Saturday, March 12, 2011

Life in Wellington is surprisingly full of literary launches. I feel blessed and at times overwhelmed.

Maggie Rainey-Smith reports:

For instance, last Sunday, Rona Gallery of Eastbourne hosted the local launch of Colin Webster-Watson’s ‘Natural Zoo’ – a collection of his poems and drawings lovingly selected and compiled by his niece Anne Manchester and local author Mary McCallum.
 It helps I guess, that Mary works at Rona Gallery part-time and she is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to promoting and being involved with local writing. I met Colin when he returned to live in Eastbourne a few years ago to be closer to his sister, niece and her family. He was an amazingly colourful and lovable character who soon left his mark on Eastbourne. My enduring image is of Colin (in his eighties), in his leathers, flowing grey hair, in his back garden on a small stage under the night sky, performing his own poetry and skits. Not to mention his beloved dog, Andrew who was always with him in the village.

Colin is internationally renowned for his sculptures and both before and since his death in 2007, he donated several fine pieces to Wellington City including: ‘Tail of the Whale’ (Oriental Bay), ‘Frenzy’ (at Owhiro Bay), ‘Prowling Cheetah’ and ‘Mountain of Dream’s (Wellington Zoo) and ‘La Famiglia’ (Wellington Hospital). And as was his nature, he quickly endeared himself to the locals and involved himself in the cultural life of Eastbourne. His constant companion was a dog named Andrew. We all felt the better for having known Colin. He had the uncanny and sincere knack of making you feel like the most important person he had just met, whenever you met him, as if you and what you did really mattered.

Anne and Mary did a splendid job of sorting through acres of paper, because Colin was a prolific writer and they have lovingly read his work and chosen 101 pieces that reflect best Colin’s love of animals, the natural world, and included in the collection are sketches and photographs.

Then, on Thursday this week, I attended the launch of Siobhan Harvey’s first book of poetry, ‘Lost Relatives’. It was hosted by Roger Steele himself at his premises in the central city on the 8th floor, right where all the action actually happens and where the poetry collections are pored over, edited (with obvious love and affection); and lovingly published. I felt as if I had stepped back in time into what I imagined book launches might once have been. We were surrounded by the clutter (apologies to Roger and his staff) of a creative working environment. On the walls were framed Montana Awards verifying the successes that Steele Roberts Publishing has had over the years. On one wall was a framed portrait of Hone Tuwhare at a birthday celebration, by Ralph Hotere and on another a certificate honouring Lloyd Geering (can’t recall just what for).

Poetry collections lay stacked and in some cases, scattered and out through the fire-retardant glass windows I could see black smoke belching from the nearby Kirkcaldie & Stains building. Blue sky, industrial city sounds and within, a literary cocoon. Add to that this amazingly intimate line-up, a veritable who’s who. Now I have to stop here, lest you think I’m including myself in this list – not at all. I felt like a lucky voyeur in the prestigious circle of poets. Harry Ricketts launched the collection which seemed entirely fitting, as both he and Siobhan suffer (is that the word?) from the same sense of dislocation in many of their poems. The rendering into words of how it feels to be... Poms in En Zed. Harry as always chose his words carefully so that the praise he bestowed was not mere flattery, but considered and thoughtful.
Siobhan (left) then read and she has such a powerful voice and her reading so impassioned, that we were captive to the poet and her poems. I am not a poetry reviewer, but I have now read all of the poems at least once and love them and at least one of them I had already read and known through the Tuesday Poem hub ‘Van Gogh in Aoteroa’ (with one of my favourite lines about “stars birthed so crisply”) and also “My Sister Writes Poetry” published in the on-line Interlitq, Issue 14, February 2011. Some of the poems are raw and potent for that, but the language is precise, contained and charged.

I could name-drop some more, but it will make me seem shallow and so I shall desist. But yes, in the company of poets and a very fine launch along with lavish amounts of food and wine. The launch was supported by Steele Roberts and New Zealand Books. I was dashing to my book group, but it looked like the kind of gathering you imagine happening back in the sixties or seventies, when people might stay on and drink more and pay homage to poems, and drink more, and... I hope they did.


Maggie Rainey-Smith is a Wellington novelist/poet/bookseller and regular guest reviewer on Beattie's Book Blog. She is also Chair of the Wellington branch of the NZ Society of Authors.

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