18 December 2008

Recent poetry writing

I haven’t been writing all that much lately, or spending enough time by myself in my head, and that always makes me grumpy. I haven’t really done some serious writing since My Iron Spine came out.

So on Sunday I was determined to spend a bit of time on writing stuff. Rather than writing new stuff, I decided to type up the poems that I’d written since the last lot I typed up, some months ago.

I’ve realised in the last year or so that typing up poems from the scribbley things I scrawl in my notebook is a really important part of my whole writing process – it’s when a poem becomes real, and I edit it as I go – rewriting bits, cutting bits, rearranging bits. And once they’re typed, they’re so much easier to keep tinkering with until they’re finished or abandoned. It’s also a bit of a selection process – there are some poems I don’t even bother to type up, because they’re just a bit of a brain dump with short lines, or some other thing that has served whatever purpose it was ever going to serve, and I really don’t need to waste my time on doing anything with it because it simply doesn’t deserve it.

So anyway, on Sunday, when I was done, I found I’d typed up 12 poems – and one of them was actually kind of four little poems in a sequence (to which I plan to add more). I was so proud of myself. Turns out I’d written more that I thought. Pretty much all of them needed some work – some quite a lot – but there were some cool lines in there. And some lines that surprised me – things I can’t even remember writing. My favourite was the lines:

She is a pair of handcuffs
she is a tenuous grip

So after that, I had to write a skitey writing report. Earlier in the year a friend of mine and I were writing weekly reports to each other on our writing. Just shortish things where we say how much writing we’re doing, what we’re working on and so forth. I also say how much I’ve typed up, how many blog posts I’ve written and if I’ve sent out any submissions (which I almost invariably haven’t). I found it a really useful motivation, and record that I am actually doing something. After a several months of rather irregular reporting, I’m going to try and get back to it every week – and hopefully done some writing every week to report on.

09 December 2008

Call for submissions for JAAM 27

JAAM 27 (2009) will be edited by writer Ingrid Horrocks, who currently teaches creative writing at Massey University in Wellington.

The theme for this issue is 'wandering'. As well as work that features literal wanderers and travellers (a mainstay of New Zealand literature) we're also interested work that wanders - works that digress in creative ways from narrative, argument, or genre. Wandering fiction, poetry, and especially, creative nonfiction, should be sent to Ingrid by the end of March 2009 at jaammagazine@yahoo.co.nz or PO Box 25239, Panama Street, Wellington 6146. As always, this issue of JAAM will also be open to general submissions, which should be sent in by the same date. For more information on JAAM see http://www.myspace.com/jaammagazine.

JAAM 27 will be published in the second half of 2009.

08 December 2008

Getting back to blogging, getting back to writing, getting back to myself

I feel like the last few months - since before the publication of My Iron Spine - have been rather busy and a bit crazy.

Work was extra busy as we finished off a theme and prepared for its launch (I work for an online encyclopedia), there were things to do on the book and then the launch, then I got sick and then I went on holiday, and in between there have been lots of things to do for JAAM, which I'm usually behind on. And then the computer went screwy and had a tantrum (ie shut down) every time we tried to connect to the internet.

But now things are looking up - the computer is all fixed (thanks Dad), work is calmer, JAAM things are pretty much done for now, and the evenings are nice and long and so should be perfect for me to restart the writing routine that was working quite well for me, which involved hanging out in cafes and writing a couple of times a week on my way home from work.

I'm planning to throw myself back into my project of writing poems that take films as their starting point, but I can see the project expanding into things more tenuously connected to cinema. Not long ago I had a read over the things I'd written so far in this project, and discovered that I didn't really like most of it. That was a bit disappointing, but also kind of exciting - made me feel that I needed to aim for something a bit more meaningful and satisfying.

Another thing I've been thinking about a bit lately is how many of the people who have said they really liked My Iron Spine have mentioned particularly enjoying the autobiographical poems of the first section. I had felt I was moving away from writing poems that were personal, but it has made we reconsider that - made me think about that value of a personal voice, and consider how I could introduce that in a meaningful way into the kind of thing I'm working on at the moment.

Anyway, wish me luck as I launch back into it all...

02 December 2008

Exciting things

I am still internetless. Sigh... So I'm going to cram several posts into one.

Exciting thing 1: my book in Unity Books
My Iron Spine is now at Unity Books (finally). Yay! Unfortunately it isn't on the poetry end of the NZ books display table - you'll have to go and find it in the NZ poetry section, should you be looking for it.

Exciting thing 2: reading poetry at Paekakariki Fair
On Sunday I had lots of fun doing a couple of short poetry readings at the Paekakariki Fair, with Helen Heath, Tim Jones and Harvey Molloy. We read some poems, sold some books, bought some books, looked at lots of very cool stalls, slathered sunscreen on our burning selves, ate some gelato (at least I did anyway) and generally had a lovely day. Tim Jones has a more detailed account of it on his blog.

Exciting thing 3: poem from JAAM 26 is the Wednesday poem
Laurice Gilbert's fine poem 'Island Bay', published in JAAM 26, was the Wednesday poem in last Wednesday's Dominion Post. Hurrah! And congratulations Laurice.

Exciting thing 4: JAAM 26 is popular
Well, popular enough to need a reprint. We don't have an enormous print run, but it's run out and is being reprinted as we speak.

27 November 2008

JAAM 26 - further news

JAAM 26 is out in the world properly now, and so it seems a good time to post further info. Here's our media release:

JAAM 26 goes between the cracks

JAAM 26 is a little bit different.

Guest editor Tim Jones is both a poet and prose writer, and is well-known for his science fiction. When he called for submissions to JAAM 26 he said ‘speculative fiction and poetry (science fiction, fantasy and horror) is particularly welcomed, and will be considered on an equal footing to literary fiction and poetry’. Not surprisingly, Tim received many submissions from writers of speculative fiction, who often shy away from literary magazines.

Many of the stories in JAAM 26 could be termed ‘interstitial fiction’ – fiction that fits in the cracks between genres, or moves between one genre and another.

One such story is ‘Last chance to see’ by Tracie McBride. A woman wakes up after having died in a car accident. Her personality has been transferred into an avatar for 24 hours, so she can farewell her family and friends. In Esther Dean’s story, ‘Breathing in another language’, the protagonist, a Westerner who lives in Korea, but can’t quite fit in, grows enormous, like Alice in Wonderland, until she fills an entire temple.

Alongside the interstitial fiction, lovers of literary fiction and poetry will find plenty in JAAM 26 to satisfy them. JAAM has always encouraged new and young writers, and this issue contains the magazine’s customary mix of fresh new voices and established names. JAAM 26 includes fiction by Helen Lowe, Lyn McConchie and Beryl Fletcher, and poetry by Elizabeth Smither, Rhian Gallagher, Iain Britton and L E Scott.

Tim says ‘Although no theme was imposed on this issue, themes emerged. The eternal triumvirate – love, sex and death – all make strong showings, and there are a number of pieces that deal with aging, with landscape, and with one considered through the prism of the other.’

JAAM is published by the independent JAAM Collective based in Wellington. JAAM is supported by funding from Creative New Zealand.

JAAM 26 is available from good bookshops or by subscription. For subscription information, visit http://headworx.eyesis.co.nz/JAAM/about.php or email jaammagazine@yahoo.co.nz.

For more information, or to interview Tim Jones, contact:
Helen Rickerby

Reading at Paekakariki School Fair

Sorry for the silence - I am currently internetless at home due to technical problems. Sigh. I hope to sort them out soon, but is very frustrating.

But in the meantime, if you're going to be anywhere near Paekakariki on Sunday, Helen Heath, Tim Jones, Harvey Molloy and I will be reading at the Paekakariki School fair this Sunday at around midday. Should be fun!

01 November 2008

JAAM 26 sets forth into the world

JAAM 26 is all printed, and on its way into the world. Subscribers' copies have been posted, and you should get them soon (if you haven't already). Copies should be in the shops in the next week or so.

Contributors, your copies are all ready to go (in envelopes with your names on them and everything), but please bear with us for a few days while we get your contributor cheques sorted out (we're in the process of shifting banks).

JAAM 26, edited by the multi-talented Tim Jones, contains many and wonderous things by well-known and up-and-coming writers. You will find 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; and an essay by L E Scott. The image on the cover is by Reihana Robinson

More soon...

31 October 2008

Hinemoana Baker and the Poets Six at Howltearoa

From the Word Collective:

Another Howltearoa will be happening this coming Monday the 3rd of November at 7:30 at the Southern Cross.

This month we have the special pleasure of Hinemoana Baker and the Poets Six as our guests! We will also be having our usual open mic, which is free to poets, story-tellers, free-stylers, singers and of course yodellers.

Southern Cross is on the Corner of Abel Smith & Cuba streets.

We look forward to seeing you there!

27 October 2008

My Iron Spine's first review

My Iron Spine has received its first review, over here at Southern Ocean Review. It's an oddish review, but a review nevertheless.

And good on Southern Ocean Review for reviewing so much NZ poetry - I think it's getting harder and harder for poetry books to get a review, especially since the Fairfax papers (Dominion Post, Christchurch Press and so forth) started carrying that silly glossy mag thing instead of having their own proper review pages.

I think blogs are helping to fill the gap a bit though, and I've had some very appreciated coverage: an interview on Tim Jones's blog and this piece on Harvey Molloy's blog. And thank goodness for Arts on Sunday on National Radio! - my interview with Lynn Freeman should be here on the net for a bit longer.

Also, just noticed that My Iron Spine is now listed on New Zealand Books Abroad and Timeout bookstore's websites. Yay!

20 October 2008

Returned from the north/ Me interviewed

Last night we got back from our trip up to Auckland and Northland.

We went up because I was the guest reader at last week's Poetry Live in Auckland. Preceding me was guest mucisian (and poet) Anna Rugis, who filled the space with music using only her voice and her body - her rhythm section was her feet and/or her hands slapping her thighs.

I think the reading went well - I certainly enjoyed it. They're a lovely bunch of people and I had a whole half hour to read my poetry. I particularly appreciate this because many of the poems in My Iron Spine are quite long, and so if I read just one of them, then it takes up a good deal of your 10 mins reading time. At Poetry Live I read most of '11 fragments of God' but decided at the last minute against reading another long poem - 'Artemisia Gentilleschi' - because I thought it was asking a bit much in audience concentration when they had to listen to me read for so long, and so read fairly short poems.

After Auckland we headed up to Northland - spent one night in Whangarei (which has four second-hand bookshops!) and then two nights in a very cool cottage in Rawene (the picture is our view across the Hokianga).

In my absence, Tim Jones has published his interview with me about My Iron Spine on his blog. Also, My Iron Spine is now on Fishpond, so anyone and everyone can buy it.

07 October 2008

Julian Novitz wins BNZ Katherine Mansfield short story awards

I was totally chuffed to hear today that Lynn Freeman, who was the MC for the awards ceremony, quoted some of my poem 'Married to genius' (which is in the voice of John Middleton Murry, Katherine Mansfield's husband, and is about their relationship). Lynn interviewed me on National Radio the other week about My Iron Spine, and mentioned she liked this poem.

Anyway, the really good news about the awards is that the fabulous Julian Novitz won the premier prize with his story 'Three couples'. This makes me happy because I think Julian's writing is fantastic and I think he deserves all the recognition he gets. He's started good, and he's getting better.

Also, it makes me feel slightly smug, because I clearly recognised talent when I published one of his very first short stories in JAAM 16. I met him a year or two later when he came up to Wellington.

I could rant at length about his first book, My Real Life and Other Stories, which I loved and gave to lots of my friends. It was a collection of short stories, which were good individually, but because they were interconnected, the book had more resonance – a bit like a novel. His first novel, Holocaust Tours, was at least as well-written, but perhaps the darker subject matter made me reluctant to hand it out as presents. But I was really impressed with the thinking and writing behind it, and thought it deserved more attention than it got.

The other winners were Joseph Ryan, who won the novice category, and Clare Tanton, who won the young writer's prize. More info here.

04 October 2008

101st blog post/My Iron Spine and feminism/biography binge

This is my 101st blog post. Wow. I feel like I ought to perhaps have fireworks – or probably that should have been for my 100th post, which passed by without me noticing. Anyway, to the real point of this post…

Over on his blog, Harvey Molloy has written a really thoughtful response to My Iron Spine – the lovely man. And the rest of this post is basically a reworking and expansion of my comment that I posted about his post (how circular!). Anyway…

It’s really interesting hearing others’ views on one’s own work, because they come at it from different angles, and often see things that you hadn’t deliberately meant, or emphasise different things. But they’re all true and valid (well, maybe not all…).

When I was writing My Iron Spine, I didn’t set out to write something feminist/political, or at least much less so even than my first book – or rather parts of my first book. I was writing about the lives of people who interested me, and it turned out that they were women (mostly) so I went with that. Not to say that I’m not interested in men – some of my heroes are men, and I’m extremely fond of a large number of real-life men. I was talking to a friend yesterday about this, and she said that growing up most of her heroes were men, because they seemed more active. I said I always tended to seek out women in literature and biographies, and I think that is probably because it was easier for me to relate to someone else if they were female – turning them into little mirrors.

But anyway, reading Harvey’s review of my book has made me realise that in fact it is inevitably feminist, because those women were all constricted by things that did (generally/always?) relate to their gender. And many of them are not as well-remembered as they ought to be simply because of their gender, I think. I certainly didn’t seem to make them out to be victims – in fact the opposite – nor did I mean to make the men in their lives out to be evil (though a couple of them kind of were). But he’s totally right, cumulatively it all adds up to a statement.

I’ve been sick all week – nasty cold – and, in between doing some work work (I can edit so much faster at home!), I’ve been on a biography binge – reading some that have been lying around the house for a while. I started on Olive Schreiner (1855-1920), a South African writer, best-known for The Story of an African Farm, but also the author of Women and Labour, which is about socialism, gender-equality and work. Then I read a biography of Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), best-known for writing A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and now I’m reading a biography of Zelda Fitzgerald (1900-1948), who I really only know as F Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, but she was also a writer and painter.

I haven’t got very far with Zelda yet, I think she’s only about 18 at the moment, but what has struck me with all three of them is that they were all trying to not be bound by what convention said women should be, or how society said people should act. The other thing that’s struck me, once again, is that simple linear progress in most things is a myth – it’s all swings and roundabouts – and in the place of women in society, it’s the same. Mary Wollstonecraft managed about 100 years before Olive Schreiner to earn her own living for most of her life, something Schreiner thought women should do, but didn’t quite manage herself. Wollstonecraft, if she lived now, would still be considered brave and often shocking, I think.

In contrast with all these strong, independent women who were fighting for the rights of women to be seen as the equals of men, I caught a little bit of The Flavor of Love on TV. This is a reality show where a bunch of women compete to ‘be with’ (I don’t even know what that means – it’s not like he’s actually going to marry them) rapper (and narcissist) Flavor Flav. How far we’ve come! Sigh…

30 September 2008

Poetry Society/Paula Green/Mark Doty: Recent poetry events I have attended, part 2

The other recent poetry event I’ve been meaning to blog about is the last Poetry Society meeting.

It was a bit different – this time there was no guest reader, and everyone was to bring along three poems to read – one by themselves, one by a New Zealand poet and one by an overseas poet.

Not everyone followed this strictly, but that was fine. It was a good friendly bunch. I enjoyed what everyone brought, and there was quite a variety. Though, two people did both bring poems from The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy – one about Mrs Darwin, and the other about Mrs Midas.

Jennifer Compton had left most of her poetry books in Australia, where she ordinarily lives, so she gave us two poems from memory: one of the Sings Harry poems by Denis Glover (which she recited so beautifully that I’m inclined to read them again) and that Shakespearian sonnet (I now think of it as the ‘Sense and Sensibility’ sonnet – you know the one ‘Let not the marriage of true minds’ … etc), which she said helped her through a particularly difficult labour. Jennifer was the Randall Cottage fellow for this year. It was lovely to have met her in person (she’s a regular contributor to JAAM, so I had met her ‘virtually’), and she’s been a committed supporter of Wellington poetry events while she’s been here.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was going to read a poem by Mark Doty, and I was going to select my NZ poem from my post-launch-poetry-book-splurge books.

I decided to read four short pieces from the long poem/sequence ‘Appointment with Sophie Calle’ by Paula Green, from her new book Making Lists for Frances Hodgkins. I enjoyed most of this book very much, but I’m totally taken with ‘Appointment with Sophie Calle’, and it seemed to me that it summed up a lot of what she was doing in the book as a whole.

In her endnote, Green says that her aim for this book was ‘to write an autobiography in the light of art’. Being a poet, it isn’t so straightforward: ‘I have erected all kinds of walls around these things I withhold in other words my autobiography is selective’.

I wasb't at all familiar with the work of Sophie Calle, but I now know that she is a conceptual artist who often uses the lives of herself and others in her works. (One project involved being a maid in a hotel, where she went through guests’ luggage and based an exhibition on it.)

It appears that what Paula Green is doing in her poem/sequence is taking a title of one of Sophie Calle’s works, and using it as a starting point for a prose poem. These are quite gorgeous, weaving what I assume are personal revelations with funny little stories and a breathlessness created by the lack of punctuation. This is a poem that I will read over and over and over. It’s always a delight when you come across a poem like that.

If you have a better internet connection than me, you can watch her reading some of the poems from this book at the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre website.

Another poem I’ve discovered lately, which I’ve read over and over, is ‘Demolition’ by Mark Doty (from My Alexandria). I hadn’t read anything by Mark Doty until a few months ago, though I’m told he came to the Wellington arts festival a few years ago (must have been while I stopped paying attention).

I was talking to a work colleague of mine, who is also a writer, about what I’m working on at the moment – poems that take a film, or films more generally, as their starting point – and he told me I had to read this poem by Mark Doty. He was kind enough to photocopy it for me, and I seem to have misplaced it but it was called ‘The Hours’ and is a musing about watching the novel The Hours being turned into a film. I really liked the poem, and it sent me off to the library to find more.

I came away with My Alexandria, and the first poem totally blew me away, and so this is the one I read at the Poetry Society. ‘Demolition’ is sort of about watching the demolition of a building built in 1907, but it’s also about how ‘We love disasters that have nothing to do/with us’ and the fall of Oscar Wilde, and Robert Lowell, and war and really all sorts of things. I read it to Sean, and he said it was like chocolate nemesis cake (the most amazing cake in the world, which we devour at our local Aro Cafe – basically it’s made of chocolate, with more chocolate, and then some eggs and some more butter perhaps, and probably some more sugar – it’s basically like cooked chocolate mousse – it’s delicious and you really need to share it) – basically its language is so rich that you wouldn’t really want any richer, but it’s delicious just how it is.

Some of my favourite lines:

"The unreadable," Wilde said, "is what occurs."

It's strange how much more beautiful
the sky is to us when it's framed
by these columned openings someone meant us
to take for stone.

But really, you should read it – it’s online here: http://famouspoetsandpoems.com/poets/mark_doty/poems/14751

Moonshot is launched: Recent poetry events I have attended, part 1

I’ve attended a couple of literary events that I’ve been meaning to blog about.

The most recent was Harvey Molloy’s launch for his debut poety collection, Moonshot. It was in the midst of Exhibitions Gallery in Featherston Street. There was a good turn out, and so many interesting people to talk to that it rushed by without time to talk to all of them.

Tim Jones launched the book, which was very appropriate given their shared interest in science fiction poetry. Harvey then talked a little, and read some of his poetry – showing the range of his work from serious and moving, to more humorous. I enjoy hearing Harvey read his work - I think he really brings it to life.

Roger Steele of Steele Roberts (who published Moonshot) also talked (Probably the highlight of the night was when he said I was his hero – I’m not quite sure why this is but think it might have something to do with his liking for my last name – he only ever calls me ‘Rickerby’, in a very business-like tone. If I want to be taken more seriously, I might consider dropping my first name altogether), and he noted that there aren’t many independent poetry publishers around New Zealand. So good on him for continuing to publish poetry and get it out into the world.

Anyway, it was lots of fun, in the midst of a cool exhibtion. More about the launch over at Harvey’s blog.

28 September 2008

Me on the radio, part 2

My interview with Lynn Freeman about My Iron Spine played on National Radio this afternoon. I think it went pretty well - I didn't ramble too much. I hope I managed to make the book sound reasonably interesting.

If, like me, you were off doing something worthwhile with the sunny afternoon (we went to the Botanic Gardens with my parents and one of my brothers - unfortunately, so did most of Wellington as it turned out to be Tulip Sunday) you won't have heard it. Neither will you have heard it if you live overseas, unless you are Karen, who was alerted by her father that I was going to be on the radio and tuned in from New York to hear the first NZ accents, other than her own, for some time.

But if you want to here it, it's online here: http://www.radionz.co.nz/podcasts/artsonsunday.rss (this one for podcast/mp3), and here: http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/artsonsunday/20080928 (this one is streaming).

I totally love the way you can listen to these interviews over the net. I spent part of yesterday afternoon (while I was putting the final touches to JAAM 26, which will go to print tomorrow - but more on that later) listening to interview with writers over the last month or so. They were so cool to listen to - I got quite addicted. It's such a treasure.

27 September 2008

Me on the radio!

I'm terribly excited. I'm going to be on National Radio tomorrow (Sunday 28 September), interviewed by Lynn Freeman about My Iron Spine for the Arts on Sunday programme. The schedule for the whole thing is here: http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/artsonsunday. I'm going to be on between 2.30 and 2.50 - most likely at around 2.40.

It will also be available on the net for 10 weeks after, so I'll post a link to that.

I did the interview on Thursday - Radio New Zealand is in the same building as where I work, and actually only one floor up, so I was away from my desk for only 15-20 minutes.

A little nervous, I put on lipstick beforehand, to make myself feel more confident and grown up. 'I know you can't actually see lipstick on the radio', I said to my colleagues. 'I think you can hear lipstick on the radio', said one, helpfully. See if you can hear it - it's bright red.

Lynn Freeman was lovely, and the interview was a lot like a chat - except with me trying to be more eloquent than usual (though I think I did a little bit of my usual digressing). We talked about specific poems, and about using people you know in your poems, and some of the women in some of the poems. And then I read 'Passion'. I probably should have read one of the ones we'd talked about, because they play the poem first, but I was prepared to read 'Passion', and when you're nervous it's hard to change your plans.

The highlight for me is that Lynn Freeman said she liked my book so much that she was going to keep it - for someone who was a book award judge, and who gets review copies of everything, that's quite a compliment.

20 September 2008

What's your favourite New Zealand book?

It's New Zealand Book Month, as those of you in NZ will probably already know.

Over on my day-job blog we're asking people what their favourite New Zealand book is, and why. The responses so far are widely varying, which I've found really interesting, with quite a bit of non-fiction.

If you're so inclined, it would be very cool if you wanted to add your two cents worth too. Just click here, and add a comment.

16 September 2008

Interviews on Tim Jones's blog/Sonnet competition

Interviews on Tim's blog

Tim Jones has kicked off a wee series of interviews with other writers with an interview with poet and novelist Helen Lowe. (He has some others lined up, including one with me about My Iron Spine.) Helen Lowe is a writer I hadn't come across before typesetting JAAM 26, which has poems and a story by her in it. Her Her first young adult novel, Thornspell, has just been published by Knopf in the USA.

Sonnet competition

I'm not much of a poetry-competition enterer – I guess because there's only one winner in a competition, whereas if you send your poems to magazines (which I actually do quite infrequently as well, though I aim to do this more often), everyone who gets something accepted is a winner.

But you might be different. You might want to enter the Wellington Sonnet Competition 2008. If so, you'll find the following info most useful:

Poet and biographer Harry Ricketts is to judge the Wellington Sonnet Competition 2008. “Any fourteen-line of poem about Wellington will qualify,” he says, “because the sonnet is a still evolving form that I find fascinating. Poems submitted to the competition need not have a traditional rhyming scheme, although formal sonnets will also be welcome.”

The New Zealand Society of Authors is running the competition, sponsored by New Zealand Post, in aid of the Wellington Writers Walk. For a $10 entry fee, (plus $5 for each additional poem submitted), people will be in to win a $1000 first prize, $500 second prize, $250 third prize or one of the 10 highly commended prizes of $50. The closing date is 22 September 2008 and entrants can download forms and conditions from http://www.authors.org.nz/.

Harry Ricketts is an Associate Professor in the School of English, Film and Theatre and Media Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. Born in London and educated at Oxford University, he has lived in England, Malaysia, Hong Kong and New Zealand. He is the author of eight collections of poems and the internationally acclaimed biography of Rudyard Kipling, The Unforgiving Minute, published in England by Chatto and Windus in 1999 and in the USA in 2000. He has published various essays and critical writings and edited collections of work by other poets. He is currently working on a composite biography of a dozen World War One poets and is co-editor of the quarterly review journal New Zealand Books.

13 September 2008

Open Mic Extremo at the Poetry Society

How confusing, they've switched the day on me. It's on a Thursday this month instead of a Monday.

What I'm actually talking about is the Poetry Society monthly meeting. They're doing something a bit different this time. Rather than having a guest reader, they're have a Grand Open Mic. People are two bring three poems to read:
  • one of their own
  • one by a New Zealand poet
  • one by an overseas poet.

I'm expecting to hear and discover some new cool poems, and I'm looking forward to sharing some things I've come across lately.

Rather than taking along old favourites, I've decided to bring along new favourites, and will be selecting something from one of the books I bought on my recent post-launch-poetry-book-splurge at Unity. I bought Mark Doty's Fire to Fire: New and Selected poems, Incognito by Jessical Le Bas, Making Lists for Frances Hodgkins by Paula Green, and South (revised and expanded Faber edition) by Chris Orsman. I've already decided on my overseas poet poem - it will be by Mark Doty. But I think I will write more about that, and him, in another post.

Anyway, the important details for the September Poetry Society meeting:

Thursday 18 September, 7.30 pm
Thistle Hall
Upper Cuba Street

09 September 2008

Moonshot launch – and you’re invited

Harvey Molloy, a fellow Wellington poet and blogger, has just published his first collection of poetry, Moonshot, and will be launching it on Wednesday 24 September. See the invitation below for details, or visit Harvey's blog.

I have managed to get myself a copy early, and have been reading and enjoying it.

It’s divided into two sections – the first, ‘Gemini spacewalk’, contains poems that all have something to do with space. I got to read an earlier draft of this manuscript, and being rather into thematic collections of poetry as I am, I encouraged him to focus on the space poems. Since then, he wrote a few more, which rounded out this section.

I think my favourite poem in this section (and probably in the collection) is ‘A walk on the moor’, which I always think of as ‘A walk on the moon’ – which is quite appropriate really because it features a child (a younger version of the author) pretending to walk on the moon. The moor in question, where the author was sent to play, is the same where Ian Brady and Myra Hindley murdered and buried children. That sends quite a chill over the poem.

Some are more directly space oriented, such as the poem ‘Gemini spacewalk’, while others are about scientists and astronomers. The thematic links are sometimes more lateral - the first poem in the collection describes black paint dropping on the white floor of a cockatoo cage at the zoo as black star in a white sky.

The second section, ‘Learning the t’, is more varied in subject matter. It ranges from ‘Tusalava’, which conjures a Len Lye film, to ‘Diwali’, which describes a family occasion. There’s a mixture of humour and seriousness. A favourite in this section is ‘Sylvia’, about (I can only assume) Sylvia Plath. It find it a chilling, evasive poem and exquisite poem.

I also have to say that it has a gorgeous cover, featuring the painting Phenomenon of Weightlessness by Remedios Varo, who is one of my fav painters. I even named the main character in my never-really-got-going-but-one-day-I’ll-figure-it-out-and-write-it novel Vara, after her. No one else much seems to have heard of her, so I was delighted to discover that Harvey is a fan too.

08 September 2008

Fathers' day poem

It was Fathers' Day yesterday. It was also the day I presented my nephew Daniel with his very own poem.

I actually wrote it a few years ago, but had never typed it up for some reason. I felt compelled to yesterday morning, partly because it was Fathers' Day again, but also because, after launching my book on Friday, and reading a poem about each of my brothers at the launch, I realised that everyone in that segment of my family had a poem except Daniel. There are several about my mum, dad and brothers in My Iron Spine, there is one about Chantelle (my neice) in Abstract Internal Furniture, and I wrote a couple for Colin and Charmaine for their engagement and wedding (one of them made it into their order of service). And I've written several poems about Sean. So now Daniel has one too:

Fathers’ Day

It’s Fathers’ Day
and we are eating pizza
because in his four years
Daniel has deduced
that pizza is what is eaten
on Fathers’ Day
Mother’s Day is KFC
and this law
is unalterable

But even this will change
and this law is unalterable
Because today I first heard Daniel
call Uncle Philip
Uncle Philip
and I can’t help mourn
the demise
of Uncle Willip

and soon wobowapta
will just be roboraptor
and soon aunts
won’t be cool enough for birthday parties
and soon it will be Fathers’ Day again
and Daniel might teach
his own children
the unalterable law
of pizza for lunch

I almost cried when I read this again, because even though Daniel is only a few years older, I'd already forgotten how he used to talk!

06 September 2008

My Iron Spine is go! (or rather, launched)

Yay! My Iron Spine is now well and truly launched.

Despite the vile weather (cold southerly, squalling rain), lots of lovely people turned out to help me celebrate. It all went by in a bit of a flash, but thankt you to everyone who came. It was really special having so many of my friends, family and workmates there. And all the children behaved impeccably, including the really little ones. (I was amazed! Ooh, and I have to tell you that almost-two-year-old Cole, when he was leaving, said ‘Goodbye Helliecat, goodbye booze, goodbye glass’, waving at all three of us. Charming!)

It began in a bit of a panic, because, as always I’m afraid, I was running late, and it was a bit of a rush to get everything ready. My first guests arrived before I’d put on my lipstick! (Bright red of course, and yes indeed, I was wearing mostly red.) After a bit of chatting and book signing, we did the formal speechy stuff, standing (coincidentally) in front of a photograph of a red chair.

My very dear friend, and fellow co-managing editor of JAAM, Clare Needham launched the book with a lovely and supportive speech. She considered how she ought to launch it – whether we should smash a bottle of champagne over it, or launch it on a catapult – but instead we toasted it. Then I thanked a whole bunch of people who had helped me with the book and the launch, and read a few poems. I had, at one rash point, considered reading the whole 11 pages of ‘Empress Elisabeth’, but instead read a selection of shorter poems – ‘Grows on trees’, ‘School project’, ‘Handicrafts with Minnie Dean’ and ‘Kate Sheppard and I go for a ride’ – and the beginning, end, and a little from the middle of ‘Empress Elisabeth’ – a bit more manageable than the whole thing!

More chatting, signing, chatting, cleaning up and then off down to Tulsi for a curry. A great evening.

We had the launch at the Toi Poneke Arts Centre Gallery, which was a really good venue. It has almost-doubled in size since I was last there (when we had a launch for Vivienne Plumb’s Scarab there), and is now an L shape. We were in the midst of Outside Culture, an exhibition of photographs by Angela Blachnitzky of inside furniture outside – couches dragged out onto verandahs, lounge chairs in overgrown back gardens. She thinks this is a peculiarly New Zealand thing to do, and, though I have heard reports to the contrary, it is certainly a very common thing to here (except us – we have outdoor resin chairs inside pretending to be dining chairs).

Anyway, now that the launch(es) is/are over, I’m wondering quite what to do next. While I am already working on poems for the next collection, I’m not done with My Iron Spine – I feel like I want to spend a bit of time introducing it to the world. To this end, I’m going to be guest reader at Poetry Live in Auckland next month (which I’m really looking forward to – they were all such lovely people), and a fellow poet has suggested we could do a reading or two around the place. Any other ideas?…

In the meantime, My Iron Spine should be hitting the shops next month – which means, really, that it will be in the wonderful independent bookshops around New Zealand, and hopefully also on Fishpond. I went into the fabulous Unity Books today – on a post-launch-poetry-book-buying splurge – and when chatting to a member of staff, discovered that she’d recently entered it on their computer system, so I hope it will be in stock soon. I also have a bunch of copies that I’m selling, should you wish to acquire one.

04 September 2008

My Iron Spine launch nerves

Tomorrow I properly launch My Iron Spine. Wish me luck! Now I just have to figure out what I'm going to say, what I'm going to read, and what I'm going to wear (probably something red).

31 August 2008

Transported, by Tim Jones

I haven’t been getting too much time to read of late, but when I have snatched some time, I worked my way through Tim Jones’s recent short story collection Transported (Random House, 2008). Tim is a literary and blogging friend of mine, and he’s also the guest editor of JAAM 26, which I’ve just finished typesetting.

Transported is Tim’s second collection of stories – his first, Extreme Weather Events, was published in 2001 by HeadworX, who also published his two collections of poetry: Boat People (2002) and All Black’s Kitchen Gardens (2007). Unusually for a poet (I think?), he’s also published a fantasy novel, Anarya’s Secret (Redbrick). From all of that, you can see that Tim Jones is an extraordinarily flexible writer, with a rather large range of styles and interests – and not just between books, but also within books and within pieces. For example, some of the poems in All Black’s Kitchen Gardens are little poetic science fiction stories.

In a recent blog post, Tim talks about this mixing of the ‘literary’ and the ‘genre’ as ‘interstitial fiction’ – fiction that falls between the cracks and gaps of our usual categories. This crossover of ‘literary’ and ‘genre’ styles is an area Tim is obviously really interested in – in his own work and in that of others. In his call for submissions for JAAM 26 he particularly encouraged writers of ‘speculative fiction’ to submit.

And it’s definitely in evidence in Transported. In here, you’ve got orcs, philosophers, astronauts, poets (actually, the astronaut is a poet), flying people, politicians, alien neighbours, people in the future, people from the past, a girl who can make inanimate objects move just by walking past them. This isn’t your typical short story collection, and that’s what’s so cool about it.

My favourite stories probably are the ones that perhaps tend towards the literary. What do I mean by that? It’s a pretty loaded statement, and one I’m not going to be able to justify entirely, but I guess I mean the ones that tend towards a quiet, reflective tone; the ones in which maybe nothing much happens, but which are especially full of meaning.

Anyway, several of my fav stories combine, in terms of the subject matter, literary/high culture with the ordinary, the banal – what one might call low culture, should one wish to be snobbish (though I would never suggest such a thing.)

In ‘The Visit of M. Foucault to His Brother Wayne’, philosopher Michel Foucault comes to New Zealand and stays with his brother Wayne, a dairy farmer in Southland. Foucault is not especially good with farm work, but has some skill in milking. ‘Borges and I’ begins with the narrator and the South American writer Borges watching the rugby. The narrator advises Borges that ‘only woofters drink coffee at half-time’.

This imaginative combination of things considered high culture and things considered low culture is, of course, what Tim is doing in the entire book, and a great deal of his writing. He plays with this idea in another of the stories I particularly liked, ‘Measureless to Man’. When the poet Coleridge is having trouble with getting started on ‘Kubla Khan’, one of his attempts at a beginning also (though less successfully than Tim) combines high culture with the ordinary: ‘In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / a block of council flats decree…’

Another thing that only just struck me about many of my favourite stories in Transported is that a significant number of them are the ones that have ‘real’ people in them – people from history. Others like this are the fantastically titled ‘A Short History of the Twentieth Century, with Fries’, which features ‘Lenin and his posse’, and ‘Win a day with Mikhail Gorbachev!’ I think this points to a preoccupation of mine, more than anything else – of sticking real people into fictional narratives, which is something I very much enjoyed doing in My Iron Spine.

One of the other stories that I really liked is ‘Said Sheree’. It’s kind of a love story between Sheree, a Tier One poet, and Miranda, a Tier Two poet. In this version of reality, New Zealand’s funding system for poetry has categorised everyone into various tiers. Because Miranda and Sheree are in different tiers, theirs is a forbidden – or at least not approved of – love. Along with the fantastic satire, and interesting ideas, it’s also a sweet, moving, and quite sad love story. I was also delighted with it when it mentioned that Miranda, the Tier Two poet, has two poems accepted for JAAM – I think that is our first mention in a published literary work!

Reading this collection I became aware of just how full of ideas Tim’s brain must be – I just can’t fathom how he came up with some of the ideas in these stories. I expect he is the kind of person with folders and folders full with so many ideas for poems, stories, novels that it would take a lifetime for him to finish them. So expect to see many more publications from him.

To read more about Transported, you can find links to and quotes from reviews on his blog here, and here.

Poetry week in Wellington

Phew! You could spend almost all your waking hours going to poetry things in Wellington this week.

Monday 1 September

1 pm to 2 pm

Writers on Monday – 2008 Randall Cottage fellow Jennifer Compton in conversation with Mary McCallum. National Library Auditorium, Molesworth Street.

7.30 pm – whenever

Howltearoa, with special guests The Gracious Deviants, ‘a two-piece acoustic act who have been performing together for several years now and are well known for their deft lyrics and brilliant harmonies’. Starts with open mike (poetry, spoken word, acoustic music). Southern Cross, Abel Smith Street.

Wednesday 3 September

7 pm

The final of this Winter Reading series, featuring Michael O’Leary, Marilyn Duckworth and Bill Dacker. City Gallery, Civic Square.

8 pm

If you rush from the Winter Reading, you will only be a bit late to a poetry performance/fundraising event featuring members of Wellington’s Word Collective, and Auckland’s Litteratti. They’re raising money to finish a digital feature film Godspell: www.godspell-movie.com. That’s at Happy.

Friday 5 September

My book launch! (For my new poetry book, My Iron Spine.) If you’d like to come, flick me an email and I’ll send you an invitation (helen.rickerbyATparadise.net.nz).

30 August 2008

Submissions for new literary mag close tomorrow

Ok, so obviously it would have been way more useful if I'd managed to post this earlier, but you still have most of two days. (I confess I thought they had already closed).

Enamel is seeking submissions of poetry, short stories and artwork for its first issue. Check out the Enamel blog for submission guidelines and more info.

Enamel is being started by Emma Barnes, poet and recent returnee from Japan. And fellow blogger.

I'm delighted that Enamel has accepted a poem of mine - the first of my new bunch of movie poems to be accepted for a literary magazine (though not the first to be published - 'New Worlds', in the Winter Readings anthology, is the first one in print).

29 August 2008

Winter Readings and launches

It was an historic day yesterday at Te Ara, where I work. We’re a creative bunch of people, and quite a few of us have published books at one time or another. But yesterday was the first time two of them had been launched in one day!

The first launch was my colleague Carl Walrond’s. He’s written a book called Survive! Remarkable Tales from the New Zealand Outdoors. It’s full of accounts of people who got lost in the bush and elsewhere, and survived, or not. Carl says he’s been lost in the bush before, and once got lost in Invercargill (the city, I think, rather than any wilderness area), so had some inside knowledge to write it.

Carl was kind enough to bring his launch to us at work (he had another with his Ngaio neighbours, but couldn’t mix them with us urban sophisticates apparently). He also brought his family, booze, snacks and ribena. When I found out it was 6.30 already, and had to scuttle off, I quickly sculled my wine-glassfull of ribena. My colleague Olivia guffawed at me, and reminded me: ‘Dignity at all times’ (which is my motto), thinking I’d just sculled a glass of red wine.

What I had to scuttle off to was my own launch – well, launch number one – at the Winter Readings. I had a great time hearing the other readers read, especially Harvey Molloy, who went first. And I had a great time reading too, and was delighted at people’s response. It was fun signing books, and getting Harvey to sign my copy of his book, Moonshot, which were hot off the press.

Another highlight was meeting a couple of people, Mary and Elbowlina, who I’d only met online before.

So I feel that My Iron Spine is now half launched, and I’m now looking forward to launch two – next week at the Arts Centre, in the middle of this intriguing exhibition: Outside Culture.

Also next week, the final Winter Reading, featuring Michael O’Leary, Marilyn Duckworth and Bill Dacker. Wednesday, 7 pm, City Gallery.

27 August 2008

Tomorrow's Winter Reading – Update

Winter Readings newsflash: I've heard that, unfortunately, Evelyn Conlon has had to cancel at the last minute. But, fortunately, Harvey Molloy is going to read with me instead. This is particularly cool because his first book, Moonshot, is just about to be published. And, with any luck, he might have some hot-off-the-press copies with him tomorrow.

I've heard Harvey read several times, and have always enjoyed it very much, so am looking forward to hearing him tomorrow - along with me, Niel Wright and Will Leadbeater.

I'm currently still agonising over what to read, and am about to time myself to make sure I don't take too much time.

24 August 2008

Winter Readings Two; My Iron Spine launch(es)

This Thursday at the Winter Readings, I'll be reading with Niel Wright, Evelyn Conlon and Will Leadbeater. (6.30 pm for a 7 pm start, at the City Gallery, Wellington). It's also the (first) launch of My Iron Spine. Harvey Molloy, who is going to be our MC, has intros for everyone over on his blog.

My second launch, which will be more focused on just this book, is all set for Friday 5th September. If you're reading this and would like to come, flick an email to me at helen.rickerbyATparadise.net.nz, and I'll email you an invitation.

Week of poetry readings

Last week was a busy poetry week – I went to two readings in three days!

The first of these was the Poetry Society meeting on Monday night. Australian Geoff Page was the guest poet, and I very much enjoyed his engaging style. His poems bounce along with his regular iambic rhythm, and often rhyme, which is fairly unusual these days. I guess there is probably more of a tradition of this in Australia, what with the bush poets and Banjo Paterson and so forth. You can catch Geoff Page at the Writers on Mondays event on Monday (25th) at 1 pm at the National Library, Wellington.

There was a pretty decent turnout for this reading, with some new faces. I really enjoyed the open reading as well. A particular standout poem for me was Harvey Molloy’s ‘The ghosts of the St James’, a new poem he’d written after taking his class to the St James theatre in Wellington, and hearing about the two resident ghosts: Yuri and the Woman in Red. This poetic retelling (and invention) of their stories was fabulous, and right up my alley.

My second poetry event of the week was the first of the Winter Readings series at the City Gallery, where Mark Pirie, Rob Hack, Richard Langston and Harry Ricketts read.

Mark has become known for dressing up and using props in his poetry readings. (One such occasion, where he dressed as Courtney Love for reading his ‘Ballad of Courtney Love’, apparently got twisted into a rumour that he went to the Prime Minister’s Awards in drag. Some journalists heard this and wanted to interview him about it, and were reportedly most disappointed to discover it wasn’t true). On this occasion he appropriately wore his cricket jersey and cap from Lords, as he was launching Slips, a book of cricket poems (along with Bottle of Armour and Trespassing in Dionysia, both previously uncollected early poems, published by Original Books).

Harry is always great to see read, and I enjoyed the poems of Richard Langston also, who I first heard last year. But the highlight for me was discovering Rob Hack – a poet whose work I don’t think I’ve come across before. He’s currently working on a collection about his experiences of the islands (he spent some of his childhood in Niue, and seems to have connections to Rarotonga). He read a couple of poems from the manuscript and I was really struck by them. I look forward to seeing more of his work.

Next week’s Winter Reading is on Thursday, not Wednesday. I’ll be reading and launching My Iron Spine. Yay!

18 August 2008

Winter Readings start Wednesday

This year's Winter Readings kick off on Wednesday (which was a surprise to me, because I thought they were all on Thursdays - don't be fooled - it goes Wednesday, Thursday, Wednesday) with Helter Skelter, featuring:
Plus launch of Mark Pirie's new books Slips: cricket poems (ESAW) and Bottle of Armour and Trespassing in Dionysia (both Original Books).

It's at the City Gallery, and starts at 6.30.

Wine/juice and books for sale. Earl of Seacliff will publish an anthology of poems by the readers featured to celebrate the event.

My book is having it's first launch at next week's Winter Reading(!!), which is on Thursday 28th, also at the City Gallery, also starting at 6.30.

For more info visit NZLive.com.

16 August 2008

Poetry Society meeting on Monday

From the Poetry Society:

This month's meeting is on next Monday, 18th August, at 7.30pm. Our guest is Geoff Page, an Australian poet of considerable experience, who is currently touring New Zealand. Jennifer Compton, who is the current Resident of the Randall Cottage, knows him well and highly recommends him.

We are meeting this month at Toi Poneke, the Wellington Arts Centre at 61 Abel Smith St. For those of you who are long-term Wellingtonians (we are few in number, but we do exist), it used to be the Department of Education building. For recent arrivals, it's on the same block as Real Groovy.

We'll be starting with an open mic, and if you want to take part, but are shy about sharing your own work, I have a collection of others' poems to draw from that you can read instead if you like.

The main downside of this venue is that the receptionist goes off duty at 8pm and the outer doors are locked, so it doesn't pay to turn up late in the hope of avoiding being shoulder-tapped for the open mic.

From this month we will be having a $2 entry fee, to help cover the venue hire, since Creative New Zealand's grant didn't go that far this year. I regret that, contrary to past practice, this fee will apply to members as well as visitors.

But it'll be worth it.

14 August 2008

My Iron Spine now a real book!

My Iron Spine came back from the printer today! And a week early! And it looks great! And it feels gorgeous! (Love that matt laminate.) I’m so excited! Can you tell?

And now it’s up on HeadworX’s site, so it’s like a real book. Launch one – at the Winter Reading on Thursday 28 August – is two weeks away. And planning for launch two, which will be on 5 September, is coming along nicely. Will be sending out invitations soon.

04 August 2008

My judge's report on the Junior Open Section of the 2008 Poetry Society Competition

A month or so back I judged the Junior Open section of the 2008 New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition. I've just noticed that they've put my judge's report up on the website, along with a list of the winners (it's the first time I've seen their actual names - all the judging was blind).

If you are curious, you can have a look at it here: http://www.poetrysociety.org.nz/openjunior

31 July 2008

Sharon Olds

I just wanted to share with you a link to this interview I stumbled upon with American poet Sharon Olds, which was in the Guardian. I found it really interesting, especially her humbleness – she’s one of the most well-known poets of our time (at least in the US), but she says: ‘As for feeling my work is an achievement - there are little passages, maybe 15 of them, like a line and a half each, that I really like.’

She also says:

‘I think for me the impulse to write has to do with making something, with capturing, recording, preserving, honouring, saving - or not turning away from, if it's a ghastly human thing one is driven to write about.’ And what does it offer the reader? She laughs. ‘Well . . . companionship. And pleasure: musical pleasure, in hearing it - and, to the inner ear, in reading it on the page. And recognition: “Someone else has felt what I've felt.” And surprise: “I never thought of that.” Reading poems can give us information about emotional states, or subjects, give us virtual experience which may be very different from our own. Yes! Maybe this is it! I think that the arts are for showing us ourselves -
including what's dangerous about us - holding a mirror up to nature.’
Have any of you read much of Sharon Olds’s work? I’ve read everything that is in Wellington Public Library – which isn’t much. Actually, that’s a lie, because while I started reading The Father, I couldn’t finish reading it. It just repulsed me. It’s about watching her father die of cancer. It was just too much for me.

But I really, really loved The Wellspring, and I think it’s been a really important book for me. It reads like a sort of autobiography, starting with the narrator’s parents, and then tracing through her life. I’m a bit hesitant to definitely identify the narrator with the poet, because she herself keeps a bit of distance there.

Olds is particularly known for her poetry about sex – she writes with an honesty that some people think borders on pornographic. What I have read so far has just been truthful, honest and real.

Note to self, read more of Sharon Olds’s poetry.

27 July 2008

My Iron Spine update

Publication edges closer!

As I mentioned earlier, My Iron Spine is going to be launched at the second of three Winter Readings, on 28 August. Soon after (date not yet confirmed) we'll be having another launch party, hopefully in the Arts Centre Gallery.

Tim Jones was kind enough to include the cover of My Iron Spine in a list of 'likeable things' (along with Sean's blog), which was lovely. We've since slightly changed the cover - this is the new version. The title needed to stand out a bit more, and now the text creates a sort of spinal column. I also like that, because the text is left justified rather than centred, it feels just slightly off balance.

And now My Iron Spine even has a back cover blurb:

The things that give us strength are often the same things that suffocate or cage us.

Empress Elisabeth’s iron spine was her corset, tightly laced, constricting her but giving her backbone. Reclusive poet Emily Dickinson found caged comfort in her room. Ada Byron’s mother tried corseting her with numbers, to counteract the madness she may have inherited from her father.

Other characters in the poems of Helen Rickerby’s new collection My Iron Spine, including the poet herself, find ‘iron spines’ in family, love, society, isolation, religion, knowledge and radiation.

The first section weaves an autobiographical narrative, while the second exquisitely brings to life the stories and voices of women from history. The two combine in the final section, where the poet sunbathes with Joan of Arc, goes swimming with Virginia Woolf and parties with Katherine Mansfield.

The poems in this original and playful collection resonate and connect with each other, building a coherent whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Helen Rickerby’s first collection, Abstract Internal Furniture (HeadworX 2001), was described as ‘an avant-garde, indoor garden full of strange images and intriguing ideas where things turn topsy-turvy’ (Harvey McQueen, New Zealand Books). She was a co-founder, and now co-managing editor, of JAAM magazine, and runs the small publishing company Seraph Press. She lives in Wellington, where she is employed as an editor.

23 July 2008

If fonts were people

Most writer-types, which I suspect more of my readers are, have a bit of a thing for fonts. I wouldn't go so far as to say that we're 'font geeks', but we certainly know fonts (or possibly typefaces - I once knew the distinction, but then I forgot again), and know what we like. If that sounds like you, you'll enjoy this fabulous little movie, Font Conference.

The only thing I thought they got wrong is Old English (he should have been a monk or something). Century Gothic and Futura are my favs.

20 July 2008

Poetry is like fashion: one day you’re in, the next you’re out

I’m not talking here about poets in the poetry scene, though that may also be the case, I’m talking about individual poems in my collection My Iron Spine, which is finally ready for publication (I think).

Since I first assembled the collection, I’ve slowly been removing poems. Generally I think things can be improved by stripping back, and so, after reflection and feedback, I’ve taken out about six or seven poems.

The last decision was yesterday. After some feedback, I’d come to suspect that the middle section (which contains biographical poems, many of them quite long) might be too long. As you might expect, I want to try to make it the best book I can, so I had a good look at that section, and considered which poems I could bear to cut. After more discussion, I narrowed it down to one five-page poem, and then agonised for a few days.

The poem is called ‘The Happiness of Mary Shelly’, and is in the voices of Mary Shelly, Victor Frankenstein, and the monster from Frankenstein. I see it as a kind of triptych of voices – they take turns to speak, often about similar things, echoing each other. So it’s kind of about the themes from the novel, and interlinking them with themes from Mary’s own life – and kind of seeing the other two as aspect of her. I’m very fond of it, but have always felt slightly unsure about it.

Last week I wavered back and forth about keeping it in, taking it out. I think it’s pretty good, it belongs there, versus it’s long, I could rework it a bit to make it better (especially after Steve read it and suggested something about Victor’s relationship with his father), it’s kind of in the wrong place anyway (I’m trying to keep it away from another, short, poem about Mary Shelly).

Yesterday morning, while checking my proofs against the originals, (yes, it is very late in the process!) I looked at the poem before ‘The Happiness of Mary Shelly’, and the poem after, and realised they work well next to each other – the ‘envious light’ of ‘Marie Curie’, is echoed in the first lines of ‘Elizabeth Siddal’: ‘His light/hits the side of my face’.

And so it was decided; ‘The Happiness of Mary Shelly’ is out. I hope to find another home for her in the future – perhaps in a series of poems about fiction and fictional characters (I already have a couple about Mina Harker from Dracula – she’s so cool!).

And now My Iron Spine is one step closer to publication!

19 July 2008

Happy belated poetry day!

So yesterday was Montana (the NZ wine brand rather than the US state) Poetry Day. Unfortunately, I failed to do very much poetry-related, except continue to agonise over whether to take a poem out of My Iron Spine or not (still agonising), but I did publish this blog post about poetry on Te Ara.

Itwas also the day they announced the winner of the poetry section of the Montana Book Awards, which was Janet Charman for Cold Snack. I haven’t yet read Cold Snack, but I’ve generally enjoyed Charman’s work. The other finalists were Johanna Aitchison for A Long Girl Ago and Fiona Farrell for The Pop-up Book of Invasions.

16 July 2008

Word Collective events

Wellington poetry events info from the Word Collective:

Kia ora Spoken Word Whanau

A couple of updates:

Newtown library is hosting a spoken word evening this Friday July 18

"Read your own or someone else's"

Call Monty Masseurs (whata poetic name!) at the library for more info

Belfast Touring Poets
Monday 28th July

You may remember these hep cats from a Howltearoa show last year - they are big on the Poetry against Racism Kaupapa and are great performers. Apparently they want some Word Collective whanau to get up and speak and are keen to catch up with us before or after to nut out some ideas, re: World Domination or some such folly.

And of course if you need your weekly fix of spoken word, don't forget one of Wgtn's longest running open mics, at a new venue:

Poetry Studio is a weekly open mic poetry venue. Established in April 2004, it has happened every Sunday since then. It now runs from 3 til 5 pm at 128 Abel Smith Street. It's a relaxed gathering where you can listen to poetry of all shapes and sizes, or have a go at performing poetry yourself. Come along! Gold coin koha.

Get along and tell Steve Booth you heard about it from the Word Collective and he'll look after you!


13 July 2008

Anne Carson's 'The glass essay'

As promised in my previous post, to help out the folks who stumble upon my blog looking for help with the essays on Anne Carson's long poem The glass essay, I'm posting my piece I wrote about it, which was originally published in the New Zealand Poetry Society magazine, A Fine Line (May 2008).

The Glass Essay, by Anne Carson

Three silent women at the kitchen table.
My mother’s kitchen is dark and small but out the window
there is the moor, paralyzed with ice.
It extends as far as the eye can see

over flat miles to a solid unlit white sky.
Mother and I are chewing lettuce carefully.
The kitchen wall clock emits a ragged low buzz that jumps

once a minute over the twelve.
I have Emily p. 216 propped open on the sugarbowl
but am covertly watching my mother.

A thousand questions hit my eyes from the inside.
My mother is studying her lettuce.
I turn to p. 217.

“In my flight through the kitchen I knocked over Hareton
who was hanging a litter of puppies
from a chairback in the doorway. . . .”

It is as if we have all been lowered into an atmosphere of glass.
Now and then a remark trails through the glass.
Taxes on the back lot. Not a good melon,

too early for melons.

[. . . ]

Out the window I can see dead leaves ticking over the flatland
and dregs of snow scarred by pine filth.
At the middle of the moor

where the ground goes down into a depression,
the ice has begun to unclench.
Black open water comes

curdling up like anger. My mother speaks suddenly.
That psychotherapy’s not doing you much good is it?
You aren’t getting over him.

My mother has a way of summing things up.
She never liked Law much
but she liked the idea of me having a man and getting on with life.

Well he’s a taker and you’re a giver I hope it works out,
was all she said after she met him.
Give and take were just words to me

at the time. I had not been in love before.
It was like a wheel rolling downhill.
But early this morning while mother slept

and I was downstairs reading the part in Wuthering Heights
where Heathcliff clings at the lattice in the storm sobbing
Come in! Come in! to the ghost of his heart’s darling,

I fell on my knees on the rug and sobbed too.
She knows how to hang puppies,
that Emily.

Rather than quote the whole of The Glass Essay, I’ve quoted a couple of representative chunks from it – the whole thing is almost 45 pages long, so too long to quote here. But you can read it online at www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=178364, or in Carson’s book Glass, Irony and God.

The Glass Essay is my favourite poem and has been since I first read it in 2005. I’m sure I won’t be able to encapsulate all of the reasons why I love it so much, but I’m going to have a go at unpicking some of them.

The Glass Essay is a narrative poem, though not all that much actually happens. The narrator goes to visit her aging mother. She reads work by Emily Brontë, her favourite author, who she fears she may be turning into. She wanders on the moors feeling bad about being left by her lover. She and her mother visit her father, who has Alzheimers, in a rest home. By the end, the narrator seems to have undergone some kind of emotional healing.

Told like that, the story doesn’t sound like much, but don’t be fooled. It’s all in the way it’s written, and it’s written with language so cool and clear, it’s like the glass of the title. It doesn’t have the intense, full-of-images language of some poems, but it isn’t like prose either; it’s richer, and more cut-back and careful. There are some images in it of course, a simile here: ‘Black open water comes/curdling up like anger’; a metaphor there: ‘A thousand questions hit my eyes from the inside’.

For a poem that deals with such emotional subjects, it has a very cool, detached tone. Actually, I think it’s partly because of that distance that the poem can deal with strong emotion; I have a theory that poetry can turn the most heartfelt emotions into the most banal clichés unless you’re very careful. This narrator isn’t gushy. She tells us plainly, ‘I fell on my knees on the rug and sobbed too’, and then immediately undercuts it with a bite of humour: ‘She knows how to hang puppies,/that Emily.’

Certainly, this is a long poem, but for a little while after reading it, I find that in comparison ordinary-length poems seem pinched and ungenerous. Unsatisfying. Of course, there is a lot to be said for paring poems back, and usually I’m all in favour of it; but I find the length of The Glass Essay gives it space to consider things slowly, time to lead you places. Space for you to breathe.

Another thing that gives you space to breathe is the white space between the short stanzas. The poem is predominantly arranged into three-line stanzas, with the occasional variation for emphasis. And I’ve just this minute realised that each of the nine sections of the poem begin and end with a four-line stanza, acting as bookends.

The short stanzas work to pen in the words and emotions, keeping them in check. They stop the long poem from running away with itself. In my own work, I had previously avoided any kind of formal structure, preferring to let the stanzas grow and end organically. But this poem taught me the value of short, regular stanzas, which I’ve been experimenting with in my own work. And, following on from this, I’ve recently discovered that pretty much anything sounds much more profound if you put it in couplets. Give it a try sometime!

I’ve found that I like my literature to be educational. I enjoyed learning about New Orleans when reading Queen of Beauty, by Paula Morris, and the only benefit I think I gained from Moby Dick was an increased understanding of the business of whaling. The Glass Essay gave me new insights into the life and work of Emily Brontë, with its dabblings in literary criticism. It introduces us not only to Wuthering Heights, but also to her poems and what other critics say about her and her work.

The final reason I love The Glass Essay is because it inspires me. It was either during or immediately after reading this poem that I sat down and wrote my own Emily Brontë poem, ‘Passion’. The idea for it had been sloshing around in my head for some time, but I hadn’t known how to write it. Reading The Glass Essay unlocked something, and it just poured out.

12 July 2008

Scandal in Montana and Google Analytics

So late the-week-before-last, I was surprised to discover that 101 people had looked at my blog in one day. This is quite a lot, compared to my usual daily audience of about 10-20ish (which I’m very happy with). How on earth did these extra people find me?

Turns out they were mostly coming to my post about the book awards furore, and they were mostly coming from Ron Silliman’s popular poetry blog. In a long list of various links he’d included one that said ‘The scandal in Montana’. So I’m sure many of the people who clicked it were expecting to find some kind of sex expose in the US state, and were probably very disappointed to discover that it was just some little book awards thing in New Zealand. Nevertheless, I was terribly excited to have had so many visitors.

The reason I know how many people look at my blog, and how they get there, is through Google Analytics, a handy wee thing that tracks your blog (and/or website) stats. It doesn’t tell me who my visitors are, or anything so creepy as that; but it does tell me how many visitors I've had, where they are geographically (the most specific you get is by city), how they got there (ie referring sites) and, if they got there via a search engine, what their search terms were.

I find it childishly exciting to see that I’ve had readers from cities I’ve never even heard of, it parts of the world like Japan, US, South America, the Middle East. Even if they never come back, it’s still quite exciting.

It’s also been interesting to learn what people who get to Winged Ink via search engines are looking for. I recently wrote a post on my work blog (Signposts: a blog about Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand) about some of the most amusing search terms people used to get to it. Some my particular favs were ‘4 jocks surfer fight’, ‘obscene signposts competing for love with another suitor’ and ‘hot women around foxton’. I think those searchers would have gone away empty-handed from Signposts.

People who get to Winged Ink via search engines mostly have much more sensible and understandable search terms, like ‘poetry’, ‘book awards novel’, ‘jaam’ and ‘putting together a poetry manuscript’. Some people are actually even looking for my blog: ‘winged ink’, ‘helen rickerby’.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people (North American students I think) seem to be looking for stuff to help with essays about poets I’ve written about, especially Anne Sexton and Anne Carson. For you, I plan to republish a piece I wrote about Anne Carson for the Poetry Society Newsletter. I'm, of course, quite sure you won't rip it off for your essay, and will rather use it as a jumping off point for your own thoughts.

However, there are a few oddish search terms that people have used to get to Winged Ink, which might amuse:

  • china special ink for decal paper omnipotent
  • digital printing on concrete
  • discipline corset fainting stories
  • essay on my favourite poem [how would I know what your favourite poem is?!]
  • quiz to see what i am going to be when im older.

05 July 2008

Empress Elisabeth

I mentioned this poem in an earlier post - it's about Empress Elisabeth, Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary, aka Elisabeth of Bavaria. So far, it's the longest poem I've ever written. It's going to be in My Iron Spine, taking up rather a lot of pages, but I'm extremely fond of it. It also contains the line 'my iron spine', from which I have taken my title.

Empress Elisabeth
Elisabeth Wittelsbach, Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary

Possenhofen, Bavaria

‘But you have to play my way
My father is a duke
yours just keeps our pigs’
But Gretel wailed
‘I don’t want to play with you anymore’
as she ran off through the corn field
and wouldn’t come back
until I said I was sorry

Papa laughed, as he always did
and tickled me under my arms
Mama sighed and sadly said
‘You should be playing with princesses’

Cousin Emperor

I was planning to run away to the circus
but Mama said, ‘Why don’t you come
to Bad Ischl instead? We are
going to marry your sister
to an emperor, she always was
the prettiest’

We arrived in our travelling clothes
my hair a thick plait heavy
between my shoulder blades
Helene smiles her sweetest smile
There are more people in the room
than I have ever seen

‘Is that the emperor?
But where is his grey hair?
This man has too much sparkle
in his eyes, is too handsome
Why does he keep looking at me?’

Helene won’t speak to me today
but Mama is happy, she says
‘One daughter is as good as another’


In the looking glass
is a bride
I wonder who she is
and what they’ve done with me

Through the carriage windows
every pair of eyes
burns into me
and Archduchess Aunt Sophie snaps
that she thanks God
I am wearing a veil
Do I want the whole country to know
that their empress is a cry baby?
I dig my fingernails
into my palms

Emperor Franzi,
Cousin Franzi, Husband Franzi
alone with you at last
What is it you are doing?
Why ...?
Don’t, no,
stop, please...

‘Have you made me an heir?’
Mother-in-law Aunt Sophie leers

I sleep with the lights on
In this city of millions
I have never been alone before

Mother of the country

I think I am getting fat
I stop eating
‘That’s my grandchild’
says Aunt Archduchess
‘Eat up’

‘I’m so happy,’ says Emperor Husband
and holds me tight against
his warm shoulder
‘Mama says you mustn’t run
mustn’t fall
you know how much she loves you’

She took my babies away from me
one by one
They said I was fragile
I should rest
I should save my strength
So I hoard it and plan my escape


New shoes everyday sounds
like a fantasy, but I am drowning
in jewelled boots, velvet
slippers, delicate leather, fine fur
I feel them crushing against my rib
cage, pushing me down
under the deluge

And after all, I have only
two feet to stand on

Patrician ladies, old enough
to be my grandmama, get
down on their arthritic knees
and kiss my hand
with their brittle lips
I blush red
Last year they would not
have troubled to notice me

Crowning glory

I can’t fit another circlet
even if I wished it
but there is no need

Braids wind and snake
about my head
the colour of leaves in
late autumn

Everyday my tresses
are brushed and dressed
twisted and smoothed
and for hours I sit
while Fanny works her magic
She once curled the locks
of the finest actresses, until
I lured her
with the wages of a professor
She is worth every cent

Every three weeks is washing day
I lie back in a low chair
Fanny applies potions and oils
she massages, moistens, rinses
Today she favours cognac and eggs

‘Your mane eats more
than you do,’ she jokes

Once, when I was alone
I let my hair free
and it waterfalled
to my ankles
I wrapped it around me
a cloak more natural
than royal robes

One night of Venus, a life-time of mercury

The whispers reach even me
and I swell with his betrayal

He whimpers outside my door
I nurse my tight joints, will not see him

I slip through his guilty fingers
to Corfu, I breathe, I recover

And see now, I am alone
on this island surrounded by sharks


There are too many hours
in each day
but I fill them

When I walk out
no one can keep up with me
I leave them all behind
at last

I hang
with the power of my own hands
from rings in midair
I lift and swing
feeling the satisfying stretch
of muscle beneath my skin

And the moment I am sewn
into my riding habit
I become a centaur
No fence is too high
no bank too steep
no mount too wild
I bare my teeth and eat my fear

Most beautiful woman in Europe

I have an album
of the faces of women
Postcards, photos
of queens, princesses
and actresses
the new aristocrats

These are my rivals
I compare myself
with each one, eye for eye
mouth for mouth

little mirrors

I am still the fairest
of them all

Hungarian victory

My enemy’s enemy
is my friend

‘The revolting Hungarians
are revolting again’
yawns Archduchess Sophie
My sudden interest in politics
surprises even me

I slip their language
onto my tongue to antagonise
the archduchess, the Viennese
but quickly I learn to love
it and them
their wildness, like mine

I have little left
of my Emperor Husband
but still I have his ear
‘Emperor Franzi, Husband Franzi
we are proud people
you must set us free’

My solution
is another coronation
a double kingdom
we are no longer
only emperor and empress but now
king and queen of Hungary
I am one of their own

My greatest triumph


My poor beloved cousin
Bavarian king
drowned, sunk beneath your swans
Mad King Ludwig they called you
and it was true
and your blood runs through my veins
your poisoned, rabid blood
‘Lace me up tight Marie
tightly tighter’
My sturdy backbone
my iron spine

I study the looking glass
and before my eyes
my face crepes and wrinkles
wizens and shrinks
‘Mirror mirror,’ she no longer
speaks to me

I ban all photographers


On the voyage I made them lash me
to the mast
so I could be swallowed
by the storm and spat out

Once I was Tatania
Queen of the Fairies
in love with a man
with the head of an ass
but no longer

Now I am Odysseus
who, in truth, was not travelling
to return to his home
he was travelling
to stay away

Luigi Lucheni

He had not met me
He didn’t even hate me
But Prince Henri of Orleans
had already left Geneva and
‘One royal is as good as another’
he said

My surprise, when he bumped me
was for his insolence
I didn’t notice the pang
of his sharpened file
entering my heart

‘Hurry up Marie
quickly, faster’
And we made it to the ferry
before I fainted on the deck

Swan song

In my father’s house
there are many rooms
and in each room there
are many draughts and
we keep ourselves warm
by dancing all night but oh
how worn my dancing shoes