WORD: The Power of Poetry: Dr Paul Millar with CK Stead, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Ali Cobby Eckerman, Fiona Kidman and Bill Manhire

While it was raining and bleak out in the street
We had wonderful words to finish the week.

So National Poetry Day saw five craftspeople read and discuss their poetry, in this, the second poetry-focused event of today. Dr Paul Millar from the University of Canterbury had cleverly selected a number of poems to introduce the guests.Auden was read to introduce CK Stead, because Stead has a great love of Auden.

Stead shared some of his tasks as Poet Laureate and the guidelines that come with such a commission. WW100 was written for the Navy on the 100th anniversary of WW1. He read a series of beautiful vignettes; each a glimpse of some aspect of war. They were very visual and included Mansfield reflecting on the loss of her brother, ‘Gallipoli’, ‘Passchendaele’ and ‘In Memorium’. This final poem was for his Great Uncle.

We then moved to the more lyrical poetry of Selina Tusitala Marsh. ‘Eviction Notice 113’ was written on the death of her mother and links the family home to her mother, as gradually one becomes the other. Her reading was rhythmic and musical and urgent. It really made the words come to life, truly put them in orbit. Her next offering was the poem she was commissioned to write for Queen Elizabeth. We had the conditions, the guidelines, the performance and the response. It was a very clever way to use words, to unite 53 Commonwealth nations.

Ali Cobby Eckerman is an Australian poet who weaves her Aboriginal experiences into her poems. Meeting her removed son at 18, her own Mother at 35. This was gritty writing, raw and difficult. ‘I Can’t stop Drinking’ says much about how experiences shape us, and the danger of judging on appearances. “…don’t judge too hard, cos you don’t know what sorrows we are nursing.”

Fiona Kidman took us to her childhood memories of country living, ‘living at the end of Darwin road’. The landscape plays a big part in her poetry. She reflected on the Irishness of her Dad and her memories of Christmas.

Finally Bill Manhire launched us into a list of all the things we had as kids in the 1950’s. It was brilliant and I just itched to rush off and create a visual. I loved his quote from Emily Dickinson about poetry, “a prolonged hesitation between sound and sense”. He also shared a poem commissioned for the war memorial services. ‘Known Unto God’ brought the Somme experience to the current time, and finished with a young girl in the Mediterranean.

It was a powerful hour of wondrous words. I was reminded of the importance of spoken poetry, rather than my silent personal reading.

We ventured back out to the dark, wet streets with a song of words in our hearts to keep us warm.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

(ed’s note: books to come. Possibly also pictures.)


Book Review: Dark Journey: Passchendaele, The Somme and the New Zealand Experience on the Western Front, by Glyn Harper

cv_dark_journeyAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

The importance of Dark Journey as an anchor for the average kiwi’s understanding of the New Zealand effort on the Western Front in the First World War is possibly greater in this 2015 edition, eight years after the first edition was published.

It has become a truism that New Zealanders’ conscious connection with the First World War has been almost wholly focused on the defeat on Gallipoli. Glyn Harper began to widen this focus with his studies, Massacre at Passchendaele(2000) and Spring Offensive: New Zealand and the Second Battle of the Somme(2003). He used material from these two books in the Dark Journey, while adding intensively research material on the Battle of Bapaume.

When first published in 2007, Dark Journey would have been for many in this country, a revelation that there was a history, a glorious one, beyond Gallipoli. Now of course, there have been many other books written since 2007 on the New Zealanders’ deep and bloody involvement in Flanders. However, Harper’s book remains a pivotal work as we lead up to the 100thanniversaries of the great battles of the Somme and Passchendaele.

The great value of Harper’s work is the deep research of every aspect of these important battles. The military and political backgrounds of the British, French and Germans is well studied and so too is the personal involvement of officers directing the strategies and fighting the battles. Linking the hopes and fears of Field Marshall Haig with those of the New Zealand commanders such as Godley and Russell is very important to understand the strategic and tactical aspects of the battles. But to further combine the hopes and fears of soldiers who actually fought the battles, gleaned largely from letters home, creates a ” battle personality”, which leads to an untarnished understanding of the kind of war fought at that time.

The detail of troop movements, tactical changes resulting from experience and weaponry are all studied in this 544-page book, with Harper not afraid of laying blame for foul-ups and praising when military professionalism resulted in success. And it is not one-sided analysis: Harper has been meticulous in his research of German sources, which add considerable balance to the accounts of battles won and lost.

Harper claims that New Zealanders were among the best troops the British army had during the First World War. They played an important part, not only in the terrible battles of the Somme and Passchendaele, but also in the victories of the second Battle of the Somme . The capture by the New Zealand Division of Bapaume is one event that led to huge praise for the kiwis. Harper describes the battle: “Though the struggle to capture Bapaume is a relatively unknown battle in New Zealand’s military history, it does not deserve this obscurity.” More than 10,000 New Zealanders  took part, there are some 800 buried in military graves around the town and 2,000 were injured. Another huge sacrifice for New Zealand, among the many of the First World War.

With Harper’s book, we have the opportunity to understand more of this sacrifice.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould

Dark Journey: Passchendaele, The Somme and the New Zealand Experience on the Western Front
by Glyn Harper
Published by HarperCollins NZ
ISBN 9781460750438

Email Digest: Wednesday, 11 September 2013

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

Book reviews
Lincoln Gould reviews Passchendaele by Andrew MacDonald

Book Review: Rebecca and the Queen of Nations, by Deborah Burnside 

New Releases
New Release: Hero of the Hill, by Joy Cowley and Philip Webb 

Author interviews

Sam Hunt on RadioNZ discussing Sarah Broom and the prize established in her memory @Carcanet
A Monstrous Author Interview with Matt & Debbie Cowens: Mansfield with Monsters

Lloyd Jones at the Christchurch Arts Festival  tonight
Pip Adam’s new book I’m Working on a Building will be launched…

Come hear Sarah Laing chat with Dylan Horrocks about her novel The Fall of Light & her comics this Sunday at Going West

Want to create meaning in your life? Hear Lloyd Geering on “Living this Life” in Christchurch this Saturday

Book News
Congratulations to Majella Cullinane and Melinda Szymanik on their Otago residencies
Two weeks left to Kickstart an amazing shared world fantasy comic Dylan Horrocks helped create. HURRY!

Children’s authors respond to the Learning Media news

Quote Unquote: A guest post from Paula Browning

Getting excited about the Mr Pip movie?

The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton, has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
Excitement building for The Luminaries – on the shortlist. Yay!
A WIP #storify: The Luminaries has been shortlisted for the Man Booker #manbookerprize #manbooker
Want to know what the #ManBookerPrize judges think of the shortlist? Read Robert Macfarlane’s Kindle Post here

Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries was last night named on #ManBooker shortlist. Here’s her interview in The Listener

From around the internet

Are ladies of literature secret clotheshorses?

Some great images on this tumblr 

I am going in for Serious Literature – a comic

NZ Book Council’s Best of Now: a newsy round-up of recent happenings from the world of reading

Can your favourite author help you find a job? Some sage advice.

A Perfectly Written Used Bookstore Description