Friday, January 01, 2016

2015 Reading: Fiction

For most of 2015, I kept a list of books that I had read and found that the total was quite considerable. This hasn't always been the case. In some years, I've marvelled over blogs that post their "ten top books" from the previous year, given that if I posted my ten top books, it would be likely to nearly all the books that I'd read.

I'm not going to select my top ten, but I did find that there were almost twenty books on my fiction list for the year, so I am listing some of those that I particularly enjoyed or found notable for various reasons:

The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell

I've been a fan of David Mitchell since reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, a historical novel set in Japan, specifically, on the island of Dejima. I also enjoyed the opportunity to hear him speak when he visited Christchurch. (David Mitchell, that is, not Jacob de Zoet). I love the many layered quality of his work, and the fact that each one is a surprise, and very different from the one before. The Bone Clocks is a sort of supernatural/dystopian/futuristic/realistic novel which spans a period from around the 1980s to several decades in the future. I both started and ended the year with David Mitchell as for Christmas I received a copy of his latest book Slade House. I found it a bit disappointing (even though I enjoyed it very much). I had the feeling that it was written because his publisher was pushing for another book, so that he recycled some of the ideas in The Bone Clocks and used them again, in what is much more a "one idea" book, something that I have not found with Mitchell's books up until now. It's the interweaving of ideas in his work that I find the most rewarding aspect - and the way that minor characters from previous books pop up in new roles in subsequent work is a small treat.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

An old man and his wife set off on a journey in post-Arthurian Britain. There is something important that they can't quite remember... There is a dreamlike quality to this novel, which is less a reworking of Arthurian legend (despite the setting), than a meditation on the nature of memory, and of how society deals with the aftermath of war, and heals old wounds.

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman
This novel imagines a substantial back story for the life of Camille Pizzaro, known as the "father of impressionism". It focuses on his mother, Rachel Monsanto Petit Pizarro, a Jew of French and Portuguese ancestry born on the Caribbean island of St Thomas, at that time a Danish territory. The lush and exotic setting, and the story of a remarkable and unsual woman, made it a rewarding read.

The Chimes by Anna Smaill
Set in a futuristic London, where music is used to communicate in place of words, and memories reside only in physical objects. "The dystopian novel" can easily become cliched, but I found this stunningly original. The slow reveal of how things got to be the way they now are is fascinating. The fact that Smaill is musically trained herself shines through the book (and sent me in search of her 2005 collection of poetry, The Violinist in Spring - poetry, too, shines through the pages of The Chimes).

More in the next post.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas

Strawberry Santas by my husband. While I can imagine a winter Christmas, I find it very hard to imagine a Christmas without strawberries...

Tiny tree with origami books by my daughter. Each book contains a poem. I think she searched my blog to find poems I liked..

Hope you are all having/have had a wonderful Christmas surrounded by family and friends..

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tuesday Poem: Heatwave, by Emma Neale


February 2013: New Zealand’s worst drought in 30 years

It’s a hot, find shade like a dog day,
let the child crawl, mewl and nip,
pant in my belly-shadow, back-shadow;
get up, pace, restless for coolness,
stalk the scent of water, hope,
openness, that icy air
that rides a river’s meniscus
and carries the dark-flow of trees …

Along the scrappy riverbank,
its rough, ugly, unhewn rocks,
the hills rear up like something unclear
in an uneasy dream, while Himalayan fuchsia,
kōwhai and beech gasp through
the chloroform rags of old man’s beard,
passion-vine, woodbine.

It seems in this heat haze
as if some colourist, or abstract expressionist
has tried to paint out some difficult concept
in green and green and green
but can’t unbind
from their own ouroborine obsession:

loving too much, loss of self,
greed, lust, the choking, short-term view,
the slow contraction of our end of days

green eats green eats green.

but a cry splashes on the air;
the child’s seen red rata, wild plums,
their pinot-sweet light quivers, wells
bright as freshet-falls.

We scramble up the banks of parched grass,
use a peaked sun-cap for a pail,
climb, stretch and sweat
to pluck plump palmfuls,
until the hill path
tips the small boy down
like a tumble of milk that weeps for itself.

The weeds snare, they clamber and drag,
seem to say Homo inhumanus, Homo insapiens.

We push back up
through tinder-brittle undergrowth
when with a rush of noise as if to say
its name is Nightmare a giant bird
comes to stake its claim.

‘But they’re our plums!’
the three-year-old cries;
‘They’re wild,’ I say, evenly;
‘and we have to share, share the planet
with all the other animals,’
as if not complicit, ashamed, riven
with dear world, how long …
what if … what have we forsaken

Yet when the boy bravely holds a plum
balanced on his palm like an apple for a horse
and the bird’s wings laugh closer,
even the low river seems to misremember
its own name; in curved sheets of glass
that still spill and spill, it sings Lethe, Lethe,
and under my stubborn skin
wide-mouthed flowers
pistils sweet with survival’s honey
petals bright as poison
crane towards the drought-taut sky:
common-or-garden now,
common-or-garden joy.

-Emma Neale

I recently enjoyed reading Emma Neale's latest book of poems, "Tender Mercies". And the poems in the collection are indeed tender, but also fierce, and beautiful, and harsh, and many other things, all at once. It's not so much that she shows us the beauty in ugliness - a cliched sort of description which doesn't do justice to the poems, for it implies that the beauty and the ugliness, or fierceness, or harshness, are different things, separate from each other. Whereas to me it felt as if the poems showed a wholeness, where the beauty and the tenderness and the fierceness and the harshness were all the same thing, like shot silk where the colours can't be separated from each other.

I'm grateful to Emma for permission to post the above poem from the collection. Tuesday Poem, sadly, is coming to a close, though I may post more poems in the future. Over at the main hub site, there is a celebratory final poem made up of lines from all the participants over the years (including one of mine). The group has taken a lot of work and Mary McCallum and Clare Beynon, along with others, have done a fantastic job coordinating it all over the last five years, but sadly no one has the time now to keep it going. The site will however, stay open, with five years worth of poems to browse at the readers' leisure, along with links to all the participants. It's been a great ride while it lasted.

Now I should post a bio, but it is very late at night, I am in a mad pre-Christmas too many things to do rush, and it has been said better than I can, elsewhere on the internet. So, you will find more about Emma here and here.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Tuesday Poem: On the Need for a New Flag

New Flag

             the old one
seen by Kupe

three stripes

land between

flown to mark

copyright Catherine Fitchett

This poem was first published in "The Chookbook: Free Range Organic Poetry" which was a collection put out by the small poetry critique group of which I was a part. It seemed quite topical at the moment so I decided to post it as my Tuesday poem this week. (That reminds me, I need to fill in my flag referendum paper - have you filled out yours yet?)

I had been travelling on the inter-island ferry and had a "visual flash" in which I saw the land and sea laid out before me as if it was a flag flying.

For more Tuesday Poems visit the main hub site.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Tuesday Poem: Memories of Long Grass, by Carolyn McCurdie

Memories of long grass
for Lesley and Steve

We were quick to claim this ground
relinquished by thick-tongued cows
not yet chomped by bulldozers;
on long swooping slopes and gullies
the seeding grasses nodded, waited just for us.

Disdainful, we pushed aside
stalks swaddled by the nursery web spider
ready for her teeming young;
we trampled tracks where no one
walked but skinks, mice, a cat.
Tiger tracks.

The huts we made were dreams of huts, made more
of air than granny-knotted grass that broke
and slipped. Inside the open walls, we sat
and watched the sun stripe our arms and legs.

We rolled the grass flat to make circles
the radius of our bodies. Then our eyes probed eternity
finding it blue, and beyond that, blue
and beyond that…

The grass held us cupped; the sky bent down
and sipped us up.

copyright Carolyn McCurdie
used with permission

I have been enjoying a number of poetry books lately put out by Makaro Press, the imprint started by the indefatigable Mary McCallum, who is also the instigator of Tuesday Poem. Among them was Carolyn McCurdie's first collection, Bones in the Octagon. My first instinct was to ask her if I could post January Begins as my Tuesday Poem (although it is slightly out of season), however I found that it had already been posted online - so I chose this one, especially for its wonderful last stanza, which to me evoked the wonder of childhood, of exploring the outdoors, of summer days that seem to last forever.

Carolyn is a Dunedin writer who has worked as a teacher and librarian. Winner of the New Zealand Poetry Society’s International Poetry Competition and the Lilian Ida Smith Award, she is a long-time contributor to New Zealand’s leading poetry journals, and has published an ebook of short stories and a children’s fantasy novel. Carolyn is a member of the Octagon Poets Collective and helps to organise live poetry events in Dunedin.

For more Tuesday Poems, visit the main hub site. We are a group of New Zealand and international poets who each try to post a poem on our blogs every Tuesday.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

So Much Depends On...

I have been flat out lately. I'm hoping to get back to the blog with a Tuesday Poem next week.
In the meantime, I enjoyed Joe Bennett's rewrite of William Carlos William's red wheelbarrow poem in our newspaper, and online here.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Tuesday Poem: Making Starfish, by Serie Barford

Making Starfish

to the untrained eye
starfish have no front or back

but village women know better
these days they cut stencils
from discarded x-ray plates

create whole beds of starfish
on bark cloth and cotton sheets

when you cut x-rays
they utter a peculiar cry

but starfish split silently
make more of themselves
to fill up empty spaces

something the lonely could do

- Serie Barford, published in Tapa Talk (Huia Publishers, 2007)

It is that time of year again when Canterbury poets and poet lovers enjoy the Canterbury Poets' Collective spring reading series, stretching over more than two months. One of this year's guest readers' was Serie Barford, whose work I enjoyed very much.

Serie is a poet and short story writer with a strong interest in performance poetry. She was born in Aotearoa/New Zealand to a German Samoan mother and palagi father. She has published three collections of poetry (with another book forthcoming) and in 2011 was awarded the Seresin Landfall Residency. A much fuller bio is found on the New Zealand Book Council website, which I have linked to above. The collection "Tapa Talk" was inspired by her time on the mainland and various other islands of New Caledonia, along with poems based on her Samoan background. Serie says:

In Samoa the templates cut from x-rays were used for design making on siapo (tapa cloth). They don't do tivaevae but they do make fala su'i, a kind of bedpread that's made by emboidering pandanus mats with wool. My next book (Entangled Islands) is based on this concept and each emboidered panel is metaphorically based on a cluster of poems and short stoies.

Entangled Islands is published by Anahera Press and is due out in December of this year.

For more Tuesday Poems visit the main hub site and check out all the bloggers in the side bar.