13 November 2015

Hoopla and LitCrawling and Poetry Conferencing

I am going to have a crazy weekend of literariness this weekend, with the New Zealand Poetry Conference on Friday night, Saturday day and Sunday morning, and LitCrawl on Saturday night. Phew!

At LitCrawl I'm going to be reading with the other five Hoopla poets (ie we've had our poetry collections published as part of Mākaro Press's Hoopla poetry series): Michael Harlow, Stefanie Lash, Jennifer Compton, Bryan Walpert and Carolyn McCurdie. We're going to try to weave our readings together, have our poems talk to each other, rather than just be six individual poets. We're on at 8.30 at the Concerned Citizen's Collective on 17 Tory Street. Would be lovely to see you there - though there are soooo many amazing things on all at the same time that I have no idea how I am going to choose. I wish I could split myself into about three people... Anyway, check out the programme here: http://litcrawl.co.nz/.

And tomorrow afternoon at 3.15 at the New Zealand Poetry Conference at the National Library I'm going to be part of a panel about publishing with Mary McCallum (Mākaro Press) and Doc Drumheller (editor of Catalyst journal). We're going to talk about what we do and how we work with poets, and will answer questions. I think it's not too late to register to come to the conference, and I understand it's also possible to go to individual sessions and just particular days. More info here: http://www.poetrysociety.org.nz/PoetryConference2015.

04 November 2015

Reading Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag is one of those people I kept on hearing about, who other people mentioned, who turned up in other people's stories, but I didn't really know who she was. She turned up as the dead partner of Annie Liebovitz in a documentary about the photographer, and there was that documentary about her in the film festival which I failed to see and now can't get hold of. She gets mentioned in other people's books, she wrote fiction, she wrote criticism, she directed plays, she did all kinds of stuff of which I am only vaguely aware.

But, she'd turned up often enough that I thought it was time to find out for myself, and so have been reading some of her essays. Starting with the collection, Against Interpretation, from 1967 (or at least the edition I have is from then - it's the English edition though, so the US edition might have been earlier).

I must have already been aware that Sontag was quite opinionated, and I am sometimes a bit nervous of definite, opinionated people (being myself, on one hand, a bit postmodern, and on the other a bit indecisive) so I was quite delighted to read this in the introduction:
Before I wrote the essays, I did not believe many of the ideas espoused in them; when I wrote them, I believed what I wrote; subsequently, I have come to disbelieve some of these same ideas again--but from a new perspective, one that incorporates and is nourished by what is true in the argument of the essays.

Reading some of these essays, I have been struck by how chaotic some of the organisation of them seems to me, how little proof she sometimes gives, and how she makes enormous, sweeping statements. And also how absolutely marvellous those enormous sweeping statements are, and how I have copied many of them down into my journal, and then read them out to Sean later. (In her defence, I should also note that I've been reading some of her more recent pieces in Where the Stress Falls, a much later collection of her writings, and I thought the writing was much tighter, less chaotic - but perhaps also less free-wheelingly mind-blowing?)

So, basically, here are some of my favs, so I can find them here again when I'm looking for them.

From 'On Style'

Art is not only about something, it is something. A work of art is a thing in the world, not just a text or commentary on the world.
[Works of art] present information and evaluations. But their distinctive feature is that they give rise not to conceptual knowledge (which is the distinctive feature of discursive or scientific knowledge - eg philosophy [etc...]) but to something like an excitation, a phenomenon of commitment, judgement in a state of thralldom or captivation. Which is to say that the knowledge we gain through art is an experience of the form or style of knowing something, rather than a knowledge of something (like a fact or a moral judgement) in itself.
She quotes Nietzsche, from The Birth of Tragedy: 'Art is not an imitation of nature but a metaphysical supplement, raised up beside it in order to overcome it.'
Usually critics who want to praise a work of art feel compelled to demonstrate that each part is justified, that it could not be other than it is. And every artist, when it comes to his [or her] own work, remembering the role of chance, fatigue, external distractions, knows what the critic says to be a lie, knows that it could well have been otherwise. The sense of inevitability that a great work of art projects is not made up of the inevitability or necessity of its parts, but of the whole.
In the greatest art, one is always aware of the things that cannot be said ... of the contradiction between expression and the presence of the inexpressible - stylistic devices are also techniques of avoidance. The most potent elements in a work of art are, often, its silences.

Notes on 'Camp'

I enjoyed the form of this essay as well as the content. It's written in numbered paragraphs, which is something that I have been using in a (very) long prose poem I'm working on at the moment (and have been, on-and-off for the last year), and which adds a delightful and sometimes staccato energy to it. It has also suggested to me that my taste is often quite camp.

55. Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation--not judgement. Camp is generous. It wants to enjoy. it only seems like malice, cynicism. (Or, if it is cynicism, its not a ruthless but a sweet cynicism.) Camp doesn't propose that it is in bad taste to be serious; it doesn't sneer at someone who succeeds in being seriously dramatic. What it does is to find the success in certain passionate failures.


23 September 2015

Memorial by Alice Oswald

One of the poetry books recommended to me was Memorial by Alice Oswald, and it just so happened that it was on the Poetry Day display in the library the next time I went in, so that was handy. I read it a couple of weeks ago, and I've just reread it again, and I have to say that I love it.

Basically, it is a loose translation of sections of Homer's The Illiad, which is set during the Trojan war. The poet calls it 'an excavation of the Illiad', and also 'a translation of the Illiad's atmosphere'. She strips out most of the story, and focuses on the deaths of each character. You get a little snippet of their lives, where known, and how they died. And in between there are sections of extended similes, using imagery from nature to evoke death. 

For example:
AXYLUS son of Teuthras
Lived all his live in the lovely harbour of Arisbe
Looking down at the Hellespont
Everyone knew that plump man
Sitting on the step with his door wide open
He who so loved his friends
Died side by side with CALESIUS
In a daze of loneliness
Their conversation unfinished

Like the hawk of the hills the perfect killer
Easily outflies the clattering dove
She dips away but he follows he ripples
He hangs his black hooks over her
And snares her with a thin cry
In praise of her softness

It is one of those reasonably rare collections of poetry that seem to reinvent poetry - even while it is so very rooted in tradition. I didn't just like it, it got me excited. And I felt very quickly that I should trust it - there were a few things, like the beginning which is just a list of names, and the repetition of the simile sections that at first I wasn't sure I liked, but the writing was so good that I felt I could just go with it, and then it felt right.

This book-length poem works for me both intellectually - it's clever, interesting, beautiful language, and also emotionally - it's really sad! Each person who died was a person. They had a life, but now they don't anymore. They were loved, they are grieved for. I don't know if she meant it to have an anti-war message, but how could it not - as soon and you see people as people, their deaths become a tragedy, not just a statistic.

It's also quite gruesome: 'And someone's face was pierced like a piece of fruit'; 'Died in a puddle of his own guts'; 'You can see the hole in the helmet just under the ridge/Where the point of the blade passed through/And stuck in his forehead/Letting the darkness leak down over his eyes'.

It wasn't until my second reading, oddly, that I really noticed the lack of punctuation. There isn't any - not at all. The line breaks generally act as pauses, but it has a breathlessness about it, and also in some lines, where there would normally a comma or full stop, it leads to some quite interesting and occasionally ambiguous run-ons. For example: 'Calm down their horses lift them/Out of the fight as light as ash'; or, even better: 'He collapsed instantly an unspeakable sorrow to his parents'

I'm getting interested in translation at the moment, despite being basically monolingual, because I'm going to start the Seraph Press Translation Series, beginning with three chapbooks of poetry. Poet Vana Manasiadis is going to be my series co-editor. Anyway, so I was very interested in how Oswald talks about her approach to translation in the introduction:
My 'biographies' are paraphrases of the Greek, my similes are translations. However, my approach to translation is fairly irreverent. I work closely with the Greek, but instead of carrying the words over to English, I use them as opening through which to see what Homer was looking at. I write through the Greek, not from it - aiming for translucence rather than translation.
Another thing I love that she said in the introduction is:
There are accounts of Greek lament in both the Iliad and the Odyssey. When a corpse was layed out, a professional poet (someone like Homer) led the mourning and was anti-phonally answered by women offering personal accounts of the deceased. I like to think that the stories of individual soldiers recorded in the Illiad might be recollections of these laments, woven into the narrative by poets who regularly performed both high epic and choral lyric poetry.
 Some links to relevant stuff on the internet:

Alice Oswald on the Poetry Archive, which includes an audio recording of her reading part of Memorial.

Youtube clip of Alice Oswald reading in Boston (embedded below). She begins by 'reading' from other work (actually she's reciting - clearly she's memorised everything! How stressful!) and at around 22 minutes she starts talking about Memorial.

Guardian review of Memorial.

Long interview with Alice Oswald in the White Review.

Afterword to Alice Oswald's Memorial by Eavan Boland.

01 September 2015

Well hello again: poetry in, poetry out

It's been an awfully long time since I've blogged. When I started this blog, I was keen to write about all sorts of things that entered my head. And then I wasn't. But suddenly, as of yesterday, I suddenly felt like putting some stuff up here again. Mainly for me. I'm not sure if anyone is reading this anymore - the heyday of blogging seems to be over - but that's ok.

What I want to blog about is the poetry that I'm reading, and to post links to things I like so I can find them again more easily. And maybe someone else will find them interesting too.

At the moment, I'm in a really fortunate place. Until the end of the year (and hopefully a bit longer) my main occupation is to be a poet. (Thanks Creative NZ!) I'm working on what will, all going well, be my next book. I'm calling it 'How to Live', because that's what it will be about, which is kind of about everything. What I've mainly been doing is reading and thinking, and scribbling a lot in my journal. I've been reading a lot about philosophy and philosophers, about which I'm suddenly and rather belatedly obsessed. I've also been reading some more creative non-fiction books, and some critical essays about poetry. And I've been making a bunch of connections, which is fun, and I hope might make their way into the poems somehow, though as yet I'm not quite sure how. I'm challenging myself with these poems. I'm trying to stretch myself. Sometimes that's a bit scary, which is kind of silly, because what is the danger?

Anyway, I have been feeling in the last week or so that I need to also be reading more poetry. Poetry that will inspire and excite me, and show me possibilities. So I asked some people at lunch the other day (on Poetry Day!) to recommend to me some books by overseas poets (contemporary) that they thought I might like and should read, who isn't Anne Carson (who is probably my poetic hero, but I have her books already. I am rereading them though, and will probably write about her work more in the future).

It's possible that this list might be interesting to other people, so I thought I'd post it here. Also, if you have any more suggestions, feel free to add them.

Helen’s international contemporary poetry reading list

Caroline Bird. Books: Watering Can (2009), Trouble Came to the Turnip (2006), Looking Through Letterboxes (2002), The Hat-Stand Union (2013).

Jill Alexander Essbaum, The Devastation. Also Harlot or Necropolis?

Alfred Starr Hamilton, A Dark Dreambox of Another Kind.

Robert Hass, Praise.

Selima Hill. Books include Bunny (2001), Trembling hearts in the bodies of dogs: new & selected poems (1994), Gloria: selected poems (2008), The accumulation of small acts of kindness (1989), The Sparkling Jewel of Naturism (2014), People Who Like Meatballs (2012), Fruitcake (2009), Violet (1997), The Hat (2008), Jutland (2015).

Ailish Hopper, Dark-sky Society.

Marie Howe. Books: The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (2008), What the Living Do (1998), The Good Thief (1988)

Luke Kennard. Books include: The Harbour Beyond the Movie (2007), The Migraine Hotel (2009), A Lost Expression (2014), The Solex Brothers (Redux) and Other Prose Poems (2005).

Ben Lerner, Angle of Yaw (also The Lichtenberg Figures).

Patricia Lockwood, Balloon Pop Outlaw Black.

Alice Oswald, In Memoriam (also Dart and Weeds and Wild Flowers).

Clare Pollard (Books: Ovid’s Heroines (2013), Changeling (2011), Look, Clare! Look! (2005), Bedtime (2002), The Heavy-petting Zoo (1998).

Mary Ruefle (I have read Selected Poems, but would like to read some more recent work, including Trances of the Blast and The Most of It).

Richard Siken, Crush.

Richard Siken, The War of the Foxes.

A.E. Stallings. Books include: Hapax (2005), Olives (2012).

Matthew Zapruder. Books include: Sun Bear (2014), Come On All You Ghosts (2010), American Linden (2002), The Pajamaist (2006).

10 July 2015

Book launch invitation

I'm just about to publish another Seraph Press book - we're launching Johanna Aitchison's Miss Dust, her third poetry collection, in Palmerston North next Friday. This is a super-cool book, and I'm delighted to be publishing it.

If you can make it to the launch, that'd be lovely. It's at the Palmerston North Public Library, on Friday 17 July at 6.30 pm.

There's more about the book and the author over here, and I've even figured out this online selling thing, finally, and added buttons so you can buy the book online: http://www.seraphpress.co.nz/miss-dust.html.
And, in fact, I have had such a productive day (a precious day of non-paid work), that I've even started a Seraph Press mailing list, to which I will send out very occasional newsletters about what Seraph Press is up to. Wanna join? Click the pic below...

04 June 2015

Poetry at Pegasus

Come join us at Pegasus Books on Thursday June 11th, 6pm, for an evening of poetry featuring John Dennison, Anna Jackson, Helen Rickerby, Rhydian Thomas and Pegasus's own Lee Posna. Biscuits and tea after the reading!

15 December 2014

Frankenstein, me and Pip Adam's podcast

Pip Adam, who, if you don't already know, is a really interesting New Zealand writer, all-around lovely and interesting person, and my virtual neighbour (she lives just down the hill from me) has recently started a podcast with the rather perfect title: Better off Read.

I was initially rather alarmed when she asked to talk to me about Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, because I'm really not expert (or very well-read) in 19th-century literature, and it must surely be at least a decade since I've read Frankenstein. But when she said that I shouldn't  re-read it, and that it was our memories of it we would talk about, I started feeling a little calmer. Also, once I listened to a few of her previous podcasts, and understood that the book is just a place to leap off from to other related subjects, I started to feel that I could perhaps actually manage this.

We recorded the podcast on Friday, and it turned out to be actually very fun. It was just like having a really good conversation with Pip, as I do every time we do have a conversation, except that I was a bit more self-concious about a) not coughing (I am recovering from a cold) and b) not rambling (which I have a tendency to do).

As well as Frankenstein the novel, we also talk about its author, Mary Shelley, about movie versions, about a poem I wrote inspired by Mary Shelley and her novel, about other of my poems, especially in My Iron Spine and Cinema, and some other random stuff I expect.

If you're interested, you'll find it here: https://betterreadnz.wordpress.com/2014/12/13/frankenstein/, and do listen to her other ones too. I haven't previously been a listener of podcasts - I didn't see quite how they could fit into my life - but I've started listening to them while doing dishes. Nice to be learning something while doing housework. Makes it less tedious (the housework - not the learning).

09 December 2014

Launch invitations!

This is a little bit late really, if haven't already seen these invitations elsewhere, but better late than never.

Girls of the Drift

First up, on Thursday (11 December), we're launching Girls of the Drift, by Nina Powles - my latest Seraph Press book. This is happening at 6 pm at Matchbox Studios, 166 Cuba Street, Wellington. Invitation below, and you can read more about this very cool chapbook by a new young poet here: http://www.seraphpress.co.nz/girls-of-the-drift.html

Two Pedants

Two Pedants is an awesome web comic, which is about to become an awesome book. I am somewhat biased, because it is drawn by my husband. Nevertheless, it is still the funniest thing ever. We are launching the Two Pedants book with afternoon tea on Sunday 14 December, 3 pm, at the Aro Community Centre, 48 Aro Street, Wellington. The comic below will be too little to read, so you should probably head on over to the website to read it, and meet the pedants: http://www.twopedants.com/2014/11/two-pedants-book-launch.html

21 September 2014

From Sisi to Minnie Dean: reading poetry in Vienna

Hi there, if there's anyone still reading this. I haven't posted here in a while, but I did write this thing for the Book Council's Booknotes Unbound site about going to Vienna and reading poetry, which was pretty cool. You can read it here: http://booknotes-unbound.org.nz/helen-rickerby-reading-new-zealand-poetry-vienna/

29 June 2014

Does New Zealand poetry have a voice?, and 32 statements about writing poetry by Marvin Bell

Recently Harvey Molloy (poet and poetry editor of JAAM 31) wrote a short piece about whether New Zealand poetry has a national voice on Awkword Paper Cut. You can read it here (scroll down to the third piece, after Australia and the UK): http://www.awkwordpapercut.com/writers-on-writing/national-identity-and-writing.

Of course it's an enormous subject to tackle, especially in such a short space, but I really like the four generalisations Harvey makes:
(1) We are much less concerned with experimentation and anything remotely ‘theoretical’ than some of our overseas’ counterparts – there’s a tendency towards understatement and a suspicion of all grand styles and schools of thought which stifle poets willing to take risks.

(2) We are increasingly aware of ourselves as located within the Pacific; this offers the promise for a truly diverse national literature. We have just started to talk to each other.

(3) We are a people haunted by our past; our tipuna (‘ancestors’) call to us and ask to be recognised. If we are from descendants of settlers or immigrants we have shadowy memories of other voices, other lands. There’s a temporal dimension to our environments. We know what it is to be haunted.

(4) Earthquakes, heavy weather, intriguing landscapes all occupy our poetry. There’s a sense of hazard or calamity in our relationship with nature. Our landscapes include Auckland traffic, car park buildings, Antarctica, volcanic plateaus, the Canterbury Plains, Wellington suburbs. 
They feel pretty true to me. What do you think? What would you add? Do you think this is a worthwhile conversation to be having? What can we learn from this? Perhaps we can see our boundaries that we should then be expanding?

Also, on a whim I clicked to join a MOOC (massive online open course) about 'How writers write poetry'. This is kind of unlike me as I'm not really a writing-course person (I did one two-day poetry course and one two-day short fiction course 19 years ago), and I can't see myself joining in on the workshops and forums, but I'm expecting the videos of different writers talking about different things pretty interesting. And also it will hopefully be a good introduction to some poets I don't know.

Anyway, I've already found the first, introductory, video pretty interesting. Poet Marvin Bell makes 32 statements about writing poetry (you can skip the first two minutes of introduction). A few things he said that struck me are:
  • If you're in a writing group, especially with friends, you should decide at the outset to welcome surprises - when someone writes something that is experimental and outside what you'd expect from them.
  • Read something, write something, read something, write something, and be influenced in your writing by what you read. (He also said, 'Garbage in, garbage out.')
  • You don't learn as much from work like yours as you do from work that is unlike yours.
  • Poetry is poetry because of what it leaves out.

22 June 2014

Truth or Beauty: Poetry and Biography conference

One thing I'm doing this year is organising, with Anna Jackson (celebrated poet and senior lecturer in English literature) and Angelina Sbroma (PhD student and all around awesome person), this conference, about biographical poetry. It will be held at Victoria University of Wellington from the 26th to the 28th of November. I am very excited.

It has its genesis in me suggesting to Anna, seeing as she had recently finished writing a long sequence about Ancient Roman woman Cloda Metelli (who is thought to be Catullus's 'Lesbia', if you are familiar with Catullus's poetry, which I wasn't), that we should do a poetry reading of biographical poems (I have written a number of poems with more or less biographical elements, most of which ended up in My Iron Spine). Anna said, enthusiastically, 'Yes, but it should be a symposium'.

We very quickly got a bit more ambitious, and now the symposium has become an academic conference - well actually kind of more than an academic conference. It's a conference where academics and poet practitioners will be able to get together and talk about and reflect on this shared space - the poetry. I am particularly excited about this, because I have been developing a really strong interest in better connection between the literary community and the academic community, and also in the academic community sharing more with the interested wider community. In the case of this conference, I hope the mixture will lead to a reflective, vibrant and sparky few days.

We realised, after hunting around a bit, that while biographical poems are not uncommon, there isn't a great deal written about them in that light - that the field of biographical poetry is just waiting for exploration. And we've found some people who want to explore it with us. We have three keynote speakers already lined up, our Auckland poet and creative writing teacher Robert Sullivan, and two academics (and poets) from Australia: Jessica Wilkinson and Toby Davidson.

In any case, the deadline for proposing papers or discussions or readings is coming up at the end of this month, and while we already have many interesting proposals from great people, there's still time to send in yours. You can read the call for papers here: http://poetryandbiography.net/ and we've just put out some more detailed guidelines for proposals: http://poetryandbiography.net/2014/06/22/guidelines-for-proposals/. Or you can just come along, without giving a paper, and enjoy the talking and readings that I know will be stimulating, thought-provoking and maybe even inspiring. The fees for the conference are a total bargain: http://poetryandbiography.net/2014/06/15/conference-fees/.

16 June 2014

Being away, being a New Zealander

I've been away - from this blog (for longer) and also from New Zealand, for a little bit.

It was wonderful being away. We went to some amazing places, saw some glorious things, ate some wonderful things, and spent some time with wonderful people. It has been a bit hard coming back, what unpredictable life, but I think it's going to be ok. Actually, I think it's going to be good.

Anyway, I wrote this thing about some thoughts I had when I was away about being a New Zealander: http://blog.teara.govt.nz/2014/06/16/whadarya-some-thoughts-on-being-a-new-zealander-overseas/.

If you are interested, there are a few travel pics and travel ramblings here.

And here is a picture of the Parthenon...

08 April 2014

I'm the Tuesday Poet, plus come and hear me read next week

This week my poem 'Symbols that make up the breaking girl' is the Tuesday Poem this week: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.co.nz/2014/04/symbols-that-make-up-breaking-girl-by.html. It was selected by the publisher, Mary McCallum of Mākaro Press. It's quite a dense poem, but I enjoyed reading it at my reading last week in Auckland - it speeds up, it slows down, it is a bit tongue-twistery and has a lot of rhyme and assonance and that sort of stuff, which is quite fun to read.

Speaking of reading, I've been asked to be the guest poet for the April meeting of the New Zealand Poetry Society in Wellington next Monday. It will be a lovely chance for me to share some of the poems from Cinema, and maybe a few old favs, and maybe even some newer ones. Here's the details about the reading:

Monday 14th April, 7.30 pm
Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave Street, Wellington

We begin with an open mic - everyone welcome to participate - followed by our guest poet,
Helen Rickerby

$3 members $5 non-members

Here's the Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/260784137436348

30 March 2014

Launch hoopla!

I’m at the end of a writing retreat weekend in Foxton (it has been lovely!) and so it feels a long time ago, but a few weeks ago, on 13 March, I launched Cinema in fine company, and I have been wanting to write about it ever since.

Some of our lovely crowd
It was also the launch of the other books in Mākaro Press’s Hoopla poetry series – Bird Murder, Stefanie Lash’s debut collection, and Heart Absolutely I Can, by Michael Harlow. And it was also a chance to celebrate Mākaro Press’s first year in existence.

I was a bit spacey, as I generally am at such things – and I felt like I only got to spend about 30 seconds with each person and it all passed by in a whirl. But it was a lovely and buzzy and celebratory party, with Mary as a very excellent ringmistress.

Blondini’s, which is the café space at The Embassy theatre, was a perfect venue, especially for me – seeing as my book is all about films. I saw many of the movies I wrote about in the poems at that very cinema, including some that I read (the first two parts of ‘Nine Movies’), and I also wrote some of that poem – the beginning I think, at a table over by the side window in Blondini’s.

Me reading something or other from my book
It was quite a long launch, even though we all tried to be brief, because each poet had our own launcher – Kate Camp for Stefanie, Pat White for Michael and Anna Jackson for me – and we each read a little bit from our books, but it was lovely for us each to have our own little space in our collective celebration. As I said in my speech (which was really just a long list of thank yous), I asked Anna to launch my book because she had been one of the people who read my manuscript and gave me really helpful feedback on it, and also she’d really liked it, which had been so encouraging. I was really blown away by her speech and would probably have cried it I hadn’t been so spacey. She was kind enough to say that I could reproduce here what she wrote to say, though without hearing and seeing her actually say it in her own animated way, it can’t possibly be quite as good!

This looks like a small book but it is actually very big – like the tardis. I don’t just mean in importance, or in the range of ideas, images and subjects that it contains – I mean, in a different format, you could see more immediately that this wonderfully pocketable book actually has a great many poems in it, many of them very substantial poems that run over several pages.

One of my absolute favourite poems is the modestly titled 'Two or three things I know about them' – a wonderful multi-faceted portrayal of the relationship between two film directors, Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, told over several pages in brief scenes and snapshots, accounts and quotations, dreams and reflections. The poem offers a study in contrasts – 'Jean-Luc: A film is a girl and a gun'; 'Francois: Art for beauty, art for others, art that consoles': – and a series of comparisons and coincidences, responses and anticipations.

Helen has a brilliant way of making a life snap into focus with a single starting detail, real or imaginary. I think of her portrayal in My Iron Spine of Katherine Mansfield and D H Lawrence taking it in turns sliding down an ironing board at a party. I have been an avid reader of Helen’s poetry since I first encountered her fictional character Theodora in Helen’s first collection Abstract Internal Furniture – but this new book is something else again.

Bringing together the fascination with film and the fascination with character that you find in all Helen’s work, this collection offers a dazzling poetic response to the work of avant-garde film-maker Yayoi Kusama; it imagines the lives of friends as directed by different film directors; it contains reflections both comic and profound about the impressions films can make and how they can shape the imagination of the self. It is exciting to be launching such a smart, fast-paced, deeply thoughtful, often funny, always sharply focused collection.

26 March 2014

Poetry reading/book launch in Auckland

I haven't even managed to blog about the first launch yet, and I'm about to have a second one!

I'm going to be the guest reader at Poetry Live, a poetry reading event that happens every single week in Auckland. How's that for commitment to poetry!

Seeing as Cinema has just been published, I thought I'd take the opportunity to have a second launch for it, and Anne Kennedy has kindly agreed to be my Auckland launcher. Callum Gentleman is the musician for the evening, there'll be an open mic, and MCing it all will be the talented and lovely Kiri Piahama-Wong. Cinema, and the other Hoopla books (Bird Murder by Stefanie Lash and Heart Absolutely I Can by Michael Harlow) will be available for $25 (cash or cheque only)

It starts at 8, and is at the Thirsty Dog, 469 Karangahape Road. Here's the Facebook event, if you do that sort of thing: https://www.facebook.com/events/633607820025828/

And aren't the posters gorgeous! They have such a lovely late-summer vibe going on.

04 March 2014

Tuesday poems, Bird Murder, and an invitation

This week I got to be the editor of the Tuesday Poem blog, and I cheated by sharing three poems rather than one. All are from Bird Murder, the debut collection by Stefanie Lash. I couldn't decide, plus I wanted to show a bit of the breadth of the book. You can read them here: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.co.nz/2014/03/from-bird-murder-by-stefanie-lash.html.

Bird Murder is part of Mākaro Press's Hoopla poetry series, which also includes my book Cinema, which long-time readers will have been hearing about for years (I can barely believe it's finally finished!) and Heart Absolute I Can by Michael Harlow. All three books are going to be launched next Thursday, 13 March, 5.30, at Blondini's (the cafe at the Embassy Theatre). It's also a celebration of Mākaro Press's first year in business. I hope you can come along!

12 February 2014

Cinema and the Hoopla poetry series

Dear everyone, I'd like to you meet my new book - well, the cover anyway.

Isn't it cool! And that image, which was taken by artist and designer Helen Reynolds, looks so cool and abstract, even though it actually isn't.

Cinema has been a long time in the making - the earliest poem in the book I wrote, um, ages ago, before My Iron Spine, but it wasn't meant for that book. (But it's found a home here.) I started deliberately writing poems connected to films in 2006, many of which haven't made it into the book. I don't think I realised quite how many I had written! But we've cut it back to the poems that I think are the right ones to be in this book.

This is the blurb my publisher, Mary McCallum, has written about my book:
The poems in Helen Rickerby's Cinema look at the personal through the lens of a camera and the world of cinema through the unfiltered eye. Meet the boy who learns to kiss from action movies, the girl made up of symbols and the director with the aesthetic of a sniper on the roof.
It has been wonderful to work with Mary McCallum and also Paul of Mākaro Press on this book. It's one of a series of set of three, the first batch in their Hoopla poetry series. I'm the middle poet, Stefanie Lash is the new poet (this is her debut book!) and Michael Harlow is the established poet. Here are all the covers side by side.

I'm lucky enough to have had an early read of Bird Murder by Stefanie Lash, and can assure you it's fabulous. It's by turns magical and lovely and grim and funny, and is so imaginative. It's like nothing I've read before. This is its official blurb:
An albino huia, a stranger in the attic and a pink-haired woman ... Bird murder by Stefanie Lash is a gothic murder mystery narrating the demise of a ruined banker set in the not-quite-fictional town of Tusk.
And while I haven't read Michael Harlow's collection of love poems, Heart Absolutely I Can, it's sure to be great too:
Five fresh poems and a number from past collections form this book on the hoopla of love – a theme long a part of the poet’s fascination with the mysteries of human nature and his job in finding the language and music to express it. Michael Harlow calls on ‘the music of the heart to sing us alive’

Our three books are going to be launched together in March (invitations soon!), but before then, Mākaro Press is running a PledgeMe campaign to help fund the printing costs (alas, poetry is not the money spinner we would like).

The rewards are excellent, if I do say so myself, from copies of the books (think of it as a pre-sale, and if you're out of town it includes postage too!), to an extra special high tea with us poets and we'll even read to you (that's kind of a bargain because you get ALL the books, and high tea, and fun and poetry). In between there's a copy of an extra-special limited edition hand-made book featuring a poem from each poet (not one from the books), which I will personally be making, a bespoke poem from Stefanie or myself and a mentoring session with Mary. There was also a cross-stitched line of poetry from Stefanie, but that's gone already.

Anyway, if you'd like to support it, or just have a look, you'll find it here: https://www.pledgeme.co.nz/projects/1816.

10 February 2014

Tuesday Poem: The Memoirs of Dick Grayson by Sandi Sartorelli

The Memoirs of Dick Grayson

The best part was always after
I enjoyed fighting crime but the ride home with him
filled me with longing for our cave
until at last, the sight of Bruce with his tights
around his ankles made my patience wane.

No one can rock the robin like Bruce Wayne.
Holy Moly! And he’d hold me after,
gloat over The Joker’s demise, one arm tight
around my waist, a naked bat dressed in socks –
there are disadvantages to love in a cave.
Before the shivering progressed, I’d wrap him

in ermine. I wanted the limestone, just me and him
but he had obligations in Gotham City. Wayne
I’d say, maybe we could camp forever in our cave.
Have Alfred bring us casseroles and LPs. After
Bruce all for myself, it was a terrible sock
to my spirits to surrender him. Straight resolve, lips tight,

I’d help him suit up in his playboy guise. Tighten
his tie for his entrance into the mansion, to watch him
woo the socialites. I’d lean against the wall, a sock
in my Adam’s apple. My role was ward of the Wayne
family – I was just another accessory. And after
our loving, I should have been content, should have caved

to the demands of the part, but my heart was the concave
side of a spoon filled with his broth. My appetite
for him spilled over until I fondled his tux. After
all (I have this urge to justify) I only wanted him
to own me in public – the one thing neither Wayne
nor The Batman could ever give. My claim was a sock

to his image. Could’ve wrenched his shackles from the socket
that day, but he was no Dobby. We hung out in the cave
for the last time that evening, his fortunes beginning to wane
on the stock exchange, all because I’d believed myself entitled
to be his beau. I said a tender goodbye to him.
To this day I stroke the imprint of batwings, long after

his thoughts of me have waned, super-hero/billionaire personas tightly
locked in place and a new robin in the cave to warm his socks.
But Todd can’t adore him in the way I still do all this time after…

Sandi Sartorelli lives in the Hutt Valley and is a graduate of the Whitireia Creative Writing Programme. Her poetry has appeared in a number of publications including JAAM, Blackmail Press, Penduline Press, Renee's Wednesday Blog and Shenandoah. Recently, two of her poems were highly commended in the Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize and the New Zealand Poetry Society Competition.

For my first Tuesday Poem of the year I've chose this poem by Sandi Sartorelli, which was included in JAAM 31. When I first read it I was taken by the alternative story it presents of Batman and Robin, and the tenderness and longing and sadness. It was only on my second reading that I noticed the very tight form of the poem, which is a sestina. All those gorgeous repeating words, except sometimes the poet playfully alters the words a little - eg: tights/tight/appetite/entitled/tightly. And using different meanings for the same word. Possibly the only thing that never changes is 'him', which always refers to the adored Batman/Bruce Wayne. It all adds up to a very satisfying poem, which is enhanced by its form, not overwhelmed.

Speaking of form, if you're interested in poetic forms you might be interested to see what Sonia Johnson, an NZ poet at large in Iowa, is up to. She's writing a poem in a different form every week, and is blogging it on A Formal Year.

And for more poems, not necessarily formal, check out the Tuesday Poem blog over here: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.co.nz/.

02 February 2014

A ramble through forests and bush, with a side detour to a paddock or two...

I've been reading Gossip from the Forest by Sara Maitland (and still am, but am almost finished), which was bringing up all sorts of thoughts and feelings about New Zealand forest/bush and also about how the land has kind of been colonised as much as the people. I haven't been able to articulate all of my thoughts, but I managed to wrangle some of them into a blog post, which you can read over here: http://blog.teara.govt.nz/2014/01/31/of-forests-paddocks-and-bush/.

The book is really good too. It's also been making me think a lot about fairy tales again. I'm a big fan of fairy tales - my masters thesis was about fairy tale intertexuality in Margaret Atwood's fiction. In my original proposal it was going to be about fairy tale intertexuality in women's writing. That was quite a big topic. For a while I cut it down to three writers: Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter and this very same Sara Maitland.

I haven't read a lot of fairy tales, or about fairy tales, since I finished my thesis, but this book, and another wee project I'm working on with a friend (about mermaids!) has got me thinking about fairy tales again, and I have an idea for another collaborative/contributive project about fairy tales. Anyway, I'm sure I'll write more about that later. Or I might just start bugging you all to write me things.

26 January 2014

Reading Virginia Woolf's diary

Virginia Woolf, 1939
It was Virginia Woolf's birthday yesterday - she was born in 1882.

She kept a journal from 1915 until she died (in 1941). I'm not reading the whole thing (there are volumes and volumes), I'm reading a selection that focuses on what she wrote in her diary related to writing. I do love reading writers' diaries and journals, but there's always a somewhat uncomfortable feeling when you're reading someone else's private writing.

In some of the early pages she wonders what future Virginia will make of these pages when she reads of them - she hadn't imagined another audience for her diary except herself. I had to keep reminding myself of that sometimes when reading - when she says something really snobbish or nasty or vain - it's not really fair to judge someone harshly on the things they write only for themselves (God knows I would hate for people to read my private thoughts! I have left instructions for my journals to be burned unread so no one knows how shallow I really am...), but nevertheless it's hard not to.

I had previously read some of the bitchy things she's said about Katherine Mansfield (as well as some of the admiring things), so I was compared. I did have to put the book down for a bit when I read her thoughts about Don Quixote:
writing was then storytelling to amuse people sitting around the fire without any of our desires for pleasure. There they sit, women spinning, men contemplative, and the jolly fanciful delightful tale is told to them, as to grown up children ... So far as I can judge, the beauty and thought come in unawares: Cervantes scarely concious of serious meaning ... Indeed, that's my difficulty - the sadness, the satire, how far are they ours, not intended.
I have to confess that I haven't actually read Don Quixote (yet), and I know that the time and situation you live in will of course alter how you read a book, but to imply that a book was accidentally good or satirical, and that those childish people in the past couldn't possibly understand or feel quite to anything like the same level as Victorians was pretty infuriating.

Moments like that aside, it's a fabulous book, giving an insight into this particular writer's mind and processes, and her conflicted feelings about wanting her work to be popular, and not caring if it isn't. There are lots of wonderful quotes, like this one more about how she felt about Jacob's Room, her third novel:
There's no doubt in my mind that I have found out how to begin (at 40) to say something in my own voice; and that interests me so that I feel I can go ahead without praise.
Several years in - by 1926 - she was considering that there could be another audience for her diaries:
But what is to become of all these diaries, I asked myself yesterday. If I died, what would Leo [Leonard - her husband] make of them? He would be disinclined to burn them; he could not publish them. Well, he should make up a book from them, I think; and then burn the body. I daresay there is a little book in them; if the scraps and scratching were straightened out a little.

Finally, here's a thing that has been floating around the internet lately, the only surviving recording of her speaking: