Thursday, December 15, 2011

End of Year

This has been one of the best years of my life.
It's been difficult. I should say, more emotionally than anything else. I haven't really felt the press of time in the same way that others have described.
I haven't pulled all nighters, or typed 'til my hands burned (although they did ache now and then) or yanked out chunks of scalp over a particular combination of words (has anyone actually done this? If so I should buy you a beer.)
I have worked much harder this year than I ever have before on a single project. I'm the kind of person who procrastinates until the night before and then relies on luck and, let's face it, undeserved intelligence to get the job done.

But I somehow managed to finish my baby, my portfolio for this course, a whole three days early. And, rather than scraping through on a B as I so often do, somehow I seem to have got away with an A.  I lay this completely on the doorstep of my classmates and my teacher, Bernadette Hall. Without your support, I would still be floundering under a pile of confusing metaphors.

Emotionally, it's been hard. Being surrounded by supremely talented people, I don't think anyone could help but be intimidated. After getting to know those people (I speak of course, of my lovely classmates and teachers) I became even more intimidated, since not only were they talented, they were also nice, intelligent and generous. Terribly so.
There was no chink for my ego to break through. No place where I could say, well, yes, but I'm better at this (unless it's wiggling my ears. I'm pretty much the NZ champion at that).
Eventually it dawned on me that... well, I enjoyed my work. Other people said they liked it as well.  I was getting published here and there, so it couldn't just be kind words.
And I enjoyed my classmates work, very much. And oh boy, did they do well this year. Publishing credits and well deserved wins all around. You should definitely check it out. Try Turbine, or the Dominion Post's Your Weekend Summer Edition, or the next (March) edition of Sport magazine.

Basically, what I'm saying is this year I learned to stop being dumb and stop comparing myself to others (and despairing at the result). Yes, a lesson I should have picked up from Sesame Street when I was six. But, it's the most valuable thing I've learned this year. All the writers in my class deserve to be published, because people everywhere deserve to be exposed to them.
Which is why, although I was awarded the Biggs Poetry Prize this year, I think it could have just as easily been given to any one else in my class and it would not have surprised me one bit (well, you know, except the fiction writers. But if they had happened to write poetry...).
Everything I've accomplished this year has been because of the incredible gift of being able to interact with the people in my class, and my teacher.
There should be no comparison because once you get past a certain point of skill and dedication, we're all just swimming around in a sea of awesome, calling out encouragement and critiquing each others' stroke and I've enjoyed it very much (too bad I'm still so attached to those confusing metaphors. Oh well).
I want to thank them all, very sincerely. I'm gonna miss you guys.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank Mr Peter Biggs and Mrs Mary Biggs for their generous sponsorship of the Biggs Poetry Prize. I am astonished at the fact that people will take the time to set up and contribute to awards like this, which mean so much to the recipients. I was thrilled and humbled to be chosen. Thank you very much.

Finally, thanks to my family for putting up with me this year. Particularly my mother, who had to endure me sulking at various times and my melodramatic conviction that I would utterly fail and somehow also wind up friendless, despised, destitute, etc etc. Yes, you can gloat now if you like.
I won't mind a bit.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sitting in an Old Villa...

At the moment, I'm living in a villa in Wellington, which is not nearly as glamorous as it sounds. He's a grumpy old man of a house, creaky and stiff and given to conniptions over the weather.
I love him to pieces.
I have my very own secret hiding space under the floor in my room. It's something I've always wanted.  The boards have been cut and can be removed, and I could put something in there, if I wanted. I could hide treasure in there, put a rug over it and no one would ever find it. I could stow away forbidden literature, or ill gotten gains. I could even secrete a baby whose parents are on the run for some reason, and unfortunately ended up entrusting their baby to me.  It would have to be a quiet baby, but I could do it.
Or, you know, since we aren't quite living in a totalitarian state (not yet anyway... no thanks to all of you out there who didn't vote in the last election!) I could put something awesome in there for the next person to find. A little story, maybe, or a handful of beads, or an origami crane. Or, you know, a voucher for free chips. Something nice.

The last person to live in this room left me an emerald green bottle, small and fat, roughly same dimensions as a nectarine.
I thought it was some kind of antique until I noticed a row of them in the liquor store. But it's pretty, particularly with a nosegay of wild flowers.
Where do I get the wild flowers? Why, from the jungle in my backyard. It might only be a small jungle, about four meters square, but we are dedicated to letting it go back to its natural state, wild flowers and all.
At least until the next house inspection.
 Because this crotchety gentleman doesn't belong to me. I am only visiting. If he did I would scratch his itchy windowpanes for him, he's always wriggling them about. I'd get rid of the old paint and fancy him up for company.
He's already been host to a decade of dwellers, most of whom have left a layer of themselves behind, in the cupboards and the drawers. In the cracks between the floorboards.
I'm planning to take everything when I go. I'll scrub my room clean, ball up the blue tack, clear out every nook and cranny.
But I'll leave something in the hiding space. What, I hear you cry?
Well, that's between me and my grumpy old man of a house.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


This isn't going to be a pretty post, just a serviceable one. I've had some ideas for some pretty posts running around, inspired by snow and wakas and seals and secret hiding places. But, I've been so busy, it's hard to get time to put fingers to keyboard.
Anyway, here's the housekeeping. I never announced it on here, but I won the WWF Ocean:Views contest a couple of months ago with my short story "Paying Back the Ocean." I got to have a photo shoot and be on the radio and in the papers and it was quite an interesting process. It's been lovely since then, hearing about the different places my story seems to have gone.
I've also been published in Blip Magazine and have upcoming  poems and stories in a couple of other places that I'll announce when they are available.
And I'm not the only one. Seems like people from the Masters course in the IIML have been taking out a lot of the creative writing contests in New Zealand this year, including the Katherine Mansfield Award (which is now called the BNZ Literary Award or something). It's a good, sad story and you should check it out.
You might also want to check out the winners of the poetry and short story contests run by Vic Books, which were won by a couple of my lovely classmates. Definitely worth reading.
I also want to point out that my rejection to acceptance ratio is about 10:1 (I just pulled that number out of my arse by the way) so I have numerous kindly phrased rejection letters as well.

Anyways, in about three days my mother and I are going to be taking the trip that I won in the WWF contest. I'm honoured to be able to take my mother on this trip, as she's supported me a lot over the years (thanks mum!). I'm really excited about it. We'll be going to Tonga, staying at a resort and taking a day trip out to swim with humpback whales. Anyone who knows me at all, knows I'm basically beside myself with joy at the idea of swimming with whales.
So, I thought I would mention it, because I'm hoping to blog while I'm over there. And I might only be capable of writing whales whales whales whales (awesome) whales once I get started.
Lots of love to everyone, hope you are all well, where ever you are. I will write something more interesting soon.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Writing as a Commodity

As part of the Masters course at the IIML I have to collect around 50 pages of worthy material and use it to present a two hour class.
Some of the people in my class have used this opportunity to showcase their favorite writers, or pieces of work which relate to their own portfolios. We've gone through and talked about what makes it good, which parts we like and don't like, and so on.
There have been presentations with articles of literary analysis, interviews with authors, and so on. We've been given prompts or guidance on what to discuss, although for the most part we are willing to take the ball and run with it. After all, we're writers. We all have a lot to say.

I'm pretty nervous about my own little collection, which I will have to hand out in about two weeks time (we get two weeks to read each round, so my actual trial by peer group won't be for another month or so).

Where's the balance? I don't want to be completely dry, but this is a masters course so I can only get away with including snippets of Margret Mahy's work every so often. (When asked to provide poems that have inspired me, I can and will read you the entirety of Bubble Trouble, but you should have read it anyway!)
Plus we have to choose our own topic. Which was a task in itself.
After veering from a vague of exploration of poetics, to the much more fun idea of "the strange and wonderful lives of poets" (which was based around the assumption that everyone else would provide the necessary serious topics in their seminars) to another vague (and possibly insulting) thought that I could somehow help everyone explore "why they write" I've settled on a topic that is close to my heart.
Writing as a commodity. Specifically as it relates to the poets and authors who create it.

This is a vast topic of which I'm only going to be brushing the top. And I don't know how popular it's going to be with my classmates.
I am determined, by hook or by crook to make a living at this game, but not everyone is interested in that. I am fascinated by the sale of words, the consumption of them, the popularity, the publicity, who sells, who sold out, etc. I hope these things won't put everyone else to sleep.

We are supposed to be in the first full flush of our infatuation with writing. The writing is the only thing that matters. We might look for signs that an engagement is a possibility, we might be encouraged to think about an exciting proposal, an extravagant wedding, or the happily ever after.
But, not the down and dirty business of a pre-nup. Nor the compromises on religion, child-rearing, or who gets the remote control that may lie on the horizon.
We might sigh and say perhaps we'll never find that special someone, but everyone will rush to disagree. Oh no, of course you will! Who wouldn't want you?

Well, I like thinking about pre-nups... uh, book contracts. I like to learn about e-sales, self publishing (heh. Now what would be the corresponding metaphor for that?), agents, publishers, publicity, competitions and compromises. Especially compromises.
For example, there seems to be a lot of debate (now and always) on how dumb poetry should, could and does get in the pursuit of readership (and sales).
Is people reading poetry, no matter how "dumb" it may be, a bad thing? Does the consumption of bad poetry take away from the consumption of good poetry? (that's not a trick question, some say it does in very concrete ways) Should a poet ever change what they have written to make it more marketable? Or write in order to sell rather than from pure inspiration? How is that different from changing a poem at an editor's request to fit a given journal?
How the heck can you ever make poetry more marketable?

Hmmm... I'll have to remember some of these for my class. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Case for Mornings...

This morning, the city of Wellington was cloaked in the longing of Papatuanuku. Her misty sighs hid the Hutt valley and the top of Mt. Victoria. Slopes faded up high, like ink had been washed away.
The streets were still, even at 8am (when I was setting off for my walk) because it was the Queen's so-called Birthday. Every bus that went past was an Event. Every person I met smiled as though we shared a secret.
Wellington herself was drafted in chalk pastel, edges blurred into the surrounding gray.
Air pressed into the palms of my hands; the tousled head of the wind. He just wanted a cuddle, no boisterous games today.

For a few moments, walking along Oriental Bay, I was completely alone. No cars, no people in sight, just the harbour, with the dark dorsal of Somes island ahead, and the hills, what could be seen of them, and me.
I thought about the people I used to see in Auckland, on my morning runs. The thin biker in stripes and a maniacal grin who careened past at approximately 8.10am. The woman who always ran in full makeup. The bloke in sheathed lycra with long, straight hair that flowed behind him as he sprinted. The little old man who smiled as though I was the high point of his day. I'm not sure if it was my kind eyes, or the escape attempts of my chest that tickled him so.

Here, now, were only the shags and swallows; the occasional seagull.
It has its own charm.

It didn't last of course. I rounded that corner, so I could see down into Miramar and there they all were, Wellington runners I don't have pithy descriptions for yet. I was merely ahead of the pack for once. Not for long.
On my way back I spotted three sting rays half buried in the artificial beach. I stopped and smiled at another runner who also stopped to look at them.
I could see the shapes of their heads, the thin, whip like tails and it made me think of my father, who once tried to pick up a stick while snorkeling and discovered it was attached to a ray. He leaped higher than I would have thought possible for such a large man. That one had been more than a meter across, as I remember it. These were half the size.
Three for a girl. Or, maybe, two for joy and another one for sorrow.

It was still misty when I got home. It was dripping down my nose.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Tunnel

Around ten years ago I was living in Wellington, well, in Northland, Wellington anyway and I was lonely.
So, I tried attending a meditation evening because, hey, it seemed cheap and maybe was a good place to meet people. The course was run by two lovely women, who both worked as "fortunetellers" so, as it turned out, it wasn't the kind of meditation I expected.
We looked for our totem animals. We regressed ourselves. We had allergic reactions to incense that were taken to be extremely meaningful.
Pretty much every week someone would see a historic figure in the corner... in fact many weeks there seemed to be dozens.
When they began talking about our alien overlords (oh you think I'm kidding, but I'm really not) I finally stopped going.
Although I am making (I hope gentle) fun of the group, in reality we were all lonely women (I think a guy came in once for a few minutes, but he might have been looking for the restroom), searching for someone to pay just a little scrap of attention to us and in that sense, the classes were wonderful. We all turned out to be Ancient Egyptian princesses after all.

Anyway. This long winded explanation is to justify why I was sitting in a Spiritualist church one particular night. I was there with one of the group leaders, a very sweet woman who I considered a friend. I don't remember much of the ceremony, although I don't think it was strictly Wiccan... It was a bit of a hodgepodge of different religions. Nice, friendly people.
At the end of the mass, a few of the psychics in the congregation stood up and did impromptu readings for the crowd. They would point at someone and expound on the ghosts surrounding them, or predict their future, or talk about angels or whatever.
Both times I was there I got picked on (the first time by my friend who explained to me that there were faeries all around me. Made my next shower a delightful adventure).
Now, I've just done my best to explain that I don't really believe this stuff now. I have developed a healthy skepticism (not that I was being taken for a ride... meditation "class" was ten dollars and I was pretty much getting out of it what I wanted).
But, I still remember what the second woman told me. She was standing up and got me to stand as well. She was across the crowded room from me, but maybe she could see my face clearly, because she told me that I was going through a tunnel.
She said I had a dark tunnel to go through and that it would take years, but that one day I would come out the end of it.
That's it. Not a huge insight, I mean, I was a teenager, of course I was going through a dark tunnel.
Later, I found her at the tea and biscuits table and asked her if there would be anyone waiting for me at the end of the tunnel (of course... I was a teenager!).
She looked very upset and shrugged, and said maybe and apologized for giving me such a depressing reading. I think that might have been what made it stick in my mind. Most of the readings I've seen (not a lot, to tell the truth) have some kind of upbeat end. They want to give you hope and make you feel special, because that's the drug. It's what keeps you coming back (I know this doesn't apply to all of you who work in that business and I don't mean to disparage individuals, many of whom genuinely want to help people). 
She gave me no hope.

Every now and then, since that time, I have looked about my life and asked myself, am I still in the tunnel? And then I would say, yes.
Sure, there's been good bits, bloody marvelous bits in fact, and even the bad bits have their uses I have to admit. I am trying to write poetry after all.
But, that's a long, long goshdarn tunnel. More than ten years worth of tunnel. It's dark and confusing and sad all the time. All the time.

Today, under the lowering clouds, in my cold, still bare room, with a niggling backache, and a dying cellphone I had to admit something to myself.
I'm through the tunnel. My lovely flatmate offered me balm for my back. The weather broke free long enough for me to run to the Farmer's Market (the one on Willis) and buy some lovely late watermelon that tastes like candy. I've only been on holiday for a few days and I already miss my classes.
Somehow I managed to keep my eyes peeled for the light, scramble over the slimy rocks and through the... OK, sorry, you get the idea. Anyway.
I'm through the damn tunnel.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

All Good Things...

...come to those who wait.
I am having a fantastic time in Wellington. It was a hard decision coming back down here. Particularly as I know the Auckland writing scene seems to be coming into its own recently. And I had already spent four years down here as a BA student... what more was there for Wellington to teach me? Plenty, as it turns out.

For example, last night Wellington taught me that Kiwis... even Shortland Street actors... are fully capable of putting on authentic sounding American accents. They can even do this while babbling nonsense and/or screaming on stage in front of dozens of people. If you don't believe me you should go and see August: Osage County, playing at Circa.
In fact, you should do that anyway. It blew me away. Consider ear plugs.

So how are my classes going, I hear you ask? They are quite lovely, as a matter of fact. And I'm not just talking about the view.
So far as guest speakers, we have had a Keats scholar (who told us a lot of 200 year old gossip, which was somehow still fascinating) the writer in residence Albert Belz and Ken Duncum, both playwrights who talked to us about story and narrative, as well as Bernadette and Damien (our tutors).
I also really enjoyed meeting Lesley Wheeler who sat in on our class, in order to learn about creative writing courses in New Zealand (she's an American poet), and was kind enough to read us some of her own poetry.

It is exciting to find myself inserted into this nexus of such brilliant NZ writers. I don't just know people who know people (who know other people)... I actually know people myself! It is ever so slightly intimidating.

Case in point: We are having Lloyd Jones and Jenny Bornholdt as guest speakers this week... a huge double header. I'm so excited. I can't decide if I should bring books along to ask them to sign (is that pathetic? just slightly? OK, I can live with that). Alan, my poetry tutor over the summer, told me that poets adore being asked for autographs, but that authors possibly do not. On the other hand, this is New Zealand we're talking about... I doubt many (any?) NZ authors get mobbed on the streets, or need armed body guards at their signings.
On the other other hand (is this a third hand? grotesque) Lloyd Jones deserves to be mobbed in the streets. Just a little. In a good way.

OK, so anyway, stick to the program. So, classes have been interesting so far. We mostly do an exercise over the week, then read them out for an on the spot critique by the group (mine have so far been pretty bad, but I guess the point is to improve). At first we all clapped, and just said what we liked, but gradually clapping has been replaced by gentle critiquing (which is much better!). And next week we start handing in parts of our portfolios to be critiqued over a longer time, so it's about to ramp up.
Bernadette is also my supervisor, and I meet her every two weeks, for an hour and a half or so. I worried at first at what we could possibly say to fill in that time, but mostly I tell her about stuff that I find interesting that can go into the folio, and she listens to me blab like a crazed monkey, then gently points out a few things I should change. She really wants me to strip out the metaphors, which.... when I thought about it, was a good idea. I mean, not just in the whole modern, kill-metaphors-on-sight sense, because frankly I don't agree with that so much.
But, at the moment, poetry seems a lot like sculpture to me. Something is in the marble (my entire possible experience of a particular thing being the marble), and I'm cutting away what needs to be cut away to reveal it. In that light (which is subject to change) metaphors seem akin to painting the marble, (which the Romans used to do...) and that just doesn't seem right.

OK, enough of this.

Friday, March 4, 2011

First Creative Writing Classes

I'm learning many new things in my pursuit of New Zealand literary culture.
At the Janet Frame lecture, where Joy Cowley addressed the state of the children's literature in New Zealand, I learned that we didn't really get going until in that arena until the late 70's, early 80's. That, in fact, The Lion in the Meadow by Margaret Mahy was originally published overseas.
I also learned that at some point in her life, Joy Cowley had a few too many martinis and vomited in Roald Dahl's swimming pool (to learn more about the incident, I guess I'll have to read her memoirs!). Is that not the coolest thing you've ever heard?
Wait... I have something cooler. While trolling the Alexander Turnbull website, I discovered a little blurb on the NZ Poet Laureate. Apparently this position nets you a grand total of around $70,000 over 2 years... not much for what amounts to a full time job (admittedly a job that includes a lot of free nibbles). But, this is entirely made up for in the next sentence... the NZ Poet Laureate receives a wine stipend.
Seriously. The position was originally sponsored by a vineyard, but that's not the origin of the stipend. It comes from a tradition in Britain where the poet would receive canary wine.

But you don't want to hear about this. You want to hear about my first lessons in the Masters of Creative Writing (I assume... otherwise, why are you reading this?)

My class is lovely. Nine women and one man, I'd estimate mostly around 10 years of my own age (late 20s)... except a couple who are probably older. And very talented. I don't feel hugely intimidated now as I did when I first read the short biographies that were handed out before we met. All I saw then were stacks and stacks of awards next to almost every name but mine!
Now I have faces to those names, and I've seen their work... and it is so good, but I don't feel like I'm hopelessly outmatched. Though I'm not going to be able to slack off at all, if I want to keep my pride up!
Bernadette Hall, our teacher, is also wonderful... I guess I had this idea that anyone who taught a Masters course was going to be... well, a dragon. But she is anything but... she seems sweet, smart and generous and I'm looking forward to the rest of the year!

My first class was on Tuesday, and was three hours long. Usually we are going to use this class to critique each other's work, and to do exercises. But, because it was the first lesson, we spent it reading out a piece each (chosen by Bernadette Hall from our application poems and stories), and talking briefly about it. We also heard from two women who had completed the course last year, one poet and one prose writer. We were also given a lot of administration info, and shown around the building (which I already knew relatively well from my summer courses).

On Weds we had another, 2 hour class. This class is the one we will sometimes share with the other stream. We did some exercises and read out an auto-biographical piece that Bernadette had asked us each to write.  There is to be a lot of reading aloud in this class (and I kind of like it!).
Then we did some exercises surrounding the fairy tale The Frog King, including some automatic writing. And we've been given a lot of homework until next class.
Finally, after Weds class, we had a get together with the scriptwriting class and the other stream of poetry/prose, as well as some local celebrities like Elizabeth Knox and Bill Manhire. The tiny room was crowded with nice looking nibbles and polite and interesting people... too crowded. I have to confess when I was being introduced to Ms Knox and her husband (who seemed really nice) I could barely understand a word anyone was saying. I left. I'm not good in a crowded room, when I'm tired and I don't know anyone (who is?).
It's a shame because I honestly love Elizabeth Knox's books, and I would have loved to get to know some of the other students better, but oh well. More opportunities await I'm sure.
Hope this is some help to someone out there. I'm also going to mention the books I'm reading (since I have to keep a reading journal as part of the course anyway). Currently I'm onto the third of the Dexter series by Jeff Lindsay, called "Dexter in the Dark" (I got a 3 book omnibus out of the library). I've also got out the 2nd and 3rd "Flight" anthology, which are wonderful collections of graphic novel shorts that I highly recommend. I'm also halfway through The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin. This seems like an appropriate place to include my Goodreads link, in case you're interested.
Take care of yourself, dear reader.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


OK. This blog has gone through several revamps in the last few years. Most of these revamps have consisted of me flouncing in for one-two posts, announcing that my whole life has changed once again, and then flouncing out. not exactly compelling stuff.
Well, my life has changed again. I was doing the art thing, (which I still enjoy on the fringes of my life), and then I started doing the writing thing. Actually, mostly I started doing the writing thing to get the student allowance last year. I'd never thought of writing as something I needed lessons in. But, oh boy, did I need lessons. And the creative writing course at Whitireia was really great, I liked most of the tutors and they taught me a lot.

As my good friend said yesterday, turns out writing is what I'm for. And (da dada daaa) I finally managed to get into the Masters of Creative Writing at Victoria University.
I've tried to get into this course a couple of times before, and never made it. This time I got into Auckland and AUT as well... which was tempting, as they wanted me for my fiction application and Vic wants me to have a go at poetry.
Plus Auckland included a handwritten note, saying how pleased they were to have me, which I really appreciated.
But Vic... you don't turn down the MCW at Vic. It's the most prestigious in the country. My poetry tutor from last year, Hinemoana Baker, went there. Elizabeth Knox went there. They have Janet Frame's desk, just sitting there, in the front office (which I have already passed a dozen times and didn't realise what it was! Now I'm going to have to go back and oooh and aahh over it). It even has ties to the mother of all Creative Writing degrees, Iowa.
In fact, I am currently taking summer papers in prose and poetry, run by Iowa graduates, and pretty much I love them like I love puppies (ah, the classes, not the tutors. The tutors are pretty great though).
And if you know me, you know I really love puppies.
Plus, see how great my metaphors are now??

So, yeah, anyway, I do have a point.
I think I ought to be blogging about the Masters at Vic. It was hard to make a decision to choose it over Auckland and AUT, because it was hard to know what I was getting myself into. If I can encourage someone else to apply or decide who to choose, that would be great.
So, yeah, I'll try to be a regular poster from now on. No promises though.