Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What I’m reading #129

I would have liked to attend this book launch of Jeremy Noel-Tod’s brilliant The Whitsun Wedding Video, Quote unquote:
One of the great things about these essays is how Noel-Tod refuses to allow poetry to stay in its little poetry ghetto. It lives, if it lives at all, out in the real world where we live and breathe; this has always been the reason why JNT has held it to account for itself. He’s not opinionated so much as something far rarer: smartly observant. […] The essay on Eliot – on whom Noel-Tod is an authority – is sublime; alone it’s worth the price of the book. And the title makes me sick with envy.
The singular they excites grammar pedants possibly more than anything else, though it has an honourable lineage over the centuries. I use it because it’s useful. Stroppy editor Tom Freeman also thinks it’s OK. Quote unquote:
Here are some early examples (mostly from the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage):
Wycliffe’s Bible, 1382: “Eche on in þer craft ys wijs.” (Each one is wise in their craft.)
Rolls of Parliament, 1463–65: “Inheritementes, of which any of the seid persones… was seised by theym self, or joyntly with other.”
William Roye (translation of Martin Luther), 1529: “So that yf the one shulde withdrawe them selves from the other deniyng them their bodyes to vse accordinge to naturall vsage permitted vnto mariage it is vndoubted that they shulde so defraude them and do them wronge.”
Thomas More, 1533: “Neyther Tyndale there nor thys preacher here hath by theyr maner of expounynge… wonne them self mych wurshyp”
John Whitgift, 1574: “None is admitted to anye degree here in Cambridge, but the same is first presented… by some one of that facultie, who giueth his fidelitie for them.”
Singular “they” has always been an option for writers. But during the 17th and 18th centuries, grammarians decided to get angry about this, and launched a coup on behalf of generic “he”.
#3 Treat writing as a job.
Be disciplined. Lots of writers get a bit OCD-ish about this. Graham Greene famously wrote 500 words a day. Jean Plaidy managed 5,000 before lunch, then spent the afternoon answering fan mail. My minimum is 1,000 words a day – which is sometimes easy to achieve, and is sometimes, frankly, like shitting a brick, but I will make myself stay at my desk until I’ve got there, because I know that by doing that I am inching the book forward. Those 1,000 words might well be rubbish – they often are. But then, it is always easier to return to rubbish words at a later date and make them better.
Terence Blacker’s Seven Rules of Rejection. I have been both sender and receiver of these messages. He is absolutely right. Quote unquote:
The third rule: distrust any request to rewrite your manuscript.
Some particularly wimpish editors will resort to the worst kind of rejection – one that offers false hope. They say that they would love certainly reconsider their decision if the manuscript were completely revised and rewritten.
It is a lie, and one which invariably costs authors months of work leading to more heartache.  Any work which has been turned down once will be turned down again, however radically changed. Editors are too busy to have second thoughts. They rarely, if ever, change their mind.
If anyone remembers Camille Paglia, here she is on Susan Sontag. Quote unquote:
Camille Paglia, the soi-disant wild woman of nineties academe, has carefully studied Sontag’s image, and wrote an essay on the subject, “Sontag, Bloody, Sontag.” This was no mere intellectual exercise. She intended to use Sontag as a career model—to discern pop culture’s reasons for celebrating Sontag and then exploit her findings to launch herself to similar stardom. “I’m the Sontag of the 1990s—there’s no doubt about it,” Paglia claimed in one of her typical bouts of modesty.
If you are an old person and wonder why today’s records all sound the same, here’s why, with examples. Quote unquote:
So the business shifted from the console—the huge knob-covered desk in front of a pair of wardrobe-sized monitor speakers—to the computer screen. You weren’t looking at the band or listening to the music, you were staring at 128 channels of wiggling coloured lines.
One wonders, has kale had its heyday? Maybe so. Quote unquote:
“Kale is kind of over,” she went on, “but the name’s still powerful, so you can do kale sprouts. These aren’t baby kales, but a hybrid between kale and brussels sprouts. […] They’re inspiring to fritter or to fry because they’re a little crinkly. Or brush them with oil and roast them kind of low.” She paused. “Cauliflower is having a moment.”
So here is American composer Harry Partch in 1969 making rose-petal jam:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Copyright Licensing NZ grants

Drumroll, and then the press release:
2015 CLNZ Contestable Fund Investments Announced
Now in its second year and with funds available increased to $60,000 the 2015 Copyright Licensing NZ Contestable Fund will this year make investments into seven projects that demonstrate writing and publishing or education sector growth and development.
The projects receiving funding contributions are:
Anna Mackenzie, $5500, writing
Huia Publishing, $4000, education
Janice Marriott, $3800, writing
Kelly Ana Morey, $20,000, writing
Keri Hulme, $1250, writing
Publishers Association, $15,000, sector development
Bridget Williams Books, $10,000, publishing
The selection panel* noted the strong mix of projects that applications were received for which made allocating the available funds challenging. Four of the successful applicants will undertake writing projects. Huia Publishing will develop teacher support resources that assist teachers to use Te Reo titles in the classroom. Bridget Williams Books will invest in writer development for the new BWB Texts on the back of their 2015 success with writers such as Hannah August and Andrew Dean and the Publishers Association will undertake a campaign in the education sector, “New Zealand Content Counts”.
CLNZ CEO Paula Browning said, “The Contestable Fund criteria were established with broad scope and the diversity of applications this year endorses this approach.”
Applications for the next round of the CLNZ Contestable Fund will be called for in mid-2016.
*The selection panel was Karen Ferns, former publisher; Jill Rawnsley, former festival and artistic director of the Auckland Writers’ Festival, former senior adviser for literature at Creative New Zealand; Paula Browning of CLNZ; and me. Four hours, no shouting. Quite a bit of gossip, a lot of laughter – and a lot of hard work before and during the meeting because there were so many strong applications.

It’s a good result, I think. I’m especially pleased for Anna Mackenzie and Kelly Ana Morey, two writers I admire, who have terrific projects that take them into new territory.

Our meeting was on 3 December. A week later the floor above caught fire. Coincidence, I’m sure.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fire in Takapuna

Stuff reports:
There was extensive damage to the building and windows exploded out on the north-west corner of the fifth floor.
This was about 9pm last Thursday at the BDO tower, 19 Como Street, Takapuna. The Thursday before, I was in a four-hour meeting on the fourth floor to decide the recipients of the 2016 Copyright Licensing New Zealand cultural fund grants. CLNZ’s distribution manager was working late the night the windows exploded – her office is directly below – but fortunately escaped safely. She is the person who looks after rightsholders and authorises all the money going out the door: authors and publishers really, really like her.

So here is the Crazy World of Arthur Brown in 1968 on Top of the Pops with “Fire”:

Saturday, December 12, 2015

In praise of: Fleur Adcock

On Wednesday I had lunch in Auckland with poet Kevin Ireland and novelist Graeme Lay, a fairly regular event, and also with poet Fleur Adcock, a first. Poet Peter Bland, usually a regular, was absent, as was poet Bernard Brown. In their place we had Cathy Odgers, like me a former student of Bernard’s at Auckland University’s law school, and Karyn Hay, fresh from her triumph with the Prime TV doco New Zealand Women in Rock. (Jane Clifton’s review is here; you can watch the doco here. It is fantastic – the subjects are terrific; as Jane Clifton says, the music doesn’t date; and Karyn is a superb interviewer.)

“Did you see it?” Graeme Lay asked me.

“I was in it,” I replied, as witheringly as I could. Honestly. I was on-screen for at least two seconds in one of the Jenny Morris segments.

The photo above was taken the night after our lunch, at a poetry reading in the Devonport Library, and shows Peter Bland (left), Kevin Ireland and Fleur Adcock. It must have been a great evening. Peter is reading from Hunting Elephants; Kevin is about to read from his latest collection, Looking out to Sea. I review that and Peter’s latest, Expecting Miracles, here.

At the Wednesday lunch Kevin’s wife Janet Wilson asked if I would put on the blog the following call for submissions of abstracts for papers for a symposium on Fleur’s poetry. Astonishingly, it seems that little has been published about her work, in the academic world, despite her success and all-round awesomeness. She is lyrical, conversational, thoughtful, funny, rude, intellectual – a great writer. She is also a brilliant reader of her work, as you can hear here.

Saturday 21 May 2016, at University of Winchester
Co-hosted by the University of Northampton

Fleur Adcock, one of Britain’s best loved poets, celebrated her 80th birthday last year while her most recent book The Land Ballot was published by Bloodaxe in 2015. Her compendious Poems 1960-2000 was published in 2000. In 1996 she was given an OBE; in 2006 was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry and in 2008 was named Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature..

A New Zealander by birth but resident in the UK since 1963, Fleur was initially a member of the Group and then – when women poets were very much in the minority – she ploughed her own furrow; from her London base she has travelled extensively in Great Britain and Europe, holding residencies in Ambleside, Newcastle and Durham in the 1970s, and visiting Romania for the British Council in the 1980s. A persistent thread in her work is the ties of affection and family loyalties. In exploring and sustaining many of these connections she has visited New Zealand regularly over the decades; recently there are poems devoted (again) to her ancestors and her family history. She has also translated Romanian and Latin poetry.

Adcock became known as a voice for women writers in the 1980s when she edited the Faber Book of Twentieth Century Women’s Poetry, and wrote satirically about the Thatcher regime. Interwoven with these topics throughout her oeuvre are poems on her abiding passions: for animals and creatures, landscape and the environment, childhood and ageing, the state of the world.

This symposium aims to celebrate Adcock’s unique world of poetry. The organisers invite submissions of abstracts for papers of 20 minutes that may be on (but are not necessarily restricted to) the following topics:

 Fleur Adcock and British post-war poetry
 Fleur Adcock, ‘feminism’ and women's poetry?
 Fleur Adcock, expatriatism and exile
 Fleur Adcock: beginnings and their historical contexts
 Fleur Adcock, family history, loyalties, and genealogy
 Fleur Adcock: classical poetry and translation
 Fleur Adcock and the craft of poetry
 Fleur Adcock as a model for teaching Creative Writing
 Fleur Adcock: creatures, animals and poetry
 Fleur Adcock: places, landscape, travel
 Fleur Adcock and her New Zealand/British contemporaries
 Fleur Adcock, political issues and a public voice
 Fleur Adcock, nature and the environment
 Fleur Adcock, childhood, growing, ageing
 Fleur Adcock and her literary legacy

Please send abstracts of no more than 200 words to Professor Janet Wilson (janet.wilson@northampton.ac.uk), by 1 March 2016; for further information write to Julian Stannard (Julian.Stannard@winchester.ac.uk).

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A poet’s mother, with guns

A virtual chocolate fish to the first person who can identify which poet this is the mother of. 

That could have been expressed more elegantly, I know, but it is late and I have miles to go before I sleep. (Not a clue.)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Restaurant reviews

Here is Tanya Gold in Saturday’s Spectator, reviewing a London restaurant called Sexy Fish. She likes the service, likes the food, but… She begins:
Sexy Fish is a ludicrous restaurant with a ludicrous name in a ludicrous town. It is the latest venture from Richard Caring, major Tory donor and Asian fusion’s very own Bond villain.
In the middle she writes:
In the basement private room there is a fish tank, where the ‘sexy’ fish — brightly coloured, minute and somehow heartbreaking — swim like tiny fishy slaves. I have never seen a restaurant whose ethos is so clearly and comprehensively, so preeningly and unapologetically: ‘Fuck you, I’m rich and I want a golden cave and servants. I want a pony and all the hookers I can strangle. I want a pyramid of cocaine and an Audi -Quattro.’ It is like being punched in the face by Abu Dhabi.
Here is John Gardner in the NZ Herald’s Saturday magazine Canvas, reviewing an Auckland restaurant called Euro. He begins:
Euro has long been one of Auckland’s more prestigious eating venues and we were curious to see how its latest manifestation would fit into the niche.
He concludes:
The food had been good, the surroundings pleasing and spacious and the service efficient. Under its new direction, Euro remains a thoroughly professional and well integrated operation and it seems inevitably destined to enjoy a continuing level of success.
Plonker. I wonder if the people who run the NZ Herald have heard of Tanya Gold (best story ever about her is the one about she tells about attempting to jump Brian Sewell), Jay Rayner, Terry Durack, Giles Coren – or anyone else who can write knowledgably and entertainingly about food. This bar was raised a long time ago.

So here are Talking Heads live in 1978 with “The Big Country” from that year’s album More Songs about Buildings and Food :

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Waikato Times letter of the week #60

From the edition of Tuesday 3 November, so slightly out of sequence. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Egg minders
Rumour has it that our Prime Minister had two flags in his possession for the World Cup final. One was some form of the ponga frond. And the other was an Australian flag with silver fern fronds embracing the large fifth star. Either way he was not set to be a winner. Either another extension of free trade. Or we become a new state of the commonwealth. The new symbol on rugby jerseys may be some form of Walliwi or Kiwallaru. We just have to take care not to break the embryo containing egg. But we are assured by Mr Key that he and Mr Turnbull are careful egg minders.
Barry Ashby