Michele Leggott was delayed at Auckland airport, leaving chair Bernadette Hall to entertain us with one of her enveloping and sensuous poems before introducing the five other poets whose voices would fill our lunch hour with stories of Korean love hotels, beheaded chickens, Antarctic landings, love, hate, humour, history and nostalgia.
The big news of the session was that Rhian Gallagher (a New Zealand poet living mostly in the UK) has just been awarded the 2008 Janet Frame Literary Trust award (to the tune of around $10,000). I can see the appeal in her poetry, though to me it was the least inventive of the session.
Even though his language is plainer, I am impressed by the honesty of Chris Orsman’s voice – I feel he isn’t trying anything on, he tells it as he sees it and while his poems are long, his images are briefly sketched and give a sudden, clear view of scenes you would never have thought to imagine.
Aussie poet Geoff Page has an impressive history of publishing (16 collections to his name), plus an array of awards, residencies and years of travel. What I enjoyed most about his poems is their ambivalencies – something he pointed out himself – as if he uses poetry to argue with himself but never plans to reach definitive answers. His arguing may be playful, but the subjects he argues about are not always – many of his poems deal boldly and feelingly with racial and land issues in Australia.
The highlight of the session came at the end, when my mind (and belly) were starting to stray from focused listening. It was Tom Weston’s poetry that startled and delighted me in the way I always hope poetry will – with wholly unexpected turns, rampant imagination and unexplained metaphors that leave a lovely and unfamiliar taste in my mouth. He has published four collections, two of which are collaborations with painter Joanna Braithwaite.