Book Review: Udon by The Remarkables, by Harvey Molloy

cv_udon_by_the_remarkablesAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

Udon by The Remarkables is an enigmatic and curious title that drew me into this little book of poetry. Harvey Molloy himself is a man of many different worlds: as a teenager, he moved from England to New Zealand and has lived in the United States as well as Singapore. In this way, Molloy chooses not to anchor himself to one experience and instead expands his writing near and far.

The poem that shares the title of the collection is one that places contrasting objects within one piece. There are the ‘black crags of The Remarkables’, mountains that carve out the landscape. And there is a bowl of udon that is just ‘a little oily with a tang of pepper’, which the poet eats alongside the scenery. The amalgamation of these worlds becomes representative of a new world where all these various aspects find a place together to create the present.

The poem A Migraine in Valhalla feels like a stream of consciousness and describes the haziness of such pain. As the poem progresses, it becomes more airy and soft to the point that the centre lines on the road “floated untethered” amongst the light rain, creating a picture of the blurry haziness that comes with a migraine. This imagery typical of magical realism ultimately ends in Valhalla, a majestic and heaven-like place of Norse mythology.

Molloy also offers his own translations of Anglo-Saxan texts, with his aim being to create contemporary poems ‘as they were contemporary for their audiences’. Molloy does, indeed, succeed in this aim. Our song is a beautiful poem laced with the references that ground it within an Anglo-Saxan world—Eadwacer, the Wolf—yet it is crafted with the subtlety and precision that is found in many brilliant modern poems. The tone of longing in the poem Our Song is a human emotion that is still, and will always be, relevant to any reader.

Poem A charm against fever dreams, translated from the Anglo-Saxan, is short and sweet. It is tightly bound in a culture of folklore and, similar to A Migraine in Valhalla, it feels magical and light. Just like a spell, the final verse chants, ‘this charm will never hurt the sick… nor the ones who find it’. For me, these poems gave a new insight into a language that I have always associated with being archaic even in translation and therefore difficult to read; Molloy portrayed these poems in a much more accessible and softer contemporary light.

And with different worlds, come different farewells. Poem The goodbye rejects the romanticism that comes with departure; the idea of reunion and the idealised image of ‘cruising azure highways together’ is out of the question. Nevertheless, Molloy still attempts to comfort those who are left behind, understanding that it can still be a world of beauty where ‘late summer waves’ flow upon the wet sand.

The scope of Molloy’s Udon by The Remarkables is an impressive one that attempts to make sense of all that Molloy discovers. It is a lovely collection that reaches into different worlds and all the way back to Anglo-Saxan texts. Finally, it roots these experiences within the modern world to create an outlook on reality that is just a little bit different and a little bit more magical.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Udon by The Remarkables
by Harvey Molloy
Published by Makaro Press (Hoopla series)
ISBN  9780994117298

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Book Review: Native Bird, by Bryan Walpert

Available at bookshops nationwide.

cv_native_bird_smlThe brush of leaves, the sound of birdsong, the flutter of feathers—these are a few features that Bryan Walpert pinpoints with focus and clarity in Native Bird. As an observer of nature, Walpert uses this insight to investigate what it means to be native.

Much of the collection consists of ‘found’ poems, poetry made from other texts. For example, ‘Nearly about birds’ is a poem inspired by lyrical descriptions from nzbirds.com. It is this blurred distinction between fact and fiction that I found the most interesting. Despite the strict language of some of these sources, Walpert’s language assembles these poems in a way that turns the source material into beautiful and striking pieces. He transforms the ordinary into poignant images; in one poem, he describes empty pockets and “how silly they seem now… turned out and flapping and scattering lint to the early evening air like all the falling things you could name if you had to.”

My favourite poems were the ones part of a mini-series titled ‘A beginner’s guide to birding’. With touches of Walpert’s poetic language, these poems turned into more than just the instructional guides they came from. Walpert beautifully explains how binoculars are a useful tool in birding because “magnification is sometimes necessary for true identity”. Even when the facts got out of depth—“You can use angular field to calculate the linear field by multiplying the angular field by 52.5”—Walpert uses the right amount of lyrical language to balance this out. These poems become not only instructional guides on birding, but also tips on experience and how these “moments are slips in your pocket”.

I also felt that ‘Kea: daughter’ was a crucial poem for understanding the collection as a whole. Walpert uses the kea to describe her daughter, since unlike him, “she was born in this country” and therefore more fitting to the native bird. It considers the very meaning of the bird, both in a metaphorical and physical sense. This train of thought leads to musings on the effect of growing up in different places and what’s to come.

I also loved the way Walpert played with language. Included in Native Bird was a paradelle for moving that repeats itself in a way that mimics the repetitive action of packing away. The image of nature is present throughout the collection and here, even amongst the description of old furniture, the birds make their appearance; they “fly yards like flowers”. It is the consistency of these birds that string Native Bird together.

Although the language could be considered too thick at times, I enjoyed Native Bird as a highly compelling read. Each poem came together nicely to form the whole that was the collection; I loved the addition of Walpert’s many found poems, and the way he identified native birds in an attempt to understand New Zealand as a new and different home. It seems that with the appropriate language, even instructions on bird watching can become beautiful and poetic pieces in their own right.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Native Bird
by Bryan Walpert
Published by Makaro Press (part of the Hoopla series)
ISBN 9780994106568

Book Review: Heart absolutely I can, by Michael Harlow

cv_heart_absolutely_i_canThis book is available in selected bookstores nationwide.

Heart absolutely I can is one of three books in the 2014 Hoopla series. The other two are Cinema by Helen Rickerby and Bird Murder by Stefanie Lash. All three collections follow a certain theme. For Heart it is love, for the others film and crime respectively. Heart is comprised of poems published in earlier collections as well as new material.

Harlow’s background is in Jungian psychology and in this vein he dissects the tangled undergrowth of human relationships. The vanities, longing, and secret desires of the subjects are exposed with a surprising frankness.

The harrowing disembodiment of a married couple in ‘The Identikit’ has something of an experimental horror movie, while the brevity of the lines in ‘In which’ suggests a hunted breathlessness of a conflicted mind.

In ‘Today is the piano’s birthday’ a family’s interconnectedness centers around said instrument. The piano has life, has feelings. A counterpoint to this sense of flow, of movement, is ‘Nothing but Switzerland and lemonade’ which appears like a still life, a scene frozen in time, a Cézanne painting.

Heart explores love in the abstract as well as in the physical sense; emotional turmoil alternates with eroticism.

The woman in the poem of the title wills ‘the music of the heart to sing us alive’. Harlow
manages to pull people as well as concrete objects into the abstract realm that is love.

Reviewed by Melanie Wittwer

Heart absolutely I can
by Michael Harlow
Published by Mākaro Press
ISBN 9780473276478

Island-styled success with Mākaro Press

I asked three new publishers five questions, in an effort to understand why you would decide to start anew in the current publishing environment (see feature article in The Read last Thursday.)  These are the answers from Mary McCallum from Mākaro Press. Here are the answers from Paper Road Press, and the answers from Pip Adam and Emma Barnes from Cats and Spaghetti Press.

  1. Why did you decide to create your own publishing company?
    I have been involved with books in almost every way except for publishing for years. I am a writer myself, as well as a writing mentor, creative writing tutor and reviewer, and I have worked as an organiser of literary events, a bookseller, and a trustee of a literary residency. I have always supported NZ literature and had thoughts – on and off – about I would go about publishing local fiction and poetry.At the start of 2013 I was working as co-editor on an anthology of Eastbourne writing and we were looking for publishers, at the same time my son Paul (below on the left) had completed an Honours degree in film studies and was looking for work. We employed him to do some work on the anthology and found he was great at what he did, and then it occurred to me that he and I could take the book through to publication ourselves. With local publisher Steele Roberts mentoring us, and generously offering us an office, carpark and computer, Mākaro Press was born. pp_paul_and_mary
  2. You have had some success already – what is your aim with the company? What constitutes success for you?
    We started with a vision but without a plan. We wanted to show New Zealand writing at its best, including those books that might not otherwise be made due to larger publishers contracting, and to make all efforts to get those books into the hands of readers. There is definitely a niche in this country for smaller publishers, and we’re still finding out the size and shape of that niche, but so far we’ve enjoyed exploring it.Eastbourne_pileUnlike some other small publishers starting up at the moment, Mākaro Press aims to be a self-sustaining business that eventually brings an income and makes some kind of profit. The cost structure in this industry and the shift in book-buying practices make that very difficult, but we’re looking at ways of making them work for us. Some things we’re doing are: trying to make our books fit a format to keep costs down, looking at different ways of funding books and marketing them to the communities that will support them, and collaborating with other publishers e.g. ebook publisher Rosa Mira Books. Who knows if we can manage it in the end, we’d like to hope we could.

    Success for us is holding a book in our hands that wouldn’t look as it does, might not even be a book at all, if we hadn’t taken it on, and that feeling is doubled if the reviews are good and people buy the book.

  3. How are you selecting your titles? Have you got a MS pile yet?
    Yes, we have a pile already and I feel guilty about how long it takes me to get through it because so many other things call on my time. We are being sent manuscripts at an increasing rate now that writers have us on their radar, and we go looking for writers, too. We approach poets for our HOOPLA series, and approach other writers we think are writing books we could publish.It takes so much longer than I thought it would reading and assessing manuscripts, thinking about them, and talking to the author before the editing process even begins. I keep in front of me the patience and encouragement of Geoff Walker of Penguin who published my novel The Blue in 2007 after having shown an interest in the manuscript three years earlier, the openness and flexibility of Julia Marshall of Gecko who allowed me two goes at convincing her with Dappled Annie and the Tigrish (published this year), and the respectful but firm approach that editor Jane Parkin — who edited both novels — shows authors. I am also influenced by the personal hands-on approach of Roger Steele and his crew at Steele Roberts.
    Hoopla_series
  4. How are you going with distribution? Is there anything you would like to see booksellers doing?
    I distribute via PDL, with the wonderful Paul Greenberg and Joan Roulston of Greene Phoenix marketing the books to bookshops and libraries. Paul is pragmatic, hardworking, enthusiastic, supportive and fights for our corner. I could help him more by getting our publishing information out earlier than I do i.e. three months before publication, but that’s a bit hard for us to do at the moment. Indie and certain Paper Plus booksellers have been amazingly supportive, and others are coming on board as they get to know our books, but I’d love to see the same support from Whitcoulls. Not just for us, but for New Zealand writers as a whole.It would mean a lot for our business if returns from book sales could make their way to us more quickly than they do (we can wait four months) – this feels like a complex industry issue to do with sales and returns etc rather than something booksellers can sort but they could perhaps contribute to the discussion. It would also make a huge difference to us if booksellers could see their way clear to dropping their cut for NZ books from 40% to 35 or 30%, but as a former bookseller I can understand their position.
  5. I would imagine with a small list, you are easily adaptable for new realities. How are you dealing with future technologies for distributing/publicising your books?
    Yes, we are adaptable. We print a number of our books using print-on-demand, so that means smaller print runs and less outlay all at once, and we have worked out a way of publishing poetry titles by doing them as a bunch (e.g. as a series of three) to keep printing costs down. We are also building a relationship with Rosa Mira Books who are making an e-book of one of our titles. We hope this relationship will lead to more such collaborations.

– Sarah Forster, Booksellers NZ