30 March 2014

Launch hoopla!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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