Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Jack Ross: Opinions

James Ko: "Jack" (c.1996)

So I've started another blog. You may have noticed that it's crept unobtrusively into the sidebar over there, listed under "Bibliography Sites." This particular one is devoted to providing consistent, accurate texts of all of my published essays, introductions and reviews, together with full details of the journals and books they originally appeared in. Thrilling, no? It's called (for what I suspect will be fairly obvious reasons): Jack Ross: Opinions. NINO: Nothing If Not Opinionated, as they say ...

I suppose that it sounds like a pretty egotistical thing to do (hence reproducing above that caricature of me by my ex-Language School student, James Ko). There have been previous suggestions, from time to time, that I should collect some of these essays - the poetry ones, in particular - in book form, but I have to say that I've always resisted it. It isn't that I don't enjoy reading collections of essays: just that my own ones, on examination, always seemed too clearly connected to particular arguments or controversies (or publishing contexts), and I found it hard to imagine them making much sense in isolation.

I have devoted a good deal of time to working in this form, though. Poetry and fiction remain my areas of predilection, but you don't always find poems and stories to hand when you want them - and editors do often seem to prefer commissioning essays and reviews. Academic committees like them, too.

Anyway, while the site is not yet complete (I've put up a bit over half of the essays I'd like to include on it eventually), I find that there are 125 pieces there already, covering the period from 1987 (when I published my first review, in Scotland) to a piece which appeared in the latest issue of brief [49 (2013): 129-45].

For further details on precisely how to navigate between these various sites, you could do worse than consult the post called Crossroads (listed on the side bar opposite under "Site-map"). It'll give you some idea of the extent of this web-based madness of mine.

I won't say, either, that I haven't blushed from time to time at the silliness and general effrontery of some of the opinions included on the site. But then, you have to start somewhere, and the only way to learn is to fail: again and again, repeatedly. My original plan was to suppress some of the more embarrassing ones (and - who knows - the links may not function quite so well to those ones) ... But I decided finally to throw them all up and let anyone who can be bothered to read them sort them out.

That isn't really the point, anyway: "You can't know where you're going until you know where you've been," as Laurence Olivier sagely informs his big-screen son in the Neil Diamond remake of The Jazz Singer. There are a lot of repetitions, tics of phrasing, favourite quotes which I've begun to notice now I've been forced to trawl through all of these pieces again. I'd like to avoid as many as possible of those in future.

Finally, though, the whole project has been (and continues to be) redolent of the same kind of schadenfreude Kendrick Smithyman so accurately describes in his 1968 poem "Research Project:
I fossick among very minor novelists
of our nineteenth century, ours, by God,
peculiarly by virtue of whatever was
held in common with other colonies.
Or, what held them.
I have picked pockets
of several shrouds and more than one
fashion of shroud, for crummiest of crumbs,
driest fragments, dust of droppings, bone
flakes. A shard flint-sharp at the edges,
that was prematurely aspiring red muscle,
a heart. Pick, and pocket.
Someone knew
an impulse to act, entertained a dream
of action

That "ours, by God" phrase rather sums it up for me: good or bad, these reviews and essays are mine, by God. They were the best I could do at the time, and - with all their obvious imperfections - I simply can't disown them, however much I'd like to sometimes.

Neil Diamond: The Jazz Singer (1980)

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Hawkes Bay Poetry Conference (November 1-3)

My trusty steed

I had hoped to have a complete pictorial record of the conference, but unfortunately the camera died on me shortly after my arrival in Hastings, so you'll just have to put up with these few atmosphere shots of the journey down, rather than the complete rogues' gallery which might otherwise have been possible:

Morning: Distant View of the Hauraki Plains

Once upon a time these drives were as easy as pie for me. Now Auckland to Havelock North, 540 kilometres-odd, 6-hours-on-the-road, leaves me as weak as a kitten. Still, never mind, there were some treats on the way. This medley of images from Taupo, for instance:

Taupo: the lake

Taupo: the town

Margaret Sweeney's Great Feat

Go Margaret! And then there was my brief stop-over in Napier looking for second-hand bookshops (though actually the best one I found was in Hastings, just down Heretaunga St., near the city centre):

Napier: the sea

Napier: the town

And then there was the fact that my room in the (aptly-named) Angus Inn Hotel was full of Rita Angus prints (together with one by Frances Hodgkins):

Rita Angus: Fog, Hawkes Bay (1966-8)

Rita Angus: Boats, Island Bay (1961-2)

Frances Hodgkins: The Pleasure Garden (1933)

But what of the conference itself? Well, it seems invidious to single out particular participants and readers from so many: four full plenary poetry readings, each with 12 ten-minute slots; four discussion panels, each with four speakers and a chair; a brilliantly inspiring opening reading by the poet laureate, Vincent O'Sullivan, together with a fine speech at the Saturday "working lunch" by Harry Ricketts ... I also enjoyed the trip to John Buck's Te Mata winery, so long associated with the poet laureateship (in fact, it might be said to have begun there).

It was a banquet, a feast, of all sorts of poetry: performance, personal, professional and perfunctory. I felt myself flagging at times, but as time went on it began to feel as if something was actually happening here, as if the sheer experience of immersion was having some cumulative effect.

Thanks to the organisers, Bill Sutton in particular, but also his able lieutenants from the Hawke's Bay Live POetry Society: Marie Dunningham, Trish Lambert, Dave Sharp, Carole Stewart and all the others who helped with the small groups sessions and the lunchtime discussion on Saturday (apologies for anyone I've left out).

It was wonderful to run into so many old friends: Rosetta Allan, Fiona Farrell, Bridget Freeman-Rock, Siobhan Harvey, Janet Newman, Sugu Pillay, Vivienne Plumb, Helen Rickerby, Barry Smith, and (of course) Alistair Paterson. Also to make some new ones (many of them people I'd corresponded with but never met): Doc Drumheller, Benita Kape, Maris O'Rourke, Nicholas Reid, Gus Simonovic, Pat White, Niel Wright ... together with many others.

I'll conclude, then, with a little verse I found myself scribbling during one of the sessions (I won't say which one):

The Counterfeiters

All New Zealand poetry
is crap

said David Howard's pal
on our ritual roadtrip north
to the Unicorn Bookshop

Oh I don't knowThere's Smithyman

He wasn't impressed
of you are trying to be as good
as Jenny or Billnot Homer or


I had to admit he had
a pointbut what street-cred did
he have?
He'd spent the whole journey
wanking on
about André Gheed ...


I have to say that that remark from David's friend has stayed with me, which is the main reason I saw fit to share it with the assembled poets at the conference. What's wrong with setting our sites a little higher than the norms we've become accustomed to?

If these kinds of meetings become more common among New Zealand poets, who's to say what we mightn't achieve in the future? Right now my hopes are particularly high.

Postscript (23/11/13):

Here are some pictures of the event, taken (for the most part) by photographer and poet Carole A. Steward, and posted on facebook by the irrepressible Gus Simonovic:

Janet Newman introduces the panel on
Form and Content in Contemporary Poetry:
r-to-l: Ben Fagan, Niel Wright, Jack Ross, Mary-Jane Duffy & Gail Romano.

Jack spouts on

The redoubtable Alistair Paterson

On the road to the Te Mata winery:
(note Gus Simonovic on the left, & Jack talking to Nicholas Reid in the middle distance)

John Buck shows us round the winery