Tag Archives: Tracey Slaughter

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Tracey Slaughter reads ‘She is currently living’

 

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‘She is currently living’ appears in Conventional Weapons, Victoria University Press, 2019

 

 

Conventional Weapons is Tracey’s first full poetry collection but she has been publishing poetry for over two decades. She was the featured poet in Poetry NZ 25 (2002) and has published Her body rises: stories & poems (2005). She has received multiple awards including the international Bridport Prize in 2014, a 2007 New Zealand Book Month Award, and Katherine Mansfield Awards in 2004 and 2001. She also won the 2015 Landfall Essay Competition, and was the recipient of the 2010 Louis Johnson New Writers Bursary.

 

Poetry Shelf reviews Conventional Weapons.

Victoria University Press author page

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf review: Tracey Slaughter’s Conventional Weapons

 

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Tracey Slaughter, Conventional Weapons, Victoria University Press, 2019

 

Tracey Slaughter came to my attention as a fiction writer; I adored deleted scenes for lovers VUP, 2016) and lauded it in my SST review:

Tracey Slaughter’s daring short fiction deposits you on a rollercoaster, hoists you in the air, puts you in a dank, dark cupboard to eavesdrop, spins you round and round, makes you feel things to the nth degree.

 

Conventional Weapons is Tracey’s first full poetry collection but she has been publishing poetry for over two decades. She was the featured poet in Poetry NZ 25 (2002) and has published Her body rises: stories & poems (2005). She has received multiple awards including the international Bridport Prize in 2014, a 2007 New Zealand Book Month Award, and Katherine Mansfield Awards in 2004 and 2001. She also won the 2015 Landfall Essay Competition, and was the recipient of the 2010 Louis Johnson New Writers Bursary.

Like her fiction Tracey’s poetry is unafraid of dark subject matter: violence lament teenage eating teenage not eating abortion trauma. You will also find sex need desire love. The subject matter is important but it is the poetic effects that first strike me. There is an intensity of rhythm, an insistent beat that holds a poem together like a subterranean heartdrum, a breath metronome. It is no surprise that Tracey was (and is?) a drummer.

 

We deepdish kiss in the purple of your parents’ lounge,

a bunker plump with buttoned vinyl, fringed

 

with cocktail lamps. Your little brother doctors himself

a tower of afterschool toast and shovels into the corduroy

 

beanbag, watching claptrap TV—we’ll lip-sync those jingles

with their punchline chords the rest of our lives;

 

from ‘archaeological’

 

The beat in this two-and-a-bit page poem catches the intensity of after-school kissing, the heightened breath as the poem ‘sucks’ in detail of tongues and pashing, with an eye looking sideways to make the citrine kitchen and the purple lounge pulsatingly real. I am bowled over by the syntax, by the surprising juxtapositions of words, the lithe rhyme. I need to let the sonic impact sink in deep and savour the exquisite word play. Yes the young kissers are ‘archaeological’ but so too is the poet as she digs deep for flakes of the past and reposits them in the present tense.

The poem ‘the bridge’ also employs lithe syntax and rhythms to replay the urgency of kiss and touch:

 

Let feet slip on

sills of shell, a spiral

perimeter of crush.

Currents eel

 the light into

muscled canals we need

to oar & plough, tough-thighed

in the bridge’s underworld.

 

Often the poems are made electric by the present tense. The opening poem ‘she is currently living’ is a startling portrait, written like a mantra, all lower case, even after the full stops, so you are compelled to keep listening to ‘where’ she is currently living:

 

in a dead-end off jellicoe. in the waiting room of blue vinyl fear. she is currently

living in supermarket flowers that whisper buy me in their middle-class plastic.

she is currently living in a red metal playpen riding her stepsister’s rocking horse.

 

 

If Tracey’s aural dexterity keeps you on your reading toes so do her shifting forms. There are long form poems, bite-size pieces, block prose, fractured lines, lists, multiple choice. The poem ‘how to solve and 18-year sadness’ sits on the page like heart break – the heart hinted at, the break holding apart past and present, the sadness hiding in the crevice. Another poem ‘horoscope (the cougar speaks)’ sets word clusters against left and right hand margins. The poem with its film-noir lighting centres desire, attraction, loneliness, suicide drifting song lyrics that are cut off short as the speaker finds her way:

 

there are girls to pick

the wings off

 

but I’m not one of them

 

And now the subject matter. For me Conventional Weapons foregrounds character, women characters, which makes this book dig even deeper under my skin. The experience is often attached to trauma, the settings lit up in neon detail, the emotional core razor sharp. I posted a piece on Poetry Shelf from ‘it was the 70s when me & Karen Carpenter hung out’ and even in that brief extract the effects were incandescent. This is a poem of youth, song lyrics and singing, macramé, neon lights, freezer food, the backseats of cars, orange lounges, soap operas, instant things but it is also a poem of vomit and of bodies eating and starving, of the traumatic smash of eating disorders.

 

me & Karen carpenter

blu-tacked heartthrobs

to the hangout

wall & lay down

under our own gatefold

smiles. The ridges of our mouths

tasted like corduroy & the hangout

door was a polygon of unhinged

ultra-violet. We stole lines from stones

& rolled them like acid

checkers on each

other’s tongues, testing

the discs of our tucked spines as we

swallowed. (…)

 

When I return to the poem ‘horoscope (the cougar speaks)’, I return to the spike in the poem’s flow, the suicide that cuts into you as you trace the portrait of a woman:

 

& that last verse

is chloroform

*

don’t come

back with your bad

translations of love

one writs italicised

with scars

 

 

‘the mine wife’ is another imagined portrait; a long poem that features the wife of a miner lost in the Pike River disaster and the wife’s ‘grief is opencast’. In Wild Honey I write about the way poets might step into the shoes of another’s trauma, tragedy, loss, grievance, dislocation, wrongs, grief in order to make public horrific things both as a distant and/or close witness. Is this trespass? Is this keeping trauma and human wrongs in public view? For centuries writers have imagined beyond their own experience. In this poem I am heart struck by the way a woman continues to live alongside death, in the fist of life once lived, in the daily routines of food and laundry, in the coming up for air from the dark.

 

to stand at the mouth

takes a long journey. It’s like

a cathedral to all

we’ve done wrong. I thought

seeing it would cave me in. But it’s the peace

of the place that doubles me over.

 

The birds go on dialling

God. Even without you, the trees

don’t come to a standstill. Healing is

not clearcut. Air makes the sound of where

you were last seen. I listen

for scraps in the hush.

 

Grief is opencast.

 

Tracey’s poetry reaches me just as her short fiction has: her daring poems deposit you on a rollercoaster, hoist you in the air, put you in a dank, dark cupboard to eavesdrop, spin you round and round, make you feel things to the nth degree. I can think of no other local poet who has this effect on me. The collection will slip under my clothes and travel with me for months. It is a book I feel and it is a book I think and I adore it.

 

Victoria University page

Rae McGregor review at RNZ National

Jack Ross launch speech  (with images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf classic poem: Tracey Slaughter picks Fleur Adcock’s ‘Composition for Words and Paint’

 

Composition for Words and Paint

 

This darkness has a quality

that poses us in shapes and textures,

one plane behind another,

flatness in depth.

 

Your face; a fur of hair; a striped

curtain behind, and to one side cushions;

nothing recedes, all lies extended.

I sink upon your image.

 

I see a soft metallic glint,

a tinsel weave behind the canvas,

aluminium and bronze beneath the ochre.

There is more in this than we know.

 

I can imagine drawn around you

a white line, in delicate brush-strokes:

emphasis; but you do not need it.

You have completeness.

 

I am not measuring your gestures;

(I have seen you measure those of others,

know a mind by a hand’s trajectory,

the curve of a lip).

 

But you move, and I move towards you,

draw back your head, and I advance.

I am fixed to the focus of your eyes.

I share your orbit.

 

Now I discover things about you:

your thin wrists, a tooth missing;

and how I melt and burn before you.

I have known you always.

 

The greyness from the long windows

reduces visual depth; but tactile

reality defies half-darkness.

My hands prove you solid.

 

You draw me down upon your body,

hard arms behind my head.

Darkness and soft colours blur.

We have swallowed the light.

 

Now I dissolve you in my mouth,

catch in the corners of my throat

the sly taste of your love, sliding

into me, singing;

 

just as the birds have started singing.

Let them come flying through the windows

with chains of opals around their necks.

We are expecting them.

 

Fleur Adcock

 

From Poems 1960-2000 (Bloodaxe Books, 2000). Subsequently published in Collected Poems (Victoria University Press); originally published in Tigers (Oxford University Press, 1967). Posted with kind permission from Bloodaxe Books and Victoria University Press.

 

Note from Tracey Slaughter:

 

When I read Fleur Adcock’s ‘Composition for Words and Paint’ I get a feeling like I’ve just stepped from glaring sunlight into a dim cool room, a blinking transition where objects shift their edges, textures and sensations blur. Things cross the retina that shouldn’t coexist – heat and cool, shade and sheen, disorientation and sharp awareness – as the dazzled eye tries to pull focus on outlines, shadows, glints. I’ve read it so many times now I could start to break down how its sheer mastery does this to me – but first I’d rather just surrender, step over that threshold, and let it return me to that liminal space it evokes, that experience of sensory eclipse.

Charted in a present tense aquiver with nowness, it’s a poem that wants to keep you in that state of dissolve, that hazy receptivity. Stanza through stanza as it tracks the movements of lovers drawing close in an intimate room, it guides the senses through concrete details that both cloud and illuminate, define and veil, observing the couple’s actions through sustained brushstrokes of metaphorical paint. It’s a poem that watches the act of love with an eye for its composition on the canvas, using the artist’s gaze to render the encounter in visual strokes and shapes, bringing bodies to slow light through questions of perspective, surface, angle, plane. As if conducting an ekphrastic exercise, analysing imagery already framed, it envisages the elements of this love scene in terms of its visual field, lining up the lovers in a studied play of light, curve, pose, dark, parallel, emphasis, depth. But if it employs the methodical and intricate tone of the artist approaching the canvas at the same time it applies the motif of paint to evoke the flooded senses of the lover lost in the work-at-hand’s erotic experience. Issues of surface, extension, colour, focus are at once used to underline the artist’s trained gaze and to wash the scene with a sensuous physical impression of the lovers’ work in progress. ‘I sink upon your image’ the speaker says – the borders of the canvas collapse. It pivots on a repeated play on ‘drawing,’ a practice which moves both brush and body – from a white line sketched around a figure, a head is drawn back, another tantalisingly down – using the term to figure both the tactile capture of the painted line and the gestural seduction of bodies, the pull and call of the lovers pacing and exploring each other in the shaded room. In that elided term, the hand that draws cannot sustain its ‘measured’ distance, it’s too coated in the palette of touch, too absorbed in lust for each line it envisages. Each brushstroke shivers on the painter’s own skin as it orders and colours objective space. It’s part of the mystery I love in Adcock’s language throughout the piece, that it can be at once controlled and lush, clinical and intoxicating – when I read it over I’m always searching for how it extracts such pulse from precision, such glistening intensity from poised restraint. Heat and chill, dark and gleam, it always keeps me blinking for how she keeps that threshold so skilfully blurred.

From an eye scrutinizing the shades and planes of love, the perspective slips to a place where the deeply implicated speaker can only ‘melt and burn’; I imagine that Adcock must have known the work of other women trying to depict female desire around this era: I always hear a tinge of Plath and Sexton in that phrasing. Perhaps there’s an echo of those poets present in the voice of this piece too, its commanding first-person, an ‘I’ intent on fixing and tracing the interaction with ‘you’ in a potent, honed, hypnotic tone. The slow processional sound of each line moves like brush or fingertip savouring the detail, like an entranced hand lingering on the contours of all it draws to light, tasting and positioning each syllable that ‘discovers’ the body with its palpable paint. It is unconventional glints of the lover that are touched upon too, the odd raw details an ordinary love-poem would read as flaws lifted into luminosity – flashes like ‘thin wrists, a tooth missing’ stand in contrast to the points of perfection a love ode would usually pick out, but the ‘tactile reality’ of this encounter sets them alight with ache and lustre. The final blur is ultimately the blur of fusion, of bodies merged and dissolved in such a close-up all sense of scale is lost from the visual field: ‘We have swallowed the light.’ The paint of the scene now spills into the speaker’s throat as she drinks in the lover: it’s a slyly rapturous depiction of orality which could have been a terrible paean to pleasure, but which Adcock’s lyric language manages to sculpt to a sultry and mutual release. Could any other poet pull off the miracle of birdsong ‘flying through the windows’ at climax? Sometimes I wonder if there’s a tint of darkness caught in the opal chains around the necks of those birds – but if there is, it is set against the tender domination of the voice, its soft imperative immediacy: ‘Now I dissolve you.’ It’s been said that a love poem always appeals as much to the reader as it does to the lover, using its language to pull and lure their senses too into a sweet-talking thrall. Consider me dissolved. ‘Composition for Words and Paint’ always has me at ‘This darkness…’

 

 

Bloodaxe Books page

Victoria University Press page

 

Tracey Slaughter‘s latest work is the poetry collection Conventional Weapons (VUP, 2019). She is the author of the acclaimed short story collection deleted scenes for lovers (VUP, 2016), and her work has received numerous awards, including the 2015 Landfall Essay Competition and the 2014 Bridport Prize. She works at the University of Waikato, where she edits the journal Mayhem.

Fleur Adcock, a New Zealand poet, editor and translator, resides in Britain. She has published numerous poetry collections, her most recent being The Land Ballot (2014) and Hoard (2017). This year Victoria University Press published her Collected Poems. She has won many book awards and has received notable honours including an OBE (1986), the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry (2006) and a CNZM for services to literature (2008).

 

 

 

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Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Jack Ross launches Tracey Slaughter’s poetry collection

 

 

 

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Tracey Slaughter, Conventional Weapons, Victoria University Press, 2019

 

You can read Jack’s launch speech with bonus images here, but here’s a taste:

 

‘So while it is technically true that this is Tracey’s first stand-alone poetry collection, it’s very misleading to see her as any kind of newcomer to the game. She’s been publishing poetry for more than two decades now, and it’s high time that we started to see her, like Raymond Carver, as someone equally adept at poetry and the short story.

But what kind of a poet is she? Words like ‘bodily,’ ‘visceral’, ‘grimy and dirty’ have frequently been used to characterise her work, and particularly these poems. There is a lot of sex in them. There’s also lot of desperation, pain, and sheer horror of the void. As Hera Lindsay Bird remarked on the dust jacket of another recent VUP book, Therese Lloyd’s The Facts, ‘it won’t make you feel better.’

But all that implies a kind of shock value: a quest for extremity for its own sake. But you have to read deeper and better than that if you want to begin to understand some of the many things Tracey is trying to do in these poems.

As always, she’s extremely, wonderfully literary. Mike Mathers’ Stuff article about this book states that: “If the collection had an overarching theme, it would be one of giving voice to a group of strong female characters of different ages.”’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Tracey Slaughter’s ‘breather’

 

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Tracey Slaughter is the author of deleted scenes for lovers an acclaimed collection of short stories (VUP, 2016). Her poetry and prose have received many awards including the international Bridport Prize (2014), two BNZ Katherine Mansfield Awards, and the Landfall Essay Prize 2015. Her poetry cycle ‘it was the seventies when me & Karen Carpenter hung out’ was shortlisted in the Manchester Poetry Prize 2014, and her poem ‘breather’ won Second Place in the ABR Peter Porter Poetry Prize 2018. She teaches at Waikato University where she edits the journal Mayhem.

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Tracey Slaughter’s ‘it was the seventies when me & Karen Carpenter hung out’

 

 

it was the seventies when me & Karen Carpenter hung out

 

*

(cream)

me & Karen Carpenter

blu-tacked heartthrobs

to the hangout

wall & laid down

under our own gatefold

smiles. The ridges of our mouths

tasted like corduroy & the hangout

door was a polygon of un-hinged

ultra-violet. We stole lines from stones

& rolled them like acid

checkers on each

other’s tongues, testing

the discs of our tucked spines as we

swallowed. We rippled all through

the magazines: there were morsels of cosmetic

Top Tip to live on. We loaded our skin

& rubbed in the limits like cream, microscoped

for layouts of handbag & muscle. We could

not switch off the mirrors: it turned out

since me & Karen C

were kids we’d sucked on dolls cross

legged & shaved their limbs

to size with the

zip of our teeth. Somewhere

our mothers had bleach

dreams. We lay & grinned

on the oblong of leftover

shagpile. The seventies tasted

like orangeade, like groovy wars & honeybrown

explosions in the wallpaper. Karen

Carpenter held my hand & walked me

through the detonating spirals.

She showed me where

we could feast

on tangerine horizons

 

©Tracey Slaughter

 

Tracey Slaughter is the author of deleted scenes for lovers an acclaimed collection of short stories (VUP, 2016). Her poetry and prose have received many awards including the international Bridport Prize (2014), two BNZ Katherine Mansfield Awards, and the Landfall Essay Prize 2015. Her poetry cycle ‘it was the seventies when me & Karen Carpenter hung out’ was shortlisted in the Manchester Poetry Prize 2014, and her poem ‘breather’ won Second Place in the ABR Peter Porter Poetry Prize 2018. She teaches at Waikato University where she edits the journal Mayhem.

 

 

 

In the hammock: Reading Landfall 235

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Landfall 235 launches Emma Neale as the new editor. The cover aptly features ‘The House Party’; Kathryn Madill’s monoprint is strange and seductive with sunken black space and textured skin. It is like a poem that tempts and then holds you in an intricate grip. There is a Madill sequence inside that is equally sumptuous, surprising, lyrical.

This is an addictive issue – think of it as a musical composition that carries you through diverse and distinctive reading effects across an arc from first poem to final story. I do hope more Pasifika, Māori and Asian poets send in submissions for the next issue to increase the diversity of voice.

The two visual sequences (by Madill and photogapher Russ Flatt) are stunning. Flatt’s photographs reconstruct memories from the ‘subconscious grief’ and experience of growing up gay in Auckland in 1970s and 1980s. Wow. This is the power of art to take you some place that transcends ideas and feeling but that is ideas and feeling.

Landfall 235 also includes the winner of the Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Competition,  Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor, fiction (including a keenly observed piece by Airini Beautrais) and reviews. It welcomes established elders such as Elizabeth Smither and Bernadette Hall and barely published authors such as Sarah Scott and James Tremlett.

 

 

Here are a few poetry highlights:

Tracey Slaughter has turned from her dark, edgy must-read fiction to poetry. She was recently shortlisted for the 2018 Peter Porter Poetry Prize and I can see why. Her poem, ‘the mine wife’, with short-line fluidity, fictional momentum building, spiky detail, gritty feeling, is all about voice. A vulnerable, risking, space clearing, ‘self’ admitting voice:

 

the hand is a useless

surface for showing

the love it takes

to clear a path. Under

layers you wait for me to sift

your face from its mask.

 

from ‘the mine wife’

 

Lynley Edmeades‘ list poem, ‘The Age of Reason’, kicks off from Jean Paul Sartre’s title to move from ‘longing’ to ‘baby’, scooping up Simone de Beauvoir on the way, and all the staccato thoughts that propel a micro portrait: because why because how because who. I adore this!

 

Because fear of death

Because a dog might do

Because antidepressants

Because déjà vu

Because the trees

Because the population

Because plastic

 

from ‘The Age of Reason’

 

‘A Love Letter to My Mother: A work in progress’ by Wen-Juenn Lee is layered and probing and direct. I am wanting to read the whole work:

 

She takes astronomy classes at night.

I do not ask her why she stargazes

what she looks for              in the oily darkness

we go to a poetry reading on migrant women

I do not tell her

I remember her crying on the plane

 

from ‘A Love Letter to My Mother: A work in progress’

 

Nick Ascroft’s playful word shenanigans in ‘A Writer Wrongs’ are a delicious shift in key as rhyme binds  writer, hater and waiter:

 

So my fish is pallid.

So there’s a little pebble in my freekeh salad.

Is it necessary a balladeer batters

out a ballad?

 

from ‘A Writer Wrongs’

 

I haven’t encountered Rachel Connor‘s poetry before. She is a medievalist and a  postgraduate student in Otago University’s Department of English. I want to read more of her poetry! Her poem, ‘Home’, captivates with its quirky tropes and agile pivots upon ‘swan’:

 

A swan like a carved radish kickstarts its way across the water.

It should be easier

to temper my words and make iron gates of them,

to remember the names picked out in gold

that echo a memorial garden.

 

from ‘Home’

 

Tim Vosper offers my favourite ending in ‘The False Way to the Real’

 

When it comes time to kill the lamp

the leaf will turn into a shade.

 

from ‘The False Way to the Real’

 

I am fan of Sugar Magnolia Wilson’s poetry and have fingers crossed she gets a book out soon. ‘Betty as a Boy’ is lush with detail and movement:

 

And you, outside the upmarket  grocer’s, camouflaged top, khaki pants

slashed with a silk of red, a backpack strung with things that clink,

disappearing into your androgyny— the inverse of a newly minted drag queen,

appearing like a flaming comet, burning to be noticed.

 

from ‘Betty as a Boy’

 

Here is another unfamiliar poet I want to see a collection from. Susan Wardell’s poem pulsates with glorious surprising life. I will quote a piece but I urge you to read the whole thing: place rich, lithely troped, visually sparking, enigmatic, humane.  I am drawn to the voice, to the word hunger, to the portrait built.

 

They say

when meaning is gone, all that is left

is the grain

of the voice.

 

Well, hers sweeps the room like salt-flecked taffeta.

 

from ‘Grain of her Voice’

 

Writing journals, literary journals open up new avenues of reading and engagement. Landfall 235 is no exception. I have not finished, I have not yet read the reviews and all the fiction, but congratulations Emma Neale, you have taken the literary torch from David Eggleton, and the boost he gave, and turned your astute editorial eye to our advantage. I have new poets I am keen to track  down. I have seen familiar poets with fresh eyes. Kind of like a poetry house party in my head.

 

Landfall page

You can also go to the Landfall Exhibition if you live in Dunedin. Opening is Thursday May 25 at 5.30 pm.

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