30 November 2009

The Pole

The Pole: Preamble

This 500 word short-short story appeared in my first collection, Extreme Weather Events (2001). It reflects my continuing fascination with the events of December 1911 and January 1912, when the Norwegian expedition under Roald Amundsen and the British expedition under Robert Falcon Scott contended, with their different methods and different personalities, to be the first in recorded history to reach the South Pole. It's an era and a competition about which there is still controversy.

I was raised on tales of the heroism of Scott and his other great rival, Ernest Shackleton - yet, in those tales, Amundsen was always regarded as an outsider and something of a bounder, a Johnny Foreigner using such underhand methods as meticulous preparation and detailed organisation to succeed where British pluck and improvisation failed.

"The Pole" is far from the first story to re-imagine the race for the Pole - one of its most distinguished predecessors is Ursula Le Guin's short story Sur. I even have an idea for a "The Pole 2", which, perhaps fortunately, I haven't yet written. But here, in 500 words or so, is my version of the race for the Pole.

The Pole

Amundsen and Scott approached the Pole from opposite directions. They halted when they were each about ten feet from it. Their men, who had been following warily behind, joined their leaders, and two semi-circles of tired, hungry, dirty explorers glared at each other through the drifting snow.

There were protocols to be observed on such occasions. "Pony-butchers!" yelled Helmer Hanssen.

"Dog-killers!" replied Wilson. This wasn't really fair; the English had killed their dogs, too, but the difference — an important difference to all right-thinking Englishmen — was that this had been the result of incompetence rather than design.

"Disorganised rabble!" True enough.

"Cheats!" This was the Englishmen's greatest complaint. Everyone knew Scott had first dibs on the pole, yet this arrogant Norwegian had tried to beat him to it.

Insults go only so far. It may have been Evans who scooped up the first handful of icy snow; soon, the air was filled with missiles, little packets of misery bound for neck or chest or face. The activity released something in them; they danced and capered, bending and straightening, hurling challenges when they were not hurling snow, their ranks dissolving into a fluid ballet of man and ice.

But it was cold, utterly cold, and they were tired. Scott and Amundsen (who had kept themselves largely aloof from the frenzy infecting their men) looked at each other, brushed the snow from their clothes, then motioned for silence. Each leader walked forward, step for step, until their hands could clasp.

"Welcome to the Pole, Captain Scott."

"Welcome to the Pole, Mr Amundsen."

They shook hands again. Then they moved to one side and repeated the handshake for the cameras, and it is Bjaaland's photograph we have seen so many times, the two leaders, hoods thrown back, smiling at each other, there at that desire of all true hearts, the Pole.

After the handshakes were over, after the exchange of gifts between the men, they returned to the Pole itself. Whoever had made the cairn that stood there had built well, but there was no clue to their identity, nor to how they had brought the rock from some distant outcrop. It took the best part of an hour to dismantle the cairn, bury its rocks a suitable distance away, and smooth over the snow.

When the site had been cleared, they stood two ski poles upright in the snow, lashed on the Norwegian flag and the Union Jack, and took a further round of photos. After the British had gorged themselves on the Norwegians' food — for the British were half-starved, while the Norwegians had more than they needed — each party left the Pole behind, with many a final glance at the two flags fluttering bravely together in the wind, and began the long trek home.

25 November 2009

Genre Benders: How Interstitial Fiction Is Bringing Speculative Fiction and Literary Fiction Together

This is a lightly edited version of my article of the same name in the journal English in Aotearoa, Issue 67, April 2009. Keen readers of the genres I discuss will be aware that I have missed out much more than I have included!.

1. What is Interstitial Fiction?

What do you call a short story that incorporates the Soviet Politburo of the mid-1980s, the early science fiction of Arthur C. Clarke, consensus decision-making techniques, matter transmitters, the KGB and emissaries from the Galactic Federation?

You might call the story "Win a Day with Mikhail Gorbachev!", as I did when I wrote it. You might call it science fiction. You might call it satire, or metafiction, or even literary fiction.

But these days, especially in the United States, you're most likely to call a story like "Win a Day with Mikhail Gorbachev!" interstitial fiction. It's not a term that rolls off the tongue, and there probably aren't many people who go to their local bookstore and ask to be shown to the interstitial fiction shelves. Yet it's helping stories that previously fell in the gap between literary fiction and speculative fiction (a portmanteau term for science fiction, fantasy and horror) to find a home.

In this article, I'm going to look at what interstitial fiction is, how it has developed out of science fiction and fantasy, how it relates to both speculative fiction and literary fiction, and what it's like to be a writer who straddles genres in this way. I will also take a look at New Zealand science fiction and fantasy, and close with a few comments on the significance of interstitial fiction.

What is interstitial fiction? The Interstitial Arts Foundation defines interstitial art as "literature, music, visual and performance art found in between categories and genres — art that crosses borders." Thus, interstitial fiction crosses the borders between fiction genres, or exists in multiple categories at once.

Of course, in the very act of a defining a term such as interstitial fiction lie the seeds of creating a new genre, locked into its own rules, its own critical conventions, its own magazines and anthologies and publishers. Indeed, the Interstitial Arts Foundation has two collections of interstitial fiction stories, Interfictions I and II. Most literary movements start with innovation and end in ossification; fortunately, interstitial fiction is still very much in the innovation phase.

In the early twentieth century, literary fiction and speculative fiction became divided from each other. The impetus behind the concept of interstitial fiction came from the speculative fiction side. To see why, it's necessary to look back at the roots of that division.

2. The Great Divorce

In his magisterial history of science fiction, Trillion Year Spree, Brian Aldiss makes a strong case that what we now call science fiction begins with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). Though Dr Frankenstein's anguished creation had Gothic antecedents, the spark that brought him to life was scientific, not supernatural: thus, Frankenstein marked a break from its Gothic predecessors, and was the first novel which set out to investigate the powers, limits and moral challenges of the scientific method and scientific experimentation.

In the 19th and early 20th century, many novelists, the most famous of whom were Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, wrote science fiction. Wells, in particular, initiated many of the characteristic tropes of the genre, such as time travel in The Time Machine, and interplanetary war in The War of the Worlds — which was also an early critique of colonialism, with the invading Martians playing the part of the colonists.

The term "scientific romance" was sometimes used in the UK to describe such books, but H.G. Wells was free to move between novels of time and space on the one hand, and social comedies like The History of Mr Polly on the other. It was the growth of pulp science fiction magazines in the United States which established the reputation of science fiction as a distinct, and inferior, genre in much of the English-speaking literary world.

The pulps! How beautiful the brass-bra'ed heroines depicted on their covers, and how hideous the many-tentacled monstrosities that menaced those heroines in brazen defiance of morality and logic alike! How breathless the adventures within their pages, how unimaginably powerful the super-weapons, how dastardly the villains, how stalwart the heroes!

They may have been fun, but they certainly weren't literature. The pulps, so-called for the cheap paper stock they used, were cheap and cheerful, but the science fiction pulps were disastrous for both the literary reputation and the literary ambitions of aspiring science fiction writers. At the very time when literary fiction was moving to new heights — or depths — of complexity, the most easily visible examples of science fiction were not the sophistication of Mary Shelley and H.G. Wells, but the "super-science" of E.E. "Doc" Smith and co.

While literary fiction underwent the convulsions of late modernism, science fiction and fantasy, now severed from the mainstream, underwent their own, separate development. The pulp SF writers and their readers formed a community that had its own meeting places — science fiction conventions; its own critical literature — science fiction fanzines; and its own argot and set of conventions.

Increasingly, SF writers assumed that their audience understood the core conventions of the genre: faster than light travel through "hyperspace", time travel, the many-worlds interpretation of quantum theory which allows for the possibility of multiple, simultaneous, slightly different universes. If you were an SF reader, you didn't need these things explained to you; if you weren't normally an SF reader, you quickly became baffled. Thus, the divide widened.

Though SF would be dismissed as "pulp fiction" for decades to come, the actual pulp SF era was largely brought to a close by World War II paper shortages. At about the same time, magazine editors such as John W. Campbell of Astounding Science Fiction began to insist that science fiction stories be based on credible science, while other editors pushed for a higher standard of writing. The result was the so-called Golden Age of science fiction, from the late 1930s through to the 1950s: the period when the defining tropes of science fiction as a distinct genre were fully developed.

At the time, the distinction between fantasy and science fiction as publishing categories was less marked than it is today. Fantasy tended to be written by science fiction writers, who applied the same extrapolative disciplines to systems of magic in their fantasy that they did to science and technology in their SF. Though stories of magic and the fantastic had a pedigree long antedating SF, it was the explosive success of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, published in the mid-1950s, which inaugurated high fantasy, with its own conventions of halflings and orcs and talking trees, as a separate genre, a genre that is now far more successful than science fiction in commercial terms.

Meanwhile, science fiction has undergone several more waves of innovation, which have had the net effect of increasing its sophistication and bringing both its concerns and its sensibility closer to that of literary fiction:

1960s: The New Wave. A movement, led by British writers, which infused the techniques and sensibility of European experimental fiction, such as the French nouveau roman, into science fiction. The results were wildly uneven, but this was the movement that brought authors such as J.G. Ballard and Brian Aldiss to prominence.

1970s: Feminism. While other aspects of SF had become more sophisticated by the 1970s, its treatment of women hadn't progressed much beyond the brass-bra'ed heroine-in-peril stage; and the New Wave was characterized as much by its sexism as its experimental techniques. Female, and feminist, authors such as Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ and James Tiptree, Jr (real name Alice Sheldon) introduced realistic, complex women characters and a turn away from masculine preoccupations with the size, shininess and general thrustfulness of spaceships.

1980s: Cyberpunk. Authors such as William Gibson married thriller narratives and a noir sensibility with near-future SF in tales of how pervasive information technology interfaced with human life and culture. The result sometimes read like Raymond Chandler with extra swearing, but the significance for the genre was to bring its concerns closer to the present day and to the harsh realities of life on an overcrowded Earth.

I've simplified, of course, in associating each of these movements with a specific decade: each movement had antecedents, each continues to have an influence on the field. But, to follow the pattern, we may say that the 1990s saw the beginnings of interstitial fiction, and hence the beginnings of a sustained attempt to tear down or break through the wall dividing speculative fiction from literary fiction.

3. Tearing Down the Wall

One of the peculiar features of this wall was that it only worked one way. It was almost impossible for science fiction authors to make the transition to becoming respected authors of literary fiction — though J.G. Ballard was a notable exception — but perfectly possible for literary authors to spend a while "slumming" on the SF side. Some, such as Doris Lessing in her "Canopus in Argos" series were clear about what they were doing; others, such as Margaret Atwood in writing The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake, refused to admit that they were writing SF at all, much to the frustration of authors within the SF field.

Given this imbalance in the ability to cross the literary fiction-speculative fiction boundary, it's not surprising that the initial impetus for interstitial fiction came from the speculative fiction side: from a group of young American authors of speculative fiction, the majority of them women, whose work was not easy to categorise into science fiction, fantasy or horror, were frustrated that, despite their stories sharing common territory with what was known on the literary side of the fence as fabulation, metafiction or magic realism, they found it hard to reach a sympathetic audience.

One of these writers was Kelly Link, best known for her short story collection Magic for Beginners (2005). She and her husband Gavin Grant founded a small-press magazine with the improbable title Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, and the publishing company Small Beer Press, to provide venues for interstitial fiction. Despite the small scale of these ventures, they quickly attracted a lot of critical attention, and writers published by Link and Grant soon gained attention and sales in bigger magazines and anthologies.

Since, then, an Interstitial Studies Institute has been set up at the State University of New York, and various people involved in the interstitial fiction movement have created the Interstitial Arts Institute, which publishes the Interfictions anthology series. Interstitial fiction hasn't yet had the dramatic impact that cyberpunk had in the 1980s, but it is providing a pathway into literary fiction for genre authors, and into the less "techy" end of speculative fiction for literary fiction readers.

4. Writing Interstitial Fiction

Transported is my second short fiction collection. The first, Extreme Weather Events (HeadworX, 2001), collects my early short stories, which were mainly science fiction, with a couple of horror stories and one hard to classify — perhaps interstitial? — story about a man whose obsession it is to walk every street in Dunedin, on both sides, in anticipation of the reward he believes awaits him when he completes his task.

The scope of Transported is much wider. The underpinning themes and motifs of the book — transport and journeys; climate change and its effects on individuals and countries — are expressed via a wide range of styles and genres, from the interstitial bonanza of the aforementioned "Mikhail Gorbachev", through humour, satire, good old mimetic realism, cautionary tale (in "Filling the Isles", it is literally true that all we have left is each other), alternate or counterfactual history ("A Short History of the Twentieth Century, with Fries"), science fiction, fantasy, and fable.

Many of the stories in Transported were written before I conceived the idea for the collection, and some were initially published in magazines and anthologies in New Zealand, the US and elsewhere. But, looking back, it seems that I have used genre as a tool to look at a recurring set of concerns in different ways: to look at climate change, for example, as an approaching threat ("Robinson in Love"), an imminent reality ("Going Under") and a done deal ("The Wadestown Shore").

What about the interstitial stories? Well, I know they are among the most enjoyable stories to write: it is very liberating to put the conventions of genre to one side — and here I count literary realism as a genre, with its own conventions, critical terminology, and markets. It's fun to mash up two very different genres or topics: the political history of the Soviet Union with 1950s science fiction, say, or the trauma suffered by New Zealand workers under the New Right reforms of the 1980s and 1990s with the perils and pitfalls of crossing the South Island's Main Divide, as in my story "Best Practice" — and to create a story out of the clash of narratives that results. I also note that there is often a historical component to these stories: though I have never written 'straight" historical fiction, I love to use anachronism, to juxtapose the morals and concerns of one era with the morals and concerns of another.

For me, interstitial fiction is more of an impulse or a mood than a genre, and I'm therefore cautious about the prospect of its becoming overly codified. I've only once set out with the intention of writing an interstitial fiction story, and I found it hard to do deliberately — "have I got the proportions right? Are the fantastic elements too prominent, or not prominent enough? Does this story really count as being interstitial fiction?" These are hard traps to avoid. Spontaneity, and a willingness to let the story have its head, are better guides.

The interstitial fiction movement has been mainly characterized by short fiction, and though I have read some novels that fit the template (for example, Jeffrey Ford's The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque), I've yet to be convinced that interstitiality works as well at novel length as it does in short fiction. This is something I may put to the test before long: I've had one fantasy novel published, and the novel I'm working on at the moment is near-future science fiction, but the idea I have for the novel after that is distinctly interstitial. Writing an interstitial novel is a challenge I'm looking forward to.

5. New Zealand Science Fiction and Fantasy: Emerging from the Shadows

How are speculative fiction writers faring in New Zealand, and are there signs of rapprochement between the speculative fiction and literary writing scenes?

The strange thing about New Zealand publishers is that they are more than willing to publish science fiction and fantasy for children and young adults, but very reluctant to publish it for adults unless it comes from writers already well established in other fields. Therefore, New Zealand speculative fiction writers have usually had to look for publication overseas. Doing so has been made much easier by the Internet, and in recent years there have been some notable successes: for example, Christchurch writer Helen Lowe has recently had her first novel, children's fantasy Thornspell (2008) published in the US, and has another standalone novel and a four-volume adult fantasy series under contract there, while author Russell Kirkpatrick is doing very well in the US with his fantasy novels, such as Across the Face of the World. A glimpse at the list of science fiction and fantasy novels by New Zealand authors published in 2008 shows that there is a lot of work being done in the genre.

With the exception of science fiction novels by such recognised literary authors as Ian Wedde (Chinese Opera) and Kevin Ireland (The Jigsaw Chronicles), however, most of this work remains unnoticed by the wider New Zealand literary community. The New Zealand science fiction field has its own set of annual awards, the Sir Julius Vogel Awards, and its own annual conventions, but they don't yet make much of a ripple outside the SF community.

Yet there are signs of change. The Royal Society of New Zealand recently instituted its Creative Science Writing prize, which has non-fiction and fiction components; each year's fiction winner is ipso facto a science fiction story. New Zealand's most venerable literary magazine, Landfall, devoted Issue 216 (2008) to the theme of utopias and dystopias, a theme which has long roots in the science fiction tradition.

I got the chance to contribute to this process when I was asked to guest-edit Issue 26 of JAAM magazine. JAAM (Just Another Art Movement) is a Wellington literary magazine that publishes fiction, poetry, and essays. In the call for submissions for Issue 26, I said that I would be giving equal weight to speculative work as to literary work — and I was pleased to receive and publish many good speculative fiction stories, and even more pleased to get some that moved between genres; that were, in other words, interstitial.

[TJ adds: Lots more has happened in the science fiction field in New Zealand since I wrote this article, including the publication of Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, and all the exciting developments that people wrote about in NZ Speculative Fiction Blogging Week.]

6. Conclusion

It's become a cliché to say that we live in a science-fictional world. Many ideas that were the province of science fiction as recently as the 1970s, such as personal communicators and personal computers, are now part of everyday life, while even those science-fictional concepts once derided as impossible have now been demonstrated on a small scale in the lab (teleportation) or are under active development (cloaking devices that render an object invisible at certain wavelengths).

Yet the literary reputation of science fiction, and speculative fiction in general, have not risen in parallel. SF remains a genre walled off from the rest of the literary community, sequestered into its own shelves in bookshops and libraries. Those who love it, love it; those who do not, disregard it. Conversely, many science fiction and fantasy readers disdain literary fiction, finding it too snobbish, too obscure, too slow-moving, and lacking in the virtues of narrative.

The interstitial fiction movement offers the possibility of tearing down this wall, or perhaps, more accurately, tunnelling through it, so that authors from each side cane make unexpected but welcome appearances on the other.

Part of the reason I loved reading science fiction so much when I was a teenager and young adult was that it was all about ideas and story. My English teachers wanted me to appreciate characterisation, and style, and thematic subtlety, but what I wanted was a story I could immerse myself in, characters I could identify with and some thought-provoking ideas about the nature of the universe to take away with me.

Interstitial fiction can offer the best of both worlds: story, but also style; characters, but also concepts. I hope this article encourages you to seek out work in this new and fluid field.


Aldiss, B., with Wingrove, D. (1986). Trillion Year Spree. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd.

Clute, J., & Nicholls, P. (1995). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. New York: St. Martin's Griffin.

Fenkl, H. (2003). The Interstitial DMZ. Interstitial Arts Foundation. http://www.interstitialarts.org/why/the_interstitial_dmz_1.html. Viewed on 12 March 2009.

23 November 2009

Book Review: Watching For Smoke, by Helen Heath

Sometimes, you can judge a book by its cover.

Paekakariki poet Helen Heath's chapbook Watching for Smoke, recently published by Seraph Press and available from Seraph Press or on Etsy, is a beautiful package both inside and out, with its card cover featuring an inserted knitting needle and its coloured and textured end-papers.

The epigraph to Watching for Smoke is:

Family is a waiting fuse
watching for smoke.

Family is the subject of these poems: partners, children, parents, seen from the point of view of a daughter, a lover, a parent. Parents are ambiguously loved figures, sometimes too close, sometimes too far away, their lives brought into perspective by their daughter's giving birth to and caring for children of her own:

The hills are my father
with a shotgun
as I write you a letter. ("Evidence")

my mother's brow, her heavy lids,
there, in my new daughter.
I am home now and she will leave me. ("Homing")

I enjoyed the precision of the language and the viewpoint in these poems. The language is subtle, appropriate to the subject matter, well chosen. And the viewpoint is equally precise: each poem takes a stance, while not denying the right of other stances to exist.

"How We Disappear" both ends and summarises the chapbook, its nine short stanzas thumbnails of a woman's life moving through time. I think it's the best poem in "Watching for Smoke", but I enjoyed each of the eleven poems, and only one, "Infallible Father", did not quite possess the satisfying completeness which is a hallmark of the other ten.

You've probably gathered by now that I like "Watching for Smoke" a lot. It has been produced in a limited edition of 100 hand-bound copies. There are copies still available. I recommend that you get one soon, and watch out for Helen Heath's first full collection when it appears.

17 November 2009

Wellington Essay: Close To The Edge

This article appeared in the Dominion Post's Wellington Essay series in December 2007. It makes me think of summer.

Nothing stays the same on Mount Victoria. The pines through which I walk with my son weren't here in 1930 and won't be here in 2030. On one side of the Mount Victoria ridge, the Basin Reserve used to be a swamp. On the other, Miramar used to be an island. Film crews come and go. Mountain bikes race by. Tracks narrow or widen, appear or disappear.

But things stay the same long enough that I have been walking these tracks for more than twenty years, and I hope to walk them for many more years yet. When I still lived in Dunedin, I used to visit Wellington several times a year, and stay with a friend who lived in Hataitai. Young, fit, and skint, I chose to walk over the hill into town rather than take the bus. From the heights of Mount Victoria, I began to get a sense of how Wellington was put together.

In 1993, I moved to Wellington to be with Kay, who owned a house high on the slopes of Mount Victoria. I had been a tramper down south, taking off with friends during the Christmas holidays for a week of sandflies, speargrass, and sensational views in and around the Southern Alps. Despite my best intentions, I did not take up tramping again after I moved to Wellington; but I did get very familiar with the track network that runs from the coast at Oriental Bay, around the flanks of Mount Victoria, and south past Wellington Zoo towards Island Bay.

Our son was born in 1996. By the time he was eighteen months old, I was taking him with me to the lower slopes of Mount Victoria, next to the quarry at the top of Ellice Street. I'd carry him in my arms, then put him down carefully on a level section of track to watch him waddle in front of me until he either sat down with a well-cushioned bump or called for me to pick him up.

By the time he was four, we were venturing well off into the distance, even making it all the way to the Mount Victoria lookout on one memorable occasion. (Memorable, but tiring – I carried him much of the way back.) We came up with our own names for the tracks, like the Ball and Sport Track, so-called because a tennis ball placed at the top would roll straight down it, and sport is where you use balls. I think he came up with that one.

He attended Hataitai Kindergarten and then Kilbirnie School. When I was working from home, I'd drag myself away from my computer at 2.45pm and slog over the hill to get him, then we'd walk back at a more leisurely pace.

The view from above the pines of Mount Victoria

Changes followed us down the years. When we started, the forest airspace was ruled by magpies. Since then, they have been challenged and largely supplanted by the equally aggressive but much more lovable tui, colonists from Karori. We witnessed the unchecked proliferation of the mountain bike, and learned to listen hard when walking along narrow tracks with no easy stepping-off places for the sudden whir of wheels.

Our path to Kilbirnie School went up and to the right of the quarry at the top of Ellice Street which is now immortalised in both The Fellowship Of The Ring and The Return Of The King. Anorak time: in Fellowship, there's a brief shot, taken from above, of the Black Riders approaching Weathertop. The ground they are crossing is the grassed quarry floor, with some added vegetation brought in for the filming.

More famously, in Return, the quarry is the setting for the muster of the Rohirrim before they ride off to the aid of Gondor. Elrond bears the sword Andúril to Aragorn there, and when Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli set off to walk the Paths of the Dead, they do so through a narrow chasm created in the back wall of the quarry by the magic of CGI.

By special permission, the film-makers were allowed to dig a trench in the quarry floor. My son and I looked at it, wondering what it was doing there and where it led. It was not until we watched Return that we learned it was the beginnings of a track the Riders of Rohan rode down on their way to Gondor.

A few days after the trench was dug, as we descended past the quarry on our way home from my son's school, a friendly security guard let us stay and watch Théoden and Aragorn stare out from the quarry over the Muster of Rohan and decide that six thousand spears left them a mite short-handed.

Where is the horse and the rider? Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing? The trench the Riders rode down was filled in soon after filming finished, and only a careful eye can see the faint depression it has left in the restored earth of the quarry floor.

After the Ring left Mount Victoria, the next peak of excitement was the arrival of the Wood Weta. As part of its plan to revegetate the Town Belt with native plants, and to reduce danger from windfall, the City Council decided to cut down the mature pines that dominated the slopes above the old Chest Hospital where my mother-in-law had once been a nurse. The Wood Weta was brought in to deal with the twigs and small branches left behind when the chainsaws fell silent. My son and I sat at one end of Alexandra Park and watched the monster wood chipper chomp its way through the detritus at the other.

In the long term, all the pines will be gone, and native forest will once again cloak the flanks of Matairangi. On an intellectual level, I'm in complete agreement with this plan. But, if I live long enough to see the process complete, part of me will miss the pines. The soughing of the north-westerly through their branches, audible from our back deck on windy nights; the roots setting traps for the unwary walker; even the risk of having one's head split open by a falling pinecone or a falling branch on windy days: I'll miss them all. But if the native bush returns, and the pests are kept at bay, the birds will return also. Mount Victoria may never reproduce the wall of sound that is the dawn chorus on Kapiti, but the tui have whetted my appetite for more.

Nothing stays the same on Mount Victoria. The mountain itself will be dust one day. But while I can, I'll keep on striding those narrow, root-riddled tracks, dodging the mountain bikes, listening to the tui, walking above the city and under the sun.

12 November 2009

Under Government and Restraint: An Interview With David Howard

UPDATE: An extended version of this interview will appear in the Journal of New Zealand Literature during the first quarter of 2010.

After serving as a pyrotechnics supervisor for acts such as Metallica and Janet Jackson, David Howard retired to Purakanui in order to write. His collaboration with photographer Fiona Pardington, How To Occupy Our Selves, was published in 2003. A draft of the opening poem "There You Go" featured in Best New Zealand Poems 2002; the full text was set for mezzosoprano, narrator and piano trio by the Czech composer Marta Jirackova. "The Harrier Suite" appeared in both Best New Zealand Poems 2004 and The Word Went Round (2006).

In 2007 David worked with Brina Jez-Brezavscek on a sound installation, The Flax Heckler, in northern Slovenia. On 18 September 2009 soprano Judith Dodsworth premiered Johanna Selleck's setting of his lyric "Air, Water, Earth Meld" at Melba Hall in Melbourne; a recording is planned for release by Move Records later this year. David's texts for composers are collected in the limited edition S(t)et (Gumtree Press). His poetry has been translated into German, Italian, Slovene and Spanish.

David, I hope I'm not being unfair when I say that your profile as a poet is comparatively low within New Zealand, despite your impressive track record. On the other hand, you have worked extensively with overseas artists. Is the international aspect of your collaborative work a matter of choice, necessity, or a little of both?

Profile, which is periodically if irregularly the consequence of talent, is determined by third parties who are immovable objects before the irresistible force of authorial ego. I prefer pyrotechnics and production management to talking about words; my modest profile reflects my immodest choices.

Choice is, in part, the acceptance of necessity. I can't regret working with the All Blacks or touring with Metallica, so I can't regret the invitations that never came to present my poems – nor can I deny that I'd have enjoyed such invitations. Am I saying that the book world is like a classroom where the noisiest pupil gets the most attention? Only on Black Fridays – although a talent for self-promotion naturally turns heads and gets bums on seats. There's no conspiratorial mystery here. Despite my physical absence, I've enjoyed ten fifteen twenty years of respectful reviewing. It began with Kendrick Smithyman:

David Howard’s poems are accompanied by photographs from Paul Swadel. These are formidably sophisticated. They may make you doubt that you are intellectually up to them. The poems may have a similar effect at first, certainly a sense of shock, an uncommon astonishment at the extraordinary poise which is part and parcel of these usually quite short pieces. They are admirably judged, they last long enough to get their various effects but not longer. A certain authority matched with an appreciable intelligence, a body of information used with taste guides the reader into puzzling and on to delight, under government and restraint . . . Howard’s collection comes from 10 years, 1980-1990, his twenties. It should be exciting seeing what he produces in his 30s. (Auckland Sunday Star, 30 June 1991)

And it continues with the younger generation of Richard Reeve, Anna Livesey, Emma Neale and Kapka Kassabova:

David Howard is a mystery figure on our poetic landscape. Sparse in his output, virtually invisible to the media and involved for the last few years in staging entertainment shows around the world as a pyrotechnician, he belongs to an endangered species: the truly independent artist who remains quietly active throughout the years… In poems like ‘Care of the Commanding Officer’, ‘Cain’, ‘On the Eighth Day’, ‘Dove’, ‘To Cavafy’, to name but a few, the cerebral blends with the visceral with a brilliant lightness of touch. (New Zealand Listener, 2-8 Feb 2002)

So it’s valorizing crap to quote Hofmannsthal, ‘Die andern wollten mich daheim zu ihrem Spiel,/ Mich aber freut es so, fur mich allein zu sein.’ (‘The others wanted me to join them in their games,/ But to roam freely and alone is what I like.’) The latter is true but if I haven't been invited to join then it's partly due to my curiosity for exploring the byways of elsewhere.

Like everyone else, I need to work with people who are interested in what I do. After all, the faithless man discards himself. For me collaboration is a halfway house between the private ideal and public service. Perhaps it’s a corollary to the pastoral/urban tension, with genre rather than geography providing the frame.

Shebang, by David Howard, on Trout

Having happily collaborated with artists Paul Swadel, Jason Greig, Fiona Pardington, Kim Pieters and Garry Currin I wanted a more compressed, essential process so my interest shifted to music. Who? Anthony Ritchie has creditably set poets but I don't like his music. I'd like to like it however, as philosopher Alan Musgrave points out, we don't choose our likes or dislikes, nor do we choose our beliefs. So far I’ve worked with three composers: Marta Jirackova of the Czech Republic, Brina Jez-Brezavscek of Slovenia, and Johanna Selleck of Australia.

When most of my contemporaries (and potential listeners) are rocking backwards and forwards to variants of popular song, why am I attracted to the art song, oratorio and songspiel? The latest hit song gives us the liberty to be superficially involved but still enjoy; it is the artistic corollary of casual sex. A contemporary classical piece demands commitment before it surrenders its charms. Karlheinz Stockhausen, speaking about Stimmung, asserted: 'One listens to the inner self of the sound, the inner self of the harmonic spectrum, the inner self of a vowel, the inner self.' I hear that as a Kantian challenge to respect the autonomy of whatever and whoever. Each of my collaborators has the modesty of one who understands ‘the fascination of what’s difficult' (Yeats). They care more for the material than for attention; otherwise why set a poet from New Zealand? Marta's answer: ‘I see that it is a country of miracles.‘

Reading Richard Reeve's 2002 interview with you in Deep South, I got a strong impression that you are largely out of sympathy with the current state of poetic practice in New Zealand – both with much of the poetry being produced by individual poets, and with the infrastructure by which poetry is published, reviewed, and brought to the attention of its potential audience. Is that fair comment, and have your views changed since 2002?

As the view has got darker (it must have, look at all those stars!) so have my views. But I've been lucky enough not to wake up a curmudgeon who is bruised by youthful failure. I still smile at the horizon as I sip coffee that is stronger than my attraction to the NASDAQ. When I arrive at my desk I find the draft of a literary quiz; it begins 'Which top or leading New Zealand poet is the subject of these lines?'

Because his subsidy comes from the State
For teaching self-expression to the masses
In jails, nut-houses; worse, in grad-school classes
In which his sermon is (his poems show it)
That anyone can learn to be a poet.
With pen in hand he takes the poet's stance
To write, instead of sonnets, sheaves of grants
Which touch the bureaucrats and move their hearts
To turn the spigot on and flood the arts
With cold cash, carbon copies, calculators,
And, for each poet, two administrators.
In brief, his every effort at creation
Is one more act of self-perpetuation
To raise the towering babble of his Reputation.

Small wonder that his subject matter's taken
From the one sphere in which his faith's unshaken
As, fearful of offending powers that be,
He turns his gaze within, exalts the Me,
And there, neither with wit nor with discretion,
Spews forth page after page of mock-confession
Slightly surreal, so private, so obscure
That critics classify his work as "pure"
Because, in digging through the endless chatter,
They can't discern what is the subject matter,
And so, instead of saying they don't get it,
They praise the "structure" they invent to fit it.
He has no fear, for when his work's reviewed
Friends do it; thus, he's never gotten screwed.
He'll do the same for them, and they remain
Pals in the literary daisy-chain
Where every year, like Hallowe'en surprises,
They pass each other fellowships and prizes,
Include each other in anthologies
And take their greedy cuts from poetry's moldy cheese.

You’re wrong, it's not Bill Manhire. But your inference makes my point. I hear you clear your throat. Of course the question was unfair – a low blow intended to double up the reader, albeit with laughter. That excerpt is from The Narcissiad (Cedar Rock Press, 1981) by the American satirist R.S. Gwynn so the situation described is typical rather than particular. Typical of what? An institutionalised poetry scene such as has developed here over the last three decades.

When Richard Reeve interviewed me after my return to the mainland I affirmed that the first responsibility of an institution is to export its values, its valuations, in order to extend its longevity and therefore make more money. The imperative is economic rather than poetic. This means that statements by the representatives of institutions should be viewed as propaganda regardless of their truth quotient. In other words, whether the statements are true or not, their primary purpose is to impress rather than inform. The IIML is infamous for referring to itself as famous; the frequency of repetition is Orwellian yet commercially irreproachable.

Institutional or not, we do seem desperate to puff up our chests and strut like roosters across a painfully small backyard. Even the finest suffer. When Andrew Johnston asserts that Manhire is ‘our best poet’ then I hear Johnston's ambition rather than Manhire's achievement, which is (brilliantly) derivative and acknowledged as such by him. Curnow's polished poems appear to have been written primarily so they (and their author) could be admired, while Baxter insists on repeating stage directions out loud. Karl Stead (institution and iconoclast in one) is the world authority on C.K. Stead; we learn this by reading any recent essay by him irrespective of its stated topic. In an age when reviewers crib press releases, assertion of will is a determinant of reputation (it was Dan Davin who mentioned 'the plasticine of truth') but evangelical self-regard is rather different to the verdict(s) of history.

Look back a century – what most people believed then is not what their descendents believe now. Future generations will have a plurality of responses to today’s poetry, responses that will negotiate the leverage of today’s institutions and discard authorial special pleading. Who knows what will settle where and for how long? Our superior collections have had mixed fates: Michele Leggott’s Dia deservedly won the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry, whereas Graham Lindsay’s stringent The Subject was sidelined. Both books were published by Auckland University Press in 1994 so imprint, release date, publicity and distribution were comparable and therefore neutral factors. Admittedly, as a Christchurch resident, Lindsay was disadvantaged – and this despite the presence of literary historian Mark Williams who, like a colonial functionary, looked to the main chance of Wellington.

Tim, since you speak Russian, here's an instance where the main chance was a missed chance. This example avoids the prickly pear of reputation; instead it squeezes the lemon of ignorance. Had Williams put down Sport long enough to browse the Christchurch journal Takahe, which I co-founded in 1989, then he could have read the editorial of Takahe 3 (Autumn 1990) by Tatyana Shcherbina and R.V. Smirnow. "The New Zealand Project", an open letter sponsored by 42 Russian signatories, called for an autonomous laboratory of new artists, asserting:

The geographical place where this autonomous laboratory will meet the new age, and perhaps be realised in its integrity, we call New Zealand. This is a land out of fairy-tales, belonging to the Queen of Great Britain and to God in equal measure, islands at the «end of the world» which, compared with the rest of the world, are governed with more ecological sensitivity, which have preserved a culture and a political purity that quite miraculously turn out to be parallel, new and independent in relation to the rest of the world. So it is to this country that we would like to present our computer-bucolic project of a community of free people.

Williams could have looked through Curtainless Windows: Contemporary Russian Writing (Takahe 5, Spring 1990), discovering poems from Mikhail Aizenberg, Tatyana Shcherbina, Alexandra Sozonova, Ludmila Stokowska, and Sergey Stratanovsky – all translated by J. Kates, whose Zepyhr Press published The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova (1990). He would have learnt that the Cyrillic alphabet abbreviates 'emergency ration' to 'N.Z.', but for Shcherbina

N.Z. is now only New Zealand.
Once it made me think of emergency rations,
I mean, a touch of the commie state – not its ill-wishers
but its orphans (that obscene look never wears thin)
a touch ever more unfeeling, without strands of wool
on its pelt, nor birthmarks.
You can love a hag's eyes and touch eyelids
where the eyelashes have fallen out, white and iris –
shot off into space at an enemy.
Only a single husk left over, a foil
with the superficial depth of a hologram.
You can scrutinize it, and wait until it revives,
skewer it on a Finnish knife –
the way spectators got into silent movies,
now that N.Z. is an antique canvas.

In America this material was commended by the likes of Marilyn Hacker, who wrote of Mikhail Aizenberg: 'American readers are introduced to the work of an important contemporary Russian poet, whose world-view and aesthetic will seem at once welcome in its otherness and pertinently familiar… In J. Kates' translations, these poems have a new and discrete life in English.' But not a life our scholars share – there's no acknowledgement in either Mark Williams’ introduction or Gregory O'Brien's preface to Land of Seas: An Anthology of New Zealand Poetry (with E. Pavlov, Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2005).

Perhaps this is forgiveable; their task was to showcase New Zealand poets to Russian readers, not to catalogue contacts. But Landfall 213: Russia (OUP, 2007) shows that a history missed is a history rewritten. What are we to make of the failure by Jacob Edmond, Gregory O'Brien, Evgeny Pavlov and Ian Wedde to recognise a direct precursor, "The New Zealand Project"? They are scholars not enthusiasts rapping in a back yard as the barbecue spits. How can an essay entitled "No Place like Home: Encounters between New Zealand and Russian Poetries" fail to cite (to sight) the Kates’ translations, which also appeared in Takahe 15 (Winter 1993), especially when Edmond discusses the samizdat issue (Leningrad, 1989) of the open letter? [To be fair, when I directed his attention to this he was enthusiastic and apologetic.]

It's simple. When there's a lot of noise from one direction then heads naturally turn that way. Scholars of contemporary poetry look to Wellington with good reason. The obligation is not on the IIML/VUP/Sport nexus to quieten down, but on scholars to explore elsewhere before drawing conclusions. Too often when they turn their backs on the capital it's to use a Claude glass. Rita Angus’ absurdist quip from 1947: ‘New Zealand is, in essence, medieval' could be whimsically applied today, with Bill Manhire our urbane Aristotle: an influential teacher, a model of professional generosity, whose centrality is simultaneously inspiring and an obstacle to seeing clearly.

Perhaps, all said and nothing done, I have woken up as a curmudgeon. If I think of New Zealand poetry then I think of a schoolchild in the front row, arms tightly folded, seeing no one but the registered teacher. If I think of, say, Arabic or Spanish poetry then I think of a schoolchild in the back row, arms wide open, looking over dozens of others, perhaps adopting this one's posture but that one's gesture then abandoning both. And I know that Arabic and Spanish are greater for engaging with an overt subject rather than pirouetting on a pinhead, which is the indulgence of the privileged. I can't regard the cynical non-poetry of Damien Wilkins as more deserving than that of the committed Bill Sewell, who wrote to Iain Lonie: 'no doubt/ the palace seems full of intruders.’

Again based on your interview with Richard Reeve, you are not enamoured of the role of artists within a capitalist system…

Privilege and barbarism should be strangers; instead they are close relatives. Capitalism is that procedure whereby we sanctify greed. When our politicians reinforce the imperative of ‘economic growth’ they are enlarging the cathedral – in order to maintain the cemetery out back. Poetry is what marks the headstones and honours those below. It is antipathetic to systems. William Morris offers the consolation, but also the impotence, of hope: ‘It is not this or that...machine which we want to get rid of, but the great intangible machine of commercial tyranny which oppresses the lives of all of us' (Art and Its Producers, 1881).

Privation magnifies appetite, but so does abundance. Whether blue or white, New Zealanders are greedy (once, say 10.47am on 17 June 1996, even I was greedy). We consume well above our share, and we go into debt to do so. That can’t last, nor should we try to make it last. Dr Megan Clark (CSIRO) warns that 'in the next fifty years, we will need to produce as much food as we have ever produced in the entire human history.' How? Our lifestyle is founded and founders upon impossible assumptions, our arts are regarded by administrators (who should know better) as consumables, and more people ask themselves 'When Madonna adopts an orphan does she get stretchmarks?' than worry over global warming.

I'm too worn to believe that the lyric fosters intimacy beyond a one-on-one reading – it's not a blueprint for unity between people(s). But I recall Charles Brasch’s early pointer:

…the arts do not exist in a void. They are products of the individual imagination and at the same time social phenomena; raised above the heat and dust of everyday life, and yet closely implicated in it. Any serious consideration of them is bound to involve an inquiry into their place in society and the social functions which they fulfil – what part they play in life, what use they are. This in turn must lead sooner or later to questions about society itself and what it exists for, and, eventually, about the nature of man. (Landfall 1:1, March 1947)

After reading material from the winners of the seven literary prizes highlighted this week, I have to ask: Did we wean ourselves from an imperial motherland in order to suck the tit of free market globalization? Following New Zealand's political reorientation, our poetry has turned from British to American (rather than indigenous) models. This is change but not the liberation that many claim.

Yes, this is a young country – but that doesn't mean we have to trumpet the infantile. Perhaps the reward of sentiment and bathos is one indicator of our exhausting immaturity as a literature. Reading Jenny Bornholdt's The Rocky Shore, which is anecdote leached of the life it purports to honour, I recall Christopher Lasch's warning: 'The record of the inner life becomes an unintentional parody of inner life. A literary genre that appears to affirm inwardness actually tells us that inner life is precisely what can no longer be taken seriously.' E.M. Cioran is sharper and blunter: 'art, on its way to exhaustion, has become both impossible and easy.' There's an ocean of talk but no one is walking on water. I take pleasure and hope from those prepared to ask harder questions than 'How much attention?' and 'How much?' Sally Ann McIntyre and Robert McLean, both of whom have yet to publish collections, can think and write beyond the obvious.

I remain a naturally reclusive character who, politically, is committed to the notion of community. There are many ways to approach that notion. For the poet Thomas James, whose stony tenderness I admire, it was through the theatre of extremity. You might write yourself into a corner, yet a corner is also a social place.

It's my impression that some poets are writing primarily for an audience – writing to be heard, or read – whereas others are writing primarily for themselves. Do you think there is any truth in this distinction, and if so, which "camp" would you put yourself in?

Logically it’s possible to do both simultaneously. It depends on your temperament. You need to be extroverted to work the populist (rather than the public) vein with integrity. An audience may be the intended but it is not the only beneficiary of fine writing. Here some poets proceed, filled with a rather bumptious enthusiasm, on the basis that they are required to entertain primarily rather than secondarily – and they do violence to their work by trying to be stand-up comedians. They may be praised for a gritty accessibility (Tuwhare, Colquhoun, Camp) but, after picking up their collections, my fingers are left sticky because the appeal is often sentimental. I don’t feel either capable or obligated to enter the bun fight for popularity so I suppose I write for my self.

If I attend then language will provide entry points for that silence which is the reservoir of the reader's memory – although I know it is impossible to reach let alone satisfy an undifferentiated mass. 'I write for the people' is meaningless, whereas 'I write for the person' means a good deal. Like many others I attempt to make sense of the senseless, to move with purpose through the arbitrary, to learn from instances of hate how to rage my way into the impassioned calm that is love. You don't have to be a poet to do this. A gardener might have more success. But poetry is my method and my madness. Because language is social then I necessarily have a social vision – it's not coherent but it is motivating.

More generally, why do you write poetry?

Poetry is a way of knowing. My poems work to limit the claims of pathos as they announce them.

You have previously worked as a pyrotechnics technician and SFX supervisor for acts including Janet Jackson and Metallica. Has it left traces on your poetry?

Pyrotechnics promised a wider collaboration with the musical, sporting and entrepreneurial worlds than was possible in literary New Zealand. While visceral, fireworks are impersonal and I wanted clear of the word writer. Perhaps my poems had come, like the trees of Birnam Wood, to rout the person who owned them. I withdrew from the submission-publication-review cycle. I fell silent, only it didn't feel like falling.

What then? Kenosis. Fireworks were and are part of that challenge to empty. They appear to dominate the sky but it’s a percussive illusion; they get their power through surrendering to the night. By vanishing they stay with us. Seeing is not believing; belief comes after the seeing, when you’re gazing at black. And with poetry you have to listen for what’s not there. An attentive listener knows the word partners something larger than a dictionary definition. On tour, rigging in gantries, then smoking at four in the morning under security lights rather than the moon – it all helped me to weigh silence.

Designing fireworks displays, articulating space, gave me the strength to attempt longer poems: I was now confident of my ability to structure the unseen, the becoming. How? If site provides context then fireworks don’t so much map as transcend it because they take the viewer into an apprehension of the eternal through the momentary. The report of a launching charge is more than a deafening report on experience. Exposed by the exploding shell, perhaps site is akin to the light-sensitive paper that photographs are printed on – but a paper that has not been treated with fixative. When the spreading charge transforms common chemicals into uncommon effects, then the audience participates more than the pyrotechnician. No exposure matches that of the spirit – it cannot be captured. After all, is this so different from what happens with language? Words turn around the world, searching the pockets of discarded jackets for secrets. See, here is a piece of crumpled paper. It is the charred casing of a star shell.

If it were possible, would you want to be a full-time poet?

A poet is like an alcoholic: dry or wet, he remains one until he runs out of time. My maternal grandfather and uncle both died at 61. They were only 11 years older than I am now. I’d like the opportunity they never got to work uninterrupted. So many poems have been lost because of my peripatetic history, however I’m still writing. I’m conscious of the sustained silence of talented poets like Rob Allan, Julia Allen, Blair French, Brian Garrett and Michael Mintrom; also of the passing of Michael August, Iain Lonie, Joanna Paul, Nancy Ragland and Bill Sewell. I wear a ring which was made in Moesia shortly after the death of Ovid. Whenever I'm worried by trivia I admire the bezel. It tells me that I have all the time in the world, which is no time at all.


Freighters destabilized by their cargo,
poets nose into the bar
and take on water.
The resigned smile of a lemon slice;
the parasol that drags like an anchor.
What a to do
now there's nothing to be done.


The strength of the current
measureless, everyone was swept
off - even the historian
before he could take note.
You never know muttered Mum,
tucking in her skirts
as the sun came up for air.


Too ridiculous alluding to Odysseus:
One man they hate and another they love...
The terror of being
overlooked, the pleasure of obscurity
balance on a blade of grass
moved by sharp gusts rather than gods
who are edgy yet blunt.


You can't take the faces with you
but they come. No miracle
on the road, just haze
and the dust ahead, although
direction is neither here nor there.
The signposts are left-overs:
Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae, Disneyland.

UPDATE FROM TIM: This interview has sparked off a very interesting discussion on Ross Brighton's blog. Worth checking out!

09 November 2009

A Wonder-Filled, Fun Journey Through Time And Space

Linda Addison's review of Voyagers has appeared in Issue 109 of Space and Time Magazine. It's short, but so sweet that I'm quoting it here in its entirety:

Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, edited by Mark Pirie and Tim Jones (Interactive Press, The Literature Series) contains 152 pages of poetry by various authors; a wonder-filled, fun journey through time and space. From ‘the poetry of the future’ by Anna Rugis; to ‘lumbering space cruisers’ from Bill Sewell; and ‘Dreams of Alien Love’ from Dana Bryce. There are too many to quote here, buy the book and off you’ll go.

Thank you, Linda! If you haven't yet embarked on this exciting journey, there are lots of ways you can do so:

  • Directly from me (within NZ). I now have a limited number of copies for sale for $28 plus $2 p&p. If you'd like one, please email senjmito@gmail.com with your address and preferred payment method.

  • From an increasing range of bookshops. Unity Books (Wellington and Auckland), Bruce MacKenzie Books in Palmerston North, Madras Cafe Books in Christchurch, and the University Book Shop in Dunedin all have copies, or can take your order if stock has run out.

  • From the publisher.

  • From Amazon.com (in paperback and Kindle e-book formats).

  • From Fishpond.

  • From New Zealand Books Abroad.

  • From Small Press Distribution in the USA.

05 November 2009

Fallen / Niedergang

A couple of years ago, a poem from my first collection, Boat People, was selected for inclusion in Wildes Licht, an anthology of New Zealand poetry with German translations, edited by Dieter Riemenschneider.

I was pleased not only because it always feels good to have work anthologised, but also because I have an interest in literary translation, and a particular liking for books which have the original on one page and the translation on the facing page.

Subsequently, however, due to a change in publishing arrangements, the manuscript had to be shortened, and mine was one of the poems cut. I was disappointed about this, but since Mark Pirie and I had undergone exactly the same process while finding a publisher for Voyagers, I recognised that this is just one of the realities of the publishing process.

Dieter was kind enough to send me the translation of "Fallen" that would have appeared in "Wildes Licht", and give me permissions to publish it here. The print version has some indentation which didn't work well online, but that apart, here are "Fallen" and its German translation, "Niedergang".


Driving through Mandeville. Empty windows, empty houses,
a craft shop sprung like fungus from the bones of the dying town.

The cenotaph stands roadside. Blunt, unwearied,
it commends to our attention the names of the anxious dead.

They grew, these Southland towns, on the graves
of the children of Tane. Mandeville, Riversdale -
Myross Bush, Ryal Bush, Gummies‘ …

the land groaned with the weight of their money.
As the tribes were pushed to the margins, fat lambs
grew fatter. Knives flashed cold on the chains;
eels tumbled and writhed over offal.

Now, thistles nod in the hard-pan fields. Children
are a letter from the city, a ten-hour drive at Easter.
The wealth
went with them. No mirror glass monuments here.

But the Council keeps the graveyard clean; and our dust
settles impartially
on the sign: “Country Crafts - Buy Here!”
and the sign that their dead live on, and will do so, chiselled in stone,
till new trees and new ferns drag them down.


Eine Fahrt durch Mandeville. Hohle Fenster, leere Häuser,
ein Kunstgewerbeladen wie ein Pilz aus den Knochen der sterbenden Stadt entsprungen.

Das Ehrenmal am Straßenrand. Plump, unermüdlich
empfiehlt es uns, sich der Namen der Toten zu erinnern.

Sie wuchsen, diese Südlandstädte, auf den Gräbern
der Kinder Tanes. Mandeville, Riversdale –
Myross Bush, Ryal Bush, Gummies’ …
das Land stöhnte unter der Last ihres Geldes.
Während die Stämme an den Rand gedrängt wurden,
setzten fette Lämmer mehr Fett an. Messer blitzten kalt an den Ketten;
Aale wandten und stürzten sich auf die Innereien.

Jetzt nicken Disteln auf den pfannentrockenen Feldern. Kinder
sind ein Brief aus der Stadt, eine Zehnstundenfahrt an
Ostern. Der Wohlstand
zog mit ihnen fort. Keine Spiegelglassdenkmäler hier.

Doch der Stadtrat hält den Friedhof sauber; und unser Staub
senkt sich unbefangen
auf das Schild 'Einheimisches Kunstgewerbe –
hier zu kaufen!' und das Schild, dass die Toten weiter leben und weiter leben werden,
in Stein gemeisselt,
bis neue Bäume
und Farn sie niederziehen werden.

01 November 2009

IP Picks and Landfall Sings

Here's a couple of items of market information I thought were well worth sharing: a competition for unpublished manuscripts from Australia and New Zealand, and submission details for the next issue of Landfall: the Music issue, to be edited by Bill Direen.

Part 1: IP Picks

Interactive Press (IP), the publishers of Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, hold an annual competition for unpublished manuscripts in five categories. This year, the competition is open to New Zealanders as well as Australians.

The basic details are below. For more, including details of the winners from 2009 and previous years, and the download links for the entry form etc, please see IP Picks.

IP Picks: Writing Competition for Unpublished Manuscripts

Now looking ahead to its ninth year in 2010 the IP Picks Awards provide guaranteed royalty publication to the best book-length manuscript in five categories: Best Fiction, Best Creative Non-fiction, Best Poetry, Best Junior Fiction or Non-fiction, Best First Book.

First Place Winners of each category are awarded pulication. Highly Commended entrants are given a short reader's report valued at $249, offering editorial advice on how to improve the manuscript. Commended entrants will receive a summary of the judging panel's report on their entries. There is no guarantee of publication for Highly Commended or Commended entrants.

The competition is open to citizens and residents of Australia and New Zealand.

The Fiction category is for manuscripts up to 80,000 words and can include short story collections, short novels and novels written for young adults and/or adults. Any form of fiction is eligible, including science fiction and fantasy. [TJ's emphasis]

The Creative Non-fiction category is also for manuscripts up to 80,000 words based on real-life experience and research, but written with literary flair. Biographies, memoirs, travel literature, histories, creative non-fiction for young adults and inspirational self-help books are examples.

New this year, the Junior Fiction and Non-fiction category seeks manuscripts up to 60,000 words. Novels or creative non-fiction works intended for audiences twelve and under are welcome. Picture books are not eligible.

The Poetry category is for complete collections in any sub-genre, including verse novels, verse plays, special forms such as haiku, or a a mixture of forms.

The Best First Book can be in any genre (Young Adult and older), but the author must not have previously had a book-length manuscript (48 A5 pages or longer) published by a recognised national publisher. Authors who have self-published with only local distribution are eligible to enter under this category. There is no age restriction, but if you are under eighteen years of age, you must have a parent or carer co-sign your entry form.

You may enter a single manuscript in two categories, but you have to pay two entry fees.

How Is It Judged?

IP Picks entries are adjudicated in-house by our Editorial Board.

Each entry is blind read by at least two judges. The judges first form a long-list of entries through a ranking system adjudicated by our genre editors. Next, the Board compares entries on their lists and compiles a short list from the rankings. The short-listed entries are read again by the Board, which, at that stage, includes the Director. Finally the Board meets to decide the winners and commended entries. At that meeting, the Board may also recommend that the Director offer publication to certain of the commended entries.

We then contact the winners and commended entrants and post the results on our website in IP eNews, our online newsletter, as well as circulating the results to all State writers centres.

Deadlines and Fees

IP Picks opens on 1 October and closes on 1 December each year. Entry packages must include:
- two printed copies and one digital (on CD or floppy disk) copy of the entry (if you are entering in more than one category, you only need to submit two printed copies and one digital copy to cover both categories).
- a completed entry form - type or print in block letters
- the applicable fee

Download the required Conditions and Entry form in Word format or as a pdf file for further details on the submission procedure and to enter the competition. If you have trouble downloading the form [Adobe Acrobat Reader® required], email us for a copy, or send a self-addressed stamped envelope to IP, Treetop Studio, 9 Kuhler Court, Carindale 4152.

We charge a reading fee, currently set at $66 per entry. This must be included as a cheque or money order, with your entry. Included in the reading fee is an IP title of your choice. If you enter more than one category, you must pay a fee for each entry, and for that you receive an extra title of your choice.

At the time of submission you may also ask to have a short report written on the publishability of your manuscript. The fee for that report is $199 GST-inclusive, or $169 for students or concession card holders (must provide photocopy of student card or concession card).

Part 2: Landfall Sings

Landfall 219
The NZ Music Issue

Guest edited by Bill Direen

New Zealand music has been made with electric guitars, European orchestral instruments, laptops, bones, voices, skin, wood, pvc piping, air, magnetic tape and digital media. For this special Music issue, the editor is seeking work that demonstrates the essential cultural value of music and ways of making it in New Zealand. The musical aspect of poetry – phrasing, timing and the insinuation of meaning during performance – is an aspect that creative writers might respond to. Musical aspects of prose – alliterative and rhythmical or structural devices – may carry meaning quite as much as syntactical ones. Also sought are publications on New Zealand music for review, reviews of performances and readings, and writings related to the experience of listening, and especially writing that may consider the role of NZ music and ways of making it in a wider context.

Bill Direen grew up in the sixties surrounded by music and poetry of all sorts, classical, cultural, liturgical, radio pop and solid state rock. He studied electronic music under Douglas Lilburn before concentrating on literature (M.A. Hons, Canterbury University) and developing an independent career as writer and musician.

Landfall 219 will be published May 2010. Submission deadline: January 10 2010. Submissions to: Landfall, Otago University Press, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand. Email correspondence (no submissions, please) to: landfall (at) otago.ac.nz