To celebrate the wealth of iconic Kiwi literature nominated so far in the hunt for 2015's Great Kiwi Classic, we asked New Zealand writers to share their favourite Kiwi books. Read on to find out which books Joy Cowley, Jenny Pattrick, Paula Green, Gregory O'Brien and Rachel Fenton rate.
1. The Bone People by Keri Hulme
2. Scented Gardens for the Blind by Janet Frame
3. Plumb by Maurice Gee
4. History of New Zealand by Michael King
5. Hairy Maclary by Lynley Dodd
6. Memory by Margaret Mahy
Joy Cowley is a doyenne of New Zealand children's literature. Her latest books are Dunger (Gecko Press, 2013) and Speed of Light (Gecko Press, 2014). For more information visit Joy Cowley's Writers file.
1. Janet Frame’s autobiography – all three volumes. The autobiography was so strongly and simply written – the memory and detail so clear, so haunting. I have to put this first.
2. Man Alone by John Mulgan. I read this in my teens – and was thrilled to read such a strong and vivid book about New Zealand issues and events. A very Kiwi book.
3. Plumb by Maurice Gee – and the rest of that trilogy and The Burning Boy and so on and on. Maurice Gee is a master novelist, and I could easily put ten novels of his down on the Great Kiwi Classic list. Plumb was the first I read and it still lives with me.
4. Te Puea by Michael King. An important book written at a time when it was bold for a Pākehā to write about Māori issues, let alone this revered Māori princess. It opened my eyes to many things about our history.
5. The Book of Fame by Lloyd Jones. A poetic, historically accurate and fascinating insight into the first rugby All Black tour of England in 1906. Very clever writing.
To me, a ‘classic’ book is a book that has enduring qualities, that registers complex and deep-seated reactions, that illuminates the world (imagined or otherwise) in a new light and that makes the familiar achingly more so. A classic book is utterly beloved. In the case of poetry, it pitches tent in the ear, eye, mind and heart.
1. Hone Tuwhare’s poetry debut, No Ordinary Sun (1964), was the first poetry collection to be published by a Māori poet and has struck a chord with readers for decades. This astonishing collection has political teeth, love as its poetic pulse, vocabulary that crackles and lines that sing. You get plain and you get fancy. You get Māori perspectives, Shakespeare and the Bible. Love, death, wit. The title poem, with its breathtaking image, is a poem that stuck tight to me. The book, read when I was an adolescent in the early 1970s, blasted apart what poems can do.
2. Bill Manhire’s Lifted (2005) (although a similar case can be made for his Victims of Lightning) lifts you, raises the hairs on your arm, scrambles your breath and returns you restored and replenished. This collection fosters an admirable lightness of touch, yet there is that delicious, intangible guy rope to the real world of mishap, mayhem, epiphany, beauty, daily routine, love, make believe and humour. I love the way lines are composed as though upon a musical staff. I love the way ear and eye are always on the lookout for the unexpected connections between things. So many individual gems that are classic, utterly beloved: ‘Kevin,’ ‘Erebus Voices,’ ‘Hotel Emergencies,’ ‘The Ladder.’
3. Michele Leggott’s As far As I Can See (1999) is a collection where heart, mind and senses come together to navigate the process and consequences of going blind. This remarkable collection takes you though knotted genealogies that leave traces of family and reading histories. If there is despair, there is love. If there is vulnerability, there is fortitude. If there is darkness, there is light. Each sequence reflects Michele’s deft ear, empathetic relations and dancing intellect. ‘A woman, a rose, and what has it to do with her or they with one another’ is the blood-hot heart of the collection. It is a collection that has moved me more that any other.
4. Margaret Mahy’s The Word Witch (2009) is a glorious celebration of Margaret’s word wizardry. This classic collection is penned by a poet who wrote for the child and who was never bound by strangulating rules on how writing for children should behave. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Margaret let her imagination and vocabulary bounce to the moon and back in her poems. Her use of rhyme is like chewing gum on the fingers: glorious, strange and stretchy. Her poems are fun, adventurous and delicious to say out loud. Every poem on every page has been simmered in a love of language and the courage to write from one’s own dangling and dancing feet. I just love the way ‘A Summery Saturday Morning’ evokes home and ‘When I am Old and Wrinkled Like a Raisin’ evokes old age.
5. Ah! My fifth spot was agony. Any one of these books is a classic (some I admit, fledgling classics!) that I could hold closer to the light for you: James K Baxter’s Jerusalem Sonnets, Ursula Bethell’s Time and Place, Jenny Bornholdt’s The Rocky Shore, Alistair Campbell’s Mine Eyes Dazzle, Glenn Colquhoun’s The Art of Walking Upright, Leigh Davis’s Willy’s Gazette, Fiona Farrell’s The Pop-Up Book of Invasions, Janet Frame’s The Goose Bath, Bernadette Hall’s The Lustre Jug, Dinah Hawken’s Small Stories of Devotion, Robin Hyde’s Houses by the Sea, Sam Hunt’s From Bottle Creek, Anne Kennedy’s Sing-Song, Cilla McQueen’s Homing In, Robert Sullivan’s Star Waka, Brian Turner’s Ladders of Rain, Ian Wedde’s The Commonplace Odes, Albert Wendt’s The Adventures of Vela. I looked at the list and recognised a commonality: love and music. And a number of New Zealand Poet Laureates!
1. Trees, Effigies, Moving Objects (1972) by Allen Curnow. Maybe this is the greatest 'slim volume of verse' in the history of New Zealand poetry – not a word or an image or a gesture is out of place. The book offers judicious amounts of the Great Man's thinking and some razor-sharp observations of the physical world, all impeccably voiced.
2. The World Regained (1957) by Dennis McEldowney is a miracle of a book by one of our most graceful and gracious writers. If Proust had been born a 'blue baby' and grown up in Christchurch, he might have come up with something like this gem. McEldowney's book is an account of his intellectual growth and spiritual formation, while awaiting and then undergoing the heart surgery which would change his life forever.
3. A Lion in the Meadow by Margaret Mahy (with illustrations by Jill McDonald) was first published in a 1965 issue of the New Zealand School Journal. This issue of the Journal, devoted entirely to Mahy's stories and poems, was designed and illustrated by the remarkable artist/typographer/art editor Jill McDonald (1927–1982). While other artists have illustrated A Lion in the Meadow since then, no one has come close to McDonald's joyous, lyrical, immensely touching drawings. While Mahy has received much deserved acclaim in the years since this journal appeared, McDonald remains an unsung genius of New Zealand illustration and graphic art. She is ripe for rediscovery.
4. Colin McCahon: Artist (revised edition, 1993) by Gordon H. Brown is a book that sits in the cultural landscape like an immense boulder, a landmark, a pou whenua. Everything else that has been produced or published in the art sector since then exists in some kind of relation to both McCahon's work and Brown's trailblazing, exacting and perceptive study.
5. Bold Centuries (2009) by photographer Haruhiko Sameshima is a thought-provoking, fascinating, exemplary publication. Fizzing with visual and intellectual energy, the book asks all sorts of questions while offering all sorts of pleasures to the committed viewer/reader. It is a notable highpoint in Sameshima's audacious, uncompromising project as both a photographer and the publisher of Rim Books.
Gregory O'Brien is a poet, editor and painter. He was awarded the Stout Memorial Fellowship for 2015. For more information visit Gregory O'Brien's Writers file.
1. The Fall of Light, by Sarah Laing – partial graphic novel about a very finickity middle-class architect who tumbles from his ivory tower – i.e. his retro Vesper – and begins to have strange dreams resulting in a sort of City of Ladies-type epiphany. Look out for Laing's forthcoming graphic novel about Katherine Mansfield.
2. Waldoland, by Margaret Silverwood – a mini-comic of expansive intellect – words don't do this justice, you'll just have to buy a copy and let your brain accommodate the experience.
3. My Soiled Sample, by the fabled OATS Collective – an artist’s book: warning, this stuff's edgy! Also, may not be available to purchase, but anything by OATS is bound to be in demand by collectors soon.
4. Home Made, by Kerry Ann Lee – an artist’s book exploring the history of Chinese settlement in New Zealand through found imagery, cut-outs and text.
5. Hicksville, by Dylan Horrocks – my favourite Horrocks is actually Incomplete Works, and The Magic Pen is also set to become a New Zealand classic, but Hicksville, homage to all things comics, takes some beating.
6. Brunswick, by Grant Buist – the stuff of Wellington legend.
7. Three Words; an anthology of New Zealand Women Comics and Cartoonists, edited by Indira Neville, Sarah Laing and Rae Joyce – coming soon!
8. The Dharma Punks, by Ant Sang – already a classic series of comics, now collected in a single bumper publication.
Rachel Fenton is a novelist, poet and graphic novelist. Her work has been published both online and in print and includes cross-genre collaborations with other creative professionals. In 2012 she was awarded the AUT Creative Writing Award and has held an artist in residence position at Counterexample Poetics. She recently took part in the second phase of the graphic novelist and comic artist exchange between Taiwan and New Zealand courtesy of a joint initiative between the Publishers Association of New Zealand, the Taipei Book Fair Foundation and the New Zealand Book Council.