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Have you ever used the spare buttons
that come with clothes? Do you save
the safety pins from dry cleaning?
Have you ever used them to hold
your trousers together? Did you use –
a stout chrome pin, or dainty gold?
Do you think your computer is talking
when it gurgles or whirrs? Which would
you rescue, the family pet or your computer?
In foreign cities, how many knobs or handles
have you turned the wrong way?
Do you believe you can do anything?
How do you feel when someone imitates you –
annoyed or flattered? Do you feel guilty
when you imitate someone else?
Could you recite all your usernames
and passwords? Have you ever thought
of them as litter? How often do you choose
‘the name of your first family pet’
as a security question? Will you vanish
if you can’t remember your PIN? Could you
describe a colour without reference
to other colours? Do you panic when faced
with unfamiliar taps? How do you react to cords
that have lost their appliances?
Have you ever tossed an orphaned cord?
How do you deal with complicated devices
with missing manuals? Should you know
everything? If you don’t, does that mean
you’re old? Are you afraid of what’s
underground? How do you feel
when old bottles surface in a garden?
Old rubber balls?
Today’s Tuesday Poem is by Mary Macpherson, a Wellington photographer, poet and communications professional. Mary has just released a stunning new book of photographs, called “Old New World” (Lopdell House Gallery, 2012), which explores the changing face of small town New Zealand. Inside, you’ll find a town clock, a painted tiger, war memorials and an old telephone box, alongside motel chalets and beach subdivisions. As well as posting Mary’s poem, Litter, which was recently published in Hue and Cry, I am very pleased to be interviewing Mary about her book.
Congratulations on making such a beautiful work of art. You’ve had many exhibitions over the years – I remember seeing your “Signs of Texas” exhibition at the Mary Newton Gallery in Wellington, as well as a series involving plastic sharks and lace fabric, and another series of vividly abundant patches of wild flowers and weeds that featured in Landfall. Is “Old New World” a departure from your previous work?
The At Sea series, which featured the shark and lace, were scenarios that I constructed and photographed. That’s a different approach to the documentary style that I used to express the ideas of Old New World.
But all the work I do, whether it’s of constructed images or the ‘real’ world, is exploring ideas and concepts.
Old New World, relates most directly to a series called Urban Landscapes which was exhibited in at City Gallery Wellington in 1987 and again in 2006 with the Signs of Texas work at the Mary Newton Gallery. In Urban Landscapes I was excited about photographing everyday reality with formal precision, to bring out the beauty and strangeness of the vernacular. (A few images from this series are in the BNZ and Te Papa collections).
Old New World is probably a deeper work where I’m exploring a piece of social change that happened during my lifetime, and looking at the way New Zealand is shaping and representing itself.
Did you set out with a theme in mind that you wanted to explore, or did the theme(s) emerge as the book progressed?
The work began in an organic exploratory way. Because of my childhood and teenage holidays in a small Maniototo town in the 50s and 60s, I have a particular memory of the way small towns were in that era, and the society of the time. I also have strong visual and physical memories of the intimate human scale underneath a huge blue sky.
A few years ago I noticed the small places in the Wairarapa were changing – becoming much more branded and conscious of themselves as destinations. Because it affected some sense of myself (childhood memories are particularly potent), I picked up my camera and started photographing in the main streets and back streets. Having done one place, I thought I should check the next place up the line, and the next….
Because I was really interested in the images that were coming back, I decided to do a substantial body of work that covered representative places all over New Zealand. I thought a lot about how to represent the places I was photographing.
I was never going to have intimate knowledge of the hundreds of places I visited, but what I could do was to portray the main trends and possible futures of small towns that I saw. I see the book as an overall fictional small town made up these multiple narratives.
I also become very interested in the way these places were representing themselves and New Zealand history – in murals, advertisements, statues and artworks. I wanted to record these and show how they related to their surroundings.
Old New World” could be viewed as a road trip collection. Does it represent several long summers on the road?
The work was made over seven years, whenever I had time and money to be on the road – not necessarily in the summer. In between times I printed and edited work, and thought about what I was doing.
Small town New Zealand and rural New Zealand both feature strongly in this collection – the Bay of Plenty town of Te Teko, Balfour in Southland – what attracts you to out-of-the-way places?
I went to places that were slightly below the radar, rather than places that were officially sanctioned as cute, or eccentric. I didn’t want to make a clichéd or stereotyped view of New Zealand. I hoped the view that emerged would be of someone who was visitor to a place, looking intently, and bringing back things that were of this country, without it being forced.
Later in the work I went to places that have been changed by extreme development or prosperity, like Queenstown or Mount Maunganui. By then I was ready make photographs that incorporated this knowledge, but still had sincerity at their heart.
Do you drive along until something catches your eye, or do you set out with an idea in mind?
It was really a combination of those approaches. As the project progressed and I become more conscious of the direction I was heading, I did develop lists of things I wanted to include and went looking for them.
But I had to be wary of that approach too. Trying to photograph (or write) with the rational ‘I should do this’ mind, can lead to over-determined and not very interesting results. So I also tried to stay open to just walking down the street and being struck by wonder at something – being drawn along by the content and language of what was happening around me. Some of the most interesting images were made this way.
One of my (many) favourite photographs in the book is of “The Soap Factory – Home of Egmont Soaps” with its differently sized windows and carefully painted words in a range of typefaces. Do you have a personal favourite?
For the project I took over 2,000 images and selected 62 of them for the book and 45 for the exhibition. So I guess I feel they’ve all passed the criteria for selection.
Perhaps the best way to talk about it is in terms of the aesthetics and themes of the work.
One thing I’ve always been interested in, in my photography is finding ways to get a sense of how people perceive their world. In Old New World this surfaces in the photographs I’ve made of statues, murals and public artworks – I was very interested in how people were representing regional and national history and regional identity. When photographing this type of iconography I wanted to place it in its surroundings – to show the ideal and how it sat in ‘real world’.
One photograph which is quite extreme is the image from a truck stop in Canterbury, where the DB advertisement featuring a pink-singleted shearer appears to have arranged reality around itself – to the point where every colour, and even the vegetation, matches the advertisement. The shearer (who looks strangely like Prince Charles) appears to be about to cut off the top of a real tree in front of him. I enjoy the complexity and strangeness of the image. (It’s also in the Te Papa collection).
You’re also a poet – co-author of “Millionaire’s Shortbread” and author of “The Inland Eye”, Pemmican Press. Is there a relationship between your photography and your poetry, or are they two quite separate arts?
I do practise them as separate streams of work and don’t put them together in a literal way. But I think that because photography and images are such a strong part of my life it seeps into some of my writing – I’ve written poems based on the box of slides my mother left our family, written about the complexity of light and quite a lot about journeys.
If words enter the visual sphere, I like the visual to clearly be the driver and I still seem to like to work that stems from the pop culture era. I respond to an Ed Ruscha, Richard Prince type of sensibility. Lately I’ve been interested in a multi-media book of photographs, documents, postcards and signs, called Redheaded Peckerwood by Christian Patterson. It’s a creation that addresses a killing spree by two teenagers in the States in the 1950s.
Where can people see your photographs and where can they buy a copy of the book?
The photographs are currently showing at Lopdell House Gallery in Titirangi, Auckland, until 5 August. Lopdell House will then tour the work around regional art galleries.
The book is available at independent bookshops nationally (e.g. Unity Books, the University stores, Wheelers, Page and Blackmore etc), and Paper Pluses in Hamilton and Porirua. On the web it can be ordered from Lopdell House Gallery http://www.lopdell.org.nz/ .
Prints are available from Photospace Gallery in Wellington. http://www.photospace.co.nz/marymac_pages/marymac_01.htm
Mary’s blog is at http://marymacphoto.wordpress.com/
I’m delighted to be interviewing poet, novelist and short story writer Tim Jones about his latest collection of poetry, Men Briefly Explained, as part of his virtual book tour. (And no, that’s not Tim pictured on the cover, but there is a photo of him at the bottom of this post.) It’s a very enjoyable book, which I’ve already read twice and intend to read again.
Tim’s previous publications include poetry collections Boat People and All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens, short story collections Transported and Extreme Weather Events, and a novel, Anarya’s Secret. He is also co-editor of Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, which won “Best Collected Work” in the 2010 Sir Julius Vogel Awards, the same year he was awarded the NZSA Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature.
First of all, Tim, how did your recent “real-world” book tour go? Any particular highlights?
The highlight of the whole tour was meeting up with friends – both people I already knew in person and enjoyed catching up with again, and people, especially poets, I knew only from the Internet before this.Of all the launch events, I think the Friday night event at the Rona Gallery in Eastbourne, which is part of Lower Hutt in local body terms but feels to me a lot like the seaside suburbs of Wellington, was my favourite. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable (plus there are two Tuesday Poets within their ranks!), the venue is great: you walk into an excellent bookshop and, at a certain point, it morphs into an excellent gallery – what’s not to like? There was a good crowd who laughed at all my jokes (which is, of course, the true measure of success!), books were bought and nibbles nibbled – it was a really good time.But another highlight (and it is so strange for me, an avowed South Islander, to be selecting only North Island highlights) was to read poetry for the first time in Auckland. I wasn’t at my best by by that stage, as I had picked up a cold, I was tired, and the rain was bucketing down, but I have always been nervous about reading in Auckland, and it felt good to break through that particular barrier. It was good of PoetryLive to let Keith Westwater, Dr David Reiterand I be part of their regular weekly readings series.
How does this latest book fit into your body of work to date? Is it a departure from or a continuation of themes from your previous collections?
There have been poems about men, masculinity and growing up male in each of my two previous collections, Boat People and All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens. The difference this time is that, having initially put together a number of such poems as a chapbook (which I was going to called “Guy Thing” – I’m glad I changed the title!), I then decided to go on and write more poems around these themes, rather than (as in my previous collections) having a collection with several sections, each devoted to a theme or style of poem.
The other difference is that my two previous collections each had a section of science fiction and speculative poetry, whereas this one doesn’t – I guess only “As you know, Bob” and “In A World Without Pity, A Town Without Fear” would qualify as speculative poetry. I’ve just joined the Science Fiction Poetry Association, and even guest-edited an issue of their online magazine Eye To The Telescope this year, so I think this is a temporary aberration – perhaps not much science fiction is needed to explain men!
I gather that these poems were written over a five-year period. Did your approach to writing poems about men change as you went along?
As noted above, having initially discovered that I was writing a number of poems about men and planning to bring them together in a chapbook, I then decided to go for a collection. I don’t usually write with a theme in mind before I start – I usually write first, and look for themes later – so this took a bit of adjustment. Once I got underway on these poems, especially the ones about older men near the end of the book, though, I found that they came quite quickly and relatively easily.
I think I might try writing more themed collections in future – in fact, I have a couple of possible themes in mind for future poetry collections, plus another chapbook idea. I like chapbooks a lot – I am determined to put one together at some point.
You write award-winning fiction as well as poetry. Do you work on your various projects concurrently or sequentially?
I find that I can’t work on a novel and short fiction at the same time, but I have at times been able to work on fiction and poetry at the same time – well, say, a morning on one and an afternoon on the other. I’m concentrating on short fiction at the moment – I went through a nervous time when there seemed to be a blockage between the short story ideas I had squirrelled away and my ability to turn them into stories, but I feel (I hope) as though the knack is beginning to return.
I have many favourites in this book: poems about love, like happened to meet and Honey Moon; Return to Nussbaum Reigel; and the very entertaining Men Briefly Explained:
”My friend and I are talking at
the most attractive woman in the room.
We’re talking big: theories, hypotheses,
each wilder than the rest.
How huge our brains must be!”
What’s your own personal favourite?
That’s a tough question, because it’s like being asked to choose between one’s children. Then again, I only have one child, so [puts names of poems on folded slips of paper in hat, swirls slips of paper around, without looking, pulls out a slip] … my favourite poem is “Thinning”! It’s kind of gloomy and I stopped reading it at readings because it was depressing everyone too much, but I’m particularly pleased with that one. My favourite poem to read out loud is “Men Briefly Explained” itself – I’ve noticed that it’s mainly women who appreciate that one.
What’s next on the writing agenda?
Another collection of short stories, and again, I have a theme in mind as I write them. Right now, I have a couple of published but uncollected stories that fit with the theme, a couple more completed but unpublished stories, and a whole bunch of first drafts, bits of stories, and story ideas – which sometimes consist of no more than a title! So there is a lot to do yet, but I’m enjoying the process.
Links to more interviews on Tim’s virtual book tour here.
How To Buy A Copy Of Men Briefly Explained (a perfect Christmas gift for a poetry fan near you!)
Men Briefly Explained is published by Interactive Press (IP) of Brisbane. You can find out more about Men Briefly Explained, and buy it direct from the publisher, on IP’s mini-site for the book: http://www.ipoz.biz/Titles/MBE.htm
On Tim’s Men Briefly Explained page, there are more options for buying the book in person and online, plus latest reader reactions and reviews: http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com/p/men-briefly-explained.html
Mark Stephenson is a Wellington writer whose first novel No Second Chance has just been published by Steele Roberts. No Second Chance is the story of Anna, who arrives in Wellington in 1947 as a survivor of the holocaust. As well as being a story of survival, courage and betrayal, it’s also a story of love and hope. Anna forges a new life in a new place, but the past is always with her.
Mark grew up in the United Kingdom but moved to New Zealand in 1985 to work as a junior doctor in Invercargill. He has lived in Wellington since 1989 where he works as a GP and writes part time. He lives with his partner, a daughter and two dogs. Mark’s short stories have been published in JAAM, Takahe, New Idea, Viola Beadleton’s Compendium of Seriously Silly and Astoundingly Amazing Stories and Washington Square.
Recently I interviewed Mark about his beautifully written new novel, and about writing generally.
Mark, when I first met you, you were writing short stories. What led you to write a longer work?
Yeah, this novel started life as a short story, which was published in Takahe way back yonks ago. For some reason I just kept thinking about the characters and the reasons behind their actions. I gradually filled in the details of their lives and fitted them into a historical context, which wasn’t there in the original story, or not so much of it. Then I started thinking about the next generation, and the next one after that, and the consequences for them as well. So it became a story of how historical events can break apart a life, and a family, and eventually how the characters might come back together again.
What was different about writing a novel, compared to writing short stories?
It took a lot longer…!
But seriously, it’s easier in a way as long as you can stick to the task. You can develop characters and themes and plot along the way whereas in a short story it all has to be done in a few sentences, or words even. A short story is way easier to finish though.
You’ve chosen a very challenging subject. What made you decide to write Anna’s story? Is she based on a real person?
She is not based on a real person but some of the events I’ve written about have certainly happened to people. The situation and conditions in the camps are real but the characters and the way they interact in the novel are imaginary. I’ve been interested in those stories of survival since I was a teenager for some reason and have read some historical accounts. Many survivors keep their stories to themselves till they are much older, and some things probably go with them to the grave. I have often wondered what it would be like to survive, come back to a ‘normal’ life and how your mind would deal with it.
One of the most dramatic events in the book occurs in New Zealand, late in Anna’s life. This is based on an actual happening that occurred not far from here. It set me thinking… why would anybody do that? That’s really where the story came from – I started to fill in the gaps.
Do you have a regular writing routine? How do you juggle writing with your work as a GP?
Well, kind of. I have a regular bit of time off in the week when I write. Sometimes I spend most of it staring at the blank screen.
You held an NZSA mentorship while you were writing No Second Chance. How do you think that helped you?
It helped me a lot, basically by getting a lot of feedback on the text and how I was writing, seeing the recurring faults in my writing. I realised I had still a lot of work to do on the manuscript even though I thought it was already well drafted. I learnt a great deal. My mentor was encouraging while being honest about the bad bits, and there always are bad bits. She also praised the good bits, which I enjoyed more, strangely enough.
What are your writing plans now? Will you stick to novels?
At the moment I’m sticking to novels. I’ve written a draft of another one, possibly a second draft. It’s very different, though also historical, this one is set in sixteenth century Aotearoa before European contact and has a teenage boy as protagonist.
Finally, do you have any advice for first-time novellists?
I tend to think a lot and write little. I advise them to do the opposite.
No Second Chance can be bought from Steele Roberts and Unity Books, or any bookseller will order it for you if you ask.
You can read a sample of the writing at http://www.nosecondchancenovel.com
Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Wellington-based poet Mary Cresswell. Mary is currently engaged in a “virtual book tour” to promote her new book Nearest and Dearest (Steele Roberts), an illustrated book of satiric poetry. On a virtual book tour, the author appears for brief interviews on a range of blogs rather than visiting different places—a much more environmentally friendly approach. Mary has already been interviewed by Tim Jones http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com/.
Mary lives on the Kapiti Coast, though she’s also spent time living in the US, Germany and Japan. She holds a degree in history and English literature from Stanford University in California, and works as a freelance science editor and proofreader. Her first poetry book was the joint publication Millionaire’s Shortbread (University of Otago Press, 2003) with Mary-Jane Duffy, Mary Macpherson, and Kerry Hines.
Mary, you often use particular forms for your poetry. I enjoyed the sonnets in Nearest and Dearest such as “The Rake’s Wife’s Progress” and “The Office Manager Addresses her Mirror” (a wonderful parody of Shakespeare’s “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” which begins “Shall I wear the Gucci scarf today/ It’s far more lovely and more corporate” – see Tim’s blog for the full poem). You also make good use of rhyme schemes in your book. What is it about form and rhyme that appeals to you?
Early brainwashing, I expect. I had poetry recited to me long before I could read. I finished university in 1958, when modernism was still modern; the long gap between then and when I started reading (much less writing) serious poems again meant that I am ignorant of most late twentieth-century poetics. Free verse doesn’t come comfortably to me. I can start something in free verse, but I end up trying to link elements to each other: perhaps alliteration, perhaps changing words so the same/similar vowel sound wanders along through the poem, perhaps dragging a whole line down through the stanzas (“The Pass at Grasmere”).
But I don’t think I have any favourite forms that I tend to default to. I read poetry as much as I write it, and I’m always pleased to come across a new way of linking words, or to be reminded of an old way. Poetry is very much a spectator sport, I think.
I’m interested in your writing process or writing habit. Do you set aside regular time for writing? Is there a special place you go to or is it something that can happen anywhere?
I try to write something, anything, first thing in the morning but often I don’t. I read something every day, always. There are a couple of web sites I subscribe to: PoemHunter.com (generally trad) and Poetry Daily (poems.com; contemporary). Those two cover a lot of weird and wonderful territory, and I am sure there are more places. One way or another, they get me thinking.
I write in my study—on the computer—drink vast amounts of coffee. When I’m stuck, I go for a long walk, put the whole mess out of my mind, and read a thriller. It doesn’t bother me at all to put a poem aside, to forget about it.
How do you think your poetry has changed and developed over the years? What has led to those changes?
It’s only about a dozen years, but yes, there have been changes. I am more prepared to play with form and invent forms, rather than follow a set recipe, than I used to be. This is sometimes driven by the content— “Bigfoot in Love” in N&D stomps along in trochees (STOMP stomp), throws an iambic paddy (stomp STOMP) and then returns in more trochees to a predictable life as a control freak; I wanted to illustrate inflexibility. I admire the US poet laureate, Californian Kay Ryan, who is extraordinarily laconic but still incorporates an elegant variety of rhyme variations throughout her poems. Paul Muldoon and Thom Gunn are great to read, if you like form and like to watch people working with it happily … Marilyn Hacker, Marie Ponsot (both from the US), P. K. Page (Canada). Harryette Mullen (US) surfs meaning in a wonderful way. They’ve all been an education to me.
You publish widely overseas as well as in New Zealand. Have you noticed any differences in editors’ tastes? Are some poems more likely to appeal to an editor from the United States than one from New Zealand?
Yes, but I think this is partly because the US scene is so much bigger: they have space for a wide variety of editors. I would think more than twice about sending an experimental (visual or words) or satiric poem or a parody to most New Zealand journals, and my impression is that formal poetry is only beginning to come back.
And I don’t know the extent to which editorial decisions are driven by funding, how editors feel obliged to accommodate particular points of view about poetry/art/whatever in order to survive. I was terribly lucky as a science editor, in that my main job was to facilitate getting good information to people who needed it. I worried about the budget, but I didn’t have to worry about metaphysical issues.
Can you tell us about the illustrations in Nearest and Dearest?
The illustrations were done by prize-winning freelance illustrator Nikki Slade Robinson, who was suggested by Roger Steele and worked directly from the text of the poems. I love what she’s done: when I have finished writing a poem, I tend to think well, that’s finished and then send it to a journal, but Nikki has drawn out and then illustrated a personality from the various poems. And this was always more than I had seen in the poems, an additional dimension.
Nikki has been an illustrator since 1989 and has illustrated many children’s books, as well as illustrating for the corporate, public and advertising sectors. She’s also illustrated books by poet Glenn Colquhoun. 2009 saw the release of her first book as an author: children’s book That’s not Junk! published by Penguin.
To find out more about Nikki’s work you can visit her website www.penandink.co.nz
Finally, do you have good acceptance/ rejection stories you’d like to share?
Actually, I don’t. I usually send editors a choice of poems, rather than putting all my hopes into one. When an editor rejects the lot, I usually feel, oh, well, I’m just not their cup of tea and start thinking of somewhere else. There’s the occasional editor who speaks for the universe when turning me down, tells me loud and clear that Olympus simply isn’t hiring tea-ladies. That’s really offensive, and I try to go for a very long walk on the beach when that happens. A few editors will tell me why my work doesn’t suit, and that is welcome, a rare event. … Acceptances I can live with!
I can recommend Nearest & Dearest as a fine antidote to the recession. You can order copies here: http://www.steeleroberts.co.nz/
or here: http://www.fishpond.co.nz/
and read more about Mary here: