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'Finding home and being at home': Launching The Little Ache by Ian Wedde

We launched Ian Wedde's new poetry collection, The Little Ache – a German notebook, on Friday 16 July at Time Out Bookstore in Auckland. Here's what reader, writer, and true fan Susanna Andrew had to say about the book.

Kia ora tātou katoa,

I’m not Fergus as you can see and he was meant to be here tonight but he has a cold and had to cancel his flight. We didn’t want him coughing all over us but we did really want him because he is, as I texted him, 'the glue', which I thought is a good thing to be if you’re a publisher.

Fergus asked me to introduce Ian tonight and I was really honoured and flattered because I have been in love with Ian Wedde’s writing since I had a poster on my bedroom wall that I think the NZ Book Council had produced of NZ poets. I had it pinned up like they were all in a band. The poster had all the contenders from as far back as Fairburn but really only the young ones played the music I wanted to hear. I make no apologies for my sycophancy; it's the real deal.

I had not yet had the pleasure of reading The Little Ache when Fergus texted this morning, but I can say when I saw the cover of this book that I did get a little ache. Berlin has a gravitational pull for me too, and I could not think of anyone I would rather read wandering those streets, reading the signs, and making sense of the contrapuntal German nouns. He understands the cadence, loves the dance. He is a maker of songs, a true troubadour, a piper. He hits the notes and then some.

I hastily got a PDF to read before this launch. I would have totally vouched for it even if I had not read it. #truefan But what I read delivered everything that was promised from the cover with its photo of a desk and a little lamp in a high ceilinged room overlooking a Berlin strasse. A cool green interior. The kind of room you’d stage if you had to lock someone away to write in. I knew the poems inside were going to be good the way you know which recipes are to be trusted off the internet. What was going on here needed only things that were real and honest. Ingredients that didn’t cost a lot. (Okay, maybe a CNZ grant and an airfare.)

The cover photo is a room but the poems are out in the world, following the sun sometimes and the moon sometimes, and what is overheard on the street, and what is witnessed and what is felt when you’re not at home but not a tourist either, in a city that is unfamiliar but starts to get a hold on you and always the contrapuntal strains of here and there played together. Where are you from, and where are you going?

You know the Emily Dickinson line: ‘If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me...' It’s a bit overused now, and of course it’s not that you’re reading things that are chilly (though I know how fucking freezing that winter is there. I think when Fergus visited us in Berlin he got hyperthermia from walking to the end of our street), but 'the early days darkening at 4:30am' and 'the three-quarters moon a sea sick sailor'.

I don’t know how he does it, but when Ian nails something so acutely it breaks the fourth wall or closes a gap. It’s been fifteen years since Nigel and I lived in Berlin and they are becoming distant memories. Ian teleported me back. His poems kiss the air, the fine-fingered leaves of the chestnut trees. the sun-dappled gardens, the willows along the spree, biergartens, Turkish BBQs in the park, leaves drooping with their weight. Bees. The marvel of a city in spring. The marvel of a city that you do actually just sit right down in, and take in. 'The ecstasies of swallows hot-air surfing at dusk'.

Floating fragments of conversation: 'Can the present disown the past? No, because it is too late.' This is the country that gave birth to great philosophers, remember? But also this is the provenance of a poet alone. Like the reader is alone. Listening in. Bach tunes through a window.

I asked Fergus for some launch notes, and of course that was a joke, but he has sent me a ‘telegram’ that I can read out like we’re at a wedding.

I’m very sorry I can’t be with you to celebrate the publication of The Little Ache, especially because The Reed Warbler, one of the best New Zealand novels there is, missed out on its proper launch a year ago. The poem isn’t a key to the novel, but the two books enlarge each other, and I am very happy finally to see them side by side in the world. This occasion also marks 50 years since the publication of Ian’s first book of poems, Homage to Matisse, so we are celebrating an astonishingly rich and various body of work. (Side note: Dick Seddon’s Great Dive is 45 years old, but I can promise a new VUP Classic edition well before its jubilee year.) Prost!

There are strands of The Reed Warbler in The Little Ache. They ‘coactivate’ each other. There are threads you can pull through both of them. I agree with Fergus that The Reed Warbler is a book yet to receive its due. The writer and academic John Newton told me he thought it was one of New Zealand’s best novels and when I urged him for a statement he wrote me this.

Josephina Hansen – is there a more complete, more compelling piece of characterisation anywhere in New Zealand fiction? I can’t think of one. Historically likelife but uncannily present. I read the final account of her funeral with tears streaming down my face.

That’s poetry right there at work. I mean, that’s having your head lifted right off and the chemistry in your blood being altered and the temperature dropping. Ian Wedde has always had a special awareness of home, finding home, being at home. Die Heimat. He’s like a dog with a scent. He looks in the sky with the acrobatic swallows or in the gutter with the leaves in large clumps. He notices the lodging and the lodged and his eloquence fills these pages. To misquote another writer who wrote far from home, I seen The Little Ache and it is splendid.

The Little Ache – a German notebook (paperback, NZ$30) is available at all good bookshops and from our website.