A daughter’s tanka

Gone thirteen years now
Happily I recall him
His cheeky grin, and
twinkling eyes under fearsome
still-black brows seldom frowned.

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A family villanelle

Perseverance doesn’t always bring just rewards
Grandfather-in-law knew, so too this I know
“Never give up!” shout the unhelpful hordes

Early photos of him, hopeful, a wife and three wards
Home from the War, what seeds would he sow?
Perseverance doesn’t always bring just rewards

He tried and he tried, never struck the right chords
His family grew large, but there was no show
“Never give up!” shout the unhelpful hordes

Seven daughters later, no son came towards
Surrounded by women was his status quo
Perseverance doesn’t always bring just rewards

Neighbours mistook their gentlemen callers’ accords
As customers, not wooers, just innocent beaux
“Never give up!” shout the unhelpful hordes

Unknown men knocked, with whom he crossed swords
Sending them packing, his house never that low
Perseverance doesn’t always bring just rewards
“Never give up!” shout the unhelpful hordes.

A boozy concrete poem

On Friday evenings, we like to open a
bottle or sometimes more, but that is
rare, only when we might host a dinner
party, or have visitors staying, or perhaps
we just decide to celebrate an important
event or milestone or maybe it is just cold
and dark and miserable, and we need
cheering up, with a wine that
has bubbles, maybe French,
maybe local,
till
we
go
on
to
a
nice
Chianti Cabernet blend, or Pinot Noir,
or a hearty Syrah from NZ or meaty Aussie Shiraz.

A dumbstruck nonet

Distance makes this inevitable
Often I’m the last to comment
The clever ones came before
I do not share their wit
I’m dumb with envy
I can’t say more
Ideas flee
“Me too”
“Nice.”

A Suffragette’s Abecedarian

As children, with no
Brothers, living in the
Country, we
Did
Everything a boy would, and more, because – mere
Females still – we were taller, stronger, faster.
Glimmers of hope for the future, were
Helped by remembrance of the past.
In our nearby town, there stood only one statue, which
Justified my hope that with
Knowledge and determination, my
Lot wasn’t predestined.
Margaret Cruickshank, my statuesque inspiration, was
NZ’s first woman GP, and alive in 1893, when
Our country led the world. Time has
Passed, 125 years now.
Quality is what matters, not
Restricted views on
She or he, no
Thoughts that might
Unfairly restrict our
Vote.
We celebrate our suffrage this year, though Pope St.
Xystus 1st would no doubt not approve of our leader, a
Youthful, unmarried, new mum. But fear not, men, this is no
Zugzwang. There’s no battle, and no loss.

An Ode to the Camera Strap

(previously published on my blog, A Separate Life, in 2009)

You were there as I took my first, timid steps
into independence
pushing your way in, and I,
naive and alone for the first time,
forgot to banish you.

So you made yourself at home at my new home
camera-strap-house-2
and my school
camera-strap-orchestra
Together we explored beautiful and exotic places
cam-strap-nontaburi-boat
camera-strappttaya-beach
Unlike me, you were never shy of the film
Years later your successors are more
retiring, discreet
They do not shout their presence
They have no sense of their own self-importance,
as you did
But I do not mourn your passing
No, rather the opposite
I find I had forgotten you existed
And so as I scan, and memories return, I smile
Then
with little sentimentality
I GIMP you gone.

bordindeja-orchestra

An Exasperated Triolet

Everything doesn’t happen for a reason
Don’t blame the victim for their loss
It wasn’t their turn, not their season
Everything doesn’t happen for a reason
It’s not their fault; it wasn’t treason!
Your unthinking comments just myopic dross
Everything doesn’t happen for a reason
Don’t blame the victim for their loss.

 

An Exasperated Triolet
Yes, I turned it into a meme.

Why I’m not there: Some explanatory quatrains

Familiar flat stones that will one day be sand
Billions and billions, on the edge of our land
Eons have shaped them, now their subtle grey tones
In pocket-sized gardens in high-income zones

Bright yellow lupins coat the west side
With sheltered pockets where we would hide
Shielding young lovers from over-exposure
Only their strong pollens threatened composure

Good memories of neighbours, of family, of unity
Of afternoons happily spent in community
Of sometimes discovering seals on the shore
Of people and lives, that live there no more

But this was no idyllic, tropical beach
No afternoon dips, no surfing in reach
Always it threatened, so predictably vicious
The strong undertow so terribly malicious

A means to The End for those in despair
Our beach unforgiving if you don’t take care
Holding back the not-very-Pacific Ocean
Holding me back from the world; such devotion.

And so I left.

Stony beach with driftwood and lupins

A Grateful One-Sentence Post

I first met the one-sentence post through the master of one-sentence posts, Indigo Bunting – though she is the master of so much more, not least bringing like-minded people together, making us feel wanted and nurtured and most importantly, special, when she is the special one – who so inspired me that I one day took a leap of faith, and wrote a one-sentence post – though if I’m honest, it was actually a two-sentence post – the words flowing from me, bursting forth onto the page, just as I burst out of those tunnels in Cappadocia, desperate to see the sky and breathe the air; and in the writing, I celebrated the birthday of my sister and my discovery of a gift for her above those tunnels, when in truth, as I wrote, I was the one receiving the gift, that of Indigo Bunting’s talent, and as always her friendship, like a sister I have never met.

A relaxing sonnet

Shall I lie on a tropical beach?
For years, our preferred happy place
With cocktails filled with mango and peach
So remote from life’s tiring rat-race

Years make it harder to expose our imperfect forms
To protect our poor psyches and hotel guests’ eyes
To sweat through the heat and tropical storms
To fool myself no-one’s offended by my thighs

So where should we go to, my lovely*, my body to conceal?
Where on this earth will bring the same peace?
Where I can bask in nature’s splendour, and feel it heal
Where I can sigh and breathe deep, all the while wrapped in a fleece

I’m called to the veldts of South Africa, where nature astounds
Where Pinotage flows, and contentment abounds.

 

* Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

A Healing Acrostic

N         Normality newly defined
O         Opportunities lost conversely mean opportunities gained
K         Kinder and gentler
I           Insight
D         Dispelled disenfranchised grief (mostly)
D         Dreams of the future, not the past
I           Inner calm and acceptance ousts shame
N         Nature appreciated
G         Gratitude

A Barren Acrostic

I           Isolated
N         Natural
F          Friendless
E          Exhausting
R          Regretful
T          Torture
I           Invasive
L          Loss
I           Ignored
T          Technology
Y          Yesterday

Some insecure rhymes

It is Poetry Month Day Five
And creativity has deserted me
I know however much I strive
I can’t even match the best bad poetry

Too early to resort to a shopping list
(Though I expect I’ll write at least one)
I don’t have the talent to make a better fist
Even though I’ve just begun.

.

My Books

My book Lemons to Limoncello, based on my blog about our three months in Italy and other places in 2013 sits on my shelf, alongside the many photobooks I have made from my travels. They were the easy books to make. Blog-to-book software makes printing out and binding the words of any of our blogs very easy to do.

In my computer (and also the cloud because I am scared to lose my documents), I have several almost-completed books not full of photos or blog posts. Doing something with them seems to be a step too far (or has been so far) – publishing these days is difficult, especially from New Zealand, and although self-publishing can be successful, and is more readily accepted these days, I fear that it would be an exercise in futility and/or vanity.

I have a book written on my infertility journey and learning to accept my life without children. It’s pretty much done, and I think my approach fills a gap in the literature. It’s a very personal book, though, so I’m not sure I’m confident enough to put it out there, though I hope to do so.

I have also dabbled in writing about my year as an exchange student in Thailand, the adjustments to life in a foreign culture with a different language, and the friendships and adventures with my fellow students. It’s come to a halt about halfway through, but I would like to finish it, if only for my own satisfaction. I’d love to make it a rollicking story of teenage adventure, so I’m not giving up on it entirely.

Finally, one year I attempted Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), in my first foray into fiction. I loved it – the characters, and the plot, and I kept writing to finish it after the month was over. It needs serious editing and rewriting. Essentially, it was about an overseas business trip (that was my life for about a decade) gone wrong, with a bit of treachery (the extension of a real-life situation), a mystery, and exotic settings. If only I could find a perfect ending for it. Because it sounds much better than it is … so far.

The Miracle of Being Awake

When I lived in Thailand for the second time, from 1990-93, a dear Thai friend gave me Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, The Miracle of Being Awake. It has helped me through some difficult times, teaching me to breathe, and talking about mindfulness long before it became so fashionable.

The book is, as it says on the new edition’s cover, an introduction to the practice of meditation. My edition (which I can’t find today, ruining any peace of mind I might have had from the book), calls it “A Manual on Meditation for the use of young activists” reflecting its original publication date of 1976, during the years of turmoil in Vietnam. It introduces mindfulness by talking about “doing the dishes to do the dishes.” I’ve written about doing the dishes here, so won’t repeat it.

The other section that has stayed with me the most was actually an analogy in the foreword, written by the translator Mobi Quynh Hoa, who spoke of trying to be a bridge between Vietnamese and Americans, between Easterners and Westerners, between Buddhists and Christians.

“But … I saw that a bridge is perhaps not the best image, for it implies a separation between two shores. Yet … the separation between two cultures seemed no longer to exist. If both cultures nourish my life, can they really be two and not one? By practising mindfulness, perhaps the worry about being from a different culture disappears, and more importantly, there is no longer any fear to experience the differences in another culture or religion. We are free to be nourished by the differences. In fact, they are no longer differences – they are simply another part of our lives and experience of the world. Instead of bridges, we become like fish who can swim from one current to another with ease.”

As someone who has cherished another culture, who loves to travel and learn about different people and cultures, and who tries to learn other languages, this was beautiful. I often think about trying to swim from one culture and/or language to another. I wish I could do it with ease. I wish we could all do it.

My bookshelves

Some of the others doing this challenge have kindly shared photos of their bookshelves. Mine are not beautiful, though, they’re basic kitset wood, jam-packed full in my crowded office. They include history books, travel guides and language books, but are mostly fiction. The reason for my own bookshelves being so crowded is that my husband has taken over the large bookshelves (some in my office, some in the spare spare room that I’d like to turn into a walk-in wardrobe), and has them jam-packed full, sometimes two books deep. His books are very different to mine, though occasionally I read his books. He never reads mine.

I adore going into someone’s house and perusing their bookshelves. You can’t do that at my house, as – except for my cookbooks over the stove, and coffee-table books, and my own printed photobooks – my bookshelves are out of the public eye. (My office is off-limits).

My bookshelves, though, are largely historical. I started at a book club in the late 1990s, and as we shared our books around, I rarely had to buy any books of my own. Then e-readers appeared, and I was an early adopter. So my library for maybe 5-8 years is hidden away on my Kindle apps. More recent reading history is not there, as I am now a library reader of e-books.

The only record of my reading is my Goodreads account. I sometimes review, generally rate, but (pretty much) always record the books I have read. I have 535 books in my Read list, of which 121 of those are e-books. There are 548 books in my To-Read list, and I need to be more discriminatory about adding books to this list. I love reading, but don’t have the extra lifetime needed to work through it.

The Meaning of Tingo

There is a gorgeous little book called The Meaning of Tingo and other extraordinary words from around the world. Anyone who has learned another language will know that there are words that don’t have a direct translation into our own language (or vice versa), and so they give a window into the culture of the language-speakers. This book is full of such words and phrases.

For example, Tingo, the word in the title, comes from the Pascuense language of Easter Island, and means “to borrow things from a friend’s house, one by one, until there’s nothing left.” Uitwaaien comes from the Dutch, and means “to walk in windy weather for fun,” which should be particularly relevant for someone living in Wellington.

To anyone who loves words, and languages, and cultural differences, this book is a delight* to be dipped into on a regular basis. I wish I could memorise every page, and drop all these words into casual conversation. Though when I’d have the chance to mention areodjarekput – “to exchange wives for a few days only, allowing a man sexual rights to another’s woman during that period” – I’m not sure … except perhaps during a conversation with my husband and George Clooney.

* I’ve since read reviews on Goodreads with people complaining about the accuracy of the translations included. I guess I don’t really care. It’s still gorgeous.

bty
bty

The Kiwis

I’ve featured some of my favourite New Zealand books. New Zealanders are great readers, and we have some wonderful writers, though a tiny publishing industry, so we’re probably missing out on many more great books. I’ve written elsewhere how liberating it is to read about our own country, our own people, after years of being fed books from the UK or US, and it is still a thrill. Yet because we are also great travellers, a lot of local authors set books overseas, in London or New York or Ireland or Italy, sensibly appealing to a wider commercial audience.

A lot of people say New Zealand literature is bleak, dark. But, unlike our tourism industry, our literature shouldn’t focus only the attractive parts of our unique land, and so there are dark books about the underbelly of society, alongside all the other possibilities, including gorgeous children’s books, fantasy, light and funny books.

I find it too hard to pick out individuals, as I’m well aware that I have gaps in my reading of New Zealand authors. I’ve already mentioned CK Stead and Nigel Cox, Keri Hulme and Eleanor Catton, and Rachel King. I’d add to that list of serious writers Lloyd Jones (Mr Pip), Witi Ihimaera (The Whale Rider), Maurice Gee (In My Father’s Den), Alan Duff (Once Were Warriors), and Emily Perkins, Craig Marriner, all enlightening, interesting, though there are many more. I’m sure to have forgotten some key names.

But there are a few I’ve read, and really loved, who also deserve a mention. William Brandt wrote The Book of the Film of the Story of My Life, and it is a favourite of mine, funny and weird, set in London, New Zealand and Vanuatu. Elizabeth Knox has written many books, including The Vintner’s Luck (which became a film) but my favourites are her fantasy Dreamhunter books. Kate de Goldi writes books for children and teenagers that are equally adored by adults (and our book club), writing from a child’s perspective, but with subtle commentary on adult themes too. Look for The 10 PM Question.

And Sarah-Kate Lynch has written 12 gentle but funny books, set all over the world, because – as she explains – this is a good way to make her trips tax deductible business expenses. Blessed Are the Cheesemakers is light, sweet and funny, based in Ireland. But she has an ability to go deeper, with sensitivity, in On Top of Everything. Her memoir about turning 50 was Screw You, Dolores. She likes cocktails. I wish she was my friend.

The Aussies

For a Kiwi, Australian books mix the familiar with the very foreign. We share a lot in common with Australians, and they are our closest global siblings. But we are not the same, and the landscapes are, in general, startlingly different. So Australian books are a fascinating blend of the familiar and unfamiliar, and I am ashamed to admit that I have not read that many.

Colleen McCullough’s renowned The Thorn Birds was one of my first ventures into Australian literature. It was followed by Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda, a Booker Prize winner and quite an adventure. Much later, I fell in love with Tim Winton’s Dirt Music, where the main character is Western Australia’s size, climate and geography, and probably my favourite Aussie novel. I also enjoyed his earlier novel Cloudstreet, set in the streets of Perth, and recommend it as an easier introduction to Australian writers. More recently, our old blogger friend (Mrs. S) introduced us to his wife, Kate Cole-Adams, who wrote Walking to the Moon with beautiful language and pace.

I’ve dabbled with other writers, David Malouf, Kate Morton, Christos Tsolkias, and Bryce Courtenay* to name a few. Clearly, I need to read more from our Aussie neighbours.

*Yes, he’s South African, but he emigrated to Australia, and has written Aussie-based novels too.

 

 

A Trip Around the World

Anyone who knows me knows I love to travel the world. Opening a book is the cheapest way to travel easily. It would be such a waste to read only books from our own countries, or from the UK and US who dominate English language literature. As spoiled speakers and readers of English, there is a whole world of literature beyond this to inspire, educate, enthral and fascinate us.

I’ve already mentioned some wonderful books set in China and by Indian subcontinent authors, although there is a much richer vein of English language literature coming out of this region than I have the chance to mention, and I implore you to dive into them.

There are some wonderful writers of Caribbean/West Indian descent or origin, including Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, a Man Booker prize winner a couple of years ago, set in Marley’s Jamaica. And immigrant or first generation writers in England, writing about their own communities, have produced some wonderful books. Try Monica Ali, Zadie Smith, Andrea Levy, or Marina Lewycka to start.

If Italy attracts you, don’t just read Under the Tuscan Sun or similar foreigner-writing-about-the-natives stories, but sink into Elena Ferrante’s four Neapolitan novels, or Niccolò Ammaniti’s novels about childhood, I’ll Steal You Away or I’m Not Scared.

I’ve read some of Nobel Prize Winner, J.M. Coetzee’s apartheid and post-apartheid South African books, but for something completely different, I loved Nigeria’s The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma, a Booker Prize shortlisted book. And Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns or The Kite Runner are very readable novels set in Afghanistan, bringing the lives of the ordinary people to life.

I didn’t go wrong with the few Japanese authors I’ve read. Kazuo Ishiguro is amazing, and I’ve loved almost all his books, but to explore Japan try his A Pale View of Hills. For a wild ride, I recommend Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84.

Tomorrow, we head to Australia.

 

Autobiographies and Memoirs

I don’t regularly read many autobiographies* or memoirs, but have enjoyed those I’ve read, among them Janet Frame’s An Angel at My Table, Stephen Fry’s series filled with wonderful words I had never seen or heard of before (nor had the Kindle dictionary), Sue Perkins’ funny and humble Spectacles. I liked Ruth Reichl’s Comfort Me with Apples, about becoming the New York Times restaurant critic. Colin Powell’s My American Journey, written in 1995, was dissatisfying given subsequent events, and I’ve read Hillary’s What Happened too. Audiobooks read by the authors have brought their worlds to life, namely Gabrielle Union’s We’re Going to Need More Wine, and Shonda Rhimes’ My Year of Yes.

Some authors have taken their works to a higher art form, though I guess it helps if you’ve had a troubled or at least interesting childhood. Jeanette Wall’s A Glass Castle is captivating, and has stayed with me for years and years. The only detail I remember is her father (I think) getting her to write her homework in binary code, to make it more challenging!

My favourite of all time has to be Maya Angelou’s series of autobiographies. Start at Now I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and you’ll be hooked. As you read it, hear her amazing voice, indulge in her use of the English language, and bow down to the master!

* if there is a difference, I’m not going into it here

Booker Prize Winners

The first time I was aware that there was an international literary award called the Booker Prize (now the Man Booker Prize) was in 1985 when Kerry Hulme won for The Bone People. I waded through the book, set on the South Island’s wild West Coast, enjoying parts, being puzzled by parts, and not really liking parts. Still, it was a landmark, a book and author from New Zealand acknowledged internationally, in many ways legitimising the quality of our homegrown authors.

Five years ago another New Zealand author, Eleanor Catton, won for The Luminaries, also set on the West Coast, but in the gold rush days. It is very dense,  and though not a favourite, it is worth seeking out.

There have been some fabulous winners since I started reading them in the 1980s, and I’ve read 20 of the last 30, and many of the short-listed books. Treasures like The Remains of the Day or Life of Pi, and Hilary Mantel’s magnificent Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies were a pleasure to read. Harrowing but fascinating, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan was set in Thailand in WWII, and a highlight too.

Some (John Banville’s The Sea, and Anne Enright’s The Gathering) should be avoided at all costs.

I have the last three winners to catch up on, and the short-lists to delve through. I look forward to some great reading. But I’m slipping behind!

Audiobooks

I noticed recently that half the books I have read this year have been audiobooks. Considering I only discovered them last year, this was quite a shock! Audiobooks definitely count as reading, at least in … um … my book. They are books, word for word. The mode of delivery to my brain might be different, but I still concentrate on the words and the story, absorbing the ambiance and the characters. I read/listen when I’m walking, or doing something simple, though not yet when I am driving. I don’t think I could sit quietly and listen though – I suspect I’d fall asleep.

I have particularly enjoyed non-fiction books, something I don’t read very often; I recently listened to a book of non-fiction essays that I would never have picked up and read. Autobiographies read by the subject themselves make the story more relatable. Short stories could be bearable if I had one story per walk! Novels work too, though. And whilst the BBC productions are fabulous, with serious actors, a straight reading by a single voice also keeps my attention.

I am now, officially, a fan of audiobooks.

In the Amazon

The Amazon, or Latin America in general, have never been high on our list of places to go. There were other places I needed to see first, and indeed, I still haven’t been, though – perhaps through process of elimination? – it is now up there in the next three places we hope to visit. In recent years, I’ve read two books set in the Amazon, both book club books.

The first was State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. I was stuck in a reading slump – a fiction slump. But I devoured this in just over 24 hours. I had avoided it based on the subject matter (fertility), but the subject is only secondary – peripheral even – to the characters, to the Amazon itself, the bugs and heat. The ending was not what I expected, in that it hinted at a few things, but left them largely unsaid. I found that restraint very satisfying.

The second book was A Sound of Butterflies by Rachel King (a New Zealand author and daughter of probably our most famous historian). One of my favourite books of the year. Beautifully written, switching from the exotic Amazon to calm, rural England, the two worlds were so different but held their own in the story. I could certainly see what was coming here, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book.

Needless to say, the Amazon is now on my list of places to go.