28 February 2010

Autumn Poetry Readings in Christchurch: Another Great Lineup

Even a streaming cold could not stop me having a great time reading in the 2009 Canterbury Poets Collective Autumn Reading Series. The 2010 lineup has now been announced, and it includes some of my favourite poets. If you live in or near Christchurch, I urge you to get along to one or more of these sessions.

Canterbury Poets present - Poetry in Performance
20th Anniversary Autumn Readings 2010

Open microphone and guest readers

Win a $20 MCB voucher - audience vote for the Best Open Mike Poet each night

Where: Madras Café Bookshop, 165 Madras St - licensed and BYO.

When: Wednesdays, 6.30 pm

How much: $5 entry

The lineup

17 March
Kay McKenzie Cooke, Mary-Jane Grandinetti, David Gregory

24 March Jessica Le Bas, Robert Lumsden, Tom Weston

31 March Chris Price, Marisa Cappetta, Lorraine Ritchie

7 April Michele Leggott, Nick Williamson, Helen Lowe

14 April Rachel Bush, Justine de Spa, Rangi Faith

21 April The Hagley Group with Jeffrey Paparoa Holman and Frankie McMillan. The compère will be Morrin Rout.

28 April Cliff Fell, Alison Denham, Stephanie Grieve

5 May Featuring the Winning Open Mike Poets from the season

25 February 2010

Science Fiction Author Haiku

Although I'm the co-editor of a science fiction poetry anthology, I have a great deal to learn about the many intersections of poetry and science fiction.

Scott Green, a past president of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, sent me a review copy of his ebook anthology Private Worlds: A Revised Atlas, which contains short poems - mainly haiku - about science fiction, fantasy and horror writers and performers. Some of these poems appealed to me more than others, and Scott has kindly allowed me to share a few of my favourites with you.

Le Guin's World

Universe is a forest,
each path full of danger where treasure is sought,
each path full of treasure where danger is sought.

(This makes me think of Ursula Le Guin's The Word for World is Forest, one of the works often cited as an influence of James Cameron's Avatar.)

Lovecraft's World

A cold wind moves
between suns

Leviathans playing obscure
using humanity
in hidden moves.

Sladek's World

Eyes followed him
across the room
on tiny, padded feet.

I like the way in which these poems catch the essence of each author: Ursula Le Guin, H.P. Lovecraft and the sadly under-appreciated John Sladek. If you know your science fiction authors, then I think you'll get quite a bit out of Private Worlds.

The eBook, which is also available in mobipocket format for handheld devices, is available exclusively at Abbott ePublishing online (http://www.abbottepub.com), which is a publisher located in Scott's hometown of Manchester, New Hampshire. It sells for US$2.49.

22 February 2010

An Interview With Bryan Walpert

Bryan Walpert is the author of a book of poetry, Etymology (Cinnamon Press), and a book of short stories, Ephraim's Eyes (Pewter Rose Press), both published in 2009. His poetry, fiction, and/or essays have been published in New Zealand, Australia, the UK, Canada and widely in his native United States. His poems have won a number of awards, including most recently both first and third-equal prizes in the 2007 NZ Poetry Society International Poetry Competition and the James Wright Poetry Award through the Mid-American Review (U.S.) the same year. He won the 2007 Royal Society of New Zealand Manhire Prize in Creative Science Writing for his short story "16 Planets," a story included in Ephraim's Eyes.

A former journalist, he holds an MFA from the University of Maryland-College Park and a PhD in English from the University of Denver. Bryan is a senior lecturer in the School of English & Media Studies of Massey University, where he teaches creative writing. He is the recipient of a national Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority.

Etymology and Ephraim's Eyes are both available through Fishpond, the Nile Bookstore, Amazon.com, the Book Depository, and directly through the publishers: http://www.cinnamonpress.com/titles-poetry.htm and http://www.pewter-rose-press.com/books/ephraims/ephraims.html. They are available as well at Bruce McKenzie's bookstore in Palmerston North.

Bryan, you are known both for your fiction and your poetry. In your writing practice (if that's not too pretentious a term), do you slip frequently between one and the other, or do you focus for long periods on one genre, then switch to the other?

I tend to focus on one or the other. I'm usually writing the genre I'm reading. But that includes non-fiction as well. When I'm writing poetry, I can't imagine why anyone would write anything else. Or for that matter do anything else. When I'm writing fiction, I feel the same about fiction. Perhaps this makes me disloyal. Or fickle. But I think it just goes to show how seductive different kinds of languages can be.

Your short story collection Ephraim's Eyes contains a mixture of science fiction and literary fiction stories. My own experience is that some reviewers and readers find such a mixture disconcerting, while it appeals greatly to others. How have readers and reviewers reacted to the mixture of stories in Ephraim's Eyes?

Are you thinking specifically of "Speculative Geography"? I don't see it as a science fiction story, per se, though. I see that story as simply referring to, or making use of, the SF genre. "Speculative Geography" is about a writer of science fiction, rather than strictly about a science fictional world, though it describes that world. I like playing with genres of all kinds, hence for example "Speckled Hen," which is meant to read a bit like a philosophy essay, and "Word Problems," which plays with math. I've only received a few reviews so far, but no one has had a problem with those elements (as far as I know!).

I've read a couple of reviews of your poetry collection Etymology which suggest that there is a tension in the book between science and humanism. Do you think there is any truth to this?

The tension I see reflected by readers is between emotion and intellect. That is, the idea is that that poetry should be purely the heart—expression—while science engages the head. My own take is that this is a dated and counter-productive view of poetry (and science for that matter). I think poetry is very much an intellectual (or can be an intellectual) engagement with the world (and word). But at the same time, I hope even the science-oriented poems in the collection appeal to the heart. I think for me, as a writer, the way to the heart is often through the head.

Etymology does what it says on the cover: there is, indeed, a strong focus on etymology in the book. Why did you choose to make this a central focus of the collection?

It chose me, I think. It goes back, really, many years. My wife found an etymological dictionary in a used bookstore and handed it to me, knowing my interest in language. Reading the entries—and following one to another—led to some of these poems, including the title poem. That title poem was initially called "Shit." The editor of a journal that accepted the poem suggested changing the title to "Etymology." That led to the title of the book, which shows how important editors are and how collaborative writing is, in the end. The collection gradually took shape, much as a poem does, as one thing echoed another.

What benefits, or disadvantages, have you found in moving from the US to the New Zealand literary environment?

One great benefit has been how much easier it is to get to know other writers; the circle is smaller and the distances shorter, so I've met many writers here whose work I enjoy. Another benefit is the general interest in poetry and literary fiction in New Zealand—it seems to play a large role in the culture here, seems an important part of national identity.

One disadvantage is the difficulty keeping up with new American writing, poetry in particular. Books come out all the time, and I don't get to run across them on the shelf very often. When I get back to the States for visits, I always hungrily browse the shelves at the bookstores. And I don't get to see my writing colleagues in the U.S. very often. I feel increasingly part of two worlds, which is both interesting and challenging.

It is particularly challenging to move to NZ because there is a whole history of literature here—tied in of course with the cultural history—to catch up on. I was asked by a U.S. poetics journal, Reconfigurations, to solicit some NZ poems for an issue and to write a foreword for the group. I was very conscious as I did so of being an immigrant. If anyone's interested, you can find the NZ feature at http://reconfigurations.blogspot.com/2009/11/new-zealand-poetry-poetics.html. You'll need to scroll down for the NZ section.

I had a great time when I visited Palmerston North last year for a poetry reading. Is it important to you to be, or feel, part of a literary scene, or could you work just as happily in splendid isolation?

Palmerston North has a lively writing scene, doesn't it? I think periods of isolation are useful. But from the beginning I've always written in a community—that's part of what graduate poetry workshops offer, for example. And I do like being part of a larger literary environment.

I help to coordinate a literary reading series Massey co-sponsors with the Palmerston North City Library, for example—called Writers Read, it is in its 5th year—because that sort of environment is important for writers, students and the community at large. The community has been incredibly supportive of it, with audiences at times of 200. It helps that we've had such wonderful writers in that series. Listening to writers read their work can often change my relationship with their poems and stories; and it can often be inspiring.

I'm also part of an informal writers group here; it's very useful to get feedback on work. In other words, I do believe that writing in isolation is splendid, but again I do believe that writing in the end is collaborative.

How does being a teacher of creative writing affect your own writing?

That's a good question. It's a bit difficult to pin down, though surely it has an effect. It has sharpened my thinking about writing: What is a poem? What makes it work? What is a story? What should it accomplish? To what extent are my own poems arising from or working against tradition? Beyond that, it's hard to say.

Which writers of fiction and poetry have been most influential on your own work, and which writers do you most enjoy reading?

There have been so many writers who have been influential. But if I were to choose several that, at various stages, have been particularly important to my writing or to my thinking about writing, they would be Philip Levine, Donald Revell, Alan Shapiro, Alice Fulton, Joan Retallack, and David Foster Wallace.

What writing projects do you have on the go at the moment, and where are we next likely to see you in print?

I'm focusing intently now on completing a scholarly book on the intersections of poetry and science, so that's pushed poetry and fiction to the margins for a few months. But I have a second book of poetry completed and submitted to publishers, largely in the U.S. I have a third collection of poetry well underway that is oriented towards New Zealand. And I'm working on a collection of creative non-fiction essays that have to do with poetry and, often, with moving to New Zealand. Watch this space.


Shit: A sibling to schism, its root means
separation, and perhaps we are
severing an unwanted self, hiding
or drowning it or at least distancing

ourselves from mistake or memory.
My grandfather, years before
we released him to the ground,
paid someone to hold him

over the toilet, to pull him to his feet.
The door ajar, I saw him lean
naked on his nurse, who later folded him
against the pillows in his kitchen chair,

emptied. And what to do but fill that void
with his wife’s bread or familiar touch,
a word that once meant a bell striking,
as if a caress rang a pitch that might

connect us to what we were before we split
the infinite with language—me, wife, earth
words to name and know ourselves as parts.
When we part, we say farewell

(fare a word for food) or good-bye,
which once meant God be with you.

18 February 2010

Men Briefly Explained

Men Briefly Explained is the working title of the poetry collection I'm currently putting together - which, when published, will be my third collection, after Boat People (2001) and All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens (2007). The poems in it are all about men in some way, even those that aren't.

My long-haul task at the moment is to take the manuscript of the novel I completed drafting over the Christmas holidays and polish the rough edges off it so that it glows like a bridesmaid's dress. Though with less ruffles.

But in other nooks and crannies of my life, I'm wrangling the poetry collection into shape. I now have all - or nearly all - the poems I plan to include, some still in rough draft form, others finished, or as near to finished as poems ever get. The tough part is to organise them to best advantage. Should there be four sections, or three? Which section is it best to start with?

The poems in All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens mainly date from the period 2001-2005. Some of the poems in the new collection have been with me since before ABKG was published, while others are a few weeks old. I need to make sure that I'm equally comfortable with all of them; I need to finalise the newer poems and send them out into the world in a brief adolescence, to see whether they can find homes as individual poems before I call them back home; and I need to make those final decisions about what goes where.

All that may take a while - and then there is the little matter of getting the collection published - but I am hopeful that, should you or someone you know require a brief explanation of men, one will be forthcoming in the not too distant future.

As a taster, here is one of the poems I plan to include. It was published in the first issue of Enamel magazine, and some more of the poems to be included in Men Briefly Explained will be appearing in the second issue.

The Penciller

She stares up through the ceiling,
sees your hand descend.
You trace the outline of her lover:
the commander, disheartened,
has started sleeping with her troops again.

You draw the beloved form, face
now spent with sex and sweat. You want to add
what you can never have: a few curved lines,
a niche of hair. But she’s too strong.
She tugs the sheet above her breasts.

Rebuffed, you pencil in the floor.
Bras, panties, a discarded teddy: night
of passion and disorder. The two of them curved together
like spoons, like swords, like last night’s impulse
surviving into morning.

15 February 2010

All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens Takes The New Zealand Reading Challenge

Book blogger and librarian Tosca (aka Catatonia, aka @catatonichic on Twitter) recently decided it was time she read more New Zealand books, and embarked on her New Zealand books resolution.

The third book on her list was my second poetry collection, All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens. I waited anxiously to see what she'd think of it - though I was cheered by the news that, as she read it on the bus home, a fellow passenger had started reading over her shoulder. But in the event, I needn't have worried: she liked it a lot!

Tosca's full review is on the Manukau Libraries blog, and here is the first paragraph:

A delightful find! This title is a collection of poems covering a variety of topics that are funny, sad, political, reflective, about culture and life, nature, love, relationships - you name it and it's here, it's fresh and it's evocative.

I'm working on the poems for my third poetry collection at present, so a positive review of my previous collection is especially nice to get. Thank you, Tosca, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the books you will read for this challenge.

How You Can Buy All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens

  • Directly from me. I have copies available at NZ$15 + postage and packing. Postage and packing within New Zealand is $2.
  • From New Zealand Books Abroad
  • From Fishpond.

Sample Poems from All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens

11 February 2010

Five Blogs I Like. Chapter 1: The First Five

A week or so ago, writer Debbie Cowens very kindly nominated me for a Prolific Blogger Award, as part of which, all the nominees are invited to nominate seven prolific bloggers of their own.

Although I decided not to go down the Prolific Blogger route (because I'm, like, a rebel), it did remind me that I'd fallen out of the habit of posting here about other blogs I enjoy reading, even if I don't catch up with them as often as I'd like. So I've decided to institute a semi-regular series called "Five Blogs I Like".

Some of my favourite bloggers are far more prolific than I, while others maintain a posting average of about once a month. You'll find all sorts in here, and they won't all be writing blogs, or New Zealand blogs - but in this first instalment, I'm going to feature five New Zealand writing blogs I have liked ever since I first set on eyes on them.

Helen Rickerby: Winged Ink. Helen is a fine poet, a publisher, and a person who always has interesting things to say. Her blog was one of those I modelled "Books In The Trees" on when I began it, and the other such blog was ...

Harvey Molloy: Notebook. This blog features news of Harvey's life, thoughts on poetry & existence, and now and then some of his wonderful poems, like this one: After New Year.

Kay McKenzie Cooke: made for weather. Kay is one of my favourite poets. Her work has an added appeal for me because it's often about Southland, the province I grew up in and often write about in my own poetry. Not only that, but she illustrates it with great photos as well.

Meliors Simms: Bibliophilia. Meliors is very talented as both a poet and an artist, with her work recently having been a finalist for a national arts prize. Plus, Antarctic art, and discussions of Kim Stanley Robinson!

Graham Beattie: Beatties Book Blog. This blog, which Graham Beattie updates several times a day - he truly deserves the title of Prolific Blogger - is a trade journal for the New Zealand publishing industry, from beneath the surface of which literary disputes occasionally burst into the open. It's an essential resource for working writers in New Zealand.

08 February 2010

Lost In Translation: New Zealand Stories

Waitangi Day, the 6th of February, is New Zealand's national day, commemorated by official ceremonies at Te Tii Marae and elsewhere.

In Wellington, it was the second and final day of the Wellington Sevens, an event which (apart from being a seven-a-side rugby tournament) doubles as Wellington's version of Mardi Gras; and also the day of the One Love music festival.

While all these good things were going on, a short story anthology with a new story by me was published. Called Lost in Translation: New Zealand Stories, it's edited by Victoria University academic and translator Marco Sonzogni.

As the Random House web page for Lost in Translation says:

Lying at the core of our interactions, words are both salves and weapons, they can be simple and fork-tongued. How we read, how we misinterpret each other, can reveal the nature of our society - its diversity, complexity and richness. These stories riff on this ambiguity of understanding: there are vivid scenes from our colonial past right up to the current day; a previous prime minister tries to dodge a photographer; a writer reworks a film premise over and over again; taggers express themselves in their own language; couples lock horns while strangers are brought together. There is humour, there is poignancy, there is terrific writing. This is a collection that will provoke, stimulate and delight.

My story in the collection, "Thank You Very Much" - and yes, for New Zealand readers who may recognise the phrase, it does include a scene set at Telethon - is about a fictitious Dunedin 1980s rock band, from back in the days when Dunedin seemed (at least to a Dunedinite) to be the centre of the musical universe, and Flying Nun ruled. I've always been fascinated by announcements that a band has broken up due to "musical and personal differences", and this story explores what those musical and personal - and lyrical - differences might be.

James Dignan kindly helped to supplement my memories of that time with actual facts about who played what where when, although I should stress that the characters and situations in the story are entirely the product of my fevered mind.

I don't yet know how well my story fits with the other stories in the book, but I'm pleased to be included in a lineup of authors that also includes Michelle Arathimos, Ben Brown, Ellie Catton, David Eggleton, Travis Gasper, Stevan Eldred-Grigg, Briar Grace-Smith, Charlotte Grimshaw, Peter Hawes, Fiona Kidman, Tze Ming Mok, Kelly Ana Morey, Paula Morris, Sue Orr, Vincent O'Sullivan, Alice Tawhai, Apirana Taylor, and Albert Wendt. I'm looking forward to reading the anthology.

04 February 2010

Poem From Voyagers Nominated For International Poetry Award

Meliors Simms' poem "Two Kinds of Time", first published in Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, which I co-edited with Mark Pirie, has been nominated for the Rhysling Awards, the international awards for speculative (science fiction, fantasy and horror) poetry. We thought that was well worth a press release, and here it is!

New Zealand poem nominated for international award

Meliors Simms' poem "Two Kinds of Time", first published in the acclaimed anthology "Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand" (Interactive Press, 2009), has been nominated for a Rhysling Award for the best science fiction, fantasy or horror poem published in 2009.

The Rhysling Awards, administered by the Science Fiction Poetry Association, were inaugurated in 1978. Among previous winners are such well-known writers as Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Le Guin, Jane Yolen and Joe Haldeman.

"I'm honoured to have my poem nominated for an international poetry award with such an illustrious history," said Meliors Simms from her home in Hamilton. "I had never heard of the genre of science fiction poetry until I was invited to submit to the Voyagers anthology a few years ago. 'Two Kinds of Time' was my first effort and marked a shift in my writing style from introspective to more ideas-based poetry."

Tim Jones, who co-edited Voyagers with Mark Pirie, said "We are delighted for Meliors, and very pleased for this further recognition for New Zealand science fiction poetry and for Voyagers. The anthology has been very well-received in New Zealand, and it has already appeared on the NZ Listener and New Zealand Herald best books lists for 2009. The international interest in the anthology, and in Meliors' poem in particular, is just as exciting."

Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand is available from leading New Zealand independent bookstores. It is also available online from Interactive Press, from Fishpond (NZ) and from Amazon.com.


Meliors Simms has made a short video called "Non Linear Time", which features one section of her nominated poem "Two Kinds of Time". It can be viewed on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIAkJVQ064o

Meliors' web site is at http://www.meliors.net

For more information about the Rhyslings, please visit http://www.sfpoetry.com/rhysling.html

The Voyagers website is at http://ipoz.biz/Titles/Voy.htm

Voyagers received a very positive review in Star*Line, the journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. That interview is available online at http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com/2009/08/voyagers-gets-great-first-review.html

How To Buy Voyagers

In New Zealand

  • Directly from me. I now have a limited number of copies for sale for NZ $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, including (but not limited to) Unity Books (Wellington and Auckland), Books a Plenty in Tauranga, Bruce MacKenzie Books in Palmerston North, Madras Cafe Books in Christchurch, and the University Book Shop in Dunedin.

  • From Fishpond.


USA only