Sunday Festival wrap up (sniff, sniff)

It’s been a fabulous festival, entertaining, exhilarating and a little exhausting. The organisers, sponsors volunteers and audiences all played their part to deliver a mix that really did provide something that everyone could enjoy. Part of the pleasure is being read to – hearing authors read and discuss their books make them come alive and provides new insight into their work. That’s one of the highlights anyway – as our final panel discussion shows.

It is a difficult job to get the mix and match of festival sessions right, but by and large this festival provided plenty of opportunity for audiences to have variety, entertainment and literary stimulation. I also think the free events in libraries and high schools, and the involvement of young and emerging writing talent is a step above what is offered in any other festival in this country – a holistic approach that should be repeated and expanded if possible.

Festivals are also a great place for discoveries and new directions in reading – good for the brain, but perhaps less so for the wallet. On that note though, the UBS crew deserve a special mention for their tireless efforts staffing a very busy book stall which at times was two and three people deep. The festival sponsors should also be happy with the attendance and smoothness of the festival – no news of any major disasters reached these ears.

The library blogging team have worked hard and I think the results speak for themselves – heaps of great content and plenty of food for thought. Best of all, the conversation can continue. Please take the opportunity to join in – read the posts and make a comment – we’d love to hear from you.

Poetry – the eye or the ear?

Poetry and performance are natural partners. Some of the best poetry are lines, snippets or passages that can be quoted and have a nut of wisdom or a witty observation. Other poems you appreciate more for seeing them on the page, words forming shapes, white space allowing room to breathe, room to think.

The Press Christchurch Writers’ Festival included several poetry sessions which Lucette has written about with the real appreciation of a true fan. I caught up with her briefly yesterday for a chat about the poetry and performance events she has attended and the enjoyment that the performance aspects of the festival have given to audiences.

It’s about nine minutes. Have a listen and then tell us – do you prefer poetry for the eyes of the ear?

We also caught up with two budding poets – Gail and Steph who went to the session chaired by Bill Manhire: hear their thoughts:

Language and Identity

Karlo Mila
Karlo Mila
The final lunch-time poetry session involved no less than 6 poets who had been brought together to share political poetry. Judging by the panel, the main writers of political poetry in New Zealand are beautiful young (well, under 40 anyway) women with Maori and/or Pacific Island heritage. The panel also included 2 men – Jeffrey Paparoa Holman and James Norcliffe – whose political poetry was written a little less from within the scrum and more from a philosophical and historical perspective. I enjoyed Norcliffe’s “My Alien Vegetable,” a quirky and deadly serious look at terrorism.

And what a range of voices and stances and styles there are when it comes to using poetry for political purposes! Hinemoana Baker was awesome, funny, generous and extended an invitation to playful new ways of seeing. She read two poems by other writers from the anthology she has just co-edited, Kaupapa: New Zealand Poets, World Issues, one with the help of a whiteboard, to share with us the poet’s brilliant use of

     space*

           ii) and the [notation] of “mathematics” and *logic.

Tusiata Avia’s poetry is boldly political, feminist and, like Baker’s, funny. She performs it with total facial, vocal and rhythmic characterisation, almost singing the poems. Richard described her tone as that of a “sweet assassin,” and that captured it beautifully – feminine, dulcet and deadly, considering (on behalf of the Samoan people) whether to accept Helen Clark’s apology (on behalf of New Zealand) or to kill and eat her.

Karlo Mila surprised me with not only powerful poetry but an entire slide-show to accompany her two poems, both about very particular political events in Tonga, told from a very personal, emotional, perhaps even therapeutic perspective.

And it was Hana O’Reagan who most properly filled the image of a political poet, so sure of her cause, so passionate and insistent, and also full of humour, hope and good-will.

The Original Branch Manual

Catalyst 7: The Original Branch Manual offers 7 poets, 7 artists and 7 musicians in a neatly packaged DVD case with CD and booklet. Providing an answer to my earlier query about the relationship between the different groups of poets that seem to have gravitated towards the peninsula, it turns out that Catalyst’s featured 7 are a diverse group, spanning a range from current university student Rachel Douglass to follicle-minding Irish stand-up Sean Joyce and including Bernadette Hall, a poet who is also represented in Land Very Fertile.

The 7 musicians are present not only on the CD, as musical collaboration for spoken word, but also in the booklet, their lyrics in print alongside the non-sung poems, really foregrounding Catalyst’s editorial drive to include not only poetry but also song lyrics, theatrical texts and experimental writings of other types.

The launch event at Al’s Bar included readings by 4 poets and live music from Lindon Puffin and Le Mot Cafe. Jody Lloyd, whose recording label, “She’ll Be Right Records,” produced the CD, was also present and probably performed after I left – a pity to miss his incredible brand of wordsmithery.

Tonight Catalyst is running a mini Poetry Idol competition in the upstairs bar at the Dux de Lux … your last chance for a dose of local poetry before the end of the festival. Catalyst runs a monthly open mic night, however (which has been running on and off for several years), so it isn’t your last chance ever…

Mark Billingham – The dog’s bollocks!

Sleepyhead
Sleepyhead

What is wrong with people, why weren’t they at Mark Billingham’s comedy romp through the world of crime? Shame on Christchurch’s Lazybones, Sleepyheads and Scaredy cats! A very skinny crowd wasn’t it?

Bronwyn: It was, but those of us who were there were well rewarded. Who would have thought that stand-up comedy and crime fiction had so much in common. Comedy and crime writing , Mark considers, both have the aim to lead the audience down a path and deliver an unexpected punchline. Crime just has a darker punch.

Joyce: It’s a confidence game, Billingham reckons. He also had a lot to say about literary fiction versus the crime genre. Actually he became somewhat demented at this point, and with good reason. He sees a lot of bias against and snobbery directed at crime fiction particularly from the English broadsheets.

Bronwyn: Yes, he finds it frustrating that literary fiction is always measured by its very best examples and crime fiction by its very worst. Popularity is the biggest crime in literary circles, “good gawd you actually want to sell books, how terribly vulgar”!

Joyce: He also commented on female dominance in the crime writing and publishing industry. It’s women doing the slicing and dicing these days while the male writers navel gaze. Why?

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Steve Braunias and his roosters

Steve BrauniasBig crowd this morning for a session with Steve Braunias, well known journalist from the Sunday Star Times and previously The Listener. His book Roosters I have known is a very funny and pretty spot on (presumably) look at a number of well known Kiwis.

Christopher Moore was in the chair and was very enthusiastic and, being a journalist himself, ideal for the job. Braunias told us about his early years where his enthusiasm for reading was kindled by a comic called Roy of the Rovers. Why did he get into journalism? Most journalists, he said, are useless at most things so it was a natural progression from a short time at the Te Aroha News to the good old Greymouth Evening Star (where he did a front page about a power pole he saw fall over and take out the town’s power – real on the spot stuff). Eventually he ended up at Metro under the editorship of Bill Ralston then there was his time at The Listener (“I spent five happy years there but unfortunately worked there six”) and latterly the Sunday Star Times.

His Roosters book he found exhausting as writing is hard work anyway and actually putting the questions to biggish names isn’t that easy. He doesn’t want to do this any more (at least for now) as he doesn’t want to inflict any more pain on “dummies, idiots and deadbeats.” The two “stupidest” people he had were pornbroker Steve Crow and British actor Adam Ricketts and you need to read the book to find out why.

Politicians were discussed and he told a funny story about John Key in a hotel in Napier (he thinks the ordinary futures trader from the State house is “just playing” with politics). There were lots of quotable bits and pieces here (I especially liked the fact that he records Parliament TV and watches it with his infant daughter who’s taken a liking to Margaret Wilson and can cry out “Order.”) Even our Mayor came up and S.B. described him as “a likeable neurotic.” Christopher M. said B.P. was something of a sensualist and Braunias said “a sensualist definitely.” What does this mean? Should we be told? Not all the leads from the chair were followed up and when Christopher said that Steve had “photographed Ruth Richardson in a swimsuit and lived to tell the tale” …

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Poets cover political spectrum

Political Poets with chairman David Grgory
Political Poets with chairman David Gregory

I always enjoy poetry when it’s read aloud – it’s somehow more enjoyable to my ears than my eyes. I think that’s especially true with poems with political overtones, a bit of anger, fire in the belly, that sort of thing.

No-one frothed at the mouth, but there was plenty of emotion and power in the performances – this session was a real gem.

Hinemoana Baker read some of her own and other poets’ works, one of which needed a whiteboard for its intriguingly mathematical nature, Tusiata Avia delivered some smilingly sweet assassin style cutting words about New Zealand’s apology to the Samoans, Karlo Mila showed moving images of the state funeral of the King of Tonga and the riots in Nukualofa.

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman and James Norcliffe made for an interesting contrast in styles, and showed that political poems could be inspired by new and old events, with quotes from other poets and references to political prisoners.

Hana O’Regan delivered a number of impassioned and stirring poems and finished the session on a real high note. Make sure you catch her reading at the library next week.

One of the most enjoyable sessions to listen to, my only disappointment was that there weren’t more people buying the books of poetry afterwards.

The session moved quickly and smoothly thanks to David Gregory and a very appreciative audience lapped up every bit.

Biographers galore

Bill's story

If you have to attend a festival session at 9am on a Sunday morning after a rather social Saturday night it’s great if the session has you laughing and engaged right from the beginning – and the pace never flags. A big tick to Philip Norman, the urbane chair of the session, “Painting a Picture” featuring

Philip Norman is a fine biographer too – Douglas Lilburn: his life and music – but today he showed his skill as a “lazyboy chair”.

Rita Angus

I liked the way he got Pat and Joanne to talk about the Rita Angus self portrait which is on the cover of Jill’s book – the famous “Smoking Rita” (which incidentally copped a bit of letter writing flack when it was used in a huge banner on the side of Te Papa and to publicise the current exhibition of Rita’s work). They both came up with quite different interpretations of what the portrait said about the artist – but both were convincing. There was a lively discussion about why women in biographies were referred to by their first name and men by their last name. Through questions from Philip and the audience we learnt more about how these biographers approached their subjects, whether they still liked them and much more.

Each biographer was asked about their favourite examples of their subjects work. Jill liked the Goddess portraits, the mystical watercolours and the self portraits of Rita Angus, Joanne favoured Colour Scheme, Died in the Wool and Light Thickens and Pat liked Bill Sutton’s Threshhold series, Landscape Synthesis series and Plantation series.

Words on a Night Breeze

China witness
China witness

Believe it or not Words on a night breeze was the title of the ground breaking talk back radio show that Chinese writer Xinran hosted at the end of the 1980s. A daring new venture in China at the time, the callers and letter writers opened Xinran’s eyes to the struggles, tragedies and hard lives of many ordinary Chinese people (particularly women), and set her on the path of recording their stories. A city dweller, Xinran was shocked when she began to travel in the Chinese countryside and she says “I have been educated by Chinese peasants”

Her passion is to tell these stories to explain the struggles of the past to the current generation in China amongst whom there seems to be a terrible ignorance of such things as the early years of Mao’s reign and the Cultural Revolution. I think those Westerners who read her books will begin to understand a little about what for many of us is a mysterious and rather frightening culture.

I loved Xinran’s session – she shone through as a passionate, humane person, overcoming the sound system in the Limes Room to connect with her audience. Read her books, and investigate her charity The Mothers’ Bridge of Love for Chinese Children which helps different groups of Chinese children. Projects include helping Chinese children adopted abroad to travel to China to discover their birth culture and to give disabled children in China a better future.

Visiting the Dame

Mask of Ngaio
Mask of Ngaio

I love visiting writers’ and artists’ lairs – they seem to create very civilised digs around themselves, even when they have been museumized. So it was a treat to climb the hill to Ngaio Marsh’s Cashmere home for a look around. I was fortunate to have a few minutes on my own before the crowds came in so I snapped off some pictures which I hope will give a flavour of the place. Hidden under the more recent additions that Ngaio Marsh made is a Samuel Hurst Seagar cottage and you can get a flavour of that style in the dining room. The Cashmere setting is very peaceful – on Saturday’s visit the loudest sound was the pock, pock of tennis balls from the courts down in the valley.

I encourage you to take the time to visit – make an appointment, pay your $10 and have a look. You can see her writing room – at once cosy and filled with light and the dining room and long room where she entertained a who’s who of the local and international theatre world. Viewing is by appointment only (call 03 337 9248), groups of 2 – 10 pay $10 per person, individual tours $15.

The house is cared for by the Ngaio Marsh Trust which really needs our support. Apart from visiting, if anyone has copies of Ngaio Marsh books lurking about that they would care to donate, the trust sells these to visitors. Just ring the number above and leave a message – someone will be able to collect them.