Sunday, January 29, 2006

Facts of Life

Yesterday Jim Ferris's chapbook Facts of Life arrived in the mail. I'm reviewing the book, published by Parallel Press, for Disability and Society. I haven't had time to read the book yet--just a quick flick through as we've had welcomed house guests staying over--but it looks very promising and I'm looking forward to spending a quiet few hours with them. I'm finding chapbooks increasingly inviting and interesting. I don't want to rush through these poems--you can see why by reading some of Jim's poems.

The preliminary ballot for the Nebula Awards is out. I haven't read it but I'm backing Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Of Mice and Men

Two poetry readings are coming up: The Poetry Café open mike over at Selby’s in Porirua on Monday 13 February and the first NZ Poetry Society reading at the Southern Cross tavern on Monday Februrary 20 featuring Simon Sampson and an open mike session. (Thanks to Neil Furby’s blog for this info). This morning’s Listener features a review of Vivienne Plumb’s Scarab: good on Hugh Roberts for spotting this book and giving it the attention it deserves.

Of Mice and Men. John Steinbeck

For years, I hadn’t got around to reading this short novella. I’m just glad that I finally did—by the end of the first chapter I was captivated by Steinbeck’s tight, dramatic style of writing. A few powerful rules seem to govern his approach:

1) Only describe settings—never describe a person’s thoughts
2) Action occurs in prescribed scenes (the barn, the bunkhouse, etc).
3) Time is linear—no flashbacks.
4) Emotions, desires, fears—all must be conveyed by dialogue.
5) Show not tell

Susan Shillinglaw’s brief introduction describes how Steinbeck aimed to write a dramatic novel—he wanted his novel to work almost as a script.

George and his simple-minded friend Lennie are drifters looking for work. They share a dream of buying their own land and working for themselves. They find work California’s Salinas Valley at a ranch house but all does not go well.

Penguin Classics has published a very attractive edition with a remarkable cover by Oliver Hunter. The last page of this edition promised a wealth of additional material on the book for teachers over at the Penguin Classics site: free resources, author biographies, competitions. My trip was a great disappointment as I found nothing there but a Penguin and a link directing me to the NZ Penguin site. Huh?

Image from ncbconline.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Moonage Daydream (again)

Photos: Mick Rock. Text: Bowie.

I was given this lavish book as a Christmas prezzie. Mick Rock was one of the most influential rock photographers of the 70s and reading his Bowie portfolio from the Ziggy period shows us how he was able to combine a street sensibility with an almost SF ‘sense of wonder’ approach to rock personae. Bowie’s Ziggy was a performance piece—make-up, boots, costumes, Japanese kabuki and a belief that rock should be exciting, imaginative, and a little bit music-hall. Some costumes seem ridiculous but none of the photographs are boring—the excitement comes through in every shot.

Bowie’s comments on the photographs are off-hand and impressionistic. This isn’t an autobiography nor is it a sustained reflection on the Ziggy creation. I’m content with this as the photos really say all that needs to be covered. It was an exciting experiment aimed to create stardom and to have an immediate, startling effect just for the hell of it. But it’s good to appreciate how Bowie combined Japanese make-up and costumes with contemporary fashion and rock photography—mixed with Genet, Nietzche and Warhol—to pull out the jams. England was a lot less boring once he made an entrance.

This morning I flicked through the back-issues of Turbine and read two poems by
Margaret Vos and a surreal prose poem by Vivienne Plumb over in a back issue of Trout.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Millions (again)

Millions. Frank Cottrell Boyce.

The story seems deceptively simple, almost hackneyed: two young boys whose mother has recently died find a bag containing hundreds of thousands of pounds. Yet Millions is a unique novel. Damian, the narrator, is a young boy whose passion is saints (his Dad wonders if he’s a bit of a nut); his brother Anthony is a financial whiz with a keen interest in real-estate. Boyce’s dialogue always has a comic edge and the exploration of the real value of money is never heavy-handed. Damian's the most complex child character I've ever encountered. You see how his belief in saints is driven by his loss but this explanation never completely explains his faith and his inherent 'goodness' (which clearly still shines in a world that doesn't fit simplistic 'black and white' moral categories). I haven’t seen the movie yet—I read the novel to my eldest son, who is ten, first. He rated it 4.5 stars out of 5—his only gripe being that the story was a little slow in places. Millions is a sophisticated, witty, uplifting novel.

I’ve also been dipping into Hone Tuwhare’s latest informal offering Oooooo……!!! The back pages tell me that Hone’s gone online with his own website. Go for it!

Image from the Carnegie Medal site.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Strange Fascination

Strange Fascination : David Bowie : the Definitive Story. David Buckley

This month the sign of Bowie still rules our house. Mike & Helena Harvey visit for tea and Mike gives Buckely’s book as a gift. He already owns a copy and Buckley sent him an extra copy as a ‘thank-you’ for all of Mike’s historical research on the Ziggy period. Mike’s a Ziggy historian—his methodical research on his Ziggy site means he’s often cited in works on Bowie and even, in the case of the re-issue of Aladdin Sane, on the CD’s linear notes. Bowie’s agency once flew Mike to the US for an all-expenses paid Bowie concert which included a brief meeting with The Man Himself.

I decided that I couldn’t miss out on
Tuwhare at the next Festival of the Arts so I called Ticketet and booked myself in for the Sunday March 12 concert. I’ll be in the upstairs cheap seats at the back listening to the tenured and corporate literati downstairs rattling their jewellery.

If you’re also feeling slightly satirical then don’t forget that the deadline for the Swift satirical poetry competition is coming up. You can find out a little more about the competition with relevant links over at the NZ Poetry Society—the deadline is February 28.

Image from Amazon.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Falling Woman

I've been flicking through back issues of Brief. It's such an original, exciting magazine. Great for dipping.

This novel doesn’t easily sit within any one genre. In many ways, the novel reminds me of Alan Garner fantastic work The Owl Service. Elizabeth Butler is an American archaeologist who is conducting an excavation of an ancient Mayan city. Elizabeth often sees and converses with the ancient Mayans who once lived in the city. She begins by believing that this ‘knack’ is a trick of her imagination that allows her to succeed as an archaeologist—but she also feels threatened by her perceptions as she tried, when she was unhappily married, to commit suicide and had been committed to a psychiatric ward for treatment. Her escape was to leave her husband and her daughter, accept treatment, and to continue her studies in Mayan culture. The brilliance of this novel lies in the careful characterisation and the delicate touch that Murphy brings to the story—there are no conventional devices of either SF or fantasy literature.

The Falling Woman won the Nebula Award in

Image from Biblio Com

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Complete David Bowie

Did you read The Friday Poem in yesterday’s The Dominion Post? It was Harry Rickett’s cracking good poem ‘The Patrick O’Brien Syndrome’ from his recent book Your Secret Life.

As it was published in a newspaper, I can’t link you to the poem. The problem with print is that you either have it in your hands or you don’t—with electronic online texts the potential audience is immense—that’s one reason I’ve been browsing through the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre. Harry has a highly amusing piece there called
Thirteen ways of starting a New Zealand novel called Macrocarpa.

This blog aims to be a faithful account not only of what I read but also the books I buy and which are given to me. I know that you’re going to think I’m a Bowie nut, as I’ve already mentioned three Bowie books in this blog, but yesterday I went to visit Mike Harvey—who runs The Ziggy Stardust Companion website—and he being a generous fellow gave me a slightly old edition of Nicholas Pegg’s comprehensive The Complete David Bowie—so now I can look-up as many obscure details as I wish. I was chuffed, of course, it’s a perfect ‘dipping’ book full of background information on Bowie’s work. Fr'instance did you know that the instrumental track Ian Fish, UK Heir from Bowie's underappreciated Buddha of Suburbia sountrack is an anagram of Hanif Kureishi?

Mike and I talked a little about Bowie--he's not been well since his heart flutter last year.If you want to see recent pics of Bowie, now 60, as well as read info on Dave Thompson's new book, then check out the Bowie news section at Wonderworld.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Towards the Impossible

Put down that air pistol: New Scientist reports that bird flu may not be a serious as some have led us to believe.

Helen Heath's blog Show your Workings let’s us see what kind of exercises you’d do if you were in an Iowa poetry workshop…which brings me to today's book…

Towards the Impossible: Third Wellington Poetry Festival Anthology. Edited by Ron Riddell & Saray Torres.

The Poetry Festival does not get the appreciation that it so rightly deserves by Wellington’s media and I only hope that next year the media comes to the aid of the party. This has the most diverse range of voices I have ever read in an NZ published anthology. There’s fine work by some of more established poets (Vincent O’Sullivan, Elizabeth Smither, James Norcliffe) as well as NZ poets who are also songwriters (Hinemoana baker and my old school friend Andrew Fagan). If this wasn’t enough there’s also an amazing range of poems –from the incredible performance work of Tendo Taijin (whose performance work has to be seen to be believed) to political poems from Mexican/USA poet Carmen Tafolla. I also found Ahmed Zaoui’s poems succinct and moving. Estela Agudelo’s cover art has a warm, folksy feel that suits the anthology. One minor quibble: there is the odd typo here and there but given that the anthology had to be launched for the festival production time was probably very tight.

There's more about the festival at the Poetry Festival site.

Image from the Poetry Festival.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

A Confederacy of Dunces. John Kennedy Toole

For years I have been meaning to read this book. My reluctance, I suspect, lay in the knowledge that the author hadn’t been able to get the manuscript published and had killed himself in 1969. I knew that his mother had petitioned publishers and that Toole was awarded the Pulitzer prize posthumously in the early 1980s. Surely this novel would be a downer? When I asked a friend—a great connoisseur of novels—which were a few of her favourite books she said "Well, the absurb events of A Confederacy of Dunces have stayed with me years after I finished the novel." I had to read it.

This is a hilarious, brilliant, absurd novel set in New Orleans. I found myself laughing out loud at novel on many occasions. Toole’s brilliant dialogue, his wonderfully intricate plot, his hilarious eye for detail and his ability to create unique, memorable characters, all show the stupidity of the confederacy of editors who couldn’t recognise the brilliance of the first novel by an unknown author under their noses. This really is essential reading.

Wikipedia has a detailed entry for the novel.
A full list of all Pulitzer award winning novels is at quest awards.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

To Major Tom

Gee my life's a funny thing...

To Major Tom: The David Bowie Letters. Dave Thompson

A couple of weeks before Christmas my brother sent me this from Sydney for my summer reading. It’s a very quirky epistolary novel. For over thirty years Gary Weightman writes letters to his idol, David Bowie. Gary never receives a reply nor does he ever meet Bowie. The novel begins in 1972 with Gary writing from his boarding school and ends with the release of the CD …hours by which time Gary is a married travel agent with two kids. For Bowie fans there’s a wealth of obsessive detail about Bowie records and tours—though as a Bowie fan I have to disagree with Gary that the Berlin trilogy is overrated and that Tin Machine’s first CD deserved better reviews. Like Bowie’s career, after 1981 the 80s letters are staid and lifeless. The novel does end on a poignant note with Gary finally becoming disillusioned not only with Bowie but also with rock’s ability to serve as a flight from everyday, commercial life. This novel’s strictly for Bowie fans. I do wonder about the significance of date of Tuesday, 8th August 2000--this is the day Gary sends a blank letter to Bowie.

Cover image from Trash Fiction.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Frank Cottrell Boyce
Unity Books was closed so I popped into Whitcoulls for a browse and bought Frank Cottrell Boyce's Millions to read to my boys. I knew that the novel had won the Carnegie Medal and I'd seen the DVD down at the videostore. What I didn't know was that Boyce is a screenwriter whose films include Welcome to Sarajevo, Hilary and Jackie and the fantastic 24 Hour party People. After four chapters, my eldest son is already hooked right into the story.

I had a look at the
Poetry Café site this morning—it's up to date,l ively, and includes a good record of all the main poets who have read there. I'm looking forward to the first reading of the new year on February 13th.

And have you read James Brown's poem 'The End of the Runway' in this week's NZ Listener? I think that this week's issue is worth buying just for the poem. I heard James Brown read this last year at a Poetry Society reading in Wellington and it was a welcomed delight to see the poem in print this week.

Photo from the BBC.