Friday, November 25, 2011

By Birdlight

Attended a marvellous book launch the other night at Dunedin Public Library. It was the kind of literary gathering Dunedin does so well - very crowded, friendly, noisy and full of news and gossip and catching up with friends, colleagues and acquaintances over snacks and drinks. Also a great way to meet people as everyone's individual networks intersect in interesting new ways. Kind of like Facebook - but in person!

The book was Sue Wootton's new poetry volume BY BIRDLIGHT and it was good to see publisher Roger Steele of Steele Roberts on one of his welcome visits to Dunedin, doing the honours.

Celebrated NZ poet Brian Turner gave an excellent launch speech and Sue Wootton also spoke well - I'm hoping that both Brian's and Sue's speech notes will find their way to the publisher's web site because even their prose seemed to be full of insight and poetry and I really felt that I hadn't heard such interesting poetry launch speeches ever before...

There's so much to know, about the cover image, about why the title is "By Birdlight", and Sue and Brian relished their subject matter and read beautifully, of course.

I'm a fan of Sue's poetry and it's a delight to have another book of hers to savour. One of the standouts of my early browsing through the poems is 'Orchard' - a tender and glistening memorial to the tragically killed young poet Rhys Brookbanks who was part of our Dunedin poetry community before he went to Christchurch to work at Canterbury TV.

There's a scintillating poem about Kandinsky's synesthesia, that I was much impressed by when I first heard Sue read it (at one of the Circadian Rhythm poetry evenings), including lines like:

the impossibility of settling on one colour for the wind -

Roger also spoke to the crowd and pointed out just how many well-known NZ writers were in the audience to celebrate Sue's launch. Just to name a few, apart from Brian Turner of course, we had Emma Neale glowing from her recent win of the Kathleen Grattan Poetry Prize for her manuscript 'The Truth Garden'; novelist Laurence Fearnley, winner of the 2011 NZ Post Fiction Award for the best NZ novel of 2010, The Hut Builder; legendary poet Peter Olds who has just published Skew-Whiff a terrific fine illustrated edition of his poetry with Otakou Pess; Paul Sorrell whose most recent book is getting much deserved attention and admiration - a guide to the Central Otago 'rail trail';  author Penelope Todd who has launched out into a much needed and audacious online publishing venture; poet Rhian Gallagher who has just published a new volume Shift with AUP; author Paddy Richardson; distinguished literary elder Vincent O'Sullivan was also there, along with too many more poets and writers and academic authors to name - there was such a crowd I didn't even get to see everyone who was there.

(Some of my writer friends, I was reminded, are fans of the gorgeous Tabbyssinian Agency Cat, and politely asked after him, which is why I have recently posted some new portraits of him ;)

Brian Turner (left) listens while Sue Wootton addresses the guests at her book launch
November 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

By special request, some photos of the agency cat

 D'oh! Where's the remote??

 Guardian of the upstairs and almost looking like a normal grownup cat.

Stripes are so slimming.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday Poem: WH Auden

Epitaph on a Tyrant    
by W. H. Auden 
Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

More Tuesday poems at the Tuesday Poem Blog

Monday, November 21, 2011

The TEAGATE tape: what doesn't John Key want you to know?

The New Zealand general election happens later this week. This year there's a clear choice between a selfish right wing National-led Government with a prime minister whose secret comments are so objectionable he uses "his" police force to try to keep the public from hearing them; and a return to a Labour-led government in cooperation with the Greens and the Mana party and anyone else to whom asset sales are anathema (looks like that means Winnie the Comeback King).

My own hope is that this time next week we will have an MMP government that is willing and able to put the needs of all the people before the greeds of a privileged few.


The most recent Horizon Poll (which is the only reliable major political poll currently being taken in that it takes into account undecided voters and uses a representative sample) shows that the two opposing camps are neck and neck and that when the minor parties are taken into account, the results may well be too close to call.

But the rabidly right wing media continue to crow over bogus poll results, comparing popularity counts for the major parties as if MMP didn't exist, and discounting potential coalitions.

They know well that neither a left-led nor a right-led government is a dead cert, and yet they continue to try to deceive the public into believing that a National win is a foregone conclusion. They try to shore up this impression by continually trying to turn the whole election into a popularity contest between the figureheads of the major parties, and by evading or ridiculing rigorous discussion on the actual idealogical issues.

Another way that the mainstream media in NZ show their usual Tory bias is in that they don't call TEAGATE by its proper name: TEAGATE. They spin it as "a storm in a teacup", and "the tea party tapes", - and these are the same journos who leaped on the most spurious hiccups in Helen Clark's career and trumpeted them as whatever-gate.

One telling comparison is the recent event where John Key joked and chattered through a solemn minute's silence. He didn't know about it, he later claimed, and the patsy media have let him get away with it.

Compare that to their response to Helen Clark when her chauffeur was caught out speeding. Helen Clark was in the back of the car working on papers yet the whole affair was deemed "speed-gate" by the media - as if Clark was responsible personally - and they still go on about it, years later, whenever they feel their precious right wing regime is slipping in popularity.

But, flunkies that they are, they mildly accepted that Mr Key could so misread the public occasion he was appearing at, that he didn't notice the silence and the grief and the bowed heads of the crowd. That's OK then.... Prince John can do no wrong in their eyes.

Let's hope the voters are as sick of their hypocrisy and his cynicism as I am.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Superlatives may apply

'Perfect', 'essential', 'treasure trove', 'rich storehouse', 'indispensable'.

A major new release of the uncollected and unseen writings and speech of Janet Frame.

Interviews, essays, reviews, satires, letters to the editor, speeches, reports, eulogies.

Required reading for anyone interested in New Zealand history and biography.

Also in writing. In feminism. In 20th century literature.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Dunedin Celebrates Scottish Heritage




Saturday 19 November

Follow the skirl of the bagpipes for the Grand Opening of The Scottish Festival at the Dunedin City Library. The lassies vying for the Queen O’ The Heather will be introduced. This will be followed by short talks commemorating the 120th anniversary of the Dunedin Burns Club. The opening of the Robert Burns Poetry Competition also begins. Plus, at 2.30pm, join us in the Octagon where Professor Tom Devine, from the University of Edinburgh, will unveil a plaque on the Robert Burns statue – describing the Burns statue in Dunedin.

Saturday 19 November


Write a poem in English or Scots, inspired by the life or works of Robert Burns. Entries close on 10 January 2012. Competition organised by the Dunedin Burns Club. Free entry. Forms available from your local library or

Saturday 19 November

The "Death" and Reinvention of Scotland. Join Scotland’s leading historian, Professor Tom Devine, at the Otago Settlers Museum. Professor Devine will discuss the historical fears surrounding the ‘death’ of the ancient identity of Scotland and the ‘invention’ of Scottishness in tartanry, song, story and myth. Free entry. Advanced booking required by Ph 474 2728 or email

Saturday 19 November

Social ballroom dancing with the Dunedin Scottish Society. Fairfield Community Hall, Fairplay St Fairfield. $5.00 entry fee to pay at door. Plus bring a plate. Ph 476 4423
Monday 21 November
12noon to 12.30pm.

Piper in the Octagon presented by the Dunedin City Council to celebrate the Scottish Festival.

Monday 21 November

In Search of Scotland.

By using wonderful 19th century images from John Parker Lawson’s Scotland Delineated (1858), those visiting the exhibition will be able to travel Scotland in their mind’s eye. Beside each image are books from Special Collections that highlight Scotland’s cultural, social and economic past. Call in and view the exhibition which runs through to 16 December. De Beer Gallery, 1st floor, Central University Library, 65 Albany St, Dunedin. Opening hours Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5.00pm. Ph 479 8330. Email

Monday 21 November

The Lowland Clearances and the Scottish Exodus to New Zealand. Long lost in Scottish history – the story of the lowland exodus is brought to light. Join Scotland’s leading historian, Professor Thomas Devine, OBE (University of Edinburgh), as he reveals the true scale of the ‘Silent Clearances’, and their significance for Scottish emigration to New Zealand in the nineteenth century. This will be followed by a book signing plus wine and cheese reception with the Deputy British High Commissioner. Free entry courtesy of the Dunedin Public Library. Venue at the Dunedin Library. Advance bookings required. Email or Ph 474 3690. Professor Devine’s participation in the Scottish Festival is brought to Dunedin by the Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies, the Otago Scottish Heritage Council, the Dunedin Burns Club, the Dunedin-Edinburgh Sister City Society and the University of Edinburgh.

Tuesday 22 November

Unveiling of the Sylvia Stewart Sculpture. Join the Dunedin-Edinburgh Sister City Society for this special unveiling. A stone taken from the Leith to Edinburgh and sculpted there by Sylvia Stewart is now located at the Edinburgh waterfront. A reciprocal structure is made from Edinburgh rock and is being unveiled on the Leith side of the Stadium in Dunedin by Professor Tom Devine. For the exact location follow the sound of the pipes.

Tuesday 22 November

The Puzzle of Scottish Sectarianism. Free event at St Paul’s Cathedral. Talk by Professor Tom Devine why Scotland is unique in 2011 in having an anti-sectarian strategy and laws thought necessary by the Scottish Government.

Tuesday 22 November

Ceilidh (musical evening) at Robbies Bar and Bistro, McAndrew Rd. Come along and enjoy a great night of celebration and entertainment. The contestants for the Queen O’ The Heather will be there. Free entry provided by the Otago Scottish Heritage Council.

Wednesday 23 November

Highland Bus Trip. Leaving at 9.30am. Sightseeing with entertainment (small pipes). Organised by the Campbell Clan. For details Ph 473 9921.

Thursday 24 November
10.30am and 5.30pm.

What Lies Beneath: NHNZ Film Screening: In Search of Good Keen Whalers. See one of the best preserved whaling stations from the 1830s whaling booms plus a picture of the harsh life endured in one of our first truly integrated communities. Free screening in the Teen Space, City Library.

Sunday 27 November
12 noon – 4.30pm.

Come to the Scottish Highland Games for a great family day out. Pipe Bands, Highland Dancing and Marching. Fun events that everyone can join in – Tossing The Sheaf, Caber Tossing, Deadweight Carry plus Carrying the Stones. Events for Children with Gumboot Throwing, Egg and Spoon Races and plenty more. No event entry fee. Prizes in all events. Compete for trophies and cash prizes in the Scottish Shop/Caledonian Society Handicap Mile Race. Also the Crowning of The Queen O’ The Heather will take place at the games. Gate fee $10.00. Children under 14 free. Caledonian Ground, Logan Park. This event is organised by The Caledonian Society. Ph 4544863 or 4558839.

Sunday 27 November

Old Time Sequence Dancing. Taieri Scottish Dance Club. $2.00 entry fee. Methodist Hall, Wickliffe St, Mosgiel.

Monday 28 November

At 7.30pm Scottish Country Dancing provided by the Burns Scottish Country Dance Club. Entry by gold coin donation. Soft shoes required. Dunedin South Presbyterian Church in Chalmers Hall (back hall) King Edward St. Ph 4890453.

Tuesday 29 November

Life and Folkways of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Come and meet acclaimed Canadian writer Alistair MacLeod as he reads his stories. Barclay Theatre, Otago Museum. Ph 479 4936

Wednesday 30 November
St Andrews Day.

St Andrew is the Patron Saint of Scotland and St Andrews Day is celebrated by Scots all around the world. Always a great get-together at Robbies Bar and Bistro, MacAndrew Rd. Lunch at 12 noon. Price is $12.00 for lunch and entry by ticket only. Tickets at the Scottish Shop and Robbies. Hosted by the Taieri Scottish Society.

Wednesday 30 November

Holding Fast: From Scotland to the New World, 1791-2011. Dr Alistair MacLeod discusses the history and culture of Scottish settlement in Nova Scotia. This public lecture will be held in the Archway 1 Lecture Theatre, University of Otago. Ph 479 4936.

For any enquiries phone the Secretary, Susan McLean, 489-3565 or email

The O.S.H.C. thank the following sponsors for their generous contributions to The Scottish Festival.

Dunedin City Council

The Greenhouse Florist

The Scottish Shop

McRobies Robbies Bar and Bistro

See the above programme on a pdf downloadable from the following website:

[Sorry the timetable has formatted so bizarrely in its interaction with Blogger. I tried to tidy it up but life is too short! It annoys me that thoughtless web designers insist on providing important info like this programme ONLY on pdf as many of us browse on smart phones these days and can't access pdfs that way. - PC]

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pepero Day on Steroids

Every year in South Korea on the 11th of November, it's Pepero day. Pepero being a chocolate-covered pretzel manufactured by Lotte. 11/11. Get it? Looks like pretzels! Of course this unique version of Valentine's Day was invented for commercial purposes but it has stuck. And it's huge, especially among the young people. When I was teaching in South Korea my students exchanged gift boxes, and teachers and professors were also included in the affectionate outpouring of choco sticks!

So I find it easy to remember Pepero Day every year even back here in New Zealand. And now that there is a larger Korean population here, with a rise in Korean grocery stores, one is easily able to find a box of Pepero sticks should one so desire.

This is the sweet choco biscuit face of gangster capitalism.

Well of course just a few days ago Pepero Day was an even bigger deal than usual: 11/11/11.

Fingers say: 11.11.11

Friday, November 11, 2011



11 seconds after 11 minutes past 11am