“I split language / to make poems burn”

Thanks to brilliant facilitation by Bill Manhire, the session “Conversation on Writing Poetry” was one I’m really glad I didn’t miss. The hush that came over the audience as Bernadette Hall prepared to read the first poem she felt really happy with was symptomatic of a general atmosphere of extreme respect which fitted well to Manhire’s interest in the public role of poetry and poets within their ‘tribe’ (the two other panel members, Brian Turner and Michele Leggott, have occupied or currently occupy the position of poet laureate).

The idea of reading and discussing the first poem you felt really happy with, leading to discussions of how each became a poet and when in their lives they first felt they could – or wanted to – call themselves a poet or writer, was perfect for a panel of such confident New Zealand writers. It did something else wonderful too: For me, at least, it created an almost interactive, at least very inclusive, situation, in which I was also lead to remember the first poem that I had felt proud of, my current feelings about writing and where I place myself in the strange and slowly unfolding process of becoming-a-true-poet. It is quite a skill to make an audience feel so included without any actual participation.

There isn’t enough space here to record all the beautiful “bright moments” that the poets shared from their lives …

only to offer thanks for the sharing and the gift of empowerment and encouragement that came with these accomplished poets discussing their beginnings (Turner and Hall were in their 30s and 40s respectively before they started considering themselves even novice poets).

Although I’m not a huge fan of Brian Turner’s work overall I have to say that something magical happened when he read us the draft of a poem, “Hereafter,” which he started writing only yesterday. The freshness of new ideas that still have the shine of spontaneity about them is something with its own value so different from the value of a well-worked and minutely thunk poem and again you could feel a tremor pass through the audience at being part of something … secret.

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