Tuesday Poem: Queens Of Silk, Kings Of Velour

Queens of Silk, Kings Of Velour

A 70s party: disco, afros, flares and Abba.
I’m dancing with the women,
talking with the men.

Three songs up, strutting my stuff,
the only male dancer, bathed
in unprecedented female attention.

Three songs down, back on the sofa,
our gang of four likely lads
trading facts about the history of punk.

On the floor, I’m surrounded
by silk, smiles, the sensational

On the sofa, we’ve moved on to Yes.
I sing the chorus of “Close to the Edge”
with a man I don’t even know.

This is what it means to be a man: not
the All Blacks, not power tools,
not fighting foreign wars,

but the ability to name
all the members and ex-members
of obscure seventies bands.

“Dance To The Music,” Sly says,
and so I must obey.
But not without a caveat:

“Is this actually from the seventies?”
asks a couch-bound friend.
“From 1968,” I say. “Let’s dance!”

Tim says: This poem has just been published in JAAM 28: Dance Dance Dance, the 2010 issue of JAAM Magazine, edited by Clare Needham and Helen Rickerby.

JAAM 28 has a lovely cover and, from what I’ve read so far, is an excellent issue. It’s definitely worth asking JAAM for the next dance.

You can find all the Tuesday Poems online at the Tuesday Poem blog.

Tuesday Poem: Impertinent To Sailors

Curved over islands, the world
dragged me south in a talkative year

slipping Southampton
as the band played a distant farewell.

It was better than steerage,
that assisted passage: ten pound Poms

at sixpence the dozen, promenading
in sun frocks, gathering for quoits,

angling, in an understated way,
for a seat at the Captain’s table —

while I, a child, roamed decks, became
impertinent to sailors.

And the heat! My dear, there never were
such days — rum, romance,

the rudiments of ska. Panama beckoned,
locks pulsing like the birth canal.

We passed through, to be rocked
on the swells of the quiet ocean,

its long unshaded days
of trade winds, doldrums, Equator —

then a cold shore,
a bureaucratic harbour,

and the half of a world
it would take to say goodbye.

“Impertinent To Sailors” was published in JAAM 27 (2009), edited by Ingrid Horrocks, under the title “Over Islands”. I plan to include it in my forthcoming collection “Men Briefly Explained”.

Check out all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem Blog – including the poem by Kerry Popplewell I’ve selected as this week’s “hub” Tuesday Poem.

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.

Five More Good Things: Website, Video, Book, Blog, and Fanzine

It’s only a week since I did my most recent post of congratulations and good news, and there are already more good things to report.

Several of them have some relationship to JAAM, the annual literary magazine based in Wellington. I guest-edited Issue 26 of JAAM in 2008, and since it appeared, I have enjoyed seeing various writers who featured in the issue – as well as some who didn’t – achieve greater prominence. I was also pleased that the issue sold well enough to be reprinted – copies are still available in at least some of the bookshops which stock JAAM.

The Website: The first notable achievement belongs to JAAM itself. In the past, information about JAAM could be found at various places online, and the information wasn’t always consistent from site to site. Now, JAAM publisher Helen Rickerby has created a comprehensive JAAM website, where you can find out about past, present and planned future issues.

The Video: The aforementioned Helen Rickerby is a woman of many talents, among them poet, publisher and blogger. Now she’s a video poet as well. Check out the video she made to accompany her poem Calling You Home – and her explanation of how she made it.

The Book: Michele Powles, whose story “A Body of Land” appeared in JAAM 26, has a new novel out which has been getting good reviews: Weathered Bones. It has Wellington, weather, lighthouses and ghosts. It sounds like my sort of book.

The Blog: Ross Brighton has a blog focusing on experimental poetry and language poetry. Those aren’t things I know much about, so I intend to keep an eye on Ross’s blog and learn.

The Fanzine: After high school, my next ventures into writing and publishing were as the editor of a science fiction fanzine, TIMBRE. (You can find a couple of pieces from TIMBRE in the Articles section of my website.) I’m now somewhat out of touch with SF fandom and fanzines, but I have recently been enjoying a great example of the form, issue 10 of Steam Engine Time, edited by Janine Stinson and Bruce Gillespie.

Bruce has made it his life’s mission to produce what are called fanzines, but are really literary magazines focusing on science fiction, with detailed, well-informed articles about science fiction writers, science fiction books, and the history of science fiction and science fiction fandom. The eFanzines.com site is a good place to begin to find out about great sf fanzines edited by Bruce, and by many others.

Don’t let the word “fanzine” put you off; it’s just a word. Go in with an open mind and prepare to find treasure.

Borges in Spain, Extreme Weather Events, Interviews, JAAM 27, and Summer Flings

Borges in Spain

My brief review of Jorge Luis Borges’ Selected Poems has been reprinted in the Spanish/English online literary magazine Yareah.com, in their fifth issue, which focuses on the intriguing and apt combination of Borges and the Kabbalah.

This is the third issue of Yareah I have seen, and they are always interesting. Yareah is keen for more contributors, and if you do contribute, you get a rather nice online profile on their site – so, if you are intrigued, check them out.

Extreme Weather Events Reviewed

Mike Crowl has posted a review of my first short fiction collection, Extreme Weather Events, on his blog. Mike chose EWE as the book to take with him on a recent visit to hospital – as you’ll see from his blog post, I did suggest that EWE wasn’t the ideal post-op book, being quite dark and all, but he got a fair bit out of it all the same.

Author Interviews: 2008 revisited, and my first interview for 2009

Within the next week or so, I’ll be posting an interview with New Zealand author Sue Emms on my blog. I will be aiming to run roughly one per month this year, assuming enough willing victims fall into my net. In case you haven’t seen them, or are feeling nostalgic, I ran interviews in 2008 with the following authors:

Helen Lowe
Harvey Molloy
Helen Rickerby
Jeanne Bernhardt
Tania Hershman
Lee and Nogi Aholima

JAAM 27 Reminder

A wee reminder that submissions for Issue 27 of JAAM magazine, edited by Ingrid Horrocks, close at the end of March.

Things I’ve Been Enjoying Lately

A carefree late-summer selection …

Updated: JAAM 26 is printed / Otago Daily Times review of Transported

Two bits of news: first, issue 26 of JAAM magazine, which I guest-edited, has now been printed. Sorry for the delay, folks! Contributors’ copies will be sent out during the next week or so. I may be biased, but I think it’s full of great stories and excellent poetry, some by writers already well-known, some by writers you will be hearing a lot more of in coming years.

It’s an excellent idea to subscribe to JAAM, but you can also pick up copies of the magazine at the following bookshops, which have standing orders (list kindly supplied by Helen Rickerby):

* Parsons Bookshop in Auckland (26 Wellesley Street East)
* Time Out Bookshop, Auckland (432 Mt Eden Road)
* Unity Books, Auckland (19 High Street)
* University Bookshop, Auckland
* Women’s Bookshop, Auckland (105 Ponsonby Road)
* Unity Books, Wellington (57 Willis Street)
* Victoria University Bookshop, Wellington
* University Book Shop Canterbury, Christchurch
* University Book Shop Otago (378 Great King Street)

Here’s the cover, based around a painting by Reihana Robinson:

I love that painting!

In JAAM 26:

  • Poems by Amy Brown, Anna Rugis, Anne Harre, Barbara Strang, Barry Southam, David Gregory, Davide Trame, Dean Ballinger, Elizabeth Smither, Emma Barnes, Eric Dodson, Fionnaigh McKenzie, Garry Forrester, Harvey Molloy, Helen Heath, Helen Lowe, Iain Britton, Janis Freegard, Jennifer Compton, Jenny Powell, Jessica Le Bas, Jo Thorpe, John O’Connor, Keith Lyons, Keith Westwater, Kerry Popplewell, L E Scott, Laurice Gilbert, Mark Pirie, Mary Cresswell, Miriam Barr, Rhian Gallagher, Robert James Berry, Robert McLean, Robin Fry, Sue Reidy, Sugu Pillay, Theresa Fa’aumu and Trevor Reeves.
  • Short stories by Beryl Fletcher, Ciaran Fox, Darian Smith, Eden Carter Wood, Esther Deans, Helen Lowe, Jeanne Bernhardt, Lyn McConchie, Michael Botur, Michele Powles, Renee Liang, Suzanne Hardy and Tracie McBride.
  • An essay by L E Scott.

The second bit of news is that Mike Crowl’s review of Transported has now appeared in the Otago Daily Times. Thanks, Mike!

An Interview with Helen Lowe

Helen Lowe is a New Zealand poet and novelist. Her first young adult novel, Thornspell, has just been published by Knopf in the USA, and she has a further YA novel and a four-book series of adult fantasy novels accepted for publication in the US. I talked to Helen by email about her writing, her forthcoming books, and the process of getting published in the US.

First of all, congratulations on the publication of Thornspell. What can you tell me about the book, and where can interested readers find out more information, and copies to buy?

Thornspell is a Children’s/YA Fantasy fiction and at the most simplistic level it’s a fairytale retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story – but that’s where the resemblance to the traditional story pretty much ends, because Thornspell is all about the prince. In fact, that’s where the story started for me –with the question (while at the ballet, Sleeping Beauty): “What about the prince?” Other questions quickly followed: ‘What sort of person would he be?’; “Why would he even be bothered about some sleeping bint and an 100 year old spell?” And I had this mental ‘flash’ to a boy, around about eleven at that time, growing up in a small castle next to a mysterious and forbidden wood – and to his name, which was Sigismund and instantly linked me—and I hope the reader—into a world that is very ‘Holy Roman Empire’ in feel. But very soon after “what about the prince”, a second set of questions arose: “What about the evil fairy? Would she have just been sitting around happily accepting that her death spell had been converted into the one hundred year sleep?” (I didn’t think so, not if she was really wicked.) “And what was her real agenda?” Those two sets of questions were the beginning of Thornspell and the rest evolved from there and very much in the style of the Fantasy fiction I like, which is plenty of adventure, plenty of mystery and plenty of magic.

In terms of more information, I have an “official” website, http://www.thornspell.info, where visitors can read a synopsis and the first chapter of the book (or download it in pdf format). I have also taken the images from the cover and made them all (double)”clickable”, taking the site visitor to a quote that is relevant to that character or image. The Thornspell site also links (through “About Helen Lowe”) to http://www.helenlowe.info, which contains information about my other books as well as my short fiction and poetry.

RandomHouse USA have arranged for the distribution of Thornspell in Australia and NZ and it should be available in bookshops here from early October – Madras Café Bookshop here in Christchurch already have it featured on their electronic catalogue.

You’re following up Thornspell with an adult fantasy series – four books. How far through writing these are you, and is everything that remains to be written carefully mapped out?

Actually, I’m following Thornspell with another Children’s /YA fantasy, working title YRTH, and have just finished the first draft. Like Thornspell, YRTH is a standalone book but it is not a sequel—it is a new story set in a completely different world. The broad synopsis is at http://www.helenlowe.info/yrth.html.

But I will have to get into THE WALL OF NIGHT (WALL), the 4 book adult series, as soon as YRTH is done. I have written the first book in the series (titled WALL, too) and am about a third of the way through the second book—but because it is a series I did a detailed outline to show potential publishers that I knew how the story would play out. I think the writing will pretty much follow that story arc, but I am also quite an organic writer so things may change as I go along—they have with both Thornspell and YRTH—although I always seem to start and finish as originally envisaged.

Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about the setting and storyline of that series?

At face value, I would describe WALL as classic epic fantasy—with forces of good and evil, action and alarms, swordplay and sorcery, set in the alternate fantasy world of Haarth and on the bleak and wind blasted Wall of Night itself. But within that framework, WALL examines the themes of good versus evil in the context of a society that believes it champions good and yet is divided by prejudice, suspicion and fear. It also explores the consequences of the cataclysmic arrival of two alien and warring cultures on another world, both in physical and cultural terms. The central purpose of the overall story, as told through the four books, is to force the protagonists to examine their understanding of the nature of good and evil, both in their own society as well as that of their enemy. Given this, you won’t be surprised if I tell you that it is as much character as plot driven—although I think that this kind of story needs a strong plot structure—and also explores a number of different landscapes and cultures as part of the story setting. My favourite, beside the Wall itself? Possibly the city state of Ij—but then there’s also the Emerian knights . . . Oh yes, and there’s a great map as well (drawn up from the hieroglyphics I fondly refer to as “drawing”) by my friend Peter Fitzpatrick, which can be seen (although only in small scale at this stage) on the Wall of Night page at http://www.helenlowe.info/wallofnight.html

I first came across your work when editing JAAM 26, and I was struck by the expert use of classical themes in both your fiction and your poetry. It’s clearly a period you have a deep knowledge of. Where did this interest start, and does it underpin all your writing?

It began when I was 8 years old and my teacher had a poster of the 12 Olympian gods up on her classroom wall. I loved that poster and it inspired me to read every book I could find on the Greek myths and legends, including junior versions of the Iliad and Odyssey (I read the real thing later, but I was only little back then!). From there I progressed to Norse, Celtic and Egyptian myths, folktales and legends, amongst others—but also to the history of the ancient Greek era, including both the archaic and 5th century BC periods, and of course, Alexander the Great. I’ve also read a fair bit about the Roman Empire at different periods, but the Greek era, including its literature and philosophy is my first love. The stories and poetry just come out of that, and so—I suspect—does the Fantasy fiction.

Who are your favourite writers, both novelists and poets?

Ah, the pressure of the favourites! There are so many! But books I have loved, besides all those collections of myths and legends . . . well, I first read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe about that time, as well, and I really loved it. The Lord of the Rings (of course) and Dune was also formative about the same time (my early teens). I’ve always loved Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy and also The Left Hand of Darkness and sticking with SciFi-fantasy, I also rate Patricia McKillip’s Riddle Master of Hed trilogy and CJ Cherryh’s Downbelow Station. (And, and … McKinley, Pullman, Wynne Jones, Pierce, George RR Martin, Erikson . . . and . . . )

I have just realised that you said “novelists” and not “books” but I’ll stick with the books for the moment: Mary Renault’s 5th century BC Athenian “trilogy” (The Praise Singer / The Last of the Wine/ The Mask of Apollo) and Gillian Bradshaw’s “The Beacon at Alexandria” (amongst her others). And I always have to include Pride & Prejudice, Aldous Huxley’s Eyeless in Gaza and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. In terms of NZ writers, I read Witi Ihimaera (Whanau) when I was living overseas and it was the first time I had ever read a NZ novel where I thought, yes, I’m home . . . I also like Patricia Grace and Fiona Farrell and I loved The Bone People . . . and yes (defiantly) I rate Mansfield: I still think Miss Brill might be my personal ‘best ever’ short story. Having said that, I couldn’t put Charlotte Grimshaw’s Opportunity collection down either.

But I think I’ve really run out of room for poets—because the list is pretty much as long again!

I suppose the question every writer will want me to ask is: how did you go about getting a US agent?

I used the web, by looking at writers I thought had written books of like kind to Thornspell, eg YA Fantasy, fairy tale retellings etc and tried to find out who their agents were—and several of the arrows (eg Pullman, Paolini, McKinley, Lisle) led me to Writers House in NY. After that I just followed the guidelines in their FAQ to the letter, eg inquiry letter & synopsis first, then first 3 chapters on request, then full manuscript etc. I also addressed my letter to 1 person (rather than sending to all the agents at once as I understand some writers do) which I found out later was a “good thing” as Writers House do circulate the queries around the different agents and their assistants anyway. As it happened, I wrote to the “wrong” person, in that this was an agent who represented YA, but not Fantasy, but her assistant screened to first 3 chapters level and then circulated to another agent (Robin) who did look after Fantasy. And first Beth, Robin’s assistant, and then Robin herself, liked Thornspell straight off, so I guess I was lucky in that respect.

You are in the unusual position (at least among writers of my acquaintance) of being contracted four books ahead of the book that’s about to be released. Does that free you from a lot of the pressure felt by writers who need a success with their current book to make sure the next one gets published, or does it create its own pressures?

I think it creates its own pressures, because for the first time I am writing to external deadlines, and I am a bit of a perfectionist so I want to get the story ‘right’ to my satisfaction before putting it “out there” … but it is nice to have the contracts there. But I also think that it’s important to remember that WALL is a 4 book series, and not 4 standalones, so it is logical that the publisher would want to contract all 4 ahead and protect their investment in the first book, since they are taking on the upfront work of bringing out a new author.

Will you be hitting the science fiction convention circuit to promote your books? If so, can we hope to see you as a guest at forthcoming New Zealand conventions?

Well, I have joined SFFANZ and it would be fun to get along to their next convention in any case, as well as being very keen to do all that I can to promote my books. And I understand that Worldcon will be in Melbourne in a few years and that is not so very far away distance-wise, but as with all these things it comes down to timing (re events and promotions) and available funds at the time. But I would love to ‘be there’ whenever I can. As for attending as a guest, well, first I would have to be invited (!) 🙂

A tough one to end on: if you had to choose three words to describe your writing, what would they be?

Hmm, that is tough … three words … (ok, I borrow from my initial reviews): authentic, rich, human.

The MA in Creative Writing: The Controversy Resumes

The Victoria University MA in Creative Writing is an object of desire (for those thinking of applying), hope (for those who have applied), envy, and controversy. It plays such a large part in the New Zealand literary scene, especially in Wellington, that it would be most surprising if this were not the case.

My own feelings about the MA (now joined by a PhD in Creative Writing) are mixed. For the record, I have neither taken, nor applied for, the MA. I have taken two undergraduate creative writing courses at Victoria: a Writing Short Fiction course taught by Robert Onopa in 2000, during which I wrote the first draft of “The Wadestown Shore”, one of the stories in Transported; and the Writing the Landscape course taught by Dinah Hawken, in 2003.

Both courses were valuable, but I have particularly fond memories of Writing the Landscape and of Dinah’s tutelage. About 1/3 of the poems in All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens were written for, or during, that course, and it sparked my most productive period as a poet. (I’m down to about three poems a year now!) So, on the basis of my own experience, I have no reason to think that the MA, being longer, wouldn’t be even better.

The two complaints most commonly made about the Victoria MA (and creative writing MA/MFA programmes in general) is that they lead to work that is written for an audience of one — the assessor — or several — the classmates; and that the products of the course are too homogeneous. The second, if true, may well be an outcome of the first.

I’m aware that many fine books (such as Mary McCallum’s The Blue and Johanna Aitchison’s A Long Girl Ago) have come out of the Victoria MA. In my experience, the books produced are surprisingly diverse. So I’m not too bothered about those issues.

My concern is more about the market power of the Victoria MA and other such courses. Quite apart from the benefits to the participants’ writing, there appears to be a clear commercial benefit to graduating from the Victoria MA. Graduates’ work is more likely to be published in such literary journals as Sport, more likely to be published in book form, more likely to attract Creative New Zealand funding, and more likely to gain literary awards.

Viewed one way, that’s a fair reward from the amount of effort and stress people have to go through to to be accepted for the course, let alone complete it; but from my viewpoint, in such a small literary market as New Zealand, the Victoria MA exerts an undue dominance. The published books of MA graduates are, in my experience, never poor, and often excellent; but what other voices might be heard, what other books might be published and promoted, if the MA did not loom so large?

These musings were sparked off by this post by Joanna Preston on the vexed subject of creative writing courses (and here’s a contrasting viewpoint about the role of the workshop instructor). What do you think? Is the Victoria MA in Creative Writing good, bad, or indifferent for New Zealand writers and New Zealand literature?

Mark Pirie’s New Poetry Journal broadsheet Makes Its Debut

broadsheet 1: New New Zealand Poetry

(May 2008)

Published by The Night Press, Wellington. Available from: The Editor, 97/43 Mulgrave Street, Thorndon, Wellington 6011. Subscriptions $12.00 for 2 issues.

Mark Pirie initiated, and was one of the founders and co-editors of, JAAM Magazine, and is a prolific poet and anthologist. Now he’s embarked on a new venture: a new poetry magazine called broadsheet (no relation to the famous New Zealand feminist magazine).

broadsheet #1 consists of a series of poems which were, in fact, originally intended, and in some cases issued, as broadsheets: double-sided sheets each containing two poems by the same author. Bookshops found these difficult to stock, however, so Mark has taken the broadsheets, plus some further poems, and combined them into a magazine.

Sadly, broadsheet stands as a memorial volume to two of its contributors, Victor O’Leary and Meg Campbell. The other poets included are shown on the cover.

My favourites from this issue: Tony Beyer’s “Ode”, with its superb last stanza which is both a masterpiece of economy, and expresses a sentiment with which I thoroughly agree; Alistair Te Ariki Campbell’s two poems – I still don’t believe his poetry has received as wide recognition as it deserves; Evelyn Conlon’s “For Yana”; Basim Furat’s “The Buraq Arrives in Hiroshima”; and Michael O’Leary’s “Sonnet for Victor O’Leary”. But to single these out is not to denigrate the other poems: there was no poem in this issue that I did not enjoy.

broadsheet isn’t open to submissions at this stage (which didn’t actually stop me from submitting, but hey, I didn’t know the rules then!). Poems for inclusion are solicited by the editor. If Issue 1 is anything to go by, future issues of broadsheet will be well worth reading.

JAAM 26: Editing Progress Report

I’m editing Issue 26 of JAAM Magazine. Submissions closed at the end of March, and I’m starting to get some enquiries about how far through the editing process I’ve got – so here’s a progress report.

I’m currently going through all the submissions, listing those I’d like to include in JAAM 26. When I’ve finished doing this, then it’s a matter of comparing what I’d like to include with the space available, and then matching the two – a process which is going to involve me making some difficult decisions, as there have been many high quality submissions to this issue, and I’m not going to be able to include them all.

I estimate that it will take me another two weeks to finish reading through all the submissions, and a further week to work out what I can fit within the number of pages available. Therefore, at the end of May, I expect that I will be able to start notifying everyone who has submitted whether or not their submission(s) have been included. There have been a lot of submitters, so that process will take a little while – though I’ll make it as quick as I can.

After that, it will be a matter of arranging the contents into a coherent and interesting order, and giving the publisher everything needed to finalise the issue.

I hope this update helps soothe any frazzled nerves. Some wonderful work has been submitted, and I think this is going to be a very good issue of JAAM.