Titus launches Scott, Will and Richard
"Scott Hamilton's heroes, like WH Auden's 'helmeted airmen', are forever setting out on some doomed quest...Scott delves into the mytho-poetic past of New Zealand, showing that this past is alive and shared"
Scott shared the stage with Will Christie, who was giving birth to Luce Cannon, and Richard Taylor, who is the proud father of Conversation with a Stone(click on the photos to enlarge them).
Besides readings from Scott, Will, and Richard, the hundred or so people who braved gridlocked traffic and cold slanted rain to get to K Rd were treated to two sets of music by The Vietnam War. Since Titus Books started publishing in 2005 it has been a real supporter of cutting edge literature and has managed to build a real feeling of community amongst its authors and readers. As Jack Ross said, "Titus is the Flying Nun of twenty-first century NZ lit".
Thanks to Brett and Bill for all the hard work in publishing the three books launched last night and for their their ongoing work supporting NZ writers.
Thanks to Ellen Portch, as well, for painting the amazing cover of To the Moon, in Seven Easy Steps and designing the cover of Richard's book.
This post is my chance to pick out a few of my favourite poems from Scott's book. If you like them, then you should order the whole thing from Titus Books...
Language is like a labelling gun, someone had told them. The boy goes from room to room taking aim. In the sunroom he labels a rocking horse; in the lounge he shoots a fir tree. She apologises to Sam, and to the guests, and hurries him upstairs to bed. Before the light goes out he takes possession of DOOR, BAD BEAR, and A FUNNY BUG. In the dark he tries to count her footsteps on the stairs, but the numbers run out after eleven. When the footsteps run out too he jumps out of bed, switches the light back on and steps into the wardrobe, where Mummy thinks she has hidden the book on his socks and undies shelf. He sits beside the bed and opens the book carefully. A is for ASTRONAUT. B is for BROWN BEAR. C is for CAMPER. D is for DOOR, which swings open to show Mummy holding a funny-looking glass with blood in it. 'Put that book away and go to bed, dear, or Daddy will be angry, and you'll never be an astronaut.' 'Can't we read it first Mummy?' 'For fuck's sake Simon! Shit! I mean no, no, sorry my dear, Mummy has to go and help Daddy help his friends, or Daddy will be angry. You understand. Now keep the light out. Sleep. Why don't you pretend you're sleeping in the tent?' The light goes off and the door shuts, but this time he doesn't count the footsteps. He lies on his stomach and closes his eyes, and listens to the big voices and the ringing glasses down where the stairs run out. He can't sleep. He doesn't want to sleep. He reaches under the bed and feels for the book with one hand, pushing Boring Bear and the rest of the Boring Toys out of the way. This time he stands beside the light switch for a few seconds before flicking it down. Straight away he hears footsteps on the stairs. Heavier, this time. His father's. Daddy's. He is not afraid, this time: he knows what he is going to do. He takes the book and opens it at his favourite page, at F is for FOREST. Big trees capped with snow stand straight and close together, and brown bears gather beside a river that is as fast and white as the Hooka Falls. It is Hooka Falls, he thinks. His father shouts something from the top of the stairs. He puts F is for FOREST on the ground, and straightens his back, and puts his feet together, and bows his head, so that he's standing the way he has to stand at the start of Keas meetings. He closes his eyes. He puts one foot then the other forward, shouting 'F is for FOREST' as loudly as he can. He opens his eyes and sees his feet instead of the big trees and the bears. He hears the small sound of the book's spine snapping, of a doorknob turning. D is for DOOR. D is for DADDY. He begins to cry.
Breathing is easier underwater. The knife between my teeth tastes of rust, as I dive through seaweed and shoaled flounder, toward a treasure chest capsized in estuary mud. I know that someone has been here before me, that the coins and statuettes have been looted, the ancient manuscripts spoiled. I know that the chest's rotten mahoganny and rust-red bolts are my treasure.
'A male fantasy', you say, shifting the teacup in your hands. 'Slightly infantile, too'. One afternoon your office's green carpet will rise, our couches will capsize, and we'll both drown calmly, teacups in hand. Until then we'll talk. Talking to you is as easy as breathing: one word follows another, as one breath follows another, until the story, the seven deep breaths, is complete, and a chain of bubbles rises toward the ceiling.
Te Kooti and His Natives Visit Terror Upon Matawhero
The pen had lost its firepower.
A sword through Biggs, the racist
magistrate: swords through his wife
his child. Blood pooled, and hardened,
begat a nimbus of flies:
‘now hear ye
the doctrine of
the upraised hand.’
The equipment is well-maintained
The stream flows between mountains
but its surface is smooth.
The quill is sheathed
but documents still circulate.
The doctrine is a book
with no back cover.
At the edge of Temuka the road is blocked by three bales of hay, a black flag, and the last two O’Shanessey kids, who take turns holding the rifle their cousin brought back from the Somme. Ousiders get sent back to the city: Maoris have to keep to Arowhenua, on the far side of the creek we dive in to wash the sickness away.
When Queenie got the cramps we took her to the small house behind the marae, and laid her out on clean sheets, and fetched a bucket of creekwater, and cooled her stomach and hips, and washed the mushrooms under her arms. The younger kids giggled beside the bed, expecting another baby cousin. First her fingernails then her hands turned black; her breasts swelled, popped their nipples, and dribbled blue-black milk. We couldn’t straighten her arms in the coffin, so we folded them across her chest. She looked like she was diving into herself.
A Defence of Common Sense (for GE Moore)
I know that my body has never been to the moon
I know that numerous physical things exist independently of me, like coal-slag or the moon
I know that this is my hand
I know that the hand, like the skull, is a product of human labour
I know that the coins in my jacket pocket are silver
I know that if a dollar coin were in my jacket pocket it would be silver
I know that her hair is brown
I know that if I dip an aspirin in cyanide and swallow it I will not feel better
I know that all planets follow elliptical orbits
I know that Hayden crapped off his Mongoose onto broken glass, on his way from the dairy back to the boatshed, where the rest of the Terrahawks were waiting
I know that we used to leave our bikes at the bottom of the bank behind the boatshed, in the cutty grass beside MacGregor’s fence, a place nobody knew
I know that after Hayden’s new bike was stolen we told his parents he’d lent it to his cousin, then snuck out after tea and threw a small rock and some gravel onto the roof of MacGregor’s chook house
I know that most philosophers die in bed
I know that the first Saturday of those summer holidays we rode quickly, more quickly than usual, up the hill at the end of O’Shanessy’s Rd, to the big green corrugated iron door and the tree with the sign nailed to its trunk saying AUCKLAND SUN CLUB – RING FOR SERVICE
I know that we braked hard where the road turned to gravel, and watched as Neil rode steadily up to the door, and punched the buzzer, and turned and laughed and shouted ‘BURN HOME TO MUMMY, YOU BIG WUSSES!’
I know that my body has never been to the moon
I know that it is possible to distinguish a mammal from a lump of rock
I know that a rock becomes conscious in mid-air
I know that my jaw moves for me whenever I begin another meal
I know that there were eleven brushstrokes of rust on the left hull of HMS Waitomo this morning, as she sat anchored in her reflection, off Devonport Naval Base
I know that I got stoned for the first time at North Head, in a lava-rock cell at the end of a concrete tunnel, a cell with a jagged window giving a view across Motukorea Channel, over the orange buoy-lights wrecked on Bastion Reefs, to the blinking headlights of Savage Memorial car park
I know that it was worst joint Neil had ever rolled
I know that Neil was crouching beside me with his head turned the other way, talking, trying to impress the girl, telling her about the twenty-three page letter he had written to his father in Rakaia Prison, and the postcard he’d received in return, the advice to FUCK OFF TO YOUR MOTHER, YOU LITTLE SHIT
I know that I stood up and began to walk backwards down the concrete tunnel, cupping my hands and trying to relight the roach
I know that the wind got colder on my back, and messed up my hair, and I remember looking up, to see stars all over the ceiling, and looking down, to see grey dust blowing around my feet, and looking left, or right, and seeing the earth, as big as a beach ball, floating stupidly in the black
I know that my body has never been to the moon
The soldier stepped out of the pines, and walked
to the centre of the clearing, and knelt
and dug a hole, a long shallow hole, with his hands,
and lay down in his hole
and covered himself with dirt
and had a heart attack.
This happened five thousand times, maybe
more, in Katyn forest, in 1940.
At the Cheeky Kumara Cafe
we choose a window table.
Threshers the size of tanks
level a field of wheat,
a field of barley,
and three moths stick to our window.
They are scraps of paper,
scraps of thin yellow paper,
Polish army stationery issue,
scraps from the same page of a letter,
from Leszek Staff's last letter to Gertrude Boll,
written in Smolensk, on May the 5th, 1940,
and torn up by an NKVD intelligence officer
who got hard reading about troop movements
and resistance cellsnot a pair of silk lace stockings
slipping off freshly shaven legs
in Krakow Municipal Gardens.
You stir the last of the sugar into my tea.
We know how to dispose of our dead
correctly. Follow that gravel road
over a train track, then up a small hill
until the fields part for a red-rooved chapel
and its flock of stones.
Every name there faces north.
Out the back, behind the water tap,
are plots reserved for the elderly, the infirm.
Red earth foams over the newest graves.
This afternoon the reverend's outmaking his rounds,
and relatives are at the races.
Nobody is there to see Leszek Staff
stagger out of the barley, and fall
to his knees, and dig
for four minutes, in the soft red soil,and lie down comfortably
to die, to be discovered. Outside the cafe
a truck backfires.