Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Abandoned Novel Launch

Well, we’ve just returned from Abandoned Novel’s pleasant launch at Marsden Books. A sizeable crowd piled into the shop (the shop from which I bought The Collapse of Globalism during the holidays). There were a few familiar faces and it was good to say hello to those in the literary/publishing business. David read two poems from the book and the sense of fun and game-playing was immediate to the crowd. I also have the blessing of the VUP editor to use images from the VUP site on the blog—always good to get that in advance!

'Parachute', One of David's sonnets in the book, can be read over at the Best NZ Poems site.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Abandoned Novel

This week I received an invite to the launch of Abandoned Novel, David Beach's book of poems, over at Marsden Books in Karori--quite literally a five minute walk from my door. David's been working on this project for years. Each poem is a sonnet and the sequence involves a series of literary games and explorations (in some poems plots worthy of a detective novel are compressed into short sonnets). I haven't even read it yet but I have a hunch that it's going to be very well-received. I'm looking forward to Wednesday's launch. Don't you love the constructivist cover?

Want to read some of David's poems? Here's a few over at

Image from Victoria University Press.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

a box of bees

It’s been a busy, somewhat tiring week. I finished a wonderful first book of poems, Emily Dobson’s A Box of Bees. Dobson seems to have had an idyllic childhood with her bee-keeping family and has mined all her experience making honey in this volume which is really a long extended lyrical poems cut into distinct strips. There’s light and summer and scented air and late evening warmth and of course the constant drone of bees throughout this impressive and delightful book. I envy her this childhood with a mother who is also a poet: how different they all are from my parents who don't keep bees, don't write poetry, and drink too much. You can read Emily's poem 'five fingers' over on Turbine.

This week online I visited the Cassini-Huygens site on a daily basis. To think that there’s sand on Titan:
sand, not a methane ocean! I just wish that this remarkable spaceprobe received just a little more television coverage. And my fingers are crossed that all keeps going well with Venus Express given that this week New Scientist reported that the mirror had jammed But where’s this story on the ESA Venus Express web site?

I’ve sent a short story off to the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association c
ompetition. I’m not sure if it’s what the judges are looking for but I certainly enjoyed writing the piece.

Image from Independent Publishers Group.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Your Secret Life. Harry Ricketts

Your Secret Life. Harry Ricketts, HeadworX, 2005, 79pp, $24.99

As well as being an accomplished poet, Harry Ricketts is also the author of The Unforgiving Minute, a biography of Rudyard Kipling. In Your Secret Life, Ricketts crafts a poetic autobiography. The first section ‘memory inspection’ recalls his memories of first words from his childhood in Malaysia and reminiscences about his father. This introspection quickly jumps to a wonderful poem on his teenage daughter’s ‘secret life’; the life she leads out late while Dad waits for her in the kitchen. In his poetic autobiography, Ricketts focuses on family and the power of family relationships – even when the family is separated by divorce and distance, the bonds remain strong.

Many of the poems here are wry, sometimes humorous, and light in tone. ‘The Patrick O’Brien Syndrome’, which compares the middle-aged to the sailing ships of O’Brien’s ‘Master and Commander’ series of books, begins with the marvellous:

Actually by now most of us
are wrecks. Some sank early, couldn’t keep
afloat, pulled the plug, went down with all hands.

The poem ends:

Only a few plough smoothly on,
the sun on their sails, making a wave.

That wave is both poetry and (if I can say this without sounding naff) the effect our love for others has on other lives. Ricketts writes about his love for his own family without being overly sentimental. Neither does he take a cool, detached stance towards his material. Irony when present brings laughter:

If you’d only shout, throw
a wobbly every now and then.
But, oh no, you’re so fucking nice

it makes everyone sick.

The acidic accusations are far really from ‘nice’— you can see in the poem the more nasty side of a relationship at work. Your Secret Life ends with the section ‘Songs of Allegiance’ devoted to the books and the literary life. ‘The Clayton’s poetry review’, offers whimsical advice on how to write a poetry review that says absolutely nothing —reviews, which as co-editor of the journal NZ Books, I’m sure Harry Ricketts has had the misfortune to read. To write a ‘Clayton’s review’ you quote poems at length, never discuss a poem in detail, mention postmodernism and praxis but never discuss technique. Follow this recipe and

You will fill the required
space without arousing
interest, gratitude or offence.

I’ll finish by taking the bait here and will talk about Harry’s technique of employing light or comic verse as a way of writing about personal and family matters. Some of the most powerful, memorable poetry has the qualities of ‘light verse’; accessible, unforced, humorous and not overly concerned with pushing the boundaries of a literary form — ‘the technique you’re having when you’re not having a technique’. But these are often the very poems that stay with you long after the book has been returned to the shelf. Your Secret Life is his best collection to date.

You can read some of Harry's poems from this collection at HeadworX and there's a short bio over at the Book Council.

Image from The Writers Festival.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Lawless World. Phillpe Sands.

Phillipe Sands

So here I am in Rarotonga snorkelling lots (with my t-shirt on to stop any chance of sunburn), swimming, writing a little, playing with the kids. Lovely place but the food is overpriced.

In my last post, I mentioned how Ralston’s argument, whilst convincing, was directed at the easy target of globalism’s failed promise of delivering economic benefits to all nations. Philippe Sands is an international lawyer and academic and his focus in this book is recent developments in international law—specifically international law dealing with UN Conventions on torture. The focus of this book allows us to see how Blair and Bush have undermined international law and have thrown us into a ‘lawless world’ where might is right. The ‘war on terror’ really means that everything is permitted: torture, arrest without trail, no legal representation for detainees or no recourse to a court: Global rules such as the Geneva Conventions are brushed aside.

It wasn’t always this way. After World War II Churchill and the Roosevelts etsablished very clear criteria for the rule of law: Nazis would be tried rather than executed by criminal courts. There would be international standards that would be adhered too in the conduct of war. Torture would be prohibited in all circumstances and approval from the UN Security Council would be sought before waging war. The US also supported international trade laws and agreements and abided by these agreements. Presidents Nixon, Reagan and Clinton supported and abided by international laws protecting the environment. And the first Gulf war was legal in that it was supported by a UN resolution and was triggered by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

By focusing on International Law, we see can see just what a terrible mess we now face. The US and the UK reject international law: Guantanimo and other prisons are not subject to international law or the Geneva Conventions. The invasion of Iraq was conducted without UN approval. Bush has also completely dismissed the Kyoto Accords. The chapters on Guantànimo Bay and the documented instances of torture make for harrowing reading. The earlier chapter on the Pincohet trial though give some hope: heads of state can be held accountable for their actions—a fact that Bush, Blair and Rumsfeld would do well to remember. At the same time, the lawlessness and brutality of terrorists—the Al quaeda 9/11 attack, the attacks on the UN and the Red Cross in Baghdad who can hardly be considered to be ‘occupying forces’—all add to a lawless world. Even on the beautiful island of Rarotonga this makes for indispensable reading. Sands has written a calm, clearly reasoned and well documented book that avoids vitriolic arguments to show how the only way forward for us all is acceptance of the rule of law. Without respect for international law only brute force remains and no enemy, no matter how brutal, must be used as an excuse for sanctioning torture or for breaking any commitment to international law.

This was written a few days whilst I was living offline. Back to work today!

Photo from George Washington University Law School.