Blog Archives

A swarm of poets, Airini Beautrais 

Manifesto Aotearoa: 101 Political Poems
Philip Temple and Emma Neale (eds)
Otago University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9780947522469

 

New Zealand poetry in English has a long and complex tradition of politically-charged work: from colonial balladeers, through 20th-century heavyweights like Allen Curnow (as himself and as Whim Wham) and James K Baxter, to more recent poets including Bill Sewell, Robert Sullivan, Dinah Hawken and Hinemoana Baker. Despite this tradition, and perhaps in line with a neo-liberal mood-shift towards individualism and consumerism, an attitude has existed in recent years that there isn’t much political content in our poetry, or that it doesn’t belong there. Sullivan, in his 2010 sequence Cassino: City of Martyrs, bluntly calls such an attitude out in the lines “New Zealand / and its official status quo disdain / for political verse as if it was anything but.” Appearing against this historical and contemporary backdrop, Philip Temple’s and Emma Neale’s Manifesto anthology is a timely and welcome project.

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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review

The wisdom of things, Anna Smaill

The Yield
Sue Wootton
Otago University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9780947522483

The Internet of Things
Kate Camp
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781776561063

There is beauty to be had in yielding, Sue Wootton’s collection suggests, both to the natural world and to language. The collection’s title comes from its final poem, a quiet ode to an apple tree. Resurrected from its first life as a “dehydrated sapling”, the tree has thrived against the odds. Evidence of its battle remains in its posture; the sapling has developed

a lean, the whole tree on an angle,
as if surrendering in deference
to persistent pressure, as if leaned
upon,
giving in or giving up to what
prevails

 

The poem ultimately suggests that, rather than resignation, the tree’s lean is a mode of enabling sacrifice: it “let[s] go” in order to “put out arms, become a fruitful crux”. In conserving its energy the tree enables a different kind of yield – the crop of “yellow apples, blushed, /…Tart and crisp, delicious.”

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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review

Streets, waters, winds, Kirsty Gunn

A Strange Beautiful Excitement: Katherine Mansfield’s Wellington 1888 – 1903
Redmer Yska
Otago University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9780947522544

“There is a handful of writers” begins Vincent O’Sullivan’s introduction to a rare and illuminating account of the city in which Katherine Mansfield was born and grew up,

who at times seem to hold their admirers almost as much by the enigma of personality, or the curious weave of their lives, as they do by their first and sustained impact as writers … Each time we go back to a favourite story … there is that teasing urge to know what came before

In a few elegant sentences we have outlined for us a literary study of riveting depth and focus that, in drawing together history, biography, lyrical essay and reportage gives us back, in deeper colours, the life and work of one of those whose story we continue to be drawn towards, who takes her place amongst the world’s key modernists, a leading practitioner of the short story form, and here, too, a young New Zealand girl.

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Posted in Biography, Non-fiction and Review

Brave writing, Charlotte Simmonds

The Walking Stick Tree
Trish Harris
Escalator Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9780994118646

A Small Blue Thing
Julie Hanify
Submarine, $35.00,
ISBN 9780994123770

The Case of the Missing Body
Jenny Powell
Otago University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781877578311

What Does the Sea Sound Like?
Evie Mahoney
Mary Egan Publishing, $30.00,
ISBN 9780473367718

My friend Uther once called a play A Show About Superheroes, partly as a ploy to get non-theatre people into theatres, under the logic that there are people who will go to anything if it is about superheroes. Similarly, there are people who will read any book on certain topics.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction and Review

A place on my bookshelf, Helen Anderson

Disobedient Teaching: Surviving and Creating Change in Education
Welby Ings
Otago University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781927322666

One of the marvellous inventions found in my favourite libraries is the software that locates the book you are looking for and shows you the other books sitting on either side on the shelf. The notion of every book having its companions is a compelling one for the reader who enjoys building a “string” of connected and related books. Welby Ings’s Disobedient Teaching certainly caught my attention with its provocative title, and I was promptly on a hunt for books that were in its lineage.

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Posted in Education, Non-fiction and Review

Revisiting the 1930s, Tony Simpson

The Broken Decade: Prosperity, Depression and Recovery in New Zealand 1928–1939
Malcolm McKinnon
Otago University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781927322260

In 1968, I left my home town of Christchurch and came to Wellington to work as a producer in radio in what was then the NZBC. I mostly spent the next three years writing and producing talks and historical radio documentaries. One thing that struck me as curious in retrospect was that, although I had spent six years at Canterbury University studying history (among other things), no-one had ever mentioned the 1930s Depression or WWII. It was only when I began talking to older New Zealanders that these two sets of events came into focus as the principal markers by which they measured the significance of their own lives. I therefore began collecting both written and oral recollections of the 1930s (mostly the latter); in 1974, these were published as The Sugarbag Years. I then waited for someone to follow my lead and publish a narrative history of the same events which placed the lives I had recorded in their economic and political context, but no-one did and so I did it myself, as The Slump in 1990. This second book made little impact, the world moved on, and those with personal experience of the 1930s have now almost all passed away.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

Turning a blind eye, Rae Varcoe

Doctors in Denial: The Forgotten Women in the “Unfortunate Experiment”
Ronald W Jones
Otago University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9780947522438

My first acquaintance with National Women’s Hospital was as a final-year medical student in 1968. It was an unpleasant experience of an utterly alien culture, disturbingly hostile to women in general, with women medical students being no exception. Just how indifferent the hospital medical profession was to the wellbeing of those in its care did not become publicly apparent until the publication of Sandra Coney’s and Phillida Bunkle’s Metro piece “Unfortunate Experiment at National Women’s” in 1987, which led to the Cartwright enquiry the following year.

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Posted in Health, Non-fiction and Review

Poetic truths, Helen Heath

In a Slant Light: A Poet’s Memoir Cilla McQueen Otago University Press, $35.00, ISBN 9781877578717 When I read Elizabeth Knox’s personal essays The Love School, in 2008, I finally realised that a writer’s past is whatever they say it is.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction and Review

Gold-panning history, Paul Moon

Rushing for Gold: Life and Commerce on the Goldfields of New Zealand and Australia Lloyd Carpenter and Lyndon Fraser (eds) Otago University Press, $45.00 ISBN 9781877578540 Since 1887, when Vincent Pyke’s History of the Early Gold Discoveries in Otago was

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Posted in History, Non-fiction and Review

Behind bars, Roger Robinson

The Prison Diary of A C Barrington: Dissent and Conformity in Wartime New Zealand John Pratt (with an introduction by John Barrington) Otago University Press, $40.00, ISBN 9781927322314 When did you last think about being in prison? Not the theory

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review and War
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