Monday, November 15, 2010

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 It's appropriate, then, that this Wednesday's launch of Private Bestiary, the book of Smithyman's previously-unpublished work which I have introduced and annotated, should be advertised on the University of Auckland's website.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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow who is that freaky looking guy about to take control of that city


he could have power...?

6:40 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Baxter, Woody Allen: A Biography, pages 7-12:

Allan Stewart Konigsberg was born on 1 December 1935, in the Bronx... Why 'Allan Stewart', two Scots names? Nobody is any longer sure. Certainly not from any Hibernian ancestors, since the Konigsbergs were 100 per cent Jewish. Allen's father, Martin Konigsbeg, met his mother, Nettea Cherrie, in 1930 in the butter-and-egg market on Greenwich Street in Brooklyn... Nettie [Woody Allen's mother] was stuck with the job of book-keeper for the family business, a luncheonette. It was a role often allocated to the smarter younger daughters of Jewish families.

... [pg. 9] Many Flatbush residents are Hasidic Jews, a community which in Allen's childhood had only recently begun migrating from the Lower East Side, and which congregated in the Brooklyn suburb of Brownsville... Over the next seven years, the Konigsbergs moved more than a dozen times, usually sharing apartments with Nettie's sisters [Woody Allen's aunts] or relatives who had fled Hitler... Jewish culture has blurred so completely into the American-Anglo tradition that it can be difficult to visualise its original alienness.

... [pg. 11] German was so common at home and English such a rarity that, for a while as a child, Allen spoke that language... At least part of the time, most of the Konigsbergs and Cherries spoke Yiddish, the lingua franca of European Jewry, created when eastern Jews who spoke only Hebrew were forced to adopt German methods of writing, as well as many German and French words... By the early twentieth century, waves of immigrants had brought Yiddish to America, where it flourished, a convenient secret language, rich in terms of irony and scepticism, and as such central to Jewish humour. Allen was to find it crucial in making his mark as a comic.

... [pg. 12] Ralph Rosenblum, the editor who worked on many of Allen's early films, was also a Jew from Brooklyn

7:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So? Fuck...

7:59 pm  
Blogger AHD said...

It's the International Jewish Conspiracy, this time in the form of a local art and lit blog!

Thanks for the review of keaandcattle Maps, I much appreciate it.

On a related note -- have you read C L R James on cricket?

9:29 pm  
Blogger Sandra said...

Thank you for your very kind words Maps.

You will have to go on a/some southern journeys and then we can swap impressions. Our nuclear arrangement (so apt sometimes, that the description of a family can sound like a bomb) are heading north soon. I think we will venture through Smithyman country (not sure that I will buy the local rag based on your recent blog posts) but after our last Dargaville adventure, I think we will stay beachward.

Any suggestions of literature which takes inspiration from the Kaipara Harbour? I loved that journey when I lived in Auckland, not that I did it in one day or one weekend. Helensville to the northern end.

9:32 pm  
Blogger Fatal Paradox said...

Thanks for the plug Scott. We hope to have the first issue of EXP officially launched on-line here by the end of this month (originally we were aiming for this month, but the unfortunate thing about the peer-review process is it can take some time for articles to make their way from submissions to final copy!).

It really is shaping as an interesting and eclectic line-up for this inaugural issue, with everything from Brazilian "computer poetry" to the strange love affair between the the Pseudo-Scientific Occult and early 20th century English Modernism (as seen through the eyes of a 21st century Madrileño poet).

Any NZ poets or critics interested in contributing (and we really would welcome some more English-language content, as the first issue is composed almost entirely of Latin American and Iberian authors) please keep an eye out for a second call for papers early in the New Year!

10:12 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is that Smithyman in the photo?
He doesn't look that skinny.

11:04 pm  
Anonymous herb said...

heh, these anarchists are mostly 'show and blow'...back in the '70s we would 'turn' them pretty quickly on to 'the real stuff'

well...maybe 'mark' is a slow learner...

11:18 pm  
Anonymous herb said...

heh...these anarchists...

'The image of Makhno as leader of the peasant uprising has been called "legendary"[16] and a "colourful personality".[17] However, in the view of the German and German Mennonite community in Ukraine, he was viewed as the instigator of "military ravages",[18] against innocent farmers, an "inhuman monster" whose path is "literally drenched with blood."[19]

During the war, Mahkno and his Black Army raided many German and Mennonite villages and estates in the Katerynoslav Oblast. The larger rural landholdings of pacifist Mennonites were prominent targets.[20] Makhno's anarchist army generally targeted Mennonites because their wealthy and prosperous communal estates were thought of as Kulaks - wealthy and landed gentry with more advantages than the surrounding Ukrainian peasants. Makhno was also staunchly anti-religious, and viewed Mennonites as enemies on these grounds.

While prohibited by their religion from serving in the Tsar's army, many Mennonites had assisted the Tsar's war effort by performing national service in non-fighting roles, including forestry and hospital units. The Mennonites' Germanic background also served to inflame negative sentiment during the period of revolution, as many peasants in the Black Army had families who had suffered previous depredations by German, Austro-Hungarian, and Hetmanist forces (though one of the high commanders of the Makhnovist Army named Klein was said to be of German descent).[21] It is believed that Makhno himself had worked as a cattle herder on a Mennonite estate in his youth and harbored negative feelings based on treatment he had received while employed there.

In 1919, with the advance of General Denikin's White Volunteer Army into Ukraine, depredations and expropriations by Black Army detachments increased, including the burning of crops and destruction of livestock (what was not seized was often destroyed, either to deny supplies to the advancing White armies, or simply out of retaliation). In response and in the context of a complete collapse in government authority, some Mennonites discarded their pledge of non-violence and, together with other German communities, formed self-defence (or Selbstschutz) units. These units were initially somewhat successful in protecting their communities against Makhno's partisans but were overwhelmed once the anarchists aligned themselves with the Red Army, which had entered Ukraine in February 1919. Hundreds of Mennonites were murdered and robbed during this period, primarily in areas surrounding the villages of Chortitza, Zagradovka, and Nikolaipol. The combination of Tsarist resettlement of Germans in World War I and attacks during the civil war reduced the German population from 750,000 in 1914 to 514,000 in 1926.[22] The remainder had their lands expropriated by the Soviet government.'

11:21 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Hi Sandra,

we'll have to have a drink if you head up this way! Dick Scott's Seven Lives on Salt River is an interesting portrait of a number of famous sons of the Kaipara - it brings home the size of the harbour, and the way in which travel by water predominated over travel by mud-clogged road for many decades.

As you would expect, Smithyman wrote many poems set in the Kaipara - his posthumously-published volume of poems about his ancestors and parents, Imperial Vistas Family Fictions, has dozens of them.

Gregory O'Brien worked in Dargaville as a young reporter in the late '70s (if only the journalists up there today had his standards!) and wrote a strange, almost magical realist novel about the northern Kaipara called Diesel Mystic. Bill Manhire argued that the book was really a series of prose poems.

O'Brien revisited the Kaipara when he wrote a long, semi-autobiographical essay called A Journey Around Kendrick Smithyman's Atua Wera in 1997. That text won the inaugural Landfall essay competition and was reprinted in O'Brien's book After Bathing at Baxter's.

And then there's the poem my old mate Hamish Dewe wrote about an obscure building near Ruawai:

Other folks will probably have their own recommendations...

11:21 am  
Blogger Fatal Paradox said...

@anon 11.04pm, no that is not Smithyman in the photo - it is the rather more Rubenesque/homely visage of your truly (standing on the ramparts of the castle atop Mont Juïc looking out over Barcelona).

12:59 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

tim left wpnz bcause the class truggle was hotting up

wpnz has continued to grow since showing that revisionism fails

4:16 pm  
Blogger Liz said...

All the best for the book launch Scott. Smithyman sounds like a real dude.

Other reading about the Kaipara. Jane Manders Story about the Earlier days of the Kaipara is worth a read as well.

Sam Hunt of course lives in Pahi I see him appear once in awhile in Maungaturoto

Obscure Building in Ruawai? This I have to read about if it's the one I suspect I can tell you a bit more about it

7:54 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Hi Tim,

I'm definitely keen on sending you something for that second issue! There are a load of writers/researchers up here who really have no excuse for not contributing to the journal.

Hi Andrew,

I've read odds and bobs by CLR James, including The Black Jacobins, his great history of the Haitian revolution, and some of his stuff on cricket, like an essay on the great Gary Sobers. I was interested that he argued that Sobers was the epitome of the West Indian, and that one couldn't imagine Sobers represented any other country: cultural essentialism, or a brilliant insight? This blogger is a PhD student studying James:

I very much hope your blog gets the attention it deserves: certainly, you must avoid getting too worried by small numbers of comments and low visitor numbers during your first year of life! These things take time...

2:59 am  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

They do take time. But you've just speeded it up a little - thank you for the suggestions, all duly bookmarked.

10:56 am  
Blogger AHD said...

Hi Maps,

Thanks -- in a way, I'm surprised by the numbers we're getting already. You're definitely helping!!!

I'm a cricket tragic -- I'm thinking that for the upcoming home summer that I might do a survey of some of the readings of the aesthetics/politics of cricket according to some cultural critics.

A person from my cricket club told me that a few years ago they played a game against a touring Marxist cricket team tour from Australia. I wonder whether they declared when the scores drew level...

9:30 am  
Blogger Fatal Paradox said...

"A person from my cricket club told me that a few years ago they played a game against a touring Marxist cricket team tour from Australia."

That would be the Reds Cricket Club from Melbourne. Incidentally I recently managed to score a copy of one of their club annuals which some unknown kindred soul had left on the book giveaway pile in the Modern Languages Building at UC after cleaning out their office.

12:07 pm  
Blogger Sandra said...

Cheers for the suggestions Maps and others, I appreciate them.

9:50 pm  

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