31 March 2011

An Interview With Mary Cresswell


Mary Cresswell is a Wellington poet who lives on the Kapiti Coast. She came to New Zealand from Los Angeles in 1970, after having lived in various parts of the US, in Germany, and in Japan. She graduated from Stanford University in California with a degree in history and English literature. She is retired from freelance work (science editor and proofreader) and has spent at least one lifetime in the Wellington workplace.

Her first book appearance was with Mary-Jane Duffy, Mary Macpherson, and Kerry Hines, co-authors of Millionaire’s Shortbread (University of Otago Press, 2003). This book is illustrated with collages by Brendan O’Brien, has an afterword by Greg O’Brien, and introduced these four poets to the Wellington scene.

Nearest & Dearest, Mary’s collection of her parody and satiric verse, was published in 2009 by Steele Roberts and is illustrated with cartoons by Nikki Slade Robinson. At that time I interviewed her for the first time.

This is a first for me, Mary - a re-interview, and it indicates that you've had success in getting two books published in relatively close succession. Before we get onto your new poetry collection, Trace Fossils, how did things go with your 2009 collection, Nearest & Dearest? Collections of light poetry are still quite rare in New Zealand - do you think that this affected the critical and popular reception of Nearest & Dearest, for either good or ill?

There was no critical notice in NZ, which didn’t surprise me. In the US, I got a very good notice in the well-established print journal Light Quarterly, but the US has a lot of humour written by women – not just Dorothy Parker years ago but many women today. I fondly remember Hen’s Teeth, Crow Station, and lots of good women stand-up comics, but NZ seems to me to have handed written satire and parody over to the boys. (If anyone can tell me otherwise, please get in touch!!)

The publisher and I sold just under 150 copies between us. Most of my sales, many of them multiple copies, were to groups of women who would never browse poetry shelves but who were pleasantly astonished that reading poems could be fun. ... On the other hand, I was surprised by a number of people who were nonplussed (embarrassed?) by the contents, didn’t know what to say. Perhaps they had no experience of responding to satire or to sarky women fronting up in print.

Trace Fossils was first runner-up for the Kathleen Grattan Awards in 2009, judged by Fleur Adcock - a notable achievement! Is the published version of the manuscript the same as that submitted for the Kathleen Grattan Awards, or has it changed since then?

It’s exactly the same. The manuscript wandered around some years before that. One reason I am so very glad to see it in print now is that I am starting to have trouble recognising the author – and I’m extremely happy to be on the receiving end of Steele Roberts’ very attractive design and presentation.

Trace Fossils is divided into four sections of roughly equal length. What is the significance of these four sections within the collection? Were most of the poems written with an eye to this particular collection, or did the shape of the collection derive from the type of poems that you had been writing?

The section names are intended to be vaguely geological and to suggest eras, different from each other and long in time. Trace fossils themselves may or may not represent anything, and they are a geological construct, a fascinating one (they also have a very funny classification system – take a look). In the introduction, I nominate trace fossils as a metaphor for our memories of loss and our ways of observing loss.

The poems themselves were written at various times and in various forms: counted syllables, sonnets, prose poems, ghazals, concrete poems, ovillejo, accentual poems, free verse in a variety of lengths and shapes. I assembled them more with an eye to connection than to form; they were none of them written with a particular book in mind.

I spent some time recently talking with a fellow poet about the marketing and distribution of poetry collections - that is, letting people know about new poetry collections, and getting poetry collections to places, whether physical or virtual, that people can buy the books if they wish. I imagine the poets reading this interview, at least, would love to know whether you have any innovative ideas on either of those topics!

I wish. Virtual: I have no clue. Finding more about this side of things is my next project. Physical: The books I have sold were sold by word of mouth – people rang me. Local museums, educational groups and art galleries are sometimes prepared to handle books by local authors, especially if the books can be tied in with current shows, if you do the record-keeping and paperwork, and if you are prepared to donate some of your profit to the organisation. (And if you accept it as a one-off, not a continuing relationship.) I suspect special-interest groups, like writing classes, might be worth trying if you’re prepared to give a reading. I expect any reading is a place to sell books.

Do you have any poetry readings planned around the publication of Trace Fossils - and if so, where can people hear you read?

No, no readings. As you know, there are poets who perform with panache and poets who potter on paper. There is a lot of overlap, I’m glad to say, but I generally prefer not to do solo readings. The main reason for this is that a lot of my poetry is based on word play (both visual and syntactic) and shifts of register. I think that much of this goes west when people hear the poems read out loud and only once. I write page poetry that is to be looked at and re-read. I wish I could bounce and rap, but I can’t.

If you don't mind me asking, what projects are you working on now?

No, I don’t mind, but there’s nothing all that coherent. It’s been years since I finished the poems included in Trace Fossils, and I have shifted more and more to formal patterns, particularly ghazals (at the moment) but also other repeating structures. I enjoy working in accentual (as opposed to accentual-syllabic) forms. Somewhere down the line I would like to end up with a book built on a skeleton of ghazals but fleshed out with a variety of other poems. I’m still writing light verse and publishing it in the US and the UK, but as always this is a separate department. My main immediate project will be trying to get my head around what might be useful in the world of e-publishing.

Book Availability

Trace Fossils can be ordered from the publisher, Steele Roberts, and is available at independent bookshops.

Nearest & Dearest can also be ordered from Steele Roberts.

Sample Poem

I published Mary's poem "The Sound Of Now" as my Tuesday Poem this week - check it out!

29 March 2011

Tuesday Poem: The Sound Of Now, by Mary Cresswell

The Sound Of Now
First line from Marie Ponsot, ‘Reminder’

I am rich. I am poor. Time is all I own.
Time is fair. Time is foul. I am all I own.

Pale hands pick me up and let me down again.
I smell shit and Shalimar. I smell cologne.

No matter on which page you hide, in which book,
I’ll know your name when I can’t recall my own.

A sob?... no, it’s a stab of recognition.
The knife cuts deeper. My thought is all I own.

They called me Marīa when I read Latin.
In this place I have no name to call my own.

Until the end, the sound of one hand clapping —
In the trees, the toucan plays a slide trombone.

Credit note:Published in Ambit 199: 71 (London; Martin Bax and Carol Ann Duffy, eds.) and reprinted in her new collection Trace Fossils.

Tim says: There are two good reasons that this is my Tuesday Poem for this week: first, it's a fine and most elegantly constructed poem, and second, I am running an interview with Mary - my second interview with her - later this week on my blog. Keep an eye out for it!

You can read all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog - the featured poem is on the centre of the page, and the week's other poems are linked from the right-hand column.

24 March 2011

A Mainland Double: Tales For Canterbury and the Readers And Writers Alive! Festival

Tales For Canterbury

In just over a month since the Christchurch earthquake of 22 February, editors Cassie Hart and Anna Caro have done an amazing job of pulling together Tales for Canterbury, a fundraising anthology to benefit the victims of the earthquake, with all proceeds going to the New Zealand Red Cross Earthquake Appeal.

Tales for Canterbury is now available for pre-order as an ebook (in pdf, mobi, and epub format) and as a paperback - I've just ordered my paperback copy. It should be published in April, so you won't have long to wait for it.

There's a blog detailing the progress of the anthology, and if you're not sure whether you'd like one, you might want to check out the list of contributors. There are a few names there you might know - Neil Gaiman, for example; not to mention Janis Freegard, Gwyneth Jones, Jay Lake, Helen Lowe, Tina Makereti, Juliet Marillier, Jeff Vandermeer, Sean Williams, and many, many more fine writers. I am honoured to have a story in such company.

Readers And Writers Alive! Festival (Invercargill)

I lived in Southland between the ages of four and sixteen, and though that's, well, several years ago now, I have written a lot of poetry about and set in Southland, and have even set a science fiction story in Gore.

So it has always been a private ambition of mine to take part in a Southland literary event, and I'm delighted to say that this ambition is about to be realised. I'm going to be a participant in the Readers and Writers Alive! programme of the Southland Arts Festival 2011, organised by the Dan Davin Literary Foundation, for whom Helen Lowe is currently running writing workshops.

I'm taking part in two events: a poetry reading featuring Joanna Preston, Kay McKenzie Cooke and Lynley Dear on Friday 29 April; and a writing workshop the following day. For that, I'll remove my poet's beret and put on my SF writer's battered propellor beanie to run a workshop on "Writing Different Worlds". I have to return to Wellington that night, so I'm unfortunately going to miss Joanna's poetry workshop the following day, which should be excellent.

Reading with friends, and with poets I admire; getting an extended time to run a spec fic writing workshop; and returning to the scene of my youthful (mis)deeds. It's all good.

22 March 2011

Tuesday Poem: Return to Nussbaum Riegel

This is a tent.
This is another tent, next to the first tent.
This is a bag full of urine.
This is the vast inconceivable.

This is a rock.
This is another rock.
These are the deposits of a long-vanished glacier.
The frigid wind, whistling over the frigid ice, passing over long
generations of mummified seals making their stealthy way from the sea,
has formed these rocks into the unearthly shapes we call "ventifacts",
photographs of which form the bulk of my presentation today.

This is me.
This is Guido.
This is Guido, Nails and Barry.
Guido, Nails and Barry
are men with whom I will always share a special

This is Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
He wrote his famous poem "Ulysses" while visiting Antarctica
on the first "Artists in Antarctica" programme
with Bill Manhire, Chris Orsman and Nigel Brown.
(This is Bill Manhire, Chris Orsman and Nigel Brown.)
Alfred, Lord Tennyson inscribed his famous poem "Ulysses" on a cross
placed on Observation Hill by the survivors of Scott's Polar Expedition of 1910-1912.
To read it, you need a magnifying glass
and an iron constitution.

This is the Polar Party.
These are the Polar Party’s drinks and nibbles.
The Polar Party went on till 5 a.m.,
then made camp. Scott opened his diary,
wishing, not for the first time,
that he had brought a pen.

Credit note: "Return to Nussbaum Riegel" was first published in Issue 14 of Interlitq, A New Zealand Literary Showcase. This issue has stories and poems by a wide range of New Zealand writers - it is well worth checking out.

"Return to Nussbaum Riegel" will also appear in my forthcoming poetry collection Men Briefly Explained.

Tim says: Nussbaum Riegel is a rocky transverse ridge in the centre of the Taylor Valley, one of the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. The Dry Valleys have been among the main subjects of the New Zealand Antarctic research programme.

You can read all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog - the featured poem is on the centre of the page, and the week's other poems are linked from the right-hand column.

20 March 2011

Military Technology: It's Only Cool Till You're On The Receiving End

Twitter and the news this morning are full of excitement about the ultra-cool new heatseeking missile technology being used to attack Libyan Government tanks. Apparently, the French are setting new standards in the science of killing people by remote control.

Plenty of people support the Western intervention in the Libyan civil war. I don't, partly because I think it's got a lot more to do with Libya's ability to produce high-quality crude oil than any concern over the democratic aspirations of the Libyan people, and partly because most such interventions don't end well for the people they are supposedly trying to help.

But, whether or not people support the intervention - and I acknowledge that there are legitimate grounds for such support - I am immensely frustrated by the way in which 'war porn' continues to fascinate people who should know better. It happened in the first US-Iraq war; it happened in the second; and now it's happening again.

This isn't a video game. When a missile or a shell hits a tank, the people in that tank are torn apart or burnt alive. And they are people with no lesser or greater right to life than anyone else. So, if you feel tempted to celebrate that cool piece of military technology, imagine how it would be if the priorities of those who launch such attacks changed, and you found yourself on the receiving end.

15 March 2011

Tuesday Poem: Men Briefly Explained - the title poem of my new poetry collection

Men Briefly Explained

My friend and I are talking to
the most attractive woman in the room.

My friend and I are talking at
the most attractive woman in the room.

We're talking big: theories, hypotheses,
each wilder than the rest.

How huge our brains must be!
How fit our genes, to allow

such brilliant and superfluous display!
The most attractive woman in the room

smiles at us each in turn.
She is clearly impressed, and her sisters

are smiling too. We are gibbons
swinging through the trees. Chimps

waving sticks and bones. Gorillas
in the mountain forests,

beating hairy chests
as the poacher Time takes aim.

Tim says: "Men Briefly Explained", which is previously unpublished, is the title poem of my third poetry collection, which will be published by Interactive Press of Brisbane in late 2011. Interactive Press also published Voyagers, the anthology which I co-edited with Mark Pirie, in 2009.

Naturally, I'm very excited that this collection is going to be published - and also very pleased that, all being well, I'll be doing some joint launch events with Lower Hutt poet Keith Westwater, whose debut collection Tongues of Ash won Best First Book in the 2011 IP Picks Awards.

You can see all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog (the hub poem in the middle, and all the other poems on the right-hand side).

10 March 2011

The Sir Julius Vogel Awards 2011: Nomination Deadline Fast Approaching

I have been a very naughty boy.

Well, a slightly naughty boy, anyway. I meant to put up a post about the opportunity to nominate works and people for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards as far back as the end of January, and yet I'm only now getting around to it. Sorry for leaving it so late!

The Sir Julius Vogel Awards are the New Zealand awards for speculative fiction, awarded at each year's New Zealand national science fiction convention. I was very pleased when Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, the anthology I co-edited with Mark Pirie, won in the Best Collected Work category in the 2010 Sir Julius Vogel Awards.

Given that the deadline for nominations is the end of March (to be precise, it's 31 March 2011 at 8.00pm), I'm going to abandon my always-likely-to-be-unrealistic plan of taking a comprehensive look at potential nominees, and just tell you what I'm going to nominate in a few of the categories. Because NZ speculative fiction is so strong at the moment, there are lots of good books/stories/people out there for you to nominate, and I encourage you to go for it! (Suggestions, in any category, are welcome below in the comments).

First of all, SFFANZ and SpecFicNZ have details of the nomination process. The 2010 awards show the categories.

Semaphore Magazine has a guide to eligible works it has published, and Helen Lowe published a very useful guide to the categories, plus a list of some eligible novels in the Adult and YA categories.

The SFFANZ site has a number of lists of potentially eligible works - look at the works published in 2010 in each list.

So that's plenty of information to be going on with. Here are the works I'm planning to nominate at this stage - I am sure I'll think of others when I'm face to face with the nomination form:

- Best Adult Novel: The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe

- Best Young Adult Novel: Tymon's Flight by Mary Victoria

- Best Collected Work: A Foreign Country: New Zealand Speculative Fiction, edited by Anna Caro and Juliet Buchanan

- Best Short Story: "Back and Beyond" by Juliet Marillier, the final story in A Foreign Country.

Time To Write One Of Next Year's Nominees!

While you're making your nominations, take a moment to check out the inaugural SpecFicNZ short story contest, which also closes on 31 March.

08 March 2011

Tuesday Poem: Landlines - my poem in response to the Christchurch earthquake


It began with a tremor in the wires,
a voiceless howl of anguish.
Within minutes, the waiting world
has heard the worst — but there's no news of you.
Amanda Palmer, an Olympic rower, former neighbours
are online. But you depend on landlines,
and the lines are down.

Were you at home when it struck? Were you
trapped on a fatal cross-town bus,
walking a hill track bombarded by boulders? Were you
unlucky under verandahs? I strategise
with relatives I barely know, plead on Twitter
for tiny clues, ask Google for your name.
I lift, and set down, and lift the phone.

At last we hear you're safe at home,
barely touched, offering neighbours shelter.
My voice explodes with joy and messages.
I'm gabbling. I slow down. The bigger picture
presses in: so terrible, a city centre
crumbled into bone. I lift the phone.
It rings. You speak. I know, at last, I'm not alone.

Credit note: "Landlines" was first published as the Thursday Poem in the Dominion Post newspaper in Wellington on 3 March 2011.

Tim says: When the Dominion Post asked me to write a poem about the Christchurch earthquake of 22 February, I was on the verge of saying "no", because I didn't think that I could do justice to the subject. Then I decided to write a poem about my reaction in the aftermath of the earthquake, rather than the earthquake itself.

I was concerned about plenty of people in addition to my Dad and stepmother, including the Christchurch-based Tuesday poets, but including those concerns would have made for a rather unfocused poem.

You can read all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog.

03 March 2011

An Interview With Owen Bullock


Owen Bullock has published a work of non-fiction, Making Canons and Finding Flowers - A Study of Selected New Zealand Poety Anthologies (VDM, Germany, 2008); a book of haiku, wild camomile (Post Pressed, Australia, 2009); the novella A Cornish Story (Palores, UK, 2010), and a number of chapbooks of poetry. His first full collection of longer poems, sometimes the sky isn't big enough, has just appeared from Steele Roberts (New Zealand). He has
edited several poetry magazines, including Spin and Poetry NZ. He lives near the Karangahake Gorge in the North Island of Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Details of how to buy all Owen's books are at the end of this interview. Owen's poem choosing was my Tuesday Poem this week.

Later I'll focus on your new poetry collection, sometimes the sky isn't big enough, but first, I want to ask you about a couple of your other books. First of all, which poetry anthologies did you look at in your non-fiction book Making Canons and Finding Flowers - A Study of Selected New Zealand Poetry Anthologies (VDM, Germany, 2008), and if it isn't an impertinent question, what did you conclude about these anthologies?

I looked at ten anthologies covering the 1940s to 1980s, over four chapters. Firstly, I wrote about the Curnow anthologies of 1945 and 1960. Next came the three editions of the anthology Vincent O’Sullivan edited for Oxford between 1970 and 1987 (which I called ‘Confirming the Canon’).

Chapter three discussed Recent Poetry in New Zealand, edited by Charles Doyle (1965), The Young New Zealand Poets, ed Arthur Baysting, (1973), 15 Contemporary New Zealand Poets, ed Alistair Paterson (1980) and The Oxford Book of Contemporary New Zealand Poetry, ed Fleur Adcock (1982).

Chapter four, titled ‘Some Alternatives’, looked at Private Gardens – An Anthology of New Zealand Women Poets, ed Riemke Ensing, (1977), Big Smoke – New Zealand Poems 1960-1975, ed Alan Brunton, Murray Edmond and Michelle Leggott (2000) and Real Fire – New Zealand Poetry of the 1960s and 1970s, ed Bernard Gadd (2001).

I originally intended to write about 17 anthologies (I discovered 50 at the time – there are more now), but this was a Masters Thesis and I felt restrained by the word count.

I very much wanted to read each anthology as a book and discuss them in those terms. I wanted to chart developments and preoccupations of poets; I didn’t want to wade in with a theory and try to prove it.

Academics tend to talk about various privileges which ‘inform’ the selections of editors and other such things. But I concluded that a very strong privilege was that of association, between groups of writers, University presses and employees. Part of this is natural and I think I’ve got a firmer grasp of that now than I did them. I’ve tried hard in my editing work to avoid cliques and naively thought that was what everyone else was trying to do as well, but that’s not the case.

Complaints about anthologies are virtually obligatory and I firmly believe we learn nothing from history, interesting though it may be. There is always an establishment (even if it’s a young one which has just displaced another) and some people who are worthy will miss out, such as women writers like Elizabeth Smither, Jan Kemp, Peggy Dunstan, Christina Beer and Anne Donovan omitted from the 1976 edition of the Oxford anthology.

My drive for independence has meant risking losing certain writing friends at times. I may have been harder on my friends when they have submitted poetry to me for a magazine than on others, which is tricky, because I’m not so independent that I don’t need friends. I do wish poets could be more thick-skinned about their writing and realise, as Kai Jensen told me early on, that we have the potential to be part of a literary tradition. Whether or not someone accepts individual poems of ours isn’t very important in the overall scheme of things; poetry is what is important, not our poems.

You are of Cornish descent, and your novella A Cornish Story (Palores, UK, 2010) has recently been published. How has it been received in Cornwall?

It was well received. I did several book signings and readings on local radio and in St Ives during the Gorseth (a Cornish cultural festival, modelled on the Welsh Eisteddfod). Palores has good distribution through Cornwall, but my publisher, Les Merton, said that whilst I was out and about it wouldn’t hurt to offer the book to smaller bookshops and even village shops. So, I became a bit of a salesman for three weeks and sold quite a few copies, especially in West Cornwall.

It was gratifying when I read in St Ives to find that many fellow-writers had already read the book and were able to comment on my use of dialect. I felt very accepted by the writing fraternity there; they didn’t seem at all bothered that I have lived in New Zealand so long. I also had a glowing review in The Cornish Banner which described the book as ‘a masterpiece of Cornu-English’ and went on to suggest that it should be studied in Cornish schools.

During the book signings a few people re-appeared from my past, including my Primary School headmaster. Others came to say hello who knew someone else in my family - I couldn’t have been happier.

As an immigrant to New Zealand myself, albeit without a great deal of influence over the process as I was two years old at the time, I'm always interested to know: what led you to emigrate to New Zealand, and how do you feel about that decision now?

My ex-wife is a kiwi and we always intended to come here at some stage. We lived in Wales for a couple of years before that. It was a big adjustment for me initially, but I don’t regret it.

You've become well known as a poet since you emigrated to New Zealand, but also well known as an editor. What do you like about editing? Do you feel that it detracts from, or helps with, your own writing?

I enjoy the interaction with other poets and also seeing what is possible through poetry. Often you read a poem that isn’t entirely successful but which points in a certain new direction. I think it helps one’s writing as long as the editing task is not so lengthy that you don’t get enough time for your own work. I got to the stage a couple of years ago where it was getting too much, partly because I was teaching as well and was very caught up in other people’s writing. I took a break then, but editing tasks seem to be coming back to me now.

So, let's turn to sometimes the sky isn't big enough. How would you describe the collection to the reader who isn't familiar with your work - or, for that matter, the reader who is?

Well, it’s more or less the best of my published poems from the last twelve years; it’s also those which fit together well. This book represents only about a quarter of what I’ve had published in magazines so I’ve been quite ruthless in my selections. There’s a thread running through it of the disintegration of a relationship, and more general biographical elements sitting behind the focus on the possibilities of language.

Has the collection been a long time in the making, or did it come together relatively quickly?

I’ve worked on this grouping of poems for several years, editing and shuffling pieces around endlessly. I’ve also gone through several titles, trying to find the right one. In the end Sophie Fisher who did the lay-out work came up with the title, which I’m very happy with.

Which writers (of fiction and poetry) have been most influential on your own work, and which writers do you most enjoy reading - which isn't always the same thing?

Yes, influence and taste are different. Early on, I was inspired by Thomas Hardy and Jack Clemo, then Dylan Thomas and Gerard Manley Hopkins, Louis MacNeice and James K. Baxter. After discussions with Alistair Paterson, I read more contemporary poetry and was excited by writers like Michael Harlow, Pooja Mittal, C.K. Stead and Tracey Slaughter. Further afield, I’m fond of Miroslav Holub and Charles Bukowski. But I think that when you do a lot of editing, you become more conscious of the individual poem than of particular writers.

I like variety and there are actually very few writers who have much variety in their work. Many people talk about a writer finding their voice; I’ve always felt this to be a tremendously limiting idea. It usually means some kind of halt in development. I think a poet needs to have many voices, and if you attempt a number of genres this tendency is enhanced and expanded. If I have any ambition as a writer, it is to publish as many books as possible in the greatest range of genres. I guess underlying that is the belief that a poet should be able to do anything.

In prose, I greatly admire Paul Gallico and Samuel Beckett, though I don’t think either has influenced me particularly. Along with my mother’s speech patterns, Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s work inspired me to write ‘A Cornish Story’. For pleasure I read people like Mary Webb and Conan Doyle - melodramatic, but good ripping yarns. The ultimate novel would seem to me to be The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett, in which almost nothing happens and where all elements of storytelling are stripped bare. So, you could say I’m a mass of contradictions.

Is it important to you to be, or feel, part of a literary scene, or could you work just as happily in splendid isolation?

I like the encouragement one can get from other writers. I have often worked in isolation, though, and I think an element of that is necessary.

If you're prepared to say:- what writing project(s) are you working on now, or do you plan to work on?

Encouraged by the response to ‘A Cornish Story’, I am working on an historical novel which links parts of my life in Cornwall and New Zealand. There are always poems and haiku, tanka and haibun to write as well. Last year I wrote my third full-length screenplay (all of which need further development). This year, I am going to make my first short film, from a short a short story of mine called ‘The Watcher’, published recently in Takahe.

How to buy Owen Bullock's books

sometimes the sky isn't big enough is available from Steele Roberts.

wild camomile is available from Post Pressed. This excellent review of wild camomile has just gone online.

Making Canons and Finding Flowers and A Cornish Story are available from Blackwells.

More on A Cornish Story

A Cornish Story by Owen Bullock. Palores Publications, UK, 80pp. Six pounds, available from online booksellers such as Blackwells.

A Cornish Story centres on the character of Melville, a labourer in the China Clay mines of mid-Cornwall in the 1980s. That world is ruffled when Melville is suspected of a crime of which he is innocent, though tempted to commit. Redundancy looms, but so does the prospect of an unexpected new relationship. In a village where change is not highly regarded, Melville struggles to direct his own life.

Owen Bullock's story records the patterns of speech of his parents' generation and older, through a phonetic and poetic prose - sounds which are swiftly passing. Owen grew up in the tiny hamlet of Greensplat, near St Austell, in the heart of the China Clay country. Owen left Cornwall at the age of twenty and, after living in Wales for a time, emigrated to New Zealand. He has published poetry and haiku internationally and his work as a poet and editor is well-known to New Zealand readers.

01 March 2011

Tuesday Poem: choosing, by Owen Bullock


we didn’t realise
we chose the day
of the accident

what it woke up like
what you could see
from the window

what you read
in the newspaper

how the ticket collector
was towards you
before you spoke

Napoleon didn’t see the trench
when he rode out that morning
because he needed to be beaten

and when I was eight
and got run over
the lady visited me

gave me books, toys
remembered to call
for several months

Credit note: Choosing is from Owen Bullock's new collection sometimes the sky isn't big enough, published by Steele Roberts, and is reproduced with permission.

Tim says: This fine poem is a taster for my interview with Owen Bullock, which will run here on Thursday. Keep an eye out for it!

You can read all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog.