It’s World Poetry Day today! As an occasional poet myself, I’m a bit embarrassed to say I didn’t know there was a World Poetry Day until earlier this week. Turns out the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization are behind it, declaring in 1999 that March 21st would be a day to celebrate poetry globally each year.
What’s so good about poetry though? For lots of people, poetry doesn’t really play a part in their lives – at the most, perhaps when people think of poetry they think of a stuffy 3rd form classroom, being lectured about World War One rhyming couplets and Shakespearean sonnets.
But, as the UN says: “Poetry reaffirms our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings…” which is a pretty comforting idea. At its most simple, I guess they’re saying that whatever background and culture and language you come from, poetry provides a way of explaining thoughts and feelings and ideas that maybe just don’t make as much sense in other formats. What would the Hogwarts Sorting Hat be without its introductory poem? The Oompa Loompas without their songs? And on a more serious note, those soldiers writing in the trenches certainly thought they could express their experiences more powerfully through poems; and the poems that come out of revolutions and wars and times of upheaval can give us insight into the humanity of a situation that a simple news report cannot. For most cultures around the world, storytelling, poetry, and spoken word are the key ways histories have been recorded and traditions have survived.
There’s plenty of opportunity to explore some poetry this World Poetry Day – a short walk around the city will get you face to face with a poem on a bollard or a wall with thanks to Phantom Billstickers poetry posters; a quick YouTube search and you’ll find plenty of slam and performance poetry (Button Poetry is a great place to start); and of course the library has plenty of poetry to get your hands on – why not start with Kate Tempest (UK); Rupi Kaur (Canada); or Selina Tusitala Marsh?
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.
Tuesday 13 March, Space Academy, 371 St Asaph Street. Buy tickets $20 waged, $15 unwaged (service fees apply) Presented by LitCrawl Wellington, Harry Giles appears with the support of the British Council in partnership with Writers’ Centre Norwich, UK as part of the International Literature Showcase.
Harry Josephine Giles is from Orkney, Scotland, and is a writer and performer. They have lived on four islands, each larger than the last. They trained in Theatre Directing (MA with Merit, East 15 Acting School, 2010) and Sustainable Development (MA 1st Class, University of St Andrews, 2009) and their work generally happens in the crunchy places where performance and politics get muddled up.
You can go to Harry’s fulsome website if you wish to delve more deeply into their work but, as a precursor to the event, I will give you an overview.
I like Harry’s “mission statement” (my quotation marks): “My work is about what it feels like to live under capitalism, and how to survive and resist in a violent world.” I think many of us realise that capitalism is a flawed, if not failing, system for human beings. If Kylie Jenner can wipe $US1.3 billion off the share market value of the social media app, Snapchat, just by tweeting that she doesn’t use it any more, then clearly capitalism is ridiculous. If CEOs of major global corporations can earn many hundreds of times more than their workers, then clearly capitalism is amoral. And evidence of the violent tendencies of the human animal are widespread.
Harry is a very busy artist. They are all over many different media for conveying their art; poetry, video, installation and the internet being some of the ways Harry explores ideas and makes art.
Our catalogue doesn’t contain any of Harry’s work at present, but they have written this interesting piece about stone-hearted people called The Stoneheart Problem and you can watch and listen to Harry Giles read from their debut poetry collection, Tonguit Filmed at the Scottish Poetry Library, Harry reads Poem in which nouns, verbs and adjectives have been replaced by entries from the Wikipedia page List of Fantasy Worlds.
So I’m looking forward to hearing and seeing how Harry Giles critiques life in the modern world and reporting back to you, gentle reader.
I’ve discovered a new online tool that I want to tell you about.
Kōmako is an online bibliography of writing by Māori in English, which has grown out of research undertaken by Bridget Underhill at the University of Canterbury. Kōmako lists Māori writing from over the past 180 years, gathers it in one place and makes it publicly accessible. This is extremely helpful for research purposes and gives visibility to some amazing works by both well-known and lesser-known Māori authors.
Kōmako utilizes the wonders of modern technology for the searcher – I can type in my iwi and be returned with a list of available writing on my iwi or I can type in my last name and see a list of my Aunty’s poetry. Anybody accessing this resource can search by author, title or iwi to find fiction, non-fiction or even music by Māori writers to go off and try to find at their local library.
Māori writers are one of my favourite things to talk about and here at Christchurch City Libraries we have a fantastic Ngā Pounamu Māori collection which covers a wide range of topics produced by a variety of sources. While they all have their individual merits Māori authors can give us an insider’s view on Te Ao Māori, which is both valuable and necessary to our understanding of a given topic: we would not ask a lawyer what it’s like to be a doctor, we would ask a doctor. As such the cultural insight provided by the Māori writers listed on Kōmako is a taonga, something to be both cherished and celebrated.
While we’re on the topic, check out some my favourite resources by Māori authors held at Christchurch City Libraries:
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com 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