Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Happy birthday, Janet Baker

The great Yorkshire-born mezzo-soprano is 80 today. Michael Kennedy pays homage in the Spectator.

If you have the CD of Jacqueline du Pre performing the Elgar cello concerto, and you’d be mad not to, you have her version of Elgar’s song cycle Sea Pictures. People are sniffy about the poem texts, by Elgar’s wife, but Baker sings the hell out of them. There are many other classic classical CDs by her – she was fantastic in Bach, Berlioz, Britten and that is just the B-list. She was awesome in Mahler too.
So here she is in “Oft denk’ ich, sie sind nur ausgegangen” from Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder , aka Songs on the Death of Children.  Get out your hankies:
I often think: they have only just gone out,
and now they will be coming back home.
The day is fine, don't be dismayed,
They have just gone for a long walk.
 Yes indeed, they have just gone out,
and now they are making their way home.
Don't be dismayed, the day is fine,
they have simply made a journey to yonder heights.
They have just gone out ahead of us,
and will not be thinking of coming home.
We go to meet them on yonder heights
In the sunlight, The day is fine.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Another Poetry Day, another Poet Laureate

Poetry: imaginary gardens with real toads in them (so said Marianne Moore). I am never sure about Poetry Day – yes, a good cause, but if people don’t already read it why would they start now?  Still, worth a try, and four cheers for the new laureate, Vincent O’Sullivan. Photo by Mark Beatty. Here is the full press release:
Vincent O’Sullivan is New Zealand’s new Poet Laureate.
“The Poet Laureate Advisory Group received some excellent nominations but was unanimous in its choice of Vincent to succeed Ian Wedde for the two-year Laureate term,” said Advisory Group chair and Alexander Turnbull Library Chief Librarian, Chris Szekely.
“Vincent O’Sullivan has been a leading figure in New Zealand and International poetry for over 40 years and his work continues to develop, with excellent reviews for his most recent anthology of new work, Us,Then, published only last month.”
“Nominators mentioned his wide appeal and ability to relate to range of audiences with warmth, wit and erudition. I have no doubt he will be an articulate and intelligent voice for the role and meaning of poetry.”
From its inception in 1997 through to 2007 the Laureates have been: Bill Manhire, Hone Tuwhare, Elizabeth Smither, Brian Turner and Jenny Bornholdt. Since 2007, when the National Library of New Zealand took over the appointment of the Poet Laureate, the Laureates have been Michele Leggott, Cilla McQueen and Ian Wedde
The Laureate will be officially welcomed into the post by Internal Affairs Minister Chris Tremain at a ceremony at the National Library in Wellington next month.
Vincent O’Sullivan joins six other Dunedin poets at a public reading to mark New Zealand Poetry Day at Port Chalmers Library tonight (Friday 16 August) 6.30pm – 8.00pm.
For more about the New Zealand Poet Laureate:
Vincent O’Sullivan, born in Auckland in 1937, is a poet, short story writer, novelist, playwright, critic and editor.
A graduate from the universities of Auckland (1959) and Oxford (1962), he lectured in the English departments of Victoria University of Wellington (1963–66) and (after several months in Greece) the University of Waikato (1968–78), before committing himself to full-time writing.
He served as literary editor of the NZ Listener (1979–80), and then (1981–87) won a series of writer’s residencies and research fellowships in universities in Australia and New Zealand, interrupted by a year as resident playwright at Downstage Theatre, Wellington (1983). In 1988 he resumed his academic career as professor of English at Victoria University of Wellington.
Since 2004 he has been Emeritus Professor in the School of English and Film Studies at Victoria, but is now based in Dunedin. The winner of many literary prizes, including the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement for Poetry in 2006,   he was the Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellow in Menton in 1994, and the first writer-in-residence at Henderson House in Alexandra in 2007.
Nomination comments 2013:
Stephen Stratford:
What astonishes is the sustained vigour, wit, technical facility, emotional and intellectual range and, increasingly, warmth. From the Butcher poems of 1977 to the latest “uneasy pieces” in tribute to Allen Curnow, the voice is unmistakable. We have cerebral poets, amusing poets, inventive poets, political poets, sensitive poets – but no one else who does it all.’
Brian Turner:
His work is wide-ranging in content and tone; you get wit, poignancy, satire, erudition and mastery of the NZ vernacular. He’s the real thing. And a straight shooter…fluent and unaffected.
Cilla McQueen:
Vincent has been part of my personal poetic landscape since the 1960’s. Although he has published many academic works of great value in his career, it is as a poet that I see him, and feel that he still has a good deal more to say to us…..
David Howard:
For over half a century, alongside distinguished publications in fiction, non-fiction and drama, Vincent O’Sullivan has produced poetry that speaks with gracious authority about the human consequences of partial knowledge.
Apparently the laureate is expected to blog here. Good luck with that, National Library.

Vincent has collaborated several times with the composer Ross Harris whose Symphony #2, setting poems by Vincent and sung by Madeleine Pierard with the APO, is on Naxos and available from Marbecks Classical. Thanks to Ross I have a copy of the recording of The Abiding Tides, a commission for for soprano Jenny Wollerman and the NZ String Quartet that sets poems by Vincent about ships sinking at sea. So it is about as cheerful as Peter Grimes but is just as wonderful. The recording has not been released yet, as far as I can tell, but it should be. Ross is a very fine composer and, like Harrison Birtwistle, knows his way around a brass band. I hope that some of the attention Vincent will get over the next two years will accrue to his collaborations with Ross.

Little of Ross Harris’s music is on YouTube but here is Madeleine Pierard talking about Songs for Beatrice: text by O’Sullivan, music by Harris:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The sensitive bureaucrat

This just in from Creative New Zealand:
Creative NZ has blocked an email sent from you to [X.X] because it contains profane content which does not meet our standards for acceptable use policy.
Please remove the offending word(s) shit from your email communication and resend.
If you require further information, please contact Creative NZ IT Support service desk by email at ''."
I was quoting a bicultural female poet.

Bureaucrats are more sensitive than poets: discuss.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Country matters #3

This morning I went into Cambridge to see my friend Hamish at the bookshop as I had hot gossip from the book world that had come all the way from Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin. He wasn’t there. I asked Nikki, the speediest sales assistant in New Zealand, where he could be.

She said, “He’s gone home to feed the lambs.”

Of course. So here is the Agnus Dei from the Four-Part Mass by William Byrd (1540-1623), performed by The Sixteen. It was written in 1592 or so, a time when Catholics were executed for their faith: it was dangerous to write this music, dangerous to print the score (brave Byrd’s name is on it but not the printer’s) and dangerous even to own a copy.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Sir Launchalot on Grumpy Old Men

I was unable to attend the joint launch of Grumpy Old Men and Paul Little’s new publishing venture on Friday night, so I asked Denis Edwards, a regular contributor to QUQ the magazine both as interviewer and reviewer of book launches, if he would slip along and file a report in his inimitable style. Here it is:
Grumpy Old Men at the Grey Lynn library
Grey Lynn isn’t the old Grey Lynn, where boys became men in long nights at Crummer Road, when the blood ran free and the mating rituals in Foodtown drew better players and bigger crowds than the rugby across the gulch at Eden Park. These days there’s a lot of tofu around and agonising over whether the fried chook being wheeled up with the fries and salad is free-range. 
Visitors should avoid letting anyone get started on the property prices. Four or five hours is as nothing to locals obsessed with these. Equally, keep out of the endless debates as to whether another couple of mortgages is what’s needed to get Emma and Josh out to Dio or Kings, or whether they should mix with the Real People down at Western Springs College.
There are far too many film types lounging in cafes and polluting the air with gas about options and renewals and German funding sources. Trying to avoid them are a lot of folk who cried “Hosanna” in a joyous, even lusty, way when word came through that same-sex marriage had become a goer.
For a lot of the souls out this way there has to be someone responsible for their inexplicable failure to conquer whatever branch of the arts has pulled them into its maw. All too often this turns out to be Old Rich White Guys. They seem to have strangely failed to look into the correct burning bush, realise how wrong they have been and race up and down Williamson Avenue forcing money into the hands of startled tyro artists.
The Old Rich White Guys know this resentment exists, and while it draws guffaws at the Northern Club, getting right up against the resentees could be problematic. There has been mockery, abuse, urinating on shoes, and general unpleasantness.
They had contributed to a book, 47 chaps writing pieces, called Grumpy Old Men, the first tome off the printers for Paul Little’s new publishing company. There has already been some light shone on it by Quote Unquote.
They know what they are doing. They were seen hopping out of the Corporate and Regency cabs at the Grey Lynn library, driven there by the right sort of jihadists, the ones from Pakuranga who played soccer at school, where being of Middle Eastern origin and playing soccer is grounds for an SIS file being opened and chaps from the GCSB fiddling the dial to snap into the Pakuranga one’s mobile.
While a few weren’t compromising on the threads, and were staying comfortably in well-dressed elegance, other had asked a few of their children’s friends what would pass for camouflage past the corner of Elgin and Great North Road. A few blended in among the Chuck Taylor’ed youth and the netful of media trash that had been hauled ashore. Others nudged the drive for Street Cred over the cliff.
There was one over-rich type doing Beggar Chic, togged up in just this side of actual rags with a light rubbish-tin fragrance wafting through the flies buzzing his head and whatever was moving around in his beard. His bouquet was a bit pungent and helped him chop through the pack to the sandwiches. There is also the worrying possibility he wasn’t a “Remuera doing Grey Lynn” type at all but was an actual beggar who’d floated in from the halfway house just up the road.
Most of the chaps settled for good-quality jackets and jeans, not the butt-rippling Levis of yore but more the generous sizings required as age and a certain spreading make butt-rippling ones frighteningly uncomfortable. There have also been shocking injuries, something shifting these chaps away from the bootleg lines. Besides, those butt-rippling Levis are associated with Brokeback Mountain and Remuera isn’t ready for that. Not in public.
One thing Old Rich White Guys do, without any apparent effort, is find themselves surrounded by attractive, intelligent-looking women. One or two former models roamed the place. These days they have nested with a lawyer or accountant and the only meth they use now is the stuff that gets the paint off the rimu floor before the House and Garden photographer turns up to do the snaps.
One woman made a point of standing apart from the crowd in a sheer dress, casually flicking her impeccable blonde hair across her perfect cheekbones. It must have been disappointing this didn’t attract attention. She should have been told these are Old Rich White Guys. Lots of them have traded down and have one, sometimes two, of the same at home.
Kerre McIvor, the Artist Formerly Known as Kerre Woodham, did a slickly professional job of the welcome and the introduction. Little’s co-editor Dorothy Vinicombe did well on her turn at the mike. Little did the thanks, made a few good jokes, and promised more tomes to come.
There was a reminder they had to be out by 7.00pm, having kicked off at 5.30pm. Libraries, Grey Lynn or anywhere else, work by the rules, and the rules said 7.00pm is the finish line and that’s that. Linger and expect a visit from the library police.
Standard of behaviour: Ten Impeccable. These folks don’t do public loutishness. They keep that for home.
Food and drink: Seven. This is a new publisher and we are sure there is more to come. Some very fancy sandwiches rounded out a generous table.
Sales at the event: Unknown, but there was activity over at the sales table.
So here is one of the book’s contributors, Grumpy Graham Brazier, singing for you in his bookshop:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Another stoush at the NZ Society of Authors

On 11 March James McNeish delivered the Janet Frame Memorial Lecture, an event jointly sponsored by Book Month and the NZ Society of Authors.  The lecture was titled “Two Cheers for Eccentricity” and was billed as offering “a non-academic approach to the theme of creative non-fiction” (you can listen to it here, courtesy of Radio NZ). An  edited version was later published in the society’s magazine the NZ Author but seems not be online, and nor does the complete text.

Philip Temple, who like McNeish has published both fiction and non-fiction,  disagreed with much of what McNeish said, so he wrote a short article in reply for the Author setting out his own views on creative non-fiction. Quote unquote:
There is room for every kind of genre and theme in our literature but, I suggest, readers do like to know what they are reading. McNeish, not for the first time, tries to blur the boundaries for no good reason.
Any editor likes to get material like this – a serious response to a major feature in the magazine, by a name writer. It’s a big issue, and here are two of the Big Beasts of NZ literature debating it – wonderful for the readers. When I was editor of the Author I would have jumped at this.

However, the current editor rejected it, saying, “While your views might be quite valid, I can’t see that they would be of much interest to the NZSA membership generally.” Which is odd, because creative non-fiction is hugely important to writers. As Temple says in a group email to other senior authors:
In reply, I said that he was denying the right of reply to something published in the Author, ‘unacceptable in an organisation affiliated with International PEN’. I also said that issues surrounding ‘creative non-fiction’ were a hot topic in creative writing courses, and of interest to many members. ‘By publishing only one writer's views, flawed in my opinion, you do a disservice to the writing community.’
He has posted the article on his blog – you can read it here – inviting comments on both it and its non-publication by the Author. Do join in.

Personally I don’t see it as censorship, more cock-up than conspiracy, an ill-advised decision based on the notion that members want to know only how to get published and nothing else, that they have no interest in the wider issues. So why publish the McNeish piece in the first place if you think the members wouldn’t be interested in a reply to it?

I suspect that this was not the editor’s decision alone. The focus of the organisation now seems to be on beginner and unpublished writers, rather than practising authors. The latter group would be very interested in Temple’s response to McNeish, and McNeish’s response to Temple, if they were allowed space – but perhaps practising authors are no longer what the organisation is about.

Monday, August 5, 2013

What I’m reading #100

Ashleigh Young on, frankly, her bottom. Her debut poetry collection was called Magnificent Moon. Hmm.

Matt Nolan had a really good go at The Spirit Level last month. Very long, very thorough.  Quote unquote:
it is thoughtless “silver bullet” posturing dressed up as analysis.
And here he is today on Fonterra’s milk-powder problem.   

StatsChat on the margin of error. Quote unquote:
So, if you don’t have hot and cold running statisticians at your newspaper, how can you check this sort of thing?  There’s a simple trick for the margin of error for a count of things on a hand calculator: take the square root, add and subtract 1 to get upper and lower  limits, then square them again.  Conveniently, in this case, 441 is exactly 21 squared, so an uncertainty interval around the 441 value would go from 20 squared (400) to 22 squared (484).
That is fantastically useful, but the innumerate  arts graduates who run NZ journalism will take no notice.

Susan Hill on how to write characters in crime fiction. It’s good advice for any genre. Quote unquote:
One of the most useful things a writer can do is sit about in coffee shops and pubs, alone, with a newspaper as cover. If you have a good ear and a talent for remembering what you see and hear accurately, just sit, look and listen, or take a notebook and pen. Stay an hour and keep your ears pinned back. How people talk, and what about, is not only fascinating and often either hilarious (or very sad), it is a good guide to what they are like.
Train yourself this way and then, when your "ear" is in, make up your own conversations. I do it in my head, but of course you can write them down. Then go to another cafe and listen again. (You’ll drink an awful lot of coffee.)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Radiohead’s OK Computer as a Penguin

From Standard Design, a London firm whose staff clearly have too much time on their hands. Click on the image to enlarge. You can also get The Bends, Kid A (yes, really) and sundry other albums by other bands as distressed Penguins. 

I haven’t checked yet to see if they have anything by the Penguins, Penguin by Fleetwood Mac or Frank Zappa’s Roxy and Elsewhere which contains “Penguin in Bondage”. But they should.

The posters are about $NZ30, plus postage.

So here are the Penguins in 1999 on the PBS concert special Doo Wop 50 with their 1955 hit “Earth Angel”:

Friday, August 2, 2013

More reviews about buildings and food

Not complaining about the standard of restaurant reviews in New Zealand, just saying here is Tanya Gold in this week’s Spectator on Hutong, Level 33, The Shard, showing what can be done with the genre:
What to say about the Shard that isn’t said by the fact it is 1,020 feet high and looks like a slightly elongated cheese triangle, and that it is designed as a home and office for those who want nothing more than to live and work in a building that looks like a slightly elongated cheese triangle? I cannot help but think that its architect, who is called Renzo Piano, is a fan of — or possibly secret PR for — Dairylea and was also a very unhappy small boy. [. . . ]
We are in Hutong, a Chinese restaurant on the 33rd floor; there are two other restaurants here, one called Oblix, which does International Yawn, Fart and Divorce, and one called Aqua Shard, which is that most unlikely thing, ‘Innovative British’. Hutong is very ugly in appearance — at least they have a theme. It is a barn of windows and metal and air; the floors are grey, the walls are brown; it is corporate anywhere, a world of self-hatred and sundered PowerPoint presentations. [. . . ]
The chicken salad is frozen, the noodles are thick, greasy, a dead man’s beard; huge lumps of lobster swimming in sauce are terrifying to look at, let alone taste; beef is charred; rice sings with grease. The service is what I call wracked competent, but this is Event Dining at its most empty, and after piling the table with crockery, they lose interest. We rise to ask for the bill; we sink, in a cold, fast lift, to the earth.

Word of the day

arseclown in comment #3 in a blogpost titled “The parody horizon”. David Thompson and his readers discuss “racial discrimination, grocery stores and the role of citizen-led commissions”. A true story, it begins with dry asparagus and it ends with witches.  

So here is Kevin Ayers with “It begins with a blessing and it ends with a curse”:

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Green shoots in NZ publishing #2

A QUQ reader queried Hachette’s claim that a factor in their shutting up shop in NZ was how many of us buy books from Amazon and the Book Depository.  See the discussion in the comments on the blogpost here.

Today Lincoln Gould, CEO of Booksellers NZ, blogs:
most international publishers sell more to Amazon and Book Depository (now owned by Amazon) than they are ever likely to sell to all the bookshops in New Zealand put together. Thus, New Zealanders are never likely to see prices from their local bricks and mortar stores matching those that Amazon or Book Depository can command from publishers.
Because Amazon and Book Depository can sell such big quantities around the world, they pay less for their books than NZ distributors do.
Publishers shouldn’t therefore blame bookshops for not buying the quantities they used to, when the publishers sell to Amazon and the like, at prices which often, would not be close to what they offer to local bookshops. [. . . ]
New Zealand booksellers will not sit on their hands and cry.  The change in the publishing landscape does in fact create opportunities – but that’s another story.
Just one example: sports books. Many publishers have produced sports books over the years but Hachette was superb at it, building on the work of sports specialist Moa, which was absorbed into what became Hachette NZ (it was founded by John Blackwell,  whose son Geoff has been spectacularly successful worldwide while remaining Auckland-based). 

The other big publishers have done sports books well but not as consistently and not for as long. With all due respect, it’s hard to see Finlay Macdonald at HarperCollins or Nicola Legat at Random really getting enthusiastic about the genre. So there is a gap in the market. Readers will still pay for the books – but who will create them? That faint sound I hear is not chickens scratching, it is plans hatching.