Monday, May 18, 2015

Something to Say: i.m. John O'Connor

John O'Connor (d. 12 May, 2015)

all down the Jewish lane children are falling. it’s a game called autumn, a pastiche of drifting leaves and gathering. yet one stays out, has not joined her companions in what they suppose is a fine tumble, quick in the wind, now still.

just one moved towards the vents. a photograph shows them piled in a corner, naked and shaved, almost as if stacked up. yet one figure is in front of the group — as if she had something important to say

This is the prose-poem "Something to Say," By John O'Connor, included in David Howard's anthology Complete with Instructions. It's always been a favourite of mine - among the very many poems of his I liked.

David Howard, ed.: Complete with Instructions (2001)

It was David Howard who introduced the two of us, in fact. I was going down to Christchurch to teach a weekend writing course, and David suggested that I take the opportunity to interview a bunch of the local poets down there for a possible feature in his new magazine Firebrand (which eventually, after many vicissitudes, turned into the anthology pictured above).

I was happy enough to do it, and had a fascinating time driving round the city and talking to the likes of Julia Allen, John Allison, Kenneth Fea, David Gregory, Rob Jackaman, Graham Lindsay, Mike Minehan, and - John O'Connor (you can find complete texts of the various interviews, which I ended up calling "Imaginary Toads in Real Gardens," on my Opinions blog here.

John O'Connor had recently helped to set up Sudden Valley Press, and was active in the Canterbury Poets Collective, and seemed in many ways a natural organiser. It was quite a surprise to me to find out just how delicate and subtle his poetry could be. He wrote in many voices, some of which appealed to me more than others, but in every one of his many books there was always the chance of turning the page and finding something quite extraordinary - something like that haunting prose-poem I've reprinted above.

Here's a list of his books, as accurate as I can make it from my own notes and reviews of his work over the years. There could well be some missing. These are the main ones, though:

John O’Connor: haiku

  1. Laying Autumn’s Dust: Poems and Verse 1974-1983. Concept Publishing, 1983.

  2. Citizen of No Mean City: Poems and Verse 1983-1985. Concept Publishing, 1985.

  3. [with Bernard Gadd]. Too Right Mate. Hallard Press, 1996.

  4. As It Is: Poems 1981-1996. Christchurch: Sudden Valley Press, 1997.

  5. A Particular Context. Christchurch: Sudden Valley Press, 1999.

  6. [with Eric Mould]. Working Voices. Auckland: Hallard Press, 2003.

  7. Home River. Auckland: Hallard Press, 2003.

  8. Bright the Harvest Moon. Wellington: HeadworX, 2004.

  9. Parts of the Moon: Selected Haiku & Senryu 1988-2007. Teneriffe: Post Pressed, 2007.

  10. Cornelius & Co: Collected Working-Class Verse, 1996-2009. Teneriffe, Queensland: Post Pressed, 2009.

  11. Aspects of Reality. Wellington: HeadworX, 2013.

  12. Whistling in the Dark. Wellington: HeadworX, 2014.

John O’Connor: Whistling in the Dark (2014)

There's a brief bio / bibliography up at the Aotearoa NZ Poetry Sound Archive, but it dates from 2004, over a decade ago, so is pretty out-of-date. He'd done a great deal since then:
John O’Connor is a past winner of the New Zealand Poetry Society’s International Prize, founding editor of the poetry journal plainwraps and has edited various issues of Takahe, Spin, and the NZPS annual anthology. With David Gregory he founded Poets Group and also Sudden Valley Press of which he is managing editor. John’s haiku have been internationally anthologised on a number of occasions, translated into 6 languages and were recently chosen as “best of issue” in Frogpond International, a special issue of the leading US haiku periodical, Frogpond, featuring haiku from 26 countries. His criticism and non-haiku poetry have been widely published in New Zealand and overseas, and his work has been anthologised by Lauris Edmond and Bill Sewell in Essential New Zealand Poems. His last book, A Particular Context, was chosen by members of the Poetry Society as one of the 5 best books of New Zealand poetry of the 1990s.

John O’Connor: A Particular Context (1999)

I guess one of my own fondest memories of John is the roadtrip we did together out to Banks Peninsula in 2003. The ostensible reason for the jaunt was to look for the grave of D'Arcy Cresswell - in which attempt we were singularly unsuccessful (though we did find the grave of a Douglas Cresswell), but actually it was really just to explore a bit. We ended up at Port Levy, as I recall, and John did a good deal of quoting from Denis Glover's Towards Banks Peninsula along the way - not to mention his own poem "At Port Levy."

I wrote a poem about our trip, in fact: probably too allusive to make much sense without the context of that day out in the hills, but I give it here as a little tribute to that good man and good poet John O'Connor - "A red libation to your good memory, friend":

Towards Banks Peninsula
i.m. John O'Connor (d. 12/5/15)

1 - The Summons

Feed, propagate, be fed on; please someone; die.
– Kendrick Smithyman

Mahogany desk
goodness sake

a gobfull
that’s disgusting

didn’t mean to
set for

sun breaks through
the clouds

2 - Searching for the Original


– road-sign

Dog gobbles up flies
from the floor of the church

Not D’Arcy
Douglas Cresswell

dug in
with his wife

Look up at the hills
stone plugs

the fairies lived there
girl could tell you more

John O’Connor & Eric Mould: Working Voices (2003)

I'm glad I was able to include two beautiful translations by John in the last issue of Poetry NZ, together with a notice of his latest book. I didn't then fully understand the significance of its title, Whistling in the Dark.

John O'Connor is a man who will be sorely missed, and I'm sorry that there won't be any more of his wonderful books to leaf through, with curious surprises lurking behind the most unobtrusive pages.

John O'Connor: As It Is (1997)

Double Booklaunch - Tracey Slaughter / Jack Ross

Booklaunch - Waikato University (25/5/15)

I'm pleased to report that there's going to be a double booklaunch for Tracey Slaughter's latest, the novella The Longest Drink in Town, published by Pania Press, together with my latest, the poetry collection A Clearer View of the Hinterland, publlished by HeadworX of Wellington.

Here are the details of the event:

Joint Launch of

Cover image: Bronwyn Lloyd / Cover design: Ellen Portch & Brett Cross

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


Cover image: Graham Fletcher / Cover design: Ellen Portch & Brett Cross

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

The event is co-organised by Mayhem literary journal. You can find further details here.

Jack Ross

See you there!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Verbivoracious Festschrift 3: The Syllabus

G.N. Forester and M.J. Nicholls, ed.: Verbivoracious Festschrift Volume 3:
The Syllabus

I was a little surprised, last year, to be invited to contribute a piece to the above festschrift from Singapore-based alternative literature publisher Verbivoracious Press. They appear to specialise principally in the work of British writer Christine Brooke-Rose (1923-2012), many of whose books they have reprinted. The title of the above compilation, "The Syllabus," though, shows that they also aspire to represent a whole universe of experimental writing - what might be called (in Roger Horrocks' phrase) the Kingdom of Alt.

Adam Thirlwell: Miss Herbert: An Essay in Five Parts (2007)

The book Mark Nicholls wanted me to write about was Miss Herbert (2007), by British novelist Adam Thirlwell. The reason this surprised me was that he based the request on the blogpost I'd written about it, a piece which strikes me (in retrospect) as rather unkind - though I certainly don't subscribe there to any of the more ad hominem attacks Thirlwell's book received in the more up-themselves reviews.

We quickly rejected the idea of compiling an essay from the blog itself, and instead I decided to take the licence he offered to compose a more "creative" piece taking off from Thirlwell's book (which rejoices in a number of titles in America and Britain, my favourite being the one on the spine of the paperback edition: Miss Herbert: A book of novels, romances, and their translators, containing ten languages, set on four continents, and accompanied by maps, portraits, squiggles and illustrations ...

Each contributor was limited to 500 words, and it must have been a devil of a job to assemble them all, since it was only last week that I was at last alerted to the appearance of the compilation:
A monument to our insatiable verbivoracity, The Syllabus is an act of humble genuflection before the authors responsible for those texts which have transported us to the peak of readerly nirvana and back. The texts featured, chosen in a rapturous frenzy by editors and contributors alike, represent a broad sweep of the most important exploratory fiction written in the last hundred years (and beyond). Featuring 100 texts from (fewer than) 100 contributors, The Syllabus is a form of religious creed, and should be read primarily as a holy manual from which the reader draws inspiration and hope, helping to shape their intellectual and moral life with greater awareness, and lead them towards those works that offer deep spiritual succour while surviving on a merciless and unkind planet. Readers of this festschrift should expect nothing less than an incontrovertible conversion from reader to insatiable verbivore in 225 pages.

The Syllabus, as a third volume of Verbivoracious Festschrift, is a celebration of reading. It’s a great literary feast for the true readers, for all the verbivores around the world, a feast consisting of hundred delicious meals. I am honored to be a part of that unforgettable menu.” — Dubravka Ugrešić.

And what exactly is in it? Here's a list of the contents, arranged (as you can see) in chronological order:
    Introduction or, The Art of Sillybustering
      The Editors
  1. Jonathan Swift — A Modest Proposal [1729]
      Scott Beauchamp
  2. Laurence Sterne — The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy [1759]
      Silvia Barlaam
  3. Xiao Hong (萧红) — The Field of Life and Death [1935]
      Wee Teck Lim
  4. Louis-Ferdinand Céline — Death on the Installment Plan [1936]
      Paul John Adams
  5. Rayner Heppenstall — The Blaze of Noon [1939]
      Juliet Jacques
  6. James Joyce — Finnegans Wake [1939]
      Fionnuala Nic Mheanmán
  7. Flann O’Brien — At Swim-Two-Birds [1939]
      Edwin Turner
  8. Raymond Queneau — Exercises in Style [1947]
      Geoff Wilt
  9. Boris Vian — Foam of the Daze [1947]
      Tosh Berman
  10. Douglas Woolf — The Hypocritic Days [1955]
      Ammiel Alcalay
  11. Henry Miller — Quiet Days in Clichy [1956]
      G.N. Forester
  12. Muriel Spark — The Comforters [1957]
      Kim Fay
  13. Alexander Trocchi — Cain’s Book [1960]
      Gill Tasker
  14. Michel Butor — Mobile [1962]
      John Trefry
  15. Robert Pinget — The Inquisitory [1962]
  16. B.S. Johnson — Omnibus [1964-1971]
      Nicolas Tredell
  17. Raymond Queneau — The Blue Flowers [1965]
      Inez Hedges
  18. Alan Burns — Celebrations [1967]
      Joseph Andrew Darlington
  19. Guillermo Cabrera Infante — Three Trapped Tigers [1967]
      Pablo Medina
  20. Macedonia Fernández — The Museum of Eterna’s Novel [1967]
      Steve Penkevich
  21. Anna Kavan — Ice [1967]
      Kristine Rabberman
  22. J.M.G Le Clézio — Terra Amata [1967]
      Keith Moser
  23. Flann O’Brien — The Third Policeman [1967]
      Alex Johnston
  24. Ishmael Reed — The Freelance Pallbearers [1967]
      Joseph McGrath
  25. Christine Brooke-Rose — Between [1968]
      Katarzyna Bartoszyńska
  26. Anthony Earnshaw & Eric Thacker — Musrum [1968]
      Kenneth Cox
  27. Nicholas Mosley — Impossible Object [1968]
      Shiva Rahbaran
  28. Vladimir Nabokov — Ada or Ardor [1969]
      Rob Friel
  29. J.G. Ballard — The Atrocity Exhibition [1970]
      Rick McGrath
  30. Pierre Guyotat — Eden Eden Eden [1970]
      Peter Blundell
  31. Raymond Federman — Double or Nothing [1971]
      Lance Olsen
  32. Hubert Selby Jnr. — The Room [1971]
      Georgina Holland
  33. Stanley Crawford — Log of the S.S. the Mrs Unguentine [1972]
      Stephen Sparks
  34. Tom Mallin — Erowina [1972]
      Nate Dorr
  35. Ann Quin — Tripticks [1972]
      Francis Booth
  36. Guy Davenport — Taitlin! [1974]
      Eric Byrd
  37. Lawrence Durrell — The Avignon Quintet [1974-1985]
      Nadine Mainard
  38. Chrisine Brooke-Rose — Thru [1975]
      David Detrich
  39. Georges Perec — An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris [1975]
      Lauren Elkin
  40. Fernando del Paso — Palinuro of Mexico [1976]
      Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado
  41. Coleman Dowell — Island People [1976]
      Eugene H. Hayworth
  42. Raymond Federman — Take It or Leave It [1976]
      Steve Katz
  43. Italo Calvino — If on a winter’s night a traveller [1979]
      Silvia Barlaam
  44. Gilbert Sorrentino — Mulligan Stew [1979]
      M.J. Nicholls
  45. Roald Dahl — The Twits [1980]
      Harold Lad
  46. Donald Barthelme — Sixty Stories [1981]
      Lee Klein
  47. Alexander Theroux — Darconville’s Cat [1981]
      Steven Moore
  48. Camilo José Cela — Mrs. Caldwell Speaks to Her Son [1982]
      Rosalyn Drexler
  49. D. Keith Mano — Take Five [1982]
      Nathan Gaddis
  50. Thomas Bernhard — Woodcutters [1984]
  51. Christine Brooke-Rose — Amalgamemnon [1984]
      Ellen G. Friedman
  52. Rikki Ducornet — The Stain [1984]
      Michelle Ryan-Sautour
  53. Christoph Meckel — The Figure on the Boundary Line [1984]
      Ben Winch
  54. Milorad Pavić — Dictionary of the Khazars (Male Edition) [1984]
      Alec Nevala-Lee
  55. Milorad Pavić — Dictionary of the Khazars (Female Edition) [1984]
      Silvia Barlaam
  56. Don Delillo — White Noise [1985]
      Barbara Melville
  57. Gilbert Sorrentino — Pack of Lies Trilogy [1985-1989]
      Dick Witherspoon
  58. Ronald Sukenick — In Form: Digressions on the Act of Fiction [1985]
      Tom Willard
  59. Marcel Bénabou — Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books [1986]
      A. Writer
  60. Michael Westlake — Imaginary Women [1987]
      Michael Westlake
  61. Nicholson Baker — The Mezzanine [1988]
      M.J. Nicholls
  62. Italo Calvino — Six Memos for the Next Millennium [1988]
      Daniel Levin Becker
  63. David Markson — Wittgenstein’s Mistress [1988]
      Christopher WunderLee
  64. Janice Galloway — The Trick is to Keep Breathing [1989]
      Gillian Devine
  65. Jacques Roubaud — The Great Fire of London [1989]
      Ian Monk
  66. Felipe Alfau — Chromos [1990]
      Sam Moss
  67. Robert Alan Jamieson — A Day at the Office [1991]
      Rodge Glass
  68. Alasdair Gray — Poor Things [1992]
      Rodge Glass
  69. W.G. Sebald — The Emigrants [1992]
      Peter Bebergal
  70. William Gaddis — A Frolic of His Own [1994]
      Christopher WunderLee
  71. Jáchym Topol — City Sister Silver [1994]
      Alex Zucker
  72. Martin Amis — The Information [1995]
      Anthony Vacca
  73. William H. Gass — The Tunnel [1995]
      H.L. Hix
  74. Gilbert Sorrentino — Red the Fiend [1995]
      Jenny Offill
  75. Roberto Bolaño — Nazi Literature in the Americas [1996]
      Adrian Carney
  76. Geoff Dyer — Out of Sheer Rage [1997]
      Kathleen Heil
  77. Alasdair Brotchie & Harry Mathews (eds.) — Oulipo Compendium [1998]
      Jason Graff
  78. Dubravka Ugrešić — The Museum of Unconditional Surrender [1998]
      Jasmina Lukić
  79. Percival Everett — Glyph [1999]
      Tom Conoboy
  80. Ali Smith — Other Stories and Other Stories [1999]
      M.J. Nicholls
  81. Ignácio de Loloya Brandão — Anonymous Celebrity [2002]
      Ricki Aklon
  82. Curtis White — Requiem [2002]
      Trevor Dodge
  83. Lucy Ellmann — Dot in the Universe [2003]
      Ali Millar
  84. Dubravka Ugrešić — Thank You for Not Reading [2003]
      Ana Stanojevic
  85. Roberto Bolaño — 2666 [2004]
      Alex Cox
  86. Meredith Brosnan — Mr. Dynamite [2004]
      Jarleth L. Prendergast
  87. David Mitchell — Cloud Atlas [2004]
      Stephen Mirabito
  88. Steve Katz — Antonello’s Lion [2005]
      W.C. Bamberger
  89. Graham Rawle — Woman’s World [2005]
      Michael Leong
  90. Gilbert Adair — The Evadne Mount Trilogy [2006-2009]
      Manny Rayner
  91. Nicola Barker — Darkmans [2007]
      Kinga Burger
  92. Lydia Davis — Varieties of Disturbance [2007]
      Ali Millar
  93. Lydie Salvayre — Portrait of the Writer as a Domesticated Animal [2007]
      Juliet Jacques
  94. Adam Thirwell — Miss Herbert [2007]
      Jack Ross
  95. Urmuz — Collected Works [2007]
      Eddie Watkins
  96. Marilyn Chin — Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen [2009]
      Melanie Ho
  97. Gabriel Josipovici — Only Joking [2010]
      Gianni Dane
  98. Steven Moore — The Novel: An Alternative History [2010-2013]
      Nathan Gaddis
  99. Will Self — Walking to Hollywood [2010]
      Richard Strachan
  100. Charles Newman — In Partial Disgrace [2013]
      Eric Lundgren
  101. The Influences of Others
      Igo Wodan

What, no Raymond Roussel, you say? No this person, no that? Instead of such carping, let's just celebrate all the weird and wonderful texts they have managed to include in their roll-call of 100+:

A Modest Proposal — The Avignon Quintet — The Comforters — Finnegans Wake — In Partial Disgrace — Impossible Object — Wittgenstein’s Mistress — The Freelance Pallbearers — Foam of the Daze — Between — Darconville’s Cat — Thru — Terra Amata — Poor Things — Pack of Lies — Amalgamemnon — Anonymous Celebrity — The Stain — Palinuro of Mexico — Miss Herbert — Tristram Shandy — The Mezzanine — White Noise — Glyph — The Twits — Woodcutters — Erowina — Chromos — A Day at the Office — Darkmans — The Evadne Mount Trilogy — Mobile — An Attempt to Exhaust a Place in Paris — The Trick is to Keep Breathing — The Great Fire of London — Thank You For Not Reading — Exercises in Style — Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books — B.S. Johnson Omnibus — Six Memos for the Next Millennium — Sixty Stories — Requiem — Mrs Caldwell Speaks to Her Son — The Atrocity Exhibition — Walking to Hollywood — At Swim-Two-Birds — The Death of the Author — Dot in the Universe — Eco: On Literature — Dictionary of the Khazars — The Novel: An Alternate History — Varieties of Disturbance — Mr. Dynamite — The Blue Flowers — Portrait of the Artist as a Domesticated Animal  — The Tunnel — Oulipo Compendium — In Form: Digressions in the Art of Fiction — Take it or Leave it — If on a winter’s night a traveller — The Information — Double or Nothing — The Hypocritic Days — Berg — 2666 — The Inquisitory — Woman’s World — Museum of Eterna’s Novel — The Blaze of Noon — Musrum — Island People — Take Five — Death on Credit — Three Trapped Tigers — Cain’s Book — Invisible Cities — Out of Sheer Rage — Log of the S.S. Mrs Unguentine — The Room — Revenge of the Moon Vixen — Mulligan Stew — Ice — Red the Fiend — Urmuz: Complete Works — Ada — Taitlin! — Celebrations — The Figure on the Boundary Line — City Silver Sister — Nazi Literature in the Americas — The Emigrants — Other Stories and Other Stories — The Third Policeman — Antonello’s Lion — Cloud Atlas — Imaginary Women — The Museum of Unconditional Surrender — Eden Eden Eden — Quiet Days in Clichy


Scott Beauchamp — Kim Fay — Igo Wodan — Fionnuala McManamon — Eric Lundgren — Shiva Rahbaran — Joseph McGrath — Tosh Berman — Katarzyna Bartoszyńska — David Detrich — Ellen Friedman — Steven Moore — Keith Moser — Rodge Glass — Michelle Ryan-Santour — Jack Ross — Silvia Barlaam — Tom Conoboy — Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado — M.J. Nicholls — Barbara Melville — Nate Dorr — Sam Moss — Kinga Burger — Manny Rayner — John Trefry — Lauren Elkin — Gillian Devine —Ian Monk — Peter Blundell — Ana Stanojevic — Geoff Wilt — Nicolas Tredell — Daniel Levin Becker — Lee Klein — Lance Olsen — Trevor Dodge — Rosalyn Drexler — Rick McGrath — Richard Strachan — Edwin Turner — Ali Millar — Alec Nevala-Lee — Nathan Gaddis — Alberta Rigid — Jarleth L. Prenderghast —Inez Hedges — Juliet Jacques — H.L. Hix — Jason Graff — Tom Willard — Steve Katz — Anthony Vacca — Ammiel Almacay — Lee Rourke — Alex Cox — Michael Leong — Eric Byrd — Steve Penkevich — Kenneth Cox — Gene Hayworth — Paul John Adams — Pablo Medina — Gill Tasker — Kathleen Heil — Georgina Holland — Stephen Sparks — Anonymous — Melanie Ho — Jenny Offill — Kristine Rabberman — Eddie Watkins — Rob Friel — Joseph Andrew Darlington — Alex Zucker — Ben Winch — Alex Johnston — W.C. Bamberger — Stephen Mirabito — Michael Westlake — Peter Bebergal — Jasmina Lukić — Nadine Mainard G.N. Forester

Here are the publication details:
Release Date:

May 11th, 2015. ISBN: 9789810935931. 237pp.

Pricing Information:

Paperback: GBP9.99 + postage GBP2.00 within UK, US, AU, CAN, EU, ZA, NZ, IN and SG.

Available from:

all booksellers and usual online retailers, or the Verbivoracious website at

I've got a good mind to use it precisely as they suggest: as a syllabus for the new course in "Advanced Fiction" I'm planning (to commence at Massey Albany in 2017). Maybe that's a bit cheeky, but it'll certainly be listing it as a recommended text for the students.

Go on, then, test yourself. Just how many of the above books have you actually read? How many have you even heard of, for that matter? Not even Richard Taylor would score 100% on that one, I suspect. Scott Hamilton, perhaps?

Jack Ross: Kingdom of Alt (2010)