Tag Archives: Victoria University Press

Poetry Shelf Lounge: VUP launches Mikaela Nyman’s Sado

 

Sado.jpg

 

Welcome to the online book launch of Mikaela Nyman’s novel Sado (Victoria University Press). Settle back with a glass of wine before dinner and let’s raise our glasses!

 

Publisher Fergus Barrowman welcomes us and the book:

 

 

 

Mikaela Nyman introduces us to Sado with a reading:

 

 

 

From Kirsten McDougall, VUP publicist:

This launch was to be held in person with wine and food at Vic Books, Kelburn. We are sorry we don’t get to celebrate the launch of the book by supporting Vic Books and we ask that when business resumes, readers support them.

Here’s a link to our webpage – where people can buy the reader through Mebooks for kindle or any other ereader. People can also read the first chapter of Sado on PDF from a link on that page too.

 

MIKAELA NYMAN WEB RES finals VUP - EBONY LAMB PHOTOGRAPHER-1

 

Four  questions for Mikaela (VUP Blog, March 2020)

 

Your debut novel, Sado, is set in Port Vila, Vanuatu, just after Cyclone Pam caused massive destruction in the islands. Can you tell us about the genesis for your story?

It grew out of the realisation that Vanuatu didn’t seem to feature on people’s radar in New Zealand – despite the fact that it is only a three-hour direct flight away, and we have thousands of Ni-Vanuatu come every year to work in our vineyards and orchards. The majority of New Zealanders I encountered who had visited Vanuatu, had only been there for a day, on a cruise ship holiday. They ‘had done Vanuatu,’ or so they kept telling me. The absoluteness of this statement threw me. I was privileged to spend four years in Vanuatu and feel I’ve barely dipped below the surface – thanks to the generosity of friends, colleagues, villagers, public officials and artists who have shared the richness of their respective cultures, experiences and languages with me over time. Vanuatu stretches over 80 islands and has more than 100 languages. There’s a lot more to it than Port Vila. Yet the exotic island holiday paradise narrative prevails.

Across the Pacific, entire populations brace themselves every year for the cyclone season. But for Vanuatu it wasn’t until Cyclone Pam radically transformed the landscape in 2015 that the outside world took notice. And even then it only lasted for a moment, until a greater natural disaster in another part of the world superseded Pam. And in a heartbeat the world’s attention on a suffering small Pacific island nation was gone. It could make you cynical. Or you could start writing about it … I guess as an islander (albeit from the Northern hemisphere), and as someone who has always tried to make sense of the world by writing about it, I wanted to share a more nuanced and complex reality that included the everyday desires, tragedies, joys, limitations and absurdities that tend to make up island life.

 

You have two main protagonists, Cathryn, a New Zealand national working in Port Vila, and Faia, a Ni-Vanuatu woman, and colleague of Cathryn. Can you talk about the relationship between these two characters and how you went about the creation of these two very different people?

Cathryn and Faia are amalgams of many people I’ve encountered. There are aspects of their personalities that are made up, because the story demanded it. They are both devoted mothers and have worked together for several years in a fictional non-governmental organisation, yet Cathryn remains more reliant on Faia than vice versa.

Faia is part of a larger and more complicated local scene, with more obligations and reciprocal relationships than Cathryn will ever have. Their relationship traverses that awkward territory where they are no longer merely work colleagues, but neither are they very close friends. I wanted to explore that tension – how far you can push friendship, what may break it; what you are able to forgive, and how.

From a young age, I was hooked on Toni Morrison’s novels. Decades later, I found her insightful lectures, published as Playing in the dark: whiteness and the literary imagination, where Toni Morrison speaks about the perils of writing ‘blackness’ (specifically African-American), and equally the perils of not writing about it enough, and thereby contributing to erasing part of the world’s population from historical records and literature. I did not wish to contribute to that erasure. And I did not want a single narrative that in its incompleteness reinforces stereotype, to paraphrase Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

I explored ways to include other voices and came across a helpful essay on Toni Morrison’s paired characters in her novels. It discusses how time and again Morrison’s perceived protagonist serves as an ironic anti-hero, while a secondary character, with a seemingly lesser role, demonstrates courage and overcomes immense personal and cultural obstacles. The ‘seemingly lesser role’ and the common assumption that there is only one protagonist, usually the one who takes up most space, resonated with me as an apt description of what I was trying to achieve. It confirmed to me that Cathryn, albeit the perceived protagonist, could indeed be the anti-hero. What I needed was a radical and tangible shift to physically wrestle authority from Cathryn and pass it to Faia.

 

There is a lot of discussion presently around the ethics of what stories a writer can write – can you talk about what it was like for you to write Sado? What considerations played into your writing and research of writing a novel set in Vanuatu? 

I don’t think I would ever have written a story set in Vanuatu without actually having lived there. The experience of being hammered by Cyclone Pam, a devastating Category 5+ super cyclone, is part of my own lived experience, it is my story to tell (although I hasten to add that my personal circumstances were not the same as Cathryn’s). Apart from the cyclone, there was a lot to consider. Vanuatu was never going to be reduced to mere setting, for a start.

The discovery that Vanuatu doesn’t really feature in New Zealander’s imagination was followed by a realisation that Ni-Vanuatu women’s voices and creative expressions are underrepresented, particularly in literature. I was fortunate to have Teresia Teaiwa read some of my early draft chapters and give me positive feedback before she unexpectedly passed away. It gave me the confidence to continue on this track. ‘We are tired of having to constantly explain ourselves to the outside world,’ Teresia said several times, talking about the Pasifika community in New Zealand, and more broadly about the experience of women of colour in various parts of the world. She handed me a copy of ‘Identity, Skin, Blood, Heart’ by Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Lisa King’s writing on rhetorical sovereignty and rhetorical alliance in the writing classroom.

And so I chose to become an ally and supporter, and perhaps a conduit for New Zealanders to glean a different perspective of their Pacific neighbour. To help explain what it feels like to be at the receiving end of such a natural disaster in our Pacific neighbourhood and to have to deal with an unprecedented influx of responders and well-intended, but perhaps misplaced, relief efforts.

In parallel, I’ve shared my writing, my knowledge and skills with emerging Ni-Vanuatu women writers, facilitating creative writing workshops and collaborative poetry events, in order to find my place in the world and enable Ni-Vanuatu writers to grow as writers and see their work published. ‘Nothing about us without us,’ one of my Māori colleagues said to me when we discussed the ethos informing my research and novel writing. It reinforced my decision that working in alliance and collaboration would be the best ethical choice. Taking heart from the fact that these Ni-Vanuatu women writers were among my first readers and encouraged me to keep writing this world that they recognised, while at the same time ensuring I left space for Ni-Vanuatu writers to tell their own stories. The kind of insider stories I couldn’t possibly tell.

 

You are also a published poet in your native language. How does your writing in different tongues as well as in different modes – poetry and prose – influence how you write?

I was told my alternative novel titles were too poetic, for a start! Writing in my own mother tongue was a project of writing myself out of personal grief and back to my own language universe. Through language I can belong to different worlds. I actually dream in different languages. I thought I had lost my Swedish and Finnish vocabulary, that they’d been erased by English. It doesn’t seem to be the case, although I know I haven’t been able to keep up with the slang and ever evolving obscene language.

I’ve found it’s more difficult to translate my own poetry than my prose. Language evolves according to its own logic and grammatical rules, complete with specific metaphors and implied subtexts. When I write I have to stay focused on the language I’m using in that moment to make it full justice. It can be quite tiring and takes time, with lots of cross-checking if my family keeps interrupting. Some scenes in the novel started as poems, other bits were cut from the novel but morphed into poems. At the end of the day, poetry and fiction are just different languages in which to express what matters most to me.

 

 

Thank you for coming. Please refresh your glass, make a note of the book, and enjoy the rest of your evening.

 

Next Poetry Shelf Lounge book launch will be Anna Jackson launching AUP New Poets 6 on Saturday around 5 pm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Lynn Davidson reads ‘Even though it’s not the beginning’

 

Islander__83638.1547675687-1.jpg

 

 

 

Lynn Davidson reads ‘Even though it’s not the beginning’ from Islander (2109, Victoria University Press)

 

 

 

Lynn Davidson is the author of five collections of poetry and a novel, Ghost Net, along with essays and short stories. She grew up in Kāpiti, Wellington and currently lives in Edinburgh.

 

My review of Islander

Victoria University Press author page

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio poem: Bill Nelson reads ‘Red shift / blue shift’

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill Nelson reads ‘Red shift / blue shift’.

 

 

 

I wrote this poem after reading a popular science book about the fringes of scientific knowledge. One of those fringes is the size and trajectory of the universe. In the early 20th Century, scientists measured the way light shifts red, or blue, from distant stars. And with this, they discovered that the universe we can see is expanding, that it is big, damn big, and that it probably started with something like the Big Bang. They also discovered that because of the speed of light, we can never know beyond what we can see, and that the universe is ultimately unknowable. All really interesting stuff, but mainly I just liked how the colours were like codes for something else, codes that we just had to observe to unlock their meaning.

Bill Nelson

 

 

Bill Nelson has just returned to Wellington from Scotland and France, where he was on the run from authority. His first book of poetry, Memorandum of Understanding, was published by VUP. He is a co-editor at Up Country: A Journal for the NZ Outdoors and his work has appeared in journals, dance performances and on billboards. You can find more about him here.

 

Book_cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf summer reading: Sport 47

 

I’m not angry—I’m just writing

a new book, thrusting my hands

into the dying earth

until I have enough coffins to burn

for warmth. I finger the jars of teeth

buried for luck. I pocket the coins.

 

Chris Tse from ‘It’s a metaphor’

 

 

Hard to believe we are moving into a change of season and here I am still celebrating books from 2019 in my summer reading. Sport 47 appeared last year and was much loved on social media. I can see why.

The editor is Tayi Tibble – her debut collection Pōukahangatus won the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry in the 2019 Ockham NZ Book Awards. Apparently this is her debut in Sport, it’s as editor and she has done a cracking job. The eye-popping cover by Miriama Grace-Smith is the perfect hook for the ear-popping, heart-sizzling, mind-flipping content. I love the different effects on me as reader. It’s a shake-up, it’s balm, music, politics, self exposure, and I love love love it.

So many poets thrilled (I want to follow up on some of these that are new to me): Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor, Hana Pera Aoake, Airini Beautrais, Vanessa Crofskey, Sam Duckor-Jones, Eliana Gray, Rebecca Hawkes, Nicole Titihuia Hawkins, Joy Holley, Talia Marshall, Fardowsa Mohamed, Aiwa Pooamorn, Meg Prasad, Ruby Solly, Anne Marie Te Whiu, Chris Tse, Eefa Yasir Jauhary.

Apart from the exquisite blast of poetry, two other features stood out: Tayi’s introduction and Anahera Gildea’s conversation with Patricia Grace.

Reading Tayi’s deeply personal intro reminded me there are neither wrongs nor rights when it comes to poetry. Heart and mind are active ingredients, writing and speaking from one’s experience and choices will never be redundant. It is ok to embrace confidence. I was especially moved by the importance Tayi gifted the writers and mentors that preceded her. In Tayi’s case: ‘a wise tohunga (my mum)’. And women writers, especially and above all Māori writers. If you haven’t yet read this glorious piece of writing, hunt it down now. Hold it to your heart.

The second treasure is the warm, generous, insightful conversation between Anahera and Patricia. It travels deep into reading and writing, into reading, writing and facing challenges and epiphanies (and everything in between) as a writer who is Māori. If you haven’t yet read this glorious piece of writing, hunt it down now. Hold it to your heart.

essa may ranapiri’s tribute to their kuia is luminous with love.

There is a blinding scene (excuse the pun as blinds do get spotted) in Anne-Marie Te Whiu’s ‘hood/ie’. I held my breath as I read.

Ash Davida Jane’s ‘hot bodies’ is poetry with the thermostat turned up. Wow!

Sam Duckor-Jones’s ‘Night’ and ‘Gut Health’ and are visual and sound triumphs.

I can’t get the last line of Eliana Gray’s poem (which is a version of the title) out of my head: ‘You’ve got to write like your life depends on it.’ That’s exactly how I feel sometimes.

The whole book is just glorious.

We are all the better for Sport 47 arriving in the world. Sport 48 must be just around the corner!

 

VUP Sport 47 page

 

Screen Shot 2020-02-27 at 3.57.37 PM.png

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf interviews Nikki-Lee Birdsey

 

 

Screen Shot 2020-02-15 at 9.56.09 AM.png

Night as Day, Nikki-Lee Birdsey, Victoria University Press, 2019

 

 

All the words I could write for you,

the darkness rising through darkness

the gleam-rich sea, a movie theatre

we went to.

 

from ‘The Long Nineteenth Century’

 

 

Nikki-Lee Birdsey’s poetry has appeared in a number of local and international journals, she holds a MFA from Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a BA from New York University. In 2015 she was a visiting faculty fellow at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington where she is now a PhD candidate. Victoria University Press published her debut collection Night as Day last year.

Night as Day struck multiple chords with me, particularly in the way poetry can inhabit the present tense, build sumptuous layers of feelings, ideas, things, relationships and buried secrets. Movement accumulates between places that both unsettles and anchors. Self exposure is tested, how we make poems is equally so. Pronouns are open homes: ‘you’ could be anyone. It is the kind of book that settles deep inside through its complexity, its quietness and its subterranean questions. I adore it.

We have spent perhaps a year conversing and I feel I have barely scraped the surface in what I want to talk about. And that is good – it shows the rich reading experience this poet offers.

 

(…)   As I drive

through the valleys, silky plumes of smoke rise

from the trees at random intervals, different rooms,

and I, frantic at the moment’s undoing.

 

The wind always working against us

and the scattered remainders, the past’s

shallow artefacts; somewhere whole cities

covered in ash, that legacy of fire and burning.

 

It just means someone’s home.

Your birthplace perhaps the only

kind of destiny. To know where you begin

and where you return.

 

from ‘The Great Western Hotel’

 

 

Screen Shot 2020-02-18 at 8.59.47 AM.png

 

 

Paula: As my introduction makes clear, your debut collection Night as Day was a rich reading experience for me. When did you first begin writing poetry? Was it as far back as childhood? What compelled you? Did any poets influence you?

 

Nikki-Lee: Thank you so much Paula. That’s a great question—compelled is a good way to describe writing.

I first began writing poetry in high school two years after I moved from Piha to a town thirty minutes outside of New York City. Growing up, I was moved around a lot and was never given a lot of information about what was happening to me. Reading was an escape, but also I can remember this early compulsion of note-taking, of trying to learn and order the information. I don’t remember reading or learning anything in schools in New Zealand. I’m not sure if it was because I moved a lot or was a terrible student or the schools were terrible. I remember being bored, nervous, and acting out because we didn’t seem to do anything. But I read on my own from books from the library. As a kid, and a girl-kid, I read monster and magic and fairy books in New Zealand. Like a lot of kids I read Harry Potter, and I would reread and reread to get lost in it. The idea that there was a magical world you couldn’t see that could choose you and take you away from what was happening to you. It was very appealing. I didn’t care about sentences, and I wasn’t taught any skills about identifying what’s a good sentence. I don’t have a lot of clear memories as a child because when you deal with instability, discontinuity, trauma you forget stuff out of necessity.

I was talking to a friend recently about this—the early love of fantasy. I remember as a girl I thought if I could just be a were-witch or a werewolf or a faerie-king or a freaking animorph! Anything to explain this incredible power I felt while reading—it felt like a hawk soaring if you can try to imagine what that feels like, and I did a lot—and this powerlessness I felt all the time as a child. I don’t read fantasy anymore but I think I should. I had to let that go in American high school to make room for algebra and bio and history. But dark, Victorian-like stories of the fallen still hold their sway.

When I got to a New Jersey public school I became conscious of the first thing: September 11 happened and the school was evacuated. I’m just now at the end of my twenties understanding how that affected me, not just moving countries with no explanation, but that sense of danger; words like terrorism, war, entering my vocabulary but not understanding really what they meant. The second thing I became conscious of in high school was the system of knowledge was completely different. I took all of these required subjects like American/ Colonial history, European/ Colonial history, Algebra, AP bio, AP physics, but the classes where I didn’t feel the burning anxiety of knowing nothing and feeling like a fraud, or an idiot, or an interloper were English classes. Books I were familiar with. So even though I was reading for the first time the very western canon, I was open to it: Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, Hawthorne, Hardy, August Wilson, Harper Lee, Milton, Melville. Stuff you would find in a high school English class. It was a lot of information but I was kind of learning my own world through those worlds in the books, i.e. making sense of what the mid-west is, this is what Dean Moriarty means by Colorado and here it is on the map and that is in the country I now live in, etc. And I had a teacher who taught a poetry class and that was it for me, I was off!

Poetry for me was fragmented in a way, like how I saw the world, in pieces, trying to make sense of it, and so I felt weirdly that it understood me and I understood it. It was also a way for me to not really express myself but express that I was there when I felt this sense of incoherence as my New Zealand past was disappearing. By the end of high school at 17 I had caught up, but while I closed this big gap in knowledge I knew there was so much more, and during this time too I figured out how to sit the SATs and applied to college and financial aid applications and buried a parent and so on.

I read a lot of Keats, Hardy, Brontes, Plath, as I would Animporphs. That sense of transformation. In university, I had to repeat the process of high school but with a lot more reading and working in bars to pay rent and then the Global Financial Crisis/ Great Recession happened by the time I graduated in New York in 2010. I think now, as I finish my PhD once again in the institution, the world in crisis, how much those big early events like 9/11, the Great Recession, really influenced my personality. Man, how child and teen years and your early self-becoming years are radioactive; they are so so crucial. It was like I was there but I was too close to it so I couldn’t see it, or if I looked at it directly it might swallow me up, as it did many people, and it was affecting me in all these ways physically and emotionally. How I handle stress and a sort of constant anxiety and nervousness, etc.

I’m just now getting more time to read separate from my doctorate, even though it’s not done yet but I have the sense of an ending, and for instance I’m writing this at 7:13 a.m. and I’ve been up since 3 a.m. reading Rilke for actually no reason other than I saw it on the bookshelf lit by the full moon, shadow journaling, thinking maybe this is who I am, this is who I’ve always been ha. It’s finally light enough to make a cup of tea without waking anyone.

 

Paula: Reading this is like reading a miniature and evocative biography where books and learning have shaped a life. I am full to the brim with questions! Your debut collection Night As Day embodies writing and subsequently reading as a way of existing, just for that provisional moment. As your title suggests: in the dark of night and light of day, and in the light of night and dark of day. What attracts you to writing? Does it make a difference if it is poetry, academic writing or something else altogether?

Nikki-Lee: What a lovely reading of Night as Day! Writing is a part of me, I think, one of the most consistent parts, my long-time companion. I came to writing as a teen in dark times, like many people. I’d write in diaries, which actually turned out to be long catalogues of what I was reading at the time. I don’t know why I did this. I also wrote these long “dictionary lists”. Oh man. But writing in diaries or in notebooks is very different to writing poems. When I first went to graduate school in Iowa I got really overwhelmed with composition. I was getting paid to write and learn but I was in a competitive environment, and younger than I am now and full of self-loathing and a lack of confidence. So I spent a lot of time burying my impulses with writing and then finding them again towards the end of my time there. And then I first came to Wellington shortly after Iowa and discovered another deep lack of confidence: not being New Zealander (for lack of a better word) enough.

So I wrote Night as Day in an academic environment, but then sort of just said fuck it. If people want to know what “Conedison” means or what I mean by “100s” I’m going to annotate these poems and I’m sure they won’t like that either. But readers responded to the biographical (poem-ographical?) end notes, and also the tone of them, I just tried to be as earnest as possible even if being earnest isn’t necessarily interesting. So in a way it does matter if it’s poetry or academic or something else but if it feels right to me then it is always me—contains that part of me that is shaped by writing continually, ever-changingly, through my life. The insistence on writing that for me says: I am here, I am new here, and tries to refuse that displaced self that is untethered to place.

Also, when I’m not writing I feel like shit. But I can’t force it. I’ve heard this is a common problem.

Is it ok to swear in this interview? Sorry.

 

I have no idea how you see me.

I think about this a lot tonight

in the purple-dark sky, the sun

falling suddenly, broken up

 by hills. I’m in the office

scrawling over the whiteboard

impossible notes and perambulations.

We never look at just one thing.

I throw my phone in the bin

too many images—

it’s just a piece of junk aglint

in the plastic folds of the liner.

 

from ‘Objects 7’

 

Paula: YES! And you can choose whether to read the annotations. I like the way they provide different illuminations and send me back rereading. Reading your collection, I felt like I was inhabiting a moment, a provisional glorious moment that was shaped by me and affected so deeply by the poems. Every time I inhabit the poem it is different. How does poetry affect as you reader and / or as writer?

Nikki-Lee: I love the idea of inhabiting a moment in a poem. What I love about poetry is that if you respond to it as the reader, you are shaping the poem. Poetry can make you give something of yourself to the poem, if just for a second. But that is such a gift. When you’re reading a poem, and you feel like it sees you, that’s the goal, the hope of the poet. One of the many reasons why it’s so vital to have different writers represented in literature.

 

Paula: Do you have key motifs, themes, symbols that you can’t get away from, that you simple love?

Nikki-Lee: I have always loved the colour of the sky and how it changes. The light of the day subsiding, the day rising. And a million other things.

 

Paula: Ah I love the appearance of sky in poems too for all kinds for reasons. Poetry is a form of wonder in all its connotations. I also love the way you take us outside the poem to the wider context of its own making. How important is this?

Nikki-Lee: I wanted to draw attention to the moment, or act, of writing the poem as a way to open the poem up. I think there should be multiple ways into a poem, why not? There are no rules. I spend so much time thinking about this. There are literally no rules, less is not more, more is not less. You just do everything you can to make connections, to reach a hand out, to make anything — maybe even especially the thing that is most painful — beautiful.

 

She said, ‘I believe in being a poet

in all moments of life.’ She wrote

of machine guns planted in courtyard gardens,

of the breaths of silk-tasselled acacias,

and she asked if she would dance

once more on wine glasses. Her repeated

phrase an echo, ‘Why should I stop?

Why should I stop?’

She divorced her husband,

she bore a bright son

and I think she loved her mother.

Is it obvious that she was beautiful?

Her books were banned

and she said, ‘Being a poet means

being human.’

 

from ‘Objects 9’

 

(a composite biography of Iranian poet, Forugh Farrokhzad, 1935 – 1967)

 

Paula: I totally agree. Poetry equals no rules. Multiple pathways. I find your poems to be pitch perfect on the line (I would love an audio version of the book), while the arrival of detail adds texture to feeling, ideas, storytelling. What matters when you write a poem?

Nikki-Lee: Wow thank you! What matters when I write a poem? I dunno. I left my life in New York City in my mid twenties to move back here and write this book Night as Day. Write a book about the place I’m from. Sometimes writing feels like the thing that keeps me going, keeps me alive. I know it sounds maybe over the top but this is a dramatic, consequential year. So I’m feeling it a lot.

 

Look, I’ll show you around

this condensed symbol of a place.

It’s true, its everything

and nothing specific,

and everything to me

and always specific.

It’s impossible to understand

how we got from there to here.

One place after another.

You come close

to a home.

 

from ‘Objects 12’

 

Paula: Do you have tension between reserve and admission?

Nikki-Lee: Yeah, considering the answer to the last question ha. I’m all tension. Constantly wondering if I’ll regret being open. People don’t like that always — I get that vibe here more than in other places I’ve lived. Hey Nikki-Lee how’s it going?

Me: Let me talk to you about how we have the highest homelessness rate in the OECD.

 

Paula: Yes! To what degree do we put the filter on when we write or go out in public. Is it something that keeps poets awake at night I wonder.

Is there a poem in the collection that particularly resonates with you? I am particularly drawn to the object poems, ‘The Blue Hour’, the notes at the back!

Nikki-Lee: They’re all a snapshot of me at a certain time. You gotta learn to love the past versions of yourself (I’m writing like I wrote this book years ago as opposed to finishing it last year and publishing it a few months later but it’s early and I have to catch the bus to work, sorry!). In Night as Day I’m working through a lot of difficult memories, things that were spurred by moving back here, and other stuff.

The poem ‘The Blue Hour’ is one people talk to me about. I’m proud because I was so afraid writing that poem and I want people who might read it to think it’s okay to have parents who can be toxic and that reject you. It’s nothing to do with you. There’s this really privileged tyrannical notion of upholding this family ideal when the people who are your parents, who are supposed to protect you, are, like, annihilating you with their generational greed.

 

You need a human to love in this awful

human endeavour. You look at all the

sad, dark things I can write long after his death.

 

You are reading this introduction

to my life now, I wish it were closer

to happiness, but then it wouldn’t be

 

close to me.

That light most

like New Zealand—

 

even I couldn’t tell the difference—

the blue hour lit up her piano

that she never played in front of us,

 

just as her mother never did, whom she

loathed and then nursed. I do not want

to loathe and then nurse.

 

Mum, please, don’t hate this,

 

I love you.

 

from ‘The Blue Hour’

 

 

 

Paula: Ah ‘The Blue Hour’ really affected me and seems connected to a maternal undercurrent hiding in the book. All the poems in this section map a life (and as you say in the whole book) and in this example the mother-daughter relationship is in the foreground. The poem’s larger indents on the first lines of stanzas are like breath intakes, the writer’s hiccups, hesitancies, with a filter at work and the fertility of pause.

You were born in Piha – I live near Te Henga on the West Coast and it anchors and lightens me in so many ways. How does your birthplace matter?

Nikki-Lee: It’s a place that both anchors and unmoors. It stands in for the flood of the past when you’re trying and failing and living a life where your past doesn’t have to define you. And then I go back there and I stand at the cliffs at the end of the road and I want to scream but I also know how that place is always a part of me. How honoured I am to be in that place. To have been taken so far away, and then to find my way back.

 

You craved the sea so long

but this is the first time you

look at it for a long time. You

wonder at the names of boats.

 

from ‘The Undergraduate’

 

Paula: What other activities enhance your life as writer?

Nikki-Lee: Occasionally crying while working out. Saunas. Skincare. Cardi B. Asking politicians at events about how’s it possible we have so many people living in poverty in a wealthy country with no tax on wealth.

 

 

The Blue Hour

  It’s the blue hour of an August

five o’clock, unlike any other I’ve seen.

I’ve made worse this worst time of year

 

for me, haven’t spoken to my mother

in a whole year. Longer? Words

compound, then run away from you.

 

That’s a cliché, but so is everything.

How many times I could barely

look to see the light streaming through

 

the windows of her New Jersey apartment.

No difference between the filmy curtains

and gauzy air. She’d bring me broccoli soup

 

from Panera Bread™, she’d say one can

never understand the sadness of you,

which explains not all, but some, of our problems.

 

From the rooftop garden

I would focus on the peak of the church

steeple across the street, and the early summer

 

moon just behind it, while the cat Lily,

deceased recently, slunk over to my deck chair

sunk in the faux-grass. My mother says

 

you need an animal to love,

but in that garden state I could see only

the ordered treetops, below the brown bees

 

swarming the dirt in the revolutionary war

cemetery. I walked through their hum once

and found four in my shoes; couldn’t tell the graves

 

from the broken headstones;

didn’t feel the sting till much later.

What do you put on bee stings? She asked,

 

I think vinegar, I said. She, beautiful

and smaller, somehow, walking out

of the bathroom wrapped in a purple sarong,

 

make-upless, wet hair made her

more definite; the light on her gold curls

a real halo, slight smile, curve of a tiny hand.

 

She was so beautiful I didn’t

think I could ever be beautiful because

some beautiful mothers never tell

 

            their daughters in time. I built myself

from the ground to that rooftop, waking in my spot

amongst the trees, the spotted leaves.

 

You need a human to love in this awful

human endeavour. You look at all the

sad, dark things I can write long after his death.

 

You are reading this introduction

to my life now, I wish it were closer

to happiness, but then it wouldn’t be

 

close to me.

That light most

like New Zealand—

 

even I couldn’t tell the difference—

the blue hour lit up her piano

that she never played in front of us,

 

just as her mother never did, whom she

loathed and then nursed. I do not want

to loathe and then nurse.

 

            Mum, please, don’t hate this,

 

I love you.

 

Nikki-Lee Birdsey

 

 

Victoria University Press author page

Poetry Shelf audio: Nikki-Lee reads ‘Foreign and Domestic’

Poetry Shelf poem festival (trees):  ‘Objects 4’

Best NZ Poems 2018: ‘Mutuwhenua

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf summer reading: Jane Arthur’s Craven

Screen Shot 2020-02-11 at 8.45.03 AM.png

 

 

Craven, Jane Arthur, Victoria University Press, 2019

 

 

 

I have a broth at a simmer on the stove.

Salty water like I’ve scooped up some ocean

and am cooking it in my home. Here,

gulp it back like a whale sieving plankton.

Anything can be a weapon if you

swallow hard enough:

nail scissors, a butter knife, dental floss,

a kindergarten guillotine, hot soup,

waves, whales.

 

from ‘Circles of Lassitude’

 

 

Jane Arthur’s debut collection Craven inhabits moments until they shine – brilliantly, surprisingly, refractingly, bitingly. Present-tense poetry is somewhat addictive. With her free floating pronouns (I, you, we) poetry becomes a way of being, of inhabiting the moment, as you either reader or poet, from shifting points of view.

It is not surprising it has been longlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

The collection title references lack of courage, but it is as though Jane’s debut collection steps across a line into poetic forms of grit. This is a book of unabashed feeling; of showing the underseam, the awkward stitching, the rips and tears. Of daring to expose. The poems are always travelling and I delight in every surprising step. You move from taxidermy to piano lessons to heart checks and heart beats, but there is always a core of exposed self. And that moves me. You shift from a thing such as a plastic rose to Brad Pitt to parental quarrels. One poem speaks from the point of view of a ship’s figurehead, another from that of Constance. There is anxiety – there are dilemmas and epiphanies. The poetic movement is honeyed, fluid, divinely crafted – no matter where the subject travels, no matter the anxious veins, the tough knots.

An early poem, ‘Idiots’, is like an ode to life, to ways of being. I keep crossing between the title and the poem, the spare arrival of words punctuated by ample white space, elongated silent beats that fill with the links between brokenness, strength and pressing on.

 

Idiots

I’ve known people who decided

to carry their brokenness like strength

idiots

I’m a tree

I mean I’m tall, I sway

I don’t say, treat me gently

No¾I say, cool cool cool cool

I say, that really sucks but I guess I’ll survive it

or, that wind’s really strong

but so are my roots, so are my thighs

my branches my lungs my leaves my capacity to wait things out

I can get up in the morning

I do things

 

 

I heard Jane read for the first time at the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize session at the Auckland Writers Festival in 2018. Her reading blew my socks off, just as her poems had delighted American judge, Eileen Myles, and it was with great pleasure I announced her as the winner. Eileen described Jane’s poetry: ‘poetry’s a connection to everything which I felt in all these [shortlisted] poets but in this final winning one the most. There’s an unperturbed confident “real” here.’ In her report, Eileen wrote:

The poet shocked me. I was thrust into their work right away and it evoked the very situation of the poem and the cold suddenness of the clinical encounter, the matter of fact weirdness of being female though so many in the world are us. And still we are a ‘peculiarity’ here and this poet manages to instantly say that in poetry. They more than caught me. I like exactly how they do this – shifting from body to macro, celestial, clinical, and maybe even speaking a little out of an official history. She seems to me a poet of scale and embodiment. Her moves are clean and well-choreographed & delivers each poem’s end & abruptly and deeply I think. There’s a from the hip authority that inhabits each and all of these poems.

 

I am revisiting these words in view of Craven’s multiple poetry thrills. So often we talk about the way a poem steps off from the ordinary and blasts your heart and senses, if not your mind, with such a gust of freshness everything becomes out of the ordinary. This is what happens with Craven. A sense of verve and outspokenness is both intoxicating and necessary:

 

I’m entertaining the idea of never being silent again,

of walking into a room and shouting, You Fuckers Better Toe the Line

like a prophylactic.

from ‘Sit Down’

A sense of brittleness, vulnerability and self-testing is equally present:

I’ve been preoccupied with what others think again.

I’ve been trying not to let people down.

Nights are not long enough.

Lately there’s been more sun than I would’ve expected.

I keep the weather report open in its own tab and check it often.

From ‘Situation’

 

The movement between edge and smooth sailing, between light and dark, puzzle and resolution, and all shades within any dichotomy you might spot – enhances the reading experience. This is a book to treasure – its complexities and its economies, its confession and its reserve. It never fails to surprise. I am so excited she will be reading at my Poetry Shelf Live session at Wellington’s Writers Festival in March (see below). Triple yeah!

 

 

Jane Arthur was the recipient of the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize  (2018). She has worked in the book industry as a bookseller and a book editor for over fifteen years. She has a master of Arts in Creative Writing from IIML at Victoria University of wellington. She was co-founder of the The Sapling, an online site for children’s literature. She lives in Wellington.

Jane will be appearing in my Poetry Shelf Live session at NZ Festival of the Arts,

Michael Fowler Centre,  Sunday 8 March 2020 12:30pm – 1:30pm

 

Victoria University Press page

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: ‘Situation’ by Jane Arthur

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Jane Arthur reads ‘Snowglobe’

Poetry Shelf: Conversation with Sarah Broom Prize finalist, Jane Arthur

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf summer reading: essa may ranapiri’s ransack

 

Screen Shot 2020-02-04 at 6.54.10 AM.png

 

ransack, essa may ranapiri, Victoria University, 2019

 

 

 

he is like a bumblebee stinger on my tongue when I say it’

from ‘Dear Orlando’

 

 

 

essa may ranapiri begins their debut poetry collection ransack with a quote from Virginia Woolf’s gender-switching Orlando: ‘Ransack the language as he might, words failed him. He wanted another landscape, and another tongue.’

When I was doing my doctoral thesis (Italian) I carried a Virginia Woolf quote from A Room of One’s Own with me and I still do: ‘Mary is tampering with the expected sequence.  First she broke the sentence; now she has broken the sequence. Very well, she has every right to do both these things if she does them not for the sake of breaking, but for the sake of creating.’

Sometimes we need to break language, to smash how we do things in order to begin again, in order to find form and fluidity for our voices. Sometime language fails us. Sometimes we have to smash muteness and test our way into a new musicality, a new sequence of connections. We may be fierce and we may be vulnerable.

I dipped in and out of ransack last year, and loved every snatched moment, but a few weekends ago I sat down in the cool shade and read the book slowly, cover to cover, and felt myself upturn, overturn, inturn and sideturn as the poetry pulsed through my being (I am thinking of that as a verb). This is what a book can do.

essa’s book is a glorious sequence of creating – of ransacking what has been, in order to refresh what will be. Letters written to Orlando make an appearance – like a epistle spine for the collection or a poetry pivot for both reader and writer.

The opening poem ‘my tongue as rope’ lays down a thicket image – the kind of image that hooks you, especially when you think of  writing, speaking and even self as braid. The braided rope is the anchor, the preserver, the tough knot, ‘the single knot’, the finder.

essa writes: to pull in sound / draw in lists / the endeavour hits the land’. Can the poems be a form of rope? ‘my tongue-rope wraps itself until it is a single knot.’

A single poem breaks apart in my mouth and heart. The break in the flow creates a new current.

 

 

fetal

 

a mothe

r returnin

g to the grown ground like a gow

n of weeds got a stretching motion

n to stil

l body corps

e the wood in the wax in the flowe

r chains a bab

y stil

l bor

n rattling i

n the mutton skie

s chubby in the loa

m to no mor

e

 

Reading ransack allows me to absorb the nonbinary experience afresh. Unsettling the line on the page unsettles the line of thought, the entrenched dichotomies of either / or / male / female / she / he / soft / hard / weak / strong

A long poem ‘Con-ception’ is dedicated to essa’s mother and is a reading explosion of arrival, pregnancy, forming embryo, forming mother. I have never read a piece that breaks into and out of the maternal that has affected me so much. I am going to give you a quote that is also right-hand margin justified, but not all the book is (the forms are dancing on their toes in an exuberant display of variousness:

 

in the world and into the world of tubes

ride the machine

incubate in plastic

and drench in yellow light

the air is whole new in-the-world

and out of the old world

recognise voices

am i

an i?

 

put in

alove?

When she finally has a shower afterwards she is crying.

 

Reading the ransack sequences and I am feeling poetry. essa tells Orlando ‘You never had to discover yourself in a book. You never questioned your gendered nature – you moved from one perfect set of genitalia to another according to Aristophanes and the great round people of concave and convex, of female and male.’

essa places body and experience at its white hot core – a gift in its sharpness, its broken cutting lines and its sweet fluencies as the writer navigates how to be, how to be body, how to be bodymindheart in the world. Part of the writing of experience, with that backstory sting of ‘he’, is claiming name, celebrating a pronoun:

 

u said you liked the ‘th’ sound in they and them the softening of it

and how it fitted around my rage

made it/for it

to be okay to touch

i talk you through other constructions

ones that subverted phonetics

me as a slice of not that

when expecting this

the xe sound like zay

 

from ‘a phone call about the nature of pronouns gendered and otherwise’

 

ransack is a skin-prickling, heart-blasting, mind-opening glorious feast of a book that in the spirit of Virginia breaks up language in order to create something breathtakingly new.

 

 

 

essa may ranapiri, Ngāti Raukawa, is a poet from Kirikiriroa, Aotearoa. They graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University of Wellington (2018) and their work has appeared in many local journals. They are the featured poet in Poetry Yearbook 2020 (Massey University Press). ransack has been longlisted for the Ockham NZ Book Awards 2020.

 

essa may ranapiri website

Victoria University Press page

The Pantograph Punch Jackson Nieuwland reviews ransack

RNZ interview

Poetry Shelf: essa reads ‘Glass Breaking’

essa on being at IIML with Tayi Tibble