Transformative Works: a poem for Level 3

This is the daily shipping news. Jashley,
Ashinda: behind them, the promise
of transformative works, the old Ministry
reassembling from neoliberal dust.

The old and the new scramble
for debt-free gold at the rainbow’s end,
the schemers of irrigation schemes
circling the circular economy.

Tunnel borers sharpen iron teeth.
Laws join the bonfire of regulations.
“What’ll it be, New Zealand –
the money or the body bags?”

NZ Poetry Day: Zoetropes, by Bill Manhire

Zoetropes

A starting. Words which begin
with Z alarm the heart:
the eye cuts down at once

then drifts across the page
to other disappointments.

*

Zenana: the women’s
      apartments
in Indian or Persian houses.
Zero is nought, nothing,

nil – the quiet starting point
of any scale of measurement.

*

The land itself is only
smoke at anchor, drifting above
Antarctica’s white flower,

tied by a thin red line
(5000 miles) to Valparaiso.

London 29.4.81

Reproduced by kind permission of the author, Bill Manhire.

Tim says: This poem captures better than any other I know both the sense of isolation which so many New Zealanders feel, and the sudden, irrational pride in reading any mention of our little country, no matter how trivial or fleeting, in the world’s media. Here we are, floating somewhere between Chile and Antarctica, hoping someone will notice us…

Bill Manhire is one of New Zealand’s best-known poets. “Zoetropes” was published as the title poem of Zoetropes: Poems 1972-82, and republished in Collected Poems (2001), available in New Zealand and internationally from Victoria University Press, and in the UK from Carcanet.

Should New Zealand Have Its Own Section On The Poetry International Web?

I’ve been looking through this week’s Tuesday Poems, and thinking about poems – mine and others’ – I plan to post on forthcoming Tuesdays.

While doing this, I visited the Poetry International Web. Poetry International is a significant organisation: it organises the annual Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam, and it maintains a website with many poems, articles, videos and news.

The website is organised into national sections, each overseen by a national editor, each with its own wealth of material. Australia has a national section; so does Zimbabwe – a particularly impressive one – and Lithuania, and Croatia.

But there is no national section for Aotearoa/New Zealand, presumably because we don’t have a national editor. I think that’s a pity. So I’m wondering, would it be good if we did have a national section, and if so, how could this be brought about?

The Poetry International FAQ includes a list of the requirements for a national editor, and they are not insignificant. But is there anyone out there who meets those criteria and would be willing to take on the job?

Voyagers: Here At Last

I was going to do a much longer and more complicated blog post tonight, but I’m too tired. So instead, this is just to say that I have a copy of Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand sitting right here besides me, and that feels good!

Mark Pirie and I started on this project in 2004, when we called for submissions for our planned anthology of New Zealand science fiction poetry. While submissions were coming in, we went off and deepened our knowledge of New Zealand poetry by looking for previously-published SF poems. (Well, I deepened my knowledge – Mark’s was pretty deep already.)

By mid-2005, we had the first version of the manuscript pretty much sorted out. As I’ve previously recounted, finding a publisher proved to be difficult, and we were very pleased when Interactive Publications of Brisbane took the project on in 2008. We couldn’t include all the poems we wished, but those we have included look rather good to me. You can find sample poems from the book, by David Gregory, Meg Campbell and Mary Cresswell, at the Voyagers mini-site (bottom right of that page).

Mark and I will be sending out contributors’ and review copies over the next couple of weeks. There will be a New Zealand launch for Voyagers in July, but if you’d like to get a copy while it’s fresh off the presses, you can buy it from Amazon.com as a paperback or Kindle e-book (search for “Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry”), or from Fishpond in New Zealand. You can also find out more about Voyagers, and buy it directly from the publisher, at the Voyagers mini-site.

Diary of a New Zealand Cricket Fan

12 November 2008: New Zealand Cricket announce that, due to scheduling conflicts, the previously-announced international cricket tours by the West Indies and India in Summer 2008/09 will not proceed. They are to be replaced respectively by the Turks and Caicos Islands and Bhutan.

14 November 2008: New Zealand Cricket announces that, following detailed research on weather patterns which shows that the east of the country had the best weather leading up to Christmas, all pre-Christmas international matches will be scheduled in the Chatham Islands, 750 km to the east of mainland New Zealand, and all post-Christmas matches at Milford Sound.

22 November 2008
: Diarist takes son out for first cricket practice of the year. They work on batting, bowling, and retrieving ball from small, angry dog.

2 December 2008
: New Zealand cricket announces creation of a full-time motivational speaker position as part of Black Caps infrastructure, to join psychologist, phrenologist, psephologist, garbologist, and escapologist. Batting coach position remains vacant.

6 December 2008
: Tony Robbins, well known for his late-night infomercials, appointed to NZ Cricket motivational speaker position.

7 December 2008: Turks and Caicos Islands arrive for pre-Christmas tour.

9 December 2008: Announcement in Goa that, in additional to the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the Indian Cricket League (ICL), a Goa Outstation League (GOL), featuring eight teams of domestic and international players, will be formed to contest a Twenty20 competition beginning in 2009. GOL immediately begins recruiting New Zealand test players, ex-players and fringe players not already signed up to the IPL and ICL.

10 December 2008: Unnamed New Zealand U-19 player accidentally signs to IPL, ICL and GOL on same day. Lawyers briefed.

11 December 2008: First Test between New Zealand and Turks and Caicos begins in Waitangi, Chatham Islands. Rain stops play after 3 balls.

15 December 2008: Test ends in draw. Scoreboard: NZ 0/0 (0.3 overs)

18-22 December 2008: Second Test also ends in draw. Scoreboard: Turks and Caicos 0/0 (0.2 overs). “We can take a lot of positives from this series”, says New Zealand coach Tony Robbins.

Late December, early January: Christmas, one day matches, etc. Diarist takes son out for second cricket practice. They work on cutting grass, mowing pitch, and remedies for heat exhaustion.

8 January 2009: Kevin Pietersen resigns, and Peter Moores is sacked, as England cricket captain and coach, due to musical and personal differences.

8 January 2009 (p.m.): Diarist woken by surprise phone call from a “Colonel Mustard” of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), sounding out diarist’s availability to take over as England cricket coach. Caller explains that he is investigating option of appointing Grimsby-born one-test England veteran Darren Pattinson as the new England captain, and that as both Darren Pattinson and your diarist were born in Grimsby, diarist was therefore logical choice as coach. Diarist says that he will think about it.

8 January 2009 (p.m., later, after restorative brandy)
: Diarist makes return call to ECB to decline coaching job, instead recommending Arjuna Ranatunga as coach and Douglas Jardine as captain.

9 January 2009
: Unnamed source within ECB leaks details of late-night call offering coaching position. Diarist described as “tired and emotional” in English cricketing media. Lawyers briefed.

16 January 2009
: In cascade of developments, Tony Robbins appointed as new England cricket coach, John Major as captain, and George W. Bush as motivational speaker. In simultaneous announcement, residency requirements relaxed so that Kevin Pietersen can be appointed as New Zealand cricket captain and Peter Moores as New Zealand coach.

22 January 2009
: Bhutan arrives for three-test, one Twenty20 International (T20I), seventeen One-Day International tour. Coincidentally, formation of new Bhutan Royal League (BRL) announced at special meeting of New Zealand Cricket Players’ Association.

25 January 2009
: Diarist takes son out for third cricket practice, aiming to teach son to play cut shot. Diarist then bowls series of leg-side long-hops which are deposited by son into gorse bush, storm drain, nearby supermarket carpark, etc. Diarist eventually convinces son to take guard two feet outside leg stump, and completes session on satisfactory note by bowling son with knee-high full toss. Diarist reaffirms that he will buy pads for son before next cricket season.

Feb, March 2009
: First two tests against Bhutan, entire ODI series, and only T20I rained out without a ball being bowled.

3 April 2009
: Third and deciding NZ-Bhutan test begins on time at Milford Sound during unexpected summer. New Zealand win toss and opt to bowl.

7 April 2009: Third and deciding NZ-Bhutan test ends in thrilling fashion. Set 27 to win, NZ reach 25 without incident before succumbing to fast, hostile inswinging yorkers from Bhutanese pace bowler W Younis (no relation). Bhutan celebrate one-run victory. “We can take a lot of positives from the first 25 runs,” says Moores.

8 April 2009
: Diarist sounded out for motivational speaker position with Bhutanese side.

Good Times, Bad Times

I had a good time at the launch of Before the Sirocco, the 2008 New Zealand Poetry Society anthology, which includes the winning poems (in open and two junior categories) from the NZPS 2008 International Poetry Competition. A packed and appreciative audience at Turnbull House heard poets from all over the country read poems included in the anthology. There was a sizeable Christchurch contingent, and I had the pleasure of meeting Joanna Preston for the first time, and Helen Lowe for what turns out to have been the second time.

Then I went home and had a less good time watching the results of the 2006 [err, make that 2008] New Zealand General Election come rolling across the screen. The outcome was a conclusive win for the right, with a National-ACT-United Future coalition government set to be installed within the next few days. My biggest fear about this is that the modest – very modest – gains which have been made in climate change policy under the previous Labour government will be rolled back, and in particular, that King Coal will be enthroned as the “answer” to New Zealand’s energy needs. It’s going to take a big effort ot prevent that outcome.

To finish on a positive, though, I’m writing this while watching the concluding minutes of a very exciting Fifa Under-17 Women’s World Cup football (soccer) quarterfinal between Japan and England – currently locked at 2:2*. Having watched and enjoyed the semi-final and final of the recent senior Women’s World Cup, I expected to enjoy these games, but they have even better than I expected: full of skill, commitment, excitement and some wonderful goals, and almost completely free of the cynicism, cheating, time-wasting and boorishness that so often mars the men’s game.

New Zealand’s Young Football Ferns were very unlucky not to progress from the group stages of the tournament into the quarterfinals. A lack of polish in front of goal meant that they lost their first two matches 0-1 and 1-2, but in their final game, against South American champions Colombia, they more than made up with it with a 3-1 victory. You can see NZ striker Rosie White’s hat-trick here, uploaded by an enamoured fan.

The game was played in absolutely atrocious conditions: a howling northerly gale and driving rain. Being there and seeing the game live felt like a badge of honour. I’m delighted I went, and now looking forward to seeing how many of the same players perform in the Under-20 Women’s World Cup in Chile in a few weeks’ time.

The semi-finals and final of the Under-17 Women’s World Cup are still to come (semifinals Thursday 13/11 in Christchurch at QEII Park, final and 3rd/4th playoff Sunday 16th in Auckland at North Harbour Stadium). If you get the chance to go along to these games, do take it!

*England won in a penalty shootout – another thing that doesn’t happen in the men’s game!

Fifty Yards from Middle Earth

A flashback to 2000, and the filming of The Lord of the Rings in Wellington …

I first beheld Arwen Undómiel at the test cricket. It wasn’t quite the depths of Mordor, but the weather in March 2000 would have done justice to the dead marshes at Sauron’s gates. A thin cold air was blowing across the Basin Reserve, the main cricket ground in Wellington, New Zealand, the city where Peter Jackson was busy filming the three books that make up The Lord of the Rings.

It was New Zealand versus Australia in the test, and New Zealand was in trouble. I took my seat at the northern end, well rugged up and prepared for disappointment, and settled back to watch the play. After a few minutes, I noticed a steady stream of young girls making their way to a cloaked figure seated a few rows below me and asking her for autographs. “Do you know who that is?” I asked the man sitting nearest to me. “We’ve been wondering the same thing ourselves,” he replied. “We think it might be Anna Paquin.”

But I wasn’t convinced. Anna Paquin, Wellington-born star of The Piano, X-Men etc., was living in the US if my mental showbiz map was up to date. “I think it might be Liv Tyler,” I whispered back. For once, I was right. Accompanied by her British boyfriend, and Bernard Hill who plays Theoden, the woman who would give up her immortality to marry Aragorn was spending an afternoon at the cricket.

She picked a good day for it, too, despite the weather: after the usual clatter of New Zealand wickets, Chris Cairns, he of the flowing locks and mighty thews, smote the Australian bowling hither and yon on his way to a rapid century. It made no difference to the result, but even in bitter defeat the memories were glorious.

By the time I left the ground, Arwen Evenstar and her party had already departed, leaving behind only empty chip pottles, Coke cans, and blessed memories of Elvenhome.

I live five minutes’ walk from the Basin Reserve, so I probably have more opportunities to watch cricket than Liv Tyler does. More to the point, it’s a 50-yard walk from our house in Ellice St to the Wellington Town Belt, where several scenes in The Lord of the Rings were filmed.

The Town Belt is a narrow but quite convincing strip of forest clinging to either side of the long ridge that slopes down from Mt Victoria to the north, and runs all the way to the southern coast at Island Bay. Some of the forest is regenerating New Zealand bush, some is introduced pine forest planted in the mid-20th century. It is gloomy beneath the pines, and when the wind blows the treetops whisper together of ancient wrongs. Something has made tracks, but they start and stop unexpectedly, and it takes a steady head and a stout heart to follow their many twists and turns without becoming hopelessly lost.

Even better, there’s a quarry above the top of Ellice St. Not a Blake’s 7-style gravel pit, but a real hard rock quarry, abandoned about the same time the trees were planted, with towering walls clad here in twisted bramble, there in flowering creeper, and trees overhanging the top and sides. What with the forest, the quarry, and some judicious post-production, you could film a movie up there, and Peter Jackson was faced with filming three movies back to back.

Jackson, the Wellington film director who first came to fame with the low budget (NZ $30,000) splatter-comedy film Bad Taste, was the director chosen by New Line Cinema to take on the daunting task of directing a film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. Unlike Ralph Bakshi’s disappointing 1978 version, which used rotoscoping over live actors to produce a crude form of animation, the Peter Jackson production combines live action with the state-of-the-art effects developed over the years by Jackson and his cohorts at Weta Workshop.

And, with the whole of the country to choose from, filming started in the forest near our quarry and ended a year later, in December 2000, in the quarry itself. In between, sets were built and filming done all over New Zealand — inland Canterbury for Edoras, the rolling hills of the Waikato for Hobbiton, the North Island volcanic plateau for Mordor, another quarry in Lower Hutt for Helm’s Deep.

In contrast to the saturation coverage given to the announcement of the project and the arrival of its stars in Wellington, the actual filming was characterised by a secrecy bordering on paranoia. My son Gareth and I realised that filming had started when we went for a walk to the top of the ridge above the quarry and discovered that tracks normally reserved for walkers had been scoured by ATVs (all-terrain vehicles — take a motorbike and give it four wheels, and you’ve got the general idea). Three portaloos had been installed next to Alexandra Road, which runs along the ridgeline through the Town Belt. The game was afoot.

The Evening Post newspaper gave us the official word that filming had started a few days later, but by then we’d also seen the horse-droppings, and were not surprised to learn that a small party of hobbits had been fleeing Black Riders through the twisted foliage, take after take after take. Peter Jackson likes to get things right.

In the next twelve months, Lord of the Rings was everywhere. Stars buying houses for the duration of the shoot pushed up house prices in the eastern suburbs to ridiculous levels. Sir Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf, was a judge for Mr Gay Wellington. A couple of the hobbits were refused entry to a nightclub because they were underage. The original Aragorn was sacked and a replacement, the multi-talented Mr Viggo Mortensen, was announced. The Evening Post was banned from the film’s set for being too curious and began to collaborate with various unofficial LoTR websites to ferret out unauthorised information.

For a couple of days in mid-shoot, the floor of the Ellice St. quarry was dotted with dead branches and clumps of tussock grass, and used for some second-unit shots. If you watch The Fellowship of the Ring, you’ll get a glimpse of the Black Riders crossing the Ellice St quarry floor as they advance on Weathertop.

Just before filming was scheduled to finish we got a notice in our mailbox to say that Jackson’s Three Foot Six Limited film company would be filming in the quarry for three days in late December 2000, and that our cooperation as affected residents would be appreciated. Based on others’ experiences, I didn’t think this would lead to great viewing opportunities. Gareth was attending morning kindergarten, and on the Monday, apart from asking a truck to move so I could get the car out, filming had little impact on us. On the Tuesday, when we got home from the kindy, Gareth said he wanted to go and look at the movie being made. “I’m sure they won’t let us see anything,” I said, but we walked to the top of the street anyway.

To be met by a guard. I was all ready to turn away when he said “Would you and the little boy like to see the filming?” We said we would, and he led us up to the quarry floor. A trench had been cut in it, and the riders of Rohan were riding their horses down the trench, around a tent, and then back up onto the quarry floor. They did it once. They did it again. We watched them do it several times, then we went home, happy and surprised.

On Wednesday, the last scheduled day of filming, it rained all day. Thursday dawned fine, and Gareth and I decided that we’d walk home together from his kindy — a half-hour walk up the far side of the ridge and down the Mt Victoria side, past the quarry, to our house. Quite a walk for a four-year-old, but he has strong legs.

Walking over to the kindy to get him, I saw activity at the quarry, but assumed it was preparations to dismantle the set. Forty-five minutes later, however, as Gareth and I descended homewards past the quarry, it was plain that filming was continuing. Still, we needed to get home, and I didn’t intend to take the long way round. I said as much to the first security guard we saw, and he assured me we wouldn’t have to. “Just walk quietly, please.” So we did, and stopped when the action started, and saw a bearded gentleman — I won’t be sure who till I see The Return of the King — stare straight at us and say “Six thousand spears — it’s not enough.” “It’ll do fine,” I wanted to tell him, but I kept my mouth shut.

That was almost it. They did pack up the next day, and dismantled the artificial forest they’d made under the quarry walls, and eventually filled in the trench and reseeded the grass so that the quarry floor could resume its former role as a dog exercise area and occasional venue for family cricket games. Filming was over, and the stars went home. Neither my wife Kay nor I were invited to the premiere of The Fellowship of the Ring, but we’ve each seen it twice. Gareth’s a bit young to see it on the big screen. He’ll have to wait till the video comes out.

Gareth and I still walk in the Town Belt. The droppings has been trampled underfoot by now, and the paths have mostly resumed their former shape, but there are still one or two places where the scouring of the land is obvious. One day, I expect, we’ll see a glint of gold. Bending down, we’ll find a little ring, the least of rings, lying forsaken by the path. We’ll drive out to Seatoun and drop it off at Peter Jackson’s studios, if the guard will let us through the gate.

An earlier version of this article was printed as “‘Twas in the Depths of Mordor” in the fanzine Head, edited by Christina Lake and Douglas Bell. In its present form, it first appeared on the (now defunct) Silveroak Books website.