Tag Archives: Steven Toussaint

2017 Grimshaw Sargeson Fellows announced – two poets – Congratulations!

New Zealand poets Steven Toussaint and Gregory Kan have been awarded the prestigious 2017 Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship. This is the first time two poets have been the recipients of the fellowship.

The poets will have the opportunity to focus on their craft full-time, with each having a six-month tenure at the Sargeson Centre in Auckland, and sharing an annual stipend of $20,000.

Originally from the United States, Steven Toussaint is looking forward to seeing where the fellowship takes him, as his writing is often troubled by our increasingly digital environment.

“The digital age has opened up wonderful opportunities for new kinds of communication. However, it has also scattered our attention in many different directions. At times I feel concerned that my attention is strained by all the media and digital attractions that exist around me,” he says.

Steven will use the fellowship to work on a new book of poetry, which will consist of individual poems with unifying themes about religious imagination.

Steven’s published works include a chapbook, Fiddlehead, which was published in New Zealand in 2014, with his first full length book, The Bellfounder, published the following year in the United States.

Gregory Kan says the fellowship provides a wonderful platform to help writers gain traction in an unrestrained world of literature.

“The digital age has meant that we have more writing than ever before – it’s a form that was previously only accessible to a privileged group, but is now more pervasive than ever which is fantastic,” he says.

Gregory will be using the fellowship to work on another book of poems. He will be consolidating pieces of already completed work as well as writing new pieces which interrogate the writing of biography and autobiography in this era of overwhelming and spectacular information.

Gregory published his first book this year, This Paper Boat with Auckland University Press, which is on the Okham NZ Book Awards long list for poetry. His work has been published in numerous literary journals, as well as contemporary art exhibitions and catalogues.

Frank Sargeson Trust Chair Elizabeth Aitken-Rose says she is delighted with the calibre of this year’s fellows and is excited to see them take their work to the next level.

“The current technological revolution is shining a light on some wonderful talent we may never have known about before – and this was quite evident in the quality of applicants we received this year,” she says.

“Being a writer in the digital age gives writers unprecedented opportunity, yet this can make it more challenging for writers to cut through and have their voice heard. This is particularly the case for poets, we are very excited to have two poets win the Fellowship this year.

“The fellowship will assist Steven and Gregory in gaining traction in this highly competitive environment, giving them a platform from which they can continue to build their careers and time to dedicate to their projects.”

The fellowship will run from 1 April 2017 to 30 November 2017. Steven will have the first stint at the residence with Gregory finishing out the tenure.

In 2016 the fellowship was awarded to Diana Wichtel and Breton Dukes. Other previous winners include Alan Duff, Michael King and Janet Frame.

The fellowship has been recognising and supporting some of our greatest talents for more than 30 years, says Grimshaw & Co Partner Paul Grimshaw.

“It offers vital support to New Zealand writers to focus, uninterrupted, on their work,” Grimshaw says. “They are contributing to New Zealand’s literary landscape and we are very proud to support them.”

Further information on the Fellowship is available here. Any queries can be directed to Elizabeth Bennie at elizabeth.bennie@grimshaw.co.nz or on +64 9 375 2393.

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

Be True to Yourself: Timeout Bookstore Poetry Reading

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Time Out Bookstore, Poetry Reading

Friday 12 August at 7pm.

The line-up includes:
Makyla Curtis
Steven Toussaint
Kiri Piahana-Wong
Selina Tusitala Marsh
Vaughan Rapatahana
Iain Britton

This is a BYO event. Come relax, have a drink and listen to some fantastic poetry!

Hope to see you there!

Hurrah!The Academy of NZ Literature is launched – Steven Touissant contemplates the NZ poetry scene

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Such noise! So many voices!

Steven Toussaint investigates the contemporary New Zealand poetry scene, and discovers much more than a tale of two cities.

Earlier this year, the Aotearoa/New Zealand literary community celebrated nearly twenty years of its Poet Laureateship with a sold-out gala event in Wellington. The laureates took turns at the podium, in the order of appointment, to read selections from their work, but also to reflect on the laureateship itself, on lives dedicated to poetry. In his opening remarks, the inaugural laureate Bill Manhire joked about English laureates like Robert Southey who ‘turned out poems for royal birthdays’. ‘Fortunately in New Zealand,’ he added, ‘there’s no requirement or expectation that you produce poems for the Queen or Prime Minister.’

Manhire’s remarks and the reading that followed presented a picture of the New Zealand laureate as public servant of the average reader—maybe even one uninitiated to the mysteries of poetry. This isn’t to denigrate the position, only to demystify it a little,tempering some of the pomp and circumstance.

‘New Zealanders are doubtful in an entirely pragmatic way,’ Manhire wrote in a 2011 essay for World Literature Today. ‘They want to give most things, including poems, a bit of a kick to find out just what they’re for.’ He characterises recent New Zealand poetry as ‘very happy with daily life’, and points to fellow laureate Jenny Bornholdt as a master of quotidian lyrics ‘where tradesmen call, children and recipes and baking are often on your mind, and neighbors behave in slightly quirky ways.’ Bornholdt enjoys an immense influence over the current landscape, he suggests, because ‘many of us recognise our lives in her poems.’

 

For the rest of the article go to the Academy website here.

You can also find details on the members, interviews, conversations, articles and other news.

 

Congratulations on the site and the initiative! Anything that will showcase our writers and writing, across both genre and region, is to be applauded. Bravo Paula Morris and team.

And thanks for acknowledging Poetry Shelf, Steven.

Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Choice: Steven Toussaint picks a favourite read

 

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What does it mean to be a religious poet in an irreligious age? John Dennison’s debut collection Otherwise (AUP) offers us a generous glimpse. The fixtures of contemporary lyric—domestic eros, urban existentialism, memories of childhood, communion with nature—are renewed under Dennison’s theological gaze. In the astonishing poem, ‘The Immanent Frame’, he recasts the boundary-lines between the secular and the sacred. In contrast to the popular ‘subtraction story’ that frames religion as an ever-diminishing component within the vast horizons of modernity, Dennison intimates a still-vaster transcendent force driving all things, ‘while all the while is carried / through, unsensing each / extra mile which goes / itself.’ Dennison’s poems are enriched by their subtle recourse to the Christian mythos (for C.S. Lewis ‘a true myth’), and are never more impactful than when turned toward social commentary. ‘On Climate Change’ traverses the sham of boundless growth with an elegant parable (When was the last time Balaam’s Ass appeared in a poem this side of David Jones?!). In addition, Dennison is a sure and studied composer, as vigorous in ‘free verse’ as in his peerless pantoums. I detect continuity with distinctively Brittonic voices like Dylan Thomas, W.S. Graham, and R.S. Thomas, even Geoffrey Hill’s playful opprobrium in a poem like ‘After Geering.’ I look forward to reading what comes next from this talented poet.

Steven Toussaint

Poetry Shelf Book Review: Steven Toussaint’s The Bellfounder – It is an exquisite read

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Steven Toussaint The bellfounder  The Cultural Study Society, 201B

 

 

Steven Toussaint was born in Chicago in 1986. He is the author of the chapbook Fiddlehead (Compound Press, 2014). He lives on the side of a volcano in Auckland, New Zealand.

Steven’s new poetry collection, The Bellfounder, is an exquisite read. The epigraph stands as a dedication to Eleanor Catton: ‘For you I have emptied the meaning/ leaving the song’. The ‘you’ widens to gift song to the reader as music is both first and last reading effect. A lexicon of musical terms amass: melody, pitch, chord, counterpoint, harmony, rhythm. I wanted to shut my eyes and absorb the musicality through the pores of my skin.

Each word chimes like a musical note, but the reward is in the aural connections – surprising, comforting, hair shivery – that produce the lift and skip of melody (‘brine seamed, milked at alpine view’). Your ear flutters to and fro along the track of the line catching sounds that twitch and oscillate and gel (‘alive as white aster, as stars’). There is both musical playfulness and musical craft. The little shift from ‘aster’ to ‘as stars’ sends gossamer threads to Gertrude Stein, Michele Leggott, Susan Howe. Melody is made more endearing by syntax that sidesteps, elides, eludes (‘hoove the ground/ each order othering’). Words hum on the ends of lines like a secret sidebone poem (whole formative cloud downgrowth longing parades embankments view is left stars ground othering bellow). (quotations are from ‘The Ground’)

At times, the language is demanding (I love this), when the words are obscure, not in everyday use, deliciously coined, twisted and shifting. At times, there is a sweet economy that counterbalances a governing richness. Always, at every crest and turn, phrases that cling to the ear (‘ore poured/ through ode// and hissed forth/ dread’ from ‘Analogion’).

 

What of meaning abandoned? After the initial joy of melody (song), I savoured the visual tussock; the way image is both ephemeral and grounded. Again I was reminded of Gertrude, Michele and Susan – and the playful energy of an image held in the mind. A point of contemplation. Transcendental, almost. At first, there is the allure of the image (‘quiet tangle/ of birchbark’ ‘Down along/ the frost encased// river little/ stinging reeds’). The images are little anchors in the overall mist of the poems. Yet that grounding enables the folds and creases of connection, personal associations and drifting thought (how to build that ice-cold river in mind’s eye?). Motifs, like the musical wordnotes, echo. The images tilt you. They act as little keys to drifting notions. Now and then, I felt like I was walking into sumptuous strata of Dante’s Inferno or the wet, kaleidoscopic thrill of a Tarkovsky film. I could almost hear Dante’s voice.

For me, the reading drift is the drift of a hiker locked into the rhythm of walking, where the natural world becomes music, music tethers image and image untethers thinking. Then thinking becomes still and still becomes raucous. Glorious. I love the way implanted image builds train of thought. The reading drift becomes a musing on poetry. On the possibilities of poetry. Take the poem, ‘Measure’: beautiful, enigmatic, poised, entrancing. The birchbark and river detail are the physical measure of melody, of viewing the world. Yet there is more, always more. Poetry becomes more than meaning, yet you are never left groundless. It is the mysterious movement that is travel and location and the laying of here and the layering of there.

 

Enormous funnels

of pitch a people

 

press on, tamp

the thicket’s

 

thickset quiet out

as if a current

 

of flame rouses

deep under boats

 

pitch-sealed

to carry them over.

 

(from ‘Measure’)

 

 

This collection is one of my favourite reads of the year. It transports you to the milky mists of nowhere and then feeds you the sublime ‘pitch’ and ‘drip’ of a somewhere that matters to you on a level both conscious and subconscious. Breathtakingly good.

 

Available in NZ from Timeout Book Store, or elsewhere via Small Press Distribution

Steven’s blog

Plainsong‘ on Poem Friday on Poetry Shelf

An excerpt from ‘Aevum Measures‘ on The Spinoff