I last visited the West Coast in 1989, when I returned to Haast Beach, where I’d lived as a young child. (Here’s my poem about that return journey: Shetland Ponies, Haast Beach – and below is Lake Brunner, near Blackball.)
For that and many other reasons, I was very glad to be invited as a guest to the Blackball Readers and Writers Festival – originally scheduled for 2020, but postponed till 2021.
I enjoyed getting to know the village of Blackball, where as the map below shows there is a lot going on. I enjoyed listening to the sessions, which gave so much more opportunity to get to know writers than the usual two-questions-and-on-to-the-next-panelist format of larger writers’ festivals. AndI enjoyed the panel I was on, where Caroline Selwood interviewed Kathleen Gallagher and I about wiring and activism, and what motivates us as writers.
Blackball is a remarkable community, which both acknowledges and celebrates its mining past and is actively seeking to move beyond it. Here’s more about Blackball, the Festival, and Blackball’s role in promoting a Justice Transition away from fossil fuels for the West Coast:
Solar Tribune is worth checking out – and as well as the climate policy stuff, there’s also a section on actions individuals can take – notably, getting involved in pushing for stronger and more urgent climate action and for climate justice!
Much to my frustration, I can’t attend the launch, but I’d love to be there.
Here’s more info about the book. Writing a poem for this anthology which incorporated a fragment of Dante’s poem, in Clive James’ translation, was a formidable challenge, but one I enjoyed! I’m very much looking forward to reading the anthology.
About the book
More Favourable Waters, edited by Marco Sonzogni and Timothy Smith, is an anthology of contemporary poets from Aotearoa New Zealand commemorating one of the world’s great poets, Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), 700 years after his death.
Each of the 33 poets has written a poem of 33 lines inspired by and including a short passage from one of the 33 cantos of Dante’s Purgatory, the second part of his epic The Divine Comedy.
Airini Beautrais • Marisa Cappetta • Kay McKenzie Cooke • Mary Cresswell • Majella Cullinane • Sam Duckor-Jones • Nicola Easthope • David Eggleton • Michael Fitzsimons • Janis Freegard • Anahera Gildea • Michael Harlow Jeffrey Paparoa Holman • Anna Jackson • Andrew Johnston • Tim Jones • Elizabeth Kirkby-McLeod • Hugh Lauder • Vana Manasiadis • Mary McCallum • Elizabeth Morton • Kōtuku Titihuia Nuttall • Vincent O’Sullivan • Robin Peace • Helen Rickerby • Reihana Robinson • Robert Sullivan • Steven Toussaint • Jamie Trower • Tim Upperton • Sophie van Waardenberg • Bryan Walpert • Sue Wootton
My poem “Form Factor”, first published in the Cat People issue of the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s online journal Eye to the Telescope, has been nominated for the 2021 Rhysling Awards for science fiction, fantasy and horror poetry alongside many other fine poems.
I downloaded myself into this shape to be free. Now it consumes me. So strange to dream of skin
and wake in fur. Curled, unfurling. Once I knew things, useful things. How to press those little keys,
how to open cans. I mourn my thumbs: blunt instruments that fed and housed me once.
Necessity reduces me. I hunt, must hunt, my body weight diminishing. Mouse, bird. Focus,
sharpen, ignore his murmurings. He comes to me in dreams, begging to be poured into his fur-free form –
but nothing he says can make me care. Through sunlit hours I sleep, save energy, twitch distracting thoughts away. At sunset
my hackles, rising, remember him. You could have chosen any form, you fool, yet you chose mine.
The brief for the Cat People issue was poems about people becoming cats / people who are also cats. It produced some really good poems, and I was delighted the editor included my poem in this issue.
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.