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Otago alumna Cilla McQueen conjures the past with her Memoir

Ornamental stone carving

Monday 11 April 2016 5:04pm

Cilla McQueen image
Cilla McQueen, one of New Zealand’s major women poets, and former University of Otago Robert Burns Fellow.

… can’t be sure about the authenticity of memory,
but by my lights it’s all I’ve got to go on.

So begins Cilla McQueen’s entrancing poetic memoir, In a Slant Light. One moment brought to light leads to another unfolding – as in the writing of a poem: In A Slant Light; A Poet’s Memoir, is a layered, intuitive interaction with the past.

“The joy of writing a memoir is the wonderful sense of discovering the past as you go; writing itself becomes an act of memory,” says Cilla.

McQueen, one of New Zealand’s major women poets, and former University of Otago Robert Burns Fellow, leads us over the stepping stones of childhood recollections, some half submerged, some strong and glinting in the light of her wit:

I tried the magic trick of pulling the tablecloth out
from under our plates of tomato soup. This didn’t work.

With humour and openness, clarity and grace, the journey continues through her teenage years and the excitement and turbulence, the expansion and vulnerability, of university days and early motherhood in the 1960s and 1970s … raising a young child alone, falling in love with Ralph Hotere and witnessing his deeply immersive artistic practice.

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This account of the life of an extraordinary verbal artist is immensely warm and welcoming. The lightness of Cilla’s touch, coupled with the grit of her endurance through challenging personal circumstances, makes the reader feel privileged to be invited in to the quiet wisdom worn here with both integrity and modesty.

This is a book not only for those who love Cilla McQueen’s poetry, but for anyone fascinated by the social, artistic and literary history of New Zealand.

Bluff poet Cilla McQueen was the New Zealand Poet Laureate 2009–11. She has published 14 volumes of poetry and has won the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry three times. Her work has been extensively anthologised. Cilla’s most recent publication was Edwin’s Egg and other poetic novellas (OUP, 2014).

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