Reading Poetry Around the World

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.

Cover for New Selected Poems by James K BaxterIf 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.

Those discovered after arriving: Bernadette Hall, Joanna Margaret Paul, Alistair Te Ariki Campbell.

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.

Cover for Hera Lindsay BirdSo 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.

For Later: Stephen Burt, visiting poet

Cover for BelmontPermissible and not mad to add two poetry books by Stephen Burt, The Poem is You and Belmont, to the For Later Shelf this week because I’m giddying up to see them at a WORD event at Scorpio Books on Thursday 26th January at 6pm.

Good poet (at least I think so after attending a reading last year – perhaps I’ll know how to tell for sure after this event), Harvard Professor of Poetry and an engaging speaker, Burt will be in conversation with Fergus Barrowman from Victoria University Press.

I love poetry events – people are passionate about it so the questions tend to be on the intense side, and even better can spin out into wildly inappropriate statements of opinion. Somehow opinions on poetry are so much more interesting than opinions on non-fiction, which mostly centre on how much more the ‘questioner’ knows than the author.

“A lively discussion” is promised, but I’m hoping for a bit more than that.