Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wednesday Trivia

1. It's not a good idea to get baking powder in a cut. I found this out the hard way..

2. On this day in 1935, Allen Lane started British publishing house Penguin Books, "starting the paperback revolution" according to our newspaper.

He wanted to provide quality writing as cheaply as a packet of cigarettes. (Can anyone tell me what cigarettes cost these days? I have no idea.) He also wanted paperbacks to be sold not only in bookshops, but in railway stations, general stores and corner shops. Well, that has certainly happened. But I'm not sure what he'd think of the quality of books sold in those places, or in most bookshops for that matter.

In the big chains here, cookbooks and sports biographies seem to feature most prominently. And the paperbacks tend to be of the cheap thriller sort. Thank goodness for the few quality independent stores that still survive.

3. Also according to our local paper - someone has come up with the idea to put a basketball hoop on a rubbish skip. This is to be placed in an area with several fast food chains, frequented at night by youth, mostly inebriated. The idea is that they can "slam dunk their rubbish" - and that it will be attractive to pick up rubbish off the ground, if they can compete to get it through the hoop. Brilliant!

4. One of our major milk brands is running a contest in which the prize is a year's supply of low fat, high calcium milk. At least, it claims the prize is a year's supply. Then I read the fine print - "limited to 104 2 litre bottles".
In our household, we get through at least three times that much a week. When the children were younger, we got through twice as much as we do now. I'm afraid their prize (which works out at about a pint a day, a healthy amount for one person) isn't going to do much to help any household struggling with the sky rocketing prices of basic foods.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Over at Writteninc Carmi has taken to posting a photo theme for the week. This week's theme is monochrome.

Even though things still grow in New Zealand in winter, it seems an appropriate season for monochrome photos. Rain, bare trees, dark clouds.... yes, there is green grass (greener in winter than summer, even), and green trees, since most New Zealand natives are evergreen, but there is plenty of monochrome too.

I was about to capture a bare tree silhouetted against the sky from the supermarket carpark, when I caught sight of these trolleys. They looked a little forlorn in the rain. There wasn't too much colour in the picture, and Photoshop took care of the rest.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Book Awards

When I commented on Montana Poetry Day the other day, I didn't say that the winner of the poetry section of the New Zealand book awards was announced that day. It was Janet Charman for "Cold Snack".

I haven't yet read the book, which was out of the library last time I looked. I was surprised at the finalists, but put it down to being less familiar than I thought with the New Zealand poetry scene. It turned out I wasn't the only one.

The New Zealand Listener said:

"Everyone was so taken aback by the truncated shortlist for the fiction category.... , the three poetry finalists passed by unnoticed.... it wasn't long vefore eyebrows were being raised at the selection of Cold Snack by Janet Charman and A Long Girl Ago by Johanna Aitchison....from a field that had included much admired new collections from CK Stead...Vincent O'Sullivan...Jenny Bornholdt...and perhaps especially, Andrew Johnston."

Personally, I would add to those four Bernadette Hall with The Ponies

Anyway, Janet Charman was the eventual winner, although I was hoping it would be Fiona Farrell, the third finalist, for The Pop-Up Book of Invasions

And then there was the best first book award for poetry. The newspapers didn't bother to report this one so I had to poke around the website to find out. In previous years, there has been a shortlist for this category. This year there wasn't, and I wondered how it would work. Since one of the three poetry finalists was a first book (Johanna Aitchison's), did that mean she would be the winner? That's how it turned out for fiction - Mary McCallum for The Blue was on the short list. But the best first book for poetry went to Jessica Le Bas for Incognito.

I'm happy that she won as I have heard her read on a number of occasions, and she is a fine poet. Still, I'm a little confused that her book wasn't considered good enough to be nominated for the main award, but won over one that was. Perhaps it was a different set of judges.

It also set me wondering. I was very surprised that this was her first book, since she has been writing for a good many years. It seems that there are two sorts of poets in New Zealand - those who do all sorts of interesting and varied things in their lives (Jessica was in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s with the UN) and publish poetry later in life - and those who go straight from school to university, into the Creative Writing courses, and publish in their twenties. It seems the latter group get picked up by the university presses and publish their first books much more quickly. The non-Creative Writing course graduates have to rack up far more publications in various journals to establish their credibility before they can find a publisher willing to take them on.

I could be wrong of course, but that's my impression.

Here's a poem from Jessica - it may or may not be her best, but it's what I could find online:

Incognito my Love

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Christchurch Writers Festival

It's nearly a year since our big trip to the UK, and I haven't really had a holiday since. One of my two jobs closed down for a couple of weeks over Christmas, but I worked right through at the other job.

I think that's why I was looking forward eagerly to the release of the programme for the Christchurch Writers Festival. I want some time off work, but I don't want to waste it at home the way I seem to waste my weekends these days. Supposedly, it was launched last night, with details in this morning's paper. The "details" turned out to be a decent sized article, with a listing of "highlights". We were directed to the website for the full programme. But the website said "coming soon".

I am such a patient person. I phoned the festival office, and established that programmes were in fact available at the libraries. So I collected one on the way home. (The website is now up and running. Apparently they had a few problems).

I'm about to peruse the programme more thoroughly. A couple of immediate observations:

1) The ticket prices. Way way up on what they were two years ago. Sigh. Isn't everything?

2) Poetry is definitely the poor relation. Two years ago, we had poets from several different countries - Ishle Yi Park (I'm not sure if I have the spelling correct) from New York, a poet from Chile, several from Singapore, Iggy McGovern from Ireland. Actually, it turned out it was done on the cheap. The Korean-American and the Chilean were living in New Zealand, the Irish physicist-poet was on sabbatical in Melbourne, Australia, and the four Singaporeans were sponsored by the Singapore Arts Council. Still, there was a good sprinkling of poetry from poets I hadn't heard before.

This time, most of the poets seem to be local, with a few from a little further away, but still New Zealanders. Now it's true that we tend to fall into the trap here of thinking overseas is necessarily better. The local poets are in fact very fine poets. Bernadette Hall, for instance, is a former winner of the Commonwealth Poetry Prize. However, most of them are poets I have heard before. Novelists and non-fiction writers may be brought in from around the world especially for the festival, but poets are not. I think it's because they are just not supported by their publishers (not commercial enough?)

The upside to this is that the poetry sessions for the most part have much lower admission prices. Does this mean poets will take any opportunity to perform their work for very little reward?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Readwritepoem: Ekphrasis

Image by Rick Mobbs of Mine Enemy Grows Older

Portrait of Nanda
In an empty room, in the gathering dark
I sit in a green chair,
hands in my lap. I am still

thinking about the way that you left.
The wind and the rain blew in through the door
of the empty room, in the gathering dark.

the peach trees we planted grow by the road
where you drove away. You did not look back
at the trees, or the room where I am. Still,

I sit here, thinking about you, and the trees
which bore this summer one solitary peach.
I plucked it last night in the gathering dark

and thought of sap rising, and the veins in my body
like branching twigs, enclosing my heart
ripe like a peach. I am still

thinking of the juice of the peach,
and the worm inside, and you
far away in the gathering dark,
and like the trees, I am still.

Ekphrasis (poetry inspired by an image) for readwritepoem
I decided to make it a double challenge and write a villanelle - although I have interpreted the form rather loosely and dropped the rhyme scheme, and also repeated ends of lines rather than whole lines.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Poetry Day

Today is National Poetry Day in New Zealand. Which I almost forgot about, since I had to work. In some centres, they schedule readings in the evening on National Poetry Day, when those of us who work for a living can actually get to them. In Christchurch, the only people who organised anything were the university, and it was at lunchtime.

I could probably have gone if I'd remembered, except that I would have had to go by car to fit it in my lunch break, and it's really hard to find a carpark around the university in term time.

So, instead of poetry, I took photos of oil spills in the supermarket car park. I hope poetry had a good day without me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Strange Phobias #1

Metrophobia: an irrational fear of poetry.
No, I didn't make it up.
See this poem here. (Scroll down, it's the first one below the bio).

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Sunny Interlude

This morning as I stepped out of my car where I work, I heard a bellbird singing in the nearby tree. This small native bird is not very colourful, but it's song is as beautiful as it's name implies. I couldn't help stopping for a minute or two to listen. (You can listen too, if you find the link in the sidebar of the page I have linked above - however this short clip doesn't quite do it justice).

At lunchtime I drove between jobs, stopping at the bank on the way. The edges of the panes of glass in the front windows acted as prisms, casting rainbow stripes across the pavement.

The sunny day, warm for winter, was a welcome relief after the snow, biting wind and rain, and miserable greyness we were experiencing a week ago. Which made it hard for me to act on this week's prompt at readwritepoem, which was to write a poem "celebrating" the more miserable aspects of summer.

So, I bring you an old poem from my files - one of the earliest I wrote, at the height of summer, using the prompts "river" "ice" and "drought" - hence, a mix of seasons


Here where the winter rain
froze in the cracks
and pushed until the rocks came tumbling down

Here where the spring swollen river
woth the strength of young love
swept me off my feet
and I fell into the cold, sharp shock

Here now the river has grown old
lies shrunken in a stony bed
the brown grass withered on the banks
and the rocks feverish in the hot sun

Monday, July 07, 2008

Winter Light


Five o'clock. The bright interiors
of freight forwarders' warehouses
framed in the dusk like a Rembrandt nativity
on an old postage stamp. No camels.
No baby. Planes overhead. Men with forklifts,
ordinarily wise, load cargoes
for distant lands. A single soft flake
lands on my windscreen.
The evening's first star
grows brighter in the sky.

More light-filled poems at readwritepoem

Saturday, July 05, 2008


It may be pretty but it's very cold!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Listening to Me, and other Links

Plains FM where I read my poetry on air a couple of weeks ago is now streaming live. They have poetry on the first Saturday morning of each month.
I was exploring their website and found they have a podcast of my interview which you can listen to here. Just scroll down till you find a poet named Catherine on June 18th (and yes I am revealing my last name, should you care to look).

The Women on Air poetry webpage is here and again if you scroll down a little you can see one of the poems I read, and a photo of me - this is a bit old, they didn't ask me for one so they must have dragged it up from the archives somewhere. That's OK, it makes me look a little younger!

Helen Lowe who interviewed me has a book scheduled for publication in the US in September. For fantasy lovers, here are her websites:
About the book, Thornspell
and about the author Helen Lowe

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

I'm Not the Only One...

I thought this photo was perfect for my blog, given the blog's name

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A New Month

...and I thought I might attempt a blog post every day for the month. So...
somewhere around midnight on June 30th our internet went down, and it was still down when I left for work this morning. Which made me think it was us and not our ISP.
Especially since my son (who works for the ISP) said there were lights blinking on the router, and perhaps I could "get Dad to look at it". Which would have been fine, except that "Dad" is out of town for a couple of days.

And then I went out in the still-dark dawn to get the newspaper, and as soon as my feet hit the doorstep, they slid out from under me, and I skinned my ankle and bruised my butt on the concrete steps.

It was very, very frosty. So frosty I had trouble getting the car door to open. But I managed it, and de-iced the windscreen with two jugs of warm water instead of the usual one, and went off to work in my new comfortable shoes.

And when I got home the internet was back, so all is well again.

Besides which, at lunch time I bought a new heat pump so our living-dining area will be much warmer and cosier, when it is installed, which won't be for another couple of weeks, unfortunately.