I recently went to a From Poetry to Prose book talk featuring Tusiata Avia at the WEA here in Christchurch, as part of their October Writing Workshops.
She talked about how she has gone about making the transition from poet to novelist. Ashamed to admit I wasn’t familiar with her work, I was inspired by her forceful writing combined with a very relaxed attitude to life.
She read from her upcoming first novel and from a poem in Wild Dogs Under My Skirt which have the same characters and the same domestic abusive dynamic. Wonderfully engaging, she performs the characters voices so well that I found myself lost in the story.
Tusiata Avia is Christchurch born, of Samoan descent. An acclaimed performance poet and children’s author, her work has also been published in various literary journals. Her first collection of poetry, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, was published in 2004 then taken to the world as a one-woman poetry show between 2002 and 2008.
Pacific female authors are so lacking in long fiction which makes the wait for her novel that much more anticipated!
One thing Fail Safe Fail Better did not do was fail to deliver. Six speakers gave candid, entertaining and unique accounts of both personal and professional failures in their lives.
Not at all negative, the evening was filled with magic. Glenn Colquhoun invoked ghosts of poets past on the walls of the Christchurch Art Centre’s Great Hall and filled the empty space with poetry (Denis Glover’s The Magpies) and song: his own composition of the ill lucked couple in the poem calling to each other.
While Glenn suggested that sometimes words can fail, he didn’t fail at his task; reciting his performance from memory. I thought you were in great voice, Glenn, as was Witi Ihimaera, who as well as getting the audience to sing in rounds (we failed!) and telling us an alternative fairytale (The Ugly Princess) told us all that his incredible success was all somehow a glorious accident…
Victor Rodger regaled us with the fact that failure is in the eye of the beholder. Or is it that you can’t please everyone all the time? A hugely successful playwright (2017 Writer in Residence Victoria University, 2012 Pacific Artist in Residence at the MacMillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies, 2009 Ursula Bethell Creative Writing Resident, Canterbury University), Victor’s use of another well-known F-Word in his work fails to impress the one person he wants to be proud of him – his Mother.
The nature of failure follows a pattern; as we say, when one door closes, another opens. Each lost opportunity leads to another, or a different path in life. A higher lesson in there, perhaps, on freedom and predestination.
This was an idea shared by Christchurch Mayor, Lianne Dalziel. Sometimes the timing just isn’t right; the universe has other plans. Our first shot at life and love may be an opportunity to reflect and refine. For her this manifested in a burn-out at Parliament after an exhausting inquiry into the Health Sector, which led to her standing down from Parliament. This left her in a good position to carry Christchurch through its transformation and rebirth.
These experiences are not without wounds. We’ve all been hit by failure, but it’s the resilience we gain that makes us stronger, says Hana O’Regan, Kai Tahu. It’s all in the way you look at it?
A champion of Te Reo, Hana turns life lessons into “rivers of words” writing her way through the experience to the learning on the other side. Each experience brings a lesson, says Hana; they turn up to say, we’ve been through this before, and we can get through it again.
Lastly, and certainly not least, Clementine Ford. Clementine shared a story of mislead youth and heartbreak. This lead us to two realisations: one: life isn’t a John Hughes movie (Pretty in Pink,The Breakfast Club), two: success is not marrying a wanker. Lol.
Fight Like A Girl author Clementine demonstrated her greatest weapon, her wit, in abundance; the lesson in her story being to hold your head high and laugh in the face of crushing (public) rejection.
Some of the stories shared here were so candid that I chose not to share them. Those gems were for our ears only.
My failures? Well, I started the evening keeping to the theme. On a rainy spring night, I failed to find a car park close to the venue (ah the fun of driving around the CBD in circles) and didn’t make the venue on time. Miraculously the event started late. And the rest? Well thats Witi, Glenn and I…
100 years ago last week at Craiglockhart Hospital for Neurasthenic Officers in Edinburgh, Wilfred Owen introduced himself to Siegfried Sassoon and one of the great literary friendships was born. Wilfred was recovering from shellshock, deeply traumatised by his time on the Western Front in 1917. Siegfried, grieving and angry at the deaths of his friends and men in his unit, had protested against the continued conduct of the First World War. After intervention from Robert Graves, he was sent to Craiglockhart rather than face a court martial. As the aspiring poet Wilfred was well aware, Siegfried was already a moderately famous poet. In the few weeks together they had in Scotland, Siegfried encouraged and mentored Wilfred.
Wilfred was killed on 4 November 1918, exactly a year after he left Craiglockhart and a week before the Armistice, however in the time between meeting Siegfried and his death he produced some of the most famous war poems, including Anthem for Doomed Youth and Strange Meeting. Their shared influence can still be felt today – their works are still taught in school, and Siegfried’s quote “I died in hell; they called it Passchendaele” has been widely quoted in the ongoing commemorations of the Third Battle of Ypres.
We know so much about their friendship as they both wrote about it – Wilfred in excited letters to his mother and Siegfried a couple of decades later in his volume of autobiography Siegfried’s Journey. This documentation has provided excellent source material for modern authors looking to portray the two poets. They are the subject of a two-hander play Not About Heroes which covers Craiglockhart in Act One and their different paths in Act Two. Intimate and moving, this is a powerful play (but having directed it a few years ago I am quite biased).
Perhaps the most well-known depiction of their friendship is in Pat Barker‘s award winning Regeneration Trilogy. However, in Barker’s interpretation of Siegfried’s time at Craiglockhart, his friendship with Wilfred is overshadowed by his connection with his doctor, W. H. R. Rivers. There’s a lot going on in the trilogy – the cultural construct of masculinity cracking under pressure, mental health, sex, pacifism – and Siegfried and Wilfred are only one strand to this. Rivers is perhaps the main character and the marvelous fictional creation that is Billy Prior dominates the last two books.
I’ve mentioned before how Billy is possibly my favourite literary character. He’s the working class kid who becomes an officer; he’s bisexual; he’s somewhere on the continuum of sanity and insanity; he’s a split personality. He’s so many things that in some ways he shouldn’t work but – to me at least – he does. Billy and Rivers tie the trilogy together.
And so a chance meeting 100 years ago is still being interpreted and played out today; the voices of those caught up in conflict still resonating.
When I first heard of Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day, I immediately thought of someone heading off in the dead of night with a new poem in one hand and a pot of paste in the other. The poem would then be pasted onto a wall or lamp post for us to read the next day. I was wrong. Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day is a day for everyone from novice and curious to professional poet to have the opportunity to share poetry and revel in its magic. To get involved and explore and share poetry. Discover New Zealand poets, and go on a magical, mystical journey.
National Poetry day is held on the last Friday in August each year. There will be poetry events in the lead up to Poetry Day, featuring local poets and The School for Young Writers. there will be something for everyone.
This year Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day will be on Friday, August 25th. The organizers are promising us a one-day national poetry-event extravaganza.
I enjoy poetry. I love the way the words swirl in my imagination and form pictures in my mind. I like having poetry read to me. On the 25th of August, I’ll be borrowing a book of my favourite poems and maybe someone will read to me while I close my eyes and relax.
Christchurch City Libraries is running two events:
Performance Poetry with Greg O’Connell Friday 25 August 10am to 10.30am, Shirley Library, 36 Marshland Road
Come along, be part of the fun…and experience poetry like never before!
Shirley Library is hosting a special poetry performance by children’s poet Greg O’Connell in celebration of Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day Perfect for kids aged 3 to 6 years. Find out more.
Poetry Workshop with Greg O’Connell Friday 25 August 4pm to 5pm, New Brighton Library, 213 Marine Parade
Are you a young person who loves to write poetry? If you answered yes! enrol in our free poetry writing workshop today! Ages: 6 – 9 and 10 – 13 years. Greg O’Connell is a poet, performer and literacy educator.
Limited spaces, bookings essential. To book phone 941-7923. Find out more.
More events and competitions
The Great Wall of Poetry UBS Canterbury is celebrating the readers and writers of poetry by building a Great Wall of Poetry. You’ve got until 20 August to enter.
Find out more on the Facebook event.
Take Two: Poetica: The Christchurch Urban Poetry Project
Young Poets Open Mic – ages 6 to 12 Young Poets Open Mic – ages 13 to 25 Thursday 24 August 4.3o to 7.30pm
XCHC Café and Exhibition Space, 376 Wilsons Road. Find out more on the Facebook event.
Sight and Sound at UBS Friday 25 August, 12:00-1:00pm
University Bookshop, University Drive, Ilam Come and see the University Bookshop’s poetry wall and hear James Norcliffe and Jeffrey Paparoa Holman. The winner of The Great Wall of Poetry competition will be announced and guests will be invited to read the work submitted by the members of the public. Find out more on the Facebook event.
Poetry Live, Christchurch! Friday 25 August, 5.30pm-7.30pm
Exchange Café (XCHC), 376 Wilsons Road, Waltham Be part of Poetry Live, Christchurch! at XCHC on Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day. Covert poets, come out of the closet in a friendly place. Join established poets, reading at the Open Mic. Free; koha appreciated. All ages welcome. Find out more on the Facebook event.
Politics and Poetry: Sailing in a New Direction (Title from the opening of Curnow’s ‘Landfall in Unknown Seas’) Friday 25 August, 7:30 to 10 p.m.
Space Academy, 371 St Asaph Street Join us in this exploration of politics within poetry – and the poetry within the politics? Ben Brown, Danielle O’Halloran, Ray Shipley, Doc Drumheller, Andy Coyle and 20/20 Collection poet James Norcliffe will be reading work that engages with the big issues. Free entry, all welcome. Find out more on the Facebook event.
Free Public Workshop – Warm-down event 10.30-12.30, Saturday, 26 August 2017
The Writers’ Block, Hagley College, Hagley Avenue Free public Saturday workshop with renowned Lyttelton poet, Ben Brown. All welcome. Please register by Monday 21 August.
For further information and to register please contact Director, Morrin Rout, Hagley Writers’ Institute |Phone: 03 3299789 |Mob: 0210464189 |Email: email@example.com
Poetry Phone – Warm-up/NPD
In this great warm up for National Poetry Day you can txt or call Poetry Phone live poetry readings 022 300 8164 or 021 474 555. Poetry lines are open from Wednesday 23rd to Friday 25th August, round the clock. You can also make poetry requests for friends & lovers, and we will give them a call. Send requests to firstname.lastname@example.org or 022 300 8164, be sure to include a bit of info about the recipient so we get the right poem for them. Entry Details: R18, usual txt and call charges apply. Date/Times: 23-25 August, phones open round the clock.
Poetry in a Box – Many Places at Once Christchurch – Lyttelton Coffee Co/ Henry Traders / Lyttelton Market. Poet David Merritt will be touring 25-30 poems in a box around a cafe, library or market or seat bench and invite members of the public to read them. Free and open to all ages. Date/Time: Varies slightly from one venue to another but mostly 8am – 3pm, Friday 25th, Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th August
Find out more in the Facebook event.
National Online Poetry Competition Tararua District Library is celebrating Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day with our Online Poetry Competition for the whole country. Have your poem published online and be in to win a prize and the glory. Competition open 10th July to 20th August 2017. Winner announced 25 August. Up to 2 poems per entrant will be published on the Tararua District Library Blog. Find out more.
Feel A Little Poetic? Join poet Jenny Palmer and illustrator Evie Kemp, creators of the bestselling Feel A Little book, to make your very own blackout poem! Children of any age can print, create and share a Shy or Happy feelings poem at www.feelalittle.com. Free event open to children of all ages. To enter, find printable forms at www.feelalittle.com and submit completed with contact details via email email@example.com or social media www.facebook.com/feelalittle and @feelalittlenz by Poetry Day Eve 24 August 5pm
VOLUME Poetry Spam (Junk Poetry Competition) Choose a piece of spam or junk mail, an advertisement or other unsolicited words (either printed or received by e-mail). Write a poem using only the vocabulary of the piece of junk you have chosen. Entry details: Free to enter. Open now to all New Zealand residents. Submission Dates: Entries must be received by 18 August. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org or to VOLUME, PO Box 364, Nelson 7040. The winner will be announced on National Poetry Day (25 August) and in our newsletter
Download instructions at http://tinyurl.com/poetryspam
What are you looking forward to doing in Christchurch?
I think just walking around the city again, taking it in. I haven’t been there for 3 years or so so it will be nice to scratch its back again.
What do you think about libraries?
I love them. I feel connected to the world when I’m in a library. And to a specific locality at the same time. And I feel like I’m around people who love stories and books. Libraries are full of kindred spirits.
What would be your “desert island book”?
I’ve just bought Les Murray’s ‘Bunyah.’ So it would be a perfect chance to glory in it.
Share a surprising fact about yourself.
I am made of 37 trillion cells that have no idea who I am.
Hokitika Bill, Hokitika Bill. I remember chanting this poem aloud at Primary School.
Poet James K. Baxter was born in Dunedin on 29 June 1926. His parents were thinkers – his father Archibald was a conscientious objector and Millicent, his mother had been to College in Sydney.
The dichotomy of social order was represented by his family – his maternal grandfather was Māori, his paternal grandfather was Scots. This fed his mind with the differences and similarities between Clans and Tribes.
Baxter began writing poetry from age seven. His work is said to have become technically accomplished by the time he was a teenager.
As reported in The New York Times recently, “Yevgeny Yevtushenko, an internationally acclaimed poet with the charisma of an actor and the instincts of a politician whose defiant verse inspired a generation of young Russians in their fight against Stalinism during the Cold War, died on Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he had been teaching for many years. He was 83.”
Yevtushenko is survived by his wife, Maria Novikova, and their two sons, Dmitry and Yevgeny. His family were reportedly at the poet’s bedside when he died.
Yevtushenko’s poems of protest did much to encapsulate the mixed feelings of the young people of the Soviet Union after the death of the totalitarian Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, on 5 March 1953.
Such was his popularity in Russia that Yevtushenko gave 250 poetry readings in 1961.
After 2007, Yevtushenko spent an increasing amount of his time in America, teaching and giving readings of his work. One American writer described him as “a graying lion of Russian letters”. He taught and lectured for years at several American universities, including the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.
Yevtushenko was very much admired by generations of his fellow Soviet citizens, both before and after the collapse of the USSR.
One of his most famous poems was Babi Yar which bore witness to the Nazi atrocities against the Jews in Kiev in the Soviet Union during World War Two.
I’ve lost count of the number of times people have said to me: “You should write a book!” Sometimes this is said after I have told a funny story, sometimes when they realise that I belong to not one but three book groups, but quite often it is said simply because I work in a library.
This got me thinking about how many librarians have actually written books. Let’s start with real live librarians working in Christchurch City Libraries right now:
Dylan Kemp is one of the Poets in Residence at a Christchurch community library. He has three published books of poetry to his name. Dylan is a poet who often focuses on relationships in his writing. In real life he speaks just like his poetry: thoughtfully, honestly and with kindness.
Andrew Bell is our resident coastal poet. He has two poetry books and a book of short stories in our collection. Andrew takes situations and observations from life (and Andrew is very perceptive) and turns them into beautiful writing that makes you want to say: Yes This Exact Thing Has Happened To Me!
Beaulah Pragg has the first of her Young Adult, Fantasy/Science Fiction novels – The Silver Hawk – in our collection. In a world of gender-role reversal set somewhere out there on “the rim”, Beulah’s imagination appears unstoppable – there is even a sequel in the offing.
Sophie Divry, who wrote The Library of Unrequited Love, has a main character who (in a ninety page rant to a man who slept the night in her basement workplace) tells the story of her dead-end library job and her fantasy love-life for a customer. She has to have written this book in a library.
Librarians who have actually written and had books published know the hard yards that have had to be done to write a book, get it onto a shelf, and to have a hand reach out and choose it. They know best whether a library is a great place for an aspiring author to work.
All the seats were taken and the truly dedicated stood for an hour to listen to people talk about poetry at Scorpio Books on Thursday the 26th of January.
The chance to hear poet and world renowned poetry scholar Stephen Burt in a conversation with Victoria University Press editor Fergus Barrowman, chaired by University of Canterbury Professor of English Paul Millar, explained the impressive turnout and they did not disappoint.
Millar’s relaxed chairing – “I’m going to ask you a question and you can say whatever you like” – let the conversation range freely and some interesting stuff emerged. The visits of American poet Robert Creeley influenced New Zealand poetry markedly; ” an accident of history that had unforeseen consequences”. I am ashamed to say I had never heard of him.
So how much does the Internet change poetry and reading? A lot. Burt and Barrowman agreed that current sensation Hera Lindsay Bird would not exist without the Internet and its international no cost distribution. But Unity Books in Wellington has also sold large numbers of print copies of her book.
Where will the ‘not hip’ poets be read? No-one knows. Burt is sure that the Internet makes it easier for everyone in the room last night to access poetry from other countries.
Burt was off to the The Bats (New Zealand poetry, with its “agreement groups not large enough to live in”, was compared to the Flying Nun bands earlier in proceedings) so there was time for just a couple of questions. In the event there was only one and I can report that Bob Dylan was not shaped by Minnesota literary culture.
Thanks to the University of Canterbury College of Arts and WORD Christchurch for a very stimulating event. I’ll be keeping an eye out for others.