Friday, August 18, 2017

Waikato Times letter of the week #81

From the edition of Thursday 17 August. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Seabed mining
I see from your Friday paper that seabed mining is back in the news and I expect that seabed residents will be driven out.
However they do not have mortgages or children at school so I guess they will just move onto new pastures as they did in the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea, east of England, when seabed mining disturbed them.
Ian McKissack

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

In praise of: Taylor Swift

Well, more a poem for David Mueller, the creep recently convicted of sexual assault on singer Taylor Swift. It is by Denis Glover and it goes like this:
I’m an Odd Fish
I’m an Odd Fish
A No-Hoper:
Among Men a Snapper,
Among Women
A Groper.
This poem from his collection Dancing to My Tune (Catspaw Press, 1974: my copy is signed by Lauris Edmond for some reason) is perhaps not as funny now as it seemed at the time.

So here is Taylor Swift with “Shake It Off”:

Friday, August 11, 2017

Waikato Times letter of the week #80

From the edition of Friday 11 August. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Predator-free stupidity
The stupidest idea of this century must be to make New Zealand predator free by 2050. Because most New Zealanders are still science illiterate when they exit our education system, no one has thought to question what this actually means. Consider the following:
1. Possums, rabbits, rats and mice are largely vegetarian so cannot really be classed as predators. We will keep them.
2. Cats and dogs are predators. They will have to go.
3. Fantails are predators of midges; kiwi are predators of worms and weta; tuatara are predators of beetles and snails; native owls are predators of rats and mice; and so on. They will all have to go.
4. Humans are predators of rabbits, pigs, deer, pheasants, many types of fish and farm animals. They will have to go.
If New Zealanders want to live in a predator-free country this could be achieved by getting Kim Jong Un to aim his nuclear missiles here. Do we really want to get rid of all fast-breeding animals, which will be needed as survival foods when the next ice age comes?
Rainga Wade

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

What I’m reading #146

In the July Literary Review Lucy Lethbridge reviews seven books about Jane Austen. One, already savaged by Private Eye for its allegedly cavalier treatment of another author’s research, is Lucy Worsley’s BBC TV tie-in Jane Austen at Home:
The very first illustration [. . .] is a photograph of a broken egg cup recently unearthed in the garden of her childhood home, Steventon Rectory. ‘It’s not impossible’, reads the caption, ‘that Jane Austen once used it to eat a boiled egg.’ Well no, not impossible, but…
After further consideration, Lethbridge concludes:
There’s much intriguing historical detail but also quite a lot of padding (‘imagine Jane happy, if you will, life before her, running through the Hampshire fields on a summer evening’), occasionally intercut with questions guaranteed to wake up the snoozing telly viewer. ‘Did Jane ever have lesbian sex?’ is one. The answer, unsurprisingly, is probably not.
Speaking of Private Eye, in the 14 July issue (not online) Remote Controller reviewed ITV’s Love Island, a reality show “in which all the narrative tension comes from who will shag whom, and whether it will be before the first or second commercial break”:
What has shocked ITV is that a franchise aimed at a target audience whose average evening involves four neck-tattoos and necking eight Jägerbombs has scored highly with viewers keener on fair-trade nail varnish and organic Sav Blanc. Eng Lit graduates will find that Love Island most resembles a porn movie based on the novels of Iris Murdoch, with names uncommon at the font bewilderingly swapped: “Theo said to Tyla that Montana said to Theo…”
Meanwhile, in America, Kat Rosenfeld exposes The Toxic Drama on YA Twitter for Vulture. It is an extraordinary, long, thoroughly investigated account of online book reviews used as bullying – passed on by people who condemn the book in question without reading it – and the chilling effect this has on authors. I had not heard of YA Twitter, which:
regularly identifies and denounces books for being problematic (an all-purpose umbrella term for describing texts that engage improperly with race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and other marginalizations). Led by a group of influential authors who pull no punches when it comes to calling out their colleagues’ work, and amplified by tens of thousands of teen and young-adult followers for whom online activism is second nature, the campaigns to keep offensive books off shelves are a regular feature in a community that’s as passionate about social justice as it is about reading.
According to Rosenfeld, such campaigns involving thousands of people tweeting and retweeting and Tumblring and the rest:
are almost always waged in the name of protecting vulnerable teens from dangerous ideas. These books, it’s claimed, are hurting children.But a growing number of critics say the draggings, well-intended though they may be, are evidence of a growing dysfunction in the world of YA publishing. One author and former diversity advocate described why she no longer takes part: “I have never seen social interaction this fucked up,” she wrote in an email. “And I’ve been in prison.”

Thursday, August 3, 2017

What I’m reading #145

Not a lot because I am currently editing two manuscripts at once. This is not impossible, because only one is fiction, but it is suboptimal. Also, there is a funding round in progress for one of the organisations I help assess these things for, and it is quite a task working out how much fiction is involved in some of the applications.

The Spectator announces the results of competition 3008 in which entrants “were invited to take the last line of a well-known novel and make it the first line of a short story written in the style of the author in question”. Great idea. The clever-clogs winner started: “A way a lone a last a loved a long the” and you would think that Finnegans Wake would be impossible to parody but no.

All the others are good but my favourite was this, using The Da Vinci Code as the starting point:
For a moment, he thought he heard a woman’s voice — the wisdom of the ages — whispering up from the chasms of the earth to the splendour of St Peter’s. Langdon froze. ‘The wisdom of the ages’ — surely a coded message! Suddenly, in a sudden flash of realisation, he realised it. A totally contrived anagram! ‘An anagram!’ he realised. The Wisdom of the Ages = ‘Who misfeeds the goat?!’ Of course! Now he simply needed to find the unfortunate ungulate, and guilty goatherd… before it was too late! Heidi? Esmeralda? The Lonely… Suddenly, he had it — Paddy McGinty — whose goat swallowed dynamite! A deadly coded warning in deadly earnest! And Valentine Doonican = Neel doon in Vatican! In no time he found, behind the hassocks and dyslexic Scottish translations of tourist leaflets, the sticks of dynamite. The Vatican saved… but why had the clues been so obvious?
Slightly more topically for New Zealand readers, the Economist defends an often-criticised group:
One by one, prejudices are tumbling in the West. People may harbour private suspicions that other people’s race, sex or sexuality makes them inferior—but to say so openly is utterly taboo. As most kinds of prejudiced talk become the preserve of anonymous social-media ranters, though, one old strain remains respectable. Just ask a childless person.
And Private Eye reviews (not online – they’re not silly) John McEnroe’s second autobiography But Seriously:
This is an extended shrug of a book, a pointless, wildly self-indulgent ramble that reads like the transcript to an interview with a celebrity magazine during which the interviewer wandered off for a sandwich and couldn’t face going back.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Richard Thompson rips it up

The July issue of Uncut magazine has an interview with serious rock person Jason Isbell in which Nick Abbott of Leeds ask him, “Have you ever had any unusual pets?” Isbell replies:
Well, my wife had a cat named Richard Thompson. She was opening for Richard on this tour. They were playing in a little opera house and a cat came in and she decided tio keep him. So she named him Richard Thompson. She tried to keep him in the van, but he threw a fit and pissed all over the van and ripped all the seats open. She called me that night and neglected to explain the situation. She just told me Richard Thompson had pissed all over her van and ripped all the seats to pieces and said, “Oh God. He’s at it again.”
I love “neglected to explain the situation”. No English, Canadian, Australian or New Zealand speaker of English would say that.

So here is Richard Thompson performing the Britney Spears hit “Oops I Did It Again”:

Thursday, June 22, 2017

In praise of: Peter Bland #2

A guest post by Mark Broatch.

Nice to get a poetry collection commissioned and published in the UK. But a follow-up? Doesn’t happen.

Peter Bland parted ways with Carcanet, publisher of his Selected Poems in 1998, which the Times Literary Supplement described as “vivid and witty. His impulse has been to continually celebrate the displaced and unremarkable.”

Then, says Bland, “somebody said John Lucas at Shoestring Press likes your work. He said, ‘Why not put together a collection of poems about your childhood in England during the war?’ So it was his suggestion and it got some nice critical responses.” Even better, it sold out. “Then he said, ‘Would you like to do another collection with me?’”

Shoestring Press put out Peter Bland’s Remembering England in 2014, presumably to coincide (ish) with the 60th anniversary of the end of the war. It mined Bland’s smog-filled memories of the 1930s, 40s and 50s as well as the odd one from the 1970s and beyond.

In London Grip, an independent online “cultural omnibus” with a special interest in poetry, John Forth said of it that the poems “are marked by an artfully fluent directness which tries to go unnoticed but creates a lasting effect, their meaning being very much the meat thrown by a burglar for the dogs”. Bland writes about a “lost generation”, he says, “their main gifts being ironic detachment, never taking themselves too seriously and the sense of humour that made us”.

The fluency of Bland’s work, says Forth, “is facilitated by his finding forms that do not draw attention to themselves. In being ostensibly secondary to what is being said in the poems, they become unobtrusively part of what is being said. If you’re still unsure who his ‘lost generation’ are – You can tell us a mile off even now;/ there’s a touch of austerity/ under the eyes…//… a lasting doubt/about the next good time. The effect here somehow leans on the word ‘lasting’, never mind the ‘doubt’ which might seem to be packing the punch. Now that’s what I call style.”

Josh Hinton in PN Review writes that the poems in Remembering England have “a gentle but powerful assurance”:
They do what the book’s title suggests, focusing on the England the poet knew, or rather, the two Englands: that of his childhood and youth in wartime, and that of his middle age in the 1970s, after his return from sixteen years in New Zealand. […] We see the boy in the bomb shelter: ‘Draw more ships,’ Grandma ordered, / keeping us busy between exploding bombs./ So we did, on wood-flecked wartime paper…/ The best were hung in old photo frames’. The violent backdrop is almost (but not wholly) inconsequential before the affectionate memory of children competing to see who could draw the best and win Grandma’s favour.

Shoestring specialises in publishing poetry collections “by established but unfashionable poets” or those who might be well known elsewhere but new to British readers.

“Not particularly fashionable” is the style of the new collection, Working the Scrapbook, says Bland, again heavily relying on the personal. It again uses what he calls “the first person plural” — it’s just another persona, he reckons, like the partly fictional voice of a memoir. But for him, it’s “where the real feeling comes from”.

The title? Bland has long kept scrapbooks, pasting in letters, photos, articles and reviews, family “stuff”, poems sent to him, art images and other gatherings. Often a poem will arise from looking at an old photograph, he says. The second part of Working the Scrapbook includes the poems of Loss, the 2010 collection he wrote after the death of his wife Beryl, and a couple of new ones.

For the six decades he has been writing poetry, Bland has had a foot in both New Zealand and the UK. In 1977 he won the Cholmondeley Award, a UK Society of Authors prize that has also been given to Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott, Philip Larkin, Fleur Adcock, Kingsley Amis, Allen Curnow and Alice Oswald. In 2011, having settled permanently back in New Zealand, he was awarded the poetry category of the Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement.

Health problems prevent him from going to the launch of Working the Scrapbook on 30 June in London, but he says fellow poets Kevin Ireland, Fleur Adcock and CK Stead will do the honours and read some poems from the book.

Stephen Stratford adds:
Coincidentally, the latest issue of local poetry journal Broadsheet, edited by Mark Pirie, highlights Peter Bland’s work. The issue includes tributes by friends and colleagues, including Fleur Adcock, Glenn Colquhoun, Marilyn Duckworth, Riemke Ensing, Michael Harlow, Kevin Ireland, Louis Johnson, Kapka Kassabova, Bob Orr, Vincent O’Sullivan, Elizabeth Smither and CK Stead.

In Peter’s brief introduction he says:
The Argentinian poet Borges admits that there’s a need among poets ‘to be familiar with the renowned uncertainties of metaphysics,’ but only in order to make the best use of staying open to experience, and ‘to help pass on what we don’t know as much as what we do.’ The sources of poetry are as ancient as cave paintings and the modern poet still has to have something of the shaman left in him in order to be able to indulge in a little cave talk and to commune alone with the deeper sources of his imagination.
Here is Peter’s bio at the Academy of New Zealand Literature. His most recent publication in New Zealand is A Fugitive Presence (Steele Roberts, 2016); Elizabeth Coleman reviews it for Takahe here.

So here is Peter (reading from his 2014 collection Hunting Elephants) with Kevin Ireland and Fleur Adcock at the Devonport Library in December 2015:

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Money for writers – heaps of it #2

Copyright Licensing NZ invites writers of fiction and non-fiction in all genres to apply for the CLNZ/NZSA research grants. There are four available: priority will be given to “projects of national or significant local interest and/or those that add significantly to the field or genre on a subject”.

Three of the grants are for $5000; the fourth includes the $5000 plus a six-week residential fellowship at Victoria University’s Stout Research Centre.

Aaron Fox received last year’s Stout Research Centre grant to work on a biography of Brigadier James Hargest. Fox, who like Hargest hails from Gore, says of his time at the Centre:
The access to the archives was truly invaluable as it got me to the centre of the research. If you’re looking for New Zealand history, you have to go to Wellington. Delving into the archives, you never know what you’re going to find.  I found myself in the middle of intellectual debate and working with other people in similar fields can get you involved in really stimulating conversations.
Applications for all four grants close at 4pm on Friday 21 July. Full details and guidelines are at the CLNZ website here; you can even submit your application online.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Waikato Times letter of the week #79

From the edition of Friday 16 June. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
‘Choice-less future’
I see that some schools are banning all drinks at school other than milk and water. To some people that may seem sensible, the way to go even, but it is only a short step from that to inspecting lunchboxes and dictating exactly what a school lunch shall consist of. 
Social commentators are preparing us for the choice-less future which will make individualism a sin. It will be a robotic future where no one will excel and no one will under-achieve. Sport or competition of any type will be pointless, because no one will be keeping score, in case it will offend a “tomorrow” of no winners – no losers. Perhaps in such a highly regimented and regulated “tomorrow” we can stack populations of billions into accommodation built for millions, while androids do all the work for us and even improve our systems to the extent that all innovation will be their domain, not ours. Perhaps mankind will then find his true place in the universe, alongside all of the other bacterium and viruses. 
Will a past membership of Mensa or a Nobel Prize in a family tree become a great cause for shame? Perhaps there is a cosmic truth finally dawning. Perhaps it is not about us after all. 
Dennis Pennefather
Te Awamutu

Saturday, June 17, 2017

In praise of: Paddy Richardson

Stephanie Jones reviews the new Paddy Richardson novel Through the Lonesome Dark very positively (which is a relief for me, the book’s editor, as Stephanie is one of the few regular reviewers I take seriously):
From a porcelain-smooth introductory passage about the West Coast town of Blackball that could serve as a model of exposition to students of creative writing – this, class, is how you set a stage – to scenes of trench life in World War I, Dunedin writer Paddy Richardson masterfully entwines the intimate and the global [...]
I doubt there is any genre or era to which Richardson could not apply her virtuosity: her knack for inhabiting the minds of others, especially women in duress, is uncanny and hypnotic.
Through the Lonesome Dark has been on the NZ bestseller list since its launch, and my reckons are that when it starts to circulate around the book clubs it will find a whole new readership that will carry on and on and on.

So here are Crosby Stills Nash and Young in 1974 with “Carry On”: