Unity Books Wellington spoke to Helen Heath in the lead up to the launch at Te Auaha for her latest poetry collection, Are Friends Electric? (VUP).
Are Friends Electric? offers a vivid and moving vision of a past, present and future mediated by technology. The first part of Helen Heath’s bold new collection is comprised largely of found poems which emerge from conversations about sex bots, people who feel an intimate love for bridges, fences and buildings, a meditation on Theo Jansen’s beautifully strange animal sculptures, and the lives of birds in cities.
Helen Heath’s first book, Graft, was published in 2012 and won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book for Poetry Award in 2013. It was also the first book of fiction or poetry to be shortlisted for the Royal Society of NZ Science Book Prize. She holds a PhD in creative writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University of Wellington.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THE BOOK(S)?
I’m reading Flow by Airini Beautrais and The Facts by Therese Lloyd. We all studied together and wrote our latest collections around the same time so I’ve been eagerly awaiting reading the finished books.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WRITERS AND WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THEM?
I love Pip Adam’s work. Helen Lehndorf describes it really well when she says: ‘a kind of post-postmodern fiction – nothing meta, no irony, no narrative arc, no insights or character transformations – the stories are flatline and searing and real’. There’s no traditional redemption for the characters, I love that about her work.
I love Ashleigh Young’s poetry and essays, always unnerving and a bit surreal but also hyper-real and thought-provoking. Airini Beautrais deserves more attention for her poetry – the craft and musicality, and her ability to write politically without sounding didactic.
WHAT BOOKS ARE ON YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE?
Lab Girl, Hope Jahren
Tail of the Taniwha, Courtney Sina Meredith
Proxies, Brian Blanchfield
Billy Bird, Emma Neale
Our Real Red Selves, Harry Giles etc.
Who Occupies This House, Kathleen Hill
Artful, Ali Smith
The Power, Naomi Alderman
I have some reading to catch up on!
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK-TO-FILM ADAPTATION?
The 1995 BBC TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle! But since that is a small screen adaptation I’ll also say Blade Runner, flawed but beautiful.
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU RE-READ THE MOST AND WHY?
The Little Yellow Digger. ‘So they got a bigger digger but the bigger digger stuck’. Over and over, most requested bedtime story.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY CHARACTER?
That’s hard, there are so many. Virginia Woolf’s Orlando is up there.
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN MEANING TO READ BUT STILL HAVEN’T GOTTEN AROUND TO?
Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections. It’s sitting on my bookshelf accusingly.
WHICH THREE WRITERS WOULD YOU HAVE OVER FOR DINNER?
Tove Jansson, Elizabeth Bishop and Elizabeth Knox. That would be an interesting dynamic!
WHAT WOULD YOU COOK THEM?
I think I’d just make up some generous platters so we could all just pick at the food and talk without interruption.
HOW ARE YOUR BOOKS SHELVED AND ORGANISED AT HOME?
I have them grouped by genre, e.g.: NZ poetry, and then alphabetical by author within that.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY QUOTE?
“Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.” – Oscar Wilde.
(author photo credit: Victoria Birkinshaw)