We Have Isolated Your DNA Sample

Thursday, 27th March, 2014

Our Genographic Project lab has successfully isolated your DNA sample. This means that your full analysis is approximately 40 percent complete. To learn more about DNA isolation, read below. And to explore more, or if you have questions about the Genographic Project, visit the FAQs page.

The Genographic Project Team


Photograph courtesy Family Tree DNA



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What will Google do with my DNA?

Tuesday, 4th March, 2014

DNA test kit

As I mentioned in my last post, this year I'm going to write about the process of having my DNA analysed by 23andMe. Prior to November 2013 23andMe provided clients with nearly 200 reports connecting clients' genetics to various health conditions such as disease risk, inherited conditions, drug response and traits. They also provided ancestral information and an online community to connect with distant relatives if you so choose. In November, the FDA ordered that 23andMe stop revealing to customers their odds of contracting diseases in reports without clinical evidence to support such conclusions. The FDA was afraid that patients would take results as diagnoses. 23andMe continue to provide raw, uninterpreted data on your medical details (that you make get analysed elsewhere) and a full ancestral service.


There are a few things about the service that make me feel uncomfortable but I think I'm going ahead with it anyway. Why do I feel uncomfortable? Well, for starters 23andMe's CEO is Anne Wojcicki, the ex-wife of Sergey Brin who, when he help fund 23andMe was running Google. I don't want to get into conspiracy theory territory but it makes me feel cautious. 23AndMe promise privacy but my DNA will become part of a “Big Data” set that will be used by pharmaceutical researchers. In the best possible case scenario this Big Data will help cure or treat diseases that emanate from genetic mutations. In the worst case scenario my most personal data will be in the hands of a large corporation who wants to monetise it. New ways of using my data may develop that I can't even dream of yet. However they promise not to give my data to a third party without my consent. Then again they don't promise to get my permission before they sell the company.


A summary of the privacy statement says:

“23andMe respects your privacy. 23andMe does not sell, lease, or rent your individual-level Personal Information without explicit consent.

We are committed to providing a secure, user-controlled environment for our Services...

We may disclose to third parties, and/or use in our Services, “Aggregated Genetic and Self-Reported Information”, which is Genetic and Self-Reported Information that has been stripped of Registration Information and combined with data from a number of other users sufficient to minimize the possibility of exposing individual-level information while still providing scientific evidence. If you have given consent for your Genetic and Self-Reported Information to be used in 23andWe Research as described in the applicable Consent Document, we may include such information in Aggregated Genetic and Self-Reported Information intended to be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. If you do not give consent for your Genetic and Self-Reported Information to be used in 23andWe Research, we may still use your Genetic and/or Self-Reported Information for R&D purposes as described above, which may include disclosure of Aggregated Genetic and Self-Reported Information to third-party non-profit and/or commercial research partners who will not publish that information in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

We will never release your individual-level Genetic and/or Self-Reported Information to a third party without asking for and receiving your explicit consent to do so, unless required by law.”


Elizabeth Murphy writes a well thought out meditation on some of the issues here.


Some of you may remember a book by Rebecca Skloot, published in 2010, called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (or even the earlier ,1998, one-hour BBC documentary The Way of All Flesh directed by Adam Curtis). It outlines the story of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman whose cells (taken without her knowledge in 1951 from her cancerous tumor) were cultured by George Otto Gey to create the first known human immortal cell line for medical research. This is now known as the HeLa cell line. She was a poor black tobacco farmer yet her cells became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remained virtually unknown until the publication of Skloot's book and her family couldn’t even afford health insurance. Stories like Henrietta Lacks', albeit 65 years old, are ones that companies like 23andMe (and clients like myself) need to bear in mind when dealing with such personal, biological data.


Because this research is part of my PhD, although it is self-research, I needed to apply for ethics approval. While I wait for approval and ponder all these issues I was given the opportunity to have a free DNA test by the Genographic Project. This project is far less problematic in that it is run by a team of researchers who want to map human origins and migration paths. They put part of their income from sales of DNA kits towards the Genographic Legacy Fund, which works to “conserve and revitalize indigenous cultures around the world”. Last night I attended an evening put on by the Royal Society of New Zealand, listened to members of the team and some local participants talk about the project and the Africa to Aotearoa project, then had my DNA sample taken by a cheek swab. I'll get access to my analysed data in about 6 weeks. I'm curious to see how their data compares to the family history stories collected by my father, although of course the DNA will tell a much older story (50-60,000 years back) than the 500 years of family tree my father has traced. I also am curious to find out how much Neanderthal I have in me! 

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Fresh start

Tuesday, 28th January, 2014

Ola! Here I am feeling a little rusty, trying the blogosphere back on for size.

This year I'm going to try blogging the process of having my DNA analysed by 23andMe. There are a few things about it that make me feel uncomfortable but I'm going ahead anyway, I'm planning to write poems about it for my new book. I may also post about what some friends have been doing, because I have some very cool friends, who have been doing very cool things!

Gosh, looking at my blog makes me want to give it an overhaul, a bit of a spa day for the poor tired thing. Any suggestions?

So what have I been up to? 2013 was a pretty amazing year. My word for the year was 'Pace' - I was really trying to pace myself and be kinder to myself. I think by the end of the year I had got there but it took most of the year to find that space. Getting a VUW scholarship in the middle of the year was vital, it made it possible to do less paid work and focus more on my PhD. I'm proud of myself for having the grit to get there in the end.

The most amazing thing that happened was winning Best First Book - Poetry - at the NZ Post Book Awards, also fantastic was wining a VUW Postgraduate prize and being shortlisted for the Royal Society Science Book prize. I think I might be starting to believe in myself <wink>. It's really odd looking back at all this with hindsight.

Speaking of Hindsight, I'm guest contributor at Sienna's amazing online collaboration next week, check it out, it's a great concept well executed. 

What do I want out of 2014? Well it will be a year of writing and reading poetry, a year of production, a year to create. I hope it is for you too.

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Rocky Outcrop

Monday, 18th March, 2013

This week sees the close of the fabulous Rocky Outcrop Writers Tour. If you haven't been along to one of the events then you have two last chances. This Wednesday at the War Memorial Library in Lower Hutt. and Saturday at Paekakariki. I'll be a guest at the Paekakariki event along with Lynn Jenner and Tina Makereti. The chairperson is Lawrence Patchett. Here is an interview they did with all the writers, on the blog for the tour – you can read a bit about the Rocky Outcroppers here on their about page.

Going by their Facebook page it has been a wonderful journey.

Each writer will read some of their work and there will be a conversation about writing, as well. To quote Helen Lehndorf 'They are exciting and dynamic writers, who have all written remarkable first books'.

The event is FREE – but perhaps bring some cash along to buy a book or two - the best way to support artists!

The following day from 4-6pm is Poets to the People in Raumati at Valhalla Cafe & Restaurant, 31 Poplar Ave, Raumati South. With wonderful guest poets Tim Upperton, and my dear friend, Helen Lehndorf. Why not come out for the whole weekend? What a wonderful way to celebrate NZ Book Month!

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The Next Big Thing

Sunday, 10th March, 2013

Orchid Tierney tagged me for this fun blog meme in which the blogger conducts a self-interview about their latest book project and then tags 5 more writers to continue the meme. You can read Orchid’s responses here. She was tagged by Emma Neale, whose responses you can read here and Emma in turn was tagged by Lesley Wheeler, whose post you can read here. I think I’ll stop there or we’ll end up in Borges’ labyrinth.

What is your working title of your book (or story, or project)?
It has a working title of: ‘Are Friends Electric’.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
The ideas are ones I’ve been tossing around for many years about how science and technology affects us physically and mentally. Maybe I’ve watched too many sci-fi movies and read too many cyber-punk novels? I also read lots of popular science writing.

What genre does your book fall under?
Poetry and essays

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I’m aiming for a documentary-like quality so I guess the characters would play themselves but perhaps we could squeeze in 1982 versions of Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah and Sean Young?

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
It’s more a series of questions: How are we changing with technology? Can we fall in love with robots? If we could download our brains into cyberspace should we? What is it to be in our bodies? I am also interested in thought experiments, how the Internet has compressed space and time and the interplay between intertexuality and hypertext.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’ll be showing the MS to the publisher of my first book – VUP.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It will probably take about a year or so. I’ve only just begun but I hope to have a first draft this time next year.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
If anyone has heard of other poets writing lyric poems on this subject I would love to hear! Christian Bok is doing interesting things but I don't think I can compare this to his work.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Scientists have decoded the Genome, we can artificially inseminate, genetically and surgically alter our bodies and much more. All these aspects have reached critical mass, we can change and enhance the human body at all levels now. The human – electronic interface is where these things culminate and the big issue of our time. Digital culture was once apart from us and now we can see how it is becoming integrated with our lives and the boundaries are becoming blurred. Body/mind/technology is becoming a continuum.
Today we are converging with technology like no other time in history, at an incredibly fast rate. I find this a thrilling and fascinating time to be writing, a time that requires us to think carefully about what direction we want to head in, a time that requires us to filter increasingly larger amounts of information, a time when hyperlinks and 'cut and paste' alter our ways of reading and re-working language. Increasingly we expect impermanence and real-time interaction with electronic texts. These are all vital considerations, which poets can't afford to ignore.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Although most of the poems will be lyric based I’m starting to conceive of a digital project that will sit alongside the traditional ‘book’ project.

I tag:

Helen Lehndorf

Helen Rickerby

Maria McMillan

Emma Barnes


Ashleigh Young

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David Foster Wallace on Postmodernism

Friday, 8th February, 2013

Oh, yes,yes,yes!! This says just what I wanted to say about Postmodernism (but 20 years before I thought it!). Do you agree or disagree?

lifted from:


A Conversation with David Foster Wallace
From "The Review of Contemporary Fiction," Summer 1993, Vol. 13.2

By Larry McCaffery

DFW: This is a double-edged sword, our bequest from the early postmodernists and the post-structuralist critics. One the one hand, there’s sort of an embarrassment of riches for young writers now. Most of the old cinctures and constraints that used to exist—censorship of content is a blatant example—have been driven off the field. Writers today can do more or less whatever we want. But on the other hand, since everybody can do pretty much whatever they want, without boundaries to define them or constraints to struggle against, you get this continual avant-garde rush forward without anyone bothering to speculate on the destination, the "goal" of the forward rush.

DFW: For me, the last few years of the postmodern era have seemed a bit like the way you feel when you’re in high school and your parents go on a trip, and you throw a party. You get all your friends over and throw this wild disgusting fabulous party. For a while it’s great, free and freeing, parental authority gone and overthrown, a cat’s-away-let’s-play Dionysian revel. But then time passes and the party gets louder and louder, and you run out of drugs, and nobody’s got any money for more drugs, and things get broken and spilled, and there’s a cigarette burn on the couch, and you’re the host and it’s your house too, and you gradually start wishing your parents would come back and restore some fucking order in your house. It’s not a perfect analogy, but the sense I get of my generation of writers and intellectuals or whatever is that it’s 3:00 A.M. and the couch has several burn-holes and somebody’s thrown up in the umbrella stand and we’re wishing the revel would end. The postmodern founders’ patricidal work was great, but patricide produces orphans [what about mothers? HH], and no amount of revelry can make up for the fact that writers my age have been literary orphans throughout our formative years. We’re kind of wishing some parents would come back. And of course we’re uneasy about the fact that we wish they’d come back–I mean, what’s wrong with us? Are we total pussies? [don't be a dork man HH] Is there something about authority and limits we actually need? And then the uneasiest feeling of all, as we start gradually to realize that parents in fact aren’t ever coming back–which means “we’re” going to have to be the parents.

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Quick Ten with Sarah Jane Barnett & Chloe Lane

Monday, 20th August, 2012

Sarah Jane Barnett & Chloe Lane

I'm pleased to ressurect the Quick Ten series with this interview. Chloe Lane (left) is a Wellington based writer and publisher of the excellent Hue & Cry magazineSarah Jane Barnett (right) was born in Christchurch but now calls Wellington home. She moved there in a 2005 to study for a Masters in Creative Writing, and is currently completing a creative writing PhD after being awarded a Massey Doctoral Scholarship. Sarah's debut book of poetry was also Hue & Cry's first book. Despite tough times for the arts, the acclaimed art and literary journal found an inventive new way to fund its start as a press. Sarah’s collection A Man Runs into a Woman set a record on crowdfunding site Pledge Me by meeting its donation target in less than 24 hours. You can buy the book or the journal at these places.

In A Man Runs into a Woman,  Sarah looks at the different ways to tell a person’s story: two middle-aged men strike up an unlikely friendship, one couple reconnects after the war, while another couple leave the worst unsaid, and a cross-dressing man talks with his daughter. A series of nine distinctive poems explore the gap between the heartfelt last words of Texas death row inmates, and the grim police reports of their crimes.

I talk to them both about how they found each other, poetry and publishing.

You can follow Sarah on Twitter and keep up with Hue & Cry on Facebook.

First up, Sarah...

HH Can you tell us a little about how you came to write your death row sequence, it seems like a fascinating if not grisly subject.

SJB It is a grisly subject, which is why it took me a few years to write the poems. In 2006 I was researching another poem and came upon the Texas death row website. The last words and crime reports of death row inmates are available for anyone to read. It felt strange to read the details of someone's last moment, both the victims and the inmates. The story told in the criminal reports and the inmate's last words rarely matched. It made me wonder how someone who sounded so humane could do something as inhumane as, for example, killing two children. But I didn't want to write poems that were exploitative or that would sensationalise violence, so I think I waited until I felt confident I could do something meaningful with the idea.


HH How do the poems in this book differ from your earlier works, are you trying new things here?

SJB When I first started writing, I wrote about my own life and experiences. That switched a few years ago and I started to have characters in my poems, and to try and inhabit the lives of other people. It came from writing short stories—which I'm really not very good at—and I fell in love with narrative. Then someone put me onto Anne Kennedy's book-length narrative poem, The Time of the Giants, and I was hooked. Since then I've been experimenting with voice, narrative, and character in my poems. The final section of the book takes this to extremes with three long 'story' poems.


HH What are you writing at the moment? I hear you are working towards a PhD, do you want to tell us a bit about that?

SJB I'm halfway through a PhD at Massey University, under the supervision of Dr Bryan Walpert. My final submission will be a collection of poetry and a critical thesis of around 30,000 words. Both parts look at the same question, which is how can we write poetry about the natural world without being reductive? My research looks at the work of Robert Hass who tries to faithfully (even biologically) represent the natural world in his poems. This creates a tension in Hass's poems because he can see that language is an inherently reductive medium. One technique he uses to counteract this is naming. For example, instead of saying 'tree,' Hass names the species of a tree (yew, sycamore, oak etc.) and makes sure his details are biologically correct. This all sounds very academic, but what it results in (for Hass at least! I'm not quite there yet) are some beautiful poems that meditate on the relationship between language and nature.


HH Do you have a poetry hero or someone you’d like to be able to emulate?

SJB That's a long list! Robert Hass is definitely my favourite poet. I am not sure that I'd like to emulate him, but I would like my poems to seem as effortless as his. In terms of New Zealand poets, Jenny Bornholdt, Bernadette Hall, and Anne Kennedy inspire me. I am also inspired by fiction, especially David Vann and Ian McEwan.


HH What are you reading at the moment?

Most of my reading is for my PhD, but I did make a reading list for 2012. I know that sounds geeky, but some of these are books I've been meaning to read for ages! I just read Lawrence Patchett’s collection of short stories, I Got His Blood On Me. It was brilliant. Next up is the poetry collection Turtle Island by Garry Snyder, and then the non-fiction book, Why We Run: A Story of Obsession by Robin Harvie. I really enjoy reading about running.


Next Chloe...


HH What brought you to Sarah’s work and how did you decide to make it Hue & Cry’s first solo collection?

CL I met Sarah and her work back in 2007 when she joined the Tennyson Street Studio crew – a studio set up by an optimistic group of Wellington writers in the old YKK zipper factory. Which means I’ve had one of the best seats in the house for watching her poetry take shape over the last five or so years. I flat out admire Sarah’s poetry. Formally, she knows how to write and how to take risks. Plus I think she has a killer instinct for locating the emotional pip of a story, or relationship, and extracting it so expertly you don’t realise she’s doing it. Until you reach the end of the poem and try to stand but find you’ve been knocked down, kicked in the guts. There is one poem in the collection that catches me out of breath every time I read it. I’m almost a little afraid of it now.

So knowing Sarah had a finished manuscript, and being familiar with a lot of the poems in it, I thought the book deserved to be published. I always wanted to branch out from Hue & Cry Journal and publish full-length books, so when the manuscript didn’t straightaway find a home with another press, I took it as a sign to take matters into my own hands.


HH You had an amazing response to your request for crowd sourced funding for Sarah’s book, do you think this is the future for small presses?

CL I think that in an industry where it’s hard to break even, let alone dream of making a profit, crowd-funding is a sustainable way to turn manuscripts into books. The people pledging towards the book are more or less placing a pre-order, but what crowd-funding adds to this is a sense of community around the book. I was blown away by the support we got through PledgeMe. I knew we were on to a good thing, but to have so many others come out and say they thought it was a good thing too was very encouraging.


HH What is your creative vision for Hue & Cry Press?

CL Ultimately I want Hue & Cry Press to be a very real publishing option for new and emerging poets, fiction and non-fiction writers in New Zealand. I want to publish books that are good, risky, and have a strong unique voice. I want to publish books I want to read and re-read, and that I know deserve a wide audience. While we’re doing that, I also want them to look as good on the outside and inside as they are inside. Basically we’re going to take what we do with Hue & Cry Journal and translate it to full-length books. Whammo.


HH Are you considering EPublishing or are you happy to stick with print?

CL We’ve talked about EPublishing as an option for Hue & Cry – a future option. Our hearts are behind the printed object though, so this is always going to be our main focus. I think Ebooks are brilliant, but I want to make sure we’re doing our bit to keep the printed book alive and kicking and looking as healthy as ever.


HH What are you reading at the moment?

CL I’m currently reading The Ultimate Good Luck, one of Richard Ford’s early novels. Plus two short story collections (both for the second time): Edward P. Jones’ All Aunt Hagar’s Children and Larry Brown’s Big Bad Love. If I could write one story, half as compelling as the work of these writers, I would sleep much more soundly at night.

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Off she sails...

Wednesday, 9th May, 2012

Graft was launched well and truly, with much love and many friendly faces in attendance, both in Wellington at Unity Books and in Paekakariki.

You can now purchase copies either from good independant booksellers or online from me or from VUP. You can read a wee write up about the Wellington launch here and the Paekakriki launch here. You can even see my launch speech below!

I am feeling very humbled and elated by it all, thank you kind readers for your support! And thanks to the fab Jane Harris for her excellent photos!

Helen Heath - Graft launch

Helen Heath - Graft launch

Poetry and conversation


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An invitation

Tuesday, 17th April, 2012


I’m really excited to announce the launch date for my book of poetry. If you’re in Wellington I’d love you to come along and say hi. As you can see the cover design has been finalised and it is heading to the printer this week. I feel a bit like a book bride and my launch is probably the closest I’ll get to a wedding! You're most welcome to the launch but if you can't make it you can order a copy from me and I'll send it out.

The Launch details >>

VUP & Unity Books warmly invite you to the launch of Graft by Helen Heath to be launched by Harry Ricketts.

Thursday May 3rd, 6pm, Unity Books, 57 Willis Street, Wellington.

“Helen Heath’s poems are more than usually aware of the exits and entrances that shape us: they shuttle between past and present, shroud and wedding gown, the lives we lead and the lives we aspire to...  always alert for points of continuity, connection, and wholeness.”

– Bill Manhire

$28, Paperback, Victoria University Press.


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2012 begins

Tuesday, 3rd April, 2012


Yeah, yeah, I know, 2012 began a few months back now. Well, yes, I guess it did but the academic year just began a few weeks ago, so I’m going with that calendar.

Now that I’ve had a few weeks to settle in I’m really getting into my research. I can’t believe I’m allowed to just read and write about what I love for 20 hours a week! I keep looking over my shoulder to see if someone is getting ready to tell me off.

My research to date has been about Robert Crawford. I’ve been doing some close readings of some of his poems and literary criticism. Robert Crawford is a Scottish poet who has written a lot about technology and its impact on people. Crawford’s technology is all about social and political change, well-grounded in people and nationalism. I never realised the importance of technology during the 80s in Scotland. I guess the American modernists were in a similar position in that progress in science and technology was considered hugely important and patriotic at the time, it was tied up with the wider national identity and emotions. A Scottish Assembly (Crawford’s first book of poetry) was published in 1990, just at the end of this influential period.

Reading Crawford’s chapter ‘Modernist Cybernetics and the poetry of Knowledge’ in The Modern Poet. I came across this:

Modernist allusion functions as a hypertext system, taking the reader continually from one reference to another, setting up complex relationships among texts within texts. The older, manuscript-based analogy of the ‘palimpsest’ is too simple to express how a poem like The Waste Land works. It sets up so many simultaneous relationships, transmits such a multitude of messages, that it offers us a vast database, a growing library of texts, bridges between them, and connections between cultures. Its complexity is a cybernetic one which anticipates the computer age at least as much as it derives from earlier forms…. The modernist poem is a deliberately coded work. (p190)

I was pleased to read this as I had been contemplating the history of this kind of writing after hearing Rachel Blau Du Plessis read on the 22 of March. It struck me that her work was very much a product of the internet age - had a very hypertextual nature. She had quoted Pound as an influence on her (as did Crawford). I hadn’t known what to call this kind of writing and described it to myself as analog hypertext.

In my notes about her I said:

Rachel talked of the whole epic as a brain trying to remember what’s going on, hence some repetition and looping back. She sees the whole poem as a grid with 19 poems in a column and 6 columns = 114 poems. The initial reason for this form was to combat the fear of a blank page. She wrote the first two pieces – ‘it’ and ‘she’, and they were in discourse with each other, she knew there would be more but wasn’t sure how many to do. At first she thought he’d do 100 like Dante (Pound also) then after she’d done 19 she saw them as a long string without a break (she described it like a long string of French knitting!) and decided to insert a column break of sorts. This was a random number but turned out to be fortuitous in that it’s a prime number. She said George Olsen does that too (see wide-open page).

She spoke of drawing coloured lines of connected and re-occurring themes and ideas through the grid to create streams or weave. I said that I thought her work lends itself to hypertext and she agreed. Her work is like a precursor to hypertext, she’s asking your brain to create and recognise the analog hyperlinks (I guess many poets do this in a way but hers seems very intentional).

So I now feel like I’ve confirmed a starting point to trace this kind of writing back to and that it is a valid notion. I am also relieved that it seems to begin with the Modernist, since that is as far back as I wanted to go when exploring the influence on the contemporary poets.

So that’s where I’m at…

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