30 August 2009

Waiting for Watching for Smoke

Actually, I'm not waiting at all, because it won't get finished if I just sit around. Instead I'm working towards Watching for Smoke, the poetry chapbook by Helen Heath, which I'm (ie Seraph Press) about to publish/am in the process of publishing.

From the very first, when I suggested a chapbook to Helen, it was quickly obvious it was going to have to be something special. Of course, all the books I publish are special - I don't publish very much, and I'm totally in love with everything I do publish; I feel I have to be - it's not as if I have a surfeit of time to just throw away. But one of the first things Helen mentioned when we first talked about this book was knitting needles.

If you know Helen, or read her blog, you'll know that as well as being an accomplished poet, she's pretty crafty. Crafts are even mentioned in one of the poems, 'Hooks and needles': 'those hooks / those needles / what we craft.//We make our beds / and sometimes / we bleed on them'. So knitting needles incorporated into the book seemed very appropriate. But how? It sent my mind spinning in various directions, and I've made quite a few prototypes, to see what might work and what won't.

I've also talked to lots of people, who have given me lots of ideas. This has been quite a collaborative process, particularly with Helen herself, but thanks also to Emma, who suggested the grey card, Lesley, who gave me some ideas about how to cut it, and Art-and-my-life Pauline, who sent me a consignment of knitting needles all the way from Mosgiel.

So now I have a final design. The books will have a wrap-around cover, which will fasten with a knitting needle or crochet hook (mostly needles - crochet hooks are hard to come by cheap), and will have a cut-out through which the title shows. They're going to be beautiful - fittingly so, to match the poems they contain. The cover is the aforementioned grey card (the colour is 'Twilight' in English, and 'Crépuscule' in French), and it's all going to be bound together with red hemp thread (the same thread I used with yellow covers on Scarab). I'll have pictures soon!

So now I'm working on how to make it happen - and happen 100 times. It is involving much fiddly cutting, but I've been inventing ways to make it all a bit easier and repeatable. I've been using those problem-solving skills you're always supposed to demonstrate in performance reviews. I've made templates out of bits of plastic from some folder I found in the study and which neither Sean nor I were particularly attached to, and using not one but two different kinds of craft knife.

Getting the text pages printed was the easy part - I sent my pdf off to the lovely folks at Wakefields Digital (who remain my fav printers) and a full of beautifully printed and folded arrived on my doorstep a couple of days later.

So I'm going to spend the rest of today constructing more of these little treasures. Fortunately I don't have to get them all done at once, but I do need to get enough done for Helen to take to Palmerston North on Wednesday, for her guest reading at Stand Up Poetry at the Palmerston North Public Library.

And watch this space for details of the launch we're planning to welcome Watching for Smoke into the world - probably late-ish in October.

29 August 2009

Farewell Alistair Te Ariki Campbell

Like everyone else in the local poetry community, I was really sad to hear of Alistair Campbell’s recent death. It was nice to be able to remember him at the Voyagers launch with others who knew him.

I met Alistair Campbell a couple of times, though I certainly wouldn’t say I knew him. I was lucky enough to have heard him read a few times, and after I’d proofread It’s Love Isn’t It? – the wonderful collection of poems by Alistair and Meg Campbell that Mark Pirie of HeadworX published last year – we traded books. I have a lovely postcard he sent, telling me that my book cheered him on a bad day. I’ll treasure it.

He was the writer in residence at Vic in my first year there. He was a writer of much mana and stature. I hope he’s been reunited with Meg somewhere. They’ll both be missed.

Stuff I’ve been doing

Got sick, read at Voyagers launch even though I should have stayed home under a blanket. Was fun.

While sick, read a lot.

Sorting out final details of Helen Heath’s Watching for Smoke – will post about that soon (!)

Finished off JAAM 27 and sent it off to print. Very excited about this. It looks gorgeous! I’ll write more about this when it comes back from the printer and is ready to go out into the world.

16 August 2009

What I wanted in my life

Last week I was nosing through some of my old journals (actually in the hope of finding references to movies I’d been to see, as research for a poem I’m writing, but I don’t seem to write about my movie viewing in my journal, unfortunately) and I came across some pages from the end of 2002 which I had entitled ‘Hellie’s list of things’.

I remember writing some of this stuff – I was sitting on the balcony we had at the flat we lived in at that time. The balcony looked out across the green valley towards Kelburn viaduct. I’d often sit with my feet up on the railing in the sun – but only for a few months each year, when it actually got any sun – the rest of the year the balcony just stopped us getting much light into our lounge. But anyway, when I wrote this is it was October, and so would have recently got the sun back late in the afternoon.

‘Hellie’s list of things’ was basically about what I wanted my life to be like and what I wanted to achieve. The first subheading is ‘Projects to do’, and there is a list of seven writing projects – including film and television ideas, and a novel. The only one I’ve actually achieved in the seven years since is to have finished another poetry book. (Though I haven’t abandoned all of the others).

After that the ‘list’ gets a bit more esoteric, but there’s some things I wanted to learn more about, some things I wanted to do, and some things I wanted to be. I was surprised to find that one of the things was to ‘work at Encylopedia of NZ’, which, indeed, I now do.

Then comes a bunch of names of people, almost entirely writers, who I can only assume are people I admired or was inspired by. There are such people as Jane Campion, Katherine Mansfield, Ursula Bethell, Douglas Coupland, Sylvia Plath, ‘Merchant Ivory woman’ (I meant Ruth Prawer Jhabvala), Sylvia Plath, Artemisia Gentilleschi, Vivienne Plumb, Christine Jeffs, Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson, Maurice Gee, Fleur Adcock, Vanessa Alexander and Janet Frame.

It segues, without even a line break(!), into some notes about wanting to work on some collaborations with Sean. (I’m no longer sure that’s a good idea. I’m not sure I work that well with others in a creative sense.)

Then there’s a list of things that, as I recall, are things I wanted in my future. Many of them I do now have – such as our own sunny house (yay!), enough money, close friends (which I had at the time of writing as well – I guess I wanted to keep them and add to them). Some are things I don’t have yet, such as working mostly from home, and a vege garden – though I’m not sure how much I actually want either of those things (I sometimes have a feeble sort of neglected vege garden).

It ends with ‘Publishing?/Design?', which are both things I have been able to do in various ways; and the final thing, which is something I have almost all the time: ‘Happiness’. How schmaltzy!

It’s interesting to take stock every now and then. To look at your life and what it is, to see how it measures up to what you thought you wanted, and how it measures up to what you actually want now.

I think I’m doing pretty well.

15 August 2009

Martin Edmond on biography - this weekend's quote

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you might remember my flurries of posts about biography, and might be aware how much I love them. I found this wonderful quote today in Martin Edmond’s Chronicle of the Unsung (which I can tell is going to become one of my favourite books, even though I’m only up to page 39):
I was actually more interested in the lives of artists than I was in their works. I would read biographies meticulously, as if by tracing the life I could, like van Ryssel or Schuffenecker copying van Gogh’s works, find out who I might be. The reading of biography requires that you imagine being the person it is about, which is impossible but no more impossible than the same imaginative act with respect to a character in fiction – yet wholly different for the very reason that in a biography you suppose yourself to be imagining the real. Is this always why you sometimes feel compelled to imagine not just being that person, but being, as they are, the subject of a biography yourself? Or is it a recognition of the fictional nature of any life told retrospectively and from the outside; and, following upon that recognition, a desire to imagine a similar retrospective fictionalisation of your own day-to-day existence? To read a life knowing how it ends is to read absolutely outside the consciousness of the person whose life it was, who, even if they knew the hour and manner of their death, still lived open-endedly. Radical misunderstanding of how people live may be consequent upon the passionate reading of biography. The most dangerous error is to attempt to live like the subject of a biography yourself.

14 August 2009

Science fiction poetry at the Poetry Society

How remiss of me! I should have written about this ages ago!

Some of us poets who had work included in Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand are going to be reading at the next meeting of the NZ Poetry Society in Wellington THIS MONDAY (17th August). The meeting will be at the Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave Street, at 7.30.

For more info about this, and who is going to read, you can read all about it over on Tim Jones's blog: http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com/2009/08/voyagers-sets-sail-with-great-crew.html

11 August 2009

I love living in Aro Valley...

I was grumpy today. Very grumpy. Not about deep things, or long lasting things. Merely because work was being irritating in a temporary way. Nevertheless, I was in a pretty vile mood.

But every now and then I thought of this sign I saw on my way to work, and it made me smile.

Someone has taped this poster up on the lamp post outside the video store, and other people have written on it. I'm thinking of adding to it tomorrow, assuming it's still there. This morning I smelt coffee, bacon and home.

(PS This is the first picture I managed to get off my phone - and even then I had to email it to myself! What a luddite.)

03 August 2009

Book awards and poetry and small presses and some rambling

So, the Montana New Zealand Book Awards are over for another year (and apparently the last time they’ll be sponsored by Montana wines, which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned because it can easily cause confusion, making people think we have something to do with a US state about which I know very little). Congrats to all the winners, and so forth...

I’m starting to think it’s healthy for there to be a bit of controversy each year, for publicity’s sake, and also as a catalyst to get everyone thinking about the value judgements inherent in book awards. Last year we had the ‘scandal’ about the judges only selected four novels for the Best Book of Fiction category, rather than the usual five. That led to much online discussion (and bitching) and some articles and even some thought about what the book awards is or should be. I also contributed my two cents to the debate.

The awards this year don’t seem to have had quite the controversy of last year, but I have noticed some discussion (and bitching) about the fact that all the finalists in both poetry categories (Best Book and Best First Book) were all from only two publishers: Auckland University Press and Victoria University Press. This is a fairly usual state of affairs.

While those two are, I think, the pre-eminent poetry publishers in New Zealand, they are far from the only poetry publishers. And while they publish fine books, they do not publish the only fine books (though, as a poet who is published by neither of those presses, and as a publisher of poetry myself, I would say that wouldn’t I). In fact some people might argue that those two publish a certain kind of poetry, and that their pre-eminence shuts down other voices.

I worry that we’ve ended up with a circular kind of thinking – it’s good because it’s published by VUP/AUP, and it can’t be good because it isn’t. I’ll be interested to see what happens in future years, whether anyone else gets a look in. As a publisher of books that I think are brilliant, I of course hope so.

If no small presses, or no other publishers, ever get shortlisted, then they’ll stop entering, viewing it as simply a way of throwing away a significant amount of money and five copies of the book. Perhaps that’s already happening – do small publishers usually enter the awards? Mine doesn’t always, and I don’t always.

Thinking further though, aren’t the book awards really just run by the institution, for the institution. Should we really expect anything else? This led me to another thought – perhaps small presses need to get together and have some kind of small press awards, which celebrates the work down by the many small publishers. Anyone want to organise it?

01 August 2009

Anaïs Nin on the woman of the future

I hope I am one:
The woman of the future, who is really being born today, will be a woman completely free of guilt for creating and for her self-development. She will be a woman in harmony with her own strength, not necessarily called masculine, or eccentric, or something unnatural. I imagine she will be very tranquil about her strength and her serenity, a woman who will know how to talk to children and to the men who sometimes fear her. Man has been uneasy about this self-evolution of women, but he need not be – because, instead of having a dependent, he will have a partner. He will have someone who will not make him feel that every day had has to go into battle against the world to support a wife and child, or a childlike wife. The woman of the future will never try to live vicariously through the man, and urge and push him to despair, to fulfill something that she should really be doing herself. So that is my first image – she is not aggressive, she is serene, she is sure, she is confident, she is able to develop her skills, she is able to ask for space for herself.