Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Author as Tamagochi or the Future of Books

I spend a lot of time thinking about the Future of the Book - as an author, bookseller, creative writing tutor, and owner of shelves and shelves of the things.That's it really: 'the thing' that is the book. The weight of it in the hand, the holding of it, the look of it, the smell of it. Could it be something people might one day just 'read' about on their ipads and wonder? (Or shake their heads: all that paper, all that room taken up, why why why ...?)

Then Jane Harris - lovely webmaster of the Randell Cottage website - told me (via Facebook) about this terrific piece on the future of the book written by James Warner on McSweeney' Go here to read it.  ... It is satirical bliss. One of my favourite bits, is Warner's projection of the book in 2040:

2040: Authors Will Become Like Tamagotchi.
Having determined that what readers want is a "sense of connection," publishers will organize adopt-an-author promotions, repackaging writers along the lines of Webkinz and other imaginary pets. "Feeding" your favorite authors by buying their books will make their online avatars grow less pale and grouchy. If they starve to death on your watch you will lose social networking points. Book clubs will cultivate with their favorite writers the warm, fuzzy, organic bond a trainer develops with his or her Pokémon, a process that will culminate in staged fights-to-the-death between your author and the author sponsored by another book club. These fights will occur offline, since there will be one or two bookstores left and something has to happen there. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;        5
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:        10
                  Praise him.

                                                                                                           Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89)

There are so many poems by Hopkins I could leap on and call 'one of my favourites'. I went looking for Harry the Ploughman, found The Windhover and Spring, and then this. There are more - but this is a good poem for me today. 

I think Pied Beauty was the first Hopkins poem I learnt by heart - back at university when my friend Sandra and I were in love with this poet. We loved loved loved the way the language and the rhythms made their own way sprung from old words and old rhythms. We loved the way the words tasted in our mouths. We loved the celebration of movement and work and bodies. We loved the light in the poems (who can forget the 'shook foil'?), and the joy and the beauty. 

A couple of years after that, when the time was right (out for a walk - a lake - some trees), I said the words of Pied Beauty out loud to my then boyfriend (it is, by the way, 'a curtal sonnet with sprung paeonic rhythm'.) To me, the poem said everything about, well, everything. 

So this is a good one to choose, because the boyfriend and I have just celebrated 23 years married, 30 years since we met. 

I also have another connection with Hopkins. The supervisor for my MA in Creative Writing was Peter Whiteford (Victoria University) who is an expert on the poet. I spent hours in Peter's company working through my draft novel The Blue - a great working relationship that gave so much to the novel, not least because his love for Hopkins meant we started from the same place somehow. 

For more Tuesday Poem delights - click on the quill in my sidebar. Orchid Tierney is this week's editor at the hub and there are many poets in the sidebar ...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Three Helens

Up at the Ballroom Cafe - a place where people danced once upon a sprung floor - it is very hot, and crammed with poets and poetry supporters.  I arrive, and there are only two spare chairs and the poetry's begun. I sit at the back. Behind me, the rumble of pipes, the splosh of water - in front of me, the 'open mic' part of the event, except there is no mic (shame, the water is insistent - I am right at the back.)

It is a fun community entertaining thing - an open mic - but it is hard to thoroughly engage with a poem delivered this way, simply because it's hard to hear all the words. I've, thank goodness, already read Tim Jones' terrific earthquake poem published in the Dompost and on his blog - although his voice carries well so I don't miss much. Robyn Fry gives me a copy of her poem to read later.  I wish I'd asked Maria McMillan for a copy of hers too.

A quick break for a stretch and a refill, and it's time for the music. Blue Vein are a relaxed trio who do some gorgeous (their word is 'cheesy') covers by all sorts of artists e.g. one by Meatloaf and another by Doris Day (love that DD shake of the head Kate does - or is it Liz?)! I've (sneakily) moved my chair to the front for the second half of the show, and realise I'm sitting beside Hinemoana Baker. I can hear her in some of the songs - a sweet barely-there third part to the harmony.

Then it's the Three Helens, or 'Helen Cubed' as the publicity has it. These three women are Tuesday Poets - albeit that Helen L is on sabbatical (come back, Helen!) - so I know their work and admire all three for their poetry and the life they construct around it. Helen L is a tutor of creative writing, Helen H works for the publisher VUP, and Helen Rickerby is a publisher (and civil servant). All the Helens are up to their elbows in poetry and generous in their support of other writers.

They stand up in front of a bay window with the sun streaming in, dressed head-to-foot in Canterbury colours - no, Helen L is wearing bright blue tights.

They tell us they're going to weave their work in front of us. Helen H will lead with a long poem, stop after a bit, then Helen L will read, and Helen R, and then more of Helen H's long poem, and onwards ... Turns out the weaving idea works well because all three are are smart writers with strong personalities, and they clearly have a kind of cross-Helen-poet friendship going on. Helen R has published Helen H, Helen H and Helen L have blogged together... Although Helen R is quick to point out that she is not 'crafty' (in the weaving sense) like the other two.

Helen H's poem is about finding the Greek in herself and herself in Greece. At one point she describes lying with her ear to the earth of Ithaca and being ready to hear what it has to say - but it says nothing. Same thing happened to me in Rethymnon, Crete. I went there because my Yiayia (Grandmother)'s family came from there - like Helen H I didn't have much Greek in my upbringing. Ear to the ground: silence. When I saw Yiayia, I told her what happened, and she laughed, 'Well of course! we came from the village at the top of the hill.'

Helen's poem is an engaging narrative (wonderfully read) - full of a Greece that I recognise.  The style is conversational/epic, often funny, but the simplicity of the language belies the craft that's shapes this yarn. Sadly it's not yet published -I'll have to wait to read the rest.

Helen L's work is more domestic and 'lyrical', with the same humour and smartness of the Greek Helen. Helen L has a keen eye for what ticks in family life - what makes it and breaks it - and has the language to haul the reader in. One of my favourites is about moving house - writing of the anxieties involved and the hope that it will be a place of contentment - she nails it.

Helen R's poetry has found other lives to write about. Writers like the great Emily Dickinson are excellent fodder - and compellingly realised -- combining research/wit/imagination.  Interestingly Helen R brings together the outward looking 'epic' narrative feel of Helen H's long poem with the intimate/domestic stuff of Helen L's shorter works, which has hauled in readers since, well, that first Helen made an appearance in one particular long poem.

And so the weaving continues... next up is Helen H and so on. A lovely lovely evening.

The Poetry at the Ballroom Cafe event is on the third sunday of the month.

Postscript: A young Cantabrian Zeborah has written a simple guide on surviving a disaster which is well worth reading. She talks of the importance of a 'kit to go' in a backpack - my daughter's school is selling these fantastic backpack family kits for $189 each which would be just the trick. I'm getting one, we're right by the sea and need to run uphill as fast as possible after a big quake.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Yellow

on the wharf 
that day
such a sunny day
I wore the yellow dress
so bright it hurt your eyes
how you liked it
couldn’t stop
            talking about it
then there was that
I nearly sat on
lying on the passenger 
seat waiting for me to exclaim
            whisky rose 
whisky whisky rose
you’d have thought
I’d have known
            there were 
no more yellow dresses
after the wharf dress
or not one that I
remember – I dreamt
of a wedding dress in
yellow but
lost my nerve 
and there was the tie
I selected in London
too orange
not yellow at all 
you said
a true 
yellow is hard to find
you exchanged it for
something red
and the yellow
for the walls
            was another disaster
you shook
your head and started
bringing home
daffodils in and out of
propping them up
critically in vases 
now that yellow
is the way to go
that’s a yellow
as if I wouldn’t know
a yellow 
            if I fell over it                
you started testing me
pulling to the side
of the road by
fields and buildings
asking if I liked that yellow
that particular yellow
I had to be on my mettle
you’d start again on
what made yellow yellow
as if that was
the first rule of colour
             and somehow I’d missed it
one day passing a shop
that sold antiques you yelped
and ran gleefully in
your arms every which
pointing at this wall and this
and then you pointed at me
            on the pavement with the kids
and the woman
wrote something on
the back of a card and
gave it to you
it said
beanleigh you mouthed at me
through the glass
and all the way
            you couldn’t
stop talking about it
it was as clear as day
you’d at last found a colour
you could
live with

                                               mary mccallum

Oh this is an old poem and much played with, even today I've played with the lines again - until the moment when I pressed 'publish' (after in fact, she says, updating at 11.37 AM on Tuesday).

I like the rhythm, the conversational flow (including asides), the way the thoughts scramble down the page. The things it says and doesn't say. 

Do visit the Tuesday Poem hub with Belinda Hollyer as editor this week. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

a little florilège of poetry and prose

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 

Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 
Japan Japan Japan Japan 

I am taking the lead from poet and blogger 'Lemonhound' - who posted white space like this with the phrase 'Space for Japan. Silence for Japan' in black at the bottom. Except her white space has grey letters that morph into words as you stare at it -- about sending peaceful thoughts and thinking of japan etc.

I keep coming back to a haiku posted by Janis Freegard as part of Tuesday Poem this week. It is by Taigu Ryokan who wrote it after his home had been burgled.

The thief left it behind:
the moon at my window 

A poem as much for Christchurch as Japan, of course. A burglary is a burglary is a burglary. But while Christchurch grieves, it is in recovery, it is making plans, life can go on if still in a disrupted fashion.

I cannot think what else to do for Japan except to leave space to mourn with this devastated country for a moment for all it has lost and is in the process of losing to the thief, the earth -- to grieve side by side with the bereft, grieving, homeless, freezing, irradiated, those fighting for the survivors (the doctors, the workers at the nuclear plant, the emergency teams, the communities), those queuing for hours to share a rice ball, those still waiting for their parents to come and pick them up from school, those elderly with faces that are maps of pain.

Apart from donating money, there is nothing I can think to do but that, except stare at the moon and be grateful that this time the thief didn't come to us.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Blue is an E-Reader!

Blue ePub By Mary McCallumGo to Kobo and there it is. Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! Yes, I'm chortling.

I talked to Penguin NZ's Commissioning Editor for fiction, Katie Haworth, today because I was interested in the CLL funding available to convert NZ books into e-readers for the GreatNZebooks site (in development). She explained that Penguin has already converted its stable of books using Kobo. She says it's the fourth biggest E-reader site in the world and they are happy with the results.

I checked it out, and found I could download The Blue to my desktop, smartphone, ipad or Kobo reader, which was created in Canada.

NBR has written about Kobo here when it was launched in NZ last May by Whitcoulls, and compares it to the other e-readers:

File formats are also a lot less locked down, with Kobo supporting the open ePUB standard, plus PDF and Adobe DRM.
In the same spirit of openness, you can also copy your own PDF content onto a Kobo.
There are two connectivity options - using Bluetooth to sync with a cellphone or laptop, or syncing with a PC or Mac via USB cable.

But what's the Kobo reader like? NBR again -
A Kobo reader looks very similar to an Kindle (check one out, plus tech specs, on here), sharing the same style of black-and-white, anti-glare display.
But the Kobo economic model is very different with publishers - rather than Amazon or Apple - more in the driving seat, according to US reports.
Which is why Penguin has decided to go that way, I guess. The Whitcoulls connection doesn't seem to be a concern - Penguin is maintaining a watching brief. And meanwhile, for me it means The Blue gets another chance in the marketplace - this time an international one. Until today, it's only been sold in NZ, Australia and Israel, with the odd keen reader and bookshop in the UK and US flying the novel in. It has, for some reason,  had no Amazon presence. 
One thing, though. The E-reader cover's a little different from the printed version. This is an earlier version that was never used, but I quite like that. 
So woo-hoo for all that. Thank you Penguin! 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan and the nuclear power plant

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Through a Dream by Colin Webster-Watson

          for Jean

May I rest between your thighs
And dream of outer space,
While I travel through the themes
Of thought and mind and grace.
For ours is a world gone by,
Though we tethered its hinterlands
As clouds rushed by with force.
Longingly we look back
At what we could have sought.


From Natural Zoo: poems, word-plays, performance pieces and other perorations (Steele Roberts 2011) by sculptor Colin Webster Watson (1926-2007), edited by Colin's niece Anne Manchester and myself. Available at Rona Gallery, Eastbourne and Unity Books,  or email: or  Copyright: Colin WW. Here is my introduction to his work.... 

Singing poems into the world 

It was Colin. On the phone. He’d just written a poem, and wanted to read it to me. Anyone who knows Colin knows I had no choice in the matter, whether he was ringing from the other side of the world or, as in my case, across the road. So I sat down and listened as his voice delivering that poem down the phone -- a voice as deep and strong as a spring tide. I swear if I’d hung up on him, I’d still have heard it filling up the gardens of Pukatea Street.

That’s the first thing people have to understand about Colin’s poetry – him, his voice. He was first and foremost, ahead of sculpting even, a performer. His poems were him. There are hundreds of them – beautiful, thoughtful, playful, provocative, silly, sad, sensual – and all, I believe, were written with performance in mind. He performed them down the phone, at dinner parties, on a garden stage, as part of a show he called ‘Pohewa’.

The sheer volume of them, and the exuberant way they tumbled into the world, means the reader can stumble over infelicitous phrases, over-wrought lines, inconsistencies in punctuation, and rhyme that can verge on doggerel. To get to the heart of Colin’s poems is to think of all this as flotsam, his voice, the tide. He was one of those poets who sang his poems into the world, and the voice of this generous, ebullient, loving man is the companion at your elbow as you read this collection.

As with any flotsam, there are treasures beyond those things that catch the eye. There is the light the poems throw on Colin’s life as a friend, lover, family member, citizen and artist; and there are the insights into the human condition and a particular life well lived, that stop you for a moment, and make you read again.

Colin also delights with his natural sense of rhythm and rhyme, his love of word-play and sounds, and the use of a direct conversational style that comes straight from his theatre days. Check out the repetition in ‘A thought to think’, the humour of ‘My Appian Way’, the opening gambit of ‘For Jane’ and the opulence of ‘On the train to Sperlonga’. And how about a lyric line like ‘A fluctuating day’, or the wry ‘As the world turns/Even so the pot’?

I believe Colin’s best poetry is when he has written simply and honestly, as he does in ‘Through a dream’: ‘May I rest between your thighs and dream of outer space’. His confidence to write this way clearly grew over the years, and the more antique expressions that he delighted in as a younger man slipped away. In their direct meditations on life, these later poems show more of Colin the philosopher than the performer.

One of his last poems, ‘Salute to the great possum hunters of Eastbourne’ surely rests itself on the shoulders of the first poems ever: the salute to the hunter, rendering him heroic. True to this style, Colin plays with language, alliteration, and rhythm – elevating both the language and the men – and at the same time making something all its own. 

Anne and I have worked on Colin’s poems on and off for a couple of years. For some of those meetings, local writer and friend Penny Walker joined us. We’d take turns to read aloud from the huge spiral-bound manuscripts, and later, we spent time editing for consistency and sense, and to shore up those poems where Colin had, shall we say, burst his banks. We puzzled, we laughed, we felt cried, we had fun. And we’ve drawn together a collection that we believe is a fair reflection of the best of Colin’s oeuvre – enhanced by his drawings and photographs.

Anne's indomitable energy and devotion to her uncle have driven this project. I have enjoyed our evenings working on the poems, and by ‘our’ evenings, I include Colin of course. Reading his poems has allowed me to get to know him better, and I hope the same goes for the other readers who pick this volume up.


Colin was a sculptor of international reputation who was born and brought up in Palmerston North, but lived much of his life overseas in the UK, Italy and the US. He returned to NZ in his final years - becoming my neighbour and friend.

As well as sculpting, Colin wrote hundreds and hundreds of poems - Natural Zoo is a selection of the best of these, along with some of his drawings and photographs, and was launched this month at Rona Gallery here in Eastbourne.

The launch was a theatrical affair - just as Colin would have wanted it - with readings by local actors and writers including Anne and myself, with the appearance of a local possum hunter adding spice to Colin's poem: Salute to the great possum hunters of Eastbourne.

Colin was one of those people who enhanced the lives of everyone he knew. He was 'larger than life', warm, encouraging, funny, theatrical, and a creative force to be reckoned with. My first Tuesday Poem 'Missed' is about Colin, and our mutual friend writer Maggie Rainey-Smith has posted a tribute to Colin and his book.

Please seek out more Tuesday Poems - at the hub this week is wonderful NZ poet Dinah Hawken, and you'll find another 30 poets in the world of the sidebar.

Monday, March 14, 2011

the summer without men (review)

book cover of 

The Summer Without Men 


Siri Hustvedt

Reviewed The Summer without Men by Siri Hustvedt on National radio this morning. What a book! I wasn't well yesterday and read it in one blissful afternoon. Absolutely recommended. As one reviewer said about Hustvedt's last novel, 'The Sorrows of an American': it's “a rare writer who can rouse the mind and grip the heart”.

This is the story of Mia, 55, whose husband wants a 'pause' in their relationship so he can pursue a French colleague (henceforth called 'The Pause'), leaving her in a situation where she finds herself having a 'pause from men' of all sorts, at the same time as going through the 'menopause'.

Shot through with cleverness, mordant humour, insight, and warmth, the novel explores the quotidien domestic life of women (Mia herself, her elderly Mum and her mates The Swans, a bunch of pubescent female would-be poets, a neighbour with young children ...) and shores it up with references to gender studies, literature, evolutionary biology, philosophy, magic - you name it. Not a straight narrative at all, this novel is a ragbag of everything from poetry to book notes to lectures to lists, and there are the welcome metafictional devices (used so wonderfully by the author's husband Paul Auster) when the author intervenes, when the reader becomes a character...

Ultimately this is a subversive book - like the subversive applique art the elderly Abigail sews inside her tea cosies and table runners. You have to be on your toes.

If you're like me, you'll laugh, puzzle, rage, and - yes - as Mia puts it in the book: take it like a woman, and weep.

[For more, check out the review.]

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Magnificence

These bodies of ours, they are magnificent and they
fail us.

We are cities, we are horses, we are coral

We are looted, we are blistered, we are

We are reduced.

She - the lumpy tit, he - the blocked digestion, he -
the dicky ticker, she – the faulty womb.

We fail. This is a fact. You are here to tell me this.

I remember you first on the flying fox, your hair

you like blackbird wings. Your eyes clenched as tight
as your

thighs to the crossbar. Laughing! Still 14. We wore
gold crosses,

talked about love while we dried ourselves beside
the lake 

(I don’t believe we ever solved it.) And now, this other thing -- 

to do with it? We are as ill-equipped, but the new failure
is a

reduction, a kind of deafness. The other was like

in the world speaking at once. Do you remember
how we’d sit

shivering in our towels until it was time to go in? Cities?
We were

whole galaxies back then - roiling, roaring, blazing, 
bursting from our skins.   

                                                      Mary McCallum

For more Tuesday Poems click on the quill in the sidebar or, more prosaically, click here. There's another 'body' poem at the hub and a lot else...

Friday, March 4, 2011

Gonna rise up

A few of these are circulating at the moment. I like this one - the immediacy of the opening shots, the small moments of relief as people find and reassure each other, the rescuers coming from all over en masse and fearless. How wonderful people can be at the most terrible of times.

What this vid doesn't have is that shot of the two men on the roof of a building, hands raised, shouting and laughing, exultant at finding themselves out of the collapsed building and alive.

This I wish most for Christchurch now: that exultant sense of being alive, of being able - once again oh shattered and lovely city - to rise up.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Writers on the Quake

Some wonderful writing is starting to come through about the Quake, the 'recollected in tranquillity' sort of writing that evokes so well the lack of tranquillity, takes you inside the place that is Christchurch but that doesn't feel like Christchurch now.

One of the best for me is Christchurch poet Joanna Preston's post, which includes these words:

People who are in shock, in pain, in distress that I can only vaguely imagine. It’s real: this disaster-movie setting is the place I chose to live in. Where I got married, where I’ve lived longer than anywhere else. Where I became a real poet. Where I made a garden, and painted walls, and had a life. My city. Beautiful, placid, gentle Christchurch. Frustrating, passionate, one-eyed Christchurch. Staunch, sod-this-we’ll-get-through-because-we’re-Cantabrians Christchurch. How could this be happening? 
Terribly moving is a poem about a young poet who lost his life in the Earthquake, posted on Bookman Beattie's blog.

And other Christchurch poets - all part of the Tuesday Poem - have drawn me in for different reasons: Jeffrey Paparoa Holman's poem approaches the aftermath of the Quake via the eyes of a fly, and actually made me laugh.  Catherine Fitchett's daily trials - the difficulties of simply registering the car, for example - are strongly drawn and make one wonder which country she's describing.  Surely not Christchurch, our Christchurch. Roll down, too, to her previous post to find a poem that expresses so well what she and Christchurch are going through.

Author and Poet Helen Lowe talks about the drudge of digging liquefaction for six days and the pain of sorting out a devastated study - the place she writes her books.

There are those who remain silent because they can't get online or can't find the words or can't find the words, and those who find other words, and those outside of the Earthquake who find the reluctant words and corral them and question them and then put them up still uncertain - Renee Liang, Jen Compton, Alicia Pondermyself.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tuesday Poem: As the Earth Turns

For the victims of the Christchurch Earthquake 22-2-11

Wound so tight, of course it breaks
and in the breaking
the surface dissembles, and the innards –

coiled and clean, hidden, neat –
are wrenched –
exposed to callous air –

Oh, earth!

We cry bitterly into the brokenness
for there is no longer a place
for eyes to rest, no place

to put our feet.

We fall into the brokenness
we straddle the brokenness
we cradle the brokenness

we tip-toe on the brokenness
we weep into the brokenness
and the salt-water – as salt does –

scours or
rusts, depending - we don’t know
(might never know) we who fall,

who straddle, who cradle, who tip-toe,  who weep –

This at least for now: brokenness reminds
of the unbroken, and our hearts, our poor dumb ticking hearts,
are wound up still each night.