Monday, May 23, 2016
Sunday, January 17, 2016
The above photo is a still from The Kill Screen, an event I moderated in Auckland late last year, which brought together four artists of different media to discuss beginnings and endings. The full video of the event is available to stream here.
I recently had the privilege to sit down with NZ composer Alex Taylor and talk about things close to both of our hearts: music and poetry. Thanks to Kirsti Whalen at The Pantograph Punch for setting it up.
Here is a link to some of Alex's work. He is a force.
Also, Johnny Hernandez at SPD was kind enough to select The Bellfounder for his 2015 Staff Pick. Scroll down the page a bit to find his generous write-up, but stop along the way to visit some of the other picks, especially my good friend Elaine Kahn, whose Women in Public is surely one of the most gobsmackingly great books of last year.
I am pleased to be spending 2016 as the University of Waikato Writer in Residence. Here is a little press announcement about the Residence and what I hope to accomplish.
Happy New Year!
Wednesday, August 5, 2015
here. I am grateful to Zach Barocas and his Cultural Society for taking a chance on me. I hope you enjoy the book.
Tuesday, June 2, 2015
Monday, March 30, 2015
Michele Leggott was kind enough to include a full recording of Fiddlehead in this new feature of the NZEPC. I managed to do the whole recording in one take. That's almost twenty minutes without water. Luckily, the recording is divided into three digestible portions. I encourage the listener to drink throughout.
Be sure to check out the other readers in the series, including fellow Aucklanders Ya-Wen Ho and Murray Edmond, and one of NZ's favourite émigrés Alice Miller.
Monday, June 9, 2014
The Lumière Reader, I was lucky enough to be able to speak about Fiddlehead, tradition, repetition, and joy with two dear friends Joan Fleming and Lee Posna. Joan asked some harrowing questions, the kind that require some serious soul-work before you can responsibly answer. Definitely one of the richest poetics exchanges I have had.
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
I am pleased to announce that my chapbook, Fiddlehead, is now available for purchase thanks to the tireless efforts of Chris Holdaway and Samuel Carey at Compound Press. My Q&A with Chris about the book's composition is also up on the site. Therein we speak about repetition, religion, and expatriation, matters equally close to my heart these days.
Compound and its affiliated journal, Minarets, are giving voice to a new generation of innovative New Zealand-based poets, among them Ross Brighton, Ya-Wen Ho, Joan Fleming, and Lee Posna (whose chapbook, Arboretum, launched simultaneously with mine). I am humbled to be in such company and hope you'll take a look at what we're on about over here.
Friday, November 22, 2013
I want to try something I have never done on this blog before: publish an extended piece by a poet I admire. I met Lee Posna two years ago when my partner and I relocated from Christchurch to Wellington. We quickly realised we had a lot in common. We both have a thing for Laurence Binyon's translation of Dante. Both of us attended more than one show on Braid's 2004 reunion tour, and, perhaps the most serendipitous, we are both American expats who each fell in love with a Kiwi woman in Iowa City and followed her here.
Lee's poems possess a late-Romantic sensibility, always elegiac in its delivery, which is to say it is the offering of one who seeks to live in a simultaneity of sensibilities--Pound's "all ages are contemporaneous"--the romantic overlapping the post-secular and elsewhere. There is a pervading distress at the heart of the work, at the heart of the world even when the poems take delight in it:
Scarlet persimmons, scarlet
leaves, pink sky sharing the lake
I imagine it is the kind of distress the rose must feel when some passerby, taught to be suspicious of symbols, tries to force the flower back into its sepal.
Reading Lee's work, I am reminded of Geoffrey Hill's poems, especially those in Tenebrae, in that Lee's, too, know about history but only live erratically there. They live here erratically (but emphatically) also. The Danube that courses through Lee's poems is not a Danube you could visit now. But Lee's poems make me wonder if this Danube ever existed, or if only it exists.
The following long poem, "Arboretum," was my first real introduction to Lee's work and I am really honoured to publish the poem in its entirety for the first time. I encourage you to visit Lee's website for signposts to more of his work.
I die right now.
Now I am past.
I reigned but thirteen months
over my mind
as far as the Danube,
for a day the Borysthenes
in a blinding meadow.
At length disease, the flower
of disease crossed the meter-thick ice
under which tumble the ice-black stones
even at night.
And with the round violence, the hollow
in a country of years,
the terrible equality of all dead violence
I was lost.
True to my word I never
forgot the cedar growing near sideways
from the far bank.
O Red Sun, wherein a fury
broils in place, middle-
as a bead in frost,
I approached death
from behind—so far ahead
had I got—tracking abandoned sites
of one more me than I…
Escarpment greened over
quag-dregs—up brick eagle
red seltzer cloud—copper-
70 hillcrests, 7 x 70 ice
driven as a will
of clay or mind
of wind through…
Such ropy light
of the 20th century (
of the 14th century (tragedy)…
Our ball bearing eyes rolled
in mercury science-
language dripping, click
stone steps history sovereign…
Where the young flung up
citadels in thunder
just wander right in
with these sweaty 100 horse…
That Methusalan cloud—
I broached it
from behind to leer
through a carmine heath…
Of wrung eternity, appled
before fruit, sound before song,
man before song…man after song…
Life in a tree is beautiful.
I passed my life under a tree.
Spent my life thinking about my life.
Under that giant ash, dark as the tree of life.
I went blind that tree could see my whole life.
Some people’s lives you can see all stretched out before them like trees.
Who couldn’t see what would happen to my sister?
Beautiful is death in a ditch.
Did horde my-death in a ditch.
Gathered my cankers while I may.
Ditch-blind, painted death I.
Those thought death not.
Blew off death from a wet balustrade.
Bright as winter war.
Did they live better die worse?
Dead mines men fell into.
Some lives one dies into.
It was dark, one says.
How? is the enduring
question – as in by what
road? In the throat
of a dead night I hung
from one live branch
ten yards over
the frost-glassed grass. This
tree blurry as any one
sees years down
the way. I once imagined how
myself, as if our years were
But there was no place
in that tree for my imagination.
Or else it was
Birds made me sad.
Oh I drooped and I
with my bloody fruit I’ll never
know how bloody
Bright, infected, throbbing fruit
Scarlet persimmons, scarlet
leaves, pink sky sharing the lake
To bite it I’d bleed, squeal—blood
and speech twined—bile
in that melon-carrot
Who could disentangle me now
from this knotty scrub, bleeding
kings’ uncles with their bubbling
Who are they anyway?
Why this corner of this
xeric thicket, flakes
of fire adrift
like windless snow beyond?
When try the
fruit I left in light?
Where if it
My purpose wasn’t dead
in a single night.
What it was.
The fork between empire
and love is real
I found, as, finally, with all
over against empire. True
what a pre-Socratic said, this Danube’s
not the same Danube, wide
and urgent, internalizing
fast snow. Here I looked back
through salt stoai, architraves
of gesturing angels to Ravenna.
Looked east, where we point
in death our feet. Who says
my death was a work of love?
That history’s a pointillist work of anything?
No matter where I look the storm
mutes violence; my eyelashes
cold flakes fill.
I was alone on Earth because
heavy snow hoofed like dark
erasing the unimportant.
I never loved the world until
it made me—times love
Calling them my name
You planted my ashes in aluminium soil
And talked to them in tepid rain
And rained-on leaves’ tepid tête-à-têtes
Hiding to face the sad chess
Of the forest, its redeemable economics
The hydrangeas you imagined would be red
Because I stopped for death
Here is a holly.
Now I am gone.
Fell dead through the unity
of dead history.
I shared with you,
an obsolete and moribund Aeneas
Silvius, Pius II, your black damask-
curtained litter, I drew
when thronging crusade-deserters passed
to keep your heart afloat
down that mortal aqueduct
to empty Ancona.
When you, nascent renaissance
poet-pope rowed me
back across a turgid Danube
you spared me no
now I am gone.
death from behind
so far afield
had I got loose—cancer in a redcar, cardiac
arrest like dads, cardiac constellations wherever
you scan sky—all statistics
okay, what solders us to the bell
curve. And yet:
Borysthenes. I read
the ranks of Alani,
hills bloody with rain, opposed
in living country. A far love
globed my mind philanthropic.
Is this annihilation?
Here one knelt like an angel, drawing
the hundredth curtain
of light. Of course this brought me
to that great wall
of a tree, hung with phosphorescent,
utterly possible fruit.
*The section, "Here is a holly," was originally published in The Winter Anthology Vol. 3.
Monday, October 21, 2013
"Music is the human sway that coaxes spirit. One is taken up by music, not the other way around. Music is a gift. And one must have a predisposition for and must learn to accept the gift of music. One must learn to submit to the poem’s music and to be taken up.
This is the beginning—onset of the possible. The poet’s responsibility is this pleading for and humble submission to music, through which spirit arrives and makes transformation possible.
What was once known as God is the will toward which I pitch my life. What was once known as Love is the will toward which I pitch my work. I am the servant of the Light and of the Muses, and I know their desirable gift."
Saturday, October 19, 2013
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
I am very proud of my partner, Eleanor Catton, whose forthcoming novel, The Luminaries, was just longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize!
All sources indicate that this year's judges have selected a suite of bold, experimental, and sophisticated novels.
The Luminaries will launch in NZ next weekend and in the UK and US soon to follow.
Monday, July 1, 2013
Because of the efforts of dedicated poets, editors, and families, two significant works of post-war American poetry will soon be back in print.
Ronald Johnson's monumental ARK will appear from Flood Editions later this autumn and Frank Samperi's ikonic Trilogy will be soon to follow from Skysill Press.
I am confident that the re-release of these two masterworks will only magnify the already considerable enterprise underway in American poetry toward spiritual renew within a larger context of formal experimentation.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
First, there's The Winter Anthology, a rigorous and beautifully edited journal, spearheaded by T. Zachary Cotler. In its three slim volumes, TWA is consistently impressive.
Then, there's the pilot issue of Letters, a journal out of Yale's Institute of Sacred Music, committed to the rich intersections between literature and spirituality.
It is exciting to see inventive new journals like these, who state their aesthetic and social aims explicitly, and do so enthusiastically, desirous to add to a larger poetic conversation.
Also, a paper of mine on jazz structures in Robert Creeley's early poems has been chosen for the upcoming AAL conference, Modern Soundscapes, in Sydney. As this will be my first conference presentation, I am nervous as, and eager to see how this conference business works. I have included part of my abstract below for the curious:
My paper, informed by my perspective as a practicing poet, will examine Robert Creeley’s early poem, “A Sight,” alongside “Shaw Nuff,” an early bop composition by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, tracing specific technical innovations in Creeley’s work to Parker and Gillespie’s variation of the “I Got Rhythm” changes. I hope to use the findings as instances or exempla of musico-literary convergence in order to propose a flexible and imaginative framework to account for the translation of musical into poetic form."
Friday, November 30, 2012
A few new pieces, poems written after some extended tramps into the New Zealand bush, appear in the most recent CultSoc update, along with poems by Peter O'Leary, Mark Truscott, Amanda Nadelberg, Mark Scroggins, Joseph Massey, Shannon Tharp, Whit Griffin, and other dynamos.
Thursday, October 4, 2012
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
In Dante's cosmos the southern hemisphere was covered entirely in water, broken only by a single, lofty mountain island: Purgatory.
I turned to the right and contemplated all
The other pole; and four stars o’er me came,
Never yet seen save by the first people.
All the heavens seemed exulting in their flame.
O widowed Northern clime, from which is ta’en
The happy fortune of beholding them!
(Purgatorio I, trans. Laurence Binyon)
(Purgatorio I, trans. Laurence Binyon)
Sunday, April 8, 2012
Robert Creeley in Auckland, 1995
When I arrived in New Zealand this past August, I had intended to begin a book chronicling Robert Creeley's influence on the New Zealand poetic community. A number of factors temporarily halted the project in the "research and development" phase: full-time employ, diverted attentions, and a fresh round of PhD applications. I've chided myself since then on time wasted, on time that could've been better spent toward the completion of this project, a project I still very much believe in.
Now, I'm in Wellington and knee-deep in a new project which concerns Ezra Pound's theory of melopoeia, "wherein the words are charged, over and above their plain meaning, with some musical property, which directs the bearing or trend of that meaning," and its implications for contemporary poets. And while I'm deeply engaged in and excited by this new project, my thoughts often return to "Creeley in NZ."
Last week, Ellie and I hiked the four-day Milford Track with her parents and some family friends. And eight-hour days of tramping through fern groves, lichen carpeted beech woods, and rough, brown tussock is ample opportunity to hatch ideas and scheme about books: past, present, and future.
During my time here, I've tried to familiarize myself with contemporary poetry in NZ and get a sense of its trends and taboos, and the traditions it holds dear. My reading has only served to make me more curious, less sure. I've had this notion that Creeley's 1976 visit to NZ totally rocked the NZ poetic community, that it introduced the possibility of experimentation and "New American Poetry" to poets nursed primarily on the British tradition. I had hoped, perhaps vainly and prematurely, to trace an aesthetic through-line from Creeley's early and mid-career work to contemporary NZ poets.
After talking for hours with Ellie while ambling along the Milford, I'm less certain that such a neat and tidy "reading" of this multifarious national community (or communities?) is valuable or even possible.
More and more, I'm fascinated with the idea of influence itself. In the States, so much importance and emphasis is placed on who you read, on poetics as a sort of genealogy of influence. When asked, I once told another American poet that I really enjoyed Robert Duncan's work and had recently fallen in love with Ronald Johnson's ARK and Susan Howe. They described their love for the work of Charles Wright and Richard Hugo. I'd like to say this kind of interaction is based purely on curiosity, but we were both probably guessing in that moment what the other's work was like.
Does that happen in NZ in the same way? Obviously, New Zealand has a totally different history and relationship toward its history than the U.S. has with its own. What role does experimentation or an "avant-garde" presence have in NZ? What relationship, what conflict or curiosity, does it have with its language?
I was happy to come across a new feature on Jacket 2 this week, Jack Ross's ongoing column on NZ poetry. In his introduction to the commentary, Ross writes:Allen Curnow, in his classic 1943 poem "The Skeleton of the Great Moa in the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch," wrote of the Moa's (by extension, our) "interesting failure to adapt on islands". More recent ecological theorists have suggested that, on the contrary, islands have a tendency to be engines of evolutionary change: extraordinary adaptations to unique circumstances.
So which is it? Is New Zealand poetry more or lessinteresting as a result of our isolation? On the one hand, it can lead to a willingness to break the rules, lending our writing a wild and lawless frontier feel. On the other hand, there's a certain tendency to reinvent the wheel, proclaim as innovations techniques which are the most hackneyed commonplace elsewhere.
It is encouraging to know that someone else is asking these questions and I look forward to reading Ross' forthcoming posts as I continue to develop this project further.
Thursday, April 5, 2012
Monday, March 26, 2012
Dear friends in the Wellington region,
I am reading this evening with my partner, Ellie Catton, as well as David Fleming, Lee Posna, and Therese Lloyd.
All of us would be very excited to see you at Meow Cafe (9 Edward Street) at 7:30pm.