As reported in The New York Times recently, “Yevgeny Yevtushenko, an internationally acclaimed poet with the charisma of an actor and the instincts of a politician whose defiant verse inspired a generation of young Russians in their fight against Stalinism during the Cold War, died on Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he had been teaching for many years. He was 83.”
Yevtushenko is survived by his wife, Maria Novikova, and their two sons, Dmitry and Yevgeny. His family were reportedly at the poet’s bedside when he died.
Yevtushenko’s poems of protest did much to encapsulate the mixed feelings of the young people of the Soviet Union after the death of the totalitarian Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, on 5 March 1953.
Such was his popularity in Russia that Yevtushenko gave 250 poetry readings in 1961.
After 2007, Yevtushenko spent an increasing amount of his time in America, teaching and giving readings of his work. One American writer described him as “a graying lion of Russian letters”. He taught and lectured for years at several American universities, including the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.
Yevtushenko was very much admired by generations of his fellow Soviet citizens, both before and after the collapse of the USSR.
One of his most famous poems was Babi Yar which bore witness to the Nazi atrocities against the Jews in Kiev in the Soviet Union during World War Two.
I’ve lost count of the number of times people have said to me: “You should write a book!” Sometimes this is said after I have told a funny story, sometimes when they realise that I belong to not one but three book groups, but quite often it is said simply because I work in a library.
This got me thinking about how many librarians have actually written books. Let’s start with real live librarians working in Christchurch City Libraries right now:
Dylan Kemp is one of the Poets in Residence at a Christchurch community library. He has three published books of poetry to his name. Dylan is a poet who often focuses on relationships in his writing. In real life he speaks just like his poetry: thoughtfully, honestly and with kindness.
Andrew Bell is our resident coastal poet. He has two poetry books and a book of short stories in our collection. Andrew takes situations and observations from life (and Andrew is very perceptive) and turns them into beautiful writing that makes you want to say: Yes This Exact Thing Has Happened To Me!
Beaulah Pragg has the first of her Young Adult, Fantasy/Science Fiction novels – The Silver Hawk – in our collection. In a world of gender-role reversal set somewhere out there on “the rim”, Beulah’s imagination appears unstoppable – there is even a sequel in the offing.
Sophie Divry, who wrote The Library of Unrequited Love, has a main character who (in a ninety page rant to a man who slept the night in her basement workplace) tells the story of her dead-end library job and her fantasy love-life for a customer. She has to have written this book in a library.
Librarians who have actually written and had books published know the hard yards that have had to be done to write a book, get it onto a shelf, and to have a hand reach out and choose it. They know best whether a library is a great place for an aspiring author to work.
All the seats were taken and the truly dedicated stood for an hour to listen to people talk about poetry at Scorpio Books on Thursday the 26th of January.
The chance to hear poet and world renowned poetry scholar Stephen Burt in a conversation with Victoria University Press editor Fergus Barrowman, chaired by University of Canterbury Professor of English Paul Millar, explained the impressive turnout and they did not disappoint.
Millar’s relaxed chairing – “I’m going to ask you a question and you can say whatever you like” – let the conversation range freely and some interesting stuff emerged. The visits of American poet Robert Creeley influenced New Zealand poetry markedly; ” an accident of history that had unforeseen consequences”. I am ashamed to say I had never heard of him.
So how much does the Internet change poetry and reading? A lot. Burt and Barrowman agreed that current sensation Hera Lindsay Bird would not exist without the Internet and its international no cost distribution. But Unity Books in Wellington has also sold large numbers of print copies of her book.
Where will the ‘not hip’ poets be read? No-one knows. Burt is sure that the Internet makes it easier for everyone in the room last night to access poetry from other countries.
Burt was off to the The Bats (New Zealand poetry, with its “agreement groups not large enough to live in”, was compared to the Flying Nun bands earlier in proceedings) so there was time for just a couple of questions. In the event there was only one and I can report that Bob Dylan was not shaped by Minnesota literary culture.
Thanks to the University of Canterbury College of Arts and WORD Christchurch for a very stimulating event. I’ll be keeping an eye out for others.
Good poet (at least I think so after attending a reading last year – perhaps I’ll know how to tell for sure after this event), Harvard Professor of Poetry and an engaging speaker, Burt will be in conversation with Fergus Barrowman from Victoria University Press.
I love poetry events – people are passionate about it so the questions tend to be on the intense side, and even better can spin out into wildly inappropriate statements of opinion. Somehow opinions on poetry are so much more interesting than opinions on non-fiction, which mostly centre on how much more the ‘questioner’ knows than the author.
“A lively discussion” is promised, but I’m hoping for a bit more than that.
Why would one read a literary magazine in the time when novels are still the hottest form on the scene? Because reading a literary magazine is like being young and ready to fall in love every day fresh. You can pick up the read you fancy, and if you realize you made a wrong judgement, you can very easily let it go, because – guess what? There is another one waiting for you when you turn the page. No hard feelings, no strings attached!
Takahē is a New Zealand literary magazine published in Christchurch and has been on the scene since 1989. Its core repertoire consists of short stories, poetry and art by New Zealand writers and artists, and often extends to essays, interviews and book reviews. The magazine is a good starting point for emerging literary talents and offers a place for their first public appearance along with established writers.
Takahē is published twice a year in a print form (in April and December) and as an online issue in August.
One of the prevailing themes of April 2016’s issue is motherhood, or the biological and relational obstacles preventing motherhood. Lucy-Jane Walsh (These Things Happen) brings a fresh insight into a life of a young woman who cannot have a child but forms an unusual friendship with someone else’s (at the same time it cleverly captures the nuances of the craziness and obsessiveness of modern parenthood). Suvi Mahonen in Little White Crescent dives into details of medical checks and scans of a pregnant future mother, while much more darker side of deficient pregnancy comes to life in Meagan France’s Grace.
The other topic that floats up to the surface is – of course – love, or various forms of love and its cousins (David Hill’s On Special, Melanie Dixon’s The Cottage, Sarah Penwarden’s Mirror Ball, Rupa Maitra’s Eve).
The second topic that recurs is writing (The Celtic Gift by Juliana Feaver and Kate Mahoney’s Flight from New York).
As far as the dating goes, I would definitely revisit Nathan Bennett’s Washed Up (only Birdling’s Flat can inspire such weird yet beautiful story about the relationship you don’t come across very often), Melanie Dixon’s The Cottage (with a witty perspective on a rather sad ending of a romantic weekend), Michael Botur’s This is God’s House (complex and unusual relationship narrated in dynamic slang and persvasive style) and Bev Wood’s Ode to Gallipoli (lyrical meditation on peace with an elusive narrator).
What can offer a better shelter to love than poetry? In this issue it comes hand in hand with its ancient partner – death. Under the mindful study of surrounding the pain of passing reveals itself (The Hospice Room by Robert McLean, Rachel Smith’s Light and Shade) and so does singularity of existence through proximity of death (Sarah Penwarden’s poems). How presence and absence are both immanent to love is evoked by Julie Barry in You are now not. Iain Britton’s verses from Calling go further and transcend into cyclical time: binding with ancestors in order to stand, singing in order to weave people together, emerge past and present.
Love can be destructive as well. Venus fails to pursue her artistic calling because she makes the same mistake again – i.e. falls in love (Jenny Powell’s Marlene Dietrich in Gore for the Gold Guitar Awards). The answer to her problem is hiding in sea snails – as Kirstie McKinnon points out they will teach us about letting go.
More existential orientated poems will explain why it is always good to keep your passport on you – or begin at the end (Frieda Paz in Road, map, direction, begin), otherwise you might end up stuck on the bridge – like a subject in Julie Barry’s Preposition of place. Liang Yujing offers a new metaphor for life – heavy school bags on young pupils and big black mouth of a primary school devouring them. Can we escape? No, as Mary Cresswell proves in her poems, adequately pairing themes of artistic and existential crisis (or blocks) with old troubadour’s poetry forms. But as Julie Barry points out in her Grapefruit, the weight of humanity is too much for one and only branch we live on anyway. And this is not all, I am leaving other joyful jewels for yourself to discover!
Takahē regularly offers essays on art and latest book reviews. April’s issue will be of a special interest to Christchurch readers, as it brings to focus Lisa Walker’s revolutionary jewellery (written by curator Felicity Milburn), which can also be seen as an exhibition in Christchurch Art Gallery – Te Puna o Waiwhetu until the 2nd April 2017.
Being a wonderful relic means I still thrive every Saturday morning when I browse through the good old printed paper while sipping the first morning coffee. These days, I am paring this ritual with an early evening one which includes wine and Takahē. Both combinations are perfect and correspond well to each other. I urge you to try them both.
I have always been a big fan of Leonard Cohen‘s incredible music and was in no way disappointed by his poetry. This anthology is every bit as beautiful, poignant, and playful as his lyrics. I definitely recommend seeing out 2016 by reading this reflective and enlightening collection, and remembering this sadly missed genius.
To my eternal shame, I only read the book of ‘North and South’ for the first time this year, despite having watched the wondrous BBC series at least 50 times (and yes I am unashamed). I enjoyed every minute of this book and not only because I could envisage the dashing Richard Armitage throughout the novel (not wholly) but because of its fascinating story, real characters, and gripping narrative. A must read for anyone who loves classics – or even just an outstanding novel.
‘Nightingale Wood’ is a fun and fabulous Cinderella story set in the 1930s. It is a truly magical read that will make everything you read after seem vastly inferior (trust me, I still wish I hadn’t finished it, *sigh*).
This collection of short stories detailing the exploits of A J Raffles, a cricketer by day and society thief by night, is incredibly fun – and incredibly good. Lovers of Sherlock Holmes will enjoy these stories which are set in the same era as Holmes and told with the same flair. This is a new author to get addicted to.
Did I have a huge soft spot for this book because it was written by a distant ancestor of mine? Yes. But did I genuinely love this book with its adorably bad romantic story, and its wonderful evocation of New Zealand during the 1950s? A big yes. Oh and have I reserved more titles by this author? You bet, yes.
This wonderfully warm and engaging biography must be the ultimate work on Oscar Wilde. Wright manages to get right into the mind of this incredible genius with an endearing obsessiveness, intelligence, and warmth.
Written with flair, honesty, and scintillating detail, Zamoyski’s latest work looks at Europe during the paranoid and anxious post revolution period. While reminiscent of one of Zamoyski’s earlier works (‘Holy Madness: Romantics, Patriots and Revolutionaries 1776-1871’) ‘Phantom Terror’ is still a must read for any lover of grippingly written history. Zamoyski is a master historian who consistently manages to bring the past to life with a new and important perspective.
It’s out. The longlist for New Zealand’s most prestigious book award. Plenty of options here for reading over the summer months. A shortlist for the awards will be announced in March next year and the winners in May.
I get a little frisson of excitement when I am reading a novel and one of the characters turns out to have had superior career guidance and is a librarian. And September was my month of librarian-related reads. It all started with The Beautiful Librarians, a 2015 poetry collection by Sean O’Brien:
The beautiful librarians are dead,
The fairly recent graduates who sat
Like Francoise Hardy’s shampooed sisters
With cardigans across their shoulders
On quiet evenings at the issue desk,
Stamping books and never looking up
At where I stood in adoration.
Then I started to see patterns, and books with library characters jumped off the shelves at me. Like Teresa in Maggie O’Farrell’s latest novel: This Must be the Place. Teresa meets a young man when she is helping tourniquet his nephew’s wound. He asks if she is a nurse and she replies:
“No, a librarian” she said, adding, “but we do a first-aid course as part of our training.”
Well, let’s just say that he was lucky he got her and not me. But he tracks her down, visiting all the libraries in Brooklyn. Although this really is Love At First Sight (good luck with that all you first-aidy library types), they absolutely do not live happily ever after.
And you might not identify with this particular librarian, but the choice of library characters is wide, and there will be one for you:
Take Loretta, who is a school librarian in Laurence Fearnley’s 2016 novel The Quiet Spectacular and who has embarked on compiling The Dangerous Book for Menopausal Women while waiting to collect her son from after-school activities. Hesitant in her dealings with semi-feral packs of teenagers in the school library, she forms a bond with one of them – Chance. No one falls in love with Loretta at first sight, but there is more to library life than that. There’s involvement in even one person’s life that helps to turn it around. Agree?
And not all the books I discovered are about lady librarians. The Book of Speculation has a young male librarian – Simon Watson. Simon is a loner who is about to lose his library job. If the words “crumbling” “mysterious package” and “antiquarian bookseller” are a turn-on for you, then you will love this book. It also has a stunningly beautiful cover.
All these books are recent additions to the library collection. All are well worth reading. All involve librarians. So all you librarians out there, remember these books as you hand out your gazillionth computer pass, download your umpteenth document and wrestle with the wonders of 3D printing yet again. Know that you still have allure, that your library mystique is still there. And that, at least in the minds-eye of these four authors, you remain A Beautiful Librarian!
Hats off to whoever decided to combine whisky with poetry, what a fantastic idea! Judging by the crowded seats of the Last Word I wasn’t the only one to think so. Perfect for a brisk winter afternoon.
Sarah Jane Barnett kicked off the session by reading from a longer poem about coping with the devastation of your childhood home, something I’m sure many can relate to here in Christchurch:
She points to questions she has highlighted in bold yellow. “You need to answer these too.” She smiles. Her hand rests lightly. “Should I read them out?” she asks, as if lightness is a face she often wears. I say, I have good English, I’m a translator. But she reads to me, pointing and smiling.
If you want love to stay, shut up our house, covering the furniture with dirty sheets. When the moon was full, he could see it in the pond. Still, if he pulled the shutters there would be no colour, just the memory that is language. Bad language.
It was the first time I’ve been in the reopened Isaac Theatre Royal. My partner said the last thing he saw there was Public Enemy. I don’t know what I had been to – but we were back, and very happy to be at this WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival gala event.
WORD Literary Director Rachael King kicked off proceedings with a sense of the festival’s themes and the good news that ticket sales have already busted all records.
Then it was time for broadcaster Kim Hill to introduce the “marvellous array” of performers. She regretted not being previously advertised host John Campbell, but hey Kim we love you (and your broadcasting live from Christchurch today with WORD guest makes us love you all the more).
We learned about the places and landmarks of Te Waipounamu (the South Island) in an informative – and really entertaining – journey. There was an element of pride in our place as coming from the first marriage of the first son. Yes, we are “sanctimoniously senior”.
Caitlin Doughty has done more than 1000 cremations. She got us to put our hands up if we are getting cremated. Around 70% choose that option. In the United States, it’s more like 50%, while Japan has a percentage around 99.99%.
Caitlin took us on a “What to expect when you’re expecting to be cremated”. Not the gold standard simulation that you can experience in China, where you actually go on the crematory ride and feel the imaginary flames but … Audience member Cathy got to be “Cathy the Corpse” and we went along with her ride in her “alternative container”. There is a cone of flame, the temperature goes up to 815 degrees Celsius and that’s applied for around 45 minutes.
The rest of Caitlin’s speech included “flaming skull”, “glowing red bones” and “cremulator”.
Stephen Daisley won big at the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. His speech had the flummoxed feeling you’d expect when someone has been writing for a long time and finds the reviews (which he read out) a bit staggering.
Tusiata Avia performed two poems from her new collection Fale Aitu | Spirit House. It was made use of the idea of Aranui – the great path:
I am an Aranui girl.
Her second poem built on the repetition of “my body” and was utterly hypnotic:
My body is not an apology.
It was an powerful and absorbing perfomance.
Steve Hely told a good yarn from his book The Wonder TrailTrue Stories From Los Angeles to the End of the World. He talks about the landscape of a particularly barren place in Chile, and a 7 hour bus trip with mine workers, and the one woman on the bus puts on a movie – Austenland. Why, why, why? And he amusingly considers why the heck someone might play that particular movie to a bunch of blokes.
Ivan E. Coyote. Oh Ivan. I think everyone fell in love with you. I did, “full on smitten”. We were as taken with them, as they were with the fabulous lineup of “butch femmes” from the Yukon. I confidentally predict a flurry of ticket purchases for the rest of Ivan’s festival appearances.
Hollie Fullbrook aka Tiny Ruins soothed the savage breast with a new song about a bus trip with someone just out of prison, a song about being under the same cover.