Monday, July 30, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Weapons Grade by Terese Svoboda

I am up to my neck in American Terese Svoboda's writing this week because I'm chairing a session with her at Writers on Monday next week August 6, 12.15 pm in the Marae at Wellington's Te Papa.

Her collection of poetry Weapons Grade calls out insistently in its yellow jacket and skull-masked face -- check out one of the poems here, but I am also in the middle of Trailer Girl - the collection of her short fiction and there are the essays still to go.

Svoboda's novel Bohemian Girl, I have finished - exhilarated. It is, quite simply, beautiful. Check out the book trailer,

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Svoboda is prolific and brilliant in a range of genres - go here to see how much. Frightening really.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What Rhymes with Wairarapa? Poets hit the road.

It's National Poetry Day tomorrow - Friday July 27 - and normally I'd be working at Rona Gallery trying to get someone to buy a book of poetry. Tomorrow is different. I'm part of the Wairarapa poetry roadshow called What Rhymes with Wairarapa? It should be a blast.

I'll be reading from The Tenderness of Light which is a chapbook written about our place near Martinborough published earlier this year. Come along if you're in the area. Carterton Library at 10, Masterton Library at 12.15, Wairarapa college at 2.05 and Aratoi in Bruce Street Masterton at 7 pm.

Oh and we're still looking for words that rhyme with Wairarapa on our Facebook page (thanks to those who have so generously contributed!) or you could pop some in the comments below. We hope to use them on the day... create a crazy rap ... or something!

Here's a start:

Bug zapper, faultline mapper, rapper, trapper, handicapper, army sapper, whippersnapper, wanna cuppa? how's your papa? 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tuesday Poem: The Landscape

My father serves lunch, lifts 
the salad with servers, offers 
a dish of olives,
the muted light stroking his

hands, head bent as if
in a pew, paler
than I think of him.
On the pergola

above, the leaves of the vines
are ecstatic and lime-bright,
a scribble of veins,
tendrils, shadows – a reminder how light

both clarifies and complicates –
how a simple landscape of skin, let’s say,
can become a whole atlas.
Here the x-ray,

there the scan.
The chickens
pant in the hedge.
He chops bread 

and chunks of cheese, lays 
one on the other
passes it across the table 
to my mother, 

his hand a plate. She’s feeling 
the heat, longs to be cool 
inside with a book, is looking 
up, grateful 

for the vines, for the lean of the tree 
beside us, its pollen rising rapidly like small fish 
in a vertiginous sea. 
The olive dish 

is passed around again. My father 
sweeps crumbs 
onto the grass with his hand. (He asks 
the surgeon now and then, ‘When it comes 

again how will I know?’) All this 
light and still the incomprehensible 
scrabble of things, 
dark scribbles 

that dim 
the bright falling. Above, 
the sky’s open palm, 
supplicating leaves. 

                           By Mary McCallum

Post updated 12:01 pm Tuesday July 24 - more on Mahy.  

This poem is from my small book The Tenderness of Light out earlier in the year which I'll be reading from in the Wairarapa this Friday as part of a poetry roadshow with four other poets for National Poetry Day. Do come if you're in the area! Details here.

by Kirk Hargreaves Fairfax/NZ
The Landscape is written about my parents, but I'll dedicate it here to Margaret Mahy, the astonishing children's writer who died from cancer yesterday in Christchurch. 

Her gift to readers is immeasurable. Her books are a joyful and magical part of so many lives, mine and my children's included. What would we have been without A Lion in the Meadow? And Maddigan's Quest

I met her once, she signed our treasured copy of A Lion in the Meadow. My mother met her too - she had to pick her up from Wellington station over 20 years ago, to take her to a reading at Newtown library where Mum worked. 

Mahy used to wear an orange curly wig to perform for children and you can imagine the writer's delight when she saw Mum's car: a bright orange Fiat Bambina with a sunroof. She leapt in, donned her wig, pulled back the sunroof and sailed through Wellington like that.... my Mum grinning all the way. 

Update: My daughter has just reminded me how, smitten by Maddigan's Quest when she was ten, and keen on writing herself, she sent Margaret Mahy a letter. She received a long handwritten letter in return that amongst other things said that she, Margaret Mahy, liked the same character Issy liked, and encouraging Issy to write down her stories too.  When I told Issy this morning that Mahy had died, she burst into tears. 

The Booksellers NZ blog has posted The Fairy Child today - a perfect choice. It begins: 'The very hour that I was born/I rode upon a unicorn' - yes! she did! God Bless the extraordinary people in our midst who ride unicorns - and ride them to our very door  - and ask us to climb aboard.  

Margaret Mahy, you will be sorely missed. 

Oh and please do visit our magical Tuesday Poem hub today to see poems from each of the NZ Book Awards finalists selected by Andrew Bell. An uplifting way to start the day. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Fuck You by John Adams

I'm editor of the Tuesday Poem hub this week and have the pleasure of posting a poem by John Adams whose collection Briefcase won the Best First Book of Poetry Award.  Please go and see... 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mansfield with Monsters at 1000 wpm

My review of Mansfield with Monsters by Katherine Mansfield and Matt and Debbie Cowans (Steam Press 2012). A great literary mash-up - enjoyed reading it immensely.

My review sounds like it's been speeded up a bit, but that's just me when I'm excited ( the book) -  tired (long story) - and haven't (mistakenly) eaten any breakfast.

I have to say, I had a delicious lunch shortly afterwards at the fabulous Haya on Aro St : mini meatloaf, salad and homemade focaccia. Slowed me right down. After that, my band had a practice - much mellower all round.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tuesday Poem:Clicks

Okay, I lied. This isn't a poem exactly although it has the stuff of a prose poem about it.  It's a Flash Fiction story I entered in the recent National Flash Fiction Day competition

It didn't win. Oddly enough someone called Janis was a runnerup for the national prize and then won the Wellington regional one, so you could say I was onto a winning idea at least! Might even shimmy along for a while on her fabulous coat tails...  (I should say I did not in any way have this Janis in mind when I wrote about Janis and Tommy and their little problem.)

Congrats to you Janis Freegard (also a Tuesday Poet) - I'm really looking forward to reading your story, I know it will be a treat - and to the other winners, bravo. Here's mine...


Janis made him listen to the clicking sounds in the kitchen wall. They stood face to face, their noses almost touching. He could smell the Brussels sprouts she’d eaten for dinner. Her lips were tight on her teeth when she spoke.
‘What is it?’ she said.
He listened. It was silent at first, then there was a small click, and another. ‘It’s nothing.’
Janis emitted a click of her own. ‘It’s not nothing, Tommy, but I can’t think about it now. I’ve got work tomorrow. I’m off to bed.’
It was three days of this before he got the electrician in. The wiring was fine, it seemed, but mice were mentioned. Tommy went out and bought traps and a tin of poison. He laid them strategically then poured himself an early beer.  They didn’t listen to the walls that night, and Janis laughed at something on TV. When her mouth was relaxed, it reminded him of that actress in Friends.                         
A week of traps and he didn’t catch one mouse. The clicks were louder and more frequent and Janis spoke stiffly again. She said that Bill at work had borer, and then she went off to read in the bedroom.
The next day, Tommy bought a pest bomb. He sat smoking outside while it did its thing, but afterwards the clicks were even more frenetic. They made him think of Janis typing up his CV for the job applications. She was Jennifer Aniston every day back then. He called her Janiston for laughs. Her hair smelt of frangipani. 
Tommy got the axe from the garage. It didn’t take long to demolish the wall, and the ones either side for good measure. Then he waited, one thumb on the blade, the other clicking time with the clock.

Mary McCallum

Monday, July 9, 2012

Zombies and Mansfield and me

Zombies - nothing to do with KM - it's a short film my daughter
(centre, white jacket)  is in called A PARTY FOR ME (dir. Amy Brosnahan) 
Oh the bliss of language. Just now, this morning, sitting with coffee in dressing gown (yes, a bad habit, but if I get dressed there will be things to do), I am filled with it, like Bertha in Katherine Mansfield's Bliss is filled with the glowing pear tree against the jade sky.

I have been reading Mansfield you see - but not via the usual route. The book I am close to finishing is Mansfield with Monsters (Steam Press) to review on Wednesday on Nine to Noon (Radio NZ). These are Katherine Mansfield's classic stories but with the gothic/troubled element developed by authors Matt and Debbie Cowens via zombies and vampires and other beings of the horror genre. I know, weird. But I'm enjoying it! The version of The Doll's House in here will not allow me to read 'I seen the little lamp' the same way again.

It's been bliss reading KM's marvellous language again, fun to try out this zombie stuff (not my usual milieu), and then there's the added pleasure of digging out my copies of her original stories and enjoying those too - the ones I know and the ones I don't.

More language tumbling about me this week the form of tantalising extracts of Kirsty Gunn's new novel The Big Music out there on the internet (see previous blogpost) and I see there was a rave review in The Independent this weekend calling The Big Music a masterpiece! Fantastic.

And there's more. I have finished my children's book. I thought I had finished it a couple of month's back, I told a few close friends and my children so, but I couldn't quite let it go (another bad habit). I let it sit on the computer here. Popped in and out. Fiddled. Yesterday. Done. I can't quite believe it (which is probably why I've buried the announcement in the middle of a post).

I have also finished a short story to share with my lovely local writing group tonight. It's been sitting on file for 25 years  - weirder and weirder - and troubling me for some time. I loved it as it was but no-one else did that I showed it to. I started revamping it for the Grimm fairy tale competition (rewrite one of the classic fairy tales as a modern tale) but failed to get it done in time (fancy that).

I believe the new version is better, although the old story is ghostlike behind it... and having read KM's Bliss this weekend, I realise that what I had before was something that had that sort of rush of unmanageable feeling about it - I hadn't thought that until now - while the new story doesn't, is more prosaic somehow, but despite that, is more engaging emotionally? Anyway, I'll be interested to see what the group thinks. 

It just shows what a writing group can do. Deadlines and expectations are good for me. Trust, too - we trust each other with our work: drafts, meanderings, rewrites .... There are seven of us - men and women - ranging in age from 40s to 80+ and writing a range of genres including spy thriller, horror, children's fiction, creative non-fiction, literary fiction, poetry, memoir... with half of us shifting around between those genres from week to week and the other half sticking to ongoing projects. We meet monthly and we have a meeting tonight. I am so looking forward to it. 

Meanwhile, I guess I should get dressed and walk the dog. In its own way, bliss. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

More than a book, it's a feeling - Kirsty Gunn's The Big Music launched

"The hills only come back the same: I don’t mind, and all the flat moorland and the sky. I don’t mind they say, and the water says it too, those black falls that are rimmed with peat, and the mountains in the distance to the west say it, and to the north . . . As though the whole empty wasted lovely space is calling back at him in the silence that is around him, to this man out here in the midst of it, in the midst of all these hills and all the air. That his presence means nothing, that he could walk for miles into these same hills, in bad weather or in fine, could fall down and not get up again, could go crying into the peat with music for his thoughts maybe, and ideas for a tune, but none of it according him a place here, amongst the grasses and the water and the sky . . . Still it would come back to him the same in the silence, in the fineness of the air . . . I don’t mind, I don’t mind, I don’t mind. 
"Is what there is to begin with, a few words and the scrap of a tune put down for the back of the book in some attempt to catch the opening of the thing, how it might start. With this image of a man, born 83 years ago down out of these same hills, and how he might think now how the land doesn’t mind him, never has. Here he is walking in up the strath towards that far bend in the river and the loudest note could sound in his head and him follow it with a sequence and still this country, his country, would keep its own stillness and only give back to him the louder quiet, like the name of the tune itself could be I don’t mind, is what he’ll call it, ‘Lament for Himself’.[1]"

Extract from The Big Music by Kirsty Gunn, launched this month. 
Kirsty Gunn's fifth novel The Big Music (Faber) was launched in London last night after an earlier Dundee launch. A kiwi by birth and upbringing, and a fellowVictoria University student/debater/Bill Manhire Original Composition classmate, Kirsty lives in both those places now - England and Scotland, and the book is set in its own landscape of music and rhythm and language and the Scottish Highlands.

It is more than a book, too, this book -- it is the inspiration for the film made by Gary M Gowers, for the 'Pebroch' bagpipe music written by her father (heard on the film), for an art installation created by her sister Merran. Hear Kirsty and Merran and Gary talking about the project below. For more on Kirsty, her book events, a longer extract from her book go here. If you're pondering whether or not to investigate this book further. Read the reviews below. I am in no doubt that as with her other novels, The Big Music is more than a book, it is a feeling, a thing, an experience.

“More than a dappled tale, an allegory, or history, The Big Music is a landscape; a work of longing fragments that collect on a journey and grow to light lands before, around, and after them. It’s a hike that makes us feel not so much Scotland as Scottish, and whose flavours, like the title’s theme, cannot be made small. Haunting and spacious.”dbc Pierre, author of  the Man Booker prize winning Vernon God Little
“I emerged from The Big Music blown away by the pulse and force of such fearless writing. It is beautiful, powerful work. Gunn has written to a rhythm and not to a plot – as Virginia Woolf urges – and she has written a landscape I didn’t want to leave. Gunn terrain! How deeply I love this book, a magnificent tour de force.” Jane Goldman, General Editor of the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Virginia Woolf. 

"Kirsty Gunn has set herself a fearsome task. Writing about music, which lies at the heart of this "novel" (the quote marks are hers), is so difficult that almost everyone who tries, fails. And hers is a music which many find inaccessible, and some have never even heard of: the piobaireachd, the formal music of the Highland bagpipes. To take that, and to show us at its heart a love-song and a lullaby: she is a brave woman even to try.

The result isn't what you'd call a success; not even a qualified success. The result is a masterpiece. Gunn solves the problem she has set herself, not by writing about the music but, by some strange meticulous magic, writing within it." Michael Bywater, The Independent 7/7/12

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tuesday Poem: The Tearful Dishwasher

She’s moved back in and with her
comes the tearful dishwasher. While
she talks to me at the kitchen table, an
unlit cigarette in her hand, he stands
at the sink handling the dishes. Each
plate and bowl is held between two 
hands, turned over, rinsed, placed
in the dishwasher. All lined up. He 
can’t help himself crying. Stupidly, 
I say something about slicing onions. 
He stops a moment, continues on as if
he’s climbed a mountain. Each dish
is wept over then he makes his way 
to bed. There is no excuse for this; 
she doesn’t offer any. It's just

Today is the day of the divided
fry pan. To think, he says, I have                  
lived this long undivided, hadn’t
even imagined such a thing. Three
sections to keep tomatoes from
bacon and bacon from eggs and
eggs from tomato. No juices, no

The tearful dishwasher is offering
to make dinner. Something liquid,
it’s more forgiving.

                         Mary McCallum

Not quite sure what this is. Had a lot of grief floating around me these past few weeks with friends losing their parents, and I had some collected or 'found' lines sitting in a file, some of which found their way into here. I also keep hearing of the importance of accepting grief as a companion for a while and realising that it can stay for years and years -- and in fact never go. One therapist told a friend how it lives on inside like a deep red hole, and we pack things around it and sometimes don't see it for a long time, then suddenly all the packing comes away and there it is deep and raw. Not gone at all. 

When you've read this Tuesday Poem, please hang out a little on the hub where a poem by the great Alastair te Ariki Campbell resides this week, and in the sidebar - MORE POEMS! See you there. 

Click HERE for Tuesday Poem