I must admit to some trepidation about reporting on a Poetry Reading. How does one describe a Poetry Reading to those that weren’t there? Even one by a flamboyant Scottish poet who has travelled halfway across the world.
Harry Josephine Giles originally came from the Orkney Islands but they did not elaborate from which island other than to tell us that their island had 700 people and six churches of various denominations. Obviously, a small island northeast of Scotland was never going to contain nor satisfy a restless, creative spirit like Harry’s so they headed for the big city and now reside in Edinburgh.
I vacillated on whether I should take notes, but I thought that would be a buzz kill when I was trying to listen and enjoy the poetry in the moment.
Harry started off reading some poems in English and then went on to read some in Scots. If you want to see what Scots poetry looks like, check out Whit tae write nou?
I profess ignorance and I have no excuse since I am descended from Scots, but I was unaware that three languages were spoken in Scotland as Harry enlightened us. I knew they spoke English (the language of their colonisers) and Scots Gaelic (related to the other Celtic dialects of Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany), but I hadn’t considered Scots as a separate language. I’d thought of it as a variation of English. But Harry put us straight, explaining that Scots has those Norse origins that English shares.
Harry kindly read their Scots versions of poems then followed with the English translation, so to speak.
Although tired after their whirlwind tour of Aotearoa (nine gigs in seven days in New Plymouth and Wellington), Harry gave an energetic performance. It was easy to see that Harry works in the performance and theatre arenas because they enlivened their poetry with modulations of their voice and gestures. Harry has a beguiling shyness that peeps out from time to time.
Harry read a small series of poems in which they had engendered their fears and anxieties through the persona of a female military drone. You can hear some of the sequence on Soundcloud.
Harry was introduced by Ray Shipley who is a Christchurch-based poet, comedian, youth worker and founder of the Faultline Poetry Collective. Ray made an able MC and general crowd-exciter, but Harry had the audience engaged from their first poem and many of us were sad to bid Harry farewell after only an hour and a half.