Luminescent is one of my favourite poetry reads in 2017. Check out this new interview with Helen Rickerby.
Luminescent is one of my favourite poetry reads in 2017. Check out this new interview with Helen Rickerby.
From Seraph Press:
We hope you can join us to celebrate the launch of these two exciting new chapbooks with a French connection, both of which grew out of Anna Jackson’s time as Katherine Mansfield Fellow in 2016.
When: Thursday 26 October 2017, 5.30 pm
Where: Vic Books, Easterfield Building, Kelburn Parade, Wellington
About the books:
Dear Tombs, Dear Horizon
by Anna Jackson
In 2016, while the Katherine Mansfield Fellow in Menton, France, Anna Jackson began recording some of her thoughts and impressions in a notebook. Over the three months of her tenure this grew into a lively and charming poetic essay, which weaves her own experiences with her engagement with other writers and texts, including her predecessor Katherine Mansfield.
Last Stop Before Insomnia / Dernier Arrêt Avant l’Insomnie
by Marlene Tissot, translated by translated by Anna Jackson and Geneviève Chevallier
Seraph Press Translation Series No. 3
This bi-lingual taster of deliciously playful poetry by French poet Marlene Tissot takes you on a wild ride through the existential, the sensual and the sleep-deprived.
To find out more about the books, or to buy them online, visit here. seraphpress.co.nz.
Two Lagoons, Trevor Hayes, Seraph Press, 2017
‘I have invented
myself this morning.
I have not imagined.’
from ‘Ash Song’
Trevor Haye’s Two Lagoons offers various resonant pools to sink into—forgive the pun, I rather like the idea of a poem as lagoon—and then establishes myriad links between. There is a here to there shimmer; from the South Island’s West Coast to South America; from a lived world, physically detailed and sensually lifted, to abstract movements, imaginings, sidesteps. The poems – there are 12 – are like surprise pockets: luminous with fizzing alchemy, grace, agility and rich layerings. The placement of this next to that, of the 19 letters in the mailbox alongside the milkman’s history, of the ‘trickery of phrasal verbs’ next to ‘the benefits of good manners’ is akin to sparks on the line. It’s a delight to read and I look forward to the next book.
I pack my suitcase lightly.
I have a toothbrush and floss,
as even nowhere is better
with healthy gums. I have some
reading material: a guide
to the extinct flora and fauna
and a book that translates silence.
I intend to visit the empty museums
and the vacant parking lots.
I’ll be able to take photos of nothing
but the wind. It seems unlikely
I will meet anybody there, as recent
political developments and negative
coverage by news media have discouraged
the travelling public.
©Trevor Hayes from Two Lagoons
Luminescent, Nina Powles, Seraph Press, 2017
Nina Powles’s debut poetry collection, Luminescent, is a set of five slender chapbooks in a night-sky sleeve. Each book is like a constellation, with a particular woman, its luminosity. (Auto)biography of Ghost catches a ghost who was said to haunted Queen Margaret College’s bell tower where she fell to her death; Sunflowers becomes a conversation and an homage to Katherine Mansfield; Whale Fall imagines the world of Betty Guard, perhaps the first Pākehā woman to have lived in the South Island; Her and the Flames draws upon Phyllis Porter who died at 19 when her costume caught alight in a theatrical performance; The Glowing Space Between the Stars turns to Beatrice Tinsley, a New Zealand cosmologist. There are notes in the back of each booklet that background each woman.
I love the way the poems talk to each other within each booklet and between booklets.
The poetry extends itself in imaginings, yet grounds itself in the light of an autobiographical presence and research. Motifs such as dust, moths, ghosts and dreams are like connecting lacework that render a sense of ethereal wholeness to the set. The poems accumulate exquisitely textured voice; confident and idiosyncratic, searching and still, melodic and spare, intricate and warm. Every poem is a jewel of a thing.
Sunflowers takes several Mansfield experiences as starting points for poems: she burnt all her letters and journals when she was in her early turbulent twenties; she wrote about a writing epiphany after seeing a Van Gogh painting for the first time; she recorded a dream after her brother’s death. In an early chapbook, Girls of the Drift, Nina put New Zealand poets, Jessie Mackay and Blanch Baughan together in poetry. The poems offered surprising pathways into our first women poets in print alongside a young contemporary poet forging her own poetic trails. With the Mansfield poems, I feel like I am sitting in a room in the South of France, and each poem resembles an aperture in the wall that pulls me into a Mansfield dreaming.
‘Fever dream’ is without punctuation, a slim short-lined poem that sizzles with ‘s’ alliterations that cut into the feverish night. In the midst of the hissing heat (stinging scorching nerves skin simmers inside struck bones sky she rising), two words cut into the fevered skin (teeth cracking). The poem is visually alert with its storm inflected sky. What stamps the poem indelibly is the final image:
bones cracking under
a New Zealand sky
and she is the wave
rising to meet it
‘She’ is Mansfield, and in that wave of fevered self, I am hooked into Mansfield musings.
The poems tap nostalgia, calling upon the senses to electrify the page. ‘Silver dream’ is set in a London garden in 1915, where Katherine bites into the pear her brother hands her:
It tastes like jam sandwiches
and sunshine on her mother’s hair.
After physical details that light the scene, the poem shifts to dream again, to the ghost-like vein that runs through all the poems, and it’s a surprising nudge. The pear leads us to ‘where everything is silver/ and he is alive again’, and the idyllic setting shifts. We are also lead to the collection’s title, as the whole poem glows with ache and loss in subtle overlaps:
Later she plants a pear tree
in one of her stories,
makes it glow in the window,
makes it touch the moon.
Several booklets feature erasure poems, where blocks of ghostly grey enable certain words to shine out as a poem. That we can see the journal entry in ‘Lucid dream’, through the grey veil, adds to the dream-like state of shiver and float. I pictured the whole journal translated into grey-veil poems. The lines that lift up feel so apt: ‘Time/ was shaken/ out of me.’ The final word, ‘violet’, pulls back to sweet-scented earth, to that nostalgic hunt for elsewhere places and elsewhere memories.
I love this set of poetry booklets, because we still need light shining on the shadows to recover the women who did extraordinary things, or everyday things, so they form a constellation, a suite of coordinates that might shift our contemporary means of navigation.
The Glowing Space Between Stars again links to the collection’s title, and underlines the idea that poetry can light up things, experiences, relations, ideas, feelings, memory. Beatrice, the cosmologist, shows how the space between things is the domain of curiosity. And for me, that feeds back into the way poetry is also curious about the gaps between. When you enter the poem gap, you enter a luminous field that so often surprises or delights or upturns.
Nina lists things in Beatrice’s childhood room; out of these things grew the adult curiosity (did anyone do this for Einstein or Newton?). She imagines the girl at 16:
then rushing home immediately
to write down what she’s seen,
the glowing space between stars,
how it seems to have changed
since the night before.
Nina is making poems and she is making biographies, the one coming out of the other, and it is as though she is not tied to the rules of one or the rules of the other but can imagine and detour and intrude. In ‘Minutes’, the poet moves behind the galaxy facts, and the ongoing discoveries, to reveal the hiding narratives, the domestic underlay:
The light emitted by distant galaxies
takes billions of years to reach us.
It comes from a far younger universe,
somewhere where no one ever worried
about ironing their husband’s shirts
or arranging after-school childcare
because there were no ironing boards
and no children and no husbands
Five glowing booklets of poems that shine beyond the individual poems to gather a necessary and inventive, a lyrical and seismic, view of five very different women. I love this collection with its feminist energy, its poetic agility and its warm heart.
This, too, was the perfect time
to measure things in infinities.
from ‘Red (ii)’
Nina Powles, half Malasian-Chinese and half Pākehā, is from Wellington where she graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University. There, she won the 2015 Biggs Family Prize for Poetry for Luminescent’s first draft. She writes poetry, non-fiction and makes poetry zines. Her chapbook, Girls of the Drift, was published by Seraph Press in 2014.
Seraph Press page
Nina Powles web page
shipwrecks / shelters: six contemporary Greek poets edited and translated by Vana Manasiadis (No. 1) (includes a Greek title) Seraph Press, 2016
osservazioni observations: poesie poems translated by Tim Smith with Marco Sonzogni with a foreword by Alessandro Fo (No. 2) Seraph Press, 2016
Two beautiful handbound chapbooks featuring poems in translation came out towards the end of last year to launch Serpah Press’s new translation series.
Translation is such a fascinating thing to do and to contemplate. I spent a sizeable chunk of my life studying Italian within a university setting; the freight between English and Italian was glorious, mammoth, exhilarating. I remember meeting someone from the Italian consul in my first year of study and having to answer why I had picked Italian. Somehow I managed to find the words to say: ‘Because I want to read Italo Calvino in the original.’ That seemed like a bold and impossible quest at that point in time, but I did get to read him in Italian, along with countless other authors from Dante to Dario Fo to Renaissance poets to a century of women writing fiction.
From my point of view translation offers a ledger of gain and loss. The new version can never capture the aural complexities of the original, but it can offer something that moves the original in astonishing ways (or not!). New windows or booths or swing bridges or lily pads might emerge for the reader to explore.
For decades it has been quite the thing to translate poetry without knowing the original language (check out Anna Jackson’s terrific I, Clodia, and Other Portraits, AUP, 2014). This is where a poet goes freewheeling through available translations to come up with a version that sparks and connects in eclectic ways.
I am picturing all kinds of routes back to the original and what has been upheld – little kernels, chords, motifs, rhymes, feelings, fleeting truths, tiny anecdotes, drifting ideas, sidedrifts.
However, the two Seraph-Press books are translated by those fluent in both languages. Hearing them read (well I read the Italian) side by side at an event in Auckland, I was once again struck by the distinctive musicality. The way our own language works, makes it hard to break out of your mother-music-tongue when it comes to poetry. There is no way English catches the lyrical lilt and lift and rhyme of the Italian. You always get a different melody. Shut your eyes and listen. I felt like I was hearing four musical suites and became captivated by the effect upon my ear.
Musicality aside, it seems there is a vital political imperative to deliver these translations in this trembling world. Vana talked about how important poems are to Greeks at the moment – how there is a flourishing climate of poetry and that it is important to get the poems into the world.
These are poems of disruption, fragmentation, dystopia, departure, maternal folds. I am moved by them. I can’t make head nor tail of the Greek but the poems catch in my throat. Politics infuse each line, you have to look it straight in the eye, and yet there are other rewards. Each poem takes me by surprise. There is light and there is hope.
This is a very lovely book, essential.
This from Lena Kallergi from the ‘Flame Version’ where the dragon that slumbers in the familiar hills might wake, ‘and when she wakes, she’s a searing threat/ to the facts’:
Who said that hope is a bird
humble and small-bodied,
that it nests in hearts and sings sweetly
without asking for food?
From Vassilis Amanatidis’s ‘Mother Country’:
[blindness – homelessness]
To avoid being startled by sight,
the mother has transformed herself into a blind.
Again the maternal imprint that moves; from Phoebe Giannisi’s ‘Chimera’ extract:
I watered you with pomegranate juice
I reared you – with milk, my godly fire
I plunged you inside it
shield your body when you are away from me.