Five Poets And A Prize

Five Poets And A Prize involved the reading of five poets’ work plus the presentation of the 2016 winner of the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award. Funded by Victoria University Press and the New Zealand Poetry Society, this award is given to a poet who has contributed greatly to New Zealand poetry.

Frances Edmond, Lauris’ daughter, starts the readings with one of Lauris’ own pieces: a poem titled In Position. She then introduces Dinah Hawken, a past recipient of the prize, as the first reader. Her poems are exact yet grand, and she explains that many of the poems she’s reading are about women and children, since they remind her of Lauris.

It is this threading of Lauris’ memory with each writer that makes the event feel whole. Bob Orr, the next poet, knew Lauris personally and reads samples of his latest book, Odysseus in Woolloomooloo. I loved the way he introduced his poems, sometimes giving an insight into the story and inspiration behind his pieces.

I especially loved listening to Claire Orchard read, since I enjoyed her debut poetry collection, Cold Water Cure, which was inspired by the life of Charles Darwin. Orchard reads snippets from this collection while also expanding the reason for this focus on Darwin: an interest in comparing the similarities between Victorian life and her own.It is this imaginary correspondence between Orchard and Darwin that fuels her pieces.

The fourth poet, Chris Tse, recently had his poetry collection How to be dead in a year of snakes shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Awards. Before the event, I’d never read his work, but such a striking title promises good poetry. Tse definitely delivers; his voice is strong and steady, detailing the metaphor of the snake found in man and humanity.

Next up is Harry Ricketts, and his first poem is a fitting piece that’s both about Lauris and BATS,the theme and venue of the event. In between his readings are small interludes where he talks about his own interactions with Lauris, including a little story about how someone in a café declared that Lauris definitely looked like someone famous… before deciding that she had to be Janet Frame.

The variation between these five poets covered a stunning breadth of place and time from both well-seasoned and newer writers. And when Frances Edmond announces that the 2016 winner of the award is Bob Orr, the audience bursts into applause. Shocked and humbled, Orr gives his thank yous. Like all great writers, he simply loves to write, stating, “I thought I’d just come here to read some poetry”. Overall, the event was a lovely selection of five poets who I will definitely be reading more of, including the worthy winner of a brilliant prize.

Attended and reviewed by Emma Shi

Five Poets and a Prize: Dinah Hawken, Bob Orr, Claire Orchard, Chris Tse and Harry Ricketts
BATS, Saturday 12 March
NZ Festival Writer’s Week

Book Review: The Penguin Book of New Zealand War Writing, edited by Harry Ricketts and Gavin McLean

Available in bookshops nationwide.cv_nz_penguin_book_of_war_writing

There is a maze of books being published at the moment related to the World War One 100th anniversaries of single battles such as Passchendaele, as well as on many of the Second World War battles. The Penguin Book of New Zealand War Writing however, is one book about many wars and battles involving New Zealanders, told by many contributors, from Captain Cook to Nicky Hager.

This is a beautifully published book edited by Harry Ricketts and Gavin McLean. It’s probably not a book to be read from cover to cover, but perhaps to begin by reading some of the poetry, then you could perhaps flick back to descriptions of particular battles or commentaries on the physical and mental effects of war. It is helpful that the book is broken into parts beginning with ‘Domestic Wars’, then ‘Wars of the Empire – from South Africa to the Western Front’. It is interesting that the writings relating to WW1 are in the empire section, while the Second World War is a part on its own, with many sections relating to different theatres, including the Home Front. A reflection that New Zealand had become a nation in its own right by then.

It was in the section North Africa that I was delighted to find a poem, ‘Sidi Reszegh’, written by my uncle, Donald McDonald, who was killed soon after writing it. Like a lot of the poetry in the book, there is no Empire jingoism, but rather a reflection of home: “– and of the green grass springing … but this is the desert – Earth’s bones to the old sun lying.”

This book is not all about the fighting of wars by New Zealand but also about fighting war – New Zealanders protesting about New Zealand being involved in wars. One of many poignant pieces is by Jock Phillips recounting how he was brought up to think he would fight in a war but “by the time ‘our war’ the Vietnam War came along, the old kiwi mythology of battle had become not something to inspire me but a burden to resist”. Jock did not march on the parade ground but rather on the streets in protest.

The description of an earlier protest is ‘The Charge at Parihaka’, by Jessie Mackay, who is sometimes described as a political radical. She takes Tennyson’s ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ and turns it into a parody of the attack by empire forces on the peaceful Parihaka pah.

In his introduction, Harry Ricketts writes that “Few of whatever persuasion would disagree…..that war has in the past has had much to do with the construction and maintenance of our national self image.” I am sure that this is correct: however, in view of all the different angles on war that this collection presents, it can only be said that “self image” is in the eye of the beholder. However, this very important book will be helpful in understanding our country’s view of war.

Review by Lincoln Gould

The Penguin Book of New Zealand War Writing
Edited by Harry Ricketts and Gavin McLean
Published Penguin Random House New Zealand
ISBN 9780143573098

The Penguin Book of New Zealand War Writing will be launched this Thursday 1st October at 5:30pm for 6:00pm start up at our Kelburn shop located at 1 Kelburn Parade, Kelburn, Wellington. It will be officially launched by historian and general editor of Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Jock Phillips.

Book Review: Half Dark, by Harry Ricketts


Available in bookstores nationwide.

Harry Ricketts’ latest collection, Half Dark, is a kaleidoscopic encounter of one man’s memory lane. With each twist of the kaleidoscope, fragments are cast into the half-light, moving in and out of vision. From the first page, Ricketts ushers us into the company of ghosts. Young men, cemented in time, who ‘never got to hear Beggar’s Banquet… (or) see the end of the Vietnam War’. In subsequent pages there are posthumous dedications, hauntings, sketches of events lost to the present. But there is a vitality too, a sort of metronomic heartbeat which propels the reader forward.

Ricketts’ work is testament to the notion that happiness is predicated on pain. Sorrow seems to cohabit with tender moments in this collection. There are regrets – ‘Roses that I should have touched / turned to snow a month ago’, and ‘the garden you won’t see / blossom into summer‘. Good-fortune and misfortune are tallied against each other, with an occasional ‘day to set against all the lost years’. There is a scrabbling for time which ‘slips and slides’, a wistful glancing back at youth’s goofs and bungles. And there is a sense that, as Sartre said, ‘every existing thing is born without reason… and dies by chance’. In ‘Wolfsbane’, Ricketts’ nihilism is at its peak – ‘Watch the rat in the maze run on again; / it’s pointless but you do it just the same’.

But Ricketts’ collection is only ‘half dark’. There are humorous episodes, and nods to New Zealand’s literary scene. Glover’s ‘quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle’ joins The Lion in the Meadow and Alan Duff, as things which ‘most tickle the German muff’, in the poem ‘Buchmesse, Frankfurt 2012’. Fun is also poked at the ‘modern creed,’ which holds crystals, echinacea and ‘all things organic and gluten free’ as God-sent. Then there are cartoons of the intelligentsia, such as the ‘not-so-young don’ who sums up his train-partner as ‘a Byron with scruples’.

The triolet is heavily featured. There is even a triolet about triolets, advising that ‘The triolet is a repetitive form; / lines five and six usually hold the key’. The repetition within these eight-line poems sometimes spotlights the punchline of a joke and, other times, intensifies the nostalgia and melancholy of a piece.

Half Dark is a mesmerising cluster of flashbacks and backstories, narrated by somebody intent on dunking his reader’s head into the episodic trough. In doing so, Ricketts has offered up a world, fragmented but full-frontal. There is an assumption of familiarity which may see his reader fumbling to make sense of the relationships between characters, and the significance of events. But that, perhaps, is the cost of intimacy. And this is an intimacy which has us nested so snugly in the cortices of somebody else’s mind that we may, for a moment, forget our own biographies.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Morton

Half Dark
by Harry Ricketts
Published by VUP
ISBN 9780864739841

Book Review: Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page, edited by Harry Ricketts, Siobhan Harvey and James Norcliffe

Available in bookstores nationwide. There is also a nationwide tour accompanying this publication, details can be found here. 

Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page (2014) weighed heavily in my cv_essential_nz_poemshands. It had some major shoes to fill. Its predecessor and titular sibling of thirteen years earlier, edited by Edmond and Sewell, was my first guide to New Zealand poetry. A veritable treasure trove − I found New Zealand poetry pioneers Bethell, Fairburn, Mason within the pages, as well as shiny new gems from the likes of Emma Neale and Vivienne Plumb. With time, I wondered at the title. The word ‘essential’ troubled me. Could New Zealand’s rich body of poetic works really be sieved through to reveal its ‘essence’?

In this latest anthology, Harvey, Norcliffe and Ricketts approach this issue head on and, with admirable candidness, describe the collection as ‘Some Rather Good New Zealand Poems the Three of Us Rather Like’. Moreover, the new collection has an adjunct title, ‘Facing the Empty Page’, taken from a poem authored by Elizabeth Nannestad. The problem of ‘essence’, though scarcely resolved, seems to be shrunk.

Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page is a literary slumber party, where old-hands and newcomers coalesce. Baxter is bedfellow with Hinemoana Baker, Kiri Piahana-Wong is bunked down with Alistair Paterson. The assemblage is egalitarian, insofar as each author is represented by one poem. Poets are arranged, not chronologically, but in alphabetical sequence. Such an arrangement lends itself to surprises. A page turned can occasion a completely new mood and style. Bub Bridger’s comedic ‘A Christmas Wish’ jolts the reader out of Diana Bridge’s meditational and exquisite ‘Jars, Bubble Bowls and Bottle Vases’. Approaching the book from cover to cover, the reader is sent on an affective rollercoaster. And though giddiness may ensue, the buzz is something addictive.

This anthology, unlike its predecessor, kicks off in the 1950s. So while Curnow is included, Bethell and Mason are not. This is a shortcoming, perhaps, but it does serve to open up the field to a greater number of lesser known contemporary poets. Helen Heath, Courtney Sina Meredith and Ashleigh Young are new kids on the block but, in each case, their poems hold their own.

The book itself is testament to the survival of books as pulp and ink. It is a handsome production − cloth bound, and peppered with haunting greyscale images of New Zealand landscapes. These images serve as reminders that this poetry is ‘earthed’, that the works within were born into the New Zealand context.

Yet many of the pieces featured extend beyond their geographical location. Fleur Adcock’s ‘Having Sex with the Dead’ introduces Greek mythology, Koenraad Kuiper’s ‘Tales’ hauls in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Then there are poems that take us on trips through our very own streets. We are in Titirangi with David Eggleton, the Maniototo with Kevin Ireland, Banks Peninsular with Denis Glover. And James K Baxter enlightens us about Auckland, that ‘great arsehole’ of a city.

This is a beautiful and considered collection. Essential or not, this book is worth getting your hands on.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Morton

Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page
edited by Harry Ricketts, Siobhan Harvey and James Norcliffe
Published by Random House NZ
ISBN 9781775534594

How We Remember Them, New Zealanders and the First World War, Edited by Charles Ferrall and Harry Ricketts

Now available in bookshops.cv_how_we_remember

In Featherston where I live, a debate is underway as to how best to site and build a memorial to remember the tens of thousands of First World War soldiers who were trained in the camp near the village and tramped over the Rimutaka Hill, to ship out to the First World War. (The march is pictured below).

Recently I was approached by a friend’s granddaughter and her friend, both local high school students, for help with a history project based on two local soldiers, trained in the camp, each of whom died in Flanders. I have a lot of books on the war.

These current events are just two of what will be hundreds of acts of remembrance during the WW1 commemorations – but they are local and close to the students and villagers engaged, even if they themselves have no direct connections to the war through forebears. But each is different from the other.

It is the many different facets of remembrance that makes How We Remember, so interesting and worth reading. Editors Charles Ferrall and Harry Ricketts commissioned an eclectic group of writers – playwrights, mainstream authors, journalists, broadcasters and historians to write 20 essays.

The essays, all well written, take many different narrative forms of remembrance which together form a kaleidoscope of multiple reflection on New Zealander’s collective and individual experiences of the war and its aftermath. The book manages to reflect many of New Zealand’s social structures and mores of the time and the effects thereon by the war.marching_over_the_rimutaka+hill

It is difficult to single out any of the essays, because they are all worth reading. However, in order to demonstrate the diversity of experiences, it is worth noting Christopher Pugsley’s tears when he first visited Gallipoli – a place that he has been so instrumental in implanting a sense of respect and nationhood into modern New Zealanders. This contrasts with Paul Diamond’s history of the much honoured, then disgraced and then posthumously rehabilitated gay mayor of Whanganui, Charles Mackay and his blackmailer Walter D’Arcy Cresswell. Jane Tolerton reveals difficulties behind the recording of veteran’s personal histories, exploding perhaps the myth “they didn’t want to talk about it”. And James R Broughton and Monty Souter reflect on the Maori experience of WW1 which includes pride and glory, but also prejudice and injustice.

I have grown up, like so many New Zealanders, with the dictum that New Zealand forged a sense of nationhood within the First World War battles in Gallipoli and the Western Front that lives on. Many who fought though, while from New Zealand, were born in other 1200px-Flag_of_New_Zealandcountries, particularly Britain. Jane Tolerton writes, that questions were asked of veterans as to ”whether they felt more like New Zealanders, as opposed to British, after Gallipoli. They gave us the clear response that they were New Zealanders already, and proud of it – but also proud of being British”.

The students of Featherston got top marks for their “memorials” of two soldiers. The debate on how best to remember the Featherston camp and those who marched from there to war, will eventually be resolved. And many readers of this book will either have there own personal memories broadened by these essays or gain a fascinating insight into what all this WW1 commemorative stuff is all about.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould, CEO, Booksellers NZ

How We Remember Them, New Zealanders and the First World War
Edited by Charles Ferrall and Harry Ricketts
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9780864739353


Reviewing the Reviewer and Drawing from Life, Sunday 9 March

Reviewing the Reviewer, featuring Terry Castle in conversation with Harry Ricketts

My Writers Week 2014 got off to an excellent start terry_castlewith Reviewing the Reviewer, Terry Castle in conversation with Harry Ricketts. They are both celebrated authors, academics and reviewers; Terry Castle based at Stanford, and Harry Ricketts at VUW. Ricketts also edits the review journal NZ Books, of which there were complimentary copies waiting for us on the seats.

I had gone along to this event purely based on the title: I am a publisher and book reviewer myself, and enjoy hearing others’ thoughts on books, literary criticism, and the place of book reviewing in today’s culture. In the event, neither Castle nor Ricketts spent much time talking about reviewing, but it didn’t matter: just spending time with two such interesting, intelligent, thoughtful, funny people was an immense pleasure. They were both losing their voices – Ricketts apologised for sounding like “a cross between a late Bob Dylan and a third-rate movie gangster” – but had an excellent rapport, so no one minded the odd croak.

the_professorAfter some conversation, Castle read from her latest book, The Professor: A Sentimental Education; a memoir and collection of essays. The excerpt she read was well written, engaging, perceptive and very, very funny – spurred by the opportunity to get her to sign it, I purchased it afterwards at the excellent Unity Books stall upstairs at the Embassy Theatre. To my delight, reading it is like still being in the theatre and listening to Castle tell stories. What a joy to have made a new literary friend.

Drawing from Life, featuring Alison Bechdel in conversation with Moira Clunie

Before today, the only thing I knew about alison_bechdelAlison Bechdel was that she had invented the Bechdel Test (a test to which one subjects a movie: does it have two named female characters? do they have an onscreen conversation about something other than a man? It is horrifying how many films fail). Now, as with many things, it turns out I didn’t ‘know’ this at all: Bechdel says that it comes from a friend of hers who took it from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.

It turns out that my small process of unknowing was peculiarly appropriate: interviewed by Alphabet City director Moira Clunie, Bechdel spent a lot of time talking about her desire to pursue truth and facts; and how, in the context of memoir, these become troubled and multi-faceted. Bechdel is a celebrated cartoonist, author of the long-running comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For and the autobiographical graphic novels about her parents, Fun Home and Are You My Mother? (also available from the Unity Books stall), the latter of which has been made into an off-Broadway musical.

As I listened to Bechdel talk, I was struck by intriguing contradictions: she said she felt naked and vulnerable being onstage without any of her artwork there “to hide behind”, yet her published work is intimately autobiographical. She spoke repeatedly of her need to tell the truth, and fear of lying, yet said she wanted to move away from using digital cameras and image research in her work because they make it too realistic and detailed. She described herself as shy and also as an exhibitionist. She spoke about how language and appearances can be deceiving, yet one can arrive at the truth by “‘triangulating” them. Overall I found her a fascinating presence.

I came away from the Embassy Theatre today with my head in that pleasurable buzz that only comes from new ideas. Bring on more Writers Week events tomorrow!

by Elizabeth Heritage, blogging on behalf of Booksellers NZ.


While Terry Castle is doing another event tomorrow afternoon at 3pm – High Tea with Terry Castle, unfortunately this is all sold out. As Elizabeth suggests – perhaps try the book!