A fine pair
Book launches are important to all publishers, but they are crucial to small publishers. When a book has what marketing experts like to term 'limited to negligible commercial potential', and when it may even have difficulty penetrating the largest and most philistine bookshops, it essential to throw a well-attended, boozy party and shift a few units while the punters are tipsy.
Ever since he established Titus back in 2005, Brett Cross has refused to send a book out into the cold commercial world on its own. Cross likes to launch two or three titles at a time, which makes for long functions filled with speeches, readings, signings, and musical interludes.
There is an art to choosing which books to launch together. Books which are too similar in subject or manner may seem to diminish each other; works which are completely dissimilar, or which appeal to very different readerships, may make for confused, fragmented launches. Cross, though, has always been able to juxtapose books to the mutual benefit of their authors, by playing on subtle similarities or interesting differences.
The last Titus launch began as a study in contrasts, as Brett juxtaposed Romantic David Lyndon-Brown's lyric poetry with fussy classicist Ted Jenner's lapidarian texts. Lyndon-Brown and Jenner had never met before the launch of their books at a crowded Fordes Bar, yet their work revealed fascinating similarities alongside obvious differences of experience and temperament. It was fascinating to observe the way that, for all their differences, both men drew a large part of their inspiration from Greek culture: Ted has been at work for decades translating pre-Socratic philosophers and obscure Hellenic poets, while Lyndon-Brown's lyrical but carefully composed and structured poems are influenced by the exiled Greek modernist, Constantine Cavafy.
On September the 25th - yes, it'll be a Friday night - Titus is taking over Fordes Bar to launching a couple of books which resonate with one another in intriguing ways. Richard Von Sturmer's On the Eve of Never Departing is a collection of prose pieces which describe his childhood in West Auckland in the seventies, the sense of alienation that led to his involvement in the punk scene and in left-wing protest movements, his travels in the deserts of China and America, and his long experience as a practitioner of and advocate for Zen Buddhism. On the Eve of Never Departing is a sort of spiritual autobiography with few precedents in New Zealand literature; readers acquainted with Von Sturmer's earlier books, though, will recognise its lucid prose and its unrelenting attentiveness. (I will be sailing through hot water if I don't mention here that the very fine cover of Von Sturmer's new tome reproduced at the top of this post was designed by Skyler. Direct your praise for her to the comments box.)
Partly because of the variety of genres within which he has worked - after his beginnings as the songwriter who produced the post-punk anthem 'There Is No Depression in New Zealand' he has produced screen writing, texts for the theatre, prose poems, haiku, and Buddhist devotional writing - Von Sturmer has not yet quite won the critical recognition he deserves. He has attracted enthusiastic reviews - Gregory O'Brien memorably described his last book, Suchness, as a work of 'hallucinatory clarity' - but the extent of his literary achievement, and the strangeness and variety of the life behind that achievement, have not been widely appreciated. The autobiographical focus and generous length of On the Eve of Never Departing may help win Von Sturmer a reputation as one of the most remarkable Kiwi writers of his generation.
Rogelia Guedea has no lack of renown in his native land of Mexico, but he is almost unknown in New Zealand, the country he has made his home. For most of this decade, Guedea has lectured at the University of Otago whilst writing Spanish-language poetry which was been widely disseminated and highly praised in Mexico and several other Latin American countries. Guedea's status was underlined when he won the poetry section of Mexico's premier book awards last year. Titus Books has the honour of publishing Guedea's first English-language book, a collection of prose poems called Free Fall. Despite the differences in their cultural and intellectual backgrounds, Von Sturmer and Guedea are writers with a great deal in common. Guedea's enthusiasm for the prose poem is shared by Von Sturmer, whose legendary eighties work We Xerox Your Zebras was one of the very first book-length examples of the form to appear in New Zealand. Both Von Sturmer and Guedea are fascinated by the minutae of everyday life, and by the way that the most insignificantly quotidian details can suddenly seem to take on a mythic quality. It is not hard to imagine Von Sturmer writing 'Round Trip Ride', a poem which was published in the most recent issue of brief, and which will be republished next month in Free Fall:
I have arrived home after a bicycle trip with my son. Like every afternoon, we rode through the old cobblestone streets of the neighbourhood, here and there greeting the trees, the gardens, the dogs, and the children we met on the way...While my being can't resist the temptation to think about the future, household debts, lost friends, my work commitments, things I have to do tomorrow, his is poured completely into the landscape he is discovering at every turn. It's curious to see how our movements, so different, so distant, come together for a second on the same path, and how in a moment of carelessness the soul of my son is confused with mine as if fate didn't want to deny me the unrepeatable opportunity of living twice.
I certainly won't be missing the unrepeatable opportunity of seeing Richard Von Sturmer's On the Eve of Never Departing and Rogelio Guedea's Free Fall being launched next month at Fordes.