Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Kiwi poet’s new book performs rare feat

Kiwi poet Sarah Broom is in the rare position of having her first solo collection of poems, Tigers at Awhitu, published by English publisher Carcanet at the same time as it is being released in New Zealand by Auckland University Press.

New Zealand poets are hardly ever selected for publication by overseas publishers and this is even more unusual for a first book.
Furthermore, both publishers accepted the book on the basis of only a half a manuscript.

In February 2008, Sarah Broom was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer when she was 29 weeks pregnant with her third child (she’s never smoked, and says that is more common than people think). She was told her cancer was definitely terminal and told her time for survival was ‘weeks or months’. Her daughter was born safely at 30 weeks.

“While I was in hospital,” Sarah says, “my friends in Ireland sent my poetry book off to Carcanet in the UK for consideration. They accepted it and AUP did soon after. I then wrote the second section of the book during the rest of 2008 after the diagnosis.”

Two years later, after a range of treatments, Sarah’s cancer is now stable, thanks in large part to her enrolment in an experimental drug programme in Melbourne, Australia, to which she commutes from New Zealand one week a month.

Well-known Northern Irish poet Medbh McGuckian says that it’s hard to believe that such a mature and fully-fledged collection is also the author's first.
“A book for our times; specifically a woman's, and more specifically, a mother's book, it is ‘about time that wears / as ragged as storm-blown wings’. Poems of deep poignancy and unflinching tenderness are presented against a backdrop of encroaching tidescape in which a fierce beauty burns all the more brightly, the more it is threatened.”

The New Zealand edition of Tigers at Awhitu was launched at The University of Auckland’s Gus Fisher Gallery last week by poet and scholar Jen Crawford, here from Singapore especially for the occasion.

AUP Editor Anna Hodge said Auckland University Press is delighted to have published this richly compelling book, which introduces an unflinching and original voice in New Zealand poetry.

“One of the meanings of ‘Awhitu’ is ‘to yearn for’. Sarah’s poems do have a yearning and searching and examination, combining a rigorous examination of a place or situation with emotional intensity and honesty.

“And the other aspect of Sarah’s work the title suggests is an intense, confrontational ‘tigerness’. This is poetry that is not afraid to face up to wildnesses and the very worst of things that might happen, but always with a determined hopefulnesss and fierce love.”

Sarah Broom was born in Dunedin, grew up in Christchurch and now lives in Glendowie, Auckland, with her partner and children. She writes full-time, having previously been a university lecturer at Somerville College, Oxford, and at Massey and Otago universities in New Zealand.

Tigers at Awhitu 
 Sarah Broom
Published by Auckland University Press, with assistance from Creative New Zealand
Paperback; RRP $24.99

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