The Age of Excess has been good to Christopher Hare. One of the world's top food writers, he has travelled to the best restaurants in the most exotic locations, with the chic dining companion known to readers of his lavish books as Thé Glacé. But, in the new mood of austerity ushered in by the credit crunch, will the world still be interested in what he thinks of Robuchon's caramelised quail? Certainly Christopher's editor isn't. Christopher's moment of truth catches up with him in the corrupt space between the violent Lebanese civil war of 1975-90 and the luxurious bolt-holes of the Riviera. One evening, almost at the bottom of his over-the-hill slope, he is investigating the budget options in a mediocre restaurant in off-season Nice. These days he is no longer accompanied by Thé Glacé, aka Mary Pepper, who has found international fame and fortune as an art photographer of pornographically eroticised foodstuffs. In the restaurant, Christopher witnesses an assassination. Impulsively, he throws himself into the action, and becomes the almost-willing victim of a political kidnapping. What will be Christopher's fate? Will his ex-wife 'Thé Glacé' come to his rescue? Will the harshly beautiful Palestinian paediatrician Hawwa Habash soften towards her accidental prisoner? Suffused with culinary delights and political menace,The Catastropheis a novel which speaks urgently to our rapidly changing times.
When the generally-certified Book of the Year, triumphant of the Pulitzer Prize, gilded by the National Book Award, and feted by reviewers, is also a book that you’ve reviled, inscribed with exclamation marks and crosses, thrown across the room, picked up, given away and had to take back, isn’t more than simple churlishness on display?
Yes, thank goodness.
This isn’t the forum to debate the demerits and merits ofA Visit From The Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan. Hit me up on Twitter or something. I’m more interested in examining the benefits and discontents not going along.
These began to form, like inclement weather, even before the victim showed up. It’s an odd feeling when a book has approbation pre-loaded. Like all people, I enjoy –within limits- being told what to do/think/be, but highly-praised titles carry a weight far beyond the material accumulation of pages and words. In a certain kind of personality they immediately set up a counterbalance. “Oh goody,” the Id froths, “here’s a chance to be disagreeable.”
I may have aspects of said personality; I’m not alone.
If membership has its privileges, pariahhood is not without rewards. In theory, everyone wants to be Oscar Wilde, and no one wants to be Lord Alfred Douglas. Of course, when everyone is Oscar Wilde, they'reactuallyLord Alfred Douglas.New Yorkmagazine has wittily graphed the reed-like shifting of consensus in what it calls The Curve. So you have: The pre-Buzz, The Buzz, Rave Reviews, Saturation Point, Overhyped, Backlash, and finally the Gotterdammerung of criticism, Backlash to the Backlash.
Generally, criticism from the 'Backlash' phase manifests as an appeal to standards and the defense against cultural anarchy. The subject under discussion is a travesty of blah; an incitement to blech. Few critics will admit the following: Envy always comes dressed as morality.
I am envious. My waistline, and much more besides, would be immeasurably firmed by a Pulitzer.
Returning to The Curve. By the time The Backlash has commenced, the argument is no longer with the author, or the book they believed themselves to have been writing. It's with abstractions, modish sentiments (the importance of 'experimentalism', say), and –mostly- factions. It's a treatise on the politics of praise. This can apply to defenders, as much as attackers.
And yet... Shouldn't you take up cudgels for what you believe?
But arguments evacuate belief so quickly, if indeed they were ever rooted in it. Being the howling, lonely voice of dissent amongst the more harmonic chorus gets… old. 'Why do you care so much?' another voice asks, 'It’s only taste.' Since Bourdieu, we all know that taste is a representation of the desire of economic classes to auto-reinforce.
Put it another way: ‘Don’t you want to get along with nice people who are in the same spot as you?’
Maybe not. As an occasional Backlash merchant, I can report that beating something when it's up makes you feel both valid, and invalid.
Ultimately, hating the widely-regarded thing carries a worse hazard: self-congratulation. You think, ‘If everyone's wrong about this, what else are they wrong about?’ A struggle (brief, limp) ensues with the follow up question, ‘What else are yourightabout?’
At which point, just possibly, novels may start to get written, the silly ones, as well as those much-rarer classics.
The movie may be slightly different
May 18, 2011 | an extract
Whose arm is it, such pallor stretching as far from the window to the end of the branch? The black arm, you mean, as you stand beneath it?
Moonscript writing its lines for different voices.
This new collection offers a rich harvest of recent poems displaying the wit, intellectual agility and arresting beauty for which Vincent O'Sullivan is renowned.
Was it something I said?
May 17, 2011 | thoughts from LYNN DAVIDSON
The Nelson School of Music has the most beautiful concert hall. It looks like the inverted hull of a ship – narrow wood beams make a long, deep curve overhead. I’m told it has, arguably, the best acoustics in New Zealand. I was at the Nelson School of Music thanks to the generosity of my Nelson friends, Rachel Bush and Richard Nunns. They gave me a ticket to hear the fabulous Whirimako Black, guitarist Nigel Gavin and Richard himself who was to play a variety of traditional Maori instruments. The concert was on the night before I was taking my worldly belongings back to Wellington after a year teaching on the writing programme at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology. In the time I was at NMIT, a decision was made to axe the writing programme.Was it something I said?But really, if you listen hard enough, you can hear the sound of arts programmes losing limbs all over Aotearoa New Zealand. In a particularly memorable staff meeting, one of our executive said that in these belt-tightening times we needed to decide if we would rather a few of us be picked off by a sniper, or be randomly taken down by a Gatling gun (mowing down everyone in the room with his imaginary machine gun as he spoke). Back to the concert. The fluid, engaging Whirimako interspersed John Coltrane and Leonard Cohen numbers with Waiata Maori written by her Ngai Tuhoe ancestors and living family. The waiata were spellbinding. It seemed that she wasn’t singing them, they were singing her. If Whirimako evoked people and human connection, Richard Nunns evoked the landscape. Sometimes a familiar landscape: the liquid hush of the sea, a chill wind across hills, the surprise drop from one element to another - sky to earth, earth to sea. And sometimes other-worldly landscapes that we do and don’t know: the hollow, woody tapping that raises your heartbeat, the lift and pulse of the breath through a gun barrel. Yes, a gun barrel. Ngai Tuhoe, Richard explained, found a unique use for the barrel of a gun. They amputated the barrel from the stock, put their mouth over the thick metal circle at the trigger end and blew, making a similar sound to the traditional conch shell, but even more achy - as though broken hearts were involved. At times, with a slight pulse of the barrel and a shift of the lips, the sound billowed, like waves. In this way Ngai Tuhoe organised their communal eating: a call to lay the food, another to lift it, the call to Marae to eat. Sometimes a call signaled a death. The gun barrel replaced the putatara, the conch shells, which were largely given away as gifts. Car horns replaced guns, and now cellphones call up and down the long deep valleys of the Ureweras. Art is slippery. It is a shape shifter. You cannot make it go away. Loss and fear take form. You turn a gun into an instrument and use it to bring people together. Carol Ann Duffy said that poetry is ‘the noise of being human’. I think that definition could be applied to art generally. It calls out, it calls up, and at times it calls to account.
Bernadette Hall reads The History of Europe
May 10, 2011 | A reading from The Best of Best NZ Poems
Since 2000, the online anthology Best New Zealand Poems has showcased the most exciting and memorable poetry produced in this country. Here, for the first time, is a selection of this work in book form. Edited by founding publisher Bill Manhire, and writer Damien Wilkins, this anthology is an indispensable guide to the richness, strangeness, and liveliness of contemporary poetry.
Damien Wilkins On The Best of Best New Zealand Poems
May 9, 2011 | An extract from The Best of Best NZ Poems introduction
If I were put against a wall and asked to make any sort of general observation about the poetry here, it would have something to do with, well, fun. Not a very high-minded concept, I know. A kind of buoyancy then. Or lightness, in the sense Italo Calvino asked for when he wrote that ‘thoughtful lightness can make frivolity dull and heavy’. It’s there obviously, wonderfully, in a poem like Rachel Bush’s ‘The Strong Mothers’, with Mrs Chapman who ‘heated records and shaped them into vases for presents’; it’s there in the best baby-in-the bed poem ever written, Graham Lindsay’s ‘big bed’: ‘Her ring-finger hand covers one breast/He sucks the other and fiddles/with my penis with his foot’; it’s there in Anne Kennedy’s rugby poem: ‘Five-nil to them./Fuck. And fuck/the conversion/too . . .’ These, you might argue, are comic poems and are just behaving as they should, and yet the same buoyancy animates several senior elegies. When Allen Curnow writes ‘. . . Gently as I stroke/this child’s head, I’m thinking, “Goodbye!” and then goes on to rhyme ‘season’s crop’ with ‘wither and drop’, the humour carries the weight—there is no weight. You could say Sam Hunt is feeling sad in ‘Lines for a New Year’, but the sections open and close like strange and powerful riddles:
It’s a love song between a mother and son. The son plays the drums and wrote the song. On the recording mother sings the song like mothers do. And the son plays the drums like a good boy. It’s a love song.
Instantly, I’d like to make that my blindfold test for New Zealand poetry: name the writer. And if Sam Hunt can manage, gloriously, not to sound especially like Sam Hunt, I reckon the gates are open. You only need sample opening lines to catch similar acts of disorientation: ‘I make telephone calls/to my bones, eat evenings’ (Johanna Aitchison); ‘All day today the ice melted./My name is Queen.’ (Anna Jackson); ‘The computer is dead; long live the computer’ (Cilla McQueen); ‘pity the poor giraffe/lost on the frozen steppe’ (James Norcliffe); ‘I auditioned for the part. And this way/I came to dance’ (Gregory O’Brien); ‘If it was tattooed in Maori there’d be an indigenous Universe/in this curvy groove—but it’s a problem of bleeding translation’ (Robert Sullivan’); ‘Get off my back/daughter’ (Michele Amas); ‘She emerged from the bamboo forest/with a white, fleshy-petalled flower/and her gun.’ (Amy Brown). Of course it’s not all like this, and yet the headlong rush into odd scenarios and askew voicings gives this anthology much of its tone. Here are the first four lines of Joan Fleming’s ‘Theory of Light’:
Andy goes craving all over the beach With her red grip and her red grapple. A red apple after dark isn’t red, It’s a black apple.
Andy? Because that’s the poet’s friend’s name? Or because it makes a nice sound with apple? And where did all this excited utterance come from? Did language itself cause the colours to pop as they do here? Whatever work we care to engage in figuring out the meaning of Fleming’s beachcombing—and the poem as it progresses is clearly not nonsense, not only sounds—it’s that eruptive, confident address which is grabbing. I find myself grabbed in this way a lot as I read these poems. So there’s confidence, yes, but also a feeling of agitation and short-circuited stories. Facts come at us fast without obvious illumination: ‘Ernest Hemingway found rain to be made of knowledge . . .’ (Paula Green). The narratives crackle but they often break down. There’s immediacy but it can be sourceless. And at the risk of pathologising the decade, it looks also like a time of jitteriness, agitation. The boldness of these poems is striking and often strikingly unresolved. Does calm never come to our poor poets?
This is an extract from the introduction of The Best of Best New Zealand Poems.
The Hill of Woolis a book about memories. Some memories live and grow in families. Some are inspired by rediscovered children's songs and stories. Others are triggered by chance encounters with old friends. Sometimes personal and lyrical, sometimes jagged and strange like untamed children's rhymes, these new poems will delight.
A traveller from an antique land visits the Ridgeway Dairy
May 4, 2011 | An essay by Kate Camp
Whenever I drive past the Ridgeway Dairy – which is often now because I live in the neighbourhood – I think about Shelley’s sonnet “Ozymandias”.
Well, I should say I think about “Ozymandias” and then I think, is that by Keats? No, Byron. No! It’s Shelley, because he wrote it in a sonnet competition with among others Mary Shelley on a holiday somewhere. Maybe Switzerland. She wroteFrankensteinthe same weekend, or started it, so while Percy won the sonnet contest, she probably did better overall.
Anyways the reason I always think of “Ozymandias” is that a few years ago I spent about twenty minutes parked there, memorising it. I was in a memorising poetry phase, when I would carry my poem of the moment in my wallet and, in spare moments, learn it in chunks.
My friend Sylvia lives near the dairy and I was running a bit early for a visit with her, so instead of tidying the glovebox or purging old text messages, I practiced “Ozymandias” and finally nailed the really hard bit in the middle.
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things, The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
The hand that mockedwhat exactly? Andthe heart that fedwhat ? If I have to explain it I suppose I take it to mean that the sculptor’s hand is the hand that mocked the passions, while Ozymandias’ heart is the thing that fed those passions. Who really cares.
What I find is that, once you learn a poem off by heart, the bit you end up loving the most is often not one of the really “good” bits of the poem. Quite often you end up really attached to a bit that is, objectively, quite rubbish. I said to Bill Manhire a while ago that “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold is one of my all time favourite poems, and he said, with a creeped out look on his face, “but what about the girdle thing?”
He was referring to: The Sea of Faith Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled. But now I only hear Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, Retreating, to the breath Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear And naked shingles of the world.
Of course he’s right, the girdle thing is a huge problem. But because I love the poem so much, and because I know it off by heart, I can not only tolerate the girdle, I have actually come to really like it. I just like saying the words “girdle furled” even though I know they are forced, and silly, and in questionable taste.
I reckon all poets should take comfort from the fact that if someone loves your poem enough, they will even love the crappy bits.
Some fresh reading
May 2, 2010 |
We have a tasty new regime lined up for the VUP blog. Each week we'll be featuring some of our top talent with guest posts from our authors and extracts from new titles. This week you can look forward to some musings on poetry from Kate Camp and a new poem from theHill of Woolby Jenny Bornholdt.
New ebooks from VUP
VUP have issued another batch of ebooks including an old favourite, Catherine Chidgey's award winningIn a fishbone church. We haven't forgotten physical books though, and have reissuedIn a fisbone churchin paper form as well, and there are a host of new titles coming out later this year which you can find out a little about on ourForthcoming bookspage. Hit the link to meBooks below to find out what other ebook titles are now available from VUP.
Yvonne Du Fresne (1929 – 2011)
March 16, 2011 |
We are very sad to hear of the passing of Yvonne du Fresne, whose Farvel and Other Stories was one of the early signs of the 1980s renaissance in New Zealand fiction.
This is from the IIML newsletter:
Yvonne du Fresne's chief early encouragers were Robin Dudding of Islands and Chris Hampson of Radio New Zealand, and her collection of short stories, Farvel, one of the first fiction titles published by Victoria University Press back in 1980, makes a special point of acknowledging their support. Farvel was a voice- and subject-discovering book for du Fresne. Its stories come to us through the eyes of a small child, Astrid Westergaard, growing up in a Danish family in the Manawatu in the 1930s, a time when all the classroom maps were still covered in British Empire pink. Farvel is thus about the discovery of both personal and national identity. Bill Manhire wrote in his introduction: “Like the oldest Norse tales, the Farvel stories have all the flair and pace of oral narrative . . . . But a better way of describing their effect might be to borrow the image of embroidery which appears so often in them. Farvel is like a tapestry, with fresh scenes being added story by story until at the last the richness of a complex picture is revealed. And Yvonne du Fresne's language can be like a needle flashing in and out of linen. Her writing has the intense, controlled exuberance of one of her Danish women at work on a piece of tapestry - human energy directed well.” Yvonne du Fresne went on to publish more books, novels as well as short stories, and a fuller account of these (along with a Writers in Schools interview) is posted on the NZ Book Council's website.
The striking cover design by Lindsay Missen features a photograph of the young Yvonne.
Celebratory volume for Roger Robinson launched
March 7, 2011 |
Roger Robinson, Emeritus Professor of English, was honoured last Thursday by his academic colleagues at VUW and by his wide circle of close friends and admirers from the worlds of elite distance running, sports journalism, creative writing and many others.
The event, kept a secret till the last moment, was publication ofRunning, Writing, Robinsonby VUP. Edited by colleagues in the School of English, Film, Theatre, and Media Studies (David Carnegie, Paul Millar, David Norton and Harry Ricketts), the volume has over fifty contributors, ranging from Lorraine Moller and Roger’s own son Jim among the runners, Tim Chamberlain and Lynn McConnell among the journalists, Fiona Kidman and Joy Cowley among the creative writers, Patrick Evans and Lawrence Jones among the academics, and Mike Hill, Phillip Mann, and Jeremy Commons among former colleagues at VUW.
Sadness tinged the celebration as news emerged in the hours preceding the launch that Brian Taylor, one of Roger’s closest friends and running companions, and a contributor to the book who was expected to attend, was among those beneath the rubble of the CTV building in Christchurch. Roger acknowledged the deep loss, but reminded everyone present, “If anyone can survive, a tough runner like Taylor will; and had he been here, he would have been the first to start partying”.
Anne Else read the poem with which that her late husband, Harvey McQueen, saluted Roger in the book, including lines that acknowledge Roger’s service to both running and university:
I recall gyroscopic feet pounding track & pavement, mile stretching to marathon, athlete’s gossip, speaker’s rostrum, announcer’s microphone
* * *
Unsung, the diplomatic bureaucrat weaving easily through university, educational & public service politics
Another contributor and colleague, Stephanie Pietkiewicz, was quoted at the launch for her reminder of Roger as a teacher and writer as well as a runner: “He opened the lecture. . . . His objective not merely to get to the destination, but to show us meaning’s journey through language. This was no mere intellectual examination; it was textual cross-country. . . . His writing pulls you into its pace, all slow acceleration or sudden surge, unput-downable, unstoppable till the very last full stop.”
(From Vic News)
The Violinist on screen
March 2, 2011 |
The Violinistcontinues to gain momentum as readers connect with Clare Galambos Winter's moving story so eloquently told by Sarah Gaitanos (pictured). You can watch Clare and Sarah discuss the bookon Good Morning here. Kate De Goldi gave the book a glowing review on Good Morning the previous week. This book is an important addition to the histories of both the Holocaust and postwar New Zealand culture, and a moving human document.
Congratulations to Professor Sir Paul Callaghan
Fe 8, 2011 |
Victoria University Press congratulates Professor Sir Paul Callaghan on being named New Zealander of the year. To celebrate, here is a free download of his essay'Luminous Moments', the afterword toAre Angels OK?, the book he edited with Bill Manhire.
‘Are Angels OK?’ asked Bill the poet. ‘Angels are just fine,’ said Paul the physicist.
Jet-setting Tim Wilson wows audinces in New York and Auckland
Feb 8 2011 |
It has been reported to the VUP office that Tim Wilson entertained a willing and satisfied audience of hard-bitten New Yorkers late last month. Okay, most of them were New Zealanders, and there was a fair amount of wine involved (also, free pies!), nevertheless it sounds like a roaring success. Here are Tim and his editor Jolisa Gracewood with their faces shining (must have been the pies). Prior to his New York launch Tim also had a very successful event in Auckland (Thanks toUnity Books) conversing with Noelle McCarthy about the taboo big three: sex, religion and politics. You can listen to him talking with Noelle McCarthy on Radio NZhere.
A New Year and a new list
Feb 8, 2011 |
We are back on board and theproduction scheduleis looking great. Our first launch of the year was forThe Violiniston Holocaust Remembrance Day. You can listen to an excellent podcast of Eva Radich interviewing Clare Galamos Winterhere.
This year is going to great for our poetry list, with new titles from Dinah Hawken, Airini Beautrais, Jenny Bornholdt and Brian Turner in just the first 6 months! Also coming up is an anthology of theBest New Zealand Poemssourced from the online journal of the same name and edited by Bill Manhire & Damien Wilkins.
Merry Christmas from Victoria University Press
Everyone here at VUP would like to wish our readers, authors and contributors a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
As a little present from VUP, we've made a chapter of our recent release,New Zealand As It Might Have Been 2available as a free download via the meBooks sitehere. In this clever piece of speculative history Patrick Evans, author of acclaimed novelGifted, considers what could have been, rather than simply what was. Evans brings Katherine Mansfield back to Days Bay, composting her vege garden, writing with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth - her eyes squinting through the smoke.
Please remember that if you're ordering from the VUP site over the Christmas break, the office of VUP will be closed between the 22nd of December and the 4th of January and orders will not be supplied during that period.