Friday, December 11, 2015

nzepc six pack sound #02

I have to say that I was pretty chuffed to see that the second set of "six pack" recordings was up on the nzepc. Why? Well, because one of them is by me, of course. But no, there are plenty of other reasons to feel excited by this initiative by the unfailingly inventive Michele Leggott, with her able collaborators Tim Page and Brian Flaherty.

Once again, the old jostles with the new, the "established" with the up-and-coming, in this interesting selection of six poets.

Last year it was Murray Edmond, Ya-Wen Ho, Alice Miller, Tessa Priest, Vaughan Rapatahana, and Steven Toussaint.

That is, admittedly, a pretty difficult act to follow, but this year Michele and co. have come up with Stephanie (the artist formerly known as Will) Christie, performance artists Makyla Curtis & Hannah Owen-Wright, Catalyst's Doc Drumheller, Fast-talking P.I. Selina Tusitala Marsh - me - and AUP poet Sam Sampson.

And there's some pretty trippy stuff up there by the various members of the gang. Go on, have a listen - you know you want to.

Jack Ross: Ice Road Trucker, designed by Daniel Fyles (2015)

My own selection is called "Ice Road Trucker," and is (I'm sorry to say) at least to some extent themed around my fascination with said reality show. Sorry about that. After America's Next Top Model, what's next?

There's lots of other crazy shit there, though, I promise you. Not to mention a few thoughts on mortality inspired by the recent death of my father.

The important point, though, is that I think this is another great idea from the nzepc. A small but instantly accessible selection of audio poems is a very useful thing for a writer to have. In many ways, it's the next step forward from our three Auckland University Press audio / text anthologies of New Zealand Poets in Performance.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Poetry NZ Yearbook 2 now available!

Cover image: Karl Chitham / Cover design: Anna Brown

Poetry NZ Yearbook
Editor: Jack Ross

(Volume 2 [Issue #50], November 2015)

ISSN 0114-5770. ii + 286 pp.

Auckland: School of English and Media Studies / Massey University, 2015

So, yes, it's out. And available for purchase from the website here.

Why should you buy it? Well, it's got reviews and essays and loads and loads of poems, and a fantastic cover image by artist Karl Chitham, and a cool cover design by Anna Brown, and it's really really long (288 pages this time), and it's got a poetry feature and an interview with the wonderful Robert Sullivan. Isn't that enough?

Robert Sullivan (2015)
photograph: Bronwyn Lloyd

If you're still not sold, you can find a full table of contents here. And, let's face it, what better Christmas present could you find for that special someone?

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

The Spookers Experience

Jack, Anon. & Bronwyn At Spookers (6/11/15)

My birthday treat this year was a visit to Spookers. Spookers, for those of you who don't know, is a kind of horror-themed amusement park which has been set up in some old buildings at the back of Kingseat, once a dreaded Auckland mental hospital.

"How tasteless, how vulgar!" I hear you say. You don't know the half of it! The whole thing is in supremely bad taste, and is - perhaps as a result? - a huge amount of hokey fun.

The approaches

We'd hardly got out of the car before we were accosted by a particularly belligerent member of the walking dead, waving a cleaver, and from there things only got stranger. There was a kind of do-it-yourself enthusiasm about the staff: mad nurses, vampires, zombies, ghosts and all. They seemed determined to demonstrate their acting chops, and for all our fine talk beforehand, it wasn't long before we too were running and squealing like girls.

Closer up

The rather posed studio photo at the top of the page is optional, but I think you'll agree that it would be a shame to leave without such a memento of one's stay. And - all the gallons of fake blood, dusty hospital rooms, and chainsaws aside - there's no denying that Kingseat itself is genuinely creepy.

There were moments as we drove along the long deserted road from the motorway, penetrating further and further into the hinterland, when I began to feel as if I'd strayed into The Locals, my all-time favourite New Zealand rural paranoia film.

They're Dying to Meet You

I suppose, as a serious student of the paranormal, I should feel ashamed of going to such places. Guess what? I'm not. It was very entertaining, and there was clearly something about me that particularly riled the staff (the fact that I was thirty or so years older than virtually everyone else there might have helped). Not even the Guinness t-shirt Bronwyn persuaded me to wear could persuade them that I wasn't some kind of patronising intellectual looking for something to slag off.

Anyway, we survived (though I haven't yet heard the last of that moment in the forest when I inadvertently lost track of Bronwyn for a moment whilst fleeing from an axe-wielding fiend. "Hey, you left your lady behind," I could hear them shouting after me. Her own remarks on the subject were rather more succinct - which I think was a little rich, given the number of times she'd already thrust me in the way of ghouls or zombies to facilitate her own escape ...)

I highly recommend it - but probably with something resembling the proviso Dylan Thomas added to his praise of Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds: "Just the book to give your sister - if she's a loud, dirty, boozy girl." That shouldn't present too many challenges for most of my readers, surely?

Directions to Spookers:

Take the Southern Motorway, take the Papakura/Karaka offramp. Turn right if coming from the North or left if coming from the South onto Linwood Road.

Linwood Road leads into Kingseat Road. Travel 14kms from the motorway and Spookers is on your right.

Spookers is strictly R16 with No ID, No Entry on Friday and Saturday nights. No exceptions.

BYO torch for the Freaky Forest/CornEvil or you can purchase them here at Spookers for $15 (Spookers branded) Wear sensible footwear and you may get some 'fake' blood on you. This will come out in the wash.

The Original Version

Pictures from a Booklaunch - Wellington, 22/10/15

Photos by Jack Ross (the bad ones)
or Bronwyn Lloyd (the ones which show signs of centring):

Sarah Jane & book

Thom Conroy

Bryan Walpert

Bronwyn, Ingrid Horrocks and Tim Corballis

Sarah Jane reads

Rachel O'Neill reads

Sarah Jane and Therese Lloyd

Bryan, Ingrid & Thom

Congratulations, Sarah!

For more on the launch, you can go to Sarah's own blog, the red room.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Lounge 47 Reading (Wednesday 21 October)

The latest in the long series of LOUNGE readings in Old Government House, Auckland University.

Here are the details of the event:


with readers:

Stu Bagby
Peter Bland
Roger Horrocks
Sophia Johnson
Michele Leggott
Bronwyn Lloyd
Vana Manasiadis
Elizabeth Morton
Lisa Samuels
Robert Sullivan

MC: Jack Ross

Wednesday 21st October, 5.30-7.00 pm

At Old Government House
Auckland University City Campus
corner of Princes St and Waterloo Quadrant

Free entry. Food and drinks for sale in the Buttery.
Information Michele Leggott, or 09 373 7599 ext. 87342

The LOUNGE readings are a continuing project of the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc), Auckland University Press and Auckland University English, Drama and Writing Studies, in association with the Staff Common Room Club at Old Government House, and — in this case — Poetry NZ.

See you there!

There will be a number of giveaways during the evening: free copies of Tender Girl, by Lisa Samuels; A Clearer View of the Hinterland, by Jack Ross; and a voucher for a free copy of the unfortunately-not-yet-back-from-the-printer Poetry NZ Yearbook 2.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Intrepid Ghost-Hunters (3): Home Turf

Poltergeist (1982)

There was a lot of noise in the house on Monday night as I was trying to get to sleep. I could hear what sounded like a radio playing a series of emetic pop-songs. I assumed it was coming from the supermarket carpark next door, or possibly from someone parked in the street in front.

Usually such sounds just go away. The truck-driver closes the door of his cab, or the young couple patch up their differences and drive away. Not this time, though: the noise just went on and on. After a while I put in my earplugs and rolled over to leave them to it.

After three or four songs it had woken up Bronwyn, though. She poked me in the ribs, and asked (or so I presume: I couldn't hear past the earplugs): "Do you hear that? Where's it coming from?"

After trying a few mollifying phrases about how it must be coming from next door, and other futile attempts to cling to sleep, I resigned myself to getting up to investigate. And, sure enough, a strange strobe-like light was emanating from the living room.

I went in. The TV was on. The sounds were coming from Free-to-air channel 11, the Edge. I turned it off. End of story.

But wait, not really end of story. Why did I only become aware of the music after I'd been lying in bed for half an hour or so? It wasn't on very loud, but it was quite perceptible even from the next room. It's true that I was watching that channel briefly before turning the TV off, but I did turn it off. I must have done - the screen was dark when we went to bed, and we'd been talking in the lounge for quite some time after it was turned off.

Is it normal for TVs to come on by themselves? Static electricity? Power-surges? Not this one, at any rate. It's never done it before (so far as I know), and it hasn't shown any signs of abnormality in the couple of days since.

Come to think of it, there have been a couple of other odd things in the house lately. Bronwyn tidied up the kitchen and washed up all the dishes the other day, but when she came back into the room there was a little plastic-handled knife lying in the middle of the bench.

Also, on that same night, the night of the self-turning-on TV, our cat Zero made a loud whimpering meow in the middle of the night - as if she'd just seen something odd, or someone (something?) had ruffled her fur. She's never done that before, not in quite that way.

There've always been quite a lot of strange bumping noises from upstairs in our house. It is quite old, after all - the boards tend to stretch and settle. The hair does occasionally stand up on the back of your neck. But there was no movement to be noted in the trigger object Bronwyn left in the lounge last night.

It's true that we've both been reading an interesting book called The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, by John and Anne Spencer (London: Headline Book Publishing PLC, 1992) which I picked up for a couple of dollars in the Browns Bay market the other day. Perhaps that has made us a bit over-sensitive to things.

But then who knows? Has your television ever come on by itself? We'll keep you posted if anything else happens.

John & Anne Spencer: The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits (1992)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Hamilton Book Month


pictures from the Hamilton Book Month facebook page:

Mark Houlahan introduces me

me reading poems

Mark and I talk


Well, I'm pleased to announce that I've been asked to take part in two events in this year's Hamilton Book Month.

The first is a poetry workshop for secondary school students at Wintec at Thursday 27th August at 1 pm:
Students from five Hamilton secondary schools have been selected to participate in a two hour writing workshop held at Wintec with Dr Jack Ross. The interactive session will cover a range of writing techniques and expose students to a variety of poems including haiku and tanka and give ideas for creating and developing their work.

Dr Jack Ross is a senior lecturer in creative writing in the School of English and Media Studies on Massey University's Albany Campus. He has written and edited a range of books, magazines and journals including Landfall, Poetry NZ and Spin and his work has appeared both here and overseas.

The second is a poetry reading at Creative Waikato Big Space (131 Alexandra St, Hamilton) on the same day at 6pm:
Jack says, "I once read that more people write poetry in New Zealand than play rugby. Whether or not that's true, the fact remains that it's one of the things we're keenest on (and best at) as a nation".

"For myself, all I can say is that it's the best way of sorting through feelings, thinking things through, and making sense of the universe that I know of. It's not so much that I choose to write it as that I have to".

Quotes on poetry:
Once you’re caught on the plateau of your own “poetic practice” (your “voice,” if you prefer), no further progress is possible. Even Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a series of secular hymns extolling the cleansing properties of conflict in the opening days of World War I before he came to his senses.

Poetics may sound a bit tedious at times, a distraction from the sheer fun of monkeying around with language. … At its best, though, it is meant to act as an antidote to such systems for normalising the aberrant and abhorrent. In a sense, then, Shelley was quite right when he called poets the “unacknowledged legislators of the world.” It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.

— Jack Ross, “Trouble in River City: How I learned to stop worrying and trust poetics." Poetry NZ 47 (2013): 93-103.
Jack will be in conversation with Mark Houlahan about his writing and will read from his work and take questions from those present.

I have to say that I'm immensely chuffed to have been asked. Last year Elizabeth Knox was in this slot, so you can see I have some pretty giant shoes to fill ...

Hamilton (

Sunday, July 19, 2015

I Love Dick 20 years on

Chris Kraus: I Love Dick (1997 / 2006)

Is Chris Kraus's I Love Dick the great New Zealand novel?

Chris Kraus: I Love Dick (1997)

What an absurd idea! I remember first hearing about the book shortly after it had come out, from Vanessa York, the managing editor of our short-lived local periodical of ideas, The Pander.

Vanessa York, Andrew Forsberg et al., eds.: pander 8 (1999)

Kraus's book is certainly full of great quotes:
[after a description of a small town in New England]: "Don't you see why the people here actually looked forward to dying?" (p.105)

[on the activist Jennifer Harbury] "Hearing her that November in the car made me reflect, however briefly, that perhaps the genocide of the Guatemalan Indians (150,000, in a country of six million, disappeared and tortured in ten years) was an injustice of a higher order than my art career." (p.142)

[on female suicide as opposed to male] "Dear Dick, I want to make the world more interesting than my problems. Therefore, I have to make my problems social." (p.196)

[on the "self-consciously provincial burg" Wellington, where she got her BA]: "Southerly winds and rain pelted Wellington for six months of the year. Winters were gargantuan and mythic. Some years guide-ropes were installed downtown so that the city's lighter residents would not be swept away: thin people in oilskin parkas floating over cars on Taranaki Street, drifing like balloons from the city to the harbor, clear over the Cook Strait to the South Island above the Picton Ferry. Every year or so an article by a distinguished cultural celebrity (a writer or a broadcaster who'd travelled 'overseas') would appear in the New Zealand Listener likening Wellington to London or Manhattan. The whole city was delusional." (p.223)
Sometimes, admittedly, the truth hurts. One can't get away with the usual escape-clauses about how Kraus doesn't know the "real" New Zealand - how she was just a tourist. She wasn't. She may have been born elsewhere, but she grew up here, and her decision to get the hell out in her early twenties doesn't stop the country cropping up almost obsessively in her later writing.

Hang on a sec. Doesn't that sound a bit like someone else who got out? Someone a bit like - Katherine Mansfield (for instance)? And, sure enough, right on cue, here's part of her - quite extensive - riff on Mansfield:
Katherine Mansfield craved a slice of life so badly she invented it as genre. Small countries lend themselves to stories: backwaters where the people stuck there don't have much to do besides watch each other's lives unfold. (p.252).

The whole of Owen Marshall's career might be summed up by that last sentence. Kraus, however, goes on to compose a whole story in faux-Mansfield style: the romance between the "authentic local" Eric Johnson and "shallow, flighty Constance [Green], still a welter of opinions and hip clothes" (p.253) - this after four pages (242-44) on the larger significance of Mansfield's career. The mini-bio concludes: "It moved me so that tears came in my eyes" (p. 244). The story, by contrast, trails off into the line:
Perhaps the distances between them were not so interesting." (p.254)
You see what I mean about the great New Zealand novel? I Love Dick is not really about here, but the subject keeps coming up. That's almost the definition of a New Zealand writer. You try to write about other things: the world and all the things it contains, but somehow the subject keeps coming up:
There's a lot of madness in New Zealand. A famous poem by Alistair Campbell, Like You I'm Trapped, was written to his unnamed suicidal wife who'd been diagnosed as schizophrenic. Like You I'm Trapped claims the poet's right to project himself into another person's psychic situation. It's a beautiful poem but I don't know if I believe it. There's a lot of madness in New Zealand because it's a mean and isolated little country. Anyone who feels too much or radiates extremity gets very lonely. (p. 227)
It all reminds me a bit of Kendrick Smithyman's poem "Colville." Everyone he met from there told him "Oh, it's not like that now." So much so that he actually retitled the poem "Colville 1964" for Ian Wedde & Harvey McQueen's 1985 Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse. But, you know, it is still like that. Check out my 2010 blogpost on the subject if you doubt me.

Like Smithyman's poem, Kraus's analysis of New Zealand remains (mostly) valid because it's so dispassionate. She has nothing to gain or lose from placating or offending us. Our cultural gatekeepers and arbiters are not hers. She's succeeded in getting out there, "overseas," and has constructed her own cool hipster universe there.

There are some curious references here and there where one suspects a libel lawyer has gone through the text changing names. The actor "Ian Martinson," with whom Kraus shared a drunken New Year shag in the mid-70s (pp.229-30) - they met at the BLERTA House in Aro Valley - is clearly Martyn Sanderson (the fact that he is described as the star of a TV drama about the "aviator" Douglas Weir makes the identification with Sanderson, star of the 1975 drama Richard Pearse as near certain as anything can be).

Not that it matters particularly. It simply confirms that reading the book as a fairly straight report on experience (to splice in the title of another ambiguously "NZ" classic) is not unreasonable. There's a huge amount there, and it certainly repays reading and rereading.

Given its strict bounds in time (the initial dinner-party between Chris, her husband Sylvère Lotringer, and the eponymous Dick (identified by reviewers as art critic Dick Hebdige takes place on December 3, 1994; "Chris" is identified (then) as a "39-year-old experimental filmmaker"; Dick's final, brutal fax ending the infatuation / stalking is dated September 19 [1995]; the book appeared from Sylvère and Chris's joint publishing house, Semiotext(e) in 1997) twenty years on seems like a pretty good time to revisit: time enough for the dust to settle and the lasting value of Kraus's book to have come into sharper focus.

Nic Amato: Chris Kraus (2012)

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Pictures from a Booklaunch

The venue [JR]

Joint Launch of

The Longest Drink in Town
By Tracey Slaughter
(Auckland: Pania Press, 2015)


A Clearer View of the Hinterland:
Poems & Sequences 1981-2014
By Jack Ross
(Wellington: HeadworX, 2014)

Monday 25th May at 6.30 pm

At the Art Fusion Gallery
Waikato University
003 Student Centre (Next to the hairstylists)
Gate 5, Hillcrest Road, Hamilton

Photographs by Paul Hinton [PH], Bronwyn Lloyd [BL] & Jack Ross [JR]

Reflections [JR]

Jack, Tracey & Mark Houlahan [PH]

Mark Houlahan MCs [BL]

Tracey speaks [PH]

Tracey reads [PH]

Jack reads [PH]

The Band [JR]

Tracey, Jack & Rachael Elliott [BL]

Mark Houlahan & Terry Locke [BL]

Crowd scene [BL]

Crowd Scene [PH]