Tag Archives: simon sweetman

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

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Marysia Collins (Singer)

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

Why do I Iove it?

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That last sentence that gets me every time.

 

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Don McGlashan (Musician)

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

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

 

 

 

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

These 2 gentlemen remain my favorite Poets

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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Nadia Reid (Musician, songwriter)

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

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

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

O and this quote! This is actually my favourite:

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

 

 

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Will Ricketts (Musician, Phoenix Foundation)

A book that gave me some comfort …..

The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar Roald Dahl

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

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

 

 

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Grant Smithies (Music critic/ journalist/ broadcaster)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Ruby Solly (Musician, poet, performer)

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

 

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Light Boxes by Shane Jones

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

 

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How To Live Forever by Colin Thompson

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

 

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Just Kids by Patti Smith

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

 

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In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan

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

 

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Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

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

 

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Under Glass by Gregory Kan

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

 

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Ruby-Fruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown

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

 

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Mophead by Selina Tusitala Marsh

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

 

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Wāhine Toa by Patricia Grace and Robyn Kahukiwa

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

 

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

 

 

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

Greil Marcus Mystery Train (1975)

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

 

 

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Jeremy Taylor (Slow Boat Records, RNZ music reviewer)

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

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

 

 

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Ariana Tikao (Taonga puoro musician, singer & composer )

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

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

 

 

Thank you!

Long may we support and cherish NZ music

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Live and the Wellington Writers Programme

 

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‘We are making our grandchildren’s world with our words. We

perceive a world in which everyone sits at the table together, with enough for everyone.

We will make this country great again.’

 

Joy Harjo from ‘Advice for Countries, Advanced, Developing and falling’ in An American Sunrise (2019)

 

 

 

A weekend in Wellington is always a treat – especially when there are writers and readers events on. I had a blue-sky, social-charging time and I loved it. Laurie Anderson on the Friday night delivered an improvised platter of musical quotations with a handful of musicians that together created a wow blast of sound and exquisite individual turns on percussion, strings, keyboards. Ah transcendental. Just wonderful. Read Simon Sweetman‘s thoughts on the night – he describes it far better than I can.

One bowl of muesli and fruit, one short black and I was all set for a Saturday of listening to other authors. First up Coming to our Senses with Long Litt Woon (The Way through the Woods) and Laurence Fearnley (Scented). Laurence is on my must-read stack by my reading sofa. Her novel engages with the landscape by way of scent, sparked perhaps by by her long interest in the scent of the outdoors. I loved this from her: ‘Writing about the South Island is a political act – I’m digging my heels in and see myself as a regionalist writer’. I also loved this: ‘I’m not a plot-driven novelist. I tend to like delving into sentences. I like dense descriptions. I imagined the book as dark brown.’

Next went to a warm, thoughtful, insightful conversation: Kiran Dass and Jokha Alharthi (Celestial Bodies). Fabulous!

And of course my poetry highlight: Selina Tusila Marsh in conversation with USA Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. I had been reading Joy in preparation for my Poetry Live session and utterly loved her writing. This is how I introduced her on Sunday:

Joy Harjo is a performer, writer (and sax player!) of the Muscogee Creek Nation. She’s the current US Poet Laureate with many awards and honours and has published nine poetry collections, a memoir, a play, produced music albums. She lives in Tulsa Oklahoma where she is a Tulsa Artist Fellow. Reading Joy’s poems, words are like a blood pulse as they question and move and remember – in place out of place in time out of time. I have just read Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings and An American Sunrise. This was what I was thinking when we have to endure the multiple offensiveness of Trump in our faces even at the bottom of the world to pick up Joy’s poetry is a balm that takes you behind and beyond and above and below into a different USA and it is heartbreaking and wounding and the poems might be like rooms where you mourn but each collection is an opportunity for breathtaking body anchoring travel that allows you to see and feel afresh. Joy’s poetry is so very necessary, If you read one poem this weekended read ‘How to Write a Poem in a Time of War’ from An American Sunrise.

But if you went on Saturday night you got to hear Joy read a good sized selection of poems, including the poem I mention above! Joy’s response to her appointment as the first Native American Poet Laureate in USA: ‘a profound announcement for indigenous people as we’ve been so disappeared. I want to be seen as human beings and this position does that. Human beings write poetry. Even if it’s oral, it’s literature.’

So many things to hold close that Joy offered: ‘No peace in the world until all our stories have a place, until we all have a place of respect.’

She suggested we could think of poems as ‘little houses, little bird houses for time grief joy heartbreak anything history what we cannot hold. Go to poetry for times of transformation, to celebrate and acknowledge birth, to acknowledge death. We need poetry.’

Joy: Indigenous poets are often influenced by oral traditions – a reading voice singing voice flute voice more holistic.

Joy: You start with the breath. Breath is essentially spirit.

Joy: You learn about asking, asking for help.

Joy: Probably the biggest part is to listen. You have to be patient.

Joy: The lessons get more intense.

Joy: If you are going to listen to a stone, what range is that?

 

My energy pot was on empty so was in bed by 8 pm, and so very sadly missed Chris Tse’s The Joy Of Queer Lit Salon. From all accounts it was a breathtaking event that the audience want repeated.

 

Sunday and I hosted Paula Green’s Poetry Shelf Live. Lynn Jenner was unwell (I was so looking forward to hearing her read as her inventive and moving Peat is so good). My dear friend Tusiata Avia was in town coincidentally so she stepped in and read instead along with Karlo Mila, Simon Kaho, Gregory Kan, Jane Arthur, Tayi Tibble and Joy Harjo.

I love the poetry of my invited guests and got to sit back and absorb. I laughed and cried and felt the power of poetry to move in multiple directions: soft and loud, fierce and contemplative. Ah if a poem is like a little house as Joy says, it is a house with windows and doors wide open, and we are able to move through and reside there as heart, mind and lungs connect.

A friend of Hinemoana Baker’s from Berlin came to me at the end crying and speaking through tears and heaving breath about how moved she was by the session. I got what she was saying because I felt the same way. I guess for all kinds of reasons we are feeling fragile at the moment – and poetry can be so vital. After four years of Wild Honey reading, writing, conversing and listening I have decided the connective tissue of poetry is love aroha. I felt and said that, ‘We in this room are linked by poetry, by a love of it, and that matters enormously’. I felt that at this session.

 

So thank you Wellington – for all the book fans who supported the events. For the poets who read with me.

I also want to thank Claire Maybe and her festival team. Claire has such a passion for books and such a wide embrace, you just feel the love of books, stories, poetry, ideas, feelings. Yes I would have LOVED to hear Elizabeth Knox, Witi Ihimaera, Lawrence Patchett and Kate Tempest (for starters) on at other weekends but this was a highlight of my year and I am so grateful.

 

‘Come on Poetry,’ I sigh, my breath

whitening the dark. ‘The moon is sick of you.’

We walk the white path made of seashells

back to the orange light of the house.

‘Wait,’ I say at the sliding door. ‘Wait.’

 

Hinemoana Baker from ‘manifesto’ in waha / mouth (2014)

 

 

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Wellington’s LitCrawl -‘LitCrawl was a whole fireworks display’ ‘a clarion call’

Wind

We are swept by currents of air that swoop
and tease like unseen birds.
The wind is not often a warning here, in this city.
©Diana Bridge

 

 

The literary grassroots keep on doing stunning things through out New Zealand; there is boutique publishing, on and off the edge publicity, along with vibrant events.

It feels necessary and vital that we keep doing so. I was tempted to fly down to Wellington for their recent LitCrawl weekend (12 -13th November) but I am up to my elbows writing my new book and not ready for another research trip quite yet.

So I invited locals to send photos and pieces of writing- LitCrawl postcards. Then the earthquake and the incessant aftershocks swiped hard at Wellington residents (sleepless nights, anxious children, floods, uncertainty) along with so many elsewhere.

Understandably not everyone has been able to write anything but I ‘ve decided to post what I have because it seems like this was a joyous occasion for writers and readers.

Diana Bridge sent me some poems which I thought was so lovely – like my own private LitCrawl. The fragment above seems prescient. I have posted two more below.

The way the pieces have pulled this hard hard week – tufts of an election off shore and the earthquake – and managed to produce such gorgeous writing – heck it moved me to tears posting this. I can’t thank you enough Bee Trudgeon, Sarah Forster, Helen Rickerby, Sugar Magnolia Wilson, Catriona Ferguson.

 

 

The programme:

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What is LitCrawl?

LitCrawl =  a fast-talking, street-loving celebration of writers, publishers, performers, editors, musicians, journalists, lyricists, artists, comedians… and the people who want to hear them speak. For 2016, the programme stretched over three nights and two days with the main event, the crawl itself, on Saturday night. Over 100 writers appeared before over 2500 audience members in 19 venues. All ticketed events sold out.

Claire Mabey (organiser, along with Andrew Laking) You can hear Claire in conversation with Jim Mora this afternoon at 3pmish on RadioNZ

 

 

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True Stories Told Live –Featuring Paula Morris, Emily Perkins, Khalid Warsame and Anahera Gildea. In partnership with the New Zealand Book Council. Wellington Central Library

‘True Stories Told Live has become a regular part of the LitCrawl programme. Despite the howling gales we had a fabulous turn out for our storytellers, Mayor Justin Lester, Emily Perkins, Khalid Warsame, Paula Morris and Anahera Gildea on Saturday night. Our theme for the evening was Metamorphosis with the subtext being how reading and books can change us. The storytellers responded to the theme with brio, generously sharing some intimate and life-changing moments. It was a wonderful start to the audience’s LitCrawl journey.’

Catriona Ferguson  CEO NZ Book Council    

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Playing Poetry

 

And in the world outside these Gardens
canals of silver-beet arrive to part our city streets.

©Diana Bridge

 

 

 

 

Bee Trudgeon from Porirua Libraries sent in these LitCrawl postcards:

(‘It’s been a great weekend here in Wellington, in spite of the wild weather Friday night through Saturday night. Lit lovers proved themselves a resilient bunch, and great times were in abundance. I walked past more packed venues than those I’ve reviewed for you at the Lit Crawl. Here’s hoping you’ll get some more accounts to do this brilliant event justice.’)

Crip the Lit, CQ Hotels, 223 Cuba Street, 7.15PM

Proud feminism met disability fellowship when writers Robyn Hunt, Sally Champion, Trish Harris and Mary O’Hagan reclaimed the word crippled and put inspiration porn in its place at their packed panel session. This was a clarion call to bust open the closets disabilities of all kinds (visible and invisible, self- and externally-imposed) can erect around those living with them.

Robyn read a blog post regarding the hurdles sight impairment threw up for a budding reader with limited access to appropriate resources. Sally remembered early days far from parents in hospital, where her soul craved the attention her body was getting. Trish read from her newly published memoir The Walking Stick Tree (Escalator Press), which mixes memoir and essay to explore a life lived both in and far beyond the presumed cage hampered physicality suggests to those with a limited grasp on the transcendent power of the human spirit. Mary read from her memoir Madness Made Me (Open Box, 2014), honouring the highs of mental illness as human experiences more rich than those untouched might recognise.

Mary summed up the prevalent mood by poo-pooing any suggestion of bravery, pointing out the need to simply get on with what must be done.

 

Essays, Meow, 9 Edward Street, 8.30PM

Simon Sweetman (Off the Tracks) proved the perfect emcee for this heaving session of superior essayists, in a venue renowned for treating the literary like rock stars. Ashleigh Young (Can You Tolerate This?) may have been uncomfortable behind the mic’, but killed nonetheless, with tales of bizarre childhood Mastermind sessions under the spotlighted scrutiny of her father the quizmaster. Rarely is a child’s inner life so intimately given voice. International guest Khalid Warsame (reluctant and rare poster boy for Australian African masculinity) read two sentences spanning 15 years and a well-founded distrust of the police. It was a masterful and extreme test of the form.  Aimee Cronin nostalgically evoked an idyllic, salt-sprayed, ice-cream sticky childhood summer, hard-won from the ashes of broken marriage. The effect was a sigh just the safe side of a scream. Naomi Arnold took us to the places family and lovers would rather we couldn’t go. She provided a fine reminder that, if not for voyeurism, the essay would be too polite to be as compulsively palatable as this crew proved it can be. A brilliant set gobbled up by a crash keen crowd.

 

Selina Tusitala Marsh: Tala Tusi: The Teller is the Tale (A New Zealand Book Council Lecture) National Library, November 11, 2016 Reviewed by Bee Trudgeon for NZ Poetry Shelf

For many, it had been a raw few days of uphill battling. Not 48 hours since hearing He Who Shall Not Be Named had won the White House, and just three hours since hearing Leonard Cohen had died, people were sorely in need of some serious attention to the issues of diversity and what was threating it, and the comfort that poetry was alive and well. With the Wellington weather closing in, and turning to bed or drink (or both) a panacea being broadly touted by my distraught American friends, I had a strong feeling Selina Tusitala Marsh’s New Zealand Book Council Lecture could be as close to a cure as I could count on.

Her lecture in five parts and an epilogue, Tala Tusi: The Teller is the Tale, was a lyrical series of ruminations and recollections on the importance of culturally diverse voices, reading as fuel for writing, the holy nature of second-hand bookshops, and a significant encounter with the Queen.

Aptly dubbed the Smiling Assassin by her Muay Thai kickboxing trainer, her regal presence sets a fine example of how we all might face the differences of opinion so hard to understand, during a week when the Ku Klux Clan had been photographed on a bridge crossing a highway during workday commute hours.

In the same vein, consider the time earlier in the year when, as the Commonwealth Poet and guest reader at Westminster Abbey, Selina extended a hand to a certain Baron What’s-his-face, only to have her hand left hanging. Selina refused to let him reduce her to the level of his apparent opinion.

As she says, it is part of her name – the proto-Polynesian ‘ala’ – to be a path, not a wall. In a year when far too much has been said in the name of a certain proposed wall, such words are balm to all humanity.

In addition to an ironically instructional excerpt from Paula Morris’s ‘Bad Story (so you don’t have to write it’, four poems were performed: Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Requiem’ (as we were transported to Samoa in the late 1800s), ‘Tusitala’ (Selina’s 1996 manifesto piece), ‘Pussy Cat’ (penned for the potential racist, and the Duke who dared question the ‘post’ in ‘postcolonial literature’), and (thrillingly) the royally commissioned ‘Unity’

‘There’s a U and an I in unity / costs the earth and yet it’s free…’

Never have the lines been more necessary.

Near closing, Selina acknowledged, “People will walk over me and if they do so ungraciously, that’s their karma; but people will walk over, and that’s about connection.”  If the world had not exactly been put to rights, the battle cry for continued attempts to affect so had certainly been sounded. Round One to diverse poetry.

Fa’afetai, Selina. ‘What you do affects me.’

Complete lecture available here.

 

 

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Poetry = Medicine at the Apothecary (more photos from here below)

‘Wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of
Humanity’ – Hippocrates
They say writing is therapy – so’s listening to it. Come along for
readings from those who fuse medicine with poetry.
Featuring John Dennison, Chris Price, Sue Wootton, Rae Varcoe
and Paul Stanley-Ward.

 

A LitCrawl letter from Helen Rickerby:

LitCrawl 2016

LitCrawl was more than a bright spark in the middle of a crazy and hard week – a week filled with the alarming US election, torrential rain and slips, earthquakes, tsunami and then more torrential rain, flooding, wind and more slips – LitCrawl was a whole fireworks display. It seems quite a long time ago now, being before the 7.5 earthquake that woke so many of us up after Sunday night had just tipped over into Monday morning. But it’s important to celebrate such a wonderful event, especially in the midst of everything else.

When LitCrawl started two years ago I was a bit worried that having multiple events on at the same time would split the audience – I thought I knew by sight, if not by name, everyone who was likely to come to a literary event in Wellington. But that first year I realised this was something special: every event was well attended – if not full – and there were people there who I had never even seen before. Where did they come from? we wondered. And then the next year, they came out again – even more people to even more events. And this year, even more events, and more people – despite more rain!

I think one of the strengths of LitCrawl – by which I really mean a strength of event organisers, the wonderful Claire Mabey and Andy Laking – is that they have drawn together people from many different parts of the Wellington literary community and beyond to perform and curate sessions. So it feels like something that everyone owns and has helped to make, rather than a top-down thing organised for us.

The heart of LitCrawl is the Saturday night, where multiple events are held around the city in three different time slots, but since the beginning there have been some satellite events on different days. This year the first one was Friday night’s My First Time, where three short theatre pieces by first-time theatre writers were performed, for the first time. The pieces were very different from each other: Sarah Jane Barnett’s relationship drama set in the not-too distant future; Pip Adam’s wonderful nuts post-modern take on contemporary life that might have just been snippets from the internet; Faith Wilson’s slam-poetryish musings on race, economics and what she’d like to do with and to her dentist. The audience was invited to be part of the process by emailing in their feedback about the pieces, which are still in development.

On the night of LitCrawl proper it is always really hard to choose what to attend, and your heart gets a bit broken about the things you have to miss. Because I was running a session in the middle block, that took care of two of my choices – the time I needed to be there to set up made it too difficult to get to the first session. My session, Polylingual SpreePoetry in and out of Translation, was at Ferret Bookshop, and there was a good turnout to hear poetry from and in Māori, Greek, Mandarin and Italian from Kahu Kutia, Vana Manasiadis, Ya-Wen Ho and Marco Sonzogni (with me reading a couple of English translations). I had wanted to curate that session to celebrate the fact that English isn’t the only language spoken in New Zealand, and it seemed especially timely to be celebrating diversity. Afterwards, people were really enthusiastic about the session and hope to see it return, so we’ll see.

Next I was planning to go to the Essays session (see above PG!), which I’m told was fantastic and full, but it was also much further away than several wonderful poetry sessions in the Cuba Street area. I ended up at Pegasus Books, or, rather, outside Pegasus Books, which was just as well because there was quite a crowd there and we would never have fitted in the shop. Thanks to a good sound system we could mostly hear the readers: Steven Toussaint, Hera Lindsay Bird, Greg Kan and Lee Posna, over the diners behind us at Oriental Kingdom and other revellers in Left Bank. After that, most people headed to the after party at Paramount, generally via some kind of eatery, to mingle and catch up with other LitCrawlers and possibly have their fortunes read by the resident tarot card reader.

The next day I was really delighted to be part of a panel discussion with Sarah Laing and Anna Jackson about why we have found the life and work of Katherine Mansfield so compelling. The event was especially special because it was at the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace, in an upstairs room amid an exhibition of Sarah’s drawings for her graphic bio-memoir (I think I have just made up that term) Mansfield and Me. The sun came out in time for us all to have our afternoon tea on the lawn, which was very pleasant. It was a bit alarming to hear a few hours later, in the early hours of the morning, that there was damage to house after a neighbouring brick wall fell on it during the quake. Fortunately, it now sounds like there is no serious damage, so we can all go back and have a proper look at Sarah’s exhibition and sketchbooks when it reopens.

A friend visiting from Auckland was told on Saturday night ‘You should move back to Wellington, it’s having a literary renaissance’, and I thought – you know, I think she might be right. And I think it’s because there are quite a few ordinary people who are just organising things and doing things here at the moment, and I think that if LitCrawl wasn’t the start of this little renaissance, it certainly is one of its shining stars. Thanks Claire and Andy, we really appreciate it!

photos from Helen:

 

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Polylingual – some of the audience at Polylingual Spree at Ferret Bookshop

‘The more languages you know, the more you are human’
– Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk Come and hear lively readings of poetry in languages from around the world, read by poet translators Marco Sonzogni (Italian), Vana Manasiadis (Greek), Ya-Wen Ho (Mandarin) and more. Hosted by Helen Rickerby (mostly English).

 

 

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Mansfield 1 – Some of the Mansfield event-goers having afternoon tea on the lawn, including Sarah Laing

 

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Mansfield 2 – Another view of the afternoon tea-ing, including Anna Jackson talking to Vana Manasiadis. The offending brick wall (which fell down in the quake) can be seen beside the house, on the left.

Yes, after a splendid event at the Katherine Mansfield House with the sun shining and afternoon tea and poems, the place suffered damage in the quake.

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A letter from Sarah Forster from NZ Booksellers:

Hi Paula

I didn’t go to any poetry last night, mores the pity, but the three events I did go to – True Stories Told Live, Toby & Toby and Essays were all brilliant. I have attended every year since it began. Here are a few bits and pieces for you to weave in.

At the end of LitCrawl 2016, Juliet Blyth noted to me that the most special thing about LitCrawl is that everybody sees it as being for them. There is no demographic that didn’t turn out, despite the terrible Wellington weather.

At True Stories Told Live at the Wellington Central Library, I sat in front of a family of five, the three girls aged roughly 5-11, and though they were bickering beforehand and saying ‘This is going to be boring,’ as soon as the stories began I didn’t hear a peep. As Wellington’s Mayor Justin Lester told of his upbringing with his father searching for white gold, as well as a new mistress in every port they lived in; as Paula Morris wove the spell of the Little House on the Prairie; Emily Perkins told of the changes wrought by self-help books, and an enduring, changing, friendship; Khalid Warsame told of his panic attacks and how the pain of an anonymous other – and a book – somehow eased his own pain; and as Anahera Gildea pulled us through the most painful experience of her life – but the one that led to her finally publishing her writing, and selling her art – these kids sat spellbound. True Stories Told Live at its best is utterly brutal – the laughs are always there, but the truth-telling takes your breath away. I am not sure how we didn’t float out of there on a sea of tears after Gildea’s story, and I want to thank her if she is reading this, for sharing it.

At Toby & Toby at Caroline Bar, it was standing room only, as Toby Manhire interviewed first Susie Ferguson, then Ashleigh Young. This was a louder crowd, but engaged nonetheless. There were probably about 300 of us all crammed in the back of the bar, standing – I had a handy barstool to kneel up on, which made me only 3 inches taller than my friend Harriet Elworthy was standing. How do we deserve Susie Ferguson on our airwaves,  Shannonn Te Ao  in our art galleries, Ashleigh Young as one of our best editors and writers?

It was a one-two for me with Ashleigh, as she was one of the speakers at the final event I attended, at Meow Bar. Again there was a huge range of ages, though starting from 18 this time, as well as those in the more traditional festival-going age group (the boomers). Essays featured three female essayists – Ashleigh plus Aimie Cronin and Naomi Arnold – and again I was privileged to see Khalid Warsame in performance.
As well as reading from their work, each of them talked a little about essay-writing, and the difficulty of deciding how much of your family and friends’ experiences you are allowed to use. Khalid was fascinating – he is the director of the Young Writer’s Festival in Newcastle, and as an African Australian, he has realised his point of view is incredibly unique. He talked about being pigeonholed as other, and read aloud half of a four-sentence essay, on this theme.

Everything I saw at LitCrawl opened my eyes and my mind in one way or another. Pirate and Queen (aka. Claire Mabey and Andrew Laking) are geniuses: the only complaint I have was that I had to choose from at least 2 options per session that I desperately wanted to attend: an excellent problem to have. While most of the events I attended were very packed, most didn’t need to send people away. The volunteers were better deployed than previously as well. What could have been just another soggy Saturday night in Wellington was touched with magic, thanks to this generous, informative, inspirational event.

cheers, Sarah

 

Some photos from Mary McCallum:

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Sue Wootton reads at The Apothecary, with Jayne Mulligan VicBooks

 

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Chris Price reads at The Apothecary

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Happy litcrawlers at The Apothecary in Cuba Street, listening to readings around medicine and poetry.

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Launch of the 4th Floor Journal at Matchbox in Cuba Street

 

From Sugar Magnolia Wilson:

My take on it was – once again litcrawl was a really fun, loving and positive event where people got a chance to meet new folk and bond over writing and literature. I especially love having new contributors in Sweet Mammalian, one of whom came to Wellington especially for litcrawl and to read at our launch. So great to meet new people and always great community vibes at litcrawl.

issue four is now live

Photos from the Litcrawl Sweet Mammalian launch:

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What a glorious, sumptuous, heart-boosting occasion. Thank you so much everyone who sent me things. In the light of what you are enduring, to have sent these treasures in is quite special. The last words goes to a poem Diana sent me. The early NZ women poets I am currently reading found much solace in the sky, the bush and the sea. This is a poem of solace. Thank you everyone!

 

Footing it with the magnolias

As the track winds steeply down
trees thin and gaps appear in leafy walls.
Broadening view-shafts open

on the Garden’s settled old world heart.
Here is the showcase that changes
with the seasons. Colours co-ordinate

an artist’s take. Spotlight on ceremony
when stately tulips bright as guardsmen bloom.
Though things are not so cut and dried

even in classical spring. Sunlit tussocks
fountain beside paths. Artful inclusion
of the indigenous, the vegetable patch.

Beds hemmed with parsley. Cineraria or
phlox held in evergreen embrace. No plant
undercutting any other – a gorgeous

composite is what they aim for here.
And in the world outside these Gardens?
Canals of silver-beet arrive to part our city streets.

©Diana Bridge