many moons

moons_1Hello! Its been a few moons since I posted…I took an unintended break there for a bit!

What have I been up to? (I’m going to assume the fact you are reading my website means you are interested…ha ha.) Last year I received a grant from the Earle Creativity Trust to write a book about my life-long practice of keeping a journal. It was so wonderful to get the grant and I’ve been busy working on this time-bound project, which has to be completed in 2016 (a condition of the grant.) It will be coming out SOON and I will write some more about it later this week.

Here’s a bare bones catch-up of the rest of my working/writing life since I wrote my last blog post: I finished year one of a permaculture design course last year, but took this year off the course to work on the journal book. I also had a go at making yoga teaching my main source of income, really didn’t like it and am back to teaching just two classes a week, which is just the right amount for me. I had a year’s contract working for an environmental trust, doing communications and events work, and now I’m back at Massey, teaching writing.

Working with the Palmerston North City Library, I edited this anthology – you can download a .pdf version here. I gave a talk about nature writing at the Massey University-based symposium, ‘Working With Nature: understanding entanglements of humans and nonhumans in the Anthropocene’.  I have a lot to say about nature and writing and nature writing, so I really enjoyed being a part of this great event.

I taught at the 2016 Kahini Retreat – it was terrific, a whole weekend of being steeped in writing and writing conversation. There will be another one in March next year, in case you like the sound of it! Kirsten from Kahini interviewed me for the last one. 

Me and my dear friend, Nga Taonga Puoro artist Rob Thorne  collaborated on a performance combining poetry with music, called ‘Tohu’. Huge satisfying fun, and we hope to do it again soon.

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I was part of Massey University’s ‘writing in / writing of’ talk series, in a panel about Manawatu writers.

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In May, I read with Janet Charman, Belinda Diepenheim and Johanna Aitchison at the Palmerston North City Library. I’ve loved Janet’s writing for a long time, so it was a real privilege to read with her when she visited Palmerston North from Auckland.

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Last Friday was National Poetry Day and I read with other Seraph Poets and friends at Vic Books in Wellington, Paula Green took some great photographs. 

I also started (with my friend Marolyn Krasner) a writing group we call the Manawatu Sunday Writers Group. We meet, you guessed it, one Sunday per month. There is always tea and cake, it is very casual, very supportive and we don’t intensively workshop stuff (unlike other groups I’ve been part of in the past). We read our work out loud to each other, share writing-life news and opportunities, and have a lot of fun!

Whew! I think that is all the major stuff I’ve been up to over the last year…I’ll probably think of a bunch of stuff I forgot as I drift off to sleep later tonight – that’s usually how it works, right?

My most recent creative act, though, has been painting moons. My friend is opening a shop in town with a theme of earth-based and earth-friendly hand made things. So I’ve been making moon gift tags, wall strings and cards for the shop. It is so much more enjoyable than writing poetry, which is always kind of masochistic and gnarly for me.

I promise it won’t be many moons before I write again!

 

 

Adventures in Writing! & adventures in hibernating

If there are any locals (Manawatu, New Zealand) reading – I am about to start this:

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Although I hope people will come every week – I am aiming to have each session work as an independent writing experience, so people might come to just one and get a good fix of inspiration, or come to each one and add community to their writing experience.

Either way, ….Hoorah! 

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I’m also going to have a wee break from this space. I will know how long for when I feel the urge to blog again and break the break. Consider me a moomintroll crawling into my bed for the winter’s hibernation. (Having said that, I am currently re-reading Moominland in Winter, where Moomin breaks out of his usual hibernation and sees snow for the first time. Rules are made for the heady rush of the exception to them, and all that…)

Before I go, five happy things:

I just bought some floral Converse on trademe for an absolute song. Oh happy days! – one of my life goals achieved.

My 14 year old son just made sushi! Colour me PROUD.

I went to see the movie ‘What we do in the shadows’ yesterday. Oh my sides, it’s funny. & Sweet. & Gruesome.

Sometimes I get bored with my yoga home practice and so I do youtube videos. My go-to for this has been Chaz Rough for a long time, but I’ve discovered a new good one with short (20-30min) classes – Yoga With Adriene. It’s great! She’s a lovely, upbeat teacher and the yoga is very achievable, nourishing and relaxing. Very much recommended!

I bought a wooden dining chair today from an opshop. I was on foot and a long way from home, so I slung it over my shoulder like something Lady Gaga might wear. It turns out that if you walk long distance carrying a chair, people smile at you more, some people laugh, too. Some people offer you a lift. Some people say ‘Why are you carrying a chair?’ … I suggest you carry a chair through the city if you are feeling lonely. People will talk to you! 🙂

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See you when I see you! & KEEP WARM!

x Helen

 

 

black river / peoples’ river

Last Friday the public collaboration phase of BLACK RIVER was launched…with a haka, a song and some morning tea.

In this phase, people are invited to contribute writing (there are two typewriters in the space, plus lots of pens and paper) or visual art and they can immediately hang it, becoming part of the exhibition.

Also, all of the involved poets and artists have their drafts/sketches on display in a cabinet. The idea of this was to share creative process with the public.

It is a little bit exposing/embarrassing/weird to have my scrawling, messy poem draft on public display, however I believe in the reason behind it (sharing creative process). (It doesn’t help that the other poets seem to have basically ‘cheated’ (I say this jokingly) and submitted fairly polished, finished poems for display so mine looks all the more deranged. Ha ha!) Oh well, all I can say is I STUCK TO THE BRIEF.

The pollution of the Manawatu river is quite a political ‘hot button’ in my region, so I am looking forward to seeing the public’s take on it.

Here is the cabinet with the sketches and poetry ‘drafts’. My mess is on bottom left – notice how much longer it is than the other ‘drafts’? Ahem.

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On Friday, there were already quite a few public responses. Here are some of my favourites:

Whoever this person is, they have great handwriting…

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River as hair + a great sentiment….

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River is DEEP.

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LOL, indeed.

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a retreat into writing and resting

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Recently I took occupation of the Beatson’s Foxton house, which is generously rented out to writers at an inexpensive rate so that even people on a poet’s wage (cough cough) can afford a retreat, for a weekend with three writer friends.

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It’s a beautiful house overlooking the Manawatu Estuary, it has all the things you need for a retreat – a nice view, hundreds of books, a fire…(I don’t have a fire at my place. I do miss having a fire!)

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While I’ve been working away at my writing when I can, the year began with the daunting task of helping to run a Yoga Studio for ten weeks while our head teacher was away in India, plus my freelance work has been good and busy….so this retreat weekend fell just after the studio-sit finished (whew! we kept the place afloat with no major mishaps) so was a lovely opportunity to celebrate that work and to sink into my writing.

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I took a bundle of new poems to share with my retreat-mates, and they most generously workshopped ALL OF THEM which was very helpful indeed.  I also printed out (for the first time!) my manuscript which I began during last year’s Massey Visiting Artist residency. I have been working away at that, without looking too much over what has come before – just focussing on generating new work. It printed out to be a solid bundle of pages, but I have to admit…I didn’t end up cracking open the blue folder I took it along in. I thought I was ready and that the weekend would be a good space to read over what I have so far, but nope. It’s still sitting on my desk, un-peeked at. I take that to mean I’m not ready and so I will just keep writing for now, but I have given myself the deadline of the end of June and THEN I have to print everything out, read it in one go and start the bit of the writing process where the real work begins….editing. All I know at the moment, is that I have written a big pile of material. Whether any of it is any good – well, I’ll let you know in July.

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Even though I didn’t do that, it was great to have some new poems workshopped and I did some new writing and lots of yummy reading – Louise Erdrich poetry, Gary Snyder prose and lots of incidental reading of poetry books on the shelves in the Foxton house.

((We cracked ourselves up reading aloud and miming a poem from the 1980s by a NZ poet in which he described doing a ‘naked plie’ and admiring in the bathroom mirror the plum line of his penis. I know, super-mature, right? (Maybe you had to be there…))

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We also walked along the estuary, ate several very good meals, took one jaunt into Foxton to cruise the junk-shops and generally had a great, restful time. I do love going away with evolved, fully-realised women – there is an organic, seamless way in meals occurring, fires being lit, cups of tea being made, outings suggested…somehow everyone contributed enough and yet everyone was looked after by the others enough. Very lovely. I also like going away with people who aren’t afraid of silence.

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This year has been PACKED with good, rich stuff. Feeling very blessed, right now.

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recent reading, ongoing thinking

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I haven’t been writing about my writing much lately because a) I’m not sure it’s that interesting to anyone but me and b) I try to save all my energy for the actual writing project but anyhoo…a small update…

This year for me feels like a year of withdrawal, processing and deep thought.  I decided to focus inward on the current writing project. It’s a bit scary because I am writing prose rather than poetry, so I’m kind of in unchartered territory for me. (I am also feeling sad that poetry has left me for while, but I have been doing this for long enough to know that it will return. Lately when I try to write a poem, I feel like I keep writing versions of poems I’ve written before. When you are boring yourself, chances are no one else is going to be that excited either!) I have no idea of the ‘market’ for this meandering, tangential stuff I’m writing but I try to flush out those kind of concerns and focus on getting on with it! Over the winter, I had the Massey Residency and that was a wonderfully immersive and productive few months. Things have been a bit more hotch-potch since then as freelance work and Life have to be negotiated, but I plod on!

I noticed a theme in my reading recently – lots of books with ‘Wild’ in the title! I am reading and writing about nature/bioregionalism/ecology/contemporary spirituality….so I guess ‘wildness’ is a thread through all of these things.

The Wild Places, by Robert McFarlane

Wild, by Jay Griffiths (This book remains my favourite book IN THE WORLD EVER.) 

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

Wild Mind, by Natalie Goldberg

Coincidence? Or maybe it’s just that I would read anything with WILD in the title? Ha ha.

Robert McFarlane’s book led me to…

Waterlog, by Roger Deakin – a remarkable account of Deakin’s desire to swim in as many wild waterways as he could across the UK. (Roger Deakin was an incredible person who seemed to live almost in an alternate universe where he was part-tree himself. What an amazing man.)

In fact, this is the trajectory so much of contemporary nature writing takes – a person leaves the urban environment and takes off to the waterways or the wilds, the forests, the mountains and then experiences the edges of their pathetic humanity and learns a pile of stuff about themselves. It’s compelling stuff! Escape, edge-dwelling, deep nature….

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As inspiring and firing as these books are, though, I cannot write this kind of book. I am a mother of two children, tethered by family to a small suburban piece of land in a medium-sized, unsensational city. So my challenge is how to extrapolate a compelling narrative from my own situation.

To my rescue (to some extent) comes bioregionalism, Urban Resilience movements and Transition Towns giving me a steadfast political framework to staying put in the urban environment and making the best of it, or making it better more to the point.

I am on the hunt for any books which address the URBAN ‘wilds’, or ‘domestic’ nature narratives, so please do suggest some if you know of any.

One I read and thoroughly loved recently was ‘Feeding Orchids to The Slugs’, a book about a woman becoming a Zen Retreat cook.

I’d love to know if there are more New Zealand books in this vein. I read THIS ONE by Harvey McQueen recently, it was charming, but a little too restrained for my taste.

How do you write a compelling nature-based narrative when you live in suburbia and can’t stray very far? This question is at the heart of my project.

So far, I’m finding it’s all about ATTENTION, rather than literal travel. That the ‘wild’ is as much within as without. I cringe a bit writing that, but what the hell, it’s what I’m experiencing as true.

‘To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.’ -Mary Oliver

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I would gratefully receive any book suggestions around any of the above stuff. I feel like I need to devour another few hundred books to get to the bottom of my thinking around this stuff, and it all feeds the creative fire!

(If you got to the bottom of this, you are a trooper and I thank you over a million times for your attention.)

 

‘KUPU’ – a poetry installation at the Palmerston North City Library

Happy National Poetry Day! I have done something (read poems, handed out poems, chalked poems on the street, pot-luck poetry lunches, megaphone poetry on Cuba Street etc etc…) every year since Poetry Day began in the 1990s. Of course, every day is poetry day when you are a poet, but it’s lovely to have a day dedicated to celebrating poetry.

This year, the Palmerston North City Library invited Leonel Alvarado and I to work together on ‘installing’ six of our poems (three each) somewhere around the library. Inside or outside – it was up to us.

I had a wonderful time walking around the library with Leonel, looking for potential interesting sites.

The installation was ‘launched’ at a gathering last night, where I read with Leonel and Glenn Colquhoun. (Glenn was there to unveil an artwork he had donated to the library.) Unfortunately I only have photographs of one of the poems, because it was the only one installed when I was in the library during the day yesterday, and last night I forgot to take my camera. But below is my piece ‘Poem Without the L Word’ going up a staircase, so you begin reading at the bottom. (You can read the whole poem here.) 

Leonel is originally from Honduras but now lives here in Palmerston North. He recently came second in a very prestigious Latin American poetry prize, the Casa De La Americas Prize. (Read more about it here.) I love to hear Leonel read with his thick Latin American accent, and sometimes he reads in Spanish, too. If you’d like to hear his voice, he was recently on ‘Playing Favourites’ with Kim Hill. (You can hear it here.)

Anyway, here is one of the installed poems….it was tricky to photograph, but hopefully you get something of an idea…I’ll get some photographs of the other poems soon.

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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.

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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!