More Favourable Waters: Aotearoa Poets Respond to Dante’s Purgatory

I’m very pleased to be one of the 33 poets included in More Favourable Waters, a new anthology published by the Cuba Press, which is being launched on Thursday 25 March at Unity Books from 6-7.30pm:

https://www.eventfinda.co.nz/2021/double-book-launch-more-favourable-waters-quantum-of-dante/wellington

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

https://thecubapress.nz/shop/more-favourable-waters/

My poem “Form Factor” has been nominated for a Rhysling Award

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.

Cat lying on a concrete deck in the shadow of a fruit salad plant

Form Factor

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.

Book Review: “The Death of Music Journalism” by Simon Sweetman

Front cover of The Death of Music Journalism, a poetry collection by Simon Sweetman

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.

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.)




Two New Books: “Upturned” by Kay McKenzie Cooke and “I Wish, I Wish” by Zirk Van Den Berg

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.

Upturned by Kay McKenzie Cooke.

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.

Front cover of Upturned, a poetry collection by Kay McKenzie Cooke


I Wish, I Wish by Zirk Van Den Berg

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.


Front cover of I Wish, I Wish, a novella by Zirk Van Den Berg

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

A Vase and a Vast Sea

Adrienne Jansen and Jenny Nimon talking about the new anthology "A Vase and Vast Sea", which is also pictured

I’ve very happy to say that my poem “Tuesdays” is included in the new anthology from Escalator Press, A Vase and a Vast Sea.

Pre-sales are now open for this anthology – get in quick, because it’s a limited print run.

From the Escalator Press blog:

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.

Watch the video:

An Interview With Meliors Simms

Meliors Simms is a contemporary landscape artist, radical crafter, a science fiction poet and an old-school blogger. She makes icebergs, islands and even whole continents from vintage blankets, wool and thread. Her sculptures look like cuddly landscape features yet carry serious environmental messages about the impacts of our everyday choices on the world around us. This August she is exhibiting art about mining in Melbourne and about Antarctica in Hamilton, where she will be reading poetry as well.

Meliors’ poem Ponting’s Genius was the Tuesday Poem on my blog this week.

The photo above shows Meliors with a work called Sastrugi. Photo by Jody Saturday

Meliors, a simple question, but one that may have a complex answer: why are you so interested in Antarctica?

It is mysterious, dangerous, vulnerable and beautiful. The lack of flora and fauna (and pigments) focus our attention onto patterns and textures of snow and ice, sky and sea which I find very exciting to interpret visually. Its short, intense human history and its long, surprising natural history both provide thrilling stories that bear endless iterations. And ultimately at this distance, it’s a blank canvas for the imagination.

If you had the chance to visit Antarctica, would you?

Um, this is tricky, because if I was offered an opportunity to go I would probably accept. But really I’m ambivalent. On one hand it would be amazing, inspiring and unlike anything else I could do. But on the other hand Antarctica is an incredibly vulnerable environment about which I am intensely concerned. I don’t think Antarctica needs me as just another tourist, although I’m willing to be persuaded that I might have something of value to offer in exchange for a free ticket.

I spend a huge amount of time thinking about Antarctica and my imagination seems adequately fed through second hand sources. The compliments about my work that I treasure the most are from people who have spent time in Antarctica, who tell me I’ve captured the essence of the place.

And besides, its jolly cold and a bit scary down there.

You are both an artist and a poet, and for the Imagining Antarctica exhibition in Hamilton, you are giving a poetry reading / artist’s talk as well as exhibiting visual art. How do the practice of art and the practice of poetry work side by side – and for that matter, how on Earth do you find the time to do both?

The Imagining Antarctica exhibition at ArtsPost

Ha! I don’t really find time to do both. The past months of intensely preparing my exhibitions has been a poetry drought. Writing seems to be woven through my creative life in an irregular abstract way rather than as a disciplined practice. There are times when I write a lot, but more times when I write little or nothing. Last year was very productive though, and most of the poems I wrote then relate to the art I am showing now, hence the poetry reading and artist talk event.

Reading and looking at the entries on your excellent blog, I am struck by the hours and hours of work that goes into creating them. Can you describe your process of making them, such as the icebergs?

Most of the work I make these days starts with an old woven wool blanket which I cut into contour pieces. I needle felt each layer with a nice plump cover of unspun wool and then attach the layers together using blanket stitch. The icebergs are three dimensional, sculptural pieces so there’s a lot of layers and a lot of needle felting to get the three-dimensionality.

I use a similar technique to make wall relief pieces which may use only a couple of layers of blanket and little or no felting, but can be much bigger and even more time consuming to make. My biggest work, ‘My Antarctica’ a scale relief map of the entire continent, took me about eight months to make. I can make a little iceberg in a week.

Meliors standing in front of My Antarctica. Photo: Marion Manson (ArtsPost)

Over time I have perversely chosen to make my stitching cruder (even though hundreds of hours of practice has made me a better stitcher). I want my work to look unmistakably handmade. With some of my earlier embroidered pieces viewers would assume it was machine stitched, and I decided I didn’t want any ambiguity about that. I ‘d rather have people saying ‘I could make that’ and so to consider what it means to stitch something by hand. I want people to contemplate the hours and hours that go into my making.

Why did you choose the craft medium, and these crafts in particular, to make your artworks (and, does the wording of that question imply a dichotomy that doesn’t or shouldn’t exist?)

Contemporary art is a very broad field in which there are lots of interesting craft practices to be seen. I choose craft as my means of creative expression both for the pleasure and the meaning of my making. Slow meditative hand stitching is very sensual and satisfying. By choosing hand made rather than machine made, and doing it myself rather than farming the work out to low paid women in Asia, my work implicitly critiques the economic as well as environmental impacts of industrialised consumerist culture.

You were recently in Melbourne for the opening of the “F**k Your Donation” exhibition, which includes your installation “Spoil”. How was that experience, and is this part of a continuing involvement in the Australian arts scene?

Meliors’ installation “Spoil” at “F**k Your Donation”

Melbourne is a fantastic city for the arts, and especially for craft practices in contemporary art. It is a real thrill to show in a gallery there for the first time, and have such an enthusiastic response to my work. I hope to go back for more soon.

One thing I know we have in common is our love for Kim Stanley Robinson’s writing, and in particular his Mars trilogy. What’s so great about those books?

Well, KSR’s novel Antarctica turned me into a fan of Antarctica as well as speculative fiction when I first read it some 15 years ago. That book, and the Mars and Washington trilogies resonate with me as extremely plausible near-future-histories that aren’t dystopias. I like his strong, complex female characters; frustratingly rare in the genre. I reread all seven novels reasonably regularly and I appreciate the detail as well as the broad sweep of his vision. But mostly because he’s very good at making it seem possible that we 21st century humans could dig ourselves out of the dreadful mess our species has created, and I often feel the need for that spark of hope.

KSR’s writing has had a huge influence on my visual, textile arts. For example I’ve turned again and again to his descriptions of the textures and colours of Antarctica as I’ve stitched. He’s a wonderfully visual writer. In more direct homage, I once made a series of small embroidered ‘Mars gardens’, visualising the greening of the red planet as practised by Sax Russell and others in his trilogy.

Three of Meliors’ “Mars Gardens”, after Kim Stanley Robinson

Do you have any writing projects on the go that are separate from your art projects, and how do you see the balance between your art and your poetry developing in the future?

Right now I don’t have any particular writing projects. Rather, I’m content to let occasional poems arise spontaneously, most often in very close relationship to the visual art I’m working on, particularly at the early, conceptual stages.

Are there particular artists and poets whose work you enjoy that you’d like to encourage readers of this interview to check out?

I’m pretty excited about sculptors Ruth Asawa (http://www.ruthasawa.com/) and Mandy Greer (http://stonemandy.wordpress.com/). I also recommend the photographs of Edward Burtynsky (http://www.edwardburtynsky.com/), and the fantastic video about his work called Manufactured Landscapes. Two of the poets I am enjoying most at the moment are Janis Freegard and Bernadette Hall.

Where people can see Meliors’ work

That Tingling Feeling

How To Order A Tingling Catch

I had hoped to do a full past about A Tingling Catch, the newly-published anthology of New Zealand cricket poems edited by Mark Pirie, but time has slipped away. I still hope to write that post next week, but in the meantime, I can let you know that A Tingling Catch is an excellent collection which libraries and cricket fans alike should make sure they have.

A Tingling Catch has its own blog, and Mark has now put up a post on How Do I Order A Tingling Catch? It’s worth checking out.

Helen Lowe’s Aus/NZ F&SF Author Series

To celebrate the Aus/NZ publication of her new novel The Heir of Night, Helen Lowe asked a number of Australian and New Zealand fantasy and science fiction authors (plus Julie Czerneda, a Canadian author with strong Aus/NZ connections) to contribute to a series of guest posts on her blog on why they love fantasy and/or SF.

The series as a whole makes fascinating reading. My own contribution, on J. G. Ballard, Kim Stanley Robinson and pitching a tent in the wide space between, was picked up and republished on the big US blog io9, which was a nice bonus for both Helen and myself.

Fallen / Niedergang

A couple of years ago, a poem from my first collection, Boat People, was selected for inclusion in Wildes Licht, an anthology of New Zealand poetry with German translations, edited by Dieter Riemenschneider.

I was pleased not only because it always feels good to have work anthologised, but also because I have an interest in literary translation, and a particular liking for books which have the original on one page and the translation on the facing page.

Subsequently, however, due to a change in publishing arrangements, the manuscript had to be shortened, and mine was one of the poems cut. I was disappointed about this, but since Mark Pirie and I had undergone exactly the same process while finding a publisher for Voyagers, I recognised that this is just one of the realities of the publishing process.

Dieter was kind enough to send me the translation of “Fallen” that would have appeared in “Wildes Licht”, and give me permissions to publish it here. The print version has some indentation which didn’t work well online, but that apart, here are “Fallen” and its German translation, “Niedergang”.

Fallen

Driving through Mandeville. Empty windows, empty houses,
a craft shop sprung like fungus from the bones of the dying town.

The cenotaph stands roadside. Blunt, unwearied,
it commends to our attention the names of the anxious dead.

They grew, these Southland towns, on the graves
of the children of Tane. Mandeville, Riversdale –
Myross Bush, Ryal Bush, Gummies‘ …

the land groaned with the weight of their money.
As the tribes were pushed to the margins, fat lambs
grew fatter. Knives flashed cold on the chains;
eels tumbled and writhed over offal.

Now, thistles nod in the hard-pan fields. Children
are a letter from the city, a ten-hour drive at Easter.
The wealth
went with them. No mirror glass monuments here.

But the Council keeps the graveyard clean; and our dust
settles impartially
on the sign: “Country Crafts – Buy Here!”
and the sign that their dead live on, and will do so, chiselled in stone,
till new trees and new ferns drag them down.

Niedergang

Eine Fahrt durch Mandeville. Hohle Fenster, leere Häuser,
ein Kunstgewerbeladen wie ein Pilz aus den Knochen der sterbenden Stadt entsprungen.

Das Ehrenmal am Straßenrand. Plump, unermüdlich
empfiehlt es uns, sich der Namen der Toten zu erinnern.

Sie wuchsen, diese Südlandstädte, auf den Gräbern
der Kinder Tanes. Mandeville, Riversdale –
Myross Bush, Ryal Bush, Gummies’ …
das Land stöhnte unter der Last ihres Geldes.
Während die Stämme an den Rand gedrängt wurden,
setzten fette Lämmer mehr Fett an. Messer blitzten kalt an den Ketten;
Aale wandten und stürzten sich auf die Innereien.

Jetzt nicken Disteln auf den pfannentrockenen Feldern. Kinder
sind ein Brief aus der Stadt, eine Zehnstundenfahrt an
Ostern. Der Wohlstand
zog mit ihnen fort. Keine Spiegelglassdenkmäler hier.

Doch der Stadtrat hält den Friedhof sauber; und unser Staub
senkt sich unbefangen
auf das Schild ‘Einheimisches Kunstgewerbe –
hier zu kaufen!’ und das Schild, dass die Toten weiter leben und weiter leben werden,
in Stein gemeisselt,
bis neue Bäume
und Farn sie niederziehen werden.