (2011) and was the 2012 Robert Burns Fellow at the University of Otago. She was the Summer Resident at the Pah Hometead in 2014 (supported by Sir James Wallace Arts Trust/ University of Otago). Her latest collection is entitled The Truth Garden.

My reaction to Emma’s poems: ‘Emma’s poems often find a starting point in her domestic life—with her exquisitely tuned ear and her roving mind producing lines of singing clarity. The musicality is enhanced by a sumptuous vocabulary, by single words that stand out in a line and a rhythm that gives each poem startling breath and movement. What struck us particularly is the way each poem is made more complex—through an unfolding pocket narrative, meditative strains of thought, aching confession, political sharpness, the rollercoaster ride of maternal feeling. These were definitely poems with an aftertaste that kept you wanting more.’

 

Did your childhood shape you as a poet? What did you like to read? Did you write as a child? What else did you like to do?

My sister and I were surrounded by books: my mother is a voracious and rapid reader; there had to be at least weekly visits to the library for her to maintain her supply. My father used to say she couldn’t possibly be reading at that pace; she was turning the pages too fast. She was not just bookworm but book termite. She read to us often — AA Milne and Beatrix Potter when we were preschoolers — and she also actively encouraged our participation in drama lessons, and ­— at our pleading — wrote us small items to perform for family. Theatre I think also helped to attune my ear to pace, variation in tone: many of the aural aspects of language. I was a slightly shy, slightly overweight child and had started at 6 different schools before high school: books of all kinds were a refuge from the inevitable ill-fit of new-girl/plump-girl.

I did write as a child. One of the ways I tried to stay in touch with a friend in Christchurch when we moved to San Diego was to send her a ‘novel’ (a few pages typed up from my wonky handwriting by my ever-patient mother) about horses. The friend and I had an ongoing imaginary game of horse-riding adventures with another friend, where we were some sort of horse and human hybrid, cantering all over the Spreydon school playground and our back gardens, and making up odd mixtures of talcum powder, perfume, grass, water and weeds at home to feed the horses…(this must have been unbeknownst to somebody’s mother: who would let kids splash perfume into buckets to feed invisible stallions?). I missed Nicola and the game so intensely that writing the story seemed a way of holding on to both friendship and game. I even tried to illustrate it, which is a woeful confession as I have the drawing skills of an eggplant. Other things I loved doing: I was a good swimmer, just about lived in the water in California, but didn’t have any interest whatsoever in competitive swimming. I loved music, but probably didn’t get lessons soon enough – or rather, had a regrettable gap of six years between recorder and clarinet. I like to fantasise that my potential fell through that gap like a necklace through a knot in the floorboards….I tried hard at clarinet, but was as average as average can be. I loved hooning around on roller skates; all the kids in my street in San Diego at one point had a grand scheme to perform Grease on wheels in the road…we practised, we choreographed; we entered school talent contests with our own dances… That sort of free, imaginative, almost wholly unsupervised play for primary school children was a lot easier in the 1970s: even, it seems, in urban California. I took various dance classes in San Diego too: Polynesian Dance; Jazz Dance; but as I said, I was an inelegant, dumpy, ordinary, slightly clumsy child – so almost everything other than swimming and reading seemed to have an element of struggle to it.

When you started writing poems as a young adult, were there any poets in particular that you were drawn to (poems/poets as surrogate mentors)?

When I read Hone Tuwhare as a 14- year-old, it was like discovering a new art form, even though I’d read a fair amount of narrative, nonsense, or Romantic poetry either consciously shaped for children or digestible by children — Eleanor Farjeon, Edward Lear, Kate Greenway, Walter de la Mare, John Masefield, Browning’s The Pied Piper of Hamelin… I thought I knew poetry but coming across Tuwhare’s poem ‘Rain’ in a fourth form English class felt like some fog had peeled away from the world: the very air had clarified. And then I was introduced to the poets of the Mersey Sound through an anthology I got for a class prize – and there were poems filled with humour and identifiable urban detail — fish and chip paper, denim jackets, neon lights, cups of tea, steamed up café windows, brown packing string: these poems too were a revelation. I suppose there was a transition from poetry that seemed to be set in the realm of myth and imagination to poetry that dealt with the realities I had to start confronting without the protective feather-down of family. I read Plath and TS Eliot at high school; Dylan Thomas; Cilla McQueen; Fleur Adcock; Alistair Campbell; and began to read independently over the school holidays as if it was some kind of secret vice – buying myself Faber and Faber editions of WH Auden and Wallace Stevens, more of the Penguin Modern Poets anthologies – reading them in a kind of uninformed, naïve way, trying to find that clarifying ‘hit’ again that Tuwhare and Plath had both given me.

 Hone had a similar effect on me. I likened it to putting on glasses for the first time. Did university life (as a student) transform your poetry writing? Theoretical impulses, research discoveries, peers?

I think it did. It probably led me even further away from the fantastical and science fiction, which were genres I absolutely loved reading as an adolescent. (John Wyndham, Ray Bradbury, Maurice Gee, Ursula Le Guin, Louise Lawrence, Penelope Farmer…)Taking courses in canonical literature, and striving to do them well, left little time for exploring outside the set reading lists. Yet an honours course in Modern Poetry, which Bill Manhire taught at VUW, was as important to me as the original composition paper I did there. Bill’s work as an academic teacher is perhaps mentioned less often than his work as a creative writing mentor: he could talk about various periods in literary history with an apparently casual, contemporary language that was still incisive and vivid. It made it all seem fresh, relevant, ripe with anecdote and choice morsels of quotation. He spoke without condescension or aloofness, which then, anyway, was actually still very rare in university professors towards undergraduates: these things have immeasurable impact on a very young scholar or writer.

The course in original composition taught me to try new forms, and it encouraged re-writing, rather than preciousness and weak defensiveness — the ‘Well that’s the way it really happened’ or ‘That’s just the way it came out’ bullishness that’s common in workshop situations. It encouraged stepping back from the work and testing it. It asked technical questions such as, why that tonal shift? Why that line break? Why so obscure? One of the most important things Bill said to me was about a syllabic poem, which was comparing psychological scars to physical scars, and doing so in that terribly abstruse, fraught, coded way that new writers often tackle the personal. The class went totally shtum, and Bill, who usually tried to hold back on commentary so that it was a student forum, finally said, with a serious frown, “I’ve got no idea what it means, but it sounds really good.” Everybody else in the room seemed to suddenly go limp with relief. They didn’t have to grapple with that recondite, contorted crocodile of a draft any more. That was a moment where I realised I actually might have some kind of poetic ear, but that I’d also inadvertently managed to write something that was almost purely sound, with no sense at all. When I re-read that poem now, more than 20 years on, I have no idea what some of it means either.

In some ways I think the lessons from a course like that only come to fruition many years afterwards: they really are just one step in a much longer process of self-education, and learning through doing. They help to set the clock running: but the clock has to keep being wound on.

For my PhD, I wrote on expatriation as depicted in the work of Katherine Mansfield, Robin Hyde, Janet Frame and Fleur Adcock — I could discuss ways in which I think their work has influenced mine, but I think it would only be of interest to me and my navel and even my navel is getting sick of me…

I love the way your poems abound in complexity. The first delight is the delight of music, the way each poem is a miniature musical score. The second and third delights are the way your poetry engages both heart and mind at a profound level. What are key things for you when you write a poem?

That’s a really generous critique. Yes, the way a poem sounds is key: though even after all these years of reading poetry and even teaching it, the rhythmic element is often done intuitively rather than according to a strict percussive rule or a classically constrained metrical scheme. But I do listen closely to pace; I think of the line break as a micro-pause; I think of white space as silence, or yes, articulate musical rests. All the other aural components are things I enjoy and crave when reading poetry: so I try to gently feed them into the work too.

What poets have mattered to you over the past year? Some may have mattered as a reader and others may have been crucial in your development as a writer.

Jack Gilbert; Tomas Tranströmer; Alice Ostriker: Siobhan Harvey; Ian Wedde; – I’ve only just read his Lifeguard poems, and was astonished at the combination of control and tenderness; the way the dreamy refrain ‘shadow stands up…’ accrues more and more eerie power as the poem proceeds.

In terms of the question who has been ‘crucial in your development as a writer’ over the past year, I’d say Michael Harlow, whose review of The Truth Garden was a turning point for me in terms of self-acceptance. Even as a 20-something, that decade which is always the decade of refining one’s public persona, of perfecting cool, whether you’re a writer, a student, a shop worker or an office clerk, I was, hmmm, temperamentally suspicious of what seemed a ubiquitous tonal irony in local poetry: of what I sometimes felt was dishonesty, or posturing, or a reserve that seems on some levels a failure to commit. There is a downbeat understatement in some contemporary poetry that very often tips over into the banal – where poets are so afraid of saying too much, or of seeming sentimental, of seeming uncool, that the default mode is a lack of affect; a ‘like, whatevs.’ I’d rather be accused of being too ornate, or ‘high octane’, or of making the emotional position of the poem too clear, rather than appear disengaged and numbed down. Harlow’s review felt like someone saying certain aesthetic risks are worth taking.

What New Zealand poets are you drawn to now?

I’ve been very excited by the young Joan Fleming’s work and by a young expatriate English woman, Loveday Why, who is studying at Otago and writing poetry also. These two young women seem to manage to infuse their work with an enormous amount of feeling and yet also to have technical control, an eye for a delectable oddness of imagery and phrasing, a way of bending the line and toying with syntax and white space in ways that seem psychologically expressive as much as academically or theoretically driven. I’m also intrigued by Ashleigh Young, and am keen to see what she does next. I’m struck by her prose as much as, if not more than, her poetry: she strikes me as a gifted essayist/blogger — she applies a poet’s microscopic attention to the sway of a sentence.

Do you think your writing has changed over time?

Yes. But I want to change it again. I’ve had a phase of the poems expanding, turning into 2-3 page mullings, and now I’m longing for the cool crisp ice cube; the tequila shot rather than the rambling lunch.

You write in a variety of genres (poetry, fiction, critical writing). Do they seep into each other? Does one have a particular grip on your heart as a writer?

They do infuse each other. Although I write reviews I don’t claim to be a critic – I think of myself as a practitioner reading other writers closely to see what I can learn from them. I think of a critic as someone who has the full weight of academia behind them; someone, in other words, with a full-time salary and regular hours to immerse themselves. It’s something of a shock to realise people consider me mid-career. I still feel like a novice. Every book, every poem, makes me feel like a novice. That’s part of the allure, I suppose. So I’m still trying to figure out, poetry or fiction? Which is my natural habitat? As a matter of fact, the 92,000 word novel I’ve been writing on and off over the past 3 years started off as a verse novel. Then it rebelled and the lines started refusing to break as I tried to build up my own understanding of the character dynamics. I’m trying to gird every part of my anatomy to go back to it and see if I can recast the entire thing as a verse novel again. It’s like arm wrestling with a stroppy Sumo-sized toddler. Sometimes it won’t even come and sit up at the table.

Michael Hulse recently queried the status of certain poems in a review he did for New Zealand Books. In his mind, some poems weren’t in fact poems. How would you define poetry?

Poetry is so broad – this is one thing that teaching creative writing constantly reminds me. It can be narrative, epic, lyric, patterned by numbers, patterned by wildly arbitrary constraints, it can be experimental, digital, anecdotal, it can be two words on a page, or even one word on a page that highlights its own typographical components, it can have a tight rhyme scheme, it can have a rolling freight train metre, it can merge into prose and call itself a prose poem; it can have a close relationship to visual sculpture. Even that list is not exhaustive. For my own practice, the musical elements are vital. The luminous moment is vital; sometimes the poem embodies the movement towards or away from that luminous moment. I also like the idea of a poem tracing the activity of a mind as it works out just what it thinks; of a poem transcribing the very process of realisation. But as a reader, I’m open to poems that do all the things my own work can’t, as well as to those that work in the same space. In fact, it’s often more exciting to read someone whose work is vastly different from one’s own: it’s like foreign travel.

You were recently The Pah Homestead Resident in Auckland. How did this new location and distance from home affect your writing?

There were acres and acres of time. That was the main difference. When I had the Burns Fellowship two years ago, I still had a very young child (a two-year-old), we moved house, and the fellowship itself involved a lot of public speaking, which meant that in some ways the year was quite stressful; in addition, my normal domestic responsibilities continued. At the Pah Homestead, I could write all day every day anywhere I liked: at the dining table, in the bedroom, at the desk, on the floor, legs waving in the air like a synchronised swimmer if I wanted. No having to drop everything to attend to family needs. I got a huge amount done: I managed to finish the draft I’d started on the Burns — and I’m still immensely grateful for that opportunity. My husband should be considered one of the co-sponsors of that stint: he solo-parented for the entire three months and he did a better job than I would have on my own. I absolutely loved the solitude and it felt like truly coming home in a very deeply reassuring, even empowering way.

Women writers have often had to manage a writing life along with domestic demands and have been denigrated for writing that embraces domestic concerns. You write some of the best domestic poetry in New Zealand and I say that partly because your poems take the reader into the aching and joyous gut of family life in ways that are poetically complex, moving, haunting. Any thoughts on this?

I’m less and less sure of where the domestic and the political drop hands – if ever. Sometimes the poetry comes out of a real struggle with all the roles I have to play. Sometimes the domestic is my subject because I don’t have the time to read, research and explore more arcane or erudite topics, or topics that actually interest me more than the fights over getting dressed in the morning, or where the red light sabre is, or what to cook for dinner. The psychic energy parenthood takes is enormous. I also think that another way of describing so-called domestic poetry is psychological poetry. It’s about mind, character, power dynamics, identity development, relationships, dependence, independence. Nearly every day we leave home for the world; nearly every day we come back home with the air of the world on our skin. Where does home end and the world begin? Is the ‘where’ a mythical line, an imaginary equator?

What irks you in poetry?

Self-conscious quirkiness and the posturing default irony mentioned above. (I don’t dismiss layered, witty, or dramatic or knowing irony of course.)

What delights you?

Musicality; crispness; an ear for the unintended double meanings in casual speech; innovators like Anne Carson; typographical experimentation; wit; multiple meanings; psychological depth.

Name three NZ poetry books that you have loved.

Only three? How cruel!

Cloudboy by Siobhan Harvey

Sheet Music by Bill Manhire

The Tram Conductor’s Blue Cap by Michael Harlow

Selected Poems by Lauris Edmond (An extra for the same price!)

The constant mantra to be a better writer is to write, write, write and read read read. You also need to live! What activities enrich your writing life?

Conversations with lively adventurous warm hearted friends, sleep, art galleries, theatre, film, teaching new young hungry energetic responsive students, conversations with my children, walking, running, looking out the window. Very important to look out the window.

Some poets argue that there are no rules in poetry and all rules are to be broken. Do you agree? Do you have cardinal rules?

The line break is a marvellous invention. It should be used consciously.

Do you find social media an entertaining and useful tool or white noise?

All three things, actually. They exhibit the best and the worst of humanity: ingenuity, the urge to connect. Yet they can be a shallow, addictive distraction, and a vehicle for spitefulness and vitriol. So I suppose they are only as good as we are.

What were some of the key elements of the poems you submitted for the award?

The immediate concerns of the intense ‘terrarium’ of my own small family; my ambivalence about various social movements/mind-sets or rapid technological change; anxiety about ecological crisis; the coded way dreams speak to us. I know that I’ve been working over maternal anxieties, fears and discomforts for several books now, fiction and poetry, and this subject won’t leave me alone, but I was also trying to consciously push myself to try something completely different – hence the social media poems, which have a visual/pictorial component too. I decided that my ambivalence about social media could be put to a more positive use than just a cyclical disgruntlement then attraction, and it could perhaps seed some poems instead.

Finally if you were to be trapped for hours (in a waiting room, on a mountain, inside on a rainy day) what poetry book would you read?

Definitely Wallace Stevens’ Collected Poems. I’ve owned it since I was 16, I think, and I still haven’t managed to read every single word, but I go back to it again and again. It’s a kind of atheist’s Bible: it’s technically supreme, musically audacious and exquisite, intellectually diamond cut, it offers enormous consolation, somehow, to an atheist who longs for transcendent meaning but just cannot hear a God who suffers the little lambs to come unto him.

 

Emma Neale’s blog

New Zealand Book Council page

University of Otago Press page

Steele Roberts page

New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre page

Interview with Emma Neale published in The Listener, April 26-May 2 2008 Vol 213

Emma Neale’s Random House profile

Feature in Otago Daily Times

Poetry Shelf interviews the finalists for the Sarah Broom Poetry Award: Today CK Stead

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Photo credit: Marti Friedlander

To celebrate the inaugural Sarah Boom Poetry Award, Poetry Shelf has interviewed each of the finalists. First up is CK Stead.

Karl has published over forty volumes of poetry, fiction, memoir and criticism. Along with New Zealand’s highest honour (the Order of New Zealand), he has received the 2009 Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction, a 2009 Montana Book Award for his Collected Poems and the esteemed Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine in 2010, amongst numerous other awards. Karl’s latest collection is The Yellow Buoy (published by Auckland University Press in New Zealand and Ark in the United Kingdom).

My reaction to his poems: ‘Karl’s poems embrace a vision that welcomes both an intellectual life and an everyday life along with a joyful attentiveness to sound. There is the characteristic wit, reflection and irony, but there is also tenderness, empathy and acute insight. Karl’s poems radiate such a contoured experience for the reader through their layering of ideas, self-confession, musical agility and location within a history of reading and thought. The subject matter shifts from the intimacy of a love poem to his wife, Kay, to a cheeky eulogy to Derrida (‘the enemy of plain sense’) to a hilarious case of mistaken identity. These poems have an unwavering strength to pull you back again and again to fall upon new discoveries.’

 

Did your childhood shape you as a poet? What did you like to read? Did you write as a child? What else did you like to do?

Who said ‘the child is father to the man’? Wordsworth, probably, who has a lot to say about the shaping of the sensibility in childhood. Poetry itself didn’t figure much at all in my childhood; but I think the poetic sensibility was shaped in relation to the natural world – the bush, the beaches, the out-of-doors, the cousins’ farm at Kaiwaka where a lot of holidays were spent: a very NZ childhood.

When you started writing poems as a young adult, were there any poets in particular that you were drawn to (poems/poets as surrogate mentors)?

 

At the age of 13 or 14 my sister was given the poems of Rupert Brooke which I borrowed from her and never returned (and still have). He was the first poet I read seriously, and began at once to write poems more or less in imitation I suppose. That started me.

Your poems are delightfully complex packages that offer countless rewards for the reader—musicality, wit, acute intelligence, lucidity, warmth, intimacy, playfulness, an enviable history of reading, irony, sensual detail, humour, lyricism. What are key things for you when you write a poem?

It has to be a meeting of words and feeling, in which the words are at the very least equal in importance, and the feeling can be of any kind, not just one kind. I like wit, think laughter can be tonic, but of course it doesn’t fit all occasions.

There were a number of significant poets in NZ from the 1940s onwards and you have interacted with many of them (Curnow, Mason, Glover, Baxter and so on). Were there any in particular whose poetry struck a profound chord with you?

Curnow was always the most important for me. But when I was young Fairburn’s lyricism seemed very attractive; Glover at his rare best (the Sing’s Harry poems); Mason likewise (‘Be Swift O sun’); Baxter – especially in his later poems: they have all been important to me.

Do you think your writing has changed over time? I see an increased tenderness, a contemplative backward gaze, moments where you poke fun at and/or revisit the younger ‘Karls,’ a moving and poetic engagement with age, writerly ghosts and death. Yet still there is that love and that keen intelligence that penetrates every line you write.

You are very kind! I certainly feel ‘older and wiser’ in the sense that things don’t matter so much, one accepts the fact of human folly and one’s own share in it. Indignation doesn’t stop, but there is a kind of weary acceptance, and laughter. I still feel embarrassment – especially when looking back – but I recognize that as not only a safeguard against social mistakes, but also as another manifestation of ego, as if one feels one should be exempt from folly.

There have been shifting attitudes to the ‘New Zealand’ label since Curnow started calling for a national identity (he was laying the foundation stones that we then had the privilege to use as we might). Does it make a difference that you are writing in New Zealand? Does a sense of home matter to you?

When I was young I was a literary nationalist. Now I regard nationalism as a form of tribalism and the result of genetic programming no longer suitable or safe in the modern world. So I have changed a lot. But I still recognize regional elements as important, even essential, in the poetic process. I think Curnow himself became more a regional poet and less a nationalist one; but the arguments that had swirled around all that had had the effect of committing him to positions which he didn’t want to resile from, so he remained the committed nationalist, perhaps after the need had passed.

What irks you in poetry? What delights you?

I suppose any kind of excess, of language or of feeling; and solemnity – especially the sense that poetry is taking itself too seriously and asking for special respect.

There are many kinds of delight in poetry, but almost all of them involve economy. If an idea or an experience or a scene or a personality or whatever can be conveyed as well in 10 words as in 20, those 10 words will be full of an energy which the more relaxed and expansive version lacks. They will be radio-active.

Name three NZ poetry books that you have loved.

Singling out living poets might be invidious, but here are three by poets now dead: You will know when you get there (Curnow); Jerusalem Sonnets (Baxter); Pipe Dreams in Ponsonby (David Mitchel).

What international writers are you drawn to? Now and over time? A variety of writers make an entry in your most recent book, The Yellow Buoy.

I grew up at a time when T.S. Eliot was the dominant figure both as poet and critic, so my mind was partly shaped by his, though never in the sense of being a slavish follower – and in fact my temperamental differences, and intellectual distance from Eliot, have always been clear. Yeats was always important. Pound I came to an understanding with a little later. Wallace Stevens was an influence. Philip Larkin, a little closer in age, was admired, though his limitations were always recognized. But these are all 20th century poets. I have always read widely among the poets from Shakespeare and Donne through to the present. Among living poets I am now pondering Anne Carson (Canadian) with interest, admiration and sometimes impatience. I keep up a lively correspondence with Mike Doyle in Canada – a New Zealand poet for a period of 10 or 15 years – and we exchange and comment on one another’s poems. Similarly with Alan Roddick in the South Island. I read recently in London and Oxford with Fleur Adcock and Kevin Ireland and felt with them the kinship of more or less exact contemporaries.

The constant mantra to be a better writer is to write, write, write and read read read. You also need to live! What activities enrich your writing life?

In no particular order, interaction with family (Kay, our 3 children and 7 grandchildren – and a large extension beyond); friends and former colleagues; movies, swimming (almost daily through 7 or 8 months of the year), music (including opera where possible), travel abroad (France and Italy especially, London always); the bush at Karekare, politics… The on-going party that life is, and that I’ll be sorry to leave.

Some poets argue that there are no rules in poetry and all rules are to be broken. Do you agree? Do you have any private cardinal rules?

There are a few rules, none unbreakable. If you choose to write a sonnet you choose a rule and then may observe it strictly or loosely or in such a way as to make the nominated choice only ironic. Poems do not succeed or fail by observing rules.

Eleanor Catton recently suggested there is no reviewing culture in New Zealand in The Guardian. Do you agree?

No, I don’t think I do agree – but it’s not like the UK where if one paper gives you a tanning for sure the next will tell you you’ve written a work of genius. The papers that review here are too few and consequently each counts for too much. And there is not a strong sense of literary critical practice here; a kind of authoritative back-up (behind the reviews) of informed opinion such as the universities used to provide. Now (but this is probably typical of everywhere) we have breathless academic devotees of Mansfield or Frame or Hyde or Curnow (safe options), and… Creative Writing! Neither of these amounts to what I would think of as distinguished literary criticism.

In your entry letter you stated, ‘Poetry has been my life, and all the other literary endeavours, criticism, scholarship, fiction, circle around and out from it.’ Poetry is like your gold nugget. I love this notion, particularly as your endeavours in these other areas have been so strong. Take your wonderful novel, My Name Was Judas for example. What were the satisfactions in writing this daring and utterly engrossing work?

I do feel that any success I’ve had as a critic has been from understanding the creative process at its fundamental level, in having written poetry. Fiction has a range of possibility, narrative and sociological, beyond what poetry permits – so my novels have been (as A.S. Byatt says they are) ‘a poet’s fictions’. My Name was Judas was a novel that took me by surprise and was really an attempt to retell a story we all know, the Jesus story, in a way that made it intelligible and believable to a modern persona such as myself, apprised of scientific facts, which have encroached so far on religious faith that there is, in truth, no room left to share. But I wanted my Judas (who incidentally does not betray Jesus but does not believe he is divine and tries to save him from himself) to have an extra dimension beyond ‘fact and reason’ and he has that in being a poet – so I was able to mix whatever skills I have in fiction and poetry in a single book.

Is there a particularly poetry book of yours that matters more than the rest?

Usually the most recent is the one I like best. But looking back I think Geographies is one that comes at a good time in my life when I was beginning to shake off the pressures of being a University Professor, and range about the world both physically and intellectually – and I think that shows in the poems.

Do you find social media an entertaining and useful tool or white noise?

At 81 I come to these things rather late, and sceptically. White noise mainly.

Finally if you were to be trapped (in a waiting room, on a mountain, inside on a rainy day, waiting for a decision) for hours what poetry book would you read? Actually I think the context would affect which book to a large degree!

I might just resort to the poetry in my head – there’s a lot – I’ve always had that kind of memory, so there’s a bit of everything from Shakespeare and Donne, through Wordsworth, Coleridge and Keats, on up to Yeats and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Announcement of the finalists for The Sarah Broom Poetry Award 2014

 

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Photo credit: Shane Wenzlick/Fairfax Media

The Sarah Broom Poetry Award aims to provide recognition for an emerging or established poet, and to provide financial contribution to support their work. The prize was established in 2013 in honour of New Zealand poet Sarah Broom (1972 – 2013), the author of Tigers at Awhitu and Gleam (published by Auckland University Press).

In 2014 the judging panel included Sarah’s husband Michael Gleissner, Sarah Ross, Paula Green, and guest Head Judge, the much loved poet, Sam Hunt.

The inaugural Sarah Broom Poetry Competition attracted around 300 entries from throughout New Zealand. The submissions included established poets, emerging poets and poets at all stages between, and clearly reflected a writing landscape that is in very good heart. The entries demonstrated a stunning range of complexity, subject matter, tone, style and form. The quality and breadth of submissions created a tough job for the judging panel with at least thirty poets deserving a spot on the shortlist. The selected finalists will read in a session at the Auckland Writers Festival where Sam Hunt, will announce the winner (Sunday 18th May, 1- 2pm, Upper NZI Room ).

 

The three finalists are:

Emma Neale

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Photo Credit: Graham Warman

Emma is a Dunedin-based poet (four collections published), novelist, teacher, mentor and anthologist. She has a PhD in English Literature from London’s University College, received the inaugural Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature (2008), the Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry (2011) and was the 2012 Robert Burns Fellow at the University of Otago. She was the Summer Resident at the Pah Hometead in 2014 (supported by Sir James Wallace Arts Trust/ University of Otago). Her latest collection is entitled The Truth Garden.

Emma’s poems often find a starting point in her domestic life—with her exquisitely tuned ear and her roving mind producing lines of singing clarity. The musicality is enhanced by a sumptuous vocabulary, by single words that stand out in a line and a rhythm that gives each poem startling breath and movement. What struck us particularly is the way each poem is made more complex—through an unfolding pocket narrative, meditative strains of thought, aching confession, political sharpness, the rollercoaster ride of maternal feeling. These were definitely poems with an aftertaste that kept you wanting more.

Emma: ‘I wonder if the rhythms of everything from nursery rhymes to an old tape of Yehudi Menuhin playing Mendelssohn violin sonatas, which I used to listen to obsessively as a teenager, are as deeply embedded in my sense of poetic music as my love of certain poems.’

 

CK Stead

Author C. K. Stead in London

Karl has published over forty volumes of poetry, fiction, memoir and criticism. Along with New Zealand’s highest honour (the Order of New Zealand), he has received the 2009 Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction, a 2009 Montana Book Award for his Collected Poems and the esteemed Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine in 2010 amongst numerous other awards. Karl’s latest collection is The Yellow Buoy (published by Auckland University Press in New Zealand and Ark in the United Kingdom).

Karl’s poems embrace a vision that welcomes both an intellectual life and an everyday life along with a joyful attentiveness to sound. There is the characteristic wit, reflection and irony, but there is also tenderness, empathy and acute insight. These poems radiate such a contoured experience for the reader through their layering of ideas, self-confession, musical agility and location within a history of reading and thought. The subject matter shifts from the intimacy of a love poem to his wife, Kay, to a cheeky eulogy to Derrida (‘the enemy of plain sense’) to a hilarious case of mistaken identity. These poems have an unwavering strength to pull you back again and again to fall upon new discoveries.

Karl: ‘Poetry has been my life, and all the other literary endeavours, criticism, scholarship, fiction, circle around and out from it.’

 

Kirsti Whalen

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Kirsti is a poet and disability advocate currently studying Creative Writing at Manukau Institute with Robert Sullivan and Eleanor Catton. She has written and read poetry since she was a child, and has won both the Katherine Mansfield Young Writers Award and the Bell Gully National Secondary Schools Poetry Award. She has published poems in various journals.

Kirsti is a fresh young voice on the poetry horizon line. Her submission indicates she has an astonishing ear for the way sounds soar on a line, the way they dip and fall. Her syntax is bold and on the move, but she is unafraid of neither simplicity nor silent beats. The poems take you into the heart of family from a mother’s x-rays to kitchen dinners to a grandmother’s quince trees. Each poem is brought alive to a startling degree with sensual detail, electric connections, canny ellipsis, judicious repetition. It is a voice that feels original, that is willing to take risks and that exudes a love of writing in every nook and cranny.

Kirsti: ‘I have been working to tell the story of my family, which is about women’s resilience and the ways of winning the most subtle and internal of wars.’

 

Award website: http://www.sarahbroom.co.nz/poetry-prize.html

Sam Hunt recites a Sarah Broom poem to Kathryn Ryan

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Sam Hunt talks about the new Sarah Broom Poetry Award, recites a few poems in his magnificent, melodic way (one by Sarah and one by Seamus Heaney) and tells Kathryn that he always listens to poems first. So many New Zealand poets think the way a poem sounds is the first and crucial point — including me. Interesting interview!

Play it here.

Sarah Broom Poetry Award details here.

My post on Sarah here.

Sam Hunt web site here.

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