Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Saturday, September 03, 2016
New Voices, Emerging Poets Judges Report, 2016
New Voices, Emerging Poets Judges Report, 2016
I loved reading the entries for this year's competition; it was
an honour and a privilege to be entrusted with voices that took me to places as
diverse as K road, Jerusalem, Santiago, Pike river, Prague and Kakamatua; and
allow me presence during conversations with New Zealand poet elders, Denis
Glover, Lauris Edmond; and American, Marge Piercy, Susan Howe. In all the poems
I read, there was a magic and transport, and for me that is always the most
important thing. I looked forward to reading the entries while I was still in
Crete trying to find the threads myself, the connections in my case between
words in different languages. And I thought about the words 'language' and
'translation' a lot - and certainly poetry contains a multiplicity of languages:
of image, of sound, of turn, of contact. So when I finally got my hands on the
entries, I looked for these different languages and their relationships to each
other; and ultimately, to the translations. How was lonliness, love, loss being
translated, sculpted and crafted and being offered to me, the reader, as
something transformed? Water was a recurrring theme in this year's entries, as
was journey, and moving relationships with the dead and the living. So,
fluidity, and arrival. I read the entries many times until I arrived myself at
the shortlisted ten which succeeded particularly well in translating ideas of
arrival, journey, surprise; and which showed deft use of the many languages of
poetry. And I especially congratulate these poets tonight.
Highly Commended I chose three highly commended poems this year,
and the first of these is 'Poppa's Boat', by Christel Jeffs, for the moving way
themes of loss (of a beloved person, of childhood) and love, are evoked via
turn and meticulous crafting. All five senses are alerted in this poem to
memorable effect, the voice is authentic and assured, and it tells a story of
presence, absence, presence in absence that is relateable, and felt true.
The second highly commended is 'Home Thoughts, after Denis Glover's
poem', by Annabel Wilson, a poem that insisted itself upon me. There's a quiet
confidence in the poem, a humility and ability to step back and let the images
do the talking, that impressed me. The sustained image of the line drew me in
and kept replenishing itself, and the implied dialogue with the poem's
inspiration, Glover's 'Home Thoughts' pointed to the something bigger in
poetry, to the community of voices.
The third highly commended is 'Shoe Pads', by Linda Lew, which
was both delicate and dynamic in its treatment of the grandmother protagonist.
The camera here pans wide and close in turns, as enormous historic events are
checked by the grandmother's quiet acts of love and shielding. I walked alongside
her as she walked through decades of change, from Beijing to New Zealand.
Always direct, never sentimental, she was kind and sturdy company.
Finalist The second place goes to 'A poem a day', by Iva Vemich
which, with its pace, choric repetitions, and surprising leaps of imagination
made for memorable reading. I read this poem as a poem-essay, a poem that asks
a question and shows its workings - in this case, 'will poetry rescue' (the
poet, the community going about its daily business)? The responses - wry and
perhaps a little ironic, but in a good way - were unexpected and evocative, and
I was thrilled by many of the line breaks, and stream of consciousness
Winner of the 2016 New Voices Competition The winning entry
tonight is 'A colonised woman speaks' by Michelle Chote. This was one of the
first poems I read, and it absolutely refused to slip away quietly. It kept
calling with its layers of polemicism and consonant crash. In this poem,
expression is not the means to an ends, but the thing itself - the syllables
and the hollows a body allows us. So tongue, air, taste and belly establish the
organic imagery, embody fury and revolt in lines like 'dash dipthongs at the
drop of a beret'. Listen for the ending which is a perfect coming together of
sense and sound. Having read the poem aloud several times in an effort to
absorb the sound effects, I'm particularly excited to hear this powerful poem
read tonight in this beautiful space, as the winner of this year's competition.