Christchurch music lovers – every week get your Freegal on and download your three free music MP3s. This week let’s take a look at some poetry and literary audiobooks.

Cover of William FaulknerA Junior Anthology Of English VerseCover of Arthur Conan Doyle - The Poetry Cover of Nicholas NicklebyCover of How to Get on in Society and Other Poems by John BetjemanHowl by Allen Ginsberg

Download with your library card and PIN. What have you downloaded this week? Do tell!

Cover of do itOh, the serendipitous finds of the new books shelf!

The best thing I’ve found this week (actually, this month; maybe even this year) is a book called do it.

According to the editor’s introduction, this is a ‘collage of beginnings’. The book itself is a collection of works by artists from 1993 to the present, and grew out of a project exploring instructional procedures as an art form. The publisher’s blurb makes reference to “the question of whether a show could take “scores” or written instructions by artists as a point of departure, which could be interpreted anew each time they were enacted”.

That’s all a bit arty for me, so I will just describe how I see it:  this is a book of instructions by artists on how to Make Art.  It’s a bit like paint-by-numbers (and we all remember how cool THAT was when we were kids), but in a grown-up, arty-farty kind of way.

For example, Dimitar Sasselov’s A Walk in Our Cosmic Neightborhood (2012) begins “Walk out on a clear evening in November to a dark spot where you can see the stars”, then carries on to detail what stars you should look for, how to sketch them, and what they are called, and ends with the instruction to “Imagine the possibilities”.

Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Sculpture for Strolling (1995) is a recipe for creating a metre-wide sphere from daily newspapers (adding one paper a day after reading it).  On completion, you are invited to roll the newspaper sphere outside in the streets and the squares as a “sculpture for strolling”.

Jonathan Horowitz (Untitled, 2002) offers this:  Choose two things that are similar and or different; while David Askevold lays out quite detailed instructions on how to prepare a shrunken head (titled, of course, On Shrinking a Head (2004)).  He even helpfully suggests possible clients: “a deceased relative, friend, lover or oneself”.

There ‘s a project that begins with  satellite TV channels, the Fibonacci sequence, and a digital recording device; and ends with a mosaic that is “… a simplistic representation of one edge of the multifaceted media matrix.” There’s a recipe for making cocaine, one for a cubic metre of bird feed, and one for fried cellular phones.

Obviously some of these projects or artworks are a little more achievable than others, and I’m kind of hoping that some of them aren’t really designed to be ‘made’ at all, but it’s an astonishing book, and I am mesmerised by it! There’s often discussion in mainstream media about art installations, and what actually constitutes an artwork (and we’ve got some great books here in the library about this), so while you’re thinking about all of that, why not have a go at one or two of the projects yourself?  And then let us know how it went …

We have the winners of our National Poetry Day poetry competition! Congratulations to Irena Tojcic and Daniel Bartlett. The judge said:

We had an overwhelming response to the poetry competition and every single entry was outstanding. It was a hugely difficult task to pick a winner out of the nearly 130 poems entered. It was even more difficult to pick a winner out of the top 10 shortlisted poems as each one was moving and/or thought provoking. I kept coming back to two poems in particular and after much angst chose this one as the overall winner.

Here are the winning poems:

Untitled by Irena Tojcic (Winner)

I touched the ground
Underneath your shadow,
Warm it was.
I turned around and
Met your name,
Familiar it was.
I kept silent,
Holding tightly
A pulsating fish of my heart,
Not letting it escape
Into your river.

Birthday Party by Daniel Barlett (Runner up)

It’s pretty dark
And only getting darker
So put on your parka
And close your front door

You’re looking great
And I’m a mess
But nevertheless
I’ll be trying my best
To keep it together

And keep you interested
For at least
The next ten minutes

And when we get to town
When we get to your friend’s house
As I’m sure we will

I’ll let go of your hand
As you push ahead

And I’ll want to say your name
But instead
I’ll say nothing

I’ll just wait
For the security light
To click on

Letting your shadow

Measure the distance between us

It is National Poetry Day. You’ve still got until 5pm tonight to enter our competition.

Here are some tantalising samples of the poems entered so far

Woman and child pause
to rest on a flat, seat-like rock
that peers out to sea … (Shanee Barraclough)

After a while, the watched pot boils,
and I throw in handfuls of pasta.
Hotly splashing and then sinking,
like so many tiny slippers or even little toenails …  (Sile Mannion)

Fernbank Studio: away past elsewhere is a Christchurch Art Gallery exhibition at our Central Library Peterborough. It features a selection of hand-printed books, broadsides and ephemera from Fernbank Studio, a private press run by Brendan O’Brien in Wellington. One of New Zealand’s foremost letterpress printers, O’Brien has printed books for significant poets and artists including Bill Manhire, Jenny Bornholdt, Joanna Margaret Paul, Gregory O’Brien, Mari Mahr, Ralph Hotere and Pip Culbert. Fernbank Studio: away past elsewhere showcases the collaborative relationship that exists between poets, artists and the printer.

More Christchurch events & competitions

Be poetic out there.

Allen Curnow, Denis Glover, Bob Lowry, and unidentified friend.. Williams, Bridget :Photographs used in Port Nicholson Press biography of James K Baxter. Ref: PAColl-2146-008. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Allen Curnow, Denis Glover, Bob Lowry, and unidentified friend. Williams, Bridget: Photographs used in Port Nicholson Press biography of James K Baxter. Ref: PAColl-2146-008. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Reading poemsNext Friday is the perfect day to get your poetry on. First up, Christchurch City Libraries’ customers can enter our National Poetry Day competition. Write an original piece of poetry and drop it in to your local library, or download an entry form and email to us. You could win a $50 book voucher and have your work published on the library website or blog. Entries close 5pm 16 August 2013.

Fernbank Studio: away past elsewhere is a Christchurch Art Gallery exhibition at our Central Library Peterborough. It features a selection of hand-printed books, broadsides and ephemera from Fernbank Studio, a private press run by Brendan O’Brien in Wellington. One of New Zealand’s foremost letterpress printers, O’Brien has printed books for significant poets and artists including Bill Manhire, Jenny Bornholdt, Joanna Margaret Paul, Gregory O’Brien, Mari Mahr, Ralph Hotere and Pip Culbert. Fernbank Studio: away past elsewhere showcases the collaborative relationship that exists between poets, artists and the printer.

More Christchurch events & competitions

  • Phantom Billstickers presents Kiwi poets. Friday 16 August, 7.30pm at Addington Coffee Co-op. Features Tusiata Avia, Ben Brown, David Eggleton, Frankie McMillan, John Pule, and Jay Clarkson.
  • A Celebration of Hagley Poets. Friday 16 August, 6pm, Writers’ Block, Hagley Community College.
    Bernadette Hall will announce the winners of our poetry competition for students and graduates of the Hagley Writers’ Institute and this will be followed by readings from the winners and Hagley tutors and supervisors, Frankie McMillan, Kerrin Sharpe, Tusiata Avia, Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, Christina Stachurski and Bernadette Hall.
    Poets and poetry lovers welcome. Wine and nibbles.
  • Poetica launches Poetry project #5 El Tiempo in collaboration with artist Wongi. 157a Gloucester Street (behind Moko Cafe on New Regent Street, Saturday 17 August 4pm to 6pm.
  • Booksellers NZ lists local events including:
    • Poetic Licence Wednesday 14 August, 5:30 – 7:30pm Sydenham Room, South Library, After Hours entrance
      Your licence to read and enjoy poetry. The South Island Writers Association and Airing Cupboard Women Poets invite you to a BYO poetry event.
    • UBS Poetry for Lunch Friday 16 August, 12:30pm, University Bookshop Canterbury, University Drive
      Poets Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, Bernadette Hall and James Norcliffe will give readings, as will UBS’s 2013 Poetry Competition winners.
    • Poetry with Joanna Preston Saturday 17 August, 10:30am to 1:30pm
      Habgood Lounge, Lincoln Event Centre: Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons – a Reading for Writing class, focusing on poetry’s Big Three subjects: love, death, and change. Saturday mornings, August 17th to September 14th.

Other ways to celebrate

  • Take a walk down Victoria Street. It has this stunning poems by Hinemoana Baker, Ben Brown and Ariana Tikao on display.

Poetry nā Hinemoana Baker

  • Discover the splendours of Twitter Poetry Night. Poet Ashleigh Young has thrice brought together a bunch of keen New Zealand poets and poetry lovers to read put favourite poems.
  • Explore two wonderful poetry pages by poet Paula Green:

Graphic of NZ Poetry shelf

Graphic of Poetry Box

  • Get a book of poetry or two out of the library – go New Zealand poets. Some recent collections I have loved (or am keen to get my paws on:

Cover of GraftCover of Magnificent MoonCover of Odour of Sanctity

  • Read one of the poems that Phantom Billstickers put on the streets.  Check out their Facebook page for examples of poetry they put up all around the world. This one was in Tuam Street. I see Phantom Poetry every day and it gives me a zing.

Tuam Street

Put a poem in your pocket

And more poetry

Red Dust Road by Jackie KayOne of the highlights of the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2013 for me has been discovering the work of British author Jackie Kay. How did I manage to live so long and not come across this woman? She is a multi-award winning poet, short story writer, memoirist and novelist. She writes for children. She’s also one of the most endearing, funny, exuberant people I have come across. When she walks in a room, the energy lifts. You can’t help but be drawn to her bright smile and her genuine warmth.

Jackie Kay’s writing contains the bittersweet wisdom of someone who’s faced big challenges in their life. She was born to a Scottish mother and a Nigerian father then adopted by a white couple with Communist Party affiliations. In 1960s Glasgow this was unusual to say the least. This, together with her candid sexuality, means she’s faced prejudice from many quarters. Throughout it all, she’s stood by what she believes in. Jackie Kay is one amazing woman.

Her latest collection of sJackie Kay at AWRF 2013hort stories, Reality, Reality is brilliant. You’ve just got to read it. I bought it off the stand at the Festival and wolfed it down. The title story introduces a woman who performs daily cook-offs against imaginary competitors to the blinking red eye of her security alarm. At her session, Kay read from ‘Those are not my clothes’, a tragically funny story of an elderly woman in rest home. The author says she’s drawn to older women characters because their stories tend to disappear under the radar.

When I spoke to Jackie Kay, she told me she was on her way down to Christchurch on a kind of pilgrimage. Her adoptive parents met in Christchurch at the Coffee Pot above the Communist Party Bookshop. She was looking forward to finding the street they lived in which has apparently just been released from behind the Red Zone. In addition, her old neighbour from Glasgow is a psychologist and is now living in our fair city.

If you see Jackie, make her welcome. You’ll be very pleased you did.

Glass Wings at Christchurch City LibrariesFleur Adcock is a legend in New Zealand literary circles. She is one of our favourite poets and, although she has spent much of her life in England, her popularity is as strong as it ever was judging by the long queues at the book signing session.

For ten years Fleur Adcock didn’t write poetry. Instead she ‘fell in love with facts and wanted to extract them and not deal with any of that airy fairy stuff you think up in your head.’ Her latest collection, Glass Wings, marks the end of this creative drought.

I was lucky enough to grab a few minutes of her time after her session.

Are you glad to be back on New Zealand soil?

I’m feeling rather overwhelmed at being back in New Zealand. I’ve been here for about five weeks so I’ve had time to get to know it again and get to know people again and remember how beautiful it is. Auckland is so beautiful – all the trees and the vegetation – and Wellington is kind of home so I do have those connections. Then I’m off again but this time I’m definitely going to come back sooner.

I really enjoyed your latest collection of poems, Glass Wings. Ancestry is an important theme running through your work?

Yes, it’s becoming more and more so in people’s lives but this happens as people get older. They start taking an interest in their ancestors. I often find when people say the kids aren’t interested, just wait twenty years. They’ll get around to it.

In the session you read your poem The Chiffonier which was published in 1986 and at the time hit a chord with many people who went out to buy The Listener especially to read this poem. It deals with the idea of rootlessness and being torn between places.

You realise you can’t substitute things for people but things are important too because they are symbolic of people. They remind us.

You spoke about the state of the libraries in England. Since the earthquakes in Christchurch, libraries have proved to be important places for people to come to. The thought that many libraries in England closing is quite frightening to me.

It is appalling. I suppose it will start creeping back again and they’ll realise what they’ve done. I think they’re trying to find substitutes and set up places in supermarkets and things but not in actual library buildings. These are often listed buildings, buildings that have been donated. There are so many other uses libraries can be put to. They can always extend their range and find ways of keeping them going - if they wish.

You said searching though the internet or on a computer is very different from searching for books in the library.

Just browsing you suddenly see an interesting looking volume down on the bottom shelf and you pick it up and you open it and it hits you with a new experience, a new realm to explore.

Fleur Adcock at AWRF 2013Did you enjoy being a librarian?

Some of the time, yes. I got stuck in cataloguing for six or seven years in the Foreign Commonwealth Office and that was very depressing because we had to keep training new, young cataloguers and I was the only one who could do it until I  finally trained someone who really liked it and she took over. Then I went into the reference section and I could do research and the things I like doing now. Answering questions from readers who had written it. That’s what I like doing – finding things for people.

Are you writing poetry now?

Yes, well not at this moment. I haven’t written anything for the last month. It’s impossible because I never stop talking. I’m in the middle of a new sequence and I’ve been doing some research for that about my father’s early days in New Zealand as a teenager so when I get home, as I have to call it, I’ll get on with that.

You mentioned the term ‘reclusive’. Is it difficult for someone who loves to spend time quietly working on their own, to come out to writers festivals?

No, I like doing things like that as long as there’s a home to go back to in the end. As long as you don’t have to get back to the husband. I can’t deal with that. I can’t wake up in the morning and have someone around the house because a lot of my thoughts, my ideas and impulses occur when I’m fresh when I wake up in the morning. It just wouldn’t work if I had to converse over breakfast.

I'm your man at Christchurch City LibrariesSylvie Simmons, rock music writer and biographer, was in conversation with Noelle McCarthy about her latest work, I’m your man- The life of Leonard Cohen.

Simmons was born in London and went to a privileged girls’ school in which she was trained to come out to the Colonies and teach us how to embroider and place the correct cutlery on the dinner table. The thought of this repulsed her so she wrote a long list of all the jobs she could think of and narrowed the list down to three:

  • a spy (she rejected this idea because it would be ‘working for the man’),
  • a BBC Anchorman (until she realised she didn’t have a penis)
  • and a rock journalist.

She chose the latter and has gone on to become a world-renowned music biographer. As Noelle McCarthy said:

Sylvie Simmons’ books blow your mind. She doesn’t just write about people. She effects an introduction.

Leonard Cohen is currently receiving a ‘tsunami of love and attention’. It seems everyone everywhere is talking about him. In fact, throughout the Writer’s Festival we have heard Leonard’s dulcet tones over every loudspeaker in the venue so much so I’m beginning to feel if I hear ‘there’s a crack, a crack in everything’ one more time, I may just crack myself. He is touring, he has found happiness and ‘he wears a grin like an eight year old boy’.

Sylvie SimmonsLife wasn’t always so easy for the poet/singer/songwriter. In his younger years, Cohen suffered bouts of severe depression, shyness and perfectionism. He found performance very, very difficult. He says his depression wasn’t a matter of having the blues, it was ‘what can I do to get me through this day’.

Simmons spoke about Cohen’s love of women ‘horizontally and vertically’, his faith, his deep spirituality which drove him to spend five years in a monastery, his fascination with hypnotism and his love of his grandchild. Even within this short session, she breathed life into the legend of the artist. When she spoke I could see him standing in his kitchen, chewing up bread to feed to a baby bird that had fallen out of a nest in his garden.

Makes me want to go out and buy a blue raincoat.

…And the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity.”

Cover: Wildred Owen - PoemsThat quote from Wilfred Owen is on the monument to the war poets in Westminster Abbey. A line from Owen also provides the title for the 2010 book by Wellington author and academic Harry Ricketts - Strange meetings: the poets of the Great War.

Owen has always seemed the most tragic of the war poets, dying as he did just days before the end of the war. Is it true that his mother received the news of his death just as the bells were ringing to celebrate the Armistice?

The Great War has contined to provide the subject matter for some wonderful Cover: Regeneration Trilogyfiction, including the Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker. The treatment of poet Siegfried Sassoon for shell shock  at Craiglockhart Hospital is one of the major themes of the novel, and Sassoon’s fictionalised autobiography, the Sherston trilogy,  is worth reading. Start with Memoirs of a fox hunting man.

Barker returned to the subject of the Great War in Life class and Toby’s room, both up to her usual standard.

A. S. Byatt’s The children’s book has Rupert Brooke (‘ the handsomest man in England’) as a bit player and ends with the return of the soldiers from the war. In a book of many fascinating (or irritating, depending on how you feel about staying on the subject,) digressions, Byatt’s listing of the names the soldiers gave to the trenches is among the most unusual.

Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong featured in the Big Read, which aimed to find Britain’s favourite book, and on Best British books 1980-2005. It’s sold a lot of copies, but it’s not one of my favourites; although Eddie Redmayne was in the T.V. series, which is a definite reason to watch it.

Do you have a favourite piece of fiction set in the Great War?

Crowds at the 2012 AWRF FestivalOnly one month to go until I can plunge into the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival and immerse myself in four wonderful  book-filled days overflowing with author talks, workshops, book signings and gala events. Glorious! It will be like sinking into a literary bubble bath and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.

This year I’m looking forward to seeing Anita Desai. I first came across this author back in the 80s when she wrote A Clear Light of Day and was moved by her deceptively simple story of a brother and sister in post-partition Dehli. Desai has been nominated for the Man Booker Prize three times. I’ve just read The Artist of Disappearance and it’s apparent the author has lost none of her skill. Her stories are insightful and her characters stay with me. I hope to interview her so keep checking the blog in May if you’d like to hear more about this talented writer.

The Prisoner of Heaven at Christchurch City LibrariesCarlos Ruiz Zafon is also on my most-wanted-to-meet list. He has written a trilogy of novels around the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and his website list of favourite books is similar to mine so I feel we may be kindred spirits. He writes stories ‘in exchange for a penny, a smile or a tear, and a little of your time and attention’ in which he combines elements of the great nineteenth century novels he admires with twentieth century cinema, multimedia and popular motifs.

Kate Atkinson will be there. Need I say more!

Poet Fleur Adcock has released a new collection, Glass Wings. The poems explore themes of identity, memory and what it means to belong (or not). High Tide in the Garden and The Inner Harbour are favourites of mine. I’m really looking  forward to learning more about the woman who is one of New Zealand’s most influential poets.

I hope to find a few surprises at the Festival too. I like to go along to an event I know nothing about and learn something new. Last year I saw Chris Bourke talk about the Auckland music scene in the 1960s and now have a whole new appreciation of Kiwi jazz. This year I could explore live book valuing, war correspondence, or cricket. It’s the variety of the events on offer that makes the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival such a great occasion.

Twenty six days and counting down! I might even see you there.


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