Tuesday, September 30, 2008

You Wouldn't, Would You?

Suppose you, the reader, were to plan on submitting poems to a literary magazine. You surely wouldn't do any of these things:

1) Fail to read the submission guidelines.
2) Having read the guidelines, fail to follow them.
3) Fail to check the current postage rates, so that your submission arrives marked "insufficient postage" with penalty postage for the recipient to pay.
4) Fail to send a stamped addressed envelope when requested.
5) If submitting from overseas, fail to send the requested IRC (International Reply Coupon), and instead, send a stamped addressed envelope using stamps of your own country. (Strangely, the New Zealand Post Office takes exception to Australian or American stamps on envelopes posted here. Or perhaps not so strangely!)
6) Fail not only to enclose a stamped addressed envelope but also fail to put any identifying marks, ie name and address, on your submission.
7) Submit your "inspirational" true life story to a magazine that clearly publishes only fiction and poetry.
8) Submit your work by e-mail to the magazine administrator (not the editor whose e-mail has not been advertised), when the guidelines clearly say no e-mail submissions.
9) Follow all the guidelines, have your work accepted and published, move house after your work has been accepted and fail to inform the magazine. And then complain when you don't receive your payment or contributor's copies.

You wouldn't, would you? So who are all these people who do all of the above? (Yes, I'm a bit frustrated at the moment).

Monday, September 29, 2008

An Overdue Review

"Unleash the Poem Within" by Wendy Nyemaster published by Source Books.

I received a review copy of this book a while ago, just about the time that Juliet posted her review on her blog Crafty Green Poet and then again on readwritepoem.

I enjoyed reading the book, but found myself wondering what I could say about it that Juliet hadn't said already. It is, as Juliet has said, aimed at beginning poets. As a cross between a writing book and a self-help book, I would say that it definitely leans towards the self-help end of the spectrum. (It is listed on the publisher's website under "health and wellness" rather than under "poetry").

I found that my thoughts clarified a little after I picked up a copy of Sheila Bender's book "Writing Personal Poetry" in our public library, and compared the two books, which are both aimed at beginners. Bender's book however, is definitely more focussed on writing than on self-help.

Wendy believes in writing poetry in form, and presents a number of different forms, one in each chapter. She believes that the restraints of form mean that the poet has to work harder to find the right word. This may be so (and I find it absorbing to try to write in traditional forms, myself), but she doesn't really address the factors that determine the "right word". The danger in writing rhyming metrical verse can be that a word which may be wrong in other ways is chosen merely to fit the rhyme and meter, and Wendy doesn't address this problem.

It can be true, of course, that beginning poets don't always understand that so-called "free verse" may also have restraints, and they may not work so hard to find the right word or musical turn of phrase, thinking that "prose with line breaks" is free verse. Sheila Bender firmly favours free verse, but she makes it clear that it is something more than prose with line breaks, and that it has rhythm and phrasing of its own.

The forms that Wendy presents start with the sonnet, the sestina and the ghazal, but she also includes a number of "forms" which are actually types of poems, such as odes, letter poems and "epiphanies". So in fact although she encourages rhyme and meter, these chapters also encompass freer poetic forms. Wendy suggests occasions when each form may be used. These certainly had me thinking, and would be a good starting point for many beginners. I would hope that they would go on to expand their horizons. To me, it's a bit like being given a tall skinny jar and wondering what you could use it for. You might be told, "well, you could keep your spaghetti in it" and realise that yes, it's a perfect jar for spaghetti. But you might also choose to put buttons in it, or layers of coloured sand, or herb-flavoured oils. To be told that a sonnet is the ideal form for writing about emotions is interesting, but there are many sonnets which express ideas in a rational and unemotional way. Her idea of using the villanelle to write about the repetitive phrases that crop up in our lives is a good one. For me though, I've written several villanelles and none of them fit this pattern. (Strangely, none of my close relatives - parents etc - seem to have been addicted to using stock phrases, so I don't really seem to have a repertoire to use for prompts like this).

Wendy illustrates her book with examples drawn from the work of her Poet Posse group. She also names, but does not publish, examples of the forms from well-known women poets. Her idea I believe is to encourage the reader to believe that she (it is aimed at women), too, can write - that it doesn't take special talent. There is an upside and a downside to this. Will the reader be encouraged to try something by setting lower standards, or not? First, you have to believe you can do it, or at least that you have enough chance of success to make the attempt worth it. Secondly, you have to believe that it is an endeavour worth attempting. Consider ice skating, for example. Are you the sort of person more likely to be drawn by the stumbling attempts of beginners, or by watching the artistry of Olympic champions? If it is the latter, it is well worth seeking out the named examples by more famous poets - the internet will turn up most of them, or your local library.

Sheila Bender's book also uses examples from poets in beginning classes. The difference is that she shows both the poems in the very early drafts, from initial free writing exercises, and in progressive revisions, giving ideas on how to improve the work. Wendy I suspect is not so interested in revision. In fact at one point she says that a poem about an emotional event shouldn't be revised later on when your feelings change - you should write a new poem. There is some validity in this, although I feel that revision can be done that is sensitive to the initial feelings - that expresses them more clearly, rather than denying and changing them.

I believe that Wendy's book would be of interest to those who are interested in writing most of all to clarify their lives to themselves. There is also the pleasure of writing in form, which to me is a similar pleasure to the pleasure I get from crossword puzzles or sudoku - the pleasure of "making it fit". It would be a good starting point, too, for those who are interested in sharing their poems with others. However at some point many may want more, in which case Sheila Bender may well show you how to continue. Her book is a much more substantial one (in richness of information if not in actual length). Strangely though, I found Wendy's more enjoyable to read.

(Sheila Bender's book is out of print but is listed at Amazon as available used. It may well be in your library also).

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Angles #3

As I was driving home in the late afternoon, I noticed the railings of the footbridge over the river casting long shadows. I thought I might get an interesting photo, so walked down there with my camera.

As it turned out I didn't really like the composition of any of the shots I took. But then I looked down and noticed the tree stump I was standing out. Apparently it had been cut up in sections with a chain saw, because there were lines and grooves going in all directions.



For more interesting angles, visit Carmi's Thematic Photographic for this week

Friday, September 26, 2008

Angles #2

A couple more "angle" photos, taken in the city a few weeks ago.



I've always been intrigued by the way buildings reflect each other, in the city.



This shadow of a rather heavily pruned tree intrigued me, but the photo seemed to lack something, until I spotted a pedestrian about to walk into the picture, so I waited for him and took another shot.

For more photos on the theme of angles, hop over to Carmi's blog, here

Word Fishing

For readwritepoem

Moths

Along the esplanade moths make cursive loops
around the lampposts. Do not think
that self-immolation is part of their design.
Nor that the red that pools beneath
these pohutukawas - pruned, regimented -
is blood. Around the headland
others of their kind sprawl across the cliffs,
a tangle of roots like knotted veins.

There we lie lazy on the sand a while
while frayed blossoms drift across our bodies
and moths fly straight and true
by the light of the singular moon.

The prompt was to take five words from other poems, and use them in a poem of our own. My five words were moths, pohutukawa, cursive, lazy, frayed.

Pohutukawa is a New Zealand tree which bears red blossoms like little brushes in summer - generally around Christmas time, so it is known as the "New Zealand Christmas tree". It often grows on coastal cliffs.

I took the word from this poem by Bob Orr.
"Moths" came from a poem by Olena Kalytiak Davis
"Cursive" and "lazy" came from two poems in "Made for weather" by Kaye McKenzie Cooke
"Frayed" came from a poem in "Waterlight" by Kathleen Jamie

It was an interesting exericse - while looking for words, I came to the conclusion that most poets don't use remarkable words - they just put words together in remarkable ways. I don't feel that my effort did the originals justice, but it's time I started to write regularly again, and this seemed as good a place to start as any.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Angles



For Thematic Photographic - this week's theme is "angles"
This building - part of our public hospital - is full of interesting angles, and I haven't yet quite found the view that does it justice, but this is the best of the one's I've taken so far. (I love the colour, too - it has one yellow wall and the rest is white)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Loveliest of Trees







Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough


Pink, rather than white, like Housman's cherries, but still a magnificent sight all around Christchurch just now.

On the other hand, spring has it's downside. I finally realised that my frequent gritty heavy-eyed feeling is not tiredness, it's an allergy. It's never been a problem for me before, but apparently pollen counts are very high this year after a strange winter - more snow than usual, but also wetter, and warmer on average.

Let's hope the pollen counts settle down soon.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Spring and Other Things

It's been a wet winter and now we are enjoying warm spring days, which means that the grass is growing and there is a volcanic explosion of pollen. I use the word "volcanic" because everything seems to be coated with a fine dust, and when it rains, lines of pollen settle in cracks in the pavements and along the edge of my car windows. The colour reminds me of the sulphur deposits I've seen visiting New Zealand's geothermal areas.

Pollen of course means inflamed sinuses. And the rapid growth means that my backyard has become an overgrown jungle. I spent a fair chunk of the weekend trying to tackle the back lawn. I use a push mower, for the exercise and the benefit to the environment. But it can't cope with the lawns as they are at the moment. I should probably get a "Jim" (Our local lawnmowing/gardneing franchise). My daughter calls her local Jim, whose name is actually Bob, when her lawns get out of hand, but I can't help feeling the money would better be spent on books. (My daughter on the other hand feels her time is better spent writing. She may be right. You can't have it both ways).

Anyway, I couldn't cut the grass with the push mower, and I couldn't find the secateurs, so I ended up trimming the longest patches with kitchen scissors. I may just be a little crazy. On the other hand, since the grass is actually about 60% weeds, and the other 70% or so has an underlayer of moss, at least doing it this way meant I could pull up quite a few of the weeds along the way. And get a close view of all the insect life in the long grass. Besides, I was probably doing something at least as useful as most of the other things I do at weekends (such as surfing the net, playing computer games and generally not writing).

I did, however, while not writing, manage to send off a couple of poetry submissions. While noting that the last time I sent anything out was about two years ago. Today I have three poems rattling in my head, so I'm planning to actually do some writing this week (which I had better get on with, since it is nearly bedtime).

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Links for Writers

Mark Sarvas on the Christchurch Writers Festival (with photos that would make me nostalgic for Christchurch if I wasn't still here).

Emma Darwin on procrastination. Of course, I would never do any of these things. The fact that I spent several hours tidying my desk today is not procrastination - it truly needed to be done. I couldn't possibly write while looking at messy bits of paper everywhere, now could I?

And for historical research, a truly huge compendium of interesting links at Deb's Historical Research page

Friday, September 12, 2008

Coffee

There was a lot of coffee drunk in the prefects' room in my final year of high school. That was the year we studied T S Eliot. There is a line from "The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock" -
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons
that is forever linked in my memory with that year.

I had been a slow starter when it came to coffee. It was only as a teenager, when I started going to "socials" that I realised that most of my contemporaries were drinking beverages other than milk and cordial. I was at a Presbyterian Bible Class social, and was asked whether I would like tea? - No thanks. - Coffee then? - No thanks - leading my friend Fiona to ask me "What are you, a Mormon or something?"

I figured that for the sake of my social life, I would need to learn to drink something. I settled on coffee. Our Bible Class ran a baysitting service, and I was going out on evening babysitting jobs from the age of about twelve or thirteen (difficult to imagine now, despite the Babysitters Club books that my daughters used to read). There was always a tray of supper left out for the babysitter - the makings of tea and coffee, along with biscuits or cakes. It was a perfect time to practice my coffee drinking skills, with no one to see if I tipped half of it down the sink. Gradually I learned to tolerate the bitter taste, always with plenty of milk and sugar. (Years later when dieting, I managed to abandon the sugar habit).

In post war Wellington, European migrants were bringing new tastes and culture. It was the era of the coffee bar. Not that I dated much. But the standard date was to go to the movies, and afterwards to go to a coffee bar, usually the "Chez Paree". Entrance was through a cave-like passage. I remember a dimly-lit, smoke-filled room. Red gingham checked tablecloths. Candles in Chianti bottles. A folk singer on acoustic guitar. The coffee was strong Cona coffee, bubbling away in glass jugs. It was too strong for my taste. I can't remember what I drank there instead, but I think it may have been a "spider" - rather like an ice cream soda, made with a tall glass of Fanta (bright orange soft drink) or Coca Cola, with a scoop of ice cream, cream and chocolate sprinkles.

I went to university, got married, raised a tribe of children. Some time when I wasn't looking, the coffee bars faded away. And then sometime when I wasn't looking, cafes arrived with their new coffee culture. I still drink my coffee as I have always done - instant coffee, lots of milk, no sugar. I'm confused by all the cappucinos, moccachinos, macchiatos, espressos. As far as I can tell, the nearest thing to "coffee with milk and no sugar" is a flat white, so that's what I usually order. Unless I have hot chocolate.

So I was rather surprised to see on Mark Sarvas's blog that he hadn't encountered a flat white before coming to Australia and New Zealand. And that he seems to think it is something quite special.

More musings on coffee over at Sunday Scribblings.

For more on the post war coffee bar scene in Wellington, click here.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Not On My Blog

I received this e-mail today:

"Hi Webmaster,

I am (deleted) and interested in sponsoring your blog http://www.poetrychook.blogspot.com. We are offering you $5.00 for the posted links on your site. You will be paid $5.00 for this link on your blog. The due date will be 2 days after the links will be given to you.

Simply mentioned the keywords anywhere within the body of each post and write one post in every keyword. It should be not less than 150 words and must be a unique content. You can write it on your own journalistic style but don't give negative comment about the keywords given to you. Hateful or rude review will be declined and please don't mention that the post is a sponsored one or placed it in any category that is called sponsored paid. The anchor text or keyword, where you are to direct the link through should be used in its exact given form.

Keywords are 'casino' related. Kindly inform me if these are okay and we will give you all the details for posting.

We will be paying thru PayPal after your review has been approved. Please let me know if you want to continue with my offer. And kindly add my email address to your email address book to make sure your spam filter does not discard any important messages from us. Please let me know if you have any further questions and if you are interested on this offer. "

I was aware of opportunities to earn money with advertising on a blog - not that mine gets enough visitors to earn anything much - but I certainly wasn't aware that "hidden" advertising like this went on. Not on my blog, thank you very much

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Blurring the Boundaries

The Christchurch Writers Festival always follows on from the Melbourne Writers Festival. When you're trying to attract writers from the northern hemisphere on a limited budget, it always helps to be able to share the travel costs.

Mark Sarvas who blogs at The Elegant Variation was at both. I followed some of the links in his post about the Melbourne festival, and found this quote:

Lloyd Jones.. gave a delightful reading from Mister Pip and was very adamant that the lines between fiction and truth, history and literature, are and should be blurred

Jones's views are highlighted by an interesting article on a controversy that erupted fifteen years ago with the publication of his travel book/novel/whatever Biografi, which is in the New Zealand Listener this week.
A preview of the article appears here - the full text will be available online on September 27. In the meantime here is a blurb for the book. It sounds intriguing - another to add to my reading list.

Of course it's not just fiction that is fictional. If you had to write your autobiography, how much of it would be true? When one of a married couple tells a story, the other one will inevitably jump in and say "that's not what happened". Joe Bennett's column in the Christchurch Press this morning explains why:
The past is a foreign country, writes LP Hartley. They do things differently there. It isn't. They don't. We've just rewritten it in our heads.

Joe Bennett appeared at the Writers' Festival on the travel writing panel, but he would have made an interesting addition to the panel on memoir. I enjoyed this discussion, not least because the writers on the panel didn't seem to be protecting their territory the way some writers do. It's amazing how often I read of writers suggesting that there are too many people writing, too many people blogging, too many bad poems and bad short stories and bad novels out there. "If a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing badly". There are runners who will run a marathon finishing in the Olympic Stadium with ten thousand onlookers cheering them on. There are others who will jog alone for the health benefits, or with a small group of friends for the exercise and the company. Writing should be the same.

I was hearted to find that the panel seemed to agree. As Dame Fiona Kidman said, "Memoir doesn't have to be published work, it doesn't have to be in covers, it is your story and it's unique. It will be of value to someone somewhere."

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Human Cost

Robert Fisk was the most popular author of the weekend. His main session was sold out and a repeat session added to the programme, in which the large room was almost filled for a second time. Besides his solo session, he was also one of the three writers on this panel - "The Human Cost".

Along with Robert Fisk were Chinese writer Xinran, also a big drawcard, and New Zealand nurse Lisa Blaker, whose book "Heart of Darfur" describes her experiences in Darfur with Medecins sans Frontieres (which should have accent marks, but I don't know how to do them in blogger). Xinran was China's first radio talkback host, and she has written books recording the experiences of Chinese people of her parents' generation during the Cultural Revolution. Her comment was "no matter good or bad, past is the roots of our today".

The session was chaired - eventually - by radio journalist Sean Plunket, who arrived a little late, confessing that he had misread the times on his airline ticket! Christopher Moore introduced the panelists while waiting for Sean to arrive.

Sean asked the panellists to discuss their idea of courage. Robert Fisk said that he is not easy with the idea of courage, and that it is easy to identify those who don't have it. He then added that you see courage in people who try to keep you alive as well as themselves.
SP: Do you think you have courage?
RF: No. He added that when you take a risk as a journalist, writer, doctor etc you do it in a very calculated way, judging whether it is worth the risk. Once you decide, you are committed, but it's not courage.

This was the reaction of all the panellists. Lisa had read a section of her book which described an incident shortly after she arrived which would have most of us petrified and unable to move. But in response to the question she replied "I was just doing my job". However she had a lot of praise for the local people who stand tall, have smiles on their faces and have a sense of who they are in the most appalling conditions.

It was a fascinating session and I have a lot of notes. This was one of the sessions which was about the content and background of the books, and not the art of writing. However books did come into it.

Robert Fisk commented that he doesn't like fiction or poetry, but went on to say that the best book on war is Tolstoy's "War and Peace", and that he is moved by the poetry of Christina Rosetti. While in Serbia he re-read Anna Karenina, and he says that for him, Russian novels capture something that no one else does.

Xinran was taken from her parents in the Cultural Revolution, since they were educated people. She was raised by the Red Guard for six and a half years. During this time a kind schoolteacher gave her Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" to read, although she wasn't supposed to be allowed books. It was an eye-opener for her - her reaction was that she was not the only one, and that some other child had a more miserable life than she did.

Political Poetry for Lunch

I probably would have skipped this session if I hadn't been rostered on as an usher. I find myself suspicious of political poetry, in New Zealand, at least. Perhaps it's because I feel we are a little removed from the world's most burning issues, which means that political poetry can become a philosphical rant.

"If you are interested in ideas, you are a philosopher, and if you are interested in language, you are a poet" I was once told. How do you successfully encompass both?

There were six poets on the panel for this session. Four of them were young (or youngish) women of at least part Maori or Polynesian descent. Two were older white males. The focus was on a new anthology, Kaupapa: New Zealand Poets, World Issues. I haven't read the book, but reviews I have seen suggested that the contents were rather uneven - perhaps for the reasons I suggest above.

The four women were somewhat of a revelation to me. Their poems tended to focus on issues of language and identity. I hope I have done them justice because I don't have the book and didn't take notes. One of them, Hinemoana Baker, also read work by two other poets from the book. I'm not sure if "read" is the best word to use for these young women as their readings tended more towards a complete performance than most of the poets in the festival. Tusiata Avia adopted a variety of voices for her poems which included topics such as prostitution and New Zealand's apology to Samoa as delivered by our Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Karlo Mila's poems on the funeral of the King of Tonga and subsequent riots were enhanced by an accompanying slide show
presentation which I found very moving. I'm considering adding some of her published work, which comes with lush illustrations, to my poetry collection.

Hana O'Regan read in English, but her poems were originally written in Maori. Although she read with great passion, I was less impressed by these than by the poems of the other three women. I suspect that they would have been more successful in the original Maori and that they had lost something in translation.

Of the two men, I don't have much to say about Jeffrey Paparoa Holman - I think that I would need to study the text of his poems to fully appreciate them. It was easier to recall James Norcliffe's reading as I have read some of the poems that he read before. His work is more detached and philosophical than that of the women, with a touch of wit. Enjoyable but less passionate.

All in all a very worthwhile session. What interests me is that not only did we have a concentration of Maori/Polynesian writers in one session, but that these are writers we don't generally hear very much of in Christchurch - although Tusiata at least has read here on a number of occasions. It would be good not to have to lean on the "political" label before getting a chance to hear some of them again.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Christchurch Writers Festival Part 4

So, after several more sessions today, none of which was a disappointment, although some were better than others, I finally decided that I wanted to use my book token to buy a copy of Norman Doidge's book, "The Brain that Changes Itself".

I guess quite a few other people had the same idea, because the book store had sold out. However they said they will have more copies in a couple of weeks, so the book token stayed in my bag unused in the meantime.

I almost came down in favour of Robert Fisk. His massive book "The Great War for Civilisation" looked way too weighty to get through in the four weeks that our public library allows. I wondered though if that was my comfortable white middle-class conscience speaking. I do believe that the world needs to know what is going on in such places, but am I personally going to do anything that will make any difference?

Robert Fisk was on a panel today called "The Human Cost" along with two others - Chinese writer Xinran and New Zealand nurse Lisa Blaker who served with Medecins sans Frontieres in Darfur. All amazing people.

However Norman Doidge kept us all fascinated for an hour with his account of neuroplasticity - the idea that the brain can change and adapt a great deal more than used to be thought possible. For instance he described a stroke victim, paralysed on one side of his body, who with a particular type of intensive training for two weeks, was able to regain movement so that he could then play tennis and play the piano again. This despite the fact that it could be proven that he did have cell death in the areas of his brain that previously controlled that side of his body.

The book apparently describes exercises that can keep the brain from deteriorating in old age. With my own old age approaching faster than I care to think, it seemed that this is one book that might be directly personally useful.

Or I could just buy a poetry book. But since I tend to buy the ones I want most as they come out, I already have a fairly good selection of those that were on the book stall.

I missed the panel on blogging in order to listen to Norman Doidge, so I'm hoping that the library blog will give an account of that one. There isn't one up there yet, but maybe they are all as tired as I am. I'll be checking back tomorrow.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Christchurch Writers Festival Part 3

It's not as if I don't have enough books piled up already. But I find myself eyeing up the bookstore at the festival trying to figure out how best to use one lonely $20 book voucher. Should I buy Robert Fisk's massive tome, "The Great War for the Civilisation", or Norman Doidge's fascinating sounding "The Brain that Changes Itself", or a poetry book from one of the dozen or so fine poets I have heard read.

Then again there are the novels, for instance Anya Ulinich's intriguing sounding first novel "Petropolis" from which I heard a little yesterday. And the travel books - Ben Hills "The Island of the Ancients" on Sardinia sounds a fascinating read.

I just can't decide - maybe the book voucher will even stay in my bag unused while I try to make up my mind.

By filling in a survey I was able to go in the draw to win $200 of book vouchers. (This will buy about half the books that it would buy in the US, maybe less, due to currency differences and the much greater price of books here). I have my fingers crossed - but then around five hundred or so others all have hopes of winning, too.

I have notes from a number of sessions and may report in more length later. Right now I am heading for bed. The library staff are giving the festival excellent coverage on their blog, here.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Faded

One day while orienteering in a park on the hills which provide the backdrop to our city, I came across a patch of scrub protected by wire fencing, which was strung with Tibetan prayer flags. It seemd so incongruous, I went back a few months later to check out the scene and take photos. I still don't know what the story is behing them.

I remembered this photo when Carmi announced that his Thematic Photographic topic this week is "faded". The prayer flags left out for the rain and the wind seemed a perfect image for the theme.



Tibetan Prayer Flags in Victoria Park, Christchurch, New Zealand

Writers Festival Part 2

There were several sessions of the writers festival yesterday, but I was at work, and only went to one event in the evening. Today, however, it began in earnest and I had the day off.

After one day I am feeling sated already, and wondering how I'll cope with two more days. The Christchurch Public Library has a whole team to cover events on their blog. Here, there is only me.

I finished the day riding the bus home, pondering on the purpose of Writers' Festivals. Really, from the publishers' point of view, I'd say that it is to sell books. And it is the publishers after all who sponsor most of the writers. The audience of course may hope for something else. But what can be achieved in one hour sessions?

I remember at high school taking part in public speaking contests and thinking that a five to ten minute speech was an awfully long time to fill. Now though I come away wondering what can really be said in an hour - or less for many of the writers, as only the keynote speakers get a whole hour to themselves. The sessions each get a title which suggests that some Big Question will be answered. For instance, sisters Elizabeth and Sarah Knox gave a session entitled Creating Worlds and a blurb that suggested that the discussion would centre around just how fantasy worlds are created. Another panel of writers promoting their first novels had the title "It's Not About Me, Or Is It" and supposedly centred around discussion of the extent to which first novels are or are not autobiographical.

Certainly these topics were touched on - rather fleetingly towards the end, in the case of the second one. In the end though, I think what it comes down to is that each session could be promoted as "a bunch of writers talk about their books", "another bunch of writers talk about their books" and so on.

I intended of course to take lots of notes and wow you all with my brilliant distillation of the wisdom of the writers I listened to. Isn't that what we are all hungry for? As much of the world as we can get, as fast as we can get it. That's why there are titles such as "1000 Books to Read Before You Die". Maybe we would be better off trying to absorb far less quantity, more deeply.

One of the afternoon sessions was with Robert Fisk. He has spent 30 years or so as a journalist in the Middle East. His books on the book stall were massively thick. What could he possibly say to condense that into an hour, and how much of that could I remember and condense here?

As an attempt at convincing the public to buy his books, however, I'm sure it was massively successful. Especially as I have no doubt that in his case the four weeks access I would get by borrowing them from the library is not going to be enough. There were about 300 tickets sold to this session, and it was a spillover from tomorrow's session which was sold out - it looked as if the room would hold about 500 if full, which makes about 800 altogether.

I have more to say - and yes, I will probably even report specifics - but I think I rather need an early night tonight, or I will be exhausted by the end of the weekend.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Politics and Powerpoint

My first event in the Writers Festival was a Powerpoint presentation. Or perhaps it was a theatrical event. Actually, it was a theatrical event disguised as a Powerpoint presentation. Quite the most hilarious Powerpoint presentation that I have ever seen. Actor Arthur Meek, playing writer Richard Meros, gave a rapid fire presentation On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me as her Young Lover.

This theatrical piece is on a national tour and I highly recommend it. Being a Writers Festival, there were books for sale at the event. The piece is a stage adaptation of Meros's book, published in 2005, when it even rated a mention in The Guardian. However, after flicking through it, I wasn't especially tempted. I think that it would be a bit of a disappointment, even though absurdly satirical, after the stage show, which brought it brilliantly to life.

Christchurch City Libraries are also featuring the Writers festival on their blog. I received a comment yesterday inviting me to add Technorati or Flickr tags to my posts - I have no idea how to do that (and don't have a Flickr account anyway - at least I think I may have one, but I have never used it).

I guess those who are interested will either find me or they won't. If they don't find me, no doubt they will find plenty of others blogging on the festival.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

On Not Writing

I noticed that Dana has me linked in her sidebar under "Bloggers Who Write Poems". And Kay has me linked under "NZ Writer Blogs" (along with some very much more well-known literary names). I feel a little guilty, since I haven't been writing much of anything lately.

I thought I might try to post every day in September, so that I'm at least writing something. (I noticed that yesterday's post, which I didn't actually manage to get posted until today due to blogger issues, actually bears the date stamp that matches when I first saved the draft - not the date I actually posted it).

I've been thinking of attempting NaNoWriMo this year. I've never dared to think I could possibly manage a whole novel until now. That's why I write poems, they're short. But then I actually had an idea. The trouble is that I keep thinking of bits of plot, and I'm worried that I'll be bored with the whole idea of it by November. We'll see.

In the meantime I have been reading. I was poking around in the library and by chance picked up a book called "On Trying to Keep Still" by Jenny Diski. I read it at the weekend while lying on my bed in the sunshine, in between trying to sleep off a nasty sinus headache, brought on, I think, by a sudden attack of warm weather. The warmth is wonderful, but it is the northwest wind that brings it, and it always takes me a day or two to adjust.

About the book, though - I was enchanted. It's a strange sort of mixture of memoir and travel book - or more accurately, "anti-travel" book. I went back to the library today for more of her work - she has written three memoir/travel mixes, and a number of novels.

A quote:
After I'd spent just a little time in the country, it seemed less surprising that the people of New Zealand should have embraced rather than resented their reassignment to Middle Earth, because there can't be a population in the world who so consciously feel themselves to be peripheral. My guess is that they would welcome being in Middle Anywhere. Everyone explained, almost by way of saying hello, how far away they are.
'We're so far away,' they kept telling me apologetically.
'Far away from what?' I'd ask, surprised, because they and I were both
here, so far as it was ever possible to tell.

Jenny was in New Zealand for the International Writers' Festival (in Wellington).

Our Christchurch version isn't quite so grand, but I'm definitely looking forward to it. When I volunteered to usher (in order to gain free admittance), I thought that there would be such a queue of similar-minded volunteers that I would be assigned to one or two sessions at most. Instead I was asked to usher for four sessions. Then I bought tickets for half a dozen others - my limit given the high prices. By this time, the keynote session with Robert Fisk had sold out. So I was delighted to come home to an e-mail telling me that they had scheduled an extra session with Robert Fisk, and could I usher at that? And would I also like a free ticket to a sort of "theatrical lecture" ( a comedy) - "On the Conditions and Possibilites of Helen Clark Taking Me As Her Young Lover"?

Would I?

So, starting tomorrow evening, three and a half days of literary goodness.

For those not in the know, Helen Clark is our prime minister, soon to seek re-election for (I think) a fifth term.

And for New Zealanders abroad, do you intend to vote? This website, Every Vote Counts, has been set up to encourage you to do so.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

About Town

I didn't take photos of the craft stalls at Craft 2.0, but I did take some photos of the area of the city nearby.

This is the building where the event was held - I'm not sure what the building's original purpose was, but it is now an information centre and exhibition area.



A detail of the building:



Robert Falcon Scott watches from the grassy riverside opposite. The statue is by his widow Lady Kathleen Scott. I always think it is quite appropriate that it is of icy white marble.



Spring is coming:



What is going on with blogger? I tried for 12 hours to upload the last image. Finally I quit my web browser, went back into my draft post and was able to upload the image with no problems. Can anyone explain why?

I'm glad I didn't sign up for a post every day in September, I would have been stymied already.

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Problem of Crafts

Besides meeting my daughter at the coffee and quilt shop last week, I also made time on the Saturday (that's the one just over a week ago) to attend Craft 2.0. This is an indie craft event that has been going on in Wellington for a while, every 3 months, but it was the first time it's been held in Christchurch.

I had fun looking at all the stalls. The sock monkeys particularly made me smile. Someone else had the neat idea of using old Mills and Boon books as covers for blank journals. There was handcrafted jewellery and much else. Many of the crafters also sell their work at Felt - just click if you'd like to take a look.

I can't help feeling that there's something fundamentally contradictory about craft shows like this though. I didn't take anything away except a bunch of business cards. There was a stall selling "World Sweet World" magazine which is aimed at The problem is that most of our spending is on essentials - food, transport, power, basic clothing. I love making things. If I make craft items, it is not just to get something unique, but also because I believe more than half the benefit of handcrafting is in the actual process of making - the creativity of the design decisions, the relaxation of handwork (studies show that sewing and knitting lower blood pressure), etc

Once people start to try to make a living from selling handcrafted items, all you have is an invitation to buy highly priced goods (because face it, labour in New Zealand costs a lot more than labour in China), and generally it is stuff that you don't really need. Of course there is room in our lives for a few beautiful things, just for their beauty, but if they are well-crafted and long-lasting, there's a limit to how much we can collect. I think there are way too many crafters around for the potential market (or anyway, for the size the market should be if we are to save the planet).

The sock monkeys have the same problem as the quilts I make. The pattern was originally designed during the Depression years so that mothers could make their children a toy out of old discarded socks. Now, of course, they are made of new socks, just as my quilts are made of new fabric. Sometimes I wonder why I do it. In my early quilting days, I used scraps left over from the clothes I made, but now we don't seem to make beautiful cotton dresses and shirts any more - most of the clothes sewing I do is either knit fabric (sweatshirts etc) or ball dresses (not really too many of those, but if the daughters have a special event, home sewing is the best way to get a unique dress at a reasonable price). None of those fabrics are very useful for bed quilts.

As for hand crafted journals, they seem to be everywhere these days, but I couldn't bear to use one for fear of spoiling it. The only way to get myself to write is to use basic, cheap exercise books ("notebooks" in the US, I believe). Actually, the paper in the "Mills and Boon" journals didn't look very nice to write on. Though there were some other Japanese fabric covered books that looked amazing.

There were also men's shirts selling for $240, made from vintage bed sheets. Looking at them, I don't think they were the good portions of used sheets - I'm pretty sure they were unused sheets. So why not just use them as sheets - by making shirts of them, a good portion would be wasted. Considering there seemed to be an air of environmentalism conveyed by the event, this is illogical to me.

More links:
World Sweet World magazine, an environmentally focused craft magazine who had a stall at the event
The Craft 2.0 blog (not very well spelled, but they are crafters, not writers!)