Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Robin Hyde & Stella Benson

Robin Hyde

There’s no question that New Zealand novelist, journalist, travel-writer and poet Robin Hyde (1906-1939) was a great admirer of English novelist, travel-writer and poet Stella Benson (1892-1933). In the following piece, Bronwyn Lloyd suggests that she went a bit beyond admiration, and that her novel Wednesday’s Children (1937) would probably never have come into existence if she hadn’t read Benson’s classic fantasy This is the End (1917).

We've also included a list of books by and about Stella Benson, for any of you who are curious to find out more about her.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

brief note

"Your industriousness is a little frightening," says Brett.

Yes, well, I'm just trying to get a lot of things tied away and sorted out before the end of the year. Next year I'm planning to spend a lot more time pursuing my own projects, and a lot less time on editing and bureaucracy generally.

So with that in mind, I've put up a companion to the Poetry Archive website. This one serves a similar indexing function for brief magazine (originally A Brief Description of the Whole World), which I edited between 2002 and 2005.

The longevity of brief is becoming a bit of a phenomenon in itself. It was founded by Alan Loney in December 1995, so with the latest issue, #35 (edited by Brett Cross), it's now reached its twelfth anniversary. (I tried to embed that information in the "profile" page of the new blog, but they informed me that you have to be over thirteen years old to use blogger, so I'll have to wait till next year before fessing up to the magazine's true age.)

I put out a brief index in 2003, shortly after taking over the editorship from John Geraets, and then a short supplementary index in 2005, before handing responsibility for the journal over to Scott Hamilton. So it wasn't all that much trouble to update it, since all that information was still floating around on my computer.

I've put in links to various of the articles which have been reprinted online, notably in the three feature issues - Smithymania (2003), Alan Brunton (2003) and Joanna Margaret Paul (2005) - published as joint ventures with the nzepc, but also to the brief section of the Titus Books website. Other than that, though, the site is really just a big hyperlinked contents list to the issues and authors published by the magazine to date.

Check it out., Hopefully it'll be useful to someone, at any rate.


Oh, and by the by, I'm tendering a bit of an apology to the New Zealand Herald. I was extremely scornful about them in my last post, so I was pleasantly surprised when they named Louise Nicholas as their New Zealander of the year for 2007.

I've just been reading her book, and I have to agree that there doesn't seem to be much serious doubt that the cops she describes did indeed regard themselves as above the law when it came to pressuring young girls into having sex with them (for more thoughts on the whole subject of what constitutes "Consent," see Tracey Slaughter's story of that title. It appears as the opening salvo of my "Open House" issue of Landfall.) The sooner that kind of crap goes out the window, the better. Apparently it was more or less up to individual policemen what "moral standards" they wished to apply in such circumstances. Cops have too much power in the community generally not to be subject to the same rules as teachers and doctors in that respect, I think myself.

So good on you, New Zealand Herald. Maybe you're not so subhuman after all. Though I still think you could break an intellectual sweat from time to time without completely alienating your fan-base, I have to admit that the choice of Louise Nicholas runs precisely that risk, so I do think you deserve hearty congratulations on this one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Landfall in the news

So it's official. Landfall 214 is in the Weekend Herald's list of 88 "Christmas Cracker" must-reads for the holiday season.

But just a second, if it's so thoroughly "creepy" and disturbing ("like reading a crime report in the paper"), what exactly is the attraction? There isn't one, it appears:

None of that this Christmas (or any time of year).

The amusing thing is that the assembled ranks of the Herald's book-reviewing team have found something nice to say about every other single book in the entire list! (Check it out for yourself if you don't believe me: Canvas, 8/12/07, pp. 12-20).

Even Kate's Klassics, despite Linda Herrick's hatred for "that double 'K'", gets a cautious thumbs-up: "Kate Camp's engagement with 10 literary classics will hopefully lead you to read them yourself." No! You don't say! You mean, I too could read these classics, with the astute guidance of Kate Camp? It's too much -- I can't believe it ...

Well, no, I guess it was a bit too good to be true, but even if you just read Kate rather than Homer, Tolstoy, Austen et al., "it's added something substantial to your knowledge and enjoyment."

I mean, fine - setting aside the heavy sarcasm, I do realise that it's the goddamned NZ Herald we're talking here. It's no revelation that it's a bit on the anti-intellectual side. "This must mean you're the best poet in New Zealand?", as Michele Hewitson guilelessly asks Michele Leggott in the laureate interview on the back page ...

But honestly, do we all have to take a vow of brain-death for the whole of the holiday season? Not just then, the little thumbnail review implies: "any time of year." Correct me if I'm wrong, but the fact that Keith Westwater's chilling little "inter-generational abuse" poem reads "like a crime report in the paper" is surely a good thing, no?

Doesn't that mean that this kind of shit is continually going down in our fair land? And, yes, people do abandon their pets from time to time, too.

Forgive if I'm wrong, Linda, but if I actually cranked round to reading War and Peace and all the others, wouldn't I run into a few unfortunate events such as the Battle of Borodino and the retreat from Moscow? Wouldn't The Odyssey remind me of the sack of Troy and the massacre of the suitors? What about Heathcliff hanging a set of puppies in Wuthering Heights? Vanity and greed rear their ugly heads even in Jane Austen, for God's sake!

I don't know that I'll actually be dashing off to read what Kate Camp has to say about these "Klassics" (personally I kind of like the ridiculous Teutonic affectation of that initial "K" -- is The Trial in her line-up, too?), but I very much doubt that her main point is that a quick read of them will bolster up the smug stupidity of the New Zealand haute bourgeoisie. Good on her for trying to stir the pot a bit.

Shame on you, though, Linda, for being such a dolt. Whether it's a "klassic" or a contemporary, the purpose of literature is to harrow the heart and remind us what it is to be human. That's also, I thought, the function of any periodical, whether in the arts, politics, or any other field. If, on the other hand, we want to get lessons in how to be subhuman, we can always turn to that good old reliable New Zealand Herald.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

With a single bound Jack was free ...

New Zealand Poets Read Their Work (1974). [Image: Pat Hanly]

You all know the story. The hack who usually wrote each instalment of the weekly magazine's adventure serial was off on holiday, but at the end of the previous episode he'd provided a true cliffhanger: his hero was bound to the stake, surrounded by hostile tribesmen, with a fire being kindled under his feet, dozens of rifles trained on him, and an erupting volcano in the background.

Nobody in the office could think of any conceivable way of getting him out of this tight fix, so they had to summon the writer back from his vacation with the lure of extra cash in order to extricate them from this embarrassment.

He walked in, sat down at the desk, took a look at the last page he'd written - and then scrawled: "With a single bound Jack was free."

You may have noticed I haven't been doing a whole lot of blogging on this site lately. It's not been through idleness, I assure you - nosiree. "With a single bound Jack was free." Or at any rate that was the plan.

Jan Kemp & Jack Ross (2004)

The thing I was trying to get shot of was the Aotearoa New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive. For those of you who don't know, this is a collection of recordings of 171 New Zealand poets, on 40 audio CDs (with two CDs of texts and bio/bibliographical information) which was compiled between 2002 and 2004.

As you can imagine, there's a certain amount of staff work involved in setting up recordings in the four major centres (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin), and then at least as much again in tidying up all the tapes, and texts, and photos and other impedimenta.

Jan Kemp & Alan Smythe (1974)

It started off as the brainchild of Jan Kemp and Alan Smythe, who'd collaborated on a similar venture in 1974 (resulting in a set of 3 LP records: New Zealand Poets Read Their Work). Smythe was then (2002) the head of SCAPA, the Performing Arts centre at the University of Auckland, so he seemed well-placed to facilitate the collection of materials. When he left that position in 2003, the archive shifted to Special Collections in the University Library, with the help of funds from Creative New Zealand and from the University of Auckland English Department (then headed by Ken Larsen).

Jan Kemp & Alan Smythe (2004)

There were many, many other people involved, though, and I was one of them. My particular responsibility was getting all the texts in order. When I say that this involved sorting out more than 2,000 tracks on over 3,000 pages of A4, I think you may get some idea of the scope of the project.

For various copyright reasons, the eventual electronic archive can - at present - only be accessed in two places: University of Auckland's Special Collections (which also has all the raw data from which the 42 Cds were distilled); and the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington.

So what's actually in the archive? Well, a list of the 171 poets, together with sample tracks from 12 of them, has been available as a feature at the nzepc since 2004. But up until now it wasn't actually possible to know which tracks had actually been recorded by each one of them unless you visited one of the two institutions mentioned above, and sat down in front of a monitor with the CDs.

I thought that was a shame. It seems foolish to go to all that trouble, and then end up with an artefact no-one can really use. And some of the poets involved let me know as much in no uncertain terms.

(And while we're on the subject, d'you feel like modifying your tone a bit when you send me emails out of the blue, guys? I mean, I don't actually spend my life plotting ways to derail your literary career ... There is in fact a certain amount of idealism involved in putting together these huge compilations - and that applies not just to me and Jan (and Mark King, who made order out of the chaos of all the different recordings), but also to the people who organised the recordings in the four centres. Elizabeth Alley in Wellington, David Howard & Morrin Rout in Christchurch, and Nick Ascroft & Richard Reeve in Dunedin did a great deal of work for a not conspicuous amount of reward).

So what I've been doing over the past month is compiling an index to the whole kit and kaboodle. It takes the form of an immense interconnected and hyperlinked blog, because that was the only way I could think of to do it which didn't involve further requests for funding from the various agencies who've already sunk so much into this project. You'll find a link to it at the side of this page.

It includes:

* an alphabetical index of all 171 poets included in the 2002-2004 AoNZPSA (Aotearoa New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive), with a list of the poems they recorded, a picture (where one was avaialble), biographical and bibliographical information.

* an alphabetical index of all 52 poets included in the Waiata Archive of recordings compiled for the 3 1974 LPs. I've included photos and bio / bibliographical information with these where it was readily available, but should note that collecting such details was not part of the original brief 30 years ago. I don't even have dates of birth for some of the poets included.

* Contents lists for all four publications which have come from these two archives: the 3-LP set New Zealand Poets Read Their Work and New Zealand Poets Read Their Work for Children (Waiata Records, 1974); and the set of three chronological audio / text anthologies Classic, Contemporary and New New Zealand Poets in Performance (Auckland University Press, 2006-8) edited by myself and Jan.

Useful? I certainly hope so. I should note that it contains no actual copyright materials: no recordings, and no texts of poems. Those are all reserved for the archive itself. I have, however, tried to link to homepages or websites which do include such features.

The selection of poems was, in each case, the poet's responsibility. So, generally, was the format of their bio / bibliography (in the few cases where this was missing, these were compiled by me or by Edmund King). I'm perfectly happy to update them, but to start with I've just posted what we collected in 2002-2004. I'd also like to receive more pictures (jpegs under 50 kb in size are ideal) for those 73 (of 196) poets we don't have photographs of.

To my mind, this puts at least a provisional full stop to the whole project. To my involvement with it, at any rate. If you're interested in a particular poet or poets, you can now easily see which poems of theirs are included in the archive, and then go and listen to them either in Wellington or Auckland (and, yes, I wish the materials were available elsewhere - all I can say is that we tried very hard to arrange it, and will continue to do so).

Beyond that, I can only refer you to the three chronological volumes of recordings (one of which, New NZ Poets in Performance is still in production at present: due out on Poetry Day next year) now available through AUP. I'd rather, myself, that the whole collection could be up on the internet, but that's a project far beyond my resources and technological expertise.

This could be seen as the beginning of such an online digital archive, perhaps, but we aren't quite there yet. Certainly, in the future, the internet will be the place for such extensive collections.