A Change in the Weather: The Climate Crisis in Poetry and Fiction

Dunningham Suite, Dunedin Public Library, Thursday 4 July, 5.30-7.30pm

Doors open 5.30pm for drinks, nibbles and conversation
Readings start 6pm
Audience Q&A starts 7pm
We close around 7.30pm

I’m reading with Dunedin writers Tunmise Adebowale, Kay McKenzie Cooke, Michelle Elvy, Mikaela Nyman, Jenny Powell and Richard Reeve

Please come along!Poster for "A Change in the Weather" event described in text of post

Book Review: “Five O’Clock Shadows” by Richard Langston

Front cover of Five O'Clock Shawdows, a poetry collection by Richard Langston

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.)

Southern Writers at Te Awe Brandon Library – 20 Oct 2020

From the Wellington City Library blog:

Image shows books by poets taking part in the Southern Writers event
20 October 2020
Te Awe Library – 29 Brandon Street
12.30pm to 2pm

Join the Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/2763822373868512/

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.

They are:

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.

Hop across to the Wellington City Library blog for further details of the poets and their latest books!

Images of authors taking part in the Southern Writers events

Wellington Essay: Close To The Edge

This article appeared in the Dominion Post’s Wellington Essay series in December 2007. It makes me think of summer.

Nothing stays the same on Mount Victoria. The pines through which I walk with my son weren’t here in 1930 and won’t be here in 2030. On one side of the Mount Victoria ridge, the Basin Reserve used to be a swamp. On the other, Miramar used to be an island. Film crews come and go. Mountain bikes race by. Tracks narrow or widen, appear or disappear.

But things stay the same long enough that I have been walking these tracks for more than twenty years, and I hope to walk them for many more years yet. When I still lived in Dunedin, I used to visit Wellington several times a year, and stay with a friend who lived in Hataitai. Young, fit, and skint, I chose to walk over the hill into town rather than take the bus. From the heights of Mount Victoria, I began to get a sense of how Wellington was put together.

In 1993, I moved to Wellington to be with Kay, who owned a house high on the slopes of Mount Victoria. I had been a tramper down south, taking off with friends during the Christmas holidays for a week of sandflies, speargrass, and sensational views in and around the Southern Alps. Despite my best intentions, I did not take up tramping again after I moved to Wellington; but I did get very familiar with the track network that runs from the coast at Oriental Bay, around the flanks of Mount Victoria, and south past Wellington Zoo towards Island Bay.

Our son was born in 1996. By the time he was eighteen months old, I was taking him with me to the lower slopes of Mount Victoria, next to the quarry at the top of Ellice Street. I’d carry him in my arms, then put him down carefully on a level section of track to watch him waddle in front of me until he either sat down with a well-cushioned bump or called for me to pick him up.

By the time he was four, we were venturing well off into the distance, even making it all the way to the Mount Victoria lookout on one memorable occasion. (Memorable, but tiring – I carried him much of the way back.) We came up with our own names for the tracks, like the Ball and Sport Track, so-called because a tennis ball placed at the top would roll straight down it, and sport is where you use balls. I think he came up with that one.

He attended Hataitai Kindergarten and then Kilbirnie School. When I was working from home, I’d drag myself away from my computer at 2.45pm and slog over the hill to get him, then we’d walk back at a more leisurely pace.

The view from above the pines of Mount Victoria

Changes followed us down the years. When we started, the forest airspace was ruled by magpies. Since then, they have been challenged and largely supplanted by the equally aggressive but much more lovable tui, colonists from Karori. We witnessed the unchecked proliferation of the mountain bike, and learned to listen hard when walking along narrow tracks with no easy stepping-off places for the sudden whir of wheels.

Our path to Kilbirnie School went up and to the right of the quarry at the top of Ellice Street which is now immortalised in both The Fellowship Of The Ring and The Return Of The King. Anorak time: in Fellowship, there’s a brief shot, taken from above, of the Black Riders approaching Weathertop. The ground they are crossing is the grassed quarry floor, with some added vegetation brought in for the filming.

More famously, in Return, the quarry is the setting for the muster of the Rohirrim before they ride off to the aid of Gondor. Elrond bears the sword Andúril to Aragorn there, and when Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli set off to walk the Paths of the Dead, they do so through a narrow chasm created in the back wall of the quarry by the magic of CGI.

By special permission, the film-makers were allowed to dig a trench in the quarry floor. My son and I looked at it, wondering what it was doing there and where it led. It was not until we watched Return that we learned it was the beginnings of a track the Riders of Rohan rode down on their way to Gondor.

A few days after the trench was dug, as we descended past the quarry on our way home from my son’s school, a friendly security guard let us stay and watch Théoden and Aragorn stare out from the quarry over the Muster of Rohan and decide that six thousand spears left them a mite short-handed.

Where is the horse and the rider? Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing? The trench the Riders rode down was filled in soon after filming finished, and only a careful eye can see the faint depression it has left in the restored earth of the quarry floor.

After the Ring left Mount Victoria, the next peak of excitement was the arrival of the Wood Weta. As part of its plan to revegetate the Town Belt with native plants, and to reduce danger from windfall, the City Council decided to cut down the mature pines that dominated the slopes above the old Chest Hospital where my mother-in-law had once been a nurse. The Wood Weta was brought in to deal with the twigs and small branches left behind when the chainsaws fell silent. My son and I sat at one end of Alexandra Park and watched the monster wood chipper chomp its way through the detritus at the other.

In the long term, all the pines will be gone, and native forest will once again cloak the flanks of Matairangi. On an intellectual level, I’m in complete agreement with this plan. But, if I live long enough to see the process complete, part of me will miss the pines. The soughing of the north-westerly through their branches, audible from our back deck on windy nights; the roots setting traps for the unwary walker; even the risk of having one’s head split open by a falling pinecone or a falling branch on windy days: I’ll miss them all. But if the native bush returns, and the pests are kept at bay, the birds will return also. Mount Victoria may never reproduce the wall of sound that is the dawn chorus on Kapiti, but the tui have whetted my appetite for more.

Nothing stays the same on Mount Victoria. The mountain itself will be dust one day. But while I can, I’ll keep on striding those narrow, root-riddled tracks, dodging the mountain bikes, listening to the tui, walking above the city and under the sun.

An Interview with Trevor Reeves

I have known Trevor Reeves for many years, firstly through our joint involvement in environmental activism and the Values Party during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and later through his work as a poet, publisher and editor of the literary magazine Southern Ocean Review, in which I had several poems and a couple of short stories published during the course of its 50 issues. When I heard that Trevor was bringing Southern Ocean Review to a close, I thought it would be a good time to talk with him for this blog.

Trevor, readers of this blog are most likely to know you for your recent poetry and as the editor of Southern Ocean Review. They may not have heard of Caveman Press and all the other things you’ve been involved with as a publisher, editor and writer. Can you tell us how you got started with writing, publishing and so forth, and what your major ventures have been?

Caveman Press started up in 1971 – I still don’t know why I chose the name, but it seemed to go down well. I was given an old Golding Disc Inker printing press (letter press) and proceeded to teach myself how to print books on it. The first was a book called “Skyhook” – poems by Lindsay Smith. He now lives in Australia and I am still in touch with him. He was quite an influence in my own writing and my books ‘Stones’ and ‘Apple Salt’ came later. Other books followed in close succession as sales in those days were good. Alan Loney set his own book then – now a collector’s item. The late Dennis List then Murray Edmond and two of Hone Tuwhare’s books; ‘Sapwood and Milk’ and ‘Something Nothing’ – also a new edition of his ‘Come Rain Hail’ came next. Later in the 1970’s, we branched into general books. They were books on architecture, politics, humour, health, etc. It was a busy time. We also did four issues of a literary magazine, ‘Cave’ which contained some overseas writers, including Charles Bukowski.

Since 1996 you’ve been the editor of Southern Ocean Review, which appeared with impressive regularity, four issues per year, right up to Issue 50 in January 2009. What led to your decision to make Issue 50 the final issue?

It’s done its dash and is a lot of work anyway. It was fun to do, of course and online a long time before any other magazines were. The print version started at #3 and carried on right until the end. That’s 47 separate issues; the largest being 84 pages but most around 64 pages. We asked for submissions from all around the world. However, we published plenty of NZ content, too. People got around to sending their best work too, which was pleasing. We had a policy, too that every work was illustrated – by Judith Wolfe, co-editor. All issues are still on line at www.book.co.nz and will be for some time yet. l have the print versions available for anyone who wants copies. The magazine survived without any subsidy or grants, which resulted in a bit of a struggle to keep it going, but we managed. One of the joys of the magazine for me was the reviews section. There were always plenty of books to a short review or notice for. We were privileged to get review copies from Auckland University Press and other well known publishers of poetry, stories and novels. Victoria University Press never came up with any despite being continually asked, but that’s the way it goes, I guess. My main task as I saw it was to give each book a good plug; realising that people have very different tastes.

I didn’t know that you wrote fiction until I reviewed your short story collection Breaker Breaker for JAAM magazine. Is writing fiction something you’ve been doing all along, or is it a comparatively recent development?

I have always been interested in short story writing. My earliest pieces were science fiction ones and I remember my first one being published in the centenary Otago University Review, in, I think it was, 1968. Short story writing was a rigid discipline for me – beginning/middle/end which was good for me and I enjoyed the constraints. Usually, I would dream up a plot and sit on it for quite some time; years, even. Then I would write it up in a couple of hours, usually. I sent them all around the world and they generally got a good reception, which was pleasing. Gathering them all together, I published them in the book; “Breaker Breaker”.

I like your poetry a lot. I was trying to think of a way of characterising it to someone who hasn’t read your work, and the best I could come up with was “experimental but accessible”: it’s not always straightforward, but it is always rewarding. Is that a fair or useful description? How would you describe your own poetry?

My first book was ‘Hibiscuits’ published in England in 1970. That contained some pretty traditional poems mainly about nature and domesticity. Next was “Stones” with Bill Mackay illustrating it. I became a fan of artworks illustrating poetry early on. In 1975 came ‘Apple Salt’ which started off with poems that were pretty traditional then I began experimenting, with ‘found poems’ etc. Then I stopped writing poems altogether to concentrate on commercial art, to try to earn a living etc, and also to research non-fiction books. Then, from 1993, I began to get some stories together and experiment further with poetry. I liked the idea of rhapsodic lines, no beginning middle or end, in a kind of ‘formlessness’ like random speech. With my poems I like to relate as much as I can to ordinary speech and ordinary situations etc.

Who or what – in terms of individual poets, groups of poets, or particular magazines – were the main influence on you when you started writing and publishing poetry? Have those influences changed over the years?

I followed and contributed to most magazines that emerged in the 1970’s. New Zealand influences for me were Tony Beyer, Dave Mitchell, R A K Mason, J K Baxter, Hone Tuwhare etc. I didn’t follow any ‘group’ as such but was involved in most of them. I think there are more poets than ever now, though sales of poetry books have dropped as people have been accessing the internet more. Certainly, publishing small volumes of poetry as I have done over the years doesn’t pay off now but I am pleased to have published the books of many, including Murray Edmond, the late Dennis List and Hone Tuwhare, the late James K Baxter, Alistair Paterson and many others.

Do you enjoy performing your own poetry, or listening to other poets performing theirs?

Yes, I do, or rather, I did. I did quite a lot of readings around the country in those days. Most enjoyable were in Auckland, with people like Dave Mitchell, Tony Beyer, Peter Olds and many others. I would love to have read overseas, but never got the chance.

It’s been 16 years now since I moved from Dunedin to Wellington – alarmingly long! – but from what I can make out, the Dunedin literary scene is quite lively at the moment. All the same, it seems to me that authors from the southern South Island – maybe from the whole South Island – don’t get as much attention as they deserve in the rest of the country. Do you agree, and what (if anything) could or should be done about it?

I have, and always have had, a wider outlook. And since the onset of the internet, places seem to have become even less relevant in terms of distance. The ‘Dunedin Scene’ has always been lively as has been most other centres. Writers in Auckland have always considered themselves more important of course but that’s just natural, being a bigger centre for writing. I don’t think anything can really ‘be done about it’ – I mean, what, and what for?

Finally, where to next for Trevor Reeves as a writer?

Who knows? I have written in just about every style there is, except a novel and I’m in no hurry to do that. I am back on to the poems now, with my ‘sequences’. I published a book of those, called ‘Hand in Hand’ – which was a collaboration with Judith Wolfe, artist. Before that there were other collaborations with Judith Wolfe, but with non-fiction books. “An Abuse of Power” was the first one, about the building of the Clyde dam. The second was ‘In the Grip of Evil’ – our investigation into the Bain murders – illustrated. This drew threats of a legal action against us but nothing happened. Something may happen in the future, who knows… The next book was ‘Nazi Holocaust’ a cartoon book of the holocaust, in Nazi Germany. This was a harrowing book to do and took a lot of research. Lately, I’ve been on to 6-word ‘American Haikus’. These are strung out in sequences of eight stanzas. These take a while to do, but are nice as it makes me think of the principle of the aphorism and has strict rules. I am not editing anything any more; nor publishing the works of others, either. I have done my share of journalism, editing ‘free’ papers and writing for them, so no more of that.