February 15, 2011

99 Ways Into New Zealand Poetry - the book

This book is written by Paula Green & Harry Ricketts and Published by Vintage, 2010. I've been trying to figure out why I like it so much. It's got range and depth of knowledge of the field (NZ poetry), it's well written, it looks beyond the canon for examples, it's sensibly and interestingly organised … I could go on, but there is something less tangible here, something that really gets to the "ways into" poetry aspect of it.
The combination of thematic and chronological works well. Here are the sections: Poetic Forms, Poetic Contexts, Poetic Features and Effects, Poetic Identities, Rites of Passage, Ways Into Writing (New Zealand) poetry. (This last in ten excellent pages, including a splendid two-page Tool Kit.) Within these sections, chapters (up to fourteen) toss out ideas, examples, opinions and so on in an entertaining and informative fashion.
The first section, Poetic Forms, is my favourite, maybe because I grapple with writing poems, (though I wouldn't call myself "a poet"). If I was looking for a form to carry a poem idea, a ballad, say, or a sestina or sonnet, I could come to this section—via the excellent index—and find out about it without being turned away by demonstrations of superior knowledge. Paula Green and Harry Ricketts certainly know much more of these subjects than I do, that's what makes them interesting. They present their knowledge in a friendly, "come and join in" sort of way, emphasising the usefulness of knowing a form and the freedom in contemporary poetry to adopt it, adapt it, or experiment with it.
The whole book is nicely laid out, with break-out paragraphs defining some of the key ideas — modernism for example — plenty of boxed poems to demonstrates points made, and a number of statements by poets about how a particular poem that is included in the book came to be.
My quibbles are physical; the book is a hefty three kilos, on shiny paper that is hard to read in some lights, especially the boxed poems, which are in faint print. And the cross-referencing parentheses are so conscientious as to becoming annoying at times.
If you like the following two sentences—the first is from Paula Green, the second from Harry Ricketts', you'll enjoy, as I did, the way this book is written.
Wedde has neither abandoned nor cauterised the motivation of the odes that preceded him, but daringly challenges the reader to accept the ode as a vessel for what might, upon first glance, appear oxymoronic, 'the sublime commonplace.' (page 55)
… many … recent New Zealand poets are 'tough,' difficult, but not impenetrable, provided the reader remains unafraid and is prepared to work away, following the poem's arc of thought. (page 420)
There's a history of poetry in New Zealand in here, and an exploration of canon-building in ten pages. The writers have done a pretty good job, as far as I can tell, of including the "left-outs" (Maori, women ……) and acknowledging the canonical (Baxter, Stead et al) throughout the text, in special chapters and in the full poems they have included.
I think what makes me delight in this book is the pleasure the writers take in their subject, the scope of their considerable knowledge and that, having read it, I am even more inclined—and better equipped—to read poetry. Read it, buy it, make sure your local library gets a copy, recommend it to your friends.
Here's a poem of mine that was published a few years ago in a Poetry Society anthology.

My mother’s name was Margaret.
She disapproved of Lauris Edmond.
I gave her a copy of Hot October
because they had both lived in Ohakune.
"Oh," said Margaret with her special, disapproving
sigh, "What a run-around she gave that poor
husband of hers. And all those children!
He was well-liked, you know, a good headmaster".

Margaret was, however, loved and respected
by all four of her grandchildren.
She treated them like real people, they said,
listened to them, and sent money
instead of judgements when they were students
or unemployed and it was a cold winter.

We became a thin family, cousins,
and aunts driven off by that disapproving sigh.
Death, sudden, did the rest, punched holes
in the threadbare family fabric.
Margaret, widow, 78, herself died alone,
probably painfully, likely from choice,
before the daughter who chose her own end
and the grandchild who succumbed to
smoking and bronchial pneumonia.

Lauris Edmond, 75, died the other day.
In an obituary she is described as, ‘the great
New Zealand poet of parents and children.’

February 3, 2011

Books, books and a new project

On the subject of querying publishers, things are proceeding slowly. Various life events have intervened, including a dead internet connection for three days. Four queries have been sent off, there are three to go. Each one takes about three hours, by the time the synposis, letter, bio and so on are adapted to each publisher's requirements. It's a shade less aversive than marketing/promoting an actual book, so I am doing it, and will continue to the end of my list.

I'm still reading 99 Ways Into New Zealand Poetry, by Paula Green and Harry Ricketts and still enjoying it and continuing to be most admiring of how much they know and how they put it together.

The great birthday pile (see photo above) is as exciting as ever and promises much excitement and many treats. An early one is The Torchlight List: Around the world in 200 books by Jim Flynn. This is a small attractive book that takes a thematic look at how to get an education about the world, through reading great literature. Some extracts from his opening:
"I want [people] to be able to understand the world, rather than just be swept along … with no real comprehension of what is happening to them. … you need to know something about science, and nations other than your own and their histories, and the human condition."
The 200 listed books are supplemented by sublists. Counting from just the 200, I find I have read 39. Is that good? Or bad? I don't know, and it doesn't matter. It is illuminating to see where my gaps are - I have read few books about Spain, Portugal, South America, for example. Jim Flynn gives pithy descriptions of the books he lists and his own candid opinions of them. It was fun to read.
Now I'm onto my next writing project, which is gathering together short pieces I have accumulated over the years that I may be able to shape into some kind of collection. I fancy having 60 in total, which means writing some new ones, but I'll do the gathering first and see what I've got. Here's an early draft of what could possibly be the first piece in the collection:
An Opening
He was twenty-two when he died, a soldier in another country’s army fighting a different country’s war in yet another country, felled by support fire from a friendly gun. A full military funeral was called for, and held in the country of his origin, though that country was none of the earlier ones mentioned.
Family members flew around the world to bring his body home and his coffin sat in his parents’ living room for two days.
“I thought they usually had the coffin open,” said someone.
The funeral was a stage-managed affair on all fronts, at all levels. His sister bought some expensive high-heeled shoes in bright yellow, especially to wear with her short black skirt and tight black top. The family is well-connected. The army is well-connected.The funeral was in the cathedral. Joint ops. Lies were told about the man who died. Well, not outright lies, but that combination of exaggeration and omission that make someone look better than they were.
A woman was there who had no business being there, except she cared about an extended family member who would be there and perhaps sidelined. As one who did not believe in any god, she had not been to the cathedral before and admired the colours in the stained glass windows. Between the karanga calling in the coffin and the trumpet playing of the last post as it was carried out on the shoulders of slow-marching soldiers there was no tangible emotion, except for a stranger sitting beside her, who sobbed quietly throughout and appeared to know none of the family.
During a reading of verses from Ecclesiastes, widely known through a Seekers’ song, a gentle pop in the mind of the woman who had small business there turned into an idea for making a whole bunch of her short writings into something real and formed; “stones gathered together.”