(Feature Photo: Matt Bialostocki)
The format of The Weekend Name Drop simply does not have the scope to describe this week’s featured creative adequately, so think of this as an introduction only. It’s been an honour to get to know this significant voice in New Zealand letters. Meet Martin Edmond.
Name: Martin Edmond
Creative fields: Writer of non-fiction, biography, poetry and screenplays
Location: Sydney, Australia
Best known for: Winner of the 1980 Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry (Streets of Music); Winner of 3rd prize at the 1993 Goodman Fielder Wattie Book Awards (The Autobiography of My Father); finalist in the 2000 Montana New Zealand Book Awards (The Resurrection of Philip Clairmont); Awarded the 2013 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement (non-fiction); son of New Zealand poet and writer, Lauris Edmond; MANY more awards and achievements . . .
My connection: I first heard of Martin earlier this year during a meeting with Anna Jackson and Helen Rickerby, organisers of the Ruapehu Writers Festival. They spoke fondly of Martin, certain that I would like him. As the festival approached, I learned that he would be chairing our Small Town Shadows session including myself, Elizabeth Knox and Tina Shaw. We made e-mail contact before the event and I met Martin on the first night. He proved to be an amiable, inclusive and intelligent chair and I appreciated our conversations outside of the sessions as well. Since the festival, we have maintained contact via e-mail and Facebook and I am learning more about the work of this eminently accomplished New Zealand writer.
Inspiration for this writer: While I have yet to read some of Martin’s published work, looking into his career – his content, his involvement with artists, his lucid commentary and encyclopedic knowledge of information and concepts – has provided me with a wider perspective of what New Zealand writing is about, particularly non-fiction which I’ve largely ignored as my passion is for novels and short stories. More specifically, Martin inspired me during our panel’s session at the festival in Horopito, relating an anecdote about New Zealand painter, Philip Clairmont, which affirmed a direction I was considering for my next novel. I also appreciated time spent with Martin, along with his fellow Ohakune-grown writer, Merrilyn George. Despite his world travels and long-time residency in Sydney, and my own overseas origins, I felt most comfortable at the festival when I was with Martin and Merrilyn, bound in some way by our connection to this rural and remote part of the North Island.
Why you should check him out and share with others: In reference to Martin’s book, The Autobiography of My Father (a wonderful title), Ross Stevens wrote, “. . . there is writing of a clarity and a quality that confirms that those remarkable Edmonds have given New Zealand literature another fine voice.” It’s a loaded statement – loaded with praise for the quality of his work, acknowledgment of his pedigree, and, most importantly, an appointment of Martin as a spokesperson of sorts for a nation which he obviously still loves and still loves to tell the world about. Living in Sydney, his writing continually returns to New Zealand, particularly to New Zealand artists such as Clairmont and Colin McCahon, but also to autobiographical sources which speak of a national, even universal experience. At the Ruapehu Festival, Martin shared this thought with us (and I’m paraphrasing): “When I was growing up, I thought Ohakune was the world. Then I grew up and discovered that it was the world.”
Sample of work:
The soft brown hills on the other side of the river looked like faded velveteen, the plush of pasture wind-worn from their sharper ridges. A line of wonky telephone or electricity poles toiled up the slope and the topmost one stood silhouetted, like a crucifix, against the sky. The water pooling beneath the grey-white cliffs of the far bank was coiled, deep green, full of mystery and promise. Later I would realize that the watcher on the old bridge, a vaguely sinister, hooded figure gazing down into those depths as if planning to end it all, was a fisherman scouting out the best place to employ his line and tackle. I could hear the muted hiss and chuckle of rapids upstream and see small fish flickering in the shallows. I picked up an irregular white stone from among the grey round ones and turned to go back to the picnic area.
Brown and red grasshoppers leapt in front of my footsteps. On the path lay the remains of a trout, the leathery tail, the fleshless intricate bones, the desiccated head, like some fossil excavated from strata left behind from Devonian seas. Near where we had parked the car a small apple tree grew, perhaps self-sown from some discarded core. I remembered it from last time, when it had been in blossom; now it was covered in pale green leaves and strewn in the long grass at its foot were a dozen or so tiny wizened fruit. I picked up the biggest one, dusted it off and bit into it: sharp, sour, crisp, it was palatable and I ate the whole thing, core and all. A bumble bee droned by and then, suddenly, as if called forth by some doctrine of affinities, a black helicopter came snarling over the ridge and buzzed the valley before turning, banking alarmingly overhead and disappearing again into the west.
Thistledown blew in the air. The yarrow that grows wild all through here was flowering at the picnic spot and flowered white and pink along the roadside after we crossed the new bridge and drove on. A line of pines stood up along a ridge like a horse’s mane after dressage. I was looking out for what may be my favourite road sign, a yellow AA pointer with the mysterious designation WHEREWHERE RD inscribed upon it. I have never gone down that road to the place whose name should be pronounced ferri-ferri or similar; and may mean something like oppression or propitiation. Not this time either. We carried on, joining Highway 1 midway between Taihape and Waiouru and missing, because of heavy cloud cover, any sight of the mountains that stand in the centre of the island. Yet, taking the turn-off past the army museum and heading west to Ohakune, we could see the graceful, elegant, diminutive cone of Hauhangatahi, also known as Browntop, clear against the sky on the further slopes of Ruapehu.
Here’s Martin, along with Erik Jensen, speaking about “The Lives of Artists” at the 2015 Adelaide Writers’ Week:
The Weekend Name Drop is a weekly feature on this blog, promoting people I have encountered who are doing creative things.