a new artwork, some poems popping up & The Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley.

Most of my residency money went on dull, quotidian things (living!) but I did want to buy a small piece of art as a momento of the experience. Excuse the truly awful photograph – it’s hard to photograph shiny glass, but here is what I chose. (Trust me, it looks much lovelier in real life.) It’s by English artist Valerie McConachy and I got it from a great local shop called Urban Charm.

valeriegallery

I liked the mix of splashy, loose paint at the bottom (and the colours) coupled with the wit and nostalgia of the print. Also, I think it works as a visual metaphor for writing. The tiny man trying to plant the huge, beautiful but ungainly flower…

In other news, Tim Jones chose my poem ‘Oh Dirty River’ for the Tuesday poem a couple of weeks back. READ IT HERE. I got some really interesting comments on the poem. It seems to have struck a chord with people who grew up in similar semi-rural towns to me.

Megan Young gave my poem Garlic Planting Time another outing on her lovely poetry and photography blog, Stretching Light. READ IT HERE. 

& I wrote a review of Danyl MacLachlan’s ‘The Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley’ for Swampthing Magazine’s new Friday Book Club. READ IT HERE – it’s the second review in, click the arrow at the bottom right.

I’m currently reviewing a happy heap of other books for Swampthing which will appear over the coming weeks, too. I do love book reviewing. If anyone wants books reviewed for their print or online publication, do get in touch! (However, I have enough voluntary reviewing work and am currently after paid opportunities only.)

If you would like to hear my writing news in a more timely fashion via Facebook, I have a writer page HERE. (You don’t have to be my FB friend to follow it.)

Have a lovely day!

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the greatest thing in the world

(Book cover spotted in an op-shop.)

Auckland writer and academic JACK ROSS reviewed my book (and Aleksandra Lane’s) for the Landfall Review Online. You can read it HERE.

I actually cried a little bit when I read this review….of happiness, I hasten to add. Because I’m published with a small press, I had steeled myself for the possibility that I might not get any reviews – as there are so many good books up for review and so few outlets for review-writing. To get reviewed on Landfall Review Online is amazing…and then to have it be such a considered, positive review feels like the greatest thing in the world!

It is a terrifying moment when you first read a review of your work – I feel a bit nauseous, I sort of squint at the screen as I read…bracing myself for the worst…and there is definitely that ‘wearing your undies in public’ feeling of having something of myself examined and evaluated by someone I don’t know. It’s a very weird feeling.

I’m especially grateful to Jack Ross for acknowledging that I have a long publishing history prior to my book coming out and that I’ve been working away at this writing lark for a very long time. When you publish your first book, people often say things assuming you have popped up out of nowhere and the book was written recently. The Comforter took me OVER A DECADE to write…because I had children in that decade and because I kept working and needling, editing and fidgeting, waiting for my work to be as ‘perfect’ as the vision in my head….eventually I grew weary of all the fiddling and opted for ‘good enough’. (Also, to be really honest, when I started writing poetry at university I assumed my first book would be published before I was 30…when that didn’t happen and suddenly I was in danger of hitting 40 without a book to my name, well, that rather put a fire under me. I squeaked in….I turn 40 this September. Whew. I’m determined the next book won’t take a decade!)

Anyway, this review means so much to me…and I am very very extremely very grateful. Thanks, Jack Ross.

the last

I write about the seasons a lot, don’t I? I can’t help it. I grew up in a small town in the middle of farmland – my Dad was (still is) a hunter and fisherman and so we ate with the seasons and the seasons were meaningful in a way they may not be for city-folks. Most of my friends lived on farms, so the drying off of cows marked the start of winter, new lambs heralded spring. Because I do write about the seasons so much, the editor of The Comforter, Helen Rickerby, organised the book into seasonal parts. I still can’t believe it didn’t occur to me to do that – but that’s why you need a good editor, right? To show you things which are right under your nose but you can’t see because you are over-exposed to your own work.

Anyhow, of all the seasons, autumn is my favourite. The harvest, the golden days with cold edges, the sense of melancholy. Garden fires, washing the woolens which have been in storage since September, quinces, feijoas, walnuts…picking apples – we have two apple trees at our place:

In my book, there is a poem about the beginning of autumn, the final day of daylight saving. There is a point at the end of summer/early autumn, if you are a gardener and eat seasonally, like we do, where you know it is likely to be the ‘last’ time you taste that particular thing for some time. That final meal has autumnal melancholy all over it – it’s a farewell to summer. In the poem, ‘the last’ has a deeper resonance – because of my beliefs about the environment, I feel that anything could be our ‘last’ time, because our existence on this ailing earth is so precarious right now, and growing more so.

Late summer this year, we ate corn for a good eight weeks, thanks to the 60 corn plants I grew – & no, I didn’t tire of it, like I do with some gluts. With the last of our fresh corn, I made a bean succotash which also contained the last of our tomatoes:

Also, ‘last’ for the season – I made a ‘pistou’ or paste with the last of our bush basil, some pine-nuts, garlic, olive oil and salt. It’s always a sad day when the last of the basil goes. We ate it on pasta.  I like to grind such things up in my big mortar and pestle, rather than blitzing with an electronic device. It’s calming and meditative to hand-grind.

I know, I know – I was born in the wrong century.

(A Wellington friend who has never visited me at home was surprised to learn that I don’t live on a farm – he thought I did from reading my blog. I don’t know if it was just him, or if others have that impression as well – but just to be clear, I live on a very average not-quite quarter-acre section right in the heart of Palmerston North. You can take a girl out of the country, but she’ll bring her small-town/country ways to the city!)

Anyway, here’s that poem I mentioned, from The Comforter:

FALL BACK

Insects everywhere – dead bees in the garden, moths

stud the bathroom ceiling like dusty ornaments, praying

mantises crawl out of the compost bucket. The flies.

The last day of daylight saving. Everyone

tired and wistful on Sunday. That feeling

like you lost something all day.

The last-day-of-summer pasta sauce – made with the last aubergines,

last cherry tomatoes, the last zucchini. The garden now

full of fledgling winter vegetables: spindles of cabbage, arrowheads of spinach.

Manawatu gothic. Even these bright days are tinged

with a kind of violence. There is a black velvet ribbon

threaded through your head, collecting debris.

The last dinner on the dehydrated lawn.

*

Some Stuff, a scoop on Scoop and the wonderful ODT…

Firstly, my friend, the journalist Kimberley Rothwell has started a blog on the Stuff website about her new garden. The refreshing thing about Kimberley’s blog is how honest it is! Lots of people are commenting, too, so it’s a great place to go to read about people’s experiences with things like Wellington wind, tomato failure and keeping chickens, you can find it HERE: Woman v Wild. 

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Secondly, another talented friend Helen Heath has helped to resurrect Scoop Review of Books from a long hiatus. (Scoop is another news site, like Stuff only more independent.) The Review of Books has returned with a bang with heaps of great posts from talented writers like Pip Adam, Bill Nelson, Lindsay Pope and lots of others covering the recent Readers and Writers Week. I’m happy to see that there are also lots of poetry reviews. I’m going to be writing some reviews too. Given that Helen has just started her PhD, we’re very lucky she was happy to take on the substantial job of co-ordinating the return of the review pages. Great job, Helen! You can find it HERE: Scoop Review of Books.

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Finally, I got another review! This time in the Otago Daily Times. The Otago Daily Times do a great job of supporting New Zealand poetry – in fact (I would love to be corrected about this) but I think they may be the only daily newspaper that even reviews poetry? (Please prove me wrong about that, if you can…) I was very happy with the review – you can read it HERE: Otago Daily Times: Poetry.

By the way – if you are interested in keeping up with my writing news (because I don’t post it all here, because I’m never sure how interesting/boring it is) you can ‘like’ my writer page on Facebook. I only post on it when there IS some noteworthy news, which isn’t often, so I promise it won’t be a ‘spammy’ presence in your newsfeed. You can find that HERE: Helen Lehndorf Writer.

That’s all my news and gossip for now. Have a great weekend. X

 

manifest poetry

Yesterday I found a bird skull in the garden while I was weeding.

I like the way there is a little patch of feathers on the top of it’s head, like a macabre toupee.

In one of those cases of art foreshadowing life, I wrote a poem a long while back about digging up bird skulls. It is in my book.

I really did bury some bird bodies in the garden – however, that was at my old house, so this bird skull is not one of those that I buried.

Since I wrote that poem, my cat died of throat cancer. I didn’t bury him in the garden, though. I had him cremated. His ashes are in a little white box on the mantlepiece, wrapped with a yellow ribbon.

Here’s the poem:

Latest Project

I am curating the kills of my cat, collected

with shovel, buried together in a yard-bird cemetery

at the edge of the comfrey patch. Soil nourishment, for sure,

but mostly because I want to dig up the skulls.

 

A bird skull is a beautiful thing.

Mechanics of bone, small sculpture with hinge of jaw,

tiny teeth and spike of beak. When I dig them up

I might make a necklace of skulls, like an urban Kali,

goddess of change, of Your Time Is Up.

 

Sparrow head, blackbird beak, thrush face,

threaded on leather, fastened with wood.

More likely, I would sit them in a neat row

on a bookshelf in front of my orange Penguin classics.

 

Or, more inevitably, I will forget.

 

 

the stay at home mother contemplates flight

My friend Bryan Gibson, who is a talented musician and photographer, ‘bootlegged’ me reading my poem ‘the stay at home mother contemplates flight’ at my Palmerston North book launch and made this movie, featuring his guitar-playing. He put this together the very night of the launch! I love having creative friends who will do things like this just for fun.

You can watch it HERE.

(I think I like his guitar better than the sound of my own voice. I have cringe about how nasal my voice is.)

When I saw this mattress in our local park I thought a) hobo bed and b) how do heavy mattresses end up in parks?