Sunday, June 14, 2015

Landfall 229

‘This is the little magazine that always produces great issues packed with fine writing. The writing is highly readable, sometimes controversial, but never dull.’ – Canvas, Weekend Herald, 31 January 2009

I have to take issue.  Not with writers or with the content of this icon of kiwi literature, for the content page for this, the 229th edition of Otago  University's wonderful dedication  to Aotearoa's arts, literature and correspondence.  This particular edition addresses the winner of the Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize: Sue Wootton.  No.  I take issue with the cover.  But I'll get to that later.  Let's focus on the positive.  There's a challenging and reflective piece on ANZAC Day in the guise of a fantasia showcasing iconic cultural figures from the last century.  John Mulgan, Winston Churchill, 'Blue Smoke'.  Playwright Dean Parker has created a sort of 'radio play' for the page about the feeling of being and AZAC.  But, it's like war - glorious, epic, confusing but pointless.  Journo Adam Dudding takes a personal slant on the death of his father Robin, also a journalist (and the editor of the infamous Islands).  There's Elizabeth Smithers making a wry, small town affair of the heart, 1950's style.  It's deliciously retro, like the vinyl couch in your grandparents rumpus room.    There's opener Sandra Arnold, 2014 recipient of the Serisin Landfall Residency, who, almost in gloat writes of her time in the idyllic Waterfall Bay.  "I wake to a bird piping in the garden.  The hill and water are silver in the pre-dawn light.  I set up a writing room upstairs with a view of bush and sea.  Through the open window I can birds, water, and the occasional boat in the jetty, fish jump for insects and weka call to each other in the bush"  I'm dead jealous.  Lucky buggers.  Shouldn't have read this on the train in to my office day job!

Speaking of residencies, Randell Cottage 2014 homebody Tina Makeriti must have found time in her busy schedule to whip up an essay that challenges the individual and personal identity in our contemporary lands.   For someone with deep Maori sensitivities, the idea of even the individual that can be separated from one's history, whakapapa, land is in a way, an oddity.  We are, and always will be owned by where we are - in time, space and place.  Or are we?  She documents travelling to the Frankfurt Book Fair, with taonga, strange and rare to Europeans, who still gawp like their ancestors did when they made landfall here, over 170 years ago.  It's about looking at things from a differing perspective, another angle.  "Sometimes we have to excavate the good from the things we have always viewed as bad.  New Randell resident, Owen Marshall wades in with more profound poetry on a less than perfect book launch and Emma Neale laughs her way through the agony of how to write a short story.  In my head that Monty Python skit of Hardy in a stadium writing his open sentence, treated like the World Cup final with cheering fans, chanting and beer on tap plays in my head.  But my favourite is Nick Ashcroft
s word play of a UK multicultural supermarket - The Osney Snag -  it's like an out-take from Trainspotting - I had absolutely no idea what was going on, but loved it anyway.  

And there's plenty more.  This is a great dip into the deep literary pool. 

But none of this explains my issue with the publishers.  I loved all this wonderful creative writing.  What I take issue with is the cover.  "As calligraphic as 1940's De Kooning, gruesome as Bosch, crudely cartoonish as Guston, a Rabelaistian carnival of excess complete with distorting mirrors..." wrote Andrew Paul Wood in the catalogue of Rob McCleod's 'Untitled', which adorns the cover of Landfall 229.  "a Freudian phallus nose there, a creature in tartan (an allusion to the artist's Scottish origins) with dugs interchangeable with her flesh-pink Mickey Mouse ears may be Miley Cyrus at the 2003 VMA awards, twerking  away among the stylised comic strip shorthand of swooshes...."  What a load of tosh!  Sometimes art is pretentious nonsense.  I take issue with the publishers selecting such immature, amateur rubbish.  Perhaps there's some sense of elitism, but it really belittles this fine publication and it ties it to the 1980's to the dusty origins when, really there needs to be new growth and an embracement of the future.  I judge a book by its cover, especially in the age of the Kindle.  I want the perfect package.  And it almost is.  Just loose the awful artwork and embrace something that doesn't look like what my kids drew, eh?

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