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  • PEAT

  • PEAT

    In September 2014 I met a young Māori man working on the Mackays to Peka Peka Expressway. At some point in my conversation with him I became certain that he had a taniwha CLIMBING UP HIS NECK. From now on this [taniwha] will appear in my text in brackets to make it crystal clear that if there was a [taniwha] of the waterways between the hills and the sea, a being who had lain hidden in the shade of the trees beside these watery passageways, and if he has been disturbed, or has come back after a long time, he would not reveal himself to me, a Pākehā woman of Jewish and Celtic origin. Nevertheless, in September 2014, at the corner of Poplar Avenue and the new Expressway, a provisional space opened in which a [taniwha] appeared on a man’s neck, and in my mind. That felt like an important thing.

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    PEAT

    In September 2014 I met a young Māori man working on the Mackays to Peka Peka Expressway. At some point in my conversation with him I became certain that he had a taniwha CLIMBING UP HIS NECK. From now on this [taniwha] will appear in my text in brackets to make it crystal clear that if there was a [taniwha] of the waterways between the hills and the sea, a being who had lain hidden in the shade of the trees beside these watery passageways, and if he has been disturbed, or has come back after a long time, he would not reveal himself to me, a Pākehā woman of Jewish and Celtic origin. Nevertheless, in September 2014, at the corner of Poplar Avenue and the new Expressway, a provisional space opened in which a [taniwha] appeared on a man’s neck, and in my mind. That felt like an important thing.
    Immediately before I became aware of the [taniwha], I had been photographing signs at the gate of the Poplar Avenue construction site. I focused my camera on a list of hazards, a needle pointing to the need for visitors to go to the office and the full names and cellphone numbers for Dave and Mike, the men in charge of the site. Delivery of yellow rock, for example, was an ongoing hazard, and had been since late July, when the sign had last been updated.
    And then a white sedan pulled up beside me. The driver, a young man of perhaps 20 or 25, asked me very politely what I was doing there.
    Just having a look, I said. Don’t worry. I’m just looking at how fast things are changing. I’ll stay on my side of the fence.
    Are you from the street over there? the young man asked, pointing to Leinster Avenue.
    Leinster Avenue was, at this time, a place of anger and stress. Several houses had been compulsorily purchased and then moved away on trucks or demolished. Several others were on the market and had been for months, because who would buy a house right next to an Expressway?
    No, I said. I’m from further down, near the sea.
    I waved my arm airily towards the west. He continued to look at me. I had that feeling of authority being asserted, of a rope being fed out. I stood my ground. So there we were. Him, leaning on the car. Me, standing there, beside the signs.
    I looked back at him. Track pants. High-vis vest. An old Nokia phone in his hand. A tattoo rising in curls up one side of his neck. In this moment the idea arrived that a [taniwha] might be connected to this man and to this place. And further, that it was made of or lives in water, had been disturbed by the attempts to drain the swamp, and would, in the end, be stronger than the road. To say this surprised me is an understatement. The man had not, at this point, mentioned water, or the swamp or how they were building the road.
    It’s such a big thing, I said [the taniwha]. And it changes so fast [the Expressway].
    Yeah, he said. It’s an Alliance† – Fletchers, Higgins and Beca.
    What’s it like to work for? I asked.
    It’s all right, I suppose. Good in some ways and not good in others. We work 10-hour days. People come along all the time and some of them come onto the site yelling that it’s wrong and we shouldn’t be building it. And cursing, he said, as if swear words offended him. I don’t argue, he said. We have to keep good relations with the public. And anyway, if one of them made a complaint over there at the office, they’d soon work out who it was …
    I made a motherly noise.
    I understand how they feel, anyway, the ones that are against it. I’d feel the same if it was me, he continued. I feel like telling them it’s nothing to do with me. It’s coming from way up high. The other day we had the big boss here and he was telling us that he has a boss and his boss has a boss, and we just have to do our job.
    I made a bread-on-the-table noise.
    I’m just a very unimportant man, the young man said. I support myself and my partner and our baby. We moved down from Hawke’s Bay for this job. The other day, he said, a dude here said that this road had been in the pipeline for 30 years. They should have known it was coming.
    I offered the idea that in my time there had been a local road marked on council maps but not an Expressway.
    Anyway, they started on Transmission Gully last week, he said. There needs to be another way out of Wellington. It only takes one slip and the coastal highway is closed. My partner and I moved here last year just when we had those earthquakes and we thought there definitely needs to be another way to get out of Wellington.
    I nodded. Anyone who lives here would nod at this.
    The conversation turned then to yellow rock because the Expressway on the south of Poplar Avenue was currently just a couple of kilometres of yellow rock raised two or three metres above the surface of what used to be a swamp. See those two hills there? The man pointed. That’s where the Transmission Gully road will go. They’re using yellow rock over there to push down and force out water, he said, pointing to the south side of Poplar Road. It used to be a swamp, he said. All marshy.
    Yes, I said. In pre-European times people could paddle from here to the sea. I had read this on a sign up high on the ridge above this site.
    I don’t know anything about that, he said, but I worked over there for months and I asked what they are doing. They told me they take all the peat away and then they put the yellow rock down and the theory is that the rock presses down and any water left down there is squished out the sides. And then these surveyor guys come and they put pipes underneath and they can see if the water is being squished down and out to the side like it is supposed to.
    And is it? I asked.
I don’t know, he said.
    ***
    At this time construction of the Expressway had been under way for about nine months. The contractors had dug out thousands, or perhaps hundreds of thousands, of cubic metres of dark and boggy peat, made piles of it, and separate piles of the logs they had found submerged in the peat. They gave some of the peat away. We have a few sacks of peat from Poplar Avenue now in the garden, under the broad beans. There was so much peat that even with the whole neighbourhood there, taking the peat away in trailers, only a symbolic amount was moved.
    ***
    Back in the 1990s I used to walk along the banks of the Manawatū River. After a lot of rain, the water level between the banks would rise, as everyone expects with rivers. But water also travelled through and across flat land and appeared, a kilometre or two away, in our back yard. From that great dirty river I learned that water has power and cunning and reach.
    In the months before I met the young man in the white sedan, I had found myself with a recurrent awareness of the road as an exoskeleton, expanding across the sand and the wetlands, ready to join up. The word ‘awareness’ is a pale version of the experience I am trying to describe here. I am talking about feeling the rigidity of the road spreading over the land as if it was steel spreading across my own skin. Something about the rigidity of all this concrete, compared with the soggy peat full of twigs and water-logged tōtara and kohekohe tree trunks, made me understand on that September day in 2014 that the road and the water in the peat are enemies. First, I heard from the young man that the road-builders saw the watery peat as an enemy. Then suddenly it seemed possible that the water and the peat might also see the concrete as an enemy. The enmity of water felt like an important thing.


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    Reviews


    David Herkt reviews Peat in Stuff

    Jenner lives in Raumati Beach and by viewing the recent Kapiti Expressway, a project of “National Significance”, through a local and autobiographical lens, she humanises a world which is too often abstract. She discovers those affected, those involved and the ways such a scheme inevitably becomes personal for everyone.Peat is an important book. 

    Reidsreader review of Peat

    What Jenner has to say is clear and in beautiful prose, direct and informative when she is reporting, lyrical when she wishes it, analytical when she expresses ideas…
    Though its discourse takes many unexpected turns, it is engaging, readable and is a great model for literary activism in public affairs.

    Thomas Koed from Volume Books reviews Peat

    If words are the currency both of poetry and of the interface with bureaucracy, is there a role for a poet as a ‘public intellectual’ in New Zealand? What is the relationship between the ‘creative’ and the ‘responsive’ parts of a writer’s mind? Are these parts distinct, or does one somehow inform the other, or does each inform each? Lynn Jenner’s book Peat is the sort of book that keeps thinking inside your head after you have finished reading it.

    Claire Mabey reviews Peat on ‘Afternoons with Jessie Mulligan’
    On the vexing question of whether to put Peat on the creative non-fiction table or the poetry table, Mabey says ‘both’. As a bonus, Mabey reviews ‘Wild Honey’ by Paula Green in the same interview.




  • lost-and-gone-away

  • Lost and Gone Away

    A search always starts at the Point Last Seen. That is what they say in the search and rescue business.

    I am surprised and a bit embarrassed to say that I have had more than one experience of someone seeming to disappear on my watch. Once I called the Police. That time our kitchen was the Point Last Seen.

    More than a year ago a friend, who speaks five languages and reads several more, told me it would not be possible to write about the Holocaust from New Zealand. There’s so little to say here, she said. Europe is the Point Last Seen.

    But this is where I am, I said. That is the problem. This is where I am from, this is who I am, and this is where I am. So this is where I start….

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    Lost and Gone Away

    A search always starts at the Point Last Seen. That is what they say in the search and rescue business.

    I am surprised and a bit embarrassed to say that I have had more than one experience of someone seeming to disappear on my watch. Once I called the Police. That time our kitchen was the Point Last Seen. More than a year ago a friend, who speaks five languages and reads several more, told me it would not be possible to write about the Holocaust from New Zealand. There’s so little to say here, she said. Europe is the Point Last Seen.

    But this is where I am, I said. That is the problem. This is where I am from, this is who I am, and this is where I am. So this is where I start….

    I looked for the owner of a wooden container of ashes from Auschwitz. Someone knew someone who knew someone who knew the man. Then I heard him tell his story.

    I found Bruno Schulz in a film, Sigmund Freud in a book and Kurt Vonnegut in a box car. I found the Warsaw Ghetto in New Plymouth, Holocaust survivors in Wellington, Poland in the Wellington Botanic Gardens and a Holocaust museum in the shape of a tree in my street in Raumati South.


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    Reviews

    Susanna Andrew, Books Editor of Metro Magazine, chose Lost and Gone Away as one of the best books of 2015. In the December 2015 issue she says,

    ‘Many write about loss,but few with such skill as New Zealand writer Lynn Jenner in Lost and Gone Away. A collection of pieces centred on loss, absence and things mislaid and gone,it spans different cities and centuries and evolves into a profound,philosophical and wholly original inquiry into the nature of the Holocaust.’

    Mary McCallum, publisher (Maakaro Press), author (Blue) and blogger (Oh Audacious Book), reviews Lost and Gone Away on Jessie Mulligan’s show on Radio New Zealand

    May 9 2016. Mary, you read The Muttering Poem beautifully!

    Louise O’Brien, co-editor of New Zealand Books, reviews Lost and Gone Away on Radio New Zealand
    August 5 2015

    David Herkt reviews Lost and Gone Away in the Sunday Star Times
    July 19 2015

    Pip Adam briefly reviews Lost and Gone Away on Radio NZ
    July 27 2015

    Paula Green from NZ Poetry shelf reviews Lost and Gone Away
    December 15 2015





  • dear-sweet-harry

  • Dear Sweet Harry

    Certain historical figures seem to me to emit pink light. This can take the form of a soft glow with no discernible moment of beginning. It can also be loud and vulgar, accompanied by fairground music, like a pinball machine.

    Houdini first began to light up for me when he ended his upside down straight jacket escape with ‘Then I am entirely free’… (from Dear Sweet Harry)

    ‘Teasing, funny, mysterious, impressionistic, utterly impossible to classify or to characterise by quotation or analogy – it is simply exhilarating to read, and I can’t wait to see what Jenner does next. This is poetry that is pushing at the boundaries of what we think poetry can be, or do; poetry that is unafraid to tackle difficult and important issues.’ Hugh Roberts, University of California Irvine, NZ Listener 2010.

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    Dear Sweet Harry

    Certain historical figures seem to me to emit pink light. This can take the form of a soft glow with no discernible moment of beginning. It can also be loud and vulgar, accompanied by fairground music, like a pinball machine.

    Houdini first began to light up for me when he ended his upside down straight jacket escape with ‘Then I am entirely free’…

    When Houdini hired seven men to sit outside a left bank café in Paris, each with one letter painted on his bald head

    HOUDINI noggins
    at the Trocadero
    more lights came on. . .
    (from Dear Sweet Harry)

    Dear Sweet Harry, a collection of poems, prose, found text and images showing the activities of Harry Houdini, Mata Hari and Lynn’s grandfather Harry, won the NZ Society of Authors Jessie MacKay Prize for Best First Book
    of Poetry in 2010.