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The beauty and depravity of human nature as seen through the eyes of a diverse group of female characters is the focus of a collection of “dark, lyrical poems” being unveiled in Hamilton next week.
Conventional Weapons, Cambridge-based author Slaughter’s second foray into published poetry, will be launched at Poppies Book Shop on Thursday, May 9.
Slaughter is already well known in New Zealand literature circles for her short stories and has earned a swag of awards.
She is the author of the highly acclaimed 2016 short story collection Deleted Scenes for Lovers. Her first collection of poems and short stories, Her Body Rises, was published in 2005, and her novella The Longest Drink in Town in 2015.
Her accolades include the international Bridport Prize in 2014, a 2007 New Zealand Book Month Award, and Katherine Mansfield Awards in 2004 and 2001. She also won the 2015 Landfall Essay Competition, and was the recipient of the 2010 Louis Johnson New Writers Bursary.
Conventional Weapons gets its title from one of the poems in the collection, she said.
“It’s probably best described as a bit of heavy artillery – an ode to female adolescence and the ongoing challenges of female embodiment.”
If the collection had an overarching theme, it would be one of giving voice to a group of strong female characters of different ages.
“It’s constructed around different stories. It has a backbone of three long cycles of poems, of different people who have had different traumatic experiences.”
One of these imagined voices is the wife of a miner lost in the Pike River disaster. Another, in a poem titled It Was The Seventies When Me and Karen Carpenter Hung Out, delves into the trauma of eating disorders.
“I spent quite a few years as a drummer in a band, which was Karen Carpenter’s background before being thrust into the limelight, and it was her situation of being put out on the stage, under the spotlight, that triggered the beginnings of her anorexia.”
Slaughter acknowledged that reading the collection could make for a pretty intense experience for some.
“I’m interested in where we find ourselves when pushed to the edge … what happens when there are stories that are screaming to get out.”
Her work was partly inspired by her days of performing with her band.
“I would be sitting there and observing the pub scene as I was playing … but it also goes beyond that, into what happens once the music has stopped for the night.”
It could be said Slaughter preaches what she practices, as a lecturer in creative writing at Waikato University.
“I love helping younger writers find their voices and activating their own creative sparks.
“Different students need different stimuli to do that … the one thing that applies to them all is that creativity needs full permission. That means refusing to censor yourself. Refusing to let taboos and rules shut you down.”
A frequent mishap among younger writers was the impulse to write something that people would want to read, to reach out and to connect to an assumed readership.
“You almost have to shut them out.”
The launch of Conventional Weapons will take place at 5.30pm at the bookshop in Casabella Lane which has recently been extended and has a new owner in the form of Alison Southby.
“Poppies have always been really supportive of my work and it just so happened that Alison, my work colleague, recently purchased the business, at what proved to be just the right time for me.
“I also have another really good friend, Jack Ross, who is the editor of the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook coming down from Auckland to speak at the event. It should help make it really special.”
* Conventional Weapons is published by Victoria University Press and copies will retail at $25 each.
Story by Stuff – Mike Mather