BIRD + YOUNG sounds like a firm purveying fancy jewellery. But for Hera Lindsay Bird (poet) and Ashleigh Young (poet, writer, editor), it is words and ideas that are the things they are making and selling. This WORD Christchurch event at the Christchurch Art Gallery auditorium was introduced by WORD’s programme director Rachael King and chaired by Amy Marr, the Visitor Programmes Coordinator of the Art Gallery.
Hera Lindsay Bird is a poet whose works have pretty much gone viral – you might have read the one about Monica from Friends, and that Keats one – everywhere, BAM! Ashleigh Young is a poet and writer who recently became the first New Zealander to win Yale University’s Windham-Campbell Prize, worth US$165,000 (NZ$230,000), for her collection of raw, real, beautifully honest essays, Can you tolerate this? Their books are both on the shortlist for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.
It was a soggy evening, but that didn’t deter the crowd. It was full to the gunnels.
Hera and Ashleigh kicked off with some readings:
- Hera: Children are the orgasm of the world and “Wild geese by Mary Oliver by Hera Lindsay Bird”
- Ashleigh read part of her essay Big Red from Can you tolerate this?
How do they get time to write when they work full time (Hera at Unity Books, Ashleigh at Victoria University Press)? It ain’t easy, but great employers help. Hera gets a paid day off each week. Ashleigh’s boss has offered time off for writing, while keeping her job open.
What followed was a discussion that ranged widely – from influences, to the IIML, sexy stuff, humour, and processes – with a good amount of Q&A time (surprise fact: lots of questions asked by men). Here’s some of the things we learned:
- Ashleigh edited Hera Lindsay Bird’s book which she said required barely a single change. She read the manuscript on the floor, weeping and cackling.
- Hera enjoys reading crime fiction, humour, and heaps of poetry. She’s currently reading the Adrian Mole books by Sue Townsend.
- Ashleigh has lots of self help books concealed on her Kindle.
- Ashleigh said she can’t remember not wanting to write (but always knew she’s need a day job to pay the bills)
- Hera’s parents had star charts – not for good behaviour but for writing, and she would get paid to write poems. She wondered if her Coromandel hippy parents fancied her as the next Laura Ranger (remember Laura’s Poems?)
- Hera feels the support of her family and knows that even if she writes something explicit, her Dad will be chill with it.
See our pics from the event.
I don’t think either of us leave the house very much. (Hera)
I really love New Zealand actually. (Ashleigh)
This whole thing is terrible for my process. (Ashleigh, on this talk and writer events when you are an introvert writer)
I love her blurriness. (Ashleigh, on Lydia Davis)
People know both Renoir and Taylor Swift. (Hera, on art and pop culture)
George Saunders is my favourite living writer. (Hera)
All the sex in it is kind of a joke. (Hera, on her book)
Even Bill Manhire can be really funny. (Ashleigh)
I don’t find anything moving that I didn’t find funny first. (Hera)
An Ashleigh and Hera playlist
Here are some of the many writers, poets, and musicians namechecked by Ashleigh and Hera:
- Lydia Davis – Ashleigh loves her writing: “Something about her voice makes me want to write myself”.
- Both name checked Frank O’Hara.
- NZ poet James Brown
- Hera is inspired by Mark Leidner, Chelsey Minnis, PG Wodehouse
- Anne Carson – intense beauty, no humour. (Hera)
- Ashleigh: Mark Greif – Against Everything
“The opinions he expresses have a finality to them whereas Lydia Davis’ work seems like everything is still forming in front of her”
- Hera recommended Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders. He is coming to the Auckland Writers Festival this year.
- Ashleigh currently listening to Grandaddy the band – for a nostalgic ‘so bad it’s good’ hit.
- Hera was asked about her use of a text generator in writing a poem in the book. She said she liked to play and experiment with language and referenced This Paper Boat by Gregory Kan.
Amy – who was a great and enthusiastic facilitator for this session – heartily recommended The TOAST website.
Hera is heading off to a couple of overseas festivals.
Ashleigh is writing poems, and is off to New Haven, Connecticut to collect the Windham-Campbell Prize (and go to New York with the other recipients).
Both are working on new books. Slowly, surely.
Donna R and Kim M