Mary McCallum, publisher at Mākaro Press, will soon be launching a collection of her own poetry, XYZ of Happiness – 3pm Saturday 7th July 2018 at Meow. Read on to find out Mary’s reading habits, where Paddington Bear rubs shoulders with Dominic Hoey.
Mary McCallum is a novelist, poet, songwriter and publisher. Her novel The Blue won two national book awards in 2007. She is the inaugural winner of the Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize and her children’s novel Dappled Annie and the Tigrish won a Kirkus Star in the US. She founded Mākaro Press in 2013 and her band The Brooklyns plays around Wellington. She has three adult children and lives with her husband and his selection of yellow socks in Wellington and the Wairarapa.
XYZ of Happiness
These are poems of happiness… as it comes, when it’s missing and when it is hoped for. Pastel and glib or orange and high-vis, it is almost invisible in a chemical cocktail and strangely visible – but unreachable – in an equation etched into glass. It is a dog unleashed on the grass and a man going about measuring the Earth. It can be heard at the end chemotherapy and in a conversation in the kitchen while a boy drowns in the harbour outside. It wears a pink T-shirt, spins with sycamore seeds and spends a whole poem finding a yellow it can live with.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THE BOOK(S)?
Dear Oliver by Peter Wells – a memoir which starts with family letters and then gently unlayers many years of words, written, said and unsaid to create a thoughtful, intense portrait of people this author loves and is related to, which in turn becomes a portrait of so many families. I bought my copy at Peter’s book launch at the Women’s Bookshop in Auckland. I’ve always been a fan of his writing for its honesty, intensity and lyricism. I also always have some poetry on the go – in this case it is Helen Heath’s Are Friends Electric? (I bought my copy at her launch) and Chris Tse’s He’s So Masc which I bought at Unity. Such a delightful cover.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WRITERS AND WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THEM?
Some of my favourites are (randomly): Janet Frame, Michele Leggott, Michael Ondaatje, Annie Proulx, Maya Angelou, Katherine Mansfield, Anne Michaels, Anne Enright, James Baldwin, Jane Smiley, Isabel Allende, Mary Oliver, Sue Wootton, Virginia Woolf, WH Auden, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Rupert Brooke, William Shakespeare…because as poets, novelists and playwrights they write with compressed energetic language and often intense imagery, every word is wrestled with and called to account, and there’s intellectual rigour and psychological insight in their writing (the world becomes more flexible and stretchy and less opaque under their gaze); they all take such care with their characters and know how to tell a good yarn.
WHAT BOOKS ARE ON YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE?
There are the books I’m currently reading mentioned above (except for Helen’s, which is at work), plus a pile of books I have begun or am about to begin: Milan Kundera’s The Art of the Novel – bought wonderfully in Kundera’s hometown of Prague last year, Bone on Bone – poetry by Fitzbeck author John Boyd, The Inner Life of Animals by Peter Wohlleben, Afterglow by Eileen Myles (bought for the dog + poet combo), Heaven’s Coast by Mark Doty, Iceland by Dominic Hoey, Another Country by James Baldwin, My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, The Mermaid Boy by John Summers, Landfall 233, Les Parisiennes by Anne Sebba.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK-TO-FILM ADAPTATION?
Man of La Mancha (Don Quixote). Archetypal story, gorgeous music, Peter O’Toole.
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU RE-READ THE MOST AND WHY?
I’m not a great re-reader of novels generally, but I’ll re-read poetry and children’s books. Vincent O’Sullivan’s terrific An Anthology of Twentieth Century New Zealand Poetry (1970) is much-thumbed from a time when I was starting to write poetry.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY CHARACTER?
Paddington Bear. He made me laugh aged 8 and 9 and I still value that in a book and a character.
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN MEANING TO READ BUT STILL HAVEN’T GOTTEN AROUND TO?
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. I don’t know why this one got away on me.
WHICH THREE WRITERS WOULD YOU HAVE OVER FOR DINNER?
Janet Frame, Katherine Mansfield, Annie Proulx. I don’t think conversation would be easy, but something profound and unexpected could arise.
WHAT WOULD YOU COOK THEM?
Roast chicken stuffed with loads of garlic and lemon.
HOW ARE YOUR BOOKS SHELVED AND ORGANISED AT HOME?
By country primarily, with some genre divisions. So New Zealand fiction, New Zealand poetry, American fiction etc, but then there are the general poetry shelves and a section for classic novels. There are still shelves of children’s books I or my children loved. And there are sections for random categories such as books I need to read and books I’ve published. In fact all this was true before we moved house eighteen months ago. Most of our books are still in storage, but we’re building another collection bit by bit.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY QUOTE?
The Hill – Rupert Brooke
Breathless, we flung us on the windy hill,
Laughed in the sun, and kissed the lovely grass.
You said, “Through glory and ecstasy we pass;
Wind, sun, and earth remain, the birds sing still,
When we are old, are old…” “And when we die
All’s over that is ours; and life burns on
Through other lovers, other lips,” and I,
-“Heart of my heart, our heaven is now, is won!”
“We are Earth’s best, that learnt her lesson here.
Life is our cry. We have kept the faith!” we said;
“We shall go down with unreluctant tread
Rose-crowned into the darkness!”…Proud we were,
And laughed, that had such brave true things to say.
-And then you suddenly cried, and turned away.
A QUESTION FROM PREVIOUS AUTHOR INTERVIEWEE, GIGI FENSTER:
“Do you know any good writers who are not also readers? Is it even possible?”
I don’t. And no, I think it is not possible. It would be like calling yourself a cook without eating.