Sport 39: New Zealand New Writing 2011, by Edited by Fergus Barrowman
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The latest issue of New Zealand’s leading magazine of new writing, featuring the winners of the Long and the Short of It competition for The Best Story Over 10,000 Words – Lawrence Patchett ‘The Road to Tokomairiro’ – and The Best Story Under 1000 Words – Kirsten McDougall ‘Clean Hands Save Lives’. Plus Allen Curnow at 100 – Terry Sturm ‘Allen Curnow: Poems of a Christchurch Childhood’ and poems by Vincent O’Sullivan, James Brown and Bill Manhire. And stories, poems and essays by 50 leading and emerging New Zealand writers.
Complete list of contributors: Pip Adam, Sarah Jane Barnett, Peter Bland, William Brandt, James Brown, Medb Charleton, Geoff Cochrane, Rose Collins, Lynn Davidson, Anastasia Doniants, Lynley Edmeades, Johanna Emeney, Joan Fleming, Bernadette Hall, Amy Head, Helen Heath, Anna Jackson, Lynn Jenner, Andrew Johnston, Brent Kininmont, Aleksandra Lane, Chloe Lane, Helen Lehndorf, Li Bai (translated by Baziju), Bill Manhire, Emma Martin, Sarah McCallum, Kirsten McDougall, Kate McKinstry, Frankie McMillan, Hannah Newport-Watson , John Newton, Bob Orr, Vincent O’Sullivan, Cate Palmer, Lawrence Patchett, Susannah Poole, Jenny Powell, Chris Price, Melissa Day Reid, Helen Rickerby, Marty Smith, Elizabeth Smither, Terry Sturm, Rhydian W. Thomas, Sylvie Thomson, Tim Upperton, Catherine Vidler, Louise Wallace, Ian Wedde, Tom Weston, Ashleigh Young.
From an Imaginary Journal, by Bill Manhire, from Sport 39
From an Imaginary Notebook
THE EYE OF THE BLACKBIRD
A couple of tuis are scrapping in a tree by one of the entrances to the university (Gate 3, it’s boldly called), then suddenly they are flying through the air, horizontal, their passage all feathery beatings and thrashings—and they continue their frenzied argument in a small tree to the right of the steps I’m just about to climb. They are black tufts, iridescent, splashes of white throat-feather. The sound of their wings is strong, like one of those whirring Maori instruments.
The odd thing is that, a fraction of a second later, a blackbird zips across after them from the first tree and perches on a nearby branch to watch proceedings. Now I watch the blackbird, and the blackbird watches the skirmishing tuis—for what seems an age, though it is probably only 30 seconds. And then, show over, the blackbird flies back to its original tree, because the tuis have flown off somewhere else entirely.
I’d always thought Wallace Stevens’ blackbird was some figure for the way reality shifts, remaining unsettled and unsettling. But perhaps it is some version of the writer: interested, keeping close, keeping a bit of a distance.
I’m surprised it’s thought to be unusual, and even that it has a name. I assumed that everyone knew words and numbers had colours. It’s something I took for granted when I was little. A lot of it has slipped away, but 3 is still yellow, 4 a dark green, 8 some sort of red. Ruth was green, Henry a pale, putty colour, Bill a dark blue. Letters have colours, too. E is yellow, H is gray, T blacker than black. And now I remember thinking once that perhaps the colours darkened as the alphabet went on.
All those Tarzan movies. Tarzan gets through the jungle by swinging from one vine to another …
As a writer, you want to stay in the jungle, but you need to be able to come and go and get about a bit. Sometimes you need to outpace the thousand enemies who are on your trail. So you need something like a vine, strong and functional, and every so often you need to find a new one. You reach out and grab it, and there you are: swinging again. Locomotion!
If you don’t reach out, you don’t go anywhere. You just hang there. You dangle.
A story I once planned to write was to have been about a young New Zealander living in Munich, who earned his living as a tour guide. A couple of days a week, he worked at Dachau, taking tour parties around the camp. He also had sporadic work on the Salzburg Sound of Music tour. A life more confusing than continuous. And I thought he would also have a love-life, plus occasional mini-surfing adventures across the Iser in the English Gardens. He would have hung out with the whole Australasian ex-pat crowd, and like most of us been really quite muddled about what matters and how the world works.
Or would that vine analogy work better for poems? Each line is a jungle vine, and it swings the reader on to the next one. So the poem must be the jungle.
A LOST POEM
I also once planned to write a poem about the fact that General de Gaulle died playing patience. I think it was just going to be a sequence of cards, turned over and gathered successfully into order inside their suits. I was going to play and play and play until I got the poem. Crikey.
Since the Rachel Barrowman biography, the power of R.A.K. Mason’s early work can be explained by the thing plenty of people knew but lacked the language or social nerve to declare: Mason was bi-polar. Hence the intense, over-excited poems of the young man, the verbal highs and lows, where passion and rage swirl around inside the tough, rigid, containing form. Maybe those steady Georgian models imposed themselves on feeling and experience in ways that made all the difference. They held the mania yet also intensified it.
Mason would probably have been a very bad poet if he had had socalled open form available to him: just one more Allen Ginsberg on a bad day. As it is, there are the great early poems: ‘On the Swag’, ‘Footnote to John II, iv’, ‘Old Memories of Earth’, ‘Sonnet of Brotherhood’.
Sometimes I think you could just about reduce Mason’s poems down to a sort of punctuation
[!] or [?!] or [!!!]
depending perhaps on the time of day, or the phases of the moon.
A FINE POETRY MOMENT
‘I’m too famous to die!’ —Allen Ginsberg, apparently serious, during airplane turbulence.
AN INTERESTING SENTENCE
‘The manor-house, or herrgård, in question is to be called Råbäck (pronounced something like Roebeck), though that is not its name.’
(from ‘Count Magnus’ by M.R. James)
THREE WORDS BEGINNING WITH G
Giggles. I grew up thinking this was the name for fish-guts, when you cleaned them out. I thought I had learnt it from my mother. But she consistently denied ever having used the word. I still sometimes look for it, in dictionaries and online. But I can’t find it anywhere.
Guddle was certainly my mother’s word, though it’s hard to find strong instances of it in the world of lexicography. It means a muddle, a sort of giddy muddle, a mess. ‘I’m in a real guddle today.’
Gloopy. One of the great onomatopoeic words. It was worth half learning Russian at the age of 17 to find this word. It means stupid. But that ‘y’ is deep somehow, not high. Gloopy, gloopy, gloopy.
THE VINCENT O’SULLIVAN DREAM
I’m to launch his book (the four books book), chairing a kind of ‘hour with’ session, but only because someone far more important has had to pull out, I’m doing this as a favour to the publisher, as a last-minute ring-in, feeling slightly put-upon, and I’m there just in time, after a desperate taxi ride from the university to Te Papa. But I would never take a taxi from the university to Te Papa! I don’t seem to have a copy of the book, but manage to borrow one off Tilly Lloyd who happens to be running the bookstall. But Vincent is on the far side of the room—which is the wrong side of the room—and now he starts declaiming something. What is he doing? Eventually he realises he’s in the wrong place and comes to the front, but now he stands yards away on my right, nowhere near the raised platform with its table and mikes. The room is long and narrow, but the four or five rows of seats stretch horizontally. Actually, they stretch forever. I can’t see the ends of the rows. Vincent starts making strange gestures; he stays still on his feet, but his body and head and arms move: a mix of gestures from (maybe) deaf signing and break dancing. A dumb show. I can’t figure this out at all. But then I look at the book I am holding and see that it is not the one I thought was the point of this event; rather it’s a new book entirely—a long narrative poem à la Browning, made up of monologues—and one of the characters is deaf. Vincent is apparently reading one of his monologues. God, he is prolific! That’s all right, then. And now it must be time to wake up.
A NOTE FROM ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
‘Asked what his songs were about, Tembinok’ replied, “Sweethearts and trees and the sea. Not all the same true, all the same lie.”’
MY FIRST WORD
I remember visiting Nigel Cox in Seatoun a few weeks before he died. Windy, sunny day; the sea just outside. Nigel’s childhood friend Doug was there—he had flown in from America—reminiscing about schoolboy escapades.
Doug: Yes, we cheated death many a time.
Nigel: Sounds like a line from one of Bill’s poems.
James Wood on Keith Moon (in The New Yorker): ‘… making mistakes is simply part of the locomotion of vitality.’
THE KEITH OVENDEN DREAM
I am in sole charge of a very large hotel kitchen: large work-benches, shining stainless steel, much equipment—but only a single small oven, in which there is a lone leg of lamb. Out through some swing doors is seated the full complement of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. The players are all dressed very formally—the men in frock coats, the women in ball-gowns. I am panicking in a pretty high level way. The only thing that saves me is that from time to time a waiter bursts through a set of swing-doors crying, ‘It’s all right: Keith Ovenden hasn’t finished speaking yet.’ I was telling my friend Kathryn about this dream, and explaining that I thought it was rather shrewd of me to choose a speaker who was renowned for his long, perfectly grammatical sentences—some of them a paragraph or so in length. But Kathryn has made a bit of a study of dreams and word play. ‘Oven,’ she says, ‘Ovenden. You punned your way to safety.’
AND THINKING OF OVENS …
When I interviewed Hone Tuwhare for Landfall in the late 80s, we met in his little cottage in Dundas Street, Dunedin. It was about 11.00 on a Saturday morning, and I had brought a couple of bottles of red wine, just to help things along. After a couple of hours of very good talk, there was a smell of burning from the kitchen. ‘Cripes!’ cried Hone—he had once been a Billy Bunter fan—and he raced to open the oven door. After the smoke had cleared, two well charred shoulders of lamb were sitting forlornly on the oven tray. He had cooked one for each of us.
WIKIPEDIA ON THE TARZAN YELL
The sound itself has received a trademark registration, owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. The official description of the yell is:
The mark consists of the sound of the famous Tarzan yell. The mark is a yell consisting of a series of approximately ten sounds, alternating between the chest and falsetto registers of the voice, as follows—
1. a semi-long sound in the chest register,
2. a short sound up an interval of one octave plus a fifth from the preceding sound,
3. a short sound down a Major 3rd from the preceding sound,
4. a short sound up a Major 3rd from the preceding sound,
5. a long sound down one octave plus a Major 3rd from the preceding sound,
6. a short sound up one octave from the preceding sound,
7. a short sound up a Major 3rd from the preceding sound,
8. a short sound down a Major 3rd from the preceding sound,
9. a short sound up a Major 3rd from the preceding sound,
10. a long sound down an octave plus a fifth from the preceding sound.
Despite these efforts, the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM) in late 2007 determined that such attempts by the estate of Burroughs to maintain such trademark must fail legally, reasoning that ‘[w]hat has been filed as a graphic representation is from the outset not capable of serving as a graphic representation of the applied-for sound,’ said the OHIM ruling. ‘The examiner was therefore correct to refuse the attribution of a filing date.’ However, the sound recording of the yell is an officially registered trademark with the USPTO. The mark was registered in August 1995 and renewed in December of 2005.
THINGS I’VE WANTED TO WRITE
• An essay on the hyphen in Philip Larkin's poetry.
• A 500-page study of the word ‘still’ in the Romantic poets.
• ‘Nothing comes from nothing’: King Lear and The Sound of Music.
• I also wanted to write about the link between Cliff Richard's ‘Living Doll’ and Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Applicant’, and then I discovered that someone else had done so.
I think I must have been about 14 when I realised what metaphor was.
I was reading a review of a Cliff Richard LP in Truth.
Anyway, they described his voice as velvet. Astonishing: something you could see and touch (but not hear) was the perfect way of describing a sound! I think that helped me realise what poems could do. I didn’t know about metaphor, but when I was told about it, probably later that year, it made total sense.
What did I read in my last year at school? Whatever it was, I found it all for myself. R.A.K. Mason, Walt Whitman, Carl Sandburg (The People, Yes), a biography (was it in two volumes?) of George Bernard Shaw. The first Curnow anthology? Ronald Hugh Morrieson, from the rental library below the Crown Hotel. Mickey Spillane. Carter Brown. Peyton Place. Catcher in the Rye. Ballad of the Sad Café. On the Road. Lady Chatterley’s Lover. More Carter Brown.
• Someone's house, Invercargill, 1953, men and women singing: ‘Ha-ere Mai! / Everything is kapai! / You’re here at last, / You’re really here at last. // You’re welcome as the sunshine, / You’re welcome as a king! / Pai kare! This is one time / We’ll really have a fling!’
• Dunedin Town Hall 1960s: The Everly Brothers. Ravi Shankar. Roy Orbison. Jimmy Shand and his band. The Beatles. Gene Pitney. Peter, Paul, and Mary. Del Shannon. Gene McDaniels. Mr Acker Bilk. Dusty Springfield. Lonnie Donegan. Kenneth McKellar. Andy Stewart. Cliff Richard and the Shadows. The Howard Morrison Quartet.
• Takapuwahia Marae 1986: Kazuo Ishiguro singing Blue Moon.
THE MELANCHOLIA CUBE
Somewhere a year or two ago I came across a reference to a melancholia cube. All I can find on Google are references to a gallery piece by Anselm Kiefer. ‘The “melancholia cube” is a cube with the corners cut off and is thus seen as incomplete, like human understanding.’ Anyway, I want one.
THE SISTINE CHAPEL
There used to be a wall-poster, ‘The Floor of the Sistine Chapel’, showing a floor covered in discarded lumps of gum, cigarette butts, screwed up napkins, scraps of food, etc. It depended on you knowing what the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel looked like and, I suppose, what it meant. I got to the very place once, and joined the orderly queue. I looked down, just in case: the floor was immaculate. In a sense, my favourite poems show you the floor (as in the poster) and the ceiling at the very same time. Not one or the other, but both at once. I’ve always liked Carl Sandburg’s definition of the poem as a synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits—though it’s probably best, I want to add, if the synthesis is never quite achieved.
THE WALL OF SERPENTS
It’s a bit like that story by Italo Calvino, the ‘Serpents and Skulls’ one, where Mr Palomar and a friend are visiting the ruins of Tula, once capital of the Toltecs. The friend knows a great deal, or believes he does, about the ruins they walk among. He confidently explains and interprets everything—while occasionally they cross paths with a schoolteacher, leading his crocodile of children, who points to each column or statue or piece of carved stone and says, ‘We do not know what it means.’
A POEM IS
‘… a prolonged hesitation between sound and sense’ —Paul Valéry
That covers everything that matters really.
Where does the cat come from?
The one in copycat, I mean.
‘He paid to save her from the interactive rat.’
Where did I think that was going to lead?