Book Review: Home, edited by Thom Conroy

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_home_new_writingThere was a flood of excitement when this collection came out, and understandably so. It’s beautiful and thick with a classy list of contributors and a solid concept; personal essays from NZ writers on what home means to them. It’s also from a new publisher, Massy University Press. The theme is topical, and timeless; intensely personal, and universal – it’s everything we want a personal essay to be. Mostly this collection is all of those things, but occasionally it meanders off into upper-middle-class small talk slush.  The theme might be too personal for some writers. A few got caught up in describing their household furniture.

Some of the pieces are absolute literature, particularly those that ruminate on home, and something else. Ashleigh Young, in my new favourite Ashleigh Young essay – Matrices, writes about home and secrets, specifically those of other people. With the accuracy and honesty that characterise her writing, she writes of her childhood self, ‘The truth is, whenever I flagrantly invaded someone’s privacy, I felt that somehow I’d won. It was as if we were always playing a game but others kept forgetting we were playing it.’

Gina Cole’s Grandma instructs her on how to dive for turtles and they watch TV together, among many other things. She’s hard to quote without typing out the whole thing (I like this essay, the turtles are worth knowing about!) so I’ll stick with a very brilliant metaphor for Muldoon’s hair: ‘His left cheek is pulled into a rictus of a smile. He looks bald although there are thin strips of hair combed straight back from a neat receding hairline and running down the middle of his head and on each side of his ears… like tiny tentacles gripping on to an egg.’

Martin Edmond writes a biography of Mollie, a circus elephant now buried in Ohakune. Sarah Jane Barnett is marvellous on running as a way to find a home in your own body, a point past pain where you can be in solitude and peace with yourself.

I felt very at home with Helen Lehndorf, who writes with power and honesty about her son’s autism, and about love. ‘All the good fights I fought, I fought for him.’

In Bonnie Etherington’s essay, ‘Never Coming Home,’ a village elder in West Papua tells her father, ‘In the past we knew who the enemy was. It was Suharto, so we could fight him. But now, we know we are being destroyed, but we don’t know who by. How do you fight something when you don’t know what or who it is?’ and she continues, ‘Suharto’s fall was meant to solve many things. And people can move now without feeling his eyes on them. But the scars in Papua’s dirt grow and the trees keep falling, squeezing people from their gardens and their homes as they watch people from elsewhere in Indonesia move in on the ‘empty’ land.’

I have more favourites, but I don’t want to simply quote and praise things I liked, because as I said it often felt a lot like small talk. There are a lot of middle-aged, daddish sentences like, ‘In our family we all saw sport as a stimulating challenge, physically, mentally and technically. That’s why we liked it so much.’

I don’t want to single anyone out because it happens right across the board, including in some of my favourites. Halfway through the collection I started wondering what I would submit if commissioned to write a personal essay about home? My essay would be terribly self-indulgent and tedious. It would be about how glad I am that the Karori Countdown have widened their selection of teas, but how I still think that, actually, it would lovely to have a few more options. So, when I think about how bad things might have been, this collection is exceptionally good.

Not that Home is an uninteresting or irrelevant topic, far from it. But it’s a subject that can bring out the most dreary in anyone if they’re not careful.

Home is fun to read, relevant, compassionate and frequently sharp. It’s a big book, and not too expensive, so I’d recommend it to anyone on the condition that they make sure not to beat themselves up if they end up skipping the odd page, or even a few whole essays.

Reviewed by Annaleese Jochems

Home: New Writing
by Thom Conroy
Published by Massey University PRess
ISBN 9780994140753

Going West Festival: The Poetry of Place, with Paula Green, Kerry Hines & Leilani Tamu

pp_kerry_hinesPaula Green’s NZ Poetry Shelf is a blog I pop in on regularly. Green claims that she only writes about poetry that she enjoys, which makes her reviews a breathe-easy and pleasurable read. She reliably sniffs out great local poetry, so my interest was roused when she announced that both session guests, Kerry Hines (right) and Leilani Tamu (below), had been subjects for her blog. Hines and Tamu are very different writers. But Green expressed that both drew uncannily similar responses in her reviews. As if to echo the uncanny, when asked to read from their collections, each chose poems with a titular ‘beach’. In both cases, the poems were atmospheric, and anchored to place.

Concept of place features heavily in both writers’ work. It is discussed that place can be temporal as well as spatial, and that place is often about people, politics, and the memories people have of place that morph over time.

pp_Leilani_tamuKerry Hines’ collection, Young Country, draws inspiration from the images of nineteenth-century photographer, William Williams. These haunting photographs were presented to us in a slide-show, and feature alongside the poetry in her book. Leilani Tamu spoke about the photography (one photograph in particular) that set her on her poetry journey, along with influences of writers such as Albert Wendt and Karlo Mila.

These two poets are informed by their academic interests – Leilani’s Master thesis was titled ‘Re-defining ‘the beach’ – the municipality of Apia, 1879-1900’ and Hines’ doctoral thesis, ‘After the fact: Poems, photographs and regenerating histories’. Each poet spoke about the importance of archives to their writing process, the importance of libraries.

These are two poets I’ll be sure to keep an eye on.

Event reported by Elizabeth Morton

Young Country
by Kerry Hines
Published by AUP
ISBN: 9781869408237

The Art of Excavation
by Leilani Tamu
Published by Anahera Press
ISBN 9780473290047

The blog to end our 20-day blog tour!

BookAwards_CC_900x320_v3_bannerWe have just finished a fabulous four-week tour around our authors inspirations, aims and achievements with their Children’s Choice finalist books. Now it is time for you to help your kids to vote their favourite book and author to win: they will be in to win a selection of finalists for themselves and their school if they do! Kids can select a winner in each category; the winning book of each category will win a prize at the Book Awards ceremony on Thursday 13 August. Thank you to all of the other blogs who have hosted these interviews!

Children's_choice_ya_fic_V2jpgDuring the first week of our tour, we heard from the Young Adult fiction finalists. We heard from Ella West (who, like any good super author, writes under a pseudonym) who dedicated Night Vision to Trish Brooking, because she still takes her out for lunch, after looking after her as Otago Education College Writer in Residence in 2010. We learned that Natalie King has not one but three pseudonyms, and was inspired by a dream of a lake to write the book Awakening, which begins with a mysterious necklace drawn from a lake. While Jill Harris sadly passed away in December, Makaro Press publisher Mary McCallum told us that she published her book The Red Suitcase because the opening chapter inside a Lancaster bomber had her riveted. I Am Rebecca was a return to a character that author Fleur Beale had written about before, in I am not Esther. She told us that the secret to her amazing characters is simply to “walk in the shoes of the character so that what happens to the character informs the story.” Our final YA author was Nelson-based Rachael Craw, who had two interviews in two different places! Spark was also inspired by a dream, which took 5 and a half years to come to fruition: she had to learn to write first! She was inspired by the power of DNA when she met her birth mother.

Children's_choice_picbook_v4Week two saw us jump back a few reading years to the Picture Book finalists. Scott Tulloch ran I am Not a Worm past fellow Children’s Choice finalist Juliette MacIver and her kids, and her oldest son Louis suggested what became the final line in the book: “I like butterflies.” Yvonne Morrison, author of Little Red Riding Hood…Not Quite, told us she was about to leave NZ for a new job in Vietnam, living on a jungle island and managing a centre for endangered primates! Donovan Bixley covered two finalist books in one interview, Little Red and Junior Fiction book Dragon Knight: Fire! and he said that working with the same authors again and again means he can just do a messy scribble at the early stage of illustrating, and they will trust him to flesh it out!  Jo van Dam wrote doggy rhymes for her own children when they were young, and this became Doggy Ditties from A to Z. This is illustrated by Myles Lawford, who had to do a lot of research to make sure he illustrated each breed accurately. Peter Millet answered his own question about pets in the army with The Anzac Puppy, illustrated by Trish Bowles, who used to get in trouble at school for drawing: she now gets rewarded for it! Juliette MacIver likes to feature things in her books that children see in their everyday lives – “monkeys, old wooden galleons, pirates, for example, things that children encounter most days on their way to kindy or school.” Marmaduke Duck and the Wide Blue Seas was the third in the series by her and Sarah Davis, who reckons Juliette sometimes writes things in just to annoy her: ”52 marmosets leaped on board”?!? Seriously!!? Do you know how long it takes to draw 52 marmosets? Much longer than it takes to write the words “52 marmosets”, that’s for sure.”

Children's_choice_JUNIOR_V4We began the Junior Fiction category with an interview with Kyle Mewburn, author of Dragon Knight: Fire!, the first in a new series for the younger Junior Fiction age-group, and a finalist in both the children’s choice and the judges’ lists. Kyle doesn’t let his ideas float around “in case they escape, or some sneaky author steals one.”  The lead character in 1914 – Riding into War, by Susan Brocker, was inspired by her grandfather, Thomas McGee, who served as a mounted rifleman in WW1. Desna Wallace lived through the Canterbury Quake, and the character of Maddy popped into her head on the way home from work as a school librarian one day. “It was a bit crowded in there, so I sat down and wrote it out,” she said. Stacy Gregg‘s story The Island of Lost Horses began when she fell in love, with a picture of an Abaco Barb horse, the breed featured in this story; which is inspired by real events. Suzanne Main won the Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon award for the manuscript for How I Alienated My Grandma. This came with an offer of publication from Scholastic NZ, which enabled her to keep backing herself and her work to succeed.Children's_choice_NON_FIC_V3

The Non-fiction category tour began with the double-nominee (in judge’s and children’s choice lists) Māori Art for Kids, written and illustrated by the husband and wife team, Julie Noanoa & Norm Heke. Their aim was “to create something for families to connect with and appreciate Maori art.” Poet Sarah Jane Barnett featured poetry title The Letterbox Cat & other poems by Paula Green and Myles Lawford on her blog The Red Room. Paula says, “When I saw the way the zesty illustrations of Myles Lawford danced on the page, I cried!” Maria Gill followed up her New Zealand Hall of Fame of 2011 with New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame: 25 Kiwi Champions – she says the toughest task was to decide who to leave out. Gorgeous illustration guide book A New Zealand Nature Journal, by Sandra Morris, was featured next on NZ Green Buttons. Sandra’s favourite thing to do when not drawing or managing her illustration agency, is tramping, unsurprisingly!  Philippa Werry was in last year’s awards with her great Anzac Day book, and this year she was a children’s choice finalist for Waitangi Day: The New Zealand Story, featured on Barbara Murison’s blog. Philippa focused this book on the day itself, as opposed to the treaty, and she enjoys doing cryptic crosswords while contemplating writing.

While this tour is ending, we will be carrying on our celebration of the book awards, promoting the judges’ list in the Book Awards for Children and Young Adults in the run-up to the awards announcement at Government House on 13 August 2015. There will be giveaways and reviews, and fun besides, so watch this space!

____

For the full links list for the Book Awards, please head here.

Other blogs involved were: NZ Booklovers blog, Booknotes Unbound, Around the BookshopsThrifty Gifty, My Best Friends are Books, NZ Green Buttons Blog and The Red Room.

Book Review: The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems, by Paula Green, illustrated by Myles Lawford

Available now at bookstores nationwide. Paula writes children’s poetry blog Poetry Box. 

There’s a nice collaboration going between author Paula Green and illustrator Myles cv_the_letterbox_catLawford in this quirky little collection of onomatopoeic and physical verse.

Some poems are little more than physical graffiti, others mere lists. Poetry here is almost the wrong explanation for these. One favourite of mine is called ‘Our Dogcat’, plays with the conventions: Our playful cat/is a dogcat because she/can fetch a toy/and bring it back,” “Nooooo,” said my three-year-old, “That’s not right. Barney (our cat) wouldn’t fetch a ball. Dogs do that!” And that’s the point. Green likes to play with our minds but she can’t fool us − even the littlies know the rules. Dogs fetch balls, don’t they? Yet, this is a slightly challenging book − I found myself unsure exactly who the audience was at times. Perhaps it’s a book for all ages, one to grow with, like the best books are.

The ideas are simple, with the straightforward poetry easy to read out loud. The trickier ones are the more visual pieces. ‘Kite’, for example, is a two-page text spread in the shape of a kite in the wind, with a flourishing tail and a long string of words from the ground to the sky. I would imagine that all 7-year-olds would get a kick out of this nifty trick of breaking out of the standard ol’ left to right prose conventions. It reminds me of the cool little pictures I used to create when I first used MS Word and Excel.

Cats appear and reappear. The title poem is a taster − of the quirky eccentricities of our feline friends. ‘The Greedy Cat’ is my favourite. He likes his pizza and cheese and hamburgers and porridge and scoffs, scoffs, scoffs the lot. And then he naps, content and full. It’s nothing new, but the way the words come alive and literally drift around the page brings a delightful touch to the poem. It’s written with a certain naivetë, almost as if a child wrote it.

Dogs appear, too. Like the clumsy, cacophonous ‘Molly’ whose a genuine bull in the china shop. There are plenty more examples to find here, but I’ll let you find those − just watch out for literary vertigo.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems
by Paula Green, illustrated by Myles Lawford
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775432234

Great Bookshops and the Art of Selling Poetry

Roger and Helen Parsons had a room devoted to2-1 parsonsakl_ext1 New Zealand books in their now-closed Wellesley-Street shop (Parsons Books, Auckland). In my mind it contained the most comprehensive selection of New Zealand poetry I have seen in a local bookstore, apart from the second-hand ones. Helen diligently kept a terrific backlist of New Zealand poets and stayed up-to-date with new releases. You could also find exquisite, hand-bound poetry books that were verging on art. This was where I launched my own books for a number of years, as it provided both a convivial place to celebrate my new arrivals and a chance to applaud these dedicated booksellers.

Great Bookshops for Poetry
Bookshops still stock poetry, but as poetry attracts such a niche market, the selection on offer becomes increasingly limited. Last year, I decided to be an unofficial ambassador for children’s poetry in New Zealand – to celebrate and promote children’s poetry books (and the reading and writing of it) in every way I could.

I created a page, Great Bookshops, on my blog New Zealand Poetry Box, to showcase bookshops that stocked a fabulous range of both local and international poetry books for children. I included details and photographs of shops such as The Children’s Bookshop in Wellington, and the Children’s Bookshops in in Auckland and Christchurch, both Unity Books, Next Page Please, The Women’s Bookshop and Time Out Book Shop in Auckland, Rona Gallery and Marsden Books in Wellington, Page and Blackmore in Nelson, and Dunedin’s University Bookshop.poetry_box_top

I invited local authors and poetry fans to make recommendations that I have included on the page, and it is still evolving. I thought this would be useful for parents, children and teachers – and those like me who hunt for poetry in other towns. What stood out were the shops that created striking poetry-display stands—this is where you go to browse and buy.

childrens_bookshop_poetry_shelves

Children’s Bookshop, Christchurch

Children’s In-Store Events
I love the idea of creating events in some of these inviting spaces – events that would draw in an audience of children, parents and teachers through the hook of poetry. Thus I am inventing a Poetry Hot Spot Tour later this year to celebrate a new book I have coming out but also to promote poetry for children at a national level. Such a tour is not something you can do all the time, but I welcome the idea of working with individual stores in my unofficial role as ambassador.

Miniature poetry events for children might include:

  • Poetry readings. Get local children to come in and pick a poem to read out loud, or local authors, or celebrities that want to support national literacy and share their passion for poetry.
  • Create an event attached to a moment (real or invented) that might involve a competition and/ or a reading. You could use NZ Poetry Day, ANZAC Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, Earth Day, Arbor Day or midwinter day, or create animal poem day, or celebrate the start of Spring, a sports event, save-our-seas day, Grandparent’s Day or Native Bird’s Day with poetry.
  • Involve your local schools and/or your regular child customers – on the last Thursday of the month at 3.30 have a poetry read-athon or a poem tree or chalk poems on the pavement.
  • Display a poem of the week or month.
  • Draw the community into your shop and celebrate the power of poetry to spark the imagination of children and their love of books.

    marsden_books_display

    Children’s Book display, Marsden Books

sarah_laing_and_paula_green_dear_heartsAdult Poetry
So what of the adult poetry books? Some bookstores launch poetry books, and display new releases in prominent positions – I launched my most recent collection at Vic Books in Wellington last year. I have picked up a Poetry Book of the Month when I am in Unity Books in Wellington. Helen Parsons used to email (and still does via her Parson’s Library Supply) a list of new poetry books to interested parties that included schools, universities, libraries and readers keen on New Zealand books. Unity Books in Auckland often has personal tags from staff on books – letting us know their favourites. Carole Beu runs events in her shop, The Women’s Bookshop (see myself and Sarah Laing there last year,left) that draw in a poetry audience, but she also dedicates her energy offsite to the Ladies Litera-Tea where poets are a regular part of the line-up.

Bob Orr's launch

Bob Orr, launching his latest book

With knowledgeable staff who read and write poetry, Dunedin’s University Bookshop launches books and directly supports other poetry readings.

In-Store Events for Adult Poetry
I do love the idea of our local bookstores becoming community hubs for poetry.

  • Why not host a love-poem reading for Valentines Day – invite a few local poets, but also invite your regular customers to come and read a favourite love poem?
  • Or, similarly to above, create a poetry occasion that befits ANZAC Day, Labour Day, Waitangi Day, Daylight Saving, Human Rights Day, Children’s Day, International Women’s Day or Earth Day.
  • How about a Midwinter poetry reading with mulled wine and a mix of local customers, authors and celebrities reading a favourite poem?
  • Window displays are also a poetry draw card (as an Aucklander I’m often stalled by displays in Time Out Book Shop or The Women’s Bookshop).
  • If you mail out to customers, as a number of bookstores do, invite a local poet to include their top poetry picks.
  • Carole Beu displays a card of the week (which I often end up buying!) — how about a poem of the week?
  • Page and Blackmore, amongst other things, run a fun poetry competition around Poetry Day (eg must contain words from shortlisted titles)
  • Page and Blackmore have had a poetry flash mob outside their store featuring Taradale High drama students, see image below.

taradale_college_poetry_flashmob

An invitation In my travels through New Zealand, I encounter so many passionate and dedicated booksellers. I think perhaps it is time to create a Great Bookshops page on my adult-poetry blog (NZ Poetry Shelf). So if you stock New Zealand poetry and poetry in general, and have innovative ideas or events let me know on the details below. I do hope a New Zealand bookstore takes over from Helen and stocks backlists of poets along with new releases and the books of smaller presses—with an email list and an online presence (why not a poetry blog?) to keep customers up-to-date on stock. Such a bookshop could become the go-to place for those who love and support New Zealand poetry.pp_paula_green

by Paula Green, poet and children’s book author

Paula Green has two new books out this year: The Letterbox Cat and other poems (Scholastic) and A Treasury of New Zealand Poetry for Children (Random House).
If you stock New Zealand Poetry for adults or children, please let Paula know at paulajoygreen@gmail.com.

Book review: The Baker’s Thumbprint by Paula Green

cv_the_bakers_thumbprintThis book is in bookstores now

The Baker’s Thumbprint is Paula Green’s sixth collection of poetry for adults. While Green is well known and respected for her poetry, she has also published books for children, and last year edited the best seller, Dear Heart: 150 New Zealand Love Poems (Random, 2012).

The Baker’s Thumbprint is Green’s first book to be published by Wellington boutique publisher, Seraph Press.

Green’s writing is interesting and challenging because, in part, each collection tries something different. The voice of this collection has a light touch, and is full of play and whimsy. At the Wellington launch of the book, Green said she writes from love, and the idea can be seen in the poems’ many descriptions of making and sharing food, and the people she celebrates and admires. While Green’s last book was about her battle with breast cancer, this collection feels more personal; there is less distance between the poet and the reader. One poem states, “A poem should not be mean,” and none of these are; they document what the poet loves.

What you’ll notice immediately when reading The Baker’s Thumbprint is that historical figures pop in and out the poems. The poet picnics with Gertrude Stein, has sandwiches with Florence Nightingale, and cooks with Copernicus. In later poems she travels to New York with Copernicus and Simone de Beauvoir. While such poems could easily go wrong, Green balances the ‘big names’ by placing them in every-day domestic scenes (the idea of domestic routines and relationships being a common theme for Green). The appearance of Plato at Sunday lunch seems natural and unremarkable. Would he like a cup of tea? Of course!

These ‘historical figure’ poems are addictive to read, and certainly take advantage of my desire for wish-fulfillment. I also want to hang out with Plato and Jane Austen. But, on reading, it also becomes clear that Green wants to show how people and places become part our imaginative lives. Other poems in the collection (for example, those about Green’s childhood) also suggest what I believe is the central idea of the book: the power of imagination.

While the book travels to different locations (New York, ancient Athens, and Rome), it also places itself firmly in New Zealand. In one poem we find ourselves at a “New World supermarket,” and another in Auckland in the 1970s. The poems also mention New Zealand writers such as Baxter, Bornholdt, Frame, and Sargeson. In this way, the collection has great reach, and shows that poets can write both locally and globally (and that it doesn’t have to be one or the other).

Those readers familiar with Green’s poems will recognise her poetic traits. For example, the collection includes short poems, instructional poems, list poems, and surreal poems (which are probably my favourite). Many poems feature repetition—a constant of Green’s voice. For example, from “Ode to Vegetables”:

All the birds fade.
Simone de Beauvoir fades.
The grass that needs cutting fades.
The water tank half empty fades.
The television channels on replay fade.
Firefly on DVD fades.
The long evenings fade.
The cold beer on the tongue fades.
The mosquitoes that buzz in the night fade.

Copernicus opens a book of local odes
and recognises the beauty that bursts
from the autumn heart.

The many themes and locations of the collection made me, as a reader, feel less guided than with previous books. I also felt a handful of poems, such as those at the beginning of section three on early New Zealand life, and war, felt like they belonged to another collection, as did the poem on learning Te Reo.

The book’s title – The Baker’s Thumbprint – suggests the impressions we leave behind; the idea of artistry and mark making. This is certainly a beautiful and genuine collection. Maybe these poems are Green’s way of showing where her artistry comes from, both in terms of her physical home, but also the home of her imagination.

Reviewed by Sarah Jane Barnett

The Baker’s Thumbprint
by Paula Green
Published by Seraph Press, 2013
ISBN 9780473236311

98 pp. $25 RRP

Email digest: Wed 4 July 2012

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.

Events and happenings
Page & Blackmore will be having Afternoon Tea in the shop on National Poetry Day Friday 27th July at 3pm. Bring along your favourite poem to read. All Welcome. [no link]

Book News
Helen McAleer named Chief Global Development Officer at Walker Books

American publisher revives interest in one of Australia’s best-known writers

New and upcoming releases

Lonely Planet has NZ covered with four new guidebooks in 2012

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

From around the internet

So many Wal-Marts, so few libraries. Wal-Mart Converted into a Library

The Jack Reacher teaser trailer is here, starring Tom Cruise as Reacher.

Book lover Paula Green in today’s NZ Herald

Office antics

Just another day at the BooksellersNZ office