Monday, March 30, 2009

Lemon Eucalypt

Looking through my poetry folder for something else, I found this, almost forgotten, poem from my short stay on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland last year. We were making paper out of native peach, among other plants.

Lemon Eucalypt

In transit

through a window

this land looks

like home.

The human eye

was bred

to focus

on the familiar

I understand

the impulse

of European settlers to give

Northern names to native plants.

But a native peach

is not a peach,

bearing tiny hard bitter berries

so I close my eyes

and let my ears open

to the kookaburra’s manic cackle

and my nose open

to the scent of lemon eucalypt.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Fish pie smiley face

I've long harboured a secret fantasy of making a career in Hollywood on laugh tracks but I haven't pursued it because very few programmes with laugh tracks are actually funny to me. I'm more likely to laugh at my own typos. I laugh at my ridiculous fluorescent safety gear every time I ride my bike.

My loud, apparently infectious, often inappropriate, laugh has always gotten me in trouble. I've been told off at school, at work, at the movies, at home, pretty much anywhere I've started laughing. Once I infamously made a whole theatre laugh against their will, through the second half of Ghost, because I thought it was so cheesy.

But I have finally found my funny place at Laughter Club. Laughter yoga, as its also known, is all about laughing for the sake of laughing. There are no cynical stand-up comedians, no cool irony, no nasty sarcasm, no tedious in jokes or cringe-making mocking.

In fact there is nothing cool about Laughter Club. Rather, with a combination of clapping chants, playful movement and vocalised breathing laughter yoga starts out as fake laughter that quickly morphs into infectious, irresistible real laughter. Apparently it doesn't matter that some of the laughing is forced, because our bodies can't tell the difference between real and fake laughter. Both lower stress and blood pressure, raise endorphins, energy, oxygen and immunity. It really is all good.

Apparently children laugh 3-400 times a day but by the time we are adults we are lucky to laugh 10-15 times a day. Most of what is making us laugh in Laughter Club is the same kind of silliness that makes children laugh so easily. We made silly faces and silly noises, played silly games, made up silly affirmations. As well as being silly it's very positive: lots of cheering, applauding and expressions of delight in ourselves and eachother. It's not cool at all, but it works.

Two days after my first Laughter Club session my sides are still aching as though I'd done two hundred sit ups instead of laughing out loud for most of an hour. I'm still smiling and laughing spontaneously at the memories of Laughter Club. I can't wait to for next week's session. If I was in Mumbai I'd go every morning. In Hamilton its once a week at the YWCA, Wednesday 7-8pm, $3 entry. All welcome "for the purpose of health, exercise, anxiety relief and fun. No registration, just turn up." Inquiries to Claire Jensen 027 626 2028.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Claudelands Jubilee Bush

I am loving my life in Hamilton, very glad to be here getting to do all the interesting things I am doing. But at the same time I long for the Daintree. My body craves it, my heart aches for it, my soul dreams of it.

My skin itches for more humidity, my ears crave the sounds of the birds and frogs and insects of the forest, my eyes seek the green complexity of a triple canopy. Thank goodness the weather is still warm or this spate of tropical homesickness might be unbearable.

There's lots of lovely green places to walk in Hamilton, my beloved Gardens of course, the banks of the Waikato River and the lake which is hosting a hot air balloon festival this week. But its all very groomed. It's hard to find anything approximating wilderness. And then I remembered Claudelands Jubilee Bush, just round the corner from my place.

On a particularly melancholy afternoon last week I took my camera into the bush and let myself really notice its specialness. It's not tropical rainforest, but it is a little bit of lovely wild. And its the first forest I can remember. Our family used to come and play in this bush, back before it was fenced and weeded and boardwalked.

Kahikatea berries (I think) on the boardwalk

It's probably a lot more healthy and authentic than it was thirty-five years ago, over run with Tradescantia. It was a magical mysterious dimly lit wonderland for our imaginative games. I'm pretty sure I populated these particular roots with fairies and elves when the tree and I were both a bit smaller.

Fairy village

Friday, March 20, 2009

Tea and walnuts

I suppose its a sort of deconstructive personality trait that makes me want to know how to make every element of a book myself. On one level it's filling out another part of the survival skill-kit I want for after the complete collapse of civilization. I don't feel the need to live my life as though civilization is not still stumbling along providing me with affordable necessities and pleasures. And I don't feel the need to become a master of all the skills on my survival list. I just want to be confident that I wouldn't be helpless without Google to tell me what to do, let alone sell me whatever I want.

So haphazardly I work through my list as opportunities present themselves and my imagination demands manifestation. Grow, preserve and cook food, check. Weave and knit fabric and sew clothes, check. Print and bind books, check. Make paper, check. Make ink... checking it out.

A notice on Freecycle offering walnuts for collection from a neighbour's garden sent me cycling across town to fill my pannier bags with nuts. What I found was a pile of mossy grass clippings studded with tiny, black, mouldy little nuts. But I filled a bag anyway, as their slimy black husks inspired me to try making ink with whatever wasn't edible.

After a few days drying in the sun, the walnuts were less gross to handle and I sorted the biggest and healthiest looking nuts out to dry for a few months before eating. The rest, along with all the husks, and a few clinging strands of moss and grass, went into a big pot of water. As soon as they came to the boil, I knew the smell was something I didn't want in the house and I switched to the second method I'd read about: let them soak. So now there is a pot of walnut husks soaking on the back step. In a few weeks I will test the liquor and if it is dark enough I'll strain out all the bits and dip my quill in the ink. That simple apparently!

Unfortunately the ink won't be ready in time for the Rennaissance Fair at Waikato Museum in a couple of weeks. I will be there helping people to try their hands at mirror writing like Leonardo da Vinci's journals. Four hundred years ago he would have taken pleasure in the crisp contrast of black ink on white paper, but over time his notebooks have turned brown as the paper darkened and the ink faded. For an instantly-aged effect at the Fair, I have stained paper with tea. Here the sheets drying in the autumnal breeze of my backyard.

Monday, March 16, 2009


I just received my copy of Enamel, a new antipodean poetry magazine in which I am pleased to have two poems published. It's a lovely little book-object: a perfect-bound A5 with luscious colour cover and illustrations. The poems, in a crisp, san serif typeface, play out on generous plains of white, heavy-as-satin paper.

The editor, Emma Barnes, has done a fine job of selecting the poems as well. I have been dipping in and out all day and haven't read a dud yet. First of course I read my friends' excellent poems: Meg Davies' Rules of Subtraction and Tim Jones' The Penciller and Nightlife. I'm also immediately enamoured of Peel by Helen Heath and Useful Cupboards by Jennifer Compton.

Emma is selling hard copies of Enamel through TradeMe for a price between $10 and $15. PDF copies are available for a donation. And if you're interesting in contributing, the next issue of Enamel is due to be published in March 2010.

The last few days I've also been dipping in and out of Tim Jones' 2008 collection of short stories, Transported. I especially love the speculative fiction set in New Zealand, like The Wadestown Shore, which if you know Wellington is very eerie and fascinating. But Tim is such a versatile writer, accomplished in so many genres, that there is going to be something intelligent and insightful to satisfy all tastes.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Daily growth increments

I've set myself a little daily practice of drawing a fossil every day. I draw them from pictures in books, as I don't have a fossil collection of my own. I do own one fossil field guide and I found a couple of well illustrated tomes in the library.

As always with drawing, a few hours of practice improves my skills and after only a week I'm starting to be quite pleased with these efforts, imperfect as they are. I'm not attempting to be scientifically accurate, which is lucky as there's nothing scientifically accurate about my attempts. Rather I'm thinking about working them with thread, or as paper cuts. Not sure yet. Maybe drawing them will be enough.

Copying pictures from books has the advantage of allowing me to actually read bits of text that I might not be motivated to otherwise peruse. Interesting snippets included finding out about 'zone fossils' which are from certain hard bodied animals which existed for a short period of time but spread widely across the planet. Their presence in geological strata is a flag indicating the era of the strata. Trilobites are one of the zone fossils for the Paleozoic era. Here's a somewhat misshapen Trinucleus trilobite from the Ordovician strata.

Given my on-going obsession with coral, I was interested to read that corals work as fossil clocks. Modern corals show bands of around 360 growth increments each year but corals such as Ketophyllum from the Silurian era shows growth increments in annual groups of 400. This suggests that 440 million years ago there were more days in the year and that each day was shorter. Astronomy shows the Earth's movement around the Sun has changed by almost exactly the amount that the fossil corals show.

Which I take as further reinforcement of the amazing power of coral to communicate useful information in languages that I am attempting to record with needle and thread. My big current project, The Sixth Extinction, is coming along nicely.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

600 posts and we have a winner

It snuck up on me! I just noticed that the previous post, Hermes Baby was my 600th post on Bibliophilia. I noted the blog's fourth anniversary very recently in a post, but here's another milestone to celebrate.

The March giveaway winner is Kay who said this about songs that make her happy:
  • I always feel happy when I hear Cliff Richard singing 'Summer Holiday'; because it brings back happy childhood memories; The Beach Boys singing 'Good Vibrations' because it brings back that 13-year old feeling of being on the brink of something good (independence maybe?) and 'A Case of You' by Joni Mitchell because I've learnt the words and can sing along!
Kay is a writer and blogger. Check out her poetry on Monkey Puzzle Sunrise and personal blog Made for Weather. She's picked the strawberry book as her prize, and it will be in the post to her later today along with a few little bits and pieces.

Thank you to everyone who entered the competition and shared three songs that make them feel happy. It seems like it was a more challenging question than the last one. Songs that make you feel happy are not always the same as the ones you like best. I'll be publishing the complete playlist in Happy Bus, but if you want a sneak preview, check out the comments here and here. And watch out for another giveaway early in April.

  • These YouTube links are my own choices

Monday, March 09, 2009

Hermes Baby

Making a zine is an excuse to use my Hermes Baby, the prettiest typewriter in the world. When I first learned to type nearly 30 years ago, I could touchtype on a manual typewriter. Now my fingers are weakened from decades of fluttering across computer keyboards. I no longer have the strength in any but thumb and index fingers to striking a blow that will take an impression from a faded old ribbon. The Hermes Baby reduces me to hunt and pecking.

It also does mysterious and eccentric things like occasionally, with no warning, refuse to go past the middle of the page. If I'm paying more attention to the keyboard than the paper on the platen (as I generally am with the Hermes) then I end up overtyping until there is a ragged black hole in the centre of of the page.

Its proving very difficult to get a new ribbon for the Hermes Baby. Not because its an unusual kind of spool. Unlike the pre-USB digital age of universal incompatibility, most manual typewriters all seem to be designed for the same universal ribbon spool. Its just that they aren't stocked anywhere, at least not in New Zealand.

Happy Bus (my soon-to-be-launched zine) is not entirely typewritten, otherwise publication would be a much more distant prospect than it is. The text will be a mixture of wordprocessing, typewriting and hand printing. There's a bit of paper engineering going on with it too. And these little gold elephant stickers, punched out of old labels picked up in an op shop.

Don't forget to enter this month's giveaway to win a handmade blank book. Tell me three songs that make you feel happy and you will go in the draw.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Toenail Polish

"Frank had always considered toenail polish to be a kind of intelligence test that its users had embarrassingly and publicly failed; but here was Dr Taolini, tenured at MIT, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, exposing pink toenails to the world without embarrassment. He would have to rethink some of his opinions."

-Kim Stanley Robinson , Fifty Degrees Below (p135)

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A Craftivist Tuesday in the Tron

Yesterday I did the rounds of trying to catching up with a few University of Waikato friends (and lunch with my dear old dad). It was Clubs Day on campus which made for an atmosphere more carnival than academic. I abandoned dad halfway into our post-prandial saunter round the lake when I saw a young woman sitting on the grass stitching little pieces of felt. Introducing myself to Hilary I found out about a whole little underground craft scene that she is part of.

Onwards up the hill to the School of Ed to see Joyce Stalker's exhibition of 'unruly quilts'. She has referenced quilting traditions without being bound by them. Talking with Joyce, she is uncomfortable with calling her work quilts, but if I can call a park full of chalk poetry a book then she is surely a quilt artist.

Night Sounds on Pitcairn Island
I thought these two were her most interesting and successful piceces. They will be on exhibit in the foyer of the School of Education at the University of Waikato until 13 March.

Nice Women II

Joyce had organised a talk that afternoon on Radical Textile Craft with my Melbournian friend Rayna Fahey of . Rayna had an interesting slideshow which succinctly surveyed a history of craft in protest politics from the Luddite lacemakers to the Chilean arpilleras. She shared some of her favourite contemporary craftivists and showed a little of her own work. About a dozen people showed up (including plenty of men!) which wasn't a bad turnout for 4pm on a Tuesday with only a week's advertising. After the powerpoint we had a lively discussion and I promised to organise a get-together to continue the conversation over handicrafts at the vicarage soon.

Rayna speaking; Hilary and I stitching in the foreground; Sylvie, Tenila, Meg and Mark across the circle

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Win a Cute Book! Share more happiness!

Coptic binding practice

I've been making lots of books lately, which is ironic since not long ago I posted here about the apparent eclipse of my book creativity by textile inspiration. But as I'm going to be teaching some How-To Make Books evening classes at Arts Post next semester, I've been playing around with figuring what kinds of books to teach, and how to teach them. That means making all sorts of model books, mostly out of found papers. I scour op shops and sale bins for notepads, scrounge scrap paper off anyone I can and use cereal boxes and game boards for covers. The combination of less-than-perfect materials, and making-as-practice process, means these models are too flawed to try and sell on Etsy.

Yet two of the models to emerge from this exercise are quite delicious, with green coptic bindings on open spines. I've decided to offer one of them (winner's choice) as the prize in the March Give Away.

You can choose between the Yogi Bear A6 notebook with pale green and white pages and strawberries inside the cover boards:

Yogi Bear and Boo Boo Book

Or, the Pure Strawberry mini notebook, about the size of last year's cellphone, covered in strawberry printed Italian paper with intensely pink/orange/red pages:

Pure Strawberry

So, having whetted your appetite, how can you get your hands on one these yummy creations? All I want is for you to tell me the names of at least three of the songs that make you happy when you hear them. (Let me know the name of their singers too). Use the comments link at the end of this post and make sure you enter before midday, 10 March (NZ time). Please note that to be eligible for the draw, you have to name three (or more) of your happy songs, and simply commenting on this post will not qualify you to win.

Entries to the February give away led to a fantastic list of reader's favourite ways of getting in touch with their happiness. Your enthusiasm for the topic encouraged me to finally tackle another project I've been wanting to do for ages. I'm making a zine called Happy Bus, all about happiness. I'd like the zine to be able to include some of the comments you've sent in for both give aways (this one and February's). If you don't want me to reprint your comment in the zine, then please just let me know.
Inside Pure Strawberry

I'll be posting more about Happy Bus as it speeds towards publication, but for now, please send in your personal DJ Happy playlist

Inside Yogi Bear