Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Spirit of '92: Albert Wendt's Black Rainbow

Albert Wendt: Black Rainbow (1992)

'... I don't mind admitting I'm scared ...' I reached out and put an arm around him. 'It's times like these you need ...'
'Minties?' Fantail completed his remark.
'No, it's times like these you need a sense of humour,' Aeto said.
'And our family,' I added. My mother's handprints were still warm on my face.
- Albert Wendt, Black Rainbow (Auckland: Penguin Books, 1992): 235.

Black Rainbow is a difficult book to characterise. It moves like a thriller: first-person narration of reckless escapes and knife fights with a variety of opponents, carefully and craftily borrowed from other fictions - 'Sister Honey' from Janet Frame's Faces in the Water, 'Big Nurse' from Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Maneco Uriarte from Jorge Luis Borges' Gaucho-esque story 'The Meeting' ...

There's an almost manic lack of consistency about its tone, however: no po-faced hard-boiled intensity can survive exchanges like the one quoted above, where the speakers move from portentous invocations of whakapapa to quotations from ad jingles.

So what's it all about? On the one hand, it's about the erasure of history: the losses (and gains) we achieve by simply writing off the past:
Histories can be erased, I remembered the Tribunal telling me. Erased and replaced with histories that please us. [65]
The narrator has been through just such a process of recalling his entire past in order to tape over it at the beginning of the story. He 'graduates' from this process as a free citizen, with a certificate of entitlement to all the state's resources: money, food, accommodation, and the sole remaining mission of tracking down his own family to save them from the strangely motiveless enemies listed above.

'Symbolic much?' to quote a Buffy-ism. Undoubtedly.

Ralph Hotere: Black Rainbow, Mururoa (1986)

Like the people of Maungakiekie, the Waikato tribes had been turned into grass and meat. History is madness, the Tribunal has prescribed. So I silenced the Hotere clock, pushed down on the accelerator, and sped away from history. [36-37]
It isn't entirely clear just which of the various Hotere 'Black Rainbow' etchings the novel is intended to have as its centre, but probably it's the one above. Certainly it has all the characteristics Wendt describes:
I looked at it closely. Recognised the thick black arch to be the rainbow. But the numbers, 1 to 14, on either side of the upsurging cloud? The countdown to what? [10]
There's an important scene a few pages later where the narrator's wife shows the picture to the city and the city to the picture, as she circles the Memorial to the Māori race on top of Maungakiekie - or One Tree Hill, as we persist in calling it.

'Once all this and that city was forest,' she said. She gripped the lithograph with both hands.
As she circled the memorial, she held the lithograph out in front of her, like an icon. In it the sky and the full swing of the city were caught. Every shade, shape, light, twist, change and impermanency of them. Reflected there for a time and then lost as she circled.
Was she reinvesting everything with mana? Warding off evil spirits? Or what?
... As the sun rose the lithograph's clock of doom recorded its rising. [18]

Colin McCahon: On Building Bridges (1952)

As I raced the river through the gap. I thought the hills were straight out of an early Colin McCahon painting. Strange how we see reality through art and the other cultural baggage we carry ...
I hid the Cheever [which he rented under the name 'Elmore Leonard'] in the bush by the river and crossed the hills on foot ... [65]
The allusiveness (both local and international) may require a bit of unpacking at times, but the important thing to note about it is that - as a whole - it constitutes a concerted refusal to stand on your dignity - a deliberate decision not to write in a magisterial monotone, but instead in a punning, Rabelaisian, Carnivalesque mixture of irreconcilable genres.

Angela Carter: The Passion of New Eve (1977)

At times it recalls the later works of Angela Carter: The Passion of New Eve, or The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972). There's something of Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf in there, too: the magic theatre, in particular - and the 'Treatise on the Steppenwolf.'

Hermann Hesse: Steppenwolf (1927)

The treeless streets were canyons through which the wind funnelled. In summer the canyons were oppressively hot because the buildings emptied the motors of their airconditioning into them. It was said the streets, shops, malls and apartments were modelled on some of the President's favourite films: Blade Runner, Star Trek and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, some of my favourite films too. [69]
Mentioning Steppenwolf brings in the strong film element in Wendt's novel, too. I think by now that it's apparent that nobody writing about - or even just during - the age of rampant neo-liberalism in New Zealand could avoid making allusions to Blade Runner.

Robert Zemeckis, dir.: Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)

The Toon-town of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is probably closer to the tone and setting of at least the central sections of Wendt's novel, with its Arabian-Nights-like stories within stories, and characters folding into other characters.

And yet, for all its postmodern, pop-culture exuberance, the central concern of Black Rainbow is never seriously in doubt. Its concern with the erasure of history is, in the final analysis, a refusal to accept the erasure of race. Even in his reincarnation as an unobtrusive bank clerk, the protagonist is never allowed to forget his own difference:
Her hair, the wave and curl of it, that trapped the light and made it look as if it was growing. Then after the dessert of nashis and cream, her remark: 'You're brown too.' And I noticed, for the first time, that she was brown. And so was I. [193]

J. W. Dunne: An Experiment with Time (1927)

According to Dunne, our wakeful attention prevents us from seeing beyond the present moment, whilst when dreaming that attention fades and we gain the ability to recall more of our timeline. This allows fragments of our future to appear in pre-cognitive dreams, mixed in with fragments or memories of our past. Other consequences include the phenomenon known as deja vu and the existence of life after death.
As a teenage, I took an almost obsessive delight in reading and re-reading J. W. Dunne's book An Experiment with Time. Not so much the technical passages, where he attempts somewhat clumsily to reconcile his ideas of 'serial time' with Einstein's theory of relativity, as the central section, where he records a whole series of dreams as 'proof' that the sleeping mind can somehow step outside linear time, sample as freely from the future as from the past.

All that is needed to prove the point, he claims, is a pad and pencil kept beside your bed. The moment you awake, you must write down everything you can remember of your dreams, before they dissipate. Keeping your eyes closed till you've managed to recall those few sensory details that remain of them will have the consequence of bringing back at least a few of the events (or even just the atmosphere) of the narrative you've just been experiencing - not ever, really, in all of its depth and complexity, but in part, at any rate.

After you've done this for some months, the results should be scrutinised and analysed as bits of lived experience jumbled into the dream story - but also little nagging pieces of apparent déjà vu and anticipation of what was (then) still to come: not so much in detail as in their raw outlines.

J. B. Priestley: Three Time Plays (1937)

I doubt that any professional psychologists or dream-specialists (Oneirologists?) have ever really taken Dunne very seriously - let alone theoretical physicists. But writers certainly have. J. B. Priestley composed a series of 'time-plays' based directly on his reading of the book, and both J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis cited it as an influence on their own understanding (and portrayal) of time.

I don't know if Albert Wendt has ever read the book, or is even familiar with Dunne's theories - but there's something in the jumbled, dreamlike progression of his book that recalls it to me - especially some of Dunne's more canonical dreams, the one about the volcanic eruption on a small island, for instance, or the one about the raging bull which pursues him down the hill.

'History,' says Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses, 'is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.' The characters in Black Rainbow have been forcibly detached from James Joyces's nets of 'nationality, language, religion,' (as he puts it in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), but in the process they have lost all sense of an individual identity.

Wendt's novel is a satire, finally - it offers no solutions to the problems it poses, but clowns valiantly on the edge of the abyss. Its message, however, is clear. We must beware of awakening from one nightmare - history - for fear of being plunged, willy-nilly, into another.

Albert Wendt

Albert Wendt
(1939- )

Select Bibliography:


  1. Sons for the Return Home (1973)

  2. Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree: And Other Stories (1974)

  3. Pouliuli. Pacific Paperbacks. Auckland: Longman Paul Limited, 1977.

  4. Leaves of the Banyan Tree. Auckland: Longman Paul Limited, 1979.

  5. The Birth and Death of the Miracle Man (1986)

  6. Ola (1991)

  7. Black Rainbow. Auckland: Penguin Books, 1992.

  8. The Best of Albert Wendt's Short Stories. A Vintage Book. Auckland: Random House New Zealand, 1999.

  9. The Mango's Kiss: a Novel (2003)

  10. The Adventures of Vela (2009)

  11. Ancestry (2012)

  12. Breaking Connections (2015)

  13. Poetry:

  14. Inside Us the Dead. Poems 1961 to 1974 (1976)

  15. Shaman of Visions (1984)

  16. Photographs. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1995.

  17. The Book of the Black Star. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2002.

  18. From Mānoa to a Ponsonby Garden. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2012.

  19. Memoir:

  20. Out of the Vaipe, The Deadwater: A Writer's Early Life (2015)

Homepages & Online Information:

Read NZ Te Pou Muramura entry

Wikipedia entry

Monday, September 16, 2019

John Cranna's Arena (1992)

John Cranna: Arena (1992)

The worst effects of malnutrition, he continued, were on the mind. 'I've known starving men who listened to their thoughts and believed they had invented a strange new language.' He tapped the point of the toothpick on his front teeth. 'They died convinced they were geniuses.'
- John Cranna, Arena (Auckland: Minerva New Zealand, 1992): 104.

Somewhere in the space between J. G. Ballard's The Drowned World (1962) and J. M. Coetzee's Booker-Prize-winning Life & Times of Michael K (1983) lies the zone of John Cranna's first (and, to date, only) novel, Arena.

Like them, it's dystopian; like them, disturbingly violent. Arena also shares with both books a kind of deadpan flatness of affect - though all three authors show a taste for occasional flights of poetic fancy.

J. G. Ballard: The Drowned World (1962)

J. G. Ballard's first novel is set in a drowned London of the future. The characters have the usual Ballardian preoccupations with inner space: with the working out of their personal obsessions rather than any more practical, world-altering activities.

Even the bizarre ceremony which serves as the culmination of whatever narrative arc the novel has proves strangely anticlimactic: Dr. Kerans survives his ordeal, and wanders off at the end of the novel in search of "the forgotten paradises of the reborn Sun."

It's hard, however, to forget the lush evocativeness of the picture Ballard paints - of a world ending not with a bang but a whimper. Who would have thought at the time that his fantasies would seem so timely and relevant so soon?

J. M. Coetzee: Life & Times of Michael K (1985)

Coetzee's Life & Times of Michael K is more poignant. It is, in fact, a very difficult book to characterise even to those familiar with Coetzee's other novels. The solitary, arduous odyssey of the deformed, hare-lipped Michael K through the war-ravaged landscapes of a frighteningly real - albeit on an alternate historical time-track - South Africa, is simultaneously grotesque and inspiring.

Michael K's status as an unperson ("CM [coloured male] - 40 [his age] - NFA [no fixed address] - Unemployed") is established very clearly in context, and yet it's the actual nature of his quest that matters. The civil war ravaging the landscape is above (or below) his attention. His only approach to success in the book lies in the garden he makes in the provinces before returning to Cape Town.

Brain-damaged by the nineties, openly neglected by authorities, their school buildings falling unhindered around their ears, the kids had all the helpless savagery of young animals left out in the cold too soon.
- Rosie Scott, Feral City (Port Melbourne, Victoria: William Heinemann Australia, 1992): 19.

In terms of a strictly New Zealand speculative fiction, the juxtaposition works somewhat differently. Somewhere between Rosie Scott's Feral City and Albert Wendt's Black Rainbow lies Arena (all three were published in the same year: 1992).

Rosie Scott: Raubstadt [Feral City] (1992)

Rosie Scott's vision of a near-future inner-city Auckland devastated by neo-liberal monetarism may seem a long way from John Cranna's magic-realist city, where "a yellow haze obscured the horizon from the slums of the south to the Guest suburbs in the north" [27], but they do have certain tropes and assumptions in common.

The gleaming teethed "guests" who appear to be in control of the body politic in Cranna's fable are not a long way from the equally sinister authorities in Scott's - or, for that matter, the elaborate Orwellian apparatus of Albert Wendt's.

Albert Wendt: Black Rainbow (1992)

"One day the history of our nation would become clearer to her. When the time was right I would try to explain a few things." [141]

Mary Paul's recent essay "Always Something There to Remind Me: On Growing Up Amid Neoliberal Reforms" Pantograph Punch: 19/8/19) might act as a timely reminder of the spirit of that particular age, for those fortunate enough not to have lived through it.

Hers is, by its nature, a very partial view: Auckland-centric (like the three novels mentioned above), and surprisingly male-dominated. 'Didn't you want to interview any women?' was one of the comments listed under the piece when it first appeared.

That isn't entirely fair, mind you. The last interview (of five) in the article is with the couple Richard Misilei and Mate Colvin, who both work as librarians in Ōtara. All the others, though: writer and performer Dominic Hoey (aka 'Tourettes'); 'Stephen' (not his real name); performance artist Mark Harvey; and AUT Communications Senor Lecturer Thomas Owen, are indeed men, and - it would have to be admitted - offer distinctively male perspectives on the period.

Mary begins with a quote from Economist Tim Hazeldine, who describes the fallout from the 'reforms' of this era as “terrible”:
I cannot find any developed economy in modern times that has inflicted so much harm on itself. 104 major reforms pummel[ed] the body-economic. One manufacturing job in three was lost, and with those jobs basically went the blue-collar core that is crucial to the chances of less skilled workers being able to support their families in decency.
She does, however, preface this in more personal terms:
In the early 1990s I often woke at night worrying about how our children would manage in a newly competitive world. If they couldn’t strive to be the best, or at least buy into the idea of life as raw competition, how would they manage? It was not so much a feeling of pressure as one of loss. Would there be a place for them to flourish – one organised around human values and community, and not only around competition and consumerism?

The country had changed in 1984, when a newly elected Labour Government implemented free-market reforms with extreme rapidity, reforms that were extended in the early 1990s by the subsequent National Government. What was done was oddly extreme for a well-developed Western democracy and an elected Labour government, or any government. However giving precedence to business did fit with the crude empirical generalisations that were current at the time about society being founded on self-interest.
Is that what John Cranna's Arena is about, also? That sense of fear over eroding values? Certainly his (unnamed) protagonist lacks any conventional moral compass. He cuts off a man's ear-lobe and chains him to a tree in the garden as a simple act of discipline, and his somewhat tepid feelings of solidarity with the Aboriginal escapee from the livestock collected for the upcoming Arena Festival do not extend to any attempt to liberate him when recaptured for sacrifice.

His strongest identification turns out to be with the children of the next generation, but even this seems as much sensual as ideological:
The girl child's green, wide-set eyes met mine. Poised there was the question that had been put to me twice, the invitaion that had pursued me to the swamps and had haunted my dreams. And as the wind blew sand in flurries across the arena, and brought to that place the scent of end-of-summer orchards, I reached out to the small white hand of this dancer, my daughter, and told her, Yes. [174]
Bear in mind that this is the end of the same summer in which this particular child was born. A brief riffle back in the pages reveals the question - or, rather, statement - twice put to him: "We want you to be the narrator" [160].

But what exactly is it that he's meant to be narrating?

... in a sense, everything that happened that summer was predictable, and with time it seemed to me that when the sequence of events happened as it did, it did so with an inevitability that left me certain that somehow I had known what was going to happen all along. [50]

There's a certain clunkiness to that sentence, and - it has to be admitted - to John Cranna's book as a whole. It's as if he's so determined to make each action deeply significant, that he neglects to explain it - even to himself. It reads like a sleepwalker's book.

Ballard's novels sounds now like an example of cli-fi written long before that term was born or thought of. Coetzee's, too, has a clear political dimension alongside the fabular narration. Scott and Wendt, too, have their targets (and genres) clearly in their sights.

What, then, of John Cranna? More than 25 years on, any deficiencies in clarity of intention seem - to me, at any rate - outweighed by the obscure feeling of hurt underlying his story. His protagonist (like the author?) has returned to home ground round to tell us his story once more in the faint hope that this time it may end up making some tenuous kind of sense.

His hopes - as always - are disappointed, but at least he's managed, this time, to gather around him a small knot of children who may offer some kind of hope, however fragile:
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
- W. B. Yeats, "Among School Children"
Or, to put it more directly, how can there be narrative closure where we ourselves deserve none?

John Cranna

John Cranna

Select Bibliography:

  1. Visitors. Pacific Writers Series. Auckland: Heinemann Reed, 1989.

  2. Arena. Auckland: Minerva, 1992.

  3. Homepages & Online Information:

  4. The Creative Hub

  5. Wikipedia entry

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Rosie Scott and the Mother of All Budgets (1992)

Rosie Scott: Feral City (1992)

'... It's not easy setting up in Apocalypse Now city. But at least I can choose the books I love.'
- Rosie Scott, Feral City (Melbourne: Heinemann, 1992): 126.

Francis Ford Coppola, dir.: Apocalypse Now (1979)

I came back to New Zealand in 1990, after four years away in the UK. It was as if I’d left one country and returned to another.

True, my father’s letters had alerted me to some of what was going on during Roger Douglas’s reign of terror over Treasury, and I had made a short trip home in ’88, in time to see the aftermath of the 1987 stock market ‘correction’.

Coming back to live was something quite different, though.

The New Zealand I remembered was a place where people had the luxury of time and leisure to occupy themselves with worthy causes: Apartheid in South Africa, for instance, or the pernicious effects of raising the level of Lake Manapouri.

The New Zealand I came back to was far more brutal and opportunist. The comforting, vaguely socialist, vaguely lefty convictions which had seemed to be the common property of most people I knew had been replaced with Monetarist zeal. Get rich quick or die trying – push the weak to the wall or they’ll hold you back.

I remember seeing, on the news, a funeral eulogy delivered over the coffin of a rich entrepreneur of that era by his grieving son: 'My father taught me an important lesson,' he said. We all awaited some tender homily. 'He told me that if your opponent is down in the gutter, go over and kick him in the throat, then stamp on his face till he dies.'

The audience - in the Christchurch town hall, I think it was - erupted in baying laughter, their jackal faces convulsed with glee. That was the spirit of the age, I'm sorry to say. In some circles it still is.

Ridley Scott, dir.: Blade Runner (1982)

'The seasons have all changed,' Violet said with foreboding. 'The rain's changed. There's no freshness to it any more. It rains and you know that it's pathology. It comes from some global sickness.
'It's like Blade Runner,' I said to myself.
'Blade Runner?'
'It's an old movie. Images of the future, unwholesome rain falling continuously on desolate cities. No untouched nature left to replenish ourselves spiritually with.' [79]

I remember once, shortly after my return, being asked what I did for a living by a woman who ran a bookshop. I told her that I was looking for work at present, having just come back after a long stay away.

‘I have a job for you: cleaning the shop,’ she said.

‘Oh, I don’t think I’d be very good at that,’ I replied, a little surprised at the vehemence with which she accosted me.

‘Too good for it, are you?’

‘No, it’s not that. It’s just that the country paid a good deal of money for me to go abroad and study, and it seems a bit pointless to come back and not use any of the things I learned.’

‘So you’d rather go on the benefit and live off the rest of us?’

I think I managed to extricate myself at that stage, resolving never to enter that shop again.

It’s not that I couldn’t see her point. Of course I looked like a shiftless wastrel – and what good was all that education when all it really consisted of was reading a bunch of books and making a few generalisations about them in the form of a Doctoral thesis?

Outside a very narrow, specialised sphere, I clearly wasn't at all viable in the new New Zealand. It didn't help that (as I subsequently learned) the bookshop lady's husband was a National Party politician.

Frank Oz, dir.: Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

'We used to call it the Little Shop of Horrors,' I said, thinking out loud. 'Quite witty for white trash.' ...
'You keep remembering everything,' Violet said. 'I've been here so long everything's kind of overlapped. The old memories are diluted by the last few years, so everything's just become one long uneasy present.' [26-27]

I suppose that’s why I retain so much fondness for Rosie Scott’s visionary novel Feral City. When I finally got around to reading it, some years later, it seemed to me to capture almost perfectly the feeling of those times.

When the National Party duly returned to power in the 1990 election – after the unedifying débâcle of David Lange’s attempt to impose ‘a cup of tea and a sit-down’ on his madder, more free market colleagues – they sure came in with a hiss and a roar.

Ruth Richardson strode like a colossus over the ruins of that gentler, less stratified New Zealand. Her 1991 ‘Mother of all Budgets’ cut state spending on an unprecedented scale, adding Ruthanasia to the devastation wrought by Rogernomics.

Was it all worth it in the long run? It depends on who you talk to, I suppose.

Certainly some people did become significantly richer as a result of it. Countries such as Australia which avoided such policies at that time don’t seem to have suffered unduly as a result, however.

One would have to know far more about economics than I do to venture a valid opinion – all I know is that what I saw bore more than a passing resemblance to the Britain I’d just left, stricken by over a decade of Thatcherite tyranny.

Feral City is the city of our future, its centre a wasteland people by addicts, violent gangs and the homeless. In a gesture of defiant optimism, two sisters - one a warrior, the other a survivor - open a bookshop in the heart of this decaying city. Their bizarre and moving story mirrors the fragile balance between defeat and courage.
With the passionate imagination we now expect from her, Rosie Scott presents a future shock which is alive with imminent danger.

Does Feral City really qualify as Speculative Fiction? It’s dystopian, yes – set in a near future which is mostly an exacerbated version of the author’s present. But then that is, then and now, the nature of the beast. Certainly the blurb above characterises it as some kind of Jeremiad.

After all, the same could be said of C. K. Stead’s Smith’s Dream or even Craig Harrison’s The Quiet Earth. Both novels extrapolate from present trends to prophesy and warn. And, while that may not be the whole duty of SF - perish the thought - it’s certainly one important part of its function as a genre.

Mostly, I think, Scott’s novel survives in the mind because of its expert evocation of atmosphere – that, and her fascination with human eccentricity. That memorable image of the old book exchange linked internally by a crudely bashed-in tunnel to the fish-shop next door, simply in order to find more space for Faith's utopian vision of the perfect bookshop, is certainly one that stayed with me long after I'd forgotten most of the rest of the plot.

Ponsonby's Pacific past (Auckland Heritage Festival, 2018)

'... There's got to be a Pacific feel to it, as well. You know that Polynesian bookshop that used to be in K-Road? In the arcade? Is it still there? You used to see all those working people come in with overalls and work-boots on. They were at ease. They were recognising something valuable that belonged to them.'
'You talk about them as if they're some sort of shy forest animal coming in to drink at the bambi pool.' [10]

Of course it's of its time: more than a quarter of a century ago now. There's a certain naïveté to its assumption that we've seen the worst already, and that it consists of social neglect and poverty. That's where the choice of a novel rather than some more one-sided diatribe serves Scott well, though.

Every time Faith says something particularly naff, Violet can shoot her down with more street-based arguments. The two function very well together as the interlocutors in a Platonic dialogue about, on the one hand, offering a possible vision of a life well lived (Faith's green, welcoming bookshop) or choosing direct, practical action (Violet's warehouse of donated goods, her soup runs in the broken-down old van).

More to the point, as they grow as characters and human beings, it allows Scott to say some important things about the deep bond between sisters, the details only they can know about each other: the wounds only they can inflict.

Rosie Scott writes like an angel, of course. The clarity and analytic power of her prose comes from her father, historian and social activist Dick Scott, I guess - but the poetic, incantatory effect of her sentences is all her own:
It seemed more and more amazing that I hadn't really noticed the state of the city in the first flush of homecoming. ... But gradually the city impinged more and more on my consciousness, like a black shield held against the sun. They were still my childhood streets with their shops and garages and pubs ... but as the days went by, I saw more and more clearly that something had changed, a slant of light, a feeling in the air.
At night the homeless people lit huge bonfires in rusty petrol drums and I could see the shadow of the flames flickering on the storeroom ceiling as I lay on a mattress on the floor trying to sleep. I kept hearing their harsh voices, sudden jolting snarls of rage, the clink of bottles, a snatch of ragged singing. They were like voices from the dead, remote, an undercurrent of menace, a strange and ghostly community. In the daytime there were no signs, just newspaper blowing in the wind and young guys walking past like cowboys, stiff-legged, eyes ahead, past the seedy shops. ...
'They're the ragged army,' Violet told me. 'There're thousands of them now. Families camped out in the streets, in old cars, under the freeway flyovers, in shopping malls, in cardboard boxes on the side of the road. There's nowhere for them to go.' [47-48]

Rosie Scott

Rosie Scott

Select Bibliography:


  1. Flesh and Blood: Poems (1984)

  2. Say Thank You to the Lady: A Play (1985)

  3. Glory Days: A Novel. Auckland: Penguin, 1988.

  4. Queen of Love: Short Stories (1989)

  5. Nights with Grace. Pacific Writers Series. Auckland: Heinemann Reed, 1990.

  6. Feral City. Port Melbourne, Victoria: William Heinemann Australia, 1992.

  7. Lives on Fire. Auckland: Sceptre NZ, 1993.

  8. Movie Dreams (1995)

  9. The Red Heart. A Vintage Book. Auckland: Random House New Zealand, 1999.

  10. Faith Singer (2003)

  11. Edited:

  12. [with Thomas Keneally] Another Country (2014)

  13. [with Thomas Keneally] A Country Too Far (2004)

  14. [with Anita Heiss] The Intervention (2015)

  15. Homepages & Online Information:

  16. NZ Book Council

  17. Wikipedia entry

Eric Heath: Croaking Cassandra (1991)

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Tara McLeod: 8 Poems by New Zealand Poets (2019)

8 Poems by New Zealand Poets 2019
Designed by Tara McLeod (Auckland: The Pear Tree Press, 2019)

Yesterday I received my two author's copies of Tara McLeod's beautiful new chapbook 8 Poems by New Zealand Poets. It's the fourth in the series, earlier editions having appeared in 2014, 2017 and 2018:

Each book is billed as containing "8 new poems from contemporary NZ poets." It's quite a stellar list. To date the following poets have appeared in the series:

  1. Riemke Ensing
  2. Brian Gregory
  3. David Gregory
  4. Judith Haswell
  5. David Howard
  6. Peter Olds
  7. Paul Thompson
  8. Denys Trussell

  9. 2017:
  10. Riemke Ensing
  11. Brian Gregory
  12. Judith Haswell
  13. John Mitchell
  14. Michael O’Leary
  15. Rachel Scott
  16. Paul Thompson
  17. Denys Trussell

  18. 2018:
  19. Glenn Colquhoun
  20. Riemke Ensing
  21. Brian Gregory
  22. Rachel McAlpine
  23. Daryl McLaren
  24. Karl Stead
  25. Paul Thompson
  26. Richard von Sturmer

Here's my own poem, 'The Oceanic Feeling,' from the latest volume:

And here's a list, in order, of all the poets included:

  1. Michele Leggott
  2. Elizabeth Brooke-Carr
  3. Alan Loney
  4. Michael Harlow
  5. Linda Gill
  6. Jack Ross
  7. Gregory O'Brien
  8. Paula Green
  9. Riemke Ensing

Pretty good company to keep, I'm sure you'll agree!

I guess what's most striking about the books is the inventiveness with which Tara has come up with a different design for every poem: with bold colours and variegated font choices to complement the mood of each of them.

I couldn't be happier with the Pasifika look of the title and layout of my own poem, and I'm sure all the other poets feel the same. When Tara showed me a proof of what he had in mind in his studio in Orewa, I was quite blown away. For someone as addicted as I am to handprinting and poetry posters and all those fascinating surrounds to the classic slim volume of verse, it was manna in the wilderness.

I won't disguise the fact: the books are expensive. If you live near a library with a good rare books or special collections section - and which of us doesn't? - you should be able to get your hands on a copy, though (albeit, probably, with white gloves on).

It's always a thrill to collaborate with a real artist, and it's nice to know that Tara is beginning to get the credit he deserves, with a major new book - Tara McLeod: A Typographer's Journey - on his work as a designer, printer and sculptor due out from Lesley Smith's Katsura Press later this year.

Oh, and why are there nine poets rather than eight in this particular volume? Through an act of kindness on the artist's part, actually. Elizabeth Brooke-Carr was going to be included in the 2020 volume, but the state of her health made it seem increasingly likely that she'd never live to see it.

Accordingly, Riemke Ensing offered to bow out to give space for Elizabeth in this book instead. Touched by this gesture, Tara decided to include Riemke's poem anyway - there's a note explaining the circumstances beside it.

Elizabeth Brooke-Carr died in her Dunedin home on the 3rd of September, 2019. I don't know if she was able to see her poem in print before she died, but at least the rest of us can.

Entitled 'All that remains is pressed flat,' it's a very moving account of a funeral. Was it Harold Bloom who remarked that elegy was the mode in which poets almost always succeed?