Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dear Sweet Jenner

Lynn Jenner’s first book of poetry (Dear Sweet Harry, AUP 2010) really is something that is more than the sum of its parts. It is one of those books that you can’t put down and read from cover to cover wanting to find out what happens and not so much what happens next, just what happens.

It centres around Harry Houdini and his life or at least the fictional representation of his life. There are letters, prose chunks and traditional lyric poems about Harry as well as Mata Hari and a whole bunch of poems that are more about Lynn’s personal stories or stories of New Zealand.

This might give the feeling of something cobbled together (like most first books of poetry?) - what does NZ Railways have to do with Harry Houdini? And I suspect in some ways the book did evolve that way, but through form and voice and changes in pitch it all comes together as a complete book. It has that look about it too, that it has been crafted with a wholeness in mind.

The result of this is that some of the poems seem to be there as linkers or to flesh out the story a little. Some of the letters felt a bit like this. And one could argue whether this is a weakness or a strength having these. I think that in this case, the book is better for it.

And on the flip-side there are some beautiful poems that are amazing in their own right and don’t need the book around it to dish out their goodies. The title poem, Dear Sweet Harry, was one of these. The rhythm and tone is wonderful and perfectly handled.

This book is cerebral without being a know-it-all, it is thoughtful yet plainly spoken, it sort of sets its gaze on you in a questioning way, without ever offering its opinion. A quiet surefootedness. A feeling not unlike you get when talking to Lynn in herself.

This is a lovely book that comes together as a whole and has some wonderful poems in it. It deserves all the praise it is getting right now.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

There's Something Compulsory About This

I've been surviving on scraps of Hinemoana's work in journals for six years and now, finally, her second book has arrived.

It strikes me first of all as completely different in voice and style to her first. Where that was trimmed and clipped, almost to the syllabic level this is more voluptuous and 'talky', there is more in here of what I have come to love of her voice, the raw emotion, the turns of mystery and the self-deprecating humour. This is definitely a solid progression from the first book and also, perhaps this is the benefit of waiting six years, it's range is massive yet consistent in quality.

I loved dismantling the crane, fortune cookie and the fossils:

[...] Outside
men in orange vests prepare

to dismantle the crane
its four ropes of chain rise
like snakes from the bed

of a dusty truck, link after link

Her father visits for her 40th birthday. Don't think of it
as trying to conceive, he says. Think of it as catching a flight.
- wow, what a way to start a poem...

Well I
said the depot manager
I feel like I've swallowed
a large white
brick state house.
The brick isn't real
it's a kind of cladding.
At one corner
a nest of spiders is building.
And then there were some more readily available poems obviously influenced by her own childhood and her parents that were also up there in my list of faves:

From the squash club
The whole place smelled
like my father's gearbag

his headbands left overnight
in the wash-house.

And then more sonically experimental poems like the astonishingly visceral language sourced from a music theory exam paper in homebirth:
An emerging event two thirds of the way through
has a rising motion which gives way to
an exploding attacking sound.

Covers the full frame from root
(low thudding event)
to canopy
(floating bell echoes)
with the centre being occupied
by a wide band of white noise.

- floating bell echoes? Jealous.
Hinemoana also said at the launch that the best gift we can give her is to talk about the book on blogs, twitter, whatever. In this current state of great books passing by unoticed and unreviewed I like this idea of relying less on the print media and just putting the word out there ourselves in our own biased, unprofessional and incoherent way - all of which I am repetitively guilty of.
I was intending to write about it anyway, but I'm glad I could help her out in some small way because this book made me smile and not only because it was hilarious in places but because it was better than I expected it to be (on top of quite high expectations).
The first two lines in one of the most mysteriously intruiging poems about a kayaking trip called observation beach: a farewell mirrors in an opposite, yet reflective way, this book I think.
Soaked to my socks in spite of my spray skirt.
There's nothing compulsory about this.
And at the end of it I was soaked to my socks in lithe and slippery language, equal measures of mystery and truth and very much pleased that I had decided to leave my spray skirt on the beach.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Duets, sparkling

Went to the launch of Duets, a chapbook project that pits (?) a NZ poet against a US one.
Edited by my friend Alice Miller and featuring Sam Sampson, Joan Fleming and James Brown from the NZ side.

All good and all very different obviously. A nice selection I think. A couple of poems James read were particularly great, he started off by deprecatingly proclaiming himself "New Zealand's foremost writer of light verse." His poems were simple and funny, but mainly so tight, like little balls of poetry rolling down a hill, but not a scary hill, a nice gentle undulating one. There was poem that stood out from the rest, he decided to use the same phrase (the green plastic toy) in every sentence. It was amazing, read aloud anyway. Such a crazy constraint and what impressive skill to pull it off in the way he did. I won't give it away. You'll have to read it or better yet buy the chapbook. Anyway, there was some really interesting and varied stuff, Joan and Sam were great and a typically incisive intro by Bill Manhire too.

Obviously the old chapbook budget didn't stretch to flying the American writers over, so when I get my hands on some copies I'll report back on them. I can't even remember exactly who they were, except Dora Malech was one of them (definitely got to get one of those) and an Andew someone? Anyway, stay tuned for those.

What a great way to start the week!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Recycled Books

The "Mockingbird" House

A tank made out of books!
Why does everything look so great when it is made out of books? Is this the way of the future? When e-book readers have taken over, steel and would will be scarce, plastic extinct. Will I be building my house out of old readers digests?

A house out of books, now that would be cool.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The art of list-making

BBC News - The art of list-making

1) Start with a personal experience of list-making - like the time I wrote a list of things I didn't want to do that day. It was long.
2) Statistics on the wider use of list-making (include witticism on the nature of stereotyping and statistics) - should 25% of post, no more or single Rhodesian males between 27 and 29 years of age will get bored.
3) Add a picture - get more hits that way.
4) Sign up to Google Analytics to tracks radical increase of hits.
5) Conclude by writing a list as part of the discussion of lists. This is a defining moment and will be sure to increase hits even further.
6) Check the latest stats of hits.
7) Check again.
8) Reinforce to readers that it's not all about the hits. It's about the quality, the art. I write for me and me only. If someone else likes what I write, that is great, but essentially I'm here to please myself. Or at least organise myself. My thoughts. Organise my thoughts. Rationalise my thoughts. Make sure I don't get off topic. Focus I guess you could say. Yes focus. I like that.

Poetry Daily: A Dozen Rainy-Day Couplets, by Killian O'Donnell

A cool Irish poem.

Poetry Daily: A Dozen Rainy-Day Couplets, by Killian O'Donnell

Thursday, April 15, 2010

David Foster Wallace's first ever poem

David Foster Wallace poem that he wrote when he was six.
God I hope no one ever does that to me.

Rae Armantrout wins Pulitzer!

Rae Armantrout has won the Pulitzer with her wondeful book Versed.
Congratulations to her!

It was one of the better books I read last year. See here for my thoughts on it at the time. Although, having just read the post, I appear quite scathing. Must remember to be more balanced in the future. It really is a beautiful book.

Monday, March 8, 2010

J.D. Salinger

Blow me down, if J.D. Salinger 'Glass Family' stories aren't the most intense, immediate, mysterious, theatrical and hilarious stories I've read in ages. I've always said I wanted to read Catcher in the Rye, but like so many other things, never did. Thanks Kate, for lending me Franny and Zooey and forcing the issue. The way Zooey spouts off new age eastern philosophy and then in the same breath berates his mother while she watches him shave is brilliant. I recommend Salinger to anybody. Of course, you have already been there haven't you, being far less stupid than me?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ludmila’s Broken English

Vernon God Little was one of my favourite books of 2004, so I went into DBC Pierre’s second novel, Ludmila’s Broken English expecting a lot, which is after all, what the second novel is supposedly about: expectation. I feel for Pierre in this novel, he obviously tried so hard to upstage VGL, adult characters, several settings, conjoined twins, a civil war in Ubilisk (a fictional Eastern European country). This had all the makings of something great.

The book has Pierre’s trademark metaphorical wizardry and odd, combative characters. The settings were great, with a kind of underbelly feeling - a rundown healthcare facility, seedy nightclubs, a wartorn town.

Ultimately though, the novel is let down by its action. Where VGL was tense and looming, a road trip to disaster, LBE seemed for the most part stuck in each scene. It chopped between two recently released twins in London and Ludmila, a young woman trying to escape poverty in Ubilisk. I’m not sure if this alternating format worked for Pierre, just as I was getting into one scene it would jump to another, the result was that nothing seemed to happen for a long time. I wasn’t really interested until the twins actually hopped on a plane and headed across Europe and the two worlds met. Up until then it seemed like a slow build-up and just didn’t have the pulling power that VGL (or most other novels) have.

It is unfair to compare the first and second novels of course, but even on it’s own I would have struggled to finish this book. And indeed, I did have to force myself. The blood spattered ending was bizarre too; characters suddenly dead who had been with us all the way through and a strange resolution which I won’t give away.

I liked Ludmila, she was obnoxious, intelligent and naive and seemed destined for disaster, much like Vernon in Pierre's previous novel. Although she always seemed like a secondary story to the twins, and I think here might lie one of the problems of the book. She seemed like the true heart of it and I don't think Pierre gave her enough texture to make her (and the book?) really come alive.

For me DBC Pierre is one of the most original writers around, and I'm willing to give him another couple of books' grace to really hit that sweet spot. Roll on the next one.
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