Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The god boy

Ian Cross

The reading marathon continues as last night I knocked off Ian Cross's powerful The God Boy. Why has it taken me so long to read this incredible novel? You can't help but get swept into the narrator's world. No novel seems more relevant today than this portrait of family violence. Yet there's more than a few hilarious moments. I'll never forget lines like "She had a face like half-cooked meat" and "She had brown shoes on and thick brown stockings and was more like a man. A man who played football."

I tried searching for a biography of Cross on the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography but had no success.

Tomorrow my son Rohan turns 13!

PS: given Ron Silliman's review on his blog, one movie I want to see in 2009 is Milk.

Image: Wanganui Council.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Earth Abides

One Shot Wonder - Our Hall - Paekakariki Music Club

This video by One Shot Wonder gives a good sense of all that's good about living up the coast in Paekakariki.

I'm reading like crazy this summer. My ear feels better and I'm not quite so tired so I finished George R Stewart's fantastic novel Earth Abides (1949). I remember reading this back in 1979 while I was working as a car park attendant for the Wellington Trade fair. It was quite cold and I was stuck in a hut with a single bar heater reading this novel with one eye on the cars. It's funny just how much of the novel I remembered, especially the end which is a great testament to the enduring power of the novel. There a great wikipedia entry for Earth Abides with links to original cover art.

And it's good to see that James McNaughton has a new poem in this week's Listener and that poetry seems to be back for good now.

The Guardian reports that poet Andrew Motion has spoken out about the barmy idea of closing libraries.

Enough of the arts. I'm going to clean and spark up the barbie and enjoy the sun. Holidays are fun, eh?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The wave

I've had a nasty inner ear infection which I'm blitzing with antibiotics and this has knocked the wind out of me this Christmas. (I have a chronic sinus problem--bit of a drag). But it has given me time to read while I'm resting and yesterday I finished The Wave by Todd Strasser written under the pen name Morton Rhue. Most of us are familiar with the story of the high school teacher who wants his students to understand how people could identify with the Nazis and so starts an experiment in group think with his students. Luckily this could never happen in NZ as NCEA means that you have an assessment every ten minutes and simply don't have the luxury of so much time on your hands. Seriously, this is a fast paced novel and I want to see if I can get my eldest boy to give it a try this week.

Freedom of speech remains a big issue in the US. Neil Gaiman has been promoting the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund on his blog and there's still that pesky issue of whether books will carry age recommendations on them (which I strongly oppose).

Finally, the Earl of Seafcliffe free Christmas poetry surprise 2008 in PDF is available now at ESAW.

Image source: Amazon Books.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas/Hoot

Merry Christmas, everyone. The kids are still asleep so I might as well blog . . .

In this lively, young adult novel Roy Eberhardt, a newcomer to Florida from Montana, stumbles upon a sister and her wild brother who are sabotaging construction work on a new Pancake House franchise in order to save a parliament of sand burrowing owls. There's lots of action and humour and Hiaasen--a reporter for the Miami Herald--has a flair for capturing Florida's landscape and dramatic weather. This is a good holiday read and I intend to use the novel in class next year. (A movie was released in 2007). There's a decent synopsis over at Carl Hiaasen's site, a great link to teaching resources over at emints, and a short piece by Carl on how he writes over at Scholastic.

Feel like a Christmas song?
No Xmas for John Quays. The Fall.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I want more sugar

Are you looking for more zing in poetry? James McNaughton's I Want More Sugar kicks off with a parody of Eliot's The Wasteland. I'm tempted to call the parody 'hyper caffeinated' but it's very controlled and not at all shaky or speeding. It does zing, though, and you wonder what kind of manic ride you're in for in the book.

Here's Proverbs from Down Under (courtesy of Scoop):

What's remarkable about this book is McNaughton's sense of pace or speed. The opening two sections seems a little manic as we take in late late capitalism gobbling the world. This is contrasted by a very still tranquil third section composed of the long poem 'Colours' in which the poet, in flight, reflects on a dive he has taken in the Maldives (and the properties of colour and light) . It's a great poem that captures the unreal quality of flying we're moving so fast but time seems so slow and we don't appear to move. The final fourth section opens with the poem 'Face': this is one of my favourite poems of the year which should be a strong contender for inclusion in the Best New Zealand Poems 2008 when that comes online next year. What I like about McNaughton's work is that it doesn't just focus on the domestic, or the personal, but addresses larger concerns in a sometimes exuberant fashion without being heavy handed. The personal and the domestic are always at hand and the book abounds with powerful images:

The sun opens its palms

and a fleet of black ships
is launched on Wellington's sundials.

On the subject of Best New Zealand Poems, I'm glad that Angela Andrews' poem The Wedding Present has been chosen for the 2007 selection. I reviewed Angela's book Echolocation early this year for A Fine Line and thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Thelonious Monk
  1. The boatman's call. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
  2. Fold your hands child, you walk like a peasant. Belle and Sebastian.
  3. Greatest hits. Leonard Cohen.
  4. Hunky dory. Bowie.
  5. Chutes too narrow. The Shins
  6. Early trane (box set). John Coltrane
  7. Icky thump. The White Stripes.
  8. The songs of Leonard Cohen. Various Artists
  9. Gymnopedies. Satie
  10. Solo monk. Thelonious Monk.
  11. I hate guns (ep). Minuit
  12. Lloyd Cole & the Commotions Live at the BBC Vol 1. Lloyd Cole & the C's.
  13. The seldom seen kid. Elbow.
  14. Rebel rebel: A tribute to Bowie. Various artists.
Image source: Jazz com.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hue and Cry

There's an exciting new art & literary mag on the block and it's a smartly dressed, freshed face, urban smoothy called Hue and Cry whose impeccable design by experimenta simply makes all the other small mags on the rack look scruffy. There's a mod, art-school sensibility in the design that many others would do well to take heed of and notice. (Get out of your grunge bush shirt and consider the zoot suit). I haven't had a chance to read it all yet but it features an original editorial by Chloe Lane, new poetry from Amy Brown and Joan Fleming and some excellent photography by Sarah Gruiters. I know that online publication means everyone gets to read your work but Hue & Cry reminds us of the pleasures of a well-designed magazine.

There's more info on this issue over at South Project and reviews of the issue over at Texture and The Lumière Reader. Radio New Zealand's Sunday Arts show also interview Chloe Lane here.

Gene Wolfe's The Fifth Head of Cerberus is a brilliant, challenging, even frustrating, read. Comprised of three related novellas, the novel frustrates because of the gripping power of the first novella: if Henry James wrote SF, he'd write like Wolfe. I can't give anything away about the plot as the book's a puzzle that you slowly work through—although there's so much indeterminacy in the work that it's by no means clear that the three novellas form any sort of coherent picture or offer any solution to the riddles posed. (Hence my frustration). The first novella, though, is essential reading and cannot be forgotten. If you have any doubts about the literary worth of SF they will surely be dispelled by Wolfe.
There's a good short essay by Ian Sales over at SF Chronicles. And if you're interested in post-colonial theory then look no further for a text on which to grind your theoretical axe.

Technical note: I have been plagued writing this post by Blogger not accepting copy generated by the most recent version of MS Word. Blogger doesn't accept screeds of gunk XML generated by MS Office: 'tag forbidden', etc. Memo to self: composed solely within Blogger. Is anyone else experiencing this?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Scoop poem of the week

My poem 'The astronomer's Christmas' is featured as Poem of the Week over at the Scoop Review of Books. Many thanks to the editor, Jeremy Rose. It's good to know there's another news magazine publishing poetry.

I'm in a rush to get ready for work, so I can't write too much this morning. I finished reading Carol Anne Duffy's The Other Country last night. The poems are extremely engaging and dramatic: it's 'you can't put it down' poetry that has an incredible energy and vitality. There are long lines which are punctuated by spondees and one or two syllable words. There's a strong sense of displacement, as if travelling from the North (Scotland) to London was a passage from Faerie (which I thought of given the title) to the grey mortal world of the lost. I really admire the 'over the top' quality of the poems, the way Duffy doesn't hold back at all or play it cool but just plays the poem out, like Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, 'at maximum volume' (which isn't to say that the poems are in any way screams or howls) in a controlled, disciplined manner. Many poems read like dramatic monologues. I picked up a later volume Rapture at Ferret Books the other week and I'm looking forward to it (I did note shorter lines). Got to go to school now!

Image: The Guardian.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Blue/Turbine 08

Mary McCallum’s The Blue has a fine, somewhat unconventional plot, and a magical ability convey through poetic description the isolated, close-knit, and rule bound whaling community living in the late 1930s on Arapapa Island in the Tory channel. There’s a great sense of rhythm that flows through the novel and some of the sentences sing from the page. I can’t say too much about the plot as there are a few surprises. McCallum creates strong, believable characters who, even on a small island, must find ways of tolerating each other and who find themselves bound to the implicit rules of their community; should they choose to break these rules then they must face the consequences. The novel also reminds us of the importance of whales and whaling to New Zealand and the very central role whales played in certain parts of New Zealand life. This is a great novel and I’m looking forward to Mary’s next book. For more polished reviews rather than my scribblings, read Tina Shaw's review in the New Zealand Herald and Sally Blundel's review in the NZ Listener.

Mary also has a brand spanking new short story online over at Turbine. . . which always me nicely to segue into the next blog item . . .Turbine.

Turbine 08, edited by Francis Cooke and Louise Wallace, is now online and features many poetry goodies for the holidays including poems by Hinemoana Baker, Sarah Jane Barnett, James Brown (with a sound file of James reading the poem), the great Geoff Cochrane (with sound file & I've read this poem already & it's a cracker), Cliff Fell, the always enjoyable Bernadette Hall, Siobhan Harvey, Anna Jackson, Emma Neale, Harry Ricketts, Elizabeth Smither, the original voice of Tim Upperton and Sue Wootton. And these are just some of the poets in what I suspect after a very quick read this morning is the strongest issue of Turbine to date. I'm going to enjoy this issue--especially as the design and typography is so clean and legible.

Finally (phew!) I'm disappointed that The Day the Earth Stood Still remake has been described as a Christmas turkey by the Dompost as I love the original. SF cinema I find disappointing as a genre with only a few good films standing out of the B-Movie dross and The Day the Earth Stood still is certainly one of those milestone films that expanded the genre. I'll watch it on DVD and hope that it's not as bad as the appalling remakes of The Time Machine and Planet of the Apes.

Image source: The Nile Bookshop.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Even if

Here a love poem for my partner, Latika Vasil, from Moonshot. It was first published on a Canadian University site called Nasty.

Even if

Even if my body never floats.
Even if my hand fails to stop the noonday sun
from riding down the sky

I have seen your face & you
have given me your face to cup in my hands.

So even if my breath raises the dead each morning,
even if I never assume the heavens
light as a Montgolfier balloon

You have given me your gifts & I have taken them.
I have taken them all.

I won’t forget.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Violence 101/Babel-17

I said that I wasn't going to write any more reviews but I think that I still want to use Notebook as a brief record of what I'm reading so I can at least search the blog years later when I'm old and infirm and can't remember the name or author of a book (OK: like now). After all, it is a Notebook, although I'm aware that recording my reading habits may not be the wisest of actions (what will people think?). Aw, stuff it. . .

This week I finished Denis Wright's exciting Young Adult novel Violence 101, the launch of which I attended back in September. Denis has created an absorbing anti-hero in Hamish, an intelligent, middle-class Pakeha kid with a passion for military history and a love of violence. We follow Hamish's internment and escape from a Borstal (even though it's not called that) and read excerpts from his diary. I liked the dark, over-the-top humour of the book. You can't help but smirk at some of the more comic, though gruesome, scenes in the novel, such as the killing and stuffing of the neighbour's prize-winning poodle and the screams of horror as Hamish's cruel experiments on rats are revealed at a science fair. The violence isn't meant to be taken too seriously although the issues raised by the novel are very interesting and serious ones. (Isn't violence a perfectly sensible way to deal with problems in certain situations? Wouldn't certain acts of brutal violence be honoured and admired in different times and in different cultures?) Denis has written a novel for boys and the Violence 101 has an almost 'ripping yarns' feel to it at times, especially the cliff-hanger ending. And there's a nostalgic feel to the story: in his love of the past, Hamish almost seems to come from another time. Yet the novel does have immediate appeal for early teens who don't read much fiction. I can vouch for this as I read a couple of chapters to my eldest boy and when I asked him the next night if he wanted me to read more he told that he'd already finished it; no small endorsement as he loves technical, no-nonsense non-fiction and can't be bothered with most of the novels I try to push on him. Denis being a good teacher has provided a concise Study Guide for the novel. This is a great read for young teens.

Going back to early teens . . . I think Samuel Delany's Babel-17 was one of the first books I read as I arrived in Wellington from Oldham. Not a happy time for me so I turned to SF for escape. I've always remembered the opening line: "It's a port city." I thought, 'Gee, I'm in a port city now!" Delany has a fast, highly unusual style of writing, that mixes fragmentary impressionistic sentences with space opera plots, detailed descriptions, and poetry. It's all very odd and for some reason I feel that his writing displays an almost autistic aesthetic or sensibility (codes, languages, signs, pattern recognitions, minute detailed observation of phenomenon, a displacement or spacing away of an 'I', struggles with empathy, etc). I'm not sure the plot works but it doesn't matter; it's like saying the plot of Joyce's Portrait of the Artist aint that hot. Like Delany's masterpiece Dhalgren, and Nova, the novel's about writers and artists and how they work with language and experience--or how language works through them. I noticed a foreshadowing of Dhalgren in that the characters here can radically change their appearance through surgery to appear almost carnivalesque creatures (gryphons, etc); in Dhalgren this happens through a fantastic set of prisms that project holograms.

This week I'm going to be spending sometime looking at the Emerging Writers Network as there's lots of places to jump to from this site.

Until next time, keep well.

Image source: Penguin NZ.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The importance of Reading Bravado

I’ve just returned from the Wellington Repertory Theatre’s exuberant, highly enjoyable production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Julia Harris. Tonight was one of the best night’s I’ve had the theatre for a long while and there is just so much right with this production: the stellar performances by the cast especially Stephen Walker as Algernon, the unforgettably droll Margaret Hill as Lady Bracknell, and the lovely, fresh, radiant duo of Danielle Duburguet as Gwendolen and Rosemary Williams as Cecily Cardew. The set by Mark Harris was spot on and the lighting and sound were both just right. One special magical delight: cell phones, PDAs and laptops appear in the production and are so seamlessly integrated into the play that you just don’t notice them as they sit there with the cucumber sandwiches. Thanks, Rep., for a great production. It was such a success and that goes for the whole cast not just the ones I’ve mentioned. And it was a full house.

Bravado 14 arrived in the post yesterday featuring a Nigel Brown cover and winners of the Bravado 2008 poetry competition: strong poems by Michael Harlow, Tim Jones, Sue Wootton and Mary Cresswell as well as an insightful, no-nonsense report from the judge Tim Upperton. If you follow poetry competitions then you’ll see that Michael Harlow is kind of the Michael Jordan of NZ Poetry when it comes to knowing how to get the ball through the hoops and making those baskets. Tim didn’t read his poem ‘The Outsider’ last Sunday, which means I’m hoping to hear him read it in the future. (In case you're wondering I didn't enter any competitions this year and probably wont next year.)

It’s 11.40 PM now: bedtime. So I'll add links and fix typos (if any) later.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Montana award deadlines/Tania Herschman

Just a reminder to all poets who have had their first books published this year that they need to nag, remind and cajole their respective publishers to entry them for the NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book Award for Poetry.

The publisher needs to make the submission.

The form is available here.

I've started to read Tania Hershman's blog Tania Writes and I'll be reading her short story collection The White Road over the holidays (when I get a copy).

I just finished reading Elizabeth Smither's The Year of Adverbs (only Smither could write a collection that includes poems mentioning Drake's equation for the possibility of extra-terrestial life with poems about pilates) and re-reading Frederick Pohl's Gateway.

When I first read Gateway, I thought 'Wow! What a great SF adventure', now I see a novel that explores the psyche of violent, misoygnist, self-loathing explorer. The novel's well-deserving to be part of the SF Masterworks series that I'm starting to read and which will take forever.

Image sources: Auckland University Press, Wikipedia.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Poetry reading/4th floor

The poetry reading at the fair went well. We had a lovely, sweltering hot day. Tim Jones, Helen Heath, Helen Rickerby and I read in front a noisy, lunch munching audience. But we sold some books and was great to catch-up with some old friends. After all, we were reading at a fair! I read Heurodis, The Shepherd, Billy, Cleaning (I think I scared some children and I know I scared myself with that one) and The Family Album. I just wish that I'd slept more the night before (I'd been up since about four in the morning). We drove back into town and decided to try to do some more readings together soon.

The new 4th Floor Literary Journal from Whitireia is out featuring poetry from Tusiata Avia, Helen Heath, Cushla Managh and others. I'll be reading through this issue this week as well as popping down to see the Wellington Repertory Theatre's production of The Importance of Being Earnest (which I've never seen staged before).