Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Heir of Night blog party

Author Helen Lowe who is also one of the Tuesday Poets (see the quill in the sidebar) has a new book out. This hugely successful NZ author has been having a blog party to celebrate. I seem to have missed it, but hey! I checked out her blog and they're still there talking about what went down yesterday. Here's the link to her blog where you'll see a host of guests talking about :  “why books and/or fantasy rock your world”. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tuesday Poem: The Bookshop

people come to buy a book
but really they want to say : 

they have two brilliant sons
they have a dying wife
they have a daughter who needs a cake sent in a box
they have a friend who cannot hold a book
they have a grand-daughter so small and sick
they forgot a coat
they have a broken hip
they have an assignment due
they had to fix the leaks
they missed their flight
they will sell their house
that their ex is playing up
that things are tight
that the day is unseasonably bright

that they worry, that they need, 
that they notice, that they're loved

and the book? oh not today
tomorrow, definitely tomorrow, when 

the day's less bright, things are less tight, the ex
is playing less, the house is sold, they get their flight,

the leaks are fixed, the assignment done, the hip 
mended, the coat picked up, the grand-daughter well
(bless her),

the friend better, the cake eaten, 
the wife cured, the sons more ordinary 

then, then


                                                                Mary McCallum 

This is just a bit of fun. I work in a bookshop one day a week. I treasure it - it's a day of communing with books and with the people who walk in off the street. Some of the conversations blow me away. The stories. The power. The suffering. The weight some people bear. The way love seems to slide in somehow whatever we're discussing. We talk about books too, of course. And sometimes I sell a few. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Vincent O'Sullivan Fiona Kidman Pat White Jean Anderson Mary McCallum Jo Thorpe Maggie Rainey-Smith Beverley Randell read

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesday Poem: Rongotai by Jennifer Compton

The salt storm killed everything in my mother's garden.
I hear it late at night against the windowpanes, crash

just like rain in the fist of the wind.
Rain with the secret of salt.

The plane to Sydney would roar and lift above us
at 7 am -- and silence would fall again like fuel

the veil of fuel that smelt of kerosene
that felt like the slow lick of a lazy fire

that fell within its own laws of falling when
I was standing out in my mother's garden.

Another plane and another and another
landing, across the road where the hill

used to be. As the hill and the houses slid
into a chasm of waiting to be something else

I found a stone fish, I imagined it to be a goldfish
left behind to starve and stiffen. I held it in my palm

the puzzling fish, and left it where I found it.
From the sloping garden I could see my roof.

The houses went like snails on the backs of trucks
then the hill, inch by truckload. Dug down to the bone.

My brother came home with the skull of an original.
Which, by a miracle of intervention I never saw until

I was taken to the museum on the hill. Another hill.
And we went on living, under the battering wing.

Dad would rage and shake his fist and shout
that he would mount a machine gun nest

on the roof, next to the chimney. As I flew out
I looked down and saw him, sparing my plane.

This is such a fabulous Wellington poem: the hills, the wind, houses 'like snails on the backs of trucks', Rongotai with its airport. How extraordinary the final two couplets are. The raging father wanting to mount a machine gun nest on his roof to down those bloody planes! And the heartbreaking poignancy of his sparing a daughter flying away over his head to live elsewhere.

I read Rongotai staying with Jen in the flat in Palmerston North where she lived as Massey University's writer in residence this year. We'd been involved with creative writing workshops at the university that day, and after a stroll through humming Palmie, we headed back to the flat. Jen gave me a copy of her latest collection Barefoot (Picaro Press 2010) - with a great photo on the cover of the police helping her down off the roof of the Taj Mahal in Wellington in the 70s - and I took it off to the narrow little bed the poet had filled earlier with two hot water bottles, and read.

I was seriously delighted with Barefoot  and remain so - it's one of my fave collections of the year. Poems about NZ - Otaki, Napier, Rongotai etc - and about Australia (where Jen lives) and places like Italy where she's lived and written and travelled. Poems about family and living on the land and love and anything that grabs her magpie mind. Jen Compton's poetry so often combines the humorous, the quirky, the incisive and the heartfelt without missing a beat.

A playwright and a poet, Jen seems to me to be a fearless writer who flies in any direction she chooses. Appropriate for the daughter of a machine gunner.

Rongotai is used with the permission of Jen Compton. More on Jen here when she was Randell Cottage writer in residence. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sarah Laing's Let Me Be Frank

Sarah Laing is one of those super-talented people who writes short stories and designs the book cover to go with them

Coming Up Roses

writes a novel (not sure if she designed this book - my guess is she did)

designs other people's book covers and wins awards for them

illustrates other people's books

Macaroni Moon

More on Sarah Laing here and at her website (where she does heaps more stuff) here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tuesday Poem: Earth

For the people of Canterbury after the September earthquake, 2010

Day 1
it mobs us
leaves us

we are aghast and naked in the doorway 
clutching each other, where’s the dog? 
we are flying for the children, calling
their names, we are the woman up to her neck 
in it, scrabbling for a handhold, calling --
the child behind her on the path stay there 
the one she’s rushing to collect stay there 
we are the boy running to the grandfather, calling --
we are the family watching the capsizing house 

stay               there

earth in our ears
earth in our eyes
earth in our hair

Day 2
it runs its fingers  
along the fences
and power poles
leaves behind
the sound
anxiety makes

there are
early births
and heart attacks
sleep flies from
windows like
featherless birds

Day 3
the faultline is the

in the spine and the


and neck

and shoulder bones


are the

Day 4
it nudges
a dog does
the child vomit
his little brother
and shake and shake

the looters take what they like

the homeless take what they can

the mother says she can’t take anymore

the dairy owner says take what you like pay later

Day 5
it changes
the way we
face the world
that shop we
knew that street
we grew up in
that church
in Little River
we drove past on the way to our holidays

Day 6
the crane             drivers      are having a        field day
   one  saves              a chandelier and        bows      to the applause
one unpicks a      wall brick     by brick      and leaves small
       pyramids ready for       rebuilding    there are too many
toppled chimneys      too many buildings on their     knees
nothing can     be done about         Telegraph Road

Day 7
earth in our hair
earth in our ears
earth in our eyes

we are naked in the doorway
we are shaking like leaves
we are up to our neck in it

scrabbling for a handhold calling -- 


                                        Mary McCallum

Friday, September 10, 2010

And the world comes tumbling down

Moving post on Canterbury after the quake by poet, Harvey McQueen, born and bred in Little River.

And his wife, Anne Else, has a useful graph which shows the aftershocks petering out...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Wordnik: Apposite

Occurrences of the word "apposite" per million words

Found this on an amazing site called WORDNIK ... while trying to find out the true pronunciation of 'apposite' (a friend said she's always pronounced it not like 'opposite' - my way - but with 'sight' at the end. Anyway, I fell upon 'wordnik' and found it hard to get away.)
    from the American Heritage Dictionary 


by American Heritage Dictionary
  1. Strikingly appropriate and relevant. See Synonyms at relevant.

Century Dictionary (3 definitions)

  1. Placed near to; specifically, in botany, lying side by side, in contact, or partly united.
  2. Suitable; fit; appropriate; applicable; well adapted: followed by to: as, this argument is very apposite to the case; “ready and apposite answers,” Bacon, Hen. VII., p. 120.
  3. Apt; ready in speech or answer: said of persons.
Latin appositus, past participle of appōnereto put near : ad-ad- + pōnere,to put; see apo- in Indo-European roots.

I guess there are a lot of word-related sites out there, not least the various online dictionaries. But there's something kind of fun about Wordnik - it has the joys of:  Zeitgeist · Word of the day · Random word  amongst other things. And I love that little graph. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tuesday Poem: Victory


Warm still from hot water and lavender soap, from a clean dry towel,
from a new lace bra, but losing heat fast in a grey room, on a cold slide
with a Velcro tag  for ‘right breast’. The nondescript woman in a denim
skirt slides across the lino to click the button and start the scan. She returns
to turn me over like eggs in a frypan. Firmly, gently, so as not to break the yolks.
She sees my hand go up, flap the air and drop again. It’s a new machine, fewer
handles, she says, you feel like you need something to hang onto. In case I fall, I 
say. But of course I can’t fall, I am clamped like the mouse in the pantry last week
with its nose in the trap,
and in a blue apron, with onions frying, I was the nondescript woman, crossing
the room, calling my son, grabbing the soup ladle, the pestle, the heavy knife,
anything to still the terrible panic, the frantic warm caught body. But nothing
would do. Not squeamishness but violence pushed us back from the pantry door:
pulsing from the concrete floor, ricocheting off the shelves of tinned tomatoes
and packets of flour and nuts, smashing up against our shins. Hot. Angry.
Incandescent. Nothing timorous or cowering about it. No flapping in the air
trying to hang on to something that wasn’t there, no meek waiting while the skin
cooled. We dropped our weapons, quit crying, canned the obscenities, and in the
sanity of silence, simply pressed a heel on the tip of that stupid plastic trap.

And it ran from us. Crookedly, but it ran. 

                                                           Mary McCallum

Thinking of the people in Canterbury in the aftermath of the terrible 7.1 earthquake - not least our southern Tuesday Poets - no poem seemed right for today's Tuesday Poem. But I looked again, and up popped this one. It speaks of that glorious thing they need down south right now.

And from the stories we hear, these Cantabrians certainly have courage in abundance, and are fighting back against this natural disaster, 'nothing timorous or cowering' about them. Victory in sight, although it will be a long haul. 

I love the story of the dairy owner who's opened up his dairy to people saying they can take what they need and come back and pay him when they're able to. My heart goes out, especially, to parents of young children trying to cope in damaged homes with restricted water supplies.

Here's a report from Kathleen Jones - UK poet and Mansfield biographer visiting her daughter in Christchurch; and one from Christchurch author Rachael King who has two small children to care for and, after a few sleepless nights, plans to Keep Calm and Carry On

At least everyone is safe. Crooked but safe.

For more Tuesday Poems click on the quill in the sidebar. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fifty Years from the Elephant's Head, Broken Hill, to now.

Here they are my parents - Lindsay and Norma McCallum - fifty years married. This picture was taken yesterday.

Married in Ndola, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), in 1960 where I was born, they moved to Bermuda for four sunny years - enter my brother, then to Wellington New Zealand (not so sunny!) where my youngest brother was born, took us to England (where Mum came from) for two years and then back to NZ again. Adventurers both.

Dad - a fun, gregarious fellow and snappy dresser, who likes to be up and doing, loves news (worked as a journalist and in PR for most of his working life) and sport (swims, plays petanque now). Mum - a caring community person, more retiring than Dad, reader and music lover, wrote columns and cookbooks and worked as a librarian. 'Family comes First' is their mantra (eight grandchildren now), and they offer support and encouragement at any time and any place. They have for all of us a fierce pride. Magnificent friends to their friends too. Some might call them bossy (people call me bossy), others would call them  'can do' will-move-mountains sort of people. Good-hearted. Yes.

And always always up and off somewhere. When I was young we never stayed in any house longer than two years (they just shifted again last year! they say it's for the last time, but I never believe them.) Needless to say they travel light and (due to Mum) economically.

Dad was born in Greece to Greek/French/ English parents and was a refugee during the war living in Egypt, Africa and then England, and stayed there until 19 when Africa called (in the form of the colonial police force). Mum was brought up in Seaham in the North of England, but as soon as she could she shot over to Greece to work as an au pair - unheard of in the street where she lived. Back in England, she worked as a librarian and police officer and then.... Africa called.

Remember that movie with Meryl Streep that begins 'I left my heart in Africa'? I think my parents picked up another heart while they were there and brought it away with them. It is in a box in their hot water cupboard beating its own beat. Something more expansive and penetrating and perplexing and profound than any other sort of beat. It is the heart of their household dug from a soil I knew once, briefly, and where their feet stood fifty years ago while they exchanged marriage vows. How young they look! How happy. How sun-kissed.

She was Norma Corrigan, her mother in Seaham baked the wedding cake and sent it by sea. They couldn't afford to travel all that way. Neither could Dad's Mum in Athens. There were lots of friends at the wedding, though, all shiny and elegant. The sun shone. On the way to their honeymoon at the Elephant's Head Hotel, Broken Hill, the car broke down. It was night and an empty stretch of road. All they could hear where the drums. Dad sent Mum off in a passing car and waited for help. He got to the Elephant's Head eventually, but it was a long wait for a new bride.

Fifty years. I am so proud of them. For all the hard work, the strength, the commitment, the optimism, the fun, the sense of adventure, the love.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Alice Munro, Diana Athill, the LIttle Mermaid and the wisdom (or not) of age.

A stunning interview, all too brief. Thanks to Harvey McQueen for pointing it out to me. I must look up Athill's Stet now - what sounds to be a marvellous book about the writers Athill (the publisher) has known and the books she has read.

Now here, a heart-breakingly beautifulinterpretation of Munro's Lives of Girls and Women. Each word is deeply perfect. The music is "comptine d'un autre été", by Yann Tiersen.