Poetry Shelf celebrates 2021: Emma Neale picks favourite books

NZ Poetry Shelf

The Pink Jumpsuit, Emma Neale, Quentin Wilson Publishing, 2021

Rather than do my annual list where I invite loads of poets to pick favourite books, I opted for a much smaller feature. I have invited authors whose work I have loved (a book of any genre, a poem, a website) to share favourites. No easy task as I have read so many books I have loved in the past year: poetry, fiction, nonfiction, children’s, local and international. On Friday 17th I will post the feature but, between then and now, I am posting some authors who have produced longer contributions.

Emma Neale’s collection of short fictions is one of my favourite reads of the year. In my short review, I wrote:

Any book by Emma Neale underlines what a supreme wordsmith she is. At times I stop and admire the sentences like I might admire the stitching of…

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The Pink Jumpsuit, book trailer

I’m delighted that we have this book trailer, designed by animation student Emily Kleiner, in Melbourne, and with music by jazz student Abe Baillie, in Wellington. One of the great things about this collaboration is that young people have been involved, and we’ve paid them for their creative work, too. I loved seeing how Emily and Abe interpreted the mood and movement of the title story after they’d read it. There was the cool little serendipitous coincidence that while Emily was working on the clip, a friend gave her some old clothes which included a pink jumpsuit — so her mother could model it for some of the actions. I’ve never met Emily; this was a professional commission. I have met the composer: he’s my eldest son.

As I’ve said elsewhere, face-to-face book launches are neither that popular, nor even possible, in the current state of NZ Covid-struggles. So this is a safe kind of stand-in, which I hope readers and viewers can enjoy wherever they want.

Oh, and while I’m mentioning Covid: I’m double-vaccinated. I’ve heard quite a few stories recently about fear of needles being a reason for hesitancy. In case it helps you decide: I had to ask the nurse who gave me my second shot if she’d genuinely done it, and she had to show me the empty phial, because I’d felt absolutely nothing, and I had the sudden fearful thought that she might be a swindler! I ended up being relieved when I had a few symptoms of my immune system kicking in to gear the next day. Thank God, a headache! Hallelujah, a few sore joints! (A good excuse for a day of rest… ) There’s a short story in that, maybe: although there’s already a story, ‘Trypanophobia’, about a blood test clinic, in The Pink Jumpsuit. There are a few tricksters and liars in the book, too. I don’t suppose stories of fraudsters and charlatans will ever go out of date…

Huge thanks to readers who have tried on The Pink Jumpsuit already, and I hope this clip entices others to add a copy to their bookshelves.

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The Pink Jumpsuit

Cover painting ‘Wanderlust’ by Sharon Singer

My first collection of short fiction has just been published by the attentive, energetic, good-humoured and independent press, Quentin Wilson Publishing —under their Litteratura [fine writing] imprint.

The title story was prompted by a tumult of competing responses I felt when I first saw Sharon Singer’s painting, ‘Wanderlust’, an eerie yet also wry work that still draws me in, and that invites multiple stories to leap from it even now. Where is that little figure trotting off to, so vulnerable and determined, so burdened by baggage, yet still unbowed? Is that an oxygen tank on her back, or is it a pet, in the space travel equivalent of a baby carrier pack? And if it is a pet, is there another kind of animal altogether in the travel crate in her left hand? How does she expect to survive out there, on the blasted sands and in the deepening shadows?

We were lucky enough to get permission to reproduce the painting on the cover: and in fact having that permission granted meant that I changed the collection’s title. Originally, I thought the wild mayhem of the story ‘Party Games’ might be a good umbrella for the works gathered here. There are several weird encounters at parties in the collection; but ‘The Pink Jumpsuit’ is a piece that has a tangle of cross-currents, a mixture of moods, memories and imagination, so I think it’s the best road-sign for the area the stories cover.

The subjects explored in the stories range from confidence tricksters to compulsive liars; bad relationships; the comic disasters of children’s birthday parties; body image, anorexia, misogyny, pregnancy, parenthood, miscarriage, genetic experiments; the weird metamorphosis of fantasy hardening into reality; the mysteries of identity that might also be the arcane territory of laboratory experiments.

Several of the stories share the speculative atmosphere of Sharon Singer’s painting – though I think my main interests are in the psychology of character, rather than the technicalities of how the astonishing findings and possibilities of science might unfurl. Although as a reader I’m gripped and fascinated by those, too; in my writing I always centre on the people involved. This might be one of the things that is causing me delivery pangs with the novel I’m rewriting: I need to harden up on the science, and spend less time on the protagonist’s interior overthinking! But … that’s another book altogether.

The Pink Jumpsuit is in bookstores now, or available for online order at Nationwide Book Distributors, in the link here:

https://www.nationwidebooks.co.nz/product/the-pink-jumpsuit-short-fictions-tall-truths-9780995132993

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Out for the Count

Thank you, Fictive Dream, it is a dream to have this up.

Fictive Dream

by Emma Neale

WE’RE TRYING to explain the size of atoms to a child who himself is the size of someone who needs help to reach the middle shelf in the fridge: the round of Gouda he wants sits up there like the gold ring on a carousel ride.

He wants to know, ‘Is an atom smaller than a cheese?’

‘Yes, it is.’

‘But if I cut it up into the size of a dice, would that be an atom of cheese?’

‘Cheese is made up of many, many atoms. An atom is so much smaller even than a dice.’

‘So how small is an atom, even of cheese?’

We try to strike this nail on its infinitesimal head. ‘An atom is smaller than a spider’s knee joint. It is thinner than the chamber of a beetle’s heart; it is tinier than a crab’s stomach-tooth; it is smaller than the…

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Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Emma Neale’s ‘Wanting to believe in the butterfly effect’

Today my husband and eldest son are braving the weather to clear gorse; they’re out there in the winter wild, clearing another stanza for this poem, maybe. My children keep me from sliding into apathy, though parenthood often also means feeling an anxiety that borders on a similar paralysis, I think. But the two young men I am raising are often brave and independent critical thinkers. So sometimes I think family life is like leapfrog: your turn to be courageous and leap, my turn to kneel down and feel afraid. And then we swap…

NZ Poetry Shelf

Wanting to believe in the butterfly effect

I collect a box of groceries from cold storage,

take it to the drop-in centre, break open bread rolls

fill them with salad, cheese, mayonnaise; leave goofy notes

about extra cucumber for beauty treatment, or vegans,

in the hope that giving migrates invisible currents

to distant continents, pollinates oil barons’ and despots’ hearts —

They feel their hearts!

Yet our children watch polar ice-caps collapse on TV;

learn to say sixth mass extinction with furious fluency,

choose to walk to school all weathers, forego meat and dairy food,

their eyes the soot of burnt-out stumps.

Other days, they kneel with us, postures half hopeful, half bereft,

to press electric-white seedling roots, skinny wires

into the rich, dark sockets of a field’s edge, to try to light

cool lamps of leaves, to banish the creeping dread

that even planting trees might be as…

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What are our words coming to?

WarningI recently took part in an event which was a video interview with Manus Island refugee Behrouz Boochani – the prize-winning author of No Friend but the Mountain – and his translator Omid Tofighian. Neil Vallelly, author, academic and the event’s organiser and interviewer, invited four local poets to read work on migration or exile, partly as poetry is such a vital part of Kurdish culture, and as a way of honouring Behrouz’s extraordinary prison memoir. (The other poets were Rhian Gallagher, Lynley Edmeades and Fiona Farrell, all of whom read potent and confronting work.) I was still reeling from and absorbing No Friend but the Mountains so found I couldn’t write anything in immediate response. I was still absorbing its shocks, stoicism, lyricism and courage – and the gross injustice of his and other refugees’ detention without trial. Instead I read ‘Warning’, a poem which was in response both to an image of the tiny boy, Alan Kurdi, or Shenu, from the refugee crisis in 2015 – and to the way an article in The Guardian about his death was framed.

I wrote the poem in 2015,  but hadn’t published it until the new collection came out. There is no explanatory note in the back of To the Occupant; I subconsciously assumed people would never forget the image. I hope I was right – desensitising,  numbing and denial as part of the reaction to refugees’ plight seem all too prevalent.

Now, of course, the photo of Alan is freshly in people’s minds, because of recent comparisons between the equally distressing images in world media of Óscar Martínez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, from El Salvador, who also drowned while seeking a better life.

Crisis, disaster or public poetry is a notoriously risky genre. React too soon, and a poem can seem like a tone-deaf misappropriation. Don’t react, and your work can be accused of being ‘too domestic’, ‘too trivial’, ‘not political enough’.

In the current climate, looking away feels like the grosser of two evils.

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Poetry Shelf review: Landfall 237

Celebrating New Zealand writers and art. Hats in the air!

NZ Poetry Shelf

otago708667.jpgLandfall 237 edited by Emma Neale

Landfall 237 offers rich pickings for the poetry fans: familiar names (Peter Bland, David Eggleton, Elizabeth Smither, Ria Masae, Lynley Edmeades and Cilla McQueen) to emerging poets (Rebecca Hawkes, Claudia Jardine, essa may ranapiri) and those I am reading for the first time (Robynanne Milford, Jeremy Roberts, Catherine Trundle to name a few). The reading experience is kaleidoscopic, pulling you in different directions, towards both lightness and darkness, risk and comfort. And that is exactly what a literary journal can do. I was tempted to say should, but literary journals can do anything.

Landfall has a history of showcasing quirky artwork – and this issue is no exception. Sharon Singer’s sequence, “Everyday Calamities’ with its potent colour, surreal juxtapositions, strange and estranging narratives, and thematic bridges, is an addictive puzzle for heart and mind. I am circling humanity, the power of connection, the individual…

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Mystery Envelope

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My new poetry collection was launched – sent out hitching on the information highway – earlier this month. David Eggleton gave a rocking, almost chanting speech that felt like a performance work in its own right, and which I revisit in my head when first-draft anxiety ambushes me again.

Quite a few of the pieces in this new collection play with the idea of the poem as a letter, or correspondence, addressed to some ideal imaginary reader. In fact, the book’s title means it is directly addressed to the reader, even though, as the Argentinan poet Antonio Porchia expresses it in his work Voces‘I know what I have given you. I do not know what you have received.’

When this collection finally shook down into some kind of shape, a visual memory of artist Nick Austin’s ‘Travelling Envelope’ series instantly zoomed up — like a film clip rather than a single picture. The sense of physical movement was palpable. You can see it here on the final cover image (designed by Fiona Moffat) in the rolling hills and all the jaunty angles, but I also think the feeling of animation is helped by Nick’s playful wit; the absurd and hopeful stoicism of this little bare-armed paper freeloader.

I love the way, if you linger on the image, there’s also a sense of the unknown, of risk; a potential twist of the untoward, which is also what I wanted some of the poems here to approach. I love the element of masking and possible vulnerability in both the invisible driver and the potential passenger — whose face we also don’t see. There’s a game of conceal and reveal here, which is a bit like the reader-writer relationship too.

That edge of anticipation, maybe even a frisson of fear, remind me of sending poetry, or any writing, out into the world … not knowing whether it will be accepted, rejected, well-received, misunderstood, or maybe even have empty beer bottles flung at it from a speeding window. I love having Nick Austin’s beguiling, comedic work on the cover. It somehow balances both an attractive simplicity and yet something eerie and enigmatic too.

For readers interested in other work by Nick, there is another title – Personal Address – which reproduces more of his paintings in this series, and which includes letters  between Nick and art writer Wystan Curnow. More information on that title is available from http://www.hopkinsonmossman.com.

For any readers curious about To the Occupant, there is a deliciously easy and efficient bright blue Buy Now Button at this link:

https://www.otago.ac.nz/press/books/otago710449.html

 

 

 

 

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Poetry Shelf audio spot: Emma Neale reads ‘Affidavit’

A reading from my new collection. Thanks to Paula Green & NZ Poetry Shelf!

NZ Poetry Shelf

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‘Affadavit’ was published in the most recent Poetry NZ Yearbook and also appears in To the Occupant.

Emma Neale is the current editor of Landfall. Her new collection, To the Occupant, with cover art by Nick Austin, has just been published by Otago University Press.

Otago University Press author page

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NZ Poetry Shelf

Paula Green has started up regular publication of poems, reviews, and interviews with poets again on her generous blog. The relative silence of this blog lately makes me even more amazed at her energy. But then, as it takes me so long to feel happy with a draft poem these days, perhaps it’s no surprise I’m shirking ‘bloggery’: blogging would mean yet more eighteenth drafts to be disappointed in, to abandon, to tackle at from another angle. If you follow the link below to a poem I’ve been reworking on and off for 3 years (!), you’ll also find new interviews and poems from many other NZ writers. It’s a bright and healthy crop. I’ve just finished compiling the May issue of Landfall, my first as incoming editor, and this makes me very appreciative that Paula is also providing an outlet for new poetry. There was so much high quality work I couldn’t fit in to the upcoming issue: it underlined that we need as many avenues for recent work as we can get. I hope you enjoy the poem and get throughly addicted to Paula’s site too!  Monday Poem: Emma Neale’s ‘Called’

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