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:

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