Launching kea, and making Christmas cards
Thanks to his difficulties with foreign languages, his habit of writing poems when he should have been composing essays, and his reluctant participation in the Second World War, Kendrick Smithyman never quite finished his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Auckland. That didn't stop him tutoring and occasionally lecturing at the institution for a quarter of a century, and eventually receiving an honourary doctorate from Auckland for his services to literature and to education. It's appropriate, then, that this Wednesday's launch of Private Bestiary, the book of Smithyman's previously-unpublished work which I have introduced and annotated, should be advertised on the University of Auckland's website.
My thanks go out to the university's web commander, and also to Graham Beattie, who last week used his popular Book Blog to advertise Private Bestiary. Graham reproduced the press release issued by Titus Books in advance of Wednesday's launch, as well as the photo of a thin, pensive, middle-aged Smithyman which Titus placed at the bottom of the text.
Since some of the readers of this blog will undoubtedly be growing a little tired of the near-incessant advertisements for Smithyman, I thought I might take the opportunity to plug a couple of (relatively) new blogs - blogs whose proprietors manage, to my astonishment, to post for days and weeks on end without ever referring to the great man from Te Kopuru.
Besides Smithyman, one of the themes of this blog in recent weeks has been South Island identity, and the attempts to misuse that identity by the would-be populists of the xenophobic and theocratic New Munster Party. The new South Island blogs Kea and Cattle and Letters from Wetville ought to be compulsory reading for the Munsterites, and for anyone else who thinks that southern culture consists of some sort of strange melange of rugged individualism, primitive Presbyterianism, Maori-bashing, and the consumption of copious amounts of Speights.
A group blog based under the big skies of Canterbury, Kea and Cattle has already, in its first few months of life, explored a remarkable range of subjects, from Don De Lillo's '9/11 novel' Falling Man to the travel writing of Paul Theroux to that old Jack Ross obsession, the Next Top Model franchise.
In the best tradition of - I just can't stop mentioning him, can I? - Kendrick Smithyman, Kea and Cattle combines an unapologetic interest in the local with an intellectual adventurousness that defies regional, national, and historical boundaries. Andrew Dean, the site's most prolific contributor, used a recent comments thread on this blog to denounce the attempts of xenophobes to hijack South Island identity:
I'm a Southerner. I love (some of) the literature and art of the South: Baxter, Hulme, Brasch, Angus, McCahon, Woollaston, even Harry Scott. But that doesn't make me a crackpot chomping at the bit to separate from the North Island. A local of sense of place and identification is possible without transforming it into a racist, rejectionist ideology.
Letters from Wetville is another blog which counters simplistic images of southern culture. It is written from the western side of the Southern Alps, in the flood-prone town of Greymouth, and its author Sandra celebrates a distinctly West Coast environment and history. Rejecting trivial distinctions between 'high' and 'lowbrow' subject matter, and treating botany and literature as contiguous rather than wildly different disciplines, Sandra might be the successor to that great West Coast regionalist Leicester Kyle.
Tim Bowron may be, according to crudely geographical criteria, a South Islander, but his soul belongs elsewhere. Regular readers of this blog will know Tim as a long-time Marxist activist turned scholar of Latin American modernist poetry, a man whose mind is forever floating off like a blackbacked gull across the wastes of the southeastern Pacific, towards the homelands of Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges. Tim has lately put some of his considerable energies into helping to launch a multinational, multilingual refereed journal called Experimental Poetics and Aesthetics, a publication which aims, rather like Bill Direen's labour of love Percutio, to bring together scholars and poetry-lovers from different continents and cultures. You can read the new journal's call for papers in Tim's latest blog post.
Mark Eden is not about to make any special claims for the newly-minted blog he has given the rather mysterious name Making Christmas Cards. In fact, he used his first post to downplay expectations, warning readers that he doesn't 'have the energy to publish a blog regularly'. It is nonetheless worth dropping by Making Christmas Cards occasionally, to read the mordantly incisive thougths of one of New Zealand longest-surviving and highest-profile anarchists.
Mark's relationship with anarchism reminds me of Woody Allen's relationship with Judaism. Like so many of the characters in Allen's movies, who question, complain about and joke over their faith without ever being able to renounce it, Eden has been chronically, and often sarcastically, critical of the state of anarchism in New Zealand and in the rest of the world, yet has continued to identify as an anarchist. Mark's 2004 polemic Anarchism is about struggle, which he has reposted at Making Christmas Trees, documents his attempts to win teenybopper punk rockers and 'anarcho-primitivists' with a distinct lack of interest in personal hygiene as well as industrial technology over to the creed of class struggle anarchism and the tradition of Bukharin, Makhno, and Bookchin. It's a struggle indeed, but a struggle Mark deserves to win.