Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Short Story competition

The weekend before last I won the inaugural NZ Chinese Association /Listener short story competition, topping up my earnings from writing so far this year by $1000. I got to read my short story to an audience of around 150 people, which was a huge buzz, especially as some of them responded quite emotionally to the story. It reminded me again why I write and what I write for.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Looking for Julia

I go for a walk,
buy milk,
instant coffee's getting low. $2.50,
third price rise
this year. looking through my coins
fiddly gold bits, ridged layers,
imprints, the year and date's all wrong-
I catch her flicker
as she walks past
narrow black shoes
thin hips and fast feet
that's all
I see.

outside the dairy
a dog wags.
I am not the one he's waiting for. he looks away.

the day's decided it's going to rain.
clouds frown
chew pencils
spit. there are wet footprints already
on the path.

someone has hung
balloons on the fence
for a birthday party. she is not inside
the cake
but I didn't expect
it anyway.

I pull a pink
from a bush
as I walk

back home
there's an envelope waiting.
it's from Julia.

I open it.

If only it were that easy.

Julia is a character in my novel.

Friday, August 17, 2007

12.10 am, 10th March

tree traced
on sea

wave sucked

drawn on
my back


it is
we talk




your face

burnt on



in my

from notes made this year while on Bruny Island, Tasmania

Two poems, one idea, recycled phrase.

what to do with a word (6)

plop it whole
into your mouth. go on.
let the round sweetness
penetrate you.
wrap the warm
with your tongue
then suddenly
without warning
bite down.

let blood red juice
over flesh
stain teeth
make a mess

you haven't finished
yet. suck
flesh out
from around
the pip, the round
hard heart of
what drives it

and using
your best
tie the cherry stalk
into a knot
for good luck.

for Casey

In summer we bought
taut black bags
of juice-splurged sweetness

filling bag
after handpicked bag –
look, I'd say

I've got triplets
you'd reply -
you were always
so damned competitive.

Back home
(cherries by the handful
tumbled under tapwater &
plopped into mouths, whole)

back home
the real contest would begin.
Look, mine's bigger
I'd claim

no, mine's bigger
you'd say -
watch, I'll tie a loop
in the stalk with my tongue.

And so we'd tangle
in lingual gymnastics
until someone

a knot
tied neatly
on our tongues,

we'd find true love
at last.

Of Red Roses

(in response to "String Quartet No. 3 (Blood Red Roses)",a piece by NZ composer Ross Harris.)

petals fell
like bombs
around him

a man.
his puddled dream.
the blue eyed falling.

the drumming guns,
the love
the love
his people

the hands
come/reach him
to touch
to idolise
to destroy.

raindrop ripped roses
on a summer's day

violins stand, play
in folds of his mistress’ skirt.

she falls
and he stands
for one last time.

the violins play.

Auckland 16/8/07, from notes made 14/3/07
“Red Roses” was the last piece Eva and Hitler listened to in the bunker.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

What's the point of writing?

Oh dear. I thought we were winning in getting people realise that poetry is living, is real and is not merely freeze dried and preserved in books. But obviously, I'm far too naiive. In my online travels tonight I came across this article by an experienced NZ literary reviewer:

Enough said in my comment. I guess there are different parts of the NZ writing scene, and it's hard to inhabit them all (as the growing pile of books-to-be-read by my desk will testify.) But come on, there is much more to being a writer than getting published!

I saw no better illustration than in the poetry reading I attended tonight. The Belfast Poets are a group of young, energetic performance poets who each have a unique style but a united voice. They have made it their mission to produce poetry that is strong poetically but which often carries disturbing messages through its imagery: a hungry child, a white king, a soldier killed by lies.... And as well as promoting poetry's power to make people stop and think, they demonstrate a social conscience.

We "writers" could all take a leaf out of their book I think. PEN (international society of writers) certainly puts freedom of speech and social conscience very far ahead in their agenda - after all, if writers don't feel free to write what they feel*, who will?

By the way, Shane Koyczan is a poetry god. I say this unashamedly. I was at the reading Amy describes in her review and there was way more than one person crying. See him if he comes to a town near you, it's an experience.

* there are snooty types who will argue for "art for art's sake". These are the same people for which words like "love" and "beauty" are dirty words in poetry and will argue that a scrawled line across a page not even resembling a word is high art (depends on the scrawler, I guess). Me, I hope I'll always believe that you must have passion, not merely innovation, to write well. And that the reader is the final judge of what is "good" writing.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Let There Be Lumiere

I have been invited to do a review for the">Lumiere Reader, NZ's online arts and culture magazine. This is quite exciting and will be my debut into the glamorous, demanding and highly pressured world of review article writing (only half joking).

I'm going to write a review of what is popularly known as The Banana Conference, which is just what it sounds like - a conference for Bananas.

It's on this weekend. I'm also going to do another article on">Alison Wong, who happens to be one of my heroes because she is a Kiwi-Chinese poet who is "making it". As well as being a damn fine poet in her own right, of course.

Friday, August 10, 2007

How to write a love poem in 12 easy steps

she has woven a basket
for catching glances. it is a fine weave,
much finer than she normally weaves,
but then it is special. it is for a purpose.
it is for catching a man.

not just anyone mind you.
Him. the guy over there, the one
whose smooth skin spills out of his T shirt
like, like, oh
like God. there I've said it. He's more beautiful than God.

her heart has been boiled
until soft, until there are little
bits of it crumbled off
making islands in the water.
she picks up the masher.

his first smile
hits her
like a fist
the eyes.

what? what? the room's
too noisy to hear,
she doesn't care,
she just wants his breath again
on her bared neck.

no I don't think you're sick,
no you aren't moving too fast

he sleeps.
his arm is rigid
behind her neck.
her nipples
trace lines of regret.

Watch. Watch my hands.
See? Nothing.
Nothing at all.
I'll turn them over for you.
You see? I'm not hiding anything.

You think I believe you?
you think I don’t know that
as soon as I turn away
as soon as,
you'll turn me into a poem?

there is
a dent
in the pillow
where his head was
last night.

a knotted
is hard

she weaves
fine flax strips
sliced from
the white heart
the cold white heart of the bush
fine flax strips
she weaves.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Frankenstein Delusion

I'm about to try to fit my novel together.

At the beginning of the week, I was suffering from a bad case of first-draft disillusionment - the classical variety, where you want to rip up your script and toss it in tiny pieces into the fire - except that this being an environmental household, there is no fire. I prefer to slouch around in front of my computer wearing five layers of clothing and my Flying Doctors beanie.

I've now settled on a less drastic action. I'm going to hack apart one of my characters, the one who looks too much like me, and using fine plastic surgical techniques turn her into someone else. At least on the outside. Then no one will recognise her (evil cackle).

There is another problem, of course. There are two main characters in this book. And they are supposed to mean something to each other. All the way through the first draft you can see the author (me) prodding them together, trying to make them say hi to each other. They do, but only with the utmost reluctance.

Damn characters with a mind of their own *mutter*.

So now I'm left with two disparate stories. Fraternal twins, if you like, since they were created and birthed together. I thought they were going to be Siamese twins and have been matching limb to limb, chest to chest, trying to figure out where to sew them together. They don't seem to match up anywhere, bugger it. So now I guess I'll have to pull apart each character and start all over again.

There will be bits of limbs scattered all over my desk, shortly.

God how I love extended metaphors.

Dippy Disc Jocks

Just got the CD recording of the radio poetry broadcast a few weeks ago and trying not to laugh/cry. I didn't realise until I listened just what type of "music" George FM broadcast. (No wonder the station manager looked at me with that nose-crinkling I-think-someone-just-farted-but-I'm-too-polite-to-say-so-out-loud look when I asked him if he was interested in broadcasting more performance poets!!)

So imagine this: some of NZ's most well-regarded poets, reading some of their most hard-hitting poetry, on the podium unaware that their words are being broadcast with an underbeat of the sugary ooh-ahh-sex confection that passes for music these days.

In my case (not, I hasten to add, that I'm a "well known" poet at all- in fact unaware that I had been promised as a "hip hop" style poet (!!)), I chose one of my saddest, most lyrical poems to start.
I have just found that I read Riverbeach (below) to an audible underbeat of pop-beat and a male voice cooing "oo-eer feel mah body".....

Hardly the most appropriate beat for a poem mourning Casey's passing, I feel. Anyway. At least the pavement audience liked the unadulterated version of it - and heard my last poem, which was obliterated by squawking ads on the broadcast.

It is an interesting side observation that we poets were asked by the radio station to limit our readings to 3-5 minutes max on basis of "the short attention span of our audience" whereas the same audience are expected to listen to 5 minute "songs" with repetitive butt-crunching, mind battering lyrics, followed by around ten minutes of shouty ads......I might sound like a grumpy old lady but WHY D'YA THINK THE YOUNG PEOPLE ARE GETTING BORED DUH?

On the other hand, I enjoyed myself thoroughly on the day, and despite the apparent mindlessness of radio jocks, would do it again. Thanks Carole!


no glaring moon interrupts
the stars in their glorious profusion.

A lone insomniac bird
squeaks, and rapidly hushes.
The river flows on in soft silence.

You said:
"We are all made from stardust,
and one day we will return".

How beautiful the sky is
with you in it.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Bad sex in fiction award

Here's a fun link to look at as diversion/encouragement when you hit a writing roadblock (or detour, impasse, or motorway jam) - the Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction award, awarded annually for the worst sex scene in a novel.

The list of literary heavyweights, and their extremely badly written sex scenes, are encouraging to those of us yet to publish a novel let alone a convincing sex scene (written down of course.... I stage extremely convincing sex scenes, at least in the privacy of my imagination, every now and then :))

I think this year's contenders were not as good as 2005's, a particularly fruitful year.,,1652812,00.html
But this is my all time fave:

2001 winner - Rescue Me by Christopher Hart (Faber & Faber)
Her hand is moving away from my knee and heading north. Heading unnervingly and with a steely will towards the pole. And, like Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Pamela will not easily be discouraged. I try twitching, and then shaking my leg, but to no avail. At last, disastrously, I try squeezing her hand painfully between my bony thighs, but this only serves to inflame her ardour the more. Ever northward moves her hand, while she smiles languorously at my right ear. And when she reaches the north pole, I think in wonder and terror...she will surely want to pitch her tent.

On Public Displays of Poetry (PDP's)

Been surfing the web on poetry links as I sometimes do late at night and found this interesting link quite by chance:

The article stimulates a lot of interesting comments (and performance links) from interested poets. The whole thing turns into a comment on whether TV is the right medium for poetry - accessibility and audience seem to be both its attraction and its Achille's heel. There is widespread agreement that TV and other forms of popular media have become "dumb" (at the assumption of its producers rather that the request of its audience) and that poets might be entering into a Faustian pact by allowing themsleves to be broadcast on TV. On the other hand, like many Slam poets I am convinced at the power of the unadorned spoken word, and welcome any opportunity to "get it out there". It's fascinating that this discussion is taking place in the UK, yet could reflect the experiences of many poets in the English-speaking world (where poetry is somehow not as cool as in the Hispanic or Asian worlds...why is that?)

I particularly liked this comment from "digit" (hope you don't mind me quoting you, mate):
"The real problem is the widespread assumption that poetry isn't any fun. As long as programmers keep believing this, even if they put poetry on, they're likely to do extraneous things to try to make it fun - the same kind of embarrassing, patronising bollocks that wrecks theatre for a lot of schoolkids. "

This links to another recent post I've read about teaching poetry to children - some are of the opinion that you have to make it relevant, and choose topics that appeal, others don't see a problem with using the classic, and best, texts there are (and by classic I don't mean just old poetry).

There isn't any "right" wayof course. Only personal preference, driven by experience, and a reading of the situation. But I will swear that poetry is not only relevant, but can oftenbe embraced and have healing properties for those that discover it - I'm not just saying this idly, but as the author (wearing my medical hat)of a study on arts programmes for at-risk young people in South Auckland, where I worked last year.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

These last few have been old poems, ones I have frequently read/performed over the last few years. They alos appear on other online forums, most notably Blackmail Press (issues 13 and 17).

I am an admirer of the brave people who post their newest, most raw poems. I hope to use this site for this, if I'm brave enough. As the internet itself warns us anything you post on the internet is not easily erased... (though who will go looking for the traces of it are another matter).

Thursday, August 2, 2007


a shop lady smiled at me
and said,
“Your English is very good”

her eyes crinkled
in a let's-be-nice-to-aliens way.

I wanted to say

-of course it bloody is,
-I was born here,
-how about you?

But of course I said nothing.
hardly her fault
we Asians all look the same

Maybe I should have
tattooed on my forehead
except then
I'd be told off by my mother.

My mother.

When I was born
I slept in Chinese
I fed in Chinese
I cried in Chinese

pooed in Chinese even.

Mother and father
left their English
lying around the house
like lollies

they knew I wouldn't touch
I was good then.

We kids built houses
with wooden blocks
painted with Chinese characters.
We fought over
longer characters
on bigger blocks,

better for building walls.

My mother used to say,
“No talking English at home!”

I'd brought it home like a disease
from kindy
and infected my sisters.

By the time we were teenagers
my mother was getting tired
from yelling
“No English!”

Once my sister and I decided to start speaking French.
We thought we were being smart.
Even though we weren't too good at French.

English was my camouflage.
As long as I wore it
talked in English
dreamt in English
ate in English

even shit in English
I couldn't be too Chinese

could I?

In Hong Kong
I am swept along the pavement
by a torrent of Cantonese
and shop ladies crinkle their eyes
in a let's-be-nice-to-aliens way.

“Your Chinese is good,”
they say,
“for a foreigner”.
©Renee Liang 2005
Beating sunrise

it's there.
touch it.
it's real.
this thing wrought
from random elements colliding
in a whirling furnace of a place
(wild fire you say with a wink)
and so new, we don't know what to call it yet

but it's real.

you blame
my reach for your hand
to pull you into the vortex of dancers
I blame
the fact you didn't let go.

And we could argue it
nose to nose,
lips to lips,
for many hours more

but dawn is licking the horizon
and I've decided I'm going to

beat the sunrise home.

©Renee Liang 2004

Click - on

These days, we no longer turn over a new leaf, or wipe the slate clean. We click and click and suddenly it materialises - a version of ourselves we want the world to see. Welcome to the fractionated poetry version of myself. It's an important facet - or why would I recently have had cards printed with the title "writer, poet"? We Kiwis tend to cringe at any form or labelling which might be seen as sticking our heads above the lawnmower line. But anyway, it's important to me. Maybe if I say it often enough I'll be it.