29 June 2009

Coming Attractions, Bloggy Goodness, and A Little Bit of History

Coming Attractions

As Helen Lowe pointed out to me recently, I haven't run many interviews with poets on my blog this year. But this is about to change! Because Montana Poetry Day is on Friday 24 July, several poetry books are being launched on or about this date, and I will be interviewing three poets with books just on the shelves: Mary Cresswell, Joanna Preston, and Tim Upperton. I'm also going to review Mark Pirie's verse novel Tom.

As promised in Part 1 of Down in the Flood, I'm going to marshal my thoughts on the topic of creative writing about climate change, and I am hoping to have another guest blogger add some informed comment to my usual wild speculation in the fairly near future.

And, of course, I'll fill up the remaining posts myself with a tantalising mixture of celebrity gossip, multi-level marketing schemes, and anecdotes about our cat. Who is good at catching mice, but less good because she keeps insisting on bringing them inside and releasing them in our lounge.

Hello, Bloggy Goodness!

In the left column, you'll find links to a lot of fascinating blogs, both New Zealand and international, which I try to visit and check out when I have time, either directly or through Google Reader. One day, I'll add a list of blogs with recent updates, but that time is not yet.

I don't have time to visit half the blogs I would like to half as often as I'd like (to misquote Bilbo Baggins), but here's a few I've found myself drawn to lately (in addition to blogs I've previously posted about here and here and here and all the way back to here):

  • Jack Ross doesn't post often, but what he does post is usually fascinating. I found his recent post on the Tolkien industry especially interesting.
  • Thoughts from Botswana, by Lauri Kubuitsile, is a fascinating insight into living and writing in Botswana.
  • When it comes to the hard, cold practicalities of commercial publishing, there are few places more reliable - and at times more sobering - than Jane Smith's How Publishing Really Works.
  • And here's an even scarier blog for writers trying to get publishers and agents interested in their work!
  • Kay McKenzie Cooke is a fine poet whose blog made for weather is not only interesting to read, but lavishly illustrated. A thing of beauty!

A Little Bit of History

There's a historical writing competition on in my old home town, Gore. Here are the details (thanks to Rosemarie Smith for this information):



Buildings, Businesses, Breadwinners and By-standers

If buildings could talk, what stories would they tell?

Entries should be essays of 1500 words or more, with photographic illustrations if possible, on a topic relating to a specific building or business in Gore, Mataura or the rural districts. Essays should contain some original research, and preferably have some emphasis on the period 1930-60.

Entries to be delivered to:

Gore Historical Society
16 Norfolk Street
PO Box 305
by 21 September 2009

There is one remaining workshop to assist with research and writing: Tuesday 23 June and 21 July at 7.30pm, St Andrews Hall, Gore

Further information: 208 7032 or 208 4822 or heritage (at) goredc.govt.nz

25 June 2009

Down in the Flood (1): Going Under

Well it's sugar for sugar and it's salt for salt
If you go down in the flood it's going to be your own fault (Bob Dylan)

As a writer, I spend quite a lot of time flooding things. In my poem First Light, I flooded a fair chunk of the Manawatu. (I read this poem in Palmerston North, and it didn't prompt undue alarm.) Several stories in my recent collection Transported feature the rising, or risen, sea:

I cut the engine in the shadow of the motorway pillars and let the dinghy drift in to the Wadestown shore. The quiet of late afternoon was broken only by the squawking of parakeets. After locking the boat away in the old garage I now used as a boatshed, I stood for a moment to soak in the view. The setting sun was winking off the windows of drowned office blocks. To the left lay Miramar Island, and beyond it the open sea. (The Wadestown Shore)

He started to walk towards the headland at the northern end of the beach, wondering whether the stream was still there. It was, but it now flowed out through a stop-bank that protected the fields behind. Someone – maybe the farming family that used to live here - had put a lot of work into that bank, but it had not been maintained lately, and the cracks were beginning to show. Soon the abandoned fields would become swamp and then lagoon. Mangroves would grow here for a while, until the sea rose too high even for them. (Going Under)

I think there are several reasons why flooding features so prominently in my work. One is that I spent a lot of time on or near the water as a child. My family emigrated to New Zealand when I was two, and later on, my dad got a job as a fisheries inspector. While he chased after paua poachers and the like, I would dam streams on the beach, a vocation commemorated in this little prose poem:

Bluecliffs Beach

The boy plays in the sand. His father, the inspector, has been gone for two hours, checking paua, checking crayfish, checking for bad men sifting the tide.

The boy is damming streams. They flow down from the blue cliffs, over the road, and into Te WaeWae Bay. Except for one: the stream the boy has dammed. The water pools, goes wide, searches for a way. The boy is ready. He has driftwood, he has sand. One day he will be the greatest hydro engineer the world has ever seen. The Waiau, the mighty Clutha: none will flow free of his reach for long.

His dad returns. No bad men today. They drink coffee from a thermos, taking turns with the single cup, then walk back to the van. The boy looks back. The wind, the sun, the tide, the stream, the sand.
(from Southern Ocean Review 43)

Next, there's my interest in climate change. Writing creatively about climate change in general isn't easy - something I'll talk about more in the second part of this post, when I've figured out why! - but the rising sea can be powerful in a story, both as an actor in itself and because it stands in so well for fate. "No fate but what we make," says the Terminator franchise, but the sea is ever-present, inescapable. It's coming for you.

The third reason is, again, personal. In 1989, I nearly drowned when swept off my feet at Smaills Beach, near Dunedin. I was saved by good fortune and the swift action of friends, to whom I am very grateful. That near-drowning has turned up several times in my work, most recently in "Going Under" in Transported. So, if you'd prefer to avoid the trouble and inconvenience of such an experience, this is what it felt like to a thinly-disguised me.

From "Going Under"

Martin lay on the beach for a while, talking with his new flatmate Chris. But the sea looked inviting, and he dragged himself out of the sandhills and down to the water’s edge. He dipped his toe in, and decided the water was getting warmer by the year. Of course, seasonal fluctuations were always — Stop thinking, Martin, he told himself, and get in there! He advanced to calf-deep, to thigh- and hip-deep (postponing the inevitable shock when the water first touched his balls); he savoured the ebb and surge of the streaming water.

When the troughs of the swells were reaching his chest and the crests were lifting the hair from his neck as he turned to let them pass, he decided that he’d come far enough, and started back. Turning, he was caught off-balance by an incoming wave approaching the beach on an angle, warped by the longshore current. It washed him off the sandy hummock on which he had been standing and deposited him on the floor of a pit almost a metre deeper. The water climbed above his shoulders and his head. Only his frantically waving arm broke the surface.

He had a couple of minutes to live. He leapt upwards; his head breached the surface, and he took a mouthful of foam and air. No-one was nearby. He yelled, but the water swallowed his cry and surged into his lungs. Another jump, a half-breath, then a wave broke over his head and he was submerged again. A third jump; this time, he barely broke the surface before falling back.

Martin was well under this time, and his legs were tiring. He tried to make the air in his lungs last and even had time to look about him. Despite his panic, he noticed the colour of the light - Steinlager green - and the hummocks on the sea floor. I’m going to die here, he thought. Water and bubbles flashed before his eyes. He could feel himself fading. Well, one last jump for old times’ sake …

The current was an impartial thing. It had prowled that shore for ages, carving out headlands at the northern end of each beach, working with the waves to scour the bottom. It had swept him out of his depth, and with his life some thirty seconds from its end, as he tried one last jump for air, it swept him out of the pit and back onto higher ground. His head rose above water; he breathed raggedly, coughed up a specimen of the brine that had nearly claimed him, and staggered towards the shore.

Stories excerpted in this post are from Transported: Short Stories (Vintage, 2008). You can buy Transported online from New Zealand Books Abroad or Fishpond.

22 June 2009

Is Star Trek What You Think Of When You Think of Science Fiction?

Star Trek isn't what I think of when I think of science fiction. But it's very clear that it's what many people think of, including members of the media. That surprises me - but maybe it shouldn't.

There are two poems about Star Trek in Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand ("In Which I Materialize, Horribly Maimed, in the Transporter Room of the Enterprise" by John Dolan, and "Lament of the imperfect copy of Ensign Harry Kim" by Tze Ming Mok). For the record, there's also a poem about Dr Who - Louis Johnson's "Love Among The Daleks", which dates from 1970, and was the poem from the anthology published in Wednesday's Dominion Post newspaper. And we could have had a very good Battlestar Galactica poem as well, but we decided Battlestar Galactica might not be widely enough known to make sense to most of our audience.

Here's the thing. When I think of science fiction, I think of authors: Kim Stanley Robinson and Ursula Le Guin, Gene Wolfe and Nalo Hopkinson. And I think of TV series: Battlestar Galactica (the dark, political modern reimagining, not the clunky 1970s original) and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. But I was never a huge fan of Star Trek, either in its original incarnation or one of its many subsequent series and ventures into film. I haven't even seen the latest Star Trek film, and while I'll probably watch out for it on TV, I don't feel any great urge to see it on the big screen. To me, Star Trek was usually too chocolate-boxy, too predictable, too lame. ("From hell's heart I stab at thee, Kirk!" - of course, a couple of the movies were honourable exceptions.)

But Star Trek, in all its primary-coloured glory, still seems to be what most people think of when they think of science fiction. I wish that wasn't the case, because I think this contributes to science fiction not getting its due as a genre that can provide a perspective on the world and the universe not readily available by other means. (Then again, since we entitled one of the sections of Voyagers "The Final Frontier", I suppose we can't complain too much!) But it looks as though it will be quite some time before the influence, benign or malign, of Star Trek fades from public consciousness.

How about you? What do you think of when you think of science fiction?

17 June 2009

Voyagers, Vogels and Montanas, Oh My!


Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand
is getting good exposure in the Dominion Post this week. Louis Johnson's poem from the anthology, "Love Among the Daleks" was the Wednesday Poem in the DomPost, and in Saturday's Indulgence section, there will be a short piece about the book written by Tom Cardy, whom I completely deny knowing since we were callow youths in Dunedin.

It bears repeating: You can buy Voyagers from Amazon.com as a paperback or Kindle e-book; New Zealand Books Abroad; or Fishpond. You can also find out more about Voyagers, and buy it directly from the publisher, at the Voyagers mini-site.

Bookshop distribution is taking longer to arrange - as an aside, one reason that Australian literature has a surprisingly low profile in New Zealand is that New Zealand bookshops seem reluctant to deal with Australian distributors - but books are trickling in here: at least, I know that Parsons in Lambton Quay, Wellington has a copy! But you may find that an online option is your best bet to buy the book at the moment.

UPDATE: There will be 5 copies in Unity Books, Wellington, from Friday 19 June.

The Sir Julius Vogel Awards 2009

It is long past time that I congratulated the winners in the 2009 Sir Julius Vogel Awards. Sadly for me, I wasn't one of them; my cunning plan of competing against myself (with Transported and JAAM 26) allowed that up-and-coming author Elizabeth Knox to burst through the middle in the Best Collected Work category.

But my congratulations go to all the winners, and especially to Helen Lowe, who took out both Best Novel - Young Adult and Best New Talent, and Grant Stone, who won Best Short Story.

This Year's Montana Book Awards Controversy

It wouldn't be the Montana Book Awards without a controversy. Last year, the big fuss was over the judges for the Best Novel awards restricting the field to four candidates rather than the allowable five.

This year, Graham "Bookman" Beattie has criticised the elitism of the Best Novel shortlist, while Joanna Preston has noted that Auckland University Press and Victoria University Press have been the only publishers with works on the shortlist in the past two years, though other publishers have been represented there in the past.

One possible reason for the limited representation of poetry publishers is that, from the perspective of a small press publisher's (or poet's) budget, it is very expensive to enter these awards. To quote from the rules at http://www.booksellers.co.nz/documents/mnzba09_entry_forms_information.pdf:

9. An entry fee of NZ$100 (including GST)
will be charged for each submission. A fee of
NZ$150 (including GST) will be charged for
publishers who are not members of Booksellers
New Zealand.

For books with a print run of fewer than 1,000
copies an entry fee of NZ$85 (including GST) will
be charged. A fee of NZ$125 (including GST) will
apply in this instance to publishers who are not
members of Booksellers New Zealand.

(In addition, publishers have to supply five copies of each book entered.)

To punt this amount of money, a small press publisher or author has to be confident that the book in question has a good chance of winning – and, given the dominance of the university presses (in particular VUP and AUP) in this category, not many small press publishers or authors would have this confidence. Thus, the more AUP and VUP win, the less competition they will have in future – and, though the finalists are certainly worthy of that honour, I think it would be good to spread the net wider.

If you agree, or if there's some other aspect of the awards that needs improving, you have a chance to do something about it. To quote another blog post by Joanna Preston:

Addendum: this year is the last year under Montana’s sponsorship, and so Booksellers New Zealand are reviewing the awards, and are calling for public submissions.

Submissions should be emailed to:
AwardsReview (at) booksellers.co.nz,
or mailed to Booksellers New Zealand, PO Box 13248, Johnsonville, Wellington 6440
by 1 July 2009.

Submissions will be listed online at http://www.booksellers.co.nz/bk_awards_review.htm, by name and date, from Wednesday 10 June. They will be available to download in full, in pdf format.

15 June 2009

An Interview with Lyn McConchie

Lyn McConchie is a New Zealand writer who has been published extensively, especially in the USA, in a range of genres: science fiction, fantasy, horror, humour, and mystery. Lyn was crippled in an accident in 1977 and forced to take medical retirement in 1988. She now owns and runs a small farm near Norsewood, where she breeds coloured sheep and tends her free range geese and hens. I talked with Lyn abut her career, the many genres in which she has written, her collaboration with Andre Norton, and her view on the future of publishing.

Lyn, you began your professional writing career in 1991, with short fiction sales to the US magazines MZB's Fantasy Magazine and Strange Plasma. What got you started in writing short fiction, and had you been writing and submitting stories for long before you made your first sale?

Tim, actually it’s all Greg Hills’ fault that I ever started writing at all. At the time he was the WARP editor. He suggested one day that he’d appreciate it if I could find time to do a few book reviews and I did, then I was asked for an article, and provided one. He said later that I could probably manage a short story or two for the magazine? And I did. Natcons here were running a short story competition by then each Natcon, so I started entering. Culminating in winning the last two that I’d entered, so a friend suggested that I should try selling some of my work. Being the eternal optimist that I am, I did. I looked up markets in LOCUS, and another friend mentioned a children’s magazine (KIWI KIDS) that had just started here. So I sent out three stories, one each to MZB's Fantasy Magazine, Strange Plasma and Kiwi Kids. I also offered poems to another market in the States. All three stories sold to my pop-eyed astonishment, and while the poetry magazine didn’t accept the poems I offered, they too found homes later and elsewhere. So no, I hadn’t exactly been submitting stories long before I made my first sale, and I’d only been writing fiction at all for about five years.

You have published 16 novels – which impresses me tremendously! How did your first novel come to be written and published?

Um. It’s 24 books now. I had a mad binge on acceptances last year and sold five, with another so far this year. The first however was a surprise. I’d been writing long letters to overseas friends about my farm and mad farm animals for several years. When at a writer’s group with friends I was asked to read one of the episodes, I did so and it was pointed out that this could be publishable. There was at the time a quarterly magazine here that specialised on the subject of lifestyle blocks/farmlets, and I offered them four humorous true-life articles based on my letters to friends. These were accepted, and some months later the editor came back to me asking if I had sufficient material for a book. I did, and the publisher for whom he worked accepted that. It appeared in May of ’93 and has been in print ever since. The series transferred to AVALOOK PUBLICATIONS in Australia in 2002, and since then it’s gone to four books with a fifth sold and scheduled to appear shortly

The next two books were sold in the UK from a small publisher. Again, by something of a fluke and originally because of an argument with a writer friend. To prove my point to her I sat down and wrote a 45,000 word book in three weeks. I won the argument and later Rod Marsden in Australia, who knew about this book, told me of a UK publisher who was taking that sort of work. I offered, they accepted, and asked for another, which I also wrote in around three weeks and sold to them.

Many of your novels have been written and published in collaboration with the famous science fiction and fantasy writer Andre Norton. How did this collaboration come about?

Andre was an old friend whom I’d known for some time before I began writing. When I did she encouraged me hugely, read some of my short stories, and was always very supportive. How the first book arose from that is a very long story, but its acceptance and publication was on her initiative.

It's evident from your website that, for your books listed as co-written with Andre Norton, you did most or all of the work, either writing the book based on a brief outline she provided, or writing the book from scratch within a universe she had created. How do you feel now about the pros and cons of such an arrangement, where a better-known writer lends their name to a project mainly or wholly written by an initially less-well-known writer?

KEY OF THE KEPLIAN, CIARA’S SONG, THE DUKE’S BALLAD and SILVER MAY TARNISH, were all written completely by me with no input from Andre apart from approval. The three Beast Master books arose from a conversation when I was staying with her in 1995. She said that she felt she was out of ideas for the series, had never wanted to continue with it, but knew it was still very open-ended. Would I like to continue with it? There and then while eating breakfast we discussed possible ideas that I wrote down. These became two outlines (for the next two books,) one of almost two pages, one of one page. I can’t remember for certain whose the ideas they were, we were tossing them back and forth, but I believe the major plotlines of alien insects and the Thieves Guild circus both came from me. The third Beast Master book I wrote with no input, but Andre liked it, particularly my reversion to Beast Masters returning to be part of First in Scout Survey teams again.

In addition to the novels, you have had plenty of short stories, poems and non-fiction published. All that writing takes a lot of dedication. How do your schedule your writing day, and do you find it hard to fit in writing with your other commitments?

Every cloud has a silver lining. Being crippled, and not being able to work 9-5, I can write at any time just so long as I’m not in too much pain to concentrate. I’ve averaged two books, about 12 short stories, plus maybe 3-4 articles/opinion pieces, and a handful of poems every year. That adds up after 20 years. Since my other commitments are mostly the farm and animals, and it’s a very small farm, I manage without too many problems. One of my main advantages is that I don’t have problems if I’m interrupted. I can just return, read the last sentence and I’m away writing again.

You live on and run a small farm, and you've had a number of books about rural life published in the Farming Daze series. Do you find writing these books a refreshing change from writing the big fantasy novels? Does writing them present its own, separate set of challenges?

These books write themselves. Any time something peculiar or amusing happens on the farm I write it up. That goes into letters to friends, but at some stage when there’s enough material, I sort it out into the next book. Since it isn’t fiction it’s a huge difference from writing fantasy – although some of the farm stuff can cross over. For instance, the coloured sheep flock in CIARA’S SONG and DUKE’S BALLAD are my real sheep. And Andre borrowed my tales of them too for her book, THE HANDS OF LYR, where they became alien herd animals.

I hear that your current writing project is a Western. What got you interested in writing in that genre, and what's the market like for Westerns these days? What are the key things a good Western needs?

Well, I like a good western, and one day I sat down and wrote one for fun. I then found that the market had gone south as publishers now didn’t want the standard shorter work. They wanted 120,000 word blockbusters and mine was around 70,000. So I filed it. Then I found that a USA publisher to whom I was selling short stories for her magazines, also had a western imprint. I offered, she accepted, and SOUTH OF RIO CHAMA appears later this year. What does a good western need? Same as any other book I guess. Good plot, character development, realist dialogue, and something that moves right along. Oh, and it helps if you are an expert in the Old West. I’m very definitely not, so it’s a learning experience.

There's a flood of news at the moment about changes in the publishing industry, under the twin impacts of the recession and of changes in the ways books are produced, distributed and marketed. What changes have you seen in the publishing industry since 1991? Are you optimistic about the future of publishing in general, and science fiction and fantasy publishing in particular?

There’s been a huge impact on the market with many smaller publishers going into POD and download and the market expanding without the need to warehouse enormous quantities of printed copies. I would always prefer to see my books in print, the POD/download duo I find acceptable, but I don’t think I’d want to sell a book to a publisher that didn’t have that option. I’m old fashioned perhaps, but I like a book I can read in the bath, in bed, or while waiting in a car for friends. And no, I don’t find that the kindle cuts it. And I have the feeling that this won’t change for me.

Apart from the Western, what other writing projects do you have on the go?

I’m just waiting to see the cover for the new non-fiction book from Avalook Publications. RURAL DAZE AND (K)NIGHTS, is due out in a couple more months and the cover is being done by my regular artist who lives near me.

I have some revision still to do on the other book from Cyberwizard Productions. That’s SUMMER OF DREAMING, a supernatural fantasy for older children/YA and set in New Zealand. Sadly I couldn’t find a publisher here, so it was offered to Cyberwizard who liked it.

I’m gradually putting together a short story theme collection of SF stories I hope to offer a publisher late this year.

I’ve just completed first draft of a new fantasy, and at some stage must sit down and write several linked short stories that are harassing me.

I’m also expecting to have revision to do this year on the book sold to TOR, (THE QUESTING ROAD, set in my own world of Aradia) and my SF/disaster novel set in NZ, and sold to Daverana Enterprises, (VESTIGES OF FLAMES). With all that cleared I’ll begin on the next Aradian fantasy which I hope to have done by Christmas if none of the above holds that schedule back too far.

11 June 2009

What Makes a Good Book Launch? What Makes a Good Reading?

I had a great time reading poetry at Palmerston North City Library, as part of the Stand Up Poetry series (forthcoming readers in that series: Glenn Colquhoun, Harvey Molloy, Helen Heath), a week ago. I enjoyed the open mike session that preceded my reading, I was happy with my own performance, the feedback was good, and I sold plenty of my books. Earlier this year, I had an equally good time reading in Christchurch (despite a heavy cold).

But that hasn't always been the case. I've done readings where the crowd was small, unresponsive, and discinclined to buy my books or any other part of the deal – readings that left me wondering "what am I doing here?"

And if readings are important, especially to poets and small-press authors, launches are even more so. Sales at a launch can make or break the financial success of a poetry book; besides which, the launch is a ritual which marks the entry of your book into the world.

I've been at launches where people were queuing to buy the books from the sales table, such as the launch for Helen Rickerby's second book of poetry, My Iron Spine, last year. I've been at others where the author sits, embarrassed, behind the sales and signing table, while the audience slink, just as embarrassedly, towards the exit.

Why? What makes some launches and readings a great experience for everyone involved, and others a depressing and often humiliating failure?

I wish I knew, because then I could bottle the formula. But here's a few thoughts on what makes a good book event:

  • Warmth! If it's a welcoming temperature at the event and cold outside, participants won't want to leave.
  • A friendly, inclusive atmosphere. Literary cliques, leave your affiliations at the door. Everyone should feel free to mingle, or not mingle if they prefer.
  • The most likely people to buy your book at a launch are friends and colleagues, so make sure you invite them, encourage them to come, and be nice to them when they turn up.
  • This is a tough one, since it's hard to predict numbers - but it's good to have a space where there's enough room for people to move around, but not so much that they feel isolated.
  • The ideal sales table/area has room for a face-out display of the book(s) for sale; it's also best if it's somewhere where it's always in easy view, rather than being tucked away in the back of the room where people have to make a special effort to find it.
  • If you're in charge of book sales, make sure you bring plenty of change, and, if you can manage it, an EFTPOS machine.
  • At a launch, don't wait too long before starting, keep the speeches short (something Harvey Molloy did very well at the launch of Moonshot). Don't don't rush people out after the formal part of the launch finishes – encourage them to linger and talk. Food and drink help!
  • Promote the event every which way you can, without spamming people.

Every reading I've done has been a different length and in different circumstances, but I'm finding that what works best for me is to embed the poems in a loose narrative -starting with some autobiographical poems, and then going on to others that are united by theme. That approach makes me more relaxed, and seems to make the audience more relaxed as well.

While I do include some serious poems, I generally make sure to start with shorter and simpler poems, sprinkle the reading with humour, and end with a couple of poems that have plenty of energy. That way, everyone finishes on a high.

I might apply this approach to the next reading I do and fall flat on my face - but I hope not.

What works for you (as a writer or as a guest) at book launches and readings?

07 June 2009

Voyagers Interview: The Podcast

Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand has just been published. You can buy Voyagers from Amazon.com as a paperback or Kindle e-book, or from Fishpond in New Zealand. You can also find out more about Voyagers, and buy it directly from the publisher, at the Voyagers mini-site.

This afternoon, National Radio in New Zealand played an interview that Arts on Sunday presenter Lynn Freeman recorded with Mark Pirie and myself about Voyagers. The interview is now available as a podcast in mp3 format from the Radio New Zealand website - the address to download it is


While you're in podcasting mode, you might also want to check out this Sunday Group discussion from earlier in the day about the Transition Towns movement - very interesting:


During the Voyagers interview, I mentioned - jokingly - the prospect of a second volume, given the number of poems we could potentially include, and the number of poets who have said they would like the chance to submit a science fiction poem or two. But what should the title be? I've got as far as Voyagers 2: The Voyaging. Anyone have a better suggestion?

04 June 2009

Poetry Runway: Promoting Poetry, One Contestant At A Time

UPDATE: As Jack Ross has pointed out (see the comments), Project Poetry is a much better title than Poetry Runway.

I went to Palmerston North yesterday to read in the Stand Up Poetry series at the very impressive Palmerston North City Library. I really enjoyed myself: I had a great time reading to an appreciative audience, sold plenty of books, had a lovely dinner before the event and lengthy pub discussions about poetry afterwards, and enjoyed meeting lots of new people and some poets I'd only met virtually before, including series MC Helen Lehndorf and my overnight host, Tim Upperton.

And it was on the way home from Palmerston North that the idea came to me. If reality TV shows could work for modelling (America's Next Top Model), fashion (Project Runway), and the chance to enjoy the sexual attentions of Brett Michaels (Rock of Love), then why not a similar show for poetry? Because Project Runway is the only one of those shows I actually like, and because I have no imagination, I think it should be called Poetry Runway.

Here's the set-up: fifteen arriving poets are selected to enter the competition, under the wise mentorship of a debonair poetry expert (Billy Collins, perhaps, or Margaret Atwood, or, if available, T. S. Eliot). Each week, they must complete a poetry challenge - a pantoum, a villanelle, a book-length encomium to Elizabeth the First - and each week, they must present themselves to the judges (obviously, the panel must be chaired by a supermodel, but the other members could be distinguished poets). Each week, one poet will be eliminated.

For three months, weekly at 8.30pm, we inhabit these poets' lives. We see them triumphant, we see them despairing, we see the tears of each eliminated poet as they are given ten minutes to return to the workroom and pack away their laptop and thesaurus. We get up close and personal with the bitchy and the noble; we see the proud humbled and the meek exalted.

For the lucky winner, the rewards are many: a year-long poetry residency at a distinguished Midwestern university, guaranteed publication of their next collection, possession of the final Humvee to roll off the assembly line, and a seven-page spread in Elle magazine. But first, the top three contestants must face the ultimate challenge: putting on a half-hour poetry show at New York Poetry Week while the city's leading poets chatter obliviously and clink their glasses.

Poetry fever would grip the world. Slim volumes would sell like slim hot cakes. Watercooler conversations would revolve around Heid Klum's harsh comments on the use of ampersands. The show would be franchised, and here in New Zealand we'd all get to compete for a brand new bus pass and a chance to fall over in front of Jason Gunn.

I have the vision. All I need now is a television producer with a lot of money and very little common sense. Are you out there?

Portions of this blog post not affecting the outcome have been removed in consultation with the producers.

01 June 2009

Two Big Climate Campaigns for 2009

2009 is a critical year for the future of the planet's climate. World leaders are gathering in Copenhagen in December to attempt to agree on a successor to the current Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which expires in 2012.

The successor to Kyoto needs to mandate deep and rapid global cuts in net greenhouse gas emissions, and fund the means by which these cuts can be made, if the bulk of the planet's surface is to remain liveable for its existing macrofauna (that's big creatures, like humans and trees) much beyond the mid-point of this century. Things really have got that serious.

The science is arguing - screaming - for action now, but the politicians who will gather in Copenhagen have many powerful interests whispering in their ear, urging them to do nothing. To counteract this,several major climate campaigns are gearing up for action in the lead-up to Copenhagen. If you want a meaningful agreement at Copenhagen, I suggest you add your voice to one or more of these. In New Zealand, there's an action this coming Friday to kick things off.


That says it all, really. The target is to get the global concentration of greenhouse gases back down to 350 parts CO2-equivalent, which has a high probability of being a safe level. The political goal is to get world leaders gathering at the Copenhagen climate summit later this year to sign on to such a goal. And the strategy is for a massive worldwide day of action on 24 October, with all the actions featuring the number 350 in some way.

Around the world, you can find out what's planned for your area, and get involved, at the 350.org website. And in New Zealand, the corresponding site is 350.org.nz. This is a campaign in which you can really exercise your creativity!

Greenpeace Sign On Campaign

As I've lamented previously, the National-led Government which was elected in New Zealand in late 2008 has been gaily throwing out many of the previous Labour-led Government's initiatives on climate change. Prime Minister John Key has gone on record, most recently earlier this year in Investigate magazine, as a climate change sceptic. It certainly won't be out of any sense of personal commitment that he signs New Zealand up to an agreement at Copenhagen.

Therefore, New Zealanders who want our Government to take meaningful action on climate change need to make it very clear to John Key what the political consequences of doing nothing will be. One way is by signing on to Greenhouse's Sign On campaign. Here's the call to action:

Climate change is happening faster than anyone expected. In December this year world leaders will gather in Copenhagen to Sign On to a global agreement for action. For NZ to do its bit to help avoid catastrophic impacts, John Key needs to go to Copenhagen and Sign On to reduce New Zealand’s emissions by 40 per cent by 2020.

You can join the campaign here.

Mr Freeze

People across New Zealand are Freezing at 1pm on 5 June (this coming Friday) to show their support for united action on climate change. You can join a Freeze in Auckland, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch or Dunedin at http://freezenz.wordpress.com

So there we are. For a small commitment of time, we have the chance to make a difference on climate change in 2009. Let's hook into it!