Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tuesday Poem: The wind was

This is how bad the wind was -- 
the cat ran to the sea wall, turned
tail and ran straight back, ears flattened.

This is how bad the wind was --
light fittings shook inside the houses,
and inside it was like someone breaking in.

This is how bad the wind was --
when people crossed the street
a cardboard box crossed with them.

This is how bad the wind was --
an old man in a coat tottered as he left
the bridge, looked like he might fly.

This is how bad the wind was --
as bad as Featherston's which is,
you said, second only to Tierra del Fuego's. 

This is how bad the wind was --
but you won't know it now after taking
that car, that road, that day to Oban. 

This is how bad the wind was --
but you are here, aren't you?

seeking each of your four daughters in turn --
apple cheeks, unruly hair turned windward. 

                              Mary McCallum

Written this last windy Saturday.

For more Tuesday poems pop to the Tuesday poem hub.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tuesday Flash Fiction: Lashes

   c2011 Helen Reynolds

Lashes by Mary McCallum

The art of mascara isn’t hard to master. It just needs a firmness of touch, and a wiggle before the brush leaves the lashes. I’ve applied it on the run: on the toilet, eating breakfast, driving to work – one hand on the steering wheel, one on the mascara wand, both eyes on the road. I swear, I’d only look in the rear vision mirror once or twice to check I hadn’t missed anything.                                                      
         That last time was different. Something scratching – a dislodged lash? The mascara clogged on the brush. I remember tipping the mirror and looking deep into the weeping white of my eye.                
         The flash of yellow came out of nowhere. Tiny candy-pink tights cartwheeling. One shoe. On the bonnet, the daisy from the little yellow hat. That’s all I see now, and I refuse to frame it. I can’t. No more black plasticky lash-paint for me.                         
         Lashes, only lashes.

It's National Flash Fiction Day on Friday and there's a prize (or two) at stake. Sadly, I didn't make the shortlist in the NFFD competition but others did. 

Just in case I get a NZ Society of Authors regional prize, I won't post my submission here until later... this is another piece of flash fiction I posted a little while back - half the length of this week's competition. The drawing is by my friend Helen Reynolds. 

Check out the Tuesday Poem hub which is all Flash Fiction this week thanks to NFFD organiser Michelle Elvy who is also a Tuesday Poet - and there are more flashes in the TP sidebar. FF is after all the love child of poetry and fiction. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Four Poets to a Cottage

Walk in on them, four poets eating scones, plates
on their laps, caught like teapots in a cupboard. That
room, once the music room, once a bedroom
for spinster sisters, built in a time of family bibles,
angular blue glass bottles, brick chimneys. 
The room now: bar heater, laptop, plate
of softening butter, poets of some standing,
sitting at odd angles, collar bone, ankle bone, 
swallowing cooling tea in gulps, eyes shifting
to the blocked fireplace, the unprepossessing ceiling,
not letting on a feeling that the air is constricted, that
they are the wrong size doll for this doll’s house,
that the chimney creaks, could well be falling, that
in a cavity in the ceiling, a child’s clothes were found.

                                                                        Mary McCallum

It's the AGM of the Randell Cottage Friends Committee tonight at 7 pm at the cottage: 14 St Mary Street Thorndon, all welcome. After a brief meeting, we'll have drinks to celebrate the first 10 years of the writer residency. All welcome. 

I am the Chair of the Friends Committee as well as being a Trustee, so I will be there with bells on. The Randell Cottage Writers Trust is a writers residency in the 1867 Randell Cottage in Thorndon, and I wrote this poem when Kirsty Gunn was living there - an expat NZer who'd come home. She invited some fellow poets to tea and scones and they came. 

Btw, Kirsty has just published a new novel Big Music with Faber. Thrilling. If you're in London, the launch is at James Daunt's on Holland Park Avenue from 6 pm, Wednesday July 4. Here's a video about the book. 

It's Tuesday - so check out a fabulous CHEESE poem on the Tuesday Poem hub (click the Tuesday Poem quill in my sidebar) or go HERE, and then check out the cheesy and non-cheesy poems in the sidebar there. Definitely worth a look.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Stunning all-women poetry and fiction shortlists: NZ Post Book Awards

An exciting shortlist for this years Book Awards - scroll down to see it. All women in the fiction and poetry lists, and two short story collections, could the latter be a first? (The former isn't - in 2008 we had an all-woman fiction and poetry shortlist including my novel The Blue.) 

Some of my favourite books of the year are there: Sue Orr's From Under the Overcoat, Fiona Kidman's The Trouble with Fire, Anna Jackson's Thicket, Dinah Hawken's The leaf-ride; and in the non-fiction list:  Fiona Farrell's The Broken Book and Peter Wells' The Hungry Heart. I haven't yet read Rangatira or Shift but have them on my shelves and will do...  

All the non-fiction choices look superb too - I have handled them all at the bookshop where I work on Fridays. They're beautifully produced - real treasures -- especially Peter Wells' book. 

My favourites are there, so I am happy, but already I'm thinking about the books that didn't make the very brief lists of three in the fiction and poetry categories. Wulf by Hamish Clayton which won Best First Book of Fiction this year (announced last week) is one that occurs to me. Given its quality, I wonder if a longer general shortlist might not have seen him included. 

Many readers were gunning for Sarah Quigley's Conductor (not me) and Owen Marshall's The Larnachs (haven't read it.) Then there are those strong collections of poetry by Vincent O'Sullivan, Jenny Bornholdt and Peter Bland ... Certainly the judges this year have said they would have liked to have had a shortlist of five for these categories as we had in the past. 

I also note that the excellent La Rochelle's Road by Tanya Moir hasn't received a mention in the awards, which is a shame.  It's a first novel and the runners-up for Best First Book aren't announced - but I really think they should be. It's such a boost for a first time author to get that sort of acknowledgement. 

Book Awards judge Chris Bourke:  “Having all the categories restored to five finalists would more accurately represent the quality and breadth of New Zealand’s writing. The same diversity is present in the fiction and poetry - and should be reflected in the shortlists.” Yes, good idea. And a shortlist for the First Book Awards, Chris?

I am betting there'll be some discussion on this on Beattie's Bookblog...  And here's an interesting write-up by the Listener's Guy Somerset  including a podcast of Chris Bourke talking us through the shortlists.

Fiction finalists
From Under the Overcoat
Sue Orr
Vintage, Random House NZ
9781869790578 (Paperback)
9781869795511 (Ebook)
Paula Morris
Penguin Group (NZ)
The Trouble with Fire
Fiona Kidman
Vintage, Random House NZ
9781869793593 (Paperback)
9781869793609 (Ebook)
Poetry finalists
The leaf-ride
Dinah Hawken
Victoria University Press
Rhian Gallagher
Auckland University Press
Anna Jackson
Auckland University Press
Illustrated Non-Fiction finalists
A Micronaut in the Wide World: The Imaginative Life and Times of Graham Percy
Gregory O'Brien
Auckland University Press
New Zealand Film - An Illustrated History
Diane Pivac, Frank Stark, and Lawrence McDonald
Te Papa Press
New Zealand's Native Trees
John Dawson and Rob Lucas
Craig Potton Publishing
Playing with Fire: Auckland Studio Potters Society Turns 50
Peter Lange and Stuart Newby
Auckland Studio Potters Society– in conjunction with the National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries Centre for New Zealand Art Research and Discovery (CNZARD)
Whatu Kākahu / Māori Cloaks
Awhina Tamarapa
Te Papa Press
General Non-Fiction finalists
Bligh: William Bligh in the South Seas
Anne Salmond
Penguin Group (NZ)
9780670075560 (Hardback)
9781869794750 (Ebook)
The Broken Book
Fiona Farrell
Auckland University Press
The Hungry Heart: Journeys with William Colenso
Peter Wells
Vintage, Random House NZ
9781869794743 (Hardback)
9781869794750 (Ebook)
So Brilliantly Clever: Parker, Hulme and the Murder That Shocked the World
Peter Graham
Awa Press
Tupaia: The Remarkable Story of Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator
Joan Druett
Random House NZ
9781869793869 (Hardback)
9781869797133 (Paperback)
People’s Choice Award
Voting opens today for the nation’s favourite book. Nominations can be made from this year’s finalist books on-line at www.nzpostbookawards.co.nz. The 2012 finalist book with the most votes will be honoured with the much-coveted People’s Choice Award.
In addition to individual category winners, and a People’s Choice Award, there will be a Māori Language Award winner and the overall New Zealand Post Book of the Year winner announced at a gala dinner in Auckland on 1 August 2012.
The overall New Zealand Post Book of the Year Award winner will receive $15,000. Winners of the four Category Awards will each receive $10,000. The Māori Language Award winner will receive $10,000 and the People’s Choice Award winner $5,000.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Justice by John Adams

It will always be difficult to get to
the heart of justice because it is girded
so that every approach meets a moat
of jus, a sticky reduction wherein
the stain of a thousand righted wrongs, long past,
reside; and the whole edifice of justice
is severe: its modes hint more of the stick than
of the carrot, more of reptilian scales than of
warm yielding flesh; yet justice, at its heart,
and you won't find this by staring at
the word, is love in action, or should be,
at its best: behind its stony wall lurks
understanding, even mercy, to enfold us.
If the heart of justice is unhinged,
it devolves to the mere markings of a ruler,
a frigid adherence or, as the broken word
thinly gasps, 'just ice', a fraudulent
liquid of no lasting substance; but when
justice is rendered potent by love, even a blind-
folded woman, struggling with ancient
instruments, should be able to get it right.


Judge John Adams' first collection of poetry Briefcase has just won the NZ Society of Authors Best First Book of Poetry award. Five years ago, I was John's tutor for Massey University's extramural creative writing paper, and amongst other things said in the heat of feedback, I called him a poet. Which he clearly was, from the very first poem I read.

It was called 'Yellow' and I can remember it on the page - a tumble of language that shouted and sang and jived and bananaed and earned itself an A. I also remember marking 'Justice' - a delicious word play that appears in Briefcase; a poem that takes the word apart literally in a way that seems playful but has serious intent and an unexpected heart. 

After doing the Massey course, John Adams studied for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Auckland, and Briefcase (AUP) is the result. I am so proud! I have to say John is also a very nice person with a wide-ranging intellect, a remarkable curiosity, and a passion for both law and poetry. He is a judge of both the District and Family courts.

It's hard to do 'justice' to this book called on the back a 'disorderly novella'.  There is a story here about a couple called the Buttons who get into a fight, a stapler is thrown and hits Verity, the wife. Did her solicitor husband throw it at Verity (meaning Truth) deliberately? That's for the courts to decide. The idea is that Briefcase contains the legal documents, court reports, police reports etc, of the case, as well as some other stray documents: a sudoku puzzle, a menu, a dictionary entry... and a number of more conventional poems like 'Justice'.

Playful, yes, but at heart, like 'Justice', the collection is a serious exploration of both the ideals and limits of language and justice - and it's a provocative and fascinating read. As the judges of the NZSA award said, John Adams'  'experimentation with form depends upon the heart as much as it does the intellect.'

I plan to post another poem from the collection at the Tuesday Poem hub later this month. Meanwhile, I recommend you go there to read a poem by a UK poet about birth from the father's perspective posted by Kathleen Jones - and then get into the sidebar for more marvellous poems from the TP team.

Friday, June 1, 2012

eavesdropping keith richards-style

The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards on writing songs in his autobiography Life (Back Bay Books). He talks about being forced to be tuned to the world to find material, and how it made him feel like a bit of a Peeping Tom - something most writers would find familiar.

"One hit requires another, very quickly, or you fast start to lose alti­tude. At that time you were expected to churn them out. 'Satisfac­tion' is suddenly number one all over the world, and Mick and I are looking at each other, saying, 'This is nice.' Then bang bang bang at the door, 'Where's the follow-up? We need it in four weeks.' And we were on the road doing two shows a day. You needed a new single every two months; you had to have another one all ready to shoot. And you needed a new sound. If we'd come along with another fuzz riff after 'Satisfaction,' we'd have been dead in the water, repeating with the law of diminishing returns. Many a band has faltered and foundered on that rock. 'Get Off of My Cloud' was a reaction to the record companies' demands for more -- leave me alone -- and it was an attack from another direction. And it flew as well.

"So we're the song factory. We start to think like songwriters, and once you get that habit, it stays with you all your life. It motors along in your subconscious, in the way you listen. Our songs were taking on some kind of edge in the lyrics, or at least they were beginning to sound like the image projected onto us. Cynical, nasty, skeptical, rude. We seemed to be ahead in this respect at the time. There was trouble in America; all these young American kids, they were being drafted to Vietnam. Which is why you have 'Satisfaction' in Apocalypse Now. Because the nutters took us with them. The lyrics and the mood of the songs fitted with the kids' disenchantment with the grown-up world of America, and for a while we seemed to be the only provider, the soundtrack for the rumbling of rebellion, touching on those social nerves. I wouldn't say we were the first, but a lot of that mood had an English idiom, through our songs, despite their being highly Ameri­can influenced. We were taking the piss in the old English tradition. ...

"And because you've been playing every day, sometimes two or three shows a day, ideas are flowing. One thing feeds the other. You might be having a swim or screwing the old lady, but somewhere in the back of the mind, you're thinking about this chord sequence or something related to a song. No matter what the hell's going on. You might be getting shot at, and you'll still be 'Oh! That's the bridge!' And there's nothing you can do; you don't realize it's happening. It's totally subconscious, unconscious or whatever. The radar is on whether you know it or not. You cannot switch it off. You hear this piece of conversation from across the room, 'I just can't stand you anymore'... That's a song. It just flows in. And also the other thing about being a songwriter, when you realize you are one, is that to provide ammo, you start to become an observer, you start to distance yourself. You're constantly on the alert. That faculty gets trained in you over the years, observing people, how they react to one another. Which, in a way, makes you weirdly distant. You shouldn't really be doing it. It's a little of Peeping Tom to be a songwriter. You start looking round, and everything's a subject for a song. The banal phrase, which is the one that makes it. And you say, I can't believe nobody hooked up on that one before! Luckily there are more phrases than songwriters, just about."

Author: Keith Richards   
Title: Life
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Date: Copyright 2010 by Mindless Records, LLC
Pages: 179-183

Thanks to delanceyplace.com for the extract.