Tag Archives: Victoria University Press

Ten reasons to read Sport 46

 

 

 

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1. Anna Smaill’s long interview with Bill Manhire. The advantages of  slow-paced email interviews are evident as Anna and Bill explore the personal, ventriloquism, creative writing programmes, reading poetry, writing poetry, weirdness, holding back, trauma, God, mystery, parents, memory, drinking jugs of beer with Hone Tuwhare through the night. Life and poetry still maintain the requisite cloudy patches, private life and inner life are signposted but not made specific. This is a cracking interview – it refreshes my engagements with Bill’s poems, and writing and reading poetry in general.

2. Oscar Upperton’s poem ‘Yellow House’ because it has bright detail in the present tense and I am in the scene reading on a glorious loop.

The stream crosses the bridge. Pūkeko flicker

from blue to white, bikes rust into each other.

We rust at table.

 

(and the fact this poem is followed by ‘Explaining yellow house’ where Pip Adam gets a mention)

 

3. Sarah Barnett’s long poem essay ‘One last thing before I go’. Wow. This piece of writing is one of my treasures of the year because it goes deep into tough dark experience. It is measured and probing and hits you in the gut. Yet the fact of it on the page in front of me, so crafted and exposed, is uplifting.

 

4. Jane Arthur’s poem ‘I’m home a lot’ because it’s strange and real and unsettling.

 

This one sounds loudest against the front windows

and this one across the roof, nearly lifting it,

in an angry violent way. not like a bird taking off.

And even the birds here are massive and prehistoric.

Silence is rare. It’s eerie when it happens. Our dreams are mute.

 

5. Morgan Bach’s poem ‘carousel’ because when you read this your breathing changes and you enter a glorious mysterious complicated experience in the present tense.

 

but now having swallowed full moons,

coupled with mirrors of reticence, I find

life is not an experiment like that

and soon the body gives up its hunt

how soon the body becomes a cliff

how soon the body becomes a full stop

 

6. Discovering new-to-me poet Nikki-Lee Birdsey – she has a collection out with VUP next year and is currently an IIML PhD candidate. Her first-person storytelling in the form of a poem gripped me from the first lines.

7. essa may ranapiri’s selections because I find myself picturing them performing the poems and then I take supreme delight in the detail on the page.

8. Lynley Edmeades’s “We’ve All Got to Be Somewhere’ because it left a wry grin on my face. Poetry can do that.

9. Emma Neale’s ‘Unlove’ because this poem sings so beautifully.

 

My friend whose mind has frozen

sends me small gifts she says to keep her sane —

a cornflower-blue watch;

a box carved of light with a green latch;

a pink soapstone egg she says will one day hatch

a small, exquisite monster, its teeth sharp as love.

 

10. Rata Gordon’s poem ‘Mango’ because the writing is spare but it makes you feel so many different things.

 

This is all you have

to look forward to

your heartbeat and a

mango

everything else has dissolved:

your family

your intentions

 

 

Sport page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 readings from VUP’s Short Poems of New Zealand

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Short Poems of New Zealand, edited by Jenny Bornholdt, Victoria University Press, 2018

 

 

 

Angela Andrews reads ‘Grandparents’

 

 

 

Tusiata Avia reads  ‘Waiting for my  brother’

 

 

 

Lynley Edmeades reads ‘The Order of Things’

 

 

 

Brian Turner reads ‘Sky’

 

 

 

 

Albert Wendt reads ‘Night’

 

 

 

VUP page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Louder: A conversation with Kerrin P Sharpe on politics, poetry and a new book

 

 

 

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Kerrin P Sharpe has published poetry in a wide range of journals, both in New Zealand and overseas. Louder is her fourth collection of poetry (Victoria University Press, 2018). She lives in Christchurch.

I was immediately drawn to Kerrin’s new title because I envisioned poetry that spoke out. Politics and poetry have had a long relationship in New Zealand, with diverse forms and registers, whether on political or personal issues.  When I was doing my Italian studies I encountered politically motivated poets who wanted their message to be clear; tricky poetics were not to get in the way of issues at hand, the message was paramount, particularly with feminist women writing and thinking outside the academy. At the time, I felt that here, we had often addressed political issues in softer voices and in subtle ways; and that poetry that used loud political voices was more open to criticism. Yet the more you look, the more you discover a rich vein of political poetry. I am thinking of the way the political bite of Hone Tuwhare’s ‘No Ordinary Sun’ is sharpened by the solar metaphor, the searing detail.  Or Selina Tusitala Marsh’s various responses to racism in Tightrope. Or Mary Stanley’s 1950s poem, ‘The Wife Speaks’. I loved writing a chapter for Wild Honey on women poets speaking out because the poetry, and the issues, were so diverse. Women have spoken out from the messy knot of the personal and the political since they first started publishing in New Zealand with loud voices, quiet voices, veiled messages, clear ideas.

2108 seems to be a time when we need to speak out from the comfort/discomfort of our lives, from  the shelter/shelterlessness of our own homes, from the fullness/emptiness of our own stomachs, from the embrace/diaspora of our own communities, from the wound of our own healing/abuse, from the shared earth we stand on that is under wide threat.

Kerrin’s reflective book is utterly personal yet entirely political. She leads us from threatened species to unjust power plays to dislocated refugees to the toxic waste of human greed. To celebrate the arrival of Louder, we embarked on an email conversation.

 

 

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Paula: Your new collection struck me because it gives voice to issues that affect us all. I am really fascinated by the myriad way politics and poetry meet in New Zealand poems. When I asked if you would like to have this email conversation, you made some important points. I wondered if you would like to share those as I think ‘personal’ and ‘politics’ forge vital relationships.

Kerrin: Though as I said earlier I’m not really a ‘political person’ – not in a party-political sense anyway – I do believe ‘political poems’ in a broader sense of the phrase, have the power to sometimes influence and change thought and even behaviour at times. This was what I wanted my poems in LOUDER to do.

As anyone reading the poems in LOUDER will have noticed, they spring from a personal well of concern for endangered animals, refugees, global warming and pollution. When I came to shape the final collection into specific sections, the poems all seemed to work together and together they became even LOUDER.

The volume of the voices vary of course. Some poems are soft but yet still insistent; others clamour for our attention. But none of them whatever their individual volume, let us forget what we should be doing.

 

Paula: I really like the title because it suggests you have to speak your concern for these important issues a little louder without necessarily yelling. I was reminded of some of our early women poets who expressed deep concern for issues of the time. I am thinking of the way Jessie Mackay and Blanche Baughan spoke out for the suffragette movement, for prison reform, displaced people, the underprivileged and so on. They wrote poems but they were more inclined to write articles and letters to newspapers. They kept in touch with global issues through letters, journals and newspapers that travelled by ship. How do you keep in touch with the issues your poems navigate, whether global or local?

Kerrin: To use the stolen phrase ‘the writer as a thief’, I keep in touch with important issues through reading and watching environmental programmes on TV. I saw the idea for the poem ‘louder’ and the direction of the whole collection, when I was in the barber’s one day waiting for a haircut. In one of the magazines was a picture of an elephant with his tusks cut off. I could hardly look at the picture, but it gave me a powerful image I’ll never forget. Naturally, the barber himself is a recurring character in the LOUDER collection.

 

Paula: ‘Louder’ is the opening poem in the collection. It makes it clear that the poetry is linked to issues and that the poems move in intricate ways. It moved me as reader. The poem juxtaposes the beauty of a tribe of elephants with the mutilated bodies, tusks removed.

 

and if you can imagine

thousands of elephants

all in outdoor studios

painting themselves and their tribe

as whole elephants

even as guns are raised

and calves stumble

 

from ‘louder’

 

I was also moved by the sequence, ‘where will the fish sleep’. The poem is equally intricate. It looks like water lines, long ripples across the page that connect different places in the world. What prompted this sequence of vignettes? How difficult (or easy) is it to write of issues located elsewhere along with the way we are affected locally?

Kerrin: The fourth and final section of LOUDER offers the reader 10 multi-choice answers to the question ‘where will the fish sleep?’. I like your analogy that they are ‘water lines’ or ‘ripples’ and for me, writing about issues outside New Zealand gives me a greater freedom to explore connections that interest and intrigue me. This group of poems is all concerned with water and its behaviour due to weather events or global warming. We have just seen again the destructive effects both to land and life in Japan and more recently Indonesia. I like to think many of the poems in LOUDER carry on working beyond the covers of this collection. It is deliberate on my part that in the last poem, ‘how they leave the world’, polar bears in their ‘bubbles of blurry fur’ use soft but very firm voices to beg the reader to now act.

 

he tickles a thick-bodied trout that throws itself

back to unveil the path of the Arahura River

what remains in his square hands?

bones of water enough to mix with shingle

river sand wild grass to grow a daughter

up on the steep riverbank his empty fishing kete

with soft shearwater feathers

 

from ‘from the Arahura River’ in ‘where will the fish sleep?’

 

Paula: Water becomes the vital link in this sequence as it highlights such basic human and planetary needs. Selina Tusitala Marsh’s latest poetry collection, Tightrope, is also a form of ‘louder’. She speaks on issues that matter and affect her. In ‘Apostles’, Selina refers to Alice Walker’s claim that ‘poetry is revolutionary’. Selina is not quite sure that she believes Alice but Tightrope becomes a form of speaking out. Do you ever feel helpless when contemplating so many issues, so many injustices? And what point is poetry?

Kerrin: The many obvious injustices in the world inspire me to write with more conviction. They empower me to feel I must try to raise awareness of what is happening around me.

When I am writing I frequently ask of my writing, ‘What is the point of this? What is its purpose in the poem?’ If I have just written a series of word images that have no real or meaningful ideas or concepts underlying them, then I feel this isn’t the direction in which I should be going with this piece of writing.

As a poet I feel poems should be real, urgent and necessary of themselves and evoke a response in the reader. At least this is what I am attempting to do with my writing.

 

Paula: Did you read any poetry books that explored similar issues in ways that were perhaps ‘real and urgent’ – or simply stuck with you?

Kerrin: The British poet, Alex Houen’s poetry collection Ring Cycle (Eyewear Publishing) impressed me. He explores the world in a real, urgent and innovative way. Another British poet, John Clegg’s Holy Toledo, (Carcanet Press) has also influenced my writing with his poems; they are both playful yet also powerful.

For a long time, George Szirtes, a Hungarian poet living in England, has intrigued me with his writing which is often concerned with social issues. He raises challenges and perspectives that can only come from an ‘outsider’. His latest collection is Mapping the Delta (Bloodaxe).

I met all three of these poets when I was last in England and I talked with them about many of the issues and topics that come up in my poems in louder and I felt reassured by their feedback that I was on the right track. In fact they told me that the social and environmental topics I explore in louder were also starting to emerge in poetry written in Britain and in some cases were being explored by British poets in a very vigorous way indeed.

 

Paula: How wonderful to have that acknowledgement from writers you admire. There is something quite magical about conversations with people who get what you are doing. Are there any local writers who have caught your attention with issue-inspired poetry?  I was really taken with Airini Beautrais’ Flow: Whanganui River Poems. The politics of the river, the land, the everyday lives infused the work on so many levels. I also wondered whether you have a support crew of local writers in terms of both poetry and speaking out?

Kerrin: Yes, Erik Kennedy a local writer from Christchurch has just released his new collection of poems, There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (VUP) and many of the poems in his collection are quite innovative and fresh in the way they address important issues like war and climate change.

Gregory O’Brien’s two poems ‘Mihi’ and ‘Conversation with a mid-Canterbury braided river’ are clever and strong in the way they challenge us about our threatened waterways.

I tend to do much of my writing alone. I am well known for heading down to a local cafe in Merivale, Christchurch each Saturday and Sunday morning to write. I love the atmosphere and the buzz of people about me.

I often chat with Frankie McMillan a well known Christchurch writer, and we frequently discuss our writing with each other; I read her my recent work and she gives me feedback and suggestions that send me back to refine what I’ve written. I also chat with other writers about my work and theirs and they too keep me grounded and encouraged.

 

Paula: I really like the shifting tones and forms in your collection, from the little poem breaths in ‘what we hear’ (like haiku) to the personal revelation, the mother’s appearance in ‘my mother darns the windsock’. It suggests there are multiple ways to speak louder and draw attention to issues that matter. Is there are poem that particularly worked for you?

Kerrin: Yes Paula, I do tend to employ changes in tone and form in my poems though sometimes I must admit it is as likely to be unconscious as conscious. One of the ‘drivers’ of this is that I have a fear that my poems will all look and sound alike if I don’t look to innovate in the way they sound, their shape and in their tone and form. Often the changes in my poems arise from ideas I get when reading the poems of other writers who themselves are experimenting with tone, shape and form.

Obviously in the context of my louder collection you picked up that I have experimented on several levels with some poems in an attempt to make them speak louder and more insistently.

To give you an illustration. When I visited England earlier this year, I was shown around the historic chapel designed by Sir Christopher Wren at Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge. Inside this beautiful chapel was a blue cross made from a refugee boat and some votive candles. As I was looking at this fascinating symbol, I began to think of the beginnings of a poem that I began to write in my head and the title of it of course became wick which I later included in my new collection.

I wrote the first draft of ‘wick’ on the train coming back from Cambridge and when it was complete I recognised that it had very strong links to the other poems in the collection about refugees: ‘they are found in the sea’ and ‘the bear’.

It probably sounds a bit quixotic but I like the way that ‘wick’ as a poem seemingly jostles to be heard and to extend itself beyond the written words on the page.

 

wick

 

from the flicker of a boat

in the Aegean Sea

they took the heart

they built a cross

a twisted pale blue beak

they sky they followed

still and blue like the toddler

carried ashore by a soldier

carried through our televisions

the terrible cries of his father

that cross and a bowl

of votive candles

in the chapel at Pembroke

every candle a voice

between wick and flame

a Syrian refugee

who never arrived

 

 

Paula: You work a lot with school-age writers. Do you think they are concerned with issues that threaten our world? Do you ever explore political and ecological issues with them through poetry?

Kerrin: I love working with school-age writers. And yes, I find them very open and aware of issues that threaten our world and they are not at all afraid to write passionately about many of the things we as adults are concerned about as well.

Recently one of my students designed a set of tea towels each with a haiku she had written printed on the tea towel. Her haiku were from a series of haiku she had written called ‘Haiku for Humanity’. Among her haiku are ones that draw our attention to the sad plight of many refugees in different parts of the world – a subject that as you know, is very close to my own heart. As a postscript, last I heard, her haiku tea towels were very popular with her student customers; I even have a couple myself!

Other creative writing students I work with participate in the Young Poets’ Network, based in London and have had poems on subjects such as global warming published on the Network.

 

Paula: We have a Prime Minister who uses the word ‘kindness’ in her discussions on governance, she keeps the well-being of children (and a nation) centre frame and resists attack politics and bullying. We have yet to see how Jacinda’s talk is converted into widespread action, but this approach, with the initial welcome moves, gives me hope for people and for the planet. What gives you hope?

Kerrin: As I said earlier, while my poetry in Louder is often about environmental and social issues and can therefore perhaps in that sense be described as political, I don’t have a lot of faith in politicians, whether it be the current Prime Minister or anyone else.

What does give me hope in our world are people, the people I meet every day in my local community, the people I work with, the children I teach creative writing – a creative writing class full of children is a magical place for me – my husband, family and friends.

I don’t expect politicians to bring about a better world. Positive change in our world, if it comes, will come because there are more and more people in our world with open, loving hearts, people who are honest and people who care deeply about others who need caring for.

One of my greatest joys is working with children. When I am in a class of children and we are all working on our creative writing; it’s then that I feel most a sense of hope in our future and what we can become.

 

Victoria University Press page

 

 

 

 

 

In the hammock: reading Anne Kennedy’s The Ice Shelf

 

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The Ice Shelf, Anne Kennedy, Victoria University Press, 2018

cover by Ant Sang

 

my little reading response

Anne Kennedy has delivered a range of poetry and fiction unlike any other local writer; in its linguistic agility, keen intelligence, mesmerising characters, playful elements, local attachments, elsewhere roving and ultimate daring. Two poetry collections have won the New Zealand National Book Award for Poetry: Sing-Song (2004) and The Darling North (2013). Her previous novel, The Last Days of the National Costume, was shortlisted for the New Zealand National Book Award for Fiction in 2014. She was Writer in Residence at Victoria University in 2014.

Victoria University have just released Anne Kennedy’s latest novel, The Ice Shelf, and it is one of the best books I have read in ages. I don’t say that lightly.

The Ice Shelf is the story of Janice, a writer about to take up an arts fellowship in Antarctica after recently separating from her boyfriend. It is set on the eve of her departure, as she makes her way to the award presentation at the National Library in Wellington. The novel, in a most original and invigorating way, represents the life of Janice through a book-length montage of acknowledgements. She reflects back through childhood to adulthood, through searing challenges (heartbreaking!) and an unshakeable need to give thanks. Everything that has happened to Janice (and I have no intention of spoiling the unfolding edges of the narrative), in her view, makes her a better writer. If her life had been a bed of roses, her ability and determination to write would have been compromised.

This is the novel’s first breathtaking grip: the voice of Janice as she reflects back and negotiates the equally challenging present (she has nowhere to stay and a fridge to find a home for on a tempestuous night). The narrative comes together in the fragmented pieces of her telling, yet like viewing a mosaic that depends upon unity out of pieces, the narrative achieves glorious fluidity.

The second breathtaking grip is the way in which this is a novel of disintegration: as Janice moves through the storm-battered city with her fridge to the awards night, she keeps removing The Ice Shelf manuscript from the fridge, and abandoning chunks in a ruthless endeavour to pare back her novel. She is editing her own life, the life I read in my copy of the published novel, the life of disintegration: family, relationships, friendships, homes, her place within the writing world. Gut-punching stuff.

The third breathtaking grip is the way the montage of recollection and self-assessment occur within a fertile layering of the real. Wellington, a northern commune, flats, makeshift homes, all are searingly real. Janice’s separated parents are acutely rendered, achingly so. I was so caught in the scene of the novel’s making I could not sleep last night. I kept returning to locations and characters and situations.

The fourth breathtaking grip is the fact this is a novel about writing: about the drive to write, to be published, to be supported, to be recognised, to be reviewed and to be read. Anne traverses the writing world with a bright torch. We get to see the conflict and harmonies of a writing life within any number of writing communities. It is both funny and recognisable (not in individual people but in situations and yearnings).

The fifth breathtaking grip, perhaps the most gasp-worthy for me, is the counterpoint of emotion; this is a novel that is downright funny but that is equally tragic. I adored the humour that shapes Janice’s voice, an utterly original voice as she attempts to be glad in the face of all that is bad. But I was side-smacked by the sequence of sadnesses and difficulties that hide inside that humour. The life of both child and adult in Janice’s witty exposures made me weep. I cannot think of a book that has made me laugh and weep to such a degree.

The sixth breathtaking grip is the way this is a book of love: you might wonder how this can be when Janice is so much under threat, and has endured and suffered a lifetime of wrongs. But this is a book of love because Janice never yields to complete disintegration. Writing is a force that saves her along with an ability to rescue herself. It seems to me that Anne herself has written a book out of intense love: a love of family, the world, Wellington and above all writing. It is as though each sentence is steered by the heart of the author and thus becomes a novel of connection and insight a much as it is a novel of collapse.

 

I have written these brief musings on the back of scant sleep and a novel haunting because I want to celebrate its arrival in the world. I cannot think of a novel that is so rich in effect, so intricately crafted, so grounded in a real world with all its grit and glitter, so in debt to prodigious reading and thinking, so pertinent to the unstable world(s) we inhabit, so anchored and so humane. I just love it.

 

 

Victoria University Press page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anne Kennedy’s launch: The Ice Shelf

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The Ice Shelf, Anne Kennedy, Victoria University Press, 2018

 

 

Richard von Sturmer launched Anne Kennedy’s new novel, The Ice Shelf, with a terrific speech. He had devoured a large chunk of the book then stopped because he was drawn to find the right place to finish it. He ended up in an elsewhere motel named Cicada, in  Kihikihi, a small town near Te Awamutu.

The readings of the book, both comic and serious, meant  today I can’t settle to anything else. I just want to open up the book and get reading.

Lovely to see The Women’s Bookshop packed with local writers and readers along with publisher Fergus Barrowman – as Richard said the book resembles an iceberg that has floated off into the world and will perhaps melt in our imaginations. Such an image matches the spectacular cover by Ant Sang and the spectacular presence of Antarctica – with its implications of silence, beauty, threat. I drifted off from the details of the book because there is nothing better than launching into a book from the spark of a cover and the pivot of a title. Into the exhilarating blast of the unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf in conversation with Erik Kennedy

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Erik Kennedy has followed his poetry chapbook, Twenty-Six Factions (Cold Hub Press, 2017) with his debut collection, There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (Victoria University Press, 2018). He edits the online journal Queen Mob’s Teahouse. He lives in Christchurch. His first-full length collection sparks with multiple fascinations, experience, thought, wit, politics, optical delights and aural treats. It is a book of harmonics and elastic thinking, and is a pleasure to read.

 

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To celebrate the book Erik and I embarked on a slow-paced email conversation.

 

 

Paula: Did you read, write or hear poetry as a child? As a teenager?

Erik: I wouldn’t say that I grew up in a poetical household, but it was certainly a bookish one. My early touchstones were mostly fact-filled books: The Book of Lists, Jacques Cousteau, The Rand McNally Encyclopedia of Military Aircraft, atlases. We had that two-volume complete OED that comes with a magnifying glass, which I never used, and instead I liked to bring my eyes quite close to the tiny, tiny type on the huge pages. I was born in 1980, so I am part of the last cohort that had a childhood without the internet.

I came to poetry in my early teens. I was converted by my father’s old university poetry textbook, which was an early edition of An Introduction to Poetry by X. J. Kennedy (no relation). Then I realised that we had a lot more of this ‘poetry’ stuff in the house, and that even bookshops in suburban New Jersey would sell you poetry if you wanted it. I became obsessed with it. I was an only child with addictive tendencies. I started writing my own poems, and I liked it so much that I thought I should write hundreds of them. For a while I kept a chart of my productivity. For a while I thought six poems per day was a decent target.

Eventually I became saner and realised that reading was more important than writing, but the funny thing is, I wasn’t wrong about the benefits of writing tons of poems. At the time I thought I should do it because I assumed they were all brilliant and worth recording. Now I do it because I know that half of them will be rubbish.

 

Paula: Oh I love the image of the chart. I wonder if you will look through the rubbish pile one day and see some of the poems glow? I am intrigued by the way relationships change with a poem over time. I am also wondering with your enviable productivity if you write a poem quickly or it is agonisingly slow?

Erik: These days I’m more likely to abandon a poem than to revise it extensively, so I guess I go along at a fair clip. (If taking a week on a poem is writing ‘quickly’.) A couple of poems in the book – like ‘The Shame’, for instance – were written in one sitting. Poets reading this will be familiar with how amazing a feeling this is. Like bowling a perfect game on Christmas Eve, or finding a fifty dollar note in a seldom-worn coat.

I’m not very sentimental about particular poems. I tend to revisit certain subjects regularly – climate change, the atheist’s perspective on religion, inequality, mortality and the fear of death – so it’s unlikely that any given poem I write will be my last word on the matter. This takes off some of the pressure to get it perfect. This isn’t to say that I don’t like my poems or have particular favourites. But often it’s reader or audience reaction that earns a poem a place in my affections. I want my work to connect with people, and that connection is something that’s probably more important than my own super-subjective feelings about my work. This is one reason why I send my poems out so much and why I do as many readings as I can. Hopefully it all adds up to something in the end.

 

Paula: Writing is such a private thing – we send our work into the world and so often don’t eavesdrop on the reader. When an audience gasps after you read a poem it is gold!

 

There’s no place like the internet in springtime!

Everything foals a new thing like itself,

and old things are respectful in their pastures

and only argue over if it’s best

to let the snow melt or to make it melt.

 

from ‘There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime’

 

 

The order within disorder

is a spice-rack in a shipwreck,

an abacus in the corner

at the ruined abbey of Glenluce,

or hill-roads amid the scree

where earthquakes preside.

It is also a probe

in orbit around a comet,

a self-tightening noose,

a precise polypeptide

in a gummy primordial soup

 

from ‘I Can’t Even’

 

Your collection navigates eclectic subject matter but I was initially drawn to the interplay between a virtual world and a classical world. I began to muse on how poetry fits into movement between the arrival of the internet and a legacy of classical knowledge. Do both feed your curiosities as a poet? Does the internet make a difference to you as poet? I really love the lines in ‘I Can’t Even’:

 

The things we write we transform:

the far becomes the distant,

the distant becomes the invisible,

the invisible becomes the new

 

Erik: I sometimes (over-ambitiously!) describe the book as a collision between the digital and the pastoral – like responding to Marlowe’s ‘The Passionate Shepherd to His Love’ with an image macro. It seems to me that poetry is good at representing collisions like this, given that so much of the art as it’s practised now is about surprising juxtapositions and skewed perspectives. Even some of the famous ‘definitions’ of poetry get at this. Take one of Carl Sandburg’s hare-brained formulations: ‘Poetry is a puppet-show, where riders of skyrockets and divers of sea fathoms gossip about the sixth sense and the fourth dimension.’ This is barking, obviously, but it’s a way of saying, ‘Well, I add a and b together and I get x, and I’m not really sure why.’ And I understand that. That’s how it feels to me, too.

You’re right to sense that I care deeply about history. I’ve always cared as much about the seed drill as I have about @dril. It seems to me that on the c. 2018 internet all of history exists simultaneously. This was previously possible in the arts, but I don’t think that our daily lives were filled with the disorientating, mind-bending glory of it all until we had social media. I’m thinking of the @medievalpoc Twitter account, Daniel Mallory Ortberg’s legendary art/lit/textspeak mash-ups on The Toast (a few years old, but not forgotten), even Jim’ll Paint It (if old British telly counts as history). I could go on forever. We are blessed to live in these times.

But, in a way, I don’t think it is internet culture itself that has primarily affected my work, although I like Weird Twitter as much as the next idiot. I think instead the ability to plug into existing literary cultures has allowed my work to be broader than it would have been otherwise. This is part of the general, larger process of globalisation and cultural cross-pollination that we’re all living with and contributing to. I’m not the first person to say this, but I feel like I just know a lot more about the various poetries there are out there than I used to. And if I didn’t, I’d probably still be writing the same kinds of poems I wrote when I was twenty . . . and trust me, that would not be a good thing.

 

Paula: Engagement with diverse poetries seems so important and for me that involves reading outside my comfort zone, my poetry loves. I also love the idea of poetry reacting to collisions, intersections, juxtapositions. Interestingly when I was jotting down notes I wrote the words ‘detail’, ‘things’ and ‘juxtaposition’ but not just for the embedded ideas. Yes, the detail in the poems is striking in itself, but I was drawn to the ‘static’ or the  ‘conversation’ or ‘kinetic energy’ between things as I read.

 

Two feet of snow at my parents’ place, in another season.

Here, the cicadas sing like Christian women’s choirs

in a disused cotton mill. Belief is a kind of weather.

I haven’t seen proper snow for three years.

 

from ‘Letter from the Estuary’

 

I can jump about this stanza for ages. How important are the connections or bridges (and perhaps disconnections) between things as you write? Is there a poem where it is particularly important?

Erik: Perhaps you already know that James Brown has (gently) mocked my thought processes in that stanza of ‘Letter from the Estuary’ in a poem called ‘Liking Similes’? From his poem:

 

When I hear cicadas, their singing always reminds me of
Christian women’s choirs in a disused cotton mill.
I picture the conductor’s arms bent in supplication
as she tries to draw forth the correct ‘cicadian’ rhythm
from the collective gasp of Christian women.

 

And it goes on in that vein for about 400 words! I recommend it enthusiastically. I’m a strong believer in trying to surprise readers. Maybe sometimes I try too hard. Maybe sometimes that effort borders on the absurd. But a certain amount of risk is necessary if you’re going to write either very good or very bad poems. I’d like to be remembered as someone who wrote both.

I think James has got my style down, though! Or at least he’s got the logic of it, if not the exact tone. I’m lucky enough to be in a great critgroup – four other poets I trust, with whom I meet once a month. I often get told that my poems operate in predictable ways because they argue more than they emote. I think that aspect of my writing is easy to parody, and I don’t mind that. What’s wrong with using poems to work out problems? One of the oldest, simplest, and most enjoyable poems in the book, called ‘Growing Fears That the Leadership Contest Has Been Hijacked by Far-Left Infiltrators’, is a series of propositions, which, if answered in the affirmative, all seem to say that the reader is a proper socialist. That’s the sort of connection that’s most important to me – connections that lead to a punch line rather than ones that merely establish a mood.

 

Paula: Well, heck, I love jumping about that stanza and indeed the whole collection. Do you have a favourite poem in the collection – where the poem just clicked into place and lifted?

Erik: When it comes to my poems, I’m like a parent. I’m like a parent who loves all his children equally. I’m like a parent who acknowledges his children’s limitations. I’m like a parent who hopes his next children will be better than the ones he already has are. I’m like a parent who thinks his children would have been better off if they had been born in another time and place, when children rhymed and scanned. Maybe this is a faulty simile from someone who hasn’t got any kids.

What I’m trying to say is that I have a lot of favourite poems, and they all do different things, and I’m not vain enough to think that they’re all perfect. In fact, I have frosty relations with some of my poems. I won’t renounce them, but I hope I can replace them with better ones in future.

So instead of a one-poem answer, I hope you’ll let me nominate a few poems that I think fulfil their ambitions pretty well:

 

Favourite love poem: ‘Love Poem with Seagull’

Favourite poem about aesthetics: ‘I Rank All the Beautiful Things There Are’ (which appears in a slightly different version in the book)

Favourite rambling philosophical poem: ‘The School of Naps’

Favourite ‘history poem’: ‘Public Power’

Favourite ‘New Zealand poem’: ‘Letter from the Estuary’

Favourite eco-poem: ‘I Am an Animal Benefiting from Climate Change’ (not online)

Favourite poem that isn’t online: ‘Double Saw Final at the Canterbury A&P Show’ (also not online)

 

Paula: Oh, how perfect. I have been thinking of running a series on my blog where I get a poet to recommend a favourite poem (and go through categories!). I was thinking of poems by other poets though. I love your list; it is a reminder that poetry does all kinds of things on all kinds of subject matter with all kinds of stylistic leanings and you enagge with them for different reasons.

I had a conversation with a writer who, like me, finds writing makes her happy. It can be a challenge, demanding much of/from you, but it makes me happy. I jotted down a couple of lines from three terrific poems near the end of your book that feature ‘happy’, ‘glad’, ‘contentment’. For some reasons these three poems gave me goosebumps.

 

From ‘The School of Naps’: When you’re happy you have a responsibility to those who are unhappy / to do your best with it.’

From ‘The Contentment Poem’: ‘I’ve got the garden just how I like it and that, obviously, / is just how I like it.’

From ‘Today’: ‘And I, alone and glad, have missed these things.’

 

Does writing make you happy or is it a painful part of your life as it is with some writers?

 

Erik: Are there really poets who cause themselves pain when they write? Of course I love writing. I’ll never be more alive – ever – than when I feel an unmistakably good line come into my head. To me, that’s what humanity is: the moment when you acknowledge yourself as a self-aware, clever being. (Knowing that you’ve written a good poem is like juggling in the mirror.) At the moment of my death I will probably say something like, ‘One more line, please.’ One line in Latin on one’s tombstone below one’s name: Magis. More.

Obviously, I hate the process of writing as much as everyone else does; 999 lines in a thousand are just craft, not art. But I will chase the feeling of that serendipitous line across all of time and space. I suppose it’s why I’m a poet rather than a novelist – I can capture that feeling more easily in ten choice words than in ten chapters. Poetry is a shortcut to pleasure, and none of us should ever apologise for taking that shortcut.

 

Paula: Bill Manhire quotes Randall Jarrell in his (Bill’s!) poem ‘The Victims of Lightning’ – good poets might get struck by lightning five or six times in a thunderstorm – a great poet maybe a dozen. Sometimes it feels like that – where did this poem come from? How on earth did it hit the page and sound like this!

I am really drawn to the lists in your poems – there is something that both surprises and comforts about list poems or poems that play with lists. What is the attraction?

 

Erik: A natural rage for order, I suppose! I hope I don’t write many ‘list poems’, though. I’m happy enough to write poems that contain lists, but when lists are the poem I’m not usually very happy. It’s the same with anaphora, parallel structure, whatever. Like any rhetorical gimmick, these devices make useful servants and oppressive masters. I was reading Clint Smith’s ‘the drone’ the other day and I was thinking that it is a good example of a poem that develops and emerges naturally from its confines to say something necessary. And the structure helped it say what it said; it wasn’t just there when it got said, hanging around or getting in the way.

 

So when I write things like this:

 

I rank all the beautiful things there are

starting with self-sacrifice, then supernovas,

the brain, love, virga, Korean pottery,

lemurs, cuckoo clocks, suits of armour for horses,

a child’s first words, mercy, bread, and so on.

 

from ‘I Rank All the Beautiful Things There Are’

 

Or this:

 

The human ingenuity I admire

is limited, implausible, post hoc,

folksy, unconsidered, overthought,

ecstatic, garden-shed, Corinthian,

exhausting, nebulous, and somehow sexy.

 

from ‘I’m Impressed’

 

I am indulging myself, yes, but I am also pointing to the richness and strangeness of experience, which is a subject that those two poems share. Lists are a nice way to establish breadth. As someone who (likes to think that he) writes on a broad range of subjects, many of them not personal ones, they help me show that I have considered things, that I aware of the possibilities and I love them. Maybe that’s why I like lists and deploy them.

 

Paula: I am reluctant to wrap our conversation up as it has been such fun, but can we finish with a list – around five New Zealand poems that have struck you for different reasons?

Erik: In no particular order, and with no comment: Nick Ascroft’s ‘Five Limericks on Grief’, Hera Lindsay Bird’s ‘The da Vinci Code’, Alistair Te Ariki Campbell’s ‘Waiting for the Pākehā’, Ashleigh Young’s ‘Ghost Bear’, and James K. Baxter’s ‘Elegy for My Father’s Father’. Thanks! This has been great!

Paula: Indeed! Poetry delight.

 

 

Erik reads ‘Tour Grandfather’s Stories’

Victoria University Press page

Erik’s website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Launch for Anne Kennedy’s The Ice Shelf

 

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Victoria University Press & The Women’s Bookshop
warmly invite you to the launch of

The Ice Shelf
by Anne Kennedy

Tuesday 16 October,
6pm for a 6.30pm start
at The Women’s Bookshop,
105 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby, Auckland.

The Ice Shelf will be launched by Richard von Sturmer.

About The Ice Shelf, p/b, $30