Sunday, May 25, 2008

Car Epics (2)

I've been reminded by some of you that I missed The Epic of Gilgamesh out of my list of epic poems to listen to in the car. Quite right - to be honest, I didn't realise that it was even available as a talking book. But it is. Luckily. I'll add more details about the actual recordings later, when my package arrives.

0 - Sîn-leqi-unninnī: The Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 1350 BC)

a) translated by N. K. Sandars (1960)
read by Richard Pasco
Penguin Audiobooks, 1996
2 cassettes (abridged)

The first translation of Gilgamesh I ever encountered - it's still one of the most readable. It's a real shame that these Penguin Audiobooks haven't been re-released on CDs. there's some excellent recordings among them. This is one of the best.

b) translated by Stephen Mitchell (2004)
read by George Guidall
Recorded Books, 2004
4 CDs (unabridged)

A vivid new translation, and a fine reading. What they don't tell you, though, is that the last two CDs are Mitchell's critical discussion of the poem, rather than extra bits of the story. A nice complement to the Sandars translation, then, but I don't think it entirely supersedes it.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

What are we teaching when we say we teach Creative Writing?

[Bill Watterson, "Calvin and Hobbes" (1985-95)]

I'm giving a paper with this title at the School of Social and Cultural Studies seminar series at Massey Albany on Wednesday 28th May at 4 pm.

Here's my abstract:

I've noticed that the idea of teaching Creative Writing tends to elicit negative reactions both in other writers and other academics. I've had solemn lectures from both sets of colleagues on the impossibility of teaching someone to be "creative". The Romantic idea of the divinely-inspired artist obviously dies hard.

With this in mind, I thought it might be helpful to clarify what it is that I personally think I'm doing when I presume to teach Creative Writing, to compare this to various other practitioner's definitions, and generally to try to demystify the whole vexed subject.


It's not that I'm unsympathetic to either of the responses listed above.

The Writers are, presumably, afraid (on the one hand), of an army of institutionalised clones marching out to take over the literary world; on the other hand, they're concerned that the mysterious character traits which make them happiest when sitting by themselves in an attic poring over mysterious pieces of paper are unlikely to be transmissible through formal instruction.

It's not hard to empathise, too, with their fear of being replaced by a pre-programmed, predictable robot artist. They know that such an artist would probably suit society's purposes far better than they do. It wasn't by accident that Plato excluded poets from his ideal Republic.

The Academics, for the most part, seem to feel that it's just an excuse to let students lollygag around the quad staring into space and trying to imagine what it's like to be a tree or a bird – an essentially vain and frivolous way of evading the realities of solid, quantifiable research and easily assessable sets of skills.

Assessment is really the rub here, I feel. I mean, these are university courses we're talking about – not consciousness-raising exercises. Therapy sessions and confidence courses undoubtedly have their place, but should one get a grade for completing them? How do they contribute to a coherent pedagogical schema?

Well, luckily, the subject is a lot less mysterious than it might at first appear. Perhaps you'll permit me to quote here from my own introduction to our Stage One course in Creative Writing (Poetry and Fiction) here at Massey Albany:

Be concise; get to the point; be clear on what you want to say.

... Effective writing means communicating as clearly as possible with your reader. Stories and poems, the two specific forms of writing we’ll be working with, have always been considered particularly potent ways of getting information across. It’s how to promote that exchange of meaning that we’ll be concentrating on in the course, rather than the fostering of “creativity” in itself. That (hopefully) each of us was born with. Clear communication can be taught.

Whether you’re an English major, a Communications major, a Media Studies major, a Psychology major, or you haven’t yet decided what to specialize in, I can promise that this course will be relevant to your other studies. As well as teaching you techniques for expressing your own ideas in poetry and fiction, it will help you to analyze and understand other people’s work in greater depth.

If your interest is in Communication specifically, it will also help you to see the issues involved in choosing a medium of communication. Advertisers, PR people, News Reporters and Creative Artists all face essentially the same dilemma: how to reach a target audience with a particular message in the shortest possible time.

Obviously that explanation begs a lot of questions. "Stories and poems," I say above, "have always been considered particularly potent ways of getting information across." But of course that's not really the way they're usually regarded. What is a story? What is a poem? Why have most human cultures throughout history chosen to express themselves in these two forms (as well as in music, painting, sculpture, architecture etc. etc.)?

I'm not uninterested in these questions. In fact, I continue to speculate about them a good deal. But what I'm claiming above is that one can corral off that field of speculation from the actual technical practicalities of how to express one's ideas as effectively as possible (notice that I don't say "express oneself" – that really is too loaded for me).

And that, it seems to me, is what this field of study has in common with other disciplines here at the university. Can one teach religious studies without having strong religious views? I don't see why not. There's a whole series of events and concepts which can be discussed before the teacher obtrudes his or her own views – his or her own agnosticism, for that matter.

That, at any rate, is the theory behind English studies. A properly-trained English Academic is presumed to be a reliable guide to literary history, literary theory, and even literary appreciation. Books, after all, are written for readers (and, by extension, critics) – not simply for the delectation of other writers.

However, when we extend this to the teaching of professional practice within a particular field of study – the planning and construction of actual buildings, say, rather than architectural history or criticism – then I guess we apply slightly different (though still analogous) standards.

There’s no reason per se why the practicalities of a subject requiring technical knowledge as well as aesthetic judgement shouldn’t be taught by a pure theoretician. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to claim that our culture still places a certain value on experience. Overseeing the construction of a real, concrete building undoubtedly involves a lot of unforeseen hurdles and difficulties which have to be solved on the spot, and it’s then that the advice of someone who’s been there and done that can be most valuable.

For that reason, I think students are right to expect to be taught the practical details of their craft from teachers professionally active in the field (whatever field that happens to be). In the case of Creative Writing, I believe personally that that means someone who publishes – or at least has published – in that or analogous media. Which is not to say that such instructors are bound to be correct on any and all points of detail. Not at all.

What at least that degree of engagement implies to me is more along the lines of Shakespeare’s adage: “He jests at scars that never felt a wound.” How can a teacher empathise with the fear and trepidation their students feel in exposing their own work for critique, if he or she has never experienced that precise emotion, in that particular way?

You may reply that reading out an essay, or an academic paper, is every bit as daunting as reading out a poem or a piece of fiction. Perhaps - but then again, perhaps not. There are ways in which the full panoply of academic method and procedure can be deployed to deflect self-exposure in the case of critical work. With creative work, the masks of style and artifice are seldom sufficiently impenetrable to disguise the fact that one actually is setting up one’s dearest notions for appreciation or ridicule: "all my precious things / A post the passing dogs defile," as the poet W. B. Yeats put it.

So, to answer my initial question: yes, I think one can legitimately teach a subject called “Creative Writing” in a university context.

Mind you, it seems to me more a matter of refining process, rather than sitting in judgement on a student’s choice of raw material. The two inevitably affect each other. Nevertheless, I feel the distinction can still legitimately be made.

There's no getting round the fact that a degree of subjectivity will inevitably enter into each teacher’s choice of models and texts to study. Prior practical and theoretical decisions about what are and are not fruitful creative "directions" will also appear in his or her choice of what to stress both in class and when grading student compositions.

If our students are chided for lack of concrete detail, precise language, memorable situations and individual characterisation, it will be (of course) because we consider those traits to be not only intrinsically desirable in both poetry and fiction, but also because we consider them to be teachable. They are, in short, an excellent starting point.

If we continue to use such hackneyed formulae as :“Show, don’t tell,” or William Carlos Williams' "No ideas but in things," or Ezra Pound's “Nothing you couldn’t, in the stress of some emotion, actually say,” then that might appear to denote a residual obeisance to Modernist aesthetics. But isn’t it really more analogous to what we're doing in English studies when we instruct budding critics in the – undoubtedly theoretically outmoded – skills of New Critical close reading?

Finally, are we attempting to train our students to become good writers or good readers (or, for that matter, good writing teachers)? I would humbly suggest that it makes very little difference in practice. I certainly feel that students who have struggled to compose their own poems and stories, will be more knowledgeable about – and appreciative of – the craft that goes into admitted masterpieces of the genre, than those who have stuck entirely to the field of exposition and critique.

Whether our students go on to develop their abilities in the field we’re trying to equip them for seems to be more a matter of temperament than innate talent. Could either Jeffrey Archer or (say) William McGonagall be said to have mastered fully the technicalities of their respective genres? Both have nevertheless pursued writing careers with vigour and determination – both continue to be widely read (for whatever reason).

Trying to supply our own students with a similar sense of mission and dedication is, I feel, where our teaching responsibilities should end. If writing constitutes their particular bliss (to adopt Joseph Campbell’s formula) no doubt they will pursue it. If not, at the very least I hope we'll have equipped them to compose a better webpage or business letter.


So how does one actually set about imparting this rather notional set of skills?

Let's go to the experts on that one. Robert Graves' 1934 novel Claudius the God includes a hair-raising description of how the ancient Druids assessed competence in poetic composition:

The candidate must lie naked all night in a coffin-like box, only his nostrils protruding above the icy water with which it is filled, and with heavy stones laid on his chest. In this position he must compose a poem of considerable length in the most difficult of the many difficult bardic meters, on a subject which is given him as he is placed in the box. On his emergence next morning he must be able to chant this poem to a melody which he had been simultaneously composing, and accompany himself on the harp. [pp. 259-60]

The penalty for any failure is, of course, death.

Moving to more recent times, here's the renowned American author Ursula K. Le Guin in the introduction to her aptly-named Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew (1998):

Collaborative workshops and writers' peer groups hadn't been invented when I was young. They're a wonderful invention. They put the writer into a community of people all working at the same art, the kind of group musicians and painters and dancers have always had.

... Groups offer, at their best, mutual encouragement, amicable competition, stimulating discussion, practice in criticism, and support in difficulty. These are great things, and if you're able to and want to join a group, do so! But if for any reason you can't, don't feel cheated or defeated. Ultimately you write alone. And ultimately you and you alone can judge your work ... Group criticism is excellent training for self-criticism; but until quite recently no writer had that training, and yet they learned what they needed. They learned by doing it. [pp. ix-x.]

That sounds more than a little defensive to me. Are writing groups really so recent an invention? Some of the literary salons of the eighteenth century would certainly seem to have anticipated them. And then there were the groups of friends such as C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien's Inklings, who read aloud, then critiqued one another's work. Is the idea so different, in fact, from what Coleridge and the two Wordsworths were doing as they walked and talked together in the Lake District?

John Singleton and Mary Luckhurst, the editors of The Creative Writing Handbook: Techniques for New Writers (1996) sound rather more positive about the benefits of the group experience:
We feel strongly that writers should not work in intellectual isolation.

They go on to specify:
This is a challenging era for a writer. On the one hand, there is a strong camp arguing that the process of writing is one of self-discovery and a means of understanding yourself in relation to the world. On the other hand, post-modernists are telling us that the search for a fixed self is pointless; that we will discover only selves and that none of them will be 'real'! So theoretically we're in a double-bind: but don't let it stop you writing! [p.16]

That last sentence may sound a little bland, but it's hard to argue with it. How you write and how you theorise about your own writing are not and never can be side-issues, but if you succeed in arguing yourself into silence it's hard to see who wins from that.

G. K. Chesterton perhaps summed up the argument for perseverance in a craft one can never hope to master in the phrase: "If a thing's worth doing it's worth doing badly." If you try to say what you've got you say then there's always the chance that something will get across - though, to be sure, never everything you hoped. If you give up and throw it away then even that slender chance is gone.

Finally, Colin Bulman, in his Creative Writing: A Guide and Glossary to Fiction Writing (2007) points out that:

No book or teacher can make anyone a great artist, but most great artists are masters of basic techniques ... This book is largely about basic fictional techniques; no book can show the reader how to be an innovator in fiction. [p.2]

Quite so. The Woolfs and Joyces and Nabokovs will continue to follow their own tortuous creative trajectories, but even they might have useful tips to pick up about what does and doesn't work on an audience - in this case, that initial audience of their creative writing workshop. Not everyone has a Lytton Strachey or an Edmund Wilson (or an Ezra Pound, for that matter) to bounce their ideas off.

The Exercise

This is the bit I can't really describe on the blog, unfortunately. I'm going to try and get my audience to participate in a group-marking exercise. I've chosen some actual poems from my Stage One Creative Writing class (extensively disguised to prevent identification of their authors, of course).

If all goes well we'll end up agreeing that there actually are objective criteria for assessing them, and that it isn't a purely arbitrary expression of personal preference. If not, then I'll have to resort to Plan B.

Maybe some of the rest of you can suggest what that should be.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Car Epics

I guess it's been quite a while since I put up a post about the joys of listening to poetry on the car stereo while stuck in Auckland traffic. Since then I've been branching out a bit and checking out the recordings I like the most.

All of which is a preliminary to sharing my own - very subjective - list of best recordings of epics for such purposes (see also the supplementary list above):

1 - Homer: The Iliad (c. 850 BC)

a) translated by William Cowper (1791)
read by Anton Lesser
Naxos AudioBooks, 1995
3 CDs (abridged)

A bit too stilted and mannered for me - traditional verse translations don't work as well as prose when it comes to audiobooks, I think.

b) translated by Robert Fagles (1990)
read by Derek Jacobi
Penguin Audiobooks, 1993
6 cassettes (abridged)

A brilliantly vivid version in modern verse, read in a rather mannered way by (I, Claudius) Jacobi in every voice he can muster.

c) translated by Ian Johnston (2002)
read by Anton Lesser
Naxos AudioBooks, 2006
13 CDs (complete)

Pretty definitive, I should imagine.

2 - Homer: The Odyssey (c. 850 BC)

a) translated by William Cowper (1791)
read by Anton Lesser
Naxos AudioBooks, 1995
3 CDs (abridged)

As above about his Iliad. Cowper's Miltonic blank verse works fine on the page but not so well on the radio - Anton Lesser gives it a good go, though.

b) translated by E. V. Rieu (1945)
read by Alex Jennings
Penguin Audiobooks, 1995
6 cassettes (abridged)

Alex Jennings may be less adept as a reader than Derek Jacobi, but this is nevertheless an amazingly effective version. It quite transformed my last roadtrip around the South Island.

c) translated by Robert Fagles (1996)
read. by Ian McKellen
Penguin Audiobooks, 1996
12 cassettes (complete)

Translation great, Ian McKellen excellent, but it's surprising just how much of the poem concerns Odysseus wandering around Ithaca. Abridged versions tend to shorten all that return-of-the-native stuff considerably.

d) translated by Ian Johnston (2002)
read by Anton Lesser
Naxos AudioBooks, 2007
10 CDs (complete)

Again, pretty definitive.

3 - Virgil: The Aeneid (c. 30-19 BC)

a) translated by Robert Fitzgerald (1983)
read by Christopher Ravenscroft
Highbridge Company, 1995
8 CDs (abridged)

Ravenscroft, who used to be on Ruth Rendell's Wexford series, has a rather nasal voice, but it's fascinating to hear so much of Aeneas's adventures in Italy, normally glossed over in the selected versions. Fitzgerald's translation is fantastic - the only drawback about this version is that it is slightly abridged, otherwise I'd be to look no further.

b) translated by C. Day Lewis (1952)
read by Paul Scofield et al.
Naxos AudioBooks, 2002
4 CDs (abridged)

Partly dramatised and very selective - great for the bits it does do, though. Paul Scofield has the perfect hollow, echoing voice for the narrator of so spooky a poem.

c) translated by Robert Fagles (2006)
read by Simon Callow
Penguin Audiobooks, 2006
10 CDs (complete)

A spirited translation in a rather plummy rendition.

4 - Ovid: Metamorphoses (c. 8 AD)

[a) translated by Charles Boer (1989)
read by Noah Pikes
Spring Publications, 1994
1 cassette (abridged)]

I haven't actually heard this, but it gets a very bad review on the site. Boer's complete translation is great to read in book from, though.

[b)Tales from Ovid
translated & read by Ted Hughes (1995)
Penguin Audiobooks, 2000
1 CD (abridged)]

I haven't heard this, either (out of print), but Ted Hughes is usually a pretty good reader.

c) translated by Frank Justus Miller (1916)
read by Barry Kraft
Blackstone Audiobooks, 2008
12 CDs (complete)

Kraft has the most grating, mid-western voice imaginable, but at least he's audible and pretty consistent in his range of tones. That's a very important consideration when one's trying to listen to something over the roar of traffic. A very bald prose translation (from the Loeb Classics) is actually an excellent choice for reading aloud - and it is complete.

5 - Beowulf (c. 800 AD)

a) translated by Michael Alexander (1972)
read by David Rintoul (2000)
Penguin Audiobooks, 1997
2 cassettes (complete)

Excellent, informative translation in a spirited reading.

b) translated & read by Seamus Heaney (1998)
Penguin Audiobooks, 2000
3 CDs (abridged)

And yet, I have to admit, that - while he doesn't follow the strict rules of Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse (unlike Michael Alexander above), there's a real difference between a poet's rendering of a great poem, and an academic's. Heaney makes a riveting story out of the ancient epic - the hype that surrounded his translation when it first came out certainly seems justified by this masterly reading.

[c) translated by Benedict Flynn (2006)
read by Crawford Logan
Naxos Audiobooks, 2006
3 CDs (complete)]

I hadn't realised that the Penguin Audiobook recording of Michael Alexander's translation is actually complete, or I don't know that I would have bothered with this one as well ...

6 - Dante: The Divine Comedy (c. 1300-1321)

a) translated by Benedict Flynn (1998)
read by Heathcote Williams
Naxos AudioBooks:

  • Inferno (2004)
    4 CDs (complete)

  • Purgatory (1998)
    3 CDs (complete)

  • Paradise (2004)
    4 CDs (complete)

I have nothing but praise for this. I don't really like Heathcote Williams as a poet, but as a reader he's amazing. The choice of a literal prose version was also very wise - rather than mucking around with all the - essentially futile - attempts to naturalise terza rima into English. It's hard to imagine this being bettered, except (for Italian speakers) for this complete version read in the original.

7 - The Thousand and One Nights (c. 800-900 AD)

a) translated by Sir Richard F. Burton (1885)
read by Philip Madoc
Naxos AudioBooks, 1995
3 CDs (abridged)

A poor selection from Burton's immense masterwork. The reading is okay but it's hard to see the logic behind the audiobook as a whole.

b) translated by N. J. Dawood (1954-57)
read by Souad Faress & Raad Rawi
Penguin Audiobooks, 1995
4 cassettes (abridged)

A witty and musical reading -- the stories are well chosen and the whole makes good sense. More, please!

8 - Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (c. 1400)

a) translated by J. R. R. Tolkien (1975)
read by Terry Jones
HarperCollins, 2007
4 CDs (complete)

A sinuous and complex set of poems, in a bluff, hearty reading by Monty Python's Jones. Again, you owe it to yourself to check this out, especially if you're unfamiliar with the originals - one of the great, thorny masterpieces of medieval poetry.

9 - Milton: Paradise Lost (1667)

a) read by Anton Lesser
Naxos AudioBooks, 2005
9 CDs (complete)

Great stuff. Lesser has a slightly whiney voice, which suits the Prince of Darkness very well. What better way to encounter the greatest epic poem in the English language? A complete Faerie Queene would be nice, too - but so far only selections are available.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

20 Favourite 20th-Century Novels

I guess this is a recipe for disaster, really. Once you get going it's very difficult to confine yourself to just twenty. The idea was prompted by looking at the line-up in the Auckland University English course "Novels since 1900," formerly convened and taught by the late David Wright. His list of eight - or nine, depending on whether you count John Barth as one or two books - was as follows:

It sure got me thinking, though. I've had to settle on a couple of lists (I'm sorry to say, since the point was supposed to be conciseness): one of English-language novels, one of foreign-language novels I've only read in translation. It's a desperately subjective list. See what additions (and subtractions) you'd like to make yourself:
  1. Joseph Conrad, Nostromo (1904)
  2. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)
  3. Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (1927)
  4. William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (1929)
  5. Mervyn Peake, The Gormenghast Trilogy (1946-59)
  6. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (1954-55)
  7. Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)
  8. Janet Frame, Owls Do Cry (1957)
  9. Lawrence Durrell, The Alexandria Quartet (1957-60)
  10. William Burroughs, Naked Lunch (1959)
  11. Philip K. Dick, Ubik (1969)
  12. Angela Carter, The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr Hoffmann (1972)
  13. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed (1974)
  14. Patrick White, A Fringe of Leaves (1976)
  15. Kathy Acker, Blood and Guts in High School (1978)
  16. David Malouf, An Imaginary Life (1978)
  17. Troy Kennedy Martin, Edge of Darkness (1985)
  18. Dennis Potter, The Singing Detective (1986)
  19. Alan Moore, Watchmen (1986-87)
  20. Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses (1988)

I've cheated by putting in some trilogies and quartets of novels, but I guess I could settle on just one from each series if you want to get really purist about it. Obviously I had the advantage of being able to leave out all of David Wright's authors, also.

There are other features which some might find unusual: two TV-series, each of which seems to me every bit as complex and "written" as a great novel; two Sci-Fi novels; two Fantasy novels; one graphic novel; Australian and NZ authors jostling with the Americans and Brits ... Anyway, there it is.

If I could have, I'd have liked to fit in Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim (1954); Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange (1962); Leonard Cohen's Beautiful Losers (1966); William Golding's Pincher Martin (1956); Philip Larkin's A Girl in Winter (1947); C. S. Lewis's Perelandra (1943); Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano (1947); Gerald Murnane's The Plains (1982); John Cowper Powys's A Glastonbury Romance (1932); Mary Renault's The King Must Die (1958); Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy (1994) -- something by Hemingway (A Farewell to Arms (1929) is probably my favourite), Kerouac (of course On the Road (1957)); D. H. Lawrence (perhaps Women in Love (1920)?); Wyndham Lewis (The Childermass (1928)); Norman Mailer (Ancient Evenings (1983)?); Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer (1934)?); Steinbeck (I guess it would have to be The Grapes of Wrath (1939)); Gertrude Stein (The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933)?); Evelyn Waugh (Brideshead Revisited (1945)?); and lots more graphic novels (including Blankets (2003), pictured above) but everything you put in means that something else has to come out. That's how I understand the rules of the game, at any rate.

Here's my companion list of foreign language novels (equally contentious, I hope):

  1. Jaroslav Hasek, The Good Soldier Svejk (1912-23)
  2. Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time (1913-27)
  3. Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain (1924)
  4. Franz Kafka, The Castle (1926)
  5. Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita (1928-40)
  6. Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game (1943)
  7. Junichiro Tanizaki, The Makioka Sisters (1943-48)
  8. Italo Calvino, Our Ancestors (1952-59)
  9. Naguib Mahfouz, The Cairo Trilogy (1956-57)
  10. Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago (1957)
  11. Stanislaw Lem, Solaris (1961)
  12. Mario Vargas Llosa, The Green House (1965)
  13. Milan Kundera, The Joke (1967)
  14. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)
  15. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The First Circle (1968)
  16. Augusto Roa Bastos, I, the Supreme (1974)
  17. Gunter Grass, The Flounder (1978)
  18. Georges Perec, Life: A User's Manual (1978)
  19. Marguerite Duras, La Douleur (1985)
  20. Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1992-95)

No Brazilian writers there, I'm afraid: Jorge Amado or Clarice Lispector. No Chinese novelists either: I simply don't know their work well enough.

Monday, May 05, 2008

New NZ Poets by Theme

[Seraphine Pick, "He"]

I like typewriters because they are always turned on.
– Will Christie

Here's a thematic breakdown of the 97 tracks in our New NZ Poets in Performance anthology (Auckland: AUP, 2008). The categories are pretty subjective, and could undoubtedly be improved on. Maybe that’s not such a bad starting point for discussion, though: what's the poem really about?


Tusiata Avia: My Dog
Anna Jackson: Takahe
Anne Kennedy: Cat Tales
Thérèse Lloyd: Forecast
Chris Price: Keeping Ravens


James Brown: The Crewe Cres Kids
Andrew Johnston: How to Talk
Jenny Powell-Chalmers: Lunchbox
Sonja Yelich: whangaparaoa – on the sundeck


Glenn Colquhoun: On the death of my grandmother
Andrew Johnston: The Present
Jack Ross: Except Once


Anna Jackson: In a Minute
Andrew Johnston: Les Baillessats
Anne Kennedy: Whenua (2)
Emma Neale: You’re Telling Me


Nick Ascroft: All of the Other Ascrofts are Dead
James Brown: Loneliness
Anna Jackson: The hen of tiredness
Andrew Johnston: How to Walk
Kapka Kassabova: A city of pierced amphorae
Kapka Kassabova: Preparation for the big emptiness
Thérèse Lloyd: Scorpion Daughter
Emma Neale: Confessional Poem
Jenny Powell-Chalmers: Linda
John Pule: Restless People – Ka hola
John Pule: Restless People – He
Sarah Quigley: Restless
Tracey Slaughter: biography day


Jenny Bornholdt: Rodnie and her Bicycles
Anna Jackson: On the Road with Rose
Robert Sullivan: V Honda Waka


James Brown: Soup from a Stone
Lynda Chanwai-Earle: Gasp
David Howard: Social Studies
Mark Pirie: Making a Point
Mark Pirie: The Third Form
Robert Sullivan: Waka 70 i Matakitaki
Robert Sullivan: Waka 62 A narrator’s note


Tusiata Avia: My First Time in Samoa
Serie Barford: God is near the equator
Jenny Bornholdt: Weather
Kate Camp: Backroads
Kapka Kassabova: My life in two parts
John Newton: Lunch
John Newton: Ferret Trap
John Newton: Inland
Gregory O’Brien: Epithalamium, Wellington
Jenny Powell-Chalmers: Carnival of Chocolate
Sarah Quigley: New York Four
Richard Reeve: Ranfurly
Sonja Yelich: narrow neck from the boat ramp


Nick Ascroft: The Badder & the Better
James Brown: The Day I Stopped Writing Poetry
John Newton: Opening the Book
Mark Pirie: Progress
Chris Price: Ghastlily
Robert Sullivan: Waka 46
Sonja Yelich: writing desk


Jenny Bornholdt: Please, Pay Attention
Glenn Colquhoun: from Whakapapa
Kapka Kassabova: One morning like a sleeper
Gregory O’Brien: Numbers 1 & 2
John Pule: Restless People – Liogi
Richard Reeve: Victory Beach


Gregory O’Brien: It will be better then
Gregory O’Brien: Solomon Singing
Gregory O’Brien: There is only one
Jack Ross: Idyll


Serie Barford: Plea to the Spanish Lady
Lynda Chanwai-Earle: Details from a Personal Journal
Glenn Colquhoun: Lost Property
Thérèse Lloyd: One Hundred Hours
Richard Reeve: Dark Unloading
Jack Ross: Disorder and Early Sorrow


Nick Ascroft: Cheap Present
Jenny Bornholdt: Then Murray Came
Kate Camp: Guests
Glenn Colquhoun: She asked me if she took one pill for her heart …
Emma Neale: Spoken For
Emma Neale: Jane Coleridge
Emma Neale: Caroline Helstone
Jack Ross: A Woman Named Intrepid


Tusiata Avia: Wild Dogs under my Skirt
Kate Camp: Postcard
Kate Camp: Documentaries
Kate Camp: Water of the Sweet Life
David Howard: On the Eighth Day
David Howard: Talking Sideways
Anne Kennedy: I was a feminist in the 80s
Mark Pirie: Good Looks
Chris Price: The Origins of Science
Tracey Slaughter: Anatomy of dancing with your Future Wife


Jenny Bornholdt: Bus Stop
Olivia Macassey: Outhwaite Park
Olivia Macassey: Outer Suburb
Sonja Yelich: 1YA

New NZ Poets by Region

[Seraphine Pick, "Girl (with offered eyes)"]

I want New Zealand to secede from Americanized world culture,
in the same way that these islands seceded from the ancient
supercontinent of Gondwanaland.

– Scott Hamilton

Here's my preliminary attempt at a regional breakdown of the 28 poets in the last of our three AUP anthologies: New NZ Poets in Performance (2008):

Place -- Name -- Dates


Serie Barford (b.1960)
German-Samoan by birth; lives in West Auckland
Anna Jackson (b.1967)
Born in Auckland, she now lives in Wellington.
Jack Ross (b.1962)
Born and still lives in Auckland's East Coast Bays.
Robert Sullivan (b.1967)
Nga Puhi. Educated at Auckland University, he now lives in Hawai'i.
Sonja Yelich (b.1965)
Lives in Bayswater, Auckland.


Kapka Kassabova (b.1973)
Born in Sofia, Bulgaria, she emigrated to New Zealand in 1992.


Tusiata Avia (b.1966)
A Samoan-New Zealander, born and educated in Christchurch.
David Howard (b.1959)
Born and brought up in Christchurch, he now lives at Purakanui, near Dunedin.
John Newton (b.1959)
Lives and teaches in Christchurch.
Sarah Quigley (b.1967)
Born in Christchurch, she now lives in Berlin.


Olivia Macassey (b.1975)
Born in Coromandel, she now lives in Parnell, Auckland.
Tracey Slaughter (b.1972)
Lives in Thames, on the west side of the Coromandel Peninsula.


Nick Ascroft (b.1973)
Born in Oamaru, he now lives in the UK.
Emma Neale (b.1969)
Born in Dunedin, where she lives and works.
Jenny Powell-Chalmers (b.1960)
Born in Dunedin, where she lives and works (after a brief sojourn in Wellington).
Richard Reeve (b. 1976)
Born and educated in Dunedin, where he still lives.


Thérèse Lloyd (b.1974)
Born in Napier, she presently lives in Iowa, where she was Schaeffer fellow for 2007-8.


Glenn Colquhoun (b.1964)
Lives in a small village, Te Tii, just north of Kerikeri.
Gregory O’Brien (b.1961)
Born in Matamata, he worked as a journalist in Northland before moving to Wellington, where he now lives.


John Pule (b.1962)
Born in Niue, he came to New Zealand in 1964. Presently lives in Auckland.


Jenny Bornholdt (b.1960)
Born and lives in Wellington.
James Brown (b.1966)
Born in Wellington, he now lives in Island Bay.
Kate Camp (b.1972)
Born and educated in Wellington.
Lynda Chanwai-Earle (b.1965)
Born in London, she was brought up in New Guinea and educated in Hawkes Bay before moving to Auckland and, subsequently, Wellington.
Andrew Johnston (b.1963)
Born in Upper Hutt, he now lives in France.
Anne Kennedy (b.1959)
born and educated in Wellington, she now lives in Hawai'i.
Mark Pirie (b.1974)
Born in Wellington, where he still lives.
Chris Price (b.1962)
Born in Reading, England, she emigrated to Auckland in 1966. She now lives in Wellington.

New NZ Poets Teaching Notes

[cover image: Sara Hughes / cover design: Christine Hansen]

New NZ Poets in Performance

Edited by Jack Ross.
Poems selected by Jack Ross & Jan Kemp
(Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2008)

With the appearance of this third and final volume of our series, it seems appropriate to say a few things about the “NZ Poets in Performance” project as a whole. The trilogy of anthologies Jan Kemp and I have put out through Auckland University Press include (in all) 27 + 27 + 28 = 82 poets and 110 + 87 + 97 = 294 tracks on 6 CDs. The first poet included, A. R. D. Fairburn, was born in 1904; the latest, Richard Reeve, in 1975.

‘If it doesn’t exist on the Internet, it doesn’t exist.’ One of our recent reviewers quoted this provocative apothegm from US poet and conceptual artist Kenneth Goldsmith. I don't know if I entirely agree - books and (more to the point) live performances have a huge importance still - but we've certainly taken the dictum to heart. There's now a complete index site devoted to the Aotearoa NZ Poetry Sound Archive (2002-4) and its predecessor, the Waiata Archive (1974). This includes pages on each of our 200-odd poets, together with full bibliographical details of our three AUP publications and the original 3-LP set NZ Poets Read their Work (1974).

It's to be hoped that at some point in the future we may be able to link to a number of soundfiles from the archive itself, but for the moment (largely for copyright reasons) the only tracks available online are at our NZEPC 12 Taonga feature, and on the NZEPC's own author pages.

We've received some brickbats as well as many bouquets from our numerous reviewers. Some have taken exception to our choice of titles. Certainly, I concur that if we'd chosen to call any one of our volumes The Classic or The Contemporary or The New NZ Poets in Performance, I think it would be perfectly legitimate to interpret this as yet another exercise in building up a definitive canon of Kiwi poets. But then (of course) we didn't.

Classic, Contemporary and New NZ Poets in Performance, our actual titles, clearly imply the existence of many other "classic," "contemporary" and "new" poets whom we haven't been able to include for a variety of reasons (discussed in more detail in the books themselves). I'm not myself very interested in deciding who's in and who's out in a more loaded sense. The more the merrier is my instinct when it comes to our rich and fruitful poetry scene.

There also seems to be some dispute over the term “in performance." Personally I don’t see the presence (or absence) of a live audience as the sole criterion of performance. Do all the members of a movie's eventual audience have to be present when an actor records each take of a scene? And yet we continue to speak of Robert de Niro’s “performance” in Raging Bull or Taxi Driver. Or is it only stage actors who can be said to “perform”?

For the record, then, I'd like to state my opinion that a poet's studio recording of a poem can be every bit as much of a "performance" as the interpretation given at a live poetry reading. Our intention all along has been to include the best versions available to us of New Zealand poets reading their own work. I fail to see any ambiguity in our use of the term, but if anyone has been misled by it, I certainly apologise for the confusion.

I guess our desire all along was that the book could be used to promote awareness of NZ poetry in schools and tertiary institutions (though of course it’s been priced to appeal to individual consumers as well).

With that in mind, I’ve followed my own example with the two previous volumes by compiling a thematic breakdown of all the poems in the anthology (and it took quite a while, too, so don’t wax too sarcastic at my expense. I know that some of the categories are a bit suss):


Another way of choosing a poet to talk about in your classroom (or your writing workshop, for that matter) might be through region and locality. Why not try to find a poet who comes from near where you live? Is there anything about their subject-matter, or their approach to writing, which seems to you to intersect fruitfully with the characteristics of your area?

Many of the poets in this book have associations with more than one place, but some (such as Tusiata Avia or Richard Reeve) are very strongly identified with a particular place, and constantly revisit it as subject-matter in their work.

Here are some of the places on offer:


Finally, further information may be accessed at the following websites:
Aotearoa New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive: Bibliographical Aids for the Use of Those Consulting the Waiata Archive (1974) and the AoNZPSA (2002-2004) - Audio Recordings available in Special Collections, University of Auckland Library and in the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.
(This is our own dedicated site, with full details of the AoNZPSA project).

Authors. The New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre.
(A select but valuable list of major NZ poets with pictures, recordings, and critical reactions).

Homepage. Auckland University Press.
(Details of books and other publications by a number of the authors in the anthology).

New Zealand Literature File. University of Auckland Library Website.
(This has thorough – though not always entirely reliable – bibliographies for many major New Zealand writers).

Twelve Taonga. The New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre.
(A brief account of the creation of the 1974 and 2004 recorded poetry archives, which were the principal source for this series of books).

New Zealand Writers. The New Zealand Book Council Website.
(This has pictures and short biographical and critical summaries adapted from Roger Robinson & Nelson Wattie's Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998), but with updated information and supplementary entries on more recent writers).