Lyrical writing with Kristin Hersh and Aldous Harding: WORD Christchurch

Lyrical writing saw influential indie songwriter Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses in conversation with Aldous aka Hannah Harding, local folk musician. Rachel Morton, station manager of RDU, was the chair.

And this WAS a good session. It was raw and intense, and I will only be able to hint at how intimate it was, and how deep it went.

Kristin Hersh’s favourite piece of writing is an article about cockroaches. Hannah picks the last six pages of The Outsider “no fullstops, one blubbering eulogy”:

You don’t need God, you don’t need a lover, you don’t need children …

Hannah Harding: Lyrical writing
Hannah Harding: Lyrical writing

At which point Kristin says:

You don’t need, but it’s still a gameboard.

On Songwriting


I don’t write songs about things. I feel under the auspices of the songs … they make their own collage from bits and pieces. I’ve liced pieces of it, the images … I don’t find out what a song is about until it kicks in. … Songs don’t knock me on the head and trick me to write them anymore … songs are a pulsing will.


I am going to help people escape from lives they don’t want to live … It’s a way to justify my anxieties as an art.

A safe place?

The two talked about anxiety (Hannah) and PTSD (Kristin), dreams, archetypes, the enormous emotional vocabulary of children.

Hannah feels when she performs as Aldous she is “genuinely walking in another’s shoes”. Kristin talked about performing with makeup and beer as her only weapons, and she told a devastating story that had everyone in tears:

All crying. Kristin Hersh got note from drug addict “I am going to kill myself tomorrow but you bought beauty in my life.” #wordchch — ChChCityLibraries (@ChristchurchLib) August 31, 2014

Kristin Hersh and Hannah Harding: Lyrical writing
Kristin Hersh and Hannah Harding: Lyrical writing

 When ideas come


4am. Your Ghost was written mostly on Scottish whiskey.


It always starts out as a poem. I do see it as a project and I want it to be influential and I want people to resonate with it.

Read it again! WORD Christchurch

Book cover of The Were-nanaThe youngest readers weren’t forgotten in the WORD Christchurch festivities. On Saturday afternoon Read It Again! let five picture-book authors share their creations with an eager audience of three to eight year olds. Sheila Sinclair of Christchurch-institution The Children’s Bookshop chaired the session.

Melinda Szymanik read the NZ Post Children’s Choice award winner for 2009, The were-nana. Little sisters in the audience were positively gleeful at the morality tale!

Gavin Bishop brought a special guest: Teddy one-eye, author of an upcoming autobiography. Teddy one-eye was a dishevelled but very accomplished bear who taught himself to read over schoolboy Gavin’s shoulder. Gavin also shared the story behind Teddy’s tragic eye loss: as a youngster he admitted to his Grandma “I’ve swallowed one of teddy’s eyes.” “You’ll probably die.” was the reasurring reply. Happily, he’s survived long enough to read Stay awake, Bear!  to an attentive audience.

Charisma Rangipunga shared a song she sings to her children about a witch who lives in their wardrobe and tries to tempt them out of bed with lollies. Unfortunately for naughty children, the lollies turn out to be worms and the children are then forced to work in her dirty sock factory.

Book cover of Teddy one-eyeKristin Hersh read a story inspired by her son’s dislike of touring: Toby Snax. By the end of the story, lots of the kids in the audience would’ve been eager to head off for international adventures of their own.

Damon Young concluded the session with a continuum of ninja-knowledge and a rowdy reading of My Nanna is a Ninja, which he described as a “celebration of the fun of grandparents, the verve, the energy!”

Words + Music – Kristin Hersh at WORD Christchurch

Last night was a night of magic women in the Cathedral – Eleanor Catton, followed by an evening of words and music with Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses. Her festival bio:

American songwriter, guitarist and author of the memoir Paradoxical Undressing (Rat Girl in the US). She founded the seminal art-punk band Throwing Muses at age fourteen and is widely recognised as an indie rock pioneer. She is a mother of four, and lives in New Orleans.

WORD Christchurch literary director Rachael King was excited to present one of her musical heroes, and the crowd was excited. I heard lots of longtime fans talking to each other animatedly before Kristin took the stage. We were all keen, and our hopes for something special were more than met.

Kristin’s voice – be it singing, or reading – had the audience spellbound – at once commanding, droll, and compelling.

A favourite moment was hearing the song Your Ghost. It was a night of pleasurable shivers. Bravo WORD, Bravo Kristen.

Kristin Hersh
WORD Christchurch literary directory Rachael King introduces Kristin Hersh
Kristin Hersh