Happy Birthday Janet and Reading Favourites with Sarah Jane Barnett & Matt Bialostocki, WORD Festival Friday 29 August

Sarah Jane Barnett is a poet, creative writing tutor, and reviewer from Wellington. Matt Bialostocki is a writer, photographer, and bookseller from Wellington. Together they went to a full day of festival events at the WORD Writers’ & Readers Festival 2014 in Christchurch. After each of the sessions they recorded their conversation. This is what was said in the first two sessions.

Happy Birthday, Janet
Friday, 29 August, 12pm

Owen Marshall, Tusiata Avia, and Bernadette Hall celebrate Janet Frame’s 90th birthday with favourite janet_framereadings and musings. Chaired by Pamela Gordon (Frame’s neice and literary executor).

Sarah: Our first session of the day was quite a session. What did you think?
Matt: The selection of material was great—a short story, four poems, and then a novel excerpt and a poem.
S: Each writer talked about the way Janet had influenced them. Owen Marshall—where did he get that plug from? [During the session Marshall had held up a bath plug on a chain]
M: Willowglen. It’s where Frame lived in Oamaru, a town where Marshall had also lived. He ripped it out of the sink in the corner of a room.
S: Yeah, it seemed important to him that they’d both lived in Oamaru, that they’d inhabited the same space. I was also quite excited by Bernadette Hall ‘stealing’ Frame’s words—in her making them part of her own poem.
M: They were from the novel, State of Seige. Hall used them in her poem, “Dark Pasture.”state of seige
S: It was Hall’s response to Frame’s work. She alternated her lines with Frame’s. That reading floored me; it showed me how much Frame still influences our writers.
M: They all had a personal connection to the work they were reading, and to Frame’s work as a whole. Marshall also noted that while a lot of people related to her fiction, there is a tangible sense of response to her autobiographical work because she was writing about places people knew; they were places they lived and places they shared.
S: He’s an amazing reader. I would like to have Marshall read me one of Frame’s novels.
M: You’d just have to watch out for your bath plug.

Reading Favourites
Friday, 29 August 2.30pm
Kate De Goldi, Sarah Laing, and Carl Nixon talk about two of their favourite New Zealand books with Guy Somerset.

cv_sydney_bridge_upside_downS: That was freaking amazing!
M: Fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels! Let’s quickly cover the books. First, De Goldi told us about Sydney Bridge Upside Down by David Ballantyne. She called it the ‘great unread New Zealand novel’. Laing recommended the graphic novel Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks, and Nixon recommended The Day Hemingway Died and Other Stories by Owen Marshall.
S: Nixon said he felt it shows a darker side to Marshall’s writing. I want to read that.
M: For her second book, De Goldi raved about Welcome to the South Seas: Contemporary New Zealand Art for Young People by Gregory O’Brien. She said that we needed more creative non-fiction for kids in New Zealand. I agree. Laing showed us From Earth’s End: The Best of New Zealand Comics by Adrian Kinnaird. She pointed out the ephemeral nature of NZ comics, and how this means it’s easy to miss new titles. Finally, Nixon spoke to us about Gifted by Patrick Evans—a novel about Janet Frame and Frank Sargeson.
S: His reading was fantastic. So fantastically funny! That is definitely one I’m going to read.
M: It’s developed a cult following.
S: day_hemingway_diedThey all recommended books they came to through a personal process of discovery. I think there’s something in that. Laing read comics as a kid, but then discovered them again in her 30s; The Day Hemingway Died was the first book Nixon discovered himself at age eighteen. De Goldi used the word ‘evangalising’; they really wanted us to read these books—to love them as they did. Many were out of print, though, or first published outside New Zealand. What does that say?
M: Yes—Hicksville was first published by the Canadian publisher Black Eye Productions in 1998 [and VUP in 2012], and Sydney Bridge Upside Down was originally published in 1968 but was out of print for years until De Goldi foisted a copy on a Australian publisher who was over for dinner.
S: De Goldi talked about the value of libraries. That’s where we find out-of-print books.
M: And all of these books were loved by at least one other person on the panel. Actually, Somerset was a great chair. He got them talking about the books so we could hear their varied responses.
S: He called them the ‘uber book group’. I felt encouraged. Nixon said he doesn’t read graphic novels and De Goldi said, ‘You need to learn to read them’. This is something I think for myself.


These conversations were recorded and transcribed after the events: Happy Birthday, Janet and Reading Favourites, by Sarah Jane Barnett and Matt Bialostocki.

Line Up, poetry at the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival

The poet Emma Neale (right) could make a emma_nealecareer out of emceeing poetry events.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, to a room full of attentive listeners in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Neale introduced five poets with a series of eloquent encomiums that might have had the line up blushing were it not composed of old pros. It was lovely to listen to.

Bernadette Hall, Owen Marshall, former poet laureate Cilla McQueen, current poet laureate Vincent O’Sullivan, and Brian Turner had a tough act to follow but were up to it as one-by-one they stepped up to the microphone, most in quite sensible shoes, to deliver a cupful of their ‘crisp’ or ‘pellucid,’ ‘pared back’ or ‘erudite’ poetry.

The oeuvres and achievements of these writers – writers who are arguably among this country’s finest and most prolific – are well known to a reading public. So rather than describe the content of their selections, it might be more illuminating if I focus on the cumulative effect.

For an hour or so, the most valued currency in Dunedin and thus the world was language: carefully chosen words detonating sensual shock and visual charge, delivered in the various tones of the sufferers of that condition called being a poet.

And after the poetry, the questions from the audience, provoking the small revelations of self which readers love to hear. We left with humming ears.

Event reviewed by Aaron Blaker, on behalf of Booksellers NZ

Book Review: Life and Customs, by Bernadette Hall

This publication is available in bookstores today.

Life and Customs by Bernadette Hall may be my favourite cv_life_and_customscollection of her work yet. Other reviewers have talked about ‘her own lightness of being and her linguistic felicity…’ David Eggleton, (The Listener, February 19-25, 2005, vol. 3380). In this collection those things are still present and are also balanced by a quiet humour, which appears throughout the book. This collection is exceptional in my mind for the first ever use of Second Life in a poem (or anything really!) that doesn’t come off sounding ridiculous. That may be damming with faint praise to many, but I was so astounded when it occurred that I put the book down and laughed about it.

Hall is obviously an accomplished poet. pp_bernadette_hallWe all know this. The first line that grabbed me in the collection was from The view from the lookout: ‘Where the black skirts of mamaku / tick like the clicky ‘beetles’ / we used to play with’.  Just say that out loud to yourself a few times: tick like the clicky beetles. The whole book is filled with stories and language that propel the reader through the collection. I almost read it in one entire sitting. There are political poems, feminist poems and poems where the narrative voice is unstable and confused and trying to decipher the unfamiliar world surrounding them. Millennia of silence and no rain is a fantastic tumble that ends, for lack of a better word, perfectly. If I have to criticise something it would be the use of ‘katabatic winds’ twice within six pages. It didn’t work for me. But that’s small criticism indeed. We travel from Amberley to Antarctica and those are just the As.

Not all of the poems grabbed me. There were some I skipped past others I lingered over and re-read. I like to think of poetry collections like albums. Sometimes it takes a few listens to appreciate the quieter or more complex tracks. And sometimes that simple track you skipped past 10 times becomes your favourite. So I have no doubt that this collection would bear considerable re-reading. Sul: a ballet that awaits performance is the hinge that other two sections of the book balance on. It seems both autobiography and faerie tale. It is full of little quirks and fantastic lines such as: ‘… whether there is indeed a point at which the universe itself demands some sort of justice,’ and ‘just because it happened such a long time ago, there’s no need to start making things up.’ There’s a lot to like in this collection. I’m hoping to catch Bernadette Hall reading some of these poems.

Reviewed by Emma Barnes

Life and Customs
by Bernadette Hall
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9780864739001

Words of the Day: Monday, 7 October 2013

This is a digest of our Twitter feed (now with a new title) that we email out most Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Sign up here for free if you’d like it emailed to you.

Book reviews
 A (love) letter to Margaret Mahy on the re-publication of Dashing Dog, from @sarahjbarnett

Author interviews
Fiona Kidman talks Jean Batten and The Infinite Air

Dame Fiona Kidman also featured on Radio NZ national on Sunday

Bernadette Hall talks to Poetry Shelf: All I know is that I’m more in love with poetry, whatever it is, than ever

Giveaway: Lonely Planet’s Beautiful World

Train enthusiast? Wellington central is hosting the @KiwiRail Open Day this Saturday 14 Oct. Do the locomotion…

A zombie walk to launch a book… this has got to be good The launch of Blue, by Brandy Wehinger

Book News
Edify are pleased to announce they are representing Sunshine Books here in NZ

I enjoyed this article in the Sunday mag – The Life and Love of Murray Ball, by his wife Pam

Congratulations to Lloyd Jones and Dawn Sanders, as well as others, for their nominations for Welly awards.

The future of publishing in NZ according to Radio NZ – featuring Peter from Page & Blackmore

@nzherald talks about publishing

From around the internet
The Thirtysomething Teen: Adult YA addict @thisisjendoll comes clean.

Watch the first trailer for new Jack Ryan movie

“Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.” Henry Miller’s Commandments of Writing

As a fan of lists of things, which I don’t often follow up, I love this post -You Must Read It

Now We Have Proof Reading Literary Fiction Makes You a Better Person

Tuesday poem: GO EASY SWEETHEART by Bernadette Hall

Hydrangea clouds are loosed and floaty
on the black pool. She’s making a hard job

of it, the little girl with the wooden spoon,
creaming the butter and the sugar. Go easy,

sweetheart. Little bubbles exploding soft
like years later when he licks and licks and little

bomb blasts like pain that must be entered
into, like delight. Her knuckles whiten,

her elbow is rigid with blessings: lavender shortbread
and honey ice-cream and all manner of berries.

I can only understand you when you speak with an American
accent. She’s watched it all before – flower,

fruit and fall. Aha, so that’s how it’s done!
Still wondering how on earth it is to be done.

By Bernadette Hall
From Settler Dreaming (page 44)
Published by Victoria University Press
Used with the permission of Victoria University Press

This poem is part of the Tuesday Poem Scheme