In 2014, Helen Rickerby and Anna Jackson organised a conference at Victoria University entitled Truth or Beauty: Poetry and Biography. It drew poets and scholars from across New Zealand and Australia. Over three days the participants shared readings, papers, panels and informal discussions.
To celebrate the event, the organisers have released a gorgeous chapbook containing poems by the participants that highlight meeting points between poetry and biography, truth and/or beauty.
In the introduction, the editors (Anna and Helen are joined by Doctoral student, Angelina Shroma) suggest that some of the poems ‘are more straightforward retellings of a life, but most take a poetic twist — are impressionistic, episodic, mythic, abstract or undermine the very idea of being able to know factual truth.’
Seeing the line-up of poets included gives some indication of the stretch and vitality of ideas exchanged along with poetry shared: Jordie Albiston, Airini Beautrais, Amy Brown, Geraldine Burrowes, Zarah Butcher – McGunnigle, Max L Chapnick, Majella Cullinane, Toby Davidson, Joan Fleming, Janis Freegard, Maureen Gibbbons, Helen Heath, Kerry Hines, Anna Jackson, Shari Kocher, Saradha Koirala, Bella Li, Vana Manasiadis, Karlo Mila, Robynanne Milford, Vivienne Plumb, Jenny Powell, Nina Powles, Chris Price, Helen Rickerby, Harry Ricketts, Jack Ross, Erin Scudder, Anna Smaill, Marty Smith, Robert Sullivan, Leilani Tamu, Chris Tse, Jessica Wilkinson, Karen Zelas.
Some of the poems took me back to books I have already loved (Autobiography of a Marguerite, Dear Neil Roberts, I, Clodia, and Other Portraits, Crumple, Girls of the Drift, My Iron Spine, Just Then, Horse with a Hat, How to be Dead in the Year of Snakes, Captain Cook in the Underworld) while previously unpublished poems were miniature temptations of new works to come (Joan Fleming’s ‘New Margins,’ Helen Heath’s ‘Radiant,’ Chris Price’s ‘A natural history of Richard’) and some poems and poets were new to me and are now on my radar now (Shari Kocher, Robynanne Milford). I haven’t read many poems by Erin Scudder but her deliciously inventive word play in ‘Hollywood Hills Woman’ catches at story, character, language, space and life. This was a gem.
This is a beautiful hand-bound book; I got to the end and just wished I had been able to attend the conference. This makes up for it slightly.
Web page here
Copies are available for purchase for NZ$20, plus NZ$5 for overseas postage. Email Helen.Rickerby@paradise.net.nz to order and arrange payment.
About the editors
Anna Jackson, associate professor at Victoria University of Wellington, has published six collections of poetry, most recently I, Clodia, and Other Portraits (Auckland University Press, 2014). The first half of this collection is based on the life of Clodia Metelli, the ‘Lesbia’ who was the subject of the most passionate poetry written by Catullus in late Republic Rome.
Helen Rickerby has published four books of poetry, most recently Cinema (2014), which includes biographical poems about film-makers and her friends. Her 2008 collection, My Iron Spine, features biographical poems about women, many of whom have been neglected by history. She is the managing editor of Seraph Press, a boutique poetry publisher, and is co-managing editor of JAAM literary magazine.
Angelina Sbroma is a doctoral student in English literature at Victoria University of Wellington. Her thesis focuses on children’s fantasy literature.