Two books: Lamplighter and Passionate Marriage

These are two of the books I’ve read this month. I recommend both.

Lamplighter-cover-2014Lamplighter is the first novel by 2012 Adam Prize winner, Kerry Donovan Brown. I adored this novel. Brown’s style manages to be both lyrical and realist at the same time, which means his writing has a luminous quality. The novel tells the coming-of-age story of Candle, a young man apprenticed to the last lamplighter in the small beach town of Porbeagle. The lamplighter is also his grandfather, and as the story unfolds, so do the family’s many secrets. The pace is slow, which allows the story and tension to build. Perfection.

Passionate MarriageThis is the second time I’ve read Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships by Dr David Schnarch, which at just over 400 pages is a commitment in itself. The first was during a difficult time when my now-husband and I spent 18 months apart. He read it too, and it certainly helped bring us back together. I’d become a bit vague on the content so thought I’d read it again. While the title suggests the book is about sex (which it is), it is also about how to achieve real intimacy through holding onto yourself while with another person. He calls it differentiation. Schnarch uses case studies, written as creative non-fiction, to take the reader into his therapy sessions. It’s an incredible, funny, and erotic book and I think everyone – married or not — should read it.

Easter, seaside

Tonight my friend Meg and I are staying at Paekakariki in a house owned by the Sisters of Compassion. The house has an eclectic mix of furnishings, and, over the years, has had a series of unsympathetic renovations. Still, it overlooks the sea, which is fierce today. It’s been a lazy Good Friday: I have been reading a few poetry books for review; we took a walk along the parade and then looped back around to the township; we did yoga; we ate some perfectly ripe avocados.





Sunday long run, in pictures

Each Sunday morning I try to do a long run. My usual route is an out-and-back from the Te Papa markets to the Evan’s Bay needle. If it’s really windy I will loop back through Hataitai and up over the Roseneath hill. The run is usually around 11-14km depending on how I feel. Before I had Sam I used to run longer distances and train properly for races. As part of a training program the long run is used to increase your raw endurance and give you confidence in that endurance. It creates trust in your own grit. That’s still the reason I do this run every weekend. These are some of the photographs I took during my 2013 long runs. There is a tiny airplane in that last shot.

IMG_0829 IMG_0965 IMG_1112 IMG_4314 IMG_3628 IMG_4272

Back to the mat

Since finishing the PhD I’ve been trying to do yoga every day, even if it’s just ten minutes of sun salutations. I hope to finally end up with a 20 minute daily routine. I used to have one years ago, although after doing a few headstands and crow poses, I’m finding I’m not as strong or flexible as I was in my twenties! I’m not good a solitary meditation – my head has too much chatter — but I know how beneficial it is for mental and physical health. So yoga is my answer. I’ll let you know how I go!


Tuesday Poem: “Sex Without Love” by Sharon Olds

Sex Without Love

How do they do it, the ones who make love
without love? Beautiful as dancers,
Gliding over each other like ice-skaters
over the ice, fingers hooked
inside each other’s bodies, faces
red as steak, wine, wet as the
children at birth, whose mothers are going to
give them away. How do they come to the
come to the come to the God come to the
still waters, and not love
the one who came there with them, light
rising slowly as steam off their joined
skin? These are the true religious,
the purists, the pros, the ones who will not
accept a false Messiah, love the
priest instead of the God. They do not
mistake the lover for their own pleasure,
they are like great runners: they know they are alone
with the road surface, the cold, the wind,
the fit of their shoes, their over-all cardio
vascular health—just factors, like the partner
in the bed, and not the truth, which is the
single body alone in the universe
against its own best time.

I’m quite a fan of Sharon Olds, one of America’s leading poets. I discovered her through this poem which is part of the reading materials for 139.123 Creative Writing, which I teach at Massey University. In 2013 Olds won the Pulitzer Prize for her collection, Stag’s Leap - a remarkable exploration of loss and intimacy that documents the end of her marriage. As the Poetry Foundation states: “Olds is known for writing intensely personal, emotionally scathing poetry” and Stag’s Leap certainly fits that description.

For more Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Bunnies, bow purse

One of my goals this year is to hand make all of my gifts. I’ve been making the bunnies for awhile now, and basically can’t stop. They are so adorable! I’ve even made myself one. The bow clutch is a new pattern I found online. Although they call it a clutch I think it would be better as a makeup bag or to hold small odds and ends (I have a similar purse by EmmaMakes that I keep all of my stamps in). I’ve always had a fear of putting in a zip, but this pattern makes it simple. I made quite a few gifts over the last few weeks as an IOU backlog was happening while I finished my thesis!


Bow clutch Bow clutch

On finishing my thesis

Today I finished my thesis: Nature, Fidelity, and the Poetry of Robert Hass. It is comprised of:

41971 words of criticism on Robert Hass and ecocriticism.
12394 words of poetry.
Four years, four weeks, and one day.
Many tears.

When my father returned to the US university where he did his PhD, he went to the library to see how many people had checked out his thesis. In just over thirty years there had been three. Since my thesis is probably going to have a similar audience (although the poems have been published in journals and I hope two will make it into my second collection), I want to blog my acknowledgments. A thesis is not a solo effort, and without these people – especially Bryan – I could not have finished.

Here you go.

Foremost, I would like to acknowledge the contribution of my supervisors, Dr Bryan Walpert and Dr Jack Ross. Their support, unending patience and guidance not only helped me to write this thesis but helped me to see the beauty in literary theory and criticism. There were tears. There were disagreements, but without a doubt it has been my privilege to work with such sharp, funny, and impressive writers.

It is important to thank Massey University for the doctoral scholarship that enabled me to undertake this thesis. Without that essential financial support this work would not be what it is today. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity.

I would also like to acknowledge my writers’ group: Pip Adam, Sarah Bainbridge, Dave Fleming, Chloe Lane, Bill Nelson, Lawrence Patchett, and John Summers. Along with poet Amy Brown, they are a steadfast support in my writing life.

Last but not the least, I would like to thank my logical and biological family: my parents Pauline and Nikki for their proofreading and advice, my many friends for their support, especially Matt Bialostocki, Megan Hinge, Mike Kmiec, Sam Searle, and Andrew Smith, and my sister Jennifer Barnett-Melbye. I would also like to thank my amazing proofreader, Margaret Cahill. Finally I need to thank my husband Tim Rastall and our son Sam Rastall for their love and support throughout every day of this process.


Six copies of my thesis. Off into the world they go.

Summer’s end

The last few weeks have been a supreme act of juggling motherhood and finishing my thesis. Sam broke his toe. He’s teething a molar. I edited 189 pages of work. I tried to run, see friends — you know, the usual things. Thoreau said, ‘And so the seasons went rolling on into summer, as one rambles into higher and higher grass,’ and so the year rambles by as well. I’ll be glad to see autumn and to find out what’s happening next. I hope to do more with this blog in the coming year.

Top to Bottom: Evans Bay, taken on my precious Sunday long run; summer happening outside my window while I work; Sam and I saw the Little Blue Penguin (Kororā) at Wellington Zoo.

Evans Bay

Summer outside, Northland Wellington

Little Blue, we love you.