Monday, February 28, 2011

Wellington 7's - poetry not rugby!

Maggie Rainey-Smith reports from the capital

On Thursday evening at the City Gallery in Wellington there was a “seven aside” Poetry evening sponsored by Te Mata Wines, and showcasing the work of seven heavy-weights from the New Zealand poetry scene.

The event was organised through the National Library as part of their Poet Laureate programme and required pre-bookings to what was a ‘sell-out’, although no-one paid for their tickets, because this event was free. How lucky are we? We were feted in the City Gallery foyer with fine wine and food which included fresh figs wrapped in prosciutto and for me, some delicious apple juice. The gathering then adjourned to the theatre and the poets took centre stage.

Lynn Freeman was the Chair for this event and naturally the first few moments were spent remembering those in Christchurch affected by the earthquake, and a donation box was placed at the entrance and exit to the theatre. She then read out two poems, one from a young Christchurch school boy and the other by Dr Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, written in response to the September earthquake.
Some of the poets chose to read relevant, although not necessarily newly written poems, also. The poets were seated on stage in alphabetical order (and indeed it is this order in which they read), Jenny Bornholdt, Kate Camp, Bill Manhire, Cilla McQueen, Gregory O’Brien, Vincent O’Sullivan and Ian Wedde. Lynn Freeman introduced the group as having something in the vicinity (I did not take a notepad, so this is from memory only), of perhaps 230 years of poetry writing. Indeed.

Now all of us who love poetry, also know that seven (no matter how esteemed) poets reading aloud for ten minutes each, means that some of the time our minds will wander and not all of the poetry will hit home, in the way it might if we read it upon the page. Well, that is my experience. And I think it also reflects quite often the choice the poet makes on which poem they choose to read. And then too, in which order and the topic of the poem – we all have our poetical prejudice I’m sure.

I’m a fan of Jenny Bornholdt and the way she reads and being a ‘B’, Jenny led the readings. She read a poem that I’ve heard her read aloud before about film makers discussing whether it will snow on Monday or Wednesday and how they will schedule their filming around the weather – it is a found poem I suppose, because she is using overheard snatches of conversation and it is also repetitive and humorous and a great way to engage an audience.

Watching the poets on stage, as they waited their turn, my friend and I couldn’t help but observe that the New Zealand poet guru, Bill Manhire seems to wear his mantle if not shyly, then perhaps even a little reluctantly. It must be hard to always be considered ‘the star’ and to sit receiving accolades (ones that you’ve most likely heard before). Bill read us a song but he did not sing it, and of course the link between a song and a poem, is melody with or without music.

All of the panel were most gracious and I guess keeping your best listening profile on, is important when you are seated on stage, waiting your turn and listening to your fellow poets reading, and being watched closely by a very attentive audience.

Kate Camp read from a new collection (she’s always funky and unexpected) and Cilla McQueen read a long piece about Bluff initially the natural world from a window, that moved from the real to the more cerebral and surreal and lost me a bit along the way, but I was riveted at the start. I think it is a poem to sit and read and gather in.

Greg O’Brien is such an enthusiast and of course not just a poet, but a graphic artist and curator. He spoke effusively of a moment at the City Gallery some years ago when the Ralph Hotere exhibition was showing and how there was a poetry reading that felt like a rock concert, segueing to praise the talent of others, as he is inclined to do. This allowed Lynn Freeman to then introduce the next poet, who happened to be Vincent O’Sullivan, with a rock persona and she decided he must be the Bob Dylan of poetry. Rather nice and Vincent did smile and I loved his poem about an orange towel, freckles and I think the Auckland baths, or was it Parnell? He does the sensual and lustful stuff with such panache, insight and sexy humour.

Ian Wedde must be used to being last in the roll call with a surname that starts with a ‘W’. In his introduction, Lynn Freeman told us that years ago she had attended a creative writing course and had shown her ‘angst-ridden’ work to the tutor who it seemed had advised her “not to give up her day job”. In hindsight, she admitted she was now very grateful for that advice and her current career. (And might I add that we all are too with her insightful and in depth coverage of the Arts on Sunday). Ian Wedde was as surprised as we were to learn that he was the advice giver. He read a long and interesting piece that contrasted east and west and Greek mythology (?) or possibly philosophy (?), with a political twist, and if I could, I would quote him more accurately but alas, no reflection at all upon Ian Wedde, I was fading – having said that, if he’d read aloud my favourite poem of his “Beautiful Golden Girl of the Sixties”, I would have been with him all the way and shed a tear, as I always do, in the last stanza.

If anyone else was at this event, it would be great to hear their response to the poems and the poets to perhaps flesh out some of the bits I have missed, or overlooked, or indeed, possibly misrepresented (more detail on Ian’s poem?).

P.S. I think the whole event was recorded and may well be broadcast some time on the Arts Programme.


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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