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New poetry collection documents cancer journey

23 August 2005

New poetry collection documents cancer journey

Vivienne Plumb’s new chapbook collection, Scarab: a poetic documentary, is a celebration of her son’s courage in the face of the illness that eventually took his life.

Willie, also the son of NZ theatre director, Colin McColl, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease (cancer of the lymph glands) at age seventeen. Despite his illness he completed high school, a BA in classics at Victoria University, and then went on to establish a professional acting career, performing in such productions as Cabaret (Downstage Theatre), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (ATC), and even touring in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (the Actor’s Company).

Scarab is a tribute to his determination to make the most of every opportunity and to fit in a lifetime of achievement in his twenty-seven years, ten of which were spent receiving treatment for his cancer.

Willie began taking photos two years before his death, and hoped to become a professional photographer. Scarab features three of his photos taken during a trip to Greece. He loved travelling and in the year of his death he was still hoping to make a trip that would take in important places on the map of the ancient world, such as Palmyra, Jerusalem and Damascus.

Vivienne is a widely-published poet, short fiction writer, novelist and playwright. Some of her most popular poems deal with her journey through the ten-year-struggle of Willie’s illness. These are now collected in Scarab along with new unpublished pieces, that together produce a fascinating poetic documentary of the period before and after his death. Despite the serious nature of the subject matter, Plumb’s trademark wry humour and playful writing style are very much in evidence.

Scarab will be launched by Miranda Harcourt at the Wellington Arts Centre Gallery on 26th August, NZ Daffodil Day. Miranda and Vivienne will both read from the collection.

Vivienne Plumb has received a number of awards and fellowships, including the Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellowship in 2001 and an international writing residency at the University of Iowa in 2004. Her published titles include: The Wife Who Spoke Japanese In Her Sleep (Hubert Church Prose Award), Love Knots (Bruce Mason Playwrighting Award), Secret City and Nefarious (her last collection of poetry, published 2004). Her work has been described by Poetry NZ as ‘Sinuous, energetic yet casual poetry that grips the imagination and holds the eye’; and by the Dominion Post as ‘Sensuous and inviting, sinuous to read, dexteriously put together.’

Scarab: a poetic documentary is the second book to be published by Seraph Press, a new small imprint started by Helen Rickerby in 2004. Rickerby is a poet herself and is a co-founder and editor of literary periodical JAAM.

Scarab: a poetic documentary is available from selected bookshops, or directly from the publisher by contacting

Title: Scarab: a poetic documentary Author: Vivienne Plumb ISBN: 0–473–10114–9 RRP: $15


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