Saturday, July 25, 2009

Setting A House On Fire

The launch of Tim Upperton's debut collection of poetry, A House on Fire, last night at the Palmerston North Libarary was well attended. For the second time in two nights I stood for the entire launch (thankfully there were only two speakers this time). According to Roger Steele, the publisher at Steele Roberts, it could well have been the biggest crowd at any event on Montana Poetry Day 2009. No mean feat for the launch of a debut collection in a town not instantly associated with a thriving books scene.

But then Tim Upperton isn't exactly an unknown. He teaches creative writing up at Massey, is the former poetry editor of Bravado, and his work has been widely published in New Zealand and overseas journals (including an appearance in Best NZ Poems 2008).

The highlight of any poetry launch should be the reading, but Tim's own efforts were almost overshadowed by Roger Steele's lofty introduction (invoking Keats and Whitman; stealing an poem Upperton intended to read himself). Upperton confessed his affection for difficult forms and rhyme schemes, as these "obstacles in the road" made it easier to produce a poem, rather than begin with unlimited possibilities. And while these obstacles help create intricate, finely crafted poems, I couldn't help feeling they are best enjoyed on the page than read aloud: there seems to be at once too much and not enough happening for the ears to keep up.

Of course, this was just my impression of the five or six poems read at the launch, and my (re-)reading of them this morning.

Expect to hear more of A House On Fire (definite nominee for Best First Book: Poetry if that category still exists in the revamped NZ Post (formerly Montana) Book Awards next year) and Tim Upperton... even if he doesn't quite make it into the Keats/Whitman eschelon.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Trust: The Launch

Trust: A True Story of Women and Gangs

Last night I attended the launch of Pip Desmond’s Trust: A True Story of Women and Gangs, and I can safely say it was the biggest book launch I’ve ever been to (and perhaps ever will).

I didn’t quite no what to expect, having never been to the venue (the Nau Mai room at Te Puni Kokiri), and not having spoken to Pip since we both did the MA in Creative Writing at Vic in 2006 (though we were in different classes). When I arrived just before six, the crowd was spilling out the entrance to TPK and onto Lambton Quay. There was bar in the foyer, and another in the main room, though it was so packed I didn’t notice this one until after the speeches. It was quite a crowd: writers and publishing people, gang members (past and present) and their families, pupils in school uniform, and a slew of other, harder-to-pin-down people.

When I saw a dozen or so women seated either-side of the podium in addition to Pip, it was clear this was more than just a book launch. It was a celebration of the lives detailed in the book: the women of the Aroha Trust, a 70’s work collective for women with gang connections; it was a politically charged event (you can read Tariana Turia’s speech here); but most of all it was an event. I counted no less than nine speeches, each were followed by a waiata (often decided on the spot). There was a camera crew from Maori TV taping everything, and apparently there will be something on CloseUp in the coming days (in addition to coverage in North & South, Mana, and Radio NZ leading up to the launch and the reviews which will following in the coming days).

Quite an evening.

I dutifully purchased my copy, and will no doubt post my something when I’ve finished reading Trust.


It’s Montana Poetry Day today, and as I’m back in Palmerston North, I’ll be attending the launch of Tim Upperton’s debut poetry collection, A House On Fire, and the P.N. Library, 7 p.m.

No disrespect to Tim, but I suspect a smaller turn-out. Looking forward to it!

Christening The Pool

My grandparents had a swimming pool. They constructed it themselves along with the rest of their house, back when my father and uncle were boys. Palmerston North is far from the best place to have a pool -- the temperatures only climb into the twenties in the full bloom of summer, and even then, the wind and rain are not completely absent -- but this is perhaps the charm of such a thing. To persevere through a winter such as this, one requires more than the promise of nine or ten swims in a pool not much larger than a modern spa. But it was a kind of magic nonetheless, to strip off in the room my father and his brother shared, put my togs on and run to the pool for the first time.

In the weeks leading up to this moment, there would have been jockeying with my cousins who were just as keen to be the ones who took the first plunge of the summer. Sometimes both sets of kids would be there, five of us lined around the edge of the pool, a parent entrusted with the countdown. Sometimes my brother and I would arrive forlorn in the knowledge the other Cliffs had christened the pool the day before, but still excited by our own first plunge. Once or twice it was just me and my brother who were the first…

It is the middle of winter.I am back in Palmerston North after four years in Wellington, three years in Brisbane (now that’s a place where you can make full use of a pool), six months traveling to get to the UK, a year in Scotland, and six months traveling to get home.

And here I am, christening this new blog.

My previous blog, The Year of a Million Words, set out to do what it said on the label. While I only managed 800,737 words, I achieved the higher goal of completing a book length manuscript and getting it accepted for publication.

While the old blog was useful in focusing my attention on writing, especially the volume of writing, it made it difficult focusing my attention on specific projects. If 2008 was the year of 800,737 words, the old blog dedicated to quantifiable output, I hope to focus my future blogging (*this*) more on the inputs in my writing life.

The books I am reading, and my reactions to them.

The things that have captured my attention, and I must work into such a form that fiction can be made from this fascination (at the moment it is Eugen Sandow, and shipwrecks around Cape Horn at the end of the nineteenth century).

And the para-literary carry on that comes with being a young writer back in his homeland: attending the odd book launch (see my forthcoming entry about TRUST), settling on the cover and blurb for my book, being interviewed for the first time (about matters literary)…

[I apologise for the fact this blog will probably become Spruik Central for A Man Melting & Other Stories around May next year… Forewarned is forearmed, I guess.]

I cannot give you full access to the reservoir of my thoughts, but perhaps once and a while you will capture a glimpse of me stripping off my suit and tie, putting on my togs and leaping into the water.

Welcome to This Fluid Thrill.