Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sacha Jones: One Woman's World

Sacha Jones: The Grass was Always Browner (2016)

A long time ago, in a galaxy not too far away from this one, I had a student in my Creative Writing paper at Albany called Sacha Jones. It takes most students in this course quite some time to get into the frame of mind where they can critique and analyse each other's work without fear of possible social repercussions. Developing that group rapport is an important part of teaching the paper.

Sacha, however, had strong opinions, and was not afraid to express them. Her ideas about form and structure seemed impressively astute and advanced, too, so I wasn't entirely surprised to find out from her midway through the course that she was in fact completing a PhD in Political Studies at Auckland Uni at the same time as attending this beginners' writing class. Let's just say that she stood out from the first.

She must have enjoyed it, though, because she went on to enrol for our stage two course in Life Writing (broadly speaking: Biography, Autobiography, Memoir, Genealogy and all variants on same). I usually only give a couple of guest lectures in this paper, but this year I was teaching the whole thing as one of my colleagues was away on leave.

It was, I have to say, a very stimulating experience. I recall some fascinating debates on the longterm legacy of the Women's Movement on writing and (indeed) society in general, where I tried to stress the immense value of that "the personal is political" mantra, and all the other ideas so hard fought-for then and so taken for granted (often, alas, in their absence) now.

This was very much Sacha's territory: part of the subject of her PhD (now completed) in fact - and she had a lot of light to shed on it.

After the end of the course, I didn't see so much of Sacha: a couple of meetings at the Society of Authors, and - of course - the stimulation of following the postings on her blog One Woman's World. This blog very much exemplifies the idea of exploring all the ramifications of - yes - one woman's life in the early twenty-first century, complete with "Poetry, prose, politics and parenting; photography, pirouetting, pruning and prattling on: a few of [her] pleasures, predilections and predicaments."

And now Sacha's memoir, The Grass was Always Browner, is being published by Finch Publishing (Sydney, Australia)! It's due out in New Zealand a little later this year: in May, if I'm not mistaken.

Now I always think it's extremely uncool - not to mention completely inaccurate - to claim any credit in the successes of one's former students. People's achievements are their own, and any help you may have given along the way is likely to loom larger in your imagination than theirs. That doesn't mean, however, that I'm not extremely proud of her and very chuffed to hear about this happy event.

Nevertheless, the fact that she was already well advanced in her Doctoral studies when we first met means that I'm unlikely to have exerted too much influence on her development as a writer. Never mind: I'm pleased to celebrate my colleague's book here and to recommend it to you strongly.

The book has many resonances for me, as my mother grew up in Sydney (though at a somewhat earlier date), so I grew up on tales of bull-ants and the blueness of the Blue Mountains. We made several trips over there during my grandparents' lifetime, so I retain quite a vivid memory of the family house in Chatswood (immense it seems to me in memory: with great wooden verandahs where I lost my favourite Matchbox toy, a little police car, and had to be comforted with the gift of a little koala bear).

If you'd like to sample some more of Sacha's writing, you could look at her fascinating piece Hunger, included in our online anthology of students' writing from the Life Writing course. It gives you some idea of the territory she covers: ballet, bulimia, body issues, but - of course - many of life's brighter aspects as well.

The best of luck with the book, Sacha!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Indexing Poetry NZ

Joseph Severn: Shelley at the Baths of Caracalla (1845)

“Now my summer task is ended,” wrote Shelley, as he reclined in a rowboat, having just completed his massive 12-canto epic Laon and Cyntha (1817).

My summer’s task has been somewhat less creative - though I have to confess that at times it seemed every bit as arduous - compiling a comprehensive online index for the journal variously known as New Zealand Poetry Yearbook (1951-1964), Poetry New Zealand (1971-84), Poetry NZ (1990-2014), and – now – Poetry New Zealand Yearbook (2014-?).

Over the past 65 years, 67 issues of this magazine have been issued by publishers including A. H. & A. W. Reed, Pegasus Press, John McIndoe, Nagare Press, Brick Row Publishing, Puriri Press, Massey’s School of English and Cultural Studies, and – now – Massey University Press.

These 67 issues, edited by 16 editors, contain 6784 pages of material: editorials, essays, reviews, and – of course – many, many poems, reviews and essays by 947 authors (but who's counting?).

And what have I learned from this extremely laborious exercise? Well, I suppose it’s given me a renewed appreciation for the sheer coverage achieved by this journal in its two-thirds of a century of existence. Who, among New Zealand’s canonical poets and writers, isn’t there? Adcock, Baxter, Curnow, Doyle, Glover, Hyde, Manhire - you name them, chances are they're there (as you can readily verify by visiting the Author index page).

And then there are the overseas contributors: Charles Bernstein, Charles Bukowsky, Robert Creeley, August Kleinzahler, Les Murray - again, the list goes on.

How should you use the index? Well, the quick answer is to go here, where I've given some brief instructions on the subject.

If you're curious, though, I'll just remarks that it is – in conception, at least – as simple as I can make it. There’s a separate page for each issue, with images of the Front and Back Covers, Title-page and Copyright details, and the Table of Contents: together with any details I can find about such matters as the Contributors and the Subscription Details - on average, ten separate images per issue.

If you want to know about a particular issue, you can either link to it from the right sidebar of the site, or – alternatively – from the Contents or Site-Map pages.

If, however, you want to know what a particular author has published in Poetry New Zealand over the years, you can go to the Author Index page, which provides a numbered list, alphabeticised by surname, together with chronological details of each writer's contributions. You can imagine how much fun it was putting that together!

No doubt there are still many typos and other errors left, though I've tried to proof-read it as carefully as I went along. 1,000-odd A4 pages of material provides scope for a good many mistakes, however. I’d appreciate it very much if you would alert me to any lacunae you detect, and promise to correct them as soon as I can. You could start by checking the details of your own contributions to the magazine over the years, perhaps.

For the rest, I’m not really proposing that anyone should try to read this monstrous compilation for pleasure, but hopefully future researchers into modern New Zealand poetry may find it of some use. It’ll certainly be a great help to me as the present editor of the magazine.


James Ko: "Jack" (c.1996)