Blog Archives

Words uncaged, Tim Upperton

How to Defeat the Philistines David Beach, David Beach, $25.00

Winter Eyes Harry Ricketts, Victoria University Press, $25.00

A Fine Morning at Passchendaele Kevin Ireland, Steele Roberts, $25.00

Poetic forms are a bit like zoos. When I was a child, zoos had much smaller cages, and the lions and tigers and leopards would pace up and down inside them. You could see the animals, but you were also really aware of the bars on the cage. I don’t know if the animals were bored, or seething with anger. They would get to the end of the cage and turn around and pace again, and what I wanted more than anything was to see them break out of their cage. The same is true when I read a sonnet, or a villanelle, or a sestina: I’m most interested in those moments when poems chafe against the forms that constrain them. Zoos are different now, the cages are bigger, less obtrusive, and the animals have room to roam. Poetic forms are different, too. A sonnet, for instance, has 14 lines, except when it’s an American sonnet, when it might have 20, or more, or fewer. It has a volta, or turn, after the octave, except when it has no turn at all, and it follows a Petrarchan or Shakespearean rhyme scheme, with sonorous pentameters, except when it’s in loose, unrhyming couplets, like Baxter’s “Jerusalem Sonnets”.

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Posted in Literature, Poetry, Review

Posthumous vindication, David V Williams

After the Treaty: The Settler State, Race Relations and Power in Colonial New Zealand
Brad Patterson, Richard S Hill and Kathryn Patterson (eds)
Steele Roberts, $40.00,
ISBN 9780947493158

 

There was a time in New Zealand when university historians took umbrage if an historian employed in a government department ventured into territory that some academics felt was, or should be, their sole preserve. The panning by academics in 1968 of The Shadow of the Land, written by Ian Wards of the war history branch in the Department of Internal Affairs, was a striking example. Reflections on this study of British policy and racial conflict in New Zealand from 1832 to 1852 are central to this commemorative volume of essays exploring themes related to Wards’s interests in political, social, legal and military affairs in colonial New Zealand. An impressive gallery of historians, drawn from all sectors of the history profession, have contributed to the volume some fascinating chapters on a range of topics.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review

Talking of war, Hugh Roberts 

Mulgan
Noel Shepherd
Steele Roberts,$25.00,
ISBN 9780947493387

Noel Shepherd’s debut novel, Mulgan, certainly doesn’t lack for moxie. Writing one’s way into one of the small handful of truly iconic New Zealand novels and, what’s more, openly setting out to imitate the tone, style and form of that novel, is not for the faint-hearted. One can applaud Shepherd’s ambition even if, ultimately, the novel itself must be seen as an interesting failure. There is, though, at least one way in which a parody or a pastiche or an homage is always interesting: it asks us to think about what really is the quintessence of the thing imitated; what is it that makes John Mulgan’s Man Alone still such a powerful read, even after so many years of stultifying “official” reverence and highbrow critical snark?

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

The grimness of contemporary realism, John McCrystal

Five Strings
Apirana Taylor
Anahera Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9780473389482

Iceland
Dominic Hoey
Steele Roberts, $35.00,
ISBN 978094749343I

It’s that time of the three-yearly cycle again. A billboard has gone up near my house promoting the political party that has, for the last couple of terms, been promising us a brighter future. It claims this party is “Delivering for New Zealanders” – which is true, so long as you don’t read it as a claim that it is delivering for all New Zealanders. And, as for the brighter future, well, there is a significant number of people in New Zealand for whom the future can only be brighter, given how bleak their present is.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

Infectious enjoyment, Fleur Adcock

Night Burns with a White Fire: The Essential Lauris Edmond
Frances Edmond and Sue Fitchett (eds)
Steele Roberts, $35.00,
ISBN 9780947493448

This enjoyable anthology doesn’t pretend to be anything but an act of loving homage; as the editors admit, they did not plan a scholarly book. It consists of poems and a smaller number of extracts from Lauris Edmond’s prose writings, edited by the two people whose names are on the title page, but largely chosen by Lauris’s friends, admirers, and members of her family, who were asked to submit suggestions. The arrangement is thematic, progressing through childbirth, family love, friendship, Wellington, travel and other topics, and ending with a powerfully affecting section about death. It includes a timeline, a bibliography, and an index of contributors; one of the incidental pleasures of reading the collection is to cross-check titles of individual pieces with this index to see who chose what.

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Posted in Literature, Poetry, Review

Poetry and politics, Sarah Sharp

Robert Burns: Poet and Revolutionist Harry Holland (Dougal McNeill ed) Steele Roberts, $30.00, ISBN 9780947493172 Writing during the 1920s, Harry Holland describes the celebration of Burns Night as an event which unites Scots around the world: be the Scot where

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Posted in Literature, Poetry, Review

Letters of aroha and respect, Olivia Bennett

The Art of Walking Upright Glenn Colquhoun Steele Roberts, $25.00, ISBN 1877228206 “The art of walking upright here is the art of using both feet”. For many New Zealanders, the very essence of being Kiwi is being part of a

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Posted in Literature, Poetry, Review, YA Reviewers

Watching a craftsman, Briar Lawry

Strait Men and Other Tales Murray Edmond Steele Roberts, $30.00, ISBN 9781927242988 Strait Men and Other Tales by Murray Edmond is a tricky beast. Its slim spine belies the size and style of the stories within – there’s nothing that

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Posted in Literature, Review, Short stories

The headlock of myth, Mark Reason

Seelenbinder: The Olympian Who Defied Hitler James McNeish Steele Roberts, $35.00, ISBN 9780947493011 “After a certain time a life exists not for what it is in reality, but for its mythological qualities”: in that one sentence, James McNeish defines his

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

Prodding the boundaries, Janet Hughes

Work 
Sarah Jane Barnett,
Hue & Cry Press, $25.00, ISBN 9780473333331

Tender Machines 
Emma Neale
Otago University Press, $25.00, ISBN 9781927322345

Soundings of Hellas 
John Davidson,
Steele Roberts, $20.00, ISBN 9781927242957

Looking out to Sea
Kevin Ireland
Steele Roberts, $20.00, ISBN 9781927242926

I’m looking at another pile of rich, rewarding collections of poetry, looking for commonalities so that I can do them some kind of justice in the allotted space. I see that Emma Neale glosses her title by quoting two poets who likened a poem to a machine. Don Paterson is deprecatory: a poem is “just a little machine for remembering itself”; while William Carlos Williams throws the possibilities wide open with another craftily small claim: “A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words”.

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Posted in Literature, Poetry, Review
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