Tag Archives: Vincent O’Sullivan

12 questions for Ockham NZ Book Award poetry finalists: Sue Wootton

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Congratulations on your short-list placing!

Thank you Paula!

 

What poetry books have you read in the past year?

And this is why you should always keep a reading diary … I’ll have to cobble this together from flawed memory and my messy bookcase. Here goes: most recently, a ‘slim volume’ in the Penguin Modern Poets Three series with work by Malika Booker, Sharon Olds and Warsan Shire. In contrast, also Sentenced to Life and Injury Time by Clive James. Before these: Undying by Michel Faber, the poetry collections on the Ockham longlist, Bill Manhire’s Some Things to Place in a Coffin and Tell Me My Name, Walking by a River of Light by John Gibb, South D Poet Lorikeet by Jenny Powell, Getting it Right by Alan Roddick, Alzheimer’s and a Spoon by Liz Breslin, Taking my Mother to the Opera by Diane Brown, Fracking & Hawk by Pat White, The Trials of Minnie Dean by Karen Zelas, Taking My Jacket for a Walk by Peter Olds, Wolf by Elizabeth Morton, Where the Fish Grow by Ish Doney, Family History by Johanna Emeney, Possibility of Flight by Heidi North-Bailey, Withstanding by Helen Jacobs, Conscious and Verbal and Learning Human by Les Murray, Poems New and Collected by Wistawa Szymborska, Poems 1962-2012 by Louise Glűck, and X  by Vona Groarke.  

I like keeping an anthology handy too, and in the past year have been dipping in and out of two: Andrew Motion’s Poetry by Heart (on the bedside table) and Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke’s The Map and the Clock (next to the sofa).  

 

What other reading attracts you? 

Oh boy, you should see the pile of books by my bed – too many to list here. I enjoy both fiction and non-fiction (especially essays, biographies or memoir). Fiction-wise, I’ve recently finished Fiona Farrell’s wonderful Decline and Fall on Savage Street and am now reading Where My Heart Used to Beat by Sebastian Faulks, and some short stories by William Trevor. I’ve recently reread Olive Kitteridge and My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (I love all of  Strout’s work!). Vincent O’Sullivan’s All This By Chance is standing by for Easter.

Nonfiction-wise, I’m itching to start neuroscientist Antonio Damasio’s The Strange Order of Things and Marilynne Robinson’s new essay collection What Are We Doing Here? (I love all of Robinson’s work!).

 

Name some key starting points (or themes) for your collection. 

This is quite a hard question for me to answer because The Yield wasn’t pre-planned as The Yield – it grew very slowly into The Yield, and I only recognised that I had a coherent  collection very late in the process. In hindsight I can see quite clearly that the poems are bound together by themes of give and take, love and loss, flexibility and rigidity, toil and harvest. This finally clicked into place for me after I wrote the poem called ‘The Yield’. It was only after that that I felt I had a potential collection in my hands. But most of the poems in the collection were written in the couple of years preceding that moment, and during those years I had no idea whether a book would eventuate. I had hope, but not much evidence!

 

Did anything surprise you as the poems come into being? 

Every poem I write is a surprise to me. I can never get over that fact – it amazes me, always.

 

Find up to 5 individual words that pitch your book to a reader.

These words are from The Yield: haul, reach, lift, roam, home.

 

Which poem particularly falls into place for you?

Not sure if I can select one – they all have their place.

 

What matters most when you write a poem?

I like a tight synthesis of sound and sense.

 

What do you loathe in poetry?

 Sometimes in an art gallery I stand in front of a painting I find ugly or too obvious or (conversely) too obscure – challenging, anyway, a canvas that maybe bores me or offends my personal sense of aesthetics, perhaps even my values. But still, alongside my ‘this is not one for my living room wall’ reaction, I can still respect the graft and the craft that went into making it – so long as it’s well made. Ditto, poetry. What I appreciate, above all else in poetry, is knowing that the poet has really leaned in. That’s a fundamentally appealing quality for me, even if I can’t adore the finished product. But if a poem is attentively made, and it somehow moves me – then I’m all in.

 

Where do you like to write poems?

 In my study or on the kitchen table (though I scribble scraps in my notebook anywhere, any time).

 

What are strengths and lacks in our poetry scenes?

We seem to have a lively open mic scene all over the country, with a new fizz of high energy youthful involvement alongside the different – no less intense – energy of more experienced voices. I love the diversity of this, the way it opens our ears and hearts and minds to each other. It’s good, too, to see extroverted poets out there connecting with audiences, attracting media comment and generally flying the flag for poetry. But don’t forget the page! I’m a big believer that poetry is a craft learned by practice. Getting better at it is done through serving a kind of apprenticeship, learning the tools of your trade, and being supported, mentored and informed by more experienced practitioners, so for me it’s really great to see newer literary journals like Mimicry and Starling rising up (though I’m sad to see the end of  JAAM).

Nothing matches the developmental push that comes from submitting work to a well-read editor to be scrutinised word by word. It’s healthy, too, to have enough possible publication places to be able to avoid only submitting work to your friends or classmates. So, I think we can do with still more editor-curated poetry publications to nourish the development of poetry in Aotearoa-New Zealand. Another lack: we need more platforms for the kind of stimulating and informative longform poetry review that critics like Lynley Edmeades, for example (in a recent Landfall Review Online), are so good at writing. But also, no one should be expected to write a seriously-considered review for nothing. Work is work, even if at the end of the day it’s not mud, but ink, on your hands. Funding, funding, funding: there’s a permanent problematic lack!

  

Have you seen a festival poetry session (anywhere) that has blown you off your seat (or had some other significant impact)?

I was at the 2010 Granada Poetry Festival in Nicaragua – truly a festival, a celebration of la poesia. The readings were held in parks and plazas. The Nicaraguan people have a passionate regard for poets and poetry – they turned out in their thousands to hear readings from their own and international poets. One particular event stands out for me. It was an evening reading, outside, warm and dark in the main town plaza, with about 2000 people in the audience – all ages, children, teenagers, parents, grandparents. Their listening was so attentive (most poems were voiced twice, once in the poet’s language and again in Spanish translation) – I watched face after face absolutely blossom in response to some lines. There was a feeling of us all being tapped into a high-voltage current – such power. Sheer zappery! And all from words.

 

If you could curate a dream poetry session at The Auckland Writers Festival which poets would be there and who would mc or chair it?

Sharon Olds, Louise Glück and Rita Dove in conversation with Carol Ann Duffy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf – Spring Season’s poetry fans: Steve Braunias picks Vincent O ‘Sullivan

To Miss the Point Entirely

It isn’t good for a writer to live in a country
where a cut-price banker with his next-door smile
is all we have to throw stones at. How one
envies a Chilean say who could dream of knifing
a home-grown monster, the English even
who might smash a TV any day of the year
when a government of schoolboys quiver as if Matron
threatened to punish arse.
‘A country without snakes!’
as tourists at times are amazed to hear. ‘Then what
do people here die of?’, another traveller once
asked me. ‘Of being ourselves,’ I told him,
‘the big tourist pictures falling off the wall with mould.’

©Vincent O’Sullivan

 

Note from Steve: This is such a fun poem, a genuine LOL. There are some great examples of comic verse – CK Stead’s collection “Dog” is full of them, and I’ve always loved one by Kevin Ireland about a friend who made a bust of his head; it ends with the jokeshop word, quite properly in capital letters, “BOING”. Vince’s poem also works as political verse. I don’t think there are that many good examples of that. They’re often too emphatic, too one-dimensional, just a rant. Vince applies a nice, gentle touch on the poem from beginning to end. I really love the space on line 9, when he introduces a new slant on the poem. It’s like a paragraph break and it allows the poem to take a kind of breath. I love everything about the poem, really, right down to the final line, which is a deeply mordant, black-comedy punchline. This poem can do no wrong.

SB works as a staff writer at the New Zealand Herald, and as the books editor at the Spinoff, where he chooses a new poem every week as the Friday Poem. Publishing verse each week was something he introduced right from the very start of creating a books section at the Spinoff.

 

Vincent O’Sullivan, poet, novelist, playwright and short story writer, was the New Zealand Poet Laureate from 2013 – 2015. His latest collection of poems, And so it is was published by Victoria University Press in March.

20/20 May Poets: A Phantom Billstickers Poetry Day celebration

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Alison Wong and Chris Tse

Apirana Taylor and Kiri Piahana Wong

Vincent O’Sullivan and Lynley Edmeades

Paula Green and Simone Kaho

Jenny Bornholdt and Ish Doney

 

This terrific project forms a little poetry reading house where you enter the rooms off the side and you don’t know what you will find. There is a vitality and a freshness as established and emerging poets and those in-between come together in poem conversations. Love it! (I am part of it but no idea how the poetry house would unfold)

 

 

A Circle of Laureates, a galaxy of poetry

This event prompted me to hunt for cheap fares to Wellington because it seemed like a rare and special poetry occasion. And it was! A sold-out event!

The National Library, as current administrator of the NZ Poet Laureate awards, hosted the evening as part of Wellington Writers Week.  John Buck from Te Mata Wines instigated the Laureateship in 1997, with Bill Manhire taking the debut spot. John was there with wine to share. He still retains an involvement.

Fergus Barrowman from VUP was the MC. He made the important point that the award is ‘an activist portfolio not just an honour.’ The earliest debut publication by a Laureate was in 1964 while the most recent debut was 1988.  Three generations of poets! Cilla McQueen and Michele Leggott calculated over 700 years of life/poetry experience across the ten laureates to date.

Bill Manhire (1997) spoke about what the Laureateship meant to him and the two ways it expanded his sense of what he might do as a poet, as a public figure. Firstly he began to write poems with some kind of public dimension. Secondly he explored the way the role centred on the promotion of poetry. He wanted to ‘talk it up.’ Both are options we can be thankful for. Bill’s poems that stand on a public stage are poems that embrace the knots and crests of humanity. I talked about the way ‘Hotel Emergencies’ does this on Summer Noelle in January.

Bill read ‘Erebus Voices’ and I sat there thinking this is a poem that belongs in the world and can be heard again. And again. And then again. Because it both moves and matters. Bill shows so adeptly the way poems can shift us to laughter, to wry grins at the surprise of it all, but also lead to far more unfathomable movements of the heart.

‘I am here beside my brother, terror./ I am the place of human error.’

I especially loved the way he started with the poem of a fellow poet. He ‘talked her poem up,’ and I fell in love with it all over again: Rachel Bush’s ‘The Strong Mothers.’

 

Hone Tuwhare was represented by his son Rob. We listened to Hone read ‘No Ordinary Sun,’ we listened to Rob read Hone and then Rob picked up his guitar and sang a Graham Brazier version of one of the poems. A version of friendship. Quiet, haunting, utterly melodic. This was love. Hairs standing on your arm on end from start to finish in the Tuwhare bracket.

‘Oh tree/ in the shadowless mountains/ the white plains and/ the drab sea floor/ your end is at last written.’

 

Elizabeth Smither read a cross section of poems that delighted the audience. But one as-yet-unpublished poem in particular stuck to me. Kate Camp, her mum and I – all went ‘wow.’ I adored the story of Elizabeth seeing her mother move through her house, the windows bright, unaware of the daughter driving by. By the time I got to congratulate her, dear Elizabeth had already signed her copy for Kate. How lovely! Like a bouquet of flowers. Elizabeth emailed the poem so I can read and write about it for my book.

‘It was all those unseen moments we do not see/ the best of a mother/ competent and gracious in her solitude’

 

Brian Turner with his delicious wit said: ‘I’ve been called a political animal many times and it’s not always a compliment!’ And that is what makes his poems so enduring. The way he hits the right pitch of land and sky but with a deep love that is unafraid to match beauty with issues. He read a cluster of short poems where every word sang. Gee whizz this was good. Here are few lines I loved without the line breaks (sorry):

‘and the shadows are mauve birthmarks on the hills’

‘If the sky knew half of what we were doing down here it would be inconsolable and we would have nothing but rain’

‘where a river sings, a river always sang’

See what I mean!

 

Jenny Bornholdt

Jenny rued the way Wellington Writers Week has dropped ‘readers’ from the title. She said she would reclaim readers, in the perfect setting (the library), with a longish poem: ‘A long way from home.’ This was a highlight for me. The poem is all about illness and reading; the ability to read and a time when it flees. Here are some sample lines:

‘How as a child, books were the lens// through which I eyed the muddy track to adulthood’

‘For six weeks now I’ve been outside weather/ and of reading. Outside of myself.’

‘I have tried to read but nothing/ sticks. That anchor of my life has been raised and// I’m all at sea.’

 

Michele Leggott, like Bill, brings poetry to a a public arena through her tireless promotion and expansive love. Michele read an extract from a long work (‘The Fasciclies’) that bridges Taranaki and Lyttelton, the 1860s and the 1970s, and the connections between two women.

My notebook is full of Persian-like doodles of birds and shapes interspersed with notes but, as I listened to Michele, my pen stalled. I felt like I could hear Robin Hyde with her luminous detail and observations in the seams. For this was luminous writing. There is a bridge between reader and poem. Sometimes you cross it. Sometimes it seems impassable. I just wanted to cross the bridge and read the whole poem.

You can find the whole piece here.

 

Cilla McQueen read ‘Ripples’ a long poem that showcases her strengths as a writer. It is in her latest collection, The Radio Room (2010). Another highlight. Other poets make an appearance, Joanna and Hone. Moving. Uplifting in a way.

‘After the funeral service you leaned down towards me out of a cloud;/  “Kia mau!” you shouted into my mind.’

Cilla McQueen’s memoir is due next week from Otago University Press.

 

Ian Wedde also has a childhood memoir out, The Grass Catcher, which is on my must-read list. Ian’s poetry produces my ideal poetry trifecta of relations: music, ideas, heart. Oh! And singing its way through, a sense of story. He read from ‘The Life Guard.’ Ha! It’s all here. Listen to the start:

‘You have to start somewhere/ in those morose times,/ / a clearing in the forest say,/ filled with golden shafts of sunlight// and skirmishes’

 

Vincent O’Sullivan has a new book out from VUP, which I am about to review for a newspaper, so perfect to hear him read his poetic contours. He has the ability to refresh anything. To tilt tropes, to enhance the music of a line, to poke you with an idea, to make you feel. Once again I got caught up in the moment of listening and didn’t catch lines in my notebook.

 

Ck Stead is the current Poet Laureate. He began with a poem about Allen Curnow, who he felt would have been Laureate if he had lived within the Laureate time span. Karl had struggled over whether to read a top-hit kind of poem or read new things. I know that feeling and first thought I would only ever read a poem once in public when first published. That soon fell by the wayside.

It was a moment of audience empathy as Karl confessed he thought he would read it, then wouldn’t, then finally after hearing Bill, decided he would. And we were glad, indeed, as he read an elegy for his mother. Utterly moving.

Poetry is such a love for Karl. He made this clear when I was filming his ‘thank you’ speech for the Sarah Broom Poetry Award. And hearing him read on this occasion, lifted the poems off the pages where I have loved them, to a new life in the air/ear.

from ‘Elegy’ but without that scattered layout that makes much of white space (sorry):

‘She’s there somewhere/ the ferryman/ assures me.// He tells me/ she was reluctant to go/ but silent – // stood in the prow/ no tears/ and never looked back.’

Karl filled the room with the warmth of poetry. Music. Heart. Ideas. A perfect end.

 

The tokotoko table, with all the talking sticks carved especially for each poet, was like a quilt with stories. I wished someone had held up the mother tokotoko for all to see and told that story. And indeed held up each tokotoko, for each tokotoko has its own.

Karl will get his at the Matahiwi ceremony in April. I am honoured to be part of this occasion along with Gregory O’Brien and Chris Price.

 

A Circle of Laureates was a magnificent occasion. I bumped into Elizabeth Knox the next day and we were both enthusing about how good it was. Peter Ireland from the National Library had put in all the hard work! Kindly acknowledged on the night by Ian. Every poet held my attention. There is a big age range here, but to me, it is a way of honouring our poetry elders.

As a poet, I write with one foot in the past and one foot in the future.I want to know who I’m writing out of. This is my tradition. This is my innovation. This circle.

It reminded me of Selina Tusitala Marsh’s’s poem ‘A Circle of Stones in her debut collection where she honours the women she writes from, towards and beside.

Thank you to everyone who made this event possible. It was worth my spur-of-the-moment cheap flight, my accidental data blow out, my misbooking home that meant a new booking, the chance to hear the Lauris-Edmond finalists, and losing myself in Jessie Mackay in The Alexander Turnbull Library.  Thirty-six hours of poetry. Heaven.

Thanks! Ten Poets Laureate to celebrate!

 

 

Poetry Highlights at Wellington’s Writer’s Week in March

For the full programme see here but this is the poetry on offer.

 

I would love to go to the Laureate Circle but can’t make it at this stage (might just fly down on a whim!). I would really like to post pieces on any of the poetry events at the festival. Any takers?

 

Friday March 11th 7pm  A Circle of Laureates

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Friday March 11th 5pm   Anis Mojgani and Marty Smith

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Thursday March 10th 1.45pm Anis Mojgani

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Sunday 13th March 2.30 pm  Anis Mojgani with Mark Amery

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Saturday 12th March 3.30 pm Five Poets and a Prize

 

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Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Choice: Diane Brown makes her picks

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Most mornings my husband and I, (which sounds like the Queen, but I can assure you is not) read poems to each other. It’s a lovely way to start a day of mostly words and brings a focus back to the interior after reading the newspaper.

It takes a while to get through collections this way. You could call it slow poetry. At the moment we are reading Emma Neale’s Tender Machines and Vincent O’Sullivan’s Selected Poems, Being Here. They are Dunedin based poets at different ends of their poetry careers, but what treasures are contained in both books. Vincent’s cool, sardonic, intensely observational eye and Emma’s brilliantly executed white hot wordplay as she explores family life in all its intensity and moves into global and environmental concerns.

 

The book we have finished and both laughed and wept over from the first page to the last is The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy. It’s an amazing collection of poems with a wide variety of subjects: love poems; moving elegies to her mother; rollicking drinking poems; angry political poems and. throughout, bees hover, fragile life-givers, whose existence along with ours is threatened. And apart from the bees holding all these poems together is the way every poem sings a love of words, with internal rhymes, alliteration, repetition, but in a way that is completely natural, sometimes angry, sometimes joyous. If you know someone who is mystified by poetry, try them with some of these poems. Yes, she’s a popular poet who may not appeal to readers who laud the esoteric and experimental, but she writes intelligent poems about important subjects and issues, the stuff of life. In a short poem, ‘Spell,’ Duffy says, ‘I think a poem is a spell of kinds, / that keeps things living in a written line.’ Her poems are charming in the true sense of the word, burrowing into your brain and, most importantly, your heart as you breathe them in.

 

A few lines from the tremendously moving poem, ‘Water’, about her dying mother.

 

                                     Water.

What a mother brings

                                     through darkness still

to her parched daughter.’

 

Diane Brown

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Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Choice: Fiona Kidman makes some picks

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There have been  many wonderful new books about this year. But isn’t it always the way? You come to the point of saying, this is my pick, and they all come flooding along saying pick me. So, as it’s been a sensational year for South Island poets, perhaps I will make them my point of reference.

I had the privilege of launching Vincent O’Sullivan‘s Being here:Selected Poems (Victoria University Press). The beautiful hardback satisfies at every level, both from the aesthetic point of view of book production to the selection of poems which is never random, but designed to carry the reader from one place to another, as if all the poems are brand new, and speaking to each other. It includes one of my all time favourite O’Sullivan poems, ”Waikato-Taniwha-Rau” (originally from ‘The Rose Ballroom’ 1982). It begins:

We have a fiction that we live by; it is the river

that steps down, always down, from the pale lake

to the open jaws of land where the sea receives it

 

I had equal pleasure from Sweeping the Courtyard, the selected poems of Michael Harlow (Cold Hub Press) (and yes, yes, I grant that I am responsible for some cover comments, but they come from the heart). The music of language has long been a preoccupation of Michael Harlow, and his poems invite the reader to share nocturnes, harmonies and song. Thus,
“Song for two players” commences with the lines:

Are you by any chance a piano key?

she asked, reminding me

in our heart to hand affair, that not

all is black and white –

 

Fracking and Hawk by Pat White (Frontiers Press) is an elegant little book with a powerful voice. White is not afraid to address political issues without losing the tone of a poetic voice. The beauty of the hawk is reflected in the title poem, but also reminds us that time is running out for the earth.

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Emma Neale‘s new collection has already attracted so much comment  that there is little left to say, except that I, too, love Tender Machines, (Otago University Press). Her eloquent plangent voice just gets stronger with time.

And, just to move outside this, admittedly, rather artificial boundary for a moment, there is  a poet whose work has carried me through six decades of reading poetry. She is the late American writer, Louise Bogan. The Blue Estuary Poems 1923 -1968 collects her finest work. Her poems are about yearning,the lives of women, survival. I read her every year, her work never far from the bedside table.

 

Fiona Kidman

 

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