Spiral Collectives
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Spiral Collectives

J. C. Sturm

When Anna Keir and I were organising a women writers evening for the Women’s Gallery Opening Show in January 1980, Patricia Grace suggested that we invite J. C. Sturm, someone we knew as Jacquie Baxter (1927–2009), the formidable librarian in the New Zealand Room at the Wellington Public Library, just across Harris Street from the gallery (and where we used to do our photocopying).

And when Kanya Stewart and Nancy Peterson from the Auckland Women’s Community Video documented the Opening Show, they filmed Jacquie and Heather McPherson and Patricia and Keri Hulme reading and being interviewed.

Jacquie with Auckland Women’s Community Video director and camera operator Kanya Stewart

Spiral Collectives associated with the gallery later became publishers-of-last-resort for Heather’s A Figurehead: A Face (1982); and then — supported by eclectic funding sources, including some from Patricia’s and Roma Potiki’s Māori Writers Read series — Jacquie’s The House of the Talking Cat (1983); and Keri’s the bone people (1984).

The House of the Talking Cat was launched upstairs at The Depot, in Courtenay Place, Wellington.

invitation designed by Irihapeti Ramsden and Marian Evans

I don’t remember the launch well, but just beforehand we received this letter.

research photo from Spiral collection in the Alexander Turnbull Library; reproduced by permission of the Janet Frame Literary Trust

In 1986, Jacquie travelled to Oslo with a Spiral group, to attend the 2d International Feminist Book Fair.

From Irihapeti Ransden’s collection: Jacquie reads at International Feminist Book Fair, 1986

The group went on to the Ethnographic Museum in Stockholm, to see a kaitaka and other Māori art.

From Irihapeti Ramsden’s collection: At Stockholm’s Ethnographic Museum 1986, with the kaitaka l. to r. Jacquie Sturm, Patricia Grace, Irihapeti Ramsden, Arapera Blank
Another research snap from the Spiral archives: remembering how much work Lynne Ciochetto & Anna Keir did on the proofing and paste-up for The House of the Talking Cat & the bone people

Only Jacquie’s and Heather’s interviews survive from 1980; in 2018 the Alexander Turnbull Library digitised them and Annie Mein ‘tidied’ them for screenings at Mokopōpaki’s shop front tiny cinema during This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi-ā-Tahu, along with the footage of Keri reading and Jacquie reading one of her stories.

Jacquie’s interview, filmed by Kanya — also editor of the ground-breaking Women series (1977) and director of Even Dogs Are Given Bones (1982) about the women’s occupation of the Rixen clothing factory in Levin — isn’t in great condition; and the background sounds came from who-knows-where, not the gallery at the time or our edit: we couldn’t get rid of them. If we’d had more time, we’d have edited out most of the interviewer, too.

— Marian Evans

Also from the Spiral archive, this review of The House of the Talking Cat, by Keri Hulme. Because Keri refers to this being a ‘general’ review, she may have written another one for us. But I haven’t seen it recently.

© Keri Hulme 1983: reproduced by permission
© Keri Hulme 1983: reproduced by permission
©Keri Hulme 1983: reproduced by permission
Mata Aho Collective, l.-r. Erena Baker, Sarah Hudson, Terri Te Tau, Bridget Reweti

In 2019, Wellington City Council commissioned Mata Aho, a collective of Māori women artists, to design an artwork for Wellington’s Central Library.

“In collaboration with Andre Te Hira, we’ve created an artwork titled And only sea, that celebrates the civic and literary work of J.C. Sturm. We chose to render one of Sturm’s poems ‘On the building site for a new library’ (published 1996), in an 80 metre, three colour vinyl that will be adhered to the hoarding. The poem references the construction of the Central Library and also Wellington city’s land reclamation where Civic Square was once underwater,” says Mata Aho Collective.

In February 2021, Poetry Shelf, edited by Paula Green, published Karlo Mila reading her powerful poem for Jacquie, ‘Letter to J C Sturm’, from Goddess Muscle (Huia Publishers, 2020).

Goddess Muscle is long-listed for the Ockham NZ Book Awards for Poetry.

J C Sturm in Wikipedia

In March 2021, @chocmilk published a beautiful, thorough, update to Jacquie’s Wikipedia page .

There are three J C Sturm poems Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2021 (ed Tracey Slaughter, MUP)

Janet CharmanThe House of the Talking Cat’ p.73;

Rachel Fenton ‘Re-piling the Shed’ p.101; &

Erik Kennedy ‘Letter to James K Baxter p.161.

23 June 2021

The Spinoff has published a recently found poem, ‘Brown Optimism’ by Jacquie; and an article by Paul Millar, her literary executor, that introduces the poem and refers to a new collection of Jacquie’s work.

3 November 2021

NZonScreen has just made available Broken Journey — The Life and Art of J C Sturm. It has a beautiful sequence where Jacquie sits with her grand-daughter Stephanie and Stephanie reads the poem that Jacquie wote for her 21st birthday. That reminded me of Jacquie’s reading of her short story A Thousand and One Nights.

Here it is, with thanks to Kanya Stewart and Nancy Peterson of the Auckland Women’s Community Video, who filmed Jacquie at the Women’s Gallery in 1980; and to Annie Mein, who tidied it up for This Joyous Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi-ā-Tahu, at Mokopōpaki in 2018.




Open research project on Spiral Collectives of Aotearoa New Zealand, their founder Heather McPherson, & associated women & activities. Welcome! Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/1304706129559197/

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Stories by & about women artists, writers and filmmakers. Global outlook, from Aotearoa New Zealand.

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