Everyone at VUP would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! It's been another great year of publishing, we hope you've liked the books and we've plenty more in store for the new year.
The office will be closed from the 21st of December 2011 until the 9th of January, 2012.
Please note that if you are ordering from the website, orders received after the 16th of December will not be processed until the office reopens.
The Exercise work-out for your mind
December 16, 2011 |
Show, don’t tell. Write what you know. Do this, do that. Actually, despite its name, this book is not a manual. It doesn’t offer a step-by-step training programme that will turn you into a novelist or screenwriter or poet. Some of the ideas here are contradictory. Some of them look pretty silly. But if writing well is the thing that matters to you, then The Exercise Bookshould give your imagination a good work-out.
Harry Ricketts' full launch speech for Joan's book can be readhere.
Dora Malech also sent the following note:
"It is my honor and pleasure to add my voice to the celebration of the launching of Joan Fleming’s beautiful debut collectionThe Same as Yes. When Joan was my MA student at the IIML in 2007, I was consistently struck by the ways in which she wove the visually luminous and the verbally musical together. I was also struck, in her poetry and in her person, by a kind of openness and searching that I am tempted to call moral or spiritual. These qualities have only deepened and cohered further in the poems in this debut. I wish that I could be present in person to celebrate the launch of this book, but it’s my privilege to add my disembodied voice from another hemisphere to this celebration of all of the very-much-embodied and present voices in Joan’s poems.
“I used to come from you, and you from me, but you probably don’t remember,” says a cloud to the top of a plantation pine inThe Same as Yes. These poems ask us to remember our interconnectedness with not only other people, but with the creatures, places, and objects of the world; they ask the reader to observe not only through new eyes, but through new ears, to attend to the heard and unheard voices all around us. Joan’s poems take us far beyond mere personification. They “animate” their world, not in the Disney sense, but in the primal sense carried by the Latin root “anima”: the sense of “soul” and “life.”
With equal and inseparable parts whimsy and weight, with gentle dazzle and fierce lyricism, the poems in “The Same as Yes” ask us to renew our vows with attention, and thus to renew our vows with ourworld. Reading these poems is, indeed, an affirmation of those vows, a saying “yes.” "
In Nelson a couple of days earlier Page & Blackmore did a wonderful job presenting Rachel Bush in conversation with Bill Manhire to a packed venue, followed by the launch ofNice Pretty Things.
Eleanor Catton to be new writer in residence at the Michael King Writers’ Centre
November 16, 2011 |
Congratulations Ellie! The press release from the Michael King Writers’ Centre follows:
A rising star of New Zealand fiction writing whose first novel had a big international impact has been awarded a six-month residency in Auckland in 2012.
Eleanor Catton’s first novelThe Rehearsalwas released in New Zealand and the United Kingdom in 2008-09, and translation rights have been sold in 12 languages. It won multiple New Zealand and international awards, including the Amazon.ca Best First Book Award (2011). It was on the longlist for the Orange Prize and for the International Dublin Writer’s Award, and on the shortlist for the Guardian First Book Award and the Dylan Thomas Award. Eleanor Catton won the 2007Sunday Star-Timesshort story competition and then two fellowships at the prestigious University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop (2008 to 2010). She has appeared at numerous writers’ festivals around the world. She currently holds the Ursula Bethell Residency at the University of Canterbury.
Eleanor has been awarded the six-month University of Auckland residency at the Michael King Writers’ Centre, which runs from July 2012. She plans to work on a quartet of novels for young adults, which will read as “fantastical thrillers”. They will be based on the seventeenth century Enlightenment, conceiving that period in Western history as the death of magic and the beginning of a new world order, a transition from a feudal worldview into a more democratic one. The residency is a partnership among The University of Auckland, Creative New Zealand and the Michael King Writers’ Centre. It aims to foster New Zealand writing by providing an opportunity for an author to work full-time on a major project in an academic environment. The residency comes with a $30,000 stipend, together with free accommodation and a studio working space at the Michael King Writers’ Centre in Devonport, Auckland.
The Michael King Writers’ Centre will host three more residencies, each of eight weeks, next year. An announcement about these residencies will be made soon.
Scrim: The Man with a Mike
November 08, 2011 | A launch speech by ELIZABETH ALLEY
Bill Renwick's new book -Scrim: the man with a mikewas launched last week at Unity Books by the inimitable Elizabeth Alley who has kindly agreed to share her launch speech with us below:
There are several reasons why I'm happy to be here to perform the pleasurable task of setting this book on its way.
• For a start, Bill gently reminded me that we'd known each other for 40 years – and as we get older it seems like a good idea to acknowledge loyal and durable friendships for which I am grateful
• then – the launching of his book also gives us all the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate Bill's scholarship, skill and his huge contribution to NZ life and letters.
• The book also represents a closure for a project that goes back to around 2002 and emerges from a context that was by no means straightforward, and whose conclusion is due solely to Bill's determination and fortitude.
• And as a former broadcaster for whom the somewhat ghostly presence of Scrim –( I'm glad to say I was too young and/or too lowly to have known him personally) – was as a broadcasting pioneer I always thought of as slightly odd, idiosyncratic and crusty – and in fact I still think he was odd idiosyncratic and crusty- but Bill's much more complete and insightful picture fills in a lot of gaps which allow a more generous view of him.
Some background to this book, is necessary. It happened under the auspices of a short lived but effective body called the Broadcasting History Trust. This came into being thanks to a stroke of genius by Hugh Rennie, who was at that time , in the early 1990's, the chairman of the Broadcasting Corporation of NZ and who presided over the dissolution of that body when it was split into separate commercial and national entities. Hugh, with the kind of insight for which he's known, decided that it was a great shame to hand back any residual money to the consolidated fund, and that if relevant use could be made of these funds, then it should be possible to retain them for a valid purpose. The Broadcasting History Trust was the result, and over the next decade it supported and funded some excellent publications that ensured the history of NZ broadcasting was well documented in a scholarly and authoritative way. The intention of the Trust was to remain in existence only as long as the funding held out. In 2002, it was pretty well depleted, some excellent books having been the result, all published by Auckland University Press, as well as some monographs. There were some residual funds which, the Trust decided, should go towards the writing of the life of the man who was the first head of Commercial broadcasting and who had made his name as a kind of radio evangelist – Colin Scrimgeour. As was the custom the project was tendered, but the Trust felt that Bill Renwick was our man for the job and was delighted when he took up challenge. Sadly before he had progressed very far some health problems intervened, and all the materials and the funds were deposited with the Turnbull Library to join other Scrim papers. We always hoped that another scholar would want to pick up the project, but to our delight, Bill himself, restored to health, was able to pick up the project again about 18 months late. This book is the result.
Over the years of its writing, my strong impression has been that the project has been anything but straight forward. To start with, we have a subject who was an enigmatic, vain, determined crusader who left school at 11; was interested in Tolstoyan philosophy, boxing, farming, - a man who worked in a travelling circus, was a sharp shooter, worked on the Napier-Gisborne railway, managed a billiard saloon, who embraced Methodism somewhat accidentally- and who became this country's best known evangelistic radio broadcaster of his time. All, one might think, making him a fascinating candidate for a history or biography, as indeed he was. Be that as it may, in fact, the personal details of his life are scant and sketchy. For instance in his own autobiographical notes he fails to mention his first marriage or much about his 3 children and in common with so many men of his generation, he seldom managed to express clear feelings or personal opinions about anything other than his work , politics, or his public persona. Many of his notes were based on inaccurate memory, he was extremely hazy about dates, there were opposing accounts of certain incidents, and the dozens of cassette tapes left by him were discursive and frequently inaudible- they were to have comprised an aural autobiography; thank Heavens they didn't. In short, he was an enigma with huge gaps in his life and Bill's task was to find what was accurate, to put flesh on the bones, to discover what lay beneath the surface, to interpret the silences, and to give this difficult subject human shape and energy. As well, Scrim lived in the most interesting of political times. As much as this is a story of a man and his crusade, it is also a fascinating account of our social history, of the politics of the time, and of the pursuit of social activism.
We are all familiar with Bill's distinguished career in education and the associated writing that has accompanied it and tonight we are celebrating his skill and his scholarship in a specific way. Thinking about this launch, I was looking over some of the previous Trust publications including the first one, the excellent Life of James Shelley by Ian Carter. Ian remarked here that evidence of Shelley's life was so slight and scattered that he had to work like a detective, "hunting for clues and connecting them in ramshackle structures of argument." But he explains that this is by no means a limitation- that where evidence is light, biography becomes macramé, not bricklaying. I'm not sure about the practical aspects of this analogy but it seems to me that Bill has brought real and special skill to weaving together the disparate pieces to give us a coherent picture of the man who influenced and inspired so many thousands of New Zealanders with his evangelistic and proselytizing presence. Marjorie was heard to utter the immortal words, with more stoicism than their originator, that "there were 3 people in this marriage" and I'm sure she's delighted to have reached the stage where the 3rd person has now been divorced and it's neither her nor Bill! But with this book we at last have a more complete account of Scrim's life and times, and Bill is to be warmly congratulated for it. I thank him for his perseverance and determination in completing it so successfully. I commend the book to you, and in sending it on its way, my hope is that it finds its own Friendly Road.
Elizabeth Alley October 27th 2011
Launch of Observations: Studies in New Zealand Documentary
When Russell asked me if I would launch his new book on documentary making in New Zealand I was quite taken aback. Russell and I have been friends for over 30 years but his work as an academic, writer, script writer, script assessor and advisor, lecturer, adjunct professor and so on has been in a world of far greater intellectual rigour and on a different plain from mine. I am honoured to have been asked to launch Russell’s latest work.
I first got to know Russell without realising it.
In the early 1970s I decided to have a go at making political documentaries and I bought a second hand 16mm Bolex camera for $50.
I thought I should buy a book to find out how to use it.
I bought two books published in America - Photographic Theory for the Motion Picture Cameraman and - Practical Motion Picture Photography. I found them very useful. For example I learnt where the phrase “colour temperature” comes from, which is more than most professional cameramen and women I have worked with over the years, know. The different colours of the scale are the colours of steel as it heated, from a yellowish hue through to blue.
It wasn’t till years later and long after I met him, that I discovered that both books were compiled and edited by one Russell Campbell.
The first time I met Russell in the flesh was one Saturday morning in 1978 in Sydney St West behind Parliament. Rod Prosser and I had begun making a documentary about a political struggle that was going on inside the Timber workers union in the Bay of Plenty. We had got to a point where we knew the film was a mess and we needed help. Rod told me he had met a guy at a National Film Unit function who had just returned from the US and had studied film at university. Wow, a man with a degree in film and filmmaking!
Rod and I met Russell at his flat that morning and asked if he would help us. Russell analysed the script, such as it was, and identified the problems. From then on the three of us worked as co-directors of the film that we eventually called “Wildcat”. Russell and Rod showed the film in community halls but the film has never been shown on tv and Rod reminded me recently that TVNZ refused to even consider considering whether to screen it. It did get a mention in Parliament at the time. A National Party cabinet minister Venn Young referred to it as “the sort of rubbish the Arts Council Funds”.
Soon after we met, Russell invited Rod and me to read his dissertation for his PhD at North Western University. It was about 3 inches thick and was a real revelation to us both. It was about a group of political activists in the US who got together and tried to make politically useful films in the 1930s and 40s. We were amazed that there were so few of these filmmakers even in America, and that they had no money and that they ended up making films in much the same way as we were trying to do here in Wellington. We were not alone! Russell’s thesis was later published as a book called “Cinema Strikes Back: Radical Filmmaking in the US 1930 to 1942”
In 1979 Russell, Rod and I decided to call ourselves Vanguard Films and in the early 1980s we began a documentary about NZ’s military links with the US. It ended up being called “Islands of the Empire”. At the time we were working on the film Owen Wilkes had discovered some obscure US military documents indicating that there was a spy base in NZ tracking the movements of all vessels in the South Pacific. He thought that the base was probably near Waiuru at the naval communications station there. Russell, Rod and I arrived there on a Saturday afternoon and got our camera out to get some shots of the base and the circular antennae array Owen had told us to look for.
There was no circular antennae array but we took a shot of a building near the aerials anyway. There was no one around, so we walked down the long driveway towards a large windowless building stopping every 100 meters or so, to repeat the shots, and waiting to get sprung. At the fourth stop we got a huge fright. A stern voice close by spoke to us.
“Stop. Who are you? Don’t move. Wait where you are.”
The voice was coming from a small box on the top of a post beside the road. We stopped. A minute or two later a Land rover came rocketing down the road behind us. Out jumped a man in cricket whites demanding to know who we were and what we were doing. We had interrupted a cricket match, and here was the base commander, aka cricket captain. After a while he calmed down and let us depart without confiscating the camera or, surprisingly, our film. A few weeks later after some sleuthing, Rod and I found the actual spybase and got some good shots after creeping through the sandhills at Tangimoana.
The 1981 Springbok tour offered plenty of opportunity for confrontation between Vanguard Films and authority. As it turned out it was Russell who had to deal with the toughest encounter on his own. He was at our studio in Kate Sheppard Place one afternoon and answered the door to a plainclothes cop who demanded to be let in. Perhaps the cop was small and Russell was big and quick, but Russell managed to get the door closed and told the cop he wasn’t coming in without a search warrant. Russell rang Hugh Rennie, our lawyer, who came down in time for the return of the cops and, as it turned out, SIS officers, or perhaps police intelligence. They had a warrant to search the premises for “bombs or bomb making material and equipment”. The SIS guys spent a good while going though our desk dairy and address books while the cops wandered about looking for bombs in a half hearted way. After the SIS guys had finished they all left. We never heard from them again.
In the decades since, Russell has been writing and teaching and continuing to make films. He has always taken his work incredibly seriously, always working to improve the quality and intellectual depth of our film culture. I think Russell’s latest book will be even more useful than his first, second and third books. Thanks to this book, documentary makers like me can now see where we fit and where we might best try to contribute to our developing culture. With this guide to what has gone before, we can now see more clearly how to lift our game with better ideas, scripts and edits. And for or all of us, filmmakers or not, Russell’s observations on the way others have looked at our culture and history give us a broader and clearer over-view.
In the chapter on documentaries about artists he writes,
“A culture has been created that wasn’t there before, a culture which makes us aware of our national failings as well as our strengths”
This sentence jumped out at me as perfectly describing what this book has done.
August 29, 2011 | From the launch of The Catastrophe
Ian Wedde has been an inspiration to me for almost as long as I can remember. When I went to Sydney as a teenager in 1978 I took with me just a couple of totemic NZ books, one of which was Ian’s most recent at the time,Spells for Coming Out, his wonderful volume of poems from 1977. I read that volume over and over, and ever since that time, Ian – perhaps more than anyone else – has represented to me what it might be like to be a New Zealand poet, a New Zealand writer. He’s a model of how you would do that job seriously, if you were good enough.
Throughout his career – which is to say forty years, give or take, and what must now be about two dozen books – Ian has maintained relentlessly high standards. And I’m sorry if that sounds head-masterish, but it’s true. I don’t mean it just in an aesthetic sense, obviously, though that is definitely part of it. Ian frets about the aesthetic as a category, but I don’t think he ever denigrates it, or if he does it’s always in the course of a dialogue in which the aesthetic (‘beauty’, ‘pleasure’) gets a chance to speak back. Pleasure has always been a powerful motivator in Ian’s work. Actually, there’s a more powerful term which is JOY (somewhere he calls it that ‘mature emotion’). He’s always been a joyous writer – even when what he’s writing about the difficulty of maintaining that. And you’ll find that this ‘hedonic’ dimension is well and truly evident inThe Catastrophe– more so, it may be, than in any other novel he’s written. The main character Christopher Hare is food writer and food lover, after all. But I’m also talking of course about the way it’s written (I’ll come back to this).
First, though, I want to talk about those ‘standards’ that I said Ian has maintained. The kind of bar that he’s set for himself, if you like. Now that is an aesthetic thing, but more than that, I think, it’s an intellectual thing, a political, an ethical thing. There’s a high degree of formal awareness in Ian’s writing, obviously, but he’s not someone who ever writes just for the sake of it. He never writes ‘exercises’ – or he certainly doesn’t publish them. He’s always writing about something, and that something is always political. Moreover – and I think this might almost be the cardinal virtue of Ian’s writing for me – he never writes the same book twice. In 40 years he’s never done that. There’s a line from a poem inCastaly– my books are all packed to shift to Auckland and I’m embarrassed to say I can’t even remember the title of it – but in this poem the poet-figure is giving himself a bit of a telling off (as quite often happens in that book) and he says (if I remember correctly): ‘Here you are, tap-dancing on your modest accomplishment.’ It’s just the kind of thing that Ian would accuse himself of, but it’s precisely the kind of thing that he would never actually do. There was one time I think when he began to sense that happening to him (when he thought was beginning to repeat himself) but his response, typically, was to stop publishing for 8 or 10 years and go and find something else that needed doing (at Te Papa).
So there’s restlessness in Ian’s writing which I think is absolutely fundamental to its politics. He never marks time. He’s always pushing on, and outwards, feeling for those places, in cultural politics, and in brute politics, where the tectonic plates are grinding up against one another and the big problems are being litigated. He’s a topical writer, if you like, but in a much stronger sense than we usually apply to that term. It’s not about trend-spotting. It’s about what Ian calls ALERTNESS. (What other people might call awareness; or historical-mindedness.)
I could talk here about his big 80s novelSymmes Holeand what makes that such a landmark text. I could about Te Papa. I could talk about thePenguin Book of NZ Versethat he edited in 1985.
But instead I’m here to talk about this wonderful new novelThe Catastrophe. The title refers to the way Christopher Hare’s wife thinks of their marriage. But the phrase also translates the Arabical-Nakba, which how the Palestinian people refer to 1948 and the declaration of the state Israel, and the expulsion of the Palestinians to Lebanon, Jordan, Syria. And it’s that crossover, between a rather frothy private world and a very grave political world, that’s at the heart of this novel.
In the opening sequence – and I can tell you this I think because it all happens in the first 5 pages – Christopher is eating in a restaurant in Nice when a white taxi pulls up and a woman gets out, walks into the restaurant and shoots two other diners. And for reasons that are not all clear to himself – but they have something to do with the Catastrophe of his own career, and something to do with the woman’s self-possession and conviction and the beauty that this somehow confers on her, I think – the food writer leaps to his feet and throws himself into the getaway car, the white taxi. He kidnaps himself, as someone puts it later. And then the action unfolds over the next 12 hours or so as Christopher is held hostage by this small Palestinian assassination squad, which is what it turns out to be.
And in the course of this 12 hours – overnight – the novels winds together, or unwinds together, both the story of Christopher’s hedonistic career (and don’t forget, of course, he’s a writer) and his allegedly ‘catastrophic’ marriage, AND the modern history of Palestine. So you see what I mean about those tectonic plates grinding together. Because of course that crossing or identification or transference that Christopher undergoes – between his world and the Arab world – is pretty much the fundamental crossing point of our historical moment, isn’t it?
What I want to stress about this, however, is that you don’t write a convincing novel about Palestine and the West by waking up one day and saying ‘hey, that’s atopicalidea’ and getting on Wikipedia. The reason Ian can do it now is because he’s always been alert to that politics, which is how he came to be living with the Palestinians in Jordan as a young man in his early twenties. So it’s a novel very much of this moment – post 9/11, even the so-called Arab spring – but I think it’s also a novel that Ian has been gestating for about 40 years. And his understanding of Palestinian history really does have that kind of weight to it. What he’s managed to write here is a novel that I think will stand up in any company in terms of the crossing of the Western imagination into the Arab East. If I had to name a comparison I’d have to go for something like Tony Kushner’s amazing play about Afghanistan,Homebody/Kabul. Ian’s understanding of this history has the same kind of depth.
What I haven’t told you yet – really I’m saving the main point till last – is what a great readThe Catastropheis. I’ve said that Ian’s always on the move – he doesn’t repeat himself, he doesn’t ‘tap-dance’ – so that when you open a new Wedde novel you never know quite what he’s going to be up to. His previous five novels (if I’m counting correctly) cover a huge amount of ground in formal and stylistic terms. I won’t try to put a genre label on this novel, beyond saying I guess that it’s a kind of thriller, but what he seems to have gone for more than ever before, I think, is plot. Symmes Holeis a wonderful novel which, the first time I read it, must have taken me about a fortnight to get through. The Catastropheis also a wonderful novel, but I read this one in two sittings. It’s by far the most streamlined novel that Ian’s written. It’s only 190 pages. And I promise you, you’ll read it fast. You’ll do it in the time it takes to braise a big pot ofjoues de boeuf. (Which is just to say, I haven’t talked about the food aspect – you’ll discover that for yourselves. Don’t read it while you’re hungry.)
Okay, so, you’ll read it fast. But then, when you’re finished, if you enjoy it as much as I have, you’ll probably want to turn back and read it again slowly. Like many writers, I’m sure Ian is exercised by the tension between wanting to write readable, plot-driven fiction, on the one hand, and on the other to write something that is difficult and thoughtful and demanding and puts up resistance; something you can get your intellectual teeth into. But it seems to me here that he’s done a remarkably successful job of laminating those two things together. There’s a fast novel, the one you’ll read first, for the plot and the food and just to know what happens. And then wrapped up inside it there’s a much slower novel (a slow-cooker) that you’ll read for the politics and the history and the complicated characters.
It’s too early, of course, and who am I to say, but just between you and me I reckon this could be Ian’s best novel. But don’t take my word for it. Buy it, read it. Read it again.
I loved you the moment I saw you
August 24, 2011 | Photos by Peter Black, essay by Ian Wedde
Peter Black's new book of stunning colour photographs was launched last week, this is one of the images from the book. Wellingtonians will recognise many of the places and faces but at the same time this really could be the story of any city. Also in the book is an essay by Ian Wedde, the following is a short extract.
Since I moved to Wellington in 1975, almost everything I’ve written has had a template of one kind or another in this place – the houses I’ve lived in, the well-worn yet recursively habitual tracks around town, to the post office, through Courtenay Place, Unity Books, the Vietnamese noodle shop on Vivian Street, around Oriental Bay, Moore Wilson’s produce, Regional Wines by the Basin Reserve, and so on – routes that are also neural networks or rhizomatic thought-tracks so familiar on a daily basis that I could pretty much walk them at random with my eyes shut. Which, in a sense, I do, as often as not – like anyone else. That partial sightlessness becomes the default state of the habitual urban nomad, the introspective flâneur, walking around as if blind to everything but the thoughts or tasks or wishes that occupy the idling mind and are projected there on a screen whose reflexive surface is half turned away from the familiar world outside; or half blind and deaf to anything but the inner narrative that mutters and blinks there in the mind, where language and image are shiftily overriding each other – marking time until I get back to the room I work in, where a familiar disposition of bookshelves, the askance view down across the garden to the neighbour’s back yard (which I don’t see, because I’m looking at and listening to something mental in between typing) are what fix me in the place of imagination. That this place of imagination is also situated has to be relearned or acknowledged anew from time to time; or I have to be startled into that acknowledgement somehow.
We're thrilled that VUP author Ian Wedde has been named New Zealand Poet Laureate 2011-2013.
New Zealand’s new Poet Laureate for 2011-2013 isIan Wedde, the Minister responsible for the National Library Nathan Guy has announced today.
“The Poet Laureate is a prestigious position, acting as an Ambassador for the role of poetry as part of our national culture,” says Mr Guy.
“This position is administered by the National Library and is a recognition by the government of how important poetry is to our history, culture and identity.
“Mr Wedde has had a distinguished career in the arts and is well qualified to take on this important role.”
His publications include fourteen collections of poetry, six novels, two collections of essays, a monograph on the artist Bill Culbert, several art catalogues, and numerous contributions to other books.
Ian Wedde has received National Book Awards for fiction and poetry, an Arts Foundation Laureate award, a Distinguished Alumni Award at the University of Auckland, the Landfall Essay prize and was created an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
The New Zealand Poet Laureate receives $80,000 over the two-year period of their tenure. They are supported by the National Library to define the role in their own individual way, while fulfilling the responsibilities of the office.
They are expected to produce a publication of the work written during their period as Laureate and to publicly advocate for and present poetry.
Previous Laureates have included Bill Manhire, Hone Tuwhare, Elizabeth Smither, Brian Turner, Jenny Bornholdt and Michele Leggott. The outgoing Poet Laureate is Bluff poet Cilla McQueen.
Let me begin with a pretty obvious fact. There is no other book on any New Zealand poet that has the depth, or the scholarship, or the clarity, of Geoff’s and John’s and Paul’s account of classical myth and Baxter. And let me follow this with what may be less obvious, but of equal importance. This book is also what you might call a significant piece of reclamation, a blast against an egregiously provincial kind of political correctness, as it restores an insistent vein of pakeha whakapapa.
So a little more on that. As the authors politely point out, there was a time soon after his death when it became almost a fashion to put the boot into Baxter, and especially for his so extensively drawing on classical myth. It was regarded by some as deeply un-New Zealand, very un-up-with-the-play. It was so uncontemporary, too insistently solemn, to be so at ease with figures and patterns that had been central to literature for several thousand years. It was decidedly uncool to come on so old-hat educated; to write, for God’s sake, as if one were a European! An immediate awkwardness for this argument of course was that no poet before Baxter had worked so extensively the grain of ordinary New Zealand experience, or so caught the country’s physical presence or the tang of its language, or had so faced up to what a botched outfit we were in so many respects. What so often allowed him to do this so convincingly, and give it such resonance, was his alertness to just how precisely the configurations of myth fitted the details of lived experience.
As Baxter thought and as Nietzsche said, ‘metaphor is the desire to be somewhere else’, the push of something which at first seems so strikingly individual, towards what becomes so convincingly communal, that space where, as Jung put it, ‘Myths give us pictures for our emotions’. Baxter’s very staginess, you could say, was at the core of the man who made sense to himself only by running his personal freight along mythic rails. Private experience only had value for Baxter when it found a parallel in myth, a part of the timeless pattern where he might insinuate himself. As the 1890s poet Lionel Johnson, whose penchant for heavy drinking, whose conversion to Catholicism, ands whose ease with the classics gives him much in common with Baxter, used to insist, ‘Life is nothing if not performance.’ When this moved outside poetry into a repertoire of various Baxterian’turns’ it inevitably attracted acolytes as it also provoked fury, neither of which has much to do with an assessment of the poems
But I return for a moment to what I earlier touched on – the curious paradox that while our litterateurs so eagerly and understandably endorse the traces of tradition and myth and tribal memory in Maori and Polynesian writers, there could be a distinct sense of embarrassment when faced with a pakeha equivalent. This relates I think to what one might think of as the Fantasy of the Settler Blowdryer, the assumption that whatever our cultural genepool carries with it dessicates when we or our forbears decide to live here. As if Burns or Blake are not as authentically figures in our whakapapa as they are for a poet in Liverpool; as if Persephone or Herakles are not as rightfully accessible to a New Zealand poet, if he chooses them to be, as they are for a poet in Moscow or Prague.
That is the underlying argument of this handsome book, with its witty Marion McGuire images. ‘Give a man a mask,’ as Wilde famously said, ‘and he will tell you the truth about himself.’ If the fashion for poetry for a time after Baxter insisted that masks no longer mattered because the mask currently in favour didn’t look like one, then that’s OK. You don’thave toadmire Baxter, and there are a number of reasons why you may not. But you cannot read him without conceding the sophistication and range and originality of what he does, or his remarkable authority and ease among the most enduring figures in Western poetic practice.
Getting on for forty years after his death, I think we readers are fortunate that three Victoria scholars, with their impressive pooling of skills, have now given us this book. They tell us who has written the various chapters, yet the narrative is seamless. Their shared knowledge of the vast corpus of Baxter’s texts, and the classical texts behind them, is encyclopaedic. As with Baxter himself, they see not the slightest dislocation, nor the slightest hint of an un-New Zealand activity, in talking about, say, Holyoake and Pluto in the same sentence. As a work of understanding and unravelling, there is nothing quite to touch this volume in dealing with our poetry. And finally, how appropriate, and mildly ironic, that it comes from the university where not even Ian Gordon could excite Baxter with Anglo-Saxon, and which the student poet referred to as ‘Bullshit Castle’. TheSnake-Haired Museis essential and invaluable. Geoff and John and Paul may very well be proud of it, and Victoria proud of them.
Long may its serpents writhe.
The University of Otago will confer the honorary degree of Doctor of Literature on leading New Zealand poet and writer Brian Turner at a graduation ceremony next month.
Vice-Chancellor Professor David Skegg says that Mr Turner is one of the country's most gifted poets, whose work has not only met with critical acclaim but also attracted a large popular following.
'I am delighted that the University is able to celebrate Brian Turner's outstanding poetic achievements and his other extensive contributions to New Zealand life and letters' Professor Skegg says.
Brian Turner has written and published a lot of non-fiction that looks at politics, sport and recreation, environmentalism in New Zealand. What we do here, and why. He says he’s ‘always been fascinated by what is going on in what many term the 'natural world' around us - in a sense of the numinous in the lands that shape us. Lawrence Durrell once said that he thought the hills and the mountains were watching us, and were asking us if we were watching ourselves in them.’ However Brian’s poems of the last year have taken an even more personal turn. He talks about that here:
My new collection of poems,Inside Outside, includes a long sequence called 'Post-Operatives'.
I've spent a large amount of time in hospitals, have lost count of the number of operations I've had. But I do know that between 2000 and 2010 I had five operations involving 12-14 hours on the table, and I can remember 11 operations in all in the past 30 years - and there were some before that dating back to the 1950s. Then there are the dozens of often highly unpleasant and painful other medical interventions, procedures and tests that I've undergone. Doctors have sometimes said to me, 'Oh, you again.'
Early in 2010 I underwent a 4 hour operation after being diagnosed with something nasty. I thought maybe I wouldn't be alive much longer - and if it wasn't for the skills of surgeons and other medics over the years I wouldn't be here today. All that knocks one around both physically and mentally. One surgeon said to me, kindly, chuckling, that it was as if I'd been built out of pieces of a Mechano set.
In the ensuing months in 2010 I wrote scores of poems, reflections on life and loves past and present. I was desolate, felt bashed around, close to giving up. I was scared. Was barely hanging on, more distressed than I could ever remember. One result was scores of raw, candid, frank and often stripped down poems which explore three of the themes that have been constants in my work from the beginning: love, longing and loss. The sorts of things one might call landscapes of the heart and soul.
One takes risks going there. At no time in my life have I felt that I would make old bones. Which means one lives with a sense of fear and foreboding. But I like to think that for the most part I've been a realist more than a sentimentalist all through. That said, I also think that the closer you get to sentiment without becoming sentimental the more affecting and powerful poetry is.
Fergus Barrow says - "I first heard some of the key poems in a reading, and I was stunned at their emotional intensity, and impressed that that had been achieved without any cost to the verbal wit and sometimes ribald humour that have been the hallmarks of Kate's poetry. When I read the manuscript I knew it was the breakthrough book that would establish her as one of New Zealand's major poets. I am thrilled for Kate that that has been recognised by this award."
Described by judge Michael Harlow as a truly thoughtful and engaging book of poems, Harlow says, ‘In ‘The Mırror Of Simple Annihilated Souls, Kate Camp has rather courageously accepted the challenge to make words sing to that universal and always fascinating experience: what is it that love desires the self to do, and be — in the service of what we can recognise as ‘soul-making. Camp demonstrates a poetic brilliance of her own by making ‘original translations’ of her own in a contemporary idiom that deals with the spiritual dimension of life-lived-in-the world’.
Pip Adam, as earlier announced, picked up the award for Best First Book of Fiction for her short storiesEverything We Hoped For. Fergus says of Pip's work: "Some readers have commented that Pip's stories are very dark, grim even, but I don't really get that; I find their unsparing focus and refusal of the easy writer's refuges of caricature and moralising to be energising. I might be weird, but they cheer me up, and I'm delighted by this confirmation that there are other readers who feel the same way."
Also short listed was Tim Wilson forTheir Faces Were Shining.Their Faces Were Shiningis a singular book, and there is very little else in New Zealand literature to compare to it for the audacity of the idea and the combination of pacy storytelling and serious purpose. It is Tim's first novel, but it is hard for me to think of him as a new writer because I have been reading and publishing his stories since the 1990s, so I know how hard he has worked to get this good.
Thanks to NZ Post for supporting the awards and the lovely team at Booksellers NZ for their hard work putting it all together.
Words for Vincent - an introduction by Harry Ricketts
July 19, 2011 | From a recent event at Marsden Books, Karori
It’s a great pleasure, and honour, to be asked to say a few words about Vincent O’Sullivan’s latest collection of poems,The movie may be slightly different- before Vincent gives us a reading from it. To be asked to do this is also, I need hardly say, a source of considerable panic. Vincent is such a commanding presence not just in New Zealand poetry but in New Zealand literature at large: novels, plays, short stories, critical and personal essays, anthologies, the biography of Mulgan, the editing of Mansfield’s letters. Wherever you look, Vincent has left his indelible mark, something for us to be hugely grateful for. His poetry ‒ and particularly the collections of the last decade or so ‒ has been highly, widely and justly praised. It constitutes a remarkable body of work, as the English poet and translator Michael Hulse said ofBlame VermeerinNew Zealand Books: Blame Vermeeris the real thing, wise beyond the attitudes of wisdom, deft beyond the posturing of deftness, brimming with O’Sullivan’s exciting ability simply to talk his understated way into sheer bloody poetry.
All of which is equally true ofThe movie may be slightly different, which is full of memorable talk, of “sheer bloody poetry”. But here are a few of the many things I particularly enjoy about the new collection, and which I hope you will too. So I like the fact that, as in Vincent’s earlier collections, you find yourself hanging out with such an unlikely polyglot of good poetic company: Baxter, Brasch, Brecht, Cavafy, Curnow, Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore, Rilke, Seferis, Wallace Stevens, among others. What an assortment! And because what has struck Vincent about these writers is always something unexpected, you have, in addition to the pleasure of his poem, the bonus of going back to the other poet’s work with a quickened interest. So ‘On the same road you can’t help thinking’ is in itself a powerful, idiosyncratic meditation on Baxter and religious faith, but also sends you back with a sharpened bafflement to Baxter’s poems and what Vincent memorably dubs their “scalding honey”.
Sometimes these poems contain useful hints as to how to read - and hownotto read – poetry, in particular Vincent’s own. So, the footnote to ‘Suppose, for the moment’, a poem which sparks off Emily Dickinson, briskly comments that Dickinson herself “wrote 1800 poems, usually mistaken as ‘personal’” ‒ with ‘personal’ in inverted commas.
‘Suppose, for the moment’: what a characteristic O’Sullivan title! So too is the insouciant ‘The critic explains it all’. This poem beautifully suggests by ironic inversion what poetry – despite the critic’s assertions - might actually be. Here’s the beginning – I love the sudden tonal pressure on the word ‘just’. The critic is speaking:
“The last thing I’d want poetryjustto be
is a man thinking intelligently about the state
of life, the mystery of the whole caboodle,
the great trail of moonlight that excites us
when it’s laid across a summer harbour ….”
Vincent’s poetry does indeed constantly “think intelligently about the state of life”, “the mystery of the whole caboodle” – and seriously too, but never, thank goodness, earnestly. After the critic has gone on with more clever pronouncements, this particular poem concludes in a typically O’Sullivanesque shift of register: “Thank Christ it’s about then the house burns down.” As an otiose reviewer of a hundred years ago would no doubt have remarked, “Wit and irony are seldom strangers to O’Sullivan’s poems.” And if you like your satire strongly spiced, you may soon find yourself turning to poems like ‘The panel meets for lunch’, ‘Defending the Groves’ (the groves of academe, that is), ‘Plane People’ (about a poetry reading from hell), and the terrific ‘Over and out’ in which Cain after being acquitted of murdering Abel goes into advertising.
Other poems show such a relish for life, for the beauty of the natural world, for “the great trail of moonlight that excites us”. ‘Politics for the unborn’, for instance, lists a marvellous catalogue of daily pleasures awaiting the unborn (perhaps a grandchild?), reflecting that “there’s so much you can do the clock/pants to keep up”, before the final line delivers a wryly qualifying nod back to the title: “Just we need to get that across. It’s quite a job.” Then there’s the affectionate companionship of ‘Evening with Friends’, with its quiet tipping of rhyme and off-rhyme – the collection also contains several excellent fully rhymed poems:
Four friends in a pulsing room
till the embers gash, hush
to rimmed ash. An owl
whirrups from above the bush-line.
No-one needs to speak.
There are some excellent dog poems, featuring Norman, Vincent’s and Helen’s German Schnauzer. Along with Norman we are taken for a series of walks ‒ except of course being O’Sullivan poems these quickly slip the leash and take off in unexpected directions. ‘The narrative drive’, for instance, turns into a marvellously oblique, quasi-Jamesian exchange with another early morning stroller in a playground. Thomas Hardy’s late poems are full of potted short stories, swift character sketches, exchanges, dramatic monologues, and so are Vincent’s. There are also some almost-elegies like the all too uncomfortably apt ‘One of these mournings, Old St Paul’s’, which opens:
A woman I never much liked is not the same
woman I now sit a dozen yards from, in the church
where agnostics are sent from ….
By contrast, there are lyrically tender poems, like the final one, the imagistic ‘from Seferis’:
In a small garden – they don’t
come much smaller – light strikes
two red carnations, as it strikes
a sliver of honeysuckle, a single olive.
Light is where you are.
I particularly admire that slight double-take in the last line: not, I think, “Light is where youare” (where ‘you’ could be reader, speaker or both), but “Light is whereyouare”, making it a tender love poem.
However varied these new poems are in subject matter, range, viewpoint, sympathy – and there is a huge variety, two elements seem to me to hold them together or at least to stamp them as vintage O’Sullivan. One is the apparently effortless control of the often highly intricate syntax. Embarking on a poem here can be like launching out on an exhilarating, high-speed, precarious ski run of the mind as you suddenly find that without halting the sentence has skipped, bumped, twisted, even seemingly stumbled, before miraculously righting itself and releasing you. For instance, the last 25 lines of ‘On the same road you can’t help thinking’, the poem about Baxter, comprise a single sentence – all 145 words of it. It is this mastery of syntax, together with tone, which gives the inimitable, but instantly recognisable tang to the voice of these terrific poems. Here are some openings to savour: “I dislike statements about poets saving the world”; “There’s a man in town trying to sell a harbour”; “She was good, she said, ‘at placing men’”; “I’ve been reading about lepers – the famous/ones”; ”’A place for the genuine’, said Marianne”; “The morose barman leans towards you”; and a particular favourite “The suckfish of the North Island survive”.
But that’s just the smallest taste. Here are 119 new poems from Vincent O’Sullivan. That’s like a double collection. It’s simply not fair. But what a treat.
Harry Ricketts at Marsden Books, 13/07/2011
FEAR AND OTHER SURPRISES: ON WRITING A POEM EVERY DAY
July 14, 2011 | by Joan Fleming
A friend emailed me in June to say, What are you doing in July? Will you be near a computer? Would you like to write a poem every day? Even on weekends? And would you like to put the poem online, where everyone can see it, every day, even on weekends? And are you crazy?Yes,I said.That sounds sufficiently scary to be worthwhile. I’ll do it.
The thing about writing a poem every day is that you have to write something whether you feel like it or not. My usual writing routine is not to get out of bed in the mornings. I like to stay in my pyjamas and bring all my books and notepads and laptop into the bed with me. There’s something about this trick that seems to keep the day out. It says to the day,You can’t have me yet. I’m not even up. See, I’m still in my pyjamas!
My mind is also cleanest in the mornings. There’s not a lot of clutter and tasks and to-do lists. However, this month, I can’t always write in the mornings. Some mornings I have to get up and go to work. So I end up writing my poem-of-the-day at theendof the day, when my head is messy. Some of these end-of-day poems turn out to be rather silly and foolish. And they rhyme. One poem I wrote this week is called, 'Poem about three shoes', and it goes like this: “I have black shoes/and brown shoes/but yellow shoes/are the nowhere/to be found/shoes.//Oh sunny toes/ Oh sunny heels/I will cobble my own pair/from banana peels.” I feel sure I would never write something like this in the morning. When my sister read this little ditty, she said: “You are channeling Dr Seuss!” And maybe she is right. Hopefully she is right. I mean, really, that is a marvellous compliment.
The other writers and artists who are part of this project – it’s calledCollaboratElaborate– are doing all sorts of interesting and different things. One contributor is posting beautifully drawn plans and diagrams for his Connecticut permaculture project. A phrase from his post on Bamboo as Wind-breaks found it’s way into one of my poems as: “My mother’s drawing of me is a scribble – wind currents in confusion instead of a face.” The title of another contributor’s poem turned into a line about my father: “He is listening for the noise of the world –it’s anticlines, it’s cataclastic load.” I was surprised that these pieces ofother people’spieces felt so welcome in my own, but hey, I was pleased I could offer them a second home.
The best thing about CollaboratElaborate is that I am learning to get over myself a little bit. I can’t “sit on” poems, or let them mature (or ferment), or spend weeks rearranging five words in the last line. I can’t write lots and only keep the “good” ones – they all have to go out into the world. It’s a good exercise in tempering my over-developed capacity for self-criticism. And since today is only the 14th of July, that means I have 17 more poems to go. Stay tuned.
Joan Fleming gained an MA with Distinction in Creative Writing at Victoria in 2007, and won the Biggs Poetry Prize for that year. Her work has been published in Sport, Landfall, Hue & Cry, The Listener, Takahe, The Best of Best New Zealand Poems, Snorkel, JAAM, Turbine, Blackmail Press and The Lumiere Reader. A clutch of her prose-poems was published as Two Dreams in Which Things are Taken in the DUETS chapbook series in 2010 – a series which pairs one New Zealand and one American poet. Joan lives between Wellington and Golden Bay, and works as a tutor in creative writing and English. Her first collection of poetry,The Same as Yes, will be published in November by VUP.