Step back in time with a fascinating cultural record of a one-of-a-kind pub. Elsewhere, dedicate yourself to the third collection of poetry of Chris Tse, full of effervescence and lyrical bounce, and to an Easter story from beloved writer Dame Joy Cowley. Happy reading.
BOOKS IN REVIEW
Closing Time: Photographs from the Hotel Kiwi 1967–75, by Gary Baigent, John Fields and Max Oettli (Rim Books, $40). Reviewed by David Herkt
The Kiwi Hotel, on the corner of Symonds St and Wellesley St, was never going to be the sort of architecture that anyone would ever preserve. It was a squat and featureless building. Even the 1967 Pub-Goer's Guidebook could only describe it has having "a general lavatorial atmosphere", that it was "built almost entirely of Formica and rubberised floor-tiles" and "represents all that a pub should not be".
Despite this, as a consequence of its location near the University of Auckland and the Elam School of Fine Arts, the Kiwi was one of Auckland's most notable pubs of its generation. While catering primarily to students and what could loosely be called "bohemia", its location meant that it was also the resort of working men and women. The bartenders were known by name. Weekends were busy.
Rim Books' collection, Closing Time: photographs from the Hotel Kiwi 1967–75, memorialises the venue as recorded through the eyes and words of some of New Zealand's most notable photographers in their youth – Gary Baigent, the late John Fields, and Max Oettli, all of whom were patrons of the pub themselves. It is an important cultural record and a fascinating book of images.
The artist Colin McCahon is caught deep in an afternoon conversation with student Ted Spring, flanked by Lion Red bottles. Young women with high, bouffant hairstyles sit together while a guitar is being strummed. Painter Harry Wong is captured in debate with the gallerist Rodney Kirk Smith. Samantha Groves reads a copy of a newspaper with a headline about Scientology at the same table as the communist Graeme Wimp and surrounded by empty beer jugs.
Baigent, Fields, and Oettli were part of a new realism that had come to the fore in this period of New Zealand photography. Building on the performance of lightweight cameras - the Nikon and the Leica - and fast film, the techniques of press-photography were repurposed to new ends. New Zealand was suddenly seen through fresh eyes, beginning with Baigent's 1967 book The Unseen City: 123 photographs of Auckland, with its high-contrast grainy images of streets, bars, and backyards.
Fields was an American with vast photographic experience whose Photography: A visual dialect collected the work of 10 contemporary New Zealand photographers in 1970. Then Hamilton-raised Oettli became the founding president of the PhotoForum group, and was one of New Zealand's most notable street photographers, snatching images at busy pedestrian crossings, on escalators, and in crowds.
Flanked by short evocative essays or diary excerpts from Spring, Baigent, Fields, Oettli and Elizabeth Eastmond, the images in the 56-page limited-edition Closing Time are indispensable, both as history and as a record of New Zealand life. With its high production values, the book repays repeated examination by revealing ever more detail. It engages the eye and captures the mind. Auckland's past is opened up again to the present.
Super Model Minority, by Chris Tse (Auckland University Press, $25). Reviewed by Sophie van Waardenberg.
It's difficult to read Chris Tse's third collection of poems, Super Model Minority, silently. Just take his titles as examples: the very first, "Utopia? BIG MOOD!", demands a scream. "Karaoke for the end of the world" instructs towards singing. Even a few pages before the book's end, the reader cannot avoid the rapturous wall of text titled "BOY OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY". Tse is always dynamic, luxurious, and fun — yet this collection showcases him as a writer of great tonal range. Beneath the effervescence, a reader finds an explorative, calculating, and often angry speaker.
Super Model Minority is open-armed, gracious and gregarious, the opposite of any insular and haughty idea of poetry possibly held by people outside the poetry world. Its poems take inspiration and language from Chinese-American poet Chen Chen, Aotearoa artist and poet Sam Duckor-Jones, Carly Rae Jepsen, George Michael, the Cards Against Humanity game, and a bounty of other artists and musicians. Cultural references include mall cops, Korean soap operas and Girls Aloud. This ramshackle backing chorus of borrowed voices adds warmth and breadth to the collection, while also pointing the reader towards the cross section of identity and lyric Tse provides on every page.
The collection's title is, of course, a clue to that cross-section. There is the excess and shine of the supermodel, melded to the cultural construction of the "model minority", the homogeneous expectation of Asian immigrants to prove themselves as hard-working and intelligent. In these poems, Tse dissects some of that expectation, alongside the historical and current injustices faced by the queer community.
The first sentence of the book's first poem reads, "I will use my tongue for good." The reader knows the work is charged with responsibility and moral motivation. It takes stamina for a poet to keep this kind of declarative work going over the course of nearly 100 pages, but Tse does it elegantly and buoyantly, injecting a lyrical bounce ("I am not an exorcist — I am a sympathetic/vomiter") and throwing a handful of stubborn glitter into an explication of racism, as in "Wishlist – Permadeath".
Tse uses the "we" and "us" pronouns abundantly throughout this collection, another way of tying his story to those of his ancestors, peers, inspirations and readers. It serves the poems powerfully, it rallies and includes, and yet I think the strongest poems here are ones where the "we" slips away to make room for the "I".
When Tse's lyricism becomes singular, it is electric. This oscillation between first-person plural and singular is clearest in "Portrait of a life": "I believe the seasons of love/will give us our direction/even as they decay/one after the other and we slip/from our foundations."
Super Model Minority is a collection about love, brokenness, history and the future, and the celebration and commemoration of all these things at once. These are Tse's inescapable themes and the book does not shy away from them — including the cyclical violence and marginalisation of the groups with which he identifies. In this collection's opening, he tells his reader that there is room for something else, though it may take "reverse engineer[ing] utopia" to find it — and at the book's close, that potential is still there: "The pattern is whatever you choose to see."
Sophie van Waardenberg is studying towards an MFA in poetry at Syracuse University in upstate New York, where she serves as co-editor-in-chief of Salt Hill Journal. A longer version of this review will appear on anzliterature.com.
AN EASTER STORY BY DAME JOY COWLEY
As her eyesight fails, beloved writer Dame Joy Cowley reflects on her own Easter story, "the mystery central to my life". S says: "We all have these experiences that can't be explained in terms of physical or psychological reality, and we occasionally have to acknowledge that there is something beyond the perception of our five senses."Read her full story here..
AN EASTER STORY BY DAVID HILL
Sixty years ago (almost), I insulted one of New Zealand's best-selling authors, writes David Hill. Read his recollection of a meeting that went wrong on Easter nearly six decades ago, here..
5 QUICK QUESTIONS WITH JENNY PATTRICK
Do you still make jewellery?
I still have my jewellery bench and I make just for family and close friends. Not commercially. My hands are arthritic and fumble a bit over intricate work. When I was chairperson of the Arts Council in the 80s I didn't have time for serious jewelling. And after that it seemed time for something new. Writing.
You have lived in the same house for 50 years. What do you love about it?
I love the solid bones of this 116-year-old house: its high stud and big rooms. It sits on a hill looking over the harbour – morning sun to the east and warm, west-facing rooms to keep the house cosy in the evenings. Wind of course too; you can't have views and sun like this in Wellington without the gales. We look out on tall trees that we planted, and a park where schoolchildren and families play.
But mostly I love the memories that live in these rooms: the children and grandchildren growing up here; the family parties; students singing and dancing at after-show hoolies; our great Christmas carols evenings. And Laughton's long illness and death. This house was perfect for that. He was able to enjoy life at home till the end, so that memory is precious.
You became a best-selling novelist in your 60s. What advice do you have for those who wish they could do what you do?
You need perseverance, a tough hide and a good dollop of luck. It took me six years of rejections and rewriting to get Denniston Rose published. Being older and having survived the Arts Council's slings and arrows were an advantage. And that first novel coincided with a time when readers in Aotearoa were ready to read fiction about our own past. The publishers thought they were taking a great risk, but Denniston Rose became an instant bestseller. My good luck.
Any unfulfilled dreams?
I would like to be fluent in sign language, which I think is beautiful to watch. Every morning I practise the word of the day on the NZ sign language app. But I will never be fluent, because I have no deaf friend to practise with. My greatest unfulfilled dream is to be able to play piano. Laughton made sure the family could sing as a choir in four parts. Now that he has died we lack a pianist and the singing is suffering. We have other instrumentalists but the piano seems vital. Is it too late? Perhaps not. We tend to live long lives after all.
What are you most pleased with/proud of in Harbouring?
It took some courage on my part to write this novel. The 1840s in Port Nicholson (now Wellington) was a controversial time: the first mass arrivals of white settlers; highly questionable land transactions. I'm pleased that I chose, as my main characters, Hineroa, bonded to Ngāti Toa but desperate to live as a free woman, and the poverty-stricken Welsh couple Huw and Martha Pengellin: three travellers to this harbour who had nothing to lose. I enjoyed speaking in their different voices; imagining what difficulties they might have encountered, how they saw the leaders, what might have angered or entertained them; brought laughter or hope.
Jenny Pattrick's latest novel, Harbouring (Penguin, $36), is out now.