Monday, March 30, 2009

A Quick Update

If I could send the posts I write in my head straight to my blog by telepathy, it would be a much busier place (although it might need a little editing).

I had good intentions last week, but never quite wrote any of the posts I was planning. So, in brief:

The second of the autumn series of poetry readings took place on Wednesday night. While enjoyable, I felt neither the "bring your own" poets nor the invited readers were quite up to the standard of the previous week. The highlight for me, and a poet to watch out for in the future, was Marissa Johnpillai, a young Sri Lankan/New Zealand poet who attended classes at the Christchurch School for Young Writers with my daughters. Talented then, she has only improved since. I liked her approach to introductions. She explained that she had been told she needed more patter between her poems. But as she didn't like doing introductions, she compromised by writing one for each poem, then bringing them up in a jar and pulling them out at random, so that the introduction didn't actually belong to the poem being read next. For example "the word 'spelunking' doesn't appear in this poem, but it would not be inappropriate".

Frankie McMillan won the vote for best open mic reader. That means that twice in a row I've picked the winning poem. It's never happened to me before. Is my taste improving, or is the audience's?

Earth Hour was held here on Saturday night (due to the vagaries of world time zones, we get to be first). I sort of celebrated it by turning off the television and most but not all of the lights while I did the dishes - leaving the light on above the sink. I am a bit of a cynic and as far as I can see, "saving" the environment by turning off our low energy light bulbs and lighting candles - as many restaurants did - makes about as much sense as turning off our energy efficient heat pumps and lighting our open fires (which will be banned here from next year). I'd rather make more permanent changes that might actually make a real difference.

Local author Helen Lowe is a finalist in the Sir Julius Vogel awards, in both Best Young Adult novel and Best New Talent categories. Congratulations to Helen, this is a well deserved recognition. Still, I am left musing a little. Helen's novel retells the Sleeping Beauty story from the viewpoint of the prince. Some of her short stories and poetry draw on Greek myth and legend. The awards are for science fiction and fantasy, and while I recognise there is an overlap, these days fantasy seems to be winning over science fiction. As a child I loved fairy stories (Andrew Lang's "Yellow Fairy Book", "Green Fairy Book" and the rest of the paintbox of fairy books). Later I discovered science fiction and devoured all I could find in my late primary and early teen years. It never occurred to me at the time that the two had anything at all in common. One short story I read in my teen years actually sparked a science fair project, when I followed up the scientific content of it and found that it was actually possible to extract minerals from sea water (I will spare you the technical details). It was the fact that the science was real, even if the setting was imaginary, that excited me. Something that seems to be missing in most speculative fiction these days.

I'm not against fantasy as such though. Last night I checked out the first episode of a new TV series, The Legend of the Seeker. Entertaining enough, although much of the entertainment comes from trying to identify filming locations and familiar actors. "You went orienteering there, didn't you?" my daughter asked.

It always amused us to spot New Zealand native plants in ancient Greece, in episodes of Xena and Hercules. And my daughter always reminds me of the classic Xena scene, in which a bowl of apples prominently displayed an Enza brand sticker.

That's about it as far as I can remember - maybe I will write a lengthier poetry reading report this week.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Time for Poetry

Autumn in Christchurch is poetry time. Tonight* was the first in the Canterbury Poets’ collective series of Autumn Readings. For the next seven weeks, we can look forward to some excellent poetry from guest readers and BYO poets (“bring your own” for those not familiar with New Zealand vernacular – applied in the past to alcohol, but these days given a wider meaning).

Tonight started off particularly well as just inside the door I had a stack of books thrust at me, with the invitation to “take them, they are free”. I rarely turn down free books. These were from the estate of the late John Summers – here, I have to plead ignorance, but a glance at the books tells me that he was a bookstore owner, poet and fiction writer and also published his autobiography in two volumes. With luck, the fact that he had enough copies of his books sitting around his house for everyone present to be given a free copy of each of his five books doesn’t mean that they are not worth reading. I will find out shortly.

There was a particularly good turnout tonight, around forty to fifty, and latecomers struggled to find seats. No one is turned away, however, and chairs were produced from stacks in corners and passed overhead. The evening started with an excellent crop of open mic readers, and then three guest poets read after the break.

Firstly, Tim Jones, whose blog I enjoy reading, but whose poetry I was not familiar with until now. Tim claimed a sore throat, but it didn’t show. He was an excellent reader (which is a different thing from an excellent poet, although he is that, too). He was easy to here and read with expression and enthusiasm from his two collections, Boat People and All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens. The latter was named for marketing reasons, he says. And indeed, it is a title that encompasses all the genres which most readily fill our bookstore shelves – sports, cooking and gardening. If the title has truly helped it sell more copies, it is well-deserved. Tim read poems about his father, about returning to his birthplace in Yorkshire (he left at the age of two) and a number of poems that are rather harder to catergorize – and to remember. That's not the fault of the poems - I’m not good at remembering poems after one reading. I enjoy hearing poems read aloud, but for a full appreciation, it’s good to hear them more than once, and to get a chance to read them too.

That wasn’t a problem with the other two readers. Fiona Farrell read from her book “The Pop-Up Book of Invasions”. I had heard her read these poems before, at her book launch, and had also read the book. Rehearing these only added to my appreciation. These poems resulted from a six month stay in Ireland when she was awarded the Rathcoola Poets Residency. She read two longish poems. The Lament of the Nun of Beare was Fiona’s rendition in English of the earliest Irish poem. It was followed by “Genealogy” which is a poem based on some of the descriptions given of Irish immigrants in the 1840s and 1850s – terms like “degradation”, “squalor” and “ape-like”. Two poems, however long, weren’t enough for the audience, and Fiona was persuaded to read a third, The Way of the Dishes which tells of her visit to a place connected with an Irish saint.

The final guest reader was my friend Victoria Broome who is a member of our small poetry group, the Poetry Chooks. Victoria is in her second year at the Hagley Writers Institute where Fiona is her tutor. This course was a new one last year, and caters for those who want to study writing more seriously, without quite the commitment of a degree course . Victoria read from her course portfolio including a number of poems I had heard and enjoyed before. Two of these were based on a class visit to the Antarctic wing of the Canterbury museum. Other poems were less familiar and I look forward to hearing them again.

The evening concluded with the announcement of the winner of the popular vote for the best open mic reader. The readings are held at the Madras CafĂ© Bookshop and David, the owner, kindly donates book vouchers as prizes each week. This week’s winner was Joanna Preston, who was coincidentally my own personal choice. Does this prove that I have excellent taste by picking the winner, or does it prove that everyone else has excellent taste by agreeing with my opinion? Joanna’s blog is one of my regular reads, you will find it at A Dark Feathered Art (and Joanna keeps chickens – you can’t go past a person who likes chickens). I’m looking forward to the launch of Joanna’s first published collection on Montana Poetry Day later this year.

*Actually, all references to "tonight" should read "last night" as I had to delay posting this due to internet problems.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Week That Was

Between fulltime work and domestic duties, I haven't been posting as often as I intended. I have written many brilliant blog posts in my head (well, they seemed brilliant at the time) while driving to and from work, and at other idle moments, but they generally seem to be forgotten when I actually get near my computer.

This is a quick list to remind myself that I did do some non-work things this week:

1) I received a $10 voucher from Spotlight, which didn't actually require me to spend more than $10 to redeem it. Very nice, even if it arrived almost too late - in Saturday's post, for a voucher which was valid Wednesday to Sunday! So I headed off today and bought a few pieces of patchwork fabric, to add to the quilt I started last year. It's been packed away for quite some time, but I've been boring myself enough lately that I've been thinking about getting back to it.

2) Took my daughter for a drive in the country to fetch the rabbit she wanted for her birthday - a mini lop -quite cute, as long as I don't have to look after it or clean the cage.

3) Family dinner on Friday night, with the non-resident daughters plus visiting brother-in-law and sister-in-law (should that be sister-in-law-in-law? i.e brother-in-law's wife)

4) Visited a salmon farm, not open to the public (OK, that was a work thing, sort of, but not normally part of my work day). There I saw these handsome fellows (not in the salmon ponds, of course)

5) I have been reading Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle which has raised my enthusiasm for growing my own vegetables. Although we don't have much space in our backyard for vegetable gardening, it occurs to me that I can actually grow more, if I put them in the front garden, which faces north and therefore gets more sun (this being the southern hemisphere). Vegetables can't look any worse than weeds, after all.
The drawback is that winter is coming soon. However, I talked to our church's resident gardening enthusiast this morning and established that it's not too late to plant cabbages and other brassicas, if I buy seedlings, not seeds.
Being woefully ignorant about vegetable gardening, I figured that if I want to get serious about it, I should probably talk to Sue about once a month and ask "what are you planting this month?"

Monday, March 02, 2009

Ten Thousand Hours

If you want to get to the top of your game, natural talent won’t be enough. You’ve got to put in the hours – 10,000 of them.

Reading the article linked to above really made me think. I tend to dabble. In fact I think dabbling and procrastinating are two of my big talents. I was heavily into patchwork, then I started writing poetry, then I got side-tracked from both by genealogy (though I still think of myself as a poet) and there have been plenty of other interests along the way.

But I get to the point where I'm not satisfied with the level I'm at, and I think I tend to attribute that more to lack of a major talent than to lack of effort. Ten thousand hours? It's a lot. Especially for someone with a day job, and household responsibilities as well. Ten thousand hours of a forty hour a week job is about two thousand hours a year, or five years. For an hour a day pastime, or an hour a week, it's a lot longer - let's see - an hour a day five days a week would be forty years.

Of course the ten thousand hours figure is for the very top level - Nobel prize winning novelist, Olympic gold medal sportsperson, world renowned concert pianist. It probably takes a lot less than that to get to a fairly decent level of competence, but still a lot more than we allow for in our culture where, too often, we expect to be multi-talented and well-rounded.

Some of us would no doubt be bored if we stuck to one thing. I believe it's a valid choice to diversify, but we have to be realistic about what we might be giving up.

So, I am soberly considering how much I want to be a really competent poet and how much time I might need to put in to achieve it.


Links for today:

Great to see New Zealand poet Emma Neale (who won last year's Takahe poetry competition) featured in Poetry Daily (The last link there is the one to Emma's actual poem)

Following links from other writerly blogs, I came across expat New Zealander Martin Edmond's blog, Luca Antara, and this post on the 99 most frequently used words in An Anthology of New Zealand Poetry in English. An intriguing list, which one of his commenters promptly rearranged into a sort of a poem. (The words are arranged alphabetically on the blog post, it would be interesting to see them in order of frequency)

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Fun on the River

I shouldn't have said a few days ago that winter is still a fair way off here, because yesterday cold winds and rain arrived from the south (i.e., the direction of the Antarctic).

Not before I strolled down to the river though, to check out the fun at the annual Heathcote River Day. There is a raft race that has been running for quite a few years now, sadly, not while our children were young enough to enjoy that sort of thing.

The competitors lined up just upstream of the bridge

and emerged on the other side

Some decided to hitch a free ride instead of paddling

Some were more buoyant than others

I gather the prizes included one for best decorated. I think the Tardis would have been a strong contender.

This kayak must have been a bit overloaded, but water from the bailing bucket is always good for throwing over the competition - and a few water bombs prepared beforehand come in handy.

Going around in circles...