Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tuesday Poem: So sweet, so cold

The thing is, and this
is the thing,

you think you know
a person, then

you turn up one day
and she’s

on the phone.

it under her chin
she gestures for you

to follow, opens the freezer,
takes your hand, places on

the palm a single lolly
heart. Closing

your fingers around it with hers,
she takes another for herself

and leaves you alone,
aniseed on your tongue --

cold, very cold.

There's a tin of catfood on
the kitchen bench, a half-made

pie, a list of things to buy,
a child's drink bottle (pink).

You can tell by the way
the conversation’s going

that when you’ve finished
the heart, she’ll still be

talking, and you’ll have
to go. A half wave,

extravagant eyebrows,
pointing at the wrist. It’s

easy enough to find the bag,
between the frozen

peas and a haunch of beef.
You say later you were

in two minds:
maybe it would be kind

to leave a note
like that guy

with the plums.
But you couldn't

find paper
or pen

Mary McCallum

Another old poem given a facelift - old as in sitting on the computer for a little under a decade. Happy with it now, and thrilled too that my poem 'Bidding' posted last week has been selected for an upcoming edition of Poems in the Waiting Room - a fantastic project that began, I think, in the UK, and has been taken up in NZ with gusto by Ruth Arnison.  I have also been asked by another poetry visionary, Mark Pirie, to send some poems to him for an upcoming edition of Broadsheet.  Must get onto that. All pretty bloody exciting. 

Go and visit the Tuesday Poem hub and find a whole host of other wonderful poems in the sidebar there. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Bidding

My friend finds the dresses on Trademe, they’re
hung on a door or laid out tragically on a bed,
near an exercycle or a half-drunk cup of tea.
She shows me the wedding gowns – the deleted
faces, the arms spread like hostage victims,
buy now $80. Not that she wants one. She’s
after something in a floral, with bodice,
pleats, buttons of mother-of-pearl.
Each time she bids, it is an act of liberation:
wresting the dress from the cheap duvet,
from the hands of the woman who’s ballooned,
from the disenchanted wife. The packets arrive
in the arms of the courier man who whistles
the Marseillaise, and stays a moment too long
on the doorstep. She can’t wait to rip
them open, watch the dresses tumble out,
a garden right there on the table, but no
whiff of rose or lavender, the scent
is old duvet. Straight away,
she feels the seams, tugs and tugs the buttons,
washes by hand with Sunlight Soap, drapes them
in the garden in the sunshine to breathe. At dusk,
they come inside to the bedroom to join the others.
They have a lot to talk about.

Mary McCallum

Do pop to the Tuesday Poem hub for a fantastic video of poet Rives and his poem 'Rives controls the internet' selected by Sarah Jane Barnett. And a host of other wonderful Tuesday Poems in the sidebar. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Violin Lessons by Arnold Zable

This is my Radio NZ review of a collection of stories Violin Lessons (Text) by Australian Arnold Zable of Greek/Polish Jewish descent. They are true stories, written 1970-2011, peopled by those who've lived or continue to live in places like Iraq, Poland, Greece, Germany, Vietnam, Estonia -- refugees, immigrants, people displaced, dispossessed, devastated.

Zable is a human rights advocate and performance storyteller, and I met him at the Christchurch writers' festival a few years back.

Many of the stories in Violin Lessons are linked back to Zable's family history -- his mother was a Polish Jew whose family ran in terror from their burning village in WW II, and all are linked by music. As Zable explains it,  music "comes unbidden when all else fails us", awakens memory and feeling, restores order, is an exorcism, an act of defiance in a partisan song, a lullaby to comfort a child.

From the stories:

'You get inside music and the music gets inside you. You see? There is no politics in it. Only music.'

Regarding Egyptian diva Umm Khultum: 'each performance was an act of renewal – building in intensity to an exalted state known as tarab …'

“There was a time when language and song were one, when to speak was to sing, a cry of rage against an unforgiving sea, an impassive sky.”

This is a powerful collection that builds its power story by story. Many of them shave set up camp in my head especially the story of Iraqi refugee Amal Basry and 'Threnody' about the death of Zable's nephew.

More details in the review. 


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Whitcoulls withdraws from NZ bookscan - Bookman Beattie calls for boycott

Graham Beattie, former publisher and bookseller, leading book blogger and arch supporter of the NZ book industry, is furious. His blog's banner headline today is: "Whitcoulls pull the plug and let down the whole NZ book trade."

Nielsen Bookscan has advised that "Whitcoulls will stop contributing sales data to the NZ Bookscan panel from Week 37" -- which is next week. Nielsen Bookscan uses book-buying statistics from a panel of NZ booksellers from Whitcoulls through to independent booksellers to show trends in book sales. These are vital for the book industry in making strategic decisions about publishing, promoting, getting support for and selling NZ and overseas titles. 

The Nielsen statistics are also used to draw up the weekly bestsellers list published by Booksellers NZ. This list influences many New Zealanders in the books they buy. As a bookseller myself, I know this for a fact. (I work Fridays at Eastbourne's Rona Gallery.)

In the same way many people choose the wine with the gold and silver award stickers, so they often select books that are already selling well because there's less risk involved and the outcome is more predictable. The book will at some level be a worthwhile read and the $30, $40 plus investment won't be wasted. Without the input of stats from bookselling giant Whitcoulls, the Nielsen scan and resulting bestsellers lists will have less meaning and less impact here. What will buyers do? Look at the greater safety of the overseas bestsellers? Where does that leave NZ books?  

Graham Beattie: "This is a very sad day for the NZ book trade and The Bookman suggests that Whitcoulls are being hugely irresponsible by withdrawing their participation in the Nielsen BookScan programme. Shame on you Ian Draper. (Whitcoulls MD)
I for one shall register my dismay and disappointment by never buying a book at Whitcoulls again. If enough book buyers also take this action then the absence of their sales figures would become irrelevant."
Auckland University Press’s Sam Elworthy: “Whitcoull’s lack of participation in BookScan is very disappointing for the whole book industry really.”

Publishers' Association NZ President Kevin Chapman: "I have told Ian that I consider it no less than industry vandalism. It doesn’t take us back to the Dark Ages, but it certainly gives us less light to see our way ahead.”

Boycotting Whitcoulls is one way to fight back. I don't go there anyway, so I'm happy to join Graham's crusade, and urge other book buyers to do the same. Nielsen's advises, that as of next week the NZ panel for the bookscan will include the following retailers:

K Mart
LS Travel Retail
Paper Plus
The Warehouse
Independent – general, specialist and Internet retailers
                                                 If you're got a choice, pick one of those. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Adrift

Mad Mary sits beside
the Buller River
talking talking talking.

She’s lucid as a bird call -- 
She’s opaque as a bird call -- 

Down the river she
hunts the greenstone
she lost all those years

ago -- its pale green
horizons the dreams 
she can’t remember.

He gave it
she wore it 
she lost it 

like that. Adrift on the river,
the sun slapping her back.
Now her sleeves are pushed

to the elbow, her hands
bitter cold. The children
used to help

but they’re long since
gone. There’s only
her now, green water

and enough light for catching

The kahurangi, oh -- 
The kahurangi, oh -- 

The river, she says, 
it's sheltering stones.

                                            Mary McCallum

Kahurangi is a highly prized translucent greenstone or pounamu. In my experience, pounamu pendants are attracted to river water, they often end up back where they started, which is in part the trigger for this poem. Only in part.

Do check out the Tuesday Poem hub - I am editor this week and I've chosen a film of US poet Deborah Garrison reading four poems about New York linked to 9/11. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Flash hakas: this is New Zealand

Can't stop watching these flash hakas popping up all over Auckland with the Rugby World Cup starting this week. They give me the shivers. Love these guys in their high vis jackets and shorts and headphones leaping in, and the way they mosey off at the end. Where else in the world eh?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Fifteen and flying (on a Honda 250)

straight the road
straight as long as
any road to
as black
blacker still
with my eyes
tight shut
arms tight
his waist
fingers tightly
my chin on
the cold
of a leather
and the air
as cold
as I
could bear
the speed of
that bike
more than
I could take
that road
long as
straight as
any road to
and all the
shut tight
              at that bend
                 at the end
before it takes the hill
I leaned my
cheek, and
held a
and out of
nowhere –
the line of
my eyes
in my unlit
which art in

we were
sound as one
sound all
bodies as
one body
all lights
one eternal
of light


And do check out the other Tuesday Poems on There's a terrific yoga poem at the hub by Helen Lehndorf this week., and much more besides.