[New Zealand Official Year-Book (1919)]

School of English and Media Studies

English 139.750:

Contemporary NZ Writers
in an International Context

Administration Guide:

Poetry Pages:

Fiction Pages:

Poetry Sessions:

  1. Blockcourse 1 - Michele Leggott / Susan Howe
    • In the Archives

  2. Blockcourse 2 - Graham Lindsay / Peter Reading
    • The Notebook Process

  3. Blockcourse 3 - Fiona Farrell / Paul Muldoon
    • The Anxiety of Genre-Bending

  4. Blockcourse 4 - Ian Wedde / Derek Walcott
    • Postcolonial / Post-canonical Blues

Fiction Sessions:

  1. Blockcourse 1 - Ian Wedde
    • The Catastrophe [2011]

  2. Blockcourse 2 - Lloyd Jones
    • Mr Pip [2006]

  3. Blockcourse 3 - Carl Shuker
    • The Lazy Boys [2006]

  4. Blockcourse 4 - Alice Tawhai
    • Luminous [2007]

[Atrium Building - Massey Albany]


Session 8:

[Alice Tawhai: Luminous (2007)]

Alice Tawhai

(Auckland: Huia, 2007)


Session 7:


Postcolonial / Post-canonical Blues
Ian Wedde / Derek Walcott

Itinerary for
Saturday-Sunday, 15-16th September:

    [Saturday: gathering in QB3: 9 for 9.30 am]

  • Lecture: Ian Wedde: On the Coast
    Discussion of Readings [9.30-11.30 am]

    If you click on the hyperlinked name immediately above, it'll take you to my notes for the lecture. If you click on the large hyperlinked name at the top of the page, it'll take you to that writer's author-page on this site.

  • Seminar [11.30-12.00 noon]

    Only one poetry seminar is scheduled for this session.

  • [Break for lunch: 12.00 noon /
    gather at Five Loaves cafe in Devonport at around 1.30]

    [Sunday: gathering in QB3: 1- 4.00 pm]

  • Lecture: Derek Walcott: In the Canon
    Discussion of Readings [1.00-2.30 pm]
    br />
    We'll listen to some recordings of Derek Walcott's long poem "The Schooner Flight, and then move into a discussion of that and the readings included in the Course Anthology.

  • [afternoon tea: 3.00-3.30 pm]

  • Seminar [11.30 am-12.00 noon]

    Only one fiction seminar is scheduled for this session. We'll also incorporate some discussion of the Final Assignment, worth 40% of your final grade, and due in on 19th October, in the afternoon.

  • [departure: c.4.00 pm]

[Selected Poems of Mahmoud Darwish
trans. Ian Wedde & Fawwaz Tuqan (1973)]

Ian Wedde:
On the Coast

Anthology Readings [pp. 157-76]:
  • 'Part IV: FOR AN OLD BITCH GONE IN THE TEETH, Sonnets 31 – 36.’ In Earthly: Sonnets for Carlos. Akaroa: Amphedesma Press, 1975. Available: nzepc.
  • Pathway to the Sea. Taylor’s Mistake, Christchurch: Hawk Press, 1975. Available: nzepc.
  • ‘Barbary Coast.’ In The Drummer. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1993. 17-19. Available: nzepc.
  • ‘Statement.’ In Andrew Johnston and Robyn Marsack, ed. Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets. Wellington: Victoria UP 2009, 56-57. Available: nzepc.

As you can see from his author page, Ian Wedde has published fourteen books of poems, seven books of fiction, and a number of works of non-fiction.

This session is intended principally as an examination of his poetry, since you've already had a chance to discuss his latest novel The Catastrophe in an earlier session. I think it's important for us to remember that he began as a poet, though, in the heady days of the 1970s, when the word was freed and the Old Guard was in retreat.

I've put two interviews up on the course stream site, one from Talking about Ourselves: Twelve New Zealand Poets in Conversation with Harry Ricketts (Wellington: Mallinson Rendell, 1986), pp.42-57, and the other from Gregory O’Brien's Moments of Invention: Portraits of 21 New Zealand Writers. Photographs by Robert Cross (Auckland: Heinemann Reed, 1988), pp.60-67. As well as these, I think it would be well worth your while taking a look at his introduction to The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse, ed. Ian Wedde and Harvey McQueen (Auckland: Penguin 1985), pp. 23-52, available online at his author page on the nzepc.

There's also a discussion (by me) of his poem "Barbary Coast" on the Jacket2 poetics website here.

[The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse
ed. Ian Wedde & Harvey McQueen (1985)]

[Derek Walcott: Another Life (1973)]

Derek Walcott:
In the Canon

Anthology Readings [pp.141-56]:
  • ‘The Schooner Flight.’ In The Star-apple Kingdom. London: Jonathan Cape, 1979. pp. 13-28.
  • ‘The Muse of History.' In What the Twilight Says: Essays. London: Faber and Faber, 1998. pp. 127-47.
  • Joseph Brodsky. ‘The Sound of the Tide’. In Less than One: Selected Essays. 1986. King Penguin. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987. pp. 164-75.

Here are a couple of quotes to get us started:

[Derek Walcott: "The Muse of History" (1974)
[What the Twilight Says: Essays (1998)]

I accept this archipelago of the Americas. I say to the ancestor who sold me, and to the ancestor who bought me, I have no father, I want no such father, although I can understand you, black ghost, white ghost, when you both whisper "history," for if I attempt to forgive you both I am falling into your idea of history which justifies and explains and expiates, and it is not mine to forgive, my memory cannot summon any filial love, since your features are anonymous and erased and I have no wish and no power to pardon. You were when you acted your roles, your given, historical roles of slave seller and slave buyer, men acting as men, and also you, father in the filth-ridden gut of the slave ship, to you they were also men, acting as men, with the cruelty of men, your fellowman and tribes­man not moved or hovering with hesitation about your common race any longer (than my other bastard ancestor hovered with his whip, but to you, inwardly forgiven grandfathers, I, like the more honest of my race, give a strange thanks. I give the strange and bitter and yet en­nobling thanks for the monumental groaning and solder­ing of two great worlds, like the halves of a fruit seamed by its own bitter juice, that exiled from your own Edens you have placed me in the wonder of another, and that was my inheritance and your gift. [64]

Because civilizations are finite, in the life of each of them there comes a moment when the center ceases to hold. What keeps them at such times from disintegration is not legions but language. Such was the case of Rome, and before that, of Hellenic Greece. The job of holding the center at such times is often done by the men from the provinces, from the outskirts. Contrary to popular belief, the outskirts are not where the world ends—they are precisely where it begins to unfurl. That affects language no less than the eye.

Derek Walcott was born on the island of Saint Lucia, in the parts where “the sun, tired of empire, declines.” As it does so, however, it heats up a far greater crucible of races and cultures than any other melting pot north of the equator. The realm this poet comes from is a genetic Babel; English, however, is its tongue. If at times Walcott writes in Creole patois, it’s not to flex his stylistic muscle or to enlarge his audience but as an act of homage to what he spoke as a child—before he spiraled up the tower.

The real biographies of poets are like those of birds, almost identical—their data are in the way they sound. A poet’s biography lies in his twists of language, in his meters, rhymes, and metaphors. Attesting to the miracle of existence, the body of his work is always in a sense a gospel whose lines convert their writer more radically than his public. With poets, the choice of words is invariably more telling than the story line; that’s why the best of them dread the thought of their biographies being written. If Walcott’s origins are to be learned, his poems themselves are the best guide. What one of his characters tells about himself may well pass for the author’s self-portrait:

I’m just a red nigger who love the sea,
I had a sound colonial education,
I have Dutch, nigger, and English in me,
and either I’m nobody, or I’m a nation …

This jaunty four-liner informs us about its writer as surely as a song does—saving us a look out the window—that there is a bird outside. The dialectal “love” tells us that he means it when he calls himself “a red nigger.” “A sound colonial education” may very well stand for the University of the West Indies from which Walcott graduated in 1953, although there is a lot more to this line, which we’ll deal with later. To say the least, we hear in it both scorn for the very locution typical of the master race and the pride of the native in receiving that education. “Dutch” is here because by blood Walcott is indeed part Dutch and part English. But given the nature of the realm, one thinks not so much about blood as about languages. …

- Joseph Brodsky on Derek Walcott (1983)

This seems like a good place to go out from the poetry section of the course. Having entered with the radical revisionism of Susan Howe, it's interesting (not to mention, at times, quite disconcerting) to see how a formalist like Derek Walcott deals with issues of race and deracination. As in the lines quoted above by his friend, Russian emigre poet Joseph Brodsky, "either I'm nobody, or I'm a nation."

Is Walcott over-compensating by piling up such a list of credits (including the Nobel Prize), so impressive an oeuvre, so complete a command of English verse in the grand manner? "The Schooner Flight", from his 1979 volume The Star-Apple Kingodm is perhaps the poem where he allows this sense of post-colonial anxiety its freest reign; Another Life (1973), the book where he comes closest to the epic manner he appears to have been courting all through his career.

[Derek Walcott: Moon-Child (2012)]


Session 6:

[Sloan Schang: The Troubles (2008)]

The Anxiety of Genre-Bending

Fiona Farrell / Paul Muldoon

Itinerary for
Sunday, 29th July:

    [gathering in QB3: 9 for 9.30 am]

  • Lecture: Paul Muldoon & the Troubles /
    Discussion of Readings [9.30-11.30 am]
    If you click on the hyperlinked name immediately above, it'll take you to my notes for the lecture. If you click on the large hyperlinked name at the top of the page, it'll take you to that writer's author-page on this site.

  • Seminar 1 [11.30-12.00 noon]

  • [lunch: 12.00-1.00 pm]

  • Lecture: Fiona Farrell & Her Fictions /
    Discussion of Readings [1.00-3.00 pm]
    We'll listen to some recordings of Fiona Farrell reading, and then move into a discussion of the work included in the Course Anthology.

  • [afternoon tea: 3.00-3.30 pm]

  • Seminar 2 [3.30-4.50 pm]
    Two seminars are scheduled for this session: one (by Judith on Graham Lindsay?) in the morning and one (by Bridget on Peter Reading?) in the afternoon. We can also discuss any of the assignments you have questions about.

  • [departure: c.5.00 pm]

Anthology Readings [pp.123-52]:
  • Incantata.’ In The Annals of Chile. London: Faber, 1994. pp. 13-28.
  • ‘The More a Man Has the More a Man Wants.’ In Poems 1968-1998. Faber and Faber, 2001. pp. 127-47.
  • Seamus Heaney. ‘Paul Muldoon’s The Annals of Chile’. In Finders Keepers: Selected Prose 1971-2001. 2002. London: Faber, 2003. pp. 395-98.
  • ‘Keeping Going,’ by Seamus Heaney. In The End of the Poem: Oxford Lectures. 2006. New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2007. pp.371-73, 389-95.

[Edward Hopper: Gas Station (1940)]

There's an interesting interview with Paul Muldoon in the Listener for February 23-38, 2008 (pp.36-38). There are various points there about the influence (or, rather, the long shadow) of his older, Nobel-prize-winning Ulster compatriot Seamus Heaney over his work which might help us to understand him better, I think.

One critical expression to ponder might be the anxiety of influence, a theory outlined in Harold Bloom's classic 1973 book of the same title. I quote from his own summary:

Every poem is a misinterpretation of a parent poem. A poem is not an overcoming of anxiety, but is that anxiety. Poets' misinterpretations of poems are more drastic than critics' misinterpretations or criticism, but this is only a difference in degree and not at all in kind. There are no interpretations but only misinterpretations, and so all criticism is prose poetry.

This very influential idea is found throughout Muldoon's recent book of essays, The End of the Poem (2006), where he appears to argue that every other poem that ever existed can be cited as a clue for understanding the one under discussion. (For more on Heaney's own poetic genealogy, see my post here).

It's instructive to notice that not even in New Zealand can Muldoon (born 1951) get away without discussing Heaney (born 1939). There's literally a photograph of Heaney included on the second page of the article, paralleling the one of Muldoon!

Heaney's own review of Muldoon's The Annals of Chile (1994), containing the poem "Incantata," can be found in his book of selected essays, Finders Keepers: Selected Prose 1971-2001 (London: Faber, 2002).

[Paul Muldoon: The Annals of Chile (1995)]

The relevant passage runs as follows:

In Paul Muldoon's new book .... personal grief and creative glee keep playing into one another's hands. One of several extraordinary poems here is called 'Incantata', a lamentation for the premature death by cancer of a young and gifted artist. This is both a cry of heartbreak and a virtuoso performance. The higher the lift-off the poem achieves, the deeper the registers it engages ...

'Incantata' commemorates the life and work of Mary Farl Powers, an artist who was much cherished because of the intensity of her striving for spiritual and technical perfection. 'Incantata' is an example of what we might call 'the Lycidas syndrome,' whereby one artist's sense of vocation and purpose is sent into crisis by the untimely death of another. Here Paul Muldoon is possessed by a subject that puts all his brilliance to the test, with the result that he blossoms into truth and humanizes his song to an extraordinary degree. [395-96]

Elsewhere he refers to Muldoon as "one of the era's true originals."

The 'Lycidas' reference is of course to Milton (Shelley's 'Adonais,' on the death of Keats, might be another example - or, for that matter, Tennyson's In Memoriam).

I don't know how Paul Muldoon reacted to that "blossoms into truth" phrase - or the one about "humanizing his song" ... Did it have anything to do with the tone of Muldoon's own remarks about Heaney in his recent book of essays The End of the Poem: Oxford Lectures (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2006)?

One of the poignancies of "Keeping Going" is the speaker's assertion - one we don't expect from a Heaney speaker - ... [of] the insurmountable fact of the limitations of art:

But you cannot make the dead walk or right wrong

This is not to say that a poem ... doesn't have some efficacy in the world, doesn't effect some change. It must change something, as these ... examples so elegantly display. One of the ways in which they do this is to clear their own space, bringin us 'all together in a foretime,' if I may borrow that phrase from section 3 of "Keeping Going" ... This condition of a "foretime" of the poem is, yet again, a version of what I described earlier as the "problem" to which the poem is a "solution" ... We appeal to the "foretime" of "Keeping Going" and recognise ... that to carry itself forward in the world - testing itself, and us, against a sense of how it itself "was / In the beginning, is now and shall be' - is indeed the end of the poem.

This almost sounds as if he regards poems as self-justifying, posing a "problem" to which they themselves are the "solution." It's certainly a far less ringing pronouncement than Heaney's.

Is Muldoon purely a game-player, or is there more to his poetry? "Incantata" seems heartfelt enough, but what of the other poem I've included in your anthology, "The More a Man Has the More a Man Wants" -- what's that about? The troubles? Or postmodernity in general? It certainly lacks the atmosphere of public poetry which is characteristic of some of Heaney's pronouncements on history.

[Seamus Heaney and friend]

[Fiona Farrell: The Pop-Up Book of Invasions (2007)]
Fiona Farrell
& Her Fictions

Anthology Readings [pp.27-48]:
  • ‘Anne Brown’s Song,’ ‘Mary Lawry’s Song,’ ‘Lucy Rainbow’s Song,’ & ‘Charlotte O’Neil’s Song.’ In Cutting Out. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1987. pp. 26-31.
  • from ‘Words, War, Water:’ Preface,’ ‘Hamed Ameri’s Skull Won’t Stop Growing,’ ‘A, B, C & Z.’ In The Inhabited Initial. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1999. pp. 7, 13-15, 66-73.
  • ‘Instructions for the Consumption of Your Humanitarian Food Package.’ In Contemporary New Zealand Poets in Performance, ed. Jack Ross & Jan Kemp. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2007. pp. 54-56.
  • ‘The Lament of the Nun of Beare.’ In The Pop-up Book of Invasions. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2007.
  • NZ Book Month Blog' (July 2007).

Fiona Farrell is a writer who's extremely difficult to pin down to one mode or genre or even tone of voice. As you'll see from her author page, she's published three books of poems, a number of plays, and seven books of fiction (including five novels).

This session is intended principally as an examination of her poetry, but I don't doubt that we'll be straying into the whole question of "genre-bending" -- what it means to straddle different creative forms in this way.

There are, of course, a number of precedents one could cite. Herman Melville and Thomas Hardy, two giants of the nineteenth century - and, in New Zealand literature, both Robin Hyde and Janet Frame wrote poetry as well as fiction.

Fiona Farrell and Ian Wedde are the only poets among the eight we're studying in this course to have published substantial amounts of fiction. While we are concentrating here on Farrell as a poet, I would like to discuss the tendency for novelists writing poetry to be quite conservative in their conception of poetic form. Whether the same holds for poets writing fiction is another question.

The categories tend to merge into each other after a while.

Historical novels are never really about the past. They are really about the preoccupations of the time in which they are written.
– Fiona Farrell, Notes on Mr Allbones’ Ferrets (2007)

I wanted to engage the reader in a game – because that is what reading fiction is, after all: it is play, an adult extension of “let’s pretend…”
– Fiona Farrell, Notes on The Hopeful Traveller (2002)

I enjoy rough or unfinished things: preparatory notes, the rough cartoon for a painting, the back of a piece of embroidery, the backsides of buildings …
– Fiona Farrell, Book council blog (2007)

[Fiona Farrell: Mr Allbones' Ferrets (2007)]


Session 5:

[Carl Shuker: The Lazy Boys (2006)]

Carl Shuker

The Lazy Boys: A Novel. 2006
(Auckland: Penguin, 2006)

A Correspondence concerning sources:

From: Carl Shuker
Sent: Sunday, 9 August 2009 11:40 p.m.
To: Paul, Mary
Subject: Re: Fwd: greetings and an enquiry

Hi Mary,
I'd be glad to help out - do you have some specific questions or would you just like a list of texts that influenced/inspired/created a context for the two books?

From: Paul, Mary
Subject: RE: Fwd: greetings and an enquiry
To: "Carl Shuker"
Date: Thursday, August 20, 2009, 7:35 AM

Carl, sorry I have been flat out. I just wondered if you could indicate a list of texts – but would like to get back to you with more specific questions at some stage.

Nga mihi o te ra


From: Carl Shuker
Sent: Wednesday, 26 August 2009 11:36 a.m.
To: Paul, Mary
Subject: RE: Fwd: greetings and an enquiry


Oh that awful old story about emails being lost mid-composition, but this time it was true! I had to start again. This exercise was surprisingly hard given my bookshelves from the period are mostly in Auckland now, but as I remembered I remembered more, and it grew organically and was quite a nice exercise, reminding me again of Paul West.

So here below are some tentpoles for The Method Actors, excluding films and music. More for The Lazy Boys to come. Let me know if this is ANY help at all.

It's rather sweet and surreal for me to picture you and Est discussing the Boys as you stroll through Dunedin.

So this looks rather thin to me now, but these are some of the major works about and upon which I roamed.

Novels and a bit of the most obvious nonfiction

The Method Actors:

Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow and The Crying of Lot 49
David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, Girl With Curious Hair and The Broom of the System
Paul West's The Tent of Orange Mist
Bret Ellis's American Psycho, The Informers
JG Ballard's Crash, The Atrocity Exhibition, War Fever, Empire of the Sun, The Kindness of Women, et al.
Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost
Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, and The Wild Palms
Joyce, Ulysses
Ryu Murakami, Almost Transparent Blue
Yukio Mishima, all of the tetralogy, and The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea
Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal
Don Delillo, MAO II, Underworld, White Noise
Shusaku Endo, Silence
Italo Calvino Invisible Cities
William Gass The Tunnel
Jorges Luis Borges Labyrinths and Ficciones
Umberto Eco The Name of the Rose
John Gardner Mikkelson's Ghosts
Shakespeare Twelfth Night (no surprise)
Edward Seidensticker's and James Murdoch's Japan histories
David Bergamini's Japan's Imperial Conspiracy
Iris Chang's Rape of Nanking
(plus various other nonfic, Herbert Bix, R Gordon Wasson's Mushrooms, Russia and History, Mark Bloch and a lot of other authors actually named in the text and otherwise, etc.)

From: Paul, Mary
Subject: RE: Fwd: greetings and an enquiry
To: "Carl Shuker"
Date: Tuesday, November 3, 2009, 1:47 AM

Hi Carl, I am so sorry to take so long to respond to your wonderful list. Actually I think we will put Lazy Boys as our text of yours – but Jack and I thought this list would be useful for that too – any comments?

V best wishes


From: Carl Shuker
Sent: Wednesday, 4 November 2009 8:55 a.m.
To: Paul, Mary
Subject: RE: Fwd: greetings and an enquiry

Hi Mary,

Bloomsbury's lovely in the rain and leaves right now. I look forward to talking over Xmas. here's a more THE LAZY BOYS-tailored list. More may come to mind...

Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49
David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, Girl With Curious Hair and The Broom of the System
Bret Ellis's American Psycho, The Informers, Less Than Zero
John Fowles, The Collector, The Magus
Paul Theroux, Waldo, The Mosquito Coast
Nabokov's Lolita and Pale Fire
JG Ballard's Crash, The Atrocity Exhibition, War Fever, Empire of the Sun, The Kindness of Women, et al.
Ondaatje's The English Patient
Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, and The Wild Palms
Joyce, Ulysses and Portrait
Ryu Murakami, Almost Transparent Blue
Yukio Mishima, all of the tetralogy, and The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea
Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal
Rimbaud, A Season in Hell
Don Delillo, MAO II, White Noise
Italo Calvino Invisible Cities
Jorges Luis Borges Labyrinths and Ficciones
Umberto Eco The Name of the Rose
Shakespeare Twelfth Night and Hamlet
Ressler, Robert K., Ann W. Burgess. John E. Douglas. "Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives." and Douglas, John E., Mark Olshaker. "Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit." plus loads of other killer books
Kay Redfield Jamison's An Unquiet Mind
Stephen King...
Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground and Crime and Punishment
Turgenev Fathers and Sons
I read a lot of the more famous 90s Wellington lit, like Chidgey, Quigley and Perkins, as well as Laura Solomon, mostly to shore up my thesis that none of these could write a real-feeling NZ man, especially a young man - sort of getting my back up on purpose, probably
Milton Paradise Lost
All of Kafka
Sylvia Plath - poems, not the novel
Virginia Woolf To the Lighthouse
Toni Morrison Sula
Scott Fitzgerald
John Banville The Book of Evidence
Burgess Clockwork Orange (more of an influence on the second of the Novellas, not this book, as per the US blurb)
Stanley Fish
William Gass
A lot of feminist and queer theory from the 90s ...


Session 4:

[Lloyd Jones: Mr Pip (2006)]

Lloyd Jones

Mr Pip
(Auckland: Penguin, 2006)


Session 3:

[William Blake: Satan Observing the Love of Adam & Eve (1808)]

The Notebook Process

Graham Lindsay / Peter Reading

Itinerary for
Saturday, 5th May:

    [gathering in QB3: 9 for 9.30 am]

  • Lecture: Peter Reading: "Don't think it couldn't be you" /
    Discussion of Readings [9.30-11.30 am]
    If you click on the hyperlinked name immediately above, it'll take you to my notes for the lecture. If you click on the large hyperlinked name at the top of the page, it'll take you to that writer's author-page on this site.

  • Seminar 1 [11.30-12.00 noon]
    Only one seminar is scheduled for this session: Janet on Michele Leggott, so we can either have it in the morning or the afternoon -- perhaps the former?

  • [lunch: 12.00-1.00 pm]

  • Lecture: Graham Lindsay: "away from, and to, language" /
    Discussion of Readings [1.00-3.00 pm]
    We'll listen to some recordings of Graham Lindsay reading, and then move into a discussion of the work included in the Course Anthology.

  • [afternoon tea: 3.00-3.30 pm]

  • Seminar 2 [3.30-4.50 pm]
    This second seminar slot can be used for discussion of the Journal assignment, worth 20% of your final grade, and due in (for preliminary comment only) on 27th April.

  • [departure: c.5.00 pm]

[Peter Reading: -273.15 (2005)]
Peter Reading:
"Don't think it couldn't be you"

Anthology Readings [pp.153-69]:
  • ‘South Bank: Sibelius 5’s …’ In Perduta gente. London: Secker & Warburg, 1989. pp.[5]-[21], [58]-[59].
  • ‘CLIMATE COL …’ In -273.15. Newcastle: Bloodaxe Books, 2005. pp. [22]-[31].
  • ‘Isabel Martin on Perduta Gente’ In Reading Peter Reading. Newcastle: Bloodaxe Books, 2000. pp. 187-2005.

I think we'll start off by looking at the Alternative, or Nonconformist tradition in English writing and culture generally. This goes back at least as far as the English Civil War in the 17th century, but, in a larger sense, one could date it back almost to the great cultural rift which eventually resulted in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.

Perhaps the easiest way to present it here is as a series of binary opposites:

William Langland (c.1332–c.1386) / Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343–1400)

On the one hand we have the Anglo-Saxon vernacular, homespun, deeply religious alliterative verse of Langland; on the other hand we have the courtly, Norman-French, establishment worldliness and urbane satire of Chaucer.

Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658) / William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

On the one hand the fanaticism of the puritan revolution and the Commonwealth; on the other hand the richly subtle world of Elizabethan theatre and Tudor political theory.

John Bunyan (1628–1688) / John Dryden (1631-1700)

On the one hand the uneducated puritan tinker, writing from prison; on the other hand the immensely prolific and complex subtlety of Dryden's political and social balancing act.

William Blake (1757–1827) / William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

On the one hand the visionary intensity of Blake; on the other hand the university-educated nostalgiac idealisation of the working class of the Lake Poets in their early period.

John Clare (1793–1864) / Lord Byron (1788-1824)

On the one hand the countryman, locked up in an asylum for a good part of his life; on the other hand the libertine and cynical analyst of the world's hypocrisies.

Peter Reading (1946-2011) / Seamus Heaney (1939- )

On the one hand the eternal rebel: the recusant, the muck-raker; on the other hand the smooth-talking Nobel prize-winning spokesman for Catholic culture in Northern Ireland.

The distinctions are not always easy to spot. Wordsworth and Heaney would both look like outsiders if they weren't set aside such extreme examples of the other side. There is a kind of roll-call of honour which does end up adding up to a complete, unassimilated culture-within-a-culture: or at least the belief that such a thing once existed (or should exist).

It's difficult to appreciate the extent of Peter Reading's technical innovations without reading at least one of his books as a whole. He does seem to have something of the novelist's temperament - or at least an interest in overarching narratives.

Perduta gente (1989) is still probably his most celebrated single volume, with its critique of Thatcher's Britain, the nuclear industry, and the monstrously proliferating cardboard cities in the great cities of Europe.

More recently, in -273.15 [absolute zero] (2005) he's shifted his attention from social engineering to ecology.

He's definitely an angry man, but one might argue that there's a lot for him to be angry about ...

[Peter Edwards:
Peter Reading: Poet]

[Graham Lindsay: Lazy Wind Poems (2003)]
Graham Lindsay:
"away from, and to, language"

Anthology Readings [pp.89-106]:
  • ‘Playground.’ In Big Boy. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1994. p.53.
  • ‘Cloud silence,’ ‘Subject’ & ‘Life in the Queen's English.’ The Subject. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1994. pp. 24-25, 32 & 46.
  • ‘Residence in silence.’ In Legend of the Cool Secret. Christchurch: Sudden Valley Press, 1999. pp. 43-44.
  • ‘Chink.’ In Lazy Wind Poems. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2003. pp. 46-47.
  • Interview with Jack Ross.’ NZEPC.

If you've read the interview with Graham Lindsay which I included in the Course Anthology, you'll remember that he talks there about his "notebook process":

"I started writing and publishing when I was in my late teens, and that’s twenty, twenty-five years ago [the interview was conducted in 1997]. Over that period of time I’ve been using a kind of notebook process. When something occurs to you, you have a notebook handy so that you can actually put down some approximation of that idea or thought or feeling at the time, whilst you’re hot, whilst you’re familiar with it. So, having adopted that approach, I’ve found that I don’t really know at the time that I’m writing something, whether or not I’m going to be able to do anything more with it. I’ve got to go through it, perhaps months, years later, to see what is of interest there, what I can do something more with.

At this point Graham got up to show me the notebooks in his desk. The bottom drawer was packed full of red, hard-backed 4B1 notebooks. Above was another drawer, perhaps slightly less full. There were, he told me, 132 of them.

During their third birthday symposium in July 2004, Graham was presented with one of the nzepc's special Tapa notebooks. He returned it to Auckland University Library's Special collections for archiving in July 2005. Here's one of the pages:


she said they get some
weird people off the street
during the writing courses
I said I'm one of those people
pretty soon she made a gesture to the effect
'the purpose of my visit had been met'
maybe she shifted in her chair

Yay, Graham! I fear that I might be "one of those people", too ...

only two or three weeks ago we said to each other,
How long has she got? and agreed
two, maybe three years at the most.
The following week she was dead. That last night,

following her up the stairs (my job in case she fell -
he daughter pulling her by wrists) I said the usual
encouraging things like Shake a leg, Granny, and
Go Granny, you're doing well (she had lost the ability to retort).

She put everything into it,
as if it were the last leg to the summit.

Graham also provided an introduction to the notebook:

I felt really honoured to be presented with my tapa notebook. Stephen Innes's choice for me turned out to be a good one too. The cover looks to me to suggest a cosmological scene or one to do with navigation, a dark star seen over the shoulder of a solar flare or above an outrigger sail.

I decided to use my notebook to present a selection of notes from my time as the 2004 Ursula Bethell / Creative New Zealand Resident in Creative Writing at the University of Canterbury. Michele indicated some graphic elements would also be welcome so I began sketching signs on roads and pathways on my cycle route to and from the university.

I've been keeping notebooks for ages, but I've never tried to develop a handwriting style. Occasionally, I've been impressed when a 't' makes a sort of mast or the looping tail on a 'g' looks pretty wild. But I've always considered notebooks as places to catch thoughts and language rather than aesthetic objects or places where thoughts are completed. I usually go back to see what still interests me to see if I can do anything more to it to make it publishable.

So the idea of making a selection from my notebooks, even though it seemed straightforward, caused various performance anxieties, like having my teaching inspected, or replicating a 'spontaneous' conversation.

Which is why I thought Murray Edmond was onto it when he used a ringbinder for his 'tapa': if he made a mistake, he would be able to have another go. I'm not saying he did, just that he could.

In fact I was given two tapa notebooks, I used the other one to do dummy runs in. (It has a cover that vaguely looks like a handmirror with a pixie face in it.)

I did some drafting on my computer too. Though I often went back to the original wordings and constructions because of not having an open-ended amount of time. In the interim I came across this quote from Toss Woollaston: 'Smoothing over work you have just done is going backwards. Tidying up is the devil—you don't touch that in painting. If relations are wrong you make huge alterations, you don't tidy up—you repaint the whole thing every time you touch it.' (From Gregory O'Brien's book Lands & Deeds). I think that's relevant? Also I roughed out a layout on my computer.

I had thought about making my own 'tapa' notebook using locally made paper and learning how to bookbind. I had thought about learning calligraphy. I've always admired my father's handwriting, he used to transcribe his favourite poems by Chinese poets onto a newsprint block. He had a beautiful hand. I've hankered for years to have a go at painting my poems. These thoughts were all part of that. When I accepted Michele's invitation to meet a deadline though I had to get on with it and so the originally intended format was retained.

The title The Priests of Nothingness comes from a quote, which I have included in the notebook, about these Japanese monks called Fuke monks who used the flute as a meditation tool. As the quote says, 'They would walk through the streets . . . trying to play the one note that would enlighten the world.' That's partly what I think poets try to do. I think poets are priests of nothingness.

curtains shifting in light air

shaft like a lift well
on its side:

at the near end
blue light playing along its edges

the far opening on smokey-grey
star clouds


It's this "notebook process" I'd like to start off with at our next session. You'll note that the tapa notebook process was far more elaborate - almost staged, in fact. The spontaneity of a notebook can hardly be evident when you've done "dummy runs" in another notebook first, and even done some drafting on the computer first.

I guess that's the reason why Graham had provided that semi-apologetic introduction to "The Priests of Nothingness," as he ended up calling the collection as a whole.

[Graham Lindsay
(Photograph: Bill Lindsay)]