Book review: Short Poems of New Zealand, edited by Jenny Bornholdt

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_short_poems_of_new_zealandI’ll be the first to admit I didn’t expect to like this book. I loved the concept – the idea of a collection of short poems by New Zealand writers – but I saw the list of authors and felt a little disappointed

Experienced, known writers are usually the ones people gravitate towards. We figure if they got to where they are, they must be good. We feel safe in their hands.

I’m the opposite. I prefer to read new writers with different voices. I don’t often pick up Janet Frame or Sam Hunt, which probably makes me a philistine and a traitor to New Zealand literature.

Bornholdt’s vision was a collection of poems that ‘relate stories, describe memorable scenes, set off emotional grenades, sense death, declare love, make jokes.’ She had to decide what defined “short” – ten lines felt too long, six too restrictive. She settled on nine.

‘Ive begun to think of short poems as being the literary equivalent of the small house movement. Small houses contain the same essential spaces as large houses do. Both have places in which to eat, sleep, bathe and sit; the difference being that small houses are, well, smaller. … You might have to go outside to swing the cat, but you can still have the thought indoors.’

I liked the concept. I’ve always been a strict editor, I appreciate the talent involved in brevity. And though I opened the book with the belief that I’d find little to grab me, I was happy to be proved wrong.

I use cardboard gift tags to mark pages when I’m reviewing. This small book is now plump with card, so there’s no way of doing everything justice here. However, some beg noting, like this by Keri Hulme –

I asked for riches
you gave me
scavenging rights on a far beach

James K Baxter’s High Country Weather –

Alone we are born
And die alone;
Yet see the red-gold cirrus
Over snow-mountain shine.

Upon the upland road
Ride easy, stranger:
Surrender to the sky
Your heart of anger.

Elizabeth Nannestad’s You gave me a shoulder –

smelling of the sun
I can bite on, or weep.

What can I give you
so it’s fair?

Take
my rough, unsteady
compassion while you sleep.

I also reacted strongly to Fleur Adcock’s Things, Stephanie de Montalk’s The Hour, and Ashleigh Young’s Rooms, and ten others besides.

There really is something special about this length of poem, the life it condenses, the feeling it squeezes out of you.

In an interesting editorial choice, the book finishes with James Brown’s ‘The opening’ –

There is too much
poetry in the world

and yet

here you are.

Reviewed by Sarah Lin Wilson

Short Poems of New Zealand
edited by Jenny Bornholdt
Published by VUP
ISBN  9781776562022

 

Writers & Readers Festival: Women Changing the World

Drawn by, and copyright of Tara Black

Featuring New Zealand Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh, broadcaster Kim Hill, novelist Charlotte Wood, fantasy champion Charlie Jane Anders, poet and memoirist Patricia Lockwood, poet and games maker Harry Giles, free-range celebrity cook Annabel Langbein, poets Anahera Gildea and Maraea Rakuraku, poets Jenny Bornholdt, Louise Wallace and Tayi Tibble, activist and author Marianne Elliott, and playwright, novelist and memoirist Renée, introduced by Performer, broadcaster and author Michèle A’Court. NWF18 Women changing the world(1)NWF18 Women changing the world 2(1)

Go to the Writers & Readers Festival! Three days of scintillating conversation live on stage: Be There!

Book Review: The Longest Breakfast, by Jenny Bornholdt, illustrated by Sarah Wilkins

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_The_longest_breakfastI loved this. It’s just delightful, and the language is great.

The baby wakes his father with the word “Toot” and dad tries had to find the toy train, but decides that breakfast should come first.

The somewhat frazzled father manages to cope with all the (apparently unexpected!) guests and their wishes for what to eat, but the baby almost gets the better of him with his constant tooting, and then a bit later he starts saying “Bzzzz” and poor Malcolm, the harassed dad, just can’t see a bee anywhere!

By the time all the neighbourhood kids have arrived and contributed their ideas on what’s good for breakfast, it all becomes quite chaotic but you’ll be happy to know that, at the end, everyone gets breakfast!

It’s a whole lot of fun. I found it interesting that the two primary school teachers to whom I showed it were unimpressed. Clearly its target audience is preschoolers and those who read to them. I can see it going over very well, and will test it on the next pre-schooler I happen upon!

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The Longest Breakfast 
by Jenny Bornholdt & Sarah Wilkins
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571673

 

Book Review: Selected Poems, by Jenny Bornholdt

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_selected_poemsIn Deborah Smith’s intriguing cover photo for Jenny Bornholdt’s Selected Poems, the eye is drawn to the bright fly agaric mushrooms torn up by the roots. They sit like thought or speech bubbles above the woman’s head. Laid out carefully on paper towels, the dirt is still fresh on the base of their stems. Of course, the metaphor here is obvious, but digging a little deeper (excuse the pun) it astounds; not dissimilar to Jenny’s work. Firstly, parboiling these mushrooms (to avoid poisoning), renders the eater literally intoxicated. They are psychoactive, mind-altering little beasties. They come with a warning. You get the picture. These are not morsels to be trifled with. At first glance, they are things of beauty and objects of intrigue, but they carry a deeper magic (literally).

This idea is brought to the fore early on in this book, particularly within the garden, where an unearthed white onion flower is, ‘a plain enough thing’ but truly, it is a ‘decoy of simplicity’. This speaks to the viewer of an art work hanging in a gallery, or someone reading a poem excerpt. Every poem in fact, has a whole world that has contributed to its creation, a process that is dynamic and ongoing, as the reader or viewer plays their active role. The last stanza sums this up perfectly:

So we have a white flower
propped on the top of a green stem
a plain enough thing
while underneath
the feelers are out
hooking into other systems
forming a network
the flower an undercover agent
posted on the watch
a decoy of simplicity.

For a dexterous poet like Jenny to call a flower simply, white and green, speaks to a simplistic way of looking at art; reductionist. Jenny is a poet whose senses are alive to wonder and the interconnected ideas and neural pathways that form the root system of a poem, or a group of works. It would be too easy to equate a poetry collection with a book of pressed flowers but Jenny’s poems here are a living collection.

For the editor and poet to handpick poems for a collection, from a body of work that spans around 30 years, is no mean feat. We live in a day and age where music albums and other artistic media are consumed piecemeal, with songs and poems extracted from their original contexts. Many consumers latch on to the singles, or the anthologised poems, without ever reading or listening to a collection in its entirety. In a way, the cover image speaks to that. There is still dirt on the roots. These poems have their genesis elsewhere. If you want to go further down the rabbit hole, so does each individual poem, before it is strung together in any collection. It is like a bunch of flowers. The number of possible arrangements is infinite and each presentation offers another layer of meaning. The whole is larger than the sum of its parts.

Of course, there are is the inevitable search for aesthetic links to The Bill Manhire School of poetry. Leading the way as the country’s first laureate and with Jenny under his wing for a time, both poets do share a delight in the ‘tender observation’ (NZ Book Council) of the everyday.

In her author photo, also by the renowned Deborah Smith, we see a retro watering can. It’s a symbol of looking back over the planting, watering and harvesting of ideas; the work. There are many fertile minds in the world, but few with the dedication and skill to cultivate longevity and a poetic life, such as Jenny Bornholdt’s. Of course, a laureateship and several other awards go a small way to recognising the results of her commitment to her craft and her contribution to the New Zealand poetic landscape, both through her work as an anthologist and or course, as a poet.

It is with that knowledge that the reader can pick up this fine volume and examine each fragment, each piece, knowing that they have been extracted purposefully and with great care. Prepare to be intoxicated by the work of one of her generation’s finest poets.

Reviewed by Anna Forsyth

Selected Poems
by Jenny Bornholdt
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9781776560660

Five Poets and a Prize: The Lauris Edmond Memorial Award

Five Poets and a Prize: The Lauris Edmond Memorial Award, Chaired by Frances Edmond
Tuesday 11 March, 12.15pm, Hannah Playhouse

The Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Distinguished Contribution to Poetry in New Zealand is a biennial award which is jointly administered by Lauris Edmond’s literary estate and the New Zealand Poetry Society. The award was last presented in 2012 to Riemke Ensing. Ensing, along with Michael Harlow, Vivienne Plumb, Jenny Bornholdt, and Geoff Cochrane, read at the session, which culminated in the presentation of the award.

After a brief introduction by Frances Edmond, Epp_riemke_ensingnsing (right) opened the readings with a poem by Lauris Edmond, something she’s been doing since receiving the award. Ensing’s reading was generous and affectionate, especially the poem about her partner of fifty years who passed away in 2009.

Next to the podium was Geoff Cochrane who has that enviable talent of wooing the crowd while being entirely genuine. Cochrane opened with the statement that this “poetry caper” had been pretty good to him, because at the age of 62 he’d been able to buy his first suit. He went on to read poems from the most recent issue of Sport, and gently poked at Creative New Zealand for not funding the issue (asking the audience to go out and buy a copy). Cochrane’s reading style is so wonderfully measured and deadpan that he must be one of New Zealand’s best, and the Hannah Playhouse was heavy with the silence of attention.

love_poems_pamphletAfter Cochrane was Vivienne Plumb, and her quirky reading was irresistible to the audience. Plumb started by reading poems from her self-produced pamphlet “Several love poems by Vivienne Plumb,” which she handed out to the audience after the session. Plumb went on to read from The Cheese and Onion Sandwich and other New Zealand Icons (Seraph Press), to much laughter.

 

The most popular was probably “luncheon sausage”:

you can eat a smiley face out of it/ or put it into the oven and
when the edges curl up break an egg into the centre/ i remember
having to eat it when i was a child/ my mother sliced it onto
school sandwiches that were spread with tomato sauce/ it was very
pink/ and never tasted like real meat/ for safety reasons the deli
staff are no longer offering a free slice of luncheon sausage to the
children/ as several elderly persons have been for a bit of a skate
on the discarded pieces/ so it is now considered a fully fledged
supermarket slip hazard
– luncheon sausage, from The Cheese and Onion Sandwich and other New Zealand Icons (Seraph Press)

Michael Harlow was up next, and pp_michael_harlowwas a poet I had not had the pleasure of seeing read. Harlow was born in the United States and moved to New Zealand in 1968. Since then he has published multiple collections of poetry, been the editor of the Caxton Press, the poetry editor of Landfall, and is a former recipient of the Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship. Harlow is also a practicing Jungian psychotherapist, and read a poem drawn from his clinical practice. While Harlow only read three poems, they were intense and lyrical.

The final reader was Jenny Bornholdt, who has previously received the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award. Bornholdt read from her most recent collection Hill of Wool (VUP) with her usual gentle authority. After reading some shorter poems, Bornholdt read “Poem About a Horse,” a wonderfully funny and touching poem about memory, story telling, and our use of animals to represent and symbolise human concerns.

And who won? Laurice Gilbert, President of the New Zealand Poetry Society, made the announcement and Michael Harlow made his way to the podium to accept the award.

by Sarah Jane Barnett, on behalf of Booksellers NZ

Thank you Sarah for your fantastic work on this festival – our Writers Week coverage has been enriched with your inimitable talent on board.

Words of the Day: Monday, 4 November 2013

words_of_the_day_graphic

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Book reviews
Book Review: Enough, by Louise Wallace

‘The whole book is filled with stories and language that propel the reader through the collection.’

Book Review: The Last Thirteen, book 1, by James Phelan

Author interviews
Interview with Jenny Bornholdt about A Book is a Book 

Events
A Book is a Happening Thing… Meet the author & illustrator of A Book is a Book this Thursday.

Don’t forget to tune in tomorrow for our #HobbitFanEvent live stream! Watch it here or here pic.twitter.com/xp5Lcbmqfp

Enough – Louise Wallace’s poetry collection launched at The Guest Room in The Southern Cross Bar tonight, Te Aro, Wgtn. 6pm, all welcome.

Giveaways
Reminder: Giveaway of Wake, by @ElizabethKnoxNZ

Book News
Want to lead the writers to a new tomorrow? Situation Vacant: Executive Director, NZ Society of Authors

Sign up for our new ‘Preview of Reviews’ to get the skinny on the reviewing landscape for the weekend.

@Auckland_Libs The Auckland central library has a cool exhibition of classic children’s books for the summer.

From around the internet
Literary Tourist Blog Archive: Good Publishing Houses are Agnostic about how they find Readers

Interesting report showing a lack of ‘quiet time’ prevents children from becoming life-long readers

Another analysis of the ‘Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer’ project by Nielsen.

Selling his book street-side, the street cat.

Book Review: A Book is a Book, by Jenny Bornholdt, illustrated by Sarah Wilkins

This title will be available in bookstores from 1 November.

This book is being published to celebrate thecv_a_book_is_a_book twentieth anniversary of the Whitireia Diploma in Publishing, of which I am a graduate. There is no more fitting a celebration of this programme than a book about books, and this one comes with all the trimmings – a hardback, the dust jacket, and a cover as beautiful as the dust jacket.  It even includes a bookmark with trees on the world of it – inserted in the appropriate place, of course.

This beautiful little book acts as a philosophical treatise about books and their place in people’s worlds. This is poet Jenny Bornholdt’s first book for children, and the illustrators’ whimsical work fit Jenny’s her beautiful, light, meaningful words seamlessly.

Each page of this book is unexpected, as I read and re-read it I fall in love with new pages. My 3yo loved the verse ‘A book is a door because it opens into a house. A house is like a book because it has a door.’ I think the pieces on where you can read a book are my favourites. I have often wished somebody would come up with a waterproof book, so that I could read safely in the bath. I can’t remember how often I dipped a corner of a book into the bath by mistake as a kid, and how sad I was when it never quite fitted the bookshelf again.

I was pleased to see that illustrator Sarah Wilkins has not stuck with the traditional form of the book throughout – it is I am certain much easier to climb a tree holding an e-reader – this nod to the now is welcome to those of us that divide our reading between e-readers and paperbacks.

I am very happy that there will be an exhibition of the art from this book, which is by Sarah Wilkins, and it is certainly an exhibition that every bibliophile in Wellington (and further afield) should hustle themselves and their children along to. This book deserves to be treasured by generations to come, and I am certain the overseas market will enjoy it just as much. A perfect gift for booklovers of all ages.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

A Book is a Book
by Jenny Bornholdt, illustrated by Sarah Wilkins
Published by Gecko Press & Whitireia Publishing
ISBN 9781877589929