Tag Archives: Victoria University Press

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Ashleigh Young’s ‘If So How’

 

 

If So How

 

Opportunity I love you

Windows and watermelons march down the street

—Robert Winner, ‘Opportunity’

 

 

Please detail any future opportunities

you secured as a direct result of the project

 

oooOOOooo

 

I have a feeling I will be stabbed

and I wanted to tell someone.

 

Sometimes my neighbour’s crying

sounds like music and sometimes it sounds like confession.

 

At eel o’clock

the air fills with ferns and gelatinous dark . . .

 

I get opportunities

and release them back into the water,

their colours autocorrecting to grey . . .

 

Sometimes my crying feels like paperwork and

sometimes it feels like an argument

bleeding through my earplugs.

 

The opportunity never to do this again;

the opportunity never to be this again.

 

oooOOOooo

 

Did you meet with any people

(including festival directors)

who could have an impact

on future

opportunities for you

 

oooOOOooo

 

I was walking on the street one morning

and, yes, festival directors were winking in the snow.

One of the festival directors hid under a car

when a group of school children approached,

and I crouched down to see if he would come out,

and I saw that the festival director had lifted his body

right up into the undercarriage of the car, as if possessed.

 

oooOOOooo

 

Did the event help to increase

your long-term international

market profile

If so how

 

oooOOOooo

 

You leave the room for a moment

and when you come back, not only

 

has the jug come to the boil

but someone has died.

 

The lesser greens start to fray as

a new jag of green comes out of the soil.

 

I’m in over my head.

I remember praying

 

because I dreaded school

and the future

 

and I prayed to be hit in the head by a cricket ball

and to spend my last days alive hurtling

 

back through all of the profiles of my life. How? as if pushing

into a row of warm office shirts on the line

 

helplessly ensnarled

and some part of me (neck?) increasing within them,

 

their tiny frayed parts,

and all the workplaces they might represent.

 

oooOOOooo

 

Have you identified

any further markets

or future audience development

opportunities

as a result of this tour/event

 

oooOOOooo

 

I will go on a tour

of my future

 

I will identify

which of my selves

 

to plant in the cool damp soil

and which of my selves

 

to boil alive

and which of my audiences

 

to take down with me.

 

Ashleigh Young   (from How I get Ready, Victoria University Press, 2019)

 

 

Ashleigh Young lives in Wellington and works as an editor at Victoria University Press. She is the author of Magnificent Moon (poems), Can You Tolerate This? (essays), and How I Get Ready (poems). She writes a fortnightly column in Canvas magazine and is the poetry editor at The Spinoff.

Victoria University page

Ashleigh appears at Auckland Writers Festival event Literally Lorne on Friday May 17th.

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Poetry Shelf review: Lynn Davidson’s Islander

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Lynn Davidson Islander Victoria University Press 2019

 

 

Time goes slower in the sea

and faster in the mountains.

Physics has taken over

where poetry left off.

 

from ‘Pearls’

 

 

Lynn Davidson’s terrific new poetry collection, Islander, travels between Scotland and New Zealand, between the place she grew up (Kapiti, Wellington) and the place she now lives (Edinburgh). Divided into five parts the poems move amidst light, fire and earth. Like Dinah Hawken, Lynn pays close attention to the world about her, the physical world, the inhabited world, a world buffeted by weather, seasons, time. Her poems are layered and fluent and measured.

The opening poem, ‘My stair’, sees the speaker (the poet?) looking out, in an eerie night light, from her second-floor window onto the bus depot. She evokes a scene through pitch perfect detail and a surprising simile (‘buses lightly lumber / into the yellow depot / like bubbles back / into solution’). But the surprise for me, the point of ruffle and ripple, is the mention of the father:

 

My father’s heart is failing, he fills up

 

with fluid (like an empty bus fills up with light?)

I look for flights.

 

One of the pleasures of this collection is the eclectic movement. There is movement born from departure, from the sway between presence and absence, birds in flight, the ripple of water, the movement of a musing and contemplative mind. A number of poems struck me. ‘A hillside of houses leave’ is mysterious, magical and rich in movement. Like many of the poems, there is a link to birds that might be symbolic but that is always physical.

 

Steeped in old weather the wooden houses

remember their bird-selves and unfold

barely-jointed wings.

 

The poem holds the conundrum of life – its impermanence, its fragility and the little anchors, the necessary bones.

 

People curl inside

the bones that keep them

that will not keep them long.

 

The presence of birds is fitting in a collection that navigates islands – the birds might signal the ocean’s presence, the multiple flights, the multiple nests, the bird on the poet’s sight line, the bird carried by heart, the bird house and the bird lungs.

I began to see the collection as a poetry chain; where this poem rubs against that poem and that poem rubs against this. Here the light of this day touches the light of that day which touches the light of the day before all the way back to ancient times. Dinah has a poem dedicated to her and I am reminded of Dinah’s ability to evoke the spare and the luminous within a cluster of lines that then open out with absorbing richness. Lynn is similarly dexterous. This from Lynn’s ‘Bonfire’:

 

The mainland is rendered down

silvers and is gone.

 

My heart is green and raw – a pea not a heart –

front to the fire back to the wind.

 

The groan of stone on stone unsettles

me as I unsettle them.

 

Islands is also inhabited with daily lives, with anecdote and incident, thus rendering landscape humane as well as wild and beautiful. At times it made me laugh out loud as in ‘Lineage’:

 

I was nine months pregnant, and waiting, when the man in the

Taranaki airport shop snapped this isn’t a library you know,

 

and when I turned my great belly full of fingernails and teeth-in-bud

towards him he asked (hotly) if I was actually going to buy anything.

 

The baby made exclamation marks with its soft bones,

glared with its wide open eyes – two Os. No I said I won’t buy

 

my news from you.

 

Lynn traces family, the children who leave, the children who make home solid, the unnamed boy who names home hame, the children half a hemisphere away. This from ‘Leaving Wellington’:

 

Hours go by and elements still gather.

Each day my waking children, just by naming

assembled all the solid things of world:

the bath, stove, chair, the bed, the window,

the shoe, the dinosaur, the door, the wall.

Then in a kind of via negativa

they composed two empty rooms by leaving home.

 

I said it was an anchor but it’s not.

It’s a shadow roughly like a kiss.

 

 

This is a book to slow down with – just as you slow down when you walk the perimeter of an island – gazing into a shifting sky vista and towards the unreachable but alluring horizon line  –letting your own thoughts cascade and catch. It is a book where the view of a poem never settles but keeps revealing new lights, new joys, new surprises. I love this considered pace, this sharp revelation, this anchored heart. I love this book.

 

Victoria University Press author page

 

Lynn Davidson is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently How to Live by the Sea (2009, VUP) and a novel, Ghost Net, along with essays and short stories. She grew up in Kāpiti, Wellington and currently lives in Edinburgh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Bill Nelson picks Hinemoana Baker’s ‘Sound Check’

 

Sound Check

 

you sound just like that woman, what’s her name

she sings that one about the train

check one two one two check check

ka tangi te tītī tieke one two

 

she sings that one about the train

can I get another tui over here

ka tangi te tītī tieke one two

my secret love’s no secret any more

 

can I get another tui over here

at last my heart’s an open door

my secret love’s no secret any more

that sounds choice love what a voice

 

at last my heart’s an open door

you got a voice on you alright

that sounds choice love what a voice

you know the crowd’s gunna soak up the highs

 

you got a voice on you alright

had a bit of a band myself back in the day

you know the crowd’s gunna soak up the highs

i’d up the tops if I was you ay

 

had a bit of a band myself back in the day

check one two one two check check

i’d up the tops if I was you ay

you sound just like that woman, what’s her name

 

Hinemoana Baker from mātuhi / needle  (Victoria University Press, 2004)

 

 

From Bill Nelson: Sometime in 2009 I heard Hinemoana Baker read ‘Sound Check’ and it has stuck in my mind ever since. I think the reading might even have taken place on a mid-range PA system in a dingy carpeted room, some people laughing in the next room. Although I could be retrofitting that memory and it was in Unity Books or something. Anyway, at the time I noticed the outstanding music in the poem, and then wit and humour, and finally, the way the drama escalated as it continued.

Unusually, the poem is entirely in dialogue. A man is speaking to a woman who is trying to do a soundcheck and sings bits and pieces into a microphone. There’s no other description of the room, or the man, or the woman, or any other sounds. And yet through the poem’s pitch perfect choice of dialogue, the man is conjured up before us. A man we’ve probably all met. A pissed bloke in a pub, who likes to talk shit, knows a little bit about everything, probably from some other generation. He leans with his elbow propped on a tall felt-covered loudspeaker at one side of the stage, a beer in other hand, maybe a cigarette too. By contrast, the woman in the poem is a collection of song fragments and meaningless numbers, and it’s harder to picture her clearly. We know little about her, other than she seems like an incredibly professional musician, with a grasp of te reo Māori and a penchant for love songs.

You don’t have to try very hard to hear the music. It’s a pantoum, so there’s the repetition of course, but also the rhymes are particularly great and bang home like a drum, and there are bits of song lyrics that are italicized like they are meant to be sung. The complexity of the staccato sound check syllables juxtaposed with the rambley-bloke language of the man speaking is also really interesting and ramps up the conflict. Different people and different rhythms, looping in and out and over each other. It’s the kind of poem that is always going to be read out loud.

Pantoums are great at showing how context is important for language, how one line put against another can change it’s meaning entirely, or more accurately, provide two equally true meanings. The poem starts and ends on the same line said by the man, ‘you sound like that woman, what’s her name.’ And what seemed like an innocent enough question at the beginning, a bit idiotic perhaps but friendly enough, becomes patronising and infuriating by the time we get to the end. We cringe as he says it a final time, after a string of condescending comments and feeble compliments. He’s sounding more drunk, unable to remember what he already said two minutes ago, and I imagine him wandering off to the urinal, a poster of the gig that night right in front of his face. And he stands there with one hand propped against the wall, squinting his eyes, still unable to remember her name.

 

 

 

Bill Nelson’s 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. He is currently living in France. You can find more about him here at billmainlandnelson.com.

 

Hinemoana Baker  of Ngāti Tahu, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa and Te Āti Awa along with English and Bavarian heritage, is a poet, musician and playwright currently living in Berlin. She was the 2009 Arts Queensland Poet in Residence, a writer in residence at the University of Iowa International Writing Programme (2010), Victoria University Writer in Residence (2014) and held the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer’s Residency (2015–16). She has published three poetry collections and several CDs of sonic poems. Hinemoana’s website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio: Marty Smith reads ‘Hat’

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Marty Smith reads ‘Hat’ from Horse with a Hat, Victoria University Press, 2014

 

 

 

‘This is the kind of territory they were all locked together in. Here are the hills, and this is how they went to work.Left to right: Garth Smith (Dad) on Misty; Fiona Allpass on Poo: Marty Smith on Blackie: Bill Champion on Tiny: Chrissy Champion on Pet, and Paul Smith on Trixie.’ Marty on the photograph
Marty has given up teaching and administering literary events to work full time on writing a non-fiction book about what it takes to work in the racing industry and how and why people do. Her research involves regularly watching morning track work at the Hastings racecourse and betting at the TAB.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf review: Dinah Hawken’s There is no harbour

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cover image by Marian Maguire

 

When I trained in social work

in 1968—the year we saw Earth from space—

I found the History of New Zealand

could shake me like an earthquake

and make me cry.

 

from ‘”All the history that did not happen'”

 

Dinah Hawken’s eighth poetry collection, There is no harbour (Victoria University Press, 2019), presents three entwined Taranaki strands. The first comprises her family history during the years of early Pākehā settlement, the second a brief history of the Taranaki wars and the third reveals her thoughts and feelings as she researched and wrote her long poem. Dinah always gifts her poetry with musicality, breathing room, heart and contemplation. This new book is no exception. It is an addictive mix that inspires me as both reader and writer.

In her brief frontnote Dinah writes:

The completion of the poem has not lead me to any sense of resolution. It has led to something less measurable, perhaps more valuable—greater clarity, particularly of the depth of injustice Māori have endured in Taranaki. At the same time it has strengthened my attachment and my gratitude to my great and great-great grandparents, whom I know as essentially good people. And it has led me back to Parihaka: to profound respect for Te Whiti and Tohu, the art of leadership, the art of passive resistance, and their refusal of human war.

Dinah brings together family voices, anecdotes, settings, facts and musings to re-present history in poetic form—history that was hidden, manipulated and muted in the past. She stands as a Pākehā in multiple places, searching for other points of view, other ways of seeing and feeling. I am looking through her poem view-finder and the effect is significant. I am mourning the arrogance and the atrocities, I am celebrating the courage.

 

Tītokowaru

fired his tūpara in the air

in front of 600 people

threw it down at his feet

and kicked it.

 

The evil weapon, he said,

which has caused so much mischief and ill-will

and been loaded with the blood of men,

should never hereafter

be taken up again.

 

from ‘1867, “The Year of the Daughters”‘

 

As a poet Dinah utilises economy on the line to build richness above, between and beyond. That plainness of talking makes the impact even stronger, deeper, wider.

 

Wherever you looked at it from,

whoever lived inside it,

a whare was a welcome shelter.

One in which a family could sleep,

in which a child could be born.

 

It was the kind of house

that could easily

go up in smoke. And it did.

 

from ‘Oswald, from his notebook’

 

How to imagine the past? How to imagine the cruel past? How to imagine the day and its sheen of sun on the leaves? How to imagine both sides of  an unforgivable war? How to imagine how to proceed in your Pākehā skin with your Taranaki family tree and the ancestral tree in Britain?  This is what Dinah does as she creates her chain of connections towards the present and back into the past.

Individual lines stand out and they feel like entrances into the stories I /we need to hear:

 

‘I am the beneficiary of injustice.’

 

In one poem the voices of Robin Hyde, Virginia Woolf, J. C. Sturm and Te Whiti sit side by side.

 

In 1940 Virginia Woolf said:

 

Unless we can think peace into existence

we—not this one body

but millions of bodies yet to be born—

will lie in the same darkness and hear

the same death rattle overhead

 

from ‘Found Poetry’

 

I adore this book, this contemplative, self-vulnerable exploration that faces a past that makes me feel shame, but that offers empathetic heart-lines out in the open. I can’t take it all in, in my first reading. I have read it again, and then again. There is no harbour is a vital reminder to bring our stories into the open and to keep finding ways to build peace in our homes and our villages and our cities. And our hearts. I want you to read it and find your own connections, your own lines to treasure, because this is a poetry book that matters so very very much.

 

‘Loss of possessions is a kind of freedom;

loss of land is exile’

 

This is what it comes down to:

Taranaki land was stolen.

My people—at first lost—were then

steadied by it. Pakakohe

were wrenched from it.

They were promised reserves,

instead they were jailed.

 

When you come down to it

everything comes back

to the vital, absorbing land.

And although a poem

can enclose you

like the rocky arms

of a Cornish cove,

justice is so much stronger than injustice

and this poem

has no solace to offer:

it is a phrase or two in a story

being written and woven together

by numerous, various,

generational hands.

 

©Dinah Hawken There is no harbour

 

Victoria University Press page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Geoff Cochrane launch

 

 

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Unity Books & Victoria University Press warmly invite you to hear Geoff Cochrane discuss his new poetry book ‘The Black and the White’ with fellow author Carl Shuker.

‘The Black and the White’ is a new work – witty, fearless, formidably concise – from one of the most distinctive voices in New Zealand poetry.

Geoff Cochrane is the author of seventeen collections of poetry, two novels, and Astonished Dice: Collected Short Stories (2014). In 2009 he was awarded the Janet Frame Prize for Poetry, and in 2010 the inaugural Nigel Cox Unity Books Award. Geoff received an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate Award in 2014.

 

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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