TREE SPACE LAUNCH SPEECH
Last night Victoria University Press launched Tree Space my first full-length collection of poetry. It was lovely. Fergus Barrowman of VUP and my official launcher, the fabulous poet Kate Camp both said very nice things. Here's the written version of my thank you speech.
First a warning. If you were at the launch of The Rope Walk my first non-full length poetry book last year I am going to thank some of that same people I thanked then so it might get boring. I wrote the poems in Tree Space - my first full length poetry book - over the same time period so everything that applied last time applies this time. Forgive me, check your phones, live tweet, do surreptitious selfies, I understand completely.
I am incidentally hoping to continue my series of first poetry books into the future, perhaps in a few years you’ll be invited to the launch of Maria McMillan’s first poetry book with a pink and white cover, and after that the launch of Maria McMillan’s first poetry book dealing with intergalactic time travel and so on.
But to Tree Space. Again thank you to my parents for a house full of books and a refusal to accept lazy thinking. To my family and friends who have been supportive and excited about the book. I won’t name you individually but my life and writing are better for you being in it. To my writing group. Apparently Stef Lash, whose book launch I couldn’t be at, has made all thank yous to our writing group for ever awkward by pointing out how bored we must make everyone by going on about how fabulous our writing group is and how much we love each other. I just have to go with it and be awkward and and say that our writing group, Kate, Marty, Stef, Hinemoana and Tusiata is fabulous, and generous and wise and very very lovable. I am ever grateful for them. I feel lucky to get hang out on a regular basis with people so dedicated to the word. You are colleagues in the best sense.
Thanks to my partner, father of my children and phycological taxonomist, Joe Buchanan, who I need you to understand is empirically the best person to have a family and share a house and life with. I think as a poet it is very important to not get bored and Joe is never boring. Joe gets curious about things, a bent for mosses, a fascination for the evolution of eyes, enthrallment with 70s kid scifi series, a week of making rockets from household objects, a horde of Donald Duck comics, a stash of soca records. It is Joe of course who introduced me to the notion of Tree space, and numerous other concepts. Joe has peer reviewed some of the lines of the poems in this collection. Yes, that’s alright he’ll say, and then it just gets weird. Joe is also an astonishingly good cook, and as many here can attest it is very important for poets’ craft for us to be well fed. Thank you Joe.
I want to thank three poets all called Helen. When one of them was querying what the plural for poets was Joe suggested Helens which seems about right. My dear friend Helen Lehndorf, because she’s true and brilliant and funny and reminds me of the best parts of myself which are the parts I want to write with. Helen Heath, because since we met she’s been a powerhouse of support and merriment. And Helen Rickerby, who is the brains and beauty behind Seraph Press, who published The Rope Walk last year, and whose consideration and contemplation of poetry is a pleasure to be around. If you don’t have any Helens in your life you need them.
I’ve deliberately called myself in my bio for this book an activist. In some senses, I feel like dormant activist is a better description, but that didn’t feel like a compelling marketing strategy. Also it was important to me to continue to align myself with the people in the world who are working for change. It would be weird to suddenly re-invent myself as someone to whom injustices that I observe are a side concern. I honour and acknowledge the work I’ve done, and the people, some in this room that I’ve done that work with, it’s shaped me and inevitably my writing.
It felt for a long while, that being passionate about social justice and being a writer were not an easy fit in this country. That I was a bit odd, that the writing world that I was looking in on, was a bit too cool for all of that. That being into anything too much was earnest and heavy handed, and that intelligence could only manifest in some sort of fictional neutrality or cultured cynisicm. I probably made all this up and it was grossly unfair.
Because what I really want to say now is that my resounding feeling, in this loose Wellington writing community is that I am immersed in the work and thinking of many people who are grappling like me with how to live well and decently in the world, and I am terribly grateful for this. I am learning all the time from the audacity, and strength and humanity of fiction writers like Pip Adam and Kirsten McDougall, Kerry Donovan Brown and Elizabeth Knox to name but a few. Poets like The Helens and my writing group. Many others. I feel in this community in very good company and very welcomed.
So I want to thank now the honourable* Fergus Barrowman, for helping bring me out into this community. There’s nothing for a poet quite like the publication of one’s first full-length book of poems. Fergus was enthusiastic from the outset, and agreed with everything I suggested to do with the book which was quite a lot. I found that extremely useful.
One of the things we agreed on was the sort of the thing that should be on the cover and who should do it and even though she’s not here to thank, I want to say I could not be happier with Keely O’Shannessy’s design which I think is beautiful and intend to put on my wall. Thanks also to Ashleigh Young and Kirsten McDougall at VUP. With Fergus you have been tremendously tremendous. And your interest and trust and championing of me has been important. No doubt what you said you say to all your authors but thank you, it’s very encouraging.
A final thank you to all of you for coming and celebrating. To those who come for VUP and those who came for the wine and those who came to be with me from all different parts of my life, it’s just lovely and thank you.
*Fergus recently received a NZ honours for services to publishing, honourable is not strictly his correct title.
Some things about Maggie
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