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Poetry Shelf review: A Game of Two Halves: The Best of Sport 2005 – 2019

A Game of Two halves: The Best of Sport 2005 – 2019, ed Fergus Barrowman
Victoria University Press, 2021

This book looks back through the fifteen issues of Sport from 2005 to 2019. In 600 pages it presents fiction, poetry, essays and oddities by 100 of our best writers, from leading lights like Bill Manhire, Ashleigh Young and Elizabeth Knox, to emerging glow worms like Tayi Tibble, Ruby Solly and Eamonn Marra. (Blurb)

Reviewing A Game of two Halves is a sad glad day for me. I have loved reading my way through old favourites but I am also sad that this is a farewell. I can remember how excited I was when the first issue of Sport hit the bookstands. It was fresh, exciting, unmissable. I am pretty sure I have every copy stacked on my study shelves. On the blurb, I read that editor Fergus Barrowman’s A Game of two Halves selection is a mix of ‘leading lights and glow worms’, the established and the emerging. Light is such a good analogy because I often find myself using the word ‘incandescent’ to describe writing I love. Writing lights me the reader, the world at large and in miniature, the present, future, past, the miraculous things words can do. Even when the subject matter is dark, shadows and weirdness loom, writing still lifts. Sets me alight. This is what literary journals can do. This is what Sport has done.

All those clothes it turned and churned, the lint
that trapped in its door. I once thought
many things would make my life happier
and now one by one I will let them go.

Rachel Bush from ‘All my feelings would have been of common things’

Confession – I haven’t read the whole volume yet but I can’t wait to do that to share. I am so engaged, I want you to place A Game of Two Halves on your summer reading pile as a go-to source of luminous writing. Last ‘light’ analogy I promise. Reading the poetry (I always start with the poetry) is like tuning into a Spotify playlist where individual tracks resonate and then send you back to the albums. Rachel Bush’s sublime ‘Thought Horses’ sent me back to that collection. Michele Amas’ equally sublime ‘Daughter’ sent me back to After the Dance. Herein lies the first joy of Fergus’s playlist. I am reconnected with poems that have registered as all time favourites. Read Angela Andrews’ ‘White Saris’. Bill Manhire’s ‘The Schoolbus’. Read Ruby Solly, Esther Dischereit, Rebecca Hawkes, Ash Davida Jane, essa may ranapiri, Tayi Tibble, Michael Krüger, Jane Arthur, Chris Tse, Freya Daly Sadgrove, Emma Neale. Read Amy Brown’s ‘Jeff Magnum’. Ashleigh Young. Louise Wallace.

This is the place where the schoolbus turns.
The driver backs and snuffles, backs and goes.
It is always winter on these roads: high bridges
and birds in flight above you all the way.
The heart can hardly stay. The heart implodes.

Bill Manhire from ‘The Schoolbus’

Perhaps the biggest gleam is from Tina Makereti’s prose piece, ‘An Englishman, an Irishman and a Welshman walk into a Pā’. I am such a fan of her novels, rereading this reminds me of the power and craft of Tina’s writing.

This is the way of it. Before I have memorised her in a way that will last forever, my mother is gone. If someone asks me to recite my first memory, which consists of chickens in a yard and an old farmhouse and an outside toilet, it will contain this absence. For the rest of my childhood, I don’t think it matters.

Tina Makereti from ‘An Englishman, an Irishman and a Welshman walk into a Pā’

In his introduction, Fergus tracks the development of Sport, the almost demises, and the decision to close (with regrets!). He mentions the vibrancy of the issue Tayi Tibble recently edited (Sport 47, not just the cover but also the contents) and ‘whether it made sense to go on reinventing Sport every year?’ I have appreciated the move to showcase Aotearoa writers beyond the traditional Pākehā set in recent years. To always draw upon the inspired writing of new generations. Fergus closes off his introduction by mentioning a couple of other anthologies VUP / THWUP are doing and then offers this: ‘And after that? You tell us? Send us your ideas. Send us your work.’ Exciting prospect.

I raise my glass to toast what has been an important venue for new and established voices. I will miss Sport. I will really miss Sport. Thank you Fergus and Victoria University Press / Te Herenga Waka University Press for dedicating time and love to a vital space for readers and writers. I look forward to what comes next.

It has been a long time
since I last spoke to you.
When we were children, our fathers
wanted to be mountains
our mothers were the sky.
So here I am, the dry hands,
steady in fog, waiting by the not-there
trees, the holes birds make
in the air.

Jenny Bornholdt from ‘It Has Been a Long Time Since I last Spoke to You, So Here I Am’

the air is thick with depression
even the flies   fly very slowly

Freya Daly Sadgrove from ‘Pool Noodle’

I worry about whakamā and imposter syndrome paralysing our people, making them too afraid or inhibited to really live their best lives or at least the best lives they can under the hellskies of capitalism and party politics. I’m all about people, and I’m all about the best lives.

Tayi Tibble from ‘Diary of a (L)it Girl or, Frankenstein’s Ghost Pig’

 

Fergus Barrowman has been the Publisher of Victoria University of Wellington Press since 1985, and founded Sport along with Nigel Cox, Elizabeth Knox and Damien Wilkins in 1988. He edited the Picador Book of Contemporary New Zealand Fiction in 1996.

Victoria University Press / Te Herenga Waka University Press page