Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Love Poems by Airini Beautrais

from Book 1: Love Poems in Western Line (VUP 2011)


Val, lately you are resplendent
in your ideology.
I see you cycling across an intersection
with an orange basket
the sun bright on your hair.
Val, lately you wear black
a lot and laugh through your nose.
Words march out of your mouth
in tight formation.


Your tummy hangs out of hot-pants.
A new freedom propels
you around the room.
May you be lucky tonight.
May you be happy tomorrow.
May your tummy rest
in the small of a beautiful back.


Pete said 'I love felt-tip pens.
I want to marry a felt-tip pen.'
And then there was a smudgy drawing
of him beside his smiling bride.

When I first posted an Airini poem I said her poems had 'enchantment' - and I believe her new collection Western Line (VUP) holds true to this. Her poems enchant because they are enchantments, and curses and love poems and prayers and fables and fairytales....  I kid you not. This is a book packed with people Airini has blessed and cursed and written a fairytale about.

Look here we have Val and 'a queer boy' and Peter who loves 'felt-tips' - each one resplendent in their own way. There are many more of these short love poems - as I'm writing this, I see that Helen Heath posted some of them a couple of months back as part of Tuesday Poem.  Funny how we both fell on the love poems.

Airini's poetry breathes as she breathes:  a woman who watches the world up close and loves the 'queer' people she sees in it and their queer little ways (even as she's cursing them.) Who else could write with love about a tummy hanging out of hot-pants and give it a future tucked into a beautiful back? There is a series of poems called 'Travelling with Us' at the end of the book about people seen on a Wellington train  - but I'll save one of those for another day.

Here's a link to another post from me on my friend Airini and the poems in her award-winning first collection Secret Heart. She really is one out of the box.

For more Tuesday Poems click on the quill in the sidebar here or click THIS. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Music is medicine, music is sanity

I am not a brilliant musician - I have none of the ability to play in the fine felt way my son plays his guitar. But I love to play; at the moment it is an acoustic bass - an instrument that gives me joy just standing there in its maple-wood beauty.

When I pick it up, I love the weight of it, the curve of it, the way it fits across my body, and when I touch the thick, heavy strings, I love the voice that comes. Not my own voice, but somehow from me. I love the patterns I make, patterns that weave with other patterns creating an astonishing texture that is rhythm and sound, and something more that it's hard to put a finger on. In becoming part of a piece of music, I slough off my life - its anxieties and concerns and busyness - and I am 'other' at the same time as I am deeply myself. The best self. Unburdened.

In this TED piece, violinist Robert Gupta talks about the genius schizophrenic musician Nathaniel Ayers (whose life was portrayed in the movie The Soloist), and how he saw in this man's eyes the redemptive power of music; and how that look reminds him why he first came to music, and continues to play. Below the TED vid. is the most exquisite piece: Gupta playing 'Passacaglia' with cellist Joshua Roman.  This is about the connection between two musicians released from their skins and meeting somewhere in between that is ... celestial.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Feedback on a novel: I have thick skin

I am in the midst of reading a friend's novel. On the note attached to the MS, he declares he can take whatever I throw back at him as he has 'thick skin'. The wonderful graphic artist/novelist Sarah Laing has a view on that.... HERE.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Little Things - this vid. will stop you in your tracks

TEEB Little Things from Will Walters on Vimeo.

Thanks to Claire who is always gently reminding me of my place on this planet, and to her mate Penelope who found the vid. and is in the process of launching a fascinating new e-book called Slightly Peculiar Love Stories over at Rosa Mira Books. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Tulips

The tulip heads
are as heavy and round
in my hands as a baby’s head.

I cradle the red.
My arms and hands are
shaped exactly as mother.

I am mother, look,
I can hold like one,
look, I can feel like one,
look, how the heads droop
and the black eyes open.

I must not weaken and
let them fall.

                                 Mary McCallum

I wrote this before I had children. I remember the tulips in the apartment in Athens, their exquisite colour and delicacy, and their unexpected heaviness. They were red not yellow, but this photo of tulips I bought a week or two ago will have to do. 

Having had three children, the feelings I wrote of aged 24 hold true - the picture of 'Mother' as nurturer and protector, feeling one has to project that, but fearful too that one won't be strong enough to do what's expected.  

For the hub poem by Michele Amas - the wonderful 'home to you' - click on the quill in the sidebar here, or go here. And there are stimulating offerings in the TP sidebar by the other Tuesday Poets that deserve to be read too. Take a moment. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Reclaiming the semi-colon: Kate de Goldi

Kate de Goldi is crazy in love with semi-colons. She told a gathering of writers and readers this last night at a Writers on Sunday session at my bookshop. Not those exact words - I might have Steve Tyler from American Idol on my mind here - but something close. I was supposed to be conducting proceedings, so I wasn't taking notes.

Really, I should have guessed about this semi-colon thing. I re-read The 10 PM Question in preparation for Kate's session - a truly delightful experience, I'm not a re-reader in general, but I loved re-reading this book and it makes me wonder if I shouldn't do it more often - and anyway, I did notice that one sentence had THREE semi-colons.

Kate says children's books, and literature in general, are rapidly shedding the old semis and she regrets it - passionately. She says the semi-colon allows for longer sentences and, as a result, more complexity of thought, and it's simply rubbish that children aren't capable of handling semi-colons in their reading.

Just recently Kate visited the great children's author KM Peyton and they discussed the way she has had to shed the semi-colon at ( I believe) her publisher's behest. Certainly, when she did it, the publisher was pleased. However, in discussion with Kate - who is a big fan - KM admitted her writing was stronger when it embraced that odd-shaped dude, the semi-colon.

(While I was hunting for a semi-colon image, I found this hilarious post on a semi-colon rampant.)

Kate de Goldi was the first of our guests in our Writers on Sunday: Rona Winter Series. She was a stimulating, generous guest - talking about an awful lot more besides the semi-colon. She also went into the thinking behind her book The 10 PM Question, about place and character in her book, about children's and adult literature in general and how her book fits into those categories, about the nourishment books give and how 10 PM shows us this, and so much more besides. She read from 10 PM, as well as reading three pages from her novel-in-progress.

Everything Kate said had the audience of 40+ captivated, not least me. I will blog on the children's/adult lit question and Kate's insights into 10 PM when I have a little more time.  

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Kate de Goldi at 4.30 tomorrow Eastbourne

Writers on Sunday: Rona Winter Series is kicking off tomorrow (Sunday) May 22 at 151 Muritai Road Eastbourne 4.30 pm, with the remarkable Kate de Goldi: fiction writer (for children and adults) and reviewer, and currently working on a history of a pre-eminent collection of children's books owned by Susan Price.

Kate's The 10 PM Question (Longacre)has been a runaway bestseller and won Readers' Choice in the NZ Book Awards and Book of the Year in the Children's Book Awards. I reviewed it here.

We'll start the Sunday event with a glass of wine and a chance to chat with Kate, then there's an Open Mic for local writers to share their work, a refill of wine, then Kate will read followed by questions... and more wine... 

A similar event  held at Rona Gallery last year with Fiona Kidman was both stimulating and fun with a crowd of 50 people.

Rona Gallery is hosting four writers for its winter series - so after Kate there is:  Carol Henderson (memoir) - June 26, Jo Thorpe (poetry) - July 24, Peter Walker (historical fiction) - August 28

Here's an extract from my 10 PM Question review....

If you love story read this book. If you love a story which has in its arms myth, fairytale, legend, picture book, adult and childhood classics, read this book. If you have a family member who is different from the people in other families you know, read this book. If you love a book which pulses with the chaos of family life - of life in fact - but at every turn reminds you of the wonder there, read this book. If your family harbours a secret, read this book...

Be there or be square...  (Koha $5)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

'After Reading Auden' out in the world

My poem has stepped out into the world with nary a backward glance. 'After Reading Auden' has made itself comfortable on the Caselberg Trust website with news of the Poetry Prize that embraced it, and is jostling for space in the shiny new issue of Landfall (221) which is packed with such pleasures as a Vincent O'Sullivan review of the novel 'Gifted', a Stephanie de Montalk essay on nursing and poems by Alice Miller. There it is between judge Bernadette Hall's report on the Caselberg prizewinners, and Michele Amas' delicious 'home to you'. And now the Dominion Post is interested in hosting 'After Reading Auden' too.

I am thrilled by the poem's chutzpah, delighted it is still a little shy of all the exposure, and more than a little amazed that it is somehow connected to me. This is how it should be for a poem. Too much time inside a computer hard drive can make it a pale and meagre thing, drained of the confidence it needs to step out into the world. 

It made its first steps here, but now it's out there, the poem seems pinker and plumper and its shoulders are set a whole new way - and listen, it's singing our song.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Swallowed your Tongue?

Forked Tongue by Dermal Denticles

A      s
i    f
v e 
n ’t
 to think about, 
there's a silver
python curled 
up in the 
coop. It's 
eaten two 
of the 
chicks. As
I write, they're 
in there being digested, the
                          small bulges with sharp points for the tiny beaks.
       I think the python is the same one             
we caught swallowing
Bruce the Rooster.
At least the
old rooter 
fought back. 
To just up
and go, to 
slide down 
the world's
throat with-
out a sound. 
Was there 
nothing you
had to say to
me? Noth-
ing to ask? 
To plead?
This time 
I called the
 snake man and he’s
on his way. To be honest,
     I’d rather smash the bloody thing
                with a spade and spread its silvery entrails 
                                under the avocado trees. But the snake man won't
            have it (and I can’t be sure it's all 
that easy to kill.) He
says he'll hold onto
the python until 
it's digested 
its dinner
and then 
let it go up
Odd place
 far too 
m a n y 
snakes and
 not enough
 rain. I  miss
the bush.
I miss

 Mary McCallum

As told to me once by a friend with a chicken coop. 

Photo by Dermal Denticles (photostream on Flickr). 
For more Tuesday Poems click on the quill in the sidebar. Yesterday's post here looks at The Best of the Best NZ Poems (VUP) -  a new book just out. 

Feeling brave? The Best of the Best NZ Poems.

I bought this book the other day and am thrilled with it. Damien Wilkins' introduction is a delight, the poems are stunning examples of the best of NZ poetry taken from ten years of the Best NZ Poems website, and the write-ups at the back about the poet and the background of the chosen poem are fascinating.  

There are old friends here e.g. Michele Amas' 'Daughter' and Andrew Johnson's 'The Sunflower', acquaintances I'm pleased to get to know better like James Brown's 'University Open Day', and complete strangers whose hands I've finally got to shake.  I haven't, for example, engaged with Jenny Bornholdt's collection The Rocky Shore, and now know - after reading her unbelievable 'Fitter Turner' - I must. Anne Kennedy's 'Die die, live live' has reminded me to read more of this astonishing writer (more more). My hat is off to the editors for including poems that fill not just half a page (gems like Jennifer Compton's 'The Threepenny Kowhai Stamp Brooch') but seven pages, eight pages, nine pages ... 

The Best of the Best NZ Poems is also simply an excellent book to pick up and hold and read, with its Faber-like cover, it's just-larger-than-the palm size, and open, clear layout. Reading it has been like swimming in the sea in Autumn - it's left me feeling fresh and vigorous, excited and brave. 

Highly recommended. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Feijoa Chutney recipe

I still haven't made it, but I intend to. Maybe tomorrow. Here it is courtesy of Esme and Anna at the Kiwi Diary 2011 (see previous post). For overseas readers, Feijoa are also known as Pineapple Guava, and are available March - May. They grow here freely. 

1.5 kg feijoas
300 g raisins
500 g onions
500 g dates
500 g brown sugar
2 tpsp ground ginger
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp salt
4 cups malt vinegar

Trim ends of feijoas and slice by hand. Chop onions and dates. Combine everything in saucepan.
Boil and cook for 1 1/2 -2 hours gently until thick. Pour into clean hot jars.
Jar of enjoyment!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Feijoa Chutney and other gems from the Kiwi Diary

The Kiwi Diary 2011
I have a a huge bag of feijoas and a recipe courtesy of The Kiwi Diary 2011. Hopefully in the weekend I can bring the two together.

I have to say I wouldn't have thought of chutney but for this diary which has all sorts of wonderful things in it to lighten my week - Text Poems by Sarah-Jane Barnett, other sorts of poems, prints, artworks, photos etc. Snippets of things that happened on a particular date in NZ history, references to things cultural....

It's a big solid ring-bound thing, but I keep it by the computer to throw all the family dates in.

This week there's the feijoa recipe and then these dates for every day of the week:

Mon 9 May - "VE Day Celebrations 1945 marking Victory in Europe Day, following Germany's unconditional surrender. Seven years of war and rationing, and over a million parcels sent to troops, is marked by the party to end all parties. Kiwis celebrate VE Day one day late, so celebrations are on the same day as Britain."

Tues 10 May - "The first shipment of NZ gold from Dunedin for London, 1945. It makes approximately 60% of Kiwi exports for the rest of the decade."

Wed 11 May - Charles Upham receives thje Victoria Cross from King George, 1945. His skill, daring and ability to outthink the enemy during the war were legendary. he is the only combat soldier to win the Victoria Cross and Bar."

Thurs 12 May - "The Waihi gold miners' strike begins, 1912 - NZ's most violent industrial dispute. the strike culminates in the death of Frederick George Evans in a  fight between strikers and blackleg miners' union 'the arbitrationists.' The strike last 6 months."

Fri 13 May - "Frances Hodgkins, one of our country's most celebrated artists, dies aged 78, 1947."

Sat 14 May - 'The PLunket Society is formed at a meeting of the Dunedin Town Hall, 1907."

Sun 15 May - "The Government announces an end to Rimu logging by 2002 on the West Coast...."

Feijoa Chutney recipe tomorrow....

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Love the Glove

The day is cracking open, but I
let her sleep. It is not a day
for waking.

The rain is cold on the windows,
but not in my hair, I sit where
it used to fall,

the wetness swelling pages,
chilling walls. How many times
did I wring

the neck of the sodden cloth, and
tip wrung water from the bucket?
The weather

is sharp-tongued at the windows –  
it’s not a day for waking.
I put my feet

on the heater we found
at the tip. Lifted tenderly,
it was light

as a baby, clean and white,
now it pulses  
like skin.


on our hands, we heaved her things
from my car: musty mattresses,
rusty roofing

school projects, picture frames, Cuisine
magazines, a bag of clay.  Once
I went

on my own with a load of his shoes.
Each one worn in its own way.
It took a long

time to throw them pair by pair
into the clothing bin, its
metal mouth

nipping my wrist each time, the thud
each time. I’m glad she didn’t come
for that. My


are cloth lavender, hers thick rubber
and red. She could only ever find one.
She held

her naked hand like a saint, the other
doing the work of two –
a potter’s hands:

dark-skinned and nimble. Load upon
load into the bowels of the concrete
loading bay –  

the boy on the ramp gloveless
and helpful, the two of us
delighted by

the detritus – the potential
for treasure, load upon load until
the blue house

was stripped clean, and locked with a key
on a string around her neck. The last
thing she’ll do

is put the cat in the cage, and
the cage in the car. But it’s not
a day for waking.

Her back seat is stuffed with old
suitcases, vintage skirts, an iron
pot, notebooks –

where for the cage? I'll help
with the cat; we’ll both
need gloves

for that. The red glove is on
the floor of my car – a fantastic

I have no idea where my
gloves are. Let her sleep.
Light pisses

from the sky, but it’s not a day
not any kind of day
for waking.

Mary McCallum

Do check out the fantastic poem by David Gregory on the Tuesday Poem hub - and in the sidebar: such gems as always - from one of my faves by Yeats to Orchid Tierney's avant-garde poems. All worth a look on a Tuesday. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

150-word stories

I am really enjoying the challenge of writing 150-word short stories for the BNZ Literary Awards (once called the Katherine Mansfield Awards) this year. The 150-word category - called 'flash fiction' in the States - is a new one, and a groovy concept. For a start, you enter the story on Facebook, and there's a groovy little inspiration tool with random phrases (or there was, can't find it now...), an 'inspiration gallery', examples of other short short stories, and an unfolding 'twitter tale' to get the juices going. This category also has a groovy judge in Graham Beattie.

It's certainly caught my imagination. I've written two so far and found the exercise not unlike doing a sudoku puzzle or cryptic crossword - it challenges and sharpens the mind, and is surprisingly satisfying. Maybe it's just me and my easy distractibility - but one short story idea I've had for awhile, that I haven't managed to get down on paper, has now found a home, and others are lining up ... However, the first 150-word story I wrote last week began from an overheard phrase and an associated idea, and then just unfolded on the page much like a poem (with hours of editing afterwards.)

In fact my novelist friend Thom Conroy says, the 150-word story is a category for a poet (at least one who also likes dabbling in fiction.) It certainly has to have a narrative - albeit concentrated down to the nth degree - but at the same time, as with poetry, economy of language is the key. Each word has to pull its weight and most are freighted with meaning. At the same time, the story needs to have 'space' in it to make it feel like a story not a poem. I guess I mean the reader doesn't need to feel the weight in each word - an unfolding narrative feel is the key.

It's like a tale told over a beer, a joke. It also reminds me of some of the excellent prose poems floating around at the moment. Poet Airini Beautrais is particularly good at them.

Flash fiction has interested me for awhile - in this busy era overloaded with apps, I think it may well  find its niche. Why not give it a go? And if economy is not your thing, there are always the other awards to enter... Go here.

Friday, May 6, 2011

We invent fictions in order to live somehow the many lives we would like to lead

Mario Vargas Llosa
... thanks to literature, to the consciousness it shapes, the desires and longings it inspires, and our disenchantment with reality when we return from the journey to a beautiful fantasy, civilization is now less cruel than when storytellers began to humanize life with their fables. We would be worse than we are without the good books we have read, more conformist, not as restless, more submissive, and the critical spirit, the engine of progress, would not even exist. Like writing, reading is a protest against the insufficiencies of life. When we look in fiction for what is missing in life, we are saying, with no need to say it or even to know it, that life as it is does not satisfy our thirst for the absolute – the foundation of the human condition – and should be better. We invent fictions in order to live somehow the many lives we would like to lead when we barely have one at our disposal.

An extract from Mario Vargas Llosa’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature. The whole thing is free as a pdf download.

My thanks to UK writer Kathleen Jones for spotting this, and for her thoughtful discussion of it (and more quotes) on her blog. I love this about blogs - there you are on an ordinary day, contemplating walking the dog before heading out the door to work at the bookshop, and suddenly BAM - you find something that sends the brain cells in complex, satisfying loops. 

I don't have time to read the whole thing now, but Kathleen's given me a taste and a link and I can come back to it tonight - with a glass of wine - before American Idol.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Sing Joe (2) by Chris Tse

Never underestimate                        the potential energy

nested in three noble syllables                       read from right to left.

Father and son with different appendages:                  Kum,  Wing.

You seemed unfazed to start anew           an abandonment of past graces

while your son reset                  from Joe to Wing and back again

with bank accounts in each name    like conjoined rooms to store each breath.


This is where our table of contents splinters

and the hue of countless generations suddenly shifts.

As the younger entries begin to spread their ink

our once-unifying name arches further from the clan

cuts itself a groove                    in the family's bristled opera.

We carry its melody on everyday breaths        but can't undo the words.


Chris Tse's first forays into poems about his family were mine to savour six years ago when we were both studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters here in Wellington. I wasn't in Chris' class, but my good friend Penny was, and she and I would share the work we brought home from our respective classes.

AUP New Poets: V. 4Chris' poems interested me because they were about a world I didn't know but had glimpses of via a sister-in-law: the lives of New Zealanders of Chinese descent. They also spoke more broadly about the dislocation of the immigrant - especially the dislocation of language - something I did understand. I liked (and still like)  the voice of the poems, of a sensitive writer with a wry eye and sense of humour who is part of but also at the periphery of his family, shaping what he's known all his life into fresh words and images.

The poem posted here deals wonderfully with the way Chinese immigrants often changed their names to make them easier for English-speakers to get their - woefully ignorant - tongues around. I also like the way Chris builds his love of music into his poems - language and names as music, for example: 'we carry its melody on everyday breaths.'

I was delighted when a collection of Chris' poems 'Sing Joe' was included in Auckland University's AUP New Poets 4 publication, along with work by Harry Jones and Erin Scudder. I went to the launch (with Penny) and bought a copy. You can find it at independent booksellers like Unity in Wellington, or ask your bookseller to order it from AUP.

Since then, Tuesday Poet Janis Freegard (who knows Chris from another poetry class they attended) has posted one of Chris' poems on her blog and last week had an interview with him which elucidates his work. He says,

My family have been really supportive and generous with letting me share these stories. Hopefully they see that I’ve approached it with the utmost respect for my ancestors, especially since I have written about some fairly delicate moments in their lives. My great-grandparents’ situation wasn’t uncommon back then – many Chinese men remarried when they came to New Zealand because it was near impossible to bring their wives out too. My great-grandmother wasn’t mentioned much when we were growing up so these poems were a chance to give her a voice.

As Janis says, the poems written about the great-grandmother left behind are among the most poignant in the collection. I was torn between the poem I've posted and These Days, which faces it in the book, ending:

The sun hooks her eye
and in the light
she recollects days  of
tender architecture,
when all she hoped for
was a life of family
to spill out at her grateful feet.

I am thrilled to see Chris is working on a new collection of poems, as well as film scripts and, at the insistence of his mother, fiction! I think there is a novel inside this poet. He has many more stories to tell, and I look forward to them.

For more Tuesday Poems click on the quill in the sidebar or go here. There is a magnificent poem at the hub by US poet Hayden Carruth, and then a host of other marvellous poems to dip into and out of at will in the sidebar.