Tag Archives: Victoria University Press

New Books: Celebrating Fleur Adcock’s Collected Poems launch day with Maria McMillan

 

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Launches on Wednesday 13 February, 6pm–7.30pm
at Unity Books, 57 Willis St, Wellington.

 

Today Fleur Adcock launches her Collected Poems with Victoria University Press at Unity Books in Wellington. This is an occasion to celebrate! I read my way through all Fleur’s books for Wild Honey and I loved the experience and the multiple effects it had upon me.

This week Marty Smith and I (and many more by the looks!) were directed by Maria McMillan’s tweet to her (Maria’s) terrific 2015 blog post on Fleur. Sharing thoughts on what a poetry book means to you on such a personal level is exactly why I am launching my classic (well-loved, enduring) poems/poetry books slot on Wednesdays.

 

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Read Maria’s effervescent blog, pop into the Wellington launch and then tuck up into the glorious richness, kicks, grace, wit, reflective-ness and absolute joy of Fleur’s poetry.

A taste of Maria’s blog post:

 

Selected Poems, Fleur Adcock. Oxford University Press, 1983.

Being a girl is dangerous. I don’t just mean we are vulnerable to danger, but that we are, ourselves, dangerous, capable of causing great damage to ourselves and others. We, especially in those years we are changing into women, live in danger, where danger is the vibrating state we occupy.

I started thinking tonight about Fleur Adcock’s Selected Poems which I first read at 15. I remembered the dark green cover and how the spine looked on my parents’ bookshelf. The slim sitting room one with the cut out hearts and tidy shelves of Penguins. Have I made up the moment of discovery? Of pulling the book from the shelf, of curling in the large brown chair with the ribbed pattern that would leave its tribal marks on me? The book must have come alive to me then, something that breathed and beat so that next time I came to the shelf I would recognise it. It would hum when I entered the room.

It was my mother’s book but became mine in the way any book is claimed as intimate property by obsessed readers. I wonder if it in turn claimed me, lodging its shards in my ears and brain and heart, because it was the first book of poetry I really read. A book I read for sheer pleasure but also I read and reread wanting to understand how Fleur Adcock had done it. I don’t know if that is peculiarly a budding poet’s reading, or if that is the nature of all close reading of poetry. That the thrill of a good poem is watching it run but also holding it in your lap, seeing the bones and muscles move beneath the pelt, smelling its oily springed wool. Understanding how it all fits together.

Do teenagers, or at least the kind I was,  gravitate towards poetry because the best of it is transformative in the same way adolescence is? Good poetry allowing us not just to see the capacity of the poet, but our own capacities. A transformation from passive childlike recipients of the word and the world, to readers active, engaged and creative in our own right. I think about how it’s not just writers who are dangerous, with their strange ability to conjure mountains and moods, but readers too. There is a moment, when we get poems, if we get them, where we are not having something done to us by the poem, but we are doing something to the poem. A good poem, that we have read and understood, can give us a sense of mastery, perhaps what a musician feels when she plays fluently, for the first time, a difficult piece of music.

It is a long time since I have opened Adcock’s book and when I do it is with great affection as phrases I have loved for 30 years float up off the page out to me, triggering the same pings of pure pleasure as they did on my first encounter with them.

 

Full piece by Maria here

Victoria University Press page

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating poetry 2018 in pictures and words

 

m y    h i g h l i g h t s

 

I have had endless opportunities to transform the days and nights of 2018 with poetry musings. What good is poetry? Why write it? Why read it? Because it energises. Because it connects with the world on the other side of these hills and bush views. Because it gives me goose bumps and it makes me feel and think things.

I am fascinated by the things that stick – the readings I replay in my head – the books I finish and then read again within a week – the breathtaking poem I can’t let go. So much more than I write of here!

I have also invited some of the poets I mention to share their highlights.

 

2018: my year of poetry highlights

I kicked started an audio spot on my blog with Chris Tse reading a poem and it meant fans all round the country could hear how good he is. Like wow! Will keep this feature going in 2019.

Wellington Readers and Writers week was a definite highlight – and, amidst all the local and international stars, my standout session featured a bunch of Starling poets. The breathtaking performances of Tayi Tibble and essa may ranapiri made me jump off my seat like a fan girl. I got to post esssa’s poem on the blog.

To get to do an email conversation with Tayi after reading Poūkahangatus (VUP) her stunning debut collection – was an absolute treat. I recently reread our interview and was again invigorated by her poetry engagements, the way she brings her whanau close, her poetry confidence, her fragilities, her song. I love love love her poetry.

My second standout event was the launch of tātai whetū edited by Maraea Rakuraku and Vana Manasiadis and published by Seraph Press. Lots of the women read with their translators. The room overflowed with warmth, aroha and poetry.

At the same festival I got to MC Selina Tusitala Marsh and friends at the National Library and witness her poetry charisma. Our Poet Laureate electrifies a room with poems (and countless other venues!), and I am in awe of the way she sparks poetry in so many people in so many places.

I also went to my double poetry launch of the year. Chris Tse’s  He’s So MASC (AUP) – the book moved and delighted me to bits and I was inspired to do an email conversation with him for Poetry Shelf. He was so genius in his response. Anna Jackson’s Pasture and Flock: New and Selected Poems (AUP) delivers the quirkiest, unexpected, physical, cerebral poetry around. The book inspired another email conversation for the blog.

Tusiata Avia exploded my heart at her event with her cousin Victor Rodger; she read her challenging Unity and astonishing epileptic poems. Such contagious strength amidst such fragility my nerve endings were hot-wired (can that be done?). In a session I chaired on capital cities and poets, Bill Manhire read and spoke with such grace and wit the subject lit up. Capital city connections were made.

When Sam Duckor-Jones’s debut collection People from the Pit Stand Up (VUP) arrived, both the title and cover took me to the couch to start reading until I finished. All else was put on hold. I adore this book with its mystery and revelations, its lyricism and sinew; and doing a snail-paced email conversation was an utter pleasure.

I have long been a fan of Sue Wootton’s poetry with its sumptuous treats for the ear. So I was delighted to see The Yield (OUP) shortlisted for the 2018 NZ Book Awards. This is a book that sticks. I was equally delighted to see Elizabeth Smither win with her Night Horses (AUP) because her collection features poems I just can’t get out of my head. I carry her voice with me, having heard her read the poems at a Circle of Laureates event. I also loved Hannah Mettner’s Fully Clothed and So Forgetful (VUP), a debut that won best first Book. How this books sings with freshness and daring and originality.

I did a ‘Jane Arthur has  won the Sarah Broom Poetry Award and Eileen Meyers picked her’ dance in my kitchen and then did an anxious flop when I found Eileen couldn’t make the festival. But listening to Jane read before I announced the winner I felt she had lifted me off the ground her poems were so good. I was on stage and people were watching.

Alison Glenny won the Kathleen Grattan Award and Otago University Press published The Farewell Tourist, her winning collection. We had a terrific email conversation. This book has taken up permanent residence in my head because I can’t stop thinking about the silent patches, the mystery, the musicality, the luminous lines, the Antarctica, the people, the losses, the love. And the way writing poetry can still be both fresh and vital. How can poetry be so good?!

I went to the HoopLA book launch at the Women’s Bookshop and got to hear three tastes from three fabulous new collections: Jo Thorpe’s This Thin Now, Elizabeth Welsh’s Over There a Mountain and Reihana Robinson’s Her limitless Her. Before they began, I started reading Reihana’s book and the mother poems at the start fizzed in my heart. I guess it’s a combination of how a good a poem is and what you are feeling on the day and what you experienced at some point in the past. Utter magic. Have now read all three and I adore them.

At Going West I got to chair Helen Heath, Chris Tse and Anna Jackson (oh like a dream team) for the Wellington and poetry session. I had the anxiety flowing (on linking city and poet again) but forgot all that as I became entranced by their poems and responses. Such generosity in sharing themselves in public – it not only opened up poetry writing but also the complicated knottiness of being human. Might sound corny but there you go. Felt special.

Helen Heath’s new collection Are Friends Eectric? (VUP) was another book that blew me apart with its angles and smoothness and provocations. We conversed earlier this year by email.

A new poetry book by former Poet Laureate Cilla McQueen is always an occasion to celebrate. Otago University Press have released Poeta: Selected and new poems this year. It is a beautiful edition curated with love and shows off the joys of Cilla’s poetry perfectly.

Two anthologies to treasure: because I love short poems Jenny Bornholdt’s gorgeous anthology Short Poems of New Zealand. And Steve Braunias’s The Friday Poem because he showcases an eclectic range of local of poets like no other anthology I know. I will miss him making his picks on Fridays (good news though Ashleigh Young is taking over that role).

 

Highlights from some poets

 

Sam Duckor-Jones

I spent six weeks reading & writing poems with the students of Eketahuna School. They were divided on the merits of James Brown’s Come On Lance. It sparked a number of discussions & became a sort of touchstone. Students shared the poems they’d written & gave feedback: it’s better than Come On Lance, or, it’s not as good as Come On Lance, or, shades of Come On Lance. Then someone would ask to hear Come On Lance again & half the room would cheer & half the room would groan. Thanks James Brown for Come On Lance.

 

Hannah Mettner

My fave poetry thing all year has been the beautiful Heartache Festival that Hana Pera Aoake and Ali Burns put on at the start of the year! Spread over an afternoon and evening, across two Wellington homes, with readings and music and so much care and aroha. I wish all ‘literary festivals’ had such an atmosphere of openness and vulnerability!

 

Jane Arthur

Poetry-related things made up a lot of my highlights this year. I mean, obviously, winning the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize was … pretty up there. I’m still, like, “Me?! Whaaaat!” about it. I discovered two things after the win. First, that it’s possible to oscillate between happy confidence and painful imposter syndrome from one minute to the next. And second, that the constant state of sleep deprivation brought on by having a baby is actually strangely good for writing poetry. It puts me into that semi-dream-brain state that helps me see the extra-weirdness in everything. I wrote almost a whole collection’s worth of poems (VUP, 2020) in the second half of the year, thanks broken sleep!

A recent highlight for me was an event at Wellington’s LitCrawl: a conversation between US-based poet Kaveh Akbar and Kim Hill. I’m still processing all its gems – hopefully a recording will show up soon. Another was commissioning Courtney Sina Meredith to write something (“anything,” I said) for NZ Poetry Day for The Sapling, and getting back a moving reminder of the importance of everyone’s stories

This year I read more poetry than I have in ages, and whenever I enjoyed a book I declared it my favourite (I always do this). However, three local books have especially stayed with me and I will re-read them over summer: the debuts by Tayi Tibble and Sam Duckor-Jones, and the new Alice Miller. Looking ahead, I can’t wait for a couple of 2019 releases: the debut collections by essa may ranapiri and Sugar Magnolia Wilson.

 

Elizabeth Smither

Having Cilla McQueen roll and light me a cigarette outside the Blyth

Performing Arts Centre in Havelock North after the poets laureate

Poemlines: Coming Home reading (20.10.2018) and then smoking together,

cigarettes in one hand and tokotoko in the other. Then, with the relief that

comes after a reading, throwing the cigarette down into a bed of pebbles, hoping

the building doesn’t catch on fire.

 

Selina Tusitala Marsh

To perform my ‘Guys Like Gauguin’ sequence (from Fast Talking PI) in Tahiti at the Salon du Livre, between an ancient Banyan Tree and a fruiting Mango tree, while a French translator performs alongside me and Tahitians laugh their guts out!

Thanks Bougainville
For desiring ‘em young
So guys like Gauguin
Could dream and dream
Then take his syphilitic body
Downstream…

 

Chris Tse

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This year I’ve been lucky enough to read my work in some incredible settings, from the stately dining room at Featherston’s Royal Hotel, to a church-turned-designer-clothing-store in Melbourne’s CBD. But the most memorable reading I’ve done this year was with fellow Kiwis Holly Hunter, Morgan Bach and Nina Powles in a nondescript room at The Poetry Cafe in London, which the three of them currently call home. It was a beautiful sunny Saturday that day, but we still managed to coax people into a dark windowless room to listen to some New Zealand poetry for a couple of hours. This is a poetry moment I will treasure for many years to come.

 

Sue Wootton

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing and reading plenty of poems by plenty of poets this year. But far and away the most rejuvenating poetry experience for me during 2018 was working with the children at Karitane School, a small primary school on the East Otago coast. I’m always blown away by what happens when kids embark on the poetry journey. Not only is the exploration itself loads of fun, but once they discover for themselves the enormous potentiality in language – it’s just go! As they themselves wrote: “Plant the seeds and grow ideas / an idea tree! Sprouting questions … / Bloom the inventions / Fireworks of words …” So I tip my cap to these young poets, in awe of what they’ve already made and intrigued to find out what they’ll make next.

 

Cilla McQueen

1

25.11.18

Found on the beach – is it a fossil?

jawbone? hunk of coral? No – it’s a wrecked,

fire-blackened fragment of Janola bottle,

its contorted plastic colonised by weeds

and sandy encrustations, printed instructions

still visible here and there, pale blue.

Growing inside the intact neck, poking out

like a pearly beak, a baby oyster.

 

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Living in Bluff for twenty-two years now, I’ve sometimes felt out on a limb, in the tree of New Zealand poetry. I appreciate the journey my visitors undertake to reach me. A reluctant traveller myself, a special poetry moment for me was spent with Elizabeth Smither and Bill and Marion Manhire at Malo restaurant, in Havelock North. Old friends from way back – I haven’t seen them often but poetry and art have always connected us

 

Tayi Tibble

In September, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend The Rosario International Poetry Festival in Argentina. It was poetic and romantic; late night dinners in high rise restaurants, bottles of dark wine served up like water, extremely flowery and elaborate cat-calling (Madam, you are a candy!) and of course sexy spanish poetry and sexy poets.

On our last night, Marcela, Eileen and I broke off and went to have dinner at probably what is the only Queer vegan hipster restaurant/boutique lingerie store/experimental dj venue in the whole of Argentina, if not the world. Literally. We couldn’t find a vegetable anywhere else. We went there, because Eileen had beef with the chef at the last place and also we had too much actual beef generally, but I digress.

So anyway there we are eating a vegan pizza and platter food, chatting. I accidentally say the C word like the dumbass crass kiwi that I am forgetting that it’s like, properly offensive to Americans. Eileen says they need to take a photo of this place because it’s camp af. I suggest that Marcela and I kiss for the photo to gay it up because I’m a Libra and I’m lowkey flirting for my life because it’s very hot and I’ve basically been on a red-wine buzz for five days. Eileen gets a text from Diana, one of the festival organisers telling them they are due to read in 10 minutes. We are shocked because the male latin poets tend to read for up to 2584656 times their allocated time slots, so we thought we had plenty of time to like, chill and eat vegan. Nonetheless poetry calls, so we have to dip real quick, but when we step outside, despite it being like 1546845 degrees the sky opens up and it’s pouring down. Thunder. Lightening. A full on tropical South American storm!

It’s too perfect it’s surreal. Running through the rain in South America. Marcella and I following Eileen like two hot wet groupies. Telling each other, “no you look pretty.” Feeling kind of primal. Throwing our wet dark curls around. The three of us agree that this is lowkey highkey very sexy. Cinematic and climatic. Eventually we hail a taxi because time is pressing. Though later that night, and by night I mean at like 4am, Marcella and I, very drunk and eating the rest of our Vegan pizza, confessed our shared disappointment that we couldn’t stay in the rain in Argentina…  just for a little while longer….

We get to the venue and make a scene; just in time and looking like we’ve just been swimming. Eileen, soaking wet and therefore looking cooler than ever, reads her poem An American Poem while Marcella and I admire like fangirls with foggy glasses and starry eyes.

“And I am your president.” Eileen reads.

“You are! You are!” We both agree.

 

Alison Glenny

A poetry moment/reading. ‘The Body Electric’ session at this year’s Litcrawl was a celebration of queer and/or non-binary poets (Emma Barnes, Harold Coutts, Sam Duckor-Jones, essa may ranapiri, Ray Shipley ). Curated and introduced by poet Chris Tse (looking incredibly dapper in a sparkly jacket) it was an inspiring antidote to bullying, shame, and the pressure to conform.

A book. Not a book of poetry as such, but a book by a poet (and perhaps it’s time to be non-binary about genre as well as gender?). Reading Anne Kennedy’s The Ice Shelf I was struck by how unerringly it highlights the salient characteristics of this strange era we call the anthropocene: crisis and denial, waste and disappearance, exploitation, and the destruction caused by broken relationships and an absence of care.

A publishing event. Seraph Press published the lovely tātai whetū: seven Māori women poets in translation, with English and Te Reo versions of each poem on facing pages (and a sprinkling of additional stars on some pages). An invitation, as Karyn Parangatai writes in her similarly bilingual review of the book in Landfall Review online (another publishing first?) ‘to allow your tongue to tease the Māori words into life’.

Best writing advice received in 2018. ‘Follow the signifier’.

 

essa may ranapiri

There are so many poetry highlights for me this year, so many good books that have left me buzzing for the verse! First book I want to mention is Cody-Rose Clevidence’s second poetry collection flung Throne. It has pulled me back into a world of geological time and fractured identity.

Other books that have resonated are Sam Ducker-Jone’s People from the Pit Stand Up and Tayi Tibble’s Poūkahangatus, work from two amazingly talented writers and friends who I went through the IIML Masters course with. After pouring over their writing all year in the workshop environment seeing their writing in book form brought me to tears. So proud of them both!

Written out on a type-writer, A Bell Made of Stones by queer Chamorro poet, Lehua M. Taitano, explores space, in the world and on the page. They engage with narratives both indigenous and colonial critiquing the racist rhetoric and systems of the colonial nation state. It’s an incredible achievement, challenging in form and focus.

I’ve been (and continue to be) a part of some great collaborative poetry projects, a poetry collection; How It Colours Your Tongue with Loren Thomas and Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor, a poetry chapbook; Eater Be Eaten with Rebecca Hawkes, and a longform poetry zine; what r u w/ a broken heart? with Hana Pera Aoake. Working with these people has and continues to be a such a blessing!

I put together a zine of queer NZ poetry called Queer the Pitch. Next year I’m going to work to release a booklet of trans and gender diverse poets, I’m looking forward to working with more talented queer voices!

The most important NZ poetry book to be released this year, it would have to be tātai whetū. It was published as part of Seraph Press’s Translation Series. It features work from seven amazing wāhine poets; Anahera Gildea, Michelle Ngamoki, Tru Paraha, Kiri Piahana-Wong, Maraea Rakuraku, Dayle Takitimu and Alice Te Punga Somerville. These poems are all accompanied by te reo Māori translations of the work. I can only imagine that it would be a super humbling experience to have your work taken from English and returned to the language of the manu. By happenstance I was able to attend the launch of tātai whetū; to hear these pieces read in both languages was a truly special experience. It’s so important that we continue to strive to uplift Māori voices, new words brought forth from the whenua should be prized in our literary community, thanks to Seraph for providing such a special place for these poems. Ka rawe!

 

Anna Jackson

This has been a year of particularly memorable poetry moments for me, from the launch of Seraph Press’s bilingual anthology Tātai Whetū in March and dazzling readings by Mary Rainsford and Tim Overton at a Poetry Fringe Open Mike in April, to Litcrawl’s inspiring installation in November of essa may ranapiri and Rebecca Hawkes hard at work on their collaborative poetry collection in a little glass cage/alcove at the City Art Gallery. They hid behind a table but their creative energy was palpable even through the glass. I would also like to mention a poetry salon hosted by Christine Brooks, at which a dog-and-cheese incident of startling grace brilliantly put into play her theory about the relevance of improv theatre theory to poetry practice. Perhaps my happiest poetry moment of the year took place one evening when I was alone in the house and, having cooked an excellent dinner and drunken rather a few small glasses of shiraz, started leafing through an old anthology of English verse reading poems out loud to myself, the more the metre the better. But the poems I will always return to are poems I have loved on the page, and this year I have been returning especially to Sam Duckor-Jones’s People from the Pit Stand Up, while I look forward to seeing published Helen Rickerby’s breath-taking new collection, How to Live, that has already dazzled me in draft form.

 

 

happy summer days

and thank you for visiting my bog

in 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.