Today’s sombre weather would have been more appropriate for yesterday’s Putting words to the feelings session at the Christchurch Arts Festival. Five writers reflecting on “their experiences and on how the reimagined landscape of the city and its surroundings will emerge within their writing” – sounds emotional and perhaps harrowing. It was a bit of both, but mostly it was a tribute to people’s urge to create and to understand.
The session was ably hosted by Morrin Rout and Ruth Todd.
Tusiata Avia was first up, and her first poem took us right back to February 22. She was looking for her daughter, observing “cars disappeared into holes”:
there are giant worms under the road, as big as Cairo.
They eat fish and chip shops.
Her next poems speak of places lost. She dedicated a poem on the CTV building to Rhys Brookbanks, one of the journalists who lost his life there.
There is “no evidence” of all the sights and scenes from St Paul’s Trinity Pacific Church. With its “spliced Corinthian columns”, it has become like “the foolish man who built his house upon the sand”.
Her poem on the Catholic Cathedral refers to the statue of the Virgin Mary that turned around, from facing into the church, to looking out to the city:
She has come like a blue Rapunzel … Lady of Chaos …
She lets down her hair for us all.
Fiona Farrell was initially writing a travel book, about the joy of long walks, but earthquake poems have been interspersed – making it a “broken book”. Her most recent poem ‘This poem is like a city” was about that momentary forgetting:
At night, the city seems to restore itself in my mind.
She explored the language: “small prepositions where people sit” – “this poem jolts at the caesura” … “all its words smashed to syllables”.
Her poem ‘The horse’ compares the aftershocks to sitting on a horse’s back; ‘The tins’ mourns the loss of little routines and joys, as a baker now longer has the urge to make her treats: “the custard squares have fallen”. In ‘The Suitcase’, she notices how we take the city with us. Comparing it to a raddled old gal, and when we open our suitcase it is all there: “Something about dust and ashes and how things fall”.
Carl Nixon gave us two monologues from a work in progress called ‘Use it or lose it’ on middle-aged health challenges – it is set to be a bums-on-seats winner for the Court Theatre. He spoke about how much Christchurch people need to come together and have a laugh.
Joanna Preston spoke well, and made some great observations about “seismic activity under the language” and the way the earthquakes sneak their way into writing. ‘Fault’ played with this both cleverly and ‘The city and the city’ circled around Elizabeth Bishop’s lines “I lost two cities, lovely ones”.
She shared some verses from her new work based on La Belle dame sans merci (re-imagined as a taxi driver and mysterious client):
The buildings hunched their shoulders and lay down …
Her poem playing with concept of the new normal was a crowd-pleaser, honest and raw and with sentiments the audience clearly identified with: OK has left the building, is sending postcards from the Gold Coast saying “Glad I’m here”, OK is learning to sleep, and to sleep without a torch and some pairs of knickers at close hand …
Charlotte Randall is a resident of River Road, and is working on something new. She spoke in the character of a school-wagging girl who goes out with a torch exploring abandoned homes: “As far as I can see, earthquakes are all about chimneys”. Her writing was immediate and evocative.
The girl, Angelica, talks of houses “you can see right inside like looking into a dolls house” and also conjures up that other earthquake stalwart, the “creepster” who won’t stop yelling at every car that shakes his home. Angelica uses a neighbour’s laptop, feeds a cat who has kittens, and shines her torch on “Roman ruins”. In her quest to make a self-portrait, she circles back to being in the mall on February 22 buying her birthday shoes. They took so much nagging to get but are “all ruined by liquefaction”. Her final line?
I change it up a bit because I hear it ain’t nice to put people you know in your art.
- Read Catherine’s blog post on This one’s for Christchurch
- Philip Matthews The city I love on the event at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival
- Explore more poetic Words for Christchurch on our blog