Recipient of a Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement, Anne Kennedy is the author of four novels, a novella, anthologised short stories and five collections of poetry. She is the two-time winner of the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry, for her poetry collections Sing-Song and The Darling North. Her latest book, The Sea Walks into the Wall, was shortlisted for the 2022 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. Anne talks to NZ Booklovers about Remember Me.
Tell us a little about Remember Me.
There are lots of different poetry anthologies, each with their own appeal or vibe. Remember Me has a very specific, and I think special, focus – poems that lend themselves to being learned off by heart. Readers can browse among the poems – at 270-odd pages, there are quite a few! - and choose some they’d like to be able to carry with them always. The thing about committing a poem to memory is that it will never leave you entirely. It’s a life-long act. Being able to recite a poem, even just in your head (especially in your head), can be uplifting, inspiring, fortifying. The idea that readers can always have this at their fingertips is exciting to me, and I hope people will take up the challenge.
What inspired this collection?
I’ve always been interested in the power of memorized words. My dad could recite screeds of poems he’d learned at school, and my mum would recite bits of Shakespeare and the Bible. They weren’t literary people, but they were thrilled and comforted by the amazing words they could spout! By the same token, I can remember bits of their poems. Recited poems travel down the generations.
When my children were young, I got them to learn poems off by heart by paying them to do so. They could see this was a good wicket and I ended up cancelling this plan because it was too expensive. They’re grown up now, and they still remember these poems.
There are other volumes of poems to learn by heart from around the world, but none from Aotearoa. And even the famous ‘global’ ones don’t include a single poet from Aotearoa (or Australia and the Pacific). I thought that was pretty outrageous, so I decided we needed our own anthology.
How did you go about choosing the poems in the collection?
Firstly, together with the publisher AUP, we worked out a scope and shape for the anthology. One of the things was that although this book is mostly in English there needed to be some poems in te reo Māori because that’s so strong in the history of poetry here. I’m not a speaker, so I asked Robert Sullivan to curate the te reo poems.
For the English poems, I worked our criteria for whether a poem is memorable, to do with sound, rhythm, repetition, narrative. Also that the poems are not too long, but that said, they are not all short. Some will be a challenge to learn. But hey, my dad learned the entire ‘Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’! Also really important – they need to be good poems, whatever that means. What I think is good, anyway. I guess that’s the thing with anthologies.
What was your routine or process when editing Remember Me?
I tried to read every published poetry book in Aotearoa, and lots of journals! Sometimes that meant selections by poets. And of course, I couldn’t in the end cover everything, but I had a pretty good go. (Note to self: never do this sort of thing again!) Somewhere in there, I decided on thematic sections, and that helped shape the book.
If a soundtrack were made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
Interesting question. But, no - no songs. The poems are their own music.
What did you enjoy the most about creating this collection?
Even though I just complained above about the reading load, I loved canvassing New Zealand poetry on such a broad scale. I’m already a longtime poetry reader and I knew most of the poets’ work, but discovering and rediscovering the massive range of poems and poets we have here was exhilarating.
The other thing that I found very thrilling was reading to find specific kinds of poems. I was asking myself all the time, could I, or anyone else, take this poem into their heart?
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
We’re going to have a launch at Kim Meredith Gallery in Auckland, with Stephanie Johnson launching the book, and six readers who will not just read but recite – yes! – their own poem and one other from the book: Serie Barford, Murray Edmond, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Fardowsa Mohamed, Richard von Sturmer, and Jacq Carter will recite one of her own bilingual poems and a poem in te reo Māori
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
My biggest discovery this year is Annie Ernaux, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and whom I’d never heard of before – although obviously she’s famous, so others had discovered her earlier. Since then, I’ve read and listened to (I’m an audiobook fanatic) everything she’s written, and I’m on my second time around. Ernaux, who is in her 80s now, is the ultimate literary feminist genius. She’s like Marguerite Duras, Proust, Knausgard, Doris Lessing rolled into one.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I have a new poetry book inching along like a worm, which is appropriate because it’s set in a garden.
Auckland University Press