Tag Archives: Sarah Jane Barnett

Why I loved the Ruapehu Writers Festival

 

‘Memoir is a place to illuminate, not seek revenge.’ Elizabeth Knox

‘The Villa is a book of 100 tiny pieces. That’s how my brain was. Everything had fallen to pieces. I was writing in a state of shock.’ Fiona Farrell

‘I am a product of socialism and feminism.’ Fiona Farrell

‘We are not just a who or a what we are also a here.’ Martin Edmond

‘Archives are as questionable as memory.’ Martin Edmond

‘Poems have tended to ambush me every few decades.’ Fiona Kidman

 

[ I   k e e p   r e m e m b e r i n g

t h i n g s  a n d    a d d i n g     b i t s]

 

Yesterday there was a flurry of writers on social media suggesting the Ruapehu Writers Festival was the best festival ever. I have loved the richness and discoveries of so many other festivals, along with the family warmth of Going West. Yet this festival was special. The best ever.

The setting: The mountain to the north loomed large out of clouds, and on some days into bright blue sky. The mountain stream babbled past like a soothing mountain soundtrack. The trains punctuated sessions and we all stopped and listened to the comforting sound of travel.

The writers: The writers came from far and wide (Martin Edmond, Fiona Farrell). Bigger publishers were represented (Penguin Random House, Auckland University Press, Victoria University Press) and so too were the boutique Presses (Seraph Press, Anahera Press, Mākaro Press, Cat & Spaghetti Press, Hue & Cry – to name a few).

 

The sessions: Not a single dud. Just smorgasbord of highlights. I do want to pick out a couple of presentations that struck a chord with me.

Merrilyn George shared Ohakune stories with Martin Edmond. Wow! I wish the whole country could have squeezed in to hear the way the local matters. Has mattered, does matter and will matter. It was Martin’s session too, but he let Merrilyn take centre stage with his little anecdotal prompts.

The fluency of my good friend Sue Orr when she got talking about place as character.

Three writers musing on the Desert Road: Fiona Kidman, Ingrid Horrocks and Fergus Barrowman (standing in for Nigel Cox). The conversation just flowed and the extracts were riveting. I have tracked down Ingrid’s essay, ‘A Small Town Event,’ in Sport 43. The sample stuck with me so I need to read the whole thing.

Elizabeth Knox‘s festival lecture, ‘On Doubt, Doubtingly,’  explored the implications and means of building memoir. Particularly in view of multiple selves, and the multiple reception and behaviour of selves. Elizabeth showed the way ideas can move, stimulate and challenge. Deliciously complicated and moving.

The children who came to my poetry session. Some as a result of my visit to Ohakune Primary School on the Thursday. I had an outstanding time there. This is a school where the teachers have already sown the fertile seeds of poetry. PS Jenny and Laughton Patrick did a great job getting the whole room singing!

Three writers talk on structure: Pip Adams, Emily Perkins and Fiona Farrell. This session got on National Radio because Fiona let her guard down and moved most of us to tears. I thought I was going to start sobbing out loud. Listening to Fiona read from The Villa at the End of the Empire — a book shortlisted in the nonfiction section of the Ockham NZ Book Awards — was extraordinary. Yet the session was this and was more than this. It embraced two other terrific readings and generated a conversation on structure that made me want to get writing.

Six writers read from Extraordinary Elsewhere: Essays on Place from Aotearoa New Zealand (forthcoming VUP). Ashleigh Young‘s detail kept ringing in my ear, along with the moving circularity of Harry Rickett‘s essay and the philosophical nuggets of Martin Edmond (which I tweeted throughout the session).

I was quite taken with the response of Tim Corballis and Thom Conroy (chair) in my session on POV. I just loved the way Tim proposed the leaf on the boy’s shoe acted as a transcendental point of view. Ha! Thom was an excellent chair.

The final session of poets was a perfect way to end. I discovered the poetry of Hannah Mettner and will go hunting for it in issues of Turbine. I loved hearing Fiona Kidman read from her new book (out next week) and Vana Manasiadis from her old. Magnolia Wilson was also a new find off the page (I had loved her foldout poems). A local poet and ex-librarian, Helen Reynolds read her poems in the quietest of quiet voices. We stretched forward, further and further into her reading. It felt like I was bending forward into the end/ear of the festival.

 

The atmosphere: Warm, intimate, stimulating, generous. The festival had the family flavour of Going West but in a mountain setting. At four thirty each day we spilled into the bar for a glass of wine and platters of gratis nibbles before the final sessions. We shared conversation and that conversation was infused with a common love of books. And an infectious engagement with ideas.

The chance(ish) encounters: Hearing Amy Leigh Wicks read poetry for the first time and having lunch with her. I am itching to write about her poems on the blog. Sitting under the cool of a tree and talking women’s poetry with Sarah Jane Barnett (she was there as reader, as were other writers!). Eating breakfast with the very lovely Fiona Kidman and talking about women’s poetry in the seventies. Meeting a man who lived next to Eileen Duggan but not getting to follow that revelation up (ah! rue!). Drinking coffee with Fiona Farrell and talking about how something in the air or on the page prompted us to let our guard down. Just a tad. Meeting old friends.

The special features: A band of writers cycled back from Horopito Hall with James Brown after hearing a session on cycling and poetry (ok Ashleigh Young where can I read a version of your lost-things poem?). A local kaumatua guided at least forty readers and writers up to a waterfall and back (around two hours). Stacy Gregg led some fans on a horse trek.

The audiences: Most sessions were full to the brim.

The chairs: I especially loved Fergus Barrowman (he did zillions with just the right degree of input), Nick Ascroft (he was hilarious) and Thom Conroy (astute listener!).

The organisers: Anna Jackson, Helen Rickerby and Simon Edmonds built a festival out of nothing yet when I reflect upon this daring, I realise it was out of something. The festival grew out of the hard labour and inventive thinking of these three. It also grew out of the good will these three can harness: from the locals, the venue, the schools, the publishers and the out-of-town readers and writers. It might sound corny but it also grew out of the physical location and its beauty. The festival always bore this mind.

It was really good to hear Anna and Helen read and share ideas. I loved too the way they sat in the front row in every shared and listened so intently. I could see the joy of the occasion on their faces. You don’t usually see festival organisers with freedom to sit in the front row and listen. Yet another sign of what made this occasion special.

Place matters.

I think if I were to ask all writers and readers to join me in a huge pakipaki for Anna, Helen and Simon we would drown out the mountain stream and the passing train. Just for a moment. We are in debt to you. Thank you.

 

Excuse my phone photos!

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Eleven NZ women’s poetry books to adore and some fiction – Happy International Women’s Day!

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Book Award lists should promote debate. Ideas and issues should be raised. As long as judges and authors don’t come under personal attack. It is a time of celebration, let’s not forget that, but it is also a time when diverse opinions may draw attention to our healthy landscape of books.

I have just started writing a big book on poetry by New Zealand women. I have carried this project with me for a long time, and it something I care about very much indeed. It is a book I am writing with a great sense of liberation and an equal dose of love.

I bring many questions to my writing.

The shortlist for poetry and fiction in the Ockham NZ Book Awards includes 0ne woman (Patricia Grace) and seven men. There are no women poets.

This is simply a matter of choice on the part of the judges and I do not wish to undermine the quality of the books they have selected. However, in my view, it casts a disconcerting light upon what women have been producing in the past year or so.

Women  produced astonishing books in 2015. I reviewed their poetry books on this blog and praised the diligent craft, the exquisite music, the sumptuous detail, the complexities that challenge and the simplicity that soothes. I have lauded books by women that have moved me like no other, and that have contributed much to the possibilities of what a poem might do.

I am gobsmacked that not a single one made it to the shortlist.

Men have written extraordinary poetry in the past year, but so too have women.

Today is International Women’s Day. In celebration of this, here is a selection of poetry and fiction I have loved in the past year and would have been happy to award.

This list is partial. Please add to it.  Some of these women are my friends, so yes there is unconscious bias. Some of these women I would recognise in the street, some I would not.

 

Eleven Poetry Books by women to adore

(I have reviewed all these to some degree on Poetry Shelf or interviewed the poets)

Emma Neale  Tender Machines This is a domestic book that is utterly complex. Yet it moves beyond home to become a book of the world. The music is divine. I am utterly moved. The Poetry Shelf trophy is yours Emma.

Joan Fleming Failed Love Stories Poetry that dazzles and shifts me. This book is on replay!

Holly Painter Excerpts from a Natural History Startling debut that blew me out the window and made me want to write

Sarah Jane Barnett Work Poetry that takes risks and is unafraid of ideas. Adored this.

Johanna Aitchison Miss Dust Spare, strange, surprising, wonderful to read.

Anna Jackson I, Clodia and Other Portraits The voice gets under my skin no matter how many times I read it. So much to say about it.

Jennifer Compton My Clean & The Junkie This narrative satisfies on so many levels.

Airini Beautrais Dear Neil Roberts Risk taking at the level of politics and the personal.

Morgan Bach Some of Us Eat the Seeds Beauty of the cover matches the surprise and beauty of the poetry within.

Hinemoana Baker waha/ mouth This poetry lit a fire in my head not sure which year it fits though. But wow!

Diane Brown Taking My Mother to the Opera This is poetry making pin pricks as it moves and gets you chewing back through your own circumstances.

 

…. and this is just a start. Ha! Serie Barford with her gorgeous mix of poetry and prose.

Yep I am going over board here just to show you that women have footed it with the best of the men. Whichever year you look at, a different set of judges would come up with a different mix of books. Yes let’s celebrate that worthy shortlist but let’s also remember that canon shaping only revels in and reveals part of the story.

 

Fiction (I haven’t read so widely here and have a wee stack to get too – Laurence Fearnley and Charlotte Grimshaw here I come!)

Anna Smaill The Chimes This book – plot character, setting, premise, events – still sticks to me. The sentences are exquisite. Some books you lose in brain mist. Not this one.

Sue Orr The Party Line I see this book becoming a NZ classic – a novel of the back blocks. The characters are what move you so profoundly. So perfectly crafted.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Choice: Sarah Jane Barnett’s picks

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This year two collections have really stayed with me. I keep on thinking about them for their content, but also their craft.

First is Emily Dobson’s second collection, The Lonely Nude (VUP). I reviewed it for Landfall Review Online and it’s a beautifully shaped and paced collection. It follows Dobson’s life as she moves overseas (and then finally back to New Zealand) and the poems gently draw you in, build, and echo. Pure poetic goodness.

Second is Joan Fleming’s second collection, Failed Love Poems (VUP). I know Joan’s work very well and in this collection she has broken through all sorts of barriers. It’s mature and exploratory and accomplished. It’s unafraid. It’s simply awesome, and the poem, ‘The invention of enough’ will break your heart.

Sarah Jane Barnett

Poetry Shelf interviews Sarah Jane Barnett — writing is an act of contemplation for me

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Photo credit: Matt Bialostocki

 

Sarah Jane Barnett has an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University and a PhD from Massey University. Her poetry has been published in New Zealand, Australia, and the US, and anthologised in Best New Zealand Poems, Dear Heart: 150 New Zealand Love Poems (Godwit), and Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page (Random House). Her debut collection A Man Runs into a Woman (Hue & Cry Press, 2012) was a finalist in the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards. Sarah was the recipient of the Louis Johnson New Writers’ Bursary and the Estate Phoebe Maunsell Scholarship. Her second collection WORK has just been launched by Hue & Cry Press. Sarah teaches creative writing at Massey University.

To coincide with the arrival of WORK, Sarah agreed to do an interview with Poetry Shelf.

 

Did your childhood shape you as a poet? Did you write as a child?

I’ve written for my whole life, in one way or another. I remember entering a poetry competition as a kid, and at primary school we’d illustrate poems. I also remember going for walks as a kid and making up silly poems in my head. I never thought I’d be a writer, though. My undergrad is in Fine Arts and then I studied Museum Studies, so I spent many years working in the public sector and writing on the side. I couldn’t look at my writing full on, in case it was truly awful (and some of it was). It was as though I was teaching myself to write behind my own back!

Something changed around the time I wrote the death row poems for my first collection. There was an inescapable humanity about the material. I had to fully engage with the work in order to respect the stories of the inmates and their victims. After that I quit my job and did a PhD at Massey. Now I’m overqualified so there’s no going back.

 

Your new collection, Work, lifted me off the page into realms of delicious contemplation – particularly in view of character and narrative. It grew in me. You say ‘these poems are works of fiction that draw on real people’ and that you ‘worked hard to be faithful to the facts while also allowing room for the poem.’ That poetic room is a fertile space (I want to write about it in my new book!) engendering countless fascinating relations. Were you aiming for particular kinds of poetic activity?

I like that you’ve used the word contemplation, because writing is an act of contemplation for me, and I hope my poems spark contemplation in a reader. I’m not sure that’s the same as ‘poetic activity.’ I know that I wanted the poems to be realistic, so set in the real world, with the sun rising at a real time and the flora and fauna being factual to a real landscape that any reader could visit. That was my way of honouring the people whose stories I drew from, and the landscapes they dwelt in, by making them as round and beautiful and burnished as I could.

But I also wanted the poem to be more than that – for it to be a fictional construction that explored what it is to be human. For each poem to be knowing that it was this imagined thing, created from language. In that sense each poem’s ‘realness’ is in being a poem. The main character in ‘Addis Ababa’ is a translator for this reason. Not only is it a nice metaphor for how he ‘translates’ his life from one country to another, but it was a way for me to explore how different languages, in his case Amharic and English, shape experience. It also points to how the poet ‘translates’ the world into poetry. I’m not sure where this preoccupation comes from, but I’m intrigued by the liminal space between fact and fiction (and, for that matter, poetry and prose). We all have stories that we tell ourselves in the on-going narrative of our life and identity. I think there’s value in questioning those stories.

 

I also loved ‘Glaciers’ and its multiple levels, overlaps and smudgings. It is a mysterious poem, a haunting poem – yet it embraces something utterly fundamental. Notions of family. I loved the different reactions that the poem drew from me; I was moved, perplexed and delighted in the myriad cryptic hinges. As I read the poem, and navigated the potent maternal traces, I wondered how being a mother affects your writing. Does it?

On a very practical level I have less time to write. At the start it was very difficult as he was a baby and I was finishing my PhD. There were some black days during that time (which is partially what ‘Glaciers’ is about). That said, having Sam actually helped my writing. I’ve had to learn how to stop the critical voice that fuels procrastination because he’s only in childcare 24 hours a week. That’s all I get! There’s no time to do it later.

At the moment I use the Pomodoro technique to get started. I set a timer for 25 minutes and write without stopping or editing. Then I have a five minute break (I write at home so usually I make a coffee or do the vacuuming or hang out the washing – such glamour!). That’s one ‘pomodoro’ and you’re meant to do four in a row before taking a 30 minute break. By the time I’m into my third pomodoro I’m away and can generally write for four hours at a stretch. So having Sam has been good for developing a stable and on-going writing practice. Also, and I’m going to get soppy here, he’s the most joyous and glorious human. He’s totally and entirely himself without reservation. Being around him makes me brave, which makes my writing brave as well.

 

What writers have mattered to you? Some may have mattered as a reader and others may have been crucial in your development as a writer.

That’s such a hard question to answer. So many of my friends are writers, and talking to them often feels like one long amazing master class! I also have a super writer’s group which has been going since 2007 when we had a studio in an old zipper factory on Tennyson Street.

That said, WORK is dedicated to my doctoral supervisors Bryan Walpert and Jack Ross, and to my publisher Chloe Lane. So those three – they’re all writers alongside the other hats they wear – have been mentors to me in different but crucial ways. Bryan especially; he has mentored me for the last six years, first as a teacher at Massey, and then as an academic and a poet during my PhD. You need to be tough to work with Bryan. He knew I could go further with my work, but like most writers I had self doubt and a lack of clarity about what I wanted to say. He kept on pushing and pushing until I stepped up. He will hate me saying this because he dislikes gushiness and sentimentality, but he’s a brilliant mind and an outstanding teacher. I’ve learned more about poetry from him than anyone else. It’s also why I’ve continued to teach at Massey. I want to be able to do that for other writers.

In terms of poets, Robert Hass and Anne Kennedy have both had a huge influence on my work. I wrote my doctorate on Hass, and while I know he’s not to everyone’s taste, I’m still deeply moved by his work. I’m in a life long relationship with his first four collections! Anne Kennedy’s The Time of the Giants was one of those collections that shifted my world. She’s simply amazing. It was my first introduction to contemporary long form poetry and now I can’t stop.

 

Hue & Cry Press author page

Sarah’s blog

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Some poetry fans pick a recent favourite NZ poetry read – and my giveaway bundle

Thanks for sharing these. I put all the names in a hat and drew out Nicola Easthope. I will send you a wee bundle of poetry books. Can you email me your postal address please?

 

Sarah Jane Barnett: Congratulations on your 500th post! What an achievement and also such a contribution to New Zealand poetry readers. The book I’m enjoying at the moment is Joan Fleming’s Failed Love Poems. It’s an intense read and I feel immersed in the characters, especially in the second section. The poem ‘The invention of enough’ blew my mind!

 

Harvey Molloy: One book that comes to mind is Native Bird by Bryan Walpert.  It’s such a well-crafted, polished book. There’s a diversity of poetic forms and tones so the work’s quite dynamic.  There’s also a certain reticence in places, a skirting around painful issues which I find quite refreshing  – – at times emotions are understated and there’s a control and restraint which I find quite moving; the poetry is at times actively self-conscious but never cold or impersonal (for example the poem, ‘Ōakura’).  I’ll be coming back to this book.

 

Sian Robyns: Airini Beautrais’ Dear Neil Roberts had me enthralled enraged and weeping. To paraphrase ‘History Books’ (p 43), she admitted Neil Roberts into our histories and gave us a harrowing reminder of the particular awfulness of Muldoon’s New Zealand. Sadly, we still maintain a silence closely resembling stupidity.

Can I have two? I also loved Jennifer Compton’s Mr Clean and the Junkie. I loved the story, the sense of place, and that swooping, interfering, conversational, self-aware authorial voice.

 

Crissi Blair: I loved Caoilinn Hughes’ Gathering Evidence which I had from the library after hearing Gregory O’Brien talking to Kim Hill about her marvellous first lines. Congratulations on your 500th post Paula. You are doing a great job at spreading the poetry word!

 

Nicola Easthope: One Aotearoa poetry book I have enjoyed this year (there are so many) is Janet Frame’s The Goose Bath, winner of the 2007 Montana NZ Book Awards. I have come late to Janet’s poetry (having gobbled up her prose at university in the late 80s) and love meeting her flaring imagination and dance of language through poems with apparently innocent beginnings that usually turn, back and forth, between the light and the dark of her life.The entire collection leaves me fizzing and aching with appreciation.

 

Lara Anderson:

The body is a nest alive with new song
The brain is fluent in ghost
The tongue is rich with poetry ~ Siobhan Harvey from ‘Cumulus’ in Cloudboy Otago University Press, 2014

These are just a few of my favourite lines in a book of NZ poetry that I have read and re-read this year. Using the metaphor of clouds to express her feelings and to give poetic form to her son. Harvey is at times both confronted and confronting. You would think that over an extended piece you would get tired of the cloud metaphor but it provides a cohesion that allows the reader to trace the ever changing cloudscapes – like watching the weather dance across the city in time-lapse fashion. Every time I re-read her work I garner something new from it.

Anyway, thank you for your 500 wonderful posts!

 

Susan Wardell: I stole away from evening toddler-ing duties for a full hour to attend the launch of Emma Neale’s Tender Machines. For the first three days I kept the book lovingly tucked in it’s friendly brown-paper bag, carrying it around in my over-sized, multipurpose parenting handbag, and stealing it out just a few times a day, in the gaps between work-work and home-work, to savour the poems one, or maybe (greedily) two, at a time – along with the salted crackers keeping my ‘morning’ sickness at bay – then carefully replacing it. Parked by the road or outside the house, while my daughter squirmed/sang/ate raisins in the back seat, I cried more than a bit, and more than once, as I read Emma’s poignant, humourous, gentle, and sometimes brutally-true poems about, well… about life. To find something that could capture, without reifying, the beauty and fragility of the mundane and domestic, reading the micro everyday of mealtimes and bedtimes into the macro of our uncertain global times…. it is special. I don’t believe I had ever read what I could call a ‘true’ poem about parenting before I read Emma’s (earlier) work. This collection, too, became a lifeline, another level at which to process my own experience, emotion, as a mother and a woman and a citizen of a broken world. I breathed. It was ok to be human after all. I forgave myself as the book came out of it’s paper sheath permanently and, in the space of only a week, gained nutella fingerprints, sand in the page creases, water bottle stains, and dog ears. I finished it and cried a bit more into the spaghetti, not sure whether to blame hormones or metaphors. This collection is personal in a tender and unapologetic way, political in a raw and thoughtful way, beautiful in a subtle, tangible, heart-lifting way. It is both grounded and soaring; it is both the heartbeat and the wind. It came at just the right moment for me personally, in the way poetry often does. But I am also pleased to think of it’s permanence now, in print; it will remain as a beautiful little signpost in the history, the story, of NZ poetry… should the archaeologists of the future unearth my well-loved copy, they will know us better for it.

 

Kathryn Crookenden: Congratulations on your 500th post for NZ Poetry Shelf and thank you for all your efforts to promote poetry in New Zealand. I enjoy reading the blog, especially the reviews and the interviews with poets.

I have enjoyed reading Frances Samuel’s Sleeping on Horseback this year. I got it out of the library twice and then bought my own copy because there were so many poems that I enjoyed and wanted to keep going back to. Through her poems I have travelled with Chinese poets and Russian writers, visited Japan and Latvia in summer, and considered how to draw spires and towers. I like her wry humour and sharp observations. My favourite poem in the collection is ‘Just twinkling in the moonlight’ with its baby ‘all shiny with the moon.’ I’d also like to mention the gardening anthology, The Earth’s Deep Breathing, which has been a good companion for the last few weeks as I’ve been getting my own garden into shape, and Glenn Colquhoun’s The Art of Walking Upright which I read earlier this year – there are some beautiful kuia honoured in his poems.

 

Maureen Sudlow: I am currently reading the collected poems of Ruth Dallas, published by the University of Otago Press, and I am struck again with the breadth and depth of her writing.  Some of her work is influenced by the early Chinese poets, and some returns to the strong heritage of her own environment and upbringing. Ruth also includes haiku, which are one of my favourite poetic forms, and which are not often included in general poetry collections.

Her poems are gathered into five groups that show changes to Ruth’s writing over time.  I particularly love ‘Felled Trees’:

Nobody has come to burn them,
Long green grass grows up between them.
Up between white boughs that lie
Dead and empty, dry,
That once were full of leaves and sky.

and ‘Night Rain’

Needles of the rain
Restitch
Restitch the linen of the flesh

The rich variety of her writing brings me back to read again and again.  If you have no other New Zealand Poet on your shelves, you must at least have Ruth Dallas.  Ruth has gone but she has left a treasure trove of words behind for us to enjoy.

 

Helen Anderson: I am very pleased to have the opportunity to write about C.K Stead’s Collected Poems 1951 – 2006. This was a very welcome gift that has sat beside my bed all year for dipping into. It was published in 2008 and came to me via Hard to Find book store having never been opened!  I had the privilege of being in Professor Stead’s  classes far too many years ago and reading his text The New Poetic published back in 1964 accounted for my first experience of some understanding of the poetic enterprise. Collected Poems is full of surprises, the range is extraordinary and the collection includes previously unpublished work. It is an ongoing lesson about the power of language to invoke memory, to rebuild perception and to take us beyond our boundaries when crafted by a poet who is serious, playful, cynical and optimistic and an artist.

Sarah Jane Barnett is launching Work at Vic Books soon

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You are warmly invited to join Hue & Cry Press and Sarah Jane Barnett in launching WORK at Vic Books, Victoria University. All welcome.

In these six long poems Sarah Jane Barnett explores how people fight for a normal life. Set in Ethiopia, Paris, Norway, and New Zealand these astonishing poems take you into the lives of others—a grieving man leaves Ethiopia at the end of the civil war; a polyamorous couple have a child; a woman hunts a black bear on a New Zealand sheep station. Original and spellbinding, these poems walk the line between poetry and fiction.

WORK will be launched at Vic Books, Wellington. Sarah will read from ‘Ghosts,’ a speculative poem set in Norway’s northernmost town, Svalbard. The poem includes dialogue between the characters Diane and Fowler, who will be read by Wellington writers Therese Lloyd and Matt Bialostocki. Get ready for a performance!

 

where: Vic Books, 1 Kelburn Parade, Wellington

when: Thursday 22nd October, 5.30pm start with the reading 6-6.15pm.

Hue & Cry Press
Vic Books

If you can’t make the launch, WORK can be pre-ordered from Hue & Cry Press store:

On reading Sport 43

Sometimes a literary journal is just the ticket for rainy-day blues, diversion, or the need to put a finger on a literary pulse. Ha! The notion of a literary pulse is where debate ensues. Each finger will be sensitive to different nuances, different implications.  I strongly believe that national anthologies that claim to represent a wide group ( New Zealand, for example) must be challenged if gender, ethnicity, age or geographic-location biases fuel significant blind spots. For decades, women were the blind spot in anthologies and journals, and now, at times it seems there is token representation of  work by Māori, Pasifika and Asian authors. Literary journals, however, are often the bloodline of a place, a niche, a literary disposition, and nearly always reveal the predilections of the editor. Sport comes out of Wellington, and it is to a great degree of Wellington (not in subject matter, but in terms of authors selected). It is a celebration of the writing by both established and emerging writers that have some connection with the city, often through Victoria University or its Press.  I have no problem with this.  I most definitely have no problem with this when the work included catches my attention and sends me in directions both familiar and unfamiliar.

The latest issue worked a treat for my rainy-day blues.

Seven essays are sprinkled through the selection of poetry and fiction, and if this is a new feature, it is a feature I applaud in this climate of idea-sharing in creative and stimulating forms. Long may it continue.

When I first picked up the book, I went straight to Chris Price (out of longing for a new collection perhaps) and immediately did a tweet review. Tucked away at the back of the book, it felt like the best had been saved for last with the playful, audacious flick and flash of words that catch your ear and send you flying to a nursery rhyme or Murphy’s Law or cheeky wit or the subtle twist and let’s-be-serious of the last word, ‘unspoken.’

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This time I went to an unfamiliar name first, ‘Ruth Upperton,’ and what a discovery. Think I must have yearning for the comfort and absolute pleasure of poetic musicality (why I like the poems of Michele Leggott and Bill Manhire so much). Ruth has appeared in other journals, has just finished a law degree and lives in Palmerston North. Her five poems are different, the one from the other, but are linked by gorgeous rhyming (off, aslant, sliding), infectious repetitions, aural chords, sumptuous words. There is poetry out of sentences and there is poetry out of curiosity. You shift between comfort and strangeness.

 

from ‘The lonely crow’

Nothing sadder than a lonely river.

Nothing darker than a single crow.

Shiver at the strong’s surrender.

Play a tune on your June piano.

 

James Brown’s terrific poem, ‘Mercy,’ made me hungry for a new James Brown collection.

Anna Jackson’s three cooking-show poems suggest she is just getting better and better ( I am working my way through Catallus so I can review her new collection soon). I love the way the ingredients (excuse the pun) in these poems shift and flicker from one poem to the next, and in their new baking dishes taste a little different. The sort of poems that evoke a steady engagement at the level of sound and narrative.

Sarah Jane Barnett’s sequence of poems, Addis Ababa,’ caught me by surprise. They take me to an elsewhere, the elsewhere of  displacement, of otherness, of immigrants. The poems step up from everything Sarah has previously written, and then take another step into risk, empathy, inquiry, experience. What a combination.

 

Rachel Bush’s ‘Long and short,’ is a poem that moved me with its exquisite detail and revelation, a family story (true or false) that catches in the throat. The poetic glue: the baked bread.

 

So many things accumulate. They weigh us

off balance. We struggle to stay upright,

we lurch and are precarious. Our feet are flat

and sudden. It was easier when we had

a mum and dad. Easily we could blame them

when we were less than we desired.

 

 

Still most essays and fiction to read, but started here: Damien Wilkinson’s lecture/essay navigates a subset of the ‘ought’ and ‘ought not’ of narrative: the way it ought/ ought not represent some kind of personal change (character based). Fascinating following the thread of argument. Is this a requisite ingredient in poetry? That poems ought to navigate some kind of change? I raise this because, and I am shifting tack a little here, I am fond of poems that exhibit some kind of movement (and movement may be zen-like and hold change within its sameness and vice-versa). Poetic movement need not be on a grand, spectacular scale. It might be miniature shivers in the poem, sweet little movements that you catch out of the corner of your eye, or a flicker in your ear, or a faint tremble of your heart, or the tug of an idea that is itching to confound, challenge and pull you elsewhere. That is what I felt when I read, ‘She cannot work,’ Ashleigh Young’s foray into fiction. It is what I felt reading this issue of Sport, a catalogue of movements that displaced my state of fatigue.

 

Sport: miniature shivers in the writing, sweet little movements that you catch out of the corner of your eye, or a flicker in your ear, or a faint tremble of your heart, or the tug of an idea that is itching to confound, challenge and pull you elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Poem: Sarah Jane Barnett’s ‘Blue Heart’: The poem enacts the mystery of writing a poem

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Photo Credit: Matt Bialostocki

 

Blue Heart

Full size model of a Blue Whale heart, Te Papa Museum

The boy enters the whale heart. He finds his way.

His hands slide down the peachy aorta, his body

swallowed into the central chamber. My face pushes

after him because it’s just fibre and glass, and he’s

my first child, on his knees, his back to me. His hands

perform their work of play along a smooth ridge of cartilage

like a cardiac surgeon. Interpretations of the ‘whale’ fall

into three categories: The whale is real and my son

lives in her heart. Or the whale is the dream

I have for my son. Or the whale is an allegory

that should not be taken to heart. Some things take time

to understand. Last time we visited my grandmother

I knew she would die before I saw her again.

She’d been having regular blood transfusions—

pulsing circles of bright red tubing—which helped

for a few weeks before another fall, after which she’d rest

one cheek on the carpet. My son sat on her lap and she played

at biting his fingers, her grey dentures clacking together,

and he squealed and pointed, and then pointed to the fireplace,

and then pointed to the window where a dried floral arrangement had sat

for twenty years. Everything was there for him.

She took his pointing finger between the soft pads of her lips.

How do you enter the biggest heart? Do you say

that it weighs up to fifteen hundred pounds? The largest heart

is like a compacted Volvo! Maybe you must imagine it beating

inside you? Maybe you find it one quiet morning,

your son asleep, his cheeks flaring the colour of summer plums.

 

Author’s bio: Sarah Jane Barnett is a writer, tutor, and book reviewer who lives in Wellington. Her first collection of poems, A Man Runs into a Woman, was published by Hue & Cry Press in 2012, and was a finalist in the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards. Her work has appeared in various publications including Sport, Landfall, Best New Zealand Poems, and Southerly. Sarah has a PhD in creative writing from Massey University in the field of ecopoetics. She blogs at: theredroom.org.

Author’s note: ‘I wrote this poem as part of my PhD thesis which, in part, looked at the different ways poets write about the nonhuman world. While writing my thesis I had my son and my grandmother died. Both of these events felt huge and brittle and surreal. Both were difficult to write about. One afternoon I took my son, Sam, to Te Papa and he played for ages in their scale model of a blue whale heart. It made me think about the way poets often resort to using the natural world as a metaphor when trying to describe love, grief, or the sublime. That’s when I wrote this poem.’

Paula’s note: The opening line of Sarah’s poem, so exquisitely simple stalled me with myriad, potential directions: fable, fairytale, the slippery slopes of surrealism, metaphor and real-life anecdote (as the epigraph in fact signals). This heavenly poem celebrates the child — the mother-son relationship is clasped in its tender embrace. Poignantly, the life of the son is countered by the death of the grandmother, not as a set of scales but as a largeness of love and loss that finds its potency in the smallest of detail. The poem enacts the mystery of writing a poem — the way stream-of-consciousness or random thoughts that accumulate like stepping stones can drive the poet’s pen and make magic out of metonymy and juxtaposition. The son points out the luminous detail so that place becomes vibrant and beloved. The life blood of this poem is heart: the whale’s heart, the son’s heart, the grandmother’s heart. But more than than anything, it is the internal love heart that renders the grace,  economy,  attentiveness,  poetic craft, the words that shine out, the story that unfolds and the images that startle (‘cheeks flaring the colour of summer plums’) in maternal ink. This is why I love poetry.

Sweet Mammalian is a new literary journal edited by 3 Wellington poets. The journal was created out of a wish to see more good, new writing out in the world. The editors of Sweet Mammalian aim to provide a fresh space for poetry that comes out of the complex, the absurd, the warm-blooded. They aim to provide a space for all kinds of writing. The inaugural issue of Sweet Mammalian is launched today, Friday 10 October, with a launch party and reading in Wellington.

The link to Sarah’s poem in the inaugural issue is here.