29 April 2010

An Interview With Vana Manasiadis

Vana Manasiadis was born in Wellington in 1973. She studied English and Classics at Victoria University, and later completed an MA in Creative Writing there. For the last few years she has been living in Crete, and travelling whenever possible, but she plans to be back on Wellington’s South Coast at the end of the year. Her poems have been published in a variety of journals, and her first collection of poetry, Ithaca Island Bay Leaves, was recently published by Seraph Press.

What was the genesis of Ithaca Island Bay Leaves? Did it start life as your project for the MA in Creative Writing at Victoria?

An earlier version of Ithaca Island Bay Leaves did end up as my MA folio, but my idea at first had been to explore that quite antipodean rite of passage commonly known as the OE. I was drawn to questions of mobility, transferability, and the various notions of home like comfort, familiarity, repose.

But, I didn't get very far with my tales of the backpacker before the family stories of movement and flux blew in. My grandmother’s in particular, and then my mother’s. They both had/have quite conflicted relationship to moving and movement, to home and time; and I became interested in those tensions, and about people's desire and ability to adapt and re-invent themselves, to settle or not settle.

So, the book became about my family's various movements, and also about the various movements of figures from ancient history, as I've imagined them. (And, because I have difficulty conceiving of time as linear, everyone ended up sort of co-existing, crossing over countries and years).

I suspect many readers of this blog won't be familiar with the form of a mythistorima - I certainly wasn't! What is a mythistorima, and why did you choose this form for your collection?

I really like this question, because it gives me a chance to explain! Although mythistorima specifically means ‘novel’ in modern Greek, and also more generally ‘fairytale’ or ‘fantasy’, the etymological meaning (perhaps not surprisingly), is myth and history combined - from the time when people disseminated myths and (his)stories by word of mouth. I really like the fluid and undisciplined nature of speech and so I decided to kind of unfix the form of Ithaca and assume oral language with its tangents, fillers and pauses, as the governing concept. I tried to make sense of all the different forms in the book as transcripts, or fragments, then pieced them together so that they might ‘tell’ a kind of story while still remaining a little elusive.

Is there an identifiable tradition of Greek-New Zealand writing, or New Zealand writing about Greece, and if so, do you see Ithaca Island Bay Leaves as part of this tradition?

I'm not really aware of an identifiable tradition of Greek-New Zealand writing, but I could perhaps point to Michael Harlow who has Greek-Ukrainian heritage and whose poetry I’d say very strongly reflects an ‘older’ or ‘other’ world co-existing simultaneously with the here and new. In terms of New Zealand writing about Greece, there’s naturally a body of academic writing about ancient Greece via classics departments, and some non-fiction like travel writing and historical writing - for example on the battle of Crete.

In Ithaca I was interested in exploring ideas for which the country Greece became a bit of a vehicle. But, there’s no denying, I am of Greek descent, and so the whole thing becomes a bit chicken and egg.

I have to admit that I’m a little cautious about categorizations such as ‘Greek-New Zealand writing’. I think they can be useful in some situations (like this one!), but they have the potential to be limiting too. I went a bit nutty recently (then felt bad), when some new work which had nothing to do with Greece, was accepted by a publication and labeled Greek-New Zealand writing because I'd written it.

What has been the reaction to Ithaca Island Bay Leaves from readers of Greek descent in New Zealand, and in Greece and Crete?

So far my sample size is quite small, and I've only recently got back to Crete, so don’t have much feedback from this end. Readers of Greek descent in New Zealand seem to have related to the linguistic and cultural meeting points; and to the moments of loss, being-at-a-loss, slight absurdity. An older second-generation Greek woman said she cried, and that was really amazing for me – to hear that.

Are you involved in the poetry scene where you now live, and if so, can you tell us a little about it?

I haven’t really found a poetry scene in the town where I’m living, maybe it’s behind an amazing hidden door and I just haven’t discovered the secret handshake. I can say that I went to a talk tonight on Sappho which is part of a series of talks on various poets organized by a kind of bar/arts centre here. There’s a lot of interest or reverence or passion for poetry and literature generally here, and tonight’s question-answer time turned into a very animated affair as usual. So maybe I could say that I haven’t come across that many writers, but it seems that pretty much everyone feels very strongly about writing.

The production quality of Ithaca Island Bay Leaves is very high (as it has been for all the books published by Seraph Press). Were you heavily involved in the design of the book?

Helen Rickerby, of Seraph Press, did an amazing job with the design of Ithaca, and she was really wonderful to work with. The whole production aspect of the book was so easy and stimulating and a very positive experience.

We had similar ideas about the look of the book, about how things like the font, and the amount of space on the page and around the words could mirror the tone of the book. We liked the idea of the words and lines looking like loops of crochet, and seeming more frail than emphatic.

Also, it was Helen's idea to have an image of my grandmother's crochet on the inside cover, and she took the beautiful photograph of Island Bay on the back cover to complement Marian Maguire's lithograph on the front. I'd been in totally in love with Marian Maguire's work for a long time so excited to have Athena Observes a Fracas for the cover.

Have you been satisfied with the critical reaction to Ithaca Island Bay Leaves, in terms of both the number of reviews and the reactions of those who have reviewed it?

To date the book has been reviewed in the New Zealand Herald and the Otago Daily Times. The Herald review, by Paula Green, was a really positive and generous review, and (of course) I felt that she really got the book when she said, 'It is a way of telling stories, and a way of being told'.

The ODT review, by Bluff resident Hamesh Wyatt, said something along the lines of fascinating, funny and a bit random. Lynn Freeman on "Arts on Sunday" – and I don't know if this counts as a review – said nice things during her interview with me on Radio New Zealand too, and that was really exciting for me. I'm pretty happy and surprised to have had any critical response at all – but Helen has done some great work publicising in an environment where poetry, especially from small presses, sadly doesn't get a heap of attention.

Which poets have had the most influence on your writing, or are among your personal favourites? Are there any whom you'd especially recommend?

Having recently seen Jane Campion's Bright Star, I feel I have to say that John Keats was one of the first poets that really mattered to me. I remember receiving his embrace of life and earthy decay as epiphany.

In more recent times, I've really enjoyed and been inspired by Greek poet Nasos Vaghenas, Derek Walcott and Anne Carson – particularly Anne Carson - for her play with forms, and the unpredictable, magical, moving, powerful combinations of those forms, and times, settings, and voices. And, she knows a lot of stuff. When I read Anne Carson I feel in the presence of both raw heart and razor-sharp mind. I've also been reading a bit of New York poet Kenneth Koch, and his vitality, energy and again dancing and surprising combinations of images and directions have been pretty elating.

But, I have to admit that I read more prose than poetry, and at the moment Roberto Bolano has my favour. Entirely awed by his epic 2666, I'm now reading his Savage Detectives which has me equally amazed and moved and feeling very alive. His prose is active and declarative, and again, very intelligent. His characters are both egotistical and vulnerable at the same time, are vexed by longing and hunger.

Do you have a plan for how your writing career will unfold? If so, and if it isn't a secret, where do you see yourself and your writing in five years' time?

I should pay you for asking me this. I don't have a plan, I feel like I should, but I don't. It's been five years since I wrote the first version of Ithaca, and although I've been working on other projects since then, its been in a very uncommitted, very inconsistent way.

My most stubborn project has grown out of a conversation with my sister who directs and writes for theatre. She had been working on a script and was interested in including prose written by one of the characters, and suggested I contribute the writing. The experience of collaboration was energizing and has made me think that I’d like to work more collaboratively in the future in general.

Writing is so solitary but it doesn't have to be, and working on Ithaca has made me think about community. Sure, there’s often a writerly community, and the potential for numerous discussions, influences, inspirations, but ultimately a work ends up with a single author's name on it, and I’m becoming quite interested in ideas of likeness and kinship. Let's say that in five years I’ll be part of some collective writing type thing, and merging lots more.

Sample Poem: King of Mycenae

Menelaus was known as a bit of an eccentric.
Over a pint at The Arms, he’d boast about this
and that: his kidnapped wives, his wagered wars,
his days as a people smuggler. He’d sailed on
the Queen Mary, ridden on the Orient Express,
eaten quince. He was the talk of Greymouth.

For a longer poem from the collection, see Tuesday Poem: Ithaca.

Book Availability

Ithaca Island Bay Leaves is available from the publisher, Seraph Press, and from independent bookshops around New Zealand, including Unity Books; Otago University Bookshop; The Women's Bookshop (Auckland); Parsons Books (Auckland); Scorpio Books (Christchurch); Time Out Bookstore (Auckland); and Page & Blackmore (Nelson).

It can be ordered through any bookshop, using its ISBN: 978-0-473-15235-2

Finally, if you have a jones for author interviews, you can view all the author interviews on my blog by using this search.

26 April 2010

Tuesday Poem: Icarus, by Vana Manasiadis


This is the truth of it: Icarus was dead set on seeing whether the Wa Hine
existed – that’s why he took off one day.
His father had said: If you go, you’ll need the constitution to match –
a strong will, a top navigational ability.
If you are successful, you can be whoever you please – discoverer, inventor.
Then again, should you fail, you’ll fall into the sea and drown.
You could breathe some life into these though,
glue new feathers into the empty spaces –
kiwi will do, moa would be better.

The trip was not easy. Twisters and tsunamis threatened Icarus at every turn. His wings
drooped under the weight of monsoons.
But he managed to remain airborne until he reached the Miramar Peninsula
where a storm, perhaps even a cyclone, was blowing.
He was tossed onto the paths of uprooted trees and roofing iron,
stray doors, and pots, and seaweed.
He got lost in laundry,
he tired, he sank.

Fishermen who’d been called to the siren’s aid, came across Icarus bobbing
in the water around Barrett’s rock;
his wings spread about him. Mr Rawhiti pulled him up.
He said awesomely: what a
kalo kahu huruhuru,
fine feathered cloak.
He said: a chief’s son.

Vana Manasiadis formerly lived in Wellington, and currently lives in Crete. "Icarus" is taken from her first poetry collection, Ithaca Island Bay Leaves (2009). I will be interviewing Vana on my blog later this week.

Ithaca Island Bay Leaves is available from the publisher, Seraph Press, and from independent bookshops around New Zealand, including Unity Books; Otago University Bookshop; The Women's Bookshop (Auckland); Parsons Books (Auckland); Scorpio Books (Christchurch); Time Out Bookstore (Auckland); Page & Blackmore (Nelson).

It can be ordered through any bookshop, using its ISBN: 978-0-473-15235-2

For other Tuesday Poems, see the Tuesday Poem blog.

22 April 2010

Should New Zealand Have Its Own Section On The Poetry International Web?

I've been looking through this week's Tuesday Poems, and thinking about poems - mine and others' - I plan to post on forthcoming Tuesdays.

While doing this, I visited the Poetry International Web. Poetry International is a significant organisation: it organises the annual Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam, and it maintains a website with many poems, articles, videos and news.

The website is organised into national sections, each overseen by a national editor, each with its own wealth of material. Australia has a national section; so does Zimbabwe - a particularly impressive one - and Lithuania, and Croatia.

But there is no national section for Aotearoa/New Zealand, presumably because we don't have a national editor. I think that's a pity. So I'm wondering, would it be good if we did have a national section, and if so, how could this be brought about?

The Poetry International FAQ includes a list of the requirements for a national editor, and they are not insignificant. But is there anyone out there who meets those criteria and would be willing to take on the job?

20 April 2010

Tuesday Poem: Honey Moon

Honey Moon

When you moved through the cold
a fierce essential flame

I warmed myself at your altar.

ate the afterbirth of day.
Birdsong wrestled with silence.

You covered me in stolen light -
this new and secret skin.

"Honey Moon" was originally published in the New Zealand Listener on 18 March 2006, and is one of the poems I plan to include in my forthcoming collection Men Briefly Explained.

See the Tuesday Poem blog for lots more Tuesday Poems!

15 April 2010

Book Review: Cornelius & Co, Collected Working-Class Verse 1996-2009

I posted John O'Connor's poem A Left Hook as my Tuesday Poem this week, and now it's time to review the collection from which it comes, which is published by Post Pressed in Queensland and costs NZ $25.00 from its New Zealand distributor.

This is the eighth book of poetry from Christchurch poet John O'Connor, and it consists of a selection of poems from John's previous collections, plus a number of new poems, and is a generous 144 pages long.

I have to confess (and I'm not saying it speaks well of me) that when I saw the subtitle "Collected Working-Class Verse" I thought the collection might be too polemical for me to enjoy. Regular - or even occasional - readers of this blog will know that I can get pretty durn polemical myself, especially about environmental issues, but, with a few exceptions, I usually avoid this in my poetry.

Well, there would be nothing wrong with a book of polemical poems, but "Cornelius & Co" isn't that book. Instead, as the Preface and Notes to this book make clear, the poems in this book are drawn from lived experience, as a resident of the working-class Christchurch suburb of Addington, as a boy growing up in an Irish-Catholic household and parish, and as a taxi driver observing the coming and goings of his fares.

These poems of full of observation, compassion, and a dry and sometimes dark humour. If I was reminded of any other New Zealand poet, it was Mark Pirie: there's the same sense of a wry narrator who's slightly - but not very - removed from the goings-on he describes, though the characters John O'Connor is writing about are far removed in class, age and circumstances from those Mark often uses in his poems.

Another aspect of the book I expected to find off-putting, but didn't in practice, was its experiments with typography: experiments it's difficult to reproduce here, with text running across and even up the page, and words replaced by dingbats. I like to focus on the words, not the presentation, so I can't say that these innovations strengthened the poems for me - but, once I got used to them, they didn't pose any barrier to my understanding and enjoyment of the poems.

The bottom line: this is an excellent book that gives poetic voice to people and lives which rarely make an appearance in modern New Zealand poetry. Well worth reading, well worth having in your collection.

The NZ distributor is: David & Wendy Ault, Madras Café Books, 165 Madras Street, Otautahi/Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand 8011; Phone 03 365 8585, Fax 03 365 8584, Mobile 021 284 8585, email info (at) madrascafebooks.co.nz

13 April 2010

Tuesday Poem: A Left Hook, by John O'Connor

A Left Hook

an early experience
of the left hook (admirably

tight if open-handed) came
at the beatific hand of

Monseigneur O'Dea - too
old to be a parish priest - who

about to impart the very
body & blood of Christ found I

was not holding the paten
correctly. a few years later

an equally irascible boxing
coach imparted impeccable

advice on how to throw it,
though he didn't know the bit

about feinting with Jesus.
when the good monseigneur

had his final photo taken
he bestowed a copy on our family

- old friends should be so blessed -
for a decade it sat on the mantelpiece

between a bunch of plastic grapes
& a glass bowl that snowed if shaken.

This poem is from John O'Connor's recently published Cornelius & Co: Collected Working-Class Verse 1996-2009 (Post Pressed, Queensland, 2010). I will review this collection in my next blog post.

The NZ distributor is: David & Wendy Ault, Madras Café Books, 165 Madras Street, Otautahi/Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand 8011; Phone 03 365 8585, Fax 03 365 8584, Mobile 021 284 8585, email info (at) madrascafebooks.co.nz

Mary McCallum's Tuesday Poem initiative now has its own Tuesday Poem blog. Check out the poem posted there, and other Tuesday Poems via the links on the left of this page.

Poetry Reading Series - Christchurch and Dunedin

The autumn poetry reading series in Christchurch is well underway, and fortnightly reading sessions in Dunedin are about to start. Check out this post for the remainder of the Christchurch series, and Kay McKenzie Cooke's blog for details of the Dunedin series (and a really good SF poem!).

07 April 2010

How To Submit On The Government's Mining Plans

I blogged a couple of weeks ago on my opposition to the New Zealand Government's plans to allow mining in our National Parks and other areas of high-value conservation land. Submissions on these proposals are open until Wednesday 26 May, and the Green Party has prepared a very helpful submission guide, including a link to the official online submission form.

You can find it here: http://www.greens.org.nz/submissions/submission-guide-mining-schedule-4

Making submissions is necessary, but not sufficient, to stop these mining plans going ahead. It's also important that you talk to your local National MP and express your opposition to these plans. Here is a list of National MPs, with contact details: http://www.national.org.nz/MPList.aspx

(Don't worry - most of them don't bite, and some of the more liberal National MPs in urban areas are already concerned about the environmental -and electoral - impact of these mining plans.)

If you live overseas and want to help this campaign, then go straight to the top: email Prime Minister John Key at j.key@ministers.govt.nz and tell him what you think. If the prospect of visiting New Zealand is less appealing to you thanks to these mining plans, or if they put you off buying New Zealand goods, I suggest you mention that as well.

Finally, the plans to mine Great Barrier Island and the Coromandel Peninsula have got most of the attention, but even if the Government decided to drop those plans, a lot of other areas of great beauty and environmental importance are at risk: for example, Stewart Island (Rakiura) is in the Government's sights. Take a look at this article about Solid Energy's plans to mine Paparoa National Park:


Digging up highly polluting coal in a National Park to power the expansion of highly polluting dairy farming. That pretty much sums up this Government's attitude to the environment.

06 April 2010

Tuesday Poem: Tuesdays


On Tuesdays
when we should be making love
we sneak off to the movies instead.

You hold my hand.
I eat an ice-cream
that I don't need and do not deserve.

It isn't art: Van Helsing.
Hellboy. Harry Potter 3.
But it's what you like

and I tag along, looking
for the joins in the CGI
and enjoying this escape

from the sunlit outer world.
Where we blink. We kiss.
Adult again, we go our separate ways.

I couldn't really pass up an opportunity to go all meta for my second contribution to the excellent Tuesday Poem initiative started by Mary McCallum (check out her blog for the details, including other bloggers taking part - the current list is also at the bottom of this post).

I didn't write Tuesdays specifically to be a Tuesday Poem - it was first published in the New Zealand Listener on 30 April 2005 and is included in my most recent poetry collection, All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens (see below).

Tuesdays is cheap movies day in Wellington.

If you'd like a copy of All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens, the easiest way is to order one directly from me, via an email to senjmito (at) gmail.com. Within New Zealand, that will cost you $15 including postage & packing. If you're from overseas, please get in touch and I'll let you know the total cost.

Till next Tuesday ...

Cover image of All Blacks Kitchen Gardens composed and photographed by John Girdlestone.

The Tuesday Poets lineup

NZ poets

claire beynon 
harvey molloy
tim jones
helen heath
helen rickerby
fifi colston 
paradoxical cat
kay mckenzie cooke
penelope todd
cilla mcqueen - nz poet laureate - who posts monday, wednesday, friday

Overseas Poets

Premium T