Ephraim’s Eyes Named a Best Book of 2010

Ephraim’s Eyes was named one of the top five books for 2010 by NZ novelist Mary McCallum on a Book Review segment today on Radio New Zealand National.  You can list to the segment here (scroll down to Book Review–Best of 2010).  Here is Mary’s list of the top five books of 2010:

Katherine Mansfield The Storyteller by Kathleeen Jones
Published by Penguin

Ephraim’s Eyes by Bryan Walpert
Published by Pewter Rose Press

Lie of the Land by Pat White
Published by Victoria University Press

These I Have Loved edited by Harvey McQueen
Published by Steele Roberts

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Published by 4th Estate

Check out Mary McCallum’s blog, where last year she posted this review of Ephraim’s Eyes.

Being an Author: Lessons from the Front

One of the more difficult (and humiliating at times) parts of being an author is setting up readings. Difficult and humiliating because you’re not always warmly welcomed. But it is enlightening. Big book chains have very strict systems for ordering books, which made it difficult and in some cases impossible, for various reasons, for me to read there. But what surprised me was that larger independent bookstores made things difficult as well–and were not as friendly as I expected.

For example, I tried to set up a reading in May 2009 from my poetry collection, Etymology, with the Boulder Book Store, a store I frequented when I lived in Boulder, Colorado. I was told that 1) my publisher (or I) would have to pay a “$200 promotional co-op fee which helps to cover costs of event promotions,” a rather large outlay considering the number of books likely to sell; and 2) that they’d have to see how the book sold off the shelf first before committing to an author event: “Once we see how sales progress, we then decide if we think we can draw in a large enough audience to warrant hosting an event,” I was told by email. 

I was shocked: The store’s founder, David Bolduc, was also a founding member of the Boulder Independent Business Alliance (BIBA). The alliance was created because, according to its website, “Local independent businesses increasingly are being displaced by national chain stores that have become the dominant retailers of everything from books and office supplies to groceries, hardware, and coffee. As corporate businesses displace local merchants, America’s towns are becoming marked by stark uniformity and lack of human scale.”

Here was an independent bookstore, then, touting the importance of shopping at independent stores–but it wasn’t offering the same sort of loyalty to an independent literary press. As for selling off the shelf first–how many copies of a small press book of poetry would sell, exactly, without precisely the sort of promotion the reading was for? I didn’t try to do a reading there when I returned to the U.S. last month to read from Ephraim’s Eyes.

Interestingly, I was not told last year about the consignment policy, with fees ranging from $25 to $225, depending on the package, which I’ve noticed today on the store’s website. The latter fee entitles you, among other things, to a reading with two other authors. Perhaps it wasn’t available at the time. But the bookstore still charges a fee, even if split three ways. And it has created this second-tier system specifically for small publishers (and self-published books).  This seems to me an example of precisely the sort of corporatization and “lack of human scale” that BIBA suggests it opposes. So was the (seemingly) form response that I received by email. 

In fact, the local Border’s in Boulder was much warmer: They were very friendly and encouraging both times I contacted them, even though in both instances (for different reasons) their purchasing policies prevented my reading there. Their exchanges with me were, in fact, also more personal and encouraging  (the events manager said something nice about the cover, for example, so it was clear she’d looked it up) than those of the Denver-based independent Tattered Cover Book Store, which gave me a runaround when I called them in 2009 and responded with only a curt reply–that their event schedule was full–this year.

The good news is that I’ve been warmly welcomed by other (smaller) independent shops, who were happy to have me read without any fee. During my recent trip to the U.S., I read from my collection of stories, Ephraim’s Eyes, at the Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore, where I also read from Etymology last year, and the Broadway Book Mall in Denver. Both were wonderful to work with. (The Ivy ordered Etymology directly from the UK publisher.) Ron and Nina Else at Broadway Book Mall even put out a spread of nibbles and drinks at no charge. In New Zealand, I’ve been warmly supported with readings and booksales by Bruce McKenzie Booksellers in Palmerston North in conjunction with the Palmerston North City LibraryUnity Books in Wellington sold my books at an off-site reading and at the store.  Thanks to all of those people who supported these readings.

Signed copies of Ephraim’s Eyes are available at both The Ivy Bookshop and Broadway Book Mall, should you be in the neighborhood; either way, please support these stores!

Review of Ephraim’s Eyes

Ephraim’s Eyes has received a kind review from LeftLion Magazine (issue 37, Oct-Nov 2010) in England:

Ephraim’s Eyes
Bryan Walpert
Pewter Rose, £8.99

In this, his first collection of short stories, New Zealand author Bryan Walpert tackles tragedy, how it invades our lives and how we take refuge from it. Whether it’s the sudden and violent death of a beloved spouse or the sickening realisation that the promise we were once sure we held has evaporated while we weren’t looking, each story revolves around loss and pain. Walpert’s deceptively meandering style hides a sharp punch to your gut as he leads us through the manifold ways we meet grief and disappointment. Some hide, some obsess, some flee into fantasy, and others hold on to their sanity with whitened knuckles. It’s a slim volume, but Walpert’s stories jump through matters as diverse as ecology, mycology, super-hero mythology, the role of the olive through history and Buddhism. It’s an impressive collection with stories that resonate with compassion and insight. Robin Lewis

Tuesday Poem: In the Photograph


In the Photograph

that I have never seen,
the one my wife refuses to show me,
the one in the frame hugged to her chest,
she stands in a crowd, as I imagine it,
her hair larger, and looks ahead
to a future she has no idea includes me
imagining in the past
framed by this photograph a bird
sits just barely discernable in a tree
behind the voluminous mane of her head.
It has a red beak or, if the photograph, 
which I may have mentioned I have not seen,
is black and white, it is a beak one might
have to imagine to imagine to be red.
I may be making too much of the beak.
The tree might be what most matters
in this photograph, the way its skeletal
branches importune something about
winter sneaking up behind her,
like the future she thinks
she’s looking into, so young,
younger than I’ve ever known her.
It’s a group shot, but the photographer
has noticed her. Not her hair,
which is beautiful, but the red line
of her lips, the smile he commands
darting too quickly across her face,
a bird alighting on a branch
then flurrying away, like the present,
as if noticing it has been noticed
by someone who wants to say to the person
beside him, Quick, look at that bird,
but that person will say, What bird? What tree?
Anyway, she’ll say, this person beside him,
the person putting the frame face-down
on the table, then placing a book on top of it,
she’ll say, Anyway, it’s winter now,
and what’s gone is gone.

Mary McCallum generously asked me to post one of my own poems today. A bit immodest, but how often does a poet get requests? The poem was published originally in the journal Runes. It’s in my manuscript, A History of Glass, currently seeking a publisher. I’ll skip any critical commentary on the poem, though; might give me a split personality. For more Tuesday Poems, visit the Tuesday Poem site.

Tuesday Poem: Two by Jennifer Compton

I’ll cheat this week and post two poems, both from Jennifer Compton. Jen is a New Zealand poet who lives in Australia, though she’s our visiting writer at the moment here at Massey University. Jen works in a number of genres–short stories and plays, among them–so perhaps it isn’t surprising that her poems show a rather admirable range. The two I’ve put below are very different in their aesthetics–the first a traditional lyric to mark a particular occasion, the latter a more elusive poem, its elusiveness stemming from its use of a kind of symbolic dream logic reminiscent of contemporary poems that are sometimes called surrealist.

Remembrance Day in Coles on George

I was riding the escalator
into the teeth of the minute’s silence
on the eleventh of the eleventh at eleven a.m.

I was the only moving thing
ascending from ground to first
a tiny sliver of scepticism.

Ascending into the immense wind. Into the longing
for the voices of young men. Men, still young,
returning for the reasons men return.

Princess on Wheels

I am the Princess, living in London.
I queue for my ticket at the bus station.

Back at the Palace my children are locked
up with their Nanny in a nice padded room.

The Footman in uniform takes care not to notice.
I skate down the corridor in search of a kitchen.

The windows I wheel by always look out on London.
London, fortunately, contains many kitchens.

Alone in the kitchen at last I reflect in
the languorous length of stainless steel benches.

The floor slopes towards me, promisingly.
The refrigerator makes an attempt on my life.

The first poem is from Jen’s collection Parker & Quink; the second is from her collection Blue. Both are  from Indigo, an imprint of Ginninderra Press in Australia.

If anyone plans to be in Palmerston North on Thursday (27 May), her play The Third Age is getting a reading at 1 p.m. in the Dance Studio at Square Edge by some actors from Centrepoint, with a short audience discussion and feedback after the performance. Jen will be reading in our Writer’s Read series–sponsored by the School of English & Media Studies and the Palmerston North City Library–on 11 June at the library, 7 p.m. (come at 6:30 for drinks).

Check out the other Tuesday Poems at

Tuesday Poem: All Things End in Fragrance

I couldn’t resist another poem this week about Starlings, as an interesting contrast. This poem is the final one in the beautiful collection Miscreants (Norton 2007), by the American poet James Hoch. I admire the careful attention to nature, which before we know it has moved to metaphor and by way of metaphor to the elegaic. I admire the way the poem reaches out to include us in its scope. Most of all, I admire the careful syntax that permits for the final line to refer simultaneously to the poem itself and to the reader, all the while referring back via metaphor to the birds:

All Things End in Fragrance

Out the window, starlings
             fidget in the wasted eaves

of a bar burned down last summer.
They pilfer, figure,

charred wire, booth cushion,
                anything light enough

to haul by beak, wedge high
               between blackened 2 X 4.

A nest,
               a bed for the dying
or just born—
                            The birds shuttle,

their feathers taking on
               what they inhabit,

the way, Dear Witness, the silk
                in your shirts took asafetida,

mustard oil burning
                in a skillet, as this letter

makeshift and late
the leaden face of broken type,

a shape which, for now, says
Stay. Live here awhile

before rising into some other sorrow.

Tuesday Poem: The Starlings

Today’s poem was written by my colleague, the New Zealand poet Tim Upperton. It’s a great example of facility with form. I also admire it as a poem that is about birds without really being at all about birds. It is from his collection A House on Fire (Steele Roberts, 2009) and can also be found in the  Best New Zealand Poems 2009:

 Tim Upperton/The Starlings

Anger sang in that house until the scrim walls thrummed.
The clamour rang the window panes, dizzying up chimneys.
Get on, get on, the wide rooms cried, until it seemed our unease
as we passed on the stairs or chewed our meals in dimmed

light were all an attending to that voice. And so we got on,
and to muffle that sound we gibbed and plastered, built
shelves for all our good books. What we sometimes felt
is hard to say. We replaced what we thought was rotten.

I remember the starlings, the pair that returned to that gap
above the purple hydrangeas, between weatherboard and eaves.
The same birds, we thought, not knowing how long a starling lives.
For twenty years they came and went, flit and pause and up

into that hidden place. A dry rustle at night, fidgeting, calling,
a murmuration: bird business. The vastness and splendour
of their piecemeal activity, their lives’ long labour,
we discovered at last; blinking, in the murk of the ceiling,

at that whole cavernous space filled, stuffed like a haybarn.
It was like gold, except it was more like shit and straw,
jumbled with their own young, dead, desiccated, sinew
and bone, fledgling and newborn. Starlings only learn

 a little thing, made big from not knowing when to leave off:
gone past all need except need, enough never enough.

If you’re interested, you can read more about Tim and read some of his other poems. You can also read an interview with Tim by the writer Tim Jones.

Tuesday Poem

Novelist and poet Mary McCallum (whose blog, O Audacious Book is also on the menu to the right) has started a Tuesday Poem blog–a fresh poem each week, with links to other Tuesday poems across literary blogs. This week, Mary was kind enough to publish my poem “No Metaphor,” from my collection Etymology.  A link to the Tuesday poem is also on the menu to the right.

Look for Tuesday poems here soon, as well.

Mining and Metaphor

By a quirk of circumstance, some students in my introductory creative writing class in New Zealand have to be there. It’s a requirement for a broader communications degree, and some of them wonder why on earth they should be sitting in on lectures about, say, poetry if they plan to apply their skills to business or politics.

Mining has offered itself as a useful example of why, since it sits at the intersection of politics and business—an intersection called “economic development.” The New Zealand National party government has floated the idea of a 7,000-hectare mining site on conservation land. In March, Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee was quoted as comparing the proposed site to a “postcard on Eden Park.” Eden Park, for those outside NZ, is a sports stadium (rugby and cricket) in Auckland. In other words, he was selling mining by suggesting it was a very small piece of land.

Naturally, someone did some calculations and pointed out that the proposed site was much larger, as a proportion of the surrounding land, than a postcard to Eden Park. It was actually, according to a statistician, equivalent to 121 postcards.

Brownlee responded that he was being “metaphorical” in his comparison.

Was he? I’m having trouble tracking down the exact quote. Did he originally say, “the size of a postcard on Eden Park?” Or did he say, “Look, Mate, it’s a postcard on Eden Park”? There’s a difference.

Oddly, according to reports, Brownlee also responded to cries of inaccuracy by arguing he didn’t mean the rugby field per se but all the surrounding grounds of the complex. Doesn’t this clarification seem to suggest that he meant his comparison literally, not metaphorically?

I’m not taking a side in this post on the mining issue or on Brownlee’s motivations. I’m taking a side on the civic value of learning what a metaphor is and how to go about knowing one when you see it.

Are the lessons of poetry relevant to politics and business? Should we know when someone is being metaphorical and what on earth that means? “What on earth,” of course, being in this case a phrase meant literally.