Tag Archives: Victoria University Press

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Ash Davida Jane reads from How to Live with Mammals

How to Live with Mammals, Ash Davida Jane, Victoria University Press, 2021

Ash reads ‘water levels’

Ash reads ‘mating in suburbia’

Ash reads ‘transplanting’

Ash reads ‘carrying capacity’

Ash Davida Jane’s poetry has appeared in MimicrySweet MammalianStarlingThe Spinoff and elsewhere. Her second book, How to Live With Mammals, was published by Victoria University Press in April 2021. She lives and works in Wellington.

Victoria University Press page

Poetry Shelf Ash’s poem ‘undergrowth

Poetry Shelf Ash muses on ecopoetics

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Tracey Slaughter launches Devil’s Trumpet

Victoria University Press and Poppies Bookstore
warmly invite you to the launch of

Devil’s Trumpet
by Tracey Slaughter

on Thursday 15 April, 6pm 
at Poppies Bookshop,
Casabella Lane, Barton St,
Kikiroa, Hamilton.

All Welcome.

Poetry Shelf review: Bernadette Hall’s Fancy Dancing: New and Selected Poems 2004 – 2020

Bernadette Hall, Fancy Dancing: New and Selected Poems 2004 -2020, Victoria University Press, 2020

Campfires flicker in the night, ice masks the harbour.

I’ve made up my mind at last. I’m going to walk across

to see the others. We can sit down then

and talk about poetry, the way ‘water’ chimes

with ‘daughter’ and is there any news of her yet.

from ‘Wai-te-ta’

2020 was a year rich in New Zealand poetry and I am still dipping into my wee stack for treasures. I have long been a fan of Bernadette Hall’s poetry with its sumptuous sound and visual effects, its wide roving subject matter, and its agile engagement with ideas, experience and feeling, it’s humour.

Interestingly, picking up Fancy Dancing set me on a slightly different response to the poetry, because I stalled on Robyn Webster’s artwork before I read the poems. Robyn’s works are enticing. They appear like a fusion of needlework, embroidery and painting with maybe a whiff of printmaking. I haven’t seen them in real life so am only connecting with them as illustrations in a book and have no idea of the media. I am struck by the allure of threads, branches and tributaries, by a colour palette that shifts between soothing harmonies and piquant contrasts. There is both simplicity and intricacy.

Here I am stalling on the artworks and I see them as shadow maps of the poetry. To think of Bernadette’s poetry as rich in tributaries, branches and threads is rewarding. One thread takes you along Irish roads into experience and ancestors, another into ice and snow and the Antarctic. Gardens and friends, weather and the sea, the mountain and the angels are stitched exquisitely along the lines. There is the close-at-hand and there is the wider world. There is the warmth in harmonies and the edge in contrasts. It was so satisfying to read my way through samples from the collections I am familiar with (The Ponies (2007), The Lustre Jug (2009), Life & Customs (2013) and Maukatere, floating mountain (2016).

The final section is devoted to new poems, including an exquisite sonnet sequence that is akin to brocade it is so rich in effect. Bernadette’s included author bio is revelatory : “And as for the wilful sonnets that explode in the final pages of this book, she wonders where on earth they came from. ‘It was such fun writing them,’ she says, ‘as if I‘d kicked down the stable doors and taken to the hills.’”

If I continue making analogies with the artwork, I see the 25 sonnets as embroidery at its most intricate and dazzling. Classical threads are stitched into a contemporary context, the personal is threaded with the fictional, the imagined with the recalled. Both Phaedra and the poet are shadowy presences, their back narratives bubbling beneath the surface. The poet speaks:

Now it’s time to expand the narrative. So come

with me into a dimly lit corridor in the Mayflower

Student Hostel beside the Mississippi River

in Iowa.  (…)

from ‘v.’

Think of brocade that glints and gleams and offers pocket narratives and pinches of the surreal. Guests make appearances: friends, family, writers, artists, goddesses. You will hear rain and footsteps, but you will also hear the sumptuous audio effects that are a trademark of Bernadette’s writing. Such an ear for the resounding line. I keep wanting to quote lines to you, whole sonnets.

In sonnet xix, the ‘crazy lady, how she strides down Cuba Mall in full combat gear’ declares the area is under control. The poem culminates in the poet/speaker imagining how she would behave kindly if it were a movie: she would approach the woman in combat gear saying, ‘Thank you, / I feel so much safer in this crazy world with you around.’

I am repeatedly drawn to sonnet xxiv, a sonnet dedicated to grandchildren, a sonnet that sways between past and present, between Italian marble and four children harbour swimming, ‘their arms / like triangle roof-lines’. The image is potent, the shiver between past and present fertile, and the ending so very moving:

(…) How long it took to see

the eating, drinking, gulping, feasting of the water

body, the spasmodic sun, the specific shade.

Beautiful children, you are forever and thereafter

swimming me to shore. I could not love you more.

The final sonnet is a form of counting blessings as it gives thanks. It becomes a rich celebratory brocade, luminous and heartfelt, a gift for ear and eye. I will pin this sonnet to my study wall as I continue to give thanks to poetry, to the things near me, to what gives me courage and furnishes each precious day.

Let us give thanks for the cranesbill geranium

and the mouse eared myositis,

for the ranunculus (little frog mouth, little friend),

for the feathered nival zone, for the bug moss

in the tarn, for all that is and all that

has been and all that is to come. It is for us

to keep our courage firm, to nurse our appointed

pain, to await ‘that which springs ablaze of itself’.

from sonnet xxv

Fancy Dancing showcases the work of one of our most treasured poets. The poems will dance in your ear and on your tongue, in your limbs and in your heart. Take a read. Pick a favourite and pin it to the wall. Take heart from this gift of poetry.

Bernadette Hall is Otago born and bred. Following a long and much enjoyed career as a high school teacher in Dunedin and Christchurch, she has for the last eighteen years lived in a renovated bach at Amberley Beach in the Hurunui, North Canterbury, where she has built up a beautiful garden. Fancy Dancing is her eleventh collection of poetry. ‘It’s as close as I’ll ever get to writing an autobiography,’ she says, laughing. And as for the wilful sonnets that explode in the final pages of this book, she wonders where on earth they came from. ‘It was such fun writing them,’ she says, ‘as if I‘d kicked down the stable doors and taken to the hills.’ In 2015 she collaborated with Robyn Webster on Matakaea, Shag Point, an art /text installation exhibited at the Ashburton Art Gallery. In the same year she was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for literary achievement in poetry. In 2017 she was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Victoria University Press page

Poetry Shelf sonnet from Fancy Dancing

ANZL review by Lynley Eadmeades

Best NZ Poems, sonnet from Fancy Dancing

Poetry Shelf review: Ruby Solly’s Tōku Pāpā

Tōku Pāpā, Ruby Solly, Victoria University Press, 2021

Over the past year, in all my musings and readings, books have felt so very precious. Books crossing myriad categories, books for adults and books for children. Poetry has been especially precious. Aotearoa is alive with poetry communities; there’s such a richness of voice on the page and in the air (and on the screen). And it is so valued.

Pick up a poetry book, hold the book in your hand and feel its preciousness. I picked up Ruby Solly’s debut collection and it felt like I was holding love. The love imbued in the stitches and seams of its making. The photograph will hold you still and steady and already you know that in this book people will be at its heart. Its core.

Enter a poetry book that catches your heart and every pore of your skin, and you enter a forest with its densities, its shadows and lights, canopies and breaths, re-generations. You will meet oceans and rivers and enter different ebbs and flows, different currents, fluencies. You will reach the sky with its infinite hues, dreamings, navigations, weatherings (storm washed, sunlit, moonlit). You will meet the land with its lifeblood, embraces, loves, whānau, anchors.

This is what happens when I read Ruby Solly’s Tōku Pāpā.

When you first told me

that you gave me the name of our tupuna

so that I would be strong enough

to hold our family inside my ribcage,

I believed you.

The collection is in two connected parts, like the two parts of a heart, ‘awe’ and ‘kura’, two nouns linked by feathers, leading us to the ‘essence of soul’, ‘strength, power, influence’ and the red feathers used as ‘decoration, treasure, valued possession, heirloom, precious possession, sacred, divine law, philosophy, darling, chief’, and the ability to glow.

The untitled poem that begins the collection (quoted in part above), before awe and kura, addresses ‘you’, and in this heart-opening the poet draws deep into the knowledge and love and whānau that shape and nourish her, the wairua, the dark places and the light.

I am reminded of Robert Sullivan’s terrific poem ‘Voice Carried My Family’ (AUP). Voice carries Ruby, and her voice ‘carries’ everyone she thanks in her acknowledgement page. The collection has myriad tributaries, but a key river is finding voice. She is addressing her Pāpā. She is voicing her relationship and that voice is modulated as musician, as poet, as human being. She is listening to the past and the present, she is writing a river, an ocean, the sky, the land. A forest. A whānau.

The words flow like a solo instrument, with the poet as bow and breath.

There is stillness and movement, and there is always heart. You will find yourself in the scene, and the scene will pulsate and be luminous with life:

We sit together in silence,

deep in the mountain’s quiet heart.

Watching our breath melt away

the walls around us.

from ‘He Manawa Maunga’

There is a road trip to the ballet and a machete blade to be readied for work. Custard tarts are eaten as a car fills with smoke. There are swimming lessons. There is underwater and above water. There is finding the current and then finding breath. There is warmth and there is wisdom.

I especially love ‘Eulogy’ and the father wisdom:

As a child

whenever I was angry,

inconsolable,

my father would tell me to write a eulogy

to the person who had caused me pain.

He said that by the end of it

I would see

that even those who cause us pain

are precious to the world.

from ‘Eulogy’

This precious book – that in its making, its stands, rests and journeys from and towards so much – is the reason why I cannot stop reading and sharing thoughts on and writing my own poetry. The book is a gift and like so many other readers I am grateful. Kia ora Ruby. Thank you.

Ruby Solly (Kāi Tahu, Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe) is a writer, musician and taonga pūoro practitioner living in Pōneke. She has been published in journals such as Landfall, Starling and Sport among others. In 2020 she released her debut album, Pōneke, which looks at the soundscapes of Wellington’s past, present and future through the use of taonga pūoro, cello, and environmental sounds. She is currently completing a PhD in public health, focusing on the use of taonga pūoro in hauora Māori. Tōku Pāpā is her first book.

Victoria University Press page

Ruby talks with Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon

On Poetry Shelf: Ruby’s poem ‘Pōria

On Poetry Shelf: Ruby’s poem ‘Dedication

Ruby Solly premieres a video for her new album Pōneke and a wānanga with essa may ranapiri

Cover photograph: Taaniko Nordstrom and Vienna Nordstrom, Soldiers Rd Portraits

Poetry Shelf Review: Eamonn Marra’s 2000ft above Worry Level

Eamonn Marra, 2000ft above Worry Level, Victoria University Press, 2020

Have you read Eamonn Marra’s 2000ft Above Worry Level yet? It is so good. It is so real it hurts, because there you are in the edginess of life that is seldom smooth sailing, that offers up edges and grime and spikes and unspeakable challenges and making do and doing the things you need to do to get through the day. I laughed out loud and I winced and I almost cried and then I laughed out loud again and I just didn’t want to put the book down. The sentences are freshly flowing, the dialogue pitch perfect. The voice of the main character feels so real I feel like I am intruding into the story. A gatecrashing eavesdropping reader who wants everything to go ok. The bloke is just out of university and is trying to find a job, trying to hold down a room in a flat, trying to keep his mind in balance with anti-depressants, keeping in touch with his ex-girlfriend who he likes more than any other subsequent date. painting his mother’s fence slower than a snail with the help of top tips from a well-meaning neighbour. He is trying to write fiction in between the daily demands, and when his ex-girlfriend complains his short story is based on her, he claims it as fiction. Who knows whether fiction draws on real life and real life collapses into fiction in this kaleidoscopic rollercoasting 3D realism!

The novel is episodic, collaging pieces of a life, scenes from childhood alongside university days and post university, and it comes together as glorious conjunctions with its adhesive threads. Think persistence, think daily detail, what gets eaten, what gets agonised over, what gets said and what doesn’t get said, think humour and everyday tedium and enduring family attachments. The writing is almost like stream of conscious, yet it is sweetly crafted in its poise, its delicious ease. And if you crash against the dark, especially a psychological dark and the awkwardness of fitting in and making ends meet, if you do feel affected by this, and I sure did, you also absorb hope and light and rejuvenation. I started reading the book when an incomprehensible and insulting tweet about two new zealand poets really pissed me off. Reading 2000ft above Worry Level got me back on track and I just thought yes! This sublime self-transcending reading experience is why books matter.

Eamonn Marra is a writer and comedian. He was born and raised in Christchurch and now lives in Wellington. He has a masters degree from the International Institute of Modern Letters. Eamonn’s shows include Man on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (2014), Respite (2014/2015), I, Will Jones (2016–18), and Dignity (2018). 2000ft Above Worry Level is his first book.

Victoria University Press page

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: my review of Fleur Adcock’s at Kete Books


I woke in the middle of the night with an @RNZ earthquake message and held the radio to my ear until dawn, drifting in and out of advice, alerts and individual stories from mayors and locals, with the anxiety like a snowball gathering Covid-level talk and Covid -rule breakers, and the incomprehensible news of threats against Muslims in Christchurch, and the brutality in women’s prisons, and the bullies in the police force, and how some people should not get airspace their behaviour and views are so damaging and ugly, and I am thinking how lucky I was to have those five days up north with my family at Sandy Bay, and food in my cupboards, and a stack of poetry books to read and review, and clean notebooks for my secret projects, and panadol for pain, and the tomato plants still laden, and water in the tank, and @ninetonoon with Kathryn Ryan keeping us posted with @SusieFergusonNZ and her heartwarming Te Reo Māori.

Poetry is the lifeline, the hand held out, the music in the ear, the saving grace, the little miracle on the page.

I reread Fleur Adcock’s The Mermaid’s Purse at Sandy Bay and this morning I was picturing myself back under the tree’s shade with the tide coming in, and the sun shining bright. I was back in the beach scene and back in the scenes of Fleur’s glorious poetry. Here is a sample from my review for for Kete Books:

The Mermaid’s Purse moves between places with vital attachments (New Zealand and Britain) and, in doing so, moves through the remembered, the felt, the imagined. I sit and read the collection, cover to cover, on holiday beside the dazzling ocean and white Northland sand. I am reading ‘Island Bay’, a poem near the start of the book and keep moving between the dazzle of Adcock’s lines and the dazzle of the sea. Here are the first two stanzas:

 

Bright specks of neverlastingness

float at me out of the blue air,

perhaps constructed by my retina

 

which these days constructs so much else,

or by the air itself, the limpid sky,

the sea drenched in its turquoise liquors

 

Both lucid and luminous, this exquisite poem sets the mind travelling. I’m reminded these poems were written in an old age. “Neverlasting” is the word that unthreads you. It leads to the infinite sky, and then to the inability of the ocean and life itself to stay still or the same, to old age.

Full review here

Poetry Shelf celebrates the Ockham NZ Book Awards Poetry longlist: Tusiata Avia reads from The Savage Coloniser Book

Tusiata Avia reads ‘Massacre’ from The Savage Coloniser Book (Victoria University Press, 2020)

Tusiata Avia is an acclaimed poet, performer and children’s writer. Her previous poetry collections are Wild Dogs Under My Skirt (2004; also staged as a theatre show, most recently Off-Broadway, winning the 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year), Bloodclot (2009) and the Ockham-shortlisted Fale Aitu | Spirit House (2016). Tusiata has held the Fulbright Pacific Writer’s Fellowship at the University of Hawai‘i in 2005 and the Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at University of Canterbury in 2010. She was the 2013 recipient of the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award, and in 2020 was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts.

Victoria University Press page

Poetry Shelf review

Poetry Shelf celebrates Ockham NZ Book Award Poetry Longlist: A Bill Manhire poem and audio link

Someone was Burning the Forest

We did not know why the child was crying,
nor why he stood bare-shouldered at the window.
How had he come by those skimpy feathers?
The mother had fallen from the tower
a moment after she began to answer. I looked around
and there were many towers, also other bodies.
Now I was on the ground myself. I could hear
the child but no longer see him. Perhaps
he was still aloft. The towers were dissolving
yet surely there were trees. It was dark now
but I knew there must be many bodies.
I would need to climb to see where we might go.

Bill Manhire, Wow Victoria University Press, 2020

Have a listen: For the first Stress Test of 2021, Rough Trade Books welcomed special guest Bill Manhire to join them for music and poems.

Bill Manhire’s most recent books include Some Things to Place in a Coffin (2017), Tell Me My Name (with Hannah Griffin and Norman Meehan, 2017) and The Stories of Bill Manhire (2015). He was New Zealand’s inaugural poet laureate, and founded and until recently directed the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington. He has edited major anthologies, including, with Marion McLeod, the now classic Some Other Country: New Zealand’s Best Short Stories (1984).

Victoria University Press page

Poetry Shelf review

ANZL review (Anna Jackson)

Chris Tse reviews Wow on Nine to Noon, Radio NZ National

‘Huia’ Poem of the Week in the Guardian

Bill Wows the crowd at WORD