Friday, July 29, 2011

Grooving while the novel packs its bags

This is my current listening - a NZ band headed by novelist Damien Wilkins. I tend to exhaust CDs - play them over and over song by song until I've 'got' them. I am giving the song Iris DeMent a good run for its money - love those opening lines about making mistakes and making them all over again. It's a nice mix of anthem-to-live-by and demented (heh! heh!) gothic tale - but Damien himself sounds like James Taylor crossed with Neil Finn with perhaps a smidgin of Wayne Mason? More on The Close Readers here.

I'm also enjoying forays into two CDs 'mixed' for me by my friend David Cohen with one song for every year of my life. There are 50 songs! Including this one (love that it's a 'folk song' - it was written for a Pink Batts commercial) and the song at the bottom of the post which was my 'theme tune' in a version of 'The Inspector Calls' - I wore a dress so tight I could hardly breathe. Needless to say there are other such gems.

And I need all the music I can get because I am finally finishing off my children's novel. It is all down on paper - from beginning to end - with some last minute editing, then it goes to 'close readers'. What is it about this part of the process that makes me feel unhinged?

It's letting the thing out, after all the thinking and time and work. It's about being terrified that it's not what I think (hope) it is. Great how a song can cheer you up....

Thursday, July 28, 2011

NZ Book Award Winners

The winners - the wonderful winners - were announced last night at the annual shindig of authors, publishers, booksellers and interested others.

My congrats to them all, but especially to Chris Bourke for his thoughtful book on NZ music history 'Blue Smoke' which scored a hat-trick: NZ Post Book of the Year, the General Non-Fiction Award and the People's Choice Award.  And to modest, hard-working Southerner Laurence Fearnley who I've got to know because she's a Penguin author too (my one novel to her seven! you can see why I say 'hard-working')  and who won the Best Fiction Award for The Hut Builder.

I stood backstage with Laurence in 2008 waiting for the Fiction winner to be announced. There were four of us finalists that year (controversially, people wanted five) but Charlotte Grimshaw was overseas and the fourth, Alice Tawhai, had sent a proxy as she likes to remain anonymous. Anyway, we were standing there nervously in the half-dark waiting for the result to be read out, and then Laurence's name was called. There was a muddly moment as we realised she was Fiction runner-up and I pushed her gently towards the stage. Then Charlotte Grimshaw was announced winner of the Fiction Prize, and then the Medal for Fiction and Poetry, if I remember rightly. She thanked everyone via video on a giant screen.

I bet Laurence is thrilled to bits to have it the other way round this year.

All the winners are here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Dandelions

The dandelions have gone to hay
to huge bleached rolls
over by the front fence

you size one up
run hard
grab the top, feet scrabbling

dog barking
heave yourself onto
the bristling thistling rump

and high above the shorn grass
high above the hoarse dog
like fingers through your hair

feel the freshest air.

                                     Mary McCallum

A little poem that sits in a file with many others waiting to be worked on, approved of, brought out to play. It's hard to see them at a distance these little grabs at life. I like this one for its images of size and the various transformations from small to large - little dandelions become huge rounds of hay, child becomes tall on the rounds of hay made from small dandelions. And I love the bristliness and the chutzpah.

Do check out more Tuesday Poems especially the one at the hub by the talented Ashleigh Young selected by Tim Upperton.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Poet Jo Thorpe reads today - do come!

I want to cast back to the sandspit at noon,
how I stood on its bright neck, tide muscling in,
its heedless pulse finding every scooped-out
glyph and groove ...

Extract from Inlet by Jo Thorpe in In/let (Steele Roberts 2010)

Come and hear
Poet Jo Thorpe

A dancer , Jo’s poems ‘dance’ in their delicious language, musicality and themes. I love her work - its texture, its sensuousness, its joyousness - and am 'choreographing' the event which is TODAY:

Sunday July 24, 4.30 pm- 6.15 pm
Rona Gallery 151 Muritai Rd Eastbourne. Refreshments. Koha: $5 
Starts with an ‘Open Mic’ for local writers (we have half a dozen of them lined up including Manny Garcia and John Horrocks.) 

Extract from Hunt the Slipper by Jo Thorpe

recalling a tale of that chaste ballerina
stopped by a highwayman wanting
not gold, but demanding she dance
on her black panther skins
spread out on the scintillant snow ...

One more WRITERS ON SUNDAY event: August 28 - Peter Walker historical fiction

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Giant DCM Bookfair and my delicious haul.

It's still on until, I think, 5ish, and then on again tomorrow at TSB Bank Arena, Wellington.  $2 a book!!! A great thing to do on a rainy day. Or any day.  Bliss.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

If you buy the raspberry-coloured hand-knitted cardigan and unpick it

Advice to Jennifer Compton from my Mum

Wind the wool
around a wide
piece of plastic
or something
which won’t
change the colour.
Wash carefully
in warm water
and soapsuds.

Rinse carefully –
still on the 'bobbin' –    
and dry.

It will lose its wrinkles.
Wool is very forgiving.

Pity it doesn’t fit as it is.

                                  Mary McCallum

In response to Jen Compton's poem posted yesterday, I had an email from my Mum. She hadn't noticed Jen's name and thought I'd written the poem. This is the email almost word for word including the title - with one or two deletions for flow - so it is, in effect, a 'found poem'. 

I can't believe how perfect the language is! The 'w' sounds in the first stanza evoking the warmth of wool and the business of winding it on the 'bobbin', the repetition of 'carefully' and the tenderness in the handling of the wool as if it's a live thing. Then the penultimate lines and-  it seems - the live thing is old, it will 'lose its wrinkles', and more: there are the  connotations of the wool being 'forgiving' - in effect forgiving Jen for unpicking it. 

And oh the pity that it doesn't fit as it is - the pity for the knitter and for the cardigan - and here are those 'i' sounds in the final line which sound to me like the smallness of 'pity' and also evoke 'knitting' - the word itself and the click of the needles. 

Lovely! Thanks Mum. (Do read Jen's poem first to get the full effect of this one.) 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tuesday Poem: The Raspberry-Coloured Hand-Knitted Cardigan by Jennifer Compton

For a quick ecstatic moment I think -- Herdwick double knit!
Just what I need to unravel and reknit for the poet's jumper. 

And then my fingers know it for a triple and it is not Herdwick.
But still. I rethink my project, my brain goes click click click.

It is knit deliciously wrong side out with a cool curving basque.
The buttons are a wry comment on the high concept of 'cardigan'.

It's a piece of work. But it is so small, who could it possibly fit?
Not her it was knitted for, over slow ticking hours, it is pristine.

Fallen fresh from the needles of a woman who can really knit.
It would be a sin to undo her gift. It would be mortally wrong.

Wool remembers what it was and would resist such declension.
Such consummate sewing up of it, such a smooth, even tension,

If it is still hanging on the rack on Tuesday when I go back
I will buy it for eight bucks, salvage the buttons, and unpick.

                                                                     posted here with permission from Jennifer Compton
I launched Tuesday Poet Jennifer Compton's This City at the Thistle Inn last night. The Palmerston North launch is tonight at Bruce McKenzie's bookshop at (I think) 6pm, and she's reading in Auckland on Poetry Day on Friday. What a book! Here's my launch speech below. Remember, after you've enjoyed Jen's poem, click on the Tuesday Poem quill in the sidebar for the TP post this week of three poems from the three NZ Book Award poetry finalists, and more more more poems posted by TP poets.

THIS CITY by Jennifer Compton (Otago University Press)  – Launch 18/07/11
I was lucky enough to meet Jennifer Compton when she was the Randell Cottage writer in residence in 2008. I am a Trustee and a Friend of the cottage, and Jen came to us as a NZ poet who had been living in Australia since 1972. We were thrilled to welcome her back. Jen has been publishing poetry since the age of 15 with poems in The Listener; she is also a playwright and fiction writer, and a member of the Tuesday Poem blog. 
Her most recent publication before This City was Barefoot last year in Australia– a collection of poetry which was one of my favourite reads of the year.  Jen has won awards in poetry, short fiction and scriptwriting in both NZ and Australia including the KM Award for short fiction in 1977 (NZ), the Robert Harris Poetry Prize in 1995 (Australia) and the Kathleen Grattan award (NZ) for a whole collection which has led to this gorgeous publication.  
Jen is also a busy ‘writer in residence’ skipping around the globe. Apart from the Randell, in 2006 she was resident in the Whiting Library Studio in Rome, in 2007 she spent a month as a Creative Writing Fellow at the Liguria Study Centre in Bogliasco, and in 2010 she was the visiting artist at Massey University in Palmerston North.
I was lucky enough to stay with her there in her breeze block apartment in Palmy near the gay nightclub with the luxury of two hot-water bottles per bed – which is where I first read Barefoot. It was a lovely experience –this is the sort of poetry that can swoop from sky height to ground level and back up again in a single word …. And by that I mean it’s quirky and universal and intensely human.
This City is all of that and then some. The view here is broader somehow – Italy, New Zealand, Australia are the three sections of the book– and shifts from the stitches in a raspberry-coloured cardigan to the hillside view of a capital city to the funny business of communicating in cities which use another tongue.
Judge of the Kathleen Grattan Award, Vincent O’Sullivan, says Jennifer’s collection 'sustains a questing, warmly sceptical mind's engagement with wherever it is, whatever it takes in, and carries the constant drive to say it right.’
It’s that playful, sceptical aspect of Jen’s work that I find most engaging. It takes you by surprise sometimes, makes you grin as you read e.g. Musical Buildings (p.16) about her return to Wellington. I was naturally captivated by the poems set in my stamping ground – in and around the Randell Cottage and Wellington city, and Palmerston North.  I can imagine the poem ‘Palmy’ being read at many Palmy functions and celebrations in the future. It is the sort of poem cities are built on.
On the other side of the coin, this collection also has an undertow of an incipient threat and possible disaster. Both an interior threat – a sense of falling into middle and old age and losing some of what defines a person, becoming more forgetful, for example -- and an exterior threat, whether it be modernization of a familiar city or a rampaging fire in Australia or simply the precarious topography of our capital city.
Like any good collection of poetry, there is a defined voice here and a voice I want to spend time listening to. I never feel I’ve exhausted a Jennifer Compton poem, and I think that’s because they always feel like there are little alleyways as yet unexplored. It’s something about the casual almost conversational style plump with just-concealed laughter, kindness and largesse;  the unpredictable stuff she throws in – the roving eye – the things that grab her: buttons, paperclips, a young woman with goosebumps who needs a cab called for her so she can get home. 
There’s the feeling too that the poems are finely crafted but not polished within an inch of their lives. They beckon the reader with crooked finger and a lilt in their throats, saying, ‘come, sit down while I knit and listen for a time. If you want to. Only if you want to. And if it gets cold, I’ll fill you two hot water bottles and find you an extra quilt. ‘
Vincent O’Sullivan again: ‘This is a complete book of poetry, coherent, gathering its parts to arrive at a cast of mind, a distinctive voice, far more than simply adding one good poem to another.'
I understand Palmy people are rapt with the Palmy poem, certainly Randell people happy with the Randell poem. I expect both Melburnians and Wellingtonians to fall upon this book, and anyone else who wants a collection that – like its hardback cover – will last the distance and give great pleasure.
I declare This City launched.

Tuesday Poem

It's National Poetry Day on Friday when the winner of the NZ Book Award for poetry is announced. To celebrate Tuesday Poem has posted a poem from each of the finalists. The editor is Renee Liang who has trawled the three books and chosen the poems and written a thoughtful post about each of them. Do have a look here. And there are a host of wonderful Tuesday Poems in the sidebar. I'm posting one by Tuesday Poet Jen Compton here later today from her gorgeous book This City which I launched at the Thistle Inn last night. Meanwhile, I'm off to walk the dog. It's a still cool day here in Wellington and I can hear a tui in the garden talking to one up in the bush. Happy Poetry week everyone.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Approaching or Reproaching 50

Or The Skin You’re In

On the eve of the party,
she says, ‘To hell with it,
why wear this old thing?’
She fossicks until she finds
     the photo of her perched
     on the picnic blanket
     in the wrap-around
dress. It was probably taken
after the three-legged race –
she’s grinning, and there’s
a kind of lightness you get
from running.
     Now she props up
     the photograph and sloughs
     off her skin no trouble
at all – it is
briefly opalescent
then collapses like Glad wrap
into a small hard ball – and
she’s poised, ready to slip
inside the skin of ’77.
     She fears it will be a tight fit,
     tighter than the top
     she wore to that party
when the boy crashed the motorbike,
and, concussed, gave her number
not his – oh, romance - to the bloke
in the ambulance.
     Playlist: If I Can’t Have You,
     You Sexy Thing, Pretty
     Vacant, You’re the One that
     I Want, Torn Between Two
     Lovers (Feeling Like A Fool).
But wait,
there’s no button, no hook, no eye,
no elastic, zip, velcro, belt
or safety pin, no seam or fold
or frayed end, no way to undo
or unpick the exuberant
picknicking skin.
     Ah, looks like she’s set for another night in.

                                                                     Mary McCallum 2011

Oh yes, it's one of those years I'm afraid (one of those weeks) - and I'm starting my celebrations with a poem right here.

Please (as a gift to me) flick through to the Tuesday Poem hub where the wonderful Aussie Chris Wallace-Crabbe is showcased, and then try at least one or two of the delights in the TP sidebar where there are so many wonderful Tuesday Poems every week. We can have a little dance over there together, share a drink ...

P.S. Tonight - Tuesday July 12 - Fiona Kidman (The Trouble with Fire) and Randell's writer in residence Peter Walker  (The Couriers Tale) are reading at Millwood Gallery, Tinakori Road Thorndon 6-7 pm with a glass of wine. I'll be there.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Lovely Things (Literary) That Happened this week, Are Happening, Will Happen

1. On a grim drenched day - the dog, me, my new LG phone all drenched - and I get home to find these high and dry and pretty in my letter box. They're from Helen Heath - a blog prize from her busy generous literary blog - all I had to do to enter was comment on the blog or her facebook page. I can't resist a lovely journal or a sharp pencil - and Lotta Jandotter's journal and Penguin pencils are lovely, both.  

2. I'm reading Jennifer Compton's new collection This City (OUP) which won the Kathleen Grattan Prize. I'm launching it next Monday July 18 Thistle Inn Thorndon 6 pm. 

3. Coming up THIS TUESDAY at 6 pm:

Fiction on Fire

A Randell Cottage event at Millwood Gallery
Come and hear authors Fiona Kidman & Peter Walker 
read over a glass of wine. Tuesday 12 July 6-7 pm.
This will be the first public reading of Fiona’s new collection of short stories: The Trouble with Fire (Random). As a Trustee of the Randell Cottage Writers Trust, she is delighted to share
the evening with the 2011 Randell Cottage writer in residence,
Peter Walker (The Couriers Tale, The Fox Boy – Bloomsbury.)
There will be time for questions.  Free event. 291B Tinakori Rd, Thorndon. RSVP: Murray on 473 5178 or
Followed by the Friends of Randell Cottage AGM, at the Thistle Inn, Thorndon 7.45 pm. All welcome.                                            

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Lit

Here I am passing that gate again,
and behind it the swing and the sandpit
and the deck with named hooks 
and a sink for washing paintbrushes,
and as the sun
fills the glass doors of an afternoon
in winter, spilling over the floor picking out
dust and crumbs,
so in this late afternoon, with no breath 
of air, I see every splinter of that old gate, every
hand that pressed on it, pulled it to,
and I can hear the coming through
of the children, I goin’  to
I goin’ to
I goin’ to wear the prin--cess dress
and the women coming through,
some of them stooped and stopped,
boulders in the flow,
hands heavy on the bolt : cocked
to laughter, crying, running feet, and there
I am
walking towards myself, red paint
on one cheek, hair long and thick as a pony’s, 
holding the hand of a tiny boy who chatters
and the foot of another who bobs 
on my back sucking hair, and I’m smiling, I think,
and I’m tired, I think, but
I am most like this billowing opera of light
that is everywhere in this failing afternoon,
seizing each hair, pinking each
fingernail, singing of the sweetness
of new skin: I am fearless,
I am full to the brim, and I am cantering past, heartless
and fast, through the gate, up the path, over the dark, obliterating hill.

Mary McCallum

I wrote this poem so long ago and I've just been redrafting it, and I do believe it's still a draft. All my children went to the local Playcentre where we spent 12 years in all  (for the whole family joins and is involved in running and maintaining the place - including running sessions for the children), and the poem is about that lovely place, and walking past it some time after our last child had left. 

The poem needs more work to bring it together but I have contract writing work that is whispering hard and fast in my ear  'me, me, me!' I will leave 'Lit' for now and see where it goes... How lucky I've been to have more time to write poems thus far this year. I will have to grab the moments now, wring them by the throat. 

Click on the quill in my sidebar to take you to Tuesday Poem, the hub, and a poem by Graham Lindsay courtesy of David Howard. Very cool indeed to make the acquaintance of both these South Island poets. And have a happy Maori Language Week. Kia ora!