Before I say anything else, I loved the cover of this new poetry collection by well-known music journalist – and performer, and blogger, and poet – Simon Sweetman. The cover of The Death of Music Journalism is both highly informative and ever-so-slightly surreal, which really appeals to me.
I’m not sure whether he’d take this a compliment, but I think of Simon Sweetman as an old-school music journalist, the kind who could conceivably have stepped out of the pages of Rolling Stone magazine, a local and latter-day Robert Christgau or Lester Bangs. I think of him writing passionately in favour of bands and albums I like (Bowie!), and equally passionately against other bands and albums I like.
So I had a little trepidation prior to opening this volume – oh my god is he going to have another go at St Vincent?, but my fears were quickly laid to rest. These poems are still passionate about music and life, but they’re also reflective, funny, discursive, and really, really well written. They’re about Simon’s relationship with music – favourite songs, favourite bands, favourite musicians – but also how music has reflected and influenced his relationship with his family, as in “Father and Son”, which isn’t just, or even mainly, about the Cat Stevens song.
You don’t have to know your paradiddles from your palm muting to enjoy this book. Music is the kicking-off point for many of these poems, but they’re mostly about people. If you know who Steve Gadd is or have an opinion about Mark Knopfler’s guitar solos, then that might add a little frisson to your response, but such knowledge is far from essential. The Death of Music Journalism is a sprawling, generous, entertaining and moving collection of poems, and I recommend it.
I’ve heard Richard Langston read a number of times over the years, and always enjoyed his work, but at the Southern Writers at Te Awe Brandon Library event in October 2020 I was particularly struck by how much I enjoyed the poems from his new collection Five O’Clock Shadows, published by The Cuba Press. So I was keen to read them as well as hear them – and Five O’Clock Shadows, Richard’s sixth collection, doesn’t disappoint.
Richard enjoys a lot of stuff I also enjoy: Dunedin, Wellington, cricket, music. A collection that includes a poem about Brendon McCullum’s 302 vs India at the Basin Reserve, and a poem about how marvellous Dunedin is, has already gone a long way towards securing my loyalty. But it’s some of the poems I’m not pre-wired to enjoy that most stand out for me here – such as “Bsharri, Lebanon” and “Sons”. This is a fine, humanistic collection.
(For the avoidance of doubt: I do not in any way identify with the subject matter of the poem “Snoring”. Not at all.)
I’ve been catching up with my reading over the holidays – here are two new books worth your attention, both published by The Cuba Press.
Upturned is a new poetry collection by one of my favourite poets. I Wish, I Wish is the second volume in the Cuba Press Novella series – my climate fiction novella Where We Land was the first in this series.
Kay McKenzie Cooke is one of my favourite poets. Her poetry connects with me on both levels that really matter to me: emotion and language. For me, there’s an extra level of connection in that Kay was born in Murihiku / Southland, where I grew up, and some of her poems feature places I know well and times I’ve experienced.
But even if you have no connection with Southland – or for that matter Berlin, where a section of this collection is set – these poems are likely to speak to anyone who enjoys beautiful, resonant writing that is strongly connected with land, people and memory.
These poems are both highly skilled and very welcoming – this is poetry that invites you in rather than fences you out. So even if you don’t usually read poetry, give Upturned a try. You won’t regret it.
As the title signifies, I Wish, I Wish is a fairy tale – but it’s a very down-to-earth one. Mortician Seb’s monotonous life is abruptly upturned after he meets a dying young boy called Gabe. At the start of the novella, Seb is thoroughly stuck in an unsatisfying life that’s going nowhere, and by the end … well, read it and find out.
This novella works because Zirk Van Den Berg steers away from sentiment while communicating the protagonist’s emotions effectively. This is a very well-written book, with neat touches of humour that offset what could otherwise be too moralistic a narrative. I wasn’t sure I wanted to start 2021 by reading another story about death, but before long I was caught up in this novella, and I think you will be too.
This event inaugurates the Te Awe event space, with six fine poets and prose writers giving a very special lunch time reading. All hail from Dunedin or Southland.
Kay McKenzie Cooke, Richard Langston, Tim Jones, Nick Ascroft, Madison Hamill and Jenny Powell, with Mary McCallum reading some of the late Elizabeth Brooke-Carr’s work.
So why not take this rare opportunity, grab your lunchtime sandwiches or buy one from the Te Awe café, and enliven your lunch listening to some of New Zealand’s finest poets reading from their works. Enjoy.
Early voting opened today in the 2020 New Zealand General Election. Like much of the electorate, I plan to vote early – but not today, because I suspect polling booths will be busy. When I do vote, I’m going to give my party vote to the Green Party, because they have put reducing inequality and taking meaningful action on the climate crisis at the core of their policies.
Jacinda Ardern’s Labour-led Government deserves a lot of credit for the way they’ve handled successive crises: the Christchurch terrorist attacks, the Whakaari / White Island eruption, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The Prime Minister’s intelligence, compassion and crisis management skills have passed multiple tests.
But when the opportunity to make transformational, necessary change has come along, Labour have mostly fudged it: they’ve failed to provide genuinely affordable housing, done little to reduce inequality, backed off the idea of a capital gains tax to reduce land banking and property speculation, and doubled down on building new roads without doing anything to prevent those roads being filled with climate-destroying gas guzzlers. They’ve also failed to do enough to address the environmental and climate damage caused by the New Zealand economy’s dependence on low-value dairy exports.
The Greens have played an important role in pushing the Government to do more on climate justice, inequality and a transition away from fossil fuels, and I want them to keep playing that role in a second-term Labour-led Government. Because, left to its own devices, Labour will continue to act as if the real crises we face are no more than inconveniences. Plus, the Greens have some excellent candidates, and I want as many of them as possible to get into Parliament.
New Zealand First has acted as a handbrake on necessary action, including a just solution at Ihumātao, and I hope that Winston Peters’ party of failure and inaction is not represented in the next Parliament.
As for National? A Todd Muller-led National would have at least offered the possibility of some bipartisan action on climate change. But there’s no way Judith Collins – cynical, Trump-lite, Dirty Politics-espousing Judith Collins, with her climate denial and contempt for the natural environment – will ever get my vote. And nor will ACT, that unsavoury – but very 2020 – combination of libertarians and gun lobbyists.
Be entertained by this panel of acclaimed authors as they robustly discuss how writing fiction or poetry can bring about social or political change and why a number of activists are now turning to these mediums.
Escalator Press is pleased to announce an upcoming publication, A Vase and a Vast Sea. You may have heard that the Whitireia Creative Writing Programme and its journal, 4th Floor, were brought to an end last year when the polytechnic discontinued almost but not all writing courses. The news was a blow to many of us in the literary community, who valued the support the Programme gave to the writing community of Aotearoa.
To mark the 27-year legacy of the Creative Writing Programme, Escalator Press is publishing A Vase and a Vast Sea – a collection of poetry and short prose selected from 4th Floor.
This collection is a reunion of writers such as Renée, Maggie Rainey-Smith, Barbara Else, Rata Gordon, Alison Glenny, Tim Jones and Adrienne Jansen, and is an essential keepsake of New Zealand literature and a much-loved writing course.
During the recent World Science Fiction Convention, CoNZealand – the first virtual Worldcon – I discovered that my 2007 fantasy novel, Anarya’s Secret, is still available from Drivethru RPG. If it seems weird that a novel is available from a games company, that’s because the novel is a tie-in: it’s one of a series of novels written in the universe of the Earthdawn roleplaying game (Earthdawn is a prequel to the Shadowrun RPG.)
About Anarya’s Secret
Kendik Dezelek is a young Swordmaster. He’s tall, strong, and well-trained. But when he leaves his home village on the road to adventure, he soon finds that those things will only get you so far. In the land between the Tylon Mountains and the Serpent River, friend and foe are not always as they appear.
In a world still recovering from the Scourge, when Horrors ravaged the land of Barsaive, Kendik is soon forced to choose between a range of evils. He travels with the surly and disreputable Turgut brothers. He encounters the bloated tyrant Lord Tesek, ruler of the growing city of Borzim. And he is ensnared in the plots of the feared and mysterious House of the Wheel.
Most of all, he meets Anarya Chezarin, who enters his life from the depths of an ancient stronghold. Who is she, and what is her secret? It may cost Kendik and Anarya more than their lives to find out.
CoNZealand, the 78th World Science Fiction Convention is over! The first to be based in Aotearoa, and the first to be held virtually.
There is so much to say about the convention – for now, I’m just going to congratulate the organisers for all the effort they put in to change a planned in-person convention to a virtual convention at a few months’ notice. There were a whole bunch of teething problems that affected many participants – one of my events vanished into a time-zone ether – but the impressive thing is that some many things worked, or were made to work after people spoke up to get them fixed.
For a few more days, many of the panels, readings and other events are available on replay. My personal highlight of the Con was the Climate Fiction/Climate Fact Panel, but right at the start of the Con, I also took part in the Climate Change and Conventions panel – here’s the presentation I prepared for that panel.