Things we LOVE about poet Anis Mojgani

Anis Mojgani is a songful sculptor of words. It was apt that on his return visit to Christchurch, the US slam poetry champion performed at both the Wunderbar in Lyttelton and the Christchurch Art Gallery – hosts to music and art – because when you witness Anis in full flight you can’t help but marvel how artful and performative he is. WORD Christchurch Literary Director Rachael King introduced him to Saturday night’s audience as someone who “engages your brain and heart and something intangible within you”. On Saturday, he certainly engaged a few librarians.

Here is our list of reasons why one should never miss out on seeing Anis in performance:

1. The way he moves

It is as if Anis embraces the whole world with his arms. Along with his voice, his gestures illustrate images in front of one’s eyes. His expressive hand gestures call you in and lift you up; they manage to point to the cosmos and vital organs all at once. His exceptional performance illuminates poems in a different light, so they reveal themselves in a new, unexpected context, different from the ones that surface up during a reading experience.

Anis Mojgani in performance
Anis Mojgani in performance at the Christchurch Art Gallery, a WORD Christchurch event. Flickr 2016-03-19-IMG_3205

2. The way he is in relationship – with you and the world. His empathy and inclusiveness.

The phrases and lines of his poetry honour who you and we all are as human beings. He draws you in to be in relationship – with him and with others (Come closer). He invites you to be empathetic and to see the good in others and yourself. He speaks of the human condition in a playful uplifting way. His poems resonate the excitement of being alive (Direct orders), but also battle with the enigma of it (For those who can still ride an airplane for the first time). His poetry honours the holiness in the ordinary and looks for ‘God’ in the everyday.

In particular, his well-regarded poem Shake the Dust is an ode to the unheard, the unnoticed, the unnamed, the unloved, the innocuous and the banal and even the inappropriate. He doesn’t discriminate. He bears witness to us all. He speaks for the bullied and bullies. He honours, validates and appreciates everyone.

During the performance, Anis revealed one of his favourite phrases these days – “10-4“ – which is his way of saying “Ok, I read you, I hear you, you are understood.” Having grown up in New Orleans, he has a genuine understanding of the process of grief, sorrow and healing we experienced here. His particular affinity to Christchurch is obvious, you feel “he gets it.” And when Anis tells us his name means “companion“ an “aha“ moment happens. Yes, he is a companion in our collective journey of experiencing and examining humanity. Indeed, we are all each other’s companions bearing witness to one another’s existence. In Here I am he answers our fears:

“Will I be something? Am I something? And the answer comes: you already are, always was, you still have time to be.”

3. He honours childhood and a child’s view of the world

Particularly striking is how many of his poems deliver an impressive and colourful tapestry of a childhood. Told from the eyes of a child, who has an incredible innate gift of poetic language, they draw from childhood memories and experiences such as climbing trees, playing on street or overhearing parents in another room. His poetry takes listeners back to their childhood and school days, and reveals a child’s open, innocent and exuberant experience of the world (Even if somebody pooped a poem it’s alright cuz somebody somewhere made it or Invincible) in which “small children speak half English and half God” and “peace comes with a popsicle” – instant resonance from both a child’s and a parental perspective.

4. We love how he oscillates

He manages to write about his own individual experience and a collective experience in one swoop. He says he speaks to the spectrum of love – and not-love. He conveys what it is to be at once both vulnerable and invincible. Ordinary human abilities to a child can seem like superpowers. Within a single poem, he swings listeners from amusement to sadness, from love to fear, from laughter to deep contemplation about the saddest and cruellest moments of human experience. And while performing, at times Anis seems to hardly stop to breathe when he recites his poetry, but can slow things right down and draw you in.

5. His vibe and presence. His warmth and wit. His generosity. His aroha.

Anis doesn’t talk to the audience as a crowd, he addresses each individual. Even though you find yourself sitting in a hall full of people, you have feeling that he is talking directly to you. His poems are “for you”, they are yours – it seems his generous outreach to the listener:

“I am cutting out parts of myself to give to you… make my words worth something more than just a poem, write make this more than just a night that sits heavy over every one of us …”

His poems seem to reach out, to hug and kiss you, inviting you to walk with him through ups and downs of life (Come closer).

Watching Anis perform is like being at the concert of one of your favourite bands. The anticipation of your favourite lines to come is electric! When they come, you find yourself grinning. You can feel that warm feeling of satisfaction spreading through your body and lifting you up above the crowd. It’s addictive. And then there are some lines that are totally new to you and come like marvellous gifts, falling from the sky. “Rock Out”, he insists in a prolonged invitation in his poem Direct orders. On the drive away from his show the temptation is too great to not blast the car radio and do just that – singing at the top of one’s voice.

For one librarian lucky enough to get a book at the signing afterwards – just before they sold out –  his inscription reads: “Keep your heart full of wonder”. It feels like quite the invitation indeed.

Anis Mojgani in performance

Our Flickr set of images of Anis

Listen into this

Shake the Dust

Come Closer

TedxAtlanta Talk

Anis was presented in association with the 2016 New Zealand Festival Writers Week and Golden Dawn Auckland.

Anis Mojgani’s performance was a taster for this year’s upcoming WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival being held from 25 to 28 August 2016.

More

feather room junkyard over the anvil

Masha and Kim

Leaving the Red Zone: An Anthology of Earthquake Poetry

In vain, I have trawled the email highway of Christchurch City Libraries in an effort to “out” some closet poets amongst all the erudite librarians out there, but the only contributors to Leaving the Red Zone: Poems from the Canterbury Earthquakes, an anthology edited by James Norcliffe and Joanna Preston, that I could find were myself and Greg O’Connell. Greg works at Linwood Library and I work at New Brighton.

I know of at least one other poet working at the library – Dylan Kemp.

The anthology was launched on Monday 29 February at The Laboratory pub in Lincoln and the launch was extremely well attended. Mayor Lianne Dalziel gave an introductory speech before a packed crowd of poetry lovers and then, because there was only limited time and 87 contributors, some contributing poets were picked from a hat to read their contributions. I was one of the lucky ones who got picked from the hat to read at the launch which was an honour.

Old Press site
3 June 2012. Flickr CCL-2012-06-03-IMG_3532

So get out there and grab yourself a copy from any good bookstore and get the real story behind the earthquakes – from September 2010 until the present day.

More on Leaving the Red Zone

Discover more earthquake poetry in our collection:

Cover Cover Cover Cover Cover

Andrew Bell
New Brighton Library

Which of these writers is a Great Kiwi Classic?

Which of the following writers do you think deserves to be considered a Great Kiwi Classic?

Cover of Maurice Gee Life and work Cover of Your unselfish kindness Cover of The plays of Bruce Mason Cover of James K Baxter Complete prose

The answer is all of them, but if you had to pick one which would it be?

Since 2014 the New Zealand Book Council and Auckland Writers Festival,  have been awarding the title “Great Kiwi Classic” to our country’s most revered literary treasures. In 2014, Keri Hulme’s Booker Prize-winning novel The Bone People was selected after a wealth of public nominations, and Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame received the 2015 crown.

And they’re at it again this year with the above shortlist which will be hotly debated a the Auckland Writers Festival event, The Great Kiwi Classic: Face-Off, in which four super fans will each argue on behalf of one writer for the title 2016 Great Kiwi Classic author. A follow-up discussion will attempt to distil the essence of home-grown literary classics, chaired by Rosabel Tan, editor of The Pantograph Punch.

Rachel Barrowman, Mary Paul, John Smythe, John Weir

Literary biographer Rachel Barrowman (shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards) will punt for Maurice Gee; Mary Paul for Robin Hyde; theatre critic John Smythe for Bruce Mason; and John Weir for James K. Baxter.

Which of the four would you nominate as the 2016 Great Kiwi Classic author, and why? Let the New Zealand Book Council know in 400 words or less via email greatkiwiclassic@bookcouncil.org.nz or via a post on their Facebook page by 15 April 2016.

Your contribution could be published on the New Zealand Book Council’s blog Booknotes Unbound, and you’ll automatically be entered into the draw to win a prize pack of classic NZ books!

A new chapter: An interview with Anis Mojgani

Performance poet Anis Mojgani is coming to town this week courtesy of WORD Christchurch. He is performing at the Wunderbar in Lyttelton on Thursday 17 March, and at the Christchurch Art Gallery on Saturday 19 March. Check out WORD Christchurch’s info and get some tickets. Librarians – and fans – Kim and Masha asked Anis some questions, thanks Anis for your fab answers!

You performed in Christchurch at the WORD Festival in 2014 – what impact has visiting the city and its people had on you?

My visit felt pretty impactful on opening me up to a literary community on the other side of the world, both the the work and stories produced by it, and also the people making and supporting such literature, which I’ve been very grateful for. But also, I had a very strong connection to visiting in 2014. New Zealand felt like a place I would return to and could see myself spending an extended period of time inside of, and still feels as such. A lot of that was definitely connected to being in a city like Christchurch that seemed to be in a period of sorrow and confusion and rebuilding, one similar to my hometown in the wake of its destructive natural disaster. But also, the strange quirky creative patches of Christchurch that I was shown or stumbled upon, spoke to me, as well as being inspiring. And the audiences I had in Christchurch were some of the best I’ve ever had, terribly kind and inviting, present and excited.

Ania Mogjani

Photo from WORD Christchurch

You are from New Orleans, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. What observations or messages would you share with people of Christchurch based on your experience in New Orleans?

I don’t know if I’m the best person for such, I haven’t lived in New Orleans in a number of years. But being from there, and going there often, as that’s where my family still is and is, as Rachael King shared with me the other day, one of the places I would refer to as tūrangawaewae, there was a strong connection to Christchurch I felt because of the disasters in both cities.

When walking through Christchurch in 2014, I was reminded of how confused New Orleans was while in such pain, that it didn’t know in what direction it was supposed to move, how to begin rebuilding, what was the right choice. And as I write that sentence, I recognize the same connection in my personal journey over recent years. And as such with both, just to say that 1. when in broken places, sometimes, often, it is important to just get moving. To get out of the rubble, to move debris out of your home, to build again. And then see what to fix and change. To not let the destruction make you fearful of a future or to hinder the decisions that need to be made.

And 2. To use this opportunity for change, to change in good ways and with different patterns, while not forgetting to hold on to the beautiful traditions from before. I think about how it has been challenging for New Orleans, a city so incredibly rich with culture and tradition, to progress and rebuild, while keeping the parts of itself that make it the city that it is. A lot of growth there has threatened to change the city, and not necessarily in good ways. There are definitely people in New Orleans that have used the wake of Katrina to shape the city that may be more in line with the city that they envision it should be––losing and getting rid of people and cultures that they deem undesirable, which is a travesty. So I think of that, but don’t want to suggest that a broken thing should only then heal back to the same place it was before. What I loved, utterly LOVED, about Christchurch on my earlier visit, was how people embraced their city and claimed ownership of it by creating these pockets of awesome and weirdness and creative endeavours, to inspire others and to push forward perhaps the possibility of what an additional aspects of their city could grow to embrace. And those things are not what should be lost as the city rebuilds itself but rather invited to the table to participate, perhaps more fully.

What role/influence have libraries and books played in your upbringing? Is there a library you call your favourite (besides yours, which has 17 books).

Huge influence. There was a library called Nix that was about three blocks from our house growing up and was also on the walk home from school, and having one so close was very special. Not to mention memories of my school library, and of course the children’s bookstore my mother had when we were growing up. We’d walk there from school usually about half the week, and it was like having a large personal library, combing the shelves for the next thing to open and discover and explore. That was crazy influential, I think in a myriad of ways. Not only the importance of stories and how many different ways there are to share them, but also the feeling one gets from being surrounded by possibility, that here are these shelves to walk between and you have no idea what’s between all these covers – it could be anything! And you’re allowed to seek that out, you have permission to step into that mystery and many mysteries. So that sense, that feeling of discovery and curiousness is something I feel was fostered from the library and the bookstore.

I don’t know if I have a favourite library – the library as a whole in Portland Oregon where I live, is a really great library system that has an incredible selection. And there is a beautiful house of a library in New Orleans, the Latter branch. I love though seeing photos online of libraries that stand out, ones that are so beautiful, like temples designed and built to respect that which they hold. But also ones that are so small and tiny, in the middle of nowhere, that illustrate that even in the emptiest places, there should be a place where a person can go and discover books.

A rumour reached us about your current project, which – if we got it right – includes illustrations and is aimed at children. Could you tell us a bit more about that or is it a secret?

Can definitely tell you some! And it’s a couple things that you may have heard of. The first is my new book The Pocketknife Bible, which is a weird book that’s kind of a poetry-novel-memoir-picture book for both adults and children. It’s through the voice and eyes of me circa 6-8 years old and my childhood and the surreal wild boring beauty of childhood, but enters into some strange and dark places. It’s fully illustrated by me which is the first time I’ve done a book like this.

The other thing is that I’m starting to more seriously work on some stories for children, picture books mostly at the moment. Just completed a residency specific to that, so finished that up with a number of my stories more developed and fleshed out, story- and art-wise. So excited to see where all that goes.

feather room junkyard over the anvil

Slam performances have a similar spirit as music gigs, there’s a flow in communication and audience seems to be very expressive. What was the most unusual reaction from the crowd you ever got?

I can’t think of a specific instance unfortunately, but it can be pretty interesting  and fascinating. Because we all process information so differently, so there are plenty of times where you might share something that you think is funny and no laughter, or where a laugh may spring out of a random audience mouth, in the middle of something serious or sorrowful. And it’s definitely like music, because those little blips add to me then rolling with it, maybe reshaping little bits in the moment, like if there was something sad I spoke to and there was a chuckle, how can to offer up the next line in a manner that both makes that reaction comfortable and allowed, while also pulling the person/audience back in the direction I’d like to move them towards.

Who are you at the moment? A poet, an illustrator, a slam star? All together? And what else?

Who am I at the moment. I don’t know. Tired? But excited. Scared. And curious. Filled with sorrow and pain. And joy and a terrible gratefulness. I don’t know. I’m asked this question at a very open and new chapter in my life, one where I’m not fully formed, one where I’m reforming so many parts of who I am and what I’m seeking to make. I look at myself as an artist, and strive to continue creating work that respects this and speaks to it, whet here that’s through words, pictures, music, performance, or whatever. I love the work that I’ve been focused one for the past decade, but feel a reimagining of this as of late, or a new exploration of it, whether that is in the context of what is being written, or through more performative ways such as dance or theatre, or whatever.

Who/which are your recommended/favourite reads/authors and illustrators? Any that you have recently read and have lingered with you for a while?

Right now I’m reading The Tiger’s Wife which is pretty good and a children’s book I just got from Gecko Press called The Day No One Was Angry, which is awesome! I have Ben Okri’s The Famished Road waiting for me at home, I’ve started it and I’m really excited to return to its pages.

Cover Cover Cover Cover Cover

I always recommend the poets Lucille Clifton and William Stafford, Kevin Young’s Dear Darkness. Tracy K Smith’s Life On Mars is wonderful. I didn’t get to finish Brown Girl Dreaming but it is beautiful. I’m drawing a blank on his name, but the author of the Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now, I think it’s Gary something? His books are magic.

My three favorite books, novel wise, are probably East of Eden, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Maniac McGee. But I have too many books stacked up to read and probably even more that I’ve only started. I need to crack the whip and find my way back into a good kick butt reading habit. Crossing the seas is both a good and bad thing, as it invariably introduces me to books/writers that I wouldn’t have known before. As such, I’d want to read Elizabeth Knox’s Wake, and Tina Makereti’s Where the Rekohu Bones Sing.

Cover Cover Cover Cover

 What do you hope to do while you are in Christchurch / New Zealand this time?

A return to C1! Miniature burgers delivered through vacuum tubes is how all life should be!

C1 Espresso
C1 Espresso Flickr 2014-05-16-IMG_0085

Fiercely hopeful and in love – Anis Mojgani

Life is too short to fall in love only a couple of times. One should fall in love at least once a month. That’s what I do. I fall in love with people who just walk into my life but it feels like they have been around for ages. I fall in love with my dog nearly every day. Sometimes I fall in love with characters from books, foreign towns, landscapes and their unfamiliar faces.

Ania Mogjani
Photo from WORD Christchurch

This month’s love of mine is Anis Mojgani. When I first discovered him, I felt like this (from his poem This is how she makes me feel):

Someone has saved a baby.
There is a parade.
Someone has saved every baby.

I felt as if I was the one who saved a baby in Brooklyn in 1950s. I felt that this time, it will be different. This time, it will last. And sure I was right – Anis is coming back to Christchurch to perform on Thursday 17 March (Wunderbar, Lyttelton) and Saturday 19 March (Christchurch Art Gallery) – presented by WORD Christchurch in partnership with the 2016 New Zealand Festival Writers Week and Golden Dawn Auckland. I am convinced his visit will make my relationship only fiercer.

I am also convinced that I am not the only one fiercely hopeful and in love. Anis visited Christchurch in 2014, enchanting the festival’s audience with his slam poetry performance. Alison’s post is a true testament of his power to compel people through words and poetry. Of course, there are other testaments as well, like the double win at the National Poetry Slam and a win of the International World Cup Poetry Slam, three published books of poetry, an illustrated poetry-novella, multiple TEDx talks and all sorts of other creative projects. To finalise his portrait in your mind, I suggest visiting his neat and cute website: http://thepianofarm.com/

feather room junkyard over the anvil

I must admit that this romance started in quite an unusual way. Old-school librarian like myself would normally embark on this kind of adventure with tried and tested methods, like reading poet’s books. On this occasion the media was … You Tube. Once I started watching recordings of his performances, I couldn’t stop. Performed poems like Come closer, This is how she makes me feel, In my library there are 17 books, Shake the dust have been proper hits on the web for a few years now. Discovering them felt as if I just joined the party, which has secretly been going on for a long time.

Anis is not only smart with words, he is also a talented illustrator and graphic designer. His abundant imagination echoes in the poems – they are full of childhood inspired imagery: growing cities, tall skyscrapers, teenagers running through the evening air, birds trapped underneath breastplates. At the same time, they are brutally honest, revealing humanity and humbleness to all things greater than us.

He is one of those performing/writing poets in English, whose work actually talks to me. It addresses me and I can easily relate to it. When I read or listen poetry in foreign language, I often find myself falling in the deep crevices of comprehension diaspora: a poem sometimes does not reach me, it does not resonate with me. It feels like many of its layers and nuances are beyond my grasp and preventing me to trace some sort of meaning among the lines.

This never happens when I listen to Anis. The flow is spontaneous and easy. What that mean for his poetry or tells about me, I don’t know, and I sincerely don’t care. As long as this love lasts, I am happy.

Can’t get enough? Read and listen more:

Poetry in Bloom

Poetica and Bloom Poetry CompetitionIf you’re a budding young poet, you might be in with a chance to see a piece of your work gracing a wall at Canterbury Museum.

To commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Canterbury earthquakes, Poetica is inviting children from Year 4 to Year 8 to enter a poem in the Bloom poetry competition.

Bloom is a collaboration between Poetica and The River of Flowers project, supported by Canterbury Museum. A mural will be designed that is inspired by and features the winning poem in an exhibition at Canterbury Museum. This temporary exhibition, accompanied by visual poetry and activities, will commemorate the Canterbury earthquakes through floral and poetry tributes by the people of Canterbury. The exhibition will open to the public
in February 2016.
Eligibility: Canterbury students from Year 4 to Year 8. Students who are immediate family members of Poetica, River of Flowers and Canterbury Museum staff, or judging panel members are not eligible.
Topic: Who or what gave you the strength to carry on after the earthquakes?
Example subjects: Your pet, your teacher, your grandmother, your best friend, your idol, a football, a song, a poem, a joke, your imagination, a smile, a hug, a walk on the beach, it could be anything or anyone. Surprise us!

The poem must be original and written by the student and must be no longer than eight lines or 40 words. The poem must be in the English language.

Send your poem to: info@poetica.co.nz
Please include your name, age, year and name of school.

The public will choose the winning poem from the shortlist by voting on the Poetica Facebook site. The poem that is ‘liked’ the most will be the winner and will be included in the Bloom exhibition at Canterbury Museum.

The winner will be announced on the Poetica Facebook page at 5.00 pm on 9 November* 2015, and the poem will be revealed on the wall at Canterbury Museum on 22 February 2016.
As the poem in Bloom will be temporary, Sound Sky gives the opportunity for the poem to be enjoyed for generations by recording the poem onto the Sound Sky app.

*The closing date of this competition has been updated.

Countdown to National Poetry Day 2015

National Poetry Day 2015 logoPens to paper (or fingers to keyboard)! There is only one month until National Poetry Day on Friday 28 August. Several poetry competitions are currently open but with submission dates that end in the next few weeks (with winners generally being announced on National Poetry Day).

There are several nationwide poetry competitions this year as well as one for Christchurch poets.

Nationwide Poetry Competitions

Christchurch Poetry Competition

Hagley Writers’ Institute National Poetry Day Competition – Open to current and previous students at Hagley Writers’ Institute. (Submission Dates: 25 July – 7 August 2015)

Christchurch Poetry Event

0800 Muse – Kickstarting the poem: A public workshop to get you in touch with your muse. Open to all. Meet at 1oam for morning tea. The workshop will run from 10.30am-12pm, followed by the announcement of The Hagley Writers’ Institute National Poetry Day competition winners and celebratory readings from competition winners, Frankie McMillan (judge), Kerrin P Sharpe, Christina Stachurski, Bernadette Hall and more.

Date: Saturday 29 August, 10am – 1pm

Place: The Writers’ Block, Hagley College, Hagley Avenue.

Bookings: Registration required. Register by August 27th. For further information and workshop registration contact Morrin Rout, Director – Hagley Writers’ Institute. email writers@hagley.school.nz, (03) 329 9789 or 021 046 4189

Poetry Resources

Need inspiration? Check out our poetry resources

Happy 80th birthday Caxton Press

A Caxton MiscellanyThe Caxton Press is 80 today.  It was launched on 10 June 1935 by John Drew and poet/typographer Denis Glover to publish New Zealand literature. Leo Bensemann had a long and fruitful association as a designer and illustrator with Caxton. Most of the decade’s best writers were first published by the company. Caxton Press tells the story on its website:

THE CAXTON CLUB was a colourful group of students, writing enthusiasts and amateur printers which operated a small printing press in the basement of the University Clock Tower, Worcester Street, in the early 1930s. In 1935, renowned New Zealand literary figure Denis Glover, together with a partner, borrowed £100 for a new press and formed The Caxton Press. They set up in an old wooden shop at 129 Victoria St where they stayed for fifteen years.

In 2013, Central Library Peterborough hosted A Caxton Miscellany – a Christchurch Art Gallery exhibition (see our photos).

A Caxton Miscellany
A Caxton Miscellany, Saturday 16 February 2013. Flickr: CCL-2013 -02-16-IMG_3708

One of the gems of our digital collection are The Group Catalogues, 1927 — 1977 as printed by Caxton Press. You can see their exquisite work closeup in these digital copies.

Cover of 19521953 copy of The Group catalogueCover of 1955Cover of 1958Cover of 1965

More on the Caxton Press

Denis Glover, founder of Caxton Press, with Book Week display in Alexander Turnbull Library. Further negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1963/3385/9A-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23233944
Denis Glover, founder of Caxton Press, with Book Week display in Alexander Turnbull Library. Further negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1963/3385/9A-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23233944

History’s Shadow and the Life Beyond

How do you make the past come alive? How do you make the future real? Two reading sessions at the Auckland Writers Festival brought authors together to see how they answered these questions.

History shapes our behaviour, our culture, our landscape and stories. Four authors took the stage to showcase work that uses recent history as a backdrop for their novels and poetry.

Airini Beautrais, from New Zealand, was up first with a collection of poems from her unique Cover of 'Dear Neil Roberts' by Airini Beautraisperspective on life. She is interested in what parts of history we (as a culture, as individuals) remember, and why we remember events the way that we do, and the difference in remembering events that support the state and those that go against it. She wrote about Neil Roberts, a ‘punk rock anarchist’ and suicide bomber who detonated a bomb at the Wanganui Police Computer Centre in 1982. She was deeply discomforted by this story which led her to keep examining it through her poetry book Dear Neil Roberts.

Cover of The Impossible Knife of MemoryLaurie Halse Anderson, highly acclaimed young adult author from the United States, read from her latest book The Impossible Knife of Memory. Laurie had been speaking at the schools programme earlier in the week and praised the high quality and thoughtful questions that she’d received from New Zealand teenagers.

“We stumbled through those years badly,” she said, speaking about her father’s post traumatic stress and alcoholism after he returned from World War II, specifically the horrors of Dachau. She drew on these experiences when she found out that there were over 22 million living veterans in the United States, and The Impossible Knife of Memory explores what effects war and trauma can have on a family. She also drew inspiration from the Odyssey, saying that “the story of veterans coming home has been part of our culture as long as we have been making love or war.”

She read three sections, two from the point of view of a veteran and one from his teenage daughter, Hayley. “There is a bit of a love story for Hayley,” she explained, before reading. “Hope is the only thing that balances life out for anybody.”

Cover of 'In the light of what we know'Next up was Zia Haider Rahman, from Bangladesh, reading from his debut book In the Light of What We Know which is a fantastic title. He began by reading quotes from the beginning that set the tone for a story of exile and loss, then carried on with readings from his complex, glorious novel. It’s a story that sets out of explore the past decade, including the war in Afghanistan, and pulls together stories from all over the world: Kabul, London, New York, Islamabad, Oxford, Princeton, and Sylhet, covering such a broad range of subjects from love, philosophy, identity, finance, mathematics, cognitive science, to literature, and war.

Cover of 'Shifting Colours'Finally we had Fiona Sussman from South Africa, reading from her debut novel Shifting Colours. Fiona trained as a doctor, and helped set up the Auckland Charity Hospital. Shifting Colours is set in South Africa during apartheid and late twentieth century Britain, and the section she read sets up the scene for a heart-rending decision that a mother has to make about the life of her daughter.

Later on in the festival, we took a sharp step forward in time as another four great writers stepped up to talk about their visions of the future. They’re not easy futures, many of them are disquieting, but all show fantastic imagination.

Cover of 'MiStory'Philip Temple, another Kiwi author, got things started. Phillip has won a range of awards and writes extensively over fiction and non fiction. He read from his new book MiStory, his tenth novel. Set in Dunedin in the near future, it’s bleak, and it presses how important it is that we do something to save ourselves now. The book tackles climate change, dire economic circumstances, pandemics, government surveillance and more. It sounds like a great story, told in diary form, of an ordinary Kiwi bloke trying to make sense of his damaged world.

Cover of 'The Chimes'Anna Smaill published her first novel The Chimes to great acclaim and excellent reviews. Set in future London, in a time where people have lost language and memory, this novel tells the story of the main character Simon piecing his life together.

Anna had studied music and is a skilled violinist, and her familiarity with music came through in the lyrical way her story is put together. It’s also one of the most gorgeous covers I’ve seen this festival!

Cover of 'The Disestablishment of Paradise'Next we took a journey through time and into space, with sci-fi star Phillip Mann as he read from his first book since 1996, The Disestablishment of Paradise (with the charming subtitle ‘A novel in five parts plus documents‘.) It’s described as an ecological sci-fi thriller, set on Paradise, which is a “very nice planet… but visitors are very disturbed by it.”

“Paradise,” Phillip said, as he set the scene for his reading “is going rogue.”

Cover of 'Station Eleven'And finally one of my favourite new discoveries from this festival, Emily St John Mandel read from Station Eleven, her literary, post-apocalyptic, Shakespeare-studded, not-quite-horror. Not-quite-anything, really, as the novel refuses to fall neatly into any one genre. Twenty years after a strain of the flu wipes out most of the human population, we join a band of travelling Shakespearian actors and musicians as they tour from one pocket of humanity to the next.

Read:

Let Us Compare Mythologies

Although today in Canada is yesterday for us, September 21 is Leonard Cohen’s birthday – a special one – his 80th.

Cohen is a Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, poet, and novelist. His work has explored religion, politics, isolation, sexuality, and personal relationships and his 13th studio album will be released tomorrow.

In 1957 Folkways Records released the “Six Montreal Poets” album with A.J.M. Smith, Irving Layton, Louis Dudek, F.R. Scott, A.M. Klein, and Leonard Cohen – all reading their own poetry on the record.  Leonard Cohen reads the following poems (recorded in 1957):

  • For Wilf and his house (1955)
  • Beside the shepherd (1956)
  • Poem (1955)
  • Lovers (1955)
  • The sparrows (1955)
  • Warning (1956)
  • Les Vieus (1954)
  • Elegy (1955)

All poems are from “Let Us Compare Mythologies

Listen to Six Montreal Poets.