Edited by Bill Manhire and Peter Whiteford
VUP, NZ$40 | Reviewed by Sarah Jane Barnett

A FESTSCHRIFT is a traditional way for academics to honour a respected colleague through the publication of a book of original essays, presented to the honouree on a notable occasion. Each essay intends to reflect on the significance of the honouree’s contribution to their field of work. A Festschrift may sound in danger of being a little dry – unless of course it is for Vincent O’Sullivan.

On the occasion of O’Sullivan’s seventieth birthday, twenty-eight of his colleagues and friends contributed (according to editors Manhire and Whiteford, all without a moment’s hesitation), to the Festschrift, Still Shines When You Think of It. A poet, playwright, editor, writer and critic – the breadth of O’Sullivan’s contribution to literature explains why the deep blue volume weights in at over three hundred pages.

The book is like discovering a magpie’s hoard and with so many differently shaped, alluring objects, a reader may not know what to grab for first. The contributions range from poetry, memoir and original research to commentaries on O’Sullivan’s work. Each differ in topic and tone – some academic, some conversational – and many stray into the writer’s personal reflections on their relationship with O’Sullivan.

Seeing the line-up of contributors, a reader should not be surprised by the depth and completeness of each tribute. Harry Ricketts praises O’Sullivan for presenting the ‘banality’ and ‘tragicomedy’ of life without judgement; Anna Jackson gifts three hopeful yet faintly sinister poems; John Mulgan’s essay on aesthetic value is actually thinly disguised admiration that O’Sullivan, who apparently refuses to take art too seriously, still works on his craft with seriousness. The list goes blissfully on (although possible better digested in small bites).

A suggestion would be to read the festschrift like a book of poetry as each contribution is worth lingering on, yet together they combine to form a larger experience. Through reading Still Shines When You Think of It, a portrait emerges of O’Sullivan as a writer who is honest and respectful with the characters and subjects that inhabit his writing, but also of a man who has contributed to literature through his generosity of friendship, humour and support he affords other writers.