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.
If you couldn’t make it these are the poets Burt read and rated before arriving in New Zealand: James K. Baxter – “one of the great poets of the 20th century”, Michelle Leggott, Bill Manhire, Andrew Johnston, Ian Wedde.
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.