Friday, September 23, 2016

Leicester Kyle & Paul Celan: 2 Corrections

K. J. Walker: Powelliphanta augusta (2005)

Quite some time ago now (in April 2014), I published an article [“Paul Celan & Leicester Kyle: The Zone & the Plateau,” Ka Mate Ka Ora 13 (2014): 54-71] on New Zealand poet Leicester Kyle, attempting to link some of his attitudes towards place with similar ideas in the work of Paul Celan.

Some time later I received two emails which offered corrections to some of the information in the essay. I had (as I thought) arranged with the editor for portions of these to appear in the next issue of the journal, but given that has taken over two years to appear, I imagine these details must have got lost in translation.

In any case, it's perhaps better that I put them on record here instead. The above preamble is simply intended to explain why this process of correction has taken so long.

The first letter, from Dave Johnson, Leicester Kyle's brother-in-law, concerns the precise circumstances of Kyle's father’s suicide. The passage in my essay reads:
His father, a journalist with some literary ambitions (he worked with Allen Curnow on the Christchurch Press) came from a well-established Greymouth family, but found it difficult to adjust to life in the city. He committed suicide when Leicester was still in his teens. [60-61]
Mr Johnson, in his email of 29th October 2014, makes these adjustments: “Cecil committed suicide (without meaning to) as he rang Helga [Leicester’s mother – JR] on the day of his death asking when she would be home. She was delayed by well over an hour and when she found him after he had swallowed his pills and binged it was too late to save him. Leicester was 29, not a teenager.”

He goes on to comment:
The snail Millertonii you mentioned is not the one from Mt. Augusta (now strip mined) I actually found the first specimen when we tramped up to the old Rainbow mine while botanising. Leicester thought the shell looked different and sent it off to Ch.Ch. It was eventually given the specific name Augusta.
This refers to the passage in pp. 62-64 of my essay about the discovery of the rare “Millerton snail,” which I have unfortunately confused with another, even rarer snail discovered on Mt. Augusta.

K. J. Walker: Powelliphanta lignaria (1993)

Kath Walker (2011)

The second letter, received 9 April 2015, from Kath Walker of the Department of Conservation, has provided a good deal more detail on the distinction between these two snails:
I just thought I’d get in touch to clarify some confusion in your essay around the snail Leicester found at Millerton township, which we initially thought a newly discovered subspecies of the species Powelliphanta lignaria (we dubbed it Powelliphanta lignaria “Millertoni”) and the famous one which was found higher up on the Plateau on the Mt Augustus ridgeline (now described as Powelliphanta augusta). Your essay has them as one and the same but they are actually 2 separate very different entities, & they suffered different fates.

I don’t think Leicester ever saw the famous snail, Powelliphanta augusta, whose only habitat high up on Mt Augustus ended up being mined by Solid Energy, with the snails being held in DoC coolstores, tho I certainly had him searching for it for me back in late 2003/early 2004.

Coincidentally, just as I was trying to find the Mt Augustus snail, Leicester contacted me regarding the much bigger snail he’d seen in the Millerton township. We (Dept of Conservation) ran an intensive programme of rat control around the colony of the Millerton snail (P. l. “millertoni”) for several years to protect it while we investigated its origins using genetics. Not surprisingly, given its very limited distribution, very close to human settlement, this Millerton snail turned out not to be something different after all, but rather a population of P. l. lignaria (found north of the Mokihinui River mouth) looking a bit odd as it had been founded from only 1 or 2 individuals artificially transferred there, presumably by a resident in Millerton’s heyday.

None of this changes the theme of your essay – but it would be good to untangle the MAPPs reserve story – in the immediate vicinity of Millerton, which still exists, along with its annoyingly translocated population of P. l. lignaria (biogeographic patterns are important to retain in nature), and the P. augusta story with its much more sombre ending.

I’ve spent a decade trying to protect the Great Buller Sandstone Plateaux and its inhabitants via Environment Court appeals & always felt that Leicester’s poems cut to the chase & were worth far more than all the careful scientific evidence I prepared (“It’s the loss. Not protest notes to the CEO, or grumpy barricades …“). I agree with your thesis – the only chance of protecting a resource rich place is if many people love it for its own sake, and Leicester’s poetry could help that. In the end I wondered if his poetry spoke more to those who already loved and knew the landscape, both the geographical and the political landscape of the Plateaux.
While I hope that it’s true, as Kath Walker is kind enough to say, that this confusion between the two snails and their respective fates does not affect “the theme of [my] essay,” I am nevertheless very anxious to correct any misinformation I’ve unwittingly perpetrated.

Both Paul Celan and Leicester Kyle were poets who were exceptionally careful to get their facts straight, and I would be doing no service to their memory if I didn’t make every effort to alter these details in my essay.

Mea culpa, then: please bear these facts in mind if you ever feel tempted to revisit the original essay!

J. Ross: Leicester Kyle (2000)

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Two Readings: Takapuna & Titirangi

As part of the ongoing celebrations for National Poetry Day, please come and check this out (though it is, admittedly, a few days late):

When: Tuesday 30 August, 6pm - 7.30pm
Where: Takapuna Library, Level 1
Cost: Gold coin/donation

Come and join us as at our annual celebration of poetry with readings from Michael Giacon, Joy MacKenzie, Bronwyn Lloyd, Jack Ross and Stu Bagby as our MC.

Light refreshments will be served from 6pm, with the event starting at 6.30pm.

Booking recommended. Email or phone 890 4903.

Photo: Maggie Hall (Wellington, Dec 2014)

And, assuming you don't have anything better to do on the weekend of the Going West Literary Festival (10-11/9/16):

When: Saturday 10 September, 2pm - 3.45pm
Where: Titirangi Library


Jack Ross has been the managing editor of Poetry New Zealand since 2014. His publications to date include five poetry collections, three novels and three books of short fiction. He works as a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Massey University's Albany Campus.

Stu Bagby has published both as an anthologist and a poet. His poetry has appeared in several collections and has been included in the Best of the Best New Zealand Poems and Essential New Zealand Poems. He hopes to have a new collection of poems ready for publication later this year.

Followed by a round robin where everyone is invited to read a poem, their own or anyone else's.

MC Piers Davies 5246 927 or for further information.

Photo: Maggie Hall (Wellington, Dec 2014)

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Post-Apocalyptic Fiction: An Interview by Karen Tay

Auckland writer Karen Tay who (according to her bio note) "reads far too much, obsesses about cats, and dreams of someday escaping this Freudian coil we live in," has just published a fascinating piece entitled "Writing the End of the World," about Post-Apocalyptic Fiction, on local arts and culture website The Pantograph Punch.

I guess one reason I enjoyed the piece was because I was one of the people she interviewed for it (together with Anna Smaill, author of The Chimes, and visiting Scottish author Louise Welsh). I don't think it's just that, though. It's a genuinely intriguing piece, which I highly recommend. It is, after all, a subject much in our minds at present, as the Trump Apocalypse looms.

Louise Welsh: The Plague Times, 2 (2015)

Karen is herself a very talented writer of fiction. I had the privilege of reading her novel Ice Flowers and assessing it for her Masters degree a few years ago, and wish very much that she'd succeeded in getting it into print so that I could recommend that to you, also. She tells me she's working on a second novel, though, so let's hope that that one gets published at some point in the near future.

Coming back to the article, though, Tay sees the genre as cyclic, conditioned by particular pressures of the time:
Each decade brings a unique set of challenges to humanity, but also another way for authors, the memory-keepers of society, to record our collective fears, anxieties and doubts about the future: to imagine both the destruction of the old, but also the beauty of the new rising out of death.
She does not, however, see it as a particularly pessimistic form in itself: "Hope is the premise of most post-apocalyptic fiction. The clue lies in the prefix ‘post’ itself – the implication that there is something afterwards, other than the dark finality of the tomb."

Just as a taster for her piece, I thought I'd include here my answers to Karen's original questionnaire:

Anna Smaill: The Chimes (2015)

  • When do you think eschatological fiction, or more specifically, post-apocalyptic fiction, started becoming popular? Why?
    I suppose that the obvious point of origin is the atomic bomb blasts on Hiroshima and Nagasaki: after that, the Apocalypse could not but seem only too imminent. One can certainly point to earlier examples: Mary Shelley's The Last Man, Wagner's Götterdämmerung - but from the late 40s on various types of apocalypse began to dominate Sci-Fi, in particular (John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids, George Stewart's Earth Abides, and so on and so forth).

  • John Wyndham: The Day of the Triffids (1951/ 1962)

  • From the late 1950s/early 1960s to about the late 1980s in particular, nuclear holocaust speculative fiction was an extremely popular subgenre. Why do you think this was?
    Well, the Cold War is the simple answer. I remember one of my classmates at school telling me solemnly that there was simply no other subject to think about except nuclear disarmament - so likely did it seem to us, that we were almost literally counting down the days. You have to remember that it was the limited extent of the disaster at Chernobyl, rather than the event itself, that surprised us in those days.
  • In nearly every piece of popular early (pre-2000s) post-apocalyptic/apocalyptic fiction, the hero/heroine turns out to be white. Any "coloured" characters often revert to stereotype - for example, the "wise old coloured woman" cliche like Mother Abagail in Stephen King's The Stand. What do you think about this "whitewashing" says about the genre? Do you think this has changed?
    I think one might say that this was fairly typical of SF in general at that time. Even African American authors such as Samuel R. Delaney tended to soft-pedal the issue in his earlier fiction: sexuality was a more open subject for him than race. Delaney did write a classic essay in which he speculates that the hero of Heinlein's Starship Troopers is meant to be black, however. Careful examination of the text would leave that an open question for me, but Delaney does wonderful things with the mere possibility. (Paul Verhoeven's movie, of course, ignores the issue entirely in favour of his own preoccupations with Nazi aesthetics).
  • A lot of post-apocalyptic fiction is in the form of Young Adult or New Adult fiction e.g The Hunger Games, Z for Zachariah, Tomorrow When the War Began, the Maze Runner series. Why do you think this is? Is there something about youth that predisposes them towards a fascination for death and destruction?
    Yes, I think there is. Youthful readers are extremists, by definition. They want something grand and overarching, and are ready to be radical in their opinions. They lack the protective cushioning and inertia of older readers. That's one reason why genuinely revolutionary texts, such as Huckleberry Finn, say, or Catcher in the Rye, are so often aimed directly at a childish or adolescent audience.
  • Cli-fi, or climate change fiction is another growing sub-genre of literature, for obvious reasons (climate change and global warming are very confronting realities that current and future generations of humanity are and will have to face). The most popular contemporary example is probably Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake series. Do you think this is a reflection of the times? If so, does this follow a historical pattern?
    I edited a book of short stories by NZ writers called Myth of the 21st Century in which I and my co-editor, Tina Shaw, invited contributors to speculate what would be the dominant myths, or themes, or memes of the coming century. I expected a lot about climate change (both Tina and I wrote stories dominated by the notion), but it was interesting to me how little it figured in the other writers' visions. There's a wonderful early short story by Arthur C. Clarke in which the glaciers are returning to crush our cities, but for the most part there was a residual optimism in 20th Century SF writers which led them to postulate escape into the cosmos as the answer to climate change. Now, in our more down-beat times, we can no longer really believe such things. Hence movies such as The Day after Tomorrow and Snowpiercer and (the less successful) 2012. Whether there's a great deal of interest to say about it is another question: Waterworld is another example that springs to mind.

  • Kevin Reynolds, dir.: Waterworld (1995)

  • As a fan of the post-apocalyptic genre, many of my favourite novels and stories have at the heart of the tale, the struggle between good and evil, with love often winning in the day. Do you think post-apocalyptic fiction is merely another vehicle for moral fables? OR is it something else?
    I think it's fundamentally an optimistic genre, in that it presupposes both the survival of the author (long enough to pen his or her screed, that is) and an audience - even if it's an alien one, such as the monkey couple who read the message in a bottle that constitutes Pierre Boulle's Monkey Planet (filmed as Planet of the Apes). I don't think there's anything wrong with moral fables, myself. What else do we have, after all, but attempts at mutual understanding? Whether that takes place in space, or in a nuclear wasteland, or in a busy city doesn't alter the fact that (as the song puts it) "the fundamental facts apply" ("As Time Goes By").
  • Why are you drawn to the genre yourself?
    I guess it's always exciting to think about starting again: rebuilding things from the ground up in such a way as to avoid at least some of the problems of the past. It's sad that we have to wipe everything out first to see a way of doing that, but that's just the way things are. Hawthorne's classic tale "Earth's Holocaust" puts it as neatly as anyone ever could, I think.
  • What is your favourite a) short story, b) poem, c) novel? Why?
    I think probably it would have to be Philip K. Dick's Dr Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb. The title was imposed on him, as a (then topical) pun on Stanley Kubrick's Dr Strangelove, but the book itself is a very complex meditation on what might and might not survive such a cataclysm, complete with the typical Dick compassion for anyone who's different, and intense enthusiasm for small businesses rising among the ruins. There's a great bit of dialogue where a cart-driver is extolling the virtues of his pet rat, and trying to tell the protagonist about a series of "heroic deeds done by rats" (the chapter ends with a horse being eaten alive where it stands, by the jetty of a ferry). But there are so many! I'm very fond of the works of those Englishmen John Wyndham and John Christopher, too: The Kraken Wakes is another favourite, as is Pendulum. And don't even get me going on J. G. Ballard and all his wonderful contributions to the field, early and late: The Drowned World, "The Voices of Time", The Drought ...

Philip K. Dick: Dr Bloodmoney (1965)