Nikki-Lee Birdsey told us about some of her favourite authors and books ahead of our launch for her debut poetry collection Night As Day (VUP), in-store 6-7:30pm Tuesday 9th April. All welcome.
ABOUT THE BOOK
In her first book, Nikki-Lee Birdsey takes readers from a remote sheep station in the South Island to the neon signs of Queens; from a hotel in Piha to a Walt Whitman Rest Area in New Jersey; from intimately known cities to remembered landscapes. Night as Day describes a New Zealand that is overlapped by the United States and the challenges and almost-joys of navigating between these places, identities and homecomings. Balancing artistic experimentation with frank expression, these poems are mesmerising in their intelligence and beauty.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nikki-Lee Birdsey was born in Piha. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a BA from New York University. Her poems have been published in various journals including The Iowa Review, Fence, LIT, The Volta and Hazlitt. In 2015 she was a visiting faculty fellow at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington, where she is currently a PhD candidate.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THE BOOK(S)?
I’m currently reading Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. A friend introduced me to the work and I’m so grateful. It blends prose poetry, dialogue, images, and all kinds of narrative modes to tell the story of these incredibly strong women—the Korean revolutionary Yu Gwan Soon, Persephone, Joan of Arc, more, but it actually also hovers around and unveils the story of the author’s mother and the author herself. And then my friend told me Cha was murdered by a stranger in New York City a few days before the book was published in the ’80s. You feel this sense of Cha speaking from the grave. It has so much power and pain, and that reminder (if you need reminding) that violence continues.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WRITERS AND WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THEM?
This is a hard one. I read Freelove by the incredible Samoan novelist Sia Figiel. It’s such a funny, sexy, heartbreaking story. Robyn Schiff’s A Woman of Property for its beautiful long poems. W.S. Merwin. Plath. Probably some English Romantics which was how I was first introduced to reading and so I’ve read them the longest. Mary Shelley, Keats, Coleridge.
WHAT BOOKS ARE ON YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE?
Hone Tuwhare, Small Holes in the Silence. Raymond Carver, Cathedral. Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye. Mutuwhenua, Patricia Grace.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK-TO-FILM ADAPTATION?
I have no idea, Harry Potter? That’s a terrible answer! They continued the books in a way and so by the time I saw the last one I was a fully fledged unemployed almost graduate student and it felt like oh man I’m grown up now.
The movie Stand By Me, I think based on Stephen King’s The Body.
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU RE-READ THE MOST AND WHY?
Oh no, probably Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Hardy’s empathy is really estranging but still there. When I first started reading it in my teens I didn’t know a lot about him. As his own story unfolded for me and the tragedy of it, I was also becoming a writer myself. He and Tess became like old friends of mine in a way. I’d re-read the novel when I was sad, which was often!
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY CHARACTER?
Chris Kraus in I Love Dick by Chris Kraus is hilarious.
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN MEANING TO READ BUT STILL HAVEN’T GOTTEN AROUND TO?
Alan Hollinghurst The Line of Beauty.
WHICH THREE WRITERS WOULD YOU HAVE OVER FOR DINNER?
This sounds like a terrible idea. I can’t decide. Samuel Beckett? What would a conversation with Beckett sound like.
WHAT WOULD YOU COOK THEM?
I’m really into grilling in my garden over a ‘firebowl’ I bought at Mitre 10 right now. Elotes! Sweetcorn cooked over the wood fire served smeared with lime juice, mayonnaise, parmesan cheese, chili powder.
HOW ARE YOUR BOOKS SHELVED AND ORGANISED AT HOME?
I sold most of my books when I left New York City to move to Wellington. Usually I order by country.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY QUOTE?
I don’t have a favourite. I’ve had ‘It’s love not art, but it’s art that tells us so’ by Philip Larkin pinned to my office corkboard for a while.
Author photo credit: Victoria Birkinshaw