Tag Archives: The Cuba press

Poetry Shelf Video Lounge: Simon Sweetman reads from his debut poetry collection, The Death of Music Journalism

Simon Sweetman reads poems from his debut poetry collection, The Death of Music Journalism (The Cuba Press, 2020)

Simon Sweetman is a Wellington-based writer of poems, stories, blogs and reviews. He grew up in Hawke’s Bay where sport was the thing. Now it’s music, horror movies, dog walks and family time. The Death of Music Journalism is his second book (after 2012’s On Song) and his first book of poetry. He blogs, everyday, at offthetracks.co.nz and is the host of Sweetman Podcast. Sometimes he appears on RNZ talking about music. And would like to do that more often.

The Cuba Press author page

Poetry Shelf Lounge: Richard Langston reads from his new collection, Five O’Clock Shadows

Richard Langston reads three poems from his new collection, Five O’Clock Shadows (The Cuba Press, 2020)

Richard Langston is a poet, television director, and writer. Five O’Clock Shadows is his sixth book of poems. His previous books are Things Lay in Pieces (2012), The Trouble Lamp (2009), The Newspaper Poems (2007), Henry, Come See the Blue (2005), and Boy (2003). He also writes about NZ music and posts interviews with musicians on the Phantom Billstickers website.

The Cuba Press author page

Poetry Shelf interviews Rachel McAlpine

How to Be Old: Poems Rachel McAlpine, The Cuba Press, 2020

Nobody knows your neck squeaks.

Nobody knows your heart

is a bowl of poems.

 

Everything you do is very very good

and very very good is good enough.

 

The past supports us

like a trampoline.

The future? Face it.

Unlace it. Embrace it.

 

At dusk I want to be with you and stay.

I love it when you ask about my day.

 

from ‘Fortune  cookies’

 

 

 

Wellington writer Rachel McAlpine blogs and podcasts about old age. She has published novels, songs, plays, books about writing as well as a number of poetry collections. To celebrate her 80th birthday she has published a new book of poems, How to Be Old. She kindly agreed to answer some questions for Poetry Shelf.

The Cuba Press page

Rachel’s blog Write into Life

 

Paula: Like me, you are a Minister’s daughter. I am wondering what you read as a child?

Rachel: Everything available! We (six girls) went to the library every Friday and came home fully loaded with books. But the Book of Common Prayer had the most irresistible and enduring influence on my language.

Paula: What books stood out in your teenage reading?

Rachel: Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Tess of the Durbervilles spring to mind.

Paula: Can you name a few poets that have really mattered to you across the decades?

Rachel: Across the decades? Well, Allen Curnow was at university with my parents and was even engaged to my mother for two weeks: thus I was aware that some poets were living humans. This mattered to me because at school we read dead poets and only dead poets. My mother read Whim Wham in the Saturday Press which reinforced my arcane insider knowledge. Poets who first took my breath away include Pablo Neruda, Gerard Manly Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, Federico Garcia Lorca, Erica Jong and Adrienne Rich. Then a wave of young male New Zealand poets in the 1970s got me thinking hmm, maybe I could do that too…

When we bang on about our trips

and our memoirs and our blogs

and our grandchildren (best of kind)

our ills and pills and volunteering

our hearing aids and hips—

pay attention, don’t switch off

because this

is our first attempt at being old

and we’re wondering how to do it

not just for us but for you.

 

from ‘Templates’

 

Paula: I was really struck by your reaction to Sam Hunt’s contention in the 1970s that women either wrote very good or very bad poems: ‘just women scribbling their little women’s nothings’. So rather than mimic his lyrical voice–you wrote from life, and you wrote for women, and in doing so refused to see women’s writing (the how and the what) as mediocre. I love you for this. Your bolshiness. I see that inspirational bolshiness there in your new book! Am I right?

Rachel: Oh sure, I can’t help seeming bolshy even when I think I’m being most reasonable. Many of the poems in How To Be Old come from a bolshy approach to the clichés of old age. Come on now! What does that even mean, “age is just a number”? What is old age really, specifically, cold-bloodedly like—not to the observer but to the old person?

Paula: Do you think things have changed for women writers? I just checked out the latest Starling issue and its nearly all women (under 25s). Women poets are writing anything and everything, and are most definitely in the spotlights.

Rachel: Agree! Was it Arthur Baysting’s 1973 anthology The Young New Zealand Poets that included 19 men and one woman, Jan Kemp? With International Women’s year looming that was a red rag to a bull. Hard to imagine now.

Paula: Yes – although there is still a way to go. I talk about it in Wild Honey. I just love the energy and output from the current wave of young poets.

Your new book How to Be Old is a glorious evocation of old age. Such captivating self-exposure. Was this also a feature of your first collections? What angst made its way into your poetry then?

Rachel: Hey thanks, Paula! My first collection was basically shouting “I feel sad!” (as you need to sometimes). After that I jumped feet first into other issues, mainly feminist ones. My own experience is a good starting point for making a larger point digestible. Not much angst in How To Be Old, although some sadness tempers the joy.

In the seventies and eighties

as a mournful poet

and strident feminist

(there was no other sort)

I shouted loud and rude

mean and bold

waking up my sisters

with the stories of their lives.

 

from ‘Growing my brand’

 

Paula: You were a significant voice for me in the 1970s – did you feel part of a writing community, particularly women? What about now?

Rachel: In the 1970s and 80s I totally felt part of a community, a world of women who were busting to write about our own experience and women who needed to hear our voices, which were also theirs. Then I dipped out of the literary world for a couple of decades: I was very absorbed in my work with digital content until 2015. I did keep writing poems but didn’t publish. So as a poet I’ve been a bit of a loner since then, except for those who have followed my blog and podcast.

The bravest are millions

 

Out there living the bravest days

are the very old, the frail old

using every scrunch of the soul

for the next impossible chore.

The very old must win and win

on multiple fronts

day after trembling day.

 

Out there building the bravest lives

are the young

knowing what we knew

and did not do.

 

Rachel McAlpine

 

Paula: I think Wild Honey has really made me feel part of communities of women writing and supporting each other. Like you I am a loner poet but so many possibilities for connection these days.

Your new collection refreshes the way old age can be both viewed and lived. The poems are tender, vulnerable, provocative, entertaining. What prompted to you to publish a collection after a bit of a gap?

Rachel: Two things. A, I sold my business and had time on my hands. B, I turned 75 and abruptly realized that I might live another 25 years. So I needed a little hobby to keep me busy (joke). I went late and went hard at old age. Obsessed about it, researched it, decided to do at least one thing per month for a year to improve my chances of having a healthy old-old age. That project, my boot camp for the bonus years, shone a light on my own barmy ageism and society’s odd way of talking about old age. A year later, I started processing this strange interlude and the product was this book, How To Be Old. (Which of course is not a manual.)

I gave myself one year

to understudy for the role

of someone old.

I was confused but I was committed.

Month by month I tackled

housing and eating and exercise

finance and hobbies and friends and voice

happiness and brain and mind

and identity

and lastly, nervously

the existential bit.

 

from ‘My boot camp bonus years’

 

Paula: Let’s go back to old age. Just as there are continued pressures on young women to achieve ridiculous ideals there are equally ridiculous notions about old age: on ‘how to be old’. Your collection navigates this so beautifully – but can you comment on what delights and what bugs you about ‘how to be old’?

Rachel: That’s the nitty gritty, isn’t it? Well, no doubt about it, my own old age so far offers many delights. I’m alive, for one thing. At dawn I’m inclined to say, Good morning world! Thank you for having me! (I’m deeply privileged to have superannuation and a roof over my head and to live in this beautiful place.) I’m interested in my brain workings: my short-term memory is crap but the rest is working better and faster than ever… until too soon I get tired and it goes on strike. So in dance rehearsals I learn choreography at a perfectly acceptable rate—then instantly forget it. Puzzling, isn’t it? I like the So what? attitude that many old people report: that is rather obvious in my poems, I hope. What bugs me? Nothing so far except when I get a whiff of condescension from someone younger—but then that was me until I was 75, so I do understand.

A cold teabag on a sore eye feels good.

A cold mermaid on the eye

feels good too.

 

Tell you what, Granny.

What say I write a prescription

to stop you forgetting

that your friend is dead

because that makes you sad.

 

from ‘Alternative therapy’

Paula: Love love love this age attitude, and I love the tips for well-being in the last section of poems. Can you comment on this section?

Rachel: My lovely granddaughter Elsie was my life coach when she was little. I recorded her wise words for future reference and tickled them into poems. So the book ends with some of her tips. You could use them, Paula: then you would know how to breathe, what to do when zombies come up the toilet, and how to think. 

Paula: Thank you! What did you hope for the poetry as you wrote? In terms of the ‘poemness’ and the poems’ reception?

Rachel: Every now and then I let myself slip into something lyrical or mysterious. But the poems are intended to be read aloud by anyone and talked about over coffee (not studied at university) so I guess I wanted most of them to be clear, funny, challenging and sort of comforting. I’ve had great feedback from readers, who always bring so much to the table. An occupational therapist tells me she has been reading my poems to all her client groups. That is absolutely perfect: I couldn’t wish for more.

You are tourists in our land.

We are prisoners of slow.

That said, we’d rather be quick than slow

and we’d rather be slow than dead.

 

from ‘Slow’

 

Paula: I love the way you open pronouns wide – to embrace versions of you and welcome in the reader. Do you have no-go areas as a writer?

Rachel: I think in my old age I don’t judge people so much. (Or do I?) When it comes to aging, we’re all doing own best thing. And I have been many different people.

Paula: Do you bring autobiography and fiction together or did you navigate forms of truth?

Rachel: There’s no way I can control the way people read my poems so I might as well use myself as my own lab rat. My confidence is based on the certainty that I’m not a one-off. With How To Be Old I think I express ideas about aging that many others also think or have half-thought. That’s my wee gift to the world.

Paula: Indeed! What words fit you as poet? I think of provocative, personal, poetic fluency.

Rachel: I love hearing that, of course. Actually I mainly write for the joy of it so maybe that comes through?

Paula: Ah, my favourite poetry guide too – I write for love and joy! Do you have doubt tagging along? Is there a particular poem that was hard to write?

Rachel: I have a well of black muck inside me which converts to self-doubt if stirred. I’m human.

We take anecdotes and turn them to the light.

We polish them in private.

They are touchstones. So it goes.

 

from ‘How older people talk’

 

Paula: What else do you love to do apart from writing?

Rachel: Dance, sing, draw, read, think, do Pilates, tai ch’i, walk on Mt Victoria, watch Netflix and hang out with my friends and family.

Poetry Shelf poets on poems: Kay McKenzie Cooke and Rachel McAlpine read and respond to new poems

 

 

 

 

Kay McKenzie Cooke reads ‘No Longer Applies’ from Upturned, The Cuba Press, 2020

 

Kay McKenzie Cooke, Kai Tahu, Kati Mamoe, lives in Dunedin. Her fourth poetry collection Upturned has just been released from The Cuba Press. Her website and blog can be found here.

 

 

Upturned cover.jpg   How-to-Be-Old-cover

 

 

 

 

Rachel McAlpine reads ‘Reading a paper book’ from How to Be Old The Cuba Press 2020

 

Poet Rachel McAlpine lives in Wellington and is 80. She blogs, podcasts and draws (badly) as well as writing poems. How To Be Old, her latest collection of poems, will be launched by Fiona Kidman at Unity Books on Tuesday 21st July at 12.30 pm.

 

The Cuba Press

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf interviews Heidi North

We-Are-Tiny-cover-web.jpg

We are tiny beneath the light, Heidi North, The Cuba Press, 2019

 

 

Muscle memory

 

I don’t know how to let you go

into a future where you don’t turn

as if by muscle memory, as if by heart

to take my hand

I can still feel the beat under your palm

the dry square next to your thumb

crescent moons rise on your fingernails

the tiny red freckle sparking up

 

Heidi North, from We are tiny beneath the light,

 

 

 

 

Heidi 2019.jpeg

 

Heidi North has won awards for both her poems and short stories, including an international Irish prize, and has published work in local and overseas journals. She was the New Zealand fellow in the Shanghai International Writers programme in 2016. She was awarded the Hatchette/NZSA mentorship to work on a novel and has a MA in Creative Writing from the University of Auckland. Her debut poetry collection Possiblity of Flight was published by Mākaro Press in 2015. U2 chose ‘Piha Beach, two years on’ from her new collection We are tiny beneath the light to screen at its Joshua Tree Stadium concerts in New Zealand. I find her poetry both economical and rich in effect, the self-exposure moving, the gaps equally significant.

 

 

Paula: I loved your debut collection Possibility of Flight. How do you look back upon that book?

Heidi: Oh thank you, that’s very kind of you to say. While I think there are things I would change if I published that collection today, I will always be fond of Possibility of Flight. It feels like a first book to me, in that I’d been working on some of those poems for a long time – some 10 years, so it felt so good to get them out there. This next book is quite different because it covers a relatively short space of time and I knew it didn’t have to contain the whole world. So they’re different collections. Possibility of Flight spans childhood, and leaving New Zealand to go on an OE to London, and ends with getting married and having a baby. Saying this, I realise you could read We Are Tiny Beneath the Light as a sequel of sorts.

 

 

Paula: Your new collection, with its evocation of both pain and joy, charts the end of a marriage. How difficult was it translating the private experience in poetic form and allowing it to go public? Does poetry aid the hard-to-say?

Heidi: I think that if I’d set down to write a book solely about the end of my marriage I would never have done it, but by working through the creative process and shaping the collection with my excellent editor and publisher, Mary McCallum at The Cuba Press, I allowed myself to be more vulnerable and go deeper, to strip away the poems that weren’t adding to this story, add in some more that did, and I let it become more of a narrative collection, which I think makes it stronger. I didn’t want people to think I was self-indulgent, and I didn’t want people to find it depressing. To counter that, I focused on the craft, and the book as its own entity, separate to me, and I hope that’s come through. But of course, there was a large part of me that was nervous to publish it – there is no escaping that this is an intense, personal book and I knew it was a risk. But yes, in general I think poetry aids the hard to say, and forces an honesty on ourselves as writer and reader that is at once liberating and terrifying. That’s the thrill of a poem.

 

There were three red apples

on the tree for weeks

and only today did you brave

the undercurrent of weeds

to find steady ground

to stand on to pick them.

 

from ‘Autumn’

 

 

Paula: Things matter gloriously in your poems. A window, dust, a rose, old photos, the sky resonate profoundly as I read and affect the way I inhabit a poem as reader. Were there particular things that you kept returning to? That were essential poem aides.

Heidi: There weren’t conscious things, but focusing on details, everyday things, is a way of dealing with the impossible. Poetry is a form of paying attention and slowing down. I use it to force to me do so, anyway – both when reading and writing poetry. When I think of myself writing this book, I have a sense of me grappling with the poems, they’re alive, wild and slippery, and I’m trying to button them down with concrete things rather than let them escape and run with the wind.

 

Paula: The three-section structure works well as you move from a specific place through despair and rupture to repair and joy. What effect did you want for the reader?

Heidi: I wanted to make sure I didn’t leave the reader in despair! Both because that’s an awful reading experience, and because that’s the truth of this story. I hoped to take the reader on a journey and that they would find grief and solace and joy in it, too. Because that’s the juxtaposition of life, isn’t it?

 

Paula: What are key things when you write a poem? When you read a poem?

Heidi: There’s the language, the musicality and muscularity of it. I want the poem to look right on the page. I spent a long time on that, the silence of a space, the punctuation – I could spend days on punctuation and how the words knit together – and I want to be startled and surprised with imagery. And I want all of this to come together with a clarity that feels like magic – I want to hear what the poem is singing and hear it ringing out clear. I don’t want the note the poem is sounding to be muddied with layers of complexity or cleverness for the sake of it. This is what I love reading in poetry and what I’m always aiming for.

 

The trouble

 

He’s wrapped his arms in muslin gauze

broken bird wings pressed close to his chest.

We pass without pecking

at the dried blood.

He’s been doing the washing in the communal machine.

He’s been doing a lot of that lately.

 

Heidi North

 

Paula: Did you read any poetry books that captured you as you wrote this collection?

Heidi: When I’m actively writing or editing poetry, I tend to stay away from reading too many other poets as it can influence me too much, but I came across Anne Michaels (she was at the Auckland Writers Festival in 2019) and when I heard her read I knew I needed to read more. She is an incredible poet and writer. Her collection, All We Saw, is so bold and unapologetically seeped in loss, and reading it gave me the courage to let We Are Tiny Beneath the Light be what it is – short, intense and quite raw. I often listen to music while I’m writing, often the same song over and over. For my first collection, Possibility of Flight, the song for that book is ‘England’ by The National and that was clear early on. This book took me longer to find the exact song, but in the end it is ‘Skin’ (live version) by Rag’n’Bone man.

 

Paula: Yes Anne Michaels was a festival highlight. I read all her books before she came and also especially loved All We Saw.

We Are Tiny Beneath the Light must have been a challenge. What kind of writing challenges do you see next?

Heidi: I have two novels kicking around and I think it’s time to finish them. One of them is a light-hearted novel about two sisters embarking on their OE to London and the other researched while I was in Shanghai on the Shanghai Writing Program in 2016, and wrote the bulk of while completing my Master’s at University of Auckland in 2017,  with the inspirational Paula Morris. It’s the story of a runaway bride from Auckland who goes back to the last place she remembers being happy – Shanghai – after running out her wedding. Perhaps 2020 is the year to finish both of them!

 

From the top we survey our domain

the sand, the sea, those hills –

for an instant each soft blade

of tussock is picked out in brilliant sunshine

the world sharpened by tiny shadows

from ‘Burst’

 

 

 

Heidi North reads ‘The chickens’ from We are tiny beneath the light

 

The Cuba Press author page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Michael Fitzsimons’s ‘Lifeboat’

 

Lifeboat

 

You are rowing a lifeboat around a little garden in summer.

You are happy like that,
just you and a few birds and some swaying trees.
Just you and some herbs and a yellow rose.
You could be praying.

You dip your oars in the quiet,
forget everything that has happened.
All your questions are unanswered,
your beliefs unimaginable.
No matter.

You row on, thinking:
I can hop into this boat anytime,
on any disastrous afternoon.
When push comes to shove, when words fail me,
this boat is mine. There is no other.

 

Michael Fitzsimons

 

 

 

from Michael, I thought you were dead, illustration by William Carden-Horton  (The Cuba Press, 2019)

Michael Fitzsimons is a proud member of the three-person South Wellington Poetry Society and co-founder of Wellington communications and publishing company Fitzbeck Creative. Michael, I Thought You Were Dead (The Cuba Press) is his second collection. His first, Now You Know, was recommended in RNZ’s annual poetry highlights. Michael lives in Seatoun with his wife, Rose, in a hillside house overlooking Wellington Harbour.

The Cuba Press author page

 

Screen Shot 2020-01-20 at 9.22.14 AM.png     Michael-I-thought-you-were-dead-cover-high-res.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Nicola Easthope reads ‘Kitesurfing’

 

Working-the-tang-front-cover-updated-778x1024.jpg

 

 

 

 

Nicola Easthope reads ‘Kitesurfing’ from Working the Tang The Cuba Press, 2018

 

 

Nicola Easthope is a teacher and poet from the Kāpiti Coast. Her first book of poems, leaving my arms free to fly around you, was published by Steele Roberts Aotearoa in 2011. ‘Working the tang, Birsay’ is inspired by her Orcadian roots and the etymologies and experiences of the Norse word for seaweed (among other things). She was a guest poet at the Queensland Poetry Festival in 2012, and at the Tasmanian Poetry Festival in October 2018.

The Cuba Press page