So, yesterday I was interviewed (live – eek!) by the lovely Lynn Freeman on National Radio about The Year of Falling and The Glass Rooster and here is a podcast link in case you’d like to listen to it.
Well, the books are out there and have already been spotted in Unity Books (both the Auckland and Wellington branches), as well as the Auckland University bookshop and Rona Gallery in Eastbourne.
It would be lovely to see you at the launch:
The Year of Falling (Mākaro Press) and
The Glass Rooster (AUP)
by Janis Freegard.
5:30- 7 pm, Tuesday 16 June 2015
9 Edward Street, Te Aro.
Bar tab for first drinks.
Is it just me, or does it feel like open season on NZ bookshops and writing at the moment? There’s an axe hanging over Te Papa Press, no NZ Book Month, no book awards, BNZ pulling out of the Katherine Mansfield Awards and now the demise of the Queen St Whitcoulls. And it’s all coming on the heels of ever-increasing bookshop closures. On Lambton Quay alone, we’ve lost Parsons, Dymocks, Paper Plus, that one at the end near the Beehive… Among Wellington’s second-hand bookshops, Quilter’s is gone and apparently Ferret’s too now. Where will it end? Online shopping is all very well, but there’s nothing quite like browsing in a bookshop: the smell of fresh pages, the feel of a spine… Thank goodness for Unity.
Thing 1:Poets for Peace
Poets for Peace is an evening of poetry on Saturday 18th April 2015 where I will be reading with these other lovely people:
* Teresia Teaiwa * Maria MacMillan * Sophia Tara * Ali Jacs * Martin de Jong * Meg Hartfield * Vivienne Plumb * Tim Jones * Madeleine Slavik * and more, with a musical interlude by Mighty Ukes for Peace.
From 7pm to 9.30pm at the St Andrew’s Conference Centre, 30 The Terrace (entry via the pathway on the right hand side if you’re standing on The Terrace facing the church).
Entry by donation, all proceeds to a West Papua peace and justice initiative.
Poets for Peace is part of the ‘Remembering war / ending war: Challenging militarism and building peace’ weekend – an antidote to the militaristic myth making fervour around the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli invasion – details at https://www.facebook.com/events/972037769491199
For more information, please contact Peace Movement Aotearoa, email email@example.com
Thing 2: Projected Fields Community Picnic
On Sunday 19 April from 12-3pm, there will be music, poetry and activities in MacAlister Park (Vogeltown). Jodie Dalgleish and I will be reading a few poems.
Norwegian-born artist Siv B Fjærestad, with Letting Space and in partnership with Wellington City Council, is creating an enormous artwork on the fields of MacAlister and Liardet Street Parks, Berhampore.
Her painting has been inspired by field markings, and the stories and activities of the people who use the parks and their dreams for its future. Over 2014 Fjærestad and volunteers surveyed the local community and park users to inform the painting’s design and how it might be activated.
11am Pre-picnic Tai Chi by Tai Chi Associates on MacAlister Park
11.50 am Join a dog walkers parade to top of park (meet at Berhampore dog zone off Stanley Street) – off lead, on lead, off lead.
12noon Bring a blanket and food to share. Spoken word and poetry, Acroyoga, Hula Hooping, Zumba, DJ Kedron Parker.
2.15pm The game of Ki o rahi – guided instruction (on Adelaide Rd side).Have a go at painting the field blindfolded – bring old clothes.History Booth – Bring along stories of the area and talk to co-author of the forthcoming Berhampore History, Kerryn Pollock. Bring photos to be scanned and added to the archive.Kite making and flying
Rain day: Sunday 3 May
Contribute to discussion about the parks at this Facebook page.
Learn more about the artist’s process at the Projected Fields Blog.
More info here: http://www.lettingspace.org.nz/projected-fields
Bring your friends, neighbours, work mates, cousins, children, parents, dogs; some kai to share and something to sit on.
Oh look! I still have a blog! A sadly neglected blog. :(
These past few weeks, when I am not at my day job, I have been running very fast in my little hamster wheel getting two books ready for publication. This is the poetry collection with a great cover by Keely O’Shannessy:
‘The Glass Rooster’ is coming out in May, published by Auckland University Press. It’s arranged in eight sections (or ‘echo-systems’) which are a mix of natural ecosystems (deserts , the alpine zone) and other types of places (like cities and outer space). Each section is introduced by a triolet (a French poetic form with repeated lines) and the other poems are arranged in pairs, each echoing something about the other.
It also features a glass rooster – who appeared in my last AUP collection Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus. You can read sample poems here.
But wait – there’s more! Much of my hamster activity of late has involved The Year of Falling, a novel, which will also come out in May. It’s being published by Wellington-based Mākaro Press. More on this to come!
Photo By Sy (Own work) [<a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0″>CC BY-SA 3.0</a>], <a href=”http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWhite_face_roborovski_dwarf_hamster.jpg”>via Wikimedia Commons</a>
I’ve taken to calling 2014 my “Tale of Two Cities” year. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. My mother died in April; work turned to shark-infested custard; there’ve been family illnesses. It’s been one of the hardest year of my life.
But also these things happened: I had a magical three-week residency at New Pacific Studio in the Wairarapa; I had two books accepted for publication (a novel and a poetry collection, both of which should be emerging next May); I got a great new job; I had a lovely week with my friend Nicola in Glink’s Gully; I got a prize for public management (the Master’s degree I graduated with last year); and through all the chaos, I had Peter looking after me.
Roll on 2015. I’m hoping it’s going to be less of a roller-coaster and I hope it’s a great year for everyone. Happy New Year.
One of Airini’s poems from the collection, ‘Introduction’ is this week’s Tuesday Poem. It’s a great collection, as much Airini’s own story as Neil’s. I interviewed her about the book.
As you say in ‘Dear Neil Roberts’, you were born after Neil died. How did you hear about him and what interested you in writing about him?
I first heard about Neil Roberts as a teenager, via a friend of mine who had joined an anarchist group in Auckland. I was always fascinated and upset by the event, and I recall trying to re-imagine it as an accident. It seemed too awful to me that Neil had deliberately blown himself up. Later, I met people in the anarchist movement who had known Neil or who had been part of the original Punks’ Picnics in the 1980s and 1990s, on Neil Roberts Day. The event was always there in my consciousness. I decided to write about it when doing some thinking about Whanganui history. It was 2011 and I realised the 30th anniversary was nigh, and thought it was a good time to use poetry to re-examine the event and how it has subsequently been portrayed in the media and the history books.
What sort of reaction have you had from people when they hear about the book? Have many people heard of him?
The reactions I have had have been largely understanding. I think people recognise that I haven’t set out to glorify acts of violence, but to look at who this young man was and why he was moved to do such a thing. New Zealand anarchists immediately know what you are talking about when you mention Neil. People I have spoken to who are old enough to remember the event in the news in 1982 have all recalled it happening, and some remember exactly where they were at the time. People younger than myself are less likely to have heard of it.
Have you had any contact with Neil’s family and if so, how did they feel about it?
I was unsuccessful in tracking down members of Neil’s family. I feel that I should have made more effort to do this. Neil instantly became a public figure, and I think there is an awareness that this event is going to be talked about in a public arena. But I would have liked to notify any surviving family members, in case the material presented difficulties for them. As a poet you assume no-one is going to come across your work, but this isn’t always the case. My understanding is that Neil’s family distanced themselves from the event at the time. I am not sure how they responded to the re-surfacing of the story in various forms, over the years.
You’ve clearly done a lot of background research. Was there much variation in how people saw him?
I made a decision early on to focus on secondary sources. This was for two main reasons: firstly, I was more interested in how our society remembers and portrays events, and so written accounts were of particular interest. I knew I would never know who Neil really was, and I felt it would be inappropriate to try to encapsulate him as a person. This would have involved a certain amount of fictionalising and I felt uncomfortable about that. Secondly, interviews can be intrusive and I didn’t want to cause stress to people. I had heard from another researcher that there were people who didn’t want to be contacted. To my mind this is perfectly understandable. I think people in the anarchist community are used to being viewed with suspicion, having informants pose as friends and fellow activists, and so on.
From the accounts I read, and from the limited discussions I had with people who knew Neil, there was actually very little variation. Instead there was a consensus that he was a friendly, intelligent, gentle young man who had everything going for him.
This book is your own story as well as being a story about Neil. What connections do you see between your life and his?
I chose to use a personal approach because it was a way in. It was difficult and confrontational material to explore. It also seemed appropriate for a work of poetry. There is a direct connection between Neil and myself in that Neil was the person who brought anarchism to light for a friend of mine. In turn this friend had a strong influence on the development of my politics. There were also other threads: I grew up in Whanganui, and moved back here around the time of beginning work on this book. There is a poem in the book “The thing is Neil, you are all of us.” “All of us” specifically refers to the anarchist community. Although we wouldn’t all commit such an act, I think we have all experienced the overwhelming sense of frustration and hopelessness, of being up against a powerful and violent institution, with limited resources for change.
How is this book different from your previous work?
For a long time I had the idea that overt politics were best avoided in my poetry. On beginning this book, I felt it was something I had to do, and that I had to let go of that cringe factor. I felt like I had nothing to lose. It is often said that politics is out of fashion in New Zealand poetry. In some ways that is true and in other ways, it isn’t. There are a lot of contemporary poets (from a variety of backgrounds) whose work is strongly political.
This book is also different in that it takes a unified theme, and aims at wholeness. It is designed to be read from start to finish as a single entity, rather than dipped into as a collection of poems. There is a kind of a narrative in there. In some ways it could also be described as a verse epistle or verse essay.
Tell me about the particular form you’ve followed for the poems in the book.
Dear Neil Roberts is written in quatrains. The form seemed to fit, and I began to write to the four-line stanza. It is not an arbitrary lineation of what would otherwise be prose. It is full of rhyme and off-rhyme, and there is a poem in there with a set rhyme scheme and accentual meter. I have become really interested in form and I want to play around more with received forms. This is a matter of inner compulsion rather than any specific reactionary stance in regard to poetry.
What’s next? Do you have other projects in train at the moment?
I am working on a creative writing PhD at the moment. This involves a creative project and I have chosen to write narrative poems about the Whanganui river region. It hasn’t been easy! Again, I am looking for an approach that doesn’t seek to encapsulate. I am one person, and a Pakeha, and it would be totally inappropriate to say “I am going to write the history of the river.” I am mostly focusing on the human relationship to the environment, and how the river catchment has been damaged since the 1840s.
Thanks to poet Mary Cresswell, who has done a bit of sleuthing, I can add a postscript to my post about Poetry & Gender in NZ Publishing. Mary has looked at all the poetry books published in New Zealand over the 5 years 2008-2012 and noted which ethnicity the poets identify with, based mainly on their author/publisher webpages. So it may not be 100% accurate, but I think it’s a good estimate.
Apologies for the poor quality of the graph below – there’s a clearer version if you click on the link underneath it. What it shows is that, over the five year period, 90% of the poetry publishing pie went to Pākehā/European poets, 4% to Pasifika poets, 3% to Māori poets and 2% to Asian poets. Middle Eastern and African poets accounted for 0.4% of books respectively. When you compare this to proportions in the New Zealand population (70% Pākehā; 14% Māori; 11% Asian, 7% Pasifika and 1% Middle Eastern/Latin American/African – figures from Stats NZ Census 2013) it’s not looking very representative. I do think it’s important for a country’s literature to reflect the diversity of voices in its population.
In a comment on the ‘Poetry and Gender’ post, Tina Makereti said that her research for her PhD “also identified a lack of any real indigenous literary studies in New Zealand (no courses at tertiary level, limited commitment to indigenous literatures in high schools), and few Māori literature scholars. I think if the commitment were there from the universities, and Māori saw themselves represented in the study of literature, the numbers would increase.” So – universities, high schools, publishers – over to you!
PS: I should have mentioned that, as with the ‘Poetry & Gender’ data, the source for titles and authors, etc is The Journal of Commonwealth Literature