Tag Archives: Sport

Sport 45 and other musings

 

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I picked up the latest Sport the other day and the cover was so good that I didn’t want to open the issue for ages. Sam Duckor-Jones’s drawing is like a poem that is strange, off-kilter, mesmerisingly good (someone is adrift awkwardly in the sky).

Just inside there is list of books that Victoria University Press are publishing this year: 8 fiction, 11 poetry, 2 plays/poetry-music, 9 non-fiction. I have been musing lately on VUP’s productiveness and how it is to be utterly lauded. In a tough publishing climate, VUP  work hard to showcase New Zealand writing in diverse forms and with diverse preoccupations. I hear niggles (especially when VUP got such a clean sweep at the Book Awards) yet I have no time for such gripes. This is a chance to celebrate a publisher sticking its neck out and publishing quality writing whichever way you look. I don’t see the VUP stable as a set of clones – the exact opposite. On my blog I only have time to review the books I love (and even then I don’t get to them all) and interview poets that have struck a chord at some point. It is very seldom I skip over a VUP poetry book because it has missed the mark for me as a reader. If I look back at books published over the past few years, I see an eclectic mix as opposed to a restrictive school of poetry. Think of the wry wit of James Brown, the  breathtaking musicality and heart-stopping moves of Bill Manhire, the grit of Geoff Cochrane, the anarchy and surrealism of Hera Lindsay Bird, the contemplative detail along everyday trails of Jenny Bornholdt, the inventive, unpredictabliity of Hannah Mettner. I have adored this poetry and yes, I will sing its praises from the rafters.

In ‘The Old Guard New Guard’ session at AWF17 and in response to Andrew Johnston raising the clone issue, Bill Manhire summed up his aims and ways of working when he was teaching at IIML.  The conversation utterly resonated with me and a few things he said corresponded perfectly with my idea for Poetry Shelf’s Winter Season (to be posted in July!). The essential aim was for students to find their own voice (Teju Cole talked about this a little too). I loved this idea: ‘Write what I don’t know but it will somehow be mine.’ In workshops, Bill wanted students ‘to jump the tracks, to go sideways from themselves.’  He wanted them ‘to turn themselves into other poems’ and ‘to produce poems that mattered to them.’ Bill also applied this to himself and talked about the way he might get too comfortable and thus seek out ways to elbow himself sideways off the writing tracks (my words sorry as I didn’t record this).  These notions really resonated with me. As poets we are all attached to the mysterious thing called voice: our voice, how to sustain it, how to tilt or transform or nurture it. I love the idea of sidestepping the usual ruts and paths.

The latest issue of Sport is chiefly a celebration of writing that has come out of Wellington or is part of the VUP stable. I don’t have an issue with this and I applaud the range and diversity of writing within. There is a fabulous interview (Bill Manhire interviews John Gallas). I now want to track down John’s poetry – the taster of poems confirms he is a poet to add to your shelves. Hope the poetry interview (or of other genres) becomes a regular feature of Sport particularly if it is conducted over months at leisure by email as this one was. Great reading!

Also loved the cluster of essays in the middle by John Newton, Virginia Were and Giovanni Tiso. Another essential ingredient that adds verve and challenges.

The poets range from James Brown to Frances Samuel ( conjunctional wit produced out of found material to slightly strange, reader-hooked storytelling); from the luminous detail of Elizabeth Smither to the surreally personal and personally surreal of Rata Gordon; from the bolt in the eye of Claire Orchard to the tender detail of Harry Ricketts. One of my favourite  new poets, Amy Leigh Wicks, haunts me, as does Bill Nelson, in the unfolding detail and the way the poems move. Good to read Bob Orr sharply conjuring place, Rachel O’Neill’s prose-like agility,  Jake Brown’s bright jumpcut portrait of a town, the stark, sharp tug of Natalie Morrison’s fairytale-ing.

I haven’t finished reading yet: still Anna Jackson, Vincent O’Sullivan, Jake Arthur, Helen Heath, Kerrin P Sharpe and more. In my bag for today. Ha! A poetry bag!

So this seems like the perfect occasion to say congratulations to Fergus Barrowman and his team at VUP. As a writer, reader and commentator on NZ poetry, I am in debt to the extent of your gifts to NZ literature. As for Bill Manhire, I reckon it is about time a poet got the top Honours in a Queen’s Honour’s list along with those who have done extraordinary things in the business world. Bill has gifted so much with generosity and humbleness, he has enhanced what we both read and write, and has written poetry collections that sing like no other.

Yes there is magnificent poetry in all its forms  accruing the length and breadth of NZ, fabulous poets and poetry projects, tireless ambassadors (Michele Leggott, Bernadette Hall, Emma Neale, David Eggleton)  but this is VUP’s year and I applaud you!

 

Reading Sport 44 on a wet Sunday keeps the blues away

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The new edition of Sport includes 8 essays along with the usual spread of poetry and fiction. At the start of the book is an impressive advertisement for Victoria University Press’s forthcoming publications. This Press is a consistent and exemplary supporter of New Zealand writing whether poetry, fiction or non-fiction.

 

Why I am singing VUP’s praises:

There are 15 poetry collections in the offing (okay some might not appear until next year, but still!). We are going to see books by Tusiata Avia and Hera Lindsay Bird over the next few months.

Sarah Laing‘s new book is out in October (Mansfield and me: A Graphic Memoir).

There are 4 works of fiction (Catherine Chidgey has a new novel out in November!)

And I am looking forward to the collection of essays Ingrid Horrocks co-edited having tasted some in Ruapehu and Ashleigh Young‘s essays (November).

 

Sport 44

some preliminary highlights:

Usually, I read all the poems first but this time I was in the mood for a bite of fiction so I dove straight into Kirsten McDougall‘s ‘A Visitation.’ The story responds to the collapse of the internet and the arrival of Clarice Lispector to make a batch of eggs to tempt an indifferent palate. I adored this story so much it made me want to take up writing short fiction. It is sweet writing; warm, witty, funny, thoughtful, polemical. I do hope there is a new collection in the pipelines. I read this on a plane with two hours sleep and it was such an uplift. ‘I saw anew the detritus in the house I had allowed to build up like a plaque to the heart.’

The journal always puts in me in touch with writers I am unfamiliar with. This time a glorious suite by Oscar Upperton: ‘The ship is a sort of dark undoing.’

And Philip Armstrong‘s utterly inventive narrative, ‘Life of Clay,’ which keeps you on your toes as you read: ‘I can tell you it began with nothing/ but the wide white bare and empty endless plain/ but there was something there already there.’

I have already posted some of Rachel Bush‘s poems here.  Movingly, achingly beautiful. Written when life has fingertips against death.

Jenny Bornholdt‘s exquisite haiku: ‘It is eight degrees/and the Thorndon outdoor pool/ is swimming with leaves.’

Ashleigh Young‘s ‘Process’ which is sad and happy and a little bit witty and a little bit true: ‘On this day our city is a perfect haircut, its losses gently layered/ and what is left, falling gracefully.’ Oh word shivers!

Tusiata Avia‘s ‘Gaza’ which brings heart and politics together and rips your easy Sunday slumbering with poetic teeth: ‘I cannot write a poem about Gaza because I cannot eat a whole desert.’

The stillness, the extraordinary image, the enigmatic bridge between title and poem in Louise Wallace‘s ‘The body began to balance itself’. You just have to read the whole thing!

Hannah Mettner‘s ‘The day Amy died’ that takes a moment that pricks with sharp detail and pricks even deeper when the moment is declared and time and noise go haywire.

Maria McMillan‘s ‘The Ski Flier’ is a whoosh of a poem that sucks you up into story and music and is so evocative: ‘And/ there is a moment when they pass,/ the snow and the ski flier,/ each taking on the character of the other.’

Harry Rickett‘s ’14A Esmonde Road’ exudes the mood of place, that historic property where Janet and Frank lived; and you can just feel the phantoms stalking the poem until you get to the perfect ending.

The first poem, ‘Falseweed,’ is by Bill Manhire and was published as a little pamphlet by Egg Box Publishing in Norwich. It has a different feel to some of Bill’s recent poems. The words are scattered like seeds on the expanse of white page. Or pebbles. But I like the idea of seed as they are so fertile. I can see the roots and buds bursting out. There is linguistic inventiveness that boosts both music and image, particularly in compound words:

leafcandle  pencilheart  wintertwig  scribblegrass  anchorwhite  tongue-true.

I felt like I was following a dandelion kiss and pausing to see where it landed. The poem is about childhood and writing and a mind floating, roaming. Words floating, roaming. It is beautiful and mesmerising: ‘I began to recall/ how the words came knocking.’ ‘Oh pencilheart –/ oh smudge of lead.’

 

And still much to read; more poems, more fiction and the bundle of essays. This is a terrific issue.

The VUP ad:

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

to the magazine! Sport 42 ‘long times spent sitting/ looking at the view so long’

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I love Sport‘s cover photograph snapped by Damien Wilkins at the Royal Albatross Colony in Dunedin. It features a sign indicating the direction ‘to the magazine.’ There is a delicious ripple of irony as the editor and publisher of Sport, Fergus Barrowman, had last year announced the journal’s demise due to a lack of funding from Creative New Zealand.  Sport had momentarily lost its way, much to the consternation of readers throughout the country. But as the journal secured funding from elsewhere, we now have a terrific issue to savour over the coming year. Yeeha!

This issue, along with the usual mix of fiction and poetry, includes four essays. I would love to see more of this (sounding a bit Rick Steinish in the face of both good food and endangered species!) How stimulating to read Mark Williams’ lively and inventive approach to New Zealand poetry in ‘When You’re Dead You Go on Television: Sex, Death, and Household Objects in Some New Zealand Poetry.’ It was the sort of essay that got you thinking about other poems in relation to his three themes and the fertile possibilities of exploring these three themes in the one critical space.

I haven’t finished reading Sport 42 yet, because I like to dip and delve over months rather than weeks, and I am not going to comment on the fiction (which I haven’t even started upon) other than to say I spotted some must-read names: Lawrence Patchett, Pip Adam, Tina Makereti, Breton Dukes and Charlotte Simmonds along with a cluster of those new to me.

There is an equally tempting list of poets that range from some beloved landmarks on our poetry landscape (Bill Manhire, Geoff Cochrane, Elizabeth Smither, James Brown, Chris Price) to the recently emerged (Sarah Jane Barnett, Amy Brown, Kerrin P Sharpe). There are about 39 poets and a number of these are brand new sparkling voices!

Here is a tasting plate of what has struck a poetic chord so far:

Amy Brown has a sequence of poems that take her into temporal elsewhere, and that highlight the power of an object to take you in multiple semantic and nostalgic directions (as though the poem is a little like a pocket memory theatre). I particularly ‘Names’—a poem that is evocative, tender and vibrant, and that embodies loss in aching detail.

Chris Price‘s poem, ‘The also-ran,’ reminded me how much I like her poetry. Here the disgruntled ‘runner’ is a misfit on the hunt for the elusive or the grass-that-is-greener or self recognition. Price relishes musical fluency as her miniature narrative is punctured into stanzas (broken breath) with sweet enjambment that connects, keeping both runner and reader on track.

Lynn Davidson‘s ‘Kapiti Island Welcomes Back the Girl and Her Mother,’ is steered by the deft hand of both storyteller and musician: (‘They cut through weed and current/ flicker and fin to get in’ and ‘to make words make/ this wind that howls/ make the frequencies for language’). AAhhh!

Sarah Jane Barnett‘s long poem, ‘Running with My Father,’ also adopts the rhythm of running, but her poem strengthens in its shifting style. The early morning run absorbs the father figure in memory flashes, the way the puff and pant of lungs and heart working hard draw in different images and insights. This is a glorious poem that pulls you in closer to thoughts of death and of life.

Frances Samuel is not a poet that I am familiar with, but I was struck by her poems and was delighted to see VUP will publish her debut collection later this year. Her poems have serenity, simplicity, a meditative quality, an offset quirkiness running through them that is utterly alluring. One poem begins: ‘There are so many ways to write about dying.’ Another start: ‘In the very earliest time/ autumn trees stretched to the sky/ raking the reds and pinks of the sunset.’

I found myself half singing Bill Manhire‘s selection then wanted Hannah Griffin to take over— her heavenly voice igniting ‘Rikkitikkitavi/ you’re so charming/Rikkitikkitavi/ oh my darling.’ Is this a bad thing? You get Bill’s cheeky wit on the page, the sweet pull of repetition and rhyme, and then you want to sit in a dimly lit room and hear these poems sung.

And I loved Damien Wilkin‘s found poem —the titles of books Bill Manhire left behind on his shelf.

Next up the rewards of James Brown and Elizabeth Smither ….

 

 

 

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