Book Review: XYZ of Happiness, by Mary McCallum

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_xyz_of_happinessThe title of Mary McCallum’s poetry collection, XYZ of Happiness, explains just what this book is about: those feelings of happiness that colour our lives. Each letter of the alphabet is used as the first letter of each poem. The first poem is titled, After reading Auden, the second, Bee story, the third, C, and on the poems go in alphabetical order until the final piece, Zambia.

The poem After Reading Auden won the Caselberg International Poetry Prize and it’s a wonderful start to the sequence. Happiness here is found in the midst of nature. McCallum describes the force

of the river’s intimacy, its deep
soundless need—not sour,
not shiftless, but lucid, expressive,
sweet.

It seems the river is something full of power and emotion, yet still carries a softness. She goes on to describe the sensation of being in the river and falling into all that beauty:

we, the girls
and I, dissolving

And we dissolve with her into the bliss of the moment.

The poem Things they don’t tell you on Food TV was one of my favourites in the collection. In the piece, McCallum shows how food is a great conjurer of happy memories. McCallum talks about the

sun blooming in a bowl, and spooning
yoghurt and honey into a hungry mouth
on whitewashed steps with a turquoise sea

and a donkey crowing and someone calling
kalimera into the bleaching light is just like
scooping up the sun and eating it.

As I read the poem, I was instantly in Greece. The things that McCallum highlights in this poem are beautiful moments that I remember from my time there too. The combination of yoghurt and honey is a wonderful image, and her description of eating the sun and swallowing up that light perfectly describes how heart-warming such a scene can to be. As McCallum states, these memories are things that they don’t tell you on Food TV. They are personal stories.

The danger of writing with such a deep focus on happiness is that it can seem excessive and overdone. Some poems tipped a little to this side. In her poem Just Happiness, McCallum talks about a shop selling ‘Happiness Bowls’ and the image feels overwrought.

But for the most part, McCallum presents happiness in a subtle way. There are poems about when happiness is missing too, and when it’s something that’s being searched for. In the poem C, McCallum talks about a tender subject. The second part of the piece is titled 2. CHEMOTHERAPY. Here, she describes a body

young enough to smell of milk
in the morning, one the mother must
return to sit beside and stand over

McCallum shows a scene of vulnerability and presents the protection that the mother brings. Part of this section’s title is in bold for a reason. Chemotherapy, mother. And from here, McCallum highlights a great little wordplay within the word:

How could we not see it? Listen closely
now for the rest, say the word with soft
mouth lest you miss them: first and last
and barely there, but holding mother like
ribs, the key to (almost) happy.

It leaves you rolling the word chemotherapy in your mouth. She’s right, the mother is always there. Trying to hold things together like ribs, trying to create safe spaces of contentment. Complex poems that explore the different kinds of satisfaction we can feel and create, like this one, gave a true depth to the collection beyond simple bliss.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

XYZ of Happiness
by Mary McCallum
Published by Mākaro Press
ISBN 9780995109223

Book Review: Welcome, by Mo Willems

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_welcome.jpgWe absolutely adore Mo Willems in our family. He’s the bestselling creator of the hilariously mad Elephant & Piggie series, as well as Knuffle Bunny, and the brilliant Pigeon picture books; all of which have brought much glee to adult and child readers alike. Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals is the newest book from this talented former Sesame Street writer and animator.

Aimed at parents and caregivers of new additions, this gorgeous book is a life instruction manual for little ones, designed to be read aloud to your new baby. The message of the book is gorgeous: ‘This is you, you are you, you are loved. No restrictions apply.’ It is a delightful, loving, life lesson to share with your little person.

This book will last well into toddlerhood with its heavier than paper, reinforced pages for durability, a fun mirror inside the front cover, and very simple pictures on coloured pages. This book is sure to be a hit at baby showers, christenings and any other gift-giving opportunities to celebrate a new arrival to your community. And as always, the Pigeon makes a sneaky cameo appearance in the book.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

Welcome
by Mo Willems
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406383584

Book Review: Everyday Adventures, by Lonely Planet

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_everyday_adventuresLonely Planet, that loved and trusted bible for backpackers and travellers, has added to their pantheon of guidebooks with a book close to everyone’s home. The cover promises ‘50 new ways to experience your hometown’ and it certainly delivers on this promise. Set out in five sections of adventure themes: Follow Your Senses, Social Adventures, Challenge Yourself, Cultural Odysseys and for the more adventurous adventurer, Roll the Dice, the book offers unique and fun ways to re-discover the place you live in. In each section you can pick and choose the challenges that best suit your level of budget, and adventurous spirit. This is a fantastic ‘how-to’ book that will get you out and about, looking around you and appreciating (hopefully) the world you walk through each and every day.

The adventures are outlined briefly and a list is provided of what you will require to complete each mission, along with instructions and colourful photos from around the globe. Diving into the challenges could see you for instance: camping in your own backyard and stargazing; spending 24 hours at the airport; travelling to the end of the train/bus line; playing life size monopoly around the city; letting your dog take you where they want to go, or volunteering a charity or organisation that operates in your city. The options are varied from easy to complex, and range from an hour or two to a few days – they have the suggestions, you decide on what and how and where.

To offer you more inspiration to get out there, or to clarify just what the adventure may entail, a case-study for each suggested adventure is provided. Written by Lonely Planet authors, they are lyrical pieces of travel writing filled with personal insights and imagery describing the sights and smells discovered by the adventurer as they test drive the adventures. These vignettes make for charming reading in themselves, and are accompanied by interesting facts relating to the adventure.

It has been *ahem* quite a few years since I had a few backpacking adventures on my Big OE; travels now look very different, and are a whole lot more comfortable might I add. However, like most travellers the love of discovering new places and experiences remains and with this book the Backpacker spirit can live on, opening up the possibilities of adventure close by. This is definitely a book for those who like to try new things and for those who love sharing fun experiences with family and friends.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Everyday Adventures
Lonely Planet Global Ltd, 2018
ISBN: 9781787013582

Book Review: The Quaker, by Liam McIlvanney

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_quakerThree women are murdered some weeks and months apart. DI Duncan McCormack is put in charge of why the murders haven’t been solved and why the murder squad haven’t managed to find the killer, getting him off the streets. There is fear amongst women as to where and who the killer will strike next.

McCormack is bought down from the Highlands in Scotland to Glasgow to join the investigation. He finds shoddy police work with nothing linking to anybody or where the murderer could have come from. The killer is nicknamed ‘The Quaker’ because of third hand memories of a man dressed in a suit, with a regimental tie and a religious pin on the lapel of his suit.

Who is The Quaker? Is he part of an organised crime syndicate or is he part of a network with a member of that syndicate inside the police force?

This is a ripper of a story with hardly a page where some new information isn’t imparted to the reader building up the profile of the killer. I found it difficult to put down the book at times but sleep is one of the necessary parts of life, so I was often waiting for another “spare” moment to pick up where I had left the off. The ending is superb.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Quaker
by Liam McIlvanney
Published by HarperCollins NZ
ISBN 9780008259921

Book Review: He Kupu Tuku Iho: Ko te Reo Māori te Tatau ki te Ao by Tīmoti Kāretu and Wharehuia Milroy

Available in selected bookshops nationwide. 
cv_he_kupu_tuku_ihoIf te reo is the door, as in the title of this compilation of the words of Tā Tīmoti Kāretu and Tākuta Te Wharehuia Milroy, it is the threshold between the wharenui of the past and the open courtyard of the future. Standing at the paepae, these kaumātua describe the transformations they have both witnessed and led in te reo me ōna tikanga, the language and its customs, creating a taukaea, a bond, from past through present to firmly anchor the future.

Kāretu and Milroy’s work to revitalise te reo me ōna tikanga could be compared to the restoration of poupou (carved panels) in the wharenui of te reo. Guided by knowledge handed down to them, Tā Tīmoti and Tākuta Te Wharehuia carefully bring the faded panels to life, revealing the figures within that will guide new generations of orators as they breathe life into almost forgotten words.

It is fitting that He Kupu Tuku Iho is written entirely in te reo. With its conversational style and personal stories grounding the discussion of core tikanga, the language reaches out even to the learner. Lively discussions between the pair hold the reader’s attention by deftly varying spoken rhythm and subject matter, from the lofty heights of spirituality to earthy humour.

The transcribed words of the authors reflect their voice, cadence, and favoured turns of phrase and expressions leaned upon and brandished for emphasis like tokotoko (walking sticks). This is a written record of an eloquence rarely heard, let alone read.

Tā Tīmoti and Tākuta Te Wharehuia have kept the linguistic fires burning despite passing showers of pessimism about the future of te reo. Now, ka rite ki te kōpara e kō nei i te ata, like the bellbird singing in the morning, te reo rangatira resounds throughout the motu, adorned by vocabulary restored and reintroduced by these kaitiaki reo.

Tā Tīmoti is known for arguing te reo is in better shape than often feared, though he recognises it is changing. Whatever shape those changes finally take, this book preserves the language wielded by these tohunga reo for future speakers, teachers and learners.
Yet this book is a door to far more than language. In chapters on wairua and tapu, Te Wharehuia leads readers through the mist into the world of his childhood, of kēhua (ghosts), tohunga, and a white-feathered guardian morepork that dodges stones thrown by mischievous boys.

And as befits the sharing of such knowledge, there are stern words about treading neither on tikanga nor on the wrong place in an urupā that will echo in readers’ ears long after turning the final page. But on the other side of the kapa (penny), there is warm and helpful advice on how to find the right balance between humour and remembrance when speaking at a tangi.

Complementing Tākuta Te Wharehuia’s kōrero on tikanga, Tā Tīmoti shares his lively but piercing analysis of te reo of yesterday and today. He spots English words dressed in Māori kākahu, and observes the changing flow of the language as it is channelled into the thought patterns of speakers whose first language is English.

Their book sits in a unique space between wānanga and a talk between koroua; between history, current affairs and musings on the future; between autobiography and chronicle. It is informative, never dull, and sometimes hātakēhi (hard case).

As a path in te reo to the pou (pillars) of te ao Māori, this work has few rivals. It is the fruit of two lifetimes of gathering and sharing knowledge. Although the language may challenge some, the rewards of taking this wero and opening the door are many. Ka mau te wehi!

Reviewed by Paul Moenboyd

He Kupu Tuku Iho: Ko te Reo Māori te Tatau ki te Ao
by Tīmoti Kāretu and Wharehuia Milroy
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408800

Book Review: Sport and the New Zealanders: A History, by Greg Ryan & Geoff Watson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_sport_and_the_new_zealandersThis book traces the history of sport in New Zealand, and it covers most of the recorded history of the country, including an initial chapter for the pre-1840 era. It is also a book written by two academics, rather than sports journalists or fans. This does not really affect how it reads, but there are 40 pages of endnotes at the back. And it seems that sport has been the topic of significant scholarship within the universities.

It is certainly well-written and will be of interest to any sports enthusiasts in New Zealand that want a long read. However, the authors do place their story within an academic context, and the historiography of the wider society, which results in an emphasis on the early years. So anyone expecting a lot of detail on recent professional sportspeople will actually find the balance tipped back towards the amateur era. The book is very much a social history of sport, followed by an assessment of the effects of the commercialism of sport, and societal change on the mass participation in sport.

It has to be said that much of the focus of the authors is upon the development of rugby union, even though many sports are weaved into the narrative. This can be justified on the idea that rugby is the ‘national game’, and has the broadest range of participants in terms of town and country. It certainly has the most popular depth, and therefore commercial appeal. And it has developed over time, as we witness the increased participation of urban Pasifika players, and the rise of the women’s game. But inevitably the sporting links with South Africa have to be covered, and the 1981 Springbok Tour examined, especially as other sports had a temporary moment in the limelight. Questions remain over whether one dominant sport is helpful to the others.

While the text moves into the emphasis on commercialised sport and the elite level, there is another perspective provided by the photographic plates. All of these are presented well in black and white, and the most recent is from the 1980s (apart from two cartoons). The research for these photos in the archives has provided an emphasis on the participation of ordinary folk, with a few elite national representatives from yesteryear. The only downside is that the participants are mostly unknown, and the places are sometimes vague as well. The photo for the cover is also a curious choice: an unknown weightlifter at the Petone Recreation Ground, circa 1956. There seems to be no weightlifter mentioned in the text, even for the 1974 Commonwealth Games.

The captions can also be misleading: e.g. the one of the ‘football supporters’ holding a banner at the national team’s triumphant win over China in 1982. The supporters are obviously two of the actual players, sans their shirts, namely Adrian Elrick and the especially hirsute Bobby Almond. Almond, like many of the other immigrant team members (and coaches), still retained the broad regional accents of their home country. And with this came a different sporting culture, one that was still foreign.

Indeed, the comments of the authors on the development of football in New Zealand are tentative, and somewhat inaccurate. They point to the lack of an effective national administration, and middle class participation, as well as an emphasis on the clubs. When referring to the club known as ‘Stop Out’, they misleadingly state that it was created in Te Aro (Wellington), when it has always been based out in Lower Hutt. It is possible to quibble with such details, but the book is still a very good overview.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Sport and the New Zealanders: A History
by Greg Ryan & Geoff Watson
Published by AUP
ISBN 9781869408831

Book Review: Luminescent, by Nina Powles

Available in selected bookshops nationwide. 

cv_luminescentI’ve been following Nina Powles’ work since 2014, when her first book Girls of The Drift was published by Seraph Press. She produced the zine (auto)biography of a ghost the following year.

Poems from these works have gone on to form part of the unique collection that is Luminescent. It is an unusual and striking thing – not just one book, but a series of five presented together in a single folder. The Seraph website says they’re designed to be read in any order.

The first time I opened the book, (Auto)biography and Her And The Flames were last, which made sense to me these felt like earlier work chronologically. I began with The Glowing Space Between The Stars.

One of the things I find interesting about Nina’s work is that it draws on extensive research, and while she touches on personal experience, it’s not confessional, at least not in an obvious way. Don’t get me wrong, I love confessional; I’m all over reading other people’s doomed love affairs and existential angst and identity crises.

But with Nina, there’s a steady self-assurance, and while she may be doing some exploration of her own personhood, it’s mostly done through the lens of the lives of others. This confidence and thoughtful handling of subject sets her apart from some of her cohort and is one of the things that drew me to her work four years ago.

Each book finds its inspiration in the life of a woman from New Zealand history. Cosmologist Beatrice Tinsley gives light to The Glowing Space Between the Stars. Betty Guard, reportedly the earliest Pakeha woman settler in the South Island, provides anchor in Whale Fall, and dancer Phillis Porter, who died after her dress caught on fire in Wellington’s Opera House, becomes Her and The Flames.

I don’t know if I should make a metaphor
Out of everything that astonishes me

So begins Astonishing objects, in The Glowing Space Between The Stars. That’s probably something most poets have asked themselves, but Nina describes how there were eight spiders inside the Columbia space shuttle that burnt up in 2003. How one of the crew had observed electric currents shooting up from lightning clouds, just days before the accident.

What are we supposed to do,
knowing that all this happened? …

I have collected up so many astonishing objects
that I have nowhere to put them down.

Of course, in Luminescent she has found a receptacle for these objects – and not just that, but a vehicle for telling their stories.

These stories and her telling have a unique place, descriptive as they are of New Zealand history.

In Whale Fall, she imagines herself into the life of a whaler’s wife. The titular poem is haunting, describing what happens when a dead whale drifts to the sea floor, becoming an ecosystem for other organisms.

4.
The place where whales fall is never touched by sunlight.
… the darkness is only sparsely interrupted
by bursts of bioluminescent light.
You can see them
when you shut your eyes.

Sunflowers explores the author’s relationship with Katherine Mansfield, moving through responses to her work, to portraits of her, to talks about her. An erasure poem, Lucid Dream, uses a section of Mansfield’s journal from 1919. This sort of poem shows a particular kind of skill I don’t see many people master. It is difficult to accurately reproduce in text, but assume ellipses to be the erased sections.

…. Cold….
….dream…
….And suddenly I felt
…like glass.
Long…. shiver,…

….a sense of floating….
…..still…. slowly
….I died.
. Time….
….was shaken
out of me. ….
I…
…see… sun… and… violets-

In Her And The Flames, Nina imagines herself into the life and death of ill-fated dancer Phyllis Porter. The poem The echo captures a moment, perhaps the one before she died, perhaps one that keeps her alive.

There is a moment
inside of the echo
of the last note
when she holds
herself en pointe
…. so
still as if she
is no longer
a living breathing
girl but a spirit
… caught
in the space between
the inhale
and the exhale…

In a similar theme, (Auto)biography of a Ghost imagines the life and tragic end of the woman reported to haunt a belltower in Nina’s old high school. The ghost in love describes how she fell to her death, rushing to meet the husband she thought was returning home.

There is nothing in the story
about how all her breath rushed from her body
when her foot missed a step; …
nothing about the moment when the air
that held her skin apart from his
collapsed and she was
weightless.

Reviewed by Sarah Lin Wilson

Luminescent
by Nina Powles
Published by Seraph Press
ISBN 9780994134554