Vana Mansiadis reads ‘Hieroglyph 3 (or Colin McCahon’s Gate III in 1993)’
Published in The Grief Almanac: A Sequel Seraph Press, 2019
Seraph Press author page
Vana Mansiadis reads ‘Hieroglyph 3 (or Colin McCahon’s Gate III in 1993)’
Published in The Grief Almanac: A Sequel Seraph Press, 2019
Seraph Press author page
I love the hens in the autumn.
I couldn’t imagine my life without them.
They’re everything to me.
Ashleigh Young, from ‘Everything’ in How I Get Ready (VUP, 2019)
Going West 2019 is not over yet – but the weekend that brings writers and readers together in a warm bush setting is! Mark Easterbrook, the festival’s creative director, tweeted that every one was tweeting about chickens and not ideas – and here I am wondering how many chickens will make their way into poems. Co-incidentally I finished my Wild Honey session by reading Ashleigh Young’s heavenly poem where chickens are much loved.
Actually when I arrived I switched my car off and thought it must need a new engine as my car sounded like a chicken! I panicked then saw the hen under the car. We all have our hen stories.
But yes the weekend was rich in kōrero, stories, poetry, conversations, connections. Listening to Apirana Taylor perform his poetry, Elizabeth Knox’s terrific oration on Friday night (I felt I was eavesdropping on the train!) and then talk about The Absolute Book with Dylan Horrocks the next day, (oh jumped to the top of my novel pile!) and Witi Ihimaera discussing his new memoir Native Son and seeking forgiveness from his younger self – was breathtakingly good. Restorative.
I loved hearing Vana Manasiadis read from The Grief Almanac. The writers in the museum session were a fresh wild wind blasting through my body reactivating skin and bones and I just adored them: Saraid de Silva Cameron, To’asavili Tuputala, Louise Tu’u, Lucy Zee.
And it was pretty special to sit on stage with Kiri Piahana-Wong and Anne Kennedy, talk about women’s poetry in Aoteaora and hear them read poems by other women.
I missed The Bellbirds on Friday night because I was so tired and had to drive back to Te Henga in the treacherous weather and got lost in the dark driving like an accident-prone snail and found myself driving up a narrow mountainous road ( I have never got lost coming back from GW) with nowhere to turn around and my heart beating wildly. I was on Mountain Road! I took me so long to get home I should have stayed for the Bellbirds. Fergus said they were gorgeous. Everyone was singing their praises. Ah!
This is always a family-like festival – relaxed, warm, empathetic, community building. Things were a little different this year – the seats arranged differently making audience flow easier, the food breaks were different but offered equally delicious fare, and pleasingly some sessions lasted an hour – but whatever changes were made the festival essence makes it a must-attend experience for me. Maybe with a bit more poetry! I was pleased to see many of the visiting authors listen to other sessions – I was disappointed to see so few Auckland writers in the audience. I find the support of writing communities so different in other cities. Ah – but the hall was full, and readers and writers got talking.
Thanks Going West team!
I loved this weekend. I just loved it.
You know, even if I hadn’t come on the plane, on a bus, in a taxi,
I’d get here at some point – cos that clever tektonos, that shifty carpenter,
poet, boat-builder in the sky, he’s been scheming all the while; been doing
a bit of backyard DIY, a bit of God-honest labouring and jack-hammering
on the boundary – right under that picket fence between the plates,
between the kanuka and manuka.
There’s a paratekstosyni afoot, a volcanic and magnanimous change,
a winching and an earthmoving: those alpine ridges, those glaciers,
plains and Hutt Valleys, they’re slap-hugging the rest of the North Island
goodbye – Ya old mudpool, ya long drawn out beach, ya tall and flashy
neighbour, I’m off to the Arctic Ocean – I hear you’re off to the Pontos –
never heard of it.
And all this in broad daylight, Yiayia – can you believe it?
This is what I know: Oceanus gave birth to Styx, the Arcadian spring into which Achilles
was dipped; from which Alexander got sick; whose water Iris drew and took to the Gods
so that it might witness oaths. Or, Styx was the river mortals crossed.
Or, the ocean is what I’m standing in – one tiptoe on the Pacific rim
and one not.
Vana Manasiadis from Ithaca Island Bay Leaves: A Mythistorima, Seraph Press, 2009
From Helen Heath:
One of the things that draws me to Vana’s work is our shared Greek heritage. I feel a deep affinity to this part of my genetic make-up; my ancestors’ homeland, the island of Ithaca in Greece, plays a big role in my debut collection, Graft.
However, I feel awkward claiming Greek heritage because I am only 1/8th Greek and my family wasn’t close to the Wellington Greek community when I was young. I barely know any Greek language and the Greek alphabet does my head in. I suffer from imposter syndrome, although I’m frequently told I look very Greek.
Vana, on the other hand, has more Greek heritage, she speaks Greek and has lived in Greece. In my mind, she far more authentically Greek than me. However, because she is pale skinned and strawberry blonde, she experienced prejudice from members of the Wellington Greek community. As Vana says. “The criteria of inclusion were missing: we didn’t look stereotypically Greek.”
Vana’s collection: Ithaca Island Bay Leaves: A Mythistorima (Seraph Press, SSS), which this poem appears in, weaves her Greek heritage with her New Zealand experience. In it, I feel her working towards a different understanding – moving between worlds and time frames, inclusion and exclusion, reinvention and fragmentation. There is uncertainty and otherness, but also, she gives me hope for a new kind of belonging.
Vana’s new collection, The Grief Almanac A Sequel, was launched in May. by Seraph Press.
μπράβο – Bravo Vana!
Helen Heath is a poet and essayist from the Kapiti Coast, Wellington. Her debut collection of poetry Graft (VUP) won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book for Poetry award in 2013 and was the first book of fiction or poetry to ever be shortlisted for the Royal Society of NZ Science Book Prize. Her latest collection of poems – Are Friends Electric? (VUP) – is about people, animals and technology, and won Best Poetry Book at the 2019 Ockham Book Awards.
Vana Manasiadis is a New Zealand Greek writer, editor and translator who spent many years in Greece and Europe, and is now based back in Auckland Tāmaki Makaurau. She is the author of acclaimed collection and her writing has appeared in a many outlets including 99 Ways into New Zealand Poetry (Vintage, 2010) and Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page (Random NZ, 2014). As co-editor of the Seraph Press Translation Series, she has co-edited Tātai Whetū: Seven Māori Women Poets in Translation (2018) and edited and translated from the Greek for Ναυάγια/Καταφύγια: Shipwrecks/Shelters: Six Contemporary Greek Poets (2016). The Grief Almanac: A Sequel was published May, 2019 (Seraph Press).
The last night at Collingwood
No moon and a black sea,
The daytime birds have flown
To their night time places,
The incoming tide creeps
Over Farewell Spit.
Soon waves will wash the rocks
Outside our windows,
Spraying the glass with salt.
Twenty-four hours from now
Birds, land and sea
Will repeat it all again
We’ll be gone by then
Back to that northern
Beach across the Strait
With far fewer sea birds
But Kapiti close at hand.
There we watch the sun go down
Where the Spit lies out of sight,
Believing love, like them
Returns again and again.
J C Sturm from Postscripts, Steele Roberts, 2000
(posted with kind permission from J C Sturm estate)
From Vana Manasiadis:
Postscripts was the first poetry collection I cared enough about to steal from my sister and stash in a ring-binder. It was the first poetry collection I read and reread until I could say aloud the lines that made me cry. Repeat it all again, Beach across the Strait: I pinned your ‘The last night at Collingwood’ over Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’ once I got over men with rights and titles; once I was on the other side of the Entitled Man, the White Supremacist man, the Drunken Father-Husband man. Jacquie, there’s been a lot of pain. Jacquie, we really need the sea. Island Bay, Gouves-Crete, Piraeus, Collingwood followed all these peak-and-trough waves meeting; immigrating. So thank you for not bordering up the sea. Thank you for your black sea (our big fish tīpuna), your Farewell Spit-salt-glass sea (our headings off and back), your Kāpiti close at hand (where Alia lives, who healed our sudden schisms, and Nadine and Alex, their mana wāhine seeing). I believe you Jacquie. I believe that there are shared ways and still ways and noticing ways. I believe you Jacquie that there’s a clear and certain way to wash the rocks.
Vana Manasiadis has published two collections of poetry, with a third, The Grief Almanac: A Sequel, to be published by Seraph Press in 2019. She co-edited Tātai Whetū: Seven Māori Women Poets in Translation (2018) in the Seraph Press Translation Series, and edited and translated from Greek Ναυάγια/Καταφύγια: Shipwrecks/Shelters: Six Contemporary Greek Poets (Seraph Press, 2016).
J. C. Sturm (Jacqueline Cecilia) (1927–2009), of Taranaki iwi, Parihaka and Whakatōhea descent, was born in Opunake and is thought to be the first Māori woman to graduate with an MA from a New Zealand university (First Class Hons, Philosophy, Victoria University of Wellington). She initially wrote short fiction, and her work was the first by a Māori to appear in an anthology. Her debut poetry collection, Dedications (Steele Roberts, 1996), received an Honour Award at the 1997 Montana New Zealand Book Awards and she published further collections of poetry and short stories. Her poetry appeared in a number of anthologies and journals. Her collection, Postscripts (Steele Roberts, 2000), includes images by her son John Baxter. She received an honorary doctorate from Victoria University of Wellington, worked as a librarian, was married to James K Baxter and had two children.
Te Ara page on J. C. Sturm by Paul Millar
NZ Book Council page
m y h i g h l i g h t s
I have had endless opportunities to transform the days and nights of 2018 with poetry musings. What good is poetry? Why write it? Why read it? Because it energises. Because it connects with the world on the other side of these hills and bush views. Because it gives me goose bumps and it makes me feel and think things.
I am fascinated by the things that stick – the readings I replay in my head – the books I finish and then read again within a week – the breathtaking poem I can’t let go. So much more than I write of here!
I have also invited some of the poets I mention to share their highlights.
2018: my year of poetry highlights
I kicked started an audio spot on my blog with Chris Tse reading a poem and it meant fans all round the country could hear how good he is. Like wow! Will keep this feature going in 2019.
Wellington Readers and Writers week was a definite highlight – and, amidst all the local and international stars, my standout session featured a bunch of Starling poets. The breathtaking performances of Tayi Tibble and essa may ranapiri made me jump off my seat like a fan girl. I got to post esssa’s poem on the blog.
To get to do an email conversation with Tayi after reading Poūkahangatus (VUP) – her stunning debut collection – was an absolute treat. I recently reread our interview and was again invigorated by her poetry engagements, the way she brings her whanau close, her poetry confidence, her fragilities, her song. I love love love her poetry.
My second standout event was the launch of tātai whetū edited by Maraea Rakuraku and Vana Manasiadis and published by Seraph Press. Lots of the women read with their translators. The room overflowed with warmth, aroha and poetry.
At the same festival I got to MC Selina Tusitala Marsh and friends at the National Library and witness her poetry charisma. Our Poet Laureate electrifies a room with poems (and countless other venues!), and I am in awe of the way she sparks poetry in so many people in so many places.
I also went to my double poetry launch of the year. Chris Tse’s He’s So MASC (AUP) – the book moved and delighted me to bits and I was inspired to do an email conversation with him for Poetry Shelf. He was so genius in his response. Anna Jackson’s Pasture and Flock: New and Selected Poems (AUP) delivers the quirkiest, unexpected, physical, cerebral poetry around. The book inspired another email conversation for the blog.
Tusiata Avia exploded my heart at her event with her cousin Victor Rodger; she read her challenging Unity and astonishing epileptic poems. Such contagious strength amidst such fragility my nerve endings were hot-wired (can that be done?). In a session I chaired on capital cities and poets, Bill Manhire read and spoke with such grace and wit the subject lit up. Capital city connections were made.
When Sam Duckor-Jones’s debut collection People from the Pit Stand Up (VUP) arrived, both the title and cover took me to the couch to start reading until I finished. All else was put on hold. I adore this book with its mystery and revelations, its lyricism and sinew; and doing a snail-paced email conversation was an utter pleasure.
I have long been a fan of Sue Wootton’s poetry with its sumptuous treats for the ear. So I was delighted to see The Yield (OUP) shortlisted for the 2018 NZ Book Awards. This is a book that sticks. I was equally delighted to see Elizabeth Smither win with her Night Horses (AUP) because her collection features poems I just can’t get out of my head. I carry her voice with me, having heard her read the poems at a Circle of Laureates event. I also loved Hannah Mettner’s Fully Clothed and So Forgetful (VUP), a debut that won best first Book. How this books sings with freshness and daring and originality.
I did a ‘Jane Arthur has won the Sarah Broom Poetry Award and Eileen Meyers picked her’ dance in my kitchen and then did an anxious flop when I found Eileen couldn’t make the festival. But listening to Jane read before I announced the winner I felt she had lifted me off the ground her poems were so good. I was on stage and people were watching.
Alison Glenny won the Kathleen Grattan Award and Otago University Press published The Farewell Tourist, her winning collection. We had a terrific email conversation. This book has taken up permanent residence in my head because I can’t stop thinking about the silent patches, the mystery, the musicality, the luminous lines, the Antarctica, the people, the losses, the love. And the way writing poetry can still be both fresh and vital. How can poetry be so good?!
I went to the HoopLA book launch at the Women’s Bookshop and got to hear three tastes from three fabulous new collections: Jo Thorpe’s This Thin Now, Elizabeth Welsh’s Over There a Mountain and Reihana Robinson’s Her limitless Her. Before they began, I started reading Reihana’s book and the mother poems at the start fizzed in my heart. I guess it’s a combination of how a good a poem is and what you are feeling on the day and what you experienced at some point in the past. Utter magic. Have now read all three and I adore them.
At Going West I got to chair Helen Heath, Chris Tse and Anna Jackson (oh like a dream team) for the Wellington and poetry session. I had the anxiety flowing (on linking city and poet again) but forgot all that as I became entranced by their poems and responses. Such generosity in sharing themselves in public – it not only opened up poetry writing but also the complicated knottiness of being human. Might sound corny but there you go. Felt special.
Helen Heath’s new collection Are Friends Eectric? (VUP) was another book that blew me apart with its angles and smoothness and provocations. We conversed earlier this year by email.
A new poetry book by former Poet Laureate Cilla McQueen is always an occasion to celebrate. Otago University Press have released Poeta: Selected and new poems this year. It is a beautiful edition curated with love and shows off the joys of Cilla’s poetry perfectly.
Two anthologies to treasure: because I love short poems Jenny Bornholdt’s gorgeous anthology Short Poems of New Zealand. And Steve Braunias’s The Friday Poem because he showcases an eclectic range of local of poets like no other anthology I know. I will miss him making his picks on Fridays (good news though Ashleigh Young is taking over that role).
Highlights from some poets
I spent six weeks reading & writing poems with the students of Eketahuna School. They were divided on the merits of James Brown’s Come On Lance. It sparked a number of discussions & became a sort of touchstone. Students shared the poems they’d written & gave feedback: it’s better than Come On Lance, or, it’s not as good as Come On Lance, or, shades of Come On Lance. Then someone would ask to hear Come On Lance again & half the room would cheer & half the room would groan. Thanks James Brown for Come On Lance.
My fave poetry thing all year has been the beautiful Heartache Festival that Hana Pera Aoake and Ali Burns put on at the start of the year! Spread over an afternoon and evening, across two Wellington homes, with readings and music and so much care and aroha. I wish all ‘literary festivals’ had such an atmosphere of openness and vulnerability!
Poetry-related things made up a lot of my highlights this year. I mean, obviously, winning the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize was … pretty up there. I’m still, like, “Me?! Whaaaat!” about it. I discovered two things after the win. First, that it’s possible to oscillate between happy confidence and painful imposter syndrome from one minute to the next. And second, that the constant state of sleep deprivation brought on by having a baby is actually strangely good for writing poetry. It puts me into that semi-dream-brain state that helps me see the extra-weirdness in everything. I wrote almost a whole collection’s worth of poems (VUP, 2020) in the second half of the year, thanks broken sleep!
A recent highlight for me was an event at Wellington’s LitCrawl: a conversation between US-based poet Kaveh Akbar and Kim Hill. I’m still processing all its gems – hopefully a recording will show up soon. Another was commissioning Courtney Sina Meredith to write something (“anything,” I said) for NZ Poetry Day for The Sapling, and getting back a moving reminder of the importance of everyone’s stories
This year I read more poetry than I have in ages, and whenever I enjoyed a book I declared it my favourite (I always do this). However, three local books have especially stayed with me and I will re-read them over summer: the debuts by Tayi Tibble and Sam Duckor-Jones, and the new Alice Miller. Looking ahead, I can’t wait for a couple of 2019 releases: the debut collections by essa may ranapiri and Sugar Magnolia Wilson.
Having Cilla McQueen roll and light me a cigarette outside the Blyth
Performing Arts Centre in Havelock North after the poets laureate
Poemlines: Coming Home reading (20.10.2018) and then smoking together,
cigarettes in one hand and tokotoko in the other. Then, with the relief that
comes after a reading, throwing the cigarette down into a bed of pebbles, hoping
the building doesn’t catch on fire.
Selina Tusitala Marsh
To perform my ‘Guys Like Gauguin’ sequence (from Fast Talking PI) in Tahiti at the Salon du Livre, between an ancient Banyan Tree and a fruiting Mango tree, while a French translator performs alongside me and Tahitians laugh their guts out!
For desiring ‘em young
So guys like Gauguin
Could dream and dream
Then take his syphilitic body
This year I’ve been lucky enough to read my work in some incredible settings, from the stately dining room at Featherston’s Royal Hotel, to a church-turned-designer-clothing-store in Melbourne’s CBD. But the most memorable reading I’ve done this year was with fellow Kiwis Holly Hunter, Morgan Bach and Nina Powles in a nondescript room at The Poetry Cafe in London, which the three of them currently call home. It was a beautiful sunny Saturday that day, but we still managed to coax people into a dark windowless room to listen to some New Zealand poetry for a couple of hours. This is a poetry moment I will treasure for many years to come.
I’ve had the pleasure of hearing and reading plenty of poems by plenty of poets this year. But far and away the most rejuvenating poetry experience for me during 2018 was working with the children at Karitane School, a small primary school on the East Otago coast. I’m always blown away by what happens when kids embark on the poetry journey. Not only is the exploration itself loads of fun, but once they discover for themselves the enormous potentiality in language – it’s just go! As they themselves wrote: “Plant the seeds and grow ideas / an idea tree! Sprouting questions … / Bloom the inventions / Fireworks of words …” So I tip my cap to these young poets, in awe of what they’ve already made and intrigued to find out what they’ll make next.
Found on the beach – is it a fossil?
jawbone? hunk of coral? No – it’s a wrecked,
fire-blackened fragment of Janola bottle,
its contorted plastic colonised by weeds
and sandy encrustations, printed instructions
still visible here and there, pale blue.
Growing inside the intact neck, poking out
like a pearly beak, a baby oyster.
Living in Bluff for twenty-two years now, I’ve sometimes felt out on a limb, in the tree of New Zealand poetry. I appreciate the journey my visitors undertake to reach me. A reluctant traveller myself, a special poetry moment for me was spent with Elizabeth Smither and Bill and Marion Manhire at Malo restaurant, in Havelock North. Old friends from way back – I haven’t seen them often but poetry and art have always connected us
In September, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend The Rosario International Poetry Festival in Argentina. It was poetic and romantic; late night dinners in high rise restaurants, bottles of dark wine served up like water, extremely flowery and elaborate cat-calling (Madam, you are a candy!) and of course sexy spanish poetry and sexy poets.
On our last night, Marcela, Eileen and I broke off and went to have dinner at probably what is the only Queer vegan hipster restaurant/boutique lingerie store/experimental dj venue in the whole of Argentina, if not the world. Literally. We couldn’t find a vegetable anywhere else. We went there, because Eileen had beef with the chef at the last place and also we had too much actual beef generally, but I digress.
So anyway there we are eating a vegan pizza and platter food, chatting. I accidentally say the C word like the dumbass crass kiwi that I am forgetting that it’s like, properly offensive to Americans. Eileen says they need to take a photo of this place because it’s camp af. I suggest that Marcela and I kiss for the photo to gay it up because I’m a Libra and I’m lowkey flirting for my life because it’s very hot and I’ve basically been on a red-wine buzz for five days. Eileen gets a text from Diana, one of the festival organisers telling them they are due to read in 10 minutes. We are shocked because the male latin poets tend to read for up to 2584656 times their allocated time slots, so we thought we had plenty of time to like, chill and eat vegan. Nonetheless poetry calls, so we have to dip real quick, but when we step outside, despite it being like 1546845 degrees the sky opens up and it’s pouring down. Thunder. Lightening. A full on tropical South American storm!
It’s too perfect it’s surreal. Running through the rain in South America. Marcella and I following Eileen like two hot wet groupies. Telling each other, “no you look pretty.” Feeling kind of primal. Throwing our wet dark curls around. The three of us agree that this is lowkey highkey very sexy. Cinematic and climatic. Eventually we hail a taxi because time is pressing. Though later that night, and by night I mean at like 4am, Marcella and I, very drunk and eating the rest of our Vegan pizza, confessed our shared disappointment that we couldn’t stay in the rain in Argentina… just for a little while longer….
We get to the venue and make a scene; just in time and looking like we’ve just been swimming. Eileen, soaking wet and therefore looking cooler than ever, reads her poem An American Poem while Marcella and I admire like fangirls with foggy glasses and starry eyes.
“And I am your president.” Eileen reads.
“You are! You are!” We both agree.
A poetry moment/reading. ‘The Body Electric’ session at this year’s Litcrawl was a celebration of queer and/or non-binary poets (Emma Barnes, Harold Coutts, Sam Duckor-Jones, essa may ranapiri, Ray Shipley ). Curated and introduced by poet Chris Tse (looking incredibly dapper in a sparkly jacket) it was an inspiring antidote to bullying, shame, and the pressure to conform.
A book. Not a book of poetry as such, but a book by a poet (and perhaps it’s time to be non-binary about genre as well as gender?). Reading Anne Kennedy’s The Ice Shelf I was struck by how unerringly it highlights the salient characteristics of this strange era we call the anthropocene: crisis and denial, waste and disappearance, exploitation, and the destruction caused by broken relationships and an absence of care.
A publishing event. Seraph Press published the lovely tātai whetū: seven Māori women poets in translation, with English and Te Reo versions of each poem on facing pages (and a sprinkling of additional stars on some pages). An invitation, as Karyn Parangatai writes in her similarly bilingual review of the book in Landfall Review online (another publishing first?) ‘to allow your tongue to tease the Māori words into life’.
Best writing advice received in 2018. ‘Follow the signifier’.
essa may ranapiri
There are so many poetry highlights for me this year, so many good books that have left me buzzing for the verse! First book I want to mention is Cody-Rose Clevidence’s second poetry collection flung Throne. It has pulled me back into a world of geological time and fractured identity.
Other books that have resonated are Sam Ducker-Jone’s People from the Pit Stand Up and Tayi Tibble’s Poūkahangatus, work from two amazingly talented writers and friends who I went through the IIML Masters course with. After pouring over their writing all year in the workshop environment seeing their writing in book form brought me to tears. So proud of them both!
Written out on a type-writer, A Bell Made of Stones by queer Chamorro poet, Lehua M. Taitano, explores space, in the world and on the page. They engage with narratives both indigenous and colonial critiquing the racist rhetoric and systems of the colonial nation state. It’s an incredible achievement, challenging in form and focus.
I’ve been (and continue to be) a part of some great collaborative poetry projects, a poetry collection; How It Colours Your Tongue with Loren Thomas and Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor, a poetry chapbook; Eater Be Eaten with Rebecca Hawkes, and a longform poetry zine; what r u w/ a broken heart? with Hana Pera Aoake. Working with these people has and continues to be a such a blessing!
I put together a zine of queer NZ poetry called Queer the Pitch. Next year I’m going to work to release a booklet of trans and gender diverse poets, I’m looking forward to working with more talented queer voices!
The most important NZ poetry book to be released this year, it would have to be tātai whetū. It was published as part of Seraph Press’s Translation Series. It features work from seven amazing wāhine poets; Anahera Gildea, Michelle Ngamoki, Tru Paraha, Kiri Piahana-Wong, Maraea Rakuraku, Dayle Takitimu and Alice Te Punga Somerville. These poems are all accompanied by te reo Māori translations of the work. I can only imagine that it would be a super humbling experience to have your work taken from English and returned to the language of the manu. By happenstance I was able to attend the launch of tātai whetū; to hear these pieces read in both languages was a truly special experience. It’s so important that we continue to strive to uplift Māori voices, new words brought forth from the whenua should be prized in our literary community, thanks to Seraph for providing such a special place for these poems. Ka rawe!
This has been a year of particularly memorable poetry moments for me, from the launch of Seraph Press’s bilingual anthology Tātai Whetū in March and dazzling readings by Mary Rainsford and Tim Overton at a Poetry Fringe Open Mike in April, to Litcrawl’s inspiring installation in November of essa may ranapiri and Rebecca Hawkes hard at work on their collaborative poetry collection in a little glass cage/alcove at the City Art Gallery. They hid behind a table but their creative energy was palpable even through the glass. I would also like to mention a poetry salon hosted by Christine Brooks, at which a dog-and-cheese incident of startling grace brilliantly put into play her theory about the relevance of improv theatre theory to poetry practice. Perhaps my happiest poetry moment of the year took place one evening when I was alone in the house and, having cooked an excellent dinner and drunken rather a few small glasses of shiraz, started leafing through an old anthology of English verse reading poems out loud to myself, the more the metre the better. But the poems I will always return to are poems I have loved on the page, and this year I have been returning especially to Sam Duckor-Jones’s People from the Pit Stand Up, while I look forward to seeing published Helen Rickerby’s breath-taking new collection, How to Live, that has already dazzled me in draft form.
happy summer days
and thank you for visiting my bog
shipwrecks / shelters: six contemporary Greek poets edited and translated by Vana Manasiadis (No. 1) (includes a Greek title) Seraph Press, 2016
osservazioni observations: poesie poems translated by Tim Smith with Marco Sonzogni with a foreword by Alessandro Fo (No. 2) Seraph Press, 2016
Two beautiful handbound chapbooks featuring poems in translation came out towards the end of last year to launch Serpah Press’s new translation series.
Translation is such a fascinating thing to do and to contemplate. I spent a sizeable chunk of my life studying Italian within a university setting; the freight between English and Italian was glorious, mammoth, exhilarating. I remember meeting someone from the Italian consul in my first year of study and having to answer why I had picked Italian. Somehow I managed to find the words to say: ‘Because I want to read Italo Calvino in the original.’ That seemed like a bold and impossible quest at that point in time, but I did get to read him in Italian, along with countless other authors from Dante to Dario Fo to Renaissance poets to a century of women writing fiction.
From my point of view translation offers a ledger of gain and loss. The new version can never capture the aural complexities of the original, but it can offer something that moves the original in astonishing ways (or not!). New windows or booths or swing bridges or lily pads might emerge for the reader to explore.
For decades it has been quite the thing to translate poetry without knowing the original language (check out Anna Jackson’s terrific I, Clodia, and Other Portraits, AUP, 2014). This is where a poet goes freewheeling through available translations to come up with a version that sparks and connects in eclectic ways.
I am picturing all kinds of routes back to the original and what has been upheld – little kernels, chords, motifs, rhymes, feelings, fleeting truths, tiny anecdotes, drifting ideas, sidedrifts.
However, the two Seraph-Press books are translated by those fluent in both languages. Hearing them read (well I read the Italian) side by side at an event in Auckland, I was once again struck by the distinctive musicality. The way our own language works, makes it hard to break out of your mother-music-tongue when it comes to poetry. There is no way English catches the lyrical lilt and lift and rhyme of the Italian. You always get a different melody. Shut your eyes and listen. I felt like I was hearing four musical suites and became captivated by the effect upon my ear.
Musicality aside, it seems there is a vital political imperative to deliver these translations in this trembling world. Vana talked about how important poems are to Greeks at the moment – how there is a flourishing climate of poetry and that it is important to get the poems into the world.
These are poems of disruption, fragmentation, dystopia, departure, maternal folds. I am moved by them. I can’t make head nor tail of the Greek but the poems catch in my throat. Politics infuse each line, you have to look it straight in the eye, and yet there are other rewards. Each poem takes me by surprise. There is light and there is hope.
This is a very lovely book, essential.
This from Lena Kallergi from the ‘Flame Version’ where the dragon that slumbers in the familiar hills might wake, ‘and when she wakes, she’s a searing threat/ to the facts’:
Who said that hope is a bird
humble and small-bodied,
that it nests in hearts and sings sweetly
without asking for food?
From Vassilis Amanatidis’s ‘Mother Country’:
[blindness – homelessness]
To avoid being startled by sight,
the mother has transformed herself into a blind.
Again the maternal imprint that moves; from Phoebe Giannisi’s ‘Chimera’ extract:
I watered you with pomegranate juice
I reared you – with milk, my godly fire
I plunged you inside it
shield your body when you are away from me.
Please join us for a multilingual poetry reading to celebrate the launch of the first the first two chapbooks in the Seraph Press Translation Series:
Shipwrecks/Shelters: Six Contemporary Greek Poets, edited and translated by Vana Manasiadis
Observations: Poems by Claudio Pasi, translated by Tim Smith with Marco Sonzogni
6.00pm Wednesday 14 December
ST PAUL St Gallery
40 St Paul Street, Auckland
and for more about the Seraph Press Translation Series, visit.