Friday, February 27, 2009
Thursday, February 26, 2009
level 3, 78 Victoria Street, Wellington.
Author of more than a dozen historical novels on subjects as diverse as the construction of the Eiffel Tower, a tulip merchant in the Netherlands and the introduction of the piano to Brazil, prizewinning writer Olivier Bleys will discuss his work in English and read extracts from published and unpublished work (in French with English translation by Jean Anderson).
Olivier is French writer-in-residence at Thorndon’s Randell Cottage here in Wellington which I'm involved with - there is a French writer for six months funded by the French Government and a NZ writer for six months funded by Creative NZ. The next writer up is kiwi ex-pat Kirsty Gunn (Rain, Featherstone).
All welcome, refreshments provided.
RSVP to 04 472 1272 by 10 March appreciated.
Monday, February 23, 2009
While I was in Canada, Leonard Cohen was here in Wellington. My friend Heather texted me while he was playing to say it was the gig of the year if not the decade. When he was singing Famous Blue Raincoat, she had tears in her eyes. I had tears in my eyes knowing I was missing it. The clip above is from the Bucharest concert last year because it's a pretty clean close-up version.
Did you know that much of FBR is written in amphibrachs? These are metrical feet used in Latin and Greek prosody. An amphibrach consists of a long syllable between two short ones e.g.
It's four in/ the morning,/ the end of/ December
I'm writing/ you now just/ to see if/ you're better
New York/ is cold, but/I like where/ I'm living
There's music/ on Clinton/ Street all through/ the evening
Friday, February 20, 2009
Where this man’s mind goes …. There are times when it’s some of the closest writing to the way I think I’ve ever read.
It’s addictive – I start, mean to skim one piece, and end up reading post after post on this wonderful blog. His collection of essays Waimarino County & other excursions (Auckland University Press, 2007) was short-listed in the Montanas last year. You can read more about this talented former Red Mole, poet, playwright and essayist here.
I had a great night in Hope, by the way. More on that later.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
And I'll be able to catch up with an old and dear friend who lives close by. So with a bit of sun, it looks a perfect couple of days coming up in Hope.
If you're in the area, come along to: Greenhough Vineyard, Paton Rd, Hope on Thursday 19 February 2009 at 7.30pm. Tickets $20 available from Tasman Libraries. This fundraising event is generously sponsored by Greenhough Vineyard and the wonderful NZ Book Council!
Monday, February 16, 2009
My daughter and I had walked the Mall two days before when it was crisp and icy, Issy crunching in her chucks while I strode beside her on the asphalt and tried to imagine the two million people who'd stood on its 1.8 kilometre length that month to watch Obama's inauguration.
Speaking of monuments, I was not as taken with the triumphal Neo-Roman monuments as I thought I'd be, and even the Greek-style doric columns of the Lincoln Memorial seemed too much to my eye - too huge for a start, and housing a massive 19-foot figure of Lincoln who is rendered godlike by his size and weight. See the man, it says, triumphant Man.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
I want to talk about the early June weather, about harmony and blissful repose, about robins and yellow finches and bluebirds darting past the green leaves of trees.
I want to talk about the benefits of sleep, about the pleasures of food and alcohol, about what happens to your mind when you step into the light of the two o'clock sun and feel the warm embrace of air around your body.
I want to talk about Tom and Lucy, about Stanley Chowder and the four days we spent at the Chowder Inn, about the thoughts we thought and the dreams we dreamed on that hilltop in southern Vermont.
I want to remember the cerulean dusks, the langurous, rosy dawns, the bears yelping in the woods at night.
I want to remember it all. If all is too much to ask, then some of it. No, more than some of it. Almost all. Almost all, with blanks reserved for the missing parts.
The beginning of the chapter Dream Days in the Hotel Existence from The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster [Faber, p. 166]
It's not often happiness jumps out of the pages of a novel like this. As poet Bill Manhire says - and he's quoting others I believe - 'happiness writes white'. It is simply not interesting enough to jump from the page; it struggles to its feet and then falls back again helplessly blending with the white of the paper. All too often we skim over hapless happiness to get to the more colourful and various stuff of misery. I like the way Paul Auster unselfconsciously rounds up joy and makes it vivid.
Today, after a very rough start, I had unexpected moments of happiness. There were no robins or bluebirds or mild June weather, but there were yelps of excitement with friends over a wonderful discovery, high-fives with a daughter who's been offered something she's dreamed of for years, a son home for pizza who might have a job at last.
And there was a cerulean dusk. The sky blending with the sea, and people swimming and a ferry docking, and a languorous, liquid light.
It's a perplexing, strange and beautiful place Hotel Existence.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
The main reason for crossing the bridge is one of my favourite writers: Paul Auster, whose The Brooklyn Follies I read while away. Park Slope, Brooklyn, is one of those places I think I know well because Auster has served it up to me so brilliantly in novels and screenplays (remember the joys of Smoke?) But a place is never quite as you imagine it to be is it? I thought I knew Manhattan thanks to Woody Allen, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jennifer Aniston, De Lillo, Wharton, James, Auster etc, but having been there now I know I know it better, or rather differently. I can see the geography more clearly for sure (see the casual way I can drop in a phrase like 'Lower Manhattan') and between the lines of a book set in NYC I can now take in with little effort the concentrated-jostling-multi-lingual-cheek-by-jowl-living-in-the-canyons-skyward-thrusting-angst-energy-hubris thing that defines it.
And Park Slope is part of that, right? Well it is and it isn't. The 'isn't' is what I know and don't know. And what I don't know doesn't materially matter, this is fiction after all. When I open the pages of a book set in Brooklyn it will always be in my Brooklyn - as sketchy or as detailed as I want. It would just be nice to underline the writing of an Auster book like Brooklyn Follies with glimpses of the real Brooklyn. The 'oh yes' moments I got reading McGrath's Ghost Town while in Manhattan.
The Brooklyn Follies is a terrific novel. One of those stories which rolls forward with only brief glances backwards - a tale told by the protagonist as if he's reading from the book he's writing (in this case a collection of stories of human folly). It begins 'I was looking for a quiet place to die. Someone recommended Brooklyn....' Nathan is 59 and suffering from lung cancer and a life he'd rather forget. In Brooklyn, random events and chance meetings with people that include a slippery bookshop owner, a depressed nephew and a runaway nine-year-old help Nathan forget. And he writes it all down ...
So there it is: the usual Auster meta-fictional story-telling where the character is the author ... to a point... and the reader doesn't always know what is story story and what is real story, and the author directs and sums up what's happening like one of the Brothers Grimm, or - as he puts it - the Ancient Mariner. Nathan is also one of those dudes Auster likes to write about that has had setbacks and for whom random stuff and strange coincidences are a transformation of sorts, there is the democratic cast of characters Auster readers have come to love - each person with a story that's given space and is worth hearing, there are those long conversations which can become speeches and range from banal to philosophical, there's the author's constant playfulness with identity and the stuff of family, and the sudden breakouts from the momentum of the story to lay out out clearly on the page what is good in this corner of the planet. Finally there is his love of place: Brooklyn.
Some of the reviews I've read (spoiler alert on the linked review - last para gives the end away) think Auster is taking the easy route with this his tenth novel and simply ticking the boxes. Well, you see, I read Auster because I like the boxes he ticks. Very much indeed.
Which is why I want to cross the bridge. It's not just about real glimpses of a place I haven't been, it's a fandom thing - seeing where these excellent books have come from, what inspired them. Breathing the same air. My friend, David, tells me there's a bookshop in Park Slope Auster hangs out in, and I might just spot him there. Better start saving.