18 June 2013

Tuesday Poem: '1989' by Maria McMillan


I became vegetarian
and the freezing works

closed down. My father
lost his job and sat all day

in each seat of the house
and stared at me. I never

knew where I would find him.
I liked him then, doleful

and angry, stuff opening
and closing in front of him

like the mouth
of some dumb fish.

Later there were fights.
Later he started smiling.

He chose the right-
hand side of the sofa.

His breath smelt different.
The city puckered

around the place
the works had been,

like skin around the
place it’s been punctured.

Heidi and me’d meet there
walk around the white

building, counting
the broken windows,

talk of man’s awesome cruelty –
how they’d stun the cows

before they killed them
to hide the fear

and keep the meat
soft and sweet.

So, what I've been doing lately is working on the book this poem is from, The Rope Walk, the next book I'm publishing as Seraph Press. This is Maria's first collection, but she's been writing for quite some time, which is apparent in the skill she brings to the poems in the book. The book is made up of 24 poems that tell the story, or bits of stories, of several generations of a family, from a rope maker in Scotland to an aerialist in New Zealand in the 1990s.

In a blog post Maria talks about some of what inspired her to write this poems (over almost a decade):
I became fascinated with the idea of waves of people from Scotland and England, leaving their countries, their parents, their siblings, the graves of their ancestors and coming somewhere new. And then sometimes awful ship journeys where babies died, and adults too. And then arriving somewhere so utterly different. There must have been so much grief with that. And then I started thinking about how every generation seems to go through some major losses, men being lost in wars, the soul destroying recession of the 1980s, the suicides, the bitter thread through all those years of violence against women. I think grief often isn't dealt with well, and what does that mean, and how does that get passed on down the generations. All that feeds into the book, You might not realise it reading the poems, some of which I hasten to add, are more joyful than sad, but all that stuff is going on there in the background. 

This poem, '1989', comes later in the chronology (though is towards the beginning of the book). It's one of my favourites, probably because it deals with my own era, and is the very year I date my own end of the golden weather (ie my childhood) from, because that was the year a lot of things (friendships, friends) began to fall apart. It has the lovely idealism, cynicism and understanding, but also a limited understanding, of youth. 'Man's awesome cruelty' (what a lovely phrase!) doesn't just extend to animals, of course, it extends to other people too.

One thing I just noticed especially now - as I had to add line breaks back in because stupid blogger took them all out - is how satisfying the line breaks are. There's some lovely subtle enjambment going on: never/knew, doleful/and angry. And also line breaks that serve to emphasise the final word of the line, rather than have us gliding on over. The final rhyming couplet is a oddly jaunty and creepy end.

As well as having gorgeous poems, the book is also going to have a gorgeous cover:

It's been letterpress printed by Joe Buchanan, Maria's partner, and yes, that is a die cut (ie hole) in the centre, through which we can see a linocut of a sailing ship, also done by the very talented Joe.

We're launching it on Saturday 13th July, at 3 pm, at the Aro Community Centre, Aro Street. Hope you can come along. Here's the Facebook event: http://www.facebook.com/events/202894136531214/.

And now, if you're in search of other poems, head on over to the hub blog, where you'll find a poem about Palmerston North by Jennifer Compton, and links to other new Tuesday Poems:  http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.co.nz/.

01 June 2013

So, I seem to have published a bestselling book...

It's been a pretty cool week. After the book launches of the week before, we went away last weekend, and spent the weekend reading, writing, rebalancing, wandering around, watching DVDs and spending as much time as possible sitting in front of the open fire.

And then this week, on Thursday, I found out the The Baker's Thumbprint (the book I've just published) was number 7 on the NZ fiction bestseller list! Look here if you need proof (I certainly did!): http://www.seraphpress.co.nz/1/post/2013/05/the-bakers-thumbprint-debuts-at-no7-on-nz-fiction-bestseller-list.html.

I'm really blown away and excited. And kind of shocked. I know it's due to having the books turn up at bookshops the same week we had two launches (one in Auckland and one in Wellington), and it's also the first time I've sold all the launch books through bookshops, rather than directly, but it's also due to Paula Green, who has a very strong personal following. But I think it also is signalling that Seraph Press is getting to a new level of respect, which makes me very happy.

I doubt that the book will keep up quite that high level of sales, but Paula is going to be interviewed on Arts on Sunday on the radio tomorrow (http://www.seraphpress.co.nz/1/post/2013/05/paula-green-on-arts-on-sunday.html), so hopefully that will spark more interest.

And now I need to get the next book (The Rope Walk, by Maria McMillan) finished!