Tuesday, September 29, 2009
According to Nassim Nicholas Taleb's theory, a Black Swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: it is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and after the event we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random.
Tomorrow I move house again - from the beach house in the bush perched on the estuary, to the crib on the beautiful Otago Peninsula, yards away from the sea. Quite close to the albatross and penguin and gannet colonies.
We call it "Cape Cod". We don't just see the birds there, we will live amongst them. Godwits, gulls, herons, stilts, ducks, oystercatchers, spoonbills, and of course: the black swans.
Monday, September 28, 2009
On the subject of small presses...
ESAW celebrates 25 years this December, a remarkable feat, and is to release the above collector's edition to commemorate.
To pre-order your copy, contact details for the indomitable Michael O'Leary are on the ESAW website.
I have to admit sheepishly that I'm among the tribute-payers included in this volume. I've contributed a couple of tongue-in-cheek poems (including "Blood on the McCahon" - based on a true story) and some seemingly improbable anecdotes.
Friday, September 25, 2009
This week we are Drinking Eco-Socially!
Green MP Sue Bradford
will be here to speak about her past involvement in grassroots activism,
Come armed with the energy, passion, and courage to do something!
And of course bring questions for one of New Zealand's
Indeed. It was great to hear that Sue was coming to Dunedin. She is one of my heroes.
But today the news comes, that Sue Bradford has resigned from Parliament, effective at the end of next month. She's been disillusioned because of being passed over for the Green co-leadership.
I applaud her choice. Who can blame her for wanting out? From a left wing perspective there's been far too much cosying up to the right wing from the Blue-Greens.
There'll be a lot of disillusioned citizens too, who will be looking for a new home for their vote...
Thursday, September 24, 2009
But language is about identity, not about some inherent value of one form versus another, and the triumph of a linguistic form tells us more about which speaker has the most powerful friends.
It's never about what's "right" or "wrong". It's about who has the authority to impose their version of the truth. On the day, it's about who wins the territory.
WHANGANUI ~ WANGANUI
There is currently a hot debate about whether the name of WANGANUI city, which has long been afflicted by a typo (a missing "h"), should be corrected to the spelling WHANGANUI which more accurately reflects the Maori name for the locality.
In trying to seek a solution, it would be more useful, rather than appealing to what the "real" name of the city might be, to speak in terms of justice and of community, of mutual tolerance, and of the attempt to eradicate the toxic effects of racism and an imperialist arrogance.
It might also help to realise that this is just one more of a string of explosive social situations triggered by differing habits concerning the letter "h".
A PUFF OF HOT AIR
An "h" is just a puff of air - an "aspiration". But what we do with our "H" seems to be particularly well suited to distinguishing "you lot" from "us lot". And some of these disagreements can get very hot-headed.
It's not the actual use of the "H" that matters, it's which side of the H we have chosen to stand on. Some of us drop it, and some of us pick it up, and it's not intrinsically "in" or "out" to do either.
It's who is doing the dropping that matters. If they're with us, then whatever they do is OK. We're human and we want to be part of our group and there are powerful pressures on us to sound like the other members of our group. That's why language can change so swiftly.
THE AITCH AND THE HAITCH
Here's an example of the mainstream culture dropping the "h" and the marginalised group speaking it out: the very name of the letter "h" is pronounced "aitch" in 'proper' British English.
So in the early years of European settlement in Australia and New Zealand the poor Irish (who say "haitch") stood out like a sore thumb. The story goes that groups of bullies would challenge some poor hapless lad to spell a word with "h" in it, and if he said it the wrong way, he was apt to be beaten up.
And now here is another instance of it being flash NOT to say the "H": in NZ it is becoming rather old fashioned to insist on the "an" form of the indefinite article before certain words starting with "h". When I was at school we got in trouble for writing or saying "a hotel". Now, decades later, I'd say it would be considered rather affected for a younger person to attempt such an archaic usage.
Where did this so-called "grammar" rule come from? (It does make sense to use "an" before a word starting with a "silent h", such as "hour".)
I'd guess this "rule" dates back to the latter stages of the Norman French invasion of England, when French was pretty well established as the prestige dialect and the ruling classes and their collaborators communicated either in French or in a heavily French-influenced English. The French don't pronounce the initial "h" so the practice of imitating the high-class h-drop would have set the local speaker apart as being conversant in the oppressor language, as upwardly mobile or as a collaborator.
The effect of this social stratification is still felt in English vocabulary today, with Anglo-Saxon words for the live beast eg ox, pig and the French-derived word beef, pork for the cooked version of the animal, served at table. (The peasants tended the flocks and the upper crust ate the banquets.)
And even now if an English speaker wants to sound educated or sophisticated there's no better way to add a certain je ne sais quoi than by throwing in a little piece of French.
In My Fair Lady the superior attitude of many a middle class speaker of the "Queen's English" when confronted with lower class Cockney "h-dropping" is well established.
But as we've already seen, it can also be very "posh" to drop your "h". Hmmm.
My Dad, a Southern New Zealander of Scottish descent, who would have turned 93 next week, carefully distinguished between the two words witch and which. He was part of an older New Zealand generation who pronounced "wh" with an aspiration.
This "phonemic" distinction has been lost in contemporary Kiwi English. (As has the difference between "ear" and "air", but that's another story!)
I remember at primary school the teachers tried to train us in to pronouncing "which" and "witch" differently, but we weren't having any of it.
Which leads to another important truism about language change: it's almost impossible to legislate it, unless you have the population behind you, or an army to enforce the "rules".
Language change "from the top down" has been achieved, of course, with military force, eg in North Korea, or with popular support, as with the successful introduction of the form "Ms" to western culture.
Probably the most dangerous experience of the disadvantage of pronouncing your "h"-word the "wrong" way, comes to us from the biblical tale of the word "Shibboleth" used by the Gileadites as a test to detect the fleeing Ephraimites, who could not pronounce the sound "sh" (Judges 12:4–6).
The Ephraimites pronounced the word as "sibboleth" and thus revealing themselves to be inable to aspirate the "s", were slaughtered.
And the word shibboleth today is used for such a linguistic phenomenon, that separates the sheep from the goats.
Currently in NZ, the shibboleth is the way you choose to spell Whanganui. If enough of us just do it, it will become the dominant form.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
So this morning I commuted (from Waitati to Dunedin) in a lovely old wooden excursion train carriage courtesy of the magnificent TAIERI GORGE RAILWAY.
The trip took an hour and travelled over some of the most beautiful scenery anywhere on this earth. Yay!
Monday, September 21, 2009
Well, no not really. As far as I know there is no such thing as "Celebrating Small Presses Day".
But there should be.
Because there should be.
Why are so many of our good authors published by small presses? Is it because the gatekeepers at the small presses have a lower standard and so it's easier to get your work printed (as long as you belong to their clique?)
At the other end of the spectrum, the quality of self-publishing and of vanity publishing is fairly variable (a little like open mike night when the convenor is a little too lax).
Another reason to choose to do your chapbook with a small publisher, is you possibly get to have a level of creative control that larger publishers don't allow, because their marketing teams insist on sitting in and replacing a creative imperative with a "concept".
The money minions are right of course. Hardly anyone makes a profit publishing poetry, and nobody got rich running a small Press. It's all done for the sake of Art.
And often the books are very fine, little treasures. Purty.
Now Kilmog has decided to come into this strange virtual space where there is no smell of ink and no fine porous endpaper or a woodcut in sight.
Kilmog Press has a brand new blog.
Don't forget to put your earthly contact details somewhere guys, so the punters can buy some books!
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
Since he admitted to being a smuggler when he trudged home every night, the frontier guards searched him again and again.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
It must be very satisfying for the victims of historical child sex abuse and their families, when another pedophile is arrested and charged.
The most recent case of the girl who was abducted 18 years ago has brought to light the fact that many of these monsters turn to religion to try to justify their crimes.
('Monster' seems like an knee jerk emotive talk-back term, but for the child victims I'm sure he is literally the evil Boogey Man.)
The predator might be a stranger, he might be the child's father, or he might be a trusted family friend, pillar of the community.
Look out Mr Boogey Man - the light is going to shine on you next!
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Ah, but that nostalgia now, with the smell in my nostril of the brand-new writing pad, and the memory of the anticipation of lifting the shiny beautiful cover with its lovely picture of the fantail, or whio (blue duck), or huia, and of smoothing the cover down carefully, and then lifting the snowy blotting-paper page, and folding that back too, and then of reaching that wonderful world of the pristine lined page - smooth and unblemished by blots or indents - just waiting to be written on.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
The newly published literary biography of C.K. Stead, Plume of Bees by Judith Dell Panny, is a curious work that is not hagiography but neither is it an incisive, no-holds-barred, critical study. So what is Bees, entomologically speaking?
A look at the back cover blurb perhaps provides a clue. Almost half of Panny’s spiel is about her book on Janet Frame’s writing. Panny quotes Frame as having “a feeling of amazed gratitude” for the approach of that book, which Panny reckons is “reminiscent” of the “insight now provided in this work” on Stead.
But that book on Frame, which industriously treats Frame’s works as allegories containing systematic hidden meanings that all become clear once Panny’s ‘insights’ are applied, is not well regarded in Frame Studies. It is a ludicrous misreading of Frame to claim that a systematic allegorical reading is enlightening. Doubtless Frame, who disdained academic studies of her work, was not endorsing Panny’s template so much as expressing relief that it did not apply an obsessive biographical approach.
So with these credentials, and receipt of a Copyright Licensing Writer’s Award, with the Winner Icon proudly highlighted in the bottom left-hand corner of the back cover, Panny claims that her new book “opens windows to new appreciation” of Stead’s work. She does not employ an allegorical analysis of what she terms “the Stead phenomenon”; it seems there must not be hidden meanings. Of course the man is famously ‘lucid’. So what approach does she take?
Cringingly deferential actually. Though this literary biography is supposedly unauthorized, Stead allowed himself to be interviewed by Panny who references some of the details deriving from their conversation, but not all of them. Quite often Stead’s voice eerily seems to come up from behind Panny’s to sum up a particular passage so that the ‘phenomenon’ remains positive. Is Stead’s input in these cases not being acknowledged, or is Panny censoring herself?
There is no index and therefore it is not so easy to navigate and evaluate the text. There are only endnotes after each chapter and most of them identify citations from Stead or sources related to him. The overall effect of the book is of a plodding secretarial marshalling of reviews and interviews in a mostly chronological manner.
A good example of Panny’s slippery style of presentation that does not methodically explore themes in Stead, or clarify her theoretical position on the relationship between a work and a life, is the way she handles the subject of sex. In two paragraphs in Chapter 12, she describes the way sex is treated in several short stories and hazards no more enlightening a conclusion than: “Sexual activity – the need for it, its quantity and quality – is significant in several stories”. This comment is left in mid-air – no connections are made to the rest of Stead’s oeuvre or to the man himself. She remains close-lipped about his personal life, except for some intriguing facts about his childhood and youth. There are hints, possible inferences the reader might reasonably make, but then Panny coyly changes tack.
In devoting much attention to identifying Stead’s fictional portraits of prominent literary figures (Frame, Plath, Mansfield, Sargeson, Davin, Shadbolt, for example) Panny falls into the very trap Frame praised her for avoiding in her earlier work, that of confusing fiction with biographical fact. Panny is quite sure that Stead successfully "imagines his way into the psyche of Plath"; and that “Stead’s insight into Plath’s life anticipates the sensitive understanding of a fellow writer that he brings to Mansfield”. Yet Stead himself remains strangely immune to such exposure. For example, Panny claims that in All Visitors Ashore “there are similarities between the central character Curl Skidmore and Karl Stead, but the novel provides very little information about Stead’s personal life”.
An especially diagnostic example of Panny’s lobbying rather than analysis comes in the penultimate paragraph of the book. She quotes British journalist Roger Lewis’s comment in the Sunday Express that Stead “on the basis of My Name Was Judas, must surely be a prime candidate for the Nobel Prize”. This reads like a dog-whistle by Panny to Stead’s own (probable) estimation of his achievement.
Stead has found a useful alter ego in Panny whose own marginalized position on the field of New Zealand literary studies leads her to empathise with Stead’s frustrated sense of being under-appreciated in his own country.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Yesterday a royal spoonbill turned up again, in the shallow waters of the bay outside my window. What a magnificent visitation!
Where has it been all winter?
Is it my favourite NZ bird of the year? or should I vote for the faithful fantail, who never went away, and has provided such joy with its aerobatics and daring dive-bombing, not to mention its welcome loving messages from "the other side"?
Or the exquisite little silvereye - the flying fish with its startled white banded face-makeup and its remarkable ability to pack away large quantities of porridge?
Those marvellous lumbering whooshing jumbo jet kereru (wood pigeons), are also among my favourite birds.
And the delicate shy pied stilt who prefers to take little runs rather than just walking anywhere. When the stilts come to feed at dusk on an ebbing tide, close to the edge of the bay, it's a riveting sight. They look as though their silhouettes have been cut out, accidentally, too thinly. How has such a fragile creature survived? I've stayed watching them until they are just shadows, until they have disappeared into the greyness of the night water.
Can't decide. Love 'em all. And no sign of the godwits yet.
Votes for "bird of the year"are being cast at http://www.forestandbird.org.nz/
Here are some celebrity endorsements:
Kim Hill prefers the fantail - piwakawaka;
Jeremy Wells goes for the spoonbill;
Steve Braunias likes the white faced heron this year;
Sam Hunt opts for the pied stilt - poaka;
Dame Kiri has spoken up for te kereru (wood pigeon).
Saturday, September 12, 2009
The chiming hark could also be said to herald the arrival of the riot season in the form of youths bent on drunken escapade in the student party zone. Last night's battle with police isn't a good sign for tonight, and older residents are battening down the hatches.
I wonder if the elderly albatrosses don't look with similar askance at the arrival back of potential troublemakers...
Friday, September 11, 2009
She was never seen again.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Dunedin's fortnightly poetry reading in the 2009 season of Octagon Poetry, was held last night at Circadian Rhythm. It was the second of the series and, like the first, attracted a good crowd.
The Octagon Poets and the members of their audience filter themselves not into an Octagon but into an Oblong: the long, thin venue presents all sorts of challenges for poetry performances, but nobody ever seems to mind. There's always a good atmosphere.
Anyway poets are used to being the round peg in the square hole (or is that vice versa?)
Next featured poet is CLAIRE BEYNON with MC Martha Morseth, on September 23rd, 8pm.
See the poster for the complete season here.
Am not offering a review, because I don't think an event like this needs to be justified. There's always at least one good poet featured, and open mike gives voice to many more (granted there are a very few excruciating moments sometimes, but as long as each turn is kept short there's no harm done to any one, and this crowd is a very welcoming and tolerant one.)
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Monday, September 7, 2009
~ H G Wells
That's all very well, but basically, isn't humanity just too stupid? We have every modern invention at our disposal and we have still created something as bad as wankerpedia. (I do try keep away from that hellish place, but I stumbled there accidentally in looking for a quick way to determine what year A Modern Utopia was written in, and I couldn't believe how bad the HG Wells article is...)
Motto: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
This cat is very fond of birds. And books. I will probably end up buying both the godwit volumes...
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Friday, September 4, 2009
And we look forward to their return, thin and hungry, in spring.
They're expected in late September and in the cities of Christchurch and Dunedin that event is marked by the pealing of church bells.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Which is probably why Fleurs is so popular with the rich and famous. But you don't have to be featured in the social pages to enjoy a meal there, and everyone is treated with the same friendly good humour.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
@ Alchemy Bar, Christchurch Art Gallery
Can't decide which I liked better of the RONNIE VAN HOUT at the new Christchurch Art Gallery, or the Snare/Mahanga at the old Art Gallery (round the back of the Canterbury Museum).
But it's not a competition, fortunately - and both exhibitions are indispensible. The Ronnie van Hout one is very funny, and oh of course (cough) thought-provoking (tee hee).
The art inspired by the extinct bird specimens held at the Canterbury Museum is heartbreaking - especially the rows of dead-and-gone but oh-so-lovely huia.
Highlights: Neil Pardington's brilliant exposition of a cabinet of stuffed birds.
Fiona Pardington's haunting hooked beak huia.
Peter Madden's tragic huia skins cabinets.
Bill Hammond's Shag Pile for a double pun.
Hannah and Aaron Beehre's Dark Aviary: a sinister and a sacred tribute to extinct species.
And the gorgeous golden kakapo...
Oh, and there's a Ronnie van Hout there with the birds too!
Spring is here, and it's well underway guys.
This year we had a very cold winter in the south; the records say it was the coldest since recording began. The old-timers say it's been the coldest winter in living memory, and as I'm an old-timer now too, I agree. Bloody cold winter. I've not known it worse here in New Zealand.
So the change is dramatic. Spring has arrived like an express train, loud and violent.
The birds are raucous.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
The first ones I saw were all-blacks, and there were also pied lambs - black and whites.
The Mums are black sheep, and they had a set of twins each. Cute bouncy black-and-white lambs, gamboling in the green casino.
Couldn't help realising that although we have the expression "black sheep" meaning an outcast, a rejected family member, that oddly, in our modern day the black sheep has come to be the one that's worth more for the novelty of the lovely colours of its wool.
Wonder how the white sheep feel about that? Probably even more hostile and nasty than before, now that their envy is added to the distaste for anything different...